“YOU must read David Sedaris,” somebody told me, not long after I started writing this column, unaware of my cussedness when it comes to reading recommended books.
This somebody was followed by another somebody, and another, making a small crowd – three, of course, being the minimum requirement for a crowd.
Obviously I’d heard of Sedaris, the American rock star of humorous essays, as I read the book pages of newspapers, even if I do not read many books, but I was only aware of him in the same way that I am aware of Tuscany or programmes on Posh Telly or social competence.
Eventually I asked, “Why? Why must I – specifically I – read David Sedaris?”
“Oh, you’d love him. He’s like you.”
“Yeah, except he’s really successful, and he’s had an interesting life, and he’s funny.”
I had a book token, so I bought one of his books, and, annoyingly, it was all true. He became my writing hero, and I became just another Sedarista, buying his books and giving them away to convert others, like a Jehovah’s Witness.
Because I work in the media, like Kelly Brook or the late Sir David Frost, I sometimes receive certain perks. I know people who know people. Some might call it corruption, but that is because they are jealous.
Anyway, thanks to my insidious web of influence, I somehow managed to get onto the guest list for a recording of David Sedaris’s radio series. I decided I would take a book for him to sign.
Unfortunately, because of giving them away and the staining properties of tea, I didn’t have a book fit for him to sign, so I went to the grimly apostrophe-free Waterstones, and bought a copy of his latest book.
When I returned home later that evening, I dipped into the book and discovered that the author had already signed it.
What was I supposed to do? Take it back to the shop? “Sorry about this, but can I have a refund? Somebody has written in the front of it… Yes, I know it’s the author’s signature, but I need a clean copy… Why? Erm, erm, I want him to sign it.”
Maybe I could cross it out, or use some Tippex. This was becoming complicated. I decided I would take him a copy of my own, vanity- published book (available in no good bookshops) for him to sign, on the grounds it would be funny. I realise now that was a mistake, but I was becoming desperate…
I settled back in my seat at the Radio Theatre in London and watched Sedaris take the microphone, an incongruous green sports holdall at the feet of this neat, slight man.
As a warm-up, he and his worried-looking producer asked the audience which of us had travelled furthest to see him. The winner would take the holdall, which cost him $750.
“I’m definitely in with a chance here,” I thought. I was about to call out, when I remembered I was on the guest list. Would that be right? Or was it like celebrity editions of quiz shows, where the C-listers involved have to compete for charity, no matter how skint they are?
I kept quiet, and the bag was, inevitably, won by somebody from Liverpool.
My burning disgust was extinguished by Sedaris, as this sparrow of a man made his middle-class, middle-aged audience hoot like gibbons, and I completely forgot my calculations of the pounds sterling value of the bag.
After the show, I joined the queue of autograph hunters. I looked in my own, lesser, bag, my own, lesser, book next to Sedaris’s sullied edition. “I don’t sign other people’s books,” I heard him say. “It seems disrespectful.” I was going to have to get him to re-sign his own book.
“Erm, this is a bit complicated,” I said, when I reached the master. I explained in unnecessary detail the course of events.
He glazed over. “Where did you buy this?” he asked, when I had stopped.
“Liverpool,” I said. He looked at me, confused, and inscribed something in my book.
Then, as an afterthought, I handed him my own book. He received it with the politely encouraging smile an adult gives a six-year-old when given a picture of something which could be a ship or… actually, is that an iron?
As I walked away, I opened the book and read the inscription. “To Gary, you lost a $750 bag,” he had written, a permanent reminder to me from my hero that I am a prevaricating loser.