5.12.2006

In the Green Room with David Sedaris

We all have our fantasies. Ever since the first time I saw David Sedaris read live, I’ve mentally placed myself in a room with him, talking, laughing, journeying over our common territory. Common territory? This would be the first tip off that it’s a fantasy. He’s gay and lives in Paris, was raised in North Carolina, and is an extraordinarily successful published writer. I’m a single mom living in Venice, California, a refugee from the film business, struggling daily to tap out my emerging voice on my very loyal laptop keyboard. Let’s see, the overlap resides exactly where? Ah, but since truth is stranger than fiction, lucky me was given a chance to explore my delusion.

Recently I found myself standing alongside my son in the crowded lobby of Royce Hall at UCLA, one of my regular cultural destinations. We’d come to see David Sedaris on his annual trek to LA, a journey I’ve made the past five years, always amidst a sold out crowd. Each year I invite a friend or a date to occupy the seat beside me, but now that my son has turned twelve and has heard David Sedaris on NPR, he asked to come along.

As we stood waiting for the auditorium doors to open, I surveyed the faces of the arriving guests, and turned to my son. “You may get the prize for being the youngest one here tonight.”

“Yeah? What’s my prize gonna be?” he asked. Before I could answer him, I saw David Sedaris charging towards us, a woman with a walkie-talkie by his side. My son had no idea who this man approaching was, though I was all too familiar with the face.

“Perfect,” I heard David say to the woman beside him. “You!” David said, pointing to my son. “How old are you?”

“Twelve,” he answered.

“Perfect,” David replied. “Would you like to introduce me on stage tonight?” A moment’s hesitation hung in the air. I wasn’t sure how my previously shy son would reply.

“Sure,” he said nonchalantly.

David then reached into his wallet, pulled out a ten, and handed it to my son. “Your stage pay,” he said. I stood dumbfounded, as the only thought forming in my head was, “Good thing I invited my son tonight.” Yes, I’m not above admitting my leap to personal gain.

My son was calm, but I felt as if I’d stepped into the Twilight Zone as we passed through doors unlocked just for us, weaving through corridors off limits to the public. Having been raised in the land of celebrities, I’ve never been star-struck, but I’ve been a David Sedaris fan for years. His dry wit, his odd topics, his irreverence, it all worked for me. Countless times I’ve attempted to recount his tales to friends and have raved about his live readings to anyone who would listen. I’d encouraged my mom to attend this appearance, and I knew she’d be entering the auditorium around this time, scanning the crowd, wondering where her daughter and grandson were.

But we were beyond the range of her eyes, backstage in the Green Room with David Sedaris who was telling my son that he could say whatever he wanted in the introduction, that he couldn’t fail no matter what he did.

“If you trip and fall when you walk on stage, that’ll be fine,” he said. David then excused himself to go outside to have a cigarette. As he headed for the door, I boldly opened my mouth.

“I loved how last year you said smokers got to go to the head of the line for the book signing. It was hysterical.”

“I got in trouble for that,” David replied. “But only here. A man filed a lawsuit saying he was discriminated against on California State property.”

I couldn’t believe it. A David Sedaris fan filing suit over such a thing? How humorless. With David off smoking, my son turned to a UCLA employee and asked how many people Royce held.

“Eighteen hundred,” the student employee replied. My son didn’t flinch. David rejoined us, taking his place in a plush green armchair, sifting through a satchel he pulled from the ground.

“Since we always start late, when people leave in the middle of the Q and A, I tell myself that they have to get home to their babysitters,” David revealed. “When they leave mid-show, I tell myself that they’re doctors on call.” Then he smiled. Kind of.

Cool. David Sedaris had shared his coping secrets with us. But I remained silent, slightly on edge. I was there as a parental chaperone, invited, but not necessarily desired, so I self-consciously kept small talk to a minimum and restrained any desire to gush. After all, my son and I were two of the thousands of people who had passed through this famous writer’s life. To pretend that our half hour together held any grand significance for David would be ridiculous. To try to prompt a real conversation, as he was about to climb onstage before a couple thousand fans, seemed insensitive.

“Where do you live?” David asked, his eyes addressing my son.

“Venice.”

“I thought only criminals and drug dealers lived there,” he offered.

