Excerpt from Naked
I'm thinking of asking the servants to wax my change before placing
it in the Chinese tank I keep on my dresser. It's important to have
clean money--not new, but well maintained. That's one of the tenets
of my church. It's not mine personally, but the one I attend with
my family: the Cathedral of the Sparkling Nature. It's that immense
Gothic building with the towers and bells and statues of common
people poised to leap from the spires. They offer tours and there's
an open house the first Sunday of every October. You should come!
Just don't bring your camera, because the flash tends to spook the
horses, which is a terrible threat to me and my parents, seeing
as the reverend insists that we occupy the first pew. He rang us
up not long ago, tipsy--he's a tippler--saying that our faces brought
him closer to God. And it's true, we're terribly good-looking people.
They're using my mother's profile on the new monorail token, and
as for my father and me, the people at NASA want to design a lunar
module based on the shape of our skulls. Our cheekbones are aeronautic
and the clefts of our chins can hold up to three dozen BBs at a
time. When asked, most people say that my greatest asset is my skin,
which glows--it really does! I have to tie a sock over my eyes in
order to fall asleep at night. Others like my eyes or my perfect,
gleaming teeth, my thick head of hair or my imposing stature, but
if you want my opinion, I think my most outstanding feature is my
ability to accept a compliment.
Because we are so smart, my parents and I are able to see through
people as if they were made of hard, clear plastic. We know what
they look like naked and can see the desperate inner workings of
their hearts, souls, and intestines. Someone might say, "How's it
hangin', big guy," and I can smell his envy, his fumbling desire
to win my good graces with a casual and inappropriate folksiness
that turns my stomach with pity. How's it hanging, indeed. They
know nothing about me and my way of life; and the world, you see,
is filled with people like this.
Take, for example, the reverend, with his trembling hands and
waxy jacket of skin. He's no more complex than one of those five-piece
wooden puzzles given to idiots and school-children. He wants us
to sit in the front row so we won't be a distraction to the other
parishioners, who are always turning in their pews, craning their
necks to admire our physical and spiritual beauty. They're enchanted
by our breeding and want to see firsthand how we're coping with
our tragedy. Everywhere we go, my parents and I are the center of
attention. "It's them! Look, there's the son! Touch him, grab for
his tie, a lock of his hair, anything!"
The reverend hoped that by delivering his sermon on horseback,
he might regain a bit of attention for himself, but even with the
lariat and his team of prancing Clydesdales, his plan has failed
to work. At least with us seated in the front row, the congregation
is finally facing forward, which is a step in the right direction.
If it helps bring people closer to God, we'd be willing to perch
on the pipe organ or lash ourselves to the original stainless-steel
cross that hangs above the altar. We'd do just about anything because,
despite our recent hardships, our first duty is to help others.
The Inner City Picnic Fund, our Annual Headache Drive, the Polo
Injury Wing at the local Memorial Hospital: we give unspeakable
amounts to charity, but you'll never hear us talk about it. We give
anonymously because the sackfuls of thank-you letters break our
hearts with their clumsy handwriting and hopeless phonetic spelling.
Word gets out that we're generous and good-looking, and before you
know it our front gate will become a campsite for fashion editors
and crippled children, who tend to ruin the grass with the pointy
shanks of their crutches. No, we do what we can but with as little
fanfare as possible. You won't find us waving from floats or marching
alongside the Grand Pooh-bah, because that would only draw attention
to ourselves. Oh, you see the hangers-on doing that sort of thing
all the time, but it's cheap and foolish and one day they'll face
the consequences of their folly. They're hungry for something they
know nothing about, but we, we know all too well that the price
of fame is the loss of privacy. Public displays of happiness only
encourage the many kidnappers who prowl the leafy estates of our
When my sisters were taken, my father crumpled the ransom note
and tossed it into the eternal flame that burns beside the mummified
Pilgrim we keep in the dining hall of our summer home in Olfactory.
We don't negotiate with criminals, because it's not in our character.
Every now and then we think about my sisters and hope they're doing
well, but we don't dwell upon the matter, as that only allows the
kidnappers to win. My sisters are gone for the time being but, who
knows, maybe they'll return someday, perhaps when they're older
and have families of their own. In the meantime, I am left as the
only child and heir to my parents' substantial fortune. Is it lonely?
