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MODERN ELVES WISH FOR A POLITICALLY CORRECT SANTA

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Rumor has it that a troupe of disgruntled elves is planning a quiet protest.

No one knows whether they'll be successful. OK, so no one knows whether there really ARE elves.But the story is that the little folks gathered one night at the North Pole in a dark cave as cold as an icicle. Secretly, while the big guy slept, they spoke their minds. For the first time they admitted they were getting a little weary, in fact embarrassed, by Santa and his stodgy old ways.

They want a CD player and cable installed in their workshop. They want to be assured that's not real fur on Santa's suit. They're outraged that Mrs. Claus is so burdened by domestic duties. And they're fretting about Santa's waistline.

If the elves had their way, Santa would lay off the milk and the handfuls of rich cookies. It would be nice, they say, if the jolly fat guy joined a health club, bought a pair of running shoes, a sweat suit perhaps.

Instead, he's an overweight, overworked, Type-A personality. From the top of his fur-trimmed hat to the bottom of his air-polluting pipe, Santa simply is not politically correct.

Oh, some changes have inched their way into modern versions of Clement Moore's classic " 'Twas the Night Before Christmas." At the Barnes & Noble bookstore on the Country Club Plaza, for instance, the staff in the children's reading section notes that Santa no longer wields a whip while coaxing Prancer and Vixen and his other reindeer to sail over snow-covered rooftops.

Still, the elves have a point. Santa, that most humanitarian of all fantasy figures, could benefit from a bit of 20th-century sensibility.

A Santa of the '90s, for starters, might want to consider voice mail, or at the very least, a pager. It could come in handy during those annual 'round the world junkets. (Who foots the bill for those anyway, tax-payers?)

And what about that old-fashioned sleigh of Santa's? Does it have air bags? Or even a decent safety restraint system? Has it ever even had an emissions test?

"He doesn't need it; the sleigh is magic," explained Patty Barbour of Western Temporary Services, an employment agency in Walnut Creek, Calif., that trains 3,000 Santas annually.

"Magic is wonderful for the environment. Santa is a marvelous role model and everything he does is totally and completely environmentally correct.

"He's very kind to the elves. They are well-paid and well-provided for. And, I'd add, everything Mrs. Claus does isn't just women's work. She's good at managing and accounting. At home, he does most of the cooking.

"Santa is so special. That's the way we feel about him. There is an old saying: `If it ain't broke, don't fix it.' "

The elves, who asked not to be identified, aren't convinced. They prefer the image of a progressive, computer-literate, heart-smart Santa.

Their long-term advice:

- Adopt an affirmative-action plan. When busy crews of elves appear in movies, books and on TV, minorities and women are conspicuously absent - and frankly, the elves could use the help.

- Lose the pipe. It's bad for his health and theirs (all that secondhand smoke) and a bad example for the kids.

- Be more careful about setting off security alarms when squeezing down chimneys.

- Take up jogging.

- Use more recycled paper to wrap the mountains of gifts.

- Subscribe to an Internet service to speed up processing of all those wish lists.

- Munch on granola bars or carrot sticks instead of cookies.

Barbour balked at the tips. Personally, she said, she'd make sure Santa was in chocolate-chip heaven. But, gradually, she yielded to the pressure.

"If you're concerned about his weight, leave nonfat milk and low-calorie cookies," she said, sighing. "Are those Santa's favorite? Nooooo. But, believe it or not, you can find delicious cookies with no cholesterol."

Peter Woods of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals took it a step further. He recommends soy milk, which is not a byproduct of animals. As for Santa's costume, he said, no problem: The fur is fake.

"I would say it would have to be fake," he said. "It's 1994 and fake fur is in abundance. Most people assume he's not wearing real fur because of the type of individual he is. He is compassionate and if he can get rid of the whip, he can get rid of the animal skins."

And if he can do that, the elves might add, he can do anything.