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Calypso

July 13, 2018

That this book, Calypso, exists is evidence of a dream come true—David Sedaris grew up and bought a beach house of his own. What a happy ending! He can now say “my home, well one of my homes” however he likes, while the rest of us are still practicing (see his essay “Our Perfect Summer” from Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim).

He did not, however, name the house The Ship Shape, as he had intended when younger. With the wisdom of age—or something like that–he chose The Sea Section.

IMG_1689Walker and I read Calypso on the way to our beach vacation in South Carolina, and then we put it out on the table of books to share, across the room from where we displayed the wooden sign given to us by the friends who share the other beach house every time we go. It says the names of our families, mashed up and intertwined, and the name of the island, so that for a week every other summer, it’s our beach house address. I love this sign and often leave it up for a month or two in my “other home,” just to remember.

This is all to say that I’m a sucker for a beach-house-themed collection of essays by David Sedaris, and I enjoyed this one very much, laughing out loud at least once during almost every essay. Here’s one of the parts that made me laugh:
“Will you have a tree at home?” I asked. “Have you put it up yet?”
This is the sort of thing that drives Hugh crazy—What does it matter if her Christmas tree is up?—but there was no one in line behind me, and I was genuinely curious.
“I think it’s too early,” the woman said. “My kids is all excited for one, but we ain’t even had Thanksgiving yet.”
Gretchen ran her good hand over the false hair on top of her head. “Will you cook a turkey on Thursday or go for something else?”
“Are you two happy now?” Hugh asked when we finally returned to the car. “Need to go back in and learn what everyone’s doing for New Year’s, or do you think we can leave?”

Sedaris is the master of continually pushing a joke one step farther, a kind of humor I adore:
I’ve…seen people feed all sorts of things to the turtles in the canal on Emerald Isle: dry dog food, Cheerios, Pop-Tarts, potato chips.
“None of that is good for them,” Gretchen says. Her turtles eat mainly worms and slugs. They like fruit as well, and certain vegetables. “But potato chips, no.”
“What about barbecue potato chips?” I asked.

And in a season where I’ve been trying to give up snark, a Sedaris moment of snark is like a long, cold drink of water at the end of a hot day:
“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.”

The most seriously funny of all the essays is the one about the legalization of gay marriage, gaily entitled “A Modest Proposal.” Here’s the part I liked best:
“While I often dreamed of making a life with another man, I never extended the fantasy to marriage or even to civil partnerships, which became legal in France in 1999, shortly after Hugh and I moved to Paris. We’d been together for eight years by that point, and though I didn’t want to break up or look for anyone else, I didn’t need the government to validate my relationship. I felt the same way when a handful of American states legalized same-sex marriage, only more so: I didn’t need a government or a church giving me its blessing. The whole thing felt like a step down to me. From the dawn of time, the one irrefutably good thing about gay men and lesbians was that we didn’t force people to sit through our weddings. Even the most ardent of homophobes had to hand us that. We were the ones who toiled behind the scenes while straight people got married: the photographers and bakers and florists, working like Negro porters settling spoiled passengers into the whites-only section of the train.
‘Oh, Christopher,’ a bride might sigh as her dressmaker zipped her up, ‘what would I have ever done without you?’
What saved this from being tragic was that they were doing something we wouldn’t dream of: guilt-tripping friends and relatives into giving up their weekends so they could sit on hard church pews or folding chairs in August, listening as the couple mewled vows at each other, watching as they were force-fed cake, standing on the sidelines, bored and sweating, as the pair danced, misty-eyed, to a Foreigner song.
The battle for gay marriage was, in essence, the fight to be as square as straight people, to say things like ‘My husband tells me that the new Spicy Chipotle Burger they’ve got at Bennigan’s is awesome!’
That said, I was all for the struggle, mainly because it so irritated the fundamentalists. I wanted gay people to get the right to marry, and then I wanted none of us to act on it. I wanted it to be ours to spit on. Instead, much to my disappointment, we seem to be all over it.”

This is the genius of Sedaris—to find moments of humor in everything and use them to illuminate what seem at first like small ideas, until he fits them together and they’re big ideas, and the humor is highlighting how very serious they are.

I also like what I take as the moral of this story, that if you pine for a beach house all your life sometimes you get to have one.

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. July 13, 2018 9:29 am

    I agree that he finds humor in everything. I love the conversations he strikes up with clerks and others. I forgot about the “Have a blessed day” part – I hear that far too often here.

    • July 13, 2018 10:31 am

      I like how much he thinks about everything he says and hears–it seems like the “blessed day” thing is something most of us don’t think about. Another favorite part is when he talks about people who order in restaurants saying “I’ll do the pork chop” or whatever. His suggestion–which I mentioned to everyone during our beach week because one of us (Eleanor) has developed the habit of using the word “do” when ordering–is to say “I would like to purchase the pork chop.” Say it like it is!

  2. July 13, 2018 11:38 am

    What a joy – I adore Sedaris. I can feel a binge of his writing coming on!

    • July 17, 2018 3:10 pm

      He can make a person laugh when almost nothing else in the world can.

  3. July 20, 2018 8:49 pm

    I’ve always loved beach house/nautical decor. Every time I walk through those sections in the store, I feel like I’m suddenly in California or Florida or Maine, and life is a little more delightful and vacationey for a moment. Sigh. Someday…

    • July 20, 2018 9:03 pm

      Yes, exactly. Someday.
      (I wonder about the intended audience for some of the catalogs I get, with beach house decor for that second home.)

      • July 20, 2018 9:06 pm

        Oh yes, that second home I’ll totally be able to afford someday… 😭

        • July 20, 2018 9:15 pm

          If we got internet dollars for all the writing we do, we could afford beach houses…

          • July 20, 2018 9:31 pm

            I’d be swimming in Internet dollars! Like Scrooge MacDuck and his swimming pool/vault of money 🤣

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