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Caleb Strange
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I’ve been having no end of merry fun this Christmas with this bizarre little routine. So, what with this being the season of good will and all, I thought that it would be nice if I were to share it with my friends at the Café. I hope you like it.

A word of warning, though, before we start: if you really like Frank Capra’s life-affirming film, It’s a Wonderful Life, then you might want to give this cynical but amusing ‘antidote to Christmas’ routine a miss. Don’t say I didn’t warn you! Anyway, that’s enough chat. Here it is:

‘With Apologies to Frank Capra’

(You are seated at a table with your guests, enjoying the warmth and crackle of a Christmas fire. Dinner is ended--you’re waiting for coffee--when you intriguingly tear your napkin into tiny pieces. Your guests nudge each other--this should be good, they think, here he goes again! And they watch you tip this impromptu confetti onto the table like snow. Then you lean forward and begin:)


“It was Christmas Eve in Bedford Falls when Clarence the angel came, soft as wingless snow, to find George Bailey (of Bailey and Bailey Savings and Loans) drunk on the town bridge announcing grandly, to no one in particular, that he intended to jump and put an end to his miserable life.

‘I’m worth more dead than alive,’ declared George--rather heroically, he felt--and he allowed himself the pleasure of imagining his words tumbling end on end down into the angry waters below. ‘Soon that will be me,’ he muttered, ‘and then they’ll be sorry.’ He lifted a leg onto the handrail of the bridge by way of illustration, but the iron rail was wet with snow, and the cuff of his trousers would get soggy--tweed twill was such a devil to dry!--so he put his foot back down quickly onto the road. So quickly, in fact, that it went directly, up to his ankle, into a frosty puddle. Once more George Bailey rolled his eyes and sighed deeply at the sheer injustice of it all. He shook his head testily at heaven, and then bent down to scrape the muck and slush off his shoe. It was then that he noticed Clarence.

‘Couldn’t help overhearing you, friend,’ said Clarence, pleasantly tipping his hat. ‘How you think everybody would’ve been better off, if it hadn’t been for you.’
George, who, as it happened, didn’t remember saying that, stared at this podgy interloper with some annoyance. ‘You’ve got the wrong man, pal,’ he said. ‘Now, buzz off and leave me alone.’
‘It’s just,’ said Clarence, his eyes bright as two coals, ‘ that you mustn’t talk like that, on this of all nights. Why, if it hadn’t been for you...’
‘You don’t know what you’re talking about, old man.’
‘I mean, think of all that you’ve done: your wife, your family, your accomplishments, all the lives that you’ve touched for the better...’
‘Look,’ muttered George, ‘I made a mistake. Had a little too much too drink, got to thinking, got a bit morose. But look, I’m fine now! And all I want to do is go home.’
Yes. It was true. He had been a fool. All he did want to do now was go home, back to Mary and the kids. He turned to go, but Clarence coughed reproachfully.
‘Sheesh!’ moaned George. ‘Can’t a guy wish that he’d never been born.’

It was hard for George to say what exactly had happened, but certainly things felt different. It had stopped snowing for one thing--no, not stopped, that wasn’t it: it was as if the snow had never fallen. The bridge, the iron rail, even George’s trousers were dry now, completely dry, and above him the night sky was bright and sharp as a pin. And Clarence, sly, shy Clarence, was smiling broadly. ‘You’ve got your wish,’ he said, his voice twinkling like a tiny bell. ‘You don’t exist. You’ve never been born.’”

(You lean back, out of the story briefly, and look around at your guests. Then, as you continue with your tale, you collect the pieces of torn napkin from the table and begin to crush them into a raggedy paper ball.)

“It’s strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around, it leaves an awful hole: that one kind word that rolls around the globe; that simple deed that...snowballs and grows. Yes, truly every life is special. Truly every one of us is an indispensable part of the whole.

