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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Overview

David Rakoff takes us on a bitingly funny grand tour of our culture of excess. Whether he is contrasting the elegance of one of the last flights of the supersonic Concorde with the good-times-and-chicken-wings populism of Hooters Air; working as a cabana boy at a South Beach hotel; or traveling to a private island off the coast of Belize to watch a soft-core video shoot—where he is provided with his very own personal manservant—rarely have greed, vanity, selfishness, and vapidity been so mercilessly skewered. ...
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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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Overview

David Rakoff takes us on a bitingly funny grand tour of our culture of excess. Whether he is contrasting the elegance of one of the last flights of the supersonic Concorde with the good-times-and-chicken-wings populism of Hooters Air; working as a cabana boy at a South Beach hotel; or traveling to a private island off the coast of Belize to watch a soft-core video shoot—where he is provided with his very own personal manservant—rarely have greed, vanity, selfishness, and vapidity been so mercilessly skewered. Somewhere along the line, our healthy self-regard has exploded into obliterating narcissism; our manic getting and spending have now become celebrated as moral virtues. Simultaneously a Wildean satire and a plea for a little human decency, Don’t Get Too Comfortable shows that far from being bobos in paradise, we’re in a special circle of gilded-age hell.
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
GQ writer-at-large David Rakoff is convinced that in our quest for the exquisite and superlative, we have descended into downright ridiculousness. His rundown of absurd "First World Problems" extends far beyond the tally of his subtitle; in fact, Rakoff finds time to take inventories of both Hooters Air and a remote cryogenics storage facility. Fashion-challenged readers will also enjoy his crisp critiques of Paris couture and Beverly Hills "re-facing" salons.
From the Publisher
“If I were to die suddenly while the reading of this book were in my recent memory, I would probably beg to be reincarnated as a bird so that I could eat seed out of Rakoff’s hand. I can’t write a more loving review than that.” —Pop Matters

“A cannily satirical tour guide.”
The New York Times Book Review

“The pleasures of reading what results when an exceedingly sharp pen encounters an exceedingly inviting target are not to be denied, and Rakoff offers many such delights in these pages.”
Washington Post

“The belly laughs start on page 7 and occur regularly throughout Rakoff’s frequently impertinent, occasionally irascible, yet always inimitable take on contemporary American society.”
Booklist

“Rakoff’s strength is the turn of phrase that deftly and wittily dissects its subject at a stroke.”
Chicago Tribune

Jonathan Yardley
He's funny…he's smart, and not merely does he not suffer fools gladly, he doesn't suffer them at all…The pleasures of reading what results when an exceedingly sharp pen encounters an exceedingly inviting target are not to be denied, and Rakoff offers many such delights in these pages. He also, by no means incidentally, has a humane view of human society at its most ordinary and unpretentious. But the bloated wallets and bloated egos are his subjects here, and he deflates them with precision and self-evident satisfaction.
—The Washington Post
Jennifer 8. Lee
…worth reading for the good bits, even though the book feels like a slack clothesline, tight at the ends and sagging in the middle. When it comes to this country's penchant for weirdness and overkill, Rakoff is a cannily satirical tour guide—a talent worth mentioning in the same breath as other quirky public radio writer-performers like David Sedaris and Sarah Vowell.
— The New York Times Book Review
Publishers Weekly
The title of this collection of humorous essays could also serve as a warning label for its readers. They'll want to stay on guard as GQ writer-at-large Rakoff (Fraud) skewers everything and everyone he encounters. His writing is at its best when trained on the pompous and ostentatious: flying on the Concorde or visiting an exclusive, $1,300-a-night resort off Belize. While attending the Paris couture shows, Rakoff reveals the silliness of the whole enterprise with quips about Karl Lagerfeld's pre-weight loss "large doughy rump" and the "dry spaghetti" of one model's hair. In another piece, a prominent Beverly Hills plastic surgeon tells Rakoff, "this is the Dark Ages" for cosmetic surgery (meaning that future generations will be amazed by the inevitable advances) before taking him into an examination room. While Rakoff's sardonic wit is clearly his greatest asset, it is sometimes his undoing; the same dry humor that works so well when aimed at the rich and decadent seems mean-spirited when applied to less prominent targets, like "Wildman" Steve Brill, who forages for food in New York City's parks. Still, Rakoff is generally a knowing observer of "first world problems," and his devilishly uncomfortable commentaries are generally quite funny. Agent, Irene Skolnick. (Sept.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Rakoff (Fraud, 2001) targets cultural excess in this humorous essay collection. There's something in the haute bourgeoisie obsession with "authenticity" that can quickly drive one to distraction, if not maddening fury. There has rarely been a better take on this trend than in "What is the Sound of One Hand Shopping?" in which he ponders the burning question, "just how fucking good can olive oil get?" This piece is the best example of a point of view returned to time and again in this impulsively readable volume, that is, a welcome level of intellectual disgust directed at the upper end of our nation's socioeconomic demographic. The rest of the book, including pieces previously seen in magazines or heard on NPR's "This American Life," is equally biting: Rakoff discusses what it's like to fly Hooters Air; the sad spectacle that is the Today show's live audience; and the overwhelming greed of Paris fashion shows, which he witnessed firsthand. Although prone to deflating the aspirations of the enlightened elite, Rakoff is hardly a right-winger taking the mocking tone of a David Brooks or Tom Wolfe. "Beat Me, Daddy" is one of the smarter examinations available of the curiously masochistic position that the Log Cabin Republicans have placed themselves in, by supporting a party that not so secretly despises them. As a gay liberal, Rakoff finds himself first baffled ("I am a veritable Darwin in the Galapagos, slack-jawed in the presence of this confounding genus, a creature that seems to invite its own devouring"), then sympathetic, and finally baffled again, and a little angry. There are times when you wish Rakoff would have given himself more room, but there's something to be said for awriter who refuses to pad. The self-lacerating wit of David Sedaris mixed with the biting commentary of Dan Savage-only completely and utterly original.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780767916035
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 9/12/2006
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 240
  • Sales rank: 473,513
  • Product dimensions: 5.15 (w) x 8.01 (h) x 0.54 (d)

