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Block That Puck

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IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO DISCUSS DAVID “PUCK” RAINEY WITHOUT focusing on questions of personal hygiene and demeanor. He is the sort of young man who scratches where it itches, on-camera. When a car cuts him off—he works part-time as a bicycle messenger—he’s apt to spit at the offending vehicle. Also, he (pardon us) blows his nose without a tissue. “I’m not into the fluffy, sterile part of life,” declares Puck, in case there was any misunderstanding. “I think everyone should act a little crazy.”

Some would say Puck, 26, isn’t acting. Spiky haired, antic and quotable—the thinking man’s Beavis—he’s the best thing about the third installment of The Real World, the MTV series that takes a handful of preselected twentysomethings, plops them into a house for five months and documents their attempt to live together. The latest cast—culled from more than 30,000 applicants—is ensconced in a San Francisco mansion and includes, among others, a rapper, a cartoonist and a medical student. But it’s Puck—hurtling through traffic, grossing out his roommates by dipping his dirty fingers in the communal peanut-butter jar, bragging about his “grindy” (annoying) habits—whom the camera can’t resist.

His roommates are quick to point out that Puck is more fun to watch from afar than to live with. For one thing, says costar Pedro Zamora, 22, “he smells. He would come home sweating like you would not believe. He’d get some paper towels and wipe it off. Then I would see him go to the hamper and put on a shirt he’d already worn for four days.”

In an episode that was filmed in April and will air on Aug. 25, Puck’s roomies come together to ask him to clean up his act. He winds up cleaning out his room and departing. “What led us to throw him out,” says Zamora, an HIV-positive AIDS activist, “was a lot more than his lack of hygiene. It was about respect. We all felt like we had to fight to speak when Puck was around.” Counters Puck with a shrug: “They wanted me to change, and that’s not in my book.”

Puck’s book may yet prove to be a best-seller. In a bow to his popularity, the Real World producers kept him on the show for the remaining nine episodes, even though he had moved out of the house. On the streets of San Francisco, fans shout his name as he races by on his silver Floval Flyer bike. Roadrunner Records flew him to New York City to perform daredevil bike tricks in a rock video. And MTV is considering him for another series. “The best screenwriter in the world couldn’t write what Puck does every day,” says Real World producer-director George Verschoor, 34.

Puck, it seems, has always been an independent sort. His father, Ronald, 44, a contractor, and mother, Vickey, 44, a medical-records transcriber, divorced in 1972, and mother and son lived for a while in a crime-ridden part of East Oakland. “I got a little hardened,” says Puck. He attended an alternative school in nearby Fremont before his mother married psychiatrist Dr. Robert Kaye, 53, and moved to suburban Burlingame. Little changed. “Everybody at Burlingame High was a dork, so I got right out of there,” says Puck. After “pirating”—attending without paying—some courses (human sexuality, archery) at local colleges, Puck settled in San Francisco and became a bike messenger. He also works for an earthworm-composting company called Yahoo. “All the dirt around us at some time passed through a worm’s butt,” he says. “John Muir discovered that. He was a studly guy.”

Just before leaving The Real World, Puck met his girlfriend, 27-year-old optician Toni Cook—on-camera. She was sunbathing in a city park in the upscale Marina district when Puck rode up on his bike and hit on her. “All I could think of was I wanted to ditch the cameras and bring him home so I could talk to him,” she recalls. Incongruously, Puck fits unobtrusively into her immaculate apartment, with its lace pillows and four-poster bed. He throws a lit cigarette from their fourth-story window, not looking to see where it lands. What’s next? That’s easy. “My main goal is a three-letter word,” he says. “FUN!”


MICHAEL SMALL in San Francisco