There aren’t a lot of jobs out there for elves. You can work in Santa’s toyshop, a non-union hell-hole, and hand-craft Hess trucks until you get arthritis. Or you can become an Elf on the Shelf. For me, the choice was simple. I knew it would be challenging to monitor a child’s behavior, 24–7, and report every detail to Santa. But I wanted a chance to leave the North Pole. I wanted adventure and excitement. And so one day, I hopped into a box and let them ship me to Walmart.
I woke up on a boy’s shelf in Tampa. His face was smeared with Hot Pocket meat and his hair was cut into a rat-tail. As soon as I saw him, I started to wonder if I’d made the right decision.
So his mom says, “Look, Tanner! It’s your new elf!”
And she starts to read him the book I came with, which explains my background. But before she can get through the first page, Tanner says, “Fuck you.” Just curses his mother out, right to her face. So I watch the mom, to see how she’ll discipline her son. But she just smiles and says, “You better behave or the elf will tell Santa!” And I realize, oh my God, there’s no parental discipline in this house. And this woman has brought me here, to try to instill some order, but it’s obviously too little too late. And as I’m thinking this, Tanner picks up the book and throws it against the wall. And his mom, in a sing-song voice, is like, “Pick it up, or Santa will find out you’re naughty.” And Tanner says, “Fuck Santa.” And the Mom goes off to make him more Hot Pockets. And that’s when I realize, I’m in for a long December.
So this kid’s only ten, but he’s already masturbating. And when I say masturbating, I don’t mean “exploring his body.” I mean full-fledged, to-completion masturbation. His walls are plastered with Playboy centerfolds. He has unrestricted Internet access and the stuff he looks at is completely messed up. Like, Ted Bundy stuff. At one point, while masturbating, he looks right at me. I try my best to ignore him, but there’s nothing I can do. I’m physically incapable of turning my head, or closing my eyes. It’s the most disturbing experience of my life.
That night, I fly to the North Pole, to report Tanner’s behavior to you-know-who. And I’m like, “Listen, this kid is naughty. There’s no need for further research.”
And Santa’s like, “Just stay on his shelf through Christmas, maybe he’ll turn a corner, ho ho ho.” And I’m like, “This kid is a psychopath.” And Santa laughs and says, “Nice try, Buttercup. But you’re not getting the holidays off.” And then he walks off to his next meeting. And I’m like, oh my God, I’ve gotta go back there.
The next day, Tanner’s mongrel friends come over. And when they see me on the shelf, they start making fun of him and calling him a baby. So Tanner, to prove he’s tough or whatever, decides that the thing to do is to shove my head up his ass. Literally, just pulls down his pants and sticks my head inside of his ass. It happens so fast, it takes me a moment to realize what’s going on. By the time he extracts me, his friends are all laughing hysterically, like it’s the funniest thing they’ve ever seen. Then they all take out iPads and play single-shooter videogames in silence.
After three hours of this madness, one of the kids says he’s bored. So Tanner grabs me and I think, oh fuck, something really bad’s about to happen. Sure enough, the next thing I know I’m being tossed into the microwave. The stench of Hot Pockets is thick in the air. Tanner hits a button and I start to cook, from the inside out. My face turns to goo. My feet catch on fire. It’s the worst pain I’ve ever experienced, but part of me feels a bit relieved. My scars are no longer invisible; maybe now there will finally be some discipline, some modicum of justice? Wishful thinking. When Tanner’s mom finds me, she just plops me right back on Tanner’s shelf, without comment. How’s that for parenting?
That night, I go up Tanner’s ass again, even though it’s just the two of us. What started as a joke has become part of his masturbation ritual. I realize that this is how it’s going to be from now on. Every time he masturbates, I’m going to be involved. And there are still twelve days until Christmas.
It’s around this time that I start to think seriously about suicide. I was raised Christian, though, and I can’t bring myself to do it.
Up at the North Pole I try to get another meeting with Santa. But his schedule is completely booked. As I’m flying back to Tanner’s house, I pass Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. And he’s, like, “I hear you’re going through a hard time. Listen, we’ve all been there.” And I’m like, are you fucking kidding me? You’re going to equate what I’m going through with being “excluded from games?” Fuck you. I’m inside an ass three times a day, and if it’s washed, it’s a Christmas Miracle.
I get through December by mentally leaving my body. I just learn to disassociate. When Tanner is doing his thing, I’m not there. I’m in a different place. I’m at the beach.
Finally, on Christmas Eve, Santa calls in all the Elf-on-the-Shelfs for the annual naughty-or-nice meeting. Some of my colleagues have mixed reports about their kids (they’ve witnessed bad manners and unmade beds) but everyone recommends that their boys and girls receive presents. Then it’s my turn. I filibuster for over an hour. I describe every crime in disgusting, horrible detail. By the time I’m finished, half the elves are in tears.
Sugarplum is in the bathroom puking. Santa’s white as a sheet. He hasn’t given a child coal in over a thousand years, but now he’s got no choice.
“So,” I say, triumphantly. “How many lumps are you going to give him?”
Santa averts his eyes.
“The thing is,” he says. “I kind of already got him a PlayStation 4.”
And I’m like, “What do you mean? It’s not even Christmas yet.”
And Santa explains that he delivers most presents in advance, and hides them inside parents’ closets, to save himself travel time on the big day.
And I’m, like, “Are you telling me that the most hellish period of my life was completely in vain?”
And Santa just mumbles something and walks off to another meeting.
Since then, I’ve been going around to high schools like this one, sharing my story. I hope you learned something today about perseverance and good behavior. At the very least, I hope I’ve dissuaded you from becoming an Elf on the Shelf, if that was a career path you were considering. Thank you to Mrs. Gonzales for organizing this assembly. You’ve all been wonderful. Merry Christmas.
SIMON RICH has written for The New Yorker, SNL, and Pixar. His most recent book, The Last Girlfriend on Earth, was published this year.