Meeting Your Idol and Wishing You’d Been Funnier
I wanted to meet David Sedaris so badly that I used to visulise it happening every time I opened my copy of Naked. I’d imagine scenarios in which Hugh, David and I were sitting in their house in France eating pastries and drinking black coffee whilst a slight rain drizzled outside and I’d say something great, just wonderfully funny, and I would make David Sedaris laugh. And it’s a genuine laugh, it’s something I then visualise retelling on my death bed to my children: the story of that laugh.
Perhaps if I felt this way about an actor you might criticize me for being a delinquent, but because I love a gay man for his mind, for his humour, well that’s just a decent thing to get hooked up on, don’t you think?
When my sister’s marriage was in trouble and she found herself hold up in our parent’s house with a bad case of pneumonia, the only thing I could think to do was take a copy of Naked around and read it aloud to her. We put her recovery solely down to David.
When my mother apparently ‘walked’ into the wheel barrow (honestly it looked more like she’d charged it) and obliterated her shin resulting in the kind of wound I still get prickles down my back thinking about, she sought oxygen treatment. A tight bag is secured to the leg and pumped full of Oxygen then left to sit for a half hour. I offered to drive her and took in my bag a copy of When You Are Engulfed In Flames. Her leg is now healed.
One day towards the end of last year I got a text message from my sister, it was of a lone image she’d captured out of a newspaper arts section, in it a blurry yet still recognisable David Sedaris stood next to the announcement of his first ever New Zealand tour. We were giddy, we were uncontainable in our disbelief and excitement. We booked tickets for the second night of the show which, obviously not a coincidence, fell on my birthday. And we waited. We waited for 4 months. Judging by our seats on the night we must have been amongst the first 15 people to call the ticket agent and breathlessly ask for ‘two please.’
And then something even more wonderful happened. I wrangled an invite to attend a lunch put on by David Sedaris’ publishing house Hachette. One minute I am fantasizing about my wit winning him over in the French provinces the next I am face to face with my literary hero, a comedic force never too shy to allude to rape or use the word cunt where it’s properly called for (I’m not actually sure I have any examples of this I’m just certain he would where he could).
Turns out David Sedaris is tiny. So much smaller than I imagined that when he walks through the room and straight to me offering his hand I stare a minute too long trying to figure out if this person is the one from my fantasy, when did he shrink?
But then I remember: he is always sitting down in my dreams.
He say’s ‘Hello, and what do you do?’ but he says it in a way completely unlike others who’ve asked me this to transparently gauge my worth, he asks me this to find out where I fit in the puzzle of the room and perhaps because I don’t look like I fit in at all. He’s nothing if not astute. I fumble and mix up the order of my words saying that ‘I write a little’ first which puts too much emphasis on it and makes me feel like I just told Bachelard I know a shit load about the philosophy of space.
He smiles politely but doesn’t respond, just stares at me. The pause stretches into infinity and I begin to lose my footing in reality. As is my usual response to feeling this kind of uncertainty, I air it: “You did just ask me what I do, right?” I say, worried that I just looked David Sedaris in the eye and told him ‘Oh I write a little, do a bit of freelance journalism’ when all he’s done is shake my hand. He does not choose to comfort me on this, so I will never know if I was asked to describe myself or if I simply and strangely chose to.
He skims over my question and says ‘I like your glasses, did they cost you $800?’ Now that I know he’s been looking at my frames the entire time I feel a little more assured, he doesn’t care what I do, he just needs an in to get closer to my Tom Ford’s. I murmur something about them being half that price and he tells me he was at a dinner party where every guest wore glasses and every single pair cost the owner $800. He tells me, as others pool around us awkwardly watching how I deal (or do not deal) with this hijacking, that he needed glasses and he’d decided his wouldn’t cost him $800. I asked to see his glasses. He didn’t have them on him. And that was it. That was the sole extent of my interaction with David Sedaris, I dare say I did not win any hearts; I failed to make him laugh (my death bed imminently more depressing). Like a hurricane had passed me by in the shape of a very sweet, nicely put together gentleman, I collected myself and hid just out of view for the rest of lunch.
Coming face to face with someone you adore is always heart-wrenching; it’s written that you will never make a good impression because the wrong parts of your brain are in control. I make far better impressions on people I care nothing for. Later that day I went, as planned, with my sister to hear David do a reading at the Auckland Town Hall. He was wearing a yellow lei that someone had given him. He looked a little bigger on the podium though he never grew an inch with ego. I like to think he enjoyed our audience, that we laughed at more of his work than most and with more eagerness, more understanding. At the end he opened the floor to questions and whilst another woman asked if he had any anecdotes or diary entries about New Zealand I wracked my brains for something brilliant to ask. David pulled out his diary, the same one I’d seen earlier that day when he pulled it out at lunch to note a colloquialism someone had generously shared, and I stopped trying to think of something brilliant to say; I knew then that had I had it in me it would already be in that notebook, and I knew it wasn’t.
He said that there was a woman at the signing the night before who had a bach (Noun; a small, often very modest holiday home) up north and he’d asked her if it had ever been broken into, she’d said yes, but just the once. He asked if anything was stolen and she admitted that yes, they’d taken the washing machine. The audience produced a few muffled laughs whilst David’s eyes sparkled, he could barely contain himself ‘the washing machine?’ he repeated, isn’t that an awfully big appliance to steal, he mused. He then concluded it was how he’d think of us, that somehow this criminal act was quintessentially New Zealand; he just couldn’t see it happening elsewhere.
I’d spent so long reading David Sedaris’ work, his essays in the New Yorker and memoir collections that it was inexcusable of me to miss such an important point; he wasn’t looking for someone to laugh with, he was looking for someone out of whom to make laughter. I do not mean that unkindly, merely that he is an observer. The people who get his attention are those with the best stories or most outlandish offerings and most of my best stories are his own, retold.
Although I am having a hard time letting go of my old French farmhouse fantasy of mutual amusement I am now happy to have his work stay on the page where it can impersonally comfort me time and again. David himself made the point in a New Yorker essay that he’d stopped making an effort to make friends when he met Hugh, I reread this to comfort myself; it was a lost cause, I whisper to myself, he only wanted your frames, not your friendship. I’ll just have to work on some other death bed fantasy.