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"Christmas in Manhattan: A Two Part Special"
Christmas in Manhattan was like a scene plucked straight out of a snow globe; every storefront was clad in shimmering bulbs and plastic Santas, and thick evergreen wreaths adorned every door. Strings of lights weaved across streets from lamppost to lamppost, illuminating the already bright city. And, in the center of it all, a magnificently tall tree stood in Rockefeller Center, its light bright enough to warm the hearts of all who came to stare in awe. That is, except for Oliver. Not even its shimmering branches were enough to make him enjoy the holiday.
Oliver Higgins considered himself a spirited man. He smiled at happy things, always greeted passersby with a warm “hello,” and thanked God for giving him strength to live each day. However, there was one exception. Oliver Higgins had never before felt the spirit of Christmas. Oliver loathed Christmastime, especially Christmastime in Manhattan.
Rich Hattonfield was a New York Times writer, a wealthy investor, and a graduate of Columbia University; however, he, above all, considered himself a father. Rich had two beautiful daughters, Ella and Eva, and a beautiful wife, Lillian. Together, they called home the twenty-ninth floor of a sky-rise apartment in the center of Manhattan. In November, their roomy space transformed into a winter wonderland mirroring the Manhattan streets below. Christmas lights lined every wall, carols filled the air, and a handsome tree sat in the corner of the living room, glistening like snow beneath the winter sun.
In the Hattonfield home, Christmastime was all about Ella and Eva. Christmas lists were composed in September and decorations hung promptly on November 1. Rich and Lillian wasted no time in purchasing every item on the girls’ lists. After all, if they waited too long, the stores would be all out of the best stuff, and the Hattonfield girls deserved only the best. For Rich and Lillian, Christmas was about giving to Eva and Ella; for Eva and Ella, it was about receiving presents on Christmas morning.
“I have a new story for ya to cover, Rich,” his boss said to him the morning of December 3, as he always did when confronting Rich with assignments.
“Let’s hear it,” Rich replied, sitting comfortably in the leather chair facing his boss’s desk.
“Christmas in Manhattan,” his boss answered.
“Sounds a little cliché, Dan,” Rich said. Rich’s position at the New York Times was high paying and highly respected; he was allowed to speak to his boss so bluntly, and his input was valued.
“You didn’t let me finish though,” Dan told him. “Christmas in Manhattan: A Two-Part Special. Part one: Christmas through the eyes of Rich Hattonfield. Part Two: Christmas through the eyes of one of Manhattan’s homeless.” Dan smiled proudly, silently approving his own idea.
Part two had caught Rich by surprise. Rich always avoided the eyes of the people on the streets. It bothered him, of course, seeing their impoverished lives. However, he found that it hurt less to ignore it.
“You’re pretty set on this idea, huh?” Rich asked reluctantly after pondering it silently a few moments.
“I am,” Dan replied. “Two articles, 2,000 words apiece, on my desk by December 28. It’s gonna run in our New Year’s issue. Make it interesting.”
“But I don’t know any homeless people,” Rich told him.
“They’re all over the place, Rich,” his boss said. “Go meet one.”
Oliver Higgins sat beneath the meager shelter of a tall jungle gym, attempting to ward off the wet sleet that was currently outpouring from the clouds above New York City. For twenty years he had called the Fortieth Street Boys and Girls Play Yard of Manhattan his home, and the space beneath the tall blue slide his bed. Beside the swingsets was an old shed, permanently rusted shut, beneath which he stored the few belongings he had: a few flannel shirts, a thick tan jacket, a pocketknife, an old pair of Timberland boots, two pairs of worn Levi’s, and a wooden box containing all the money he had.
The playground was always deserted in the winter, making for a peaceful hideaway from the bustle of the city. Oliver didn’t mind the cold; the slide protected him from the wind and snow, and most days he had enough money to buy himself a cup of coffee or a bowl of soup before bed to keep warm. Warm enough to fall asleep, anyway. His situation was bad; twenty years on the streets is enough to kill a man. However, Oliver had faith in God, and he knew he was meant to live that life for a reason.
The morning of December 4, Rich wasted no time in tackling the task of his new assignment. The night before, he had successfully written 2,000 words about Christmas through his eyes (presents, daughters, large feast, etc.). That was easy. The hard part was going to be finding someone willing to talk to him about the holiday.
Rich had confronted about eight people that day before he spotted Oliver on the playground, all of whom had refused to comment on the holiday. “I don’t need no charity, and I don’t need no publicity,” one woman had told him. He was beginning to feel hopeless as he crossed Fortieth Street and approached the middle-aged man crouching in the snow beneath the slide.
“Sir, I write for the New York Times, and I was wondering if I could interview you for an article I am writing,” Rich called as he trudged through the snow.
Oliver rose and started towards Rich. Extending a hand, he greeted him. “I would love to help. The name’s Oliver Higgins.”
“Rich Hattonfield,” Rich replied with a smile. “I’m so glad to hear it. The topic is Christmastime in Manhattan through your eyes.”
