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David Sedaris received a rockstar welcome to Houston last Saturday, June 16. A sold-out crowd, standing room only, packed into Brazos Bookstore to greet the beloved humorist, now on tour to promote his new book, Calypso, a compilation of essays—mostly centered around the author’s family beach house (“Sea Section”) on the North Carolina coast—just as funny and poignant as the rest of his repertoire, and his first new collection in five years.
Sedaris read aloud from his latest, clad in a handsome embroidered shirt he later revealed was made from a German tablecloth, pausing to sip a Topo Chico. Fans, aware of the fact that to hear this author read his own work is to experience it most authentically, filled every space of the room, propped up against bookcases and sales counters and, at Sedaris’ urging, in the author’s own chair at the signing table adjacent to the podium. More spilled out to the parking lot where the store broadcast the events happening just a few feet away. Some brought lawn chairs.
We heard “A House Divided,” the fifth essay in Calypso in which Sedaris and his siblings arrive for a stay at the Sea Section shortly after their youngest sister Tiffany’s suicide in 2013. On a walk along the beach, Sedaris learns that Tiffany’s death certificate lists her cause of death not as an overdose, as the family suspected, but asphyxiation. At 49, she died by suffocation with a plastic bag.
“When you're in the state that my sister was in, and that most people are in when they take their own lives, you're not thinking of anything beyond your own pain,” Sedaris writes. “Thus the plastic bag—the maximizer, as it were—the thing a person reaches for after their first attempt at an overdose fails and they wake up sick a day later thinking, I can't even kill myself right.”
The audience listened intently, as this was a somewhat new side of Sedaris—less uproarious, more intimate. He’s long let readers into his life, often interjected biting and misanthropic wit with poignant ruminations on the human condition, but these words—especially spoken by him, and especially eight days after Anthony Bourdain’s highly publicized suicide—seemed to settle on the crowd and remain there, even when the mood shifted back to “funny,” as it always did.
Sedaris also read from his diaries, including last May’s collection of entries from 1977 to 2002, Theft By Finding, and the forthcoming second volume, Carnival of Snackery, which covers 2003 to 2017.
Later, upon request, he summoned his off-hand impressions of Texas. His chosen metaphor: a hotel in Odessa, where a giant, imposing installation of the Ten Commandments contrasts with “the biggest queen in the world working at the front desk and a trans person in the coffee shop-slash-hair salon in the lobby,” he said to laughs. “That just sums up Texas, doesn’t it?”
He answered infinitely more questions over the course of the night, when a line snaked around the entire bookstore and crawled up to the signing table he’d since reclaimed. For hours, he joked with fans and autographed their books—he’s known for his witty, personal cover page inscriptions, which range from dirty jokes to hand-drawn Snoopy cartoons.
Mine? “To Abby: We meet again,” Sedaris recorded carefully in black Sharpie as I recalled our last encounter—10 years ago at another signing in Vermont, that time for When You Are Engulfed in Flames. “Young enchantress,” he added for good measure.
When he asked what brought me 2,000 miles south, I tried to tell him about my own writing, but he was obviously distracted—by the friend, standing next to me, who I’d dragged along and who always manages to steal the show.
Sedaris turned to him. “Can I just say something?”
“Yes,” the friend replied.
“I was in Nashville last night, and all the girls there were wearing Daisy Dukes.” His eyes shifted downward, to my male friend’s own exceptionally short denim garments. “And it is so refreshing to see a guy wearing them.”
“Yas!” squealed the friend—or something to that effect. “They’re too short, though.”
“Impossible,” Sedaris said. “You’re young, nothing can be too short. You wouldn’t call them hot pants, would you?”
“Booty shorts,” we corrected, which pleased the author.
My friend offered Sedaris one of his works to sign—Naked, which debuted merely two years after said friend was born—and showed him his other Brazos purchase, the recently Pulitzer-awarded Less by Andrew Sean Greer. Sedaris had emphatically recommended the novel, which follows a gay male protagonist who travels the world to avoid his ex-boyfriend’s wedding.
“I’m excited to read this because I’m gay, and I just feel like I don’t know much about being gay,” the friend admitted.
Sedaris glanced at the booty shorts. “I think you know more than you think you do,” he said.