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- "I love things made out of animals," Sedaris says, holding a knife with a hoof for a handle. "It's just so funny to think of someone saying, 'I need a letter opener. I guess I'll have to kill a deer.'"
- Interview with Robert David Sullivan[specific citation needed]
- Shit is the tofu of cursing.
- Reading at George Washington University in Washington, DC. 4 April 2005.[specific citation needed]
- I read "Revolutionary Road" once a year. Aside from its word-by-word construction, I love how his characters deceive themselves.
- from the Praise for Revolutionary Road section at the front of the Vintage 2007 paperback edition of that 1961 novel.
Barrel Fever (1994)
- What did Trish's mother say when her daughter, heartbroken over her breakup with Randy, came to her in search of love and understanding?
'If you're looking for sympathy you can find it between shit and syphilis in the dictionary.'
- Story, "The last you'll hear from me" - p.23 [page numbers per the Abacus paperback edition, 2011 reprint]
- Last Christmas I received a set of golf clubs that, my father likes to remind me, cost a goddamned fortune. He says that he would give his right arm for such a beautiful set of clubs.
- Story, "My manuscript" - p.27
- Over Christmas we looked through boxes of family pictures and played a game we call 'Find Mom, find Mom's cigarettes.' There's one in every picture. We've got photos of her pregnant, leaning toward a lit match, and others of her posing with her newborn babies, the smoke forming a halo above our heads. These pictures gave us a warm feeling.
She smoked in the bathtub, where we'd find her drowned butts lined up in a neat row beside the shampoo bottle. She smoked through meals, and often used her half-empty plate as an ashtray. Mom's theory was that if you cooked the meal and did the dishes, you were allowed to use your plate however you liked.
- Essay, "Diary of a smoker" - p.191
- 'Of course he died,' the window washer said. 'You can't take more than a four-storey fall, not in this town anyway.
Then Jeffrey Lee got off the phone and said that, given a choice, he'd rather fall from a higher floor as it would allow more time for his life to flash before his eyes.
The window man said that all depends on the life you led.
- Essay, "Giantess" - p.198
- I Photo Elfed all day for a variety of Santas and it struck me that many of the parents don't allow their children to speak at all. A child sits upon Santa's lap and the parents say, 'All right now, Amber, tell Santa what you want. Tell him you want a Baby Alive and My Pretty Ballerina and that winter coat you saw in the catalog.'
The parents name the gifts they have already bought. They don't want to hear the word 'pony' or 'television set,' so they talk through the entire visit, placing words in the child's mouth. When the child hops off the lap, the parents address their children, each and every time, with, 'What do you say to Santa?'
The child says, 'Thank you, Santa.'
It is sad because you would like to believe that everyone is unique and then they disappoint you every time by being exactly the same, asking for the same things, reciting the exact same lines as though they have been handed a script.
All of us take pride and pleasure in the fact that we are unique, but I'm afraid that when all is said and done the police are right: it all comes down to the fingerprints.
- Essay, "Santaland diaries" - p.233-234, 235
- "You kids think you invented sex," my mother was fond of saying. But hadn't we? With no instruction manual or federally enforced training period, didn't we all come away feeling we'd discovered something unspeakably modern? What produced in others a feeling of exhilaration left Jason and me with a mortifying sense of guilt. We fled the room as if, in our fumblings, we had uncapped some virus we still might escape if we ran fast enough. Had one of the counselors not caught me scaling the fence, I felt certain I could have made it back to Raleigh by morning, skittering across the surface of the ocean like one of those lizards often featured on television wildlife programs.
- Essay: "I like guys". (p.106-107) [Page numbers per the 2006 Abacus paperback edition.]
- It occurred to me that everything we buy has been poked or packaged by some unfortunate nitwit with a hairnet and a wad of cotton stuffed into his ears. Every ear of corn, every chocolate-coated raisin or shoelace. Every barbeque tong, paper hat, and store-bought mitten arrives with a history of abject misery. Vegetarians look at a pork roast thinking about the animal. I'd now look at them wondering whose job it was to package the shallow Styrofoam trays.
- Essay: "C.O.G." (p.199)
- Because I was lazy, I'd adopted the philosophy that things just happen.
