A TALE OF TWO CHRISTMASES
While I ordinarily write about personal experiences, my favorite secular Christmas story was told to me in the mid-1980s by a guy I met at a chill midsummer Saturday night party of college-educated twenty-somethings in one of those tall apartment buildings in Hackensack, New Jersey that one sees stretching in a line while looking north from Route 80. The building was the kind that young people move to when they start getting white collar jobs and making decent incomes after having paid some education and employment dues.
At the time, these people were derisively called “yuppies.” The host, who had previously worked with my girlfriend, served wine, cheese and bottled beers with unfamiliar names in a spacious, softly-lit living room leading onto an upper floor balcony with a view of the Manhattan skyline. Like the stuff served and the setting, the guest demographic was also new to me. But the attendees were pleasant enough.
The late-twenty-something storyteller, whose name I don’t remember—maybe Paul — had short, light brown hair and was about six feet tall and of medium build. Looking slightly out of place at this party, Paul wore the white button-down shirt and had the no-nonsense mien of a retail store manager who had just finished the 2–10 PM shift. As the protagonist, he told this story with calm sincerity to me and another person.
A few years earlier, in the early 1980s, Paul had in fact managed a Toys R Us store in Mt. Vernon, New York. During that period, Mt. Vernon resembled some other old, mid-sized East Coast cities: it was too small to have a national reputation for violent crime. But if you knew the New York City Metro Area, you knew that Mt. Vernon bordered The Bronx and had far more than the national average of homicides.
Similarly, in 1982, I worked as a door-to-door milk deliveryman in Paterson, New Jersey neighborhoods that felt like Eleven O’Clock news stories waiting to happen. Because I collected payments from customers, I had with me multiple hundreds of dollars on streets with many empty lots and abandoned buildings. Carrying a stack of cash in these locations puts a target on you. Trucking milk while wearing this target, I earned a well-below-yuppie five dollars/hour. But I needed a job in that bleak economy, so I pretended I didn’t have a college degree, woke up at 3 AM, rode my bike four dark miles to the fridgehouse, packed my truck and tried to get along with people.
It turned out that my premonition about the hazards of carrying cash in Paterson had a basis. A year later, in December, 1983, my parents’ next-door neighbor, who delivered bread there, was shot point blank, dead in the head while resisting, with a baseball bat, a robbery by a pair of fifteen year-olds with a powerful handgun.
By then, I had given up my milk truck for law school. I had had enough years of hard, low-wage jobs and was trying to become a yuppie. It seemed better than being shot in the head. Most of the time.
Back to Paul in Mt. Vernon. Capping a busy Christmas shopping season with weeks of long days and nights, Paul had to work all day on Christmas Eve. Business was predictably brisk. When night fell and the store closed at 6 PM, Paul was tired and highly motivated to go home and be with his loved ones. Feeling peace and joy that the frenzied shopping season was over, Paul traversed the sales floor and entered the store’s storage area on his way to the loading dock adjoining the building’s rear. He wished his co-workers a Merry Christmas, sent them home and had to ensure that the store was properly locked before he left.
Approaching the loading dock’s metal door, he heard someone thumping its other side. Thinking it might have been a straggling employee who had been placing some trash in the dumpster, Paul opened the door.
A bundled up urban male in his late twenties, quickly stepped through the door and brusquely said, “I need a bike.”
Paul replied, “I’m sorry, but we closed ten minutes ago. I need to go home and be with my family.”
Undeterred, the trespasser reached into his jacket and pulled out a big, high caliber pistol and pointed it at Paul. “Look, man, I need a bike.”
Paul was stunned. After quickly refocusing, he was eager to survive to share Christmas Eve dinner with his family and was suddenly willing to bend some rules.
It occurred to me as Paul told his story that there may have been thousands in cash in the store’s safe and that both he and the gunman knew it. That target thing again.
He asked the gunman, “What kind of bike do you need?”
“Something for an 8 year-old boy.”
Paul and the gunman walked through the store and quickly selected a bike and hauled it back to the loading dock.
As they reached the door, the gunman paused, turned to Paul, and asked, “How much does it cost?”
Dumbfounded by the question, Paul replied, “Uh, ninety.”
The gunman pulled out his wallet, reached into it and handed five twenties to Paul.
