Tag Archives: bad giraffes

Drawing a giraffe is the least bizarre thing David Sedaris’ done

David Sedaris

Writer David Sedaris

David Sedaris (web | wiki) is a comedian and essayist known for his numerous memoirs including Me Talk Pretty One Day (2000) and When You Are Engulfed in Flames (2008). His latest book is Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls (2013). Even if you don’t know him by name, I can guarantee you’ve heard him on National Public Radio and This American Life.

I first read Sedaris’ work years ago when, traveling through Denver, I bought When You Are Engulfed in Flames. Passing through for a wedding and not feeling particularly social, I’d escape to my hotel room or an abandoned broom closet to read. Family hunted me down, telling me to put it away, but this only led me to smuggle the book around as illegal contraband. I’d hold it beneath tables and spend more time in the bathroom than was necessary.

Like everyone’s first time, though: The experience was shorter than I’d wished (and laughter was involved). C’est la vie.

Since then, I’ve read most of his books and to this day regard him as the master of the personal essay. In fact, when feeling literary, I’ve written my most memorable GDBPWSNBDG articles with him in mind. I hope it shows.

On November 8, 2014, Sedaris was in Houston as part of a 39-city tour. As his visit coincided with my twenty-fourth birthday, I thought it’d be a nice treat. So my partner K. and I bought a pair of cheap tickets that placed us a few feet from the back wall, three stories up, in a theater that could seat nearly 3,000 people. When he came out to speak, he was merely a white beam of light in the distance — a little, soft-spoken angel telling us vagina jokes:

A woman goes to her gynecologist, and after getting in the chair, the doctor takes a look. “You have the largest vagina I’ve ever seen,” he says. “You have the largest vagina I’ve ever seen!”

“You don’t need to say it twice,” the woman answers.

“I didn’t.”

When not telling jokes, Sedaris read a few unpublished essays and told off-the-cuff stories about his experience on tour. What I’m relaying can only be described as “Herculean” (and a little gross). So bear with me.

“At one of the early signings, a man approached me,” Sedaris began, “and he had holes in his head. Seeing some spots on the side of my face, he told me, ‘I know what that is — it looks like melanoma. You should really go to a doctor.’” This Sedaris did, being told they were just liver spots and nothing to worry about. Still, the doctor burned them off, leaving two blisters that –- the next day –- popped on the airplane.”

That’s medical injury number one.

For a while now, Sedaris has had a benign tumor near his ribs (“The size of an egg”) and chose not to get it removed because no doctor would let him keep it (“I mean, it’s mine. I made it.”). The reason for this, dear reader, is because he wanted to feed it to snapping turtles (that’s another story). When he mentioned this fact at a reading, a Mexican woman approached him saying she worked at a clinic for low-income families and could have it cut out in forty minutes. When the book signing ended around 1:00 a.m., the pair crossed the border (“The border to New Mexico, I mean”), did the deed, and then went to find the woman’s partner to “borrow” painkillers. Eight stitches.

Lastly, mere hours before his Houston reading, he had a root canal. Houston was his fifth stop.

“And I’m still going,” he concluded, “Can you say ‘Entertainment Industry champ’?”

What I’m trying to convey with this story is that Sedaris is an insane son-of-a-bitch and asking him to draw a silly picture is pretty low on his absurdity scale.

Unlike other signings I’ve attended, Sedaris is a conversationalist, often asking questions, bantering. Other writers I’ve met merely scribble their name, say “thanks” and push you along. This is why his events carry into the early-a.m. as he refuses to leave until everyone’s had their book signed.

When it was our turn, K. and I saw he was trying to eat his dinner set in front of him. “How are you feeling right now?” K. asked, handing over her copy of Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk (2010). Before the night was over, he was probably asked that question no less than two thousand times.

David Sedaris Knife Art Drawing

The first in my spin-off website: Knives Drawn By People Who Draw Knives Unprovoked.

“Let’s see,” Sedaris mused, taking a bite of chicken. As he chews he lists everything he’s been through: “I have a hole in my face, eight stitches, and had a root canal today. I’m pretty fucked up.” While speaking, he draws in the book an outline of a knife, which he proceeds to color with the markers he keeps in a flannel pencil bag. Though doped up, he moves in spurts — tucking his arms into his body and poking around the bag. He reminds me of a hen pecking for seed.

“Did you really run off with a stranger to have them cut a tumor out of you?” I asked, incredulous that such a thing even happens.

He looked up from his drawing, nodded, and returned to his art, adding a drop of blood to the silver blade. As he does so, I’m awed by his presence. Of every professional writer I’ve met, Sedaris is no doubt the most entertaining. Though my instinct is to dismiss his demeanor as an act, as if he was playing the part of the character he writes about — nope: He really is the character. When he tells stories of odd exchanges he’s had at book signings, polls he’s conducted, and so on, he’s serious.

Finally, I asked him to draw a giraffe, making the standard pitch, while he patiently looked up with another piece of chicken in his mouth. Before I finished he reached out to grab my notebook (my diary) from my hand and flatten it in front of him. Holding his sharpie like a knife, he stabbed the page and drew lines so thick they bled through. Handing it back, he shoved another piece of chicken in his mouth as we moved along.

