The Yule Be Sorry Club mobilizes to help a stranger who is lost, confused and freezing.
The story so far: The Christmas party of the Yule Be Sorry Club at R&B Automotive shop was just winding down when a cold, lost stranger arrived, and nearly collapsed in the middle of the service bay where the food and drinks were laid out.
A JUMBLE OF VOICES: Here, let me help. Sit him here. Take his hat. No sit him like this.
TONY: Step back, guys, step back. Give the poor guy some room to breathe.
NARRATOR: The man looked to be in his 70s, bald beneath his ancient fedora. His face was slack and pale, but his skin had the weathered texture of a man who’d worked his life in the sun.
BART: He said he wanted water. I got a glass. Here, sir, take a sip.
NARRATOR: The man tried to grasp the glass, but his hands, knobby and bent, couldn’t quite steady it. Bart helped lift it to his lips; he took a sip, closed his eyes, shook his head.
JOHNNY T: Here, try this, guy needs something to warm his blood, not cool it. Here you go, paesan, a little Chianti. (sound of drinking) That’s it, that’s it.
TONY (loudly as though talking to a deaf person): Sir, what happened to you? What in heck happened?”
GINO: Lost. Looking. By water. Flowers. Niece.
OLD MILT: He’s looking to buy water and flowers? What the . . .
GINO (licking lips, struggling for words) : Lost. Looking for niece. Christmas. Lives by water. . . . More wine. Please.”
JOHNNY T: Coming right up.
TONY: OK, OK, now we’re getting a picture.You’re looking for your niece’s house. You’re due for Christmas. They live near water? What kind of water? River? Lake? Ocean?
NARRATOR: The man opened his mouth; his brain rummaged through its compartments, seeking the needed word. Nothing. A grimace, a fist pounding his thigh in frustration.
TONY: OK, don’t worry, you’re at R&B now, where we fix any problem. Easier question. What’s your name, sir?
BART: Got that, Tone. Checked his glovebox outside. He’s got an old Mazda pickup. By the looks of it, the first one Mazda every made. Owner card made out to Gino Bontempo.
NARRATOR: The old man looked up.
GINO: Yes, me.
TONY: Now, we’re cooking. More wine for him, boys. With every sip we get a fact.
NARRATOR: Gino took another swig of Chianti, gained a little color, and a stronger voice.
GINO: I come from the Poconos. Yesterday. But the road, the Extension, an accident, they made me get off. From there, I have no idea. Looking for the shopping center near the flower shop. But so many shopping centers; they all look the same. So lost. So cold. Slept in my car last night. So cold. My heater no work so good. And today. So many shopping centers, all the same. Around and around. No water, no flower shop. Finally, I am running out of gas. I come here. My niece, she is in nice house by water; her shop is near there.
JOHNNY T: A nice house near water and trees. Well, that narrows it down to most of Montgomery County and Northwest Philly. Great.
TONY: Shhh, Johnny!
NARRATOR: Tony put his hands gently on Gino’s shoulders, looking him in the eyes.
TONY: Mr. Bontempo, we are going to find your niece and get you to her, in time for the first fish. I promise. That’s what we do at R&B. We fix things.
THE KID: That’s great, Tony, you do that. But I can’t help you anymore. If I’m late to Rachel’s mom’s tonight for dinner, Rachel will kill me.
NARRATOR: The other club members began to make similar mumbled excuses, grabbing for coats and car keys. Tony’s cell phone rang. He rolled his eyes and reached for it.
TONY: Yo, Coll.
COLLEEN: Tone, don’t tell me you’re still there! It’s way past 4. We’re supposed to be at the church by 5; you know Bridget’s solo is at 5:30.
TONY: Something’s come up, Coll.
COLLEEN: Oh, no you don’t, Tony Renzi. On my mother’s grave, don’t you go there. What’s come up?
TONY: This old guy, he just stumbled in, frozen stiff, lost. We’ve got to help him find his niece’s house.
COLLEEN: Well, that’s certainly terrible, and I feel sorry for the old guy, but why is he your problem? Drop him at the police station and get yourself home.
TONY: Coll, I can’t do that, you know that. I can’t just dump the guy. I gotta see this through. Tell ya what: You go on to church and I’ll meet you there. I’ll be there in time for Bridge’s song.
COLLEEN: You had better be. (Hangs up.)
NARRATOR: The service bay was a chaos of empty plastic cups, beer bottles, folding chairs at odd angles, crusted paper plates, and strewn garlands. (sound of snoring). In the middle sat Gino, slump-shouldered. Bart walked in, turning off his cell.
BART – That was Nicolena. She’s about as happy as I imagine Coll was. Well, pardner, looks like it’s just you and me to the rescue.
TONY: As usual. Well, Bart, ol’ buddy, let’s do what we do. Let’s fix this.
TOMORROW in ACT 4: A near miss with a Grinch-like scam artist.
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 narrative 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. They are reprinted by permission of the Inquirer and Tony Auth.
The Thursday airings will be followed by a broadcast of the WHYY holiday play first aired last year, Let Nothing Ye Dismay.