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SANTA THROUGH THE YEARS, PART TWO

As the centuries roll further onward, Santa Claus' legend continues to grow, along with the flow of letters addressed to him from children all over the world. But, as we are about to see in this, the beginning of Act II, the challenges are consistently solvable with each passing year --- and yet, these challenges are not necessarily creative. Case in point:

In the dining room of an elegant manor house in one of the Thirteen Colonies (of what will later become these United States), a young boy is mischievously --- somewhat violently --- playing around with a tiny kitten, while his young sister is attempting in vain to stop him. "Leave him alone! Can't you see he hates it?" she pleads angrily. But the boy is not moved. The kitten manges to escape his clutches, and we see the girl weeping piteously as he pursues the defenseless animal.

Later that night, the girl sleeps with the kitten safely in her arms. But mysteriously, a miracle is about to occur.

The girl's letter, along with a good many others --- each and every one addresed to Santa Claus --- flutters magically up the chimney..... and is scattered along by the winds of magic..... until it reaches North Pole Headquarters.

Later, in Santa's house, Anya reads from the little girl's letter, with her husband and Dooley in attendance. " 'I am sure he hurts the poor little kitten, and when I cry, he just laughs at me. Yours most sincerely, Miss Sarah Foster.' " Then, outraged, Mrs. Claus make her feelings known: "You were quite right to bring this to our attention, Dooley. That little boy must not get a present."

"No present for him?" says a surprised Santa. "Every child should get a present."

"Well, it's time to change the rules," Anya persists.

"You'll have folks saying that Santa Claus only rewards the good little boys and girls."

"Isn't that as it should be?" she asks him. She's got a point.

"All right," Santa smiles..... and then he orders Dooley to develop a list of which children in the world are naughty and which are nice. "And be careful," Santa then warns his Senior Second-in-Command. "I'll be checking it twice!" (Brief note from the synopsist: Somehow, I wasn't surprised!)

Next, we see a gathering of elves, including Patch, Puffy, Boog, Honka and Vout listening to Dooley reading from Clement Clarke Moore's 'Twas the Night Before Christmas. The venerable Dooley is apparently reading the text from the copy of an English-language newspaper. Santa listens in as well, while Anya enters the scene.

"It's a poem --- a poem about me," Santa explains. "They say it's a big hit."

At that point, Dooley reaches the passage:

He had a broad face, And a little round belly, That shook when he laughed Like a bowl full of jelly.....

"What?!" Santa bellows suddenly. "Pardon?" Dooley looks up.

"What was that last part?" Dooley reads the passage again. Santa is furious now. "It's just a poem," Dooley tries to explain. But Santa will have none of it.

"Is that how they think I look?" he growls.

At first, Anya shrugs her shoulders, but he she tells her husband the real truth: "The cookies!" Patch and the others react to this in stifled but jolly whispers, but even they can sense Anya's point: Santa Claus is totally obsessed with cookies in general and with chocolate chip cookies in particular!

Several days later, just after Christmas, Santa has returned from another successful journey; but he is, as you might imagine, a bit exhausted. Dinner's on the table, and it's pea soup. Dooley enters carrying a huge folder. It's next year's schedule. "Can't it wait a few days? He's just come home," suggests Anya, who then bellows a sudden "NO!" As we cut to Santa, we realize why: he was about to doze off in his own dinner!

"Darling," Anya continues, as she wipes the hot soup from his beard with a napkin, "why don't you get yourself an assistant?"

"What?" mumbles Santa.

"I don't like to see you pushing yourself like this. You're spreading yourself too thin."

"Who would want the job?"

"Two elves spring to mind," says Dooley.

"One of them practically bounces to mind!" laughs Anya, knowing that indeed Dooley is thinking of both Patch and Puffy.

"Oh yes! I'm supposed to show you this," says the Senior Second-in-Command, suddenly remembering. Reaching into his pocket, he then presents Santa and Anya with a small snowglobe. "Something Patch thought up," Dooley explains.

Inside the globe, suspended in the coldest ice water, tiny, artificial snowflakes flutter in a blizzard, surrounding the tiny, cutout detailed figure of an elegant townhouse..... its Colonial facade recreated in painstaking miniature. "Look at that," muses Santa. "Isn't that a clever thing......."

NEW YORK CITY, PRESENT DAY

Now, we see the very townhouse we've just seen in the snowglobe --- only now, it's a real-life version. The place is New York City ..... specifically, a quiet sidestreet in the East Eighties of Manhattan's Upper East Side, where the mansions of the Apple's richest citizens somehow coexist on the edge of one of the City's poorest neighborhoods.

Venturing further into this maelstrom of rich and poor, our focus soon reaches a small boy, approximately 10 years old, pulling up the collar of his overcoat --- at the moment, the only piece of legitimate property he has, short of whatever other clothes there are on his back..... His name: Joe (Christian Fitzpatrick) --- for that is all the name that he will ever tell anyone.

