We stood in line to meet David Sedaris, the popular writer. One line went up the stairs for those clutching tickets to enter the show, while our line went down the stairs for those clutching books in anticipation of meeting Sedaris. The room was filled with the typical stock of folks who live here in Lebanon, New Hampshire, on the outskirts of the Dartmouth campus. Retired professor types, thick-framed glasses and Patagonia jackets with distinguished wives, gray-hair and gold-bracelets. A scruffy, young hipster couple stood holding hands behind an old man wearing a cowboy hat and an even scruffier goatee. In front of us was a mom and a 12 year old boy holding his new copy of “When You Are Engulfed In Flames.” Behind us stood an excitable lesbian couple who seemed to know everything about the famed essayist and humorist.

Sedaris is best known for his personal essays – often thoughtful, usually hilarious, sometimes absurd – the finished products from 40 years of keeping a diary. Originally from Raleigh, North Carolina, today he lives in Sussex, England and mingles stories from his childhood, his life as a gay man, his world travels, and tales from his diaries – trials, tribulations, and titillations.

“He’s just not allowed to age,” a woman near us told my girlfriend as we watched Sedaris signing books – in this moment drawing a tombstone and writing R.I.P. onto the cover page of someone’s volume. Indeed graying, but youthful, Sedaris sported a white dress shirt and a spotted tie, a courdoroy jacket with a pocket square, khakis, and a pair of black casual sneakers that my girlfriend described as “cute shoes.”

When inscribing books, he infamously writes something new every time. The title of his most recent book “Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls” originated from a book signing. A woman asked him to write something typical like “Keep exploring life” but what she got was what he wrote. “I imagine all of my books ending up in a Goodwill,” he said once in an interview. He really doesn’t want anyone reading such drivel when they pick his book up.

When the 12 year old boy’s turn came, he began rifling through his bag and handed the lucky kid something. All of the folks within earshot were laughing. I remembered a few nights ago when I opened a Sedaris book I acquired for the first time and found a pleasant surprise on the title page: “Lisa, Surprise: your mom is going to have another baby. D— S—”

Ah, and before I knew it, it was our turn. I told him that an essay about picking up rubbish in his town had inspired me to try the same a few years ago. In “Rubbish,” he explains how he spends pretty much all of his free time walking an eight-mile loop around his neighborhood picking up trash, only to come back after a few days and have to start over completely. But the city has given him his own equipment and it even named its garbage truck after him. So that’s something.

He asked me how my experiments went and I told him it was an absolute failure. “The people in your town are pigs,” he said straightfaced, but then laughed when he told me he’d never written that in someone’s book before. Before I realized it, he was handing me my copy of “Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls” back and by golly, that’s what he had written.


He began the evening by reading an essay recently published in the New Yorker called “A Modest Proposal,” which is about his reaction to the recent Supreme Court decision to legalize gay marriage in the United States. Having been with his boyfriend Hugh for over twenty years and happy with that arrangement, the sudden ability to lock it up in a government contract didn’t seem like much to Sedaris, personally. “I didn’t need the government to validate my relationship,” he read.

I felt the same way when a handful of American states legalized same-sex marriage, only more so: I didn’t need a government or a church giving me its blessing. The whole thing felt like a step down to me. From the dawn of time, the one irrefutably good thing about gay men and lesbians was that we didn’t force people to sit through our weddings. Even the most ardent of homophobes had to hand us that. We were the ones who toiled behind the scenes while straight people got married: the photographers and bakers and florists, working like Negro porters settling spoiled passengers into the whites-only section of the train.

But it meant a lot to him for other reasons. “The Supreme Court ruling tells every gay fifteen-year-old living out in the middle of nowhere that he or she is as good as any other dope who wants to get married.” His point is valid, though he has some fun with it. Their fight is victorious, he said, to be as square as straight people, who may in passing say such cringe-worthy things such as “Here it is, Valentine’s Day less than a week behind us, and already my wife is flying our Easter flag!”

A funny caricature, sure, but it struck me as poignant, for on the ride to Lebanon, I felt the need to self-therapize with a rant about the scenery on the drive: inflatable halloween decorations at every corner. It is such a beautiful place and a perfect time to be here in New Hampshire, but people feel the need to kitsch it right up. I debated driving my car straight through a ten-foot high black cat balloon, but decided to let the happy American family keep up with the Joneses, who only boast of a nine-foot high Jack-o-lantern balloon on their property.

That is what Sedaris warns against, I think, in getting married. Not that there’s anything wrong with the idea of marriage, but to simply slip into the rank and file of homogenous Americanism is no place to rest one’s laurels. His modest proposal? “I wanted gay people to get the right to marry, and then I wanted none of us to act on it. I wanted it to be ours to spit on.” I think it’s perfectly acceptable to feel this way, especially after only having two options on government forms for over twenty years: MARRIED and SINGLE. Which do you pick when you’re “happily neither” ?

Of course, after talking to his accountant, the benefits of getting married became clear – married couples benefit greatly when it comes to taxes and regulations – and Sedaris’s second modest proposal, the first of 18, was popped to Hugh one night at the dinner table. Hilarity ensues, mostly particularly when he tries to convince him that no one has to know except the accountant. “God damn it,” he said. “You are going to marry me whether you like it or not.”

Sedaris read a few more selections over the evening, after telling us that he keeps track of what he reads in different places so as to not appear lazy if he read the same thing twice.

He also read a short excerpt from a book he suggested to the audience. He snuck in a bit of writing advice. When you read Hemingway, for instance, the short sentences might make you think, “That looks easy. Anyone can do that!” This drew a laugh from the well-read audience. It’s extemely hard to write that crisply. But, said Sedaris, “if you stick with it long enough, you can.” Simple advice, but sometimes that’s all someone needs to hear to get to it.

His last selection of the night was from his upcoming book, which is nothing but a smattering of diary entries, in no particular order. One story described his being kidnapped by an eccentric lady cab driver in Alaska – a self-described “libertarian” – who felt the need to drive him to a local Sears and force him to stand next to a life-size stuffed grizzly after he told her he had gone on a quest to find a bear and failed. Her point was to scare him out of ever wanting to meet a bear. Meanwhile, he wondered if he’d ever escape from this cab driver and make it to his flight.

Once in Greece, someone asked him what he thought of Donald Trump. He described Trump’s campaign for president as just another self-advertisement. After he said that he wouldn’t be surprised if Trump named the Hamburglar as his running mate, he realized he had to describe who the Hamburglar was to this Greek audience.

Lastly, he shared an experience in which a woman told him in a whisper that she worked for….shh…Comcast. It’s fitting that she would be careful not to speak that hated company’s name aloud, though it was interesting that when she – a white woman from Maine – told him how people will constantly call her names such as “nigger” over the phone, she didn’t feel it necessary to whisper that dreaded “n-word.”

I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect when I bought the tickets for this event. I figured it’d be more than a reading and a Q&A – and surely, it was. It’s more exciting than I imagined to watch a writer read his essay from a lectern to a seated crowd of a couple hundred listeners. It was no different than a performer with an acoustic guitar; we hung on to every chord change and perhaps we even sang along in our own little ways. And when the performance was over, the lights came on and we looked around, bewildered, for our coats.

We stepped into the freezing night and beat the traffic out of the little mountain town of Lebanon. I felt a satisfying tiredness as I raced home through the sleepy back roads of New Hampshire. Back to my own home and my own notebooks, waiting to be filled with my own stories. I can’t wait to write them all.