Three Minutes with David Sedaris

I got a really nice Christmas present from my boys last year. They gave me two tickets to go and see David Sedaris at the National Concert Hall. The show was on last Wednesday night and Patricia and I had a day out in Dublin and went. It was a great night. I brought along a copy of his new book and he kindly signed it for me in a lovely three minute interaction.

I wouldn’t normally line up for a book signing but David Sedaris is different. He is different in several different ways. Here’s three of them to be going on with. First, he is brilliant. Funny, intelligent, sharp, honest, crude, occasionally perhaps a bit mean, and lovely. That’s only the first reason. Second, I feel he continues a lovely kind of writing that I discovered when I was surprisingly young. James Thurber meant a lot to me as a young reader. He was cool and funny and clever and engaging and I very much wanted to be like him when I grew up… but I never did so I never was.

And third (I’ve given this one its own paragraph because I think it deserves it) I had heard that David is really, really good at signing books and is worth meeting as part of that interaction. So I brought along my copy of his ‘Happy-Go-Lucky’ book and both Patricia and I resolved to join the signing queue after the show, even though we had a three-hour drive home.

We arrived at the National Concert Hall at about 6.45pm for the 7.30pm show, resolving to watch the people come in over a Diet Coke. There was a line of about thirty people in the centre of the foyer and a sign at the end asking people not to photograph or record. What a result, David was signing before his show as well as after. We passed up on the Cokes and the people-watching and hopped in at the end of the line. Two girls got in behind us and we chatted about the man and the books as we advanced up the line to the man at the desk at the end.

We advanced… slowly.

I had heard that David was a signer who was generous with his time and interested in fun and interaction but the amount of time he took over each person was astonishing. On his desk beside him he had a vast array of coloured Pentel markers spread out and, as he chatted, he painstakingly drew and coloured-in little illustrations on each and every book title page. That’s my one up the top. I got red and green balloons, which are the Mayo Colours so that’s cool.

Let me very briefly dial back one hour in the evening. Back to the moment when the server asked me if I’d like a coffee and I said yes, please, an Americano then, tapping her on the shoulder (‘cos I was sitting at the counter and she was, like, just, right there) I asked if I could change that to an Espresso.

Fast forward again and Trish and me are advancing in the queue, just ever-so-slowly and it’s 7.20pm and David Sedaris is due on stage in ten minutes. The PA system is announcing that the doors are closing and late comers will not be admitted. And still David doodles and signs and chats at his own smiling pace.

That espresso has kicked in and my heart is beating quite a bit faster than usual. Apart from the obvious caffeine one, there are two reasons for this, both not unrelated, and neither of them is excitement at meeting this writer who I admire a lot. The first one is that I feel sure that we will now get to within one person of having our little book signed and David’s minder will drop an arm and say, “Sorry, that’s it for now. Come back after the show.” Because I’ve seen how slow the line is and I know I can’t come back after the show and take a couple of hours and then drive another three hours home. It wouldn’t be fair on Trish and it wouldn’t be too nice for me either. So, this is it. It’s now or never and, although getting the book signed and meeting the man is not a critical thing for me, the dropping of that arm will set a tone for the rest of the evening and I’m anxious that this is about to happen. 

Plus, the coffee.

Again, I’m giving the second reason its own paragraph because I think it deserves it. It’s nearly the same as the first reason except it’s about the two lovely girls behind us in the queue. Suppose I get to have my book signed and to say hello. It will be 7.35pm by then. The likelihood must then be great that the minder's arm will drop and the ladies behind will not get their books signed, and they are very keen. This, for me, is a far worse scenario than the one set out in reason one above.

We reach the top of the queue. Bumpity-bumpity-bump goes my espresso-ed heart. I try my best winning-smile at the minder, which probably makes me look like an axe-murderer. Don’t’ drop that arm, Mister, just don’t.

And then we’re at the desk and there’s David. It’s a rather extraordinary thing. He looks up and seems to ‘see’ us, Trish and Me. One can almost see his mind working. How do I approach this next interaction? What do I give? How can somebody give so much of his energy to every single person in the book signing line? He famously signs for hours, chatting, drawing and exchanging jokes which he then recounts in his readings.

