About the Author
Date of Birth:December 26, 1956
Place of Birth:Johnson City, New York
Education:B.F.A., School of the Art Institute of Chicago, 1987
Read an Excerpt
Barrel FeverStories and Essays
By Sedaris, David
Back Bay BooksCopyright © 1995 Sedaris, David
All right reserved.
I WAS ON “Oprah” a while ago, talking about how I used to love too much. Did you see it? The other guests were men who continue to love too much. Those men were in a place I used to be, and I felt sorry for them. I was the guest who went from loving too much to being loved too much. Everybody loves me. I’m the most important person in the lives of almost everyone I know and a good number of people I’ve never even met. I don’t say this casually; I’m just pointing out my qualification.
Because I know the issue from both sides, I am constantly asked for advice. People want to know how I did it. They want to know if I can recommend a therapist. How much it will cost, how long it might take to recover. When asked, I tell them, like I’m telling you, that I have never visited a therapist in my life. I worked things out on my own. I don’t see it as any great feat. I just looked at the pattern of my life, decided I didn’t like it, and changed. The only reason I agreed to appear on Oprah’s panel was because I thought her show could use a little sprucing up. Oprah is a fun girl, but you’d never know it from watching that show of hers, that parade of drunks and one-armed welfare cheats. And of course I did it to help people. I try and make an effort whenever I can.
Growing up, my parents were so very into themselves that I got little love and attention. As a result, I would squeeze the life out of everyone I came into contact with. I would scare away my dates on the first night by telling them that this was it, the love experience I’d been waiting for. I would plan our futures. Everything we did together held meaning for me and would remain bright in my memory. By the second date, I would arrive at the boyfriend’s apartment carrying a suitcase and a few small pieces of furniture so that when I moved in completely I wouldn’t have to hire a crew of movers. When these boyfriends became frightened and backed away, I would hire detectives to follow them. I needed to know that they weren’t cheating on me. I would love my dates so much that I would become obsessed. I would dress like them, think like them, listen to the records they enjoyed. I would forget about me!
To make a long story short, I finally confronted my parents, who told me that they were only into themselves because they were afraid I might reject them if they loved me as intensely as they pretended to love themselves. They were hurting, too, and remarkably vulnerable. They always knew how special I was, that I had something extra, that I would eventually become a big celebrity who would belong to the entire world and not just to them. And they were right. I can’t hate them for being right. I turned my life around and got on with it.
Did you see the show? Chuck Connors and Cyrus Vance were, in my opinion, just making an appearance in order to bolster their sagging careers. But not Patrick Buchanan. Man, I used to think I had it bad! Patrick Buchanan has chased away every boyfriend he’s ever had, and he’s still doing it. Patrick is a big crier. He somehow latched on to me and he’s been calling and crying ever since the show. That’s his trademark, crying and threatening suicide if I don’t listen. That guy is a complete emotional cripple, but the other panel members didn’t seem fit to speak on the subject. E. G. Marshall, for example, would talk about driving past his ex-boyfriend’s house and calling him in the middle of the night just to hear his voice. Chuck Connors said he used to shower his boyfriends with costly gifts. He tried to buy their love. Chuck Connors wouldn’t recognize love if it were his own hand, and E. G. Marshall if it were both his hands, one down there and the other gently at his throat.
I am in this week’s People magazine, but not on the cover. Bruce Springsteen is on the cover with whatshername, that flat-faced new wife of his, Patty Scholastica or Scoliosis — something like that. In the article she refers to Bruce as “the Boss” and discusses what she calls his “private side.”
If she’s calling Bruce “the Boss,” I can tell you she knows absolutely nothing about his “private side.”
I was the boss when Bruce and I were together. Maybe I should give this Patty person a call and tell her how Bruce needs to have it, give her a few pointers and clear up this “Boss” issue once and for all. Tell her how Bruce groveled and begged for a commitment and how he behaved when I turned him down. I’d said, “What’s the use of being a multimillionaire when you walk around dressed like a second-shift welder at U.S. Pipe & Boiler?” Bruce wants to keep in touch with his “people,” which is admirable in theory but grotesque when you consider the fact that his “people” consume gasoline, domestic beer, and acne medication in equal amounts.
Bruce took it hard and picked up these women on the rebound. I remember running into that last wife of his, the model, at a party. It was she, I, Morley Safer, and Waylon Jennings. We were waiting for the elevator, and she was saying to Waylon that Bruce had just donated seven figures to charity, and I said, “No matter how much money Bruce gives to charity, I still say he’s one of the tightest men I’ve ever known.” It went right over her head, but Morley knew what I was talking about and we shared a smile.
I am in this week’s People magazine celebrating my love with Charlton Heston. There are pictures of me tossing a pillow into his face, pretending to be caught during a playful spat. You know that we can be real with one another because on the next page there I am standing on tiptoe planting a big kiss on his neck while Burgess Meredith, Bobby Packwood, and some other old queens are standing and applauding in the background. Then I’m in the kitchen flipping pancakes to show I’m capable. I’m walking down the street with Charlton Heston, and then I’m staring out to sea, digging my bare toes deep into the sand, in this week’s People magazine.
The press is having a field day over the news of my relationship with Mike Tyson. We tried to keep it a secret, but for Mike and me there can be no privacy. Number one, we’re good copy; and number two, we just look so damned good together, so perfect, that everyone wants pictures.
Charlton Heston and I are finished, and he’s hurt. I can understand that, but to tell you the truth, I can’t feel sorry for him. He had started getting on my nerves a long time ago, before the People story, before our television special, even before that March of Dimes telethon. Charlton can be manipulative and possessive. It seems to have taken me a long time to realize that all along I was in love with the old Charlton Heston, the one who stood before the Primate Court of Justice in Planet of the Apes. The one who had his loincloth stripped off by Dr. Zaus and who stood there naked but unafraid. What a terrific ass Charlton Heston used to have, but, like everything else about him, it’s nothing like it used to be.