- Essay: "C.O.G." (p.222)
- that's the beauty of an art school: as long as you can pay the tuition, they will never, even in the gentlest way, suggest that you have no talent.
- Essay: "Something for everyone". (p.238)
- My hands tend to be full enough dealing with people who hate me for who I am. Concentrate too hard on the millions of people who hate you for what you are and you're likely to turn into one of those unkempt, sloppy dressers who sag beneath the weight of the two hundred political buttons they wear pinned to their coats and knapsacks. I haven't got the slightest idea how to change people, but still I keep a long list of prospective candidates just in case I should ever figure it out.
- Essay: "Something for everyone". (p.251)
- 'If I had one wish, I'd wish for an unlimited amount of wishes,' I said.
She shook her head in a way that suggested she had heard this answer countless times before. 'Don't get greedy on me, Dave, you only get one wish.'
- Essay: "Naked". (p.317)
- 'It is ironic that nudists are just about the last people you'd ever want to see naked.
- Essay: "Naked". (p.339)
Me Talk Pretty One Day (2000)
- They were nothing like the French people I had imagined. If anything, they were too kind, too generous and too knowledgeable in the fields of plumbing and electricity.
- on genders of nouns: Why refer to Lady Crack Pipe or Good Sir Dishrag when these things could never live up to all that their sex implied?
- After a few months in my parents' basement, I took an apartment near the state university, where I discovered both crystal methamphetamine and conceptual art. Either one of the these things are dangerous, but in combination they have the potential to destroy entire civilizations.
- For the first twenty years of my life I rocked myself to sleep. It was a harmless enough hobby, but eventually I had to give it up. Throughout the next twenty-two years I lay still and discovered that after a few minutes I could drop off with no problem. Follow seven beers with a couple of scotches and a thimble of good marijuana, and it's funny how sleep just sort of comes on its own. Often I never even make it to bed. I'd squat down to pet the cat and wake up on the floor eight hours later, having lost a perfectly good excuse to change my clothes. I'm now told that this is not called "going to sleep" but rather "passing out," a phrase that carries a distinct hint of judgment.
- Like all of my friends, she's a lousy judge of character.
- In other parts of the country people tried to stay together for the sake of the children. In New York they tried to work things out for the sake of the apartment.
- If cooking is an art, I think we're in our Dada phase.
- Because I'm both a glutton and a masochist, my standard complaint, "That was so bad", is always followed by "And there was so little of it!"
- Friends always say, "How can you eat those? I read in the paper that they're made from hog's lips."
"And hearts and eyelids."
- The word phobic has its place when properly used, but lately it's been declawed by the pompous insistence that most animosity is based upon fear rather than loathing. No credit is given for distinguishing between these two very different emotions.
- Quoting his brother Paul
- You can't kill the Rooster. You might can fuck him up a little sometimes, but you can't kill him.
- I ain't seen pussy in so long I'd throw stones at it.
- from "You Can't Kill The Rooster"
- It was insulting to be told not to take too much of something you didn't really want in the first place.
- Essay: "Us and them" - p.7 [page numbers per the Abacus paperback, 2005 UK edition]
- My mother and I were at the dry cleaner's, standing behind a woman we had never seen.
"My sister and I are visiting from out of town," the woman said, a little louder now, and again the man nodded. "I'd love to stay awhile longer and explore, but my home—well, one of my homes—is on the garden tour, so I've got to get back to Williamsburg."
"My home—well, one of my homes": by the end of the day my mother and I had repeated this line no less than fifty times. You had to get it just right, or else the sentence lost its power.
The first dozen times we tried it, our voices sounded pinched and snobbish, but by midafternoon they had softened.
"My home—well, one of my homes . . ." My mother said it in a rush, as if she were under pressure to be more specific.
- Essay, "The ship shape" - p.17, 18, 19
- In the coming years our father would continue to promise what he couldn't deliver, and in time we grew to think of him as an actor auditioning for the role of a benevolent millionaire. He'd never get the part but liked the way the words felt in his mouth.
