David Rakoff Essays Online

"Combining journalistic tenacity, literary smarts, and a talent for gut-busting one-liners, Rakoff reports on his wilted salad days . . . His blend of withering wit and self-effacing humor makes these essays soar." –Entertainment Weekly

"Rakoff possesses a sociologist’s eye for places where today’s consoling myths reside."
New York Times

"David Rakoff’s Fraud showcases his rapier wit, slashing in all directions with slice-of-life insights and cutting remarks, sometimes nicking himself with self-deprecation in his dexterous duello with the American experience." –Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"Rakoff likes to paint himself as urbane to a fault, an outsider anywhere unpaved. But then, in the woods or on a mountaintop, he reveals himself, despite his searing and hilarious observations, to be a completely unrelenting romantic."
–Dave Eggers, author of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

"David Rakoff’s hilarious, bittersweet stories are epic struggles–between smoky bars and the great outdoors, management and labor, Santa Claus and Sigmund Freud, New York versus everywhere else, and, not least, neighbor-to-the-North against South. Rakoff is such an American original it turns out he’s Canadian. Vive the brain drain!"
-Sarah Vowell, author of Take the Cannoli

I am nothing if not compliant. I held still as I was shuttled back and forth through the wondrous high-tech doughnut, inhaling and holding my breath when instructed. Less than three minutes later, I hopped off the narrow table and put my sweater back on.

“Have a fantastic day,” the technician said as I left.

“Fantastic”? Fantastic days are what you wish upon those who have so few sunrises left, those whose lungs are so lesion-spangled with new that they should be embracing as much life as they can. Time’s a-, go out and have yourself a fantastic day!

Fantastic days are for goners. Was I fated to take some final vacation to see for the first and last time? Or should I corral some long-cherished idol (I’m talkin’ to you, ) 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?

In truth, after close to three years into my current illness — a rather tenacious sarcoma around the area of my left collarbone — I try not to invest too much importance in the casual words of others, mostly to let them off the hook. With the exception of the wildly unprofessional technician in 1988 who, spying my radiation-strafed lungs (a result of the primitive treatment for my first bout of cancer, and the likely cause of my present sarcoma), asked how long I’d had , caregivers seem trained to keep their language and voices neutral, for just this reason: it’s an unfair burden on them when so many of us who are sick are looking for signs or unstated reasons to hope during the waiting.

And there will always be waiting. It begins immediately. Unless your presenting problem is a and you show up at the hospital with a knife sticking out of your skull, tests will always have to be done and then results will have to be delivered. Biopsies must be frozen, sliced, dyed and analyzed. If a culture has to be grown, then you have to bide your time while cell division takes its course. Disparate hospital departments, if not entirely disparate , cities or states will have to find and speak to one another, leaving you with nothing but a lump, inexplicable bruising, months of unexplained fatigue, your own imagination or, heaven forbid, the Internet to occupy your mind. Those weeks before diagnosis can be among the most torturous times. There is a reason you’re called a patient once the plastic bracelet goes on.

It has taken years for me to learn not to analyze the voices and vocabularies of those taking care of me. For the most part, I’ve been very lucky even as I’ve been less than fortunate. The doctors and nurses in my life don’t prolong the anticipation with pleasantries. We joke around a lot, but that’s the second order of business. With a long illness, there are stretches of triumph that feel like cosmic rewards for good behavior followed by inexplicable setbacks that seem like indictments of your character. With so much muddy logic crowding out reason, it’s best when news, good or bad, is delivered quickly and clearly. I will forever be grateful to my oncologist for opening the door and saying, “Damn it, the ’s 10 percent bigger,” before he even said hello.

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