2013-12-26

Retold Christmas: The Innkeeper's Tale

A priest, a rabbi, and a Buddhist monk walk into a bar...

Into my bar, in fact. This is no joke. Let me back up. My name’s Louie Knight. I run a respectable establishment down on Staten Island. Got a bar downstairs, and six rooms upstairs that we rent out – by the night, by the week, or by the month. It’s an Inn. I’m an Innkeeper – and this is my story.

A year ago last October we got hit by superstorm Sandy. Knocked the power out, knocked the phones out. My cell phone battery was soon dead, and it took a few days to find a way to recharge it.

The bar was closed, but I was in there with several candles burning. In the dim light I was seeing if the glassware could be secured a little better. I hadn't locked the door, though, and in the midst of the storm – high winds and driving rain – a couple stumbled into my bar. They were drenched – soaking wet – still clutching their useless inside-out umbrellas. They both looked, maybe, Hispanic. Or maybe Middle-Eastern. The woman was around 25 or 30 -- and was very pregnant. About to pop. The man looked a little older, and had a beard.

I said, “Can I help you?”

The woman said, “I sure hope so.” I could tell from the sound of her voice, this was not good.

I said, “Lady, maybe you need the hospital. There's a hospital just three blocks north from here . . ."

“I just came from there," she said, on the verge of tears. "The power's out, the back-up generators are out. The hospital wouldn’t take us. They can't. Yours was the first door that was open.”

“What do you need?”

“We just need a dry place. For one day," said the man. "We can’t get home in this storm.”

“You can’t stay here," I told him. "I’m all full up." The two of them stood there, looking at me. The guy decided to go for the sociable approach. He stepped forward, stuck out his hand. “I’m Joseph," he said. "This is my wife, Mary”

“Mary and Joseph. Of course you are,” I said. "I don’t care if you’re Simon and Garfunkel – I don’t have a room. I got the Barbescues in room 1, Charlie Fillmore in room 2, Montefiore in room 3, Billy DiAngelo in room 4, the Robertses in room 5, and Sandra Duquesne in room 6. I’m full."

Slowly they turned. They got to the door – Joseph had his hand on the knob -- when my wife, Miriam, popped out. I guess she’d been listening the whole time. Miriam said, “We’ve got a garage.”

"Oh, geesh Miriam," I was thinking. But the truth is, this couple was breaking my heart, and I’m glad she said it. I made a big sigh, and I said, "Yeah, we’ve got a garage. Nothing to sleep on."

Joseph said, “We don’t need anything. A little floor – until the storm lets up.”

So I got a candle and led them downstairs to the garage. It was no stable – no cow, no horse – but it did have a Mustang: a 1964 vintage Mustang, in fact. I’d just finished fixing it all up – good as new. Beautiful new paint job: royal blue, with white racing stripes. My pride and joy.

It was a project I’d been working on for two years, and just a few days before I had put an ad in a car magazine that it was for sale. It wouldn’t be easy to part with – but it was time to let somebody else enjoy this wonderful car – and for me to see some profit on my labors.

Anyways, I showed Mary and Joseph to a corner. I gathered an old coat and an old quilt I had, so they’d have a little bit of padding between them and the floor – and I went back to my bar. Billy DiAngelo from room 4 came down, and I told him the whole story. He went down to the garage to meet this Mary and Joseph, and before I knew it, he came running back up.

“Mary’s water broke” he blurted, and out the door he ran, right into the storm -- no raincoat, nothin' -- just straight out the door.

Now Miriam and I were freaking out. We didn’t know what to do. Boil some water. Get some towels – the clean ones.

But in just 10 or 15 minutes, back came Billy, and he brought a couple with him. Billy was soaking wet, and the couple were wearing full-length yellow ponchos. “They’re doctors," he said. "We met last week. They just moved in around the corner. So I went to get them."

The woman shook my hand and introduced herself. “I’m Doctor Deborah Shepard,” she said, out of breath. “I’m an obstetrician. This is my husband, Michael – he’s a pediatrician.” Each of them was carrying a black satchel just like doctors in the old movies.

