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Diversion on Christmas Ave

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Christmas Eve, 1986

“Damn it!” Alex muttered. “I can’t believe we have to resort to being pizza delivery men for Christmas.”

“Relax,” Jake Rang remarked, “it’s not like we’re actually getting new jobs just to make do.”

“Yeah, but we shopped for gifts early so we didn’t have to carry this much stuff so close to Christmas Day. Sheesh!”

The two bickering boyfriends were really only delivery men for the night. It was a lightly snowy Christmas Eve, and the Rang twins had company later that night for early festivities with their friends. It was the last chance they had before they went off to spend Christmas with their respective families, and what better way to spend Christmas Eve than with vast amounts of pizza, soda, and other sorts of extravagant junk food! Carrying 4 pies of differing meat toppings, 3 liters of cola, 2 large boxes of spicy Buffalo wings, and a case of fluffy breadsticks. Oh, and all the assorted sauces to go with them. It was their Christmas feast, the way only a bunch of high school and college students would have it.

You might be wondering why they didn’t just call in and ask for a delivery truck to come in. Jake tried, to the devastating blow of “Our delivery guy pulled a ligament so you gotta come in and pick up your order.” Luckily, the pizzeria was on the same street as the Rangs’ apartment, so the walk was relatively short. Still, it was inconvenient for the both of them to carry so much weight, knowing their bodacious Italian feast was in jeopardy at all times.

“Do we even need this much pizza? It’s only us, Roy and Anise. Are we really having one pie for each of us?” Alex asked.

“Don’t forget Hal is coming over.”

“You’re kidding.”

“Roy says he jumped at the opportunity to try real New York pizza.”

“Is his girlfriend coming over, too?”

“Can’t. How about Ambrosia?”

“Gone to see her folks already.”

“Wow, looks like only Hal has no date, then...”

“I thought he was dating Roy.”

“It sure looked like it, huh? But they had their own relationships already. Anise never left Roy’s heart even after he fled to Cali.”

“Wow, Roy and Anise really hit it off.”

“You’re telling me.”

Right as Jake finished his sentence, a car passed by and splashed a nearby puddle into Jake and Alex’s vicinity. Luckily, Alex has some quick reflexes.

“Heads up!” he exclaimed, signaling Jake to swerve his body and extend his body away from the water as it was being launched from the tires. There was a close call when a bottle of cola tipped over a bit from the stack of pizza boxes in Jake’s hands, but he tilted back his hands in time and kept its balance.

“Everything alright on your end?” Alex asked.

“Yeah,” Jake replied. “Let’s see, I have my half of the order...”

“I have mine...” Suddenly, Alex realized something. “Wait a second, you were the one with breadsticks, right?”

“Nope, you were.”

“Well that’s just great, cuz they’re gone, and...” Alex took a quick look around him. “I don’t see them anywhere!”

They heard a small meow from behind them. Upon turning their heads backwards, they witnessed the sight of a large black cat, with a box of breadsticks hanging from their mouth. The culprit must’ve been eyeing them for quite some time now. Luckily, Jake has some cat experience.

“Ps-ps-ps-ps-ps-ps-ps-ps-ps-ps!” He whispered to the cat, from a distance.

In response, the cat merely ran away, breadsticks in tow.

“Crap, don’t let ‘em get away!” Alex said.

They ran after the feline as fast as they could, given they still didn’t want to drop their food. Holding it against their chests seemed to help, as running seemed to push it against them anyway. It looked hopeless for them, nonetheless - until they noticed that the cat was approaching a convenient building.

“Wait a second, they’re stopping at my apartment building!” proclaimed Jake.

Before making fools out of themselves, they decided to study the cat’s movements to see if the breadsticks were goners. Indeed, the cat went up the fire escape steps with grace, and somehow managed to leap up the window at the top floor, finally landing on the roof of the apartment building. Seems like the cat wouldn’t budge, either.

“This is perfect, actually!” Alex assured Jake.

“I don’t know, I would’ve preferred he just drop the breadsticks right there and left.”

“Well, hear me out. We’ll drop off the stuff we have at your place, then we’ll sneak up to the roof with some bait and get our breadsticks back.”

“Good plan, but we better hurry. Who knows when that little rat will eat those sticks whole?”

