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THE ROMANCE OF JOE AND CORNELIA

Back in New York, a hungry Joe is feverishly peeking through the window of a local McDonald's, watching the customers munch on their chosen meals. The sights of people eating themselves silly prove too much for young Joe to bear; achingly, he wishes he had something to munch on himself.

In Cornelia's townhouse, she and Miss Tucker are just finishing dinner. Before leaving the table, the elderly spinster reminds her young charge that Latin verbs are part of her evening's homework assignment for school tomorrow. Cornelia simply sits there in silence --- for the moment.

Now we see the servants' entrance of the townhouse, where Joe has hidden himself in one of the darker corners, hoping to remain unseen. Cornelia at that point peers out into the darkness beyond. "Psst! Little boy?" she whispers loudly.

She hesitates for just a moment, sensing that Joe, even though he will not emerge, is somehow out there. Carefully, she sets down the remains of her dinner on the steps, and then turns and closes the door behind her.

That's my cue, thinks Joe, and with a vengeance, he proceeds to grab up the plate of roast beef, and a can of Coca-Cola Classic (properly filled with the Real Thing, of course!) --- and then, munches on the grub. A second later, he burps loudly, only to react to his own noise with a gentle smile. It is the second time in the entire story thus far that we have seen him smile.....

SLEIGH RIDE OVER MANHATTAN

Several nights later, it is once again Christmas Eve in the Big Apple. Guiding his mighty sleigh and reindeer across the vast skyscrapers of this most glorious of all cities, Santa Claus is, as usual, having the time of his life! For him, it's just a routine Christmas Eve flight (even if ol' Donner is still somewhat afraid of heights!). Their first view of the City prompts Santa to call out, "Merry Christmas, pretty Lady." Nothing brings a warmer smile to Santa's face than a view of the Statue of Liberty.

"What a night, my boys --- what a night!" chortles the Merriest Man on the Planet, as he and his team continue their journey. "Decorations hung at the windows, stockings hung by the fireplaces --- isn't it wonderful? Tonight, there's not a child alive who isn't bursting with joy and happiness!"

Then, suddenly, something catches Santa's watchful eyes..... and makes him rethink those thoughts. Far below the sleigh and deer, Joe is in a nearby alley, scoping out for grub as usual. Somehow, Santa seems to react to this with a kindness stronger than his more normal good-natured attitude. "Hang on, boys," he tells his team, albeit a bit more seriously. "I think we're gonna make an unscheduled stop." This they do. Coming in for a landing on the roof of the building they've sighted, Santa then tells his animals, "Stay right here, boys. I'll be right back."

As Joe continues his search for grub, he is suddenly interrupted by the presence of a strange, red-suited figure. "Hello, son," says he.

"Hey, beat it, man! Find your own doorway. Don't crowd me," growls Joe.

"What are you doing here?"

"I'm pitchin' a no-hitter for the Yankees, what's it look like?"

"But it's Christmas Eve!" Santa persists. "Don't you know what that means?"

"Yeah, it means you're out of a job until next year," mutters the ten-year-old. "You and the rest of the winos."

"Don't you know who I am?"

"Sure," says Joe. "You're a nut."

"I'm Santa Claus!"

"Yeah, right," says Joe. "And I'm the Tooth Fairy."

"Well.....," Santa replies. "I can see I'll have to do this my way." There is a brief flash.

A moment ago Joe had been standing in an alleyway with this weird guy all dressed in red. Microseconds later, here Joe is still standing around with this same weird guy..... except, perhaps he isn't exactly as weird as Joe had imagined...... "Holy cow," the boy gasps in wonderment. "How'd you do that?"

"See? What'd I tell you?" smiles Santa.

"Come onnnn! Santa Claus ain't...... real?"

"Wanna go for a ride?"

"A ride on that? Why, I've never even been in a plane!"

"Well, you better make up your mind," says our Mr. Claus. "I'm pretty busy tonight."

"Oh sure --- I mean, if it's all right," replies Joe. "Like, really?"

Taking that as a yes, Santa gently lifts Joe aboard the sleigh, laughing his merry laugh. "Now, hold on tight and don't you worry," he assures the boy. "You'll be as safe here as you are in your own home."

