Wednesday, July 19, 2017
Well, here's a gent who's clearly taken to heart the old saying - one variously attributed to a formidable trio of ladies, either Margot Asquith, Lillie Langtry, or no less than Mae West herself - "Keep a diary, my dear, and someday perhaps the diary will keep you." I don't know about you, but I'd certainly keep him...
Another gent who's recently made that discovery is Mr. David Sedaris, the wry essayist and grotequerie aficionado who first appeared on our collective radar as an elf at Macy's Santaland all those years ago. Now he's published a first volume of his journals, Theft by Finding, which covers his hardscrabble years in Raleigh, on the road, and in Chicago, as well as his rise and rise once he reached New York, from 1977 through 2002.
I'm only part of the way through (he's heading into his second year at Macy's and finding his way as a writer/performer, but still broke and trying to figure things out), but the diaries strike me as pretty remarkable. First off, one has the chance to see him develop as a writer, deciding as he goes what interests him and how to write about it. Then, too, there is the simple frankness with which young David (and older one, now, having decided to publish) lays out what are from the beginning pretty clearly at least two or three considerable addictions.
But what stopped me this afternoon was realizing that his first foray in Manhattan coincided with mine - I was there a year or two earlier, but in one line he tosses away a thought that brought the new York of those days back, to me, with a rare and piercing vividness:
"Amy and I met Jeff and Tina for a drink last night at El Teddy's, the fancy Mexican place in Tribeca that sometimes feels exciting and sometimes feels awful."
And instantly, there I was again, on that street, the evening summer light gleaming and a long night ahead. El Teddy's was indeed a place one met, and indeed a place that veered wildly from wonder to wretchedness. It was a splurgy sort of place if you were a broke-ish young arts-worker, and from there you went for dinner to some Indian dive on Sixth Street or maybe one of the divey spots on St. Mark's before moving on to drinking and dancing in a low joint or singing over on Grove Street.
One sign of a real writer, I think, a genuine voice, is that after you've spent an hour two reading and then go out, you live for a while in her or his world. That's what I did this afternoon (having taken a thoroughly deserved mental-health day from the doldrums of Golden Handcuffs in July), as I needed this and that at the CVS and supermarket. I didn't - as Sedaris seems to with startling frequency - run into a man with no feet or get hit on for cigarettes or a dollar - but I did note the inordinately large ears on the pharmacist, and the little dramas going in Frozen Foods. Coming home, the agenda posted in the elevator for tonight's long-dreaded Homeowners Town Hall seemed pure Sedaris (14 items, God help us, one of which is "Lobby Renovations: What You're Going to Hate". Pray for me.).
I look forward to the rest of the book, to seeing from inside, as it were, how it felt to be discovered by NPR, to pick up an agent, a publisher, eventually a house in the French countryside. The contrast with the earlier David, the one who obsessively chronicles the price of chicken parts at the market nearest his latest hovel, the one who binges on meth and celebrates finding a five-dollar bill, could hardly be greater. I'm happy for him (and for his husband, Hugh, whom as I've just been reading, he met back in those Tribeca days and about whom he writes about beautifully) and grateful for the chance to get a more rounded impression of the writer and of his deeply eccentric family. And I've got my eye out for the guys with no feet and the inventive panhandlers...