I could go into detail about the mysterious breadstick-loving cat, but one has to wonder right now. Where’s Roy and Anise? And for that matter, where’s Hal?

“Hal, you’ve been on that game for 30 minutes already.” Roy said.

“C’moooon, I’m almost done with it!” Hal whined in retaliation, still staring at the screen and fiddling at the controls. It was a Breakout clone, Arkanoid to be exact - one of those games that had no mercy on you - 3 lives, died with one wrong tilt of the knob, could only get more chances to make mistakes if you get good enough to not make any mistakes.

“Besides,” Hal continued, “I don’t see you ragging on Anise over there.”

Anise was down the aisle at the arcade, on her umpteenth attempt to get the hang of OutRun . She could never figure out how to beat the time limit without slowing down to a halt or crashing into a stray billboard. It’s a good thing she had a lot of tokens to burn through. The whole arcade could hear her grumble and curse to herself as she struggled with the cheap plastic wheel, her whole body hanging from it and using her feet on the pedals for support. It wasn’t a very pleasant experience, but Anise merely cared about winning, so she pressed on.

“She could stop at any moment and come out just as satisfied.” Roy assured his Cali friend. “You are just way too good at video games, man.”

“What can I say, I’m a tech guy! I bet you no one in this room but me knows what a BBS is.”

“As if I wasn’t your roommate for a good while...”

“Speaking of which, I’ve got a cool surprise for the married couple in your apartment.”

“You got them a computer?”

“Nah, I’m a bit tight this year. I decided to save some money the only way people who use computers for networking can.”

“Why does it sound like you’re going to do something illegal again?”

“Listen, the police, the FBI, they don’t care about some dude smuggling ones and zeros across the border.”

“Okay, but if Nintendo arrests you and locks Prince Hal in a pit with Donkey Kong, I won’t be your Mario.” 

Hal got a bit flustered at that sentence, putting him into a trance that locks his hands up. Using this strategy, Roy manages to indirectly bump off the last life Hal had in the game.

“Oh, you did that on purpose, didn’t you?”

Roy stifled in his chuckle, or at least tried to. It soon collapsed into a laughing fit, a struggle to keep his breath in check from the hysterical act.

“Hey,” Anise piped in after exiting her post, “What’s going on over here?”

“Laughing boy here made me lose Arkanoid .”

“You should’ve seen the look on his face when I called him Prince Hal!”

Anise wanted to crack a joke about how similar they were to Jake and Alex, but she lightly chuckled instead. Something about the idea of a boy being in peril and in a groom’s outfit really spoke to her.

“Alright, enough. Do you want to see what I have lined up for Christmas or not?”

In an instant, Roy stopped laughing and stood up. “Sure.”

“As you know, cats love bacon.” Jake started to explain to Alex.

“Actually, I absolutely did not know that. But I guess it makes sense.”

Jake and Alex were leaning against the shed housing the downward stairs, the former holding a cheap paper plate of bacon in his hand.

“I’ll sprinkle the bacon and leave a trail away from the box.” Jake continued. “And you grab it.”

“Simple enough. But how do you know the cat won’t just drop the breadsticks onto the concrete?” Alex asked.

“Eh, why would they?”

“Alright, fair.”

The cat was perched on the elevated edge of the roof, still hanging the box of breadsticks by the strings from its mouth, and facing away from the two guys. Jake slowly approached the cat with the plate shunted towards his body, and then, upon getting close enough, shook the plate slightly. At the sound of bacon scratching against styrofoam, the cat quickly turned around with its eyes wide and its ears perked up, However, the box of breadsticks had already left its mouth by the time Jake saw its face.

A thud and a cry of agony from below soon followed.

Alex’s jaw dropped, and Roy stood in his tracks, in defeat. He bent down on his knees and left the plate of bacon on the floor for the cat to eat. They instantly ran towards it and started devouring the whole thing.

“Man, I hate it when I’m right.” Alex sincerely said.

“Let’s just go check on the guy before we got stuck in a lawsuit.” Roy nervously sighed.

Hal, Anise, and Roy snuck to the side of a nearby movie theater to reveal the heinous act that a computer nerd would pull off. Luckily for them, the alley was roofed by some awning, so no snow got into the spot they went into.

“Ever heard of The Legend of Zelda ?” Hal asked smugly.

