Sunday, February 1, 2009

Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris

I don't know that I could look someone in the eye and exclaim, "Oh, my goodness, I think I see Santa!" or "Can you close your eyes and make a very special Christmas wish!" Everything these elves said had an exclamation point at the end of it!!! It makes one's mouth hurt to speak with such forced merriment...I prefer being frank with children. I'm more likely to say, "You much be exhausted," or "I know a lot of people who would kill for that little waistline of yours."

I am afraid I won't be able to provide the grinding enthusiasm Santa is asking for. I think I'll be a low-key sort of elf.

Holidays on Ice was one of the few Sedaris books I hadn't gotten around to reading yet, so the new 2008 edition seemed like a good excuse to check it out. Well, that and the fact that both Nathan and Genie recommended it as a favorite over dinner on MLK weekend. In fact, I had already heard or read some of these stories before in other collections or on NPR recordings that I sneak-listen to at work when my office mate is away. If my other coworkers ever walk by my glass-fronted office and wonder why I am laughing to myself while presumably checking client emails or the day's financials, well, that's why.

My favorite story in this book was probably the first one, "The Santaland Diaries," excerpted above, wherein Sedaris recounts his early '90s experience of being an elf at the NYC Macy's. I actually read most of this story while sitting at a McDonald's early yesterday morning and every so often I would chuckle to myself. The other patrons would look over warily, and I would show them the cover. Their presumably limited understanding of English was probably what kept them from smiling in recognition of this literary comedy and thumbs-upping me.

In "Santaland," we hear of parents who nudge the nearest elf and whisper, "We would like a traditional Santa. I'm sure you know what I'm talking about." Sedaris-as-elf sends them gleefully to his black coworker Santa Jerome. We hear of parents who, nerves frayed by hours of waiting in line, scream at their exhausted and terrified toddlers to "get on that man's lap and smile or I'll give you something to cry about." And we learn about the people behind the costumes, a disturbing number of whom are painted as sex-crazed lunatics.

Not all the stories in Holidays on Ice are about Sedaris. His take on the annual family Christmas newsletter is funny but too long, and "Christmas Means Giving" is disturbing and a bit weird. My favorites were some of the ones about him: "Santaland," "Jesus Shaves," and "Six to Eight Black Men," an essay that Sedaris reads aloud. Find it on YouTube, it's worth it to hear it in Sedaris's voice.


Christopher said...

Six to Eight Black Men would be a good band name

Magenta Baribeau said...

Hi! I have a question for you. I'm a translator working on translating a book, looking for a quote from HOLIDAYS ON ICE. Amazon and Chapters are out of it. I can't find it anywhere. Could you help me out. Do you still have the book? Could you help me find a sentence in there. Thanks! Please email me your reply please: magentabaribeau at gmail thanks!!