David Sedaris Likes Me, Doesn't He?
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
This past Tuesday was Humor Hero Day for me. I got to meet one of my favorite writers, David Sedaris, at his book signing and reading at Big Hat Books in Indianapolis. I've enjoyed listening to David – we shared a moment that day, so I get to call him David; we're close like that – on public radio's This American Life for years, so this was exciting.
David is known for his wry and snarky humor, telling stories from his childhood in North Carolina, his young life in New York, and his home in France with his partner, Hugh, and making fun of people he meets in restaurants and at book signings.
I bought my advance copy of his latest book, When You Are Engulfed in Flames, six weeks earlier, which was my ticket into the reading. I arrived at the bookstore early to avoid the long lines, but there was already a short one when I arrived.
I stood behind two women, one of whom said she was "an old friend of David's." They had worked at a little coffee shop in North Carolina; she was a waitress, he was a dishwasher. The line moved slowly, because David shared a short conversation with everyone who bought his book.
When David's "old friend" reached his table, she reminded him of their shared history.
"Sure I remember you. I wrote about that coffee house in my book," said David.
"You remember Cathy, don't you?" asked the woman.
"Yeah, I think so."
"She was friends with Terry."
"Oh, sure, sure."
"And you have to remember Nancy. Everyone remembers Nancy."
"Yeah, Nancy. I remember her too."
She yammered on about Nancy and Terry and Cathy and the fun times they all had, and he mm-hmmed in agreement. After she left, David said to me and the woman's companion, "Could you tell that was a total fake job?"
"No, I think you were convincing," said the other woman.
"I totally believed you," I said, faking the faker. (Ha! See, I can be snarky too.) "Of course, now I have to tell her the truth," I joked.
The other woman whirled around. "No, I have to work with her!"
I promised I wouldn't, so she turned back to David, and he signed her book. He didn't seem to care if I told the truth or not. Being snarky liberates you from feelings of empathy. Then it was my turn.
"What do you do?" he asked me.
"I'm in marketing," I said, then stopped myself. This was my one chance to plug my column, and I wasn't about to blow it by discussing the intricacies of direct mail. "I also write humor columns."
"Oh really, where are you published?"
"I'm in eight newspapers around Indiana."
"Wow, how long have you done that?"
"That's amazing. I don't know how you find something new every week for so long." He gestured with his book. "This is hard enough."
This was so cool! One of my favorite writers just admitted to being envious of my ability to come up with something new week after week. Sure, it's not six New York Times best sellers, but I do what I can.
"The hardest thing about writing for newspapers," he continued, "is that you can't use filthy language. I mean, they don't even let you say 'pussy.'" I laughed.
"See, 'pussy' always gets a laugh." *
This was the best day ever. David Sedaris just said a dirty word to me. Twice. And not in anger. You just haven't lived until you've had a conversation with a famous writer about dirty words you can't use in a newspaper.
That's when it hit me: Wasn't this the guy who just faked a five minute conversation with some woman who actually knew him 30 years ago? She went away believing he remembered her. Then I thought, he doesn't care about me at all!
But then I read what he wrote in my book. "To Erik. I look forward to reading YOUR book."
I was so proud, I made it all the way to my seat before doubt crept in and I began to worry about what he might have possibly said to the woman behind me.
"Do you think he could tell that was a total fake job? I don't really care if he writes for newspapers. And I don't want to read his stupid book either."
I need to find less snarky heroes.
* In the original newspaper column, the lines read:
"The hardest thing about writing for newspapers," he continued, "is that you can't use filthy language. I mean, they don't even let you say—" and then he said a word I can only repeat on my blog at www.ErikDeckers.com. I laughed.
"See, (that word) always gets a laugh."
Ah, the joys of blogging in the free world.