Friday, April 08, 2011

Chasing David Sedaris II

This time, unlike last time, I actually had a ticket for April 3 at the Keswick Theater in Glenside, PA that said "David Sedaris" on it. I'd had it, in fact, since Christmas, thanks to the Best Husband Ever, who had somehow managed to pick up on my extraordinarily subtle hints that a date with him to see David Sedaris rivals diamonds when it comes to this girl's best friends. To those who aren't married to ministers, it might seem highly unlikely that possessing such a ticket would keep me from seeing my idol in the flesh, but I was worried nonetheless that the ticket was no guarantee. You have to understand that one of the Pillars of the Church could have died on April 3. Or a child in our congregation could have decided to run out in front of a horse and buggy and be in the hospital in a coma. Barring those sorts of catastrophes, something more mundane (say a car catching on fire due to an overheated clutch, like mine recently did on the New Jersey Turnpike) could have kept us from getting to Glenside, an hour's drive from our home.

Happily, I was able to check off the "none of the above" box and found myself sitting in a seat, staring at a stage, where I was going to have a great view of Sedaris when he walked onto it. I'd meant to bring along my copy of Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk for Sedaris to sign, but in my excitement, I'd forgotten it. Not to worry. The Best Husband, after we'd taken our seats, turned to me and asked, "Which of his books do you want me to buy for him to sign? Which don't you have?" Like the star-struck idiot I am, I answered, "I've got all of them. But you could get a copy of Me Talk Pretty One Day, because that's the first one I ever read."

He went off to buy it, and I sat in my seat thinking, "What's the matter with me?" Once the glory of staring at the stage and the podium and seat where He would soon be sitting had worn off, I realized -- uh-duh! -- that, although I've read them all, I don't happen to have all of Sedaris's books. My collection lacked both Barrel Fever and Naked. I contemplated racing out and intercepting Bob to tell him to get me Naked instead. I love that one for, among other things, the vivid picture it gives us of Sedaris's mother. While I sat undecided about what to do, Bob returned with a hard cover (which I didn't have) of Me Talk Pretty One Day. I was glad some part of me had leaped to suggest he buy it, since it now seemed appropriate that I have a signed hard cover copy of the first book of his I ever read.

Shortly thereafter, Sedaris took the stage. He read two original pieces, which I assume will one day wind up somewhere in print. One was about a recent trip to China and eating while there. The other was about being on the swim team as a kid (but was really about his father and his relationship). Then he read a bunch of entries from his diary (the writer in me despairs when she hears/reads entries from Sedaris's diary. All diaries and journals I've ever kept would seem like nothing but scruffy, worn-out, ready-for-the-Goodwill articles next to Sedaris's polished pieces) and followed that by highly recommending a book, Tobias Wolff's The Barracks Thief, which I haven't read (judging from Wolff's Old School, however, I'm inclined to agree with Sedaris that Wolff is a Great American Writer, and that we're lucky to be living while he is alive and writing. I'm not sure I would agree, though -- will have to read it -- that Wolff's book is far better than anything Sedaris has written). He described himself as a "scary fan" of Wolff's, and all I could think was that I'm a "scary fan" of Sedaris's. Finally, he opened up the floor to questions.

What I liked most about seeing Sedaris live was finding out how much he laughs. Not so much while he was reading the two pieces on China and the swim team that he's probably reworked and read to the point of being sick of them, but rather when he was reading jokes others had told him or reading about bizarre events/articles he'd recorded in his diary, and he laughed a lot while answering the questions people asked him. In other words, he wasn't really laughing at his own hilarious genius, but rather, he was proving to us that he focuses on what's funny in life. By the time I left the theater, he'd verified for me that he just plain chooses to find life, no matter how painful it might really be, funny.

He'd also verified something else: he's extremely kind. I think I'd always suspected he might be. He's brave enough to write all those often unkind thoughts we all have, but his writing reflects the sort of sensitivity underneath it all that causes people to feel pulled in two directions, "God, I hate people," and "God, I'm so horrible to hate people." He compensates for the latter by being extremely kind and generous to his idolizing fans like me.

How do I know that? Well, first of all, his schedule for this tour (33 venues in 34 days) is pure hell. It's the sort of tour one only does if desperate for money (which we all know he's not. He informed us that he and Hugh have just bought another home, this time in Sussex) or very appreciative of his fans and wants to accommodate them (visit his Facebook page. His fans are constantly begging him to come to their hometowns). I also know because he signs books for his fans, and he takes the time to chat with each and every one of them. Believe me, I've been to plenty of author signings in which the author barely acknowledges the person in front of him or her and whose goal seems to be just to get through the line of people. Sedaris arranges it so that each person (or couple, as the case may be) goes up to his table alone, and gets one-on-one time with him. This is why he can be done with his reading at 8:30 and still be signing books past midnight.

But the most convincing evidence of his kindness of all? Just as Bob and I were approaching the table to have him sign both Me Talk Pretty One Day and Naked (which we'd also bought while waiting in line), he asked the person in charge of monitoring the line to go see if anyone was waiting in line with children. It was getting close to 10:00 by then, and he was worried about kids who had to be up for school the next day. Granted, I doubt that many parents with elementary-aged children take them to see David Sedaris, but for those with older kids, that was very generous of him to be concerned.

