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My Evening With David Sedaris

October 25, 2008
A rare look at one of the world's most camera-phobic authors.

A rare look at one of the world's most camera-phobic authors.

A year and a half ago, David Sedaris came to Riverside.  After an evening of searching for dingos, diary entries from Japan, and an answer to the universal question – are zombies Republicans or Democrats – I waited in line with a hundred of my closest friends for five seconds of face time with the man himself.

I clutched my paperback copy of Me Talk Pretty One Day, the tome containing the brilliance that is “Jesus Shaves,” and shuffled forward, messenger bag o’ buttons swinging at my side.  The proudly displayed SPEW badge from my old Hermione Granger Halloween costume caught his eye.

“What are you doing for Book 7?” he asked as he signed.

“Going to a local bookstore with a bunch of friends,” I said.  I was face to face with one of my heroes, a genuinely congenial guy, and I couldn’t think of a thing to say.  Somehow I managed to come up with the single necessary word to keep the conversation moving.  “You?”

“I’ll probably go to one of those midnight parties in London,” he said.  “What do you think of the audiobooks?  The Stephen Fry ones are great.”

“I haven’t heard those,” I said, scanning my brain for the questions that had been on the tip of my tongue just moments before.  “Just the Jim Dale.”

“Oh,  the British ones are so much better than the Americans,” he said, and he handed me back my book.  The moment had passed, and it was someone else’s turn to be in the spotlight.

But as thanked him and walked away, I opened the title page of Me Talk Pretty One Day and saw that he had written, ‘To Megan – We’ll always have Hogwarts.’

Last night I arrived early in Long Beach, in time to have a leisurely dinner before the reading.  When I pulled up to the parking garage and realized I had no cash, the attendant, charmed by my feminine wiles, genuine distress, or just the ample cleavage, let me slide and saved me ten bucks.  It could only be a good omen for things to come.  Over my hamburger and strawberry daiquiri, I thought of all the ways the evening could play out.

Once I stepped up to the front of the signing line, he’d take one look at me and say, “Harry Potter, right?”  I’d smile, laugh, and say, “What did you think of the ending?”  We’d reminisce about old times, and I’d show him the collage I had made inspired by his works.  He’d ooh and ahh over my craftsmanship, then pose for a picture for my blog.

Or, when I reached the front of the line, he’d look at me as if he recognized my face, but couldn’t quite place me.  “Gosh,” he’d say, “you look familiar.  Have we met somewhere before?”

“Riverside,” I’d reply.  “You came to talk at my school.  We’ll always have Hogwarts.”

“Of course!” he’d say.  “How are you?”

“Well, I’m writing this blog…”

“Say no more – how can I help?”

I’d ask him everything from ‘What was the first piece you had published?’ to ‘What’s your favorite flavor of ice cream?’ and when it was time to move on, I’d hand him my card.

There was also the very real possibility I’d freeze completely, overwhelmed by the proximity.  I’d survived his presence once before, sure, but that was almost two years ago.  What if he’d changed?

He started signing books before the reading began, and I jumped into the ever-increasing line.  I had a bag at my side holding the collage; I hadn’t been able to find my SPEW badge, but I thought a button that said, ‘My Patronus Can Beat Up Your Patronus,’ might do just as well.  I watched as he gave a teen girl a condom.  I took surreptitious photos with my iPhone, feigning ignorance of the sign above his head forbidding it.

Then it was time.

I took out the collage and placed it before him.  “I was hoping you’d sign this for me,” I said, also holding my copy of When You Are Engulfed in Flames.

He looked at it, almost as if he didn’t quite see it.  It probably took him by surprise, not having multiple pages.

“Did you make this yourself?”

It wasn’t quite the reaction I was hoping for.  Instead of awe and wonderment, he came off as slightly patronizing.  I’m sure he didn’t mean to; he would never be rude to a fan’s face, though he might say something catty behind one’s back.  Suddenly I felt like a third grader presenting my macaroni artwork to the teacher.  I could practically hear the, “Oh.  How nice.”

