RSWL: David Sedaris

“Certain small, ugly creatures are considered adorable and cute. Take, for example, the baby orangutan pictured on the poster that decorates the garage wall. Nothing about this animal is pretty to look at but he doesn’t seem to care one way or the other. When an orangutan catches his reflection in a pool of crystal-clear water he doesn’t take the time to get depressed about his looks. Instead he just goes about his business, eating leaves and examining the heads of his friends and family, searching for mouthwatering fleas. A creature is cute as long as it has mournful eyes and lives in the woods. An ugly person can’t be carefree like animals. From what I’ve seen on television, animals mate without regard to who has a glossier coat or the longest whiskers. I don’t get the idea that apes turn down dates. They might talk but I doubt anyone’s feelings get hurt in the process. I could be wrong because I am not a scientist.”

— David Sedaris, Barrel Fever

 One of the biggest surprises of the last decade for me was David Sedaris.  My brother, Tim, introduced me to this author over one of our annual visits.  I was surprised at just how much I liked him instantly (Sedaris, not my brother…although to be clear, I probably liked my brother instantly too).  I guess I should say I liked Sedaris’ work…I really didn’t meet him, nor do I know THAT much about him.

Perhaps you’ve read one of his books, or listened to him on NPR.  We listened to some of his readings on CD, and it was then that I learned, “Santa didn’t USED to do anything.”  I was hooked. 

“While eight flying reindeer are a hard pill to swallow, our Christmas story remains relatively dull. Santa lives with his wife in a remote village and spends one night a year traveling around the world. If you’re bad, he leaves you coal. If you’re good and live in America, he’ll give you just about anything you want. We tell our children to be good and send them off to bed, where they lie awake, anticipating their great bounty. A Dutch parent has a decidedly hairier story to relate, telling his children, “Listen, you might want to pack a few of your things together before going to bed. The former bishop of Turkey will be coming tonight along with six to eight black men. They might put some candy in your shoes, they might stuff you into a sack and take you to Spain, or they might just pretend to kick you. We don’t know for sure, but we want you to be prepared.”

 This is the reward for living in the Netherlands. As a child you get to hear this story, and as an adult you get to turn around and repeat it. As an added bonus, the government has thrown in legalized drugs and prostitution — so what’s not to love about being Dutch?

One doesn’t want to be too much of a cultural chauvinist, but this seemed completely wrong to me. For starters, Santa didn’t used to do anything. He’s not retired and, more important, he has nothing to do with Turkey. It’s too dangerous there, and the people wouldn’t appreciate him. When asked how he got from Turkey to the North Pole, Oscar told me with complete conviction that Saint Nicholas currently resides in Spain, which again is simply not true. Though he could probably live wherever he wanted, Santa chose the North Pole specifically because it is harsh and isolated. No one can spy on him, and he doesn’t have to worry about people coming to the door. Anyone can come to the door in Spain, and in that outfit he’d most certainly be recognized. On top of that, aside from a few pleasantries, Santa doesn’t speak Spanish. “Hello. How are you? Can I get you some candy?” Fine. He knows enough to get by, but he’s not fluent and he certainly doesn’t eat tapas.”

—Excerpt from Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris

Since that first encounter (thanks to my brother), I’ve  acquired all his books (I think), and have seen him read his essays and stories live a couple times.   Never a disappointment, Sedaris is the kind of writer who both amuses you and makes you think.  Some, if not most, of his stories make you laugh…and laugh.  And then, he sneaks in a few serious ones that make you contemplate society or choices.

I’d like to think his humor inspires me and the way I tell stories.  Maybe it’s the self-deprecating nature of his largely autobiographical writing.   Maybe it’s his timing.  Maybe it’s his mix of fascinating information with humor.  As long as he is writing, I’ll be reading his work, or listening to it.   Reading it is great, but if you get the chance, you really must listen to him read his own writing.  The delivery is amazing. 

Cheers to big surprises and ridiculously funny people.   


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