by Leah Sottile and Sheri Boggs
6:50 pm Leah
Happy little bunnies are jumping in my stomach right now; the line to get into to see the master of all things sardonic and pithy, David Sedaris, wraps outside of the Met's door and curls around the corner of Lincoln and First. Everyone's checking out everyone else -- the literati are sizing up the college kids, the grey hairs clutch tightly to their partners as fans with stacks of Sedaris books simmer in line. Sheri and I make our way to the back, scooting in line just in front of a refined man in a sport coat with an equally refined wife. We giggle, exchanging glances that only people "like us" came to hear David Sedaris. We muse about what local hotel would put up with Sedaris' unwavering tobacco habit, hoping he'd brought his sister Amy and her cupcakes along with him. Inside, the crowd's buzzing. We cram into our seats, practically bouncing with excitement. The lights dim at the exact stroke of 7.
7:05 pm Sheri
David Sedaris sets his materials (mostly typed papers) on the podium and shyly glances up at the audience as he begins. Even though his voice is reedy and soft, we're hanging on his every word. I peer down our row and see that our upturned faces make us resemble a bunch of drooly Star Wars geeks on opening night of The Phantom Menace. He launches into some fables he's been working on -- the first one a cat/baboon/beauty shop tale full of social faux pas and subtle class distinctions that could be straight out of Anton Chekhov. I realize I'll never look at my cat's grooming habits quite the same again.
7:30 pm Leah
The last time I attended a reading that was this popular was last summer, when Chuck Palahniuk (Fight Club, Choke) packed Auntie's to capacity with local literary risk-takers and every member of Spokane's underbelly. Listening to Sedaris -- his casual usage of "sh--" and "f---," his raw, untainted view of the world -- makes me think that the fringier the writer, the more tickets you can sell. Guys like Sedaris and Palahniuk are normalizing the odd, bringing literature full-circle by exposing the underground and subversive form that it can take. Sedaris just finished the two fables he's been bouncing off audiences, and now he's moved on to his story "Keep Up," which was recently printed in The New Yorker. It's a touching tale about him and his partner, Hugh, their travels and the woes that go along with them. He's painfully raw, almost mean in his description of how he wants to get back at Hugh; then he turns it around, and in a mere four lines, devastates his audience to near tears.
8:01 pm Sheri
Paradoxically, there's something so underwhelming about Sedaris' delivery that he's captivating. I mean, the guy can't be more than 5-foot-4. His quietly nasal reading never contorts itself into new voices for each character, nor does he indulge in gestures or big goofy expressions. As he describes a foul-mouthed couple seated next to him on an airplane and their profligate use of the word "c---sucker," two things occur to me. One, this is quite possibly the first time "c---sucker" has ever been uttered on the Met stage (at least in front of an audience) and two, he sounds as sweetly ordinary as my best friend.
8:10 pm Leah
OK, why didn't I think of this? Sedaris is halfway through "Town and Country," doing what he does best: talk about himself. Sheri and I are rolling as he describes a magazine he and his sister found depicting bestiality and lesbian action. A woman behind us gasps, a guy somewhere near her cracks the silence with a roar of laughter. Sedaris finishes, actually smirks and nods a thank-you to the crowd, currently going wild. Though it seems easy, pulling all of these great stories from his personal experiences -- no one can do it like Sedaris does.
8:25 pm Sheri
I remember suddenly that Costco carried his two most recent books, Me Talk Pretty One Day and Dress Your Family in Cotton and Denim. Yeah, Costco. Up until then, I'd nursed the misguided notion that Sedaris was somehow my own private discovery, that surely no one would appreciate tales like "Glen's Homophobia Newsletter" or "Seasons Greetings from the Dunbar Family!!!!" as much as I did. Wrong. Clearly. When did Sedaris become, well, mainstream?
8:30 pm Sheri
As he's done in years past, Sedaris pitches a favorite book by another writer. But this time his generosity goes beyond the camaraderie of the wildly successful author and extends to helping out kids at risk. Children Playing Before a Statue of Hercules is both a collection of Sedaris' favorite short stories (including pieces by Lorrie Moore, Joyce Carol Oates, Dorothy Parker, Tobias Wolff, Richard Yates and Sarah Vowell) as well as a fundraiser for 826NYC, a nonprofit tutoring and writing center in Brooklyn. Sedaris is shameless and hilarious in his repeated plugs -- but it's fun because clearly he's in it for the kids and to share his own favorite writers. Leah writes down the title. High on Benadryl, I ask her the name of it no less than three times before the night is over.
8:36 pm Leah
Sedaris extends an invitation for questions to his doting audience. Hands hardly fly up. Everyone is hypnotized by him, so why would we want to taint the mood? This is clear to Sedaris, and looking uncomfortable, he cautiously shifts from one foot to the other. He waits for hands to appear above the sea of heads. "If you don't have any, that's OK -- oh, yes?" A young woman asks what he thinks of blogs. Sheri and I scoff; any Sedaris nut would know he hates computers. That's pretty much what he tells her -- in the kindest way possible. Instead of being pretentious, he seems genuinely confused why anyone would want to use a computer. After she explains what blogs are, he just frowns and shrugs, saying, "I think e-mail is for crybabies and tattletales."
8:55 pm Leah
We filter out of the sold-out Met into the lobby, consider staying for the other two readings, but ditch out the front door -- craving the opportunity to talk more about Sedaris. As we laugh, walking down the sidewalk toward home, we spot Sedaris at the stage door, sucking down a post-lecture cigarette. He's totally available, and I mentally search my purse for something he could autograph. Nothing. We pass, Sheri and I mouth a silent "oh my god" to each other and keep walking. We're more star-dazzled than we can ever remember -- and to think it's all over one very normal, very honest middle-aged writer. n
Publication date: 04/28/05