- Essay, "The ship shape" - p.28
- My sister Lisa had an apartment over by the university and said that I could come stay with her as long as I didn't bring my Joni Mitchell record. My mother offered to drive me over, and after a few bong hits I took her up on it. It was a fifteen-minute trip across town, and on the way we listened to the rebroadcast of a radio call-in show in which people phoned the host to describe the various birds gathered around their backyard feeders. Normally the show came on in the morning, and it seemed strange to listen to it at night. The birds in question had gone to bed hours ago and probably had no idea they were still being talked about.
- ** Essay, "Hijira" - p.88
- "Cut corners and it'll always come back to bite you in the ass." That was one of her sayings.
- Essay, "The girl next door" - p.106
- Her face was like the weather in one of those places with no discernible seasons.
- Essay, "The girl next door" - p.107
- I never went into their apartment, but what I saw from the door was pretty rough - not simply messy or chaotic, but hopeless, the lair of a depressed person.
- Essay, "The girl next door" - p.108
- "It wouldn't have made any difference," my mother said. "A woman like that, the way she sees it she's a victim. Everyone against her, no matter what."
- Essay, "The girl next door" - p.119
- She's afraid to tell me anything important, knowing I'll only turn around and write about it. In my mind, I'm like a friendly junkman, building things from the little pieces of scrap I find here and there, but my family's started to see things differently. Their personal lives are the so-called pieces of scrap I so casually pick up, and they're sick of it. More and more often their stories begin with the line "You have to swear you will never repeat this." I always promise, but it's generally understood that my word means nothing.
- Essay, "Repeat after me" - p.147
- Sometimes when you're stoned it's fun to sit around and think of who might play you in the movie version of your life. What makes it fun is that no one is actually going to make a movie of your life.
I'd worried that, in making the movie, the director might get me and my family wrong, but now a worse thought occurred to me: What if he got us right?
- Essay, "Repeat after me" - p.147, 155
- What really interests me are the local gun laws. Can I carry a concealed weapon and, if so, under what circumstances? What's the waiting period for a tommy gun? Could I buy a Glock 17 if I were recently divorced or fired from my job?
- Essay, "Six to eight black men" - p.157-158
- He took a sip of my father's weak coffee and spit it back into the mug. "This shit's like making love in a canoe."
"It's fucking near water."
- Essay, "Rooster at the hitchin' post" - p.171
- My problem was that I already loved an apartment. The one we had was perfect, and searching for another left me feeling faithless and sneaky, as if I were committing adultery. After a viewing, I'd stand in our living room, looking up at the high, beamed ceiling and trying to explain that the other two-bedroom had meant nothing to me.
- Essay, "Possession" - p.180
- If finding an apartment is like falling in love, buying one is like proposing on your first date and agreeing not to see each other until the wedding.
- Essay: "Possession" - p.183
- I can't seem to fathom that the things important to me are not important to other people as well, and so I come off sounding like a missionary, someone whose job it is to convert rather than listen.
- Essay: "Put a lid on it" - p.203
- Talk like this [i.e. by companions at a diner] can go on for hours, and while you do have to accept it, you don't have to actually pay attention. I stared straight ahead, watching a broken-nosed cook top a hamburger with cheese, and then I turned slightly to my left and began listening to the two men seated on the other side of me. There was about them the weariness of people who could not afford to retire and would keep on toiling, horselike, until they dropped. The man beside me wore a T-shirt endorsing the state of Florida, and as if the weather were completely different on the other side of the ketchup bottle, the man beside him wore a thick wool sweater and heavy corduroy pants. "Did you read about those worms?" he asked.
He was referring to the can of nematodes—tiny worms—recently discovered on the Texas plains. They'd been sent up with the doomed space shuttle and had somehow managed to survive the explosion.
While I'd been listening to my neighbors, Anne had ordered me a slice of pie, and as I picked up my fork she told me that I was supposed to eat it backward, starting with the outer crust and working my way inward. "Your last bite should be the point, and you're supposed to make a wish on it," she said. "Hasn't anyone ever told you that?"
As Anne and Hugh resumed their conversation, I thought of all the pie I had eaten during the course of my life, and wondered how different things might be if only I had wished upon the points.
- Essay: "A can of worms" - p.207, 208, 209
- I thought I'd get a coffee and take it outdoors, but just as I approached, a boy swooped in and began mixing himself a cup of hot chocolate.