Meet the Author

David Rakoff
David Rakoff is a writer-at-large for GQ magazine, and a regular contributor to The New York Times Magazine and Public Radio International’s This American Life. He has also written for Outside, Vogue, The New York Observer, and Salon, among others. He lives in New York City.
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Read an Excerpt

LOVE IT OR LEAVE IT

George W. Bush made me want to be an American. It was a need I had not known before. A desire that came over me in a rush one day, not unlike that of the pencil-necked honors student suddenly overwhelmed with the inexplicable urge to make a daily gift of his lunch money to the schoolyard tough. I have lived in the United States, first as a student then as a resident alien, under numerous other administrations, including what I once thought of as the nadir of all time: the Cajun-scented, plague-ravaged Reagan eighties in New York; horrible, black years of red fish and blue drinks. A time when greed was magically transformed from vice to virtue. And after that the even greedier nineties, when the money flowed like water and everybody's boat rose with the tide (except, of course, for those forgotten souls who had been provided not with boats but with stones, and no one told them. Oh well, tra la), and all through that time, aside from having to make sure not to get myself arrested at demonstrations, I was sufficiently satisfied with a civic life of paying taxes and the occasional protest.

But George changed all that. Even though I am not a Muslim and I come from a country that enjoys cordial relations with the United States, I no longer felt safe being here as just a lawful permanent resident. Under the cudgel-like Patriot Act, a shoot-first-ask-questions-later bit of legislation, there are residents who have been here since childhood, other folks who sired American-born children, who have found themselves deported--often to countries of which they have almost no firsthand knowledge--for the most minor, not remotely terrorist-related infractions. Those people are never coming back, at least not during this administration. I don't want to be put out of my home, and like it or not this is my home. I have been here longer than I haven't. After twenty-two years, it seemed a little bit coy to still be playing the Canadian card. I felt like the butt of that old joke about the proper lady who, when asked if she would have sex with a strange man for a million dollars, allows that yes she would do it. But when asked if she would do the same thing for a can of Schlitz and a plastic sleeve of beer nuts, reels back with an affronted, "What do you think I am?" to which the response is, "Madam, we have already established what you are. Now we're just quibbling about the price." Becoming a citizen merely names a state of affairs already in place for a long time.

Even so, once I reach my decision, I don't make my intentions widely known. I tell almost no one, especially no one in Canada. You can only know this if you grew up in a country directly adjacent to a globally dominating, culturally obliterating economic behemoth, but becoming an American feels like some kind of defeat. Another one bites the dust.

The naturalization application can be downloaded directly from the government's website. It is ten pages long but can be filled out over the course of an industrious day or two. It takes me four months and one week. I got delayed twice, although not by the usual pitfalls of questions requiring a lot of documentation from over a long period. I have no problem, for example, with Part 7, Section C, in which I have to account for every trip I have taken out of the United States of more than twenty-four-hours' duration for the last ten years, including every weekend jaunt to Canada to see the family. I have kept every datebook I have ever owned. I pore over a decade's worth of pages and list all of my travels from most recent backward. I create a table with columns, listing exact dates of departure and return, plus my destination. It is a document of such surpassing beauty, it is virtually scented. Not since I threaded puffy orange yarn through the punched holes of my fourth-grade book reports have I so shamelessly tried to placate authority with meaningless externals.

