It's nearly impossible for me to think about the death of my friend David Rakoff without crying at least a little bit. But, thankfully, it's absolutely impossible for me to think about David at all without laughing my ass off. And it's the best kind of laughter too, the kind that ends in choking and convulsions, like some little kid begging for the tickling to stop before he pees his pants or just passes out completely. I won't bother trying to compete with the eloquence of so much that has already been written about David and his work because the fact is, compared to the man himself, it all seems like the grunts of a caveman. So, rather than try to run from that reality, I'll just go ahead and embrace it with words he would have never used: That dude was the fucking best (insert totally sweet high-five here).
Dave and David
I met David through our mutual friend, the writer Stephen Sherrill, when I moved to New York City in 2003. In the early years of our friendship, I often found myself stammering uncontrollably, a dope from Cleveland barely able to access my comparatively limited vocabulary in his presence. Anyone familiar with his writing or This American Life pieces already knows David was a linguistic acrobat on the page, but the frightening reality is that he spoke just as powerfully. Listening to him made me feel like English must be my second language with -- to paraphrase the great Dick Cavett -- no guesses as to what might be my first. And to talk with him felt like playing a round of putt-putt with Tiger Woods. Only he (almost) lets you win.
But rather than eat up my allotted word count talking about David's well-documented brilliance as a wordsmith (Watch this appearance at the recent This American Life Live! show as a towering example), I'll just be done with it and say that his books (Fraud, Don't Get Too Comfortable, and Half Empty) are required reading, works that will live on long after we are all far deader than he ever will be.
The truth is, anyone lucky enough to be friends with David (and -- given his enormous heart- there's a shitload of us) knows that his writing and performing was just a drop in the bucket compared to the gigantic beauty of a person he is. I use the present tense here not because I'm having trouble accepting his death (though, yeah, I am) but because I don't believe that anyone who gifted us with such a ginormous body of work and, more importantly, such an infinite capacity to love could ever truly be gone, not even if he wanted to be.
David once described himself as "the opposite of fun," but in reality he was the definition of it. A gay man ("I have sucked a mile of cock" is a sentence I never tired of hearing from him), he was always quick to point out to me, an ostensibly straight man, whenever I happened to utter "the fucking gayest thing" he had ever heard, whether I was bitching about the fact that there was too much cyan in my new blue shoes or simply trying to turn him on to my new favorite moisturizer. Sometimes I just needed to hear it, I guess.
A few years ago, when David and I were working together on a writing project, I found myself at his apartment several days a week. At the time, he was obsessed with making tiny clay human heads (see this Tumblr page dedicated to the gazillion gifts he made for friends) and would give me a new one each visit. One day, I told him how I thought a funny/creepy/stupid thing to do would be to secretly leave the heads around people's apartments, in their pockets, etc. so they'd be totally confused when they eventually discovered the bizarre little noggin. "Check your pocket," David giggled. I did and, of course, found that, as usual, he was way ahead of me. That bastard.
I was lucky enough to make a series of comedy videos (You can watch some here) with David, the shooting of which usually involved me just trying not to ruin each take by cracking up at everything he said and did. I always marveled at the willingness of a guy as relentlessly sweet, intelligent and sophisticated as he to portray himself as an absolute moron or -- even better -- a complete asshole in front of the camera. Who else would insist we get a shot of him pretending to masturbate furiously to A Dictionary of Yiddish Slang and Idioms? He was the king.
At the risk of sounding a little hippy-dippy, this past Thursday night, I had a powerful dream. In it, David sat and told me an absurd story in typical mind-bending Rakoffian verse about how, if he were ever to take a job as a waiter, he'd keep it a secret from his friends. He'd just tell them to meet him for dinner at his place of employment while he spent the entire meal trying to convince everyone he was simply good buddies with the owner, who somehow didn't mind him strolling in and out of the kitchen all night.
I woke up laughing hysterically before eventually drifting off to sleep again. And a few hours later, I woke to the news that he was gone. I know opinions on what that dream really was will vary greatly. Was it a visit from the man himself or just my subconscious doing its best shitty Rakoff impression? Either way, I'm taking it as one last gift from my friend, hilarious and beautiful, just like him.
There are more gifts from Rakoff on the way for all of us, though. Somehow in the midst of this whole dying thing, he managed to finish a fourth book in these last few months, this time a rhyming novel (I know -- What a prick, right? I swear it just doesn't stop with this guy) complete with audiobook. You didn't hear it from me, but it's fucking great.
And, finally, with English as my second language, I will say goodbye to my friend in another language I can't speak a goddamn word of.
Je t'aime, David.
Dave Hill is the author of Tasteful Nudes: ...and Other Misguided Attempts at Personal Growth and Validation. He is also on Twitter, a thing on the Internet.