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Mia Nguyen
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Ethan Peterson

This Recording

is dedicated to the enjoyment of audio and visual stimuli. Please visit our archives where we have uncovered the true importance of nearly everything. Should you want to reach us, e-mail alex dot carnevale at gmail dot com, but don't tell the spam robots. Consider contacting us if you wish to use This Recording in your classroom or club setting. We have given several talks at local Rotarys that we feel went really well.

Pretty used to being with Gwyneth

Regrets that her mother did not smoke

Frank in all directions

Jean Cocteau and Jean Marais

Simply cannot go back to them

Roll your eyes at Samuel Beckett

John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion

Metaphors with eyes

Life of Mary MacLane

Circle what it is you want

Not really talking about women, just Diane

Felicity's disguise

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Monday
Jan082018

In Which We Require Our Own Space

Efficiency

by ELIZABETH BARBEE

I needed an apartment to match my bohemian lifestyle, so I found a small efficiency on the outskirts of Austin. The place was rundown and seedy, facts obvious upon sight, but my mantra was there is beauty in decay. I had just broken up with my boyfriend of four years and it felt hypocritical to discriminate against anything that needed mending. I trusted my ability to romanticize the yellowed walls, the stale cigarette stink, the fact that my neighbors had Wi-Fi names like “Bitches Cum” and “The Dave Matthews Band.” For at least the first week I made the best of it.

Immediately after graduating college I took a job editing erotica. It seemed like the perfect gig for a young English major desperate to demonstrate the depth of her open-mindedness, so I pounced at the opportunity. My first assignment was a gay vampire e-Book called Pack that the publisher described as SEXTREME. Because all of the characters were male there was a lot of pronoun confusion. I could never tell if the protagonist were masturbating or getting lucky. Most of my notes in Track Changes consisted of a single question mark. Regardless, I felt like Anaïs Nin. If only I had been brave enough to shave my eyebrows.

My only friend in town was a free-spirited University of Texas graduate named Saul. He had just sold a story to This American Life, so we were both in the literary biz. He was my first visitor. The moment he stepped through the door he began speaking in the third person. “It isn't bad, but Saul wouldn't live here,” he said. I think now this was his way of distancing himself from the filth of my living space. It was also the first sign of the horror to come.

Later that night, when I was in the early stages of sleep, I heard screams coming from next door. They were not the kind of sexual screams I read about in Pack. They were frightening. The logical thing to do would have been to call 911, but in my dreamlike state I saw only two options: go back to sleep and let my neighbor die, or put on a pair of pants and rescue him. Because of guilt rather than altruism, I chose the latter.

It took him five minutes to open the door, just enough time for me to realize I might get shot. When he finally appeared he was wearing a knee length Madonna concert t-shirt and casually smoking a joint. “Hey, girl, what's up?” he said. “You want to hit this?” I shook my head and explained frantically the reason for my visit. He looked amused. “I get night terrors sometimes. No biggie. I'm surprised you haven't heard me before.” I asked no follow up questions and bought a pair of earplugs.  

Shortly thereafter Saul took an assignment in South America. With my only friend gone, I started a tepid love affair with a first year law student I met at a coffee shop. He had all the markers of a serial killer (frightening intelligence, vacant eyes, distaste for pets), but he kept me company. Plus, he had lots of interesting views on intellectual property in the Internet age, so I decided to overlook his Ted Bundy quality. 

Because I had grown to hate my own place I spent a lot of time at his. It smelled always of fried potatoes, but as far as I could tell he never ate. Instead of going out to dinner we stayed in and rented movies, most of which were directed by Ingmar Bergman. Persona is an uncomfortable thing to watch, especially with someone you vaguely suspect of being an ax murderer.

Two weeks into our lackluster romance he mentioned a roommate whose existence seemed highly unlikely. “It's a one bedroom apartment,” I challenged. “Where's his toothbrush?” “Hugo is a busy man,” he said. “Always jetting off somewhere and taking his toiletries with him.” Perhaps if he had chosen a more believable name I would have stuck it out, but Hugo was too far fetched. I ended things that night. He rarely contacted me after that, but in a fit of paranoia I decided he was stalking me. Too cheap to buy mace, I kept a can of hairspray next to my bed. “If he breaks in I'll douse him with Aqua Net,” I thought.

I am embarrassed now by my egotism. I wonder where I got the idea that I was interesting enough to be stalked. The dude was weird, sure, but only slightly more so than average. Looking back I think it was the unfamiliarity of him that scared me the most. I had spent all of college curled up next to the same man and now I had to get used to this new body. It had hair in places my ex's did not, scars and tattoos I had never seen before. Everything about him, just like everything about that year, was foreign.

All of my discomfort during that time was self-inflicted. I made decisions based on the person I wanted to be (Anaïs Nin) instead of the person I actually was (Elizabeth Barbee, a suburban-bred geek with an affinity for stability). When I came to this realization, I found an administrative job that was boring as hell but allowed me to move to a nicer place. I submitted my final thoughts on Pack to the publisher. “Can we change the main character's name to Hugo?” I asked. “It sounds more vampiric.”  

