Stories for a Non-Sappy Holiday

Stories for a Non-Sappy Holiday

Guest Post by Elizabeth Eckhart


The holidays make a lot of people properly joyous. They decorate their trees, sing their Christmas carols, and, with a cup of hot chocolate or maybe spike apple cider, they curl up in cozy arm chairs to read sappy novels…. unfortunately, the rest of us simply can’t stomach that amount of sugar, both literal and non, and must instead comfort ourselves with cynical books and anti-holiday films. The group of us that are wholeheartedly against all Lifetime Christmas specials and evil-gone-good classic holiday books thankfully includes a group of delightfully witty authors. Below, you’ll find a list of wintery-themed amusement that won’t make you vomit from over-sweetening:


You Better Not Cry: Stories for Christmas

Augusten Burroughs, author of the famous Running With Scissors, revisited his past once again in a collection of Christmas tales. His memories include everything from gnawing the face off of a life-size Santa to waking up naked beside a real-life St. Nick. If this book makes you cry, it will be from non-stop laughter at the author’s drunken and irreverent attitude toward the holidays. A major benefit of this novel is its shorter nature – at about 200 pages, you won’t have to commit too much holiday time to reading through his stories (available on Amazon).


The Worst Noel: Hellish Holiday Tales

If you’re looking for holiday tales that are really heartwarming tales about minor holiday mishaps with endearing endings, this is not the book for you. I repeat: this is NOT the book for you. This collection is far from sentimental, sticking much closer to brutal honesty from famous authors including John Marchese, Ann Patchett and Cynthia Kaplan. As you can see by the numerous one star ratings online, many were hoping for a more sentimental collection, but for the Scrooges of the season Hellish Holiday Tales is the perfect read. As an added bonus, the collection is available in an audio version, with each author retelling their personal tale of holiday horror.


I’m Dreaming of a Black Christmas


For fans of stand up comedian Lewis Black, look no further. His Christmastime collection is a sarcastic expose of the awful societal truths that surround the season. Black even goes as far to warn potential readers, “This book contains, like the celebration of Christmas, only 2 percent religion. Think of it as the yuletide equivalent of low-fat milk.” A sampling of his chapter titles are even more telling, including “The Hooker at Rockefeller,” “Meditations of a Jewish Santa,” and “The Carol from Hell.” Black holds nothing back as he rips apart the season, reflecting on his own childhood memories and the horrors he sees today.


When Elves Attack: A Joyous Christmas Greeting from the Criminal Nutbars of the Sunshine State


When Elves Attack is one of a whopping 18 Serge Storms novels, in which Serge, an unhinged criminal, and his perpetually high pal Coleman cause mayhem. Serge Storms, a supremely talented serial killer, absolutely adores Christmas. The novel follows Serge to Florida, the land of no snow, where Serge attempts to rectify common holiday issues (an annoying mother-in-law, a disobedient teen) in his own brilliantly bloody way.


In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash


Jean Shepherd’s original tale behind the famous film A Christmas Story, a staple on DTV this time of year, is possibly the most sentimental on this list. Shepherd’s satire is a nostalgic portfolio of sketches from a child’s point of view, an entertaining place to be as an adult reader who understands what is really going on. The book is actually less upbeat and contains a darker humor than the film (probably both good qualities for readers of this list). Filmgoers often forget that this story takes place in the midst of the Great Depression, but the novel refuses to allow its readers to shake away the feel of the impoverished midwest.


Holidays on Ice


Finally, for those dreading the holiday season, comedian David Sedaris, author of the well known Me Talk Pretty One Day, takes readers through the inner workings of being a department store Christmas elf (in “The Santaland Diaries”) as well as other less than glittery holiday tales. Sedaris often writes with a bleak tone, but the wry wit will keep you laughing throughout the collection of 6 short stories, all of which can be heard in his own voice with the audio version.

ElizabethElkhartAviElizabeth Eckhart is an entertainment writer and blogger born and raised in Chicago, Illinois. She has a penchant for high fantasy, and loves anything that involves an epic battle of some sort. She can be followed on Twitter at @elizeckhart.

Nerd Fight

It was inevitable. Something that adolescent boys do is fight. There are no exceptions, no matter how fat and nerdy the boy is. That’s why it came as no real surprise to my family when about halfway through the first semester of middle school I found myself suspended for three days for fighting. I wasn’t even punished that severely for fighting, it was all about where the fight took place. School is where you go to learn, not to fight. Still, the family mantra was repeated by my siblings, my cousins and even my grand mother, “Never start a fight, always finish one.”

I am adamant when I say that I didn’t start this one, though I’m sure my mouth has been responsible for getting me into others. No, this fight was about the bottom of the social food chain. This fight was all about proving who that person was. It was about proving that it was me.

