Surrender to the Void

by Harry Sheff

To get into the holiday spirit, I decided to read David Sedaris’s collection of short stories “Holidays on Ice.” The small paperback’s cover is illustrated with a black and white photograph of a snowflake-patterned cocktail glass filled with liquefied holiday cheer on the rocks. That should give you some idea of the book’s attitude: if you’re not already familiar with Sedaris’s work, some of his stories have a decidedly dark quality. The first in this collection, “Santaland Diaries,” exposes a wickedly comic side of Macy’s Herald Square’s holiday machine. Here’s how Sedaris describes the interview and training process behind being one of Santa’s elves:

“I’m certain that I failed my drug test. My urine had roaches and stems floating in it, but still they hired me because I am short, five feet five inches. Almost everyone they hired is short. One is a dwarf. After the second interview I was brought to the manager’s office, where I was shown a floor plan. On a busy day 22,000 people come to visit Santa, and I was told that it is an elf’s lot to remain merry in the face of torment and adversity. I promised to keep that in mind.

“I spent my eight-hour day with 50 elves and one perky, well meaning instructor in an enormous Macy’s classroom, the walls of which were lined with NCR 2152’s. A 2152, I have come to understand, is a cash register. The class was broken up into study groups and given assignments. My group included several returning elves and a few experienced cashiers who tried helping me by saying things like, ‘Don’t you even know your personal ID code? Jesus, I had mine memorized by ten o’clock.’

“Everything about the cash register intimidates me. Each procedure involves a series of codes: separate numbers for cash, checks, and each type of credit card. The term Void has gained prominence as the filthiest four-letter word in my vocabulary. Voids are a nightmare of paperwork and coded numbers, everything produced in triplicate and initialed by the employee and his supervisor.”

It brought back my own memories of working at Macy’s during the Christmas rush while I was still in college at F.I.T. Yes, I still remember my personal I.D. code—5108608. I guess entering that code about 500 or 600 times a night while ringing up Polo Ralph Lauren holiday PWP’s and GWP’s (Purchase- and Gift-With-Purchase, that is) in the men’s fragrance department embedded that number as deeply into my subconscious as my social security number! And, trust me, I had my share of voids, too. A few of my coworkers at the time even went on to work in our business, including Marty Salerno, who worked at Wilke-Rodriguez and Blue Marlin and…hey, does anybody know where he is now? Also, Maer Roshan, editor-in-chief of Radar Magazine. And, despite all the madness, it did feel kind of good to be a part of the Yuletide rush at a store that is pretty much accepted as Santa’s little pied-à-terre in Manhattan.

Nicola and I were talking about our own department store experiences the other day, and it got me thinking: we sometimes get so caught up in the all-important fourth quarter, a time that makes or breaks many businesses. But what about the fun, heartwarming stories that happen in our stores, showrooms and offices that truly express the sentiment of the season? I invite you to take a few minutes, between shipping reorders, restocking shelves and comparing comp store figures, to share a few of your own holiday tales with your fellow readers.

Happy holidays!

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