The Night I Met David Sedaris by Eva Rivers

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‘Don’t write like a housewife. And read David Sedaris.’

This was the advice my daughter gave me as she thrust a copy of his book, Let’s Discuss Diabetes With Owls into my hands.

Three years later, on the night of my 49th birthday, Bec took me to see David Sedaris at Cadogan Hall in London. Strictly speaking it wasn’t the night of my actual birthday. That had been and gone, but this was her gift. And if we’re being really strict, it wasn’t my 49th.

By then, I had read all of Sedaris’s work, listened to all his radio broadcasts. I knew his style. I knew his subject matter. Damn it, I knew his family. Whether he liked it or not, he’d become my mentor.

We entered the foyer clutching our favourite titles, fingers-crossed that he’d be doing a signing, fretful that he wouldn’t. If we didn’t get his autograph here, we’d ambush him for it later. I happened to know where the artistes’ door was. Either way, we were determined to leave that night with his signature, if not an item of his clothing. Or even a lock of his hair.

This was also the evening I’d chosen to try out my one-day old varifocals. If I was here to see him, then I wanted to see him properly. My optician said the trick was to move my head up and down, and side to side, to find the best point of vision. This didn’t come naturally. I suspect there are still some who talk in whispers about the way I was swivelling my head like something out of The Exorcist.

We were in good time and headed to the foyer bar. Bec lives in Sydney but wherever in the world we meet, we have a gin and tonic. Tonight I wanted something a little more glamorous. I ordered our drinks and looked on with longing at Bec’s glass as the tonic fizzed into a zillion bubbles and the ice cubes collided and cracked. And then I saw mine.

‘You call that a Martini?’

Bec snatched the twenty-pound note from my fingers and handed it to the bemused barman.

‘Mum, you’re doing that thing again.’

‘What?’

‘Sounding like David Sedaris’s father.’

He should be flattered. Damn it.

We were so busy guessing what David might read that we hadn’t noticed the orderly line of fans forming on the far side. I’d caught a blurry glimpse just by chance.

‘Quick,’ I said, grabbing our glasses.

With a few balletic leaps, we joined the queue, beating a flummoxed party of four by the skin of our teeth. We couldn’t see Sedaris but I could tell from the laughter that he’d begun his signing. There were at least forty people in front of us, two rows deep and, by my reckoning, each one taking thirty seconds to recount their side-splitting yarns. Did he actually want us to tell him our life stories? Was he collecting material for his next book? There were forty minutes until the performance and I was on edge.

‘Why does everyone have a yellow sticky on their books?’ said Bec.

I’d been keeping a sharp eye on both the clock and the queue. The head-whipping this required was a more intense action than my optician had recommended, but effective nonetheless. All it took now was a chameleon-like spin of the eyes and I had everyone’s Post-it notes in my line of vision.

Holy Christ! We need a sticky.’

Even Bec, given to flouting rules, looked whey-faced.

‘Excuse me,’ I said to the woman in front of us. ‘What are the yellow stickies for? Where do you get them?’

‘The bookstall, you write you’re name on them to save time.’

Did she mean to save time if you had an off-beat name? Like mine. In a heartbeat, the evening unfolded before my bespectacled eyes.

What did you say you’re name was?’ says David.

I begin to spell it but, with a flick of the hand, David beckons the no-yellow-sticky attendant.

‘Madame, would you step aside please?’ he says, taking my elbow.

‘Take your goddamn hands off of me,’ I holler strapping myself to the retractable rail with my scarf.

I thanked the woman and craned my neck towards the busy bookstall with wide-eyed alarm. This was a special night. It wasn’t just about my birthday. In twenty-four hours Bec would be on a flight back to Australia. This was our last evening together. This was our goodbye.

The woman in front of us could smell our anxiety.

‘Wait,’ she said.

She tore two thin strips off her own sticky and handed us one each. We thanked her, printed on our names primary-school style, and shuffled forwards.

My first view of David Sedaris in the flesh was not of his face. It was, in fact, of his slim, sun-tanned legs beneath the table at which he sat. I didn’t register anything unusual in the fact that he wasn’t wearing trousers. I didn’t shake my sorry head and mumble, well, he is an American. I figured he’d learned the trick from Mr Sedaris Senior who, as devoted readers will know, habitually ate dinner in his underpants. In any case, I had more important things on my mind like shall I tell him I’m also a writer? The word also sounded like I was gate-crashing so perhaps just a writer would do. And how would I distract him and slip the story I’d brought with me into his shirt pocket?

