Happy Thursday, Christmas fanatics! Welcome to the tenth official installment of “Another Christmas Story“!
This week, Ron Hogan – a.k.a. President Hotdog – of the always hilarious “Film Strip Podcast”, will read to all of you Chapter Nine of our tale, entitled “A New York Christmas”. Within this chapter, we switch back to Joey’s point of view as he arrives in New York City to spend the holiday. It’s honestly the perfect episode to drop on April Fool’s Day, just for the mere fact that Ron does one of the most offensively hilarious New York accents I’ve ever heard.
We hope you like it! If you do, make sure to share this episode and our website, upon which the text of this installment is posted, to get it in front of as many eyes as possible! Make sure to check your podcast feeds for your regular weekly episode on Monday, in which the elves will cover the two Christmas episodes of “ALF”, and next Thursday for the eleventh official chapter of this story – “Chapter Ten: Carol of the Bells”, which the writer of the story – Anthony Caruso, himself – will be reading to you!
Chapter Nine: A New York Christmas
December 24th – 7:00 a.m. EST
Joey didn’t manage to get more than an hour’s sleep on his red-eye to Newark, and the brief amount of shut-eye he did get was restless, as the scene of Lilianna dumping him replayed on a never-ending loop in his head. His waking hours were spent pretending to watch the movies playing on the in-flight entertainment system, while in reality he was more focused on fiddling with the engagement ring in his pocket, mulling over how to best break the two pieces of bad news he was coming home with to his parents later that evening.
When the plane finally touched down on the east coast, Joey was grateful; he hated flying on a good day – and as his plane skidded along the icy runway during landing, he was reminded why with a sudden jolt. He kept telling himself, however, as he stood in the crowded aisle of the plane with his carry-on suitcase by his side, waiting to disembark, that there was no place left for him to go but up; things could only start getting better for him. And he hoped that a day spent wandering the streets of New York City, all decked out for the holidays, would be enough to shake him from dwelling on his misery.
The first thing that struck him when he stepped off of the plane was how cold it was. Even though he had flown home just about every Christmas since he had moved out west – minus the two he had spent dating Lilianna, having spent the holidays with her family those couple of years – he somehow always managed to forget how different the weather was when he was away. It didn’t bother him, however; one of the things that made Christmas feel like Christmas in Joey’s mind was the cold – and the snow. And if he hadn’t been aware of the forecast warning of winter storm Elsa in advance, he only needed to take one look at the thick, light-gray clouds in the sky above to be assured that he was in for a white Christmas.
He waited to call his parents in order to let them know he had landed safe and sound until he was making his way through baggage claim, which was teeming with hordes of holiday travelers waiting for their luggage. Indeed, when he was taking out his phone to ring his mother, he found himself getting jostled by a bunch of elementary school kids who were being herded by their teacher toward the carousel to his right, above which, the arrival screen indicated the number of the flight from Florida that they had arrived on. Trying to block out the laughing and screaming of the children, whom he gathered were visiting Manhattan for the first time, based on snippets of conversation he overheard, Joey waited with bated breath for his mother to answer her phone, clucking his tongue impatiently as he listened to the grating ringing on the other end of the line. Finally –
“Joseph!” His mother sounded both excited and relieved. “You made it!”
“Of course I made it,” Joey replied. “Did you really think I wouldn’t?”
“You know how I worry,” the woman replied. “How was your flight? How’s Lily?”
Joey winced at the question. “It was good. She’s fine,” he added quickly, noticing how strangled his voice sounded, even in his own ears. “Look, ma, I’m walking through baggage claim right now, and it’s pretty loud in here, so I should probably—”
“Are you sure you don’t want your father or I to come pick you up? We really don’t mind—”
“Don’t be crazy,” Joey interrupted. “The family’s coming over for dinner later, so just do what you have to do for that and—”
“We can send your sister to come get you!”
“Mom,” Joey began, his voice firmer now. “Don’t waste Bella’s time. It’s an hour-and-a-half to Newark from Bayside on a good day. You know how horrendous traffic gets on Christmas Eve. And that’s without snow and the president being in town!”
