The Perfect Gift: Part Two of a Four-Part Holiday Fable

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Charlie had never doubted that the city held the key to his every dream and desire. From the first time he viewed New Jersey moving away from him as his family station wagon drove across the George Washington Bridge towards Manhattan, Charlie in the jump seat in the back watching out the window, he had felt the pull, the compulsion to find a little niche for himself in the concrete jungle. He was seven or eight, on his way to see the Radio City Christmas Spectacular for the first time, the Palisades fading into the background as they got closer and closer to the all-important island. Charlie knew that this was the direction his life would be heading in from then on. And, until now, there hadn't been a glitch in that directive.

The same excitement and sense of purpose hit him the first time he entered 30 Rockefeller Plaza, the majestic behemoth that created the Art Deco harbor between St. Patrick's Cathedral on Fifth Avenue and the Radio City Music Hall on Sixth Avenue. This gilded-edge, modern American masterpiece was an iconic home to Charlie's favorite industry in the whole world--the industry of television.

 

That tiny box in his home in Central Jersey was the equivalent of the bridge to New York City--it brought the world into his home, with its cracked leather couch and the TV trays and the green-knotted pine walls. It brought people and ideas from all across the globe into his youthful head, as well as genies in bottles and bumbling servicemen stationed in the South Pacific, surrealist cowboys solving crimes in Civil War America and creature features on Saturday nights that he could only watch when his parents went to bed. Sometimes, to make himself relax at night if he couldn't sleep (his brain like a running wheel that had flown off the axle of a racing car), he would crawl into his parents' bedroom and, amidst the snoring, put his cheek against the rough fibers of the carpet and fall asleep watching the waving flag that signalled that the viewing day was, unfortunately, over. As the National Anthem played, he waited breathlessly for that final sound, that loud buzzing noise that shut the TV off so he could stop thinking and get some much-needed sleep.

Like New York, TV was all Charlie had ever thought about and now, miracle of miracles, he found himself spending his days working in a studio in that grand building. His two ideals came together like peanut butter and chocolate and his life was as sweet as a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup.

 

In college, he had worked for a local station, setting up the chyrons for the weather map and updating teleprompter scripts for the haughty anchorman. Charlie knew that this was just a stepping stone and, when he applied for the page position on NBC, he knew that, too, was going to be a stepping stone on what would be a marvelously bright and brilliant career path. Even working the green room for the morning show, getting fruit cups and coffee for the variety of Hollywood stars and important political figures that wove wearily in and out of the building, hawking their wares, their movies, their books, their policies, this being one stop of many, Charlie knew that this was just the beginning of a beautiful friendship between him and the industry as a whole.

 

The day that Harriett came to talk to the segment producer who was busy dealing with the angry chef who couldn't get the electric stovetop hot enough to make a decent frittata, Charlie was assigned to take guests from the Green Room to Makeup and then to the door of the studio, where he would wait for a sign from the floor director and then usher the guest into their seat before the cameras went on again. It was an easy job, except that the anchor liked it when all these processes happened so fast that he barely had time to look up from his notes to find the person waiting and the lights blasting back on--the anchor didn't like being bothered with the trivial details of the rest of the show and Charlie knew he had to be the perfect connection between guest and segment and anchor and camera and audience. The day that Harriet ruined his work life was the day that the rest of his life suddenly came into sharp focus; it was the first time in his life that something became more important to him than TV. Seriously.

 

The country star with the prodigious salt-and-pepper hair and the hit song about playing cards arrived late to the studio in a panic. It seemed that he had lost something very important to him in the limosine on the way in from the airport. Charlie spent an hour trying to locate the Town Car that had brought the singer to 30 Rock but to no avail--he was on another run, probably carting another famous person from airport to talk show to airport again. At 7:42AM, it was the singer's time to have his makeup done. He wouldn't allow it, screaming instead at Charlie, telling him that he was ruined, that the makeup woman here was lousy, she wouldn't have what he needed to look his best for the little screen. It was now 7:50 and the singer was due to perform live right after the headlines were reported at the top of the hour. That left little time to get him settled down.

