David Rakoff,

David Rakoff,

A weeklong electronic journal.
May 2 1998 3:30 AM

David Rakoff,

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       The city is like Jakarta today. Gray-skied, sultry, traffic at a standstill, cacophonous.
       I keep on trying to put into words what so riles me about the changes of late in New York, certainly not just in this diary but each and every day in almost each and every conversation I have. I love the city almost more than anyone I know--I guess it's the reasonable response of the adoptive New Yorker--but it's been so eminently depressing of late. There's a creeping dullness afoot, a homogenization, an ersatz feeling. All the protruding nails are being hammered down.
       This is all drivel, of course, and has been said millions of times before. I also think it's quite dangerous to wax nostalgic for a Times Square where a 12-year-old runaway girl could find work as a whore. And being whacked on the head with a 2-by-4 by four teen-age boys (as I was some eight years ago) is hardly my madeleine, but surely there's a happy medium between what we had and Giuliani's bizarre, authoritarian, and ultimately empty quality-of-life measures, along with this wholesale effacement of history.
       A perfect, and perfectly heartbreaking, example is The Case of Nora Ephron: Recently, folks on lower Seventh Avenue were thrilled to find a new independent bookstore in what used to be Barney's on 17th Street. Only to find out that it was a movie set, the bookstore where Meg Ryan's character works in an upcoming Nora Ephron flick called You've Got Mail.
       OK, now Nora Ephron was an incredibly funny, insightful, take-no-prisoners journalist (Crazy Salad and Scribble Scribble are books anyone would be proud to have written), and I still read Heartburn every summer and still laugh out loud. But now Nora Ephron makes these pallid, heterosexist, retrograde Date Movies, and her only relationship to her former life--i.e., words--is setting up some skillful simulacrum of a bookstore in the city that desperately needs its rapidly disappearing independent bookstores. They used to use Toronto as a stand-in for New York in movies, but now I think Toronto's probably too gritty and real.
       Perhaps it's all just the clarion call of Money and Power. I've often joked that for two dollars a word, I'd happily write a column called "I LOVE NAZIS," and I keep dreaming of all the art I'll buy when my eventual TV series, He's The Faggot, goes into syndication. So what do I know? But still, to go from being the kind of effortlessly iconoclastic writer that Nora Ephron was--a writer who so cleverly nailed it when she wrote how she wasn't buying what American legend Lillian Hellman was selling, in terms of all that pretentious, self-righteous drinkin' and fightin' and lovin' that goddamn Dash Hammett--to this purveyor of these middlebrow entertainments just makes me want to go to bed forever. And would I love to audition for a Nora Ephron movie? You bet I would. (Madam, we've already established what you are, why now quibble about the price?)
       I meet Chris outside the Ziegfeld Theatre on 54th Street for a screening of the new Warren Beatty film, Bulworth. Suspiciously thin D-girls in DKNY are walking up and down the line announcing with great officiousness, "Please have your tickets out." I can't help thinking that freedom of assembly is guaranteed under the law, and I don't want to have my ticket out.
       One of the girls comes up to the men behind me in line and says, "We're turning people away?" Ah, how I love the rising intonation of Up-Speak. The men look at her blankly, uncertain as to whether she means what she says. As it's turned into a lovely, high-skied, late spring New York evening, Chris and I defiantly throw our ticket in the trash, catch the N train (where we get priority seating, thank you very much), and head down to the Excellent Dumpling House just off Canal. Pistachio ice cream at Ben & Jerry's and then home up Third Avenue.
       The Empire State Building is lit up blue and white for Israel's 50th. But that would require a whole other week to talk about.

David Rakoff is a writer and actor living in New York. He works in the publishing industry.