Most of my blogging friends think of me as a sophisticated bon vivant, a modern-day Oscar Wilde, known for his wit and clever wordplay. So when a fellow blogger recently asked me for my opinion of David Sedaris, one of America’s best known humorists, I immediately said, “He’s excellent.” This is not the first time that I’ve given someone my whole-hearted approval of a writer that I’ve never read, heard, or seen. Have you read Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow? It’s an amazing novel! I never read it.
Today, I was driving past my local Barnes and Noble when I said to myself, “Maybe today’s a good day to finally read some David Sedaris.” There were four reasons I decided to read him today:
1) I have some socializing planned in the near future. What if David Sedaris comes up in a conversation and I have to say something smart?
2) I’m interested in impressing women, and I know women like it when a man is “sensitive” enough to enjoy reading a “gay writer.”
3) I know David Sedaris writes essays, which are usually short and easy to read, so his writing won’t take too much time away from “Dancing with the Stars.”
4) I could read the book right in Barnes and Noble and save myself fifteen bucks!
I entered the bookstore and found David Sedaris right in the “Funny Gay Essayists” section. There were a number of his books there, but I chose “Me Talk Pretty One Day,” mostly because the light green jacket cover matched the color of the Zen Green Tea that I had just bought at the in-store cafe. I settled down at a table and started to read the book.
It was a mistake to read David Sedaris.
The first story, Go Carolina, was about Mr. Sedaris’ experience in his elementary school’s Speech Therapy Lab, which he was forced to attend because he lisped.
“Shit,” I said to myself, “He’s screwing up one of my stories that I was saving to put on my blog!”
When I was in elementary school, I lisped. My friend, Rob, and I used to go visit Mr. Fox, the speech teacher. We would repeat the same ridiculous statements over and over:
“Silly Sally sat by the seashore and something something something…”
Sucked Some Sailor’s Salami. Or something like that.
When I went to sleepaway camp, I was nicknamed “Juice,” because at breakfast, I would lisp, “Please pass the juith.” Even when the lisp disappeared (thanks to orthodontal work), I still was called “Juice.” I loved my nickname. Recently, I got an email from someone I haven’t seen since I was thirteen years old. He went to camp with me and found me via my blog. He is currently a therapist with two children. He still called me “Juice.”
So what can I do with my lisping story now? I certainly can’t write a blog post about my speech class. I just know some jerk is going to write in the comments, “Hey, did you rip that idea off of David Sedaris?” Or someone will send me an email, “What’s the matter, Neil? So desperate for blog ideas that you’re stealing stuff hoping we don’t notice? Well, I noticed! And I’m taking your off my blogroll. There’s no place for cheats and crooks on my site. I’m disgusted with you. I spit at my monitor — and at your second-rate blog.”
You can imagine how upset I was, sitting there in Barnes and Noble. A great personal story, gone to waste.
I moved on to the second essay in the book, titled, “Giant Dream, Midget Abilities.” In this essay, Sedaris’ father, a jazz aficionado, pushes his children into learning musical instruments. David Sedaris is pushed into guitar lessons, but he isn’t very interested in the guitar.
“This Sedaris guy is a real bitch.” I said to myself. “He’s screwing up another one of my great stories!”
When I was a kid, my father pushed me (and my friend, Rob, again) into taking guitar lessons. I found learning to play guitar incredibly boring. My father kept on telling me that when I got to college, I would appreciate knowing to play the guitar.
“All the girls will gather around you in the dorm as you’re playing some beautiful song — and I promise you – they all will be falling in love with you.”
His image was more Peter, Paul, and Mary than Van Halen, but even so, as a twelve year old, I had little interest in girls “loving me.” I quit my guitar lessons. My guitar still sits in my room in Flushing, years later, leaning against the closet.
Giving up the guitar was probably the dumbest, stupidest thing I ever did in all my life. In my Columbia College dorm, I had an ugly neighbor who used to have sex all the time with the most gorgeous girls, all because he would play Springsteen songs for them on his guitar, melting their hearts right into his bed. I once tried to impress a sophomore girl by playing the “Theme from Star Wars” on my clarinet, but it just didn’t have the same effect.
I love my guitar story. But now it is as good as dead. Thank you, David Sedaris! I know I could get in trouble with the gay community for saying this — but I hate your guts!
After reading this second story, I spit out my green tea and ran to the bookshelf. My goal: to skim through every essay that David Sedaris has ever published. My biggest fear as a writer is being told that “someone already wrote something exactly like you just did.”
Luckily, my next post is safe — a terrific autobiographical slice of life that really happened to me. Thank God David Sedaris never wrote an essay about his experience going out to sea to kill a giant whale. You’re going to love this story.