Good work, Clifton

David Sedaris in 2018
Photo: Heike Huslage-Koch (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Few writers bring humour to the page quite like David Sedaris. Born in Johnson City, New York in 1956, he has a singular talent for spotting and magnifying the absurdities of everyday life, and in 1997 that talent was recognised when Ira Glass, the host of This American Life, chanced upon him regaling a Chicago club audience with excerpts from his diaries. Since then, Sedaris’ audience has grown considerably, his ability to generate laughter from the seemingly mundane becoming his signature style and the very essence of his published diaries, of which there are two volumes. The following entry came in 2002.

The Diary Entry

July 8, 2002 

La Bagotière 

Hugh and Leslie left early this morning for Paris. I was supposed to go with them but decided at the last minute that it’s really not a good time for me. I can’t leave my spiders, for one. On Saturday I started feeding Clifton, who lives above the kitchen sink. He’s big, the size of a pearl, and I’m trying to make him bigger. Yesterday he ate two flies and a moth. The flies took him about three hours each, and the moth, I have no idea. He was still working on it when I went to bed. This morning it’s hollow, propped like a scarecrow on the edge of the web. “Good work, Clifton,” I said. 

I love the moment when he feels the prey trying to escape. Their wings vibrate the web and he comes from his little cave to size them up. The other day I threw in a bee. Clifton ran out, saw what he had, and hightailed it back to the corner as if to say, Goddamn, I can’t eat that. Don’t you know anything? 

With moths and flies it’s a different story. He attacks directly, paralyzing them with a bite to the back or stomach or forehead. Once they’re unable to move, he drinks them alive, empties them out, and throws the bodies into the trash. I started feeding Clifton on Saturday and began feeding Coretta Scott yesterday afternoon. The flies are easy to catch, especially the old, clumsy ones. During the day they bat against the windows and at night they can be found sleeping on the ceiling. I felt a little guilty about the moth, but flies, who cares?

Further Reading

David Sedaris’ diaries are a joy and I recommend them to literally everyone. There are the two standard volumes—Theft by Finding: Diaries (1977–2002) and A Carnival of Snackery: Diaries (2003–2020)—and David Sedaris Diaries: A Visual Compendium, a gorgeous book in which his diaries are brought to life using photos, mementos, and illustrations.


Diary entry reprinted by permission of David Sedaris, Little Brown Book Group UK, Hachette Books, and Don Congdon Associates, Inc. © 2017 by David Sedaris.

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