David Sedaris On Breast Milk and Book Tours

People would come and defecate on the floor of the dressing room. So I just thought that was his Gap, but I came to find out that it happens in all stores across America.

Gabe Bullard

Interview by

June 2009
Longer piece aired on WFPL, Louisville




David Gerlach: For most interviews, journalists come ready with a list of questions to ask. But sometimes it’s best to just let the subject talk [phone rings] and tell the story.

David Sedaris: Hello?

Gabe Bullard: Hi. David Sedaris, please.

David Sedaris: This is him.

Gabe Bullard: Hi. This is Gabe Bullard with WFPL in Louisville.

David Sedaris: Hello.

Gabe Bullard: Okay. I’ll go ahead and start. Could you say a couple things while I make sure everything is sounding good?

David Sedaris:  Oh, okay. Well I am in Los Angeles and I am ironing a pair of pants. And then I think I am going to sew a button on a shirt.

Gabe Bullard: Oh. All right.

David Sedaris:  But I think I’ll save the button for the next interview because it’s not on the radio.

[Music: Esquivel “Mini Skirt”]

Gabe Bullard: [Laughs] Are you on a book tour now?

David Sedaris:  Right.

Gabe Bullard: And so how have they changed over the years?

David Sedaris: The crowds have gotten bigger. I always enjoyed them, but now I employ them in a way that I didn’t before. I tend to have little themes for my book tours and ask people questions about that theme and collect a lot of stories. Like a couple years ago—my boyfriend Hugh, his senior year of high school, he worked at the Gap and people would come and they would defecate in the dressing room on the floor.  So I thought that was just, you know, his Gap, but it turns out that it happens in all stores in America. All of them. So that was the theme of my book tour, and people told me stories that just curled my hair.

[Music: Claude Vasori “Night and Fog”]

David Sedaris: So the theme of this tour is “breast milk.”

Gabe Bullard:  [Laughs] What stories have you heard so far?

David Sedaris: Well, I started off: a woman told me that her mom used to put breast milk in the pancake batter. Told her it was better for them than regular milk. Then I met woman who put her own breast milk in her coffee. And then I met a woman who was buying champagne glasses at a yard sale. She said to the person selling them, she said,  “You know, I’d buy these if you had something to put in them.” And the woman said, “Well I’m nursing. Just give me a minute.” And then she filled one of the glasses with warm breast milk and gave it to her. I said, “What did you do?” and the woman said, “I drank it. I didn’t know what else I could do.”

[Music: “Night and Fog” continues]

David Sedaris: So, then a couple days ago, a woman came up and asked me to sign a container of breast milk in a little plastic jar. I asked if I could smell it. She took the lid off and she said, “We both know where this is going.” I said, “Yeah, we do.” So I tasted some breast milk.

Gabe Bullard: [Laughs] What did it taste like?

David Sedaris: It was sweeter than regular milk and thinner. It was like skim milk with a little sugar in it. I don’t need to have any more. I just had that bit. But I’d never tasted it before and I thought: well, I mean, if someone’s offering. How often is someone going to offer? So I thought: okay, I’ll taste it.

[Music: “Night and Fog” continues]

David Sedaris:  One year I had a tip jar on my book tour, because everyone else has a tip jar on their book tour, so I thought well where’s mine? So I put it out on the signing table and I made $4,000. And I didn’t do it every night, but that was the theme of that tour: money.  But I can’t do it again because I started hating people who didn’t tip me and I would think, “Thanks a lot, pal. I wrote my name in your book and you couldn’t give me money for it?”

[Music: The Roots “Wicked Ways”]

David Sedaris: [Laughing] It was so ridiculous and it sort of ruined it because I’d always loved my tours but now they were all based on how much I’d made in tips, like that’s how I measured an evening. So I don’t do that anymore.

Gabe Bullard: Were any cities on that tour better than other cities?

David Sedaris:  Oh, yeah. Louisville was very good to me on that tour. Dallas was the best.

Gabe Bullard: Really?

David Sedaris:  Boulder, Colorado: worst.

Gabe Bullard: Really?

David Sedaris:  People were tight, yeah. I think I came away from Boulder with $60. And I made like $580 in Dallas. The Boulder audience—and you see this sometimes—they treated it as a free lecture event. They didn’t buy books either. Which I don’t care about.

Gabe Bullard: That’s interesting too to think because Boulder you get the idea that it’s a crowd that might be—

David Sedaris: —a wealthy crowd.

Gabe Bullard: Exactly.

David Sedaris:  With really ugly shoes on. And everybody carries, like, four gallons of water on them in these huge containers that are like the size of conga drums. Maybe they’re just exhausted from carrying all that water and they need to go home and rest. I don’t know

[Music: “Wicked Ways” continues]

David Sedaris:  On a tour a couple years ago I offered priority signing to smokers, because they didn’t have as long to live. Their time was more valuable. That’s they way I looked at it. And then I did that and I was at UCLA and a man in the audience filed papers to initiate a lawsuit because I was discriminating against non-smokers on California state property. So I changed it and I offered priority signing to smokers and women with braces on their teeth, because that would just sound so stupid in court. That he was discriminating against women who did not have braces on their teeth in the state of California. And then on my hardcover tour for this book, I offered priority signing to men who were 5’5” and under because that’s how tall I am. With the cigarette thing, a lot of people were leaving and buying cigarettes and coming back and that’s cheating. You can’t cheat on height. And because I’m 5’5” I can measure myself against them.

[Music: Esquivel “Mini Skirt”]

David Sedaris: So I offered men 5’5” and then women over 5’10” but the wee men didn’t like standing next to the gigantic women so that didn’t work. So then I changed it to women with braces on their teeth or any women who had something holding her together. Which, that’s a little bit troublesome because it’s open to interpretation. Somebody could come up and they could say, “I’m on Valium and it’s all that’s holding me together.”

[Music: Halloween, Alaska “Champagne Downtown (Instrumental)”]

David Gerlach: Many thanks to Gabe Bullard for bringing us this interview from 2009. Gabe is now the news and program director at WFPL in Louisville. To hear more go to soundcloud.com/gbullard. Support for Blank on Blank comes from TinyLetter—email for people with something to say. It’s a simple way to send an email newsletter from the people behind MailChimp. TinyLetter.com. Amy Drozdowska produced this Blank on Blank with me. Our sound logo comes to us from Jeffrey Alan Jones. And for all the journalists listening: we want to hear your lost interviews. So drop us a line to interviews@blankonblank.org. Blank on Blank is distributed by the Public Radio Exchange. PRX.org. That’s all for now. I’m David Gerlach. Keep listening.

Music: Esquivel “Mini Skirt” | Claude Vasori “Night and Fog”
| The Roots “Wicked Ways” | Halloween, Alaska “Champagne Downtown instrumental”
Photo: Lilja Hrönn Helgadóttir via Flickr