“Well, how do you plan on getting home then?”
“I’ve told you a million times,” Joey replied, exasperated, as he finally spotted the airport doors and dragged his bag in their direction. “I’m going to catch the train from Newark to Penn and spend the day in the city. Ryan’s going to give me a lift back to Bayside tonight when he gets off work.”
“If you’re sure—”
“I am,” Joey insisted, stepping out of the airport and shivering as the cold winter air hit him full on for the first time, forcing him to pinch his jacket closed tighter around his neck.
“Well make sure to tell him he’s more than welcome to join us tonight, per usual, as long as he doesn’t eat all of my stuffed artichokes again.”
Joey rolled his eyes. “That was one time, mom!”
“Old Italian mothers never forget,” his mother said sagely, and Joey could practically see the woman winking in his mind’s eye.
“Right. Anyway, listen. I—”
“Oh, I forgot to tell you!” his mother interrupted excitedly. “I ran into Irene Holiday from next door the other day, and guess what? Mary’s going to be home for Christmas too!”
Joey stopped dead in his tracks so suddenly, that a woman talking on a phone of her own behind him nearly walked into him. “Sorry,” Joey apologized, as she swerved around him, throwing a dirty look in his direction. Feeling his stomach constrict tightly, he asked his mom, “So? What’s your point?”
“What’s my point? You two haven’t been home for Christmas at the same time in years!”
“We haven’t spoken to one another in years either, mom,” Joey gently reminded her.
“Still, it could be nice to see her, right?” his mother asked pointedly. “You two used to be so close! She used to be such a big part of your life, it would be nice for Lilianna to get to meet her—”
“Mom, I have to go,” Joey cut across her loudly. “I’m about to lose signal,” he lied.
“Oh, a-alright.” His mother’s voice faltered, disappointed. “Well, then, I guess—”
“I’ll see you later tonight. Love you!” And before the woman could say anything else, Joey ended the call and shoved his phone back into his pocket with a loud sigh. “Mary’s going to be home for Christmas,” he repeated to himself, mocking his mother’s tone of voice as he followed the signs for the train that would carry him into the city. “Why did I need to know that?” He glanced skyward, asking whatever higher power might be listening, “Is my life just a joke to you?”
Joey emerged from Penn Station, right in the heart of New York City, about forty-five-minutes later. After stepping out onto the sidewalk directly in front of Madison Square Garden, he allowed himself a moment to do nothing but stand there and allow his senses time to adjust to the cacophony of sights and sounds around him. Christmas lights were strung up in the trees lining the streets, decorations were plastered on the fronts of buildings, and beautifully decorated trees were visible within windows. Salvation Army Santa Clauses stood on every corner within eyesight, and crowds of people – last minute shoppers and commuters on the way to work – were hurrying along the sidewalks; men and women of all different shapes, sizes, and colors slipping and sliding on the remnants of ice and slush left by a previous snowfall.
At least five different Christmas carols could be heard drifting out of surrounding buildings, colliding in the air above the crowded sidewalks and busy streets, on which taxis sped past – as fast as they could go in the traffic that was getting more backed up by the second – and buses and cars honked in annoyance as they tried to navigate the growing gridlock. As the smell of roasting chestnuts wafted over to him from where a street vendor was selling them on the corner, Joey couldn’t help but smile as he took a deep gulp of the cold, winter air. He forgot how much he missed the city, especially around this time of the year, and he was amazed that standing right in the center of it for less than minute had already done wonders to lift his spirits. Starting down the sidewalk, he couldn’t help but mutter aloud to himself, “It’s good to be home.”
Joey had half a mind to walk the five-minutes it would take him to reach Macy’s Herald Square in order to glimpse its famous Christmas window display, but he decided to walk north toward midtown instead. He had all day to wander New York and see the sights; he wanted to ditch his suitcase first. So, he walked all the way to West 55th street to where Ryan’s office building was located between Sixth and Seventh avenues, shivering all the way but refusing to take the subway because he wanted to immerse himself in the sights and sounds of the city as long as he could.
