Me Lie Pretty One Day

In mid March I wrote about the David Sedaris book I bought, Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim. I had read Me Talk Pretty One Day and was excited to read the newer book.

The jacket of the “Corduroy” book claims that Sedaris “lifts the corner of ordinary life, revealing the absurdity below its surface.” There’s a good reason the absurdity is below the surface. No one witnessing the events above the surface would have seen a lot of what Sedaris writes about. His memoirs are largely made up. Or as Sedaris freely admits, he exaggerates.

I got to this story through Al Romenesko at the Poynter Institute, where you can see the links to the Slate story on Alex Heard’s New Republic piece, in which Heard seems to me to make a pretty good case that Sedaris’ stories are based in truth, but then are embellished to make them funnier. Quotes and entire scenes are pulled entirely out of Sedaris’ imagination, according to Heard. When you go to the Poynter site, a lot of people defend Sedaris, indicating that no one should expect a humorist to be telling the whole truth. It is true that when I read Dave Barry, I don’t assume that everything he’s telling me is factual. His context, however, makes that obvious. For me, Sedaris doesn’t. If it makes me an idiot to not have been clear all along that these were fanciful versions of real events, I confess to being an idiot, then.

J. Peder Zane writes in the Charlotte News & Observer that Heard’s story is a bit much, because Sedaris’ readers were in on the joke anyway. I suppose I always wondered if this day would come, so the news wasn’t much of a surprise.

Sedaris defends himself in New York’s Newsday

Sedaris has always freely acknowledged that he exaggerates. He came to fame talking on NPR in 1992 about his stint as a Santa’s elf at Macy’s (a true story, The New Republic asserts). But did he lie about his experiences working at a mental hospital or taking guitar lessons from a midget? Heard says Sedaris wildly and willfully mischaracterized what went on.

“What do you think a state mental hospital is?” Sedaris reponds. “They’re not going to say, ‘Oh yeah, we’re a real hellhole, a real pit.’… If I got the style of the buildings wrong [Gothic instead of Tuscan Revival], excuse me. I still stand by what I wrote…. People aren’t buying my books or showing up because they think every word is true. They’re showing up because they want to laugh.”

Given controversies about such authors as James Frey, Sedaris says, “It was just a matter of time before somebody wrote this article. It’s just in the air. I’m probably lucky the person who wrote it is so incompetent.”

Sedaris mentions the architecture, which is a minor point. The major problem with the mental hospital story, though, wasn’t the description of the architecture, it was Sedaris’ retelling of something that he said transpired there that apparently didn’t happen.

No question Sedaris is funny. But according to Heard, Sedaris’ book Naked begins with a statement that the stories are true. I guess that’s the first lie of the book.

In the book I’ve almost finished, Sedaris recounts telling his brother about a documentary of a child who had a secret twin dead inside him. It had really long hair.

“It’s a bunch of baloney,” my father said.
“No, really, I saw it.”
“Like hell you did.”

“Like hell” to any of it.

Apollo Rises

Click on the link to see a little ditty about our boy Apollo. Do it soon before the copyright cops get wind.


Let Anna Be Right About This

Anna Quindlen’s first sentence in her latest Newsweek column mentions Ann Coulter, only in saying it is not a column about her.

This is not a column about Ann Coulter. Otherwise it would be irrelevant. When the conservative lounge act used an anti-gay slur to refer to John Edwards while speaking to a Republican gathering, she catapulted herself momentarily back into the public eye. That, of course, is what she was after. As Warren Beatty once said of Madonna, she doesn’t want to live off-camera, much less talk. If it takes a bit of desperate bigotry to make the cameras whir—well, desperate times demand desperate measures.

She continues by saying the blam-blam of public discourse has seen its day.

The national snarkfest is on its way out, and good riddance. Like doo-wop when the Beatles showed up, an era is grinding to a close. The landscape of American discourse has grown lousy with agents provocateurs whose careers are built around delivering verbal depth charges, not information. The form is now officially past its sell-by date.

My fear is that the only evidence Quindlen has is her own wish that it were so. I’m not convinced anything will be better in 2008. I hope she’s right, but I’m not making any bets.

Gore in the Details

In 2000 I saw a documentary about Al Gore, not by him. It recounted pretty much the following story by John C. Warnecke, former Gore friend and co-worker at the Nashville Tennessean. The story was published in Salon.

Al was putting out a story, and I helped him. In 1988, when Douglas Ginsberg withdrew his nomination to the Supreme Court because he admitted he had smoked pot, that was in the middle of the 1988 campaign. So they asked all the candidates if they had smoked pot. And Al called me and asked me to stonewall. I argued with him, I said, “If you get everybody to stonewall, then you’re just raising the red flag, and the press will scrutinize you even further.” But he put pressure on me to stonewall.

