“The Great Leap Forward” Summary
When Sedaris first moves to New York City, he is living off his meager savings and sharing a two-bedroom apartment near the Hudson River. To entertain himself, he peers into the windows of fancy town houses, imagining what life must be like for those who live there and yearning to switch places with them.
When he lived in Chicago, Sedaris had been able to afford a reasonable two-bedroom apartment with enough money left over to have a life. In New York, however, he is constantly reminded of how broke he is. Thinking about all the graffiti in the East Village that calls for the rich to be eliminated, Sedaris reflects that he would appreciate a chance to join the rich before the revolution happens. Unfortunately, he has no idea how to become rich.
One day, a nearby townhouse Sedaris has long admired goes up for sale, and the new owner paints the once-regal house hot pink with tangerine trim. After being recommended by a mutual acquaintance, Sedaris begins working as the personal assistant of Valencia, the new owner of this very house. Valencia is an eccentric and wealthy Colombian woman with a love of garish colors and a penchant for annoying her neighbors. She paints her walnut-paneled library a bright canary yellow and hangs a clothesline for laundry across on her nineteenth-century wrought-iron balcony.
Although she is ostensibly a very wealthy heiress, Valencia is a penny-pincher: she furnishes her town house with furniture that she finds on the street and haggles over any service she can. Valencia runs a small and relatively unsuccessful publishing company. Most of the time, Sedaris has little to do as her personal assistant, except for the beginning of the month, when Valencia has Sedaris call anyone who owes her even small amounts of money and pressure them to pay up.
Valencia frequently seeks out the company of local writers and Beat poets, often purchasing their works, which Sedaris describes as being less than genius, and assisting them financially. Sedaris believes that “collecting” these poets serves Valencia’s need to feel artistic, while the poets themselves are simply taking advantage of her generosity.
Sedaris’s worst experience as Valencia’s assistant occurs after she sees a flyer offering a $750 reward for a lost African grey parrot named “Cheeky.” Valencia suggests that they search for the bird so they can split the $750 and “be rich!” Sedaris is annoyed that she pretends to be poor when she is clearly wealthy, especially since she pays him very little and allows half his paychecks to bounce. One day, Valencia yells for Sedaris to capture a pigeon outside the window, convinced it’s the missing parrot. She tells him to call the bird by its name, but Sedaris just coos at it instead, drawing a line at calling out “Cheeky” to what is obviously just a regular pigeon. The bird flies away, and Valencia becomes childishly upset. This situation replays multiple times over the course of a week, as Valencia repeatedly sees pigeons outside her window and insists that Sedaris try to catch them. As a result, their relationship deteriorates, and Valencia begins to call Sedaris on most of the days he’s scheduled to work, saying she doesn’t need him to come in.
When Sedaris is down to working only a day and a half per week, Valencia calls for a single mover to do a one-man job, which turns out to be moving a couch down three flights of stairs. Since the mover obviously needs help, Sedaris carries the couch with the man, whose name is Patrick. Afterward, Patrick offers Sedaris a job, which he accepts immediately. Patrick, who is a communist, runs a...
(The entire section is 939 words.)