Last minute gift of the Magi

IMAGE: Fanfreluche Design, Flickr CC
Aaron J. Brown

Aaron J. Brown is an Iron Range blogger, author, radio producer and columnist for the Hibbing Daily Tribune.

Scene: A desert rest stop south of the the Euphrates River. A low wage employee speaks from behind a counter.

Clerking midnights at the oasis grass station is the worst. It’s when all the weirdos come through looking to refuel their camels. Let me tell you it takes all kinds in this world.

Like the other night. It was already strange. Some big star was beaming light at some fixed point on the western horizon. Super freaky. I took a picture with my eyes and told all my friends about it.

A couple hours later these three guys on camels pull into the grass station. They’re dressed to impress. Flowing robes. Crowns. The whole deal. One of them walked by and I was like, dude, this guy is caked in myrrh. Good myrrh. Not that Wailing Wall Mart myrrh.

I could tell right away these guys weren’t from around here. They walked all over the store holding these glowing gold treasures above their heads. I’m all like, dudes, we get it, you’ve got scratch. You don’t have to rub our noses in it.

But then I notice that they aren’t getting along so well. There’re arguing about something.

“We can’t go in there with just a bunch of gold,” says this one guy they called Balthazar. “They’ll think we’re just trying to buy our way in.”

“Well, I’ve got myrrh,” says this other guy. His robe had “Melchior” stitched on the front.

“We know,” the other two say in unison.

“Myrrh is such a weird gift,” says the one they called Gaspar. “Isn’t it embalming fluid?”

“It’s medicinal, too!” says Melchior. “You can use it to anoint people. It’s classy.”

“What’s a baby gonna do with myrrh?” asks Balthazar.

“What’s a baby gonna do with gold?” asks Melchior. “Baby can’t even lift gold. It’s a dense metal.”

“Listen, we’ve got a lot of miles ahead of us,” says Gaspar. “Let’s just get something here at the grass station.”

So they all walk toward me at the counter.

“Excuse me, do you have any gifts?” asks Gaspar.

I pointed over to a rack full of expired soup and solstice candy.

“No, I mean nice stuff. Something to give a really important person.”

I’m all, “what, like your girlfriend?”

“Just point us to the most expensive thing you’ve got,” says Balthazar.

I’d never been asked that before. Midnight shift customers tend to want cheap snacks. “A carton of cigarettes runs pretty spendy,” I say.

There was a long discussion about whether a smoking baby would start a fire in a manger. They decided against it.

“What else you got?” asks Gaspar.

Then it hit me. “Hey, we still live in a time where everyone smells pretty rank, right?”

“Sure do,” says the guy who smelled like myrrh. “These guys stink. Not me, though. I’ve got myrrh.”

“Enough with the myrrh,” says Balthazar.

“Well,” I say, “how about an air freshener? We’ve got all kinds down there on the end cap.”

So they go over there and start sniffing the pine tree-shaped models. They don’t like those.

“What’s a ‘new car?’” asked Melchior.

But then I remember there was a really fancy box tucked behind the shelf. We stocked it for Saturnalia but it’s on clearance now. I drag it out and they all starting sniffing it.

“This is fantastic!” says Balthazar.

“It smells like a compound derived from the resin of a Boswellia tree,” says Gaspar.

So I say, “That’s because it is. It’s called frankincense.”

“It smells almost as good as myrrh,” says Melchior. “We’ll take it.”

So I ring them up. They buy a few lotto tickets because they’re feeling lucky. Then they climb onto their camels and head west toward the star in the sky. Haven’t seen them since.

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog and is the creator of the Great Northern Radio Show which aired for eight years on Northern Community Radio. This piece first appeared in the Sunday, Dec. 22, 2019 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune.

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