Daily Archives: December 21, 2010

An Interview With the Nativity Innkeeper

Your name, please.

Ben Cohen.

Occupation?

Retired. I was an innkeeper.

In Bethlehem.

Right.

And in fact it was your inn where Jesus was born.

That’s right. Well, not in the inn itself. Out back.

In the animal shed.

Yeah. I still get a lot of flak for that.

How do you mean?

I mean that people still criticize me for not having room at the inn. They say to me, you couldn’t give a pregnant woman a room? You couldn’t give a room to the woman pregnant with the divine child? Couldn’t even spare a broom closet for the Baby Jesus?

How do you respond to that?

I say, well, look. First off, it wasn’t just me. If you go back you’ll see that every inn was full.

Because of the census.

Census, schmensus. It was the foot races. Bethlehem versus Cana. Also there was a touring theater troupe from Greece. Only appearance in Judea. The city was packed. We had reservations for months.

But Mary was pregnant.

I had three pregnant ladies at the inn that night. One was giving birth when Joe and Mary showed up. She was down the hall, screaming at the top of her lungs, cursing like you wouldn’t believe. Her husband tried to encourage her to push and she kicked him in the groin. Think about that. She’s crowning a baby, and she takes the time to put her foot into her husband’s testicles. So maybe you’ll understand why even if I had a room, I wouldn’t be in a rush to give it up to those two.

But you ended up letting them go out to the animal shed.

That was an accident.

How so?

Joe comes in and asks for a room, and I tell him we’re all out of rooms and have been for months. Foot races. Theater groupies. And such. And he says, come on, please. I’ve got a pregnant lady with me. And I say, you hear that down the hall? I’m full up with pregnant ladies. And he says, this baby is important. And I say, hey, buddy, I don’t care if he’s the Son of God, I don’t have any rooms.

So there’s some irony there.

I guess so. And then he says, look, we’ll take anything. And so I say, as a joke, all right, you can go and sleep with animals if you like. And he says fine and slaps some money on the counter.

He called your bluff.

Yeah. And I say, I was kidding about that. And he says, and my wife’s water just broke in your lobby. What could I do? I pointed him in the direction of the animals.

It’s better than having the baby in the street.

I suppose so, but you know, if the reason they were in Bethlehem was because of the census, then he had family in the area, right? It’s his ancestral home and all that. He can’t say to a cousin, hey, give us a couch? There are some family dynamics going on there that have been conveniently left unexamined, if you ask me.

Joseph had a lot on his mind.

Must have.

So the baby is born, and they place him in the manger.

Which, by the way, I told them not to do.

Why?

Because how unsanitary is that? Do you know what a manger is?

As far as I know, it’s the place you put infant messiahs.

It’s a food trough for animals.

Oh. Interesting.

“Oh, interesting” is right. Let me ask you. So your baby is born, and the first thing you do is put him in an open container filled with grain and covered in oxen drool? Does this seem reasonable to you?

You did have them out with the animals. Their options were limited.

I rented cribs. I asked Joseph, do you want a crib. And he said, no, we’re fine, and then sets the kid in the food box. And I say to him, you’re new at this, aren’t you.

In his defense, he was.

And then someone says, look, the animals, they are adoring the baby. And I say, adoring, hell. They’re wondering why there’s a baby in their food.

On the other hand, the image of the Baby Jesus in the manger is a classic one.

Yeah, I mention that when people get on my case about not giving Joe and Mary a room. I tell them that having a Christmas carol called “Away in a Hotel Room” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it. They never have anything to say to that.

It’s said that a star appeared on the night when Jesus was born. Did you see it?

No. I was too busy trying to convince Joseph to rent a crib.

It’s said it was bright enough to lead the Three Wise Men to your inn.

Well, three men showed up at the inn. I don’t know how wise they were.

How do you mean?

The baby is born, right? And then these guys show up. And they say, we have brought gifts for the child. And I say, that’s nice, what did you bring. And they say, we have brought gold and frankincense and myrrh. And I say, you’ve got to be kidding.

What’s wrong with that?

Let me quote another Christmas song for you. “A child, a child, shivers in the cold, let us bring him silver and gold.” Really? Silver and gold? And not, oh, I don’t know, a blanket? An newborn infant is exhibiting signs of possible hypothermia and your response is to give him cold metal objects? Who ever wrote that song needs a smack upside the head.

You’re saying the gifts were inappropriate.

What’s wrong with diapers? A nice jumper or two? A Baby Bjorn? They were riding around on a donkey, you know. A Baby Bjorn would have come in handy. Have you ever in your life gone to a baby shower where someone says, congratulations on the baby, here’s some perfume. No. Because most people have some sense.

I think the idea is that all the gifts were fit for a king.

Yes, a king who first pooped in my animals’ manger. I would have appreciated a gift of diapers.

Point taken.

And another thing, they brought all these expensive gifts, but do you ever hear about Joe and Mary and Jesus being anything but poor? Or at the very most working class?

Now that you mention it, no.

Exactly. I think what happened is these three guys show up and they say, here are all these expensive gifts we got your baby. Oh and by the way, we happen to know King Herod thinks your baby’s a threat and plans to kill every kid younger than two years of age just to be sure, so you better go. Egypt’s nice this time of year. What? You’re traveling by donkey? Well, then you can’t take all these nice gifts with you. We’ll just hold on to them for now, write us a letter when you get settled and we’ll mail them. And then they never do.

I don’t think there’s scriptural support for that theory.

I’m not saying I have any evidence. All I’m saying is that it makes sense.

After the Three Wise Men, were there other visitors?

Yeah. It got a little crowded. The animal sheds aren’t designed for a large amount of foot traffic. And then that kid showed up with a drum, and I said, all right, fine, we’re done.

The song of that incident suggests the drum went over well.

Let me ask you. You’re a parent, your child has just been born, he’s tired, you’re tired, people won’t leave you alone, and then some delinquent comes by and unloads a snare solo in your baby’s ear. Does this go over well?

Probably not, no.

There you go.

After the birth, did your inn benefit from the notoriety?

Not really. Jesus kind of slipped off everyone’s radar, for, what? Thirty years? Thirty-five?

Something like that.

Right. So there wasn’t much benefit there. I got some mileage out of telling the story about the crazy couple who rented my animal shed, and the visitors, and the drumming, but I mostly told it to friends. Then just as I’m about to retire someone tells me of this hippie preacher in Jerusalem who got in trouble with the Romans. And I say, hey, I think I know that guy. I think he got born in my shed. And then, well. You know what the Romans did to him.

Yes.

Romans, feh. Then I sold the inn to my nephew and retired to Joppa. By the time Jesus became really famous I was out of the game. And then my nephew sold the inn and they put that church there.

The Church of the Nativity.

You been?

I have, yes.

It’s nice. I liked the inn better, of course.

Looking back, would you have done anything differently?

I would have comped Joseph the crib.

That still would have changed the Christmas carol.

I know. But, look. You didn’t have to wash out that manger.