A Night with David Sedaris

October 24, 2010

in through the looking glass

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…

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  • 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…)
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  • 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”

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  • 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.

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  • 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…

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  • 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.

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  • 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.

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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…

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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.

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The Chinese version of his book puzzled Mr. Sedaris: for some bizarre reason, there is a cat, a dog, and an embossed pipe in the middle, on the cover.

{ 32 comments }

Robin October 28, 2010 at 9:45 am

Thank you for sharing this, I love him so much. He came around here recently but I couldn’t afford to see him.
Robin´s last blog post…Forgiving Someone Else

Absence Alternatives November 1, 2010 at 11:49 am

You are welcome! I’m glad you got something out of it: I wasn’t sure whether I was just rambling, you know?

Meg at the Members Lounge October 26, 2010 at 2:23 pm

You did a great job capturing the talk, and I can’t wait to buy the book! “I
want my hand to feel excellence.” What a perfect sentence.

And P.S. on the New Yorker’s. I am woefully behind on reading mine but finally catching up.
I am always happy when he is a contributor on a given week!

Absence Alternatives November 1, 2010 at 11:51 am

To me The New Yorker is like the Economist. I subscribed to the Economist to feel smart as if by touching them I can gain some IQ points through Osmosis since I have never ever managed to read the damn thing after the first issue! Too much stuff! LOL

Lisa October 26, 2010 at 2:51 am

Weekend before last I was browsing in a thrift store when I saw a copy “Me Talk Pretty One Day”. The fact that I started giggling without even so much as reaching for the book let alone opening it up says a lot. A lot about what I’m not entirely sure. As a matter of fact I was not the only person in there seeming to enjoy their own company that day. If you know what I mean. And I think you do. Maybe.

Absence Alternatives November 1, 2010 at 11:51 am

Yes I do! Worse would be listening to his books on tape while on plane… People are kind of jumpy this days…

Catherine October 25, 2010 at 6:44 pm

So glad you loved it! It sounds like a great time. Thanks for taking the time to let me feel a little like I was there too.
Catherine´s last blog post…La La Land and a little Sidney Poitier on the side

Absence Alternatives November 1, 2010 at 11:52 am

You are welcome. Glad you found this retelling entertaining. 🙂

Diane Laney Fitzpatrick October 25, 2010 at 5:45 pm

The first time I read anything by Sedaris was in GQ (don’t ask why I subscribed and read GQ; I’m all woman, really). I laughed until my stomach hurt and then I read it aloud to my husband, who said it made him feel creeped out. And that, my friends, is David Sedaris. Funniest guy on the planet, but there’s an edge to him that makes you go, “Ew” just a little bit. And that’s what I love about him. To this day, if I’m stressed out, I pick “Me Talk Pretty One Day” off my shelf and open it to any page and start reading and I’ll be howling, happy and in perspective within three paragraphs.

I’m so jealous that you got to see him in person. Lucky dog. I’d love to meet him.
Diane Laney Fitzpatrick´s last blog post…College- Apply Generously

Absence Alternatives November 1, 2010 at 11:53 am

Yes, he’s definitely darker than most people expect. The new book is turning off some folks because it is really, eh, unique, in its dark humor.

p.s. Of course you subscribe to GQ for the articles!

pattypunker October 25, 2010 at 4:37 pm

i’ve had back and have been depressed for over a week now. this post was like a prozac/xanax/percocet trifecta. isn’t he so inspirational! brilliant and humorous and hard-hitting. i love the quotes you’ve included here. the one about travel attire is such a gem. i saw him speak a long time ago in philly and like you it was one of the best nights of my life, too. only i spent way too much on vodka cranberries. god bless milwaukee.

also, i got two new books to read from this post so BOO-YAH! you rule. wish we could do things like this together. ♥
pattypunker´s last blog post…my mental illness

Absence Alternatives November 1, 2010 at 11:55 am

Me too me too! xxoo

Honest to goodness: I was thinking of you that night because I know how big a fan you are of Sedaris.

