Tuesday, October 25, 2011


There’s something to be said for the long game. That something might be, “I don’t have one.” This short writer writes short essays. And that’s just fine. Sometimes. Then there are those other times when she cracks open a book, discovers a long essay of what might be perfection, and she says, “Dammit. I can’t do that. I want to do that. I need a long game.” David Rakoff rocks the long game. Though the title is an uncharacteristic but serious turnoff, Rakoff’s essay “What is the Sound of One Hand Shopping?” in Don’t Get Too Comfortable beautifully illustrates how three distinct pieces—essays in their own right—can fuse under a single thesis to form a cohesive essay, serving as an example of how one can boost their long game through grafting shorter essays.

The first section in “One Hand Shopping,” a brilliant bit on the absurdity of the contemporary obsession with refined basics (cotton, salt, oil, water), successfully concludes with its last three sentences, “And what is it that matters most in life? Here’s a hint: it’s a pronoun that can be effectively conveyed without any words at all. Just take your index finger and point at the center of your chest, an inch and a half from your precious, precious heart” (33). This conclusion is so solid that the reader may find herself tricked into thinking that that’s that. Next essay. But she’d be all wrong. That last line—a sardonic and perfect interpretation of the pretentious preoccupation with the finer things in life as an indication of how we indulge and even glorify today’s epidemic of ridiculous narcissism—has the capacity to make one feel quite sated but at the same time acts as a nice lilly pad for what comes next.

While this next section too could stand alone quite solidly as a shorter essay of equal power to the first piece, it is also a mere building block, boosting the reader toward a grander thesis. With the concrete addition of the least fortunate among us, this second “essay” one-ups the first section’s take on society’s ludicrous glorification of the basic. These people, the indigent, deal with true temporal problems—where to find shelter and food—while the demographic of which both Rakoff and I have the biting privilege of being part gluts on faux asceticism, the irony of which is that “in order to maintain a life free of clutter and suitable for a sacred space, you’ll need another room to hide your sh*t” (39). Though this second “essay” doesn’t require help for impact, it’s got more punch when preceded by the first. Number two also ends with a firm exclamation point that leads the reader to think, Aha, and now we’re done. I’m satisfied. But again, the reader is wrong, for this second section is merely part of a whole.

It is in the third and final section—a piece of only two paragraphs that, though a mere 250 words, could merit a title of its own—that the essay lifts its legs for flight. At the close of this little vignette the reader discovers her satisfaction with the first two pieces compounded as she comes upon the essay’s unifying thesis. We reach completion with the final line of this segment, the final line of the essay, the essay’s very Rakoff-esque thesis, “Simplicity, it seems, has always been wasted on those who simply cannot appreciate it” (40). It is only now that the perfection of creating this trio rears its head. Without the third piece, the two before it would be naught more than nice little essays without much oomph.

Frosted Mini-wheats have snacking potential. They have sweetness enough to be compelling and fiber enough to be worth it. Strawberries too, with their tang and high Vitamin C content, don’t need any company to make a worthy snack. But pour the two in a bowl and add some soymilk and—holy smokes!—there’s breakfast! It’s the soymilk that completes the picture, despite the first two elements’ solitary, nutritious delectability. The soymilk in Rakoff’s “What’s the Sound of One Hand Shopping,” that third “essay,” demonstrates how three strong pieces can create a much more powerful essay when served up together.

(Work Cited: Don’t Get Too Comfortable: The Indignities of Coach Class, the Torments of Low Thread Count, the Never-Ending Quest for Artisanal Olive Oil, and Other First World Problems)

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