When I learned that David Sedaris is on a tour for his new book Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary, I knew I had to do something. I checked his agent’s website and saw that he would be in Milwaukee, Wisconsin for a book reading, in addition to book signing. Since I did not think I would be able to fight the rabid fans in downtown Chicago for the book signing, the book reading at Riverside Theatre in Milwaukee sounded like something worth driving 1.5 hour to. So I did.
I am glad I went. First of all, when I asked the bar tender at the bar in the basemen which was EMPTY how much a beer cost, she said with a sheepish grin, apologetically, “4 dollars…” I tried to suppress my smile. This theatre is not called PABST Theater for nothing! What’s more: a cranberry with Grey Goose cost $6, $2 more and you got yourself a double! I fell in love with Milwaukee right then and there.
A book reading by David Sedaris is everything that you may have expected and more if you have listened to appearances on NPR or his audio books, watched one of his appearances on David Letterman. Here are some random things I can still recall from last night while still overcoming the shock…
- Always bring a pen and paper with you. Mr. Sedaris did not say this of course. It was what I was thinking when I was sitting there in the dark, murmuring to myself, repeating all the brilliant things he said, hoping by doing so I could at least remember some of them. Afterwards, I raced home in the torrential rain, mind blank, hoping I would get home in time before I forgot everything. (Of course, utterly exhausted, I went straight to bed. So glad I did not get myself killed on the highway. Would have been totally not worth the sacrifice…)
- Here’s what I made sure to commit to memory by saying it over and over again in my head, with my eyes shut at one moment the way I did when I was memorizing school works:
“I want my hand to know what excellence feels like”
- After he finished most of his readings, Mr. Sedaris took out a book and told everybody to go and get it. Simply brilliant. Everything Ravaged. Everything Burned by Wells Tower. He read a very short excerpt from the book, sighed, in awe of the way the author used the words, or rather, arranged the words, “I would like to know how he came up with these?” Then Mr. Sedaris explained how he has this habit of writing down brilliant things that he comes across because
I want my hand to know what excellence feels like.
- He read the story “The Grieving Owl” from his latest book Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk, which was not, as would have been assumed, a collection of fables because “fables have morals.” Here’s the line that’s been etched into my mind:
It’s not just that they’re stupid, my family — that, I could forgive. It’s that they’re actively against knowledge…
- About having people he has always imagined to read his stories actually read his stories in the audio version, he could not believe that Elaine Stritch actually read his stories. “If you are gay, you know Elaine Stritch. I don’t care if you have sex with another man, if you don’t know Elaine Stritch, you are not a homosexual.”
- Mr. Sedaris walked up to the stage with a stack of papers. No Apple iBook for him. From the pile of paper precariously balanced on top of a wooden stool, he extracted a folder and read the audience a “whimsy” of his, because he did not know how better to label it, titled I Brake for Traditional Marriage. It started out with a “typical” middle-aged white American couple in a clearly disintegrating marriage and family unity getting outraged by the news of the overturn of Prop 8 this August. His tone remained humorous and irreverent, and that’s why we were all shocked when the man took a shotgun out and blew his daughter’s head off. It is a black comedy, so to speak. And though I should not have been surprised, for the first time I felt the anger in him towards the whole anti-gay sentiments exhibited by conservative America especially in their vociferous condemnation against gay marriage. Somehow this defiance, coming from him, the studious, introverted, “humorist” who actually looks more like a college professor, greatly moved me because it was burning the way quiet rage burns underneath the comedic story telling.
- I now wish I still had the subscription to The New Yorker so I could quote you some of the choice lines from “Standing By” which he also read last night. It started out as an innocuous story about disgruntled passengers stranded and lined up at an airport ticket counter and evolved into an insightful, even as it was laugh-out-funny, observation bordering on criticism of the current polemic political climate. On the sad state of traveling attire, in addition to freaturing a t-shirt with the words ““Freaky Mothafocka” in the story, here is another widely quoted gem:
“I should be used to the way American dress when travelling, yet still it manages to amaze me. It’s as if the person next to you had been washing shoe polish off a pig, then suddenly threw down his sponge, saying, “Fuck this. I’m going to Los Angeles!”
I laughed till tears came out when he said he would really like to know a person’s political leaning before he engaged in a conversation when the person made a comment such as “None of them want to work, that’s the problem”, and also when he realized the two men behind him were complaining about Obama (and not Bush/Cheney), “Isn’t it amazing how quickly one man can completely screw up a country?” But Obama had been in the White House for 6 months! All that hate. You don’t think we can hate too? Think you can out-hate me, asshole?
- Towards the end, he began reading his entries from his journal, the best part IMO, and therefore the following is strictly paraphrasing…
As I watched an old lady… I noticed her bumper sticker that said “Marriage = A Man + A Woman”. *pause* As I watched this old hag *The entire auditorium broke into a hysterical hooting* … … There should be a law against people parking at handicapped park spaces from making opinions. “You’ve got the best spot already. So shut the fuck up!” *More hooting and applause*
On upon learning about barn owl ring bearers which will swoop down to the groom wearing a leather glove and delivering the rings, and upon the delivery, will be rewarded with a live mouse or some other small animals…
For the first time, for all the right reasons, I really want to get married!
- On doing book reading and signing in Raleigh, NC, his hometown: His brother brought boxes of bookmarks for him to pass out at these events, showing his brother completely nude with “Sedaris Hardwood Floors” covering the genital area.
- The audience were asked to share their best jokes as he signs their books, especially ethnic jokes, since he may as well be an equal opportunity offender so he needs to replenish his joke supply. I cranked my brains but could not remember any racist jokes. I really suck at being Chinese. Nonetheless, the following are some of the jokes he shared (and his introduction to the jokes, paraphrased of course):
Here is a great joke for you at an interview. You know how at the end of a job interview, they always ask you whether you have any questions? Ok, so here, here is the question you are going to ask:
What’s the difference between a Camaro and an erection?
I don’t have a Camaro.
I feel sorry for people who have a Camaro and women because you cannot tell this joke.
This post has taken me more than five hours to put together because I did not want to screw it up. Well, time spent does not guarantee quality but it surely adds to the quantity. It has gone on too long and it is already, in fact, 4 am on Monday. I should stop here and continue my tale of how I got the Chinese version of When You Are Engulfed in Flames from David Sedaris.
In closing, I will leave you with this to ponder…
One of the best t-shirts David Sedaris has seen says this:
I’d call you a cunt but you lack the depth or the warmth.