A week before Christmas and where's Santa Claus?

The North Pole?

Nope. If Claus has learned anything, he's learned to pace himself. No need to be at headquarters freezing, when there's a place in Central Texas he loves. There have been several sightings of the bearded guy in the red velvet suit the last few days and on Saturday, Santa made himself available at Dairy Queen for a few last-minute requests from boys and girls.

For a job like his, Claus said, public relations is very important.

"I love Brownwood," Claus said. "I always have. There are by far more good children in Brown County than there are bad. To me, Brownwood feels like home."

Of course, if there's a problem back at the North Pole headquarters, the jolly old guy can return there before anyone can say, "Ho, ho, ho." After all, he makes it around the world delivering toys in just a couple of nights. It stands to reason the Brownwood to North Pole commute can be made in approximately one nano second.

"Rudolph doesn't know slow," Claus said in an exclusive Brownwood Bulletin interview Saturday. "Part of that's diet, of course. We feed him lots of carrots, laced with a little rocket fuel. Wherever we're going, we get there at warp speed."

To be frank, Claus said, he doesn't like carrots. And though he may be offered a million cookies Christmas Eve - a few at the home of every good boy and girl in the world - he never tires of what some would consider a crumby diet, especially as long as there's a glass of cold milk to wash them down.

Chocolate chip cookies are the all-time favorite of the legendary toy man, but sugar cookies are a close second. Of course, after the all-night ride, when Claus is back at the North Pole resting, he may lay off the cookies for a month or more. But about the time it's time to start getting ready for next Christmas, the old cookie hunger returns.

"We start earlier and earlier every year getting ready," Claus said. "We've got more children to deliver to and toys are more complicated than they used to be."

Claus's most favorite toy to deliver to a good girl or boy is a bicycle.

"I just think every boy and girl should have a bicycle at least one Christmas," he said. "We've been delivering those a long time. Started out, the bicycles were wood - well the original was just a wheel kids rolled down the street. Then we added a second wheel and pedals.

"That's what I mean, toys just get more complicated every year."

One would expect, in an exclusive interview, Claus would slip and give away some of his secrets. How does he get around the world so fast? How does he get into the homes and get out without being detected? What happens when there's no chimney? How does Santa get in then?

But the man who knows when we are sleeping and knows when we're awake, who knows if we've been bad or good ... said for security reasons he simply can't say.

"An operation like mine could be sabotaged, and there are grinches out there who would like to do it," he said. "Just let people know, we've got it under control. If they do their part, I'll make sure I deliver toys to their houses, whether or not there's a chimney."

Finally, the busy man said there is one thing he would like to clear up.

"We talk a lot about children being good and bad and we always want them to be as good as they can be, but sometimes things happen," Claus said. "With me, there's always a second chance, or a third chance. It's never too late to get things turned around because all we really want is for boys and girls to get on the right track.

"Until the moment comes when we're in the house deciding to leave the toys or not, a kid will always have the chance to redeem himself."