the further adventures of

Mike Pirnat

a leaf on the wind

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Engulfed in Flames

My wife pays attention to things that, because I am usually oblivious or overworked (or some combination of the two) I will never, ever notice.  Like the fact that writer David Sedaris was coming to town and that there were tickets available.  She couldn't make it, but bought a pair for me and a friend and coworker.  She really missed out, because Sedaris was hilarious, and well worth seeing and meeting.

In one of his most memorable passages, Sedaris addressed the subject of being an undecided voter.  I'm paraphrasing slightly, but it was more or less like this--imagine the Sedaris-esque pauses and slightly better construction where appropriate:

Being an undecided voter in this election is like being the person on the airplane who, when the flight attendant offers a meal selection of chicken or human shit with glass shards in it, says, "Hmm... How is the chicken cooked?"

While still on politics, Sedaris talked about how he conducted a survey during his summer book signing tour. The question--do you think Barack Obama is circumcised or not?--was simple enough, but the hemming and hawing took him by surprise as many well-educated, left-leaning audience members paused for deep thoughts like "Well, I know he's a Muslim, so..." or "He was born in Africa...".

To this I say that Obama is simultaneously both and neither.  The status of Obama's foreskin is like Schroedinger's cat--it's in a superposition of states and is unknowable until observed. (Frankly, I'll be content to let Michelle Obama be the only one to collapse that particular waveform.)

Sedaris warned us during the show about the signing line--the line is long, and never moves.  He was pretty much right; it took us two and a half hours to get through the line, a fair bit longer than the show itself.

I mostly tried to stay awake and on my feet (I'm old, and tired!), occasionally trying out bits of lightly snarky conversation with Cory, and trying not to be noticed by the people in line around us that amused me so.

Now, I know I shouldn't judge, but really, who goes out on a Friday night dressed like an extra from Newsies? He had the hat, the fully-buttoned vest, boots, the works.  I expected him to start hawking papers and then break into song.

More than anyone else, I didn't want to be noticed smirking at the the two extremely chatty high school girls just ahead of us.  It was really hard not to overhear their conversation, and even harder to not jump in with unsolicited advice.  One girl was freaked out about choosing the right career path and that she didn't want to get deep into something only to find out it wasn't right for her, and how she had this plan all mapped out to age 35, and how she'd get a solid career first and then have a family, but she didn't have to get married but she did want kids, oh sure she could be a great single mom if she had to be, so confident in that she was.  I really wanted to be able to interrupt her and tell her that, "Life is what happens when you're making other plans.  I didn't plan to be where I am now, but I'm happy.  Things change, and you change, and if you don't like what you're doing, you've got plenty of time to just do something else.  And as for being a single mom?  HAH!  Even with two parents, having a kid will totally kick your ass!  You have NO idea what you're in for." I bit my tongue a lot, and made observations about the architecture to Cory instead.

Of course, we did get to witness the girls' BFF commitment ceremony, so that's pretty special.  I think there may have been a pinky swear involved.

When the girls meet Sedaris, they practically squealed, and upon departing urged him to "have a nice life."

Sedaris had offered during his show to give away a free copy of a book, as well as allowing immediate line-cutting privileges, to anyone who spoke fluent Portuguese. It took us nearly two hours in line before we realized that we should have started downloading instructional podcasts to Cory's iPhone and learning enough choice phrases to circumvent the entire line experience. In a worst-case scenario, we figured we could just play audio clips from the phone and try to lip sync convincingly, sort of a "Kung-Fu Portuguese" to compare with the "Nicaraguan French" that Sedaris had discussed during one of his readings. Alas, like many great ideas, this one never went anywhere. After all, what were we going to do with a copy of his book in Portuguese?

As we finally neared the end, the line lady came by to give her spiel.  "He signs the title page.  You must have your book open to the title page." Or what?  David Sedaris will hop over the table and take a big ol' bite of my jugular? While he's ripping my throat apart with his delightful teeth, blood spraying everywhere, the line will disintegrate into a panic-stricken mob, screaming and stampeding away from the monster I've unwittingly released in my last moments on earth?

"Well," I mockingly replied aloud to myself, "there *was* that one time in Columbus.  We wouldn't want a repeat of that now, would we?"

The signs prohibiting photography violated one of my most well-groomed pet peeves--the use of the apostrophe to pluralize.  "No Photo's Please," read the sign.  Perhaps, we wondered, it's the "please" that's wrong, so the sign should really say "No Photo's Pleas," which sounds like some kind of aborted haiku... "No photo's pleas heard / Fall leaves swirl silently down / I need syllables."

Finally, at long last, it was our turn to approach the altar-like table where Sedaris sat with his pens and collection of freebie prophylactics that he likes to give to teenagers, and for such a momentous occasion, I shifted into present tense.

He signs for Cory first. In Cory's copy of Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, Sedaris draws a cute cartoon turtle with a tunnel-like opening on the side of its shell. He explains that this is a turtle who wanted to do good for the world, so she blew a hole in her shell and now she's an abortion clinic.

He bombs out on guessing our signs, swearing and declaring horoscope stuff to be "bullshit" when he fails at both of us, but is surprisingly close to home when he asks if I'm a doctor. I explain that I'm not a doctor, but that my father is. Doctors, he tells me, have long hair on the sides of their hands, between the wrist and pinky.

My turn now, I start to hand over my copy of When You Are Engulfed in Flames when I'm suddenly betrayed by the dust jacket!  It flies out from where it's been dutifully keeping watch on the Magic Page Which Will Be Signed, and I feel like a total jackass. OH NOES!  My embarassments, let me show you them! Fortunately, David Sedaris fails to rip out my throat, nor do me any bodily harm whatsoever.

In my copy of When You Are Engulfed in Flames, he doodles a little bearded man in a top hat, declaring him to be a leprechaun who appears by surprise on your toilet as you exit the shower.  But I am not, Sedaris assures me, the kind of man who will scream upon encountering this leprechaun, because I know that the leprechaun means me no harm.

I tell Sedaris of my morning epiphany -- that the words "When You Are Engulfed in Flames" uncannily match the meter of the Disney classic "When You Wish Upon a Star", and that I've spent all day trying to un-imagine hearing the "in flames" version in my head, which has resulted in mentalling casting him as Jiminy Cricket to sing it at me.  He appears somewhat awestruck--either he's never heard this before, or is very good at pretending that it's his first encounter with the idea--and tells me about this surreal shop in Japan where he bought groceries that always played Disney music for no readily discernable reason.

We shook hands, and I said something trite and thankful in parting, and shifted back to past tense, glad that I wasn't part of the back twenty percent of the line that was still shuffling slowly forward.

And that's pretty much that. If the evening were an Ebay transaction, I'd be leaving a comment along the lines of "A+++ Would do business again!" So, if you feel an urge to be engulfed in flames, let me say from experience that I highly recommend it.

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