A Plague of Tics

Sedaris, David

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Autobiography

Annotated by:
Aull, Felice
  • Date of entry: Sep-16-1997


This is the second of 13 short autobiographical pieces in the book, Naked. In it, Sedaris describes, in vivid and humorous detail, the obsessive compulsive behavior that plagued his life from grade school into college. From licking every light switch encountered, to counting each of "six hundred and thirty-seven steps" on the way home from school, "pausing every few feet to tongue a mailbox" and having to retrace his steps if he lost count, Sedaris was compelled to " . . . do these things because nothing was worse than the anguish of not doing them."

Each year, a teacher called on his mother to discuss the strange tics. His mother took his behavior and these visits in stride: "The kid's wound too tight, but he'll come out of it. So, what do you say, another scotch, Katherine?" "She suggested my teachers interpret my jerking head as a nod of agreement. 'That's what I do, and now I've got him washing the dishes for the next five years.'"

Life became more complicated when Sedaris entered college and had to contend with a roommate. There are amusing descriptions of the elaborate stratagems that he devised to conceal or explain the tics. Finally, "my nervous habits faded about the same time I took up with cigarettes . . . more socially acceptable than crying out in tiny voices."


David Sedaris is a humorist, radio commentator, and playwright. This piece is both funny and painful to read. From the safe distance of adulthood, the author can reflect with humor on what was a preoccupying and often mortifying tyranny.

While it is unclear why the behavioral tics developed--Sedaris remembers only that they began after the family was "transferred" from New York state to North Carolina--the author's description of how he was compelled to act are powerfully effective. One can speculate also, about the family dynamic that is a subtext of the memoir.

Primary Source



Little, Brown

Place Published




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