Erica@PinesLakeRedhead October 25, 2010 at 4:01 pm

Sounds like it was definitely worth the drive! I keep glancing at Sedaris’ books but have never actually read one. It’s about time I do just that. Thanks!
Erica@PinesLakeRedhead´s last blog post…Eating Out and Other Peoples Children

Absence Alternatives November 1, 2010 at 11:56 am

You should give it a go. Depending on how much you appreciate dark humors and crude languages, you may want to start with Me Talk Pretty One Day. 🙂

Wildology October 25, 2010 at 3:49 pm

This was 5 hours well spent! Hilarious and meaningful. I love him. I bet it was a absolutely grand time!
Wildology´s last blog post…Pavor Nocturnus

Absence Alternatives November 1, 2010 at 11:56 am

Thank you!

Wicked Shawn October 25, 2010 at 12:31 pm

Oh I am so excited that you shared this with us!! It sounds like it was incredible!! I know you enjoyed it. I’m seriously, madly jealous. Milwaukee, huh??!! We could tear it up and they would not even care! I like it!
Wicked Shawn´s last blog post…I Am the Master of My Fate The Captain of My Soul

Absence Alternatives November 1, 2010 at 11:57 am

Thank you sweetie for texting me that night so I didn’t feel so alone. Sorry that I totally SMS ditched you because, you know, I am gay for Sedaris. And I think a lot of you are too. 😉

Keia October 25, 2010 at 11:38 am

A friend of mine is reading Mr. Sedaris’s new book. I keep saying I am going to pick it up but haven’t yet. Nevertheless, glad you had a great time and made it home safe.

btw…I figured a way for women to take on the joke: What’s the difference between a Camaro and an erection?

What’s the difference between Camaro and an orgasm?
(I’ll leave you to pick the answer…I may have gone to far with this post)

Absence Alternatives November 1, 2010 at 11:59 am

What’s the difference between Camaro and an orgasm?

Brilliant!

I have been giving this a lot of thought since I read your comment. But I want to know what YOURS is!!!!!

Jane October 25, 2010 at 11:16 am

What an amazing experience! I wish I had been there with you!
Jane´s last blog post…Punks Unite! Well- For Today- Anyway

Absence Alternatives November 1, 2010 at 12:00 pm

🙂

Elly Lou October 25, 2010 at 10:20 am

Please tell me you licked him for me? *swoon* I love the excellence line. Love it. I love that he’s old school with the paper, too. That makes me feel less druid. Oh David, I adore you. And your sister. I’ve never wanted to be adopted more!
Elly Lou´s last blog post…I Wanna Grow Old With Uke

Absence Alternatives November 1, 2010 at 12:00 pm

You are just trying to get to his sister through him. Busted, Elly!

Justine October 25, 2010 at 8:26 am

I love love love Sedaris. Saw him once at the Chicago Theater and he was hilarious, wonderful and everything you described here. I MUST be living under a rock; I didn’t know his new book is out. I have all of his other books. Can’t wait to get my hands on this one. Thanks for the headsup and the recap of his show. It’s like I was there… 🙂
Justine´s last blog post…The American Dream

Absence Alternatives November 1, 2010 at 12:01 pm

You are welcome: I saved you a 3-hour round trip with this post then. LOL

TheKitchenWitch October 25, 2010 at 8:07 am

Oh my gosh, I think I would have peed myself several times over. Aren’t you glad Sedaris exists?

Absence Alternatives November 1, 2010 at 12:02 pm

Yes yes yes I am!

I mean glad that he’s alive not that I am peeing myself….

Tom G. October 25, 2010 at 7:30 am

In my experience it is impossible to have a bad time in Milwaukee. It’s Chicago without the pretension.

Sounds like a great book reading. Love him, or hate him you can’t deny that Sedaris is an original, and homicidal-ly funny. (Hmm… why is homicidaly not a word?)

That book cover is bizarre by the way. Is there some sort of strange translation of the title into Chinese that would explain the Cat, Dog, and Pipe? Seems like it would make a good contest. “Create a title for this book cover”
Tom G.´s last blog post…The post where I add another 10 years to my time in Purgatory

Absence Alternatives November 1, 2010 at 12:02 pm

I want to know the title that YOU came up with. I know it’s hilarious. Come on. Don’t be shy. 😉

MacDougal Street Baby October 25, 2010 at 4:42 am

You do the man justice with your observations. And what a devoted fan you are! We should all be so lucky one day.

Absence Alternatives October 29, 2010 at 11:26 pm

To have a devoted fan like me? I love what you are doing with your blog! 🙂

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