Updated: Jan 31, 2020
“You’re the next David Sedaris and you don’t even know it,” my friend Elizabeth said to me over dinner one night while I bemoaned the lack of creativity at my job. This friend had also encouraged me years ago to start my blog, Jaded Bride, and now she was saying I should blog again. It was a nice idea. As an editor at a health publication, I spend my days improving other people’s writing and rarely do much writing myself.
“You know I stalked David Sedaris once,” I said, piquing her interest. As her eyebrows raised, though, I realized that stalking wasn’t perhaps the right word. “Well, borderline, I guess. I did show up at his apartment in Paris one time.” OK, maybe that is stalking. But I had only the best intentions--that’s probably a line right out of the stalker’s handbook.
While studying abroad in Montpellier, France, in the early 2000s, I took a weekend trip to Paris with my friend Rae. There were only two things on my itinerary for this visit: kiss a French guy and meet my favorite author, David Sedaris. The first one was scarily easy to accomplish so we spent our last day in the city tackling the other goal. I had known that David lived in the city because he responded to my letter one time and the mailing address listed on the envelope was in Paris. I’m not sure why he wrote his mailing address on the envelope. Habit, I guess, or maybe he didn’t think a fan would ever actually show up at his house. Surprise!
"Naked," "Barrel Fever," and "Me Talk Pretty One Day," all had a great impact on me. Not only were they hilarious, but after reading them in high school, I decided that I wanted to become a writer, too. My rationale was a bit naïve. As a teen, I ranked off the charts on the lazy spectrum and I mistakenly believed that writing books was easy.
“You can write about nothing and get books published,” I boasted to my dad while applying to expensive private liberal arts colleges around the country. Those schools were my only shot at getting an education because they didn’t require that I take the SATs, a standardized test that I bombed after staying up for two days straight on speed to study for the exam. Would not recommend that study method.
I started writing in earnest in high school, regaling my English class with humor essays about the time my dad and sister were hypnotised at a comedy club, and not knowing their relationship, the hypnotist played some games with them that were uncomfortably close to being X rated, or about a humorous account of my wisdom teeth growing in that I titled, "Painful Wisdom."
I graduated from high school a semester early, and instead of spending that time to get ahead in college, I filled my days with drugs and alcohol. My nights, too, come to think of it. When I decided to get clean a couple months prior to entering college in Chicago (at a school not far from David Sedaris’ alma mater), the itch to write was still with me. But I was full of self-doubt, and frankly shell-shocked from the severity of my drug and alcohol problem. So shortly after getting my laptop out of the pawnshop I decided to write David Sedaris a letter. I don’t remember the letter in its entirety, but the gist of it was, plainly, how do you become a writer?
A month later I received a response in the mail, postmarked from Paris, France. I don’t remember that letter in its entirety, but the gist of it was, plainly, practice writing.
It was not what I was hoping for. I expected that upon reading my letter David Sedaris would realize my innate writing abilities and give me a VIP pass to stardom. Up to that point in my life I had been mediocre at most things and believed there was a secret code to being number one that I just needed to learn to crack. Who you know helps, but true skill usually comes from practice.
David Sedaris’ letter stuck with me throughout college, where I continued to hone my craft. And when I had the opportunity to visit him in person, I jumped on it.
So after finishing our 4th cafe creme of the day in a Paris cafe, Rae and I walked up to a large medieval looking doorway on a tiny street with apartments stacked upon apartments to meet David Sedaris. Envelope in hand, I looked at Rae and then the door. There were a series of buzzers going down a metal panel on the side of the door frame, but none marked David Sedaris.
“What do we do now?” Rae said.
“Ring all the buzzers, I guess,” I said, and started pushing buttons. Eventually, someone responded and I froze. In that moment I wished I had gone to more of my French classes instead of sitting in my room chain smoking and reading books.
Rae jumped into action: "Nous cherchons David Sedaris. Est-ce qu’il habite ici?"
Seconds later, we heard a loud click, granting us entrance into the building. I pushed on the heavy door. A white staircase wound up the hallway with doors off to the side. Even though I was a smoker at the time, I muscled through the chest pain to climb the stairs.
As we continued our ascent, a door opened. My heart started beating even faster than it already was and I was glad that my friend Rae spoke better French than me in case we needed an ambulance.
A tall man with dirty blonde hair and glasses stepped out of an apartment. It was David Sedaris’ neighbor. We explained to the man that we were looking for David Sedaris and he pointed out David’s door. Rae and I turned to the door and knocked hopefully, but there was no answer.
The neighbor supposed he was out of town and we chatted for a few more minutes before beginning our trek back down.
The rest of the afternoon, Rae and I wondered what an encounter with David Sedaris would have looked like.
“I just assumed that we would become best friends,” I said, honestly. “And we’d go to concerts together and maybe read one another’s work.” I smiled at Rae whose look seemed to say, you’ve thought way too hard about this. I shrugged. “Or I suppose I could tell him that I liked his work,” I said, realizing that the chances of David and I becoming fast friends was highly unlikely.
But then what is the point of interacting with celebrities? Why are we normal folk so obsessed with seeing them, touching them? They’re just humans who’ve managed to become a lot more popular than us and have accumulated considerable wealth. They live and breathe the same air and have to endure the DMV and TSA like the rest of us--is that right? Because if they have found a way out of dealing with the DMV and TSA, I want into the club.
When I lived in New York City, celebrities were unavoidable so I settled on treating them like any other stranger. I brushed off Jon Stewart when I saw him in Tribeca the morning of my wedding. Rolled my eyes at Katie Holmes when she and her daughter were ogling my kid on a sidewalk on the Upper West Side. But that level of indifference irked me. I knew who they were and trying to deny it only made me look like an asshole.
As I began my career as a journalist, I was tasked with interviewing a number of celebrities, and settled on being polite and to the point, without gushing.
At the American Heart Association’s fashion show in New York City last year, for example, I met a swarm of beautiful and famous women as they were ushered onto the red carpet before the show. While most news outlets were concerned with what each of the catwalkers was wearing, I bombarded the celebrities with questions about heart health. Most of the women were confused, which was my fault because I neglected to mention that I worked for a health publication.
I kept my cool until Susan Lucci came walking by. The "All My Children" matriarch had recently had a health scare and seemed relieved to talk to me about such a personal cause. I had watched her show with my grandparents when I was little, but never turned into a mega fan like my mom or my two sisters. They went so far as to record the show every day and watch it in the evenings, then rewinding the VHS tapes to record the show the following day
Knowing what great fans they all were of Susan, I wanted to rub it in, so I asked the queen of daytime TV for a selfie.
Moments after my cameraperson snapped the image, something came over me. I turned to Susan Lucci and said “my grandparents and my mom are such fans of your show.” She smiled politely and I continued on, blurting out, “my grandma recently passed away and she loved your show so much. She loved you so much.” Tears began flowing down my cheeks and this poor woman didn’t know what she got herself into talking to me. She gracefully wrapped her arms around me and I reciprocated, careful not to mess up her air balloon of a dress. And through tears, I repeated, “thank you, thank you so much. You meant so much to her.”
And that’s when I realized the allure of celebrities. They’re there to entertain, to help us forget about the long lines at the DMV and the fact that we are all going to die someday. It is a gift to be able to hold someone’s attention and arouse emotions that we otherwise might not know how to express.
I still don’t know what I’d say to David Sedaris if I ever met him. Maybe I should just say, thank you.