Everyone, that is... apart from George Bailey: good old George Bailey (of Bailey and Bailey of Savings and Loans). For, as he stepped through that world where he’d never been born, with Clarence as his cherubic guide, he couldn’t help but notice that the people and things of Bedford Falls were a darn sight better off without him. Clarence watched George’s growing dismay with interest.
‘George,’ said the angel, ‘you were right and I was wrong. Please forgive me. It really would’ve been better if you’d never been born. But how could we know? How could we know that that child you saved twenty years ago and pulled from the ice, would go on to murder so horribly those twelve nuns?’
George Bailey moaned and wrapped his face in his hands.
‘Or that Ernie and his wife, whose marriage you saved, would have been so much more happy apart? How happy they seem now George, without you to intervene.’
Once more, poor old George Bailey moaned.
Clarence continued, warming to his theme: ‘And how could we know that the cure for cancer would be lost when you...’
‘Hang on,’ said George looking suddenly up, ‘what about my kids? You’re not telling me that they’ll grow up to slaughter innocent dozens, or rob banks, or invent horrible diseases. They’re good kids. Darn good kids. And it must mean something in the scheme of things that I’m their father: George Bailey, their father. You can’t possibly claim that things are better off without...’
George shut up. He had seen something. Something that chilled his non-existent heart to its core. For there across the square, holding hands under the pretty lights, were Mary and his kids, Alice and Billy and Ray.
‘My family,’ said George. ‘I don’t understand. How can that be, if... if I never existed?’
He looked at Clarence, who was looking down sheepishly at his shoes.
‘Unless...’ hissed George, the anger burning over him like brandy flames on a pudding.
‘Look,’ said Clarence. ‘You can’t blame Mary. All those nights you were away with work. All those nights. She got lonely, too...’”

(You look down at your hand, and its paper ball. Then you say:)

“It was Christmas Eve in Bedford Falls, and George Bailey (of Bailey and Bailey Savings and Loans) slunk to his knees in despair.
‘Perhaps it would be best,’ he said quietly, ‘if we were to go to back to the bridge?’
Clarence shook his head. ‘Oh there’s no need to go to all that trouble,’ he said pleasantly. ‘These will do fine.’

And the pills clattered loudly into George’s hands, tumbling end on end like falling snow.”

(As you say this last line, you tip out from your hand (noisily onto a saucer) a good two dozen small white pills--maybe aspirin, maybe something else, whatever they are they clearly exceed the recommended daily dose. The little ball of confetti snow has been not so much restored as completely and pharmaceutically transformed. Your guests are shocked. And the night, as the carol says, is still. Then, just as some of your guests begin to laugh nervously, a tiny bell, hung on the Christmas tree, rings brightly and merrily. “Ah!” you nod, with devilish certainty, “you know they say that every time a bell rings, it means another angel got his wings.” And you nod to yourself contentedly and settle back in your chair. Then you gleefully wonder which of your guests will be crossing you off their Christmas card lists this year...)


Warmest yuletide regards,

Caleb Strange.
-- QCiC --
Seance
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Caleb,

I just watched It's A Wonderful Life last night, and your twisted mind perfectly ricochets the story to an unexpected corner!

I doff my hat to you and say, "Good fortune to you in the coming year!"
Peter Marucci
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Caleb,
It's a wonderful yarn!

I'm already thinking of further embellishments in which Old Man Potter is the savior of the town!

Capra (who was not a particularly likeable person) would probably approve heartily!

cheers,
Peter Marucci
showtimecol@aol.com
David de Leon
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Thanks Caleb, I enjoyed your story very much, and greatly appreciated the manner in which the transformation fit the story; a handful of paper shreds (snow) becoming the suicidal dose of pills is emotionally very strong! The reason it is so strong, I believe, is that it contains a double surprise: the narrative surprise of how the story will end in suicide, and the magical surprise of the transformation itself. I think there is a lesson to be learned about routining here.
Mark Rough
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I bow before the master. Great story Caleb. My wife wants to know why I'm laughing so hard.

Mark
What would Wavy do?
Lee Darrow
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Being only one of two human beings in the United States (and perhaps the English speaking world) who has never watched this film, I can heartily appreciate your tale, Caleb!

Your surname is distinctly appropriate!

I am, frankly, in awe of anyone who can do such a neat job on such a smarmy flick!

Well done, young Jedi!

Lee Darrow, C.Ht.
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<BR>"Because NICE Matters!"
Caleb Strange
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Many many thanks everybody for your kind words--I'm so happy that people liked this routine.

