Oct. 26, 2009
Before I get to Clarice, not the Jodie Foster character in the Silence of the Lamb movie, but the inimitable great Brazilian writer, I am going to take a seguey into humor, specifically that of David Sedaris, who, I hear, is a favorite of my younger brother Bill's.
I wouldn't know this directly, you see, as my dear brother Bill, the youngest in our family, is many miles away, west of here, and we in our family tend not to communicate much -- with each other anyway. I heard Billy likes Sedaris through a sister of mine who calls him more often than anybody. I'm glad somebody calls him. I wish we talked more often. Heck, it would be nice to see one another.
I haven't seen him in 12 years, since our mother's funeral.
Be that as it may -- and mind you, we both love one another and said so during our last phone conversation, which was, oh, perhaps a year or so ago, when I called him -- I have to go by way of Sedaris to learn about my brother.
I chose Naked, Sedaris' collection of essays about his family to start, and let me tell you, I can totally see why Bill likes Sedaris. There are a lot of similarities.
Like David, my brother Bill was surrounded by females growing up -- three sisters to be precise, and a doting mother. Like David, Bill was a bit neurotic, and funny as hell as a child. He probably still is. And like David, Bill is a bicultural. David is part Greek and American, and we are part Colombian, and Iowan, if there is such a thing. David's mother was a strong personality, and needless to say, ours was too --strong and volatile, always saying what she thought, however outrageous or inappropriate, never making any bones whatsoever about her feelings, and being unabashedly hysterical.
Bill has some of those qualities, but practices directness with charm and aplomb. Rather than daring you into battle, as most individuals in our family do, he invites you to consider and even question an opinion or a stance. This from a guy who was beaten regularly by an older, bigger brother -- for just being. As the youngest in a mad brood of aggressive and opinionated individuals, Billy learned early to be diplomatic. Now he is so diplomatic, he is unreachable!
It must be that he has a lot to do.
As far as I know, ever since Billy picked up a racket, he hasn't done much else but play tennis, and play it well. After winning championships, he decided to teach tennis, and apparently, he does that well too. He taught Olympic hopefuls, and now he heads a sports program at a Midwestern university.
All members of my family are trademarked by some form of obsession, as happens to be the case in Sedaris' family too. And as is true in Sedaris' family, we are irreverent as heck about those things that most people consider sacred -- like death.
Witness Sedaris hearing about his Greek grandmother Ya-Ya's death by phone: "My roommate was listening in, and because I wanted to impress him as a sensitive and complex individual, I threw myself onto the bed and made the most of my grief. 'It can't be true,' I cried. 'It can't be true-hu-hu-hu-hu.'"
And here are David's mother's comments regarding her own death in the future, as the family gazes upon Ya-Ya's casket: "'When I get like that, I want you to shoot me, no questions asked,' my mother whispered. 'disconnect the feeding tubes and shut off the monitors, but under no circumstances do I want you to move me into your basement.'"
There are so many hysterical moments in this collection, dear reader, I can't begin to tell you. You must read David Sedaris, if you haven't already. He's been around a while. Hundreds of thousands watch him on YouTube. He's even done the most audacious thing -- Taken time to read an entire essay, five minutes long, on David Letterman. And had people listen, appreciate and applaud.
Imagine that. Now, let me tell you, that's some accomplishment for a writer.
So, go read Sedaris. Read Naked, or any one of his other books. He's got plenty of outrageous and insightful remarks to make about his family. A lot of what he has to say will probably resonate with you, as I know families are a lot weirder than Cheaper By the Dozen or The Brady Bunch would have you believe. Some of the members of Sedaris' family may even remind you of members of your own family. In the long run, that's one of the best things you can say about a writer -- that he or she is familiar.
Hey David, you remind me of my brother Bill. Take that as a compliment.