Last week I saw David Sedaris speak at Ball State University here in Muncie.
Nothing is off limits for his wit. Israeli-Palestinian conflict – cracked me up. His family’s love for off-beat taxidermy – killed. At one point he was talking about the preserved severed head of a South American girl from the 15th century and I’m sure I wasn’t alone in my struggle to keep from laughing aloud.
One of the stories he read was about his decision to put out a tip jar during a book tour. He did it to be funny, but soon he was pulling down $200 – $400 per night and, regardless of how great the crowd was, he started to judge them on the amount they tipped him. I enjoyed the story on a number of different levels.
As a former dive instructor I used to practically live off of tips in Key West. Back at the dock after a day of diving, I would stand as the divers exited the boat. A rough estimate of what we thought we should get was $5 per snorkeler and $10 per diver. I’m not sure how many of our passengers knew this; heck, I didn’t know it until someone told me.
He felt bad for judging cities solely on how poor or how well they tipped. As a dive instructor, for awhile I felt the same way about our trips to the reef. Eventually, I got over it and stopped paying attention to how much individuals tipped me. There was one exception: If I put my life in danger saving your butt, I expected a little green. Ironically, the people I saved were often the worst tippers. I think they were embarrassed.
After the talk someone in the audience asked him how much of his stories were true. I think the question was a bit offensive, but David handled it well. He talked about his most recent contribution to the New Yorker. In the piece he visits a Costco with his brother-in-law. At one point in time they are pushing a cart with one item: “a cinder block sized box of condoms.” He bought the condoms to give out on an upcoming book tour (apparently he’s progressed from the tip jar). Thinking they were looking a bit too gay they decided they had to get some other stuff in the cart. His brother-in-law bought a 5lb box of strawberries.
The fact-checker at the New Yorker called his brother-in-law to make sure he did buy strawberries. They also called Costco to ensure that they did have a 5lb crate of strawberries and a box of condoms the size of a cinder block.
David said that there are some stories that he wouldn’t write for the New Yorker. He figures that the last thing a taxidermist who keeps severed heads in his store probably would want was to get a call from a fact-checker.
All this makes me feel like I should take better notes.