Elizabeth Barbee is the senior contributor to This Recording. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here. She last wrote in these pages about her vital signs.

Thursday
Jan042018

In Which We Follow Him To The Ocean Floor

The Well

by LEAH BUCKLEY

A storyteller relies on deception, depends on the secrets of his characters and coddles their depth, their small lies and their great fears. It is easy to forget that they share your own blood. 

The immigration line in the Mexico City airport was already a tangle of confused Japanese tourists, and adding the passengers from our JFK flight turned chaos to panic. Rodrigo pulled me into a much shorter line tucked off to the side. “But this is for citizens...” I turned and looked longingly at the angry New Yorkers commanding order from the Japanese tour guide. “I don’t even speak Spanish.” An official looking man with white rubber gloves raised his eyebrows at me. He had a look, like, "caught you, you mother fucker. You don’t belong here.

“Hola,” I smile. I wanted desperately to go back in the other line.

+

The whole family picked us up from the airport, a welcome wagon waiting with cab drivers and lovers holding flowers. We piled into his uncle’s little four door like it was a clown car, knocking knees on the speed bumps out of the garage. Traveling gives the visitor a beguiling sense of wonder—even airport parking lots have an exotic smell, like the water you can brush your teeth with but can’t drink. They passed around hand sanitizer disguised as a Despicable Me minion toy. “Take some of the minion,” Rodrigo urged. I shook my head — my hands were cautiously tucked under my legs. “No seriously. It’s dirty here.”

+

That night I took a walk alone in the just dusk and looked for shadow shapes to remember.

There was a woman in front of me in a tight dress, her gait labored as she navigated cracked pavement in high heel sandals.

The night was empty of sound and her sensuality felt unnatural as we passed looming construction vehicles abandoned for the night.

I sped up to pass her. 

Just as I leveled with her she gasped, falling off her strappy platform

We were so close that I had to say something. "I won't tell," I smiled. 

Relived she laughed back, out of breath. "Me novio…supposed to pick me up, cabron," she whined.

I wondered if she felt very aloneThere was heartache behind her effort, and I feared my resemblance to her.

+

I wandered back from the supermarket, backlit now. 

Dark corners lurched out at me and played at the uneasiness in my stomach.

Fingers found comfort in concentric circles around the crispy pastry in my bag, and the crunch in my head drowned out any possibility of danger.

+

The next morning Rodrigo’s abuelo arrived.

His slow steps down the skinny spiral staircase quieted the room.

He wasn’t particularly tall, but he bore the authority of a much larger man. He had the belly characteristic of an epicurean, someone who swam in the ocean despite — or because of — the height of the waves, and ate all the ceviche he wanted. Dignified black hair slicked across his head and shone with lacquered glittering profusion. I noticed thick muscular hands of a younger life, tan from summers in the hot dessert.

+

In private, Abuelo commanded the same awe as he did in Mexico City's presidential palace.

But now, the living room was peppered with uncertainty.

Since the stroke his speech had gotten better, but the great labor in his voice was a quiet secret the family shared.

With each opening line he took an enormous risk.

+

There is a room in the house where Rodrigo's uncle works. Scattered across the big desk are books and magazines, Spanish, English.

Only standing behind the desk did I notice his uncle had taped photos of thinkers and artists. I had trouble recognizing them  one was Locke, maybe.

Was it lonely to look up and only see strangers?

 

That morning his uncle was working in the garden on the roof. His two little boys played noiselessly about the deck, occasionally hopping off their tricycles to examine the roots of some exotic plant their father was working on, one tucking a head under his father’s shoulder, the other throwing two arms around his neck in an impetuous embrace. He took the opportunity to smooth out hair and brush dirt off faces with the tender quieting hands of a gardener. 

+

The boys told me they had a joke for me, a Spanish language learner.

Había un zorro caminando por el desierto. Estaba solo hasta que se encontró con un burro. El zorro chocó con el burro y dijo

"I'm sorry"

y el burro contestó

"I'm burry"

I didn’t get it. That night, alone, I googled “Spanish English Burro joke translation.”  

+

Not too far from where we were staying in Mexico City, Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo's house sits on an unassuming plot.

There are two buildings surrounded by a cactus fence, one blue for Diego, and Frida's red. They are connected by the slimmest of bridges. 

I wondered if Frida ever lay awake alone in her house thinking about what her art would look like if she had had children. But only because I imagined her as me.

I stopped thinking about it, and just felt like a cliché.

Abuelo stood wringing his hands in the living room until doorbell sounded sharply. He took stock of the dimly lit room, his suitcase in the corner. “What was the name of the town where the beach house was?” he asked, smiling. A facetious question  he has owned that beach house for 30 odd years.

+

Was it his fortitude of character that made him so majestic? I felt that he was very different from all the strong men I have known, as the land is different from the sea.  

+

The next day Rodrigo and I escaped to that beach house and for a few days it's just the two of us.

