Holidays On Ice, by David Sedaris
Well, the holiday season has officially begun, which means it’s time for the giving of gifts to friends, family, and obligatory acquaintances. And I’m here to help. Over the next few weeks, I will be reviewing books for everyone on your shopping list. Today, we start with that most insidiuous of obligatory Christmas purchases: the office Secret Santa.
Listen, we’ve all been through it and we all hate it, but there’s no use complaining because you can’t get out of it, not unless you’d like to be known as the office Grinch. So there you are, an underpaid office worker who just got assigned to Cathy, the passive-aggressive accounts manager who works two cubicles over and is constantly sending you emails that begin with “Just FYI…”
In this most chilling of holiday situations, you have one of several options:
1) something thoughtful yet moderately priced, tailored to the recipient’s likes and interests;
2) something passive-aggressive, like fruitcake or highlighters;
3) something in between.
Enter David Sedaris. For those of you who don’t know it, David Sedaris first became known through his story “SantaLand Diaries,” about his experiences as a Macy’s store elf. “SantaLand Diaries” is, to put it lightly, the most fucking hilarious thing I’ve ever read. It is a paean to every member of the service industry that has ever dealt with raucous toddlers and their prickish parents. If you’ve never read “Santa Land Diaries,” you should do yourself a favor and listen to it first. Sedaris’ deadpan delivery of the various indignities vested on a Macy’s elf—from his elf name, Crumpet, to the teasing flirtations of young and fickle fellow elves, to the machinations of the various Santas to the detritus of humanity who wait in line for two hours to visit him. Somehow, even while dwelling in the cesspool of consumer behavior, the story even manages to include a cheery holiday ending (I mean, insofar as you regard the phrase a store manager calling a customer a fucking bitch the stuff of holiday cheer, which, if you’ve ever worked in retail, you probably do) .
The rest of the stories in the book are less pleasant. Other than “Dinah, the Christmas Whore,” which is as heartwarming a family tale as I’ve ever read, the rest of the Christmas tales trade in the more morbid fare where Sedaris seems most comfortable. Included in the mix is a Christmas letter from a housewife charged with infanticide and awaiting trial, the crabby mutterings of a burnt-out theatre critic about the state of grade school Christmas pageants (“in the role of Mary, six-year-old Shannon Burke just barely manages to pass herself off as a virgin.”), and a Hollywood producer trying to convince a backwoods congregation to sell the rights to a rather gruesome local holiday miracle.
It’s this combination that makes Holidays On Ice such a perfect coworker gift, especially for those on whom your feelings lean toward dislike. Sedaris is a recognizable enough author and the cover artwork is cheery enough to seem, at first, like a considerate yet appropriately generic holiday gift for one’s colleagues. The first story is funny and spirited, which will leave them feeling heartened by the thoughtfulness of their gift. Then, when they get to the more disturbing stories, they’ll start to question it. By the time they get to the last story—a disturbing keeping-up-with-the-Joneses tale with a grisly ending—they’ll start giving everyone around them the side-eye, wondering what exactly who gave it to them and just what exactly their intentions were.
At this point, you will look at them, give them a long, creepy smile and say: “Did you enjoy the book?” Hold eye contact for just a few seconds too long.
And that is how you keep your coworkers on their toes.