Surviving an Encounter with Sedaris


So, the other night our lady friend came home with some serious angst, wringing her hands and talking fast to our man friend. “How was it?” he asked. She melted. Though it was difficult to understand, we gathered that she had just met her long-time idol, David Sedaris, and things did not go as expected. The following days, she proceeded to talk to herself often and slam her palm to her head “You’re such a moron!” A couple weeks later, she finally stopped the self-loathing outbursts and we may even go back to our old routine involving her idol.

The routine is for our lady friend to listen to Sedaris’s audio books while walking the roads with us around the house. This is all fine and dandy on the often deserted country roads, with her exploding with laughter or talking loudly to herself, not realizing her volume, until we encounter someone unknowingly and then they think she’s a lunatic.

Lunatic. Even mentioning the word lunatic makes her think about the part in Santaland Diaries where David is in a diner looking at the want ads and he circles the elf post and chuckles, looking around to see if people are accusing him of being a lunatic. Nearly everything, every phrase or encounter, goes back to a David Sedaris story. That is how much and how often she has walked the roads listening to this man’s stories over and over and over again. The books, while all read diligently, are simply a prelude to hearing his voice in her ears, his inflections and impersonations just as important as the words.

The day of the show, like listening to an album of the person you will see in concert that evening, our lady friend purposely loaded up on Sedaris stories with an extra long walk down the road. One story was from Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim and she chuckled loudly and started saying something like “boy, people are stupid” or something of the sort, when she finally realized a large tractor was coming at us. Witnessing her smiles and mumbles, the man in the tractor obviously thought she was a lunatic, the way he smirked and refused to return her optimistic, wild and happy wave. She decided then that perhaps that was the story she would relay to David that evening at the book signing. Lunatic, like in the story. Clearly, they would laugh together, their eyes meeting for what would usually be an uncomfortable amount of time, gazes saying “you get me and I like you.”

Our lady friend had a decidedly different story to relay, one involving the implosion of self confidence, glints of uniqueness and hope, waves of hatred and fleeting moments of wanting to burn his books and destroy his CDs like a scorned lover who has just found out that the man of her dreams is nothing like she had thought.

During the show, and let’s face it, for several months beforehand, she was sweating bullets thinking about what she was going to say at the book signing afterwards. Sadly, she could not sit still during his lecture for fear that she was wearing the wrong thing, going to flub her practiced lines, not make an impact, etc. That is not to say that she did not listen, but she was distracted. Yes, her eyes were wet when he talked about his father. Yes, she did not for a moment move her gaze from his face and feared that she would miss something if she blinked. Yes, she did break for a moment to take the time to glare at the unknowing hipsters in the front row who decided that relieving their bladders and getting more drinks was more important than listening to every word this literary giant had to say. But, honestly, let’s just say that she wished she had the relief of not having to meet him and, so she thought, the required attempt to make an impression.

After the show, she wanted to seem cool and collected so she did not run to the book signing line like she wanted to, but instead talked to a friend for a moment before heading to the line with her stack of books. The line was not that long, despite the horror stories of big city signings. “OK, I can do this.” She gave herself a pep talk, ignored a strong urge to use the ladies room and congratulated the difference between her and the dumb asses in the front row of the show.

The people ahead of her in line were nice, she would say outwardly, but inside she really had a seething disdain for them. They were two people who were obviously doomed as a couple or, worse, going to live their lives in ignorant bliss because both of them were so damn stupid. They kept saying that they loved Sedaris because they were from New York, and then under their breaths they would say “well, actually New Jersey.” And, get this: the man literally, truly, no lying, worked into the conversation how much he wants to spend on buying a home in Idaho. “Oh, we need to find a place that’s at least a million with more than 5 acres. You can’t find that in Jackson.” The woman, who was more of the fan, kept telling our lady friend that she was the one who asked the question during the lecture about the North Carolina home David had just purchased. She kept saying how proud she was that she asked the question and that she was going to talk more about that when she got her book signed. The self confidence of this woman was nauseating. It was a moronic discussion point and our lady friend took comfort knowing that David would see right through this woman and, when it was her turn right behind them, her and David would perhaps judge this couple in unison, chuckle and recount the line in one of his stories, “My home, well, one of my homes.”

When it was her turn to approach David, her well-constructed plans flew from her mind like a child who was on stage for the first time in their school play. “Aye, me lady!” She thought of David’s fleeting moment of life on stage as a teen, so high-pitched, awkward and over done. She wore a terrible, confusing expression as she approached the table and the preconceived glory of her rehearsed performance immediately went down in flames.

Upon meeting her gaze, David looked down and pretended to move some pens around out of self-protection. What a very odd woman, his actions relayed. “Well…hello. Are you nervous? Don’t be afraid.” She retorted with, “Yes, yes I am. I have been thinking about this moment for a long time.” David, in a nice gesture to break the ice, said “Hey, really, don’t be scared. Why don’t you touch my pre-cancer face?” David had told the story of getting pre-cancer frozen off his face that day and the result was this large welt that looked like a marble under his skin. She said, “It’s quite bulbous.” He was uncomfortable at how long she was touching it and pulled away, and she told him she was going to wash her hand afterwards. He told her it was too late, she was exposed, and then wrote in her book, “To Kate: You touched my pre-cancer face.”