In the papers Charlton is whining about our relationship and how I’ve hurt him. I’m afraid that unless Charlton learns to keep his mouth shut, he’s going to learn the true meaning of the word hurt. Mike is very angry at Charlton right now — very, very angry.
Let me say for the record that Mike Tyson, although he showers me with gifts, is not paying for my company. I resent the rumors to the contrary. Mike and I are both wealthy, popular men. The public loves us and we love one another. I don’t need Mike Tyson’s money any more than he needs mine. This is a difficult concept for a lot of people to grasp, people who are perhaps envious of what Mike and I share. This was the case with Charlton Heston, who lost most of his money in a series of bad investments. It’s sad. The man is a big star who makes a fortune delivering the Ten Commandments one day, and then loses it all as a silent partner in a Sambo’s restaurant chain the next.
Mike and I would gladly give everything we’ve got in exchange for a little privacy. We would be happy living in a tent, cooking franks over an open fire on the plot of land we bought just outside Reno. Mike Tyson and I are that much in love. It is unfortunate that our celebrity status does not allow us to celebrate that love in public. Since we were spotted holding hands at a Lakers game, all hell has broken loose, and the “just good friends” line has stopped working. None of this is helping Mike’s divorce case or my breakup with Charlton, who, I might add, is demanding some kind of a settlement. For the time being, Mike Tyson and I are lying low. It’s killing us, but we’ve had to put our relationship on the back burner.
I accidentally swallowed Mike Tyson’s false teeth. I can’t believe it! They were gold, but money isn’t the issue. Between the two of us, we could buy gold teeth for every man, woman, and child with the gums to accommodate them. It’s not the money that bothers me.
It was late, and Mike had taken his teeth out for the evening. He’d put them in a tumbler of water we kept next to our bed. Mike could sleep with his teeth in, but believe me, it was better with them out. We had just finished making very strenuous, very complete love when I reached for that glass of water and drank it down, teeth and all. It was unsettling. The problem was that Mike was planning to have those teeth set into a medallion of commitment for me. He was gracious and forgiving and said that it was no problem, he’d just have some others made. But those teeth were special, his first real gold teeth. Those were the teeth that had torn into all of the exotic meals I had introduced him to. Those were the teeth I polished with my tongue on our first few dates, the teeth that hypnotized me across a candlelit table, the teeth that reflected the lovelight shining in my eyes. I swallowed Mike Tyson’s teeth and let him down.
I’ve been waiting for days, but they still haven’t passed. They have to come out sooner or later, don’t they? Even if I do find them, I can’t expect Mike to put them back in his mouth. That was a big part of our commitment ceremony. I was supposed to reach into my mouth and pull out a rather expensive diamond-studded ID bracelet I’d had made, and Mike was going to reach into his and withdraw the medallion. Mike said, What the hell, it wasn’t like his teeth hadn’t been up my ass before. But it was the principle of the thing that got me down.
Mike Tyson and I were arguing over what to name the kitten we’d bought. I would have just as soon taken one of the many free kittens that had been offered to us. Everyone wanted to give Mike and me kittens. I thought we might just take one of those, but Mike said no. He wanted the kitten that had captured his heart from a pet shop window the previous week, a white Persian/Himalayan female. I don’t care for puffy cats in the first place, and this one, with her flat face, reminded me of whatsher-name, Bruce’s new girlfriend, Patty. But I said, “All right, Mike.” I said, “If you want this Persian/Himalayan mix, then that’s what we’ll get.” I can love just about anything on all fours, so I said, “Fine, whatever.” Let me say that a longhaired cat is one thing, but a white Persian/Himalayan blend named Pitty Ting is something else altogether.
I’d wanted to name the kitten Sabrina 2. I’d had another cat, my Sabrina, for years before she died. I was used to the name and the connotations it carried in my mind. Mike, though, was adamant about the name Pitty Ting, which was unfair seeing as I hadn’t wanted a puffy cat in the first place, especially a white one that would be hard to keep clean. Besides, this was a relationship in which compromise was supposed to be the name of the game. I gave a little, so why couldn’t he?
Driving home from the pet store we started to argue. Mike said some pretty rough things and I responded tit for tat. He was driving like a trained seal, all over the road, and the constant swerving was making me sick to my stomach. The kitten was in the backseat, yowling and carrying on like you wouldn’t believe. I turned around and told it to shut up, when, out of the corner of my eye, I saw Mike raise his fist. I thought he was threatening another driver or rolling up the window. It all happened so fast. I saw his raised fist, and then again, I guess I didn’t see it.
After he hit me, I got out of the car and walked. I’ve had some physical fights with boyfriends before, Norman Mailer and Peter Jennings to name just a couple, so I’m no stranger to a flaring temper. This time, though, I just walked away. Mike followed me. He drove his car up onto the sidewalk, but I kept walking, pretending not to notice. Then Mike got out of the car and started begging, begging on his knees, and whimpering. I put my hand up to my eye, pretending to wipe away some of the blood, and then, boy, did I clip him!
While he was unconscious, I let the kitten out of the car and sort of kicked her on her way, no problem. A puffy cat like that will have no problem finding someone to love her. When he came to, Mike had forgotten the entire incident. That happens all the time — he forgets. He didn’t even ask why we were spattered with blood. He asked, “What happened?” and I answered, “Don’t you remember? You said you wanted to buy me a pony.” So then we purchased a beautiful Shetland pony named Sabrina 2. We forgot about naming things, about anything but our relationship. We rode round and round the block on our pony, who groaned beneath the collective weight of our rich and overwhelming capacity for love and understanding.
