David Sedaris came to Memphis yesterday to tout his latest, Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk, A Modest Bestiary. It's a collection of fables, populated by talking animals. But you would know that already if you knew what a bestiary was.
Mr. Sedaris did a reading from the book and commented on the work. He is a marvelous reader, inflection and tone being the key to humor. My favorite part was the readings he did from his diary. Most were jokes people told him. Delicious tidbits like how his partner, Hugh, loves to meet new people. They've recently bought a new home in England and Hugh has made great sport of meeting every person in the entire British countryside. David said he, however, had been known to close the door if he saw one of his neighbors coming and hide until they left. How ironic is it that someone who hides from the people next door wants to spend hours chitchatting with complete strangers?
Hud and I waited five and a half hours for our turn at bat. He did not disappoint. Giving him a copy for our friend's son, JP, he inscribed, "I am steaming that I didn't get to meet you." He then retrieved a large bag and fizzled around. Pulling out a comb from the Ritz Carlton in New York, he penned, "For JP, in case of emergencies. David Sedaris"
I was enchanted. I told him, "I had a grandmother you would have adored. She was horrible." We were leaving and Hud asked if I were going to tell him a grandmother Becky story. I replied that other people were waiting. David pulled out a Zip Loc bag containing peanuts in the shell, pale yellow yarn and a handwritten note reading, "SQUIRREL". Extracting a peanut, he reared back in his chair and drawled, "I have a minute..."
I took a deep breath.
When Hud and I had first started dating, my grandfather EW had to be hospitalized. Hud drove me down. It was late when we arrived and my parents insisted that Hud stay the night. They gave up their room at my grandparents home to him, staying at my mother's family home across town. I slept in the den.
In the morning, I awakened and made coffee. My parents showed up. My mother started making breakfast. Becky awoke, proceeded to the bathroom and started a shower. The house was built like a t-bone. The kitchen and living room were the center of the home. My grandparent's room, bath and guest room were perpendicular to them. The bath was in between the master and guest rooms. Hud got up and came into the kitchen. We heard the shower turn off. My mother asked Hud if it were alright for her to get something out of the bedroom she had left behind. She opened the door. I remembered that I had to ask her something, so I followed her. As my foot hit the hallway, the bathroom door flung open. There stood my wet, wrinkly grandmother, in her best showgirl pose, arm high in the air singing, "IIIIII"MMMMM NAAAAA-KED!"
Stunned, I squealed, "YES YOU ARE! AND YOU"RE BALD, TOO!" I jumped into the bedroom, slamming the door behind me. "What in the hell was that?" asked my mother. "Something I am going to be in therapy a long time for..." I sighed.
The show wasn't meant for me. Her intention was to give Hud an eyeful of her, um, exquisite beauty.
Now, you have to understand, that in her day, Rebecca was a handsome woman. It was something she never quite got over. Not even when her hair fell out did she doubt her sex appeal. No man could come near her that she did not completely believe wanted to jump her bones.
To get the full picture, my grandmother was in her late seventies at the time, bald, sagging and droopy as gravity is wont to do to you in time. She wore a wig to cover the baldness. The only tweak I would have suggested, had I any empathy for her, would have been to tell her to lighten up on the hairline of her wig. She pulled it down to her eyebrows like a baseball cap, exposing four inches of bald skull in the back.
And her lipstick. Oh, her lipstick. Remember in the forties when it was fashionable to draw in your lip line to resemble a heart shaped mouth? She did that. Only the peaks of the heart reached clear up to her nostrils.
"Oh, she sounds delightful," he laughed.
If you get the chance, the charming David Sedaris is extremely generous with his time. The wait is long, but worth every minute.