Likely Stories: Calypso by David Sedaris

Jul 8, 2019

Surprisingly funny personal stories of the comic writer.

I’m Jim McKeown, welcome to Likely Stories, a weekly review of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and biographies.

Every family has stories of unusual and funny uncles, nephews, aunts, and siblings.  David Sedaris is no exception.  Calypso—is no exception.  His brand of humor takes a few pages to absorb, but once “bitten,” he will infect your funny bone for good.  David Raymond Sedaris is an American humorist, comedian, author, and radio contributor.  He was publicly recognized in 1992 when National Public Radio broadcast his essay "Santaland Diaries.”  Calypso is his tenth book. 

I especially enjoyed his takes on family and all their peculiarities.  He also makes growing older funnier and easier to experience.  I found most of his stories seem to match experiences in my family spot on hilarious.  My favorite story is “A House Divided.”  David begins with a plane trip for a holiday dinner.  He writes, “Because I’d accumulated so many miles, they bumped me to first class on the flight from Atlanta to Raleigh.  I had assumed that our plane would be on the small side, but instead, owing to Thanksgiving and the greater number of travelers, it was full size.  I was seated in the second row, in front of a woman who looked to be in her early sixties and was letting her hair fade from dyed red to gray.  After she’d settled in she started a conversation with the fellow beside her.  That’s how I learned that she lived in Costa Rica.  ‘It’s on account of my husband,’ she said.  ‘He’s military, well, retired military, though you never really leave the Marine Corps, do you?’” ((51).  Now this may sound rather mundane, but all of Sedaris’s stories begin this way.  If you expect comedy from David, you need only find yourself waiting for the hook to snare you in.

David continues, “Several of the passengers around me laughed, and I noted their faces, vowing that in the event of a crisis, I would not help lead them to the emergency exit.  You people are on your own, I thought, knowing that if anything bad did happen, it would likely be one them who’d save me.  It would be just my luck.  I had passed judgment, so fate would force me to eat my words” (52).  What follows are all the funny things that happen to most people lucky enough to be seated near a “loud talker.” 

The trip nears its end, and David endures the “remain seated until the FASTEN SEAT BELT sign has been turned off” was to be expected, but then she added that we had some very special passengers on board. // Oh no, I thought.  Please don’t embarrass me, I was just wondering who the other important person might be when she said, “With us today is the outstanding soccer team from…’  She named a high school in the Triangle Area and concluded with, ‘Let’s give them a great big hand’” (53).  This might seem to be the end, but, “The woman behind me whooped and cheered, and when no one joined her, she raised her voice, shouting, ‘You people are…[bleep]!  I mean, what the hell, you can’t even applaud for your own teenagers”’” (54-53).

I did censor a bit of the woman’s outburst, which had me laughing all the way through the cabin to the baggage claim.  We have all experienced the story of the plane ride, but the woman who rooted for the team gave Sedaris an extra unexpected laugh, which spread through the terminal.  Calypso offers an experience seemingly ordinary and mundane.  However, there are hidden nuggets of humor everywhere around us.  5 stars.

Likely Stories is a production of KWBU.  I’m Jim McKeown.  Join me again next time for Likely Stories, and happy reading!