No, my first hang-up occurs at Part 10, Section G, question 33: Are you a male who lived in the United States at any time between your 18th and 26th birthdays in any status except as a lawful nonimmigrant? I make my living with words and yet I cannot for the life of me begin to parse this question with its imbedded double negatives and hypotheticals. How are any nonnative speakers managing to become citizens, I wonder? Part of my clouded judgment is due to fear. I don't want to piss them off, and I am worried that a wrong answer will immediately feed my name into some database for a wiretap, a tax audit, or an automatic years-long "misplacement" of my application; some casual gratuitous harassment that a thuggish administration might decide to visit upon someone they identified as a troublemaker. I spend an entire afternoon trying to map the grammar and come away with nothing but a headache and no idea. This is in early March. I put the form away in my drawer and forget about it, my dreams of inalienable rights felled by just one question. I put all thoughts of citizenship out of my head, until one evening in July, four months later, when, as I'm dropping off to sleep, the clauses fall into place and the lock turns and I realize the answer is a simple "no." With inordinate self-satisfaction, I soldier on. Have I ever been a habitual drunkard? I have not. A prostitute, a procurer, or a bigamist? Nuh-uh. Did I in any way aid, abet, support, work for, or claim membership in the Nazi government of Germany between March 23, 1933, and May 8, 1945? Nein! Do I understand and support the Constitution? You betcha. If the law required it, would I be willing to bear arms on behalf of the United States?

Again I stop. The same headache as before marches its little foot soldiers across my cranium. I put the application back into the drawer and return to my bed, not picking it up again until seven days later when I surprise myself by checking "yes."

I figure it's grass soup. Grass soup is exactly what it sounds like. It's a recipe for food of last resort that my father apparently has squirreled away somewhere. I have never actually seen this recipe, but it was referred to fairly often when I was a child. Should everything else turn to shit, we could always derive sustenance from nutritious grass soup! At heart, it's an anxious, romantic fantasy that disaster and total financial ruin lurk just around the corner, but when they do come, they will have all the stark beauty and domestic fine feeling of a Dickens novel. Young Tiny Tim's palsied hand lifting a spoon to his rosebud mouth. "What delicious grass soup. I must be getting better after all," he will say, putting on a good show of it just as he expires, the tin utensil clattering to the rough wood table.

A grass-soup situation is a self-dramatizing one based on such a poorly imagined and improbable premise as to render it beneath consideration. Michael Jackson saying with no apparent irony, for example, that were he to wake up one day to find all the children in the world gone, he would throw himself out the window. Mr. Jackson's statement doesn't really take into consideration that a planet devoid of tots would likely be just one link in a chain of geopolitical events so cataclysmic, that to assume the presence of an intact building with an intact window out of which to throw himself is plain idiotic. As for grass soup itself, from what I've seen on the news, by the time you're reduced to using the lawn for food, any grass that isn't already gone--either parched to death or napalmed into oblivion--is probably best eaten on the run.

All by way of saying, that if there ever came a time when the government of my new homeland was actually calling up the forty-something asking-and-telling homosexuals with hypo-active thyroids to take up arms, something very calamitous indeed will have to have happened. The streets would likely be running with blood, and such moral gray areas as might have existed at other times will seem either so beside the point that I will join the fight, or so terrifying and appallingly beyond the pale that I'd either already be dead or underground.

For most of my life, I would have automatically said that I would opt for conscientious objector status, and in general, I still would. But the spirit of the question is would I ever, and there are instances where I might. If immediate intervention would have circumvented the genocide in Rwanda or stopped the Janjaweed in Darfur, would I choose pacifism? Of course not. Scott Simon, the reporter for National Public Radio and a committed lifelong Quaker, has written that it took looking into mass graves in former Yugoslavia to convince him that force is sometimes the only option to deter our species' murderous impulses.

While we're on the subject of the horrors of war, and humanity's most poisonous and least charitable attributes, let us not forget to mention Barbara Bush (that would be former First Lady and presidential mother as opposed to W's liquor-swilling, Girl Gone Wild, human ashtray of a daughter. I'm sorry, that's not fair. I've no idea if she smokes). When the administration censored images of the flag-draped coffins of the young men and women being killed in Iraq--purportedly to respect "the privacy of the families" and not to minimize and cover up the true nature and consequences of the war--the family matriarch expressed her support for what was ultimately her son's decision by saying on Good Morning America on March 18, 2003, "Why should we hear about body bags and deaths? I mean, it's not relevant. So why should I waste my beautiful mind on something like that?"

