got back from a business trip to Orlando, Florida. While there,
I attended a conference sponsored by a software vendor for the colleges
and universities they serve. It was an interesting trip, full of
the kind of ironies that are inevitable when people gather to talk
business, particularly the business of higher education, in Walt
Disneys imaginary world. There were university administrators
from across America and beyond, all on a quest for that one missing
piece that would drive the gremlins from their systems and their
lives. And there were the techies, like me, who never harbored fantasies
about finding that missing piece but were known to believe in gremlins
There were hotels
with outdoor stairways sheltered by giant football helmets and sports-themed
wallpaper in the rooms. There were birds whose songs were not familiar
and franchised night clubs whose facades were. And there was Mickey.
And Mickey was everywhere.
By the time
this thing is over, Im going to be really sick of Disney tunes,
I said to Jill, a colleague and friend.
She laughed. But
in the end, I was right.
Disney tunes. College
administrators. Computer geeks. Palm readers. Adults dressed up
as Mickey, Pluto, Cinderella and Snow White. And consultants by
the planeload. It was all a heady mix.
And into that mix
was thrown my reading for the flight to Orlando, Me Talk Pretty
by David Sedaris. It seemed appropriate somehow. After
spending a few hours with Sedaris and his particular view of the
world, contradictions seemed to make sense. By the time I set foot
on Disney soil, I expected the world to be full of them. It was
a small world, after all. I was ready.
David Sedaris came
to prominence a few years ago with his commentaries for This
on National Public Radio. His Santaland Diaries
have become an annual Christmas tradition at NPR. Through these
spots, and his books Holidays on Ice, Barrel Fever
he has won over many listeners and readers with his wit, intelligence
and satirical take on human nature.
Talk Pretty One Day
is a collection of essays, when taken as
a whole, it can serve as a sort of autobiography. The book begins
with stories from the authors childhood, continues through
his college years, his time spent teaching at the Art Institute
of Chicago and his experiences while living in New York and Paris.
Along the way, there is a wide and varied cast of characters and
a range of funny situations. And all along the way, there is great
irony and unsparing satire, both of society and of himself.
Dreams, Midget Abilities, a young David Sedaris is forced
by his father, an avid jazz buff, to take guitar lessons from a
midget named Mr. Mancini.
I had regularly petitioned for a brand-name vacuum cleaner,
writes Mr. Sedaris, Id never said anything about wanting
It is interesting
that the instrument of the authors torment and his fathers
pride is the dream instrument of many young people and a thorn in
the side of many parents. But beyond that, the relationship between
the young Mr. Sedaris and his guitar teacher is a fascinating one.
In looking back on the event, the author views his guitar teacher
with a very odd mixture of disdain and empathy. The disdain is to
be expected, being the natural result of a child forced to learn
a musical instrument.
But, in retrospect,
Mr. Sedaris also understands that Mr. Mancini is an outsider because
of his size. Mr. Sedaris also views himself as an outsider and something
of a rebel. In so doing, he finds common ground with this man.
Moments in the Life of an Artist, Mr. Sedaris looks back on
his years as an art student. He eventually turns to performance
art and his memories of that time are superb satires of the notion
of the artists life as art itself.
Leap Forward covers the authors post-college salad days
in New York. He finds contrasts in New York between the privileged
and the poor and between dreams and reality. And he views the rich
in New York with a sense of self-deprecating irony.
watch a white-haired man slipping out of his back brace and ask
myself what he had done to deserve such a privileged life,
Mr. Sedaris writes. Had I been able to swap places with him,
I would have done so immediately.
Many of the essays
describe Mr. Sedaris experiences while living in France. Much
of the humor in these essays comes from the expected clash of cultures
that an American in France might face. But, as the title of the
collection suggests, much of the humor comes from language and the
strangeness of learning a new language.
In Me Talk
Pretty One Day, Mr. Sedaris recalls the French classes he
attended with students from all over the world. David Sedaris finds
particular delight in translating the fractured French spoken by
him and others into equally fractured English, making for an interesting
But Me Talk
Pretty One Day
is more than an interesting reading experience.
Mr. Sedaris has a way of making fun of society without placing himself
above others. We can believe him, and laugh with him, because some
of his keenist satire is directed at himself. Some of the pieces
here become funnier on a second reading, which is a very rare thing.
But I only read
them once on the flight back from Orlando. Mr. Sedaris journey
ended about the same time as mine. I closed his book just as we
were beginning our landing approach to OHare.
said Jill, sitting next to me, Theres somebody out on
gremlin! I responded, trying my best to sound like William
Shatner in that great old Twilight Zone episode.
to me. I wasnt surprised. Nobody listened to Shatner either.
But it didnt matter. I had just travelled a wondrous circuit
of strange truths, courtesy of Walt Disney, the universities of
America and David Sedaris. I may not have emerged from it a better
person, but I was happier one. And the gremlins never got us.