David Sedaris

David Sedaris

A weeklong electronic journal.
Nov. 26 1996 3:30 AM

David Sedaris

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It was 20 years ago, almost to the day, that I began keeping a diary. A friend and I had been hitchhiking from Oregon to Vancouver when, for no reason whatsoever, I scribbled the day's events onto the back of a restaurant place mat, not knowing that the activity would become obsessive. My earliest diaries are stored away in my father's basement, and I can't bear to read them. Entries are introduced with Joni Mitchell quotes and melodramatic sob stories that end with lines such as, "I know now that I must walk alone!!!" What makes these diaries extra embarrassing is the fact that I hadn't even started drinking yet. I can't blame the writing on drugs or alcohol--that was me talking. I'd like to know what I ate when I was 19 years old. How much did it cost for a pound of chicken or a pack of cigarettes? What did I carry in my wallet, and who did I talk to on the telephone? My earliest diaries tell me none of these things. They tell me not who I was, but who I wanted to be. That person wore a beret and longed to ride a tandem bicycle with Laura Nyro. He wanted to arrive at parties on the back of a camel and sketch the guests, capturing the look of wonder on their faces as they admired his quiet, unassuming celebrity. I've been tempted to destroy those early diaries, but the very urge reminds me that I really haven't changed all that much.

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Hugh (my boyfriend) and I went to the 26th Street flea market, and then I went alone to see Set It Off, the fifth movie I've seen this week. The Sony Theater on 19th Street pumps the volume so high that it makes my fillings hurt. I sat through the movie with my fingers in my ears, but Queen Latifah made it all worthwhile. She plays a tough lesbian bank robber with such charming conviction that you lower your head in mourning when she finally goes down in a blaze of gunfire. She's bad, sure, but you can't help but love her, especially after she uses her heist money to buy her girlfriend a naughty outfit. After seeing the movie, I found myself wishing that Queen Latifah had been given both the Barbra Streisand role in The Mirror Has Two Faces and the Kristin Scott Thomas part in The English Patient. She's got this presence, an exuberance you don't see very often. The theater was rowdy, with beer bottles rolling down the aisles and teen-agers smoking joints. The woman behind me had brought her two young daughters. There were several children's movies playing at the theater, but this day was clearly about her, the mother, doing what she wanted to do. I wondered what the children thought of the violence and harsh language, until I saw them later on the escalator, where the mother cuffed her daughter's head, saying, "You'd better get your mother-fucking asses over here before I beat the shit out of both y'all bitches." She was a white woman, my age, with several missing teeth. She lit a cigarette in the lobby, and when the retarded usher asked her to put it out, the woman said, loudly, "Fuck you, Fuckface."

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My sister Amy and I are working on a new play. It opens in two months and so far all we've got is the title, The Little Frieda Mysteries. We'll get together, throw out some ideas, and then, by the time I've started writing something, Amy will have decided that the character is blind, or paralyzed from the waist down. We're still in that phase where the story changes by the hour. I'll call her with a bit of dialogue and find that her phone has been disconnected by her rabbit, Tattle Tail, who regularly chews through the phone cord. Amy got this rabbit nine months ago, and now her entire apartment has been rearranged to accommodate its needs. Tattle Tail roams freely from one room to the next. She'll use a litter box, but only if it is placed upon the sofa. Great piles of alfalfa, dandelion greens, and parsley are heaped upon the living-room carpet. She's got all the carrots and dried food she can eat, but still she can't resist chewing the furniture and electrical cords. Amy will wake in the middle of the night to find Tattle Tail chewing her hair and fingernails. I left the outline of the first act on Amy's sofa and Tattle Tail was kind enough to edit it, chewing away the opening monologue and peeing on whatever was left.

David Sedaris is a commentator for National Public Radio and the author of Barrel Fever, a book of short stories, and a forthcoming memoir, Naked. He has also co-written several plays with his sister, Amy Sedaris, including Stitches and One Woman Shoe.