Mrs. Bush is not getting any younger. When she eventually ceases to walk among us we will undoubtedly see photographs of her flag-draped coffin. Whatever obituaries that run will admiringly mention those wizened, dynastic loins of hers and praise her staunch refusal to color her hair or glamorize her image. But will they remember this particular statement of hers, this "Let them eat cake" for the twenty-first century? Unlikely, since it received far too little play and definitely insufficient outrage when she said it. So let us promise herewith to never forget her callous disregard for other parents' children while her own son was sending them to make the ultimate sacrifice, while asking of the rest of us little more than to promise to go shopping. Commit the quote to memory and say it whenever her name comes up. Remind others how she lacked even the bare minimum of human integrity, the most basic requirement of decency that says if you support a war, you should be willing, if not to join those nineteen-year-olds yourself, then at least, at the very least, to acknowledge that said war was actually going on. Stupid fucking cow.

So that's why I answered "yes." But, like I said, it is grass soup. (I hope.)

There has been much talk about a post-September 11 backlog of applications and how I should expect to wait far longer than the usual year. But ten months after filing, I am notified that I have been provisionally approved, pending an interview. I am to report to the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services at Federal Plaza. It is a scorcher of a May day when I go downtown. Even now there are equivalents of first class and steerage. Those of us with scheduled appointments are immediately ushered inside and through the metal detectors, while the line of people who have just shown up snakes around the block. I check in at the window and am asked if, before starting the official process of my glorious, butterfly-like transformation into David Rakoff, American, I'd like to change my name. The hairy-knuckled, pinkie-ringed lawyer for a Vietnamese fellow behind me nudges his client and says, "Hear that? You wanna change your name? To George Bush? Saddam Hussein? Anything you want. Haw haw," he laughs, clapping his client on the back. The young man shoots me an apologetic look to suggest that, yes, even with the obvious cultural and language barriers, he knows that he has unwittingly hired a shithead.

There are about fifty of us waiting for our interviews. Many people are in their best clothes. I wonder if I've adversely affected my chances by having opted for comfort in Levi's and sneakers, but so long as the Russian woman in her early forties is across from me, I have nothing to worry about. She wears painted-on acid-wash jeans, white stilettos, and a tight blouse of sheer leopard-print fabric. The sleeves are designed as a series of irregular tatters clinging to her arms, as if she's just come from tearing the hide off of the back of an actual leopard. A really slutty leopard.

My name is called, and Agent Morales brings me back into her office. From her window I can see the Brooklyn Bridge, hazy under a humid sky the color of a soiled shirt collar. Agent Morales's desk is crowded with small plaster figures of cherubic children holding fishing poles, polka-dot-hankie hobo bundles, small wicker picnic baskets, etc. The walls, however, are almost completely bare. Perhaps it's bureau policy, but all of those typical examples of office humor--that in other work environments might get their own piece of paper, perhaps with Garfield or Dilbert saying them--have all been printed onto the same 81Ú2 5 11 sheet and listed like bullets in a PowerPoint presentation. There are old standbys like "You don't have to be crazy to work here, but it sure helps," along with some gags that are new to me: "Chocolate, coffee, men: some things are just better rich" and "I'm out of estrogen and I have a gun!"--the latter which frankly seems to push the envelope for acceptable discourse in a government office.

She has me raise my right hand while swearing to tell the truth. That's it, no Bible, no Koran, no sacred text of any sort to solidify my oath. Perhaps the increased blood flow from my upheld arm down into my heart is enough to safeguard against perjury. She questions me about any potential criminal past. (A boy could get ideas, or at least a distorted view of his own allure, seeing as how regularly I am asked if I have ever turned tricks.) Agent Morales then administers my citizenship test. Along with my application, I downloaded the list of one hundred possible questions, any handful of which they might choose to ask. Some of them are incredibly basic, like when is Independence Day, while others delve more deeply into the three branches of government, or ask you to name some of the better-known amendments.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 19 )
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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 12, 2013

    Rakoff at his best!

    Great!

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 20, 2009

    This book is absolutely hilarious

    The essays in this book are so incredibly hilarious, that I have read it three times in as many years, and enjoyed it just as much each time. David Rakoff's sense of humor is sophisticated, sarcastic, and at times quite naughty. Completely enjoyable.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 3, 2008

    I Also Recommend:

    E.B. White meets Truman Capote

    Good book. Incisive writing. Just pissy enough to delight without being self-indulgent. Best if read, I think, in installments: one or two chapters at a time. Recommended.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 25, 2007

    Delectable

    Cutting, funny, unexpected and deeply moving. All the things you would expect from this clever and self- depreciating writter, I would especially recommend the audio version as the author performs his material perfectly.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 13, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    You won't regret it

    Great book. Very funny. Humor with a point. Loved it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 10, 2005

    Hmmmm.

    I'm not sure. There were definitely funny parts to this book, and an interesting perspective on some issues... BUT, by the time I came to the last 'chapter', I couldn't finish it. Is don't consider it a waste of my time, I had just had enough. and the topic did not interest me in the least.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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