I won’t go though the entire exchange that we had with him. It was lovely. I was pleased to be in the same space for a few moments with someone whose work I admire so much. We chatted about some things, including Ulysses, but that’s for another day.

But here’s a sense of the first part of our interaction (not verbatim)

Ken – (caffeined-up to the eyeballs) – Do one thing for me, David.

David – What’s that?

Ken – Don’t go without signing for the ladies behind me in the queue.

David – Really? Why not?

Ken – Because… they’re just... lovely!

David –  (Conspiratorially) Oh, they're lovely, are they?

Ken – Yes, lovely.

Patricia – With his wife standing beside him.

David – Perhaps he means ‘lovely in spirit.’

Ken – That’s what I mean, ‘lovely in spirit.’

David – Okay then.

We went on to other things from there but I'll hold on to them for myself, if that's okay.

As we left the show, the book signing queue was already enormous. People snaking out the front doors of the National Concert Hall and across the front area, all with their books expectantly in hand. I don’t know what time David finished signing at but I’d say we were almost back across the Shannon before he finally packed up his Pentels.

So thanks to my boys for a lovely Christmas present and a lovely day out in Dublin with Patricia. And thanks to David for being his warm, funny, touching self, both on stage and in person.

It was a good day.


Roberta Beary said...

What lovely writing! You rocked it, Ken. I'm sure DS feels the same.

Ken Armstrong said...

Thanks Roberta. He was really lovely, but I'm sure he doesn't. :)

Marc Paterson said...

These moments in life are unforgettable aren't they? I'll tell you two of mine. Firstly, watching Sir Ian McKellan on stage in a tiny converted church theatre in King's Lynn. His voice is incredible by the way. I was front row with my wife and he called me forward to read an inscription in a book his parents bought him to the whole audience. After the show I got to shake his hand (along with at least 150 others). His hand dwarfed my own.

The other is my daughter meeting the actor, Chris Rankin (from Harry Potter). She and my wife learned that he was from my home town in Norfolk, and that he had also lived in the village we currently resided in. I immediately texted my brother to share this and he replied, "oh yeah, I remember Chris, he was in the year below me".

Jim Murdoch said...

I don’t have many signed copies of books. I have a few people have sent me, online friends, but I can only think of one where I queued to get my book signed and that was Jeanette Winterson. I should’ve got William McIlvanney so sign my copy of Laidlaw back in 1979 when he came to East Kilbride Library but I didn’t know that was a thing back then. I was just pleased to have my three or four minutes with him before I was unceremoniously (and, as I recall, rudely) shooed away by one of the organisers. We’d met before when he was still teaching and he remembered me which was nice. I had the audacity to chide him for giving up on the poetry to write novels but he took it on the chin. Nice bloke. He’s up there with Jeanette Winterson, two authors who could talk about what they had for lunch and hold my interest.

Jeanette signed my copy of Lighthousekeeping which is the only book of hers I’ve completed apart from Oranges are Not the Only Fruit. Carrie has all her books and has read them all apart from the latest which is non-fiction but she’ll get round to it. What I love about Jeanette is no matter what I read by her—even if it’s just a page or two—it makes me want to write. She is—and I said this to her during our maybe ninety seconds together (much to her embarrassment)—one of the most articulate people I’ve ever met. There are a lot of people who’re interesting to listen to—the likes of Peter Ustinov or Kenneth Williams jump to mind—but I’ve always admired Jeanette’s choice of words, the best words in the best order; surprises the hell out of me she never dabbled more in poetry because she is a devotee.

Sedaris, I don’t know. I watched an interview with him and he seems a likeable enough chap, down-to-earth. I’d say I’d read him but I haven’t read a book in the last year and there’re SO MANY I want to read but I can’t seem to find the space—physical and mental—to pick up even the ones I’m desperate to read. Hopefully it will pass especially now the onslaught of poems appears to have finished.