Mystery of the Lost Meaning of Christmas
Theme: The meaning of Christmas can be lost in busy, Christmas events, but found in the relationships.
Synopsis: Joe Dubious, an agnostic private eye is hired by a church to find the missing meaning of Christmas. His investigation encounters a diverse cast of humorous characters that hold different philosophies, but all present more questions than answers. Without solving the case, Joe returns to the church where in a surprise twist, meaning is discovered and he learns his seemingly unsuccessful investigation was an important contributor.
Setting: Joe’s investigation begins outside in a park, goes to a church, a bar, a mall, an abandoned train yard next to a landfill, and ends up back at the church.
Running Time: Around 35 minutes
Joe Dubious—an agnostic, private detective in the manner of Sam Spade
Jerome: Homeless bum
Harold: Homeless bum
Sam: Homeless bum
Fred: Church person, slapstick comedian
Jack: Church person, slapstick comedian
John: Church person, slapstick comedian
Melvin: Church person, slapstick comedian
Mary: Church person
Martha: Church person
Terry: Church person
Sidney: Church musician
Pastor Paul: Senior Pastor
Julia: Paul’s wife
Faith: A young girl, who appears mysteriously that only Joe sees and hears
Music Ensemble/Church Choir
Louie: Bar owner
Heidi: Undercover police officer, who poses as a prostitute
Conway: A conman who sells items of questionable legality, from inside an overcoat
To a city park, where a CROWD gathers around a MUSICAL ENSEMBLE singing an upbeat Christmas song. There’s a couple of small trees with festive decorations, a picnic table, a trash can and sign that reads “park closes at dark.” As the ensemble finishes, JEROME, a bum of sophistication wearing an old, wrinkled suit, and felt hat rises from the middle of the crowd, standing on a park bench.
JEROME: Hey people. A little sleep here!
The crowd disperses and Jerome snuggles under a sparse covering of newspaper. Standing alone where the crowd had been is JOE DUBIOUS, a stereotypical private detective wearing a trench coat and brim hat. He clasps a newspaper under his arm and nurses a cup of coffee.
JOE:(Voice Over) Christmas. A season of contradictions. On one hand, the air is so thick with sentimental feeling you can practically slice it with a knife. On the other, people are coils of compressed emotion, ready to spring at the slightest provocation. Not that I’m against emotion. It fuels my business. And gut instincts are often the key to solving cases. But if Christmas is such a wonderful time of the year, why is everyone so stressed out? I just don’t get it.
Joe sits beside Jerome, sips and reads. He piles each discarded page on Jerome, adding to his cover.
JOE: (voice over) The name’s Dubious. Joe Dubious. Private eye. A guy whose allegiance goes to whoever is paying the tab. In this case, a church. A church that somehow lost the meaning of Christmas. I’ve tracked down missing people…cars…even a pet boa constrictor. But missing meaning? Well, let’s just say I had my doubts from the start. And if it wasn’t for rent and an empty refrigerator, I would have probably passed on it.
Joe rises and tucks the rest of his paper around the now, comfortably resting Jerome.
JOE: (voice over) If a church has lost its meaning what chance is there for the rest of us? For now, it’s a paying job. And that’s all the meaning I needed.
A church fellowship hall where preparations are underway for a Christmas program. Tables and chairs are set-up and there’s a Christmas tree. On a wall, a banner reads, HAPPY BIRFHDAY EMMANUEL. FRED stands on a ladder smoothing the banner in place. JACK and JOHN string lights on the Christmas tree. MARY and MARTHA work at a table full of decorations. TERRY paints another banner and MELVIN moves tables, chairs around the room. A MUSIC ENSEMBLE rehearses led by SIDNEY, a bald man with a very fake hairpiece. Pastor PAUL, a fretful man, and his wife JULIA, organization personified, ENTER. She carries a binder and dutifully takes notes. Paul stops by a vase of drooping flowers.
PAUL: Wilting. That’s not good.