I love Peter's idea of developing the premise so that old man Potter becomes the saviour of the town! Maybe the neon signs and seedy bars were just what Bedford Falls needed in the wider scheme of things? Jimmy Stewart's character may not be in the best position to tell. There's probably a difference, at least some of the time, between what we call 'good' and what, for want of a better word, is actually 'right.'

I'm delighted David drew attention to the intentional double whammy of the ending. If we can match the twist of our magic to the twist of the story, then something powerful can happen, I believe. Michael Ammar, amongst others, has talked about this.

Incidentally, if anybody performs this story (and please feel free to do so, or adapt it as you see fit), then I suggest that you pour the pills onto a saucer/plate as detailed. The unexpected rattle of the pills helps to maximise the shock and surprise, I've found.

Warm regards,

Caleb Strange.
-- QCiC --
kaytracy
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And here his avatar photo makes him look so...innocent!

Another well twisted one Caleb.... (The booooook! Soon, I hope.)
I am glad to see you are getting well into the holiday "spirit!"
Kay and Tory
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kilgourpower
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Caleb,

Man, that's depressing.... But I like it! A good twist to one of the best films ever made.

(Please pull a big rabbit from somewhere afterwards!)

:bunny:
Its Grim up north!!!!
Have a proper bo chrimbo.
:xmastree: Smile
Caleb Strange
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Kay and kilgourpower, many thanks for your kind words.

As for it being grim up north, well perhaps the local mills have exerted a dark satanic influence over me. Certainly something has. Smile

And it's nice to hear that I still look innocent. That 'Dorian' picture of myself must be working, then....

Regards,

Caleb Strange.
-- QCiC --
kaytracy
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I am not certain I would want to know what Caleb would do to a Pooka, or rather, what the Pooka might do in Caleb's hands. Surely there is one for your outdoor stone circle stories, just the thing for that old rabbit suit, eh? Smile
Kay and Tory
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Caleb Strange
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Speaking of bunny suits, my partner and I were once driving across a high localish moor one night (trying to escape light pollution so as to watch the Leonids) when this figure lurched out of the bracken, dressed as what I can only describe as a GOAT. (Horns on his head, bare chest, fluffy Afghan carpet centaur legs. Couldn't see if he had hooves, or was wearing Reeboks.)

And funnily enough, as it was 2 a.m. and we were miles from anywhere, we didn't stop to enquire what he was doing or, for that matter, what he was....

Regards,

Caleb Strange.
-- QCiC --
PossumSlimm
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Quote:
On 2003-12-19 13:45, Caleb Strange wrote:
when this figure lurched out of the bracken, dressed as what I can only describe as a GOAT. (Horns on his head, bare chest, fluffy Afghan carpet centaur legs. Couldn't see if he had hooves, or was wearing Reeboks.)


"I laughed at the Great God Pan."
-Mark E Smith
Caleb Strange
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PossumSlimm,

I didn't so much laugh, as look nervously over my shoulder....

Jittery regards,

Caleb Strange.
-- QCiC --
Lee Darrow
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Kind of like a review of your proposed movie might be - "Pan-ned?"

Couldn't resist. Smile

Lee "Master of Pun-fu" Darrow, C.Ht.
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"V"
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Caleb - I loved the twist in the tale - playing with people's expectations in such a way is inspired... and guaranteed to create an unsettling atmosphere. Are there any other film-adaptations in the works..? Or how about classic fairy tales which are grimm (har har just my little joke) enough in the original to be disturbing anyway even before their Strange makeover?
Caleb Strange
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"V"

Glad you liked the twist. As for other film adaptations, funnily enough, I watched 'The Sound of Music' this afternoon, and found myself fantasizing about a 'Director's Cut': one where the apple-cheeked von Trapps all get machine-gunned by the Nazis, after the concert...

Fairy tales ARE a wonderful source of material; many of them, as you suggest, are disturbing and challenging enough already, and certainly don't require the dubious benefits of a Caleb Strange makeover Smile.

However, that said, I think one of the inherent strengths of the story form is that it is adaptable; patterns and information can be transmitted long-term through stories, precisely because they evolve to fit their culture and time; the same wine can be carried in many different jars.

Note to self: there goes that New Year's Resolution to stop being so darn pretentious... Smile

Regards,

Caleb Strange.
-- QCiC --
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