“Sshh. He doesn’t know yet,” I jumped in. But my attempt at banter hit the ground before traveling the four-foot gap between us. David explained that he’s never actually been to Venice, and in one of the lamest attempts a fan has ever blurted out, I told him the next time he came to town, he should come by. I even dug out a business card and handed it to him, desperate to cling to my fantasy of a budding friendship. As he stuffed my card into his wallet, I flashed forward and pictured him casually discarding it into his hotel trashcan, my identifying information floating through the air like a movie-moment feather, only to land upon some soiled tissues. Before I became too deflated by the image, I congratulated myself on my courage. What the hell. It’s good practice to take such chances.

David offered my son cookies from the tray that sat before him, but my son politely declined.

“Have you had dinner?” David asked.

“No,” my son replied.

“Will you after the show?”

“No.”

Suddenly I felt like a woman destined to be turned into child welfare. “Wait!” I spoke up with a bit too much enthusiasm. “Tell him you came straight from karate class.”

“Karate?” David looked up from his satchel straight past me to my son. “You could do some karate moves on stage.”


Show time. They ushered me into the audience, and my son onto the stage. He climbed upon a box behind the podium, introduced himself, and welcomed the audience to UCLA. He asked people to turn off cell phones and pagers and anything that beeped, and explained that audio recordings were forbidden. My son was a pro with his casual twelve-year-old rocker stance, hair down to his shoulders, a Pink Floyd t-shirt hanging on his frame, his skater jeans slung low.

“Oh, and I want to say hi to my Grandma Pat who’s here and didn’t know I’d be doing this. Hi, Grandma Pat.” He gave a little wave. I could actually isolate my mom’s laugh from the others inside the packed auditorium.

“And now, we’re about to see a great man, a really funny writer.” My son swung both of his arms towards the wings like Vanna White. “David Sedaris,” and the writer emerged to shake my son’s hand.

My son was brought into the auditorium, eyes following him as he took his seat beside me while David read his first story. I felt as if I were sitting next to a star. Midway through the evening, David thanked my son, emphasizing that most people fear public speaking of any kind, but that this twelve-year-old accepted the challenge happily.

After the show, my son walked from the theater a newly anointed celebrity, people approaching and complimenting him on his on stage ease. He appeared to grow taller with the attention, and I glowed with parental pride. We went to find David to say good-bye, as my son wanted to introduce his grandmother. The woman with the walkie-talkie saw us approaching the book signing area, and ushered us past ropes restraining awaiting fans, to an outdoor area where David was standing having his post show cigarette amongst friends. A thank you, a quick introduction, and two handshakes later, we were on our way.

And like that, it was over. Our encounter with David Sedaris. I want to believe it won’t be the last. I want to cling to my carefully crafted fantasy that included a discussion about writing, but part of me feels as if you only get one shot, and that this might have been mine. But the other part of me believes that there’s more to come, that one day he and I will recall this evening with laughter. That’s the beautiful thing about fantasies, you can write them however you like.

7 comments:

WatZee said...

I am also a huge David Sedaris fan. I am impressed by your restraint not to gush. I do expect him to call and invite himself over to dinner, please let me know and I'll fly in.

erised said...

Applause to those who show up and answer YES to what the Universe proposes. You two are the real celebrities.... can I have your autograph?

Anonymous said...

you should send this to npr. i bet they would have you read it... it is great. liked the pic by lil ole me article and tourettes woman made me laugh aloud. go dz! follow the cookie!

ecm said...

I LOVE David Sedaris! This is a fantastic story. What a brave move for your son. Thanks for sharing.

blacklightblue said...

I'm gonna' blogroll you just for having met him in person. And cuz I like the voice that I'm feeling on your posts.

You met David Sedaris?? Holy crap! He has saved my sanity on more than one occasion. Your one lucky momma...

meredithwinn said...

great story! great memory. i love david sedaris. that would have been a highlight of my life i'd say. you tell it so well.

Chris said...

I can understand why you have this listed among your favorites. While the story itself is fantastic, the words you find to illustrate it for us, to bring it alive, are extraordinary. The sense of immediacy, the palpable sense of nerves and bravado for you and your son, all of those are things that most people can relate to in some fashion. You help bring it alive for those of us who forget the immediacy of the thing.