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A rich family hired me to impersonate one of the wise men in their outdoor Nativity scene. One of the plastic guys had gone missing or got bashed, it appeared, and I was filling in until the family could afford a whole new set.
The remaining pieces were top-of-the-line, with flesh-colored paint and lights inside, and the set really didn't look all that bad with one wise man missing. To all appearances, the absent king could have been back behind the manger, taking a leak. Still, the family wanted me in there to round things out.
I knelt in my bathrobe with my gift of myrrh, really a few Shredded Wheat biscuits in a plastic bag that occasionally I munched on, and tried to stay still. Every so often one of the household, the woman or a kid, came out and studied the arrangement. They'd move a figurine this way or that, and then order me to move too. 'A little more toward Jesus,' they said, or 'Stop staring at Mary.' I was an order of size larger than the other figures too, so often they'd tell me to crouch or bend my back. 'Try to fit in more,' they said.
One of the older kids criticized my terrycloth bathrobe as being inappropriate, and brought me a Columbo-style raincoat to wear. I didn't argue that the Magi weren't police detectives, but just slipped it on over my robe and got back in position. It was cold out anyway, with a few snow flurries, and I welcomed the extra layer.
The camel I rode in on was ludicrously small for me, and sometimes I got a fit of giggles when I contemplated sitting on it. It was painted brown and was about the size of a large cocker spaniel. Still, I was imbued with Christmas spirit, or I wouldn't have taken the job. For the most part I didn't laugh, but displayed a seemly gravitas. Gravitas was key for a successful wise man who doubled as a king of the Orient, I felt.
After the first real snowfall a bunch of teens came around the manger in the late evening. The family had turned in, and I'd been sneaking a smoke or two in the silent night. I saw these kids coming and wished the family had turned off our lights, but instead we were all lit up. The incandescent crèche was a beacon to these hoodlums. I had no light inside me, but the family had set a small spotlight on the ground to illuminate me. I was as visible as the other glowing statues.
One of the punks announced that I and the other two wise men were 'terrorists' and they began blasting us with iceballs. The wise man holding the frankincense or whatever took a bad hit to the head a lost an ear and a section of his beard. I could see down inside him to his electrical wiring. But were those hooligans ever surprised when I got up from my crouch and returned their fire with iceballs of my own. They ran off howling and vowed to come back with a gun 'to shoot that plastic motherfucker,' but I never saw them again.
The youngsters of the house brought me milk and cookies throughout the day. I gathered they were confused about who was supposed to eat these Christmas treats. The last I heard, it was Santa, not Balthasar, Gaspar and Melchior. I scarfed down some of this muck to please them, but after a few days the younger ones were feeding me dog biscuits. I told them to get a life.
In the morning I took a break. I stood up, brushed the snow off my putative Middle Eastern garb, and went to the nearby mall to join the Million Old-Man March. That's what I called the old buzzards, the buzzardesses too, who marched around the stores swinging their arms high for their morning loosening-ups. After posing as a wise man through the night in the frosty cold, I had a body cramp you wouldn't believe. It took me half an hour to walk it off, and for most of that time I staggered like a dope fiend.
After walking I stopped at the Borders café to grab a cup of blood-warming joe. I liked Borders because a lot of young mothers breastfed their infants there, and I could watch. This really put me in the spirit of the season. Nothing connoted mother-and-child so well as a book-reading young woman huddled over her sucking infant as she imbibed a large coffee. Sometimes I saw the nipple, and wondered if it leaked caffeine. Probably so. Anyway, these Madonna scenes were glorious religious experiences for me. I went back to Mary, Joseph and the gang, buzzing on holiness and French roast.
At last it was Christmas. I saw the kids out on their new sleds. Late in the day the mother came out and told me I was laid off. I explained that some families left their Yule decorations up as late as Easter, hoping to get an extension on the job, but she didn't bite. I took my few dollars and the sugar cookie she offered and left. Merry merry, until next year.
Michael Fowler is in Über's front yard live action nativity scene.