“Dinah the Christmas Whore”—An Excerpt from My Favorite David Sedaris Book!

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‘“All right, then.” Lisa pulled over and parked behind a van whose owner stood examining his flattened tire with a flashlight. “Things might get a little rough up there, so just do what I tell you and hopefully no one will get hurt.” She flipped her hair over her shoulder and stepped out of the car, kicking aside the cans and bottles that lined the curb. My sister meant business, whatever it was, and in that instant she appeared beautiful and exotic and dangerously stupid. LOCAL TEENS SLAIN FOR SPORT the headlines would read. HOLIDAY HIJINKS END IN HOMICIDE.

“Maybe someone should wait with the car,” I whispered, but she was beyond reason, charging up the street in her sensible shoes with a rugged, determined gait. There was no fumbling for a street address or doorbell; Lisa seemed to know exactly where she was going. I followed her into a dark vestibule and up a flight of stairs, where without even bothering to knock, she threw open an unlocked door and stormed into a filthy, overheated room that smelled of stale smoke, sour milk, and seriously dirty laundry —three odors that, once combined, can peel the paint off walls.

This was a place where bad things happened to people who clearly deserved nothing but the worst. The stained carpet was littered with cigarette butts and clotted, dust-covered flypaper hung from the ceiling like beaded curtains. In the far corner of the room, a man stood beside an overturned coffee table, illuminated by a shadeless lamp that broadcast his shadow, huge and menacing, against the grimy wall. He was dressed casually in briefs and a soiled T-shirt and had thin, hairless legs the color and pebbled texture of a store-bought chicken.

We had obviously interrupted some rite of unhappiness, something that involved shouting obscenities while pounding upon a locked door with a white-tasseled loafer. The activity consumed him so completely that it took the man a few moments to register our presence. Squinting in our direction, he dropped the shoe and steadied himself against the mantel.

“Why if it isn’t Lisa Fucking Sedaris. I should have known that bitch would call a fucking bitch like you.”

I would have been less shocked had a seal called my sister by name. How was it that she knew this man? Staggeringly drunk, the wasted, boozy Popeye charged in our direction, and Lisa rushed to meet him. I watched then, cringing, as she caught him by the neck, throwing him down against the coffee table before gathering her fists and dancing in a tight circle, thoroughly prepared to take on any hidden comers. It was as if she had spent a lifetime dressed in a black gi, breaking two-by-fours with her bare hands in preparation for this moment. She never faltered or cried out for help, just gave him a few swift kicks in the ribs and proceeded to carry out her mission.

“I ain’t done nothing,” the man moaned, turning to me with his bloodshot eyes. “You there, tell that bitch I hadn’t done nothing.”

“I beg your pardon?” I inched toward the door. “Oh, golly, I don’t know what to tell you. I’m just, you know, I just came along for the ride.”

“Guard him!” Lisa yelled.

Guard him how? Who did she think I was? “Don’t leave me,” I cried, but she had already gone, and suddenly I was alone with this shattered man, who massaged his chest and begged me to fetch his cigarettes off the sofa.

“Go on, boy, get ’em. Fucking bitches. Lord Jesus, I’m in pain.”

I heard my sister’s voice and looked up to see her fleeing the back room, dragging behind her a clownish, tear-stained woman of an indeterminate age. Her face was lined and puffy. The thick, fat, mottled body had a lot of mileage on it, but her clothing was unseasonable and absurdly youthful. While my mother’s crowd favored holiday maxiskirts and turquoise squash-blossom necklaces, this woman had attempted to offset the ravages of time with denim hot pants and a matching vest that, fastened together by a cross-hatching system of rawhide laces, afforded an unfortunate view of her sagging, ponderous breasts.

“Out!” Lisa shouted. “Hurry, now, step on it!” I was way ahead of her.

“My shoes and, oh, I better take a jacket,” the woman said. “And while I’m at it . . .”

Her voice faded as I raced down the stairs, past the other equally dark and volatile doorways where people fought over the noise of their screeching televisions. I was out on the street, panting for breath and wondering how many times my sister would be stabbed or bludgeoned when I heard the screen door slam and saw Lisa appear on the front porch. She paused on the stoop, waiting as the woman put on a jacket and stuffed her feet into a pair of shoes that, in their bulk and color, resembled a matching set of paint cans. Instructed once again to run, her friend proceeded to totter down the street on what amounted to a pair of stilts. It was an awkward, useless style of walking, and with each step she ran her fingers through the air as if she were playing a piano.

Two young men passed down the sidewalk carrying a mattress, and one of them turned to yell, “Get that ho off the street!”

Had we been in a richer or poorer neighborhood, I might have searched the ground for a gardening tool, fearful that once again I might step on the thing and split my lip with the handle. Ho. I’d heard that word bandied about by the cooks at work, who leered and snickered much like the young men with their mattress. It took me a second to realize that they were referring either to Lisa or to her friend, who was squatting to examine a hole in her fishnet stockings. A whore. Of the two possible nominees, the friend seemed the more likely candidate. At the mention of the word, she had lifted her head and given a little wave. This woman was the real thing, and I studied her, my breath shallow and visible in the cold, dark air. Like a heroin addict or a mass murderer, a prostitute was, to me, more exotic than any celebrity could ever hope to be. You’d see them downtown after dark, sticking their hatchety faces into the windows of idling cars. “Hey there, Flossie, what do you charge for a lube job,” my father would shout. I always wanted him to pull over so we could get a better look, but having made his little comment, he’d roll up the window and speed off, chuckling.

“Dinah, this is David. David, Dinah.” Lisa made the introductions after we’d settled ourselves into the car. Apparently, the two of them worked together at the K&W and had come to know each other quite well.‘

—feom “Dinah the Christmas Whore” an essay by David Sedaris from Holidays on Ice, 2008

2 responses to ““Dinah the Christmas Whore”—An Excerpt from My Favorite David Sedaris Book!

  1. This is one of my favorite holiday stories as well from David Sedaris! When I first started reading his work, I was surprised to learn that he grew up where I currently live. The old IBM buildings are still standing in Endicott, NY and I live close enough to them that I’m in “the plume” created by dumping vast amounts of toxic waste into the ground over decades. Thanks for sharing this!

    Liked by 1 person

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