Theft by Finding

By David Sedaris (2017)

Having caught his act just before plague was upon us, TVC thought it a lucky ‘Rabbit Rabbit’ move to read his paean to serendipity, Theft by Finding. These are diaries kept by him (much winnowed; the originals comprise 8 million odd words, or 8 Clarissas) from 1977-2002 and as he so rightly argues in his introduction, diaries – proper diaries, the best diaries (Samuel Pepys, Anne Frank) – are written to find oneself, never with an eye to publication.

From his wastrel twenties to his successful mid-forties, his circumstances change but he hardly does, either in style or outlook, suggesting heavy edits of the early stuff. But the diaries (approached by us initially with dread, as with all diaries) are fascinating and compelling, deadpan funny in the most rough-and-tumble way.  A good review of the book in The Guardian was preceded by the following sub-title or watermark: “The humorist’s material includes drug addiction, crazy jobs, his eccentric family and homophobic abuse – but much is achingly funny” which seems to us a deliberately virtuous fudging, in that the drugs, squalor, insane relatives and aggressive sexual weirdness are all achingly funny.

We recommend a reading of this from go to whoa, and you see a life unfolding in a sort of real time, camouflaged but not blotted-out by a myriad distractions and situational cul-de-sacs. Or you can read it in a random fashion, like digging for truffles; it is a rich field. Some examples we hope suffice to demonstrate the point:

I’m in a seafood place drinking coffee. I need to get to Raleigh, but so far rides are sparse. I have a joint and $3. I remember being appalled when David Larson hitchhiked to North Carolina with $1 in his pocket, and now here I am. I started the day with a ceramic pig but abandoned it after it got to be a drag to carry.” (Dec. 1, 1977 West Virginia)

While listening to a country music station, we heard a talk/song narrated by our flag. “I flew proudly at Iwo Jima and on the blistering deserts of Kuwait, anywhere freedom is threatened, you will find me.” The flag recounted being torn into strips to bandage wounded soldiers and then it explained how it hurts to be burned and trampled by the very people it works so hard to protect. When given a voice, our flag is not someone you’d choose to spend a lot of time with.” (Oct. 28, 2002 New York)

The woman at the phone company addressed me as “Mrs Sedaris” until I couldn’t stand it anymore and corrected her. That always happens. They think I’m a woman – a woman named David.” (Jan. 13, 1982 Raleigh)

Harry Rowohlt, the fellow who translated my book into German and is reading with me on my tour, told me that when someone on the bus or at a nearby table in a restaurant talks on a cell phone, he likes to lean over and shout “Come back to bed, I’m freezing.”” (May 18, 1999 Cologne)

Last night I went crazy for marijuana. I was Jack Lemmon tearing up the greenhouse in Days of Wine and Roses. I looked for (and found) pot in the folds of album covers I had used to deseed long-ago ounces and quarters. I found some under the sofa cushions. Then I pulled out the couch and looked under the radiator. I turned the place inside out and got a little stoned but not much.” (Feb. 15, 1982 Raleigh)

Last night, after finishing the cabinets, I went to the little market around the corner for beer and found $45 on the floor in front of the checkout counter. I thought I’d dropped it, and by the time I discovered it wasn’t mine, I was back home. First thing today I went out and blew it. I bought: 1. two pounds of goat meat 2. more beer 3. Fires by Raymond Carver 4. the New York Review of Books 5. hardware 6. groceries 7. a magazine called Straight to Hell in which gay men recount true sexual experiences, many of them outdoors and in cars or under bridges” (Jan. 22, 1984 Chicago)

I’d never noticed that Ronnie had a mustache, but still it upset her. When she got home she told Blair, who said she’d probably feel better after a shower and a shave.” (July 4, 1988 Chicago)

I will never again drink at a party I am hosting. I will never again drink at a party I am hosting. I will never again drink at a party I am hosting.” (Jan, 15, 1989 Raleigh)

Walking down 8th Avenue, I fell in behind two muscled gym queens. When a a car alarm went off, one of them turned to the other, saying, “That’s the Puerto Rico national anthem.” “Really?” the other guy said. “That’s actually their anthem?”” (Sept. 4, 1992 New York)

Meanwhile, channel 13’s Nature special was devoted to cats. Hugh and I switched back and forth from musical to musical to the mother calico teaching her young to hunt. It’s a lesson that Dennis, our cat, apparently slept through.” (Feb. 10, 1998 New York)

The teacher threw a lot of chalk today, but none of it at me. We have a new student, a German au pair, and I wonder what she must think, watching people get yelled at and hit with things. Our last homework assignment was handed back, and though I’d technically made no mistakes, she still found fault with it. I’d written, for example, “You will complain all the time, day and night.” Her comment read, in angry red pen, “Pick one or the other. You don’t need both.”” (Sept. 14, 1998 Paris)

On the way to the bookstore I asked Frank, the escort, what he thought of my bow tie. He hesitated for a moment and then said, “A bow tie tells the world that the person wearing it can no longer get an erection.”” (June 13, 2001 San Francisco)

I think in Hungary they give a star for electricity, a star for heat, a star for running water, and so on. The fourth star signifies that the Astoria has cable TV. They boast forty channels, not mentioning that twenty-three of them broadcast the exact same programs. Our hotel is fronted in scaffolding, and our rooms offer a view of a mangy, narrow side street. The one thing they excel at here is stoking the furnace. It’s below zero outdoors, while inside our rooms we could roast chickens by leaving them on the nightstand. There’s a large group of French people at the hotel and I heard one woman saying she’s so heat-swollen that her rings no longer fit.” (Dec. 17, 2001 Budapest)

Little, Brown forwarded an envelope of mail, and I realized after reading it over that every single letter wanted something from me. The senders included: a college student writing an article on magazine readership. “I’m on deadline so email me as soon as you get this!”…an Indianapolis  human rights group wanting me to attend their rally. “Your agent says you haven’t got the time, but I suspect you do.”“(March 9, 2002 La Bagotière)

Dad has rented an apartment to Enrique, one of Paul’s employees, and Enrique’s mother…She’s in her early sixties and was recently hospitalized for depression…it’s hard to adjust when you have no friends and can’t speak the language. Dad decided that her problem was low self-esteem. Work would make her feel needed, so he hired her to scrape paint. It was only a two-hour job, a $16 opportunity, but after ten minutes he snatched the tool from her hands. “This is how you do it!” he yelled. “Like this.” When she failed to catch on, he screamed at her all the louder. “Oh, get off it. You know what I’m saying.” The episode left her more depressed than ever, which, Paul says, is the way it works with the Lou Sedaris Self-Esteem Program. “You’re a big fat zero is what you are, so here, scrape some paint.” A foreigner will learn the phrases “Can’t you do anything right?,” “Everything you touch turns to crap,” and “Are you kidding? I’m not paying you for that.”” (June 13, 2002 London)

Theft by finding

[And by the way, with the profoundest respect, the diarist is wrong: The Wire was overrated.]


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