HOOKED: “I love our neighborhood.” narrates Ryan, “It’s very nice and clean.”
Breaking news this week from the frontier of pseudo-reality: David Sedaris, laughing gnome of NPR and bestselling humorist, may — in the course of trying to be funny — have made a few things up. Yes, those hardcore sleuths at the New Republic have published a devastating exposé in which it is proved beyond all doubt that (to take but one example) the character and attributes of “Mister Mancini,” the randy midget guitar teacher in the Sedaris story “Giant Dreams, Midget Abilities,” are not entirely drawn from life. Reporter Alex Heard has discovered that “Mister Mancini” is based upon an estimable person called George Sage, a real dwarf guitar teacher who though somewhat soberer and less funny than “Mister Mancini” had at least the virtue of not being fictional. “His [Sedaris’s] treatment of George Sage,” writes Heard, “is inexcusable.” He has also established that Sedaris invented certain things about a speech-therapy class he attended, and a nudist camp. “Do phony speeches create a distortion?”, Heard worries. “Sedaris is credited with having an impeccable ear for American slang, but his characters’ speeches often seem too good to be true.”
Heard’s article is a remarkably dogged piece of priggery, extending over four pages and including several interviews and at one point an actual plane journey. He assures us that he’s not giving Sedaris “the James Frey treatment” — but then what is he doing poking around forensically like this? There is no literary crime scene here. Not to bash the poor bastard all over again, but Frey’s great offence was his comical, big-fat-whoppers attempt to make himself more serious. Sedaris, on the other hand, is taking craftsmanlike pains to make himself funnier. It’s the difference between gravity and levity. One awaits with interest the New Republic’s forthcoming journalistic exhumations of James Thurber’s The Years with Ross and Mark Twain’s Roughing It.
Back on more firmly unreal ground: Hugh Hefner’s three girlfriends went horseback riding in The Girls Next Door (E! Channel, Sundays, 10 pm), and Hef himself took a brief, cackling spin on a thing called a Cruzin Cooler, a little moped with a refrigerated container for your drinks. “Now you don’t want to go too fast . . . ,” cautioned Cruzin rep Chuck Haase as he showed Hef the ropes. Hef, gaily astride the motorized cooler, wound the throttle with senile asperity and the tiny engine whizzed. And then off he went, bent like a gargoyle, his black silk robe inflating in the mini-breeze.
His three girls, meanwhile, were plodding down toward Burbank on their quadrupeds. “I have a question about horses,” announced Bridget. “You know how in some Western movies they get a thick white foam coming out of them? Like soapy-looking? What is that?” This kind of thing is the closest The Girls Next Door ever gets to eroticism: the point of the show is that you watch it, fidgeting dimly, and then you go on-line and try to find pictures of the girls with no clothes on. But there are no pictures, unless you take out your smutty little credit card and join the Playboy Cyber Club. “So long as you have one good wife,” said G.K. Chesterton, “you are sure to have a spiritual harem.” If you have a harem, he might have added, you’ll be lucky to get one complete woman out of it: Hef’s three bunnies, after years in the stultifying bordello of the Playboy Mansion, have all had their personalities removed. The steely vapidity of Holly, Kendra’s blank laugh, the shrill buoyancy of Bridget: pity the old man, don’t envy him.