I have never been popular, and most of my life I had never been accepted by even the other outcasts. I was the target of every bully, asshole and tyrant the schoolyard had to offer. Torturing me was almost a Rite of Passage, and I was getting tired of it.

It started at lunch with a group of people that weren’t quite friends. They argued over the dumbest things, the type of stuff that only real geeks have that level of passion about. It happened every day, and I was almost always left out of the conversation because I didn’t know anything about comic books or movies that were less that a few years old. Even if I had been interested in those things, my parents had instilled in me a frugality that would never have allowed me to spend money on things like that. They were just too fleeting. I guess that was what really highlighted that I was truly alone, and it made me into that target.

It didn’t help that I was also the most emotional pubescent boy in history, prone to breaking down sobbing, or worse, if I was pushed the littlest bit.

Bullies come in all shapes and sizes. They aren’t just the preppy jocks, drugged out boyfriends, or alcoholic fathers. Anyone can give in to the rage and pan that builds up in the soul. The predatory instincts to lash out at the weakness of others and the emotional need to prove our strength is part of our genetic code. It makes monsters of men and overrides all senses. There is no sign that marks a bully. There is no way to know if they’re coming. For me, that day, the bully was a chunky, ginger nerd. I know now that he himself as a target, and he wanted to prove to those higher on the social food chain that he was not the weakest link. Unlike me, he had friends and supporters. I was alone. I was always alone.

It started with a shove and a shout. I felt his hands on my shoulders, the weight pushing me forward in the hall and heard the snarl in his voice.

“What you gonna do, faggot?”

I wasn’t sure what was happening, and anger seeped through the cracks of confusion as I spun around to see what was going on. “What the fuck was that for, man?”

My lunchroom companions were all behind me, forming a half ring across the hall. Their faces a mixture of excitement and worry. They knew this was wrong, but teenage boys have a hard time stopping a fight once it’s started. They circle like sharks when blood is in the water.

I took a stumbling step back as I was pushed again, harder this time. I was surprised that Kyle was the one pushing me. I had actually thought of him as a friend. Now, his face was flushed red behind his freckles, like a tomato covered in streaks of dirt. His eyes narrowed down and his nostrils flaring. He looked like a bull ready to charge.

“What the fuck?” I asked again, my arms open at my sides as I took another step back. I could feel heat flushing up to my face, burning behind my eyes. I blinked the tears back as embarrassment, fear and anger mixed into a storm in my mind. No answer came, he just stood there, his hands hanging at his sides as he leaned forward, his face and chest sticking out. I just shot out a quick, “fuck you then,” and turned to head back to class.

His hand grabbed my shoulder and jerked me back around to face him again. His other hand rose up and slapped me, hard, across the face. A loud smack, then, a second later a sharp sting on my cheek. My eyes began to tear up again and before I knew it, he was pushing his chest against mine, his rancid breath in my nose as he shouted obscenities directly into my face.

I froze, my muscles locking on me, still completely unsure why all of this was happening. All around me I could hear the other boys chanting the word “Fight!” again and again.

“What you gonna do, faggot,” he repeated again, louder this time, “Cry like a little bitch?”

I had never been in a fight before. I had always fled or just let them beat me up. My instincts told me to turn and go again, but he just kept shouting in my face and stepping to stay in front of me each time I tried. I was close to breaking down and sobbing again. They all sensed it and the calls became harder, more directed and hurtful. Then, something slid like a snake through my mind. The whole thing was absurd. Kyle was a foot shorter than me and half as wide. here was this little bitch of a leprechaun standing on his toes to reach my face, and he had slapped me.

The whole thing was ridiculous. Fear melted away completely, confusion following. The heat burning my eyes spread out to the rest of my face and neck. My shoulders tensed and all that was left was anger.

Stupid, blind anger.

Here was this midget, barely able to reach me as he stretched himself as tall as he could. It was pathetic, and worse, I was pathetic because I’d let myself be afraid of him.

What I had to do became crystal clear.

I shifted my weight onto my left leg, grabbed him by the shoulders, and kneed him as hard as I could in the balls… Twice.

I let him go and he slumped to the floor, groaning.

That was how the teachers found us. A ring of twelve year olds, Kyle laying in the fetal position sobbing and whimpering, me standing over him considering if I should stomp on his face for good measure and daring the others to come at me, too.

I got three days of out-of-school suspension, extra chores at home and a lecture from my dad.

He got five days for starting the fight, a reputation that caused him to be bullied even more than before, and a rumor that I’d smashed his left testicle and he’d never be able to function properly.

Neither of us won, though.

Nothing really changed.

Nothing ever does.

But I decided that day that I didn’t want to hurt anyone like that again. I didn’t want to leave someone sobbing on the floor, a target for the assholes and douches to hone in on. I hated being the one they’d torture, but I’d rather they come at me than someone I’d left out to there like bait. I didn’t want to ever be that person, but, it is in everyone’s DNA…

How 8th Grade Science could have Killed the Professional Adult

Here goes round two. Hopefully I won’t be defeated by another failure of technology in the field of “keeping Matt from doing stupid shit.” This is an ever growing field, I know. It takes a lot of computing power.