Roy and Anise stared blankly at him, you could almost see the huge drops of sweat float by their heads. It was a completely foreign concept to them, in spite of their alleged expertise in video games (out of their entire friend group).

“Okay, time to put you down. You’ve become a D&D nut.” Roy quipped.

“Wait! Stop!” Hal yelled before stifling himself.

“Only kidding! So, what are you getting at?”

“Let me guess, you’ve got a new video game that most of us Americans don’t have?” Anise inquired.

“Bingo!” Hal exclaimed. “Just the perks of having family in Japan and a bit of hacking know-how.”

Hal cracked open the large suitcase to reveal a floppy disk reader, a wrapped and labelled yellow floppy disk, several unmarked gray cartridges, several wires and a strange machine with a couple of inputs in it.

“I could probably make a fortune of this, if I had the will to go to jail. It’s just my little Christmas gift to you all.”

Roy and Anise’s jaws dropped. Hal had really gone nutty! A tiny piracy operation right in front of them! Hal cackled like a villain after seeing their reactions, he felt a surge of power and serotonin surging through his body.

“Hal, you’re sure you’re not gonna go to prison for this?” Anise asked out of genuine concern.

“Just don’t tell anyone who’s a corporate spy, is all. Besides, these cartridges are expensive - I only have enough for my friends to get their hands on it.”

Roy went into a pondering state and sighed long, yet quietly. “Okay, so how does this thing work?” he finally asked.

Hal grinned ear to ear. “Easy enough.”

He inserted the yellow floppy disk into its slot, a gray slab into an out-sticking port, and then flicked a switch. Some sorts of mechanical noise started to whirl and sputter at a low volume, a lovely sound for Hal’s ears.

“And how do you know when the copying process is done?” Roy inquired.

“You’ll hear the disk make some scary whirring noises, I think.”

“And how are you even powering this thing?” Anise realized.

“Like, 5 D-cell batteries if it’s not plugged into anything.”

“Gee,” Anise kneeled down and looked at the machine doing its thing, “I hope it has enough power to go through the entire process without conking out last minute.”

“I did several tests back in Cali, it can go through two cycles portably. About 4 hour battery life! Not bad for a thing like this.”

Roy’s eyes widened. “2 hours?! For one cartridge!”

“Not that I can blame that little thing...” Anise reasoned. “...But maybe we should’ve started the process somewhere that isn’t an alley.”

Hal’s grin started to wither very slightly, as his pride began to be offset by his consequences. With the same grin, he admitted out loud. “Erm, well, maybe I should think these things through a bit longer!”

Ruffling his hair a bit, Roy complained, “Hmph, this is gonna take a while. I’m guessing it’s not very safe to move around while it’s working.”

“No.” Hal conferred in a sigh. He proceeded to press the cancel button on the side of the machine; holding it in lets you wipe the cart of its contents before it had its security implemented.

“It’s okay, we’ll just leave it running at our apartment. Here, I’ll go call Jake and see how everything is going.” Roy said before walking to the nearest phone booth.

“Heh, it’s funny. I was gonna suggest me and Roy go watch a movie while we wait for the illegal operation to finish!”

Hal whined, “Didn’t you rent an illegal copy of Ruthless People like a few hours ago?”

“Is it not out on video yet? I don’t keep track of that stuff…” Anise worriedly said.

“Whatever, let’s just haul this equipment to Jake’s place and have some pizza.”

Roy returned with a confused look on his face.

“What’s going on?” Anise and Hal asked in concern.

A slight, wavy smile came to Roy’s face, as if to cover up a wacky situation with the thought that everything was fine. “So guys, how about we watch a movie at the theater next door?”

“That bad, huh?” Anise muttered in defeat.

“What are they showing this time?” Hal excitedly inquired.

“Wait a second! Let me call Ruth to see if she’s available!” Anise jumped at the opportunity to hang out with her.

“No need, but why are you guys huddled in an alley around a machine?” Ruth popped up behind Roy out of nowhere.

The other three yelled briefly and scrambled out of surprise, as if Anise had summoning powers that would be useful for ulterior purposes later.

