Publishing a book on November 3 was a bold move that only a select few could get away with. David Sedaris, longtime New Yorker writer and author of many books (Me Talk Pretty One Day, Calypso), is one of the few, and with a collection of old and new stories and essays called The Best of Me, he brings levity and wit at just the right moment. Here, Sedaris, who flew to North Carolina from his home in England in order to vote in person, speaks with Michael Hainey about manners, snobs, and a few peculiar ideas.
Michael Hainey: Do you feel we’ve lost a sense of kindness in America?
David Sedaris: One thing I realize when I come to the United States is how friendly Americans are. Where I live now in the south of England, if I see somebody standing in front of their house and say hello, they will turn their back on me. I don’t know what people are so afraid of. Whereas in North Carolina, you’re kind of obliged to say hello to everybody you pass. So I think … no. Individually Americans are still pretty kind and civil.
M.H.: How would you define a snob?
D.S.: I don’t have to look any further than myself. I’ve become a horrible snob. I go on these [book] tours and so, of course, I stay in nice hotels. There is somebody who my agent represents, and he only will stay at the Holiday Inn Express. I mean, I would never stay at the Holiday Inn Express. Sometimes you don’t have a choice, but then I complain every moment I’m there. I found that in my diary!
And—this is awful—you know how people hang those seasonal flags in their yards that say, “Happy fall y’all”? I’d written in my diary that they’re a way of telling passing thieves that you have nothing of value in your house. That is so snobby. I kind of got into trouble in England because I’d been invited to testify before the House of Commons about litter.
M.H.: Because you pick up trash while walking, right?
D.S.: Yes. And I said, “Let’s just say I’m not finding a lot of opera tickets.” The way that it was phrased … I’ve never been to the opera. But what I was saying, too, is that I didn’t find anything that real food came in. I mean, not even a package that peanuts were in or potato chips or …
M.H.: You’ve gone too far. Crisps are a real food group in the U.K.
D.S.: I don’t like any flavored potato chip. And I don’t like that cheddar popcorn. On a plane they handed it out, and it smelled like I had farted into my hand. I know somebody who’s like, “Oh yeah, I’ll only eat those with chopsticks.”
M.H.: That’s the definition of a snob. Speaking of walking, are you still wearing your Fitbit?
D.S.: Yes. I’ve walked eight miles so far today, but the day’s young.
M.H.: Do you carry a little water pack with you?
D.S.: This whole idea that you have to drink a quart of water every day is just bullshit. You know when you’re checking out of a nice hotel and they say, “Do you need a bottle of water for your trip to the airport?” I always say, “I’m not walking. This car is going to take me. I’ll be O.K.”
I also always write down the names of mobility scooters whenever I come up behind one.
M.H.: It’s like the company wants to appeal to what the person saw himself as at 16.
D.S.: Like, “You little rascal, coming around the corner like that in the grocery store!” That would be a good little assignment, wouldn’t it? To name mobility carts.
M.H.: The other thing one should rename is adult diapers.
D.S.: You know, I came to North Carolina to empty stuff out of my dad’s and sister’s houses, and we ran out of bubble wrap. Incontinence diapers are really good for wrapping something. We learned that. But they’re in all our future. If you live long enough. My dad is 97. People say, “Oh my God, bless his heart. That’s so wonderful.” I don’t think my dad wants to be 97.
M.H.: O.K., here’s an important question then: How would you like it to end?
D.S.: Well, like everybody, I’d just like to go to bed and die in my sleep. I always thought I was going to die when I was 62, because that’s how old my mother was when she died. And Philip Larkin thought he was going to die when he was 63, because that’s how old his dad was when he died, and he actually died when he was 63.
I think maybe 86. Because you can still live at home when you’re 86 and you can still do a lot of things, and you don’t necessarily have to wear diapers yet.
M.H.: Is there a song you would play at your funeral?
D.S.: We were at the beach about a month ago, and all of a sudden I remembered that song “Bring on those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer!” I think I would want that played at my funeral, no matter what season I died. It would make you stop and think, “Really? That?” I don’t even think the guy who wrote that wanted it played at his funeral.
Michael Hainey is a Deputy Editor for Air Mail