“Genetic Engineering” Summary
Lou, Sedaris’s father, could have been a great inventor. He is the kind of person one goes to with any practical or mechanical problems around the house—but as children, Sedaris and his siblings learned the hard way that their father overexplains the way things work. These explanations are always more boring than one might imagine, and for this reason, Sedaris ironically says that he continues to believe intentionally whimsical ideas about how the world fits together.
One day, young Sedaris finds an old poster in the toolshed that features a number of engineers, including his father. When asked about it, Sedaris’s father offers up a long-winded explanation about how he was part of a team that developed early memory chips capable of storing up to fifteen pages of information. Despite being “trapped for hours” while his father goes on and on, the real question Sedaris originally asked—“Were you allowed to wear makeup and run through a variety of different poses, or did they get the picture on the first take?”—goes unanswered.
Sedaris reflects upon the mystery that not one of his father’s six children shares his interests. Instead, Sedaris and his siblings share many of their mother’s interests and traits, including a lack of interest in understanding things beyond their most basic function.
On another occasion, Sedaris and his sister Amy make a bet regarding the appearance of their father’s secretary and accompany Lou to the office to see who is right. During this visit, their father takes them on a tour of the workplace’s several buildings, and it is so long and exhausting that Sedaris and Amy learn to never ask their father about his work again.
Sedaris reflects upon his own scientific interests and the ways in which they differ from those of his father. For example, he doesn’t bother trying to explain to his father that he froze several slugs in the freezer to discover the secrets of suspended animation, or why he is replacing his hamster’s water with vodka.
In the first week of September, Sedaris’s family rents a beach house on Ocean Isle in North Carolina. Lou, however, ruins the fun of normal summer beach activities by boring his kids with lectures about physics and the science of tides when they play miniature golf and swim.
As teenagers, the Sedaris siblings’ activity of choice during these vacations is competitive suntanning. Under the direction of their mother, they discover...
(The entire section is 632 words.)