Mike Tyson started acting out and it got on my nerves. I can overlook an incident here and there, but Mike started pushing it. For example, one night we were having dinner with Bill and Pat Buckley. Now, I’ve known Bill and Pat for years. We used to vacation together (we all adore sailing), and I think we understand one another fairly well. Bill and Pat have one of those convenient marriages, an arrangement that allows them to pursue sexual relationships on the side with no hard feelings. I met Bill Buckley back when he was going with Redd Foxx, which was years ago.
Pat had recently broken up with Elizabeth Dole and, unfortunately, decided to employ the sordid details of the breakup as our dinner’s conversational centerpiece. This is an old habit of hers. Pour a few drinks into Pat Buckley and she’ll tell you everything, whether you want to hear it or not. If forced to take sides in the issue, I’m afraid I’d sympathize with Liz Dole, but Mike felt differently. We were having dinner when Pat started telling us about a few of Liz’s rather arcane sexual practices. When Bill suggested she change the subject, Mike hauled off and punched him, breaking his jaw as a matter of fact. Afterwards, Pat Buckley thanked Mike Tyson for breaking her husband’s jaw. She said she’d spent the last forty years being patronized by men like Bill Buckley. So what does Mike do? He invites Pat to move in with us! Now, I know what Pat Buckley is really like, and I don’t want her living in our house, dragging strange girls in and out at all hours of the night. I’ve seen Pat Buckley in action. I know about the drinking, the drugs, all of it, so I said, “Miiiikkkkeeee,” through my clenched teeth. I kicked him under the table and he kicked back.
Mike Tyson is making an ugly face in the “Newsmakers” section of this week’s Newsweek magazine, an ugly face directed toward me. I’m not frightened so much as shamed and concerned. In the picture Mike’s skin seems sallow and blotchy. He looks like he’s been rolling around in an ashtray. Our breakup was hard on him, but whining to the press won’t help.
I left as soon as Pat Buckley moved in. I guess Mike thought I would change my mind and welcome her into our lives. I guess Mike was wrong.
Pat Buckley didn’t stay long. She was dating Mackenzie Phillips at the time and stayed only three weeks before taking off to Cannes or Rio or someplace. Looking back on it, I can’t put all the blame on Pat Buckley. Mike and I had problems before she came along, big problems we would have been forced to deal with sooner or later. I don’t want to go into any of the details of our relationship, but I would like to set the record straight and say that there is no truth to the rumors about me and Morley Safer. I resent Mike’s accusation that Morley and I are anything more than friends.
I resent Mike Tyson’s self-pitying ploys for attention. I resent his suggestion that I was in any way false or insincere. Unlike him, I don’t care to dwell on the unpleasant aspects of our relationship. I prefer to remember a time when Mike and I, having finished a simple game of cards, were sitting side by side in comfortable reclining chairs. Mike took my hand in his and began, very gently, to pet my fingers, kissing each one, and addressing them as individuals.
MUSIC FOR LOVERS
ANITA O’DAY was recently interviewed on the radio, on one of the stations I am fond of. She was hooked on drugs for years but claims to have kicked the habit. She told the interviewer that she had taken drugs because she had felt like taking drugs. Then, when she no longer felt like it, she went off to Hawaii, where she was a stranger to drug salesmen. She sounded drunk to me. She said, “My name’s O’Day and that’s pig latin for money, honey, and plenty of it.” She must have been drunk to ramble on like that. She claimed that her record company is managed and financed by her dog. Drunk.
It turns out that Anita O’Day is missing her uvula, that sack of flesh that hangs from the rear of most everyone’s palate. Hers was accidentally removed during a childhood tonsillectomy. She was young then and has adjusted, made quite a name for herself.
I’ve heard Anita O’Day sing plenty of times before but was very excited when, at the end of the interview, the station played a few of her songs. It sounded completely new to me, knowing that she was missing her uvula. Apparently, along with the appendix and tonsils, the uvula is one of those things that we can do without. Since the interview, I cannot get it out of my mind, the idea of this extra baggage. It makes me gag, but still I find myself constantly poking at my uvula with whatever is handy. It’s funny. I just want to take a pair of scissors and snip the damned thing off. It would bleed like the devil but it wouldn’t kill me.
I am not a physician but have read enough to know that everything is not as complicated as it is made to sound. Most of it is just common sense. For example, I have given my daughter, Dawn, stitches several times. If you can sew a button on a shirt, then you can give someone stitches. Just make sure to use a clean, sharp needle and some strong thread. I recommend un-waxed dental floss. Do not, under any circumstances, use yarn. I found myself in a pinch last year and Dawn still blames me for that scar on her forehead. I said then and I will say now that there is no way I’m going to pay some doctor three hundred dollars just because my daughter got drunk and fell. She certainly doesn’t have that kind of money, and whoever it was that pushed her didn’t step forward and offer to pay. I am still making payments on the last hospital visit. I will probably be paying on that for the rest of her life. Doctors, hospitals, and insurance companies. The less we have to do with those people the better off we’ll be. They have everything very neatly tied up and plan to keep it that way.
Two years ago, when Dawn was fifteen, she fell off the roof. Don’t look at me. I have no idea what she was doing up there. I thank God that she landed on her feet. I found her staggering across the lawn and was troubled by her ankles. They felt puffy to me so I set them and applied two fine casts, which, it turned out, were a little bit too tight. Eventually I was forced to carry her to the hospital, where some power-hungry surgeon decided that he needed to amputate both her feet. I am still convinced that her feet were that color not because of gangrene but because they were dirty. Whose feet wouldn’t be dirty after three weeks in a cast?