Before leaving, I turned to look back at the hundreds of people snaking up several flights stairs. They were just as excited as we were. No doubt they’d ask for wilder things than a giraffe drawing.

In that moment, I wondered which story he’ll tell next that begins here.

David Sedaris Giraffe DrawingHe was clearly on drugs.

TC Boyle - 2 25 11

Novelist and Short Story Writer T.C. Boyle

After flocking to the Richfield, MN, Borders like a vulture looking for cheap deals on books I would hesitate to pay full price for, I found myself wandering Minneapolis with a dear friend talking about whatever we could to fill the morning air. It just happened that we made our way to the Minneapolis Central Library where, to our surprise, one T. Coraghessan Boyle (website) was having a reading/signing for his latest book When the Killing’s Done (2011). Boyle is the winner of the 1988 PEN/Faulkner, has written for the New Yorker and all around interesting fellow when you consider the following scene:

Life, says TC Boyle, “is tragic and absurd and none of it has any purpose at all.” He is sitting contentedly with a glass of wine in the west room of his Frank Lloyd Wright house in Montecito, California. “Science has killed religion, there’s no hope for the future with seven billion of us on the planet, and the only thing you can do is to laugh in the face of it all” (The Gaurdian, February 28, 2009).

Never one to not exploit what I can only believe to be Fate for my own profit, I thought this to be a good opportunity to collect content for what by now is on the verge of becoming my generation’s Facebook. My friend and I were only able to catch the last few minutes of the event – in fact, only the question-and-answer period – in the standing-room only auditorium and were fortunate to find ourselves so far in the back that we happened to be one of the first few in line for the signing. Quickly finding ourselves at the front of the line I gave him the typical pitch, finding myself particularly nervous as I did so, able only to find relief when he said “it would be a privilege to draw a giraffe for your website” with the catch that he make it “special.” Where I am sure other websites would be thankful regardless, GDBWSNBDG is a respectable website with its standards so I added a counter-catch saying that it could be anything but a horse, which is something a certain University of Minnesota President misunderstood.

This is what I got:

 

As I squinted my eyes, confused, Boyle clarified that it was actually an alligator eating a giraffe.

Well, OK.

Roger Nygard's Giraffe

Writer and Director Roger Nygard

The University of Minnesota-Morris (UMM) had the pleasure of hosting Roger Nygard, director, writer and producer (perhaps best known for his 1997 documentary Trekkies) who screened his most recent film The Nature of Existence (2010) to an overflow crowd of students and faculty alike. In Nygard’s own words, Existence is a film where he “wrote the toughest 85 questions I could think of, about our purpose and the nature of existence, and then asked hundreds of people all over the globe, such as: Indian holy man Sri Sri Ravi Shankar (The Art of Living), evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion), 24th generation Chinese Taoist Master Zhang Chengda, Stanford physicist Leonard Susskind (co-discoverer of string theory), wrestler Rob Adonis (founder of Ultimate Christian Wrestling), confrontational evangelist Brother Jed Smock, novelist Orson Scott Card (Ender’s Game), director Irvin Kershner (Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back), Stonehenge Druids Rollo Maughfling & King Arthur Pendragon and many more…”

Overall the film was not too bad even if he refused to challenge or interrogate the logic of those he interviewed, a point he made clear in the Q-and-A following the film by pointing out that his film is meant only to make the viewer think and come to their own conclusion. PZ Myers, UMM professor and author of the science blog Pharyngula, was in attendance, voiced his opinion and did not seem impressed by Nygard’s hands off style. In fact, the only reflection of his own beliefs the director made clear was the fact that he is moral relativist, the notion that “because there is no universal moral standard by which to judge others, we ought to tolerate the behavior of others – even when it runs counter to our personal or cultural moral standards”, which at face value is not an entirely harmful idea. After all, what is wrong with there being more tolerance in the world? Although such a notion can be agreeable to certain degrees it grants no excuse for reticence and does not justify inaction when there is a clear, unethical wrong being committed.

Take for example a brief exchange that happened during the Q-and-A.

When asked whether or not it would be acceptable for a culture to torture babies, Nygard responded socratically: “From what frame of reference?” stressing in his answer (and the small debate that followed between he and students) the fact that given the subjectivity of morality no culture has a right to dictate what is moral for another. In fact, when asked by a student whether or not his experience working on the film proved to him that “the world would have been a better place if there was no such thing as religion since all of the awful things that have been justified by it would not have happened” such as the Inquisition, the crusades, and so on. To this Nygard replied by again asking the student to define “what frame of reference” he was using. Clarifying his philosophy, Nygard said that while those things that have been committed in the name of religion were bad, to know good is to know what is bad.

I can’t say I agree – I happen to believe we can know what is good without killing the Jews – but that’s just my own opinion.

I wish I could say here that as the tension in the room began to build a member of the GDBWSNBDG editorial board turned the subject to giraffes, but the truth is Nygard’s moral relativism was an issue in most of the venues in which he spoke. Earlier in the day he participated in a roundtable discussion and apparently slipped into a debate with one of the university’s philosophy professors who wrote his thesis, which will soon be published as a book, on ethics. It was actually during this debate when Lucas Felts interjected during a pause … and asked for a giraffe …

Roger Nygard's Giraffe

… Or fucking dinosaur or something.