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In a fable for our times, a story of Christmas Day

technofile  by al fasoldt

Columns and commentaries in a life-long dance with technology

Simple gray rule

In a fable for our times, a story of Christmas Day

By Al Fasoldt

Copyright © 1987, The Syracuse Newspapers

This is a true story, as long as you want to believe it. It happened recently.

It was Christmas Day. Three Wise Men were following a star. It led them to the east.

They took gifts befitting a king. They traveled by train, by bus and by car. They took a ferry and boarded a plane. They hiked across a cold desert at night.

They came to a city. In the dawn's first light, the star seemed to stop. Its faint light beamed down on an old building far away. They stood on a hilltop. They looked in vain for a sign that the star would continue on. Even from a distance, they could see that the old building was shabby.

But the star stood still.

The city was stirring. The Three Wise Men crossed wide avenues and walked down narrow streets. They stepped over railroad tracks. They entered the other side of the city. It was suddenly colder.

Two sleeping men lay curled up against an air vent near a storefront. The Wise Men turned their faces away.

At the end of a dark alley they saw the light. It fell like rain on an small shop. It was the place they had seen from the hill. Two figures were silhouetted in one of the windows. One was large and stooped, the other small and thin. They seemed to be talking, or maybe arguing.

The Wise Men headed down the alley. At the door of the old building they saw a hand-lettered sign. It read REPAIRS—WE FIX ANYTHING.

The door was partly open. The three visitors stood at the doorway, listening. They were invisible in the shadow of the entryway. The large figure was talking loudly.

"We can't,'' he was saying to the small figure.

"We can't afford a motel. We can't even stay here after today. The shop reopens tomorrow and the owner wants us out of here. We'll just have to move on.''

"The baby can't travel,'' the small figure was saying.

"He needs constant care. He has to be kept warm. We don't even have a blanket for him. The shop towels that we found are too thin.''

She paused. "The baby is cold, Joseph.''

The larger figure emerged from the recesses of the machine shop and stood near the window. The three men at the door could see his features clearly.

He was staring into the yellow-red morning light.

"We can stay today. There's nothing we can do about the cold. Tomorrow we will leave before the sun is up. We have no choice.''

One by one, the men at the doorway stepped away. They spoke in low tones.

"We must help them,'' the first said.

"They need blankets,'' the second said.

"They need food,'' said the third.

"They need these things soon,'' said the first. "We must find them. We must buy them.''

"But we have no money,'' said the second.

"We can sell our gifts,'' said the third. "We can find a shop that will take the presents that we brought and give us money for them.''

A few blocks away they found a pawn shop. They waited for the shop to open. A man with small eyes let them in.

"I have gold I want to sell you,'' the first Wise Man said to the proprietor.

"I have come a long way. It is a ring. It's a ring fit for a king.''

He pulled a shiny gold object from his pocket. The man behind the counter shook his head.

"I've turned down better rings than that,'' the man said. "But I'll give you $5. It's not even worth that much, probably. But it's Christmas, and nobody else is going to be open today. And I'm feeling good.''

He took the ring and handed over a $5 bill. The first Wise Man felt the thin paper. It was much lighter than the ring he had carried for thousands of miles.

The second Wise Man lifted his gift from his bag and placed it on the counter.

It was a resin that was burned to produce a beautiful aroma.

"Frankincense,'' he told the man. "It's very expensive. Very hard to come by.''

"Never heard of it,'' the man said. "Not worth anything, as far as I can see.

But leave it here and we'll see if anybody wants it.''

He wrote out a receipt for the frankincense. He wrote on it "value unknown.''

"I have something, too,'' the third Wise Man said. He placed his gift in front of the proprietor.

"It's myrrh,'' he said. "It smells good even when it isn't burned. It's wonderful, especially this time of year.''

"This is a pawn shop, pal, not an incense emporium,'' the man said. "I'll give you a receipt. If somebody wants it, you get your money and I get a cut.''

The three left with the single $5 bill. At a department store they learned it wouldn't buy a blanket. At a grocery store they found it wouldn't buy more than a small amount of fruits and vegetables and a loaf of bread.

They went back to the machine shop with their small sack of food. It was starting to snow and it was much colder.

"We come bearing gifts,'' the first one said, calling through the doorway.

"We have come a long way,'' the second said.

"We want to pay homage to the baby,'' said the third.

The smaller figure was cradling the child. The larger figure motioned to the three visitors.

"We can offer you nothing,'' the man said to the travelers at the door. "But you are welcome to come in.''

The Wise Men handed him the paper sack.

"It is food,'' the first one said. "It is all we have.''

"No,'' said the second. "We have more. A blanket fit for a king.''

He took off his wool coat and gave it to the smaller figure. She wrapped it around the baby. The two others gave up their coats, too. Warmed by the gifts, the man and the woman fell asleep.

The visitors left. It was snowing harder. They turned their shirt collars up against the wind and walked as fast as they could. They had a long way to go.

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