An Interview with David Sedaris

David Sedaris has an uncanny knowledge of his admirers, such as the fact that more of his German followers have caught a glimpse of their parents in the nude than any other group.

Additionally, he has observed that female cirrhosis sufferers tend to be ashamed of their condition, yet young boys with atrophied limbs can be convinced to talk about their illnesses. He has also been accused of racism due to his preference for stories about primates; he still has the disgruntled letter to back up this claim.

For a long time, Sedaris has been on a mission to travel to each state in the US. At the time of writing, only North and South Dakota remain untouched. He prefers to explore small towns and off-the-beaten-path places that necessitate, in his words, “two planes and an hour-long car ride.” He has had to put in a lot of effort to gain access to this information.

He has an ambition to acquire a remarkable accumulation of facts, anecdotes, and miscellaneous information on any subject imaginable.

It could be assumed that there is another purpose for this. After all, he has made a living by writing about his life in an unbelievable fashion. In the five books he has written, from Barrel Fever _to Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, _he has related stories about moralistic prostitutes, a dwarf jazz instructor and a senior brother named Rooster who likes to use the term “motherfucker”. Nevertheless, Sedaris insists that he is not expecting readers to provide him with inspiration for his work. He simply has a great inquisitiveness.

I had a phone conversation with Sedaris who was taking a holiday in Normandy, France. He has a house in the region where he visits annually and enjoys studying arachnology and, when possible, writing essays.

–Eric Spitznagel

The way of life we live today is vastly different from what it was in the past. Our lives now are characterized by a massive transformation in comparison to how things used to be. There have been enormous changes in how we go about our everyday activities and how we interact with one another.


Last year, you toured across the nation and did a series of book store readings. Is book touring something you take pleasure in or just a necessary task?

Book tours are something I always look forward to, and not just because of the opportunity to travel. Before I wrote books, I had only stayed in a hotel a handful of times. Never did I dream that I would be able to go on trips and sleep in luxury hotels. There’s nothing like the convenience of having twenty-four-hour room service available.

BLVR: When it comes to connecting with your fans, is that something you find enjoyable or would you rather they just keep their distance?

DS: I really love it. That’s what I look forward to the most. I have to tell my stories and answer questions about me during these readings, and after a while I am thinking, “Okay, enough about me.” When I am signing books, I always inquire about the people who have come to see me. If I am on a book tour, I am quite lucky to be ill, because I can easily say, “If there is a medical practitioner present, I will sign your book first if you answer some of my questions.” When I am not on tour, I don’t have the chance to talk to many folks. It isn’t that I do not want to; I just don’t have the chance. It is more difficult when I am living in a foreign country because my accent can be intimidating and some people don’t understand me. It is a real treat to be back in a place where I can speak the language and ask people questions and when I am signing books, I can ask whatever I want.

BLVR: Do they ever attempt to provide you with narrative concepts?

At all times, that is precisely what I seek. I gather stories. During my latest book tour, I was compiling tales of folk who relieved themselves in public areas.

BLVR: Pardon me?

I have encountered numerous accounts of customers behaving in an inappropriate fashion while shopping. For instance, at the Gap, there have been people who have gone into the dressing rooms and defecated on the floor. Similar cases happen at Target with individuals crawling into the circular clothing racks and leaving feces. Even shoe stores have not been spared, with cases of people defecating in the stock room. It is truly incredible how many public places people choose to defecate in.

Do you go out of your way to find these kinds of tales?

DS: No, not really. I don’t specifically request stories about public defecation, but I do bring it up during my readings. Afterward, when people come up to get their books signed, I find that a small portion of the audience – usually people working in retail – will nod their heads in agreement, as if they have stories of their own to tell. Invariably, someone in the crowd will have a tale to tell about someone pooping in their store.

BLVR: Is it due to your identity that they are more likely to engage in a discussion with you concerning public defecation?

DS mentioned that Banana Republic cashiers probably wouldn’t be willing to answer if someone were to ask them if people ever relieve themselves in their dressing rooms. However, they would be more open to discussing it in a different setting.

BLVR: Is there a particular excretion experience that you hold dear?

DS exclaimed in amazement, expressing that there were many wonderful stories to be told. One librarian told them that they had created a cardboard castle to adorn the children’s section of their library, only for somebody to defecate on the drawbridge.