We finally peek into Jake and Roy’s apartment. Here, there are three people present. There’s Jake Rang. There’s Alex Levine. And there’s the beloved cat, Ellie. Unfortunately, Ellie doesn’t count as “people” and there’s really an unconscious man laying down on their sofa. Well, he’s really just sleeping - but he sure is a heavy sleeper. He had a thick, blue coat on, tall boots, and five-o-clock shadow adorned to his face. Probably could’ve been a good match for Alex if he wasn’t missing in action.

“I can’t believe a box of breadsticks did that much to a guy’s head.” Alex exasperated.

“Listen, it’s not our fault. Just hurry up on the soup before the guy wakes up.” Jake assured him. “Besides, in the end, we got what we wanted without too much fuss.”

“I would’ve hated to see that cat eat too much garlic...”

“Well, just don’t let Ellie get to them, then.”

“Roger.” Alex responded before opening the box, using some cheap scissors to sever the strings holding it closed. Surprisingly, the contents were somewhat intact, for the adventure they had been put through for the past hour or more. Indeed, there’s still a scent that could spread around the room and distribute a small nugget of joy.

Jake and Alex both heard a sniffing nose from the sofa. That must’ve been the key to waking him up the whole time. Some light groaning followed, and the man had officially woken up and leaned his body upward.

“Darn, where am I?” he asked, rubbing his forehead.

“Cat dropped a box of breadsticks on your head and you went right to bed in the snow after that.” Roy explained bluntly.

“What, your cat?”

“A stray. I know it’s hard to believe, but we couldn’t just leave you out there. We got some warm chicken soup for your troubles, coming up.”

“Hey, you know what, thanks. Those sticks smell good, though. Mind if I take one for the road?”

“By all means, just don’t hog it. They’re mostly for the friends coming over later.”

“That reminds me, when are they coming?” Alex interjected while tasting the soup from his ladle.

“Went to see a movie when they heard it might take a bit for the apartment to be empty.”

“I hope it was a 90-minute film, or that pizza’s getting cold.”

The man turned his head between the two guys, amazed at their pure synergy. “Y’know, you seem closer than most married couples I’ve bumped into at Christmas.”

That line caused Alex to choke on the soup for a second. Jake took it really well, however. “Why, thanks!” he responded.

“Anyway, that’s none of my business. I’d love to stay a bit longer, but I don’t wanna intrude on your ‘lil get-together, and I gotta attend to my lovely wife ‘n’ kids. Should be home any minute now.”

“Just a second, I have to at least give you a container of soup.” Alex said.

“I’d say it’s fine, but… ah, you’re going through the trouble. Good for those late-night cravings, I reckon.”

“Yeah, I’ve seen ‘em in action, if you catch my drift.” Jake smugly joked to the response of a laughing fit from the man, and an entirely-red face from Alex.

During the time Alex had been preparing soup, all four of the out-and-about crew were standing outside the front of the movie theater, in the st, deciding what they were going to spend a couple of hours on.

“Uh, I wasn’t expecting a fourth patron, but I can chip in the extra cash.” Roy explained.

“Nah, it’s fine. I was planning to go on my own anyway, so I have the snack money and movie pass,” Ruth said.

“Ah, so you were passing by and saw us!” Anise had a moment of realization.

“I see you have an electronics interest too.” Hal added.

“Yeah, the bulletin board system is how I even found out Roy was rooming with you.”

“Sweet. But, anyway, what’s the movie pass good for?” Hal asked. “I mean, is it locked to one movie or is it redeemable for anything?”

“Just anything. I haven’t decided on the movie myself.”

“Back to square one, then...” Roy mumbled.

“Let’s just look at the marquee and see what’s on today.”

“Okay then.” Roy agreed with a smile. “First option, Little Shop of Horrors .”

“Wah! I’m not into those scary movies...” Anise insisted.

Ruth and Hal were salivating at the thought of a horror movie, on the other hand. Though, they both knew that one was more of a comedy than anything.

“Relax, it’s not really horror. It’s a musical about an alien Venus fly trap that eats people. I heard it’s pretty funny.” Hal relayed.

“I see… that does sound interesting, but let’s see if there’s anything else.”

“Hey, I know Platoon is supposed to be a shoe-in for the Oscars!” Ruth said.

“Sure, but I’m not really in the mood for a gritty war movie right before Christmas, is the thing...” Roy replied.

