Thursday, October 17, 2019

Reading log: Do You Mind If I Cancel?, by Gary Janetti

Reading log: Do You Mind If I Cancel?, by Gary Janetti

A gay man writes a humor book and I play a little game; how many words will I read before I spot the name Sedaris*? For Mr. Sedaris, many years in, is still the pinnacle of literary humor that slots an author like Mr. Janetti. But I don’t think that’s a fair comparison, mostly because of the way they see the world. I see in Sedaris's work this persona of the outlier. Aside from the now trivial (and this being aside from elements of the far right, many autocratic government regimes and some ostensibly democratic ones, and plenty of traditional religious groups) subject of sexual orientation, Sedaris fits not quite in in lots of different ways, outfitted by experimental Japanese clothing designers and picking up litter in the French countryside in his free time. And he's proud of it.

In contrast, I think Janetti** in his new book Do You Mind If I Cancel? (on sale October 22, 2019) comes from a point of wanting to feel normal, and aside from his gay identity, to fit in. It’s all there in ‘Letter to My Younger Self,’ but permeates the rest of the collection too, and in a way, captures a universal coming-of-age dilemma, being torn with wanting to be unique and yet wanting to be like everyone else. I feel like I’ve read books before with this aesthetic, a little like Wade Rouse (maybe slightly less earnest) or Clinton Kelly (another Long Islander). I obviously like them – I laugh, I identify, and I shudder a bit, remembering my younger self. Sometimes I shudder remembering my current self, but I guess that’s for another post.

Janetti’s humorous autobiographical essays are indeed very funny, and someone schooled in pop culture will be searching for clues of his life in the work that he had a hand in. While I couldn’t necessary spot any connections in Family Guy, his acting school scenes called to mind Jack’s experiences in Will and Grace and that time he was upgraded from coach to first class during a youth hostel trip immediately reminded me of the Will and Grace episode where Will got an upgrade and Grace did not. Unlike many kids, Gary got to set several pivotal moments on cruise lines, being that his father worked for Cunard. Like many kids, but maybe less than in past generations now that parents don’t expect their teen kids to work because they have too many college prep courses and the like, the source of many of his stories were work-a-day jobs in the service industry, from Benigans restaurant to Waldbaum’s supermarkets.

Unlike most readers, I had a special interest in his upbringing, because like Mr Janetti, I grew up in Queens about five years before him, and things had not changed that much in that time. So when he said the Waldbaum's he worked out closed, I was eager to know which one. What is it about Queens this fall? We just co-hosted Aarti Shahani, author of Here We Are, who also grew up in Flushing, and then on November 19, the Douglaston Manor resident Lidia Bastianich visits the ICC for Felidia (ticket info here).

Is Gary the last generation to still have angst about coming out in college? I talk to folks I know and their kids are exploring gender and identity in adolescence. It is just another way that Janetti is more of my generation that that of folks 20 years younger. Even if you had come out, you’d still find yourself in these are-they-or-aren’t-they situations as you befriended someone, particularly in college, where a week of intense bonding was equivalent to a year of dating in the real world. Now you have more options and more identities to unpack, and more of that work is done online. But the through-line of Do You Mind If I Cancel is finding your identity, not just in terms of sexual orientation. Janetti so wants to be that guy who’s not working in the drudge job, who’s creating (acting, then writing), who’s not struggling. But to do that, he has to leave home, because sadly, not only is One Life to Live no longer taping in New York, it’s no longer taping.

Janetti is often touches on that early life, before apps, before GPS, before texting. It’s a reminder that it’s hard to go backwards, whether we’re talking about technology or life. But you can spin it into humor, and as Janetti watches the younger guys dancing around in Mykonos, that’s probably the idea that came into his head. Do You Mind If I Cancel is funny and often thoughtful collection. And while it's popular now to write confessional memoirs about mental illness, it's important to remember that the APA considered homosexuality a mental illness until 1973, and these childhood stories don't take place too much later than that.

*The answer to the opening game was, back cover, third word.

**The husband of fashion stylist and reality television regular Brad Goreski, author of Born to Be Brad

Photo credit - Alasdair Mclellan

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