BLVR: Unbelievable. How can this happen in the human race?

DS: It’s almost unbelievable to me. I encountered a maintenance worker in Las Vegas who described an astonishing situation. According to him, there are some gamblers who are so stubbornly attached to a slot machine they’ve already put a lot of money into, that they will even soil themselves rather than give up. Even when the police try to take them away, they will resist. It’s truly incredible how far some people will go to continue gambling.

BLVR: Is there ever a time when you record tales that are not related to excrement?

DS: Indeed. One time, I was listening to tales about pet primates. It’s incredible the amount of people who have stories of monkeys. The issue is, many tales of monkeys have dismal endings. For example, one monkey was in the possession of a drunken grandparent who drove it to a marsh and abandoned it. Another simian was nourished by Pepsi and candy bars and perished by dehydration in someone’s lawn. Additionally, there was one that ate a plastic fungus and passed away.

BLVR: Is your goal to just keep track of these stories as a pastime, or do you plan on putting them to use in your writing?

DS expressed a desire to use some of the stories they heard, but weren’t sure how to go about it. The person they heard the stories from was more interesting than the tales themselves. They thought they could potentially use the grandfather one and turn it into fiction, though they lamented that the grandfather was not theirs. DS admitted that they would have been over the moon if they had possessed a grandfather who drove a monkey to the swamp and ejected it from his car. Jealousy was their sentiment.


BLVR: It dawned on me that you have crafted numerous stories featuring monkeys. Your tale, “Dinah the Christmas Whore,” is centered on your daydreams of a road trip with a proboscis monkey called Socrates. Similarly, “Baby Einstein” is about the potentiality of your sister Amy having a monkey offspring. Also, “Old Faithful” mentions your partner Hugh’s monkey from his childhood. Is it accurate to suggest that you are preoccupied with primates?

DS: It appears that I do. The stories I’ve released are only the beginning. On my last tour, I read three new stories and each of them included the word “monkey” in some form. I also read a few entries from my diary that had monkeys in them too.

Have you ever considered taking in a monkey as a companion?

At the present moment, I am involved in a project which involves monkeys, yet I have never personally owned one.

BLVR: Could you explain what your job entails when it comes to working with monkeys?

At my book signing in Boston, I was sharing the podium with a monkey from an organization called Helping Hands Monkeys that trains primates to be servants for people with quadriplegia. Needless to say, no one was interested in what I was saying when the monkey was present!

BLVR asked if the monkey had signed any books for the person they were speaking to.

DS remarked that despite the fact that the person in question was unable to write their name, they had a good idea of which end of the pen to use, which DS found endearing. They are planning to do a reading together during May of the following year in Boston as part of an event to raise money for the charity Helping Hands.

BLVR: Could you elaborate on the role of the primates trained by Helping Hands? Is it accurate to refer to them as slaves?

DS suggested that, instead of using the word “slave,” the more appropriate term would be “helper monkey.”

BLVR: What was your impetus to get involved with them?

One evening while I was signing books, I asked a woman a question: “What was the last time you had contact with a monkey?”. She responded with, “Four hours ago, why?”. Apparently she worked for Helping Hands and offered for me to come and view their training site. It was incredible – I was amazed at the abilities of the primates.

BLVR asked what the process was like, inquiring as to how it operated.

DS: A quadriplegic employs the use of a flashlight in his mouth, shining a red beam to indicate what he wants. As an example, if he desires to hear some music, he merely has to point the beam at the CD and the monkey will do the rest – take the disc out of the case, place it into the player, and press the start button. This same technique is also used to have food ready – the monkey can retrieve it from the refrigerator and pop it in the microwave. It’s an amazing feat.

BLVR: Could you tell me what is necessary for teaching a monkey a new skill?

Question: Is it a slave?

BLVR: Agreed, a person in servitude.

DS: It is not a simple process. At just a few months old, the capuchin monkeys (the organ-grinder type) are taken away from their mothers and placed with a foster family for a period of five years. During this time they are exposed to a variety of everyday items such as children, pets, and appliances; this is so they will be prepared for the work that awaits them later in life. After the five-year period, the monkeys attend a two-year school of sorts, where they learn a variety of skills. Although intelligent, monkeys are not naturally predisposed to servitude, so it takes a great deal of time for them to understand how to perform tasks such as emptying an ashtray.