JULIA: (writes it down) Fresh flowers.
Fred climbs down from the ladder.
FRED: What do you think, Pastor?
Paul starts to look at the sign, but then sees Joe ENTER.
PAUL: Ah, you must be Detective Dubious. I’m Pastor Paul and my wife Julia.
JOE: Pastor. Ma’am. How can I help?
PAUL: It’s our Christmas program.
JULIA: An annual tradition.
PAUL: Except over the last few years people have lost interest. And this year, it’s like we’re completely missing the meaning of Christmas.
JOE: So am I looking for lost interest or missing meaning?
PAUL: We’re not sure. That’s why we need your help.
JOE: (nods at the birfday sign) What about another sign?
PAUL: (not understanding) We’re praying for a fresh, new sign from God.
JOE: (nods again) Or maybe change a few letters in that one.
Paul looks and realizes the spelling error. He steps towards it, trips over an extension cord and runs into Melvin who is carrying a board. Melvin twists with the board and whacks Jack on the bottom who is bending over to pick up a more lights. Jack somersaults over and rolls into John, who stumbles into Terry who spills paint. Jack, John, Terry and Melvin argue momentarily then go back to work.
JOE: I’m not very religious, Pastor. Are you sure I’m right for this job?
PAUL: You find things that are missing don’t you?
JOE: Yes, but I’m usually certain they exist in the first place.
PAUL: I’m certain it exists.
JULIA: Meaning is a part of faith.
PAUL: And faith is being certain of what you hope for.
JULIA: And assurance about what you do not see.
JOE: And if you’ve lost hope?
PAUL: Because of Christmas, hope cannot be lost. Only people. And that presents a lot of confusion.
JOE: I guess so. You just confused the heck out of me.
Melvin, Jack, John and Terry open the box of an artificial Christmas tree and look at the instructions. They approach Paul.
MELVIN: Pastor, we’re confused about these instructions.
PAUL: (pats him on the shoulder paternally) I know. A lot of that going around right now.
JULIA: Try to work it out.
(The men talk it over in the background, reach an agreement and begin piecing the tree together.)
PAUL: So your assignment is clear?
He leads them over to the table where Mary and Martha work on decorations.
JOE: As mud.
(Paul handles various decorations and picks up a bottle of glue.)
PAUL: We have all the parts. But there’s no unity. Nothing holding us together.
Paul gets glue on his hand and tries to wipe it off with a piece of paper. But the paper sticks. He waves his hand to dislodge the paper, but that doesn’t work. So he tears it off and cleans his hand with a handkerchief, which also sticks. He finally yanks the handkerchief off and in the process smacks into Melvin who carries another board. Melvin whacks John who collapses into Jack who falls into Terry who spills more paint. Again they all argue briefly and go back to work. During all this time, Fred eyes them cautiously as he moves around with the step ladder.
FAITH, a girl around nine or ten ENTERS. She is ignored by everyone except Joe who casually glances her way.
FAITH: He needs to put Christmas back into Christmas.
JOE: (to Pastor Paul) So you need to put Christmas back into Christmas.
JOE: (to Faith) Who are you and what are you doing putting words in my mouth? And what does that even mean, anyway?
FAITH: I’m Faith. And the meaning he’s missing will happen tonight at the corner of Third and Main Street at eleven-forty five. It’s going to be so cool.
JOE: Isn’t 11:45 a little past your bedtime?
PAUL: (doesn’t hear the exchange between Faith and Dubious) I’m afraid there is little time for resting.
JULIA: There’s still so much be done.
JOE: (to Paul) What’s happening outside tonight at the corner of Third and Main?
PAUL: My attention is on what’s happening in here. Why?
JOE: (shrugs) Faith is anticipating something big.
PAUL: Which is exactly what faith should do.
JULIA: Although right now, we’d be happy with a little faith.
JOE: (Looking around) And she seems to have disappeared.
PAUL: My point exactly. Faith, hope and joy—they’re all missing.