It was a complicated business, mixing a cup of hot chocolate. You had to spread the powdered cocoa from one end of the table to the other and use as many stirrers as possible, making sure to thoroughly chew the wetted ends before tossing them upon the stack of unused napkins. This is what I like about children: complete attention to one detail and complete disregard of another.
- Essay: "Chicken in the henhouse" - p.215
When You Are Engulfed in Flames (2008)
- ... name association was big, as were my presumed interests in vaudeville and politics. In St. Louis the Bow tie was characterized as "very Charlie McCarthy", while in Chicago a young man defined it as "the pierced eyebrow of the Republican party".
Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls (2013)
- Our artwork did not hang on the refrigerator or anywhere near it, because our parents recognised it for what it was: crap.
- Essay, "Attaboy". p.14 [page numbers per the Abacus paperback edition 2014]
- My dad was like the Marine Corps, only instead of tearing you to pieces and then putting you back together, he just did the first part and called it a day.
I'm sure my father said plenty of normal things to me when I was growing up, but what stuck, probably because he said it, like, ten thousand times, was "Everything you touch turns to crap." His other catchphrase was "You know what you are? A big fat zero."
- Essay, "Memory laps". p.38
- I laid my hand over hers on the desktop and then looked down at it, thinking what a great poster this would make. "Togetherness," it might read. I'd expected electricity to pass mutually between us, but all I really felt was self-conscious, and disappointed that more people weren't looking on.
- Essay, "A friend in the ghetto". p.52-53
- People had their places, and to not understand that, to act in violation of it, demoted you from a nature nut to something even lower, a complete untouchable, basically.
- Essay, "Loggerheads". p.68
- In the beginning, I was put off by the harshness of German. Someone would order a piece of cake, and it sounded as if it were an actual order, like, "Cut the cake and lie facedown in that ditch between the cobbler and the little girl." I'm guessing this comes from having watched too many Second World War movies.
- Essay, "Easy, tiger". p.80
- Gambling to me is what a telephone pole might be to a groundhog. He sees that it's there but doesn't for the life of him understand why. Friends have tried to explain the appeal, but still I don't get it. Why take chances with money?
- Essay, "A guy walks into a bar car." p.127
- "Look at us," he said, and he let out a long sigh. "A couple of first-class fucking losers."
I wanted to defend myself, to at least point out that we were in second class.
- Essay, "A guy walks into a bar car." p.132 [conversation is on a train]
- In 2004, I offered priority signing to smokers, the reason being that, because they didn't have as long to live, their time was more valuable. Four years later my special treatment was reserved for men who stood five-foot-six and under. "That's right, my little friends," I announced. "There'll be no waiting in line for you." It seemed unfair to restrict myself to men, so I included any woman with braces on her teeth.
"What about us?" asked the pregnant and the lame. And because it was my show, I told them to wait their fucking turn.
- Essay, "Author, author." p.146
- But then my focus shifts and I find myself staring. I should be used to the way Americans dress when traveling, yet it still manages to amaze me. It's as if the person next to you had been washing shoe polish off a pig, then suddenly threw down his sponge saying, "Fuck this. I'm going to Los Angeles!"
- Essay, "Standing by." p.158
- Then again, even if I were informed, what's the likelihood of changing anyone's opinion, especially a couple of strangers? If my own little mind is nailed shut, why wouldn't theirs be?
- Essay, "Standing by." p.165
- A person doesn't consciously choose what he focuses on. Those things choose you, and, once they do, nothing, it seems, can shake them.
- Essay, "Understanding understanding owls." p.186
- My trip reminded me that we are all just animals, that stuff comes out of every hole we have, no matter where we live or how much money we've got. On some level we all know this and manage, quite pleasantly, to shove it towards the back of our minds.
- Essay, "#2 to go." p.192
- While talking, Mrs Dunston rummaged through her tremendous purse. Her wallet was eventually located, but then it seemed that the register was locked, so the best solution was to put the coffees on her bill. That's how I discovered her name and her room number: 302.
My only question then was what time I should arrange her wake-up call for. Let's see how chatty you feel at four a.m., I thought.
