As I wrote this morning, David Sedaris read last night at Benaroya Hall and Cedar, the essayist who won the popular vote for the free Sedaris tickets, attended the reading. She wrote a review of the show for those of you who can't make it.
As with our Slog commenter book reports, anything you find wrong with this review is not Cedar's fault. It is the fault of the editor. I am the editor. Take it away, Cedar:
David Sedaris's people are not, as the uninitiated might suppose, gay men. Or rather, not exclusively gay men. Sedaris’ tribe are the freaks—the misfits, the neurotics, the obsessive compulsives and attention-defunct. Sedaris would no doubt have more to discuss with the toothless taxidermist in the hills of West Virginia than the well-adjusted twink freshly minted on the party circuit. With all due respect to his gayness, to reduce him to his taste in bedmates is to box him in a trap unbefitting such a fascinating man.
Watching his fan base last night as they drank their way through the pre-show lobby crawl, it occurred to me that his devotees are connected by something more profound than navel-gazing humor and a taste for the macabre. Sedaris is a wordsmith and a nearly unparalleled storyteller, a weaver of the clever so delicious that most of us spend our off-time in Half-Price Books, looking for other authors to fill the void between Sedaris releases. Luckily we have Sarah Vowell, David Rackoff, John Hodgman, and the other This American Life alumnae to whet our thirst, but no one, at least for me, does it quite like David. And that’s why I was there last night.
The reading itself was, of course, fantastic. Sedaris almost surpasses his flair for writing with his talent for reading. There were moments of near-hysteria and other vignettes that left us holding our breath, moved to silence by the profound little truisms he so effortlessly weaves into his pieces.
At the end of the night he answered a few questions, which led to his rather intimate confession about the way he crafts his stories—how he looks for those moments when his life feels like a story, captures the essence of that experience and turns them into his tales. Some people refer to this as “the cinematic moment,” those brief interludes when you can almost hear a soundtrack swelling up as life unfolds.
This got me thinking about my own most cinematic moment of the evening, as I waited for Sedaris to autograph my newly re-purchased copy of Naked (note to self: stop loaning people books). Maybe it was my over-indulgence at Serious Pie before the reading, but my heart began beating wildly in anticipation of meeting this man who had shaped my literary tastes for so long. What to say to him? How to act? I wanted to scream out, “I love you! You’re my hero!” but knew that probably would have had less than the desired effect—no one really wants a wild-eyed pregnant woman lumbering up and professing their undying affection.
(Much more, including a perfect description of the almost-universal feeling of awkwardness that comes when you meet a writer you love, after the jump.)
Confronted, finally, with Sedaris, I found myself simply smiling shyly and responding to his charming “Thank you for coming” with a clumsy “Well, thank YOU for having us,” as if he had just had us over for tea and biscuits. He asked my husband and I how we knew each other and after we mentioned we were married, he inquired about where we took our honeymoon. “Costa Rica,” we told him, and then, desperate to connect and in the throes of increasing nervousness, I started prattling on about how our trip had been somewhat of a disaster. “The rooms weren’t sound-proofed,” I explained, adding, “and our bungalow neighbor whistled while he crapped.”
Sedaris smiled obligingly at this as I twitched under the strain of making small talk with my idol, already replaying the painful stupidity of what I had just said. Looking down at the book I then saw that he had drawn me a turtle above his loopy scrawl.
I loved the turtle (she even had eyelashes) but I had secretly hoped he would write something snarky or pithy or even a little mean like he did for my friend Alycia: “For Alycia—what a slutty name.” Or like he wrote to my friend John, “from one cocksucker to another.” But for me…a turtle.
My husband suggested that no one wants to be mean to a visibly pregnant woman, fearing they might cry or puke on them. He’s probably right, but I still felt somehow let down by the experience. “Couldn’t he at least have called me fat or something?” I suggested. But no. Ever the gentleman, I’m sure he could not.
As Paul Constant reminded us in his introduction, David Sedaris isn’t about making fun of people as much as making fun of himself. If others lead him toward the path of exposing his own ridiculousness, he’ll gladly paint them into the scene, but it isn’t with malice. If anything, he finds what’s beautiful, or at the very least, fascinating about his subjects. He gives them humanity where others might simply see cartoonish character sketches and one-dimensional props. Sedaris, conversely, finds their core and makes you love them.
Maybe, as a fairly nondescript, knocked up white chick with limited verbal capacity, I could never offer fodder for a future Sedaris reading. I certainly didn’t hand him a potted meat product or suggest he try a drink containing a frost-bitten toe like two previous guests had done. But his happy little turtle, drawn just for me, was amazingly sweet and sincere.
And maybe that’s exactly what I needed last night and didn’t even know it—a charming doodle from a man who used to snort drugs off the floor of his apartment; who jokes about a person pressing their thumbs into the eye sockets of an ice cream man until they pop under the pressure; a man reduced to paroxysms of laughter after yelling “Titty milk!” to his audience.
I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Many thanks to Cedar for generously sharing her experience with the rest of us.