A Supernatural “Night”
It’s Christmas time. You’re the manager of a large department store, and business is in full swing. Will you finish the year in the black, and earn a nice bonus? Or wind up in the red?
It all depends on those holiday sales — and Santa Claus is a key ingredient in making them happen. The man you’ve hired to don that red suit and wear those white whiskers has to make a good impression. That means being punctual and looking presentable. It means making the mothers lining up with their eager, impressionable kids want to open their purses.
So when your man staggers in an hour late, reeking of alcohol, you bawl him out. And when he proceeds to fall off his throne and convince the shocked customers that they should shop elsewhere, you naturally handle this utter debacle by sacking Santa on the spot. And you give him a tongue-lashing for good measure.
But this is no ordinary Santa.
In fact, Mr. Dundee (for that, my friend, is your name), nothing will be ordinary for you today. You may not realize it, but you’re spending this Christmas in a very special place. You’re in the Twilight Zone.
Because the man you hired is Henry Corwin. And because he was crafted by the hands of a master storyteller named Rod Serling, he’s going to open your eyes — and give you a much-needed lesson in perspective.
Mr. Corwin, so touchingly portrayed by Art Carney, is indeed drunk. But he isn’t drinking to feel good. He’s drinking to drown his pain. You weren’t with him only minutes earlier when two poor neighborhood kids were pleading for some toys. You didn’t see him cry when they asked for a job for their father.
So you’re surprised when he tells you:
As to my drinking, this is indefensible. And you have my abject apologies. I find of late that I have very little choice in the matter of expressing emotions. I can either drink, or I can weep. And drinking is so much more subtle.
But as to my insubordination, I was not rude to that woman. Someone should remind her that Christmas is more than barging up and down department store aisles and pushing people out of the way.
Someone has to tell her that Christmas is another thing finer than that. Richer, finer, truer, and should come with patience and love. Charity, compassion. That’s what I would have told her if you’d given me a chance.
Very nice, and very true. However, you can hear that message in any number of Christmas specials. It’s what follows that stamps this particular story as pure Serling — and elevates it to the ranks of a true holiday classic. Mr. Corwin continues:
You know another reason why I drink, Mr. Dundee? So that when I walk down the tenements, I can really think it’s the North Pole and the children are elves and that I’m really Santa Claus bringing them a bag of wondrous gifts for all of them. I just wish, Mr. Dundee, on one Christmas, only one, that I could see some of the hopeless ones and the dreamless ones, just on one Christmas, I’d like to see the meek inherit the Earth. That’s why I drink, Mr. Dundee, and that’s why I weep.
Like the rest of the audience you are, quite naturally, stunned into silence.
But Mr. Serling isn’t through with you. We saw your eyes dart around nervously as Corwin said, “I live in a dirty rooming house on a street filled with hungry kids and shabby people where the only thing that comes down the chimney on Christmas Eve is more poverty!” Your heart wasn’t moved to pity. You only wanted your sobriety-challenged Santa to shut up.
That’s not good. You weren’t thinking about those poor people. You were thinking about your people. Well-heeled and well-fed, they usually turn a blind eye to the suffering endured by their fellow man. But not today.
So it wasn’t the end of the story when Corwin stumbled out in the snowy night. He returned to the bar where he got drunk to begin with, but Bruce, the compassionless bartender, refused to re-admit him. “Santa’s a lush,” he told the bar patrons. Like you, he cared only about himself.
But then began, as Serling promised us at the beginning, “the magic that can only be found in the Twilight Zone.” Corwin followed the sound of jingling bells. He stepped into a nearby alley, where a cat overturned a bag full of tin cans and other trash. He started to walk away, heard the bells again, turned his head … and the bag was filled not with trash but with Christmas presents.
Like any child, or anyone with the spirit of a child, Corwin didn’t question the miracle. He simply slung the bag over his shoulder, smiled for the first time in what must be a very, very long time, and exited the alley — yelling, “Hey, kids! Everybody! Merry Christmas!” Joy was written all over his face.
And so your man went throughout that neighborhood, handing presents to all, young and old. Ah, but the authorities were suspicious. Can’t blame them, I suppose, but is a little faith so hard to muster on Christmas Eve?
Sure, it was for grumpy Sister Florence at the mission house over on Delancey Street. When Corwin came in, handing out gifts to all, she huffily asked where they came from. Corwin replied:
Don’t ask me to explain, Sister Florence. I’m just as much in the dark as anybody else. All I know is, I’ve got a Santa Claus bag here that gives everybody exactly what they want for Christmas. And as long as it’s putting out, I’m putting in!
Sister stormed off looking for Officer Flaherty, who came right down, accused him of being drunk, and demanded that Corwin produce a receipt. Naturally he couldn’t, so down to the police station he went, telling his story.
That’s when you came in again, gloating. You were so gleeful at the thought of Corwin getting sent to jail that when you started pulling items from his bag, you didn’t realize you were handling trash. Then you pulled out a cat. “It seems to me that the essence of our problem is that we’re dealing with a most unusual bag,” Corwin said. That’s putting in mildly.
The case against him in shambles, Corwin left with his bag. But not before you sarcastically requested a bottle of cherry brandy — and Corwin obliged.
He then went right back to his task, giving every child the toy or gift he most wanted, until … the bag was empty. When Burt, one of his friends from the mission house, remarked that Corwin himself had no gift of his own, Corwin replied:
You know, I can’t think of anything I want. I guess what I’ve really wanted is to be the biggest gift-giver of all time. And in a way, I think I had that tonight. Although if I had my choice of any gift, any gift at all, I think I’d wish I could do this every year.
Could the wish of this gentle soul possibly go unfulfilled? Not in the Twilight Zone.
So when the sound of bells again filled the air, and Corwin returned to the alley where he found the bag … there was a sleigh, a team of reindeer, and a giddy elf. “We’ve been waiting quite a while for you, Santa!” the elf said. “We’ve got a year of hard work ahead of us to get ready for next Christmas.”
Well, Mr. Dundee, a bewildered but happy Corwin got in that sleigh and took off for the skies. But you know that, don’t you? You saw him as you were inviting Officer Flaherty home for a few nips of that cherry brandy. Had you learned your lesson? You must have, because I heard you say:
Flaherty, you’d better come home with me, and we’ll pour out some hot coffee, and we’ll pour some brandy in it, and we’ll thank God for miracles.
But it wasn’t easy earning that miracle, was it? Like George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life, Corwin was in the depths, apparently for a quite a while, before he was pulled out. He went through hell first. Notice, Mr. Dundee, the religious parallels: The road to the Resurrection of the Child born at Christmas runs through the blood-stained ground at Calvary. Those who keep faith are finally rewarded.
Now, Corwin’s as human as the rest of us. His faith waned, but it never deserted him. His decency, his humanity, his willingness to think of others first, remained intact. In the end, it saved him. That, and a trip to the Twilight Zone.
“It’s like Corwin says,” Officer Flaherty says, “we’re dealing with supernatural here.”
We are indeed. As Serling says in his closing narration: “There’s a wondrous magic to Christmas, and there’s a special power reserved for little people. In short, there’s nothing mightier than the meek.”
Amen. Merry Christmas, all.
Photos courtesy of Wendy Brydge. For a daily dose of Serling, you can follow me on Twitter, Facebook or Pinterest. You can also get email notifications of future posts by entering your address under “Follow S&S Via Email” on the upper left-hand side of this post. WordPress followers, just hit “follow” at the top of the page.
Hope to see you in some corner of the fifth dimension soon!