JOE: I’m not sure we’re talking about the same thing.
JULIA: This church should be full of joyful music.
CHOIR: (with severe lack of enthusiasm) Joy to the world, the Lord has come, let earth receive her king.
PAUL: But it’s painfully lackluster.
JOE: You try turtle wax?
PAUL: Detective. They’re people, not cars.
JULIA: And they kept sliding off their seats.
PAUL: It’s no one’s fault. Sidney pulls his hair trying to get the best from the choir.
Paul pats Sidney on the head and the hairpiece sticks to his hand and comes off Sidney’s head when Paul pulls his hand away. Embarrassed, Sidney grabs it back and smacks into Melvin who crashes into John who runs into Jack who is drinking a glass of water. Jack spills on Terry who retaliates by swiping Jack with his paintbrush. Jack picks up another brush and a paint brush duel begins. John and Melvin pick up brushes too and they all battle around the ladder where Fred clings in fear. They knock over the table where Mary and Martha work who also join the ruckus. Sidney haphazardly replaces his hairpiece and begins yelling at the choir members who all struggle to contain their laughter.
PAUL: Everyone, stop!
PAUL: Thank you. And please, let’s pick things up. Someone could get hurt.
He tries to pick up an extension cord that is wedged underneath the step ladder that Fred stands on. Paul yanks it hard and over goes Fred and the ladder.
PAUL: Hurry Detective. Christmas is almost here.
JOE: (voice over) Five o’clock Christmas Eve. Just under seven hours to find something I’m not sure exists and my only lead is the word of a little girl who appears and vanishes like a ghost. I needed somewhere to think and sort things out. For me, that was Louie’s. A place where joy is simply defined–Happy Hour.
Lights up at Louie’s bar. A DRUNK lays with his face down at a table along with HEIDI, who appears to be a Hooker. Joe stands at the bar. Across from him is LOUIE, the bar tender. A homespun philosopher with a towel slung over his shoulder.
LOUIE: So, what’ll it be Mr. Super Sleuth?
JOE: Coffee, hot. Think you can manage that?
LOUIE: (pouring) You know, you can get coffee at the Stop’n Go down the street.
JOE: Sure, but I’d miss your wonderful company and fluent English. And why does every bartender wear a towel on his shoulder?
LOUIE: Required to pass the bar exam. Why does every great private detective wear an expensive trench coat and smoke cheap cigars?
JOE: I don’t smoke cheap cigars.
Louie motions to say “I rest my case.”
LOUIE: So, what urgent case has you working on Christmas Eve?
JOE: Who said I was working?
LOUIE: (shrugs and pours a cup of coffee) Coffee…trench coat. A lucky guess. Or maybe you’re here for the gift exchange.
DRUNK: I’ll drink to that.
JOE: I’m looking for the missing meaning of Christmas. Been hired by a church that has lost it.
LOUIE: It’s about fulfillment.
JOE: Well you’ve got that part licked. Or should I say liquored?
DRUNK: I’ll drink to that.
LOUIE: Everyone follows a different path. Some find it at the top of the ladder, others the bottom of a glass.
JOE: (nods at the drunk) Then he should be delirious with joy.
The Drunk rises in sudden sickness and rushes to the bathroom.
LOUIE: Yeah, sometimes he can hardly contain himself.
JOE: And where do you find your fulfillment?
LOUIE: (with a sweeping gesture) Behold my ministry. I hear more confessions in a week than most priests do in a life time. I counsel more people in one night than a hot shot psychoanalyst. I’m kinda proud of that.
JOE: Don’t be. Those hot shots charge two hundred dollars an hour.
LOUIE: Yeah, but what do they make in tips?
Heidi, who’s been listening, joins them at the bar. She takes a seat next to Joe, but leaves an empty seat in between them.
HEIDI: I think the meaning of Christmas is found in sincerity and faith.
JOE: Faith in what?
HEIDI: In what you believe. Spirituality is a universal connection. But you define it for yourself. Your depth of spirituality is determined by your level of sincerity.
