Thursday, June 23, 2005

DAVID SEDARIS -- reluctant gay role model




By Daniel A. Kusner
Last week, while staying at a friend’s house in San Francisco, autobiographical essayist David Sedaris thinks for a moment about gay pride season and what it means to him.
“When I was in my 20s, I used to live in San Francisco. And that year, I went to a parade,” he remembers. “When you live in a big city where everyone is gay, it’s nothing to march down the street with your shirt off or ride on the back of some float that’s pumping horrible music. That’s just another day on the town.”
While queer festivals in urban meccas often preach to the choir, Sedaris says he’s not entirely disillusioned by gay pride.
“I was selling books in Kansas. And I met this kid who was 16 and really awkward looking,” Sedaris says. “I hate to use the word ‘come out,’ but that’s what he had just done. He just announced himself as a homosexual in this teeny town in Kansas where he lived. And to me, that’s extraordinary.”
Sedaris’ own coming out was less extraordinary — almost unspoken. He was a 22-year-old pothead, a Joni Mitchell fanatic and a college dropout who was living in his parent’s house in Raleigh, N.C. Then suddenly, his dad kicked him out.
“I thought he was throwing me out because of the drugs,” Sedaris says.
Nope. David was getting the boot because he was gay.
“But it wasn’t like I ever said to him, ‘Okay, I’m a homosexual,’ and he said, ‘Get out of my house.’ He just said ‘Get out,’” Sedaris remembers.
David never moved back in again. “But I was back at the house for dinner either the next day or the day after,” Sedaris says. “My dad can get mad about stuff, but then it’s all forgotten.”
Actually, that memory resonated. He wove it into “A Million Bubbles,” a gorgeous essay in his latest book, “Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim.”


On Saturday, Sedaris visits Dallas to attend a book signing/reading to promote the paperback release of “Corduroy and Denim” (Little Brown, $14.95).
His career is almost entirely built around tales about the Sedaris family. And readers have come to know the Sedaris clan. He often refers to his sister Amy, a well-known actress (“Strangers with Candy,” “Sex and the City”).
“Amy has a lot of young friends, which is a good idea because they keep you informed. I don’t know what any music sounds like — I have no idea when people talk about a band,” he says. “I have a computer. But I’ve never seen the Internet or e-mail. I just use it as a typewriter.”
However, Paul Sedaris is the superstar of the family. Paul is David’s always-clowning Southern-fried brother who runs a successful floor-sanding business.
As the foul-mouthed optimist, Paul (a.k.a. The Rooster and Silly P) leaped off the page in “You Can’t Kill the Rooster,” one of David’s most popular works. Paul is now cashing in on his stardom. He has two Web sites: SedarisHardwoodFloors.com, for his flooring business, and YouCantKilltheRooster.com, which sells barbecue sauce, aprons and baseball hats that are emblazoned with his now-famous nickname.
“I’ve never seen his Web sites, but I’d love to,” David says.
Another family member has been utilizing the Internet, too. His youngest sister, Tiffany, was immortalized in the “Corduroy and Denim” essay “Put a Lid on It.”
She spent some time in a juvenile detention facility, tried to become a gourmet cook but now scavenges through trash to sell or trade found treasures. The essay is bittersweet — ending with neat-freak David trying to bridge an emotional distance by literally rolling up his sleeves and scrubbing Tiffany’s squalid wine-stained floor.
But last year, Tiffany auctioned off a coffee date on E-bay to tell her side of the story.
“Years ago, she said I could never write about her. Then she called me up and said, ‘Everybody thinks you don’t like me. You have to write a story about me.’ And so I did,” Sedaris recalls.
He sent the essay to Tiffany — twice, both times asking if there was anything that she wanted him to change.
“She said no — that she loved it. But then the book came out, and then she freaked out. I don’t know what’s going on with her,” Sedaris says. “I think she saw this perfectly good outrage going to waste. No one in my family was outraged at all. But then ‘Wham!’ when the book came out, she just changed.”
He says any stories about Tiffany are now officially off-limits.
In the humor non-fiction trade, Sedaris’ profile is stratospheric. And his books are like literary cocaine — readers can’t get enough, often devouring new releases in one sitting and feeling a crash when they reach the end because they didn’t make it last longer.
His Dallas stop is part of the second leg of the “Corduroy and Denim” promotional tour, which is also taking him to Australia, Germany, England, Spain and Italy. And in between the legs, he finished a 30-city lecture tour.
“So I’m reading new things, because I’m tired of the book — stuff that I’ve written since it came out,” which was June 2004, Sedaris says. “And some fiction — just some stories.”
Sedaris is quite the self-deprecator, a shtick he’s been honing forever.
“I’m completely incapable of promoting myself. I could give you plenty of reasons why people shouldn’t come [to the Dallas book-signing]. I honestly can’t give you one reason why people should, unless they want to spend six hours in a really hot room just to get a book signed,” he says.
He doesn’t read for six hours — that’s how long people usually stand in line at his author events.
“I’m always convinced that nobody is going to show up,” he says.
Has that ever happened?
“Twice,” he says. “The first two times I went to Los Angeles, there were five people in the audience. But I was just in L.A. for two days and it went well this time.”
Sedaris at Borders, 10720 Preston Road. Suite 1018. June 18 at 7 p.m. 214-363-1977.

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