“There he is!” Ryan emerged from the revolving glass door of his building, a huge smile on his freckled face, moments after Joey came to a stop on the sidewalk outside of it. “It’s good to see you, man!”
“You too!” Joey agreed, shaking his friend’s hand and allowing himself to be pulled into a bone-crushing hug. When they separated, he took in Ryan’s appearance. The man had a head of wild red hair and a bushy beard to match it, which hadn’t been there the last time they had seen each other. His wide smile met his friendly brown eyes, and his black suit and matching coat clung tightly to him, as though they were a tiny bit too small for his frame. “Putting on the pounds, huh?”
“You’re one to talk, buddy.” Ryan backhanded Joey’s stomach playfully. “Aren’t struggling artists supposed to be starving?”
“What can I say?” Joey shrugged. “I tend to eat my emotions.” He patted his stomach contentedly. Though his weight was proportionate to his height, there was no denying he could stand to lose a few pounds. “I never lost last year’s holiday weight.”
“Geeze, no wonder Lil left you,” Ryan joked before noticing the expression on Joey’s face. “Too soon?” he asked, his smile faltering.
“Just a bit,” Joey confirmed, plowing on before his friend could apologize. “Don’t worry about it. Seriously.”
“Okay…” Ryan replied hesitantly. “You’re hanging in okay though, yeah?”
“I’m fine,” Joey insisted with a small smile. “Honestly, being here?” He gestured around at the busy city streets. “It’s turning out to be a nice distraction.”
“Really?” Ryan raised an eyebrow, staring around the street with an expression that suggested he couldn’t quite see what his friend could. “Hey, whatever works, I guess! Just know that if you ever need to talk about it, I’m here.”
“I know. Thanks.”
The two friends stared awkwardly at one another for a moment before Ryan broke the silence by jokingly asking, “Do we need to hug it out now?”
“I think we’re good.”
“Good.” Ryan glanced back up at his office building before checking his watch. “I should probably get back inside.” He sighed sadly, taking Joey’s suitcase from him.
“Thanks for holding onto it for me. You should probably straighten your tie before you go back inside,” Joey added, indicating the neckpiece hanging loosely around his friend’s neck.
Glancing down at it in surprise, Ryan waved aside the notion. “They don’t care. Trust me.” He glanced at his watch again. “I’ll try to get out a bit early tonight—”
“Don’t worry about it,” Joey assured him. “Stay as late as you need to. Trust me, I’m in no rush to get home to see my family.” Ryan nodded, sympathetic. “That reminds me though, my mother said you could drop by the house tonight if you want.”
Ryan’s eyes lit up with excitement. “I knew I always liked that woman. Of course I want to! It’ll just be like old times!” He clapped his hand on Joey’s shoulder. “Plus, you know I can’t say no to your mom’s cooking!”
“Speaking of which, don’t eat all of her stuffed artichokes again.”
“That was one time!” Ryan exclaimed. “Don’t tell me your mom is still going on about that!” Joey shrugged innocently, eliciting a laugh from the man before he asked, “What are you doing with your day, anyway?”
“I plan on being a tourist,” Joey replied with an embarrassed smile. “But first I’m thinking breakfast. Know any good places around here?”
“The Park Café,” Ryan answered instantly. “It’s a two-minute walk away; not even. Turn right on 7th and it’s on the corner. As far as little hole in the wall diners go, it’s one of the best. Their corned beef hash is amazing.”
“Of course you’d say that, you’re Irish!”
“Which means I’m harder to please, so I know what I’m talking about.” Ryan winked before checking his watch again. “Seriously though, I need to get back upstairs. I’ll call you when I get out later.”
“Have fun!” Joey raised a hand in farewell and watched as his friend disappeared back into the office building, dragging the suitcase behind him, just as the snow began to fall from above.
As a cold wind blew down the street, Joey glanced up at the falling snowflakes before shoving his hands into his coat pockets and hurrying in the direction of Seventh avenue, mentally trying to formulate plans for the rest of the day as his stomach growled loudly.