From the 1997 Ace Archives
I’ve met elves from all walks of life. Most of them are show business people, actors and dancers, but a surprising number of them held real jobs at advertising agencies and brokerage firms. Bless their hearts, these people never imagined there was a velvet costume waiting in their future. They’re the really bitter elves.
– David Sedaris,
“Front Row Center” opens with the narrator’s introduction to “any of the crucifying holiday plays and pageants currently eliciting screams of mercy from within the confines of our local elementary and middle schools. I will, no doubt, be taken to task for criticizing the work of children but, as any pathologist will agree, if there’s a cancer, it’s best to treat it as early as possible.”
But the book’s classic is undoubtedly “SantaLand Diaries.” The title says it all, and yet it doesn’t begin to capture the unique agony of an elf at Macy’s: “I had two people say that to me today, ‘I’m going to have you fired.’ Go ahead, be my guest. I’m wearing a green velvet costume, it doesn’t get any worse than this. Who do these people think they are? ‘I’m going to have you fired!’ I wanted to lean over and say, ‘I’m going to have you killed.'”)
If there’s a motif that emerges in every story, it is Sedaris’s fear of being unremarkable.
In “SantaLand Diaries,” he reflects on the children’s requests of Santa, “It is sad because you would like to believe that everyone is unique and then they disappoint you every time by being exactly the same.” Later he adds, “All of us take pride and pleasure in the fact that we are unique, but I’m afraid that when all is said and done the police are right: it all comes down to fingerprints.”
The book concludes with the absurd “Christmas Means Giving,” which offers handy holiday advice like “Generosity can actually make people feel quite uncomfortable if you talk about it enough. I don’t mean the bad ‘boring uncomfortable’ but something much richer. If practiced correctly, generosity can induce feelings of shame, inadequacy, and even envy, to name just a few.”
God bless us every one.
And to all a good night.
David Sedaris is at the Lexington Opera House on Thursday December 16, 2021.
This article also appears on page 18 of the December 2021 print edition of Ace.
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