- Essay, "Now hiring friendly people." p.209
- It doesn't take many people to muck up a roadside. A devoted handful can do the trick. One of the things I find repeatedly is a plastic Diet Coke bottle containing a meticulously folded Mars bar wrapper. I imagine this is someone's after-work snack and that by putting the wrapper inside the empty bottle, the person feels he's done his bit. And though he has turned two pieces of trash into one, until he learns to keep it in his car, I don't think he's entitled to pat himself on the back.
- Essay, "Rubbish." p.222
- It's not lost on me that I'm so busy recording life, I don't have time to really live it.
- Essay, "Day in, day out." p.233 [on keeping diaries and journals]
- Another old-fashioned practice I maintain is carrying a notebook, a small one I keep in my shirt pocket and never leave the house without. In it I register all the little things that strike me, not in great detail but just quickly. The following morning I'll review what I jotted down and look for the most meaningful moment in the previous day, the one in which I felt truly present.
It's worth mentioning that this is my edit. It wasn't easy revisiting what are now 156 volumes of my diary.
- "Introduction". p.6, 7 [Page numbers per the 2017 Little, Brown hardback UK edition.]
- If you talk to people, you can have whatever you want.
- 26.09.1978 - p.21
- It's fun to see where people live.
- 20.01.1979 - p.29
- Dad on friendship: "Sure, some people are nice. Real nice. Nice like carpets so you can walk all over them."
- 16.04.1979 - p.31
- Later I went to the design school and saw Kumar and Melamid, the Soviet dissident artists, who are funny. I sold them my soul for $1.
- 26.02.1981 - p.52
- After coming home, I listened to the radio and cleaned up a little. A woman on All Things Considered wrote a book of advice called If You Want to Write and mentioned the importance of keeping a diary. It was valuable, she said, because after a while you'd stop being forced and pretentious and become honest and unafraid of your thoughts.
- 01.07.1983 - p.94
- Amy, Tiffany and I sat in the kitchen and talked until three thirty this morning. One of the things we laughed about was an old episode of The Newlywed Game. The host asked the wives, "What's the most exotic place you've ever made love?" He was likely expecting "The kitchen" or "On a tennis court at night," but one woman didn't quite understand the question and answered, "In the butt."
- 28.12.1984 - p.119
- Delinquent style is timeless. Real trouble doesn't walk around with a ponytail. It doesn't have a Mohawk or special shoelace patterns. Real trouble has a bad complexion and a Windbreaker.
- 08.12.1986 - p.153
- Adrienne started teaching a few months ago in Denver and wrote that it leaves you with a constant feeling of deceiving people. That you know nothing they don't, or couldn't learn on their own if they cared to.
- 10.06.1988 - p.181
- Something has changed, and now, when I look at my students, I see only people who are going to eat up my time.
- 17.01.1989 - p.201
- Dad doesn't pay attention when you talk to him, so Paul's taken to throwing the term IRS into his sentences. Then it's suddenly: "Hold on a second, what did you say?"
- 25.09.1990 - p.242
- Walking down 8th Avenue, I fell in behind two muscled gym queens. When a car alarm went off, one of them turned to the other, saying, "That's the Puerto Rican national anthem."
"Really?" the other guy said. "That's actually their anthem?"
- 04.09.1992 - p.291
- Someone stopped Mitch on the street last night and said, "I need another seventy-five cents so I can buy a cheeseburger. How about helping me?"
Mitch said, "Get it without the cheese," and continued walking.
- 07.07.1995 - p.317
- I'm finding it progressively more difficult to have my picture taken, especially now, when there always has to be a gimmick. The idea is that you have to be humiliated in order for your personality to shine through. You need to hang from the ceiling by a hook or crawl on your hands and knees through a puddle of something.
- 04.02.1997 - p.329
- The inevitable finally happened, just as I knew it would.
- 06.04.1999 - p.387
- Harry Rowohlt, the fellow who translated my book into German and is reading with me on my tour, told me that when someone on the bus or at a nearby table in a restaurant talks on a cell phone, he likes to lean over and shout, "Come back to bed, I'm freezing."
- 18.05.1999 - p.391
- In 1976 Dawn Erickson taught me that, in order to ensure good luck, you're supposed to say, "Rabbit, rabbit," on the first day of every month. It has to be the very first thing that comes out of your mouth and you have to say it out loud or else it doesn't work. I'd never been particularly superstitious, but ever since she told me, I've made it a point to follow her example.