Anita O’Day is the first music I have listened to since I got rid of the stereo. I still have a bit of tissue lodged in my ear. I had to put it there to blot out the new music Dawn was listening to. The paper is lodged way up in the canal and I don’t dare try and dig it out myself. Everyone says, “Don’t stick sharp objects in your ear.” I believe that this is sound advice (ha, ha). Seriously, though, the ear is a complex and delicate thing. My ears are, anyway.
Lately I find myself wishing that, instead of paper, it was a scrap of metal inside my ear. That way I could draw it out using a powerful magnet held up against the side of my head. It would make a satisfying sound when it hit the magnet. Clink!
When I listen to music I like to relax and imagine my place in it. I believe that this is fairly common. I like to imagine myself as the vocalist or, if the singer is a woman, I pretend that I wrote the song and play all of the important instrumental solos. I generally don’t listen to music on the radio. It doesn’t allow me the time I need to set the stage for myself. I like to know, for instance, where it is that I am performing. How many people are in the audience? What sort of a crowd do they make? As a rule I picture myself playing small clubs where the audience is not allowed to drink or move about freely during my set. They ruin my concentration with their damned tinklings. I almost always imagine Carol, my ex-wife and Dawn’s mother, making an appearance during my nightclub act. Sometimes I allow her to stand shivering in the doorway until the end of my set, when she rushes toward me begging forgiveness. The trouble with this is that Carol wouldn’t be caught dead drifting into any of the clubs I fantasize playing. She doesn’t give a damn for ballads, for anything that isn’t fast and dancey.
It all becomes very complicated and tiresome to imagine, so I rarely listen to music anymore. I do, however, pay close attention to the radio and have quite an impressive collection of tapes. I have the entire Iran-Contra hearings on high-quality Maxell. I tried to draw Dawn into the hearings but she wasn’t interested. Daniel Inouye is missing one of his arms and that certainly didn’t slow him down or keep him off the radio! I have a complete three-year collection of National Press Club broadcasts along with several hard-to-find Noel Proctor commentaries. I have tapes of myself calling in on “Larry King Live!” and speaking personally to such guests as Ed Meese, Tommy Smothers, Bob Hope, and Jim Brady both before and after the accident. Which was the better conversation? You be the judge. The local radio hosts can recognize me by voice, and respect the way I have of challenging their guests. It isn’t easy getting through to any of these shows, but if you are persistent and have something to say, then you’ll find a way to voice your opinion.
I often try and encourage Dawn to call a few shows and speak her mind about the issues. Stupid me, waste of time. Dawn doesn’t even know what the issues are. She would sit glued to the television set or else she’d try and hog the phone, making calls to her so-called friends. I sometimes just want to shake the life out of her, to point at the radio waves in the night sky and tell her that, Goddamn it, people are thinking out there.
After I got rid of the TV set Dawn took to listening to a lot of rock music. I can’t remember the names of any of the bands. It was just one long, horrible record to me. All of those Englishmen with their weary voices remind me of someone walking very slowly through the garbage they have strewn over the face of this earth. Dawn would sit in her chair and listen to these records, one right after another, which was just not healthy. It is music that was popular during the time she spent dating a boy named Rusty Miller. She used to carry on and on about Rusty. The sun rose and set with him. Rusty wasn’t the right type for Dawn but she, of course, couldn’t, wouldn’t, see it. In my opinion he paid too much attention to his hair. It was sprayed up on top and fell to his shoulders. Beautiful hair, like a girl’s. Dawn’s hair should look so good. She threatened more than once to run off with this Rusty character. Dramatic. She tried to convince me that she was pregnant with his child and that they would have to get married. They would cross state lines to do it. I knew she was lying. I have a better chance of getting pregnant than she does, but I said, “Fine, all right, you make your filthy bed and you lie in it.” But where was Miller after my daughter lost her feet? You tell me. He was just a fair-weather friend and I tell her it’s a good thing she found out before it was too late. I found that out about Carol too late. I said, “Look at me.”
I figured Dawn had taken up with someone else when she started playing this new music. She hears it on the radio and has gotten hold of some records, too, big 45s the size of regular LPs. These are songs that have been retouched so that the singers stutter and the music falls back on itself. The same lines repeated over and over again as though they were intended for memorization. Simple, stupid lyrics repeated over and over again. “I I I I I II, I Need, I Need You.” It’s as though the record were scratched intentionally. Normal, thinking people might ask themselves, “Haven’t I heard that phrase already?” They might notice that this relentless repetition is, at best, redundant and, at its worst, an insult to one’s ability to concentrate on anything of value. Dawn says that the beat is good to dance to. Dance? Her? I say, “Excuse me for nit-picking, but doesn’t one need to have two feet in order to dance?” This music encourages her to live in a fantasy world where everything is rosy and brightly possible — no need to work, just sit back and dream, dream your life away.
She’s getting these records from some kid down the block. I’ve seen him around a few times on the street barefoot and shirtless but with a big hairbrush sticking out of his gym shorts. He’s not going anyplace barefoot so what does he need with a hairbrush? He’s just begging to step on a nail or on some of the broken glass I’ve set outside Dawn’s window and I can’t wait until he does.
The songs Dawn played gave me a headache, gave us both a headache. Mine went away after I placed the record player on a high shelf in my bedroom. There’s no way Dawn can reach that shelf. I, personally, have to use the stepladder, which suits me fine because it forces me to work for the music I once took for granted. When Dawn’s headaches persisted I figured it probably had something to do with her wisdom teeth. Do you have any idea how much it costs to have wisdom teeth removed by a dentist? I’ve done some research and the procedure is really not as complicated as you might think. I can handle it. Those teeth have to go. If left untended, they could work their way through her skull and into her brain, wiping out every decent idea she might be capable of.
