“I started my career in New York City as a personal shopper at FAO Schwarz and no matter how crazy busy it was…kids in a toy store at Christmas make the season worth it,” Dan said on Jonah’s editing screen.
Jonah thought it was sad that the iconic store was now closed and wondered where those memories would be made now. There was always something new to take the place of something old, even if we don’t realize what that new thing is at the time and even if the new thing doesn’t resemble the old in the least.
Jonah pressed play again.
“Hidden slush puddles on every corner,” said someone named Jimmy, and Jonah pressed pause.
What of the slush when there seems to be no snow on the horizon, Jonah thought. There will probably be a time when snow doesn’t come until the depths of February and Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” will be exactly what he sings about, a dream. The sad thing, Jonah thought, was that we won’t even know it’s the last Christmas snowfall until it’s too late, until the snow never arrives again.
Change, change, and more change, which wasn’t entirely a bad thing. Take Jonah’s Christmas memories: booze, fights, forced smiles from his parents, and the year they didn’t even decorate. These were why he started making these documentaries, the first one in Toronto last year, and this one about New York.
His process was very simple and as independent as independent could be. He grabs his small, handheld Canon and walks around the streets asking the simple question, “What does Christmas mean to you?” Most people ignore him but he doesn’t stop until he has spoken with at least twenty people. Last year he got fifty in Toronto, and this year seventy-two in New York.
The weather, kids, and spending time with friends and family seemed to be the over-arching winners in terms of what people love. Skating at Rockefeller, much like Nathan Phillips in Toronto, was also a favourite. Going into the project this year, Jonah didn’t give thought to how the two cities share similar seasonal activities just with different sites and, obviously, different history. Overall though, he found they were more similar than different, with respect to Christmas anyway.
“The fairytale song, about the slut and the drunk,” said a man who didn’t offer his name as he walked by. He finished his thought by grabbing his crotch and his friend laughed. That needs to be edited out, Jonah thought. He reviewed the footage quickly and decided to keep it in. It was something that would distinguish the two documentaries beyond the city specifics and the accents.
“Stealing the baby Jesus from the Nativity scene at St. Joe’s with friends and returning it the next night,” a woman said. She wanted to remain anonymous. “They wouldn’t even bother getting another because they knew it would be back,” she said, this time with a laugh.
“Christmas parties!” This one was a group of twenty-something girls and guys dressed Wall Street-ish but with “ugly” Christmas sweaters over top their presumed work clothes. Jonah saw them walking down the street carrying open wine and beer bottles and decided to at least try and co-ordinate it. They complied to his surprise and delight.
Jonah poured some more green tea from the pot into his cup and walked out on his balcony. The view from his Stephanie Street apartment was of the downtown skyline, which seemed close enough to touch, but also far enough away to observe. He wondered what everyone in those buildings thought of Christmas or how many of them didn’t even observe it. What did they do instead? It was a day off, so they must do something. He could also see Queen Street to the south and the revelers, even for a Wednesday night. It was the season though, as that group back in New York proved true.
Being together as a Christmas theme rang clear at that point. Toronto and New York, two huge cities, Jonah thought. One built up and one built out, many people living alone together and also many people living together alone. For those who had people, it made “being together” a literal thing. For those who didn’t, “being together” was something similar to Bing’s dream about snow. They might have had people and they want company again. They might not of known the last time they had “together” would have been the last time. Even the fairytale song about sluts, and drunks, and jail, and the NYPD choir that didn’t exist, was about being together.
Jonah walked back into his Toronto apartment and looked at his paused screen with the group of New York young people so happy and together. He didn’t realize how alone he was until that moment and wondered, without emotion, if that would always be the case.