(With a Bow to Mr. Clifford Odets)
From The New Yorker, Dec. 26, 1936
Scene: The sweatshop of S. Claus, a manufacturer of children’s toys, on North Pole Street. Time: The night before Christmas.
At rise, seven gnomes, Rankin, Panken, Rivkin, Riskin, Ruskin, Briskin, and Praskin, are discovered working furiously to fill orders piling up at stage right. The whir of lathes, the hum of motors, and the hiss of drying lacquer are so deafening that at times the dialogue cannot he heard, which is very vexing if you vex easily. (Note: The parts of Rankin, Panken, Rivkin, Riskin, Ruskin, Briskin, and Praskin are interchangeable, and may be secured directly from your dealer or the factory. )
Riskin (filing a Meccano girder, bitterly)— A parasite, a leech, a bloodsucker— altogether a five-star nogoodnick! Starvation wages we get so he can ride around in a red team with reindeers!
Ruskin (jeering) —Hey, Karl Marx, whyn’tcha hire a hall?
Riskin (sneering)— Scab! Stool pigeon! Company spy! (They tangle and rain blows on each other. While waiting for these to dry, each returns to his respective task.)
Briskin (sadly, to Panken)— All day long I’m painting “Snow Queen” on these Flexible Flyers and my little Irving lays in a cold tenement with the gout.
Panken— You said before it was the mumps.
Briskin (with a fatalistic shrug)— The mumps— the gout— go argue with City Hall.
Panken (kindly, passing him a bowl)— Here, take a piece of fruit.
Briskin (chewing) —It ain’t bad, for wax fruit.
Panken (with pride)— I painted it myself.
Briskin (rejecting the fruit)— Ptoo! Slave psychology!
Rivkin (suddenly, half to himself, half to the Party) — I got a belly full of stars, baby. You make me feel like I swallowed a Roman candle.
Praskin (curiously)— What’s wrong with the kid?
Riskin— What’s wrong with all of us? The system! Two years he and Claus’s daughter’s been making googoo eyes behind the old man’s back.
Praskin— So what?
Riskin (scornfully)— So what? Economic determinism! What do you think the kid’s name is— J. Pierpont Rivkin? He ain’t even got for a bottle Dr. Brown’s Celery Tonic. I tell you, it’s like gall in my mouth two young people shouldn’t have a room where they could make great music.
Rankin (warningly)— Shhh! Here she comes now! (Stella Claus enters, carrying a portable phonograph. She and Rivkin embrace, place a record on the turntable, and begin a very slow waltz, unmindful that the phonograph is playing “Cohen on the Telephone.”)
Stella (dreamily)— Love me, sugar?
Rivkin— I can’t sleep, I can’t eat, that’s how I love you. You’re a double malted with two scoops of whipped cream; you’re the moon rising over Mosholu Parkway; you’re a two weeks’ vacation at Camp Nitgedaiget! I’d pull down the Chrysler Building to make a bobbie pin for your hair!
Stella— I’ve got a stomach full of anguish. Oh, Rivvy, what’ll we do?
Panken (sympathetically)— Here, try a piece of fruit.
Rivkin (fiercely)— Wax fruit— that’s been my whole life! Imitations! Substitutes! Well, I’m through! Stella, tonight I’m telling your old man. He can’t play mumblety-peg with two human beings! (The tinkle of sleighbells is heard offstage, followed hy a voice shouting, “Whoa, Dasher! Whoa, Dancer.” A moment later S. Claus enters in a gust oi mock snow. He is a pompous bourgeois of sixty-five who affects a white beard and a false air of benevolence. But tonight the ruddy color is missing from his cheeks, his step falters, and he moves heavily. The gnomes hastily replace the marzipan they have been filching.)
Stella (anxiously)— Papa! What did the specialist say to you?
Claus (brokenly)— The biggest professor in the country … the best cardiac man that money could buy … I tell you I was like a wild man.
Stella— Pull yourself together, Sam!
Claus— It’s no use. Adhesions, diabetes, sleeping sickness, decalcomania— oh, my God! I got to cut out climbing in chimneys, he says— me, Sanford Claus, the biggest toy concern in the world!
Stella (soothingly)— After all, it’s only one man’s opinion.
Claus— No, no, he cooked my goose. I’m like a broken uke after a Yosian picnic. Rivkin!
Rivkin— Yes, Sam.
Claus— My boy, I had my eye on you for a long time. You and Stella thought you were too foxy for an old man, didn’t you? Well, let bygones be bygones. Stella, do you love this gnome?
Stella (simply)— He’s the whole stage show at the Music Hall, Papa; he’s Toscanini conducting Beethoven’s Fifth; he’s-
Claus (curtly)— Enough already. Take him. From now on he’s a partner in the firm. (As all exclaim, Claus holds up his hand for silence.) And tonight he can take my route and make the deliveries. It’s the least I could do for my own flesh and blood. (As the happy couple kiss, Claus wipes away a suspicious moisture and turns to the other gnomes.) Boys, do you know what day tomorrow is?
Gnomes (crowding around expectantly)— Christmas!
Claus— Correct. When you look in your envelopes tonight, you’ll find a little present from me— a forty-percent pay cut. And the first one who opens his trap— gets this. (As he holds up a tear-gas bomb and beams at them, the gnomes utter cries of joy, join hands, and dance around him shouting exultantly. All except Riskin and Briskin, that is, who exchange a quick glance and go underground. )