Columns > Published on December 23rd, 2019

Xmas In Bizarro Land

Christmas is like a great sex worker: it facilitates a wide variety of preferences and experiences.

Some people have a very Christ-in-Christmas kind of vibe. They like their Nativity scenes, their crowded late night church services, and settling in on Christmas Eve around a warm fireplace with a mug of boozy egg nog or Christ blood or whatever.

Some people have a very Santa/Polar Bears/Coca-Cola relationship with Christmas. Hey, if you wanted this thing to be all about Christ, maybe it should’ve been pronounced kh-rice-t-miss instead of sounding more like the celebration of someone named Chris. Marvel movies have given us a whole bevy of Chris’s to choose from. Pratt, Hemsworth, Evans, Kristofferson (don’t question me on that last one unless you wanna get schooled).

Some people have no relationship with Christmas whatsoever. That’s cool. I support you and your belief system, and I would like to help you advocate for your religion’s holidays to also be days off of work for me. Whatever I can do to pitch in on that one, I’m extremely willing. I assume that for these folks, Christmas is like most any other day except you can’t really go anywhere except the movies, and you can’t really do anything but watch the movies that are out around Christmas, which are usually Christmas-y or unbearable. Or Star Wars. Categorize that as you will.

But here’s the problem: The relationship most of us have with Christmas is one that was put on us. Not a self-selected thing. Religion, commerce, circumstances of birth, even the weather in the northern hemisphere conspire to set us on one holiday path or another.

I decided that I, like a Twisted Sister jam, wasn’t gonna take it. Anymore. It was time for me to make my own Christmas traditions, informed by what I’m interested in. So I got me some bizarro and bizarro-adjacent books and set off on a trip to the Bizarro North Pole. Just to see what else is out there.

1. "Hark! The Herald Angels Scream" edited by Christopher Golden

Although it’s only bizarro-adjacent, this one’s a good toe in the egg nog (gross). It’s the one I picked to try out a touch of bizarro in my book club leading up to the holidays.

See, I started this book club in my home town. It’s not a hugely attended book club. Nor is it a highly literary one. Nor is it a sober one. Nor does it meet in classy locations like a living room with a disused treadmill holding laundry in the corner. If only we were at that level.

We meet at a bar called The Key Largo Lounge every couple months (give or take), have 9 beers apiece (give or take), and read something. That last part, the reading something, is also a “give or take” situation.

The Key Largo Lounge is not exactly a slice of a Beach Boys song in northern Colorado. It’s mostly just a bar with several half-assed attempts at different entertainments. There’s a tiny stage where I think someone was DJ’ing one time, but it was hard to tell. There are some of those electronic dart boards, though I’m not sure if they work. There are a couple pool tables, which seem crammed in like the pool table Kramer and Frank Constanza got on Seinfeld.

It’s pretty much the perfect bar.

For December, we read Hark! The Herald Angels Scream. Well, parts of it.

Because it’s better to give than receive, I decided to gift the book to the book club members. Because it’s an expensive book (note: beers are $2 dollars during happy hour at the Key Largo), I decided that instead of everyone getting an entire copy, I’d get one copy, tear out all the stories, and everyone could have a few.

I’m going to be honest: Most of the stories were just okay. The worst offendors were pretty clearly short stories that didn’t work, so the author slapped on a light dusting of holiday cheer so they’d fit in the anthology. Little tip for anyone struggling to place a short story: just have the main character look out a window and remark on the Christmas lights next door. Boom, now it’s a holiday story.

That said, “Good Deeds” by Jeff Strand is one of the best Christmas Stories ever. Do you know that song “Christmas Shoes?” If you don’t, let Patton Oswalt explain.

I’ll say nothing more about the story. Just go get it. The anthology is worth it for this story alone.

[amazon B07C6TM1SL inline]


2. "Santa Steps Out" by Robert Devereaux

If you ever wanted to read a book where Santa is a completely insane fuck machine, if you’ve ever wondered where, in all the stories of Santa dropping off presents and bringing cheer, if you’re like, “Where’s the part where Santa’s railing some chick?” then this is probably the book for you.

I say “probably”’s a little long. The fifth time Santa is getting down with the tooth fairy, you’ve got the premise. By the time we get our first three-way, you’re kind of ho-hum. It gets so bad that by the time you get to the part where the Easter Bunny is about to rape a kitten, you’re pretty much checked out.

Also, there are points where the prose is more purple than Santa’s dick head (I assume. It’s gotta be freezing cruising at altitude in the North Pole in December).

And the worst part, you see where the book is going WAY before the characters, and it starts to get frustrating.

But I will say that it has its moments, as do most Christmases. It’s a love it or hate it kind of book. People who love it REALLY love it. People who hate it really hate it. It’s worth giving a shot to find out which camp you’re in. One tip I'll provide, if you have any ideas about Santa being a saintly character, this one's not for you.

