New Braunfels Herald Zeitung (Newspaper) - December 25, 1996, New Braunfels, Texas
Herald-Zeitung □ Wednesday, December 25, 1996 □ 7 ADeath, for those hard to shop for people
By PAULA M. STORY
Associated Press Writer
(AP) — Business is far from dead at the Los Angeles County Coroner’s office. In fact, in the last shopping days before Christmas, they’ve been buried in customers.
For many, Skeletons in the Closet, the agency’s gift shop, is the offbeat and irreverent answer to those last-minute Christmas gifts.
"When you’ve thought of everything else, you come here,’’ said shopper Emmet Ryan, who works for the California Highway Patrol.
The shop, tucked in a small office on the
second floor of the coroner’s office, is chock-full of T-shirts, hats, mugs, note pads and beach towels. Most, like the "undertaker” boxer shorts, bear the L.A. County Coroner seal or a chalked body outline.
The shop opened in late 1993, selling one or two T-shirt designs and a beach towel.
About two years later, it moved from what marketing director Marilyn Lewis called "a closet” into a 15- by 20-foot room. About 70 items are on sale, including an apron with "'extra hands” and "spare ribs” and a personalized toe-tag key chain — for the perennially prepared.
"A lot of people say this is better than
‘A lot of people say this is better than the mall.
I think at first we had a lot of doubters but people have a curiosity about the coroner1— Marilyn Lews
the mall,’’ said Ms. Lewis. I think at first we had a lot of doubters, but people have a curiosity about the coroner.”
Monday afternoon, people filed in and out, snatching up items like there was no tomorrow.
Phillip Bagues, a local funeral director who dropped by for a few gifts, said he thinks the gift shop is a positive idea.
This lightens things up a bit,” he said. "(l)eath) is not a bad thing, it’s part of life.”
Besides, people in Los Angeles are just a bit odd anyway, he said, and others around the w orld want to buy a piece of California weirdness.
So much so, in fact, that the shop now has a mail-order catalog and exclusive distribution rights to sell coroner memorabilia in Japan. The shop is seeing an increase in tourist business, and mails merchandise to everywhere from England to Australia to South America.
Some of the proceeds go to a coroner’s program aimed at stopping drinking and driving.
But gift shop sales have been so successful that the office has been able to pay for an extra coroner’s vehicle and an emergency radio, among other things.
The shop usually grosses between $15,000 and $20,000 a month. Last year, it sold $60,000 worth of merchandise in December alone.
And if Monday was any indication, this year’s sales are stacking up too.
I was really excited to come here,” said Marti Livingston as she rushed out with her new purchases. "This is almost the last stop, literally.”
U.S. Postal Service volunteers trying to answer all Dear Santa letters
By DEBORAH HASTINGS
The Associated Press
(AP) — The letter from the 8-year-old begins like thousands of others: ’’Dear Santa, I want a computer for Christmas with a mouse.”
But read on:
”1 am partially blind and I want to learn all I can because my doctor said that I will lose my sight by the time I be come a teenager. My mom can’t get us anything for Christmas. Because she dosn’t have any money.”
Another child prints neat block letters on white paper ‘’Please make my Daddy stop drinking.” Another asks Santa to cure her mother’s cancer.
Confides 8-year-old Audrey, in a labored cursive hand, ”1 need my mom to stop believing that my dad
has another woman because when thay fight my heart starts breaking.” By the tens of thousands, they come addressed to “Santa in Heaven,” ‘’Santa up in the sky,” ‘’Santa Claus. North Pole.”
The U.S. Postal Service, through its 85 consumer affairs offices around the country, tries to answer every one. Often, volunteers who contact local post offices try to fulfill some of the children’s Christmas wishes.
In Southern California, at a massive distribution center an hour’s drive north of Los Angeles, Stacia Crane is surrounded by overflowing bins of mail addressed to Santa Claus.
She manages the consumer affairs office for the Van Nuys district, which stretches north more than 200 miles. Her regular job is handling complaints. At Christmas, she and
colleagues across the country start reading Santa’s letters.
This season alone will bring 15,000 letters, she estimates. Crane and her two-member staff place the most poignant in a box marked ‘’needy.”
The contents are heartbreaking. They are also full of hope. Not only children believe in Santa Claus.
In broken, misspelled English, a Hispanic mother of two in Massachusetts writes:
‘’Pleses help me. I need toys and closes for my grils. I do not have a home and I only get (social security) of $497 amont.” She addresses her
letter 4’Santa Claus c/o North Pole” and, for some reason, scribbles a California zip code on the envelope.
A soft-hearted woman with no family. Crane works 12-hour days, straight through Christmas Eve, answering letters, organizing volunteers and delivering gifts.
Ask her why she does this, and her eyes fill with tears. ‘’These kids really believe. They deserve to have somebody get back to them.”
In the ‘’needy” box, writers ask for food, for shoes, for gifts for everyone in their family except themselves, for jobs for their parents and for an end to abuse.
‘’They’re just children,” she says, blinking hard. ‘’They shouldn't have these burdens.”
Postal employees and volunteers have been known to take boxes of food and gifts, place them on a letter writer’s doorstep, ring the bell, then run.
‘’We watched from around the corner as they opened the door,” Crane said. ‘’We want them to think Santa brought it.”
Facilities engineer Mike Scisson takes home letters that have phone numbers on them. Then he calls and pretends he’s Santa Claus.
Does he get paid overtime? ‘’Oh,
heavens no,” lie says. ‘'I wouldn't want to.”
Since 1912, post offices have been authorized to open mail addressed to Santa Claus and to answer such letters and enlist volunteers to help the writers.
Eight years ago, the job of answering Santa's mail was given to the new consumer affairs
department. Previously, individual post offices and letter carriers answered what they could The rest ended up in the dead mail department.
“At first, we weren't very good at it,” Crane admits.
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