A WRITER'S WIT
My Book World
Sedaris explains the meaning of his title right away, stating that in England if you find something, particularly money, you are duty bound to try and locate the owner or else you are guilty of theft by finding. At least in the beginning, when Sedaris is poor, he seems to find all kinds of money. Good thing he’s an American!
The voyeur in me always loves reading authors’ diaries and letters (email has obliterated the latter for future readers), and Sedaris’s diaries are among the best I’ve read. His mind is one that, for the most part, is completely unbridled. He learns early not to edit (in the psychological sense) his writing. He turns a trip to the market into a comic play. His desperate work situations, the same. He records jokes people have told him. He’s not a writer who stays at home, and, because of that, life serves him a big platter of human waste to transform into delectable satire. I marked so many funny or moving passages but I’ll only list a few nuggets here:
“Man to a woman he’d just screwed: If I’d known you
were a virgin, I’d have taken more time.
Woman: If I’d known you had more time, I would have
taken my panty hose off” (35).
“Edith Sitwell said that one of her favorite pastimes was to sharpen her claws on the wooden heads of her opponents” (112). [I cannot corroborate this anywhere online, but it sounds like Sitwell. Must have thieved it at a party.]
“Deodorizing puck = urinal cake” (130)
From Patricia Marx, in 1986, Sedaris gets a bit of advice we could now pass along to Congress or Trump about how to handle the Russians: “If we want a three-year-old not to put his hand on a hot stove, we do not beat him unmercifully. Rather, we teach him that a stove is hot, by pressing his hand to the burner for a minute or two” (155). We need to press Russia’ fat little hands to the burner!
While working as Santa at SantaLand: “Yesterday a woman had her son pee into a cup, which of course tipped over. ‘That’s fine,’ I said, ‘but Santa’s also going to need a stool sample’” (278).
Sedaris’s entries becomes even funnier, in 1993, when his career takes off with Barrel Fever.
“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’” (391). This was recorded in 1991. Good luck with pulling that stunt now.
Of course, Sedaris’s theft by finding not only refers to the $45 or $50 or $100 he happens upon but also to the stories he hears, dramas that play out around him, whether they be in his family or at airports or in the marketplace. He records his thoughts on world events, Diana’s death in Paris, JFK Junior’s demise. He has something to say about everything, and I believe that is one aspect of his work that makes him a fine writer. Nothing is too highbrow or lowbrow for fodder. Step up to the trough and feed!
NEXT TIME: My Journey of States-45 Nebraska