When David Rakoff passed away last Thursday, we lost one of our great sardonic voices.
He was an essayist that several people might have mistaken with David Sedaris – they both were featured on This American Life, they both published books of personal essays and they were both very openly gay. But if you paid attention, you knew that was where the similarities ended. Rakoff always took a darker turn and, I think, was probably the better writer.
Many New Yorkers remember Rakoff as the man who dressed up like Sigmund Freud one Christmas and saw patients in the windows at Barney’s in a piece called “Neurotic Yule” – how utterly apropos for a Canadian Jew living in the most neurotic city in the world.
But I remember David Rakoff from his many This American Life pieces – his voice containing a world wariness that mirrored so much of what I felt. I still hear it in my head. He saw and embraced the absurdity in life and exposed it for us all to see.
If you have not yet read any of his books of collected essays like Fraud, Half-Empty, or Don’t Get Too Comfortable, I suggest picking one of them up. And heck, even if you have, might be time to re-read them.
And if you have not yet seen the Oscar winning short, The New Tenants, starring Rakoff in the worst situation a new tenant might possibly think of…I leave it for you at the bottom of this post.
Rakoff died of cancer, a cancer that had originally reared its ugly head when he was in his 20’s. He wrote an essay in The New York Times magazine last year about being a patient and the soul-crushing non-action of waiting for news on his condition. When a technician told him to have a “fantastic day” Rakoff mused:
“Fantastic”? Fantastic days are what you wish upon those who have so few sunrises left, those whose lungs are so lesion-spangled with new cancer that they should be embracing as much life as they can. Time’s a-wasting, go out and have yourself a fantastic day!
Fantastic days are for goners. Was I fated to take some final vacation to see Venice for the first and last time? Or should I corral some long-cherished idol (I’m talkin’ to you, Meryl Streep) into posing for a photograph with me, both of us giving a thumbs up to the camera before she beats a hasty retreat back to the Land of the Living? That kind of fantastic day?
And in his New York food diary for New York Magazine just a few months ago, he ran through every item he ate in a week with his usual humor and self-deprecation.
Tuesday, April 17
Tax day. Perhaps a sense of relief made me eat more, but I’d have gorged just as much had I been facing an audit. Black iced coffee, and a Bosc pear eaten on the hoof.
In the evening, I went to my friend Roy’s apartment for excellent pan-fried hamburgers, which we ate with Israeli couscous. (Three times in one week. I regret nothing.) A green salad, and for dessert, some dates and two chocolate truffles. The hint of booze in one of them briefly knocks me on my teetotal ass.
As Patton Oswalt tweeted: