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Wednesday, June 10,2009

Non sequitur

600-plus turn out for David Sedaris at Schuler Books

by City Pulse
Alyona Schluraff showed up before Schuler Books & Music in the Meridian Mall was open last Saturday, hoping to see David Sedaris. But she had a problem. She had no ticket, and only the first 100 ticket-holders were provided seating.

It was Schluraff’s lucky day; someone had returned a ticket, and she was rewarded for her diligence. She found her seat in the front row, dead center for a reading by author and humorist Sedaris.

Schluraff, an English teacher at Holt Central Alternative School, said she uses Sedaris’ articles from The New Yorker in her class. “I have a little fantasy that I am called in front of the school board for using Sedaris’ work in my classroom, and he comes to my defense,” she said.

Schluraff was among the more than 600 fans who turned out for the Sedaris talk and signing event, which started at 1 p.m. Sedaris is the author of seven best-selling books and a frequent contributor to The New Yorker, Vogue and O. But if he ever breaks his funny bone, Sedaris seems poised for a job as spokesman for the La Leche League. Sedaris, who uses his readings as a laboratory to collect material from fans, seemed obsessed with breast milk at Saturday’s event. He told the audience he is collecting stories on breast milk, and he already has several.

He told the tale of a woman who had bought two champagne flutes at a garage sale, casually asking the seller if she had anything to go in them. The woman went into the house and filled one with breast milk. And then there’s the woman at the University of Southern California who told him how she mixes breast milk in the pancake batter. Another told him about mixing breast milk in her coffee. As he signed one young woman’s book, he asker her in his offhand way, “Wouldn’t it be interesting if you mixed breast milk with soft serve? You could call it a titty twister.”

As one of America’s ranking humorists, Sedaris draws kudos and sellout crowds wherever he goes. He just finished a 34-city tour promoting the paperback version of “When You Are Engulfed in Flames,” and this fall he will speak at the Wharton Center. But for this one day, hundreds of fans got to see his patented humor, which is often dripping with unbridled sexual references, for free.

For many lucky enough to see him speak, it was the first time they got to hear the uncensored versions of Sedaris’ sketches and readings. Lori Zieleniewski, a Lansing microbiologist, said she is very careful about to whom she recommends Sedaris’ books. “He’s very twisted and funny and offensive to some,” she said. “I’m a tightly wound person, and he makes me laugh.”

While answering a question about artistic license, Sedaris told a great story about his visit to Costco with his brother-in-law, Bob, where he stocked up on what he called a “gross” of condoms to use as giveaways. The story, which also has appeared in The New Yorker, observes how two men walking through Costco with condoms looks gay. In order to counter that impression, he said Bob went off and returned with a five-pound container of strawberries. “It made us look even gayer; after anal sex we like to have shortcake,” Sedaris said.

He said The New Yorker fact checkers found two discrepancies in his essay: the largest container of strawberries Costco sells is four pounds, and he hadn’t actually purchased a gross of condoms. Sedaris said he considered using a “mess of condoms,” but that sounded like they were used.

During the reading, Sedaris paid homage to his discoverer, “This American Life” host Ira Glass. While answering a question about where he lives when not on tour, he sincerely thanked the audience for buying his books and making it possible for him to have three homes (Paris, London and one undisclosed location).

Sedaris told the audience he has been courted by the movie industry and television. When he was asked to write for Seinfeld, he turned it down. “I started to read on radio when I was 35, and when the Seinfeld show called me, I was old enough to know what I wanted,” he said. “It was nice to be asked.”

After the reading, hundreds of avid fans waited patiently to meet Sedaris. Sedaris spent up to five minutes with a fan talking about anything that crossed his mind; often spouting non-sequiturs. Each fan would go away with a customized drawing, like Schluraff, whose copy of “Engulfed in Flames” now sports an owl saying, “I like black people.”

Sedaris has a keen ability to get fans to spill details about themselves, such as the last time they had sex, odd recipes for breast milk and details about recent hospitalizations.

Shawn Misener, of Haslett, told Sedaris how his books pulled him through some difficult cardiac surgery. Sedaris and Misener then swapped stories about the values of different painkillers, and Sedaris commented about his constipation from Percocet.

Misener’s wife, Mila Theroux, said she likes Sedaris’ take on family. “We all come from some sort of dysfunction and he takes the twist of dysfunction and makes the best of it,” she said.

Many in the audience had the same observation. Brian Harris, 26, of East Lansing, calls himself an “uber” fan. He scored one of the coveted condoms, and he plans on framing it, along with two signed tickets to the reading.

While Sedaris signed his book, Harris asked him about his relationship with his mother, figuring he was close to her. In his deadpan voice, Sedaris answered, “Actually, I was the favorite.”

Nick Mackley, 18 and a recent graduate of East Lansing High School, blushed when Sedaris reached down into his leather bag and presented him with a present of a condom. Although Mackley had never read a Sedaris book, his father, Bruce Mackley, brought him along to share his own excitement for one of his favorite writers.

“He’s brilliant,” Bruce Mackley said. “I don’t laugh out loud much, and he had me in tears.”

Tears were mentioned often by his admiring fans; especially those who love his sketches about family and siblings. Sean Kottke, 38, brought his father, son and daughter. “I first heard him on ‘This American Life.’ It was one of the Christmas shows and an essay from ‘Holidays on Ice,’ Kottke said. “It made me laugh and laugh.”

Kottke, like most at the reading, enjoyed the pieces Sedaris read. “It’s kind of like seeing the Beatles to us,” he said. “His humor appeals to all three generations.”

Sedaris held court at Schuler for eight hours, and even though you can be sure each guest was itching to have a photo taken with him, everyone observed the “Please, No photos. Thank You.” sign placed strategically on the table

Sedaris said the “no photograph” rule was something he imposed when he turned 50. “I decided to cut one thing out, and that was it,” he said. “I didn’t even have to think about it.”

Everything in his life or yours is fair game for Sedaris’ wit. And he admits borrowing generously from audience interaction for his essays and sketches. Which means the young woman sitting in the front row who asked if Sedaris had ever been to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula shouldn’t be surprised if her hand signals (one like a mitten, the other like a dead possum) are incorporated into a sketch.

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