If there was anywhere to be last Saturday night, it was hands down at the Arlington Theatre, where writer David Sedaris solicited a wild round of applause from the sold-out audience before he’d even said a word. Sedaris opened with a reading of a story about going on tour, the “bookends” of which were Costco. If you’re wondering just how Costco fits in with a story about a book tour, that’s typical Sedaris-he finds the most unexpected ways to frame his stories. The piece recounted how his tour started with a trip to Costco in North Carolina, where he picked out a “cylinder block of condoms” to hand out as gifts to teenagers, and ended at a book-signing at Costco in Canada where he sat next to a “No Photos, Please” sign as shoppers with oversized carts wondered who the hell he was.
Sedaris went on to critique America’s undecided voters, reading a story he wrote for the New Yorker called “Undecided,” where he likened the choice between presidential candidates in this election (without naming names) to the difference between ordering a dinner of chicken and one of “human shit with bits of broken glass in it.” “To be undecided in this election,” read Sedaris, “is to pause for a moment and then ask how the chicken is cooked.” But maybe the latter really is better in the long run, he opined. After all, in the end, everything we eat turns to shit anyway, so why not cut out the step of digestion? Because, argued Sedaris, “that’s where the broken glass comes in.”
All evening long, Sedaris seemed genuinely to be enjoying himself, smiling at his own words, and pausing at just the right moments to allow the audience to burst into laughter. He’s certainly no Faulkner, who could write fantastically and then read his works in a monotone voice. No, Sedaris is a great live storyteller, a fact that became especially evident when he read a story that didn’t make it into his latest book, When You Are Engulfed in Flames. It’s clear why the piece wasn’t selected for Flames-not because it isn’t funny, but because it calls for Sedaris to tell it in person. Springing off a story about an art and politics professor who loved to pronounce “Nicaragua” with a Spanish accent, Sedaris went on to poke fun at French accents, and even threw in some Japanese here and there. By the end of the story, Sedaris’s accents were so authoritative, he had the audience convinced that “Los Burritos Grandes” was a significant mountain range. Next year’s vacation destination, anyone?