The Perfect Gift: Part Three of A Four-Part Holiday Fable

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Charlie didn't want to meet this collector who had bought his special object as the high BUY IT NOW price under which he listed it on Ebay. In fact, after Harriett left his apartment for a job interview downtown, Charlie sat with it for a moment, wondering if this was really the right thing to do. After all, wasn't it just a cliche to make Christmas about a gift? Wasn't he raised by his non-leather-wearing, PETA-supporting, granola-eating mom to see the lies behind the brash commercialism of the season in his native land? It didn't matter--there was nothing he wanted to elicit more of than Harriett's surprised giggles. Like the proverbial music to his ears, her happiness meant everything to him. Especially now. With no jobs and little prospects (and what prospects there were required suits, which made them lousy prospects), he and Harriett had been very much down in the dumps about their monetary future and Charlie thought that getting her the perfect gift would make her feel less, well, deprived. And so it was that the thin stick in his hand was about to change hands and make everything work out as planned.


The tiny stick was not just a stick, of course, it was a totem of a famous, iconic television star who could not have imagined today's entertainment industry, who would never have guessed that his simple little instrument could bring the one who held it so much money. The collector who answered Charlie's ad had asked a lot of questions but it was clear that the important souvenir from a long-ago broadcasting world was as important as he thought it would be, and as coveted.


Charlie made his way across town to Grand Central Station, that other art deco dreamland in midtown Manhattan. He manuevered the canyons off the starry-skyed main foyer for that corner off Track 24 where his buyer was coming in from Connecticut just to make this important transaction. The icon was stuck in his backpack, wrapped in what felt like several pounds of bubble wrap, completely hidden from the elements, as it had begun to snow on his trek down 42nd Street. As he made his way over to the track, he took in the holiday decorations all over these famous walls. Oh, yeah, he thought, now THIS is Christmas!


Moments later, a man in a felt fedora holding a sign with Charlie's name on it pushed through the throng coming off the 6:42 Metro North from Stamford. But when he saw another one and another one and another one following right behind that other one, he felt a pang of fear. They didn't look happy but he knew if he ran, there'd be bigger issues to deal with--so he cocked his head and said, "Mr. Jones?" The tallest of the posse came within an inch of Charlie's face and said, "Do you have the stick?" Charlie nodded and motioned to his backpack. "Take it off and show me the stick, right now," Mr. Jones said. As Charlie slipped the pack off his shoulder, Mr. Jones' friends moved around him, pushing him back into a side alley, where they surrounded him. One of them grabbed the bag and took out the stick. He handed it to Mr. Jones, who ripped the wrap off and surveyed the item. "Yup, this is it."


"We've been searching for this for a while, but if you let it go right now and cooperate with us, we won't press charges," Mr. Jones said. Charlie was stunned--he had no idea that anybody else knew about this. Mr. Jones read his mind, "Yeah, you didn't think anybody else knew about this, did you? Well, when Toscannini's baton goes missing, the same baton he used for years and years on live television, bringing classical music to the masses, the most famous conductor of his generation, people notice." Charlie thought back to the day he found it laying at the end of a hallway where there was some office reconstruction being done--it was lying there, in the midst of a smashed glass box. He had just assumed that no one cared about it and he was going to rescue it; it was a good luck charm. Charlie had managed to get it out of the office and now this. He smiled sheepishly at Mr. Jones. Charlie smoothed his hair as he watched the baton posse move away, leaving him broke and just happy to not be in handcuffs. As he came out of the alley, the pretzel vendor gave him a sideways glance. Charlie smiled in return--it was the holidays, after all--then moved out into what had now become a raging storm.


Downtown, Harriett walked out of the Strand, holding an envelope filled with money. She had succeeded in finding a buyer for her book and, as much as she hated handing it over, the old woman who gave her this bill-stuffed envelope seemed happier than Harriett had ever seen anybody--her false teeth actually moved when she smiled, she smiled so hard. And now, walking into the Chase 24-hour vestibule, Harriett felt a total calm wash over her. Even when the man behind her bumped her, she laughed. Silly people, bumbling all around, freaking out at Christmas time, shopping and spending when all they needed was that one perfect gift. The man bumped her again and Harriett stopped and turned to face a large man in a flea-bitten Santa costume. His rotund belly was pressing up against her back. "Would you mind just moving back a little bit?" she said, punching in her ATM number.


"Would you mind giving me your envelope?" he asked her, pushing his fake beard back up against his chin.


"Why?" Harriett asked, truly curious. She still felt that sense of calm and assumed this was some grand joke someone was about to play on her. Fine, she thought, I'll play along. The deposit envelope was in her hand. But then it wasn't.


Santa held it a moment. "This is going to really help me out this year. Don't yell and I won't hurt you and I'm sure you'll get some good karma out of this." Harriett, glued to her spot with mounting fear, watched as he made his way out of the door and down the street, picking up speed as he got further and further along Broadway. When she screamed, there was no one there to hear her. When she started to cry, she thought for sure that there had never been a more horrific and annoying moment in her entire life. She sunk to the floor and wailed.


Some kind soul came in and helped her do all the right things--make sure she was unhurt, get to the police, file a robbery report, get a cab home. All the way back to her apartment, Harriett wondered why giving the homeless guy on the corner breakfast for the last 227 days wasn't enough to get her good karma. She tried to think nice thoughts but, as the snow fell and blanketed the grey cityscape in shining white, she felt her Christmas spirit eek out of her little by little like steam from a boiling tea kettle.

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