Whisky & Culture

In the Buff (David Sedaris)

Jefferson Chase looks one of America's notable writers
By Jefferson Chase
American author David Sedaris is notable for a lot of reasons, including being one of the few remaining advocates of smoking in a county where cigarette consumers are often considered only slightly less contempt worthy than politicians.In Naked, his 1997 compilation of essays-cum-short stories about his adolescence, Sedaris praises smoking for helping him overcome a multitude of childhood tics such as compulsively licking car windows and obsessing about the messages, directed only at him, in pop songs on the radio.It’s good, though, that he didn’t take up the habit earlier.The world would have lost a few funny anecdotes, for instance, the one about how a concerned teacher visits his home, only to end up getting plastered on Scotch with his mother.Now she was Katharine.Another few drinks and she’d probably be joining us for our summer vacation.How easy it was for adults to bond over cocktails. I returned to my bed, cranking up the radio so as not to be distracted by the sound of their cackling… The song that played there posed no challenge whatsoever, the lyric as clear as if I’d written it myself. “Well I think I’m going out of my head, the man sang, “yes, I think I’m going out of my head.” Sedaris’ cagily neurotic persona has often drawn Woody Allen comparisons, but his wit is clearly something he inherited from his mother, who over the course of the seventeen pieces in Naked emerges as the true comic star.Tellingly, it is she who voices what is on everyone’s mind when Sedaris’ sister gets married.“No booze?” she moaned. My mother staggered toward the buffet table, its retractable legs trembling beneath the weight of sparkling waters, sausage biscuits, and decaffeinated coffee.“No booze,” Lisa had announced a week before the ceremony, “Bob and I have decided we don’t want that kind of wedding.” “What kind?” my mother asked. “The happy kind?” Remarks like this one endear us to Sedaris and make it all the more sad, when we learn, in the penultimate essay-story, that his mother is dying of cancer.Sympathy, though, is lost on Mrs. Sedaris, as one of the wedding guests finds out after attempting an ill-advised hug.“I’ve heard what you’re going through and I know that you’re frightened,” the woman said, looking down at the head of thinning grey hair she held clasped between her powerful arms. “You’re frightened because you think you’re alone.” “I’m frightened,” my mother wheezed, “because I’m not alone and because you’re crushing what’s left of my god-damned lungs.The piece from which these passages come is entitled “Ashes.” It’s a reference to the pack-a-day habit mother and son share – but, poignantly, not for long.There are people who compulsively do things that are harmful to themselves and potentially harmful or irritating to others.Then there are people who compulsively want to forbid other people from doing things that are harmful and irritating to others – including drinking alcohol.Naked is a plea for the former against the latter and hence a good read in bed after one too many or a fine pick-me-up for the morning after.Sedaris reminds us that, no matter how perfect we try to become, we’re all naked under our clothes – and we’ve all got to go in the end