Still, there was no turning back.  “Yes, I did,” I said, watching as he blacked out the eyes of his photograph.  I half-expected him to draw a mustache on his own face – and for a second there, I think he was tempted.

I struggled for some way to regain my footing.  “I  was so glad you put ‘Keeping Up’ in this collection,” I told him, indicating the book I held.  “I heard you read it at UC Riverside and I just loved it, but I couldn’t find it anywhere.”

“That was a New Yorker piece, I think,” he said.

“And if I’d remembered the title, that probably would have helped.”  I was going for witty, but probably came off as moronic.

“Do you want some candy?”  He had fun-sized Butterfingers and Starburst spilling out on the table.  No condoms for me.

“I’ll have a Butterfinger, sure,” I said, trying to play it cool, like he’d offered me a jello shot or something.

“What’s the plane for?” he asked, pointing to the collage.

“That’s for all the travel you do.”  Great, now not only did I seem like a third-grader, I was starting to sound like a crazed fan.  Someone who cut out magazine clippings and taped them on the wall next to her collection of commemorative Hello Kitty plates.  Not the impression I’d hoped to make.

“Do you know about crop dusting?  I was going to read a story about crop dusting.”

“Oh sure,” I said.  Worldly and intelligent, that was me.  Besides, what person my age hadn’t seen North By Northwest or Independence Day?

“You have?”  He sounded surprised, and he looked up at me.  “Where you learn that?”

Now I was the confused one.  “Television,” I quipped.

“They show that on television?”

I was losing him.  Slipping.  “Well, it’s not like they have competitive crop-dusting championships, or anything…”

Crop dusting championships?  Was I losing my mind?  Word vomit, that’s all it was, word vomit.

It seemed we had a miscommunication.  I tried the Cary Grant analogy, and he just looked at me, the poor stupid child.   He wasn’t talking about dusting crops with pesticides from a small plane.  He was apparently referring to a the term flight attendants used for the process of releasing gases while walking up and down the aisles.  I’d got it wrong.

He handed me back my book then, and I knew it was time to move on.  I cursed myself for missing my big chance.  I hadn’t asked him a single question – again.  What would the blogosphere think of me?

I opened my book to the title page and saw that he had drawn a small plane.  A crop duster.  I smiled, laughed, but didn’t really get the joke.  Instead, I kicked myself all the way into the theater.

The first story he read was about his book tour, and feeling gay at Costco.  The second was his recent New Yorker piece, ‘Undecided,’ which played well to his audience.  I enjoyed the show, I laughed, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I’d blown it.

Then, on a whim he said, he read the beginning of an in-progress story – about crop-dusting.  It was a message.  I hadn’t blown it after all.  I’d made an impression, maybe I’d become one of the funny fan stories he’d tell on his next tour.  And as I laughed at the seedy underbelly of the airline industry, I imagined that he was saying, Megan – this one’s for you.

I thought about trying again, after he shared a moral-less fable about a cow and a turkey, after he’d given a performance on pronunciation, after the diary entries and book recommendations, but I decided it wasn’t necessary.  Though I still don’t know his favorite flavor of ice cream (butter pecan, perhaps, or maybe pomegranate sorbet), it doesn’t matter.

After all, we’ll always have Hogwarts.

Quote of the Day:

To put them in perspective, I think of being on an airplane. The flight attendant comes down the aisle with her food cart and, eventually, parks it beside my seat. “Can I interest you in the chicken?” she asks. “Or would you prefer the platter of shit with bits of broken glass in it?”

To be undecided in this election is to pause for a moment and then ask how the chicken is cooked. – David Sedaris, author “Undecided”

Link of the Day:  In the spirit of David Sedaris’s particular brand of humor, I thought I’d share with you that apparently I’m worth 9 goats.

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