By Daniel KusnerOn the Fourth of July, don’t expect David Sedaris to be waving an American flag.
The essayist and NPR commentator will be at his home in France.
He’ll probably spend the day cleaning his oven and smoking cigarettes in a country where one can inhale nicotine practically anywhere — even in hospital waiting rooms.
“I come back to the U.S. And people think America invented freedom. They think that France is a dictatorship or something,” he says. “In terms of freedom and quality of life, we’re pretty low on the totem pole, I think. Just this whole thing about people stamping their little feet and saying things like, ‘I don’t like cigarette smoke. So you can’t smoke cigarettes anywhere, anymore.’ Or, ‘I don’t have a family. So you can’t say 'family room' in your advertisements because that hurts my feelings.’”
It’s modern-day PC whining — especially from what he calls “ridiculous anti-smoking Nazis” — that gets under Sedaris’ skin.
Last week, he was in Austin to promote his latest essay collection, "Me Talk Pretty One Day," (Little Brown, $23).
More than 1,000 fans showed up, and Sedaris signed books for nearly three hours.
“But I made a mistake on a radio interview. I announced that the store made arrangements so I could smoke. Some listener called the police. And the store was going to have to pay a $2,000 fine if I lit a cigarette. I should have never have said anything on the radio,” he says.
“So [during the book signing] I went to the bathroom and smoked half a cigarette there.”
North Texans shouldn’t feel left out that Sedaris won’t be stopping in Big D during his most-recent publicity tour.
Last March, he kicked off his speaking tour at the Dallas Museum of Art.
That standing-room-only DMA crowd was mostly comprised of middle-class heterosexuals.
Although, Sedaris is gay and constantly references his boyfriend, Hugh, it seems his work easily transcends just the “gay market.” When one thinks of Sedaris, the first thought probably isn’t, “Oh yeah. He’s that gay writer.”
“I’ve just always insisted that me saying ‘my boyfriend’ is no different than saying ‘my girlfriend.’ If I were writing a story that said, 'The phone rang. And so I took Hugh’s cock out of my mouth," People might be like, ‘What?’ It’s not like I’m holding back or anything — I just don’t write like that,” he says while exhaling. “It doesn’t make any difference that I’m gay.”
Sedaris’ latest collection reveals that he’s been going through a lot of changes.
One of his favorite activities used to be drinking until he was shit-faced.
Even though he says he wrote at least half of 'Me Talk Pretty One Day' drunk, Sedaris is now exploring moderation.
“I haven’t had a drink in over a year now. I didn’t want to be professional about it. I didn’t want to go to horrible meetings or anything. I just stopped,” he says. “I think everybody has a little time when their books do well. But it’s not going to last for long. So I thought that it will be a lot easier to deal with if I say, ‘Okay, I’m washed up.’ But if I say I’m a washed-up drunk, that will make it even harder. I just wanted to remove the word 'drunk' from that sentence. So it would make it a little easier to deal with.”
Since the publication of his last book, 'Naked,' Sedaris has come to grips with encroaching fame and meshing with Hollywood.
Last week, while Sedaris was in California, he received a mysterious fax from George Lucas’ Skywalker Ranch.
“They wanted me to be the voice of a creature for the new Star Wars movie — like Yoda’s cousin or something. But I’m not an actor. And I don’t want to be a wookie or a little gremlin or anything like that,” he says.
He’s also receives offers to develop TV sitcoms. But Sedaris isn’t about to give up his creative freedom.
“I just feel like I’m so lucky to do whatever I want to do. So I don’t want to throw that away and go work for somebody else. I’ve never worked for anybody else writing. Never,” he insists.
Sedaris, who says he’s a fast typist but only uses one finger, recounts a piece he wrote for The New York Times about his favorite TV show, "Cops."
He returned to France before his editors could get in touch with him about rewrites. And the Times changed Sedaris' vocabulary.
“They used the word ‘hooker.’ I would never in a million years use the word ‘hooker.’ I would have used the word ‘prostitute’ because it has a clinical feeling to it. We’re talking about someone who is missing the entire top row of her front teeth and is wearing a Ghostbusters T-shirt. It’s more interesting to refer to her as 'a prostitute' — to give her the dignity of that title rather than to call her 'a hooker.'
"And it just made me so mad. I just felt like I had been robbed,” he explains. “Besides, The New York Times pays shit.”
Sedaris, 41, doesn’t have any plans to move back to the U.S. anytime soon.
He was in his 30s when he first got published.
Throughout most of his adult life, he worked odd jobs housecleaning or painting while he wrote on the side.
But as his career took off, he started getting hired to clean immaculate houses just so his clients could have lunch with him. It ruined a career that helped keep him grounded.
He’s relatively unknown in France and hasn’t quite mastered the language, which gives him the necessary everyday battles that fuels his writing.
“In Paris, the only attention I get is negative attention, which is the way it should be. What’s good about going to France is it seems that I write better from a vantage point where I’m not getting my way. When I left New York, I pretty much was getting my way.
"And in France, it’s perfect. Because I can sill have lots of money and go shopping. But the second I leave my door, my life is a struggle,” he explains.
While on tour, Sedaris manages to have fun.
During book signings, he’s started wearing an external catheter called The Stadium Pal, which is like a self-adhesive condom with a rubber tube.
“You wear it and urine collects in a bag that you strap to your ankle called The Freedom Leg Bag. It’s designed so that guys can go to football games and drink all they want and never have to go to the bathroom. Like you’re free from the bathroom line,” he explains.
Sedaris wants to use experience so he can write about i.
“I thought it would be funny to pee in my pants while I was in front of people,” he laughs.
When asked about his relationship, Sedaris says he’s in love.
“I say I’m in love with him because I haven’t seen him in a while, and we talk on the phone. Sometimes you love somebody and you’re not necessarily in love with them. To love someone is enough for me,” he explains.
He says his relationship with Hugh is approaching 10 years and that he’s never cheated on his boyfriend.
Is there any chance of them getting married?
“That is so queer," he says. "I could never do that.”