Monday, November 23, 2009

If It's on the Menu

Assuming there get to be more hours in the day, I’d like to take up crochet again, and work on a few essays and my novel, and set to work again on my reading list, amply revised since my fictional summer to better suit my taste for memoir. There’s only so long I can go without once again wondering what’s going on in the lives of people I know too much about to have never met. That in mind, I’d also like to make more of an effort to meet these individuals.

To kick off the month of November, I traveled north to Vancouver, B.C., to hear from one of my most beloved friends-I’ve-never-met, David Sedaris. Of course, I needed something for him to sign since I’d left my copy of Barrel Fever at home, so I stopped by my favorite used bookstore in town before hitting the road, purchasing—along with Sarah Vowell’s wry, her-storical spree, Assassination Vacation, because I have never learned to practice self-discipline—a fine copy of Naked, the only of Sedaris’s work I’ve yet to read. The only collection, that is, save for Holidays on Ice, which I own on audiobook, as read by David and his sister Amy Sedaris, and am waiting (endlessly, seemingly) until my long drive home for Christmas to enjoy.

That evening at Vancouver’s Centre only whetted my appetite for David’s devious storytelling. He’s the type of person who tries to write fables but, for their lack of moral fiber, must condescend to call them stories about animals. “I wanted to title the book Fables,” he said, referring to his forthcoming collection. “Now I’m thinking of calling it, Let’s Explore Diabetes with the Owl. Because,” he explained, “Let’s—it’s an invitation, you know?”

I spent an hour and a half waiting in line with my friends for David to sign our books because he’s personable in person, takes a little time to chat with everyone. He’s inviting, you know?

“What did you talk about in line?” I heard him ask the girls in front of us, whom my friends and I had spent the previous forty-five minutes criticizing for their hair and dress and diction. I’m not saying I’m proud of it, but I really hoped David would ask me the same question, that we might share—together, him and me—a notion of camaraderie at another’s expense. Instead, we talked about his visit to Western’s campus and the woman who, later, followed-up his reading there with a letter describing just how offensive and unfunny everyone thought he’d been.

“Now,” David leaned over the table he sat at, with a glint of familiarity in his eyes, “I was there.” His words were confidant but hardly self-absorbed. He shook his head knowingly. “And it had the same reaction as it always does,” which is to say, I’m funny. I know I’m funny because millions of people think I’m funny. Had I not been so head-over-tea-kettle about him, I’d have agreed. He returned my book to me with his signature and a doodle of “someone throwing up” on the title page, and I stepped aside, elated.

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November is a month during which people have a tendency to give me things, no strings attached. Some call this a birthday; I call it Novel-berfest, which is a misnomer, really, since I give preference to nonfiction. But, a name’s a name, and there’s no sense in changing the only-slightly-true. Now, added to the stack with Sedaris and Vowell are Elizabeth Emerson Hancock’s PK memoir Trespassers Will Be Baptized, Augusten Burroughs’s irreverent holiday essay collection You Better Not Cry, and, quite possibly paramount, Eating the Dinosaur, essays by neurotic pop-culture analyst Chuck Klosterman. Arguably Klosterman is neurotic and analytical about more than just pop-culture, but we’ll let that alone for now.

Eating the Dinosaur not only comes with the same Klosterman attention to detail (all of them, any detail he can put his fingers on, along with some he’ll spend pages trying to nail down), the same bevy of footnotes (the man knows how to footnote), and the seemingly-wildly-arbitrary-yet-oh-so-understandable-once-explained corollaries (such as the relationship between the Waco, TX disaster and Nirvana’s final studio release); but, this book also has its very own apocrypha, concerning its title, homophones, and one very prominent news anchor. Indeterminable hearsay at best, I still like to think that this book might have been published as Eating with Diane Sawyer. Although it begs the question, What would have become of the triceratops diagram of edible meat cuts on the cover? One can only imagine.

Whether Klosterman had any intent to implicate Sawyer in the title of his book is inconsequential to me. I take my books with a pillar of salt. Do I believe David Sedaris is actually as witty on-the-spot as to argue French diction with an American guest in non sequitur Japanese? Sure. Did any of Augusten Burroughs’s nightmare of a childhood happen as he is published to claim? I have no reason not to think so. Would I go on record saying all things Klosterman, Sedaris, Burroughs, Hancock, Vowell, and many, many others (myself included) write are categorically grounded in absolute fact? There’s not a chance in Waco, Diane. (Except maybe Vowell—I get the feeling she does her homework.) Just because an item's on the menu, doesn't mean I'm ordering it. But if you want (and I just assume you do) I'll go on and on about these things under my own shaded assumptions of veracity, because, let’s be honest, there’s no sense in changing the only-slightly-true.