The idea of professional adulthood came from two interacting and intertwining things.

1) Thanks in part to my doodling, I began to feel like I was actually a stand out in the blogging industry. I doodled, people liked it. I’d love to doodle more. I’d love to have the time to put at least one relevant doodle with each blog post. It isn’t always possible, though, as I still work a full time job. That was the desire that pushed me to start actually looking for a way to monetize my site and turn it into a career, though.

2) I kept repeating it like a mantra as I reorganized my office. It was funny, and it stuck.

There is no doubt in my mind that the doodles and the words go hand in hand to create the bond I feel with my readers and fellow bloggers. The friends on the internet that really push me to be more than just a guy with an online journal. Of course, it never would have happened if I’d been convinced by my 8th grade science teacher to quit drawing in the margins of ever piece of paper I could get my hands on.

In her defense, she didn’t think she was crushing the creative spirit of a artistic youth.

She thought she was helping to defend a fellow Nazi.

In October of 1996, just a few weeks after my 13th birthday, I discovered a wonderfully illustrated and brilliantly written comic book series called “Maus.” Written and drawn by a creative genius named Art Spiegelman, Maus tells the true story of his Jewish father’s life before and during World War 2 in Poland and after in New York City. It is his father’s biography, and utilized the nature of graphic novels to increase the understanding of the reader. In Maus, Germans are depicted as Cats, and Jews are depicted as mice. The art was always a bit cartoony, in the 60s and 70s style, but covered serious subject matter in a way similar to how Robert Crumb’s Fritz the Cat. I became enamored with Spiegelman’s art, and I tried very often to emulate his drawing style. I wanted to draw like him, and so I did, often, ever time I got a little bored.

You can probably imagine that I got bored a lot. Especially in school, and more so in the classes that I excelled at but wasn’t interested in. That usually meant I got painfully bored during anything involving numbers and spent much less time doodling in classes where people were involved. This meant that I was a focused, eager student in English or Social Studies, and a withdrawn, broody artist in math and science classes. This got to be especially bad in Science because unlike the math department where I could get bumped up to Algebra and challenged a bit, I was stuck in the same general 8th Grade Physical Science class as every knuckle dragging man-ape in the school.

Call me an elitist, but I honestly believe that the biggest drain on my education was sharing a classroom with people that simply can’t keep up with other students. When they developed a program in my High School that separated students based on their academic aptitudes, I thought we’d hit the best form of education ever, with each student getting the right level of attention and challenge they needed. Of course, “No child left behind” put an end to that.

Thus, I found myself sitting in Mrs. Mekers 8th Grade Science class next to a preppy asshole of a jock named Dickface. No, that wasn’t his Christian name, of course. I think his parents were way too indulging and lenient for something like that, if you catch my meaning. He had one of those generic names, like I do. I know he wasn’t a Justin, Matt or Chris, so he would probably have been a Ryan, but I can really only remember calling him “Dickface.” Besides, I knew a couple of cool preppy jocks named Ryan, and don’t want them to think that I am calling them dickfaces on the internet.

Anyway, Dickface sat next to me in Science. He was tall, slightly tanned, with blonde hair and blue eyes. If it wasn’t for the fact that he was also a complete tool, I’d make a Zach Morris comparison, but this was more like if Slater was cracked out on steroids and cos-playing Zach Morris. Although he was also rich and popular. I think I just came to the conclusion that Zach Morris wasn’t a very believable character.

So, Dickface was the kind of guy that hated people that were better than him at anything. It’s not his fault, he’s got the alpha male competition gene going on. Power to him. Unfortunately for him, Dickface wasn’t particularly intelligent, not that he was box of rocks stupid or anything, but I’m not sure I’d pick him for my knowledge bowl team over, say, Ogre from Revenge of the Nerds. This put our seating arrangement as being somewhat tumultuous for me, because not only did I have an easier time academically, I’m also one of those competitive, face rubbing assholes. Except, I wasn’t popular, and I was an emotionally unstable fat kid. I was so explosive with my emotions that even the gym coach got in on the action, calling me “Wash Rag” because of how easy it was to make me cry. Man did I feel vindicated when that guy got nailed banging a student a few years later. I like to imagine he has an entirely new idea of what the term “wash rag” means in prison. Don’t google that. I just made it up.

So, it was during the fourth straight day on the incredibly interesting and important topic of topological survey maps, I cracked and pulled out my wide-ruled sprial notebook (as required on the School Supplies checklist) and began drawing. Art Spiegelman was my artistic obsession at the moment, and so I naturally began to draw something in his style. This particular drawing was Cat-Hitler, with his little Cat-Hitler-Stache giving a Cat-Hitler rant to a bunch of Cat-Nazis from behind a podium. The details being fleshed in included Spiegelman’s Cat-Hitler banners and tapestries. Basically a stylized Cat-Hitler head in front of a swastika.