BLVR: What criteria do they use to determine who receives a slave monkey?

The school maintains a roster of quadriplegics they supply monkeys to free of charge. As a result, they need financial support to keep their institution going.

BLVR: Is it possible that they could reward you with a complimentary monkey due to the money you collected?

DS has the ambition of raising a specific amount of money to have a monkey named after them. The primate present at their book signing was called Ayla, after a figure from The Clan of the Cave Bear. But they would prefer a more standard name such as Hank, Phillip, or Cathy.

Was it not David? inquired BLVR.

I’m not particularly tied to the name David, I just want a typical human name. Perhaps like the ones used in Upstairs, Downstairs, such as Pearce, Alfred, or Lady Bellamy. It would be humorous to have someone say “Oh, Pearce, can you please empty this ashtray?” [Chuckles].

BLVR: Are you certain that you would not prefer having a monkey servant of your own?

DS: I’m familiar with the disparities between the concept of a monkey and the truth about them. Monkeys are known for throwing feces and ruining items. Hugh had one as a kid. His family even took the monkey with them to Beirut and when it was time to eat, they just left it in the restroom. That wound up being an awful decision. The bathroom was decimated and then the monkey turned its attention to the hotel room. Additionally, Hugh’s monkey had a strong dislike for females. It was fond of Hugh and his brothers and dad, but it would attack his mother. Despite this, she stayed in good spirits, but it was not the content and loving pet that most people assume monkeys to be.

It is often overlooked that primates are creatures of nature.

DS:Indeed. I had the pleasure of reading Akhil Sharma’s An Obedient Father and there was a scene in it that left me astonished. It was about a group of monkeys entering a bathroom in India and attacking various women. It was a truly remarkable image.

BLVR: It was not as if they were out in the wilderness and were assaulted by a grizzly bear.

DS: That’s correct! The monkeys did not inhabit the same area as the ladies. The primates made the journey to them. At one moment, it can be imagined that a monkey outside was thinking,”We need to get access to those restrooms! There are ladies inside!”

BLVR: Did they assail the female population?

DS proclaimed that, according to the book, the monkeys would attack women and bite their stomachs. He then continued on to say that everyone he has known who has been to India has returned with a tale of being chased by one of the creatures. He went on to say that he would prefer to stay in a hotel lobby and hear the stories of those who had been chased rather than experience it himself. He desired to know the details, but he did not want to go through the same thing.

It is advisable to keep your distance from monkeys if you wish to observe them.

On my book tour, I went to Alaska, and I saw a lot of animals, not just monkeys. It was the season when the salmon were starting their annual journey, and the bears seemed very excited about it. People there were willing to let me know the locations of grizzlies. Still, I couldn’t comprehend why anyone would want to do something like that – I live in an area where I won’t come across any grizzlies.

BLVR stated that it seemed as though the person in question was asking for a tough situation to befall them.

DS: Not only the larger creatures that make me uneasy. In the park close to our residence in London, the squirrels will put their front paws on your shin as if they are attempting to climb up you. Numerous people carry nuts to nourish them, and they have no idea who has a nut and who doesn’t. Consequently, you look downward and one of the squirrels is trying to climb up your leg, which is enough to make me feel scared. If a monkey were to pursue me with a club, asking for my sandwich, I truly do not know how I would react.

III. During my days, I find myself spending half of the time capturing flies to then provide sustenance for spiders.

BLVR: Taking into account your overwhelming fear of animals, does that mean you won’t be having any pets?

I have my own set of spiders, as I mentioned.

BLVR: Having arachnids as pets?

DS claims that in the house in Normandy, spiders are something of a laboratory. The majority of them are Tegenaria gigantea. They have been around for a long time. Initially, DS would just knock down their webs without a second thought. However, a couple of years ago something changed. While DS was sitting at the desk, they heard a fly buzzing, then noticed it changed. DS went to investigate and saw a spider, as big as a baby’s fist, catch the fly. This event enthralled DS, and now they take half their summer days to catch flies to feed to the spiders.