The satisfied customer smiled and said, “I didn’t want to steal it. I just needed a bike. Merry Christmas.”
As the ultimate last-minute shopper carried the bike into the cold and dark, Paul closed and resolutely locked the door behind him.
And to all a good night.
During the past 33 months, much has changed. Same as the two Christmases before it, but worsened by wearying, cumulative Coronamania, this season doesn’t feel like one where I might share an improbable, though ultimately uplifting, experience with a stranger resembling—hopefully in subdued form—the interaction just described.
Tonight, as I write this, it’s harder than ever to convince myself that all people are brothers and sisters who ultimately share some basic perceptions and moral code. While America’s physical landscape looks about the same as it did three years ago, its social landscape has been laid to waste. It feels like many of my countrymen and women aren’t people of goodwill or good judgment.
Legions hid in their homes and behind masks, Lysol-ed delivered groceries, obsessively took worthless tests, said “Pandemic!” or “Covid” ten times/day, supported school closures and/or Tik-Tok-ed bad dances after taking bad shots. They saw other humans as viral vectors, to be feared and avoided. They wished me and millions of others ill and dead because we said that locking down the world, closing schools, masking up and asymptomatic testing were poor ideas. These mob members demanded that dissenters lose medical insurance (though we had, for decades, subsidized coverage for truly reckless others) and should lose livelihoods or be imprisoned because we refused to cover our faces or take unneeded, harmful shots.
Those who wrecked so many lives and who vilified the heretics who blasphemed the Church of Coronamania by speaking against the impracticality and political and economic opportunism underlying Covid “mitigation” haven’t apologized for their angry, misinformed authoritarianism. Will, for example, those who disinvited their unvaxxed kin from the past two years’ Christmas gatherings admit that they were wrong? Or will the fanatical Faucists pretend that they never did this? Those whose memories won’t allow such outright denial may tell themselves that those whom they treated like latter day lepers deserved punishment for their selfishness.
Nothing could be further from the truth. In the real world, the skeptics sensibly rejected the hysteria and the phony statistics, propaganda and dogma falsely marketed as “The Science.” None of the interventions worked. Instead, as we skeptics predicted, “mitigation” has caused broad, deep, lasting harm.
With deeply diminished trust in people and in the pervasively, systematically dishonest government officials, media and celebrities whom so many people revere and obey, I dread long-term Coronamania effects in 2023 and beyond, including permanently depressed young people who have holes in their lives where happy memories should be, mounting vaxx-related injuries and deaths and mass scale, enduring CARES Act-driven impoverishment.
I’m sorry to bring bad tidings this week. But as did the gospel writers, I try to accurately describe what has come to pass. And what lies ahead.
Try to compartmentalize and be happy for the next few days. Return to the place of your birth, gaze at the lights in the darkness, listen to joyful music, pray for long-overdue revelations of Truth and give thanks for those who had enough discernment to fear not.
Go easy on the cookies. As do the shots, sugar compromises immune function. And weight is easier to gain than it is to lose.
Trying not to sob here. Beautifully written. Love the story of the bike! I just said to my husband last night, "How is that WE are the most common sense, smart people out of all the people we know with Master Degrees, doctors, nurses, etc?" It still amazes me that restaurants created enclosed spaces outside that were much more confined than eating inside in a larger space. And, as you've pointed out, that's just ONE of the many idiot things that were done. I too, believed we all had a moral code. That we had a gut instinct, a "trip wire" common sense component. We have sadly learned that survival via STATUS/GROUPTHINK is more important than the trinity of survival: life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness. Thank you for this wonderful story. Merry Christmas! (ps. I can't believe you were a milk man! In Paterson no less!!!!)
Great story & great truth. My faith in people & institutions is completely destroyed. Nothing feels the same & the joy in life & living feels forced now. I did read of 1 glimmer of hope yesterday: Tim Robbins - stereotypical leftie actor - was on Russell Brand’s podcast & they discussed all of the terrible reaction of people like him who had denigrated & villified people like us. He followed all of the idiotic “rules” but somewhere along the way, he lost complete faith in what he’d been told & was heartily sorry for his actions. It was actually so refreshing to hear a public figure say it all out loud - his actions, his awakening & his apology. There needs to be a whole lot more of that honesty & humility but IDK if we’ll get it. But maybe it’s a start....