The voice has a face: Sedaris talks pretty

Cara Spoto

I remember the first time I heard David Sedaris. I was folding laundry while listening to NPR, expecting to hear something about the trouble in the Middle East or the fledgling SNP.

Instead, I heard this: “One week after putting her to sleep, I received Neil’s ashes in a forest green can. She never expressed any great interest in the great outdoors, so I scattered her remains on the carpet, and then vacuumed her back up.”

Some man-boy with a wry and nasally voice was talking about toothless cats, inept Great Danes, and the sorrow of “youth in Asia.”

For the entire reading I sat transfixed, my trousers in mid-fold. When the announcer came back on, I learned that this strange voice belonged to Davis Sedaris, a humorist, memoir-writer and frequent contributor to NPR’s “Morning Edition” and “This American Life.”

Sedaris made his NPR debut on a 1992 program of “Morning Edition” when he read an essay on his ill-fated stint as a Macy’s Department Store elf from his collection of short stories and essays Barrel Fever (Little, Brown 1995).

In addition to Barrel Fever, the Sedaris canon includes Holidays on Ice ( Little, Brown 1997), a collection of six Christmas stories, and Naked (Little, Brown, 1997), which received the review “sidesplitting.”

Dressed like a bow-tied southern professor from the 1930s, Sedaris looked nothing like the irreverent poster child for free will, free lunch, and marijuana-financed hitchhiking, who wrote the essays in Me Talk Pretty One Day, his latest collection.

From the moment he opened his mouth and began reading last Sunday at St. Paul’s Ruminator Books, the entire room devoured every line. Appearance was pretty much a non-issue as their faces screwed up in almost frightening expressions of glee while Sedaris read “Picket Pocketoni,” a story from his book about two obnoxious Americans he had met on the Paris Metro. In it he describes his desire to hate them for their ignorance and rudeness, “Because they had used the word froggy and complained about my odor, I was now licensed to hate this couple as much as I wanted. This made me happy as I had wanted to hate them the moment I entered the subway car and seen them hugging the pole.”

In addition to the Me Talk Pretty essays, a reading of a collection of short dog poems he did for Esquire magazine, and a piece on how his family reacts to constantly being written about for public consumption, were the most notable of the reading.

The Esquire poems were the most decadent (“The Deavers’ errant pit bull, Cass,/ Bit the postman on the ass./ Her lower teeth destroyed his sphincter,/ Now his walk’s a bit distincter.”), but the story about his sister telling him “You have to swear you won’t write about this,” preceeding the same story that was to be kept secret from a massive audience was the most telling.

During the question-and-answer session he discussed what it’s like to make a living writing a memoir, saying “You have to have your head up your ass all the time,” admitting he has totally exploited his family, and he talked about the movie project in the works for Me Talk Pretty One Day, which is to be directed by Wayne Wang, and is slated to star Matthew Broderick as Sedaris.

Once the reading was over, Sedaris stayed on to sign books and collect tips (he put a tip jar on the table, stating he’s noticed more people getting tipped since he’s been back in the States). When my turn came, he took my book, and with the air not of a wit, nor a writer signed it with a genuine nice guy smile: “To Cara, a cub reporter, David Sedaris.”

 

Me Talk Pretty is published by Little Brown and Company.