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Classic Recordings
Robert Altman Week

Thursday
Jul312014

In Which We Inter This Miasma Within Us

Seven Weeks

by SOPHIA CROSS

Hors d’oeuvre

Seven weeks over the summer was the longest transitory state I’ve ever been in. It’s a suspension, a floating, letting the water take all of your weight and rising to the surface and bobbing gently. It was sitting down at the table with a hollow stomach, and not being able to look at the menu beforehand. My flight home took off at 6 in the morning, and I let an airport smoothie fill the hours between New Orleans and San Francisco.

painting by Susan Nally

Appetizer

The first thing that I ate in California was an omelet on the way home from the airport. I sat in my leftover sweat from moving out of my dorm room during the beginning of New Orleans summer and listened to my mother and her mother talk. We were in an outdoor seating area with glass walls separating us from the rest of a shopping plaza, which was nestled in between hills as if some giant with an elaborate toy village had placed it there. The omelet came with home fries and toast. I kept jerking my eyes open, the way you do when you’re about to fall asleep in class.

Before this, in the two weeks leading up to the end of my sophomore year of college, I would flit between eating everything in sight and not eating anything at all. Hunger had been temporarily gratifying, especially during finals. Only temporarily. I could go a day without eating and then having a burger later that night was so much better when I could accompany it with “I’m starving. All I had today was a banana and some almonds.”

Soup

I get sent out to buy mashed potatoes from a grocery store that offers valet parking for my sister, who just got her wisdom teeth out. These are the best kind of mashed potatoes, not just a poor substitute for real chewable food. You bring them out at Thanksgiving, and everyone knows that you didn’t make them and no one minds because they’re too focused on the perfect ratio of butter to chives to hints of skin.

There are a lot of soups, usually vegetable, and they are made in a monstrous, shining round tureen that dominates the stove over the space of a Sunday. These soups are then eaten for dinner that night and then relegated to an equally monstrous Tupperware that gets picked at throughout the rest of the week. For the Sunday dinner, the soups are served with grilled sandwiches on whole grain bread with a blend of Swiss and provolone.

There were catfish po’boys, two months ago, taken to go with chips and eaten on a blanket in the park. It was the crispest the air ever gets in the bayou region, an early March serving of cold, wet grass under bare feet.

painting by Susan Nally

Salad

My mother is a phenomenal cook. She looks pained every time she sees me put something in the microwave. I go with her to the farmer’s market on Saturdays.

Even though she’s shown me countless times how to examine and probe and test for freshness, I still have doubts about my abilities when I’m asked to go get some peaches while she discusses a vendor’s broccoli selection. Tossed back over a shoulder “Oh, could you get some cherries also? Make sure you pick the good ones.” Cherries are in my path first. Running the spectrum between a glowing golden yellow and the red of just‐congealed blood, poured into two large bins at the front of the stall. It’s just me there at first, but a couple seconds later a father and his seven­‐year‐old daughter are standing on the other side and he’s saying “You want to pick some cherries out?” She nods and he smiles, hands her a plastic bag and points into the bin. “Make sure you pick the good ones.”

Most of the peaches in the stall aren’t ripe yet, but apparently that’s the whole point – they will be in a couple of days so you’re not forced to eat your entire peach haul upon purchase. I pick out the six that have the most tangible hint of give. Samples of white peach are nestled on a tray above the fruit selection, and they taste like a means of inner purification. You eat the white peaches after going on your two‐mile daily beach run first thing in the morning while brewing your loose‐leaf tea and gearing up for another day of having your life run smoothly.

painting by Susan Nally

Entrée

My great-­grandmother used to live in one of those luxury nursing homes for a time, the kind that presents itself as a voluntary social club, and when we visited her for their Sunday brunch I would mow through three overflowing plates from the buffet. They had made‐to‐order stations for eggs and pancakes, and always dessert. I felt compelled to try everything. I would burst the seams of my Sunday best, and the adults would chuckle, because I was young enough for my incessant hunger to be adorable.

Coming home from a three­‐course birthday dinner I slipped into my dark house, quietly opened the fridge, and put a full container of leftover Chinese food in the microwave; while it did its lonely turn under the dim lighting, I went to the freezer and grabbed four pucks of cookie dough in time to catch the Chinese food before the microwave went off and the resounding electronic beep woke someone up. I took everything into my room and ate on the floor with a movie playing on my laptop screen in front of me that I wasn’t watching. For the braised bean curd with eggplant and the pot stickers, I was hunched over, smacking, inhaling. By the time I got to the broccoli beef and chow mein, my curved spine had started to hurt. I set my posture to ramrod straight and ate everything else with a hand on my stomach. After the food was gone, I pulled my shirt up and looked at myself in the mirror from the front, from the side, craning my head to look around the back, sucking in with everything I had and reassuring myself that I still looked the same. I fell asleep sated, the way I had become used to doing.

