“Giant Dreams, Midget Abilities” Summary
Sedaris’s father, Lou, is passionate about jazz and relies on his record collection as a means of escape and solace. Indeed, he is almost confrontational with his love of jazz, often forcing Sedaris and his sisters to listen to recordings, describing at length the shows he has attended, and hyperbolically praising the skills of his favorite musicians.
Although Sedaris believes his father could have been a successful musician, Lou never studied saxophone; his Greek immigrant parents did not approve of such a frivolous use of time and only listened to Greek music. As such, jazz was a form of rebellion for Lou—something forbidden that he could only appreciate in secret by hiding records and sneaking off to New York City to hear jazz played in clubs. This stopped being possible, however, when IBM, Lou’s company, relocated the Sedaris family to Raleigh, North Carolina. No longer able to access the jazz and culture of New York City, Lou dreams about creating a Sedaris family jazz combo.
One day, Lou takes the family out to see Dave Brubeck, a jazz pianist touring with his own sons. During the show, Sedaris imagines the applause as being for his own show, one in which he would sing his favorite jingles in the style of Billie Holiday. Sedaris’s father, meanwhile, is invested in the music, snapping his fingers and bobbing his head, even though the majority of the crowd is politely sitting still. During the car ride home, Sedaris’s father raves about the performance, expressing his own wish for a family who can play jazz together. Sedaris and his sisters hope their father is not serious.
The next day, Sedaris’s father buys a baby grand piano. The family does little with it, however, until their father signs up Gretchen, one of Sedaris’s sisters, for piano lessons, though she has no interest in learning piano. Next come flute lessons for Sedaris’s sister Lisa and, finally, guitar lessons for the young Sedaris himself. Sedaris is dismayed at being pushed into guitar, objecting even to how the guitar looks in his room. In the moments before his first lesson, Sedaris tries to feign sickness to get out of it.
Walking into his first private lesson, Sedaris meets his teacher, Mr. Mancini. Sedaris describes him as a “midget” who barely reaches the height of twelve-year-old Sedaris’s chest. Mr. Mancini is particularly well-dressed, has a high voice, and is an avid smoker who taps the ash from his cigarette butts into a conch shell. Mr. Mancini tells Sedaris that he previously lived in Atlanta (which he calls “Hotlanta”), Georgia, where there was a strong party culture and where Mancini describes himself as having been quite the ladies’ man. Explaining that his guitar is named “Beth,” he instructs Sedaris to choose a name for his own guitar. Sedaris initially wants to name it Oliver (after his hamster), but Mr. Mancini insists that the guitar must be named after a woman. Sedaris calls his guitar Joan, the name of one of his cousins, and afterward endures Mr. Mancini’s awkward questions about how “stacked” this Joan is. Mancini goes on to describe the dedication and passion necessary to play the guitar and spends the rest of the lesson playing covers of various songs to Sedaris’s polite yet uncomfortable applause.
Sedaris’s sisters are not enjoying their lessons either, despite their father’s elation. Sedaris makes no improvement in guitar, and Mr. Mancini’s highly sexualized approach to guitar playing makes Sedaris uncomfortable. Neither of Sedaris’s sisters have teachers who instruct them to personify their instruments as beautiful men, though Sedaris muses that in the case of Lisa’s flute, perhaps the analogy is “fairly obvious.” For this reason, Sedaris steers clear of the flute, fearing that if sexual desire really is the key to playing an instrument, he might be revealed as a flute “prodigy.” Sedaris decides that the solution is to become a singer...
(The entire section is 997 words.)