"I ain't got a home," Joe says simply. Santa nods, sensing that this isn't the time to pursue that avenue of the conversation. So instead, he decides that this kid ought to have some fun --- for once in his young life. Slyly, but still smiling, he now asks Joe: "Do you know how to say.....'Yo!'?"

"Yo?" asks Joe --- and before the lad knows what's happening, the reindeer immediately take to the skies...... and begin a merry ballet far above the evening clouds of Manhattan! Joe can't believe his eyes! He's actually flying in a sleigh!

"You really are Santa Claus, ain'tcha?"

"That's right --- but I still don't know who you are."

"Joe..... I'm Joe!"

"Nice to meet you, Joe," says Santa.

Joe continues to gaze in apparent wonder, as the sleigh banks and plunges, rising up into the sky like some enchanted rollercoaster. "This is neat!" he proclaims. "How do ya make 'em do it?"

"Oh, it's just like a horse-and-buggy," Santa explains. "You just pull the reins --- both together, if you wanna make 'em go higher."

"Can they do anything you want?"

"Oh yes," chuckles Santa, his brow slightly wrinkling. "Well," he then admits, "anything except the SuperDuper Looper."

"What's that?" asks the boy.

"I've been trying it for years," Santa replies. "Well, maybe tonight's the night! C'mon, Donner --- let's give it that ol' college try!" And he pulls back on the reins, signaling the deer to kick off the difficult loop-the-loop bit. Up they rise, curving into part one of the wide arc..... "That's it, Donner boy! This may be it!" Santa cheers him on, Joe following his lead.... higher and higher they climb ..... and then, Donner --- shakes his head in utter fright, and the rest of the team, thus thrown off balance, have no alternative but to follow him down. Drat!

A brief jolt, and the sleigh resumes its former trajectory. "Well, it didn't work again," Santa tells Joe, but, as usual, he's ever the positive soul. "That's all right, Donner boy --- we'll get it next time!" To which Joe adds, in his own Noo Yawkish sort of way, "Hey, like, don't sweat it. I mean, you did your best, y'know."

Santa smiles at Joe appreciatively. Joe finds himself smiling right back at Santa. Suddenly, the Knight of Christmas looks at the earnest young face and has a sudden brainstorm: "Hey ---- how'd you like to drive for a little while?"

"Me? Drive?"

"Sure!" Santa nods. "It's easy. Here, take the reins!" Joe is a bit hesitant at first ---- but within seconds, he finds himself taking to flying in three dimensions the way a duck would take to water! "How'm I doin'?" he asks Santa.

"Oh, great," replies the other. Apparently, this isn't exactly an easy lesson!

Soon, the sleigh, with Joe at its reins, is soaring across Rockefeller Center, and up and beyond its famous Christmas tree! After a while, the lad asks, "What do you call 'em?"

"Reindeer," replies a somewhat dazed Santa.

"No, I mean what's their names?"

"Well," replies Santa, "startin' from the front, that's Donner and Blitzen, Comet and Cupid, Prancer and Dancer, then Dasher and Vixen." Just then, Joe spots another familiar symbol of New York. "Look! There's the Brooklyn Bridge! Here we go!"

Down they descend, at Joe's urging, determined to scoot clear under the great Bridge.... a maneuver that proves incredibly successful. Donner, for his part, is just glad about having not seen it for himself. His eyes were closed the whole time!

Finally, as they soar past the familiar skyline, as seen from the Jersey shore, Santa sensibly calls a halt to all the fun and games. "I'd better take 'em now, Joe," says he.

"Where we goin'?"

"Well, we can't joyride all night! I've got a job to do, y'know!" smiles Santa.

"Oh yeah!" Joe remembers.... and the two new friends chuckle merrily as Santa guides the sleigh to its next scheduled destination.

THE ROMANCE OF JOE AND CORNELIA, CONTINUED

A few moments later, much to Joe's surprise, he and Santa are actually standing inside an apartment! How is this possible, you ask? Well, years ago, the Elves created a magic spell which would permit Santa to venture in and out of any given home by simply nodding his head. It is that very spell that Santa has just now used to permit himself and young Joe entry into this unknown youngster's apartment. The boy is staring at a picture of a man and a woman posing with their arms around said kid. They're all happily smiling beside a sparkling blue lake.

