The high priest of mortifying disaster serves up a fine selection of cringe-inducing yuletide fiascos.
Burroughs (A Wolf at the Table: A Memoir of My Father, 2008, etc.) begins this gathering of Christmas nightmares with his confusion about Santa and Jesus, who he assumed were the same entity. “I could identify Coke or Pepsi with just one sip,” he writes, “but I could not tell you for sure why they strapped Santa to a cross. Had he missed a house?” His “brief and entirely baffling period of Sunday school” failed to clarify the issue, especially since Burroughs spent most of that time eating the lead paint flecks off the aging metal toys. One Christmas, his grandparents brought him a life-sized Santa. He was so attracted to it that his innocent kisses accelerated into him eating Santa’s wax face. “Even from across the room I could see the carnage that was Santa’s face. I’d disfigured him, hideously,” he writes. “I felt sure that even Jesus, with his love for the maimed, would turn away.” Burroughs also recounts some of the vibrant repartee he shared with his mother and father after yet another failed Christmas: “You are officially free to kill each other!” he grants his warring parents. “Well, well,” replies his mother. “Bravo, you hateful spoiled thing.” Eventually the author’s tone shows signs of empathy, a humanism toward the folks with whom he shares the mornings-after: the “Santa” he awakens next to one blackout dawn, with a “doughy body” and “small, World War II–era erection”; the street woman with whom he shares a city bench, who, when she sang, “filled the space between the flakes of falling snow and packed the air with beauty.”
Another winner from a master of comic timing and poignant reflection.