Rodrigo shakes his head at me. "If we are here, I think we are here for a reason."

I wondered how forgiveness works as I kneaded my toes into the sand. 

Time began to feel like a trap.

But how could we be afraid when the sky met the water and all around us waves pulled and pushed?

+

Rodrigo plucked an eyelash from my cheek. My face felt changed under his hands, slightly sad at the edges. I thought of what I looked like in that moment, to him. 

Years distanced me from the image in the black mirror pupils. 

“Up or down?”

“Down.”

He opened his fingers and there was nothing there, only sandy skin. I had forgotten to make a wish anyway.

+

Mornings on the beach were mine until about 10:30.

The sand was hot enough that if you wanted to swim you had to sprint to the ocean break. 

A man with a factitious tan, maybe 60, tip-toe ran down the beach, boogie board under his arm. 

Hair slicked back with salt water, I watched him get tousled by the waves, guffaw like a child. 

I imagined him tumbling under a big crest, the water piling and piling on top of him as he fought for a breath.

But he doesn’t drown, as big as the waves are.

Beaten and exhausted, he trudges up the beach around 11.

He has a hitch in his step like a broken toy. 

The woman, equally tan (so the bronze skin was for her liking then?) was splayed out on a lawn chair. 

Silently they gathered their towels and shifted to the pool deck. 

+

I know those people. Unnatural tans, discomfort in the waves. Ignoble people like us are swept along by ocean streams kicking and gasping, or nervously hover about the edge of its great force.

+

We were sitting outside for lunch.

The tan couple already put in an order of quesadillas at their usual spot next to us.

“Where you folks from?” I placed the accent in an instant.

"We are coming from New York," I replied, not sure if I should get into it. 

"...But I'm originally from Minnesota."

"Ah, we are from across the lake! Wisconsin, Hayward actually." Her eyes lit up, while the rest of her face remained impossibly tan and fixed in place. 

"Wow New York. Real busy there," the boogie-boarder chimed in. I knew it was coming. "I could never live there, I’m afraid of that many people."

"Yep, it gets pretty busy..." I waited for one of them to ask me when I was moving home, or how my mother feels, me being so far away and all. 

"We've been to Times Square. I don't know how you do it. All those people." 

I felt strangely comforted by their predictability, and immediately guilty for not fearing it.

+

But the image of that tan man staggering up the beach haunts me. He bears no resemblance to the strength in Abuelo’s calm hands.

I want that control. 

"I’m ready. I don't care if you believe me," I say to Rodrigo, but I care more than anything right now.

I ache for him.

I’m throwing my fears into the sea and jumping with them.

When I do fall, I want to fall slowly.

 

He moves with the water, rising and falling, his tall form dwarfed by the sweeping swells. When I try to follow him I meet the ocean floor and gritty sand between my teeth. He was born in the waves, and will die there — fearless in the infinite blue. I dream of that ocean.

+

The next day there is a lightness in my feet. I can feel the strength of my arms, and warm blood pumping in my brain. A mercurial feeling of weightlessness rises in my chest. Wave after wave it frees me.

Leah Buckley is a contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in New York. Photographs by the author.

Wednesday
Jan032018

In Which We Are Between The World And Something Else

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.

Hi,

My family really wants me to meet a Jewish guy. A part of me wants to make them happy, but another part of me doesn’t want to restrict my pool of potential partners in that fashion. I know if I introduce my current boyfriend to my parents that they will freak out and the prospect of dealing with that exhausts me. Is there any way out of this situation or should I just accept I’ll be happier with someone my parents will accept?

Hanna P.

Dear Hanna,

You seem to subtly be suggesting that your parents are racist. This is a serious charge, one that you will want to assemble as much evidence on as possible. What was your parents’ reaction to the murder of Eric Garner? Do they like hip hop music, especially Chance the Rapper, or do they find his approach slight and substanceless in comparison to more prescient cultural critics in the African-American community? Do they own a copy of Between the World and Me and do they keep it in a place of prominence in their home?

Once you have the answers to these crucial questions, it is time to move onto a set of peripheral questions revolving around your parents’ reaction to other stimuli, including Call Me By Your Name and the innovative fiction of Clarice Lispector. You will have never gotten to know your parents so deeply: their inner desires, their total net worth, and their desire for the phallus in your life to be either circumsized or a reasonable facsimile of the same.

You should be with whoever you want. If your parents can’t accept it, explain to them using the theoretical context of Husserl and Deleuze why they should. Anyone can be convinced of anything over a long enough timeline. You may experience frustration at first, but if you can get your parents to actually engage and see the positive aspects of your boyfriend’s personality and physical attractiveness, you will probably be OK.

Also, are they aware that gentiles can convert? Sure, a Christian can never truly become a Jew for the main reason of why would they want to, but they can pretend, and pretenses are clearly hugely important to your parents. The concept of preserving any genetic purity is a disturbing one. Harp on this a lot.

Illustrations by Mia Nguyen. Access This Recording's mobile site at thisrecording.wordpress.com.