One of the first times I met David Rakoff– this is before he started writing stories for the radio– he invited me to sit in the window of a department store with him. He was playing Sigmund Freud in a Christmas display window at Barney’s, and he was seeing patients in the window. David sat in a chair. I lay on a couch.
My mom was the therapist. David’s dad was a psychiatrist. We’d both been therapy patients ourselves at some point or another. And so it was easy for us to play this simulacrum of psychiatry with each other. I don’t remember what we talked about. It was so long ago. But I remember very clearly the feeling of it.
David, gently asking leading general questions like a real therapist would– how are things going? Why do you think you said that? It was easy to talk to him. And unlike the real Sigmund Freud, he offered advice. And it was surprisingly cozy.
Though one wall of the room that we were in was this plate glass window that faced Madison Avenue, the space was narrow and cocoon-like. The muffled street noise that leaked through the window made it feel more womb-like if anything. People on the street couldn’t hear what we said to each other. So it was both public and intimate. I left feeling close to him. I left wishing we could do it again.
And we did, in a way. Nearly everything he ever made for our radio show was a personal act, made in close collaboration for public consumption, performed behind a plate glass window of one kind or another. This week marks the fifth anniversary of his death. He’d been on This American Life 25 times. The first time was in 1996, just two months after we went on the air. The last was just three weeks before he died.
He traveled with the show when we took it on the road and on tour. When the staff and some favorite contributors all had our testosterone levels tested as a stunt for an episode in 2002, David, to everybody’s surprise including his, was the one with the highest testosterone. When my mom died in 2003, and for the first time we had a guest host fill in for me, David was the guest host. Because of that, I have a recording of him handling this next bit of business I need to do.