The tradition-laden Christmas party of the Yule Be Sorry Club is interrupted by a mysterious visitor in distress.
The story so far: The owners of R&B Automotive, Tony Renzi and Bart Brewer, have been trying to take care of their last-minute Christmas Eve duties so that the annual party of the Yule Be Sorry Club could get started.
Sound of door opening.
JOHNNY T.: So, Miriam’s all settled in with the witch?
TONY: Yes, yes, she is, bless her heart. So, now, let the annual meeting of the Yule Be Sorry Club begin. Everybody, cell phones out, pass ’em over to the guy to your right.”
NARRATOR: Club rule: First guy whose wife calls to tell him, “If you don’t come home right now, you’ll be sorry” – well, that poor sucker has to buy the beer next Christmas Eve.
The best way to keep everyone honest was to have each guy hold another guy’s phone.
The gang was assembled on folding chairs in the grimy service bay, beneath posters from Bosch, Champions and Valvoline. There was Johnny T., over from his hardware store across the way. And Old Milt, who’d trained Tony and Bart in the trade, then sold them the business 20 years ago. And the Kid, their assistant mechanic. Scootch the Snap-on Tool salesman was late, as usual.
BART (dryly): Hey, Tone, Scootch called. He said his fabled holiday tour of his customers is goin’ a little slow this year. But he wants us to know he does have something for us in the way of Christmas cheer.
TONY: Wow, let me guess. A gift bottle of cheap Scotch, which, after 15 years of this, he oughta know neither of us drinks.
BART (taking a swig of beer): Yes. And which he’ll mostly drink himself, forcing me to drive him home to the missus.
JOHNNY T. (imitating Scootch’s drunken whine): Hey, Brewer, it’s on your way!
BART – Yeah, if you consider Manayunk on the way to Lansdale.
NARRATOR: Bart had given a blotto Scootch that lift home to Manayunk the last five Christmas Eves. It was tradition. And tradition was pretty much the point of the Yule Be Sorry Club. New stories, new jokes were always appreciated, but it was the old ones that were treasured. So when The Kid tried to lift the lid on the beer cooler, Johnny T., slammed the lid shut with a surprisingly agile move of his beefy leg .
JOHNNY T.: Dunno, Kid, you don’t look of age to me. Show me some ID!
THE KID: Not again. C’mon, Johnny, move that ham of yours. Lemme get a beer. I’m 23. Legal as you.
TONY: Hey, Johnny, I can vouch for the Kid. Don’t let the peach fuzz fool you.
JOHNNY T.: You, vouch for him? You forget, Tony Renzi, that I was already a hardware legend by the time you were passing your crazed, misspent youth on the Hill. How do I know you’re not corrupting the poor lad?
BART: I’ll vouch for him, too. If that means he’ll start paying me back for that tool box I fronted him for.
JOHNNY T. (in a mock growl): Oh, all right, then, Kid, have a Yard’s.
NARRATOR: The ritual joke complete, the Kid claimed his brew. Tony and Bart had mentored the Kid all the way up from the vo-tech. They were grooming him to take over when they hung it up, just as Old Milt had done for them a generation ago. Soon The Kid would finish paying back the four grand Tony and Bart had lent him, no interest, to buy the royal-blue tool box, big as an upright piano, that now served as the bar for the Chianti bottles.
The Kid knew that on the day he paid it off, Tony, Bart, and the rest would begin calling him by his given name, Ryan. ‘Til then, he was The Kid, and good with it. Bart looked at Old Milt, a bright-eyed 80-year-old in a Phillies cap and sleeveless parka.
BART: Hey, Old Milt, remember what you said the first time you saw an electronic ignition, the one from, which was it, Chrysler?
OLD MILT: Sure do. I looked at that thing that come out that little box and I said to youse, “Boys, if this damn thing here runs that car over there, I’m done for. Time for me to give ‘er up.”
NARRATOR: Everyone laughed, as they had the previous 20 times Old Milt had told the story.