What do you mean by “pressure”?

He called me three times in one morning, and he said, “Don’t talk to the press at all about this.” That’s a stonewall, and it’s another form of lying. But I couldn’t do that. But I was torn. I felt a debt to the Tennessean, a paper that taught me everything about the truth. And I had a friendship with Al. So I came up with this half-truth. And that was, that Al had tried it a couple of times with me and he didn’t like pot.

It never bothered me in the least that Al Gore had once or a hundred times smoked pot. What bothered me was that when it became clear the pot smoking was going to become public, he gathered his campaign around him to come up with a story, a lie. That story was that he had used it, but it was rare and way back in college.

During the 2000 campaign Republicans came up with all the ways Gore misspoke. They said he claimed to invent the Internet, which was a completely bogus invention by the GOP. The problem was, it seemed plausible that he might have said it, because there were so many other inventions by Gore that the Internet thing seemed to be in character.

Now his Oscar-winning film An Inconvenient Truth is having some of its details called into legitimate question. It’s worth noting that I’m saying some of the details are in question, not the general message. The point that global warming is happening and that humans are a major cause still seem to be backed up by most scientists. According to the New York Times story:

Typically, the concern is not over the existence of climate change, or the idea that the human production of heat-trapping gases is partly or largely to blame for the globe’s recent warming. The question is whether Mr. Gore has gone beyond the scientific evidence.

How so?

Some of Mr. Gore’s centrist detractors point to a report last month by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations body that studies global warming. The panel went further than ever before in saying that humans were the main cause of the globe’s warming since 1950, part of Mr. Gore’s message that few scientists dispute. But it also portrayed climate change as a slow-motion process.

It estimated that the world’s seas in this century would rise a maximum of 23 inches — down from earlier estimates. Mr. Gore, citing no particular time frame, envisions rises of up to 20 feet and depicts parts of New York, Florida and other heavily populated areas as sinking beneath the waves, implying, at least visually, that inundation is imminent.

This is why when I wrote about seeing the film before, my comment was, “It’s a well made film.” I believe the basic message is probably correct, but given Gore’s performance in 2000, the fact that some of his details are being called into question even by global warming believers just is no surprise.


A couple years ago my wife found a book at the dollar store and bought it for me. She’s done it before and usually the books are selling for a dollar for a pretty good reason, i.e. a publisher put out a book that got a lot more faith than it deserved. I don’t know what got David Sedaris’ Me Talk Pretty One Day selling for a buck, but I read the thing and it was instantly one of the most pleasant reads I’d ever had.

Since then I’ve heard him on NPR and he came out with a new book, Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim. Given how the other book had been so fun to read, you’d have thought I’d be among the first to buy the new one. But you’d be wrong again, just like always. The book cost $24.95 new, and I don’t spend that much money on a book unless it’s seriously depressing, like Hubris, or State of Denial, or Chicken Soup for the Dieter’s Soul. Two tens on a book that will make me laugh? I can watch Seinfeld reruns for free.

But here’s where the story turns. On Saturday, two days after Apollo’s birth, I’m inspired to go buy a CD with a song I want to put on a video about Apollo’s birth. I go to Barnes & Noble, because I was stupid enough to buy a membership card to the store so now I have to spend at least enought to save $25 on B&N products over a year, and because I figured the store would have the music. While there, of course, I had to look at books. Not looking at the books would be like going to Dodger Stadium just for the hot dogs. I picked up Hubris, satisfying my need to pay money for something that will make me sad.

I glanced at one of the bargain tables and there was the Corduroy and Denim book by Sedaris, selling for $6.98. I snatched it up. It’s more than a buck, but it’s not full price, so I don’t have to feel the guilt electrons moving through my bloodstream.

For $6.98 (plus 7.8 percent sales tax) I get beautiful paragraphs such as the one following his father’s advice that David ought to clock the kid who hit third-grader David in the nose with a rock:

“Are you talking to me?” I asked. The archaic slang aside, who did my father think I was? Boys who spent their weekends making banana nut muffins did not, as a rule, excel in the art of hand-to-hand combat.

Lift Off of Apollo

Our boy was born Thursday a 6:44 a.m. His name is Apollo Alexander Gardner, appropriate given that he came into the world weighing a wee bit less than 12 pounds.

It will one day seem absolutely astounding that we ever lived without Apollo, the same way it seems about Sarah and Sascha.

For now, though, his presence is a miracle, something to make me reconsider my thoughts on a lot of things.

If I’d had more sleep lately, perhaps the new thoughts would make more sense.