Thursday, December 22, 2005

“Where would you go to get goats? Brooklyn!”

It’s one of my favorite Christmas stories. “’Twas the Night Before Christmas” by Paul Gallico, as adapted for the Radio City Playhouse show of Christmas Day 1949. The short story itself would probably rank as one of my favorites, as well, if I’d ever managed to find it. Until I read it, I’ll have to enjoy the dramatization instead.

Paul Gallico’s works range from “The Snow Goose” to “The Poseidon Adventure.” To the best of my knowledge, I’ve never read anything of his. But I’ve read a lot about his works. Most of them are extremely hard to find, or else I would have already consumed at least some of his works about newspapermen. These are from the days that the legend of the fedora-topped, chain-smoking, Underwood-hammering, tough-guy gentleman of the press has been constructed in and around.

Such is the character Perry Brown in “’Twas the Night Before Christmas.” He, as star reporter of The Daily Blade, is leaving the office on Christmas Eve to go to his girl’s party when his leave is revoked and he is dispatched on an urgent errand. To find and buy two goats, a harness, and a red wagon for the Managing Editor’s wife. In New York City.

Brown draws a grand from petty cash and proceeds to drive around Brooklyn (with best friend and photographer Al Vogle), stopping in at every bar to inquire as to the location of purchasable goats. Along the way, the increasingly inebriated Perry stumbles into what will probably be the Story of the Year— again and again and again. Each successive story is bigger than the last. And Perry Brown isn’t telling anyone, yet. He figures it’ll teach the paper to send him out after goats if he lets them get scooped by every paper in town. But fate has something else in store for Brown, and not just the third goat.

The third animal is actually the first (“The first little goat/Will be silky and white...”), but due to circumstances beyond the reporter’s control he becomes stuck with it in a tale of Christmas joy not to be missed.
I often find myself listening to it in the middle of the summer. (Then again, winter here would be the middle of summer to a New Yorker like Brown.)

Other appealing Gallico tales in the category of “would read this if I could find it” are:
“Two Many Ghosts” about a proficient spirit-debunker’s latest high-profile case, and
“The Zoo Gang” about the exploits of a Provencàl band of aging ex-resistance combatants.

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