Speaking with David Sedaris over coffee, I off-handedly describe myself as a bachelor. "That's odd," he remarks. "Most people would say they were single." I shrug. He jots something down in his little green notebook. Is this guy a psychiatrist?
No, this guy is a writer – one of the best, actually. A critic once wrote of him that there are two types of readers: "Those who love David Sedaris and those who haven't read him yet."
There's another type: Those who haven't met him.
Sitting in a hotel restaurant, Sedaris attempts to pour milk into his coffee, but the container is empty. "Story of my life," he says with a laugh. But that is not his story at all. You would know that if you had read the humorist's new book, Theft by Finding, a charismatic collection of his diary entries from 1977 to 2002.
The title refers to the source material for his autobiographical essays – not one to come up empty ever, he finds nuggets everywhere. An eavesdropped conversation at his beloved International House of Pancakes. A bumper sticker. A phone call with his father. An interview with a journalist.
He has his little notebook out again – what is he writing?!
Reading Theft by Finding, one is struck by how often Sedaris finds money on the ground. He chalks it up to a couple of things. "I'm the only one not looking at a little screen as I walk," he says. "I have a telephone, but I have no relationship with it. I think I've sent two text messages."
Is that the secret – being a Luddite?
"Well, also, I lived in France," he says. "And you need to look on the sidewalks there, lest you step in shit. So, I'm trained to look down. That's where the money is."
Sedaris is a curious little fellow. A sparkling 60-year-old, he smiles and is inquisitive, and of course he has a wicked sense of humour. Yes, that's a pink carnation in his rumpled, pinstriped sports jacket. He reminds me of the actor Hank Azaria. He's a bit of a dandy, with an adorable chipmunk voice which listeners of NPR or BBC Radio 4 – the onetime North Carolinian now lives with his long-time boyfriend in West Sussex, England – would recognize.
In his diary entry for Feb. 16, 1988, Sedaris wrote up a list of 10 Reasons to Live. No. 9 was to outlive his enemies. How's that going?
"You know, when I read that diary entry over I couldn't remember any of my enemies," he says. "They couldn't have been very serious ones."
No. 10 of his reasons to live involved being interviewed by Terry Gross on NPR's Fresh Air. That happened, and there has been much, much more.
"My life," he says, clanking his coffee cup into its saucer, "has gone exactly as I hoped it would."
Did Sedaris envision all this? The books? The New Yorker essays? The being interviewed by bachelor journalists?
"I envisioned it, and I embroidered it," he answers. "I focused on it exclusively."
But didn't you go to art school in Chicago? Did you always want to be a writer?
"Ever since I was a kid," Sedaris explains. "It was more vague then, but I wanted attention. I wanted to be somebody."
Sedaris's diary entries are just as his readers would imagine them: oddball, poignant, hilarious and full of his excellent, didn't-see-that-coming sentences. The items are arranged chronologically, which makes for fascinating juxtapositions, sometimes under the same date – such as his note from June 13, 1979, written in Raleigh, N.C:
I was walking home when someone in a passing car leaned out the window and spat right in the center of my face.
I am reading The World According to Garp.
That date, June 13, happens to be my birthday. Before I can tell Sedaris how old I would have been in 1979, he stops me to write down his estimate of my age.
When I say I'm 53, almost 54, Sedaris turns the notebook around to reveal his circled guess: 47. "I'm pretty good at this," he says. "It's my thing. You should take it as a compliment."
I do. And I'm feeling pretty good about myself, until Sedaris adds a zinger.
"Fifty-three, eh? Yeah, well, I guess you really are a bachelor, then."
Very funny. One for the notebook.