THE LAST YOU’LL HEAR FROM ME
DEAR Friends and Family,
By the time you receive this letter I will be dead. Those of you attending this service are sitting quietly, holding a beautiful paperweight, a gift from the collection, which, in life, had been my pride and joy. You turn the paperweight over in your hands, look deep inside, at the object imbedded in the glass, be it a rose or a scorpion, whatever, and through your tears you ask, “What is death like?” By this time I certainly know the answer to that question but am unable to give details. Know only that I will one day meet you upon the grassy plains of Heaven, where, with the exception of Randy Sykes and Annette Kelper, I will be tickled to embrace you and catch up on all the news. When the time comes I probably won’t be too thrilled to see my mother either, but we’ll just have to cross that bridge when we come to it.
If my instructions were followed the way I wanted them to be (see attached instruction envelope #1), this letter is being read to you from the pulpit of The Simple Shepherd Church of Christ by my best friend, Eileen Mickey (Hi, Eileen), who is wearing the long-sleeved Lisa Montino designer dress I left behind that always looked so good on me. (Eileen, I hope you either lost some weight or took it out some on the sides or you’re not going to be able to breathe. Also, remember it needs to be dry-cleaned. I know how you and your family love to skimp, but please, don’t listen to what anyone says about Woolite. Dry-clean!)
Most of you are probably wondering why I did it. You’re asking yourselves over and over again, “What could have driven Trish Moody to do such a thing?”
You’re whispering, “Why, Lord? Why take Trish Moody? Trish was a ray of bright sunshine, always doing things for other people, always so up and perky and full of love. Pretty too. Just as smart and sweet and pretty as they come.”
You’re probably shaking your heads and thinking there’s plenty of people a lot worse than Trish Moody. There’s her former excuse for a boyfriend, Randy Sykes, for example. The boyfriend who, after Trish accidentally backed her car over his dog, practically beat her senseless. He beat her with words but still, it might as well have been with his fists. He struck her again and again with words and names such as “manipulative,” “jealous,” “childish,” and others I wouldn’t justify in print. The dog’s death was a tragic accident but perhaps also a blessing in disguise as Randy tended to spend entirely too much time with it. The dog was in danger of becoming, like Randy himself, spoiled and disobedient. Besides that, being a registered breed it was headed for unavoidable future hip problems.
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.”
Perhaps my mother can live with slogans such as this. I know I can’t.
Neither can I live surrounded by “friends” such as Annette Kelper. Poor, chubby Annette Kelper, who desperately tries to pretend that nobody notices the fact that she’s balding on top of her head. That’s right. Look closely — balding just like a man. Perhaps Randy feels sorry for chrome-dome Annette. Maybe that’s why he was seen twice in her company in a single five-day period. Seen standing together in the parking lot of the Burger Tabernacle (her home away from home) and seen huddled together, laughing on the escalator of the Crabtree Valley Mall. Annette, my supposed best friend, who secretly wanted and coveted everything I owned. Annette, always in my corner, the balding, chubby girl who said to me, in the spirit of friendship, “You’ve got to loosen up a little, Trish. People aren’t things that you can own and control and arrange to stay a certain way.” I remember she said it to me in the bedroom of my own home, her hand on my shoulder, facing left so that I could clearly see how those two top teeth of hers are turning brown as a result of a cheap root canal. I remember feeling sorry for her.
Is everyone on earth as two-faced as Annette Kelper? Is everyone as cruel as Randy Sykes? I think not. Most of you, the loved ones I left behind, are simple, devoted people. I urge you now to take a look around the room. Are Randy Sykes and Annette sitting in the audience? Are they shifting uncomfortably in the pew, shielding their faces with the 8½-by-11 photograph of me I had reproduced to serve as a memento of this occasion?
(Eileen, read this part real fast before they have a chance to leave.) Randy Sykes’s dick is the size of my little finger and that’s when it’s hard. And I’m not counting the nail, just the finger! He had sex two times with a boy at Camp Ticonderoga when he was in junior high school. Maybe that explains why he loves it when somebody sticks their finger up his butt. He used to beg me to do that but I refused. I said, “No way, Randy.” He used to do it to himself all the time. That’s why I never held hands with him. His hands stink! He secretly thinks he looks like Marlon Brando, but take a good look — a young Marlin Perkins is more like it! Maybe that’s what he sees in Annette Kelper — he’s an animal lover. She used to come to my house crying, her breath smelling a mile off like her uncle’s dick. She said he forced her but that’s a lie because you don’t force whores and that’s what she is — a whore. Annette and Randy deserve each other. Dick-Breath and Stinky-Finger riding up and down the escalator at Crabtree Valley, up and down, up and down. Fancy little shit-heads! Look at them, take a good hard look at them. It’s their fault I’m dead. They are to blame. I urge you now to take those paperweights and stone them. Release your anger! The Bible says that it’s all right to cast the first stone if someone dead is telling you to do it and I’m telling you now, pretend the paperweights are stones and cast them upon the guilty. I’ve put aside my savings to pay for damages to the walls and windows. It’s money I was saving for my wedding and there’s plenty of it so throw! Hurt them the way they hurt me! Kill them! No one will hold you responsible. Kill them!
(Eileen, I’m going to allow a few minutes here because it might take a while for certain people to get into the swing of it. Pop in the cassette marked “Stoning” and wait until both Randy and Annette are lifeless. Wait until everyone has finished with their paperweights and then I want you to hand the microphone over to my mother. Watch the way she trembles and stutters and remember every gesture as if you were me.)
OH, CHAD,” Mrs. Holt called brightly in her irritating and bright voice. “There’s someone here to see you!”