JOE: So it’s not what you believe, but how much you believe it? That sounds like a spiritual merry-go-round.
LOUIE: My cousin Bernie once sincerely believed he could fly off the third floor of his apartment building. I won’t say why although there was a substance involved. His sincerity cost him two broken legs and an extended visit to the mental ward.
JOE: He should have come to you for therapy.
LOUIE: Couldn’t afford the tips.
The Drunk returns and sits between Heidi and Joe. He listens to the conversation in a swaying, drunken stupor and that, along with his atrocious breath, becomes a barrier that forces Heidi and Joe to alternate leaning forward and backward to converse around him.
HEIDI: Okay, how about this? Jesus was a religious figure with a higher cause.
LOUIE: Bernie was pretty high too…it didn’t help.
HEIDI: And when you follow his teachings, you share in his mission.
The drunk puts his arm around Heidi’s shoulder.
DRUNK: (with a huge, odoriferous breath) Hey, let’s light a match and blow this joint.
Heidi removes his arm.
HEIDI: Lighting a match near you is the last thing I’d do right now.
DRUNK: Well, I…
He crashes his head to the bar, in a snoring sleep.
JOE: And what was his mission?
HEIDI: (Has to think about it) Peace on earth and goodwill toward men.
JOE: If Jesus was supposed to bring peace and goodwill, then why aren’t we seeing more of it?
LOUIE: Maybe he failed in his mission.
HEIDI: Or as followers, we’re failing in ours.
LOUIE: (pours more coffee) All this deep thought is giving me a headache.
JOE: It’s not the thinking, it’s the coffee. Hey, grab a Bible will you? Let’s check the source.
LOUIE: You want a Bible? Visit a bookstore. It’s in the section under fantasy.
HEIDI: When I was a kid, Mom took me to Sunday School every week. Let’s see, there were shepherds abiding in the field, tending their flock by night…
JOE: Three wise men.
LOUIE: Two turtle doves.
EVERYONE: (singing) And a partridge in a pear tree.
Heidi slaps her badge down on the bar.
HEIDI: As I remember it, the Christmas story is about God sending His Son to earth as a man.
LOUIE: And now you’re moving from fantasy to science fiction.
HEIDI: (shrugs) The point is, I’m a cop. The role I play undercover as a Hooker doesn’t change who I am. But gives me access to the world I’m trying to impact. Flash my badge…I get nowhere. As a Hooker…I’m in.
DRUNK: (waking up) I’ll drink to that.
The Drunk crashes back to sleep.
JOE: What are you saying, Heidi, Jesus was a secret agent or God is a woman?
HEIDI: I’m saying if God took the time to enter our world, maybe He considers us more than individual collections of dirt.
LOUIE: Wow, when you put it that way it makes me feel all warm and gooey inside.
HEIDI: If you’re an Almighty God, you’re in a cosmic class by yourself and you can do anything you want. What would you do?
JOE: Cruise the universe in a cosmic corvette?
HEIDI: You could. But what you really want is man’s attention. Not just to scare him, or order him around, but to really connect on his level. How would you go about that?
JOE: Become human.
HEIDI: An interesting thought, right?
LOUIE: A novel idea.
JOE: Maybe somebody should write a novel about it.
DRUNK: Somebody did. It’s called the Bible.
JOE: (to Louie) What are you putting in those drinks?
HEIDI: So if Jesus was really God then…
JOE: Then where’s the meaning? Where’s this deep, spiritual connection? Is God so distant all we get is a divine busy signal or did Jesus simply hang it up on his mission?
DRUNK: Jesus hung on a cross. That was his mission.
(He smiles at them in a drunken stupor, but with the satisfaction of having given the correct answer.)
DRUNK: S’cuse me.
(He rushes away and there’s a moment of reflective silence.)
LOUIE: So where does that leave you Mr. Super Sleuth? Other than about to fail in solving your case?