"OK, let me get this straight," I said. "You’re the Shepards, and you’re here on accounta DiAngelo told youse to come?”

The doctors Shepard nodded. So I led them downstairs, and they went straight to Mary. "Anything you can do to get us more light?" said Dr. Michael. So Miriam and I went rounding up all the flashlights and candles we could find.

And that’s when the priest, the rabbi, and the Buddhist monk walked into my bar. They looked remarkably dry, given the storm.

“Call me Barry,” said the priest.

“I’m Sam,” said the rabbi.

“Frank,” nodded the Buddhist monk.

They each had a copy of the car magazine in their hands. “We’re all members of a Mustang fan club, and we’ve been looking for a '64 mustang for a long time” said the priest, Barry.

"We'd brave any storm for a chance at a good one. Supposedly, you've got one that's quite the car of wonder," said the rabbi, Sam. Then he opened the car magazine and read from my ad:
“Car of wonder, car of Knight, car of royal blue and white.”
So what could I do but show them the car? I took them down to the garage.

I said, "There you go. You’ve come following yonder car."

The Buddhist monk, Frank, said, “I can’t help noticing that there’s a woman who appears to be giving birth right next to your car of wonder.”

“Correction,” said Dr. Deborah, “has given birth,” and she lifted up a tiny baby, the most beautiful thing I've ever seen. It seemed to glow and light up the whole garage -- but maybe that was just the electricity flickering briefly for a moment just then.

“Is there something to wrap him in?" called Dr. Michael.

Miriam ran and got a T-shirt. She started babbling about how the t-shirt belonged to her nephew, who's a model, and, in fact, he had once done a shoot wearing that exact t-shirt. I took the shirt from Miriam and handed it to Dr. Michael.

"Let me," said Mary, sitting up and taking the shirt.

"You can set him down right here," I said, opening the car door and indicating the bucket seat. It was the only thing that was upholstered or reasonably soft and clean.

So Mary, she wrapped the babe in modeling clothes and laid him in a Mustang.

The babe's feet were sticking out. Sam took off his fur-lined mittens and gently slid one over each foot. They went up to the knee. Frank lit a stick of incense in one of the candles. Barry looked from Mary to Joseph, and said, "Congratulations. A new hope is born."

"A new love," added Sam.

"A new faith," said Frank.

Barry reached into his pocket and pulled out a gold coin. "This was given to me by a parishioner about a year ago. Let me give it now to you, in token of this blessing that is to you, and also to all of us." He handed the coin to Joseph, who took it, his lower lip trembling.

Miriam leaned over and whispered to me, "Gold."

"And Frank's incense," I said.

"And fur," she added, pointing to the mittens on the babe's legs.

There we were -- ten of us -- Mary, Joseph, the two doctors Shepard, Billy DiAngelo, Barry, Sam, Frank, and Miriam and me -- gathered around a shining babe sleeping in a shiny muscle car. Nobody said a word. A tremendous peace descended over us.

Outside the storm howled on. But there inside that garage we were safe -- and saved. We came together to help each other when there was need. That connection of care: that's our salvation. We were there for each other -- and we brought a new life into this world. It was amazing -- a wonder to behold.

Right in the middle of the worst storm I've ever seen came the best experience I've ever had.

4 comments:

  1. Outside the storm howled on. But there inside that garage we were safe -- and saved.

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  2. It's a cute story for somebody who wants their ears tickled. But it lacks the significance of the true historical event of the creator of the universe stepping down from the heavenly places to enter a broken world and demonstrate the ultimate act of love and sacrifice upon a world that coldly rejected him and yet still capitalizes on his actions in the name of false comfort and commercialism.

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    Replies
    1. Hi, Matthew David H. Thanks for your comment. I especially appreciate the point that we capitalize the Christmas story for "false comfort and commercialism." So true, alas. On the other hand, I think this story -- as with other Christmas stories ("A Christmas Carol," "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer," "It's a Wonderful Life," etc., etc.) -- illustrates the incarnation of divinity, and therefore has exactly the significance of an incarnation event.

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