“I have plenty to say about Christmastime in Manhattan,” Oliver told him, and the two agreed to meet at Rich’s house for dinner on Christmas to have the interview.
On Christmas morning, Oliver did his best to make himself presentable. He had saved up over those weeks to buy a new shirt, a plain white long sleeve t-shirt, in hopes of dressing appropriately for the Hattonfield’s Christmas dinner. He attended a Christmas Mass at his local church and, afterwards, began navigating his way to the Hattonfield’s apartment building.
Christmas morning at the Hattonfield abode began promptly at sunrise. Eva and Ella awoke their parents at the crack of dawn, and wasted no time in unwrapping the mountain of presents that had overtaken their living room. After presents, Rich cooked a hearty breakfast for the family, and then the girls spent the afternoon jumping from toy to toy.
Oliver arrived at six o’clock, just as Rich had requested. As he approached the building that seemed to reach the heavens, he paused outside the door. He felt awkwardly unfit for a location such as this. Rich greeted him in the marble-floored lobby and the two made their way up to the twenty-ninth floor.
Once inside, Oliver looked scornfully at the tacky decorations and endless gifts that filled the flat. That was why he hated Christmas, as he would soon tell Rich.
They sat down at the long table for dinner. Before Oliver sat a feast fit for a family of fifty, though, at the moment, it was just Rich, Lillian, and himself. He gawked at the size of the turkey, the quality of the dinnerware, and the abundance of sides that cluttered the table.
“Dinner looks beautiful,” Oliver commented.
“Dig in,” Lillian smiled.
After a few platefuls of food and initial chatting, Rich started the interview.
“So, Oliver,” he began. “Let’s talk Christmas. My assignment is to report on Christmastime in Manhattan through your eyes. So, just talk and I’ll record our interview, and you’ll see this in the paper in a few weeks.”
Oliver had rehearsed what he wanted to say since Rich had first confronted him. “I hate Christmastime in Manhattan. It’s a time for stores to make money on overpriced gifts, all on the premise that Santa delivers presents to good little kids. Since the dawn of commercialism, the true meaning of the holiday has been lost. It’s a day for the rich to get spoiled and the stores to make money. The only time I celebrate Christmas is in Church.”
Rich just stared at Oliver intently. He was shocked at Oliver’s answer; it was so deep, so well-thought, so unexpected. Rich had expected a positive response. It had caught him completely by surprise.
“Wow,” Rich said. “Anything else?”
“That’s really all,” Oliver replied. “Just that it saddens me to see advertisers and consumers toss the true meaning of Christmas completely into oblivion.”
There was an awkward pause. Rich didn’t know what to think of Oliver’s statements.
Ella and Eva broke the silence. The two ran in to the kitchen, sporting matching forest green dresses with red and white lace, and exclaimed, “Merry Christmas, Daddy’s Friend!” This took Oliver by surprise.
“Thank you girls,” he said, smiling.
“Ella, Eva, come sit down next to mommy,” Lillian said, pulling her girls close to her. “Did you have a nice Christmas?”
“It was the best, Mommy!” Ella exclaimed. “I love when you and Daddy are home all day!”
The girls sat down at the table, and the interview ceased. The five of them continued eating, however, both Rich and Oliver remained unusually silent, pondering the goings-on around them. Time passed rapidly, and Oliver rose to leave. After a warm farewell from Lillian, Ella, and Eva, Rich walked Oliver to the door.
“Oliver,” Rich began as they headed towards the elevators, “I can’t thank you enough for coming tonight. Not even for the article. You taught me a lot tonight, a lot I won’t forget.”
“It was a pleasure,” Oliver responded. “But really, thank you. That dinner was the best meal I’ve eaten in a long time.”
“Anytime,” Rich told him, “Please, come over again soon.”
“Oh, I’d love to. Absolutely,” Oliver began. “But do me a favor. When you write that article, soften my argument a little bit. Turns out, not everyone has lost the true meaning of Christmas. I learned that from your family. Christmas is about loving and giving and sharing, and that’s what I saw tonight. So really, thank you for teaching me. I always hated this holiday, but now, I can see that it’s not all bad.”
The two hugged and parted their separate ways, returning to their vastly differing lives, both having taught each other something so valuable that snowy night: the true meaning of Christmas.
Weeks later, the article ran and it was a huge success. Rich remembered to teach his daughters about the joy of giving, and Oliver remembered to always see the best in people. The two remained close friends after that holiday, Oliver frequenting the Hattonfield residence often to visit and see the girls. Their Christmas dinner became a treasured tradition, and the two never forgot that first holiday together: the year that their paths fatefully crossed, and they taught each other the true spirit of Christmas.
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If someone thinks that love and peace is a cliche that must have been left behind in the Sixties, that's his problem. Love and peace are eternal.
- John Lennon
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An individual who asks a question is a fool for five minutes; however, a man who asks no questions is a fool forever.