Now, in some parts of the country drawing a swastika is just part of being alive. There are definitely places where Nazi Hate is the go to method for living, and despite popular belief that we’re all a bunch of slack-jawed, inbred, hood-wearing rednecks in Missouri, it’s not the case here. Racial Sensitivity is an important buzzword in the Belton School District, especially if there was a threat of any kind of lawsuit on the table. The standard practice of the school was to immediately and without remorse make a large and public announcement that a student was a bigoted racist that hated (insert minority group here), wanted them dead, and would be locked in a bathroom in the hall without cameras for a couple of days, alone… possibly hand cuffed to the radiator heater. That is to say that when someone is accused of being a neo-nazi prick randomly in the middle of an 8th grade science class by an explosive and shouting outburst, most of the faculty would take it as a big deal.

That was the situation I basically found myself in when Dickface decided to look at my drawings for the first time ever. Snatching my notebook away from me, he shouted, “What the hell is wrong with you? My grandfather died in Auschwitz.” This was a blatant and powerful lie, but considering we lived in white trash suburb and his last name was German (We’ll say it was Cocktottel1) and sounded Jewish enough for the masses, most people believed him. That left me in the middle of 30 students being stared at, and in a couple of places subtly threatened, because he had basically just announced to the world that I wanted to murder them for no good reason. This completely ignores the fact that I’m basically the opposite of racist and about as far from being an Aryan poster child as you can get and still be a white dude. I mean, I’m basically a ginger, except they won’t take me because my head hair is too dark and my facial hair is too coppery. So, I’m not even that.

Too teenaged me’s credit, I did not go with my natural reaction to high levels of confrontation. I didn’t not break down and start crying immediately. I felt the heat and blood rush into my face, and for a second I thought it was going to burst out of my nose, but instead it just gave the slightest hint of copper to my hard, heavy breathing. I stared straight down at the paper as I was publically berated by my teacher. This would not be the last time.

I was embarrassed and ashamed. In my mind I knew that I had done nothing wrong, but back then, and for years to follow, the idea that I had offended someone was like a kick to the stomach and a baseball bat to the back of the head at the same time. I felt like I was less than scum, lower than dirt. I was told to stay after class, too, which would make me late for my next class and exasperate the humility.

So there I sat, as the class filed out, my eyes refusing to let go of the tears that they’d stored up staring down at the table in front of me. I didn’t think I’d be able to take much more of it, and for the first time in my life, I considered skipping home room and the bus and just taking off on foot back to my house. I waited for a couple of minutes for the class to completely empty out and Mrs. Mekers came over and stood next to me.

“Do you know why this is wrong?”

“Yeah, I guess, I mean, I didn’t draw it because…”

“Because you can’t be public about these things.”

I stared up at her, incredulous, “What?”

“You can’t let people know who you are, or they’ll watch you. You have to be sneakier than the kikes.”

I didn’t know  how to respond to that. This was my fucking Science teacher, for crying out loud.

“I don’t want to see you ever doodling in my class again. You want to make pictures do it on your own time. I don’t want my class getting disrupted by some heeb, got it?”

“Yeah, I got it,” was all I managed to spit out, completely dumbfounded by the entire situation. It took me several days to finally figure out how to process that entire encounter. I thought about telling someone what had happened, but I didn’t have any proof, and I didn’t entirely know what “heeb” meant back then and only had a vague understanding of “kike.”

I wouldn’t learn that level of racial slur until the Racist Game of Racism was created a year or so later on a long bus trip back from a Forensics Tournament. That’s another story for another time however.

Looking back, with 16 years of hindsight, I wish I had been a bit more brave and confident back then. I wish I had told someone. Who knows how many students she’s treated like shit over the years because of her prejudice. At least she’s not teaching anymore. Well, not in Belton. I checked the school faculty list and found that out.

Maybe she got caught. I hope she did. In my world, she has been. It makes me smile.

I stopped drawing for a long time after that, afraid that I would find myself stared at as a villain again. It was why I didn’t take any art classes or anything in High School. It would have ended my drawing altogether if it wasn’t for another teacher giving me a reason to doodle again later on in life. Maybe I’ll tell that story someday.

If it wasn’t for the doodles, and the reaction to the doodles of people on twitter and here on the blog, I would never have kept going as long as I have. I wouldn’t believe that there was anything here that couldn’t be found anywhere else on the web.

I’d never have made a whopping $34 in revenue over the last 18 months.

I know. It’s not a lot, but it’s what makes me know that I could do this full time someday, and be a real professional.

I already have the hat for it.