Chad groaned and stepped out of the shower, taking special care to dry his four inch his seven inch his enormous thirteen-and-a-half-inch penis cock. He was a stud — and he knew it. His ass was still a little sore from last night’s marathon drill sesh with the guys at the auto plant, but other than that he had no complaints. Wearing only a scant towel, he stepped into the kitchen, where he received a gigantic shock at the sight of his entire hideous nosy hateful family surrounded by a dozen naked but heavily armed guys studs.
“SURPRISE!” they all yelled. And surprised he was!!! Chad had completely forgotten about his birthday. His father stepped forward and handed him an alcohol cocktail. “We thought maybe for once we’d give you exactly what you wanted,” the elder Holt said, and everyone laughed in a good-hearted way.
Chad finished his potent highball in one swallow and then he turned his glass upside down, giving the secret signal, which meant for the studs to open fire and kill everyone in the family except for him.
When they finished Chad said, “Thank you, men. You’ve given me just what I’ve always wanted,” and then stepping over the bodies, Chad and the studs headed toward the master bedroom to begin a great fun filled sexy sexsational orgy that none of them would soon forget!!!!
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. The obvious solution would be for him to take the stinking golf clubs and give me what I wanted in the first place. I had asked for a typewriter — I didn’t think it was asking for too much. Terry Glassman got one last year and he’s the same age as me. Terry used his typewriter to compose dull, misspelled, and unimaginative letters, which he sent to his father in Arizona. I don’t blame Dr. Glassman for never responding. When he got bored with it, Terry threw the typewriter off the roof of his house.
In my manuscript, Terry Glassman plays a minor role as an ungrateful and spoiled Boy Scout who learns the meaning of the expression Hard Times when he is discovered nude and vulnerable by a group of randy park rangers who prepare him for a merit badge in give and take! Terry should be grateful to appear in my book but, knowing him, he’ll probably threaten to sue. That’s Terry Glassman all over. Here I’ve given him a good eight inches and a shot at immortality and he’ll turn on me the same way he did last year when I asked him to pose for a few nude sketches. Ingrate.
A few months ago, for my fourteenth birthday, I asked for a portable tape recorder with a discreet suppository-sized microphone; but did I receive one? Of course not! That would be too obvious, to give someone what he wants. My father told me that if I want to listen to music then I should learn to make it myself. Who said anything about music? Dad said that the guy who can play guitar is going to be the life of the party. He’s confusing life with death. The real life of the party is flattened beneath the bed, taping actual sex encounters, not sitting cross-legged on the floor with a guitar, embarrassing himself and others.
I took guitar lessons for two months from Mr. Chatam, an actual midget who teaches at Instrument City over at Northgate Plaza. Mr. Chatam sat perched on the edge of a footstool and wore outfits that a child might wear: checkered suits with clip-on ties and buckled shoes. The guitar was huge in his lap and I would almost feel sorry for him until he opened his wee mouth to say something stupid like “Here’s a little number those girlfriends of yours might enjoy hearing!” and he’d force me to follow along as he played another tiresome ballad from something called The Young Person’s Contemporary Songbook.
In my manuscript, Mr. Chatam is kept in an orphanage, completely nude, his head and body shaved bald, until he is adopted by a group of truck-driving studs for use as a sex baby. Unlike most babies, Mr. Chatam just loves getting spanked and once he starts bawling there’s only one way to pacify him!
I never touched that damned guitar except during lessons, so last week my father told me I had to quit. Boohoo. I thought he might follow up by threatening to give my guitar to a deserving person who wouldn’t look down his nose at such an expensive gift, but no such luck. Instead he bought me a five-record instructional kit and wants me to teach myself. On the record, the guy plays “If I Had a Hammer” and “Kumbaya” and says things like “C’mon now, let’s everybody sing along!” Life of the party.
While he was growing up, my father lived under what he likes to describe as “harsh circumstances” in a small, ugly apartment. By harsh circumstances my father means that they had a curtain instead of a bathroom door. He never had a bedroom and had to sleep on a back-breaking foldout sofa and go to work before and after school, shining shoes and selling newspapers. He has a point there, that’s harsh. Unfortunately, they never gave him a medal for it and as a result he brings it up time and time again.
On the way home from my final guitar lesson my father started in once more, telling me how lucky I am. I was thinking that he should spend an hour playing “Up, Up, and Away” while locked in a windowless room with a midget before he came to me talking about luck. What does he know? During the depression, both of my parents had relatives who would crawl out of the woodwork to stay with my grandparents. They were just freeloaders but, in their own way, they made an impression. Picking me up after my last lesson my father told me a story about the longest freeloader, a guy who was studying to become a Greek Orthodox priest. He wasn’t a blood relative, but whisper the word priest to my grandmother and she’ll fall to her knees and cross herself with a speed that betrays her years. So the priest student moved in and slept on the bone-crushing foldout sofa with my father. This is chock full of possibilities as far as I’m concerned. A freeloader can be just as hot as anyone else. I asked my father what the priest student looked like and he said it wasn’t important.
One day, my dad said, he came home from school earlier than usual. Both his parents were at work and he came upon the priest lying upon my grandparent’s bed without any pants on. The student did not appear shocked or embarrassed. He told my father that he was just conducting a little experiment. Then he doubled over, held a lit match close to his ass, and farted so that the match flared out. He told my father to lie down beside him and give it a try but, knowing my dad, he didn’t. My father said that he couldn’t tell his parents, but he knew in that instant that this priest guy was a pogue, a queer. I don’t think that lighting farts with a match necessarily makes someone a queer but I went along with it and kept my mouth shut. The flame-thrower stayed on for another three months, during which time my father slept on the hard, cold floor. Hearing of some genuine blood relatives with more money and a spare bedroom, the priest moved on and they never heard from him again. My father told me all this while we were in the car. He usually doesn’t talk at all but he had this timed perfectly. He paused at the top of the driveway and turned to me asking, “Have you ever met anyone like that?”