"Is this the kid who lives here?" asks Joe. Santa nods. "What'd he get?"

"Fishing rod," repiles Santa.

"How come?"

"That's what he asked for in his letter." Santa gathers up his sack, munching on his favorite cookie --- chocolate chip.

Joe is awestruck. "You mean, if a kid writes ---" It's a little hard for him to believe it. "Anything he wants?"

"Joe," smiles Santa gently, "didn't you ever write me a letter?"

"Hey, I never needed nothin'," Joe explains defensively. "Y'see, I usually travel light."

"Well," suggests Santa Claus, "let's travel now." And nodding gently, the Jolly One activates his magic spell. In a flash, the two friends vanish!

Another few moments later, the sleigh lands upon the roof of the same elegant townhouse we saw earlier. Cornelia's house!

We briefly glimpse Cornelia snoozing; then, an unexpected bump is heard, and the girl sits up abruptly. Quickly, she throws back her covers and climbs from her bed......

In the living room of the townhouse, Joe is hastily picking up a lamp. "Hey, I'm sorry --- I didn't see it," he whispers to Santa, who's setting one of his packages underneath the large tree. At that moment, a click is heard. It's the light switch. Joe and Santa are now caught in the act! Spinning around, they discover.....

..... a young girl, wearing a ruffled flannel nightgown. It is, of course, Cornelia --- standing wide-eyed with astonishment in the doorway. "Are you him? Are you Santa Claus?" she gasps in amazement.

"Boy, I hate it when this happens," Santa mutters --- one of those rare aside-to-the-camera moments that can only happen in motion pictures. "Hello, little girl," he now says to Cornelia.

"Is that my dolly?" she asks. Santa nods. Then suddenly she notices the boy for the first time, and he notices her. "It's you!" Cornelia gasps yet again; and this time, her recognition is justified, for this was none other than the boy for whom she'd left out all that good food during the last several weeks.

"You two know each other?" Santa, strangely enough, is himself surprised by this.

Boy and girl now take tentative steps toward each other --- undoubtedly drawn together by some incredible force. "I'm..... Cornelia," she says.

"I'm Joe."

"I'm Santa Claus," chuckles Santa Claus --- and, of course, Cornelia remembers who else is here in her living room. (And remembers her manners as well.) "Oh, it's a great pleasure to meet you, sir," she says very politely, and points to the plate of cookies on the mantelpiece. "Would you like some cookies? They're from Bloomingdale's, and they're very delicious."

Santa stares at the plate and smiles yet again. He simply cannot resist the power of chocolate chip cookies!

Cornelia, meanwhile, has somehow become attracted to this unique, wonderful boy..... who gets to stay outside all night, without anyone telling him that it's bedtime! He's certainly the bravest, most handsome boy she's ever seen --- and on top of all of that, he certainly knows the most interestingly wonderful people!

"Hey, listen, Corny," Joe begins, not entirely sure as to how to address his new friend, "thanks for all the good food that you gave me."

"I can make you a bowl of ice cream," she suggests helpfully. She knows that Santa can't stay, but she'd rather that young Joe do so.

"Well......"

"Tell you what, Joe," smiles Santa. "You stay here, have something to eat. I'll see you again."

"You will? You mean it?"

"Santa Claus doesn't lie, Joe," nods the Knight of Christmas. He has held sacred the true meaning of telling the truth all these aeons, and he's certainly not about to change that attitude now. "Next Christmas Eve, we got a date, OK?"

"You bet!" smiles a reassured Joe. Briefly Santa turns to Corny to thank her for the cookies, then within a nanosecond...... vanishes!

In the wake of Santa's disappearing act, Joe and Corny can only stare in wonder. Why should it be any different? These two lonely children are now friends for life --- and more, Santa Claus himself is their friend for life in return! "Whatta guy," Joe smiles. "Excellent!" Corny smiles back.

And on that happy note, Book One of Santa Claus: The Movie concludes.

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