Meticulous humorist David Rakoff is too old, bald and careworn to type the letters ‘LOL’
By Daniel A. Kusner
There’s a chance that David Rakoff’s name might be unfamiliar. He’s only released two works of collected essays, “Fraud” and “Don’t Get Too Comfortable: The Indignities of Coach Class, The Torments of Low Thread Count, The Never-Ending Quest for Artisanal Olive Oil and Other First World Problems,” which was re-released last month in paperback ($12.95, Random House).
Fans of North American humorists would probably place Rakoff (a Canadian with dual citizenship) on the same bookshelf as David Sedaris and Sarah Vowell. In comparison to those literary superstars, Rakoff is an especially meticulous wordsmith. Whether he’s taking readers behind the fascinatingly ridiculous scenes of Paris Fashion Week or eviscerating Barbara Bush (see excerpt below), readers can’t help but notice how gorgeously Rakoff constructs his prose.
I recently caught up with the New Yorker — who also acts and had a bit part in the film “Capote” — to find out about his email habits, Halloween ideas and the outlook on gay-friendly candidates for the 2008 election.
When was the last time you went outside your comfort zone, and what did you learn?
It might sound disingenuous, but every time I leave my apartment feels like going outside my comfort zone.
I’m a fairly anxious guy. Although at this point in my life, I have enough coping mechanisms and compensatory gestures to mask it fairly well. That said, the thing I learned and relearn and forget just as quickly, over and over again is something that friend-to-Noel-Coward-and-Cole-Porter society hostess Elsa Maxwell’s father told her. Apparently, he said, “Elsa. There is no them.”
Meaning that, in general, there really isn’t a monolithic body of others, sitting in judgment (presumably Mr. Maxwell had never set foot in the cafeteria at Conde Nast).
Words to live by, I think and, as I said, words I never remember when I stand at the door to an unfamiliar room.
Dallas is in the state the Bush dynasty claims as its homeland. Do you fantasize about the day when Barbara Bush finally croaks?
Do I fantasize about the death of another human being? Emphatically not.
She’s been insensitive, to be sure. And consequently, in the wake of her Superdome comments, she also seems to have “been disappeared” by the GOP apparatus.
So on the contrary, I guess my fantasy is that she has some lucid years ahead of her in which to be remorseful over some of her comments and the incredibly terrible actions those comments have countenanced.
Speaking of political fantasies is there a single Democrat you’d endorse for the 2008 election?
I’m not smart or prescient enough to have an opinion just yet.
Do you think the Dem candidate who emerges will stoop low enough to support equal rights for gays? Or is that just too far out for the comfort zone in the U.S.?
Again, I have no idea. New York’s next presumptive governor, Eliot Spitzer, has promised he would. Don’t most polls indicate that Americans are not as homophobic as the media would have us believe? Certainly younger people aren’t galvanized around this issue nearly as much, and space-time being what it is, those younger people are well on their way to making up the majority of the body politic. It strikes me as only being a matter of time.
I can’t remember if you’ve said whether you cruise dudes online or not. However, if you do, when you read online profiles, what turns you off, and what sparks your interest?
Wow, I really don’t write or talk about that kind of stuff. My awkward to-the-point-of-barely-accessed-desire is private. Sorry.
What would you never compose in an e-mail?
I’m not so good at the youthful stuff: emoticons and such. Although, I’ve found myself in a bind of late when I’ve read something that made me laugh out loud. What to do?
I’ve just written back, “That made me laugh out loud.”
I’m too old and bald and careworn to even type the letters LOL. And I never send the e-mails I compose early in the morning (I’m up at 6 a.m.) before I’ve reread them at least twice. The caffeine hasn’t hit the system, and I have to be extra vigilant against poor spelling or inappropriately vented emotion.
What’s next: More acting gigs? A same-sex wedding? Adopting a kid? A novel?
Right now I’m just back to work doing freelance magazine stuff, trying to make a living. A friend and I have written a screenplay, which might comprise some acting work, as well, if it goes forward. Because we’re sailing into the New York holiday season, I’m really just concentrating on keeping my booze consumption low.
Last night, at a party for a friend’s film, I had a glass of white wine like it was nothing at all. As I was drinking, the words “Who do you think you are?” rang through my head.
That scared me a little because I’m an incredibly cheap drunk, and I can afford neither the calories nor the retroactive amnesia.
You’re apparently a crafty dude: Do you have a Halloween costume in mind?
Given my extreme anhedonia (see above self-flagellation over a glass of Chardonnay), it should probably come as no surprise that I don’t really approve of grown-ups dressing for Hallowe’en. (Please excuse the apostrophe’d spelling of the holiday from my Canadian childhood )
Have you ever been to Dallas, and is there a chance in hell you’d grace our presence in the future?
I never have and would like to. All I need is an invitation. There’s a lot in Dallas I’d like to see.
RAKOFF ON BOVINE BABS BUSH
While we’re on the subject of the horrors of war, and humanity’s most poisonous and least charitable attributes, let us not forget to mention Barbara Bush (that would be former First Lady and presidential mother as opposed to W’s liquor-swilling, Girl Gone Wild, human ashtray of a daughter. I’m sorry, that’s not fair. I’ve no idea if she smokes).
When the administration censored images of the flag-draped coffins of the young men and women being killed in Iraq purportedly to respect “the privacy of the families” and not to minimize and cover up the true nature and consequences of the war the family matriarch expressed her support for what was ultimately her son’s decision by saying on “Good Morning America” on March 18, 2003, “Why should we hear about body bags and deaths? I mean, it’s not relevant. So why should I waste my beautiful mind on something like that?”
Mrs. Bush is not getting any younger.
When she eventually ceases to walk among us we will undoubtedly see photographs of her flag-draped coffin. Whatever obituaries that run will admiringly mention those wizened, dynastic loins of hers and
praise her staunch refusal to color her hair or glamorize her image. But will they remember this particular statement of hers, this “Let them eat cake” for the 21st century? Unlikely, since it received far too little play and definitely insufficient outrage when she said it.
So let us promise herewith to never forget her callous disregard for other parents’ children while her own son was sending them to make the ultimate sacrifice, while asking of the rest of us little more than to promise to go shopping. Commit the quote to memory and say it whenever her name comes up. Remind others how she lacked even the bare minimum of human integrity, the most basic requirement of decency that says if you support a war, you should be willing, if not to join those 19-year-olds yourself, then at least, at the very least, to acknowledge that said war was actually going on.
Stupid fucking cow.
— David Rakoff, from the book “Don’t Get Too Comfortable,” published by Broadway Books, a division of Random House, Inc., Reprinted with permission.