And I said, “What, a priest?”
Goddamn her! Mrs. Peacock has been talking and my parents have decided to listen. This brings my mother and father down several more notches, which is not good, as they have been in the negative column for quite some time. Listening to Mrs. Peacock is like trying to decipher what a groundhog might mean when it clicks its tongue three times and paws at the earth with a hind foot. Mrs. Peacock’s thoughts and actions might be of interest to a group of behavioral scientists in search of the missing link, but other than that the woman is worthless and I rue the day she forcibly entered my life.
When my brother was born I told my parents that, while I was very happy for them, I would not, under any circumstances, share my room. I have always had my own room and I plan to keep it that way. My mother is always barging in to say, “Why don’t you brighten things up in here, put up a few posters and add a little life?” My mother would not care for any of the posters I might enjoy and it is a constant battle to keep my room clear of anything she might refer to as “a little life.” I have a small bed, a lamp, a dresser, and a desk. The only thing I lack is a typewriter. I keep my room very clean and always have. I have been making my bed since I was able to walk and am perfectly capable of washing and ironing my own clothes. I can take care of myself and would appreciate the opportunity to do so in an apartment or small house, even a trailer. While they mean well, I have no use for my parents or Mrs. Peacock, the maid hired shortly after my brother was born. She says she’s a housekeeper and not a maid, the difference being that a housekeeper is white, while a maid is colored. She quibbles over words. If, as she says, a housekeeper earns more money than a maid, does a whore earn more money than a slut?
I have not liked or trusted Mrs. Peacock from the moment she entered our home. She looks like she just crawled out of a cave — absolutely wild. She is an animal and no white uniform can disguise it. Every now and then she’ll be playing around with my brother, wasting time, and she’ll get up close to his face and say, “I’m gonna eat you! Yes, I am, I’m gonna eat you up,” which scares the life out of him because it seems entirely possible.
On her second day of work Mrs. Peacock barged into my room uninvited and ripped the covers off the bed, which I was currently, happily, occupying. Fortunately I was wearing pajama bottoms, but how was she to know that? She does the same thing to my sisters, but they don’t seem to mind as they are willing to suffer any indignity in order to have someone make their beds.
I put a neatly lettered sign upon my bedroom door reading, “If you can read this message you are already too close. Go away. Iron, sweep the driveway, polish the car, or empty the dishwasher, but leave this room alone.” My sign did no good, probably because she can’t even read. I should have set steel-jawed leg traps or rigged a bucket of battery acid over the door, seeing as nothing but brute force will keep this hunting-and-gathering primate out of my private domain. The first time Mrs. Peacock violated my privacy she rifled through my dresser drawers and came away with an old summer camp T-shirt I use for… testing ideas for my manuscript. I refer to it, in print, as my fantasy rag. I came home from school and she had the nerve to confront me with it. She held it in her dimpled hands as far away from her bloated body as her arms could reach.
“What’s this?” she says to me, waving the stiff T-shirt before my eyes. I took issue with this and told her that she knows damned well what it is, anyone with five children should know semen when they see it. She goes, “I never…” as if her children were not made by human contact but found beneath one of the tires lying in her yard. I took my property out of her hands and told her that if I ever catch her in my bedroom again I will sue her for unlawful entry and then, just for the fun of it, I will hunt her down and crush her empty skull. She slapped me. I couldn’t believe it. She caught me when my guard was down and it still hurts to sleep on the left side of my face. “Nobody has ever talked to me like that,” she said.
Nobody? In my book, all the sensible women have gone off to live in Europe and Mrs. Peacock is the only female left in the United States of America. This initially excites her because she is a nymphomaniac slut who looks forward to fucking and sucking her way from Maine to California. Unfortunately for her, though, her dreams will not be realized. Left with no alternative but her, each and every man in America becomes an insatiable homosexual whom I alone can control to do my bidding. They are slaves to their own desire and to me. I order two dozen of my nude and muscular workers to carry Mrs. Peacock off to The Chad Holt (that is my name in the book) Museum of Natural History, where she is put on permanent display as an odd and ugly specimen, reflecting a brutal, bygone world that no longer exists.
I thought about including my mother in the display but decided on sending her to Europe with the rest of her tribe. In her own way she tries, but again and again her mouth gets in the way.
A few days ago I received an emergency page at school, a yellow slip. A yellow slip usually means either death or destruction. I am not terribly attached to anyone in my family, and my parents are heavily insured, so on the way to the office I tried to look on the bright side. It was my mother on the phone calling to say that Mrs. Peacock had found some blood in my underpants. I can’t believe that. Those underpants were in a paper bag at the very bottom of the garbage can. I thought they would be safely destroyed, but Mrs. Peacock must have gone through the trash before the garbage studs came to take it away. She goes through everything. “You’re not going to throw this away, are you?” she says, and she’ll be talking about the grains of rice in the bottom of the salt shaker. “No, Mrs. Peacock, by all means, you take them. They’ll come in handy when your son gets out of prison and marries your niece.” She doesn’t want these things, not really. Her trick is to act like she’s happy with any little scrap. She does it to make us look bad and so that my parents will feel sorry for her. I can’t believe she made such a big deal out of those underpants.
On the phone I told my mother that some guys at school had been horsing around, putting raw chicken livers in the seats of the brightest students and that I had sat on one. It sounded like a logical story to me. Those assholes in the eighth grade are capable of anything stupid and petty. In my manuscript, though, I have made them capable of anything — period! I could just kick myself for not burning those underpants, and isn’t it a shame that it’s come to that, having to burn things? It started bleeding back there a few weeks ago, but I have it under control now.
