I’m arguing with David Sedaris over ownership of a small bottle of ketchup and things are starting to go the way of rotten, airborne tomatoes. “I wouldn’t have given it to you unless it was your birthday,” he tells me, punctuating his statement with a heaping gulp of what looks and smells like seafood pasta, thankfully rendered temporarily unable to form his next biting sentence.
It’s Saturday night and I’m at the small table they have set up for him in the lobby of the Congress Theater after his reading in downtown Chicago, whilst the author unabashedly wolfs down another forkful of late night dinner. Very late, in fact, now as Saturday night morphs into Sunday morning. The reason is the long, snaking line of fans behind me, all clutching copies of Sedaris’ books like Naked and Dress Your Family In Corduroy and Denim, all who want more than his illegible signature on the title page of their books. What they want with the funny, famous writer is their moment. The moment that is currently mine to take.
We come to terms over the tiny, hotel refrigerator bottle of Heinz 57 that he gave to me at an Arizona bookstore ten years prior, back during his Me Talk Pretty One Day tour. HE says it must have been a special celebratory occasion, to be gifted with such a fine curios as said ketchup. I say that I simply raised my hand, albeit with Arnold Horshack enthusiasm.
Regardless, I’ve kept the small bottle for years, a silly treasured heirloom, and so am pleased to add to my David Sedaris Oddities Collection one of the Chinese postcards that are part of his current giveaway. Slipping the antiquated photo of a Pekingese dog skull into my signed copy of his latest book Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk, I notice he’s scrawled “To Paul: So we Meet Again… Warlock”
This throws me, a hiccup in time, as all falls away and I’m left wondering at Sedaris’ intuitive powers at a new level, given that I AM a real Warlock. For a moment I fear that a psychic X-Men style clash is about to ensue, one that would surely destroy the theater as well as a large percentage of his innocent fans, lined up like cord wood. But the moment passes, when the side-splitting craccck! of one of Sedaris’ shellfish brings me suddenly back. Rather than engage him in a psychic wrestling match that will leave us both drained for days, I decide to let Sedaris down a little easier, asking him instead about writing, and in particular his practice of hand copying beautiful passages from literature. “Just to feel the rhythm of stringing together that particular set of words?” I ask. “It can help your writing,” he says. “As can writing everyday. And on weekends… and not taking Holidays off. I know it all sounds like a lot of work, but that’s it. Oh, and read everything you can get your hands on.”
I thank him, leaving him with something I think is semi-ominous sounding and emphatic, like, “Surely our paths will cross once more,” something two secret Warlocks might exchange with a wink and a nod. On the way out, I think about finding an opening on a spiritual blog for a dirty little birdy like David Sedaris, quickly deciding that an observer of the human condition with his powers deserves a spot. I consider the courage it takes to laugh at the darkness, and decide there’s no one darker and funnier and maybe more courageous than David Sedaris. Then I contemplate the writer’s ability to take the complex, the conflicted and the insane and make people feel good about them. Finally, the spiritual teacher comes to mind who once told me that “When the going gets tough… the tough laugh.” When I reach home, I notice a bright pink ridge of light edging the black eastern horizon.