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#BornThisDay: Writer, David Sedaris

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Photograph by Ingrid Christie/Little, Brown and Company, PBS via YouTube

 

December 26, 1956David Sedaris:

“Undecided Voters, 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 an election is to pause for a moment and then ask how the chicken is cooked.”

I don’t recall what brought me to pick-up that hardback copy of Barrel Fever with its iconic Chip Kidd designed cover at my favorite bookstore, M. Coy Books, in downtown Seattle in 1995. Remember bookstores? I am not an avid NPR listener (I like my radio to play Rock ‘N’ Roll music, please), so Sedaris was unfamiliar to me at this point. I do remember that The Husband read it first. I heard him crying with laughter as he read straight through it from our loft bedroom. I was afraid he would fall down the ladder when he descended with the book in hand. The Husband: “Really, I believe this is the funniest thing I have ever read… it is called The Santaland Diaries. You have to read it right now, this very minute!”

And, we were off and away to Sedaris-land. I bought each of the next books, in hardcover, on the day they came out. I would dog-ear his pieces in The New Yorker. I would eventually extend my love for Sedaris to his boyfriend, Hugh Hamrick, and his insanely funny sister, Amy Sedaris.

“Seven beers followed by two Scotches and a thimble of marijuana and it’s funny how sleep comes all on its own”

Recalling his high school days in Raleigh, North Carolina, telling tales of his zany family, or life at their house in Normandy or the place in England with Hamrick, Sedaris always writes in his unique voice about the absurdities of life. He has a remarkable ability to find the humor in situations that are melancholy, peculiar, or dire.

Sedaris possesses a wicked wit that speaks to me in ways I never thought possible. A perfect day for me is a summer afternoon on Sauvie Island outside of Portland, naked on a blanket, with a thermos of vodka lemonade and a brand new David Sedaris tome.

“My hands tend to be full enough dealing with people who hate me for who I am. Concentrate too hard on the millions of people who hate you for what you are and you’re likely to turn into one of those unkempt, sloppy dressers who sag beneath the weight of the 200 political buttons they wear pinned to their coats and knapsacks.”

In the terrific, must-watch documentary Do I Sound Gay? (2014), filmmaker David Thorpe deftly takes on the relationship gay men have with their own voices. The film includes interviews, professional vocal coaches, speech pathologists and gay celebrities, including an hysterical section featuring Sedaris and Hamrick. Even if Hamrick does not sound convincingly butch, Sedaris may have one of gayest sounding voices this side of Truman Capote.

Of his partner of 26+ years, Sedaris writes:

“Hugh and I have been together for so long that in order to arouse extraordinary passion, we need to engage in physical combat. Once, he hit me on the back of the head with a broken wineglass, and I fell to the floor pretending to be unconscious. That was romantic, or would have been had he rushed to my side rather than stepping over my body to fetch the dustpan.”

It is ironic that Sedaris has a birthday on the day after Christmas. The adaptation of his classic Santaland Diaries has become a Holiday staple for regional and community theatres, replacing seeing a production of A Christmas Carol as a family tradition. I was finally able to hear Sedaris’ own version on NPR when I was receiving chemotherapy on Christmas 2013. His voice is gay perfection.

In the September 28, 2015 issue of The New Yorker, Sedaris has an extremely original, hysterical essay about reluctantly asking Hamrick to marry him for strictly unromantic reasons, A Modest Proposal. It is a response to the SCOTUS ruling on Marriage Equality in 2015:

“It occurred to me while standing there, cars whizzing by, that the day I marry is the day I’ll get hit and killed, probably by some driver who’s texting, or, likelier still, sexting. ‘He is survived by his husband, Hugh Hamrick’, the obituary will read, and before I’m even in my grave I’ll be rolling over in it.”

At my house, we always take his Christmas collection Holiday On Ice (1997) off the Sedaris section in the bookcase and casually toss it on the coffee table as part of our tradition. My favorite selection Dinah The Christmas Whore, still makes me laugh and cry. It is quintessential Sedaris.

Cool tid-bits about the eccentric Sedaris: He holds a keen interest in taxidermy; he does not drive or use the Internet or own a cell phone or an email account. Sedaris:

“I’ve always been convinced I would hit and kill a child, so I don’t drive because I’m afraid. Where I grew up, in Raleigh, you needed a car. I stayed at home a lot, and I had to entertain myself. Ultimately, I think not driving was good for me. And, I never learned to type; I type with one finger. So I’ve never worked in an office, which was also probably good for me. As for the Internet, everyone tells me it makes you lose a year. A bread truck will go by, and on the side it says: ‘If you want to learn more about our products, go to www.breadtruck.com.’ Then you’ll go to a computer and look that up. But who cares about bread? Then there’s something else, and something else. I don’t want to lose a year like that. The world is already full of books and magazines.”

I am a fan of the odd little indie film C.O.G. (2013) starring cutie pie Jonathan Groff, whose character is a stand-in for Sedaris. It also features two other actors I adore, Denis O’Hare and Corey Stoll. The film is based on a Sedaris piece about hitchhiking as a youth to Oregon where he takes a job picking apples.

In the October 28, 2013 issue of The New Yorker, Sedaris wrote with humor and sadness of the suicide of his sister Tiffany. He caught a lot of flack for that one:

“A woman came up to the front of the line, and she slapped a note on my table, and stormed off, and it said ‘For your information, joking about people dying is never funny’. I have such a problem with that, when people say ‘Blank’ is never funny, I’m really amazed sometimes at the things I laugh at. I mean, there’s something to be said for giving something a little time, you know, if a tragedy happens, but I mean, Sarah Silverman has said some really funny things about rape, really funny things. Someone less skilled than she is might not be able to pull it off, but I’ve seen it done. I’ve seen people say things about 9/11—I mean I’ve heard them—so anything’s possible, I just don’t ever see the point in cutting yourself off for that. A couple of years ago on tour I collected jokes. I said when you come to get a book signed please tell me a joke. I’ve heard a lot of jokes over and over again, and I’ve heard jokes that were lame, you know, I don’t like to fake laugh, but you don’t want to embarrass anybody, you know, they’re putting themselves out by telling a joke. Jokes with three things, you know, ‘there’s a priest, there’s a rabbi, a witchdoctor’, those jokes take forever. I said to people, I want you to tell me gay jokes. Everyone’s afraid to do it. Gay jokes would be like, ‘what does a gay horse say: ‘Hayyy’.”

Essential Sedaris: Barrel Fever (1994), Naked (1997), Me Talk Pretty One Day (2000), Dress Your Family In Corduroy And Denim (2004), When You Are Engulfed In Flames (2008), Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary (2011), and Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls (2013).  I am currently savoring his Theft By Finding: Diaries (1977–2002).

This year marks the 25th anniversary of Sedaris reading Santaland Diaries on NPR.

I think he is the funniest writer alive. And, I find few subjects off limit for jokes.

“If you’re looking for sympathy you’ll find it between shit and syphilis in the dictionary.”


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