The after‐school snack, when it was a ritual, could take upwards of an hour as I made a slow rotation through the contents of our kitchen. The secret was to move through the genres of taste: potato chips followed by peanut butter and banana on wheat toast, microwave shrimp dumplings, then ice cream topped with chocolate chips and graham cracker crumbs. Everything eaten with a book in one hand, the justifiable period of disappearing that I gave to myself around 4 pm on weekdays.

I’m spending a lot of my time alone in the house during this first part of summer. The rooms are a series of cubes fit together in a single story, and the light trickles through them – I never need to turn any lights on during the day. It would be one thing if I prowled through them, restless, since the image of a caged panther is definitely the more appealing one, but I’m starting to realize just how much of a natural housecat I am. Like a housecat, I’m getting fed again. The fridge is full of food that someone else is paying for. One midnight snack includes toast crisps with raisins and rosemary baked in, goat cheese, artichoke spread, sun‐dried tomato, prosciutto, and dried apricots, eaten standing up from the counter while I close my eyes and savor every crumb.

It gets a little more grim to be settling in for the night at 7 p.m. when it’s still light out.

painting by Susan Nally

Dessert

During this time, I am mostly alone. Everyone leaves for work in the morning, and I don’t change out of my pajamas until the early afternoon, if even that. It’s counterintuitive, but having a large stretch of time to do whatever you want makes it that much more difficult to do all of the things you told yourself you’d do, of course you’d do, if only you had the time. It makes it incredibly easy to make yourself some mint tea and avocado on toast with a poached egg on top and settle in front of your laptop. Later, it’ll be almond and dark chocolate cookies, leftovers from a dinner party a couple of days before.

When you visualize an overhaul of the soul, it’s of the movie‐makeover variety, and it’s quick and painless; the actual slog through the trenches it demands is less so, so I press the button confirming that yes, I am still watching and dart off to the kitchen during the theme song of the next episode to get another snack.

Sophia Cross is a contributor to This Recording. She is a student and writer living in Chile. This is her first appearance in these pages. She tumbls here and twitters here.

Paintings by Susan Nally.

"Another Day" - Tape Waves (mp3)

"Looking Around" - Tape Waves (mp3)

Wednesday
Jul302014

In Which We Are Uncertain How To Articulate This

Hard to Say is This Recording’s weekly advice column. It will appear every Wednesday until the Earth perishes in a fiery blaze, or until North West turns 40. Get no-nonsense answers to all of your most pressing questions by writing to justhardtosay@gmail.com or by dropping us a note at our tumblr.

Hi,

My stepsister Joann recently got married to a wonderful man and is pregnant with her first child. The two are planning a wedding before the baby arrives. With the prospect of a baby shower, an engagement brunch (no clue what that is), a bachelorette party, bridesmaid dress and other incidentals, Joann's fertility is probably going to cost me in four figures. I don't have the kind of income where I can absorb these expenses; on the other hand I don't want to let my stepsister down. What should I do?

Kate T.

 

Dear Kate,

Marriage is a wonderful institution, except when Lauren Bacall married Humphrey Bogart: that was completely gross. 

Whatever you do, do not bring this problem up to Joann. Create an entirely independent drama that requires your attention. For example, your car broke down and needs a new hamburglarator. She has bigger issues on her mind, she's not going to check if it's actually part of a car. For a more plausible excuse, humbly reveal that you have to take a weeklong trip during her bachelorette party to accomplish a continuing education bonafide. For some reason, using the word "education" justifies any expense or behavior.

Failing that, is there the possibility of suggesting Joann's fiance may not be the father? Because that could really shake up this loathsome set of obligatons on your plate. Also, when you lie, don't touch your face.

Hey,

My boyfriend Kyle and I have a great relationship. We spend almost all our free time together and we rarely argue or fight. He's really supportive of me and never criticizes anything I do. 

There is one problem though. Kyle fancies himself an amateur gourmet. He is always planning some recipe composed of farm-to-table ingredients. Once he smiled at a lobster he was about to boil, which was a little strange, but the larger issue is that Kyle can't really cook. His meals are so adventurous that they're frequently inedible. He consumes them with aplomb and never seems to notice my lack of enthusiasm. How can I make him stop without getting in leg-deep shit? 

