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David Sedaris, sharing his slights-of-life tales

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Writer and humorist David Sedaris reads "The Migrating Warblers," a selection from his new audiobook "Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk." (Courtesy David Sedaris and Hachette Audio).

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By Monica Hesse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 4, 2010

BRIDGEWATER, N.J. -- Often when David Sedaris is bicycling alone along secluded Normandy roads of his adopted country, or when he is swimming laps in the neighborhood pool, his gray matter turns a few shades darker.

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This is why he likes iPods. Instead of listening to the voice inside his head, he can listen, via podcast, to the pleasant liquid pitch of Terry Gross and whomever she happens to be interviewing. If he forgets the iPod, then he is left thinking about . . . about what, exactly?

"Everyone who has ever done me wrong. If I am in a swimming pool or on a bicycle, my thoughts turn to everyone who has Ever. Done. Me. Wrong."

His voice drops low, "wrong" left hanging in the air like a bitter semicolon. He is small, maybe 5-5, neatly ironed and tucked-in, and so he comes off like a malevolent wee mastermind.

Then he smiles, shrugs, and in the tone of mild bewilderment one might use after discovering one's eyeglasses in the guest bathroom when you'd swear you hadn't been in there all day, he says, "It's the darnedest thing!"

He's sitting in a Starbucks in northern New Jersey. It's located in one of those carefully pleasant outdoor shopping oases -- designed to be "walkable," with shoppers tripping from Coldwater Creek to Origin, but difficult to reach without a car. Sedaris doesn't drive, and so he arrived here through a real-life game of Frogger, scurrying over several lanes of traffic from his Marriott across the thruway. He is on the second day of a 35-day tour; on Monday evening, he'll be at George Washington University.

"I like being my own business," Sedaris says, mentioning how he sometimes manipulates the queues at his book signings to bring the back people to the front, or grabs a teenager from the audience and slips him 20 bucks to introduce him.

"When someone complains about that I can say, it's my business. I don't have to be an equal-opportunity employer. I can discriminate against the handicapped if I want."

He knows it's a shocking line. This is why he said it.

During such moments, it is perhaps good that his longtime boyfriend doesn't accompany him on tours, because Hugh Hamrick would be appalled. "Sometimes it's good to have a Hugh on your shoulder, saying, 'Don't do that. Don't say that,' " Sedaris offers.

The man has made a living out of mining his own life for stories, and so going to Starbucks with David Sedaris includes wishing that he will one day write a story about going to Starbucks, that you will get to see the origins of the brilliant lines. (In the Sedaris-sphere, everybody wishes this. Everybody says, Hoo boy. Better watch what you say -- bet David's going to write about this. But what they think will make good stories are rarely the things that make good stories.)

When going where he goes, it's all material, folks. We are material witnesses, praying the material doesn't run out.


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