Making a list, checking it twice, gonna find out who’s naughty or nice

by |December 2, 2009

You’ve eaten too much candy at Christmas…but have you ever eaten the face off a six-foot stuffed Santa? You’ve seen gingerbread houses…but have you ever made your own gingerbread tenement? You’ve woken up with a hangover…but have you ever woken up next to Kris Kringle himself? Augusten Burroughs has, and in this caustically funny, nostalgic, poignant, and moving collection he recounts Christmases past and present, as only he could. With gimlet-eyed wit and illuminated prose, Augusten shows how the holidays bring out the worst in us and sometimes, just sometimes, the very, very best. Read an excerpt of You Better Not Cry below.

The sunlight on the bed was that clean, white light of winter without any tinge of yellow or gold; it was a lensed, glassy light that erased the shadows. So much pure, diffused sun felt like a shoplifted luxury; like sleeping until eleven on a Monday morning. Even without my glasses, I could make out the heavy drapes and see that they were pulled all the way open.

My first thought, What a spectacular morning,was followed immediately by, But I don’t have drapes.

Even out of focus, a seven-foot armoire was difficult to miss, especially when it was exactly where my beer-can pyramid should have been.

I blinked.

A marble-topped nightstand was on my left. Once again, Where was my upside-down white plastic laundry hamper bedside table? The only marble in my apartment was the threshold at the bathroom door.

There was a delicate, pale green china cup and saucer on top of the nightstand. The cup was half-filled with coffee and two spent Sweet’N Low packets lay on the marble beside the saucer.

The handle of the cup faded away from me, and though I noticed this, I did not consider what it implied.

Beyond these few details, I could not see. Though, I did believe I could make out a form on the….Was it another bed? Right there on the other side of the nightstand.

One might have reasonably concluded I was not alone in that room.

I had consulted the Magic Eight Ball so frequently as a child, that even at twenty-six, the toy’s ominous answers floated to the surface of my internal window, even when I hadn’t consciously asked a question. SIGNS POINT TO YES came to mind.

The bedding had the depth of a snowstorm; I felt buried beneath the richest, most sumptuous mounds of fabric, layers of it: sheet, blanket, duvet, bedspread. All of this, too, was foreign.

There could be no doubt: this was not my futon.

It was a mounting sense of distress that my eyes traveled once again to the window where I saw now that the drapes and the bedding shared the same design.

That is when I knew that something in the universe had, indeed, malfunctioned; I was somewhere color-coordinated.

I scanned the nightstand but did not see the familiar glint of gold- a tiny lighthouse shining: HERE ARE YOUR GLASSES. So I leaned over to the edge of the bed and began to spider my hand along the carpeted floor. I’d stepped on enough pairs of glasses to know that mine seemed to prefer the floor.

Blind, and with my head upside down, I glanced toward the foot of the bed and saw a slash of red. Odd, I thought. What could that be?

And in reply, five words burned through the murky blue of Magic Eight Ball Juice: BETTER NOT TELL YOU NOW.

I thought, Seriously. What is that?

Finally, my fingers located the glasses tucked into an uncanny little crevice behind the front legs of the nightstand; a spot seemingly designed to attract and retain fallen objects. No human eyes would ever have found them there. I plucked them from the crevice, hoping not to find a bent temple. What I found instead was a pair of lenses so mental-patient filthy and caked with crud, it shocked me that I had been able to see through them. Pretending that that had not been a pubic hair on the left lens but only an exceedingly svelte and limber dust bunny, I fogged the lenses with my breath and attempted to polish them with the edge of the sheet. As I did this, I glanced over at the streak of red and as I stared, more detail was revealed, not unlike a word rising slowly to the surface of my internal Magic Eight Ball.

A band of white smoke seemed to surround the red cloud. And there was a luminous, tiny golden star-in the center.

Glasses were amazing.

Because the instant the mysterious floating blob was resolved in clarifying detail, there was no puzzle to what it was. Any kindergarten-aged child in America knew the answer.

The red velveteen, the white fur trim, and then the glossy flash of black. Yes, that would be the belt. The sun kicked a highlight off the buckle: a tiny golden star.

So. If that’s Santa’s suit, I wondered dangerously, where might Santa be?

For the answer, I needed only slide my eyes left, to the bed on the other side of the nightstand.

He was probably about sixty-five. A portly gentleman, apparently naked beneath the sheet, he had a full, white beard and silver, somewhat stylish reading glasses perched low on his nose. He was peering at me over the top rim of those glasses, with an amused little smile.

If the notepad next to the telephone was correct, I was naked in the bed next to Santa Claus at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City.

There was even a twinkle in his eye. “Ah bonjour!” he said. “Bonjour.” He took a noisy sip from the cup of coffee.

I removed my glasses and tossed them on the nightstand. Then I dropped my head

into my hands and groaned; undoubtedly rather rude as far as gestures went.

This was not happening to me.


I still felt slightly drunk from the previous night. Of which I could remember absolutely nothing. I did know that a Long Island Iced Tea would have really hit the spot at that moment.

“Aww,” he said. “Not feeling so clear-headed this morning?”

When I slipped my glasses back on and looked at him, he raised his eyebrows.

“Oh, no,” I assured him. “I feel extremely clear-headed this morning, as a matter of fact. And that’s the problem.”




It was apparent that something terrible had happened. I was at the Waldorf with Santa and I didn’t have even the vaguest idea how the hell this came to be.

From You Better Not Cry by Augusten Burroughs. Copyright © 2009 by the author and reprinted by permission of St. Martin’s Press, LLC.

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