Angela D. 

Dear Angela,

Just come up with some strange diet plan that requires cooking things that even this Julia Childish can't screw up. 

Preface your lie by saying that you had an allergic reaction to one of his terrible meals (preferably rabbit, since humans should not consume rabbits except as a direct fuck you to Beatrix Potter). Explain that you were tested for allergies and it turns out you have some rare condition which involves never consuming the worst of his preparations in any form whatsoever. 

NB: We've received some electronic mail recently complaining that our solution to every problem is to lie. This is an untrue accusation. When a lie is for someone's own good, it's just called a compliment.

Illustrations by Mia Nguyen.

Tuesday
Jul292014

In Which Her Parents Constituted The Final Straw

Paying My Dues for the Journey

by ELEANOR MORROW

They Came Together
dir. David Wain
83 minutes

Joel (Paul Rudd) is an executive at Candy Systems Incorporated, a multi-ventured candy conglomerate. He is in a long-term relationship with a brunette named Tiffany (Cobie Smulders) who struggles to return his affection because of certain depraved incidents in her past.

On the day that Joel plans to propose to Tiffany, he finds her apartment spackled with torn off clothes and accessories on the hardwood floor. He calls out her name and hears sounds in the bedroom. Assuming she is just washing herself noisily in the shower, he attempts an elongated speech to preface his marriage proposal. When he turns around he sees her in the arms of Trevor (Michael Ian Black). His relationship is over.

With this inauspicious beginning commences David Wain's supreme masterpiece, They Came Together. Previously known for tackling lighter topics like the innocent thrills of summer camps or couples retreats, They Came Together marks a departure for Wain. The film is riotously funny, but it is also deeply personal.

On the surface, They Came Together presents like a zany parody of You've Got Mail. Joel's new love interest is Molly (Amy Poehler). Watching Molly swish through her delightful homespun candy shop named Upper Sweet Side makes you realize how much the showrunners on Parks and Recreation dressed and made her up so as not to overshadow Rashida Jones or Aubrey Plaza.

In They Came Together, Poehler's Molly is the utter embodiment of womanhood. Mother of a nine year old son, she meets Joel at a Halloween party where both attend dressed as Ben Franklin.

Joel and Molly don't click at first, but eventually the two New Yorkers discover they share a rare hobby: they like fiction books. "It's the feeling of being transported to another place and time," Molly says at one point. Just as quickly as their romance takes off, Joel has second thoughts when he discovers that Molly's parents are white supremacists. (Did you know that over 30 percent of whites in America believe in white supremacy, and of those 30 percent, over 95 percent of white supremacists are regular viewers of Person of Interest?)

Molly and Joel try to make their relationships with other people work after that. Joel gets back together with Tiffany, who is honest enough to inform him that he should be very suspicious of her motives, and Molly finally accepts the advances of her accountant admirer Eggbert (Ed Helms). He does not particularly share her love of fiction ("I only like to read about things that actually happened," he explains over a burrito) but he does seem pretty devoted to her, even complimenting her on how she plays Charades.

Where They Came Together really shines in its exploration of how Jewish men adapt to dating non-Jewish women. Joel's parents were killed in a tragic accident, and he has had to provide for his younger brother  Jake (Max Greenfield) who now works as a cab driver. His knowledge of the financial reality of the candy industry is the complete opposite of Molly's homespun ways  in her shop, candy is free for all children and dogs.

When Joel's company attempts to put Molly's tiny candy shop out of business, we realize how insane it was in You've Got Mail that Meg Ryan blamed her low sales on bookstore chains that are now themselves filing for bankruptcy. No one has ever properly explained to me why wasting paper is somehow morally superior to reading something on your phone, and I doubt they ever will.

Unlike the out-of-date pieces of shit They Came Together pays tribute to, there is no happy ending here. Molly discovers she has an affinity for prescription painkillers, and the coffee shop that Joel tries to open on the Upper West Side flops within a week. Meaningfully, there is no overly familiar scene where Joel and Molly have sex  it wasn't really about that. It was about the candy, and how you really should not give it away for free.

Eleanor Morrow is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Manhattan. She last wrote in these pages about Masters of Sex. You can find an archive of her writing for This Recording here.

"Not Mine to Love" - Slow Club (mp3)

"The Pieces" - Slow Club (mp3