Explaining The Gift Of The Magi To Paul Ryan

Tim Sniffen
Dec 27, 2017 · 4 min read

ME: Thanks for seeing me on such short notice after the holidays, Mr. Ryan. There’s a story I wanted to share with you.

RYAN: No problem. Keeping in touch with the American people is the best part of my job. Shoot.

ME: Okay. [Opens storybook.] There was a couple who loved each other very much, but had little money to speak of.

RYAN: So, a lazy couple.

ME: No, just poor. They had always been poor. They lived in a small, bare apartment and had low-paying jobs.

RYAN: Literally none of that can be helped. What a shame they brought that on themselves.

ME: Anyway. It was Christmas Eve and they wanted to exchange presents, but had no money to buy them.

RYAN: [under breath] Stupid, stupid idiots.

ME: However, the woman had long, golden hair, and the man had a beautiful silver pocket watch.

RYAN: Nice. Saw a guy this morning at Crossfit DC with a good watch. No better accent piece.

ME: Desperate to find gifts, they —

RYAN: — you know what everyone loves? Steak. Omaha Steaks does a tenderloin flight, they ship anywhere in the country, overnight, $475. I could call them right now.

ME: They don’t buy each other steak. The man sells his pocket watch —

RYAN spit-takes.

RYAN: WHAT?

ME: Yes, to buy a rare set of tortoise-shell combs his wife had admired in a store window. For her part, the woman sells her hair —

RYAN: Sells her hair?

ME: Yes.

RYAN: To who?

ME: Whoever buys hair. A wigmaker. It’s doesn’t matter. She sells her hair to buy a watch chain —

RYAN leans forward.

RYAN: — oh, shit, oh, my fucking shit.

ME: Hang on. Christmas morning arrives and they give each other the gifts. Each watches the other carefully unwrap their parcel: she, the combs; he, the chain. They study them, and then they share a quiet laugh and embrace… realizing they already possess the greatest gift of all.

RYAN continues to listen.

ME: The end.

RYAN: When do they take back the gifts?

ME: Why would—

RYAN: They grab the gifts back from each other, right? They’re busy hugging each other in a room full of wasted commercial goods.

ME: I think the point is —

RYAN: Hang on, hang on. [Gets up, paces.] We can figure this out. My son and I do riddles like this on the weekends.

ME: It’s not a riddle, Mr. Ryan, it’s —

RYAN: I know. The guy takes back the, uh, the shark-skin combs from the wife, races down to the pawn-shop and buys back his watch. You gotta have that watch.

ME: It’s NOT A RIDDLE.

RYAN: [Epiphany] Oh, shit! Six months later, the wife’s hair would be back, right? So. They harvest the new batch of hair —

ME: Paul.

RYAN: — and weave it into rope. They wait outside Comb Guy’s shop until he locks up for the night, jump him in the alley — and strangle him.

ME: PAUL.

RYAN: Stay with me! They bury the body, break into the store, take the combs. We’re almost done. Six more months, the lady pops out a third batch of hair for the hat trick: the watch, the chain, the combs, even the goddamn hair! THEY WIN! I WIN!

RYAN slams his palms on the desk, then initiates a high-five. It is not consummated.

ME: NO! NO! THEY DON’T NEED TO GET EVERYTHING BACK BECAUSE THE WHOLE POINT OF THE STORY IS THAT IT DOESN’T MATTER! [Standing.] WEALTH DOES NOT MATTER. THE THING THAT MATTERS IS LOVE YOU FUCKING SHARK-EYED DEMENTOR.

Silence.

Grandfather clock chimes.

RYAN: [Places hands on back of chair] Hey, look, I actually have someone coming in a few minutes, so…

ME: No, of course, I understand. Sorry if I —

RYAN: It’s fine. It’s fine.

ME: Thank you for your time. [Gathers book, begins to exit.]

RYAN: …hey.

ME: [Pausing] Yes?

RYAN: The story was actually… pretty good. It certainly gave me some things to think about.

ME: That’s all I could hope for, Mr. Ryan. [exits.]

RYAN sits, leans back in chair, arms folded behind head. Smiles. Then he leans forward, a gleam in his eye.

RYAN [into intercom]: Denise?

DENISE [intercom]: Yes, Mr. Ryan?

RYAN: Find out how that guy has so much cash to blow on storybooks.

DENISE: Yes, Mr. Ryan.

RYAN produces two barbells from behind desk, begins curling.


*

Tim Sniffen

Written by

Writing: Work In Progress on Showtime, The New Yorker, NPR’s Live From Here, Hello From The Magic Tavern, McSweeney’s, Jackbox Games | Twitter @MisterSniffen

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