JOE: (shrugs) A little girl named Faith says it will take place at the corner of Third and Main tonight at 11:45pm. Maybe I show up and hope it happens.
HEIDI: Well, you know it takes the faith of a child.
LOUIE: What does?
HEIDI: (shrugs) I learned that one day in Sunday School and never went back to hear the rest of it.
LOUIE: (announces to the bar) Everybody listen up. If you’re looking for the meaning of Christmas, be at the corner of Third and Main at eleven-forty five tonight. Hey, maybe you’ll all hold hands and sing Kumbaya.
JOE: Louie, anybody ever tell you this place is just like the bar on the old TV show Cheers?
LOUIE: (proudly) Yeah.
JOE: They lied.
JOE: (Voice over) Good company, bad coffee and enough hot air to float a balloon to China. That was Louie’s. And if this case wasn’t already strange enough, the most profound thoughts were from a drunk. Maybe because he was filled with the spirits. I decided to visit the bookstore at the mall, buy a Bible and a fresh cup of coffee. Maybe I’d get some idea on where to go next. I could at least count on decent coffee.
Lights up at the mall.
Joe ENTERS and strolls towards a lounge area in the concourse of the mall. He carries a Bible and cup of coffee. There are seats and decorative plants arranged like a living room and a wall nearby with a sign that reads RESTROOMS. On a set of risers an ensemble sings Christmas carols a’cappela. When they finish, Jerome stands up behind them on another bench.
JEROME: Save it for the shower, will you?
The Ensemble EXITS and so does Jerome, leaving his newspaper covering behind.
JEROME: And I was just working up to a good drool.
Joe sits on the bench, puts his hand in Jerome’s drool, then pulls out a handkerchief and wipes it off. A SANTA CLAUS peeks out from the rest room wall.
SANTA: Psssst! Hey, buddy. Can you help me out? One of Santa’s helpers from J.C. Penny’s ripped off my pants while I was changing. The little twerp. Look. Anything will do.
Joe walks over and hands Santa the left-over newspaper.
SANTA: What, no sports page?
He ducks behind the wall and emerges in complete Santa costume minus the red pants. Instead, he wears a newspaper skirt.
JOE: (Nods at skirt) Quite a cover story.
SANTA: (sits in Jerome’s drool) Yeah, news in brief. But I’m back into circulation. And when I get my hands on that Santa’s Helper…he’ll be in the obituaries.
JOE: Well, that’s not permanent press. You might want to change your spread or consider a more appropriate font.
Santa sits on the bench, calming down a little.
SANTA: First, I need to flesh out a bit. Almost creased in a permanent ring. (shakes out his legs) And my legs are still half asleep.
JOE: So, tell me your story?
SANTA: Which one do you want to hear?
JOE: How many do you have?
SANTA: Several. And they change depending on who I’m with or where I am.
JOE: So, no when or why?
They’ve stretched the banter out to the point of ridiculous and Joe gestures with a quizzical look that says he’s not sure where else to go.
SANTA: The only thing we haven’t covered is the “what.”
JOE: The “What” is the missing meaning of Christmas.
SANTA: That’s quite a “what.” Having any luck?
JOE: (shrugs) Does superstition have any effect on religion?
SANTA: (shrugs) Always thought they were the same thing. I mean, who’s the main character at Christmas anyway—Jesus or Santa Claus?
JOE: (shrug is more pronounced) Always considered them both a figment of the imagination.
SANTA: (a matching shrug) Well, I listen to wishful thoughts all night long. Meaning is rarely part of the conversation.
JOE: (a huge shrug) Well, according to a little girl named Faith, meaning is supposed to happen tonight at eleven-forty five at the corner of Third and Main.
SANTA: (another huge shrug) Sounds a bit past the bedtime of a little girl, but she’s very specific.
A SANTA’S HELPER appears carrying a pair of red pants.
SANTA: Hey you!
Santa sprints after him and EXITS. There’s the SOUND OF PAPER TEARING.