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Sunday
Oct162011

Goddamn you, Sedaris!

   For the second time in a week, David Sedaris caused me to miss my train stop.

   I was reading the final chapter, if you can call it one, of his collection of essays and diary entries titled When you are Engulfed in Flames (2008).

   I've been a big fan of Sedaris ever since one of my brothers gave me his copy of Naked (1997). There was a "chapter" in that book, called "Something for Everyone", in which Sedaris describes finding money the day he graduated from college:

   "I found fifty dollars in the foyer of my Chicago apartment building. The single bill had been folded into eighths and was packed with cocaine. It occurred to me then that if I played my cards right, I might never have to find a job. People lost things all the time . . .

   "The following afternoon, hung over from cocaine, I found twelve cents and an unopened tin of breath mints. Figuring in my previous fifty dollars, that amounted to an average of twenty-five dolars and six cents per day which was still a decent wage. 

   "The next morning i discovered two pennies and a comb matted with short curly hairs. The day after that I found a peanut. It was then that I started to worry."

   I had already been grinning from ear to ear when I finished the previous chapter, something the Japanese passengers on the train found unsettling enough, but when I came to the line about the peanut I was convulsed by a bout of sniggering. I tried to hold it in, but I couldn't. The compulsion to laugh was too strong. My body rocked, my mouth sputtered, tears fell from my eyes.

   Passengers looked at me warily. Mothers placed protective arms around their children. Young women moved away.

   When the train arrived at the next station, I jumped from my seat and dashed out of the car to the platform where I burst out laughing. Oh, how good it felt!

   Sedaris did it to me again. 

   In the final chapter of When You are Engulfed in Flames, Sedaris first describes how he started smoking, how he found "his brand" of cigarettes, and how he came to his decision to "be finished with his smoking". The second half of the chapter is comprised of a three-month long journal he kept while in Japan where he went to kick the habit. Let me tell you, it's hillarious, a must-read for anyone who has lived or visited this country. 

   What's nice about reading a work like Sedaris's is that it allows you to see Japan with fresh eyes. When you've been here as long as I have, you stop getting gobsmacked by the things you encounter every day.

   The garbled and enigmatic English sentences found on nearly everything no longer attract your attention the way they once did, the removing of shoes at sometimes arbitrary locations and prancing around in dainty slippers doesn't quite bother you anymore, and the formerly unfathomable mindset of the Japanese around you gradually becomes common sense, so much so that when you return to your home country you can no longer understand why people there do things the way they do.

   I have a box of old letters. Yes, letters. We used to write things down on paper. We'd fold the paper up and stuff it into an envelope which we would then take to a post office where we'd have it weighed. After buying the proper postage, the letter would then be dropped into a mail box or the postman's mail bag where it would be taken to a distribution center and sorted by hand. Eventually, the letter would make it onto a flight bound for the United States, and if you were lucky it would arrive at its destination within a week's time. The reply would take about two to three months to come.

   So, if you wrote in your letter that you were feeling depressed, you're friend might reply six to twelve weeks later: "I'm sorry you're not happy." By then, of course, you would have probably forgotten what had been depressing you at the time. 

   It's tempting to crack open that old box--actually it's a large plastic container jam-packed with correspondence--and start posting them. Then again, it's probably better to sleeping dogs lie.

 

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Reader Comments (3)

I totally agree with you about the books and the fresh perspective thing.
i've only read one book about Japan, Hokkaido Highway blues.
I'll pick up Sedaris' work.

so the letters are ones you've wrote, but never posted?
I always do that when I'm traveling, never posting postcards... then I usually chuck em away after a while. pointless!

October 17, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterkayne

Hokkaido HIghway Blues. Don't know it. I'll see if Amazon has it.

Sedaris might be a tad too American for your taste. He is, nonetheless very funny. Do a search of David Sedaris on Youtube. He got his start reading from in diary on the radio. Funny, funny stuff.

As for my letters, I have hundreds of them. I made copies, photocopies of them, sent the photocopies as "Printed Matter" to save money on postage, and kept the originals. After living in Japan for about five years or so, one of my brothers gave me all the letters I had written to him over the years. I have those as well.

October 17, 2011 | Registered CommenterAonghas Crowe

P.S. Thanks for contacting me the other day through this account. I'll try to mail you tomorrow.

October 17, 2011 | Registered CommenterAonghas Crowe

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