JOHNNY T.: Speaking of giving it up . . . Got a little announcement for you, boys. Come Dec. 31, that’s it for Tomasso Hardware. I’m shutting down. The Home Depot was hard enough to fight, but when Lowe’s opened, too . . . Well, it’s finito. Ending 31 years on the 31st. Kind of full circle.
THE REST (all at once): “Oh, no!,” “Damn!” and “Jeez, Johnny, I’m sorry”
JOHNNY T:. Hey, weep not for me and the missus. We’ve socked a little away. In fact, did I ever tell you my Charlotte has an eye for the stocks? She bought Intel way back in the day, Google at the IPO. In fact, Jan. 2, we leave for an Alaskan cruise, 17 days. I’ll send postcards.
THE REST (all at once): You’re kidding. Wow. What the hell.
MILT (with mock anger): Forty years we known each other, Johnny T., and you couldn’t of clued me in on this here Google thing?”
JOHNNY T.: Milt, you never bought a share of stock in your life, you old miser. You still got the money from your first oil change in your mattress.
BART: True, that. C’mon, Milt, ya gotta admit…
TONY (philosophical): I suppose we’ll be next, Bart, if we’re not careful. The business is changing. All these new makes and models, we spend more time in class now than we ever did at the high, right, Bart? The customer has no idea what repairs really cost, with all the electronics now. And the dealers, with their free inspections and oil changes, they lure them in, then hammer ’em. The pirates! You gotta have a lot of grit to survive today, a will to persevere.
THE KID: Uh-oh, there Tony goes again, getting all sobby. Cut off his Chianti.
A cell phone rings..
THE KID: Ah-ha! What’s this? Why, Tone, I believe it would be the lovely Colleen.
TONY: Damn. Buyin’ the beer again next year. … Yo, Coll, you couldn’t have waited 10 more minutes?
COLLEEN (on phone): Merry Christmas to you, too, mister. Tone, hon, I know it’s early but I just wanted to remind you about the Christmas pageant tonight. Bridget has her solo first thing. We’ve got to get there early to get seats.
TONY: Yeah, hon, I know. I know. Don’t worry. I’ll be there.
Another phone rings.
TONY– Aaurrgh, that’s Bart’s phone! I knew it. God, Nicolena, you couldn’t have called two minutes earlier?
BART (into phone) – Yeah, yeah, hon, I know. Six-thirty at cousin Elvie’s. First fish at 7. I know.
NARRATOR: Still, some time remained for seconds on the pork, one more drink, a new round of old stories that aged better than a good red. A little before 4, Tony put hands on thighs and pulled himself up.
TONY: Well, Bridget does have the solo at the church tonight. I’d better be off.
CHORUS OF VOICES: Or you’ll be sorry.
Sound of banging on a glass front door.
TONY: Who the heck is making the racket; don’t they know just to come in? Yeah, yeah, I’m coming. … (from another room) Sorry, we’re closed. …My God! Come in, come in, what happened to you?”
NARRATOR: A moment later, Tony slid sideways through the door, propping up another person, a stranger. The fellow was short, with a pot belly and thin legs. An old fedora sat askew his bald head, above a face that was ghastly white. His glasses were fogged; crystals of ice clung to his white moustache. He had on several layers of jackets, working down to a frayed white shirt and thin black tie, but he had clearly been in the Arctic cold too long. His head shook, then his knees crumpled. Only Tony’s strong arms kept him from pitching onto the concrete shop floor.
GINO (in a raspy voice): By water. Flowers.
TOMORROW in PART 3: Tony and Bart mobilize to help a stranger in need.
Hear a performance of this play on WHYY, 90.9 FM, at 11 a.m. Thursday, Dec. 23.
Encore performances will be aired at 10 p.m., Thursday, Dec. 23; 1 p.m., Friday, Christmas Eve; 8 p.m., Friday, Christmas Eve, and 3 p.m. on Saturday, Christmas Day.
A prose version of this story first appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer in 2007. The drawings are by Tony Auth, the Inquirer’s Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist.
The Thursday airings will be followed by a broadcast of the WHYY holiday play by Chris Satullo that first aired last year, Let Nothing Ye Dismay.