Little does the young lad realize that someone is watching him..... and that someone is gazing at him from one of the windows of the aforedescribed townhouse.

She is somewhat younger than her target, around 9 years old, and is dressed in a style of clothing that one would normally associate with a JCPenney Christmas Catalog. Suddenly, in that unexpected moment that all motion pictures of this magnitude must eventually reach, the eyes of both the boy and the girl meet. There seems to be some kind of connection being made........

"Cornelia! Come away from that window this instant before you get a draft!" A voice has interrupted the connection.

Reluctantly, Cornelia (Carrie Kei Heim) lets go of the curtain drapes, as Miss Tucker, her nanny (Dorothea Phillips), continues her rather dignified spiel, if you will. "I'm warning you, Cornelia, your stepuncle is not going to tolerate those grades! Imagine, a B-minus in geography!"

"He never even looks at my report card," complains Cornelia. "He probably doesn't even know what grade I'm in."

"Young lady, you do just as I tell you!" growls Miss Tucker, and as she exits, Cornelia begins settling to with her school books and other stuff.

MEANWHILE, BACK AT THE POLE........

"An assistant?! Your assistant?"

Santa Claus has summoned Patch and Puffy --- the two top candidates for the just-announced position of Santa's Official Assistant. Dooley and Anya are listening along with Santa, as both elves begin pitching ideas and concepts left and right for new methods which will, if one of them gets the new post, aid Santa in lightening an already excessive workload. Patch is especially anxious to net the post...... for this, as he sees it, is the opportunity he has long hoped for --- his one shot at proving to himself and to his fellow elves that truly he is as good a worker as he'd always believed he was.

"With all due respect, sir, I have ideas," says he, "that'll turn this place upside down!"

"That is not exactly what I had in mind," Santa comments --- for, secretly, he is a tad dubious about all this.

But Patch is nothing if not persistent. "I'm talking modern methods of production here!" he says. "I'm talking assembly line, I'm talking wave of the future, I'm talking faster, quicker---"

"--- and sloppier," finishes the skeptical Puffy.

"Puffy, the one thing I'm sure about is, I don't lack elf-assurance," Patch retorts. "I'm not afraid to rock the sleigh!"

"Sir," Puffy smiles to Santa, "I have long admired your traditional methods of manufacture, and I assure you that I will give you the same meticulous attention to quality and detail ---" Patch tries to talk up, but Santa raises his hands to silence the two elves. "Boys, boys," says he. "Don't give me campaign promises, give me results. The one who gets the job is the one who does the job best."

PATCH VS. PUFFY

So during the next few weeks, North Pole Headquarters becomes a toymaking battleground, as Patch and Puffy lead a plethora of elf teams in a war of skills, to determine which of the two will assume the mantle and responsibilities of Santa's Official Assistant. Patch has his Three Elf Musketeers --- Boog, Honka and Vout --- in his corner as usual; Puffy, meanwhile, has recruited among others, Goober, head of the Tailoring Department (whom we met earlier); Goobler, supervisor of the Beardpainter Elves; and Groot, the Elves' senior cook.

Puffy's squad, located at NPH's Northern Wing, puts out a pile of neatly stacked and painstakingly crafted toys, dolls and games that reflect the impulsive elf's passion for sensibility and unsloppiness.

Meantime, at the Southern Wing of NPH, Team Patch's operations are dominated by our young hero's apparent masterpiece: the Patch-o-Matic Supertoy Constructor. Physically, it's the equivalent of what might happen if Rube Goldberg, Henry Ford and the executives at Tinkertoys got together and developed --- the most fabulously unusual toy assembly line in the world!

On Patch's signal, Boog turns a crank, which starts the Constructor's conveyor belt going. Immediately, the first parts of the toys to be assembled begin dropping into the hoppers. They're then carried along the belt until they fall into the throat of the automatic assembly portion of the machine. Slowly at first, and then faster and faster --- and then, even faster than that --- the Supertoy Constructor turns out toy after toy after toy.

"Wait! Isn't this going too fast?" asks an anxious Vout.

Patch's response: "Too fast? Welcome to the 20th Century!"

But what's this? Within the very exoskeleton of the Supertoy Constructor, where no one, not even Santa Claus, can see what's really happening, things are not functioning according to Patch's original plan. We see a couple of screwdrivers screw two parts of a bicycle frame together, but not enough times to hold everything securely. A red wagon has its handle attached --- not quite tightly enough. On and on it goes: every toy emerging from Patch's bizarre device has some sort of invisibly fatal flaw, just as Patch's machinery itself has. The irony: every toy coming off of that assembly line looks perfectly flawless!

Several weeks later, Patch and Puffy have turned in the various stacks of toys they've assembled; and, in a strikingly wordless gathering, Santa delivers his verdict: Patch has triumphed! Now, at last, the visionary Patch will finally have his long-dreamed of opportunity to prove to himself, to his fellow elves --- and, indeed, to Santa himself --- that he is as good a maker of toys as he has always believed he could be.

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