While the imagination certainly has its place, I feel that it is important for a writer to back certain chapters with a little experience, so a few months ago I started hanging out in the rest room of JCPenney in hopes of getting just that — a little experience.
I stood at the urinal for almost two hours before someone finally took the bait and gave me a signal that he was there to play hardball. Meeting his eyes I understood that I could use him as my research stud, fodder for my manuscript — a little footnote who would drive my future biographers wild and leave my readers breathless and hungry for more. Research Stud and I skipped over all of the bullshit that everyone else goes through: the formal introductions, the phone calls, the dates — we just got to the exclamation point right there in the stall! Afterwards, he sort of ruined everything by telling me that he is a political science major at N.C. state and his name is Julian. I hate that name. In my manuscript he is named Dirk. I’ve made him about three inches taller and have given him a good, thick ten and one-half inches between his legs. Julian and I met in the rest room a few more times before we were interrupted by a store detective who, I am convinced, was interested in arranging a three-way. After that, we started doing it in Julian’s car. He’d drive us out into the country and park behind an abandoned house set on a dirt road.
Julian was all right, but nothing at all like the hard-driving top man I’ve made him out to be in my manuscript. He was actually very stiff and uptight. We’d be doing it and I would whisper, “Talk to me, talk to me,” and he’d start telling me about his summer job as a page at the state legislature building. That was not the kind of talk I was after. I asked him if he had any friends he could invite along the next time. I wanted a good mental picture of what it might be like with three or four studs at one time, ramming away and taking it all. When Julian backed off, I went to the bathroom at the Trailways station and found some real men who could help me.
Research Studs numbers five and six were absolute horses. I’m not changing anything about them. My readers are going to get the unbridled truth as far as those cocksmen are concerned. I just wasn’t prepared for the bleeding back there. Not buckets of blood but a slow and steady flow that lasted about five days, during which time I considered asking one of my sisters for a tampon.
When my father brought up the priest I had a sinking feeling that something was up, that he knew more than he was letting on. It is confusing when a stupid man plays dumb.
I’ll go out later tonight with a flashlight and check to see if my manuscript is still there, out behind the shed, where I keep it buried.
AS A favor to my pastor, Carlton Manning has hired me to work at his service station even though I am unable to drive. You might say that this is like having a bald-headed barber or a toothless dentist bending over your body with advice. You might say, “What does he know?” I will bet that he knows more than you think. I bet that he has a great deal of respect and admiration for the teeth you take for granted. Listen to him. He has inside information.
Sometimes I walk to work but usually I take the bus. Many people ride the bus because their own cars are broken or unreliable. These people see me in my uniform and they think Lord knows what, but they act like there is a doctor in the house. Carlton says that they are looking for free advice. Since I have no knowledge of the automobile, either foreign or domesticated, I reshape their questions into a way that will allow me to fellowship, to make friends out of strangers.
I have made several fine friends on the bus. Friends in need: In need of a dollar or two, in need of a comb, in need of my transistor radio. Last week I gave a woman my sneakers after hearing that vandals had slashed and shredded the seat of her son’s motorcycle. Having nothing upon which to sit, her son is forced to walk back and forth between his home and the church where he takes his meals.
“What can I do to help?” I asked myself. “I have no tailoring skills with which to repair a torn motorcycle seat. What can I do?”
“What can you do? Give her your shoes,” came the reply from somewhere deep inside my heart.
So I did. I gave her my shoes.
“What do I want with these?” the woman asked.
“That will be revealed in time,” I responded.
Now every time I see this woman I ask, “Has it been revealed yet?” She tells me it hasn’t but when it is I will be the first to know.
Friends! Every day the bus driver offers me the steering wheel and every day I am forced to turn him down. While I would enjoy nothing more than to shepherd these passengers to their destination I am forced by state and federal law to decline his kind invitation.
I can’t drive because of my eyes, which grow weaker by the day. In the future I will be rendered blind by the hand of fate. My poor sight is genital in nature, passed down to me from my mother. I have turned my back against any number of “operations” because I cannot be so presumptuous as to force the hand of God in another direction. I will travel willingly along the path He has designed for me. Whether I walk or stumble or crawl, it is up to Him, not me. Carlton has trouble understanding my position. He says that, in a year or two, he will be in the market for a new liver. He always asks pretty girls if they have one they can spare. Carlton says that he will ask for their livers and steal their hearts while he’s at it.
On the radio I hear about men whose time has come, yet they deny the truth and attempt to live off plastic hearts installed in their cut-open chests. But what kind of a life is that, to push your heart’s battery over the rugged terrain of this earth? God looks down upon these men who try to wheedle Him out of His plan and I believe He chuckles. He lets them have their minute in the sun and then He calls them up for a consultation. The Lord gives these men just enough rope to hang themselves but in a gentle and crafty way that nobody can imitate or ignore.
Being a very quick learner I took only a few weeks to master my position as a service station attendant. The first hardship was finding the gas tanks, which are designed by hotshots to blend into the surface of the automobile.
I cannot answer that question. I can only speculate. Perhaps these hotshots would like to convince you that an automobile runs of its own accord, like an animal charging from place to place. You might look at, say, a dog running alongside the road and ask yourself why it runs. Rarely would you ask how the dog runs. You never think of the dog’s gas tank, a bowl of food and water set beside his cushion. These hotshots would like to confuse the natural and the mechanical world.
Can they fool the public at large?
Excerpted from Barrel Fever by Sedaris, David Copyright © 1995 by Sedaris, David. Excerpted by permission.
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