“True… I bet Anise would like another round of Lady and the Tramp , knowing her.”

“Maybe, but I’d feel embarrassed dragging you guys to an old Disney movie.”

“Yeah, I’m more into the indie stuff they show off at film festivals over in Los Angeles.” Hal told everyone. “And boy, what I wouldn’t give to see Paramount put something like Project A-ko in theaters!”

“Uhhh, new King Kong movie’s out?” Roy confusedly read.

Everyone else just gave out a subtle groan at the thought.

“And finally, No Mercy .”

“Damn, by the time you said that, I stopped wanting to watch anything besides Little Shop of Horrors .” Hal honestly remarked.

The girls nodded and walked into the theater swiftly.

“Geez, I really wish there were some romantic films showing today.” Roy sighed to himself.

“I just hope this isn’t as bad as the time I tried getting a refund for The Black Cauldron .”

“I thought you were into obscure non-Disney films.”

“Looked pretty un-Disney to me, but hey, what are you gonna do?”

The boys walked into the theater.

About 2 hours later, Jake and Alex were sitting around, waiting for the others to get around to accompanying them. Tuckered out from their affairs in just trying to get the food home, safe and sound, it was already 8 o’clock. The temptation to just get a slice of pizza into their systems was too much for them to bear.

“Yo Jake.” Alex called out, leaning upside-down on the sofa.

“Yeah?” responded Jake, sitting right-side-up right to Alex.

“What if the movie they saw was so bad that they died?”

“That sounds ridiculous.”

“What if they did die and couldn’t make this party? Then we could really end this like a romantic comedy, and both eat one pizza slice leading into a makeout session.”

“Is that all you think about?”

“They just re-released Lady and the Tramp 5 days ago, so that scene’s been on my mind.”

“Wonder if Roy and Anise are doing that right now?”

As Jake relayed his question, the locks on the door began to shutter, and all 4 of the other patrons had revealed themselves to the bored boys.

“No.” said Roy.

“Not with these knuckleheads with us.” Anise added.

“How charming, as if everyone I’m friends with isn’t a knucklehead.” Ruth quipped with a confident smile.

“So, where’s the pizza?” Hal asked unprovoked.

Alex slipped from his position right onto the floor, as Jake stayed perfectly still in his spot.

“Glad you could join us!” Jake exclaimed blankly.

Strapped on ideas to pass the time, they just sat around and put the radio on the background, as a way to set the mood for the incoming Christmas. Whirring besides it was Hal’s illegal disk copier, now plugged in.

“I’m guessing that’s your Christmas gift working it’s magic, Hal.” Jake said.

“Yeah, but remind me to solder the battery into the cartridge, or it won’t save progress.”

“I’d ask you why that’d need a battery, but I’ve been through a bit today, so consider my brain turned off for the next 24 hours.”

“Ditto,” added Alex, “Feel like I can’t work it too hard or it’ll malfunction.”

“You guys really knocked a whole dude out, huh?” Ruth said through a glass of Dr. Pepper.

Alex sighed through his nose a bit. “It was an accident. He took it surprisingly well, all things considered.”

Hal and Anise were happily munching on breadsticks and pizza, when the latter said, “Crazy to think we’re eating something that took someone out.”

“That’s just how life is!” said Hal.

“Why don’t we just drop it and watch a bunch of movies, or whatever.” Alex suggested tiredly.

Everyone said their statements of agreement as Roy went to pick out films from their VHS and Laserdisc collection.

“You guys really are weirdos, you have Laserdiscs.” Alex said through gritted teeth.

“How else were we going to watch Winning Tough in the best quality we could?” Jake jested.

“Ah, my favorite movie!” Roy called out.

“I wonder why!” Jake and Alex both blurted out.

And so we leave these teenagers to do their thing, stuff themselves silly with junk food and soft drinks, generally make fools of themselves. You bet they’re going to make themselves the biggest fools they can, because they all knew there might not be a chance for them to have another Christmas Eve quite like this one. Even if it was slightly unconventional and messy. Fortunately, unconventional and messy is exactly the game when you’re talking about two identical model twins and their friends.

Whether you’ve observed Hanukkah, or you’re going to celebrate Kwanzaa, or you’re having Christmas, here’s to hoping it’s enjoyed as much as it can be.