It would have been alright if they ended there, but what happened afterwards was pretty much like in the movie “A Christmas Story” when Ralphie, after seeing Santa, is pushed down the slide with a blank stare, suddenly snaps out of it, clambers up to the top and screams his true Christmas wishes with a huge smile. She said to David, “Well, I was wondering if I could ask you a personal question?” and David said, “Of course.”

The question was about Hugh, David’s boyfriend, being a nice, positive and patient man like her husband and, as she could see it, David being like her who fights and often sees the negative, as evidenced by her judgement of the couple ahead of her in line. David stopped her there, wanting to dispute her assumptions, “Hugh is NOT nice. When people call the house, people hang up because they do not want to talk to him. I’m actually the nice one.” She was thrown by this, as this was not going as planned.

He tried to stop the conversation and took out his notebook to write down a jazz song that was playing, telling her who it was and asking her “Did you know that he was a heroine addict? ” As obviously intended by this man who wore pants that “cost him as much as a brand new Macbook Air,” she felt little, unsophisticated and small-brained, saying just “This music is very calming.” Yes, David, she knew that you were a jazz aficionado just like your dad. And, of course not, she did not know who the artist was or that he was a drug addict. It was a very purposeful exchange and, though she might have been overly sensitive, it was something that reminded her that, no, don’t even for a second think you are kindred spirits. He is better, more educated and richer than her and he wanted her to know it.

In an attempt to see this thing through as planned, she wanted to get back on track, “But, um, well, you even said tonight that Hugh has a more positive outlook on life than you.” David scrunched his forehead like she did not hear this correctly. He said, “No, not really. I mean, he does the man things like fixes things and drives, but I would not say he’s nicer than me.” Trying to gather her thoughts and stall, she talked about how both of her grandmothers did not drive and he joked, “Well, I guess I’m like your grandmothers.”

Mortified that she had now accused him of not being nice and, on top of it, being like her now deceased grandmothers, she quickly got back to it and said, “Well, I just wonder how Hugh puts up with you. Well, I mean, how have you been together for so long?” David said then, “Well, you have a vagina don’t you? He needs that.” She retorted, actually satisfied with this response, “OK, so the key to a happy relationship is having the correct body parts?” David, frustrated, corrected, “What is the key to a happy relationship?” He went on to basically shatter his image in her eyes in one mere moment, saying loudly so the crowd behind her could hear, “The key to a happy relationship is never listening to each other.” Laughing ensued behind her and she immediately felt jealousy, wanting this moment to be only about her and him and no one else. “Be REAL, David!” her mind shouted. He did slightly redeem himself by softly saying, “Hey, listen, just be yourself.” “Oh, OK” she said.

Before she left, she really slowly and purposefully thanked him and he was already looking behind her to see who was approaching. She panicked, delayed and said something like, “Oh, and I just wanted to let you know that I walk and hike the mountains around here listening to you.” He proceeded to have a fake sigh and smile, dismissing her as if he were bothered by the ordinary. Right then, she practically saw the ceiling crushing down upon her. She bolted and told her friend a thousand times, “He hated me, he hated me, he hated me.” They got the hell out of there.

A few days later she found out that David let a girl behind her in line touch his pre-cancer face. It was the one last meaningful piece of what she thought was a uniqueness between them, vanished. He wanted to repeat the self-involved trick that he could later recount in a story, the thing that in essence derailed their encounter to make it about him. It was not about her, not about the girl behind her, not about anyone but him.

Like Ralphie, in more ways than one, our lady friend was shot down by the one man in the world who could validate all of her dreams. He made her feel foolish and ordinary. Not unlike Santa at the local department store, David Sedaris is just another man in a suit who’s probably really just an asshole bored by seeing person after person. She, for a brief naive moment, thought he might be like “Santa Santa,” making each encounter special, magical and important, as if you were the only person that mattered in this world.

She gets it. The average person would think this is just another book signing incident with a writer. She did not do so bad and at least there are some highlights to the encounter. But, this man did not want to open himself to her weird and gigantic adoration and instead was bothered by it. It’s actually comical, his stubborn refusal to acknowledge her observations, because everything you read that this man writes points to the fact that he wants to be right and have the upper hand. “No, really, it was RUBBER.” You can’t blame him.

There’s this, though: the one thing that was said the most softly, not said as if he were being recorded or overheard, was the key takeaway. “Just be yourself.” So, with the sting wearing off and the fact that she may just grab her iPod and headphones and listen to him on our next walk, our lady friend is realizing that being herself is pretty darn good. She even sometimes takes it to the next level and said to us the other day, “Hey, he doesn’t get to live our lives. He doesn’t get to see what we see. Our lives are pretty darn great, wouldn’t you say, doggies?”

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