Apr 27, 2006

Sedaris, Interruptus

My wonderful writing teacher Terrie Silverman came into three tickets to see essayist David Sedaris at UCLA's Royce Hall Wednesday night. Terrie teaches Wednesday nights, and a celebrity is in her Wednesday class. Celeb chose to go to Terrie's class instead ... which says a lot about Terrie’s class. And the Celeb’s commitment. Anyway, Terrie gave them to my friends Catheryn, Ann, and me. We’re all Sedaris fans and aspiring essayists/solo show writers. Our seats were not just good, they were Celebrity good. Front row center. Literally. Front row center seats to hear an essayist. David Sedaris. We could have been literary groupies. But we were phantom celebs.

First of all, a 12-year old skateboarder kid walked out, stood on an apple box behind the lectern, and said, "Hey everyone. Um, so I'm Jesse Portnick. And --- Oh hey, Grandma! She's in the audience freaking out. Anyway, please welcome David Sedairs.

David was terrific. He read three or four new pieces, including two essays recently published in The New Yorker. One was about buying his boyfriend a human skeleton as a gift; another about a conversation between a crow and a sheep; another about a scary babysitter. He also tried out a commencement address he’s working on for a certain Ivy League school. Afterward he answered questions, one of them mine. Pays to be front row center.

He was funny and sad and deep and delightful. I wish I could say I enjoyed every moment, but I was distracted. Partly by the fact I'm madly in love and it's hard to keep my mind off of my Sexy, Jesus-Loving Boyfriend. And partly because, in the second row to our right, sat a woman who wouldn’t stop laughing. It was a loud, flat, cackling, rat-a-tat tatt, like a big Pink Girlie Tommy gun. Sure, you laugh when something's funny. But she laughed all the time. At the ends of sentences, in the middle of them, for no reason. She laughed at words like "through " or "and" or "the."

It was clear she was laughing to get attention. The whole of her was trying to get attention. She was overweight, wore Lisa Loeb glasses and that almost-current hairstyle that’s bleach blonde on the top, and dark brown underneath. Like a root beer float, or Uncle Fester’s wife. She wore a Medium trench coat over her Extra-Large body, pulled so tight she looked like an overripe peach ready to split. I figured with that laugh, she was pushing her luck.

Everyone around her started looking at each other: Who’s gonna say something? There was a tall man directly behind me. I know he was tall because his knees were crammed against the back of my chair, like a basketball player flying in coach. I wanted to ask him to kill the Tommy Gun laugher. But Catheryn whispered that he was the producer on HBO’s Project Greenlight. And the thing with celebrities is, you’re supposed to ignore them. You pretend you don’t know them, or that you do know them but don’t care.

Then it occurred to me that maybe Project Greenlight was there because he was trying to talk to ME -- he'd expected Celebrity to be sitting in my seat; he'd spent a year tracking her down, but instead I'm sitting in her seat. Now he's wondering, who I am so he can pretend not to care who I am. Then I drifted to thoughts about the Man in My Life: his wit, intelligence, talent, spiritual maturity and vision, I respect him so much I just want to rip off all his clothes. But I can't: I"m a good Lutheran Girl. And --BRAT-A-TAT TATTTT! I can’t even daydream without that laugh interrupting me.

About 30 minutes into the show – right the middle of an essay -- Fat Pink Machine Gun writhed out of her seat and climbed over a dozen people to get to the aisle. She was only a couple seats away from the right aisle, but she chose to writhe over 12 people on her left, including Project Greenlight Man.

Once she left, we breathed a sigh of relief and went about enjoying David Sedaris. He was now reading an essay that had been published in a recent New Yorker. Good. I could read what I missed live because of the Pink Machine Gun and my day dreaming.

Sedaris is so good with the dry delivery and word choice. He described this scary babysitter as having skin the color of Vaseline. If you haven’t read him, I recommend Naked, or “The Santaland Diaries.” David Sedaris is the first guy I ever heard reading his own essays on the radio. It made me want to do it myself.

Unfortunately, Fat Pink Machine Gun came back about 20 minutes later. Catheryn said she came back smelling like smoke. If you paid $50 to see an hour-long show, would you spend 25 minutes smoking?

Anyway, if you want to hear David Sedaris and haven’t, here’s one of my favorites of his: Go to This American Life

Get Episode 104: “Music Lessons."

It includes Sedaris and Ann Lamott. Here’s an excerpt from Ann’s essay:

My friends like to tell each other that I’m really not a born-again Christian. They think of me more along the lines of that Jonathan miller routine when he said: “I’m not really a Jew. I’m Jew-ish.” My friends think I’m Christian-ish. But I’m not. I’m just a bad Christian. A bad born again Christian. And certainly like the apostle Peter I’m capable of denying it ... of presenting myself as a sort-of leftist liberation theology enthusiast, and maybe sort-of vaguely Jesusy bon vivant. But it’s not true. And I believe when you get on a plane, if you start lying you are screwed unto the very Lord. So I told the truth: I’m a believer, a convert. And I’m probably about three months away of slapping an aluminum Jesus fish on the back of my car. But first I want to see if the stickem interferes with my lease agreement. I just love the guy. I just love Jesus, it’s that simple.”

Thank you David for an almost perfect evening. And thank you, Terrie, and Generous Celebrity.

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