August 21, 2012
In Memoriam: David Rakoff
On August 9th, 2012, David Rakoff died of cancer. David and I went to college together. We had two things in common: before college, we had both belonged to the same socialist zionist youth group, and we both danced. Since college, we stayed in touch a bit, because David was a very generous person, but he was out of my league, and we both knew it (although only I would say it). David was probably the most creative person I ever knew.
David was incredibly good at so many things. He made things all the time. I still remember vividly the characters he created for our college's variety show circa 1984: the Neanderthal, bone-through-the-nose ladies' man who runs into some toughs from the Male Feminist League; the director of Cliffs' Notes music videos, all of whose productions involve columns and leather-clad women with odd markings all over their bodies dancing erotically; and of course the lead in his short, 16mm spoof of French New Wave cinema, Pain D'Amour, in which he falls in love with a baguette. That was thirty years ago. I've seen so much theater since then, and so little has stayed with me as David's work has done.
But he was creative in very basic ways. One evening, three of us were trying to figure out what to do for dinner. We went into our friend's kitchen and catalogued the food in her refrigerator and cupboards. While I mentally reviewed my list of affordable restaurants within walking distance, David gleefully rattled off the useful ingredients he had come across, "Et voilà!". I could think of no way that the named ingredients could be combined to make something edible, so I asked, "We put all those together, and what do we have?" "Dinner!" David exclaimed. It turned out to be a quiche, and it was delicious. I didn't know it was possible to just make one of those. Forgive me, I was 20, but David was 19.
Around the same time, David made me a hand-painted birthday card that was also a sort of portrait. The card congratulated me at the beginning of my third decade. I had to get out a calculator to figure out how I could be entering my third decade at the age of 20. David accompanied me when I cut off my pony tail. He kept the hair to use for paintbrushes, or so he said. I hope he wasn't fibbing.
Although I have all these intimate memories of David, I probably never counted as one of his closest friends. But who knows? I think David was still coming to grips with the consequences of his homosexuality in the age of AIDS when we knew each other. As a result, there were parts of his private life that were closed off to me in that unenlightened era. David wrote about how he never really formed close attachments to people. I think his line is "loved by everybody; beloved by none." If you go to David's Facebook page, you'll see that there are probably hundreds of people who can share memories of David similar to mine in their fondness and intimacy. If he wasn't capable of true compassion, he did a damn good job of faking it. For all of his argumentative skills, David succeeded in convincing only himself that he was anything but a mensch.
Although his short film, The New Tenants won an Academy Award, David moved on from film and acting to writing. He wrote three books, and I learned on Saturday from This American Life, that a novel in verse is forthcoming. A novel in verse!
But wait, there is a contracts hook here. Here is a link to a hilarious contract that David wrote and read for another episode of This American Life.
David's life was far too short, but he lived it very, very well.
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