BLVR: Are the flies dead or alive?

DS: Scientists often catch their flies in jars and put them in the fridge for some time. Then, when the flies are brought to room temperature, their movements attract spiders. It’s worth noting that spiders are largely blind and can detect a fly by the vibrations in the web. You can’t trick them by shaking a pencil or something else in the web. To make sure the fly is knocked out, scientists shake the jar and pour the fly into the web. In twenty seconds or so, the fly wakes up and starts moving, at which point the spiders come running.

Is there a certain type of fly that is more effective than others?

DS: No, not really. Spiders tend to be indiscriminate eaters and will take whatever they can find. In Normandy, screens on windows are not commonplace, so people’s houses during the summer are swarmed with flies. Additionally, a farmer in the vicinity has kept his horses around our house, meaning that horseflies are a common presence. Personally, I think horseflies are quite tasty and yesterday I threw one to my strongest spider.

BLVR: Would you consider yourself to be a beginner in the study of spiders?

My amateur fascination in arachnology has led to me owning a microscope and a magnifying glass. Recently, a subscription to the Journal of Arachnology, issued by the American Arachnological Society, was sent to me. However, the content was too complex and dull for me, as it lacked any fascinating tales such as “Late last summer, I discovered a spider that I named Jeremy.”

Do you happen to have given your spiders any names?

I really liked Paula out of all of them. Curtis, April, and her. To determine who was who, I had index cards with their names written on them that I pinned up near every web. But I didn’t need that with Paula because she was so different. She was capable of taking down a bumblebee, and she would often eat outdoors. She had an amazing skill, I think she could have been in a competition. I had never seen a spider that could match her.

BLVR: It must be a challenge to bid farewell to the spiders once the summer has concluded.

DS: That experience was terrible to go through. I took April back to Paris with me once, she was a grown spider and appeared to be in need of my aid. It was a lot trickier than I anticipated. Here in Normandy, I can catch two hundred bugs every day but I couldn’t find a single fly in the whole apartment when I was in Paris. I had to go out to the park and everyone was looking at me while I was strolling around with a container in my hand. It is easy to catch a fly against a window, but taking one off of a trash can is tough labor. It took me the whole day. Then, I found a pet store that sold crickets. I don’t know if you have ever gone after crickets, but they have a particular stench. It’s like an old man’s odor. To enter your office and it smells like crickets is really disheartening.

BLVR: It appears that looking after April became a full-time job.

DS: I had to give her something to eat unless she was not going to, so eventually I returned to Normandy by train and I left her in the house. I thought she would be better off without me.

Being a spider parent must not be without its own sorrows, considering that they eat one another from time to time, right?

In the wintertime, when food becomes scarce, it can be a bit of a spectacle. Even during the summer months, there can be some unfortunate incidents where one spider will prey upon another. I’ve had my heart broken twice this way, so I decided to back off and not get too attached to any of the critters by giving them names.

Do you persist in giving them sustenance?

DS: I’m hooked. It really altered my day-to-day life. It’s provided me with something to focus on. I absolutely love it. It can become a bit excessive and I’ll think, “I’ll just do one more. Just one more fly. That’s all. Alright, one more. One more.” Then I end up giving food to spiders in the garden.


BLVR: Amy informed me that you are giving her medical textbooks. It must be peculiar to have such a collection of books in your possession.

DS: Not particularly. There are a few books but nothing that stands out. My specialty is books about the deceased. I’m content to spend hours in the medical section of a university bookstore. My most noteworthy find would have to be Spitz and Fisher’s Medicolegal Investigation of Death. It’s the go-to guide for forensic pathology. It explains all the ways a person can die and then shows a photo of what the body may look like afterwards. For example, it displays what the body would look like after being thrown into the sea for a certain period of time or when hit by a truck or a tractor.

I would say the photography of Spitz and Fisher is decent. However, when I visited a morgue in Phoenix for a week, I saw images that were much more impressive. It’s astonishing that if someone jumps off a building, their eyes can pop out of their skull upon impact.

BLVR: I was completely unaware.