- 08.05.2000 - p.412
- On Wednesday my watch broke, so yesterday I went across the street to the saddest mall in America. Half the stores were shuttered up and the fountain had been drained. The food court was gone except for a place called Granny's Fudgery, a wooden cart surrounded by card tables. I imagine the mall started going downhill when it accepted Walmart as a tenant. Anything you could find at Bill's Card Shop and the Record Bin could also be found there, where a customer could pay less and buy everything in one shot. I'd been to only one Walmart in my life before this and I was shocked at how ugly it was, even by American standards. It was a mammoth jumble of absolute shit made more chaotic by brightly colored signs and promotional displays. Yesterday's Walmart was even worse than the first, but the employees were incredibly friendly.
- 20.10.2000 - p.428
- On several occasions during my visit, she referred to herself as poor, and that depressed me. Most people would say they're broke. That word suggests a temporary setback. Poor, on the other hand, conveys a permanence.
- 09.11.2000 - p.431
- In first class, you count on your fellow passengers to make you feel good about yourself. You're supposed to look around with pride, telling yourself that these are your kind of people.
- 21.07.2001 - p.445
- Someone in the back of the room started singing "God Bless America." The thing about "God Bless America" is that, after a certain point, nobody really knows the words. There's always a weird mumbling that follows "Stand beside her and guide her," and lasts until "From the mountains to the prairies."
- 12.09.2001 - p.455
- Honestly, though, does choice ever come into it? Is it my fault that the good times fade to nothing while the bad ones burn forever bright? Memory aside, the negative just makes for a better story: the plane was delayed, an infection set in, outlaws arrived and reduced the schoolhouse to ashes. Happiness is harder to put into words. It's also harder to source, much more mysterious than anger or sorrow, which come to me promptly, whenever I summon them, and remain long after I've begged them to leave.
- Essay, "Leviathan." p.90 [page numbers per the Abacus paperback edition 2018]
- Increasingly at Southern airports, instead of a "good-bye" or "thank-you," cashiers are apt to say, "Have a blessed day." This can make you feel like you've been sprayed against your will with God cologne. "Get off me!" I always want to scream. "Quick, before I start wearing ties with short-sleeved shirts!"
As a business traveller, you'll likely be met at your destination by someone who asks, "So, how was your flight?" This, as if there are interesting variations and you might answer, "The live orchestra was a nice touch," or "The first half was great, but then they let a baby take over the controls and it got all bumpy." In fact, there are only two kinds of flights: ones in which you die and ones in which you do not.
- Essay, "Your English is so good." p.96
- After the desk clerk hands you your key, the bellman will grab your suitcase and ask, "So where are you coming in from today?" Like everyone else at the hotel, he doesn't really listen to your answer. His words are just a hook to hang a tip on. You could say you're from a town ten miles down the road or from another dimension. Either way, you get the same response: "You're a long way from home, aren't you?"
- Essay, "Your English is so good." p.97
- The following morning you'll wander to the hotel breakfast room and tell the hostess that there is only one in your party. She'll pick up a menu and lead you to your table, asking, "And how is your day going so far?"
"You mean the last twelve minutes?" you'll ask. "OK, I guess."
And she'll say, "Awesome."
- Essay, "Your English is so good." p.98-99
- Should you wander into a shop during your visit to the United States, you can expect a clerk to ask, "So what are we up to today?" "We," as if the two of you had made plans you forgot about.
"Oh," I usually say, already sorry I walked in, "I'm just looking around."
If you purchase something, you'll be asked at the register what you're going to do with the rest of your afternoon.
"Umm, I don't know. Buy more shit?"
- Essay, "Your English is so good." p.100
- "Stay safe," a Starbucks employee said to me one morning. I was in a hurry to get to my gate, so didn't stop to ask, "Safe from what?"
- Essay, "Calypso." p.106
- Whenever I see a young woman boarding a plane in her pyjamas, or a guy in a T-shirt that reads your hole is my goal, I always wonder what Mom would think.
- Essay, "Why aren't you laughing?" p.200