Dec. 26, 2010

December 26

by Kenn Nesbitt

A BB gun.
A model plane.
A basketball.
A ‘lectric train.
A bicycle.
A cowboy hat.
A comic book.
A baseball bat.
A deck of cards.
A science kit.
A racing car.
A catcher's mitt.
So that's my list
of everything
that Santa Claus
forgot to bring.

"December 26" by Kenn Nesbitt, from The Aliens Have Landed at Our School! © Meadowbrook Press, 2006. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of David Sedaris, (books by this author) born in Binghamton, New York (1956) and raised in Raleigh, North Carolina. He's the author of the best-selling books Naked (1997), Holidays on Ice (1997), Me Talk Pretty One Day (2000), Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim (2004), and When You Are Engulfed in Flames (2008).

He moved to Chicago after college, and then to New York City, where he cleaned people's apartments, wrote short fiction pieces, and sometimes read them aloud at small gatherings. He also kept a daily diary. And then, 18 years ago this week, he read some stuff from his diary on NPR's Morning Edition, in a commentary that Ira Glass produced and edited. It was about working as Crumpet the Elf in Macy's SantaLand. It began:
"I wear green, velvet knickers, a forest green velvet smock and a perky little hat decorated with spangles. This is my work uniform.
I've spent the last several days sitting in a crowded, windowless Macy's classroom undergoing the first phase of elf training. You can be an entrance elf, a water cooler elf, a bridge elf, train elf, maze elf, island elf, magic window elf, usher elf, cash register elf or exit elf.
We were given a demonstration of various positions in action acted out by returning elves who were so on stage and goofy, that it made me a little sick to my stomach. I don't know if I can look anyone 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 say seems to have an exclamation point on the end of it."
The eight-minute monologue made him famous. Suddenly his phone started to ring. He said: "I was very, very surprised. ... I've always thought that the definition of a good life was being asleep when Morning Edition was on. I never listened to the show, so I never had a concept of anyone else listening to it, I suppose." People asked him if he would like to be in commercials or movies. Soap opera producers called to ask if he'd write for their shows, as did Seinfeld. Editors from magazines like Harper's and Mademoiselle also offered him work. In the end, he signed a two-book contract and continued to clean apartments for a while after he'd published his first book, Barrel Fever, in 1994.

His most recent book came out just this fall; it's called Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk (2010). He said he got the idea for it after someone gave him an audio book of African folk tales and he started listening to them and thought to himself, "I can do better than this." He wrote 25 fables for the collection and ended up cutting 10 of them. The remaining 15 include stories of canine infidelity, migrating warblers, a potbellied pig, and a judicious brown chicken.

Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk begins:
"The cat had a party to attend, and went to the baboon to get herself groomed.
'What kind of party?' the baboon asked, and she massaged the cat's neck in order to relax her, the way she did with all her customers."

From the archives:

It's the birthday of author Henry Miller, (books by this author) born in New York City (1891). He's best known for his novel Tropic of Cancer (1934), in which he wrote: "It may be that we are doomed, that there is no hope for us, any of us, but if that is so then let us set up a last agonizing, bloodcurdling howl, a screech of defiance, a war whoop! Away with lamentation! Away with elegies and dirges! Away with biographies and histories, and libraries and museums! Let the dead eat the dead. Let us living ones dance about the rim of the crater, a last expiring dance. But a dance!"

It's the birthday of poet Thomas Gray, (books by this author) born in London (1716). He wrote Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard (1751), which is considered to be one of the greatest poems in the English language. The poem begins:

The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,
The lowing herd wind slowly o'er the lea,
The plowman homeward plods his weary way,
And leaves the world to darkness and to me

It's the birthday of poet Juan Felipe Herrera, (books by this author) born in Fowler, California (1948). The son of migratory farm workers, he spent his childhood on the move, living in a series of farm camps in California. He said: "I grew up as a gypsy child. You're under the sky. You're always moving. You don't really worry about having too many things. You just hang out, stay light ... in nature. It was beautiful."

Herrera has written many collections of poetry, including Exiles of Desire (1983) and Border-Crosser with a Lamborghini Dream (1999), and he has published several bilingual books for children, including Calling the Doves (1995) and The Upside Down Boy (2000).

It's the birthday of novelist Jean Toomer, born Nathan Pinchback Toomer in Washington, D.C. (1894). He is best known for his novel Cane, which sold fewer than 1,000 copies when it first came out in 1923, but it marked the beginning of the literary renaissance in Harlem.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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