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Prodigal son

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Carrying only a sheaf of papers and a bottle of water, David Sedaris walked out alone onto the stage of the 1,700-seat Meymandi Hall at Raleigh's BTI Center recently to face his hometown crowd. In Raleigh, where the now internationally known author and NPR personality grew up and much of his family still lives, Sedaris needed no introduction.

The laughter started even before the graying, 45-year-old writer opened his mouth, perhaps in recognition of the improbable setting. Those who'd heard him read before knew that from the same stage where the North Carolina Symphony Orchestra had recently played would soon spill forth the scatological and the profane.

Sedaris didn't disappoint, taking full advantage of acoustics designed to shape the lyric strains of Dvorak to share hilarious stories and off-the-cuff remarks that were liberally punctuated with obscenities. Even with Sedaris' high-pitched twang to soften them, the words rang off the sculpted ceilings like shotgun blasts, closely followed by explosions of laughter. The prodigal son had returned to sling dung on the hallowed walls of Meymandi.

After an hour of regaling the audience with stories about adopting the last two of Sandy Dennis' 42 cats, his renovation plans for the Anne Frank house, and the holiday traditions of the Dutch--among other things--Sedaris opened the floor to questions.

Did he realize that Dorothea Dix Hospital was going to close?

No, he didn't. He was equally surprised to learn that North Hills Mall would be shutting its doors. "Why don't they send the insane to North Hills Mall and open up boutiques in Dorothea Dix?" Sedaris suggested.

What does he miss about living in Raleigh?

"I miss my friends," he said. "But I never learned to drive, and in Raleigh, if you never learn to drive, you're the only white person on the bus. I'm not a warm weather person, either. When I lived in Raleigh, it was a good place to, um ... "

Sedaris paused for about a half-minute, to allow the audience to marinate in his confusion.

"When I lived in Raleigh, I thought, I'm going to get so far away from here," he said, finally picking up the thread. "And if I'd lived somewhere else, I probably wouldn't have thought that."

Does he think of himself as successful?

"In appearance: I'm going on a tour, I'm speaking in big theaters, they're sold out, I get paid--so it looks good," he replied. "But I wouldn't want to be me."

What does he look for in material for his stories?

"A moment that has the potential for change."

And with that, Sedaris left the stage, to embark on a sold-out, 26-city tour that will take him as far away from Raleigh as the California coast.

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