[amazon 1621050130 inline]


3. "Christmas On Crack" edited by Carlton Mellick III

Apparently Santa and sexy go hand-in-mitten, because damn, it just keeps happening in this one, too.

I’ve found this to be a divide amongst people in the real world. Do people like to get down on Christmas? Christmas Eve? Was this whole Santa thing concocted so parents could start plowing each other early, drunk on egg nog, pounding out their frustrations at assembling a doll house on each other?

If you’re looking for a bizarro Christmas collection, this is a great choice. The stories are just short enough, the setups are fun, and while it gets a little weird for the sake of weird, this is the quintessential set of bizarro stories with enough Christmas to keep things moving.

Also: crabs that shoot lasers. If you feel like me saying that near the end is burying the lead, this is the perfect collection for you.

[amazon B00QU8S9J0 inline]


4. "The Human Santapede" by Adam Millard

My favorite thing about this book was reading in the reviews that someone read it only because that was the penalty for losing a fantasy football bet. I don’t know much about fantasy football, but this sounds like the kind of league I could get behind. “If your football men lose, you will be forced to read. A NOVEL!”

This reader, who apparently sucks at fantasizing about football, was the only reviewer who didn’t seem to love the book.

Adam Millard is a pretty fun writer. An inside tip: You can get an 800-page epic collection of his for like $5 bucks right now. See below. If you’re the kind of person who’s going for The Human Santapede, you might as well.

Speaking of body horror and Christmas, there was the year when I was pretty sure my dad died. I’m sitting in the basement, and I hear this crashing coming from the stairs. Then my dad screams, desperate, “Don’t come over here! Don’t look!”

I thought for sure he was dying. Something happened, his guts were all spilled out at the bottom of the stairs, and he wanted to spare me this vision of his death. I'd seen some Rated R movies that were a little...advanced for me at this point. My imagination was on fire, and not in a good way.

It turned out he’d gotten me and my siblings all Moon Shoes, and he was trying to carry them all down the stairs at once. He missed a step, took a spill, broke something in his foot, and didn’t want any of us to see the boxes scattered at the bottom of the stairs. Because that would ruin Christmas.

[amazon B00ON3Z8MK inline]


5. "Sausagey Santa" by Carlton Mellick III

Not only was this amazingly solid, it’s a favorite Carlton Mellick III of mine. And that’s saying something. I haven’t read ALL of his books, but probably a dozen, which is a feat considering the guy seems to write faster than most of us read.

You know this book is a winner from the first line: "I never should have married a woman named Decapitron."

If there’s a right foot to start a book on, that’s it right there, and that foot is shod in a golden platform shoe with real magic fish living inside the heels, encased and swimming in a semi-transparent sauce made of Velveeta and bourbon.

I accidentally got drunk on Christmas when I was a kid. I don’t remember all the particulars, but I got my hands on some cocoa. It didn’t taste great. It had a weird peppermint thing going on that I couldn’t place. Probably because I hadn’t ever heard of Rumple Minze. If I’d ever heard that word, I would have probably assumed Rumple Minze was a mischievous elf or something.

We were watching TV, and I downed this cocoa and started feeling pretty funky. Sort of tired. Sort of weird, like I wanted to cry. And sort of like I was on the floor, and that was a pretty good situation. Like getting up off the floor would be the hardest thing I could ever do.

It was a pretty Merry Christmas, even if maybe the lights on the tree were a little bright the next morning. One of the better Christmas traditions until I read The Sausagey Santa.

[amazon B00QU8S9SQ inline]


6. "Fugitives and Refugees" by Chuck Palahniuk

One of my favorite sections in Chuck’s travel book to Portland is about Santa Rampage, a tradition that started decades ago and just sounded like a blast. Okay, I know people have different feelings about these sorts of events anymore, that they’ve been co-opted by assholes. But damn it, it used to be something different. And I’m not going to let the assholes take a great tradition.

I was so inspired by Chuck’s tale that I started my own Rampage in my small town. We’ve been going strong for about 6 or 7 years now. We’ve had some different themes, different challenges to keep things interesting, but we’re always sure to spread cheer. Sometimes the cheer has come in the form of hippity-hop balls. Sometimes the cheer came in the form of a contest to put on as many thongs as possible (you can get like a gross of paper-ish thongs meant for tanning pretty cheap). There’s been some puking, there’s been some messes of glitter, some emotional tears, some people too drunk to be allowed into bars, but nobody has died, nobody has thrown a punch, and many a good time has been had by many a Santa.

There are people I see at our little Rampage that I only see at our little Rampage. Old friends reconnect. Old coworkers catch up. Chuck's book gave me a great Christmas tradition. And the book has some of Chuck's best writing.

You really should try this in your hometown. I have lots of tips. Hit me up.

[amazon B000XUBE8O inline]

What are your favorite bizarre holiday tales? 

About the author

Peter Derk lives, writes, and works in Colorado. Buy him a drink and he'll talk books all day.  Buy him two and he'll be happy to tell you about the horrors of being responsible for a public restroom.

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