Quick story about Dave.
In 2004 he releases a collection of short stories, Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, and goes on tour. He does a stop in Austin, and I decide to go. I’d been a fan of his since his first major collection of stories, Naked, became a sensation on the high-school speech-and-debate circuit (which is a hot endorsement if ever there was one).
Some people wait at the stage door to meet the lead singer of the Black Crowes. I go see humorists do book readings. Sedaris was my Beatles on Ed Sullivan. I arrive a good 90 minutes early. But after staking out a prime spot up front, about half-an-hour before Sedaris is supposed to appear, I get struck with a chord of sentimentality. I remembered that Fathers Day was next week, and Sedaris writes about his dad some (though his mom is the real star of his work).
And wouldn’t it be nice to pick up a second copy, get it signed, then mail it my dad? He likes to read, I think. And even if he doesn’t read it, he’ll like it, and I’ll be a Good Son.
So I tell my friend to defend my space on the floor, and I go downstairs to buy another book. But the line is so long, and the store getting so stuffed, they close off the second-floor staircase. In other words, I’m stuck downstairs, where they’ve set up speakers so that we 150 people can listen to the reading, and then be, naturally, at the butt-ass end of the book-signing line. I was bummed. The lady managing the staircase didn’t want to hear my pleading: But I was JUST up there. I came down here to buy another book. FROM YOUR STORE!
So I stand there. For about an hour. While this fantastic American writer. over some weak speakers set up in a hurry by the store, as Sedaris reads a story and answers a few question. Guess who didn’t get to ask a question because he was stuck downstairs, standing on his big fat feet and clutching this dumbass book for his ungrateful father?
But then this happens:
Sedaris finishes gives an A to the last Q, and the BookPeople representative jumps on the microphone to explain how the “signing portion of the evening will proceed.” As expected, I’m screwed. It could be two hours before I get to Sedaris, and by that point he’ll be over it. He won’t be amused when I hand him the book and ask him to sign it, “Andy Roxxx to the Maxxx” (which is what I actually planned to ask him, god help me).
After a couple of hours of autographing his latest book, David Sedaris will not, as the fantasy factory in my subconscious believed, ask me to join him on the remainder of his book tour. “A kid who thinks up something as clever as ‘Andy Roxxx to the Maxxx’ is someone special, somebody I wan to know, perhaps the heir to the Sedaris fortune!’
Point is, I’m feeling pretty lousy. But then I hear Sedaris’ voice—which sounds more nebbishy than I’d expected—and he says this: “I’m a smoker. It’s a terrible habit, I know. But I want to do something tonight. Because there are some many people here, and because smokers tend to get the shaft most of the time, I’d like to turn the tables. So I’d like to invite to the front of the line all of the smokers in the store. Smokers come forward. Make sure you show your pack of cigarettes, and you can right to the front.”
I was a smoker back then, a very self-conscious one. I hated being wedged into a large crowd of non-smoking Austin fitness freaks and knowing that I reeked of tobacco. But Sedaris made it OK. After all, his reading and conversation was superb, and he had the entire crowd, even those of us relegated to the audio-only lower floor, enraptured. Putty in his hands. So pulling my pack of Camels from my pocket seemed not only OK, but ceremonial. As if I’d pulled out a key to a private men’s club, Skull and Bones, that sort of thing. Only better, because it was a club that David Sedaris belonged to.
In an audience of about 300, only a dozen or so of us smokers came forward. So I was the third or fourth to step up to his table, grinning like a fanboy. Sedaris asked who the second book was for. My dad. And so then Sedaris wrote this in the copy for my father: “Your son, Andy, is a very polite-seeming person.”
And here’s what he drew in mine: