I went to see David Sedaris on stage last night. (Tonight he’s in Missoula, Montana.)
I laughed more than I expected to. I expected to laugh, but not as much (or as raucously) as I did.
There were a few minutes for questions at the end, and someone asked about his “Fitbit” – which now I understand because he wrote about it in the New Yorker last June. It’s like a pedometer but more so.
A few weeks later, I bought a Fitbit of my own, and discovered what she was talking about. Ten thousand steps, I learned, amounts to a little more than four miles for someone my size—five feet five inches. It sounds like a lot, but you can cover that distance in the course of an average day without even trying, especially if you have stairs in your house, and a steady flow of people who regularly knock, wanting you to accept a package or give them directions or just listen patiently as they talk about birds, which happens from time to time when I’m home, in West Sussex, the area of England that Hugh and I live in.
One April afternoon, the person at my door hoped to sell me a wooden bench. It was bought, he said, for a client whose garden he was designing. “Last week she loved it, but now she’s decided to go with something else.” In the bright sunlight, the fellow’s hair was as orange as a Popsicle. “The company I ordered it from has a no-return policy, so I’m wondering if maybe you’d like to buy it.” He gestured toward an unmarked van idling in front of the house, and seemed angry when I told him that I wasn’t interested. “You could at least take a look before making up your mind,” he said.
Well quite. How dare he not want to buy some random thing that this stranger doesn’t want to be stuck with.
I closed the door a couple of inches. “That’s O.K.” Then, because it’s an excuse that works for just about everything, I added, “I’m American.”
“Meaning?” he said.
“We . . . stand up a lot,” I told him.
He and Hugh live in West Sussex and he walks a lot, all the more so now he has the Fitbit. (He feels he has to live up to its expectations.)
Since getting my Fitbit, I’ve seen all kinds of things I wouldn’t normally have come across. Once, it was a toffee-colored cow with two feet sticking out of her. I was rambling that afternoon, with my friend Maja, and as she ran to inform the farmer I marched in place, envious of the extra steps she was getting in. Given all the time I’ve spent in the country, you’d think I might have seen a calf being born, but this was a first for me. The biggest surprise was how unfazed the expectant mother was. For a while, she lay flat on the grass, panting. Then she got up and began grazing, still with those feet sticking out.
“Really?” I said to her. “You can’t go five minutes without eating?”
Around her were other cows, all of whom seemed blind to her condition.
“Do you think she knows there’s a baby at the end of this?” I asked Maja after she’d returned. “A woman is told what’s going to happen in the delivery room, but how does an animal interpret this pain?”
I thought of the first time I had a kidney stone. That was in New York, in 1991, back when I had no money or health insurance. All I knew was that I was hurting, and couldn’t afford to do anything about it. The night was spent moaning. Then I peed blood, followed by what looked like a piece of gravel from an aquarium. That’s when I put it all together.
What might I have thought if, after seven hours of unrelenting agony, a creature the size of a full-grown cougar emerged, inch by inch, from the hole at the end of my penis and started hassling me for food?
Our point exactly.
Maja and I watched for an hour. Then the sun started to set, and we trekked on, disappointed. I left for London the next day, and when I returned several weeks later, and hiked back to the field, I saw mother and child standing side by side, not in the loving way that I had imagined but more like strangers waiting for the post office to open.
If David Sedaris turns up where you are, go see him.