My pal John works for NBC. After work, he may take the waters at Hurley's, the saloon at the base of NBC's headquarters in New York. A few yuletides ago, we are taking the waters there and talking of life and such.
And he tells me this lovely Christmas Eve love story, in which he stars. It occurs 25 or so years ago when he is a scuffling New York actor.
John orders a Scotch on the rocks and commences the memories.
Back then, he says, he is keeping company with a lady, a struggling actress. He describes her as quite hubba-hubba. They don't live together, but there is talk of that.
There is even talk of some day going into a church and saying "I do." John sighs.
"Well, it was snowing like hell and it was Christmas Eve and I had to work late," he says. "A temp job, I forget what it was. Anyhow, I finish at about 7, 7:30 at night and head for the subway.
"All of a sudden, wow, I remember it's Christmas Eve and my girlfriend is coming over and I haven't gotten her a present yet. Nothing, nada, zip."
"And the stores are closed, of course," I say.
"Not all, thank God," he says. "I find one near here, Lampson's or something, and I get inside just as they're about to shut down. They want me to get out, and I'm telling the guard, 'Look, man, this is life and death, gimme a break.'
"Well, long story short, they give me two minutes and I don't know what to get. Then I see this . . . bird cage. It has two lovebirds in it. I say 'That.' I fork over, geez, 50, maybe 75 bucks, which naturally I can't afford."
"Naturally," I say.
At this time, my pal John is living way downtown, in a tiny walk-up apartment, the kind with cracked walls and exposed pipes and a hot plate.
He remembers how far away downtown is the second he leaves the store with his bird cage and lovebirds and steps into a blizzard. The blasts of Arctic air and snow can do no good for the lovebirds, he realizes.
He jams the bird cage under his overcoat and points himself downtown. No cabs are to be had. Somehow, though, he eventually arrives home, covered in snow, and trudges the three flights up to his apartment.
He puts the bird cage on a table next to the steam radiator and looks at the lovebirds. The downstairs door buzzer sounds. It is his true love.
"And don't you know, just then, one of the birds just keels over, thump, dead, finito," John says. "I don't know what to do. I hear my girlfriend coming up the stairs and I've got a dead lovebird to worry about."
In desperation, he opens a window in his apartment. Then he reaches into the bird cage, grabs the departed, and hurls it out the window into the storm. It probably hit a drunk, John says, wagering that to this day the drunk wonders why someone threw a dead lovebird at him on Christmas Eve.
"Anyhow," he continues, "my girlfriend arrives. I give her a big kiss and hold up the bird cage and say, surprise, Merry Christmas. She sort of smiles and asks if lovebirds don't come in twos.
"I say the store only had one and it's the thought that counts. But while I'm talking, this one is not looking too sharp, either. He's all huddled up, wobbling back and forth on his perch.
"And all of a sudden, he takes a dive. Bam. Flat on his back, legs in the air, totally checked out."
It wasn't all bad, he says. The girlfriend is shocked, naturally. But when he explains things, she starts laughing and then he starts laughing, and it isn't a bad Christmas Eve after all, except for the lovebirds.
"And you live happily ever after?" I ask.
Not really, he says: "We broke up a month later." My pal John--he now has a wonderful wife and two fine kids--smiles and raises his glass of Scotch.
"Cheers," he explains.
Every yuletide, when I see him in Hurley's, I bring friends over and make John retell the story. He does so with good nature, although of late he complains I'm making this an annual event.
I suppose so, but I like the story. Maybe I will get John's permission to have someone write it as a TV script and sell it to NBC or someplace.
I'd like to call it "Miracle on 34th Street," but am advised the title already belongs to another Christmas movie. Maybe "Here Comes Santa and There Goes the Bird" . . . nah.
The more I think about it now, maybe a TV movie wouldn't be such a good idea. The commercials would ruin the flow. They'd want Michael J. Fox to play John and Victoria Principal as his girlfriend.
No, let's leave things as they are. Let's stick to the oral tradition. It's better that way, particularly at yuletide.
Besides, while telling his lovely Christmas Eve love story nowadays, John always requests a moment of silence for the lovebirds. He doesn't always get it, but as he once told his girlfriend, it's the thought that counts.