We waited in line for over an hour. The whole time, I was observing how others interacted with him. They bantered with him. They laughed. He laughed. All I could think was, "Why do I have to be this extremely shy, pathetic person who could never manage to banter with the likes of him?" I so longed to be someone who had impressive, stand up comedian genes in her body, instead of throw up on your idol when you finally come face to face with him genes. Do any of you recall the feelings you had as a kid when the brand new, scariest ride opened at the amusement park, and you were waiting in line? I was always torn between, "I can't wait to get there" and "I hope this line never ends." That's how I felt.

Bob and I quietly rehearsed what we'd say and do when our time came. He never wants to look like the domineering male who doesn't let his wife talk. That's sort of hard to do when his wife wants him to do all the talking. We decided that Bob would explain that I was the huge fan but that I was too shy to talk (hoping he'd understand). Then, we basically agreed on three things. Bob wanted to know if he finds it hard to write about his family. He also wanted to tell him about some of the more amusing names of the towns in Lancaster County. Finally, I wanted to tell him to keep in a joke that had fallen somewhat flat when he read his China piece. The brilliance of David Sedaris is that you have to reread him. The first time, you're laughing yourself silly at the obvious humor. The second and third time, you pick up on the more subtle, and often even funnier, parts. I hadn't caught his joke myself, at first, but I know I would have on the second go-round and I wanted him to know that. We focused on what we wanted to say and didn't really discuss what we didn't want to say, except that the one thing I didn't want to do was tell him I'd grown up in North Carolina, like he had. I don't know why, but to me, that just sounds so sycophantic (and, you know, I was so un-sycophantic otherwise).

Eventually, the line did end with us, and we were standing before Sedaris, and he was busy signing our books (he drew a bird in Naked, and wrote, "I'm so happy you can walk" in Me Talk Pretty One Day), and Bob was asking if it was hard to write about his family. Sedaris didn't really answer the question (he assured us his father really is a mean man, while also seeming to be surprised that he comes off as such. I think he honestly makes an effort to be fair to his family members and may not always be aware at how often he calls a spade a spade), but it was obvious that the answer was "yes." He seemed genuinely appreciative to be told about such Pennsylvania towns as Intercourse, Blue Ball, and Paradise. What probably confused him was Bob telling him I was shy.

You see, I proved not to be the least bit shy. I told him I was a "scary fan," and when he chatted with me about that, I opened up more and, much to my disgust, found myself telling him I'd grown up in North Carolina, asking him, "Could you not wait to get out of North Carolina?" to which he replied, "No, I couldn't wait to get out of North Carolina," and then, laughing, added "but it took me 27 years." Then we chatted a minute about how people will visit and say, "It's so beautiful," and there I was, exchanging that knowing look with him, I've exchanged with many a former or current resident, while saying, "But they haven't lived there." Bob piped up that I do like places like Asheville and Boone, and I had to agree I do, which led to Sedaris making a comparison between North Carolina and Oregon (not politically, he made it clear) and my making my comparison between Maine and Oregon.

Finally, acting as though we were the oldest of friends, I advised him to keep that joke in the China piece. But then, the star-struck, babbling idiot of a crazy fan resurfaced, and went on about the beauty of his writing and how it needs to be reread. Somehow, though, being the genius that he is, he was able to wade through all the babble and focus on the nugget within,

"You really think I should keep it? No one got it. I had to explain it."

"Definitely." I said.

Believe me, I'll be checking to see if he took my advice when the piece makes it into print. If he does, don't be surprised if you one day hear me say, "I helped David Sedaris edit that piece, you know."


litlove said...

What a lovely, generous man David Sedaris must be. A big name like him could just leave a bunch of signed books in the foyer and zip off home after the reading was done. To think he takes such time and trouble over his fans is delightful. And I'm really glad you overcame your shyness to talk to him! That must have been a really uplifting experience.

Dorothy W. said...

How awesome that you got to give him advice on his writing and got to discuss it with him!

Stefanie said...

I had the pleasure of seeing Sedaris once and he was wonderful. I'm sure he is used to scary fans and since you didn't throw up on him or try to do something scary he was probably quite relieved and enjoyed your conversation.

ZoesMom said...

What a great night! I was lucky enough to see him in NYC a few years ago, but I didn't go over to the book signing and now I wish I had. Lucky you. And lucky David Sedaris for having an amazing crazy fan like you.

I have to also tell you that whenever I think of David Sedaris now I think of you stalking him (or someone who looked like him) around Florida and I laugh.

Emily Barton said...

Litlove, it was extremely uplifting. It made me feel like maybe I'm finally an adult.

Dorr, yes, it was truly awesome. And so nice of him to ponder and pay attention to what I had to say.

Stef, you're right. He probably was relieved. I suppose he's encountered much scarier fans in his life (also much scarier non-fans, of the gay-bashing sort).

ZM, I remember being extremely envious of your going to see Sedaris (I think it was shortly after we had that blogger meetup in NY?). And I'm flattered that thinking of Sedaris makes you think of me in stalker mode.