I don&rsquo;t know what it is about It&rsquo;s A Wonderful Life. I&rsquo;ve seen the damn thing over a dozen times and yet every Christmas when they haul it out of the attic, with the cherished ornaments, shimmering tinsel and fake snow, I can&rsquo;t look away. Each year I tell myself I&rsquo;m just gonna watch a couple of scenes: Uncle Billy, drunk with a crow on his shoulder, frantically searching for the wad of cash he rolled up into a newspaper and absentmindedly handed to that slimy bastard Mr. Potter. Or maybe Violet whoring around the seedy, neon-lit streets of Pottersville. That should do it. But this year I wound up watching the whole damn thing again. Maybe it&rsquo;s because back in the fifties my mom looked a like an ethnic Donna Reed and this is the first Christmas that she&rsquo;s gone.
No matter how corny Capra&rsquo;s morality play might be, it shows how we all touch each other&rsquo;s lives and how each one of us is integral to the whole frickin&rsquo; scheme of things no matter how small and insignificant we might feel. As I watch Jimmy Stewart gripe about what a loser his guardian angel Clarence is, it always gets me wondering what kind of poor fool would be assigned to keep an eye on my little drama in return for earning his wings?
Just the other day I was walking down Bleecker Street in the Village when this guy, about seventy years old with white hair and whiskers, in a red and black buffalo plaid wool hat comes up to me. He&rsquo;s wearing muddy boots and jeans, like he&rsquo;d just milked the cows. And he&rsquo;s talking to himself. I catch his drift in mid sentence: &ldquo;The problem is that everybody&rsquo;s just so stupid!&rdquo; he grumbled.
&ldquo;Just stop and take a look around for a minute, all you see is stupid people,&rdquo; he said to me. &ldquo;Look at that guy!&rdquo; he groused, pointing at some poor schlep. Although I try not to say derogatory things about anyone, I had to agree with him.
&ldquo;And her, a regular jackass! Hair like an unmade bed!&rdquo;
&ldquo;Yeah, now that you mention it. I guess so,&rdquo; I replied.
&ldquo;Nobody looks comfortable. Just look at the way they walk, all in a rush or smoking or always on those damn phones they carry around.&rdquo;
&ldquo;Yeah, you got that right,&rdquo; I had to agree with him.
He wasn&rsquo;t your average old crank. There was something odd, almost other-worldly about the bloke, like he just woke up after passing out after downing a pint of Night Train in Washington Square Park, back in the Eisenhower era and now it&rsquo;s nearly fifty years later.
&ldquo;As far as I can tell people have just been gettin&rsquo; stupider and stupider. Since World War II, we had the Korean War and Joe McCarthy accusin&rsquo; everybody of bein&rsquo; communists. Then the Cuban Missile Crisis almost brings us to the brink of nuclear annihilation. And what hell did we go to Vietnam for? Was that stupid or what?&rdquo; Once more I had to sadly agree with him.
&ldquo;Well, good talking to you pal. Here&rsquo;s where I get off,&rdquo; I said, pointing at the door to my apartment building. Suddenly he made a fist and held it right up to my face. &ldquo;You see that ring?&rdquo; he growled.
&ldquo;Yeah! How could I miss it?&rdquo; I replied.
There was a huge sparkling diamond in a gold setting that looked more like something on a mafia don&rsquo;s pinky than on some old Rip Van Winkle dude who looked like he&rsquo;d just crawled out of a dank cave.
&ldquo;Y&rsquo;know where I got this ring from buddy?&rdquo; he said, in a raspy whisper. And before I had a chance to reply, he answered his own question. &ldquo;Heaven!&rdquo; he snapped. &ldquo;And I&rsquo;ll be returning it any day now!&rdquo;
&ldquo;Whoa! Take it easy, man!&rdquo; was all I managed to say.
&ldquo;And one more thing,&rdquo; he said, squinting at me, wondering if I too wasn&rsquo;t just another idiot. &ldquo;If you&rsquo;re smart, you&rsquo;ll get out of town by August. That&rsquo;s when the missiles are gonna start flying!&rdquo;
I thanked the old dude, wondering if he was just plain nuts or if he was indeed my guardian angel sent to put the word out to me. Was this crazy old crank my &ldquo;Clarence?&rdquo; Is this my Wonderful Life? Call me next September and I&rsquo;ll let you know.