Across the Table from David Sedaris
Friday before last, I went to see David Sedaris read at the Center for the Performing Arts in Denver. For those who don’t know, Sedaris is an American author, humorist, and radio contributor best known for his delightfully skewed slice-of-life essays and articles about his family and life abroad.
Going in, I hadn’t been sure whether Sedaris would be doing a signing that evening or not, so I was happy to find out that I’d be able to get him to sign a book. Hopping up from my seat, I clambered over my wife, friends, and other row mates and scurried to the bookstore table to buy a couple of copies.
In case you’re interested, I picked up Me Talk Pretty One Day and When You Are Engulfed in Flames. I bought the first one because it’s one of my favorites by Sedaris, and I also felt sure it would look nice alongside the three copies I already own. The second one has the best book title in the history of books.
Once I had my books in hand, I switched lines. One of his folks came over and asked me for the names I’d like to have inscribed in my new books, so I gave her mine and my wife’s. Sure, I could’ve had both titles inscribed to me, but I’m not a jerk. Plus, my wife was saving my seat.
While I waited, I started looking for a place to toss an empty beer cup I’d been carrying. Would it be rude to walk up to a signing table with what was essentially a piece of garbage? I’d also seen a few signs prohibiting photography. Did they have some bizarre rule about carrying plastic receptacles?
Before I could find a trash can that wouldn’t require me to lose my place in line, it was my turn. As I handed Sedaris my books, he opened one of them and looked up at me.
“Are you Gary?”
I nodded, amazed, wondering if he somehow knew who I was. I tried to imagine how many degrees of separation existed between the two of us. Was he some kind of parlor trickster? From what I knew about him, that didn’t seem wholly unbelievable.
Then I realized—the sticky note with my name.
He nodded at my empty cup. “What are you drinking?”
“It was beer,” I replied dimly. “But it isn’t now.”
“Want some water?” he asked, pointing at a bottle of Fiji on his table.
“No, thanks,” I said.
Right away, I realized my rookie mistake. David Sedaris had just offered me expensive water. How could I have said no?
“Yes, please,” I said, hoping it wasn’t too late.
It wasn’t. As he filled my cup with what I assumed to be the wettest water money could buy, I mentioned that I was a writing instructor, and that I used his piece “Me Talk Pretty One Day” to teach my students about voice. I added that I imagined he’d heard that a million times. Then it occurred to me that the phrase “I imagine you’ve heard that a million times” was probably high on that list as well.
He took it all in stride, smiling as he screwed the lid back on the bottle. “You know, of all the things I’ve written,” he said, “every time someone tells me ‘Me Talk Pretty One Day’ is in textbooks, I always think ‘Really, that one? There are so many others that are better.’”
Going to author readings has always been a mixed bag for me. I’ve attended events that left me with lasting admiration for the writers. In the best cases, they also had me walking away with sore stomach muscles from laughing like a lunatic.