Unwrapping David Sedaris and The SantaLand Diaries on their twentieth anniversary
"I wear green velvet knickers, a forest green velvet smock, and a perky little hat decorated with spangles. This is my work uniform," David Sedaris said for the first time on NPR's Morning Edition twenty years ago this Christmas. Chronicling his stint as an elf in the madcap Santa Land at Macy's, the story -- like Sedaris himself -- has become a public-radio institution, celebrating the freedom and wit of laziness, while condemning the synthetic nightmare of shopping malls and vain parents.
David Sedaris, author of The SantaLand Diaries.
Sedaris will be at the Garner Galleria Theatre in January, but in the meantime, tomorrow night the Boulder Ensemble Theater Company will unveil its version of The SantaLand Diaries , proudly displaying just how miserable, disenchanting and hopeless the Christmas season can be.
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After Horatio Alger and World War II championed the industriousness of hard-working Americans, Kerouac and the '60s ruined everything -- and cynics like Bukowski, Bill Hicks and Kurt Cobain paved a nihilistic road for a generation of dropouts who refused to work or regularly take showers. David Sedaris was a hit with this crowd. He was gay but not political, a stoner who loved day-time television, an artist working for a house-cleaning company.
By 1992, the corporate world had crafted an endless number of disposable jobs for people like Sedaris. These gigs typically contained mindless work for little pay, yet for what little physical or mental energy was expected, a large chunk of dignity was always surrendered. In The SantaLand Diaries, Sedaris endures insults from his peers, humiliations from pre-madonna Santas, and coins chucked at his head by hyper children. Millions of working-class Americans (and more than a few Europeans) identified with Sedaris's plight of a life devoted to paycheck degradation, and cheered him on during those little moments of revenge from a prankster with nothing to lose.
"She said, 'I'm going to have you fired,'" Sedaris said in his miniature, smoker's sigh. "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.'"
But rather than simply hate these people he was forced to guide through a plastic wonderland, Sedaris made a study of them, documenting all their pretentious and neurotic behavior and later writing it up in his diary back at home.
"Taking someone's picture tells you an awful lot, awful being the operative word," Sedaris wrote, referring to his position as photo elf, where he witnessed celebrities, screaming babies, sexist meatheads, urinating children, racists and animal protesters climb upon the lap of a fat actor in red so they could have their pictures taken. "During these visits the children are rarely allowed to discuss their desires with Santa. They are too busy being art-directed by the parents. . . . Tonight I saw a woman slap and shake her sobbing daughter, yelling, 'Goddamn it, Rachel, get on that man's lap and smile or I'll give you something to cry about.' I often take photographs of crying children. Even more grotesque is taking a picture of a crying child with a false grimace. It's not a smile so much as the forced shape of a smile. Oddly, it pleases the parents."