DS: I’m captivated by medical histories and the details that accompany them–the weakness, the purple shoulder, the swollen tongue, and so on. I’m so intrigued by it that I often think I could have a short story based on it. I have a book of photographs from a doctor working during the Civil War period and some of them are quite gruesome. I often take these photographs and try to create a life story for the people in them. It’s like having the bones of a story.

BLVR: Do you think of yourself as someone who is overly worried about their health?

During my book tour, I encountered a man with cancer of the eyelid, a disease I was unaware you could contract. After they had removed his eyelid and constructed a new one, I was paranoid I had the same thing for the following seven hours. Later, I talked to a woman whose mother had cancer of the sinuses and the doctors had to take out her nose. I desperately asked if she wore glasses, fearing that I had the same condition, which I was scared of for only seventeen minutes. All in all, I’m not too bad of a hypochondriac.

BLVR: I imagine it would be challenging to suppress your interest in illnesses and not inquire about them.

DS discussed the thin line between being patronizing and curious. She recalled an individual she met during her book tour that had bone cancer and had lost her leg since she was thirteen. The woman had bought a new foot that cost $3,000 and allowed DS to touch it. It was customized with the same three moles as the other foot. DS noted that with a sandal on, it was difficult to tell which foot was the fake one. She appreciated the woman’s pride in her new foot and how she was open to questions. DS concluded that as long as one is not being malicious or laughing, most people are okay with being asked genuine questions.

BLVR: I thought a portion of you was amused. If not by the comical element of these appalling illnesses and malformations, then why such fascination?

I still have an adolescent-level fascination with things that twelve-year-old boys might enjoy. That includes things like defecating in public. It’s something I never outgrew.

BLVR: With all the knowledge you’ve acquired about advanced ways to die, have you considered what your own passing might look like?

I wish that I would suffer a fatal cardiac arrest while in the waiting area of a medical centre.

BLVR: What is the reason for choosing a hospital?

DS: It’s more straightforward and helpful for everyone. The downside of passing away at home is that nobody wants to be discovered alone. You don’t want your neighbors to be disturbed from any odors. I was once at the Phoenix morgue and saw a retired man who had no air conditioning fall from a ladder. He was there for five days before anyone found him, just a puddle. People usually say they want to die peacefully in their sleep, yet that is only plausible if someone else is there to witness it. The best-case scenario would be if they wake up ten minutes later and realize you have passed. When the deceased is alone, their pet might start to eat them, beginning with the face or nose.

BLVR: You appear to have an extensive knowledge of this topic.

In Spitz and Fisher’s, I read that it is quite normal for pet owners to be devoured by their animals since they become famished. If the man who was reduced to a puddle after four days had a dog or a cat, it likely would not have consumed all of him, but it would have devoured the softer, fleshy sections of his body.

I’m beginning to feel lightheaded due to BLVR.

If I were to pass away while house-sitting for someone while they are away on a trip, I dread the idea of them having to go through the hassle of dealing with the aftermath. The corpse would have to remain in the residence for a full ten days before they return and they’d be forced to replace their carpet and floorboards due to the smell. I don’t want my death to be a burden on anyone.

BLVR: You’ve considered this topic extensively. Does that imply that you don’t dread death?

DS: I’m really scared of death. The idea of the unknown really scares me. When I was at the morgue, I thought that the people there would be used to death, and not be afraid of it. But, when I asked them, they told me that it was the stupidest thing they had ever heard. They’re just as scared of death as anyone else, and they still tell themselves that it won’t happen to them. People who say they’re not scared of dying have never really thought about it.

Do you think that there is something that follows death, or do you think that when you pass away, nothing more will remain?

DS: I’m not sure that when a person dies, their energy doesn’t continue on somewhere. I don’t think that our species is so significant that our energy doesn’t dissipate like other animals. Why would we be any different from a monkey or a spider? Their life is just as important. Why can’t our energy disappear just like a monkey slave when it passes away? It could have more energy than us.

BLVR expressed that if the afterlife does not include slave monkeys, then they would not desire to be in such a place.

I’m not particularly religious and I don’t usually ponder what may happen to me after my death. Though, like many others, I have a daydream where I pass away due to cancer and the people I leave behind are wrecked with grief while paying their respects to me at my funeral. I don’t really reflect on what could happen after that, yet I suppose in order to witness all the sorrow, you’d have to have faith in an afterlife.

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