Act 1 of 5

    As our play opens, it’s Christmas Eve at R&B Automotive, and the Yule Be Sorry Club is itching to celebrate.  But the world just won’t cooperate.

    Rising sounds of drills and clatter in automobile repair shop, keys rattling, papers shuffling.

    TONY: OK, Tom, that’ll do it. Here’s your card. You should be fine to get up to the in-laws tonight, but watch that light on the dash. It pops on again, you give me a call the day after Christmas, OK?

    CUSTOMER: Thanks, Tony. Merry Christmas to you.

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    TONY: And to you my, friend. (Sound of door opening, winter wind, closing). Yo, Bart! How ya’ doing back there on the Porter job? Are we ever gonna get to close up today? Mmm-mmm, my Italian pork is smelling just about perfect.

    BART: (Distant, around the clatter of a drill) Getting there, pard, getting there.

    NARRATOR: The annual Christmas bash of the Yule Be Sorry Club was itching to get started. Tony Renzi’s Italian pork was simmering. The slaw and potato salad were in the battered fridge at the back of R&B Automotive repair shop. The Chianti bottles stood like sentries atop a tool chest. The Yards and Yuengling were on ice in the plastic cooler. (Club rule: Only Pennsylvania brews to toast the Lord’s birthday.)

    But the world wouldn’t cooperate.

    Tony looked down at the counter. Four keys with receipts still waited to be picked up.

    TONY: (Sighing, talking to himself, in amused, not angry tone): No way we close by 2. Party’s startin’ late this year. What is it with people? Did they keep the date of Christmas secret until the last minute this year? Why wait til today to get the car fixed to drive to Aunt Marge’s? Customers …

    A phone in the shop rings.

    “Stan! Merry Christmas, my friend. Yep, yep, all ready to go. You did pretty good, but ya did have to get a new set of wiper blades from Santa. Yeah, yeah, Santa takes Mastercard. … By 2, if you could, that’d be great.”

    NARRATOR: Tony had been tossing such genial patter across that spic-and-span counter for 24 years. He was the front-of-the-shop man, the face of the place. His partner, Bart Brewer, spent more of his time in back, bent under the hood, beloved tools in hand. Behind and above Tony’s head, a sign read. .” ALL BILLS MUST BE PAID IN FULL BEFORE THE CAR LEAVES. NO EXCEPTIONS.” That tough talk was true, oh, except for the 100 or so people Tony trusted to bring in the check sometime in the next month.

    The late rush was building; customers lined up in front of Tony’s counter …

    TONY: Uh-oh, here comes the man with all the money. Ya’ know, if I had your money, Bill, I’d just throw all my money away. Wouldn’t need it. Why I only charge you 30 bucks for an oil change, I’ll never know. Nice Lexus, by the way. Good Lord, Bill, you change cars like I change underwear!

    NARRATOR: As his master talked, Ziti the chocolate Labrador slept behind the counter. Ziti had a neurotic fear of the vacuum cleaner, so he’d been banished from home for the day so Colleen could clean in peace.

    The door opened. A striking redhead dressed all in black stepped forward, clutching a laptop.

    WEEB: “Uh, excuse me, hi, don’t know if we’ve met. My husband and I just moved in to the house across the street. And, well, this is so embarrassing, but I’ve … I’ve locked my keys in the car with the engine running, and I’ve got no clue where the spare keys are and I called the cops but they won’t come unless I go to the station and sign some waiver . . . “

    TONY: You’re in luck, miss. Before I was an auto mechanic, I was an auto thief.

    WEEB: Ex ..excuse me?

    TONY: Sorry, bad joke.   It’s no problem at all. Be glad to help you, Miss …??

    WEEB: Weeb. My name’s Weeb. Louise, actually, but everyone calls me Weeb.

    TONY: Well, great to meet you, neighbor . I guess that’s your Xterracq over there idling to beat the band? (Sound of metal clanking) See this little baby here, with the shepherd’s crook at one end? It’ll have your door open in 60 seconds tops, or I’m resigning from the car thief’s guild. . . . Bart! Can you come take the front for a bit while I solve a predicament for our new neighbor here?”

    NARRATOR – Bart walked into the front area, wiping his hands on a rag. He nodded a greeting at Weeb.

    BART: Nice to meet you, miss. Hey, Ton’, did Miriam show yet?

    TONY: Not yet, but she’ll be here soon. Count on it. Be back in a minute. OK, Weeb, now watch the magic this little item can do …

    Fading as they walk out door …

    NARRATOR: Truth told, it took Tony longer than 60 seconds to end Weeb’s Christmas Eve nightmare. But he persevered. By the time he returned, sure enough, Miriam was there, sitting primly on the ancient, sagging loveseat in the front office, an old carpetbag on her lap.

    MIRIAM: Tony! Merry Christmas! So good to see you again. Here’s something for that little girl of yours.

    TONY: Pink knitted booties. Gosh, Miriam, they’re gorgeous. You shouldn’t have.

    MIRIAM: Oh, it’s my pleasure, you dear man. The little ones need to be warm this time of year.

    NARRATOR: For 15 years, Miriam had been taking three buses from somewhere in South Jersey to spend Christmas on the Hill with her daughter. The final bus let out right in front of R&B. Miriam always stopped in to warm her bones and share the news of the season with Tony and Bart. Tony always drove her the last mile to her daughter’s house in R&B’s courtesy van, always wondering what kind of daughter couldn’t be bothered to pick up the woman who brought her into the world.   Long ago, he’d told Miriam about the birth of his daughter, Bridget. The next year, Miriam had brought the first knitted booties for her. She still brought them; Bridge was now 12.

    The clock read close to 2:30. But, club rule: Party can’t start until Miriam is delivered to Witchy Woman’s house.

    Sound fades as Tony and Miriam walk to the door talking.

    TONY: Ready for the last leg, Miriam? Come now, let me take your bag and that package …

    MIRIAM: Well, you’re right, I guess I should get going, though it is so cozy and warm here and .. oh my goodness, who is that lovely girl in that photo frame there ….

    COMING UP in PART 2:  The traditions of the Yule Be Sorry Club finally get rolling.

    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.  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.

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