 

Charlie was accosted by the segment producer with the angry chef issue in the hallway. He knew what the problem was. "He lost his hair brush," said the producer--the singer had lost his favorite hairbrush and, without it, his leonine mane could not be tamed to the singer's satisfaction. When it was time to make the walk to the studio door, Charlie marched down the familiar carpet, about 12 feet from the Green Room to the Studio door, assuming the country star was right behind him. However, all went quiet when Charlie turned to see the singer race around the corner and zip into the open elevator, never to return. When Charlie got to the door, he tried to tell the stage manager what was going on but they were cutting to commercial after the news and the host had already made his way over to the interview couch. Not knowing what else to do, Charlie raced across the studio floor and told the anchor what had happened. The anchor knocked Charlie aside, raced into the control room, ordered them to throw up an old interview with this cowboy singer and came back to the studio, his eyes the size of those flattened pennies you get from those museum souvenir shops.

 

"You, son, are about to have a bad day, or maybe a bunch of them," he started. Charlie started backing away from him, hoping that the taped segment would end and he would be able to get the next guest in position without incident. However, as Charlie jumped back, Harriett, looking for the segment producer, had let herself onto the set and was moving towards the control room door. She tripped over a cable and went flying towards Charlie, who fell backwards, colliding with Harriet in mid-air. They landed in a painful, awed heap at the feet of the angry anchor. Let's just say that what followed was thankfully not recorded for posterity and, although Charlie didn't lose his job THAT day and Harriet eventually found the segment producer she was there to help, the beginning of their relationship was the beginning of the end of something else.

 

The day he had dreaded had finally come. Charlie found himself out on the Plaza, walking away from the beautiful building, a cardboard box filled with little mementos--pre-printed postcards from the weatherman, some free CDs, a couple of bags of expensive chocolates the office received at holiday time, some autographs, some other stuff only he would care about. These pieces of his career so far held under one arm. Above him rose the meticulously-decorated tree, the world-famous Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, which, strangely, had come from his hometown this year. Every twinkling light seemed to mock him, the little Jersey kid who had thought he could come and tame the wild giant of television with his limited charm and intelligence. He started walking faster through the thick crowd.

 

Of course, it was Christmas time, and he and Harriet had been together now for a while. He wanted nothing more than to give her a great holiday, what he considered a perfect New York Christmas-- with skating in the Rockefeller rink and hot chocolate at Serendipity's and squid ink pasta at Isabella's, a carriage ride through Central Park and a midnight show at the Angelika. Getting in synch with the lines of tourists parading up and down Fifth Avenue gazing at the theatrically-designed storefronts, he felt a sudden pang of horror. But he realized that, since that calamitous day eight months ago, the anchor had had it out for him--Charlie had become the scapegoat for the bushy-haired country singer who had run away because he couldn't tame his mane with his lucky hairbrush. Brought down by a hairbrush. How could Charlie sink any lower?

 

Finding Harriett had been a complete surprise for him. He had had a handful of other girlfriends but he worked over a hundred hours a week and had little time for socializing. He had no idea that there was someone in the world who would put up with him the way she did--she didn't laugh at ALL his jokes, but most of them. She didn't think he was the smartest guy ever but she thought he was reasonably intelligent and thoughtful. Even his hair, his crazy curls and never-quite-right part, seemed special to her. She was his, completely and utterly, and for this he was eternally grateful. He owed her so much--she was the only thing he loved more than television. And he needed her to be proud of him, to believe he was going to be whatever he had been planning to be before the missing hairbrush started this avalanche of bad career luck.

 

But what would happen when he had to tell her his planned Christmas was cancelled because he couldn't give her the perfect gift? How charming would he be then--he imagined that suddenly his wry humor would be grating and mouth-numbingly dry, his misbehaving hair would look like a scrubby urban garden plot, his big ears more like a cartoon of Prince Charles than the cavern of her collected whisperings over the last few months. He had found something that would be truly perfect for her, but he was short the cash for such an extravagant gesture.

 

The only chance he had to make good on his intended surprise was to sell the little extra he had swiped from the studio, something he considered his good luck charm, a piece of studio television history that had somehow ended up in his lap. This precious object would have to find a new home if he were to keep the holiday from collapsing on him. As much as he hated parting with it, having imagined it holding a prominent place in his desk display when he became an executive producer of his own TV show, he knew that it was the only thing that stood between this disaster and the deserving hand of his true love

1 Comment

Part II did not disappoint. I'm really excited for Part II. Jana.. you write so beautifully!

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  • anonymous: Part II did not disappoint. I'm really excited for Part read more

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