Sometimes. I've still got my mother and father and, of course, the
servants, several of whom are extraordinarily clever despite their
crooked teeth and lack of breeding. Why, just the other day I was
in the stable with Duncan when...
"Oh, for God's sake," my mother said, tossing her wooden spoon
into a cauldron of chipped-beef gravy. "Leave that goddamned cat
alone before I claw you myself. It's bad enough you've got her tarted
up like some two-dollar whore. Take that costume off her and turn
her loose before she runs away just like the last one."
Adjusting my glasses with my one free hand, I reminded her that
the last cat had been hit by a car.
"She did it on purpose," my mother said. "It was her only way
out, and you drove her to it with your bullshit about eating prime
rib with the Kennedys or whatever the hell it was you were yammering
on about that day. Go on now, and let her loose. Then I want you
to run out to the backyard and call your sisters out of that ditch.
Find your father while you're at it. If he's not underneath his
car, he's probably working on the septic tank. Tell them to get
their asses to the table, or they'll be eating my goddamned fist
It wasn't that we were poor. According to my parents, we were
far from it, just not far enough from it to meet my needs. I wanted
a home with a moat rather than a fence. In order to get a decent
night's sleep, I needed an airport named in our honor.
"You're a snob," my mother would say. "That's your problem in
a hard little nutshell. I grew up around people like you, and you
know what? I couldn't stand them. Nobody could."
No matter what we had--the house, the cars, the vacations--it
was never enough. Somewhere along the line a terrible mistake had
been made. The life I'd been offered was completely unacceptable,
but I never gave up hope that my real family might arrive at any
moment, pressing the doorbell with their white-gloved fingers. "Oh,
Lord Chisselchin," they'd cry, tossing their top hats in celebration,
"thank God we've finally found you."
"It ain't going to happen," my mother said. "Believe me, if I
was going to steal a baby, I would have taken one that didn't bust
my ass every time I left my coat lying on the sofa. I don't know
how it happened, but you're mine. If that's a big disappointment
for you, just imagine what I must feel."
While my mother grocery-shopped, I would often loiter near the
front of the store. It was my hope that some wealthy couple would
stuff me into the trunk of their car. They might torture me for
an hour or two, but after learning that I was good with an iron,
surely they would remove my shackles and embrace me as one of their
"Any takers?" my mother would ask, wheeling her loaded grocery
cart out into the parking lot.
"Don't you know any childless couples?" I'd ask. "Someone with
a pool or a private jet?"
"If I did, you'd be the first one to know."
My displeasure intensified with the appearance of each new sister.
"You have how many children in your family?" the teachers would
ask. "I'm guessing you must be Catholic, am I right?"
It seemed that every Christmas my mother was pregnant. The toilet
was constantly filled with dirty diapers, and toddlers were forever
padding into my bedroom, disturbing my seashell and wine-bottle
I had no notion of the exact mechanics, but from overhearing the
neighbors, I understood that our large family had something to do
with my mother's lack of control. It was her fault that we couldn't
afford a summerhouse with bay windows and a cliffside tennis court.
Rather than improve her social standing, she chose to spit out children,
each one filthier than the last.
It wasn't until she announced her sixth pregnancy that I grasped
the complexity of the situation. I caught her in the bedroom, crying
in the middle of the afternoon.
"Are you sad because you haven't vacuumed the basement yet?" I
asked. "I can do that for you if you want."
"I know you can," she said. "And I appreciate your offer. No,
I'm sad because, shit, because I'm going to have a baby, but this
is the last one, I swear. After this one I'll have the doctor tie
my tubes and solder the knot just to make sure it'll never happen
I had no idea what she was talking about--a tube, a knot, a soldering
gun--but I nodded my head as if she and I had just come to some
sort of a private agreement that would later be finalized by a team
"I can do this one more time but I'm going to need your help."
She was still crying in a desperate, sloppy kind of way, but it
didn't embarrass me or make me afraid. Watching her slender hands
positioned like a curtain over her face, I understood that she needed
more than just a volunteer maid. And, oh, I would be that person.
A listener, a financial advisor, even a friend: I swore to be all
those things and more in exchange for twenty dollars and a written
guarantee that I would always have my own private bedroom. That's
how devoted I was. And knowing what a good deal she was getting,
my mother dried her face and went off in search of her pocketbook.
Naked, by David Sedaris(Editor), et al. © March
1997 , David Sedaris(Editor), et al used by permission.