There were now fifteen people ahead of us, all no doubt, determined to unfurl the epic tales of their lives. I was curbing my shameful urge to mutter curses when the man next in line, lanky, cheeks that could stab you, pulled out five tatty books from a string-bag and slid them towards David.

‘Bec, count the books. Count the goddamn books.’

‘Mum! What’s gotten into you?’

What had gotten into me was that here was a chance to meet my literary hero. The man who’d taught me about split-second timing. About biting humour. About digging deep into yourself. And I was going to be scuppered by a bunch of opportunists with their entire libraries under their arms.

During the signing Sedaris demonstrated an enviable flair for talking to each individual as if he’d known them all their lives. With one guy, he stood up and arm-to-arm they compared man-bracelets. With another, he talked about the need to walk the mile-and-a-half home after the show. With two French girls he agreed that Paris was, indeed, la Ville Lumière.

‘I wonder what he’ll say to us?’

Bec didn’t reply. She was more concerned about what I’d be saying to him.

One thing was for sure. I wasn’t going to admit that I knew his work inside out. That I studied it word for word. That it made me laugh out loud.

‘Why not?’ she said. ‘That’s why we’re all here.’

‘He’ll think I’m a stalker.’

‘He’ll only think you’re a stalker if you tell him about West Sussex.’

It’s no secret that’s where Sedaris lives. I don’t deny that I know the area pretty well. In fact, I’ve driven up and down every one of its country lanes, especially the well-littered ones, hoping to catch a glimpse of him. Hoping he’d drop his litter-picker and say, ‘Hey, come back to the house. Hugh’s cooking.’ And we’d hang out and talk literature.

We were now down to five people.

Then three. With two goddamn books apiece.

Two people.

And finally, the noble woman-in-front-of-us. She smiled goodbye and clip-clopped towards David.

Just don’t go over your thirty seconds, lady.

At last. It was our turn.

‘Hey. How are you?’ said David.

‘Fine,’ said Bec. ‘Really looking forward to the show.’

‘Well, thank you for coming,’ he said, taking her opened book. ‘Where are you from?’

Bec explained she was a Londoner living in Sydney. And, unprompted, that she worked in an adult store.

‘What sort of adult store?’ he said, eyes twinkling.

‘Totally female-friendly and queer-positive.’

Kids, I wanted to say. And I would have, except I couldn’t get my rictus grin to slacken.

‘Bec, do you sail?’

‘No,’ she said.

‘Neither do I. I don’t see the point.’

David returned her copy of When You Are Engulfed in Flames with his signature and a sketch of an anchor at a jaunty angle.

‘How do you two come to be here together?’ he said twizzling his pen back and forth between us.

‘I’m Bec’s Mum,’ I said. ‘She introduced me to your work. I love everything you’ve ever written.’

‘Oh,’ he said, with an appreciative smile.

‘But I’ve never stalked you.’

‘Oh.’

The auditorium was packed. The lights dimmed, Sedaris was announced, and on he came to polite clapping. I was about to shout, ‘way to go David’ when I saw his bare, sun-tanned legs. The very legs I’d seen in the foyer. Sedaris was wearing culottes. Air-force blue. With white polka dots. I guess they were better than underpants.

Sedaris’s performance was terrific – funny, poignant, wicked. He talked about his penchant for culottes and other life-enhancing fashions. He read a story about a Tokyo shopping trip. He revealed extracts from his diaries and took questions from the audience. When the evening came to an end, I felt bereft. He left the stage with a wave, and as an afterword, a curtsy.

On the tube home that night, I looked at my books. Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls was autographed and embellished with a drawing of the eponymous bird. Naked was inscribed Evangelista, why do you enchant me so? I gazed at the page admiring the neat handwriting, the charming artwork, the quality of the felt tip pen. And then I looked at the inscription again. It was wrapped around the title of the book so that it actually read Evangelista, why do you [Naked] enchant me so?

‘Bec, look what he wrote!’ I said.

‘So?’

‘Read it properly.’

She looked again, and scoffed.

‘In your dreams, Mum.’

glasses

Eva Rivers

Eva Rivers lives and works in London. Her fiction has appeared in Storgy, Fictive Dream, Sick Lit Magazine, Penny Shorts, The Drabble, 101 Words amongst other magazines. This work of non-fiction is based on the night she met David Sedaris at Cadogan Hall in February 2016. She hopes to meet him again. Twitter @MsEvarivers

If you enjoyed ‘The Night I Met David Sedaris’ leave a comment and let Eva know.

You can read Eva’s previously published words below:

Gottle O’Gear

Spoilt for Choice

You can find and follow Eva at:

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