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Classic Recordings
Robert Altman Week

Monday
Apr142014

In Which We Are Generally Afraid To Ask You

Cushioning

by LINDA EDDINGS

Q: He doesn't look after you.

A: Maybe he does help me, but that's not the same.

Q: You were playing a sort of game.

A: You have hit on a pet peeve of mine. Which is the placing of the words "sort of" where that expression should not be. Perhaps it's just an aspect of your dialect.

Q: That's fair. My own problem is with the word "just." When you consider the matter at any length, the word means little to nothing at all.

A: The game Tim and I were playing was to observe and determine the relationships of various people to each other. If you spot identical twins, it's called champagne. There is nothing better.

Q: You see a father and his daughter.

A: That's a riesling. And a mother and her daughter is a merlot. Because of mere - that's the joke anyway.

Q: "That's the joke."

A: Tim noticed an old woman bending over a doll.

Q: Is that like, toilet wine?

A: You sound like him, you really do. Context is everything.

Q: Not really. Say you were dating a man and for eleven months it was going along swimmingly. At the end of that month, he gets inebriated, drunker than you have ever seen him, and gives you a black eye. Is it over?

A: What kind of car does he drive? What color is the car, his eyes? The hardest thing to do is wait for all the information. As I said, we witnessed an old woman, most likely homeless, most certainly with no fixed address, bending over a doll. She kept nodding to herself. He explained that the reason the woman was nodding was because the doll was telling her something.

Q: What was the doll telling her?

A: I was on vacation once with my parents; I had just turned twelve and they took to me to the Riviera. I was from the city; I couldn't remember ever seeing a beach. I met another girl my age named Eloise. She showed me necklaces she had constructed of seashells, and when I encouraged her, she showed me the animal that provided one of her shells. It was seated on a tiny purple cushion.

Q: She honored it.

A: Not quite. It was a jail. But you have perhaps hit on why the woman was nodding to her doll. She may have considered it divine.

Q: Do you believe that?

A: No. But Tim showed a mixture of disgust and resignation that I finally realized was concern.

Q: "Perhaps" is another expression like that, for me. You've said it twice today. Isn't everything "perhaps", when you get down to it?

A: I know someone who would agree with you. "The closest thing to God is an individual."

Q: What did Tim say next?

A: We began to argue. He said that she belonged in hospice care, or under some supervision at least. I said that we were all taking orders from someone, and a variety of other things. Sometimes I think I sabotage my relationships, but this was not one of those times. Later, under the covers, he was more gentle than he had ever been.

Q: You don't often show your anger to those closest to you.

A: That's perhaps true, but it was something else. It was sort of that he could not decide whether he was the old woman, or the doll. And he just knew the fact that he was waiting for me to confirm his suspicions meant that he was more likely the old woman.

Q: Have you had your period this month?

A: I'm having it now. There was blood on his cock. I wiped it off before he could see it. A certain type of person never looks at herself unless she is told to, and even then.

Q: That old woman you saw. You said that she nodded her head to what the doll was saying. Did she ever shake her head? Yes? That seems like an important distinction.

A: I didn't finish the story. In the morning, he wanted sex again, but was afraid to say so. What bothered me was that he wouldn't just ask me for it. Because if it was the reverse, that is what I would do.

Q: You came.

A: Yes. But as I was coming, he was talking to me, not even about me, or what he was doing.

Q: What did he say exactly, as you came? This may be important.

A: He said, "I'm glad we didn't meet on Tinder."

Q: He sounds like an old woman. Was the animal on the purple cushion dead by the way? That seashell girl. When you were on the beach.

A: Eloise, yes. She arranged her shells by color, then by various other criteria, and then by size. She explained the virtues of each separate arrangement. Then I noticed that she moved me around her arena in the exact same fashion as the shells she held in her tiny hand. I told her that it was pointless to arrange anything by size, now. There was no real way of telling how much it would grow.

Q: When he was inside of you. When you came, you told me what he said when you had your orgasm. What did you say?

A: Nothing of any import. It felt like I was listening, not to him, to the world beneath him.

Q: Did he come?

A: Yes.

Q: What did he say when he came?

A: He asked me what time it was. As if there was none at all to waste.

Linda Eddings is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Brooklyn. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here. She last wrote in these pages about Abbas Kiarostami.

"The Bones" - One Clueless Friend (mp3)

"Bird in Flight" - One Clueless Friend (mp3)

 

Friday
Apr112014

In Which We Are Made Of Distractions

Six-Word Story

by TERESA FINNEY

On an average, otherwise mundane Tuesday night, I have found myself splayed out on a kitchen floor that does not belong to me. The wine glass that shattered in my hand as I fell has cut deeply into my palm and wrist. Blood is trickling down onto the cold linoleum floor. Standing up requires gargantuan effort, but I make it over to the sink. Grabbing onto the counter to steady myself, I stick my hand under the cold water, which stings. I notice the blood, as if a river, streaming down my chest and pooling at the collar on my shirt.

A fact I had forgotten about in the four seconds it took me to stand up and walk to the sink, is that I fell on top of the stem of the wine glass. My chest was cut up badly and bleeding all over the empty sink. I was in shock and losing blood and I needed a hospital.

Despite the blood loss and disorientation, I managed to Google map the nearest emergency room, which I discovered was located a mere block from the apartment I was staying at. I walked there. Why I did this, I don’t know. But, my hand wrapped in a towel, and my other injury-free hand holding a dishcloth to my bleeding chest, blood dripping all over the streets of Astoria, NY, I walked there.

Twelve hours and seven stitches later I wake up on the couch back at the apartment. Instinctively I check my phone and notice my battery is at 2%. I get up from the couch and walk into the bedroom. Outside it is sunny but winter still lingers in the breeze. I charge my phone, then fall back to sleep. I’ve been house- sitting for a friend for the last eight days, and the circumstances in which I’ve found myself in my 29th year of life are clearly less than ideal. The recklessness of my 20s has finally caught up to me.

I was out of work because of my hand injury and had time to think. I had time to confront in my mind how I had gotten to that exact place in life. I considered how I had corroded my youth in alcohol and self-contempt and now that I was almost 30, I terrified myself. I knew that I would be dead soon if I stayed in New York. I would not live to be 30 if I didn't get help. I knew this to be as true as the earth orbits the sun. I decided to go home.

A few afternoons later at brunch, a friend asks, “Are you still a mess?” I pick at my BLT as we talk, then just nod. Two weeks prior I had sent her a weird late-night whiskey-fueled Facebook message. “It wasn’t a nice message,” she said. I look out the window at commuters climbing the stairs to take either the N or the Q train to either Manhattan or Brooklyn. It is another sunny but chilly day. I apologize.

"I was really drunk, I’m sorry."

Ernest Hemingway's famous six-word story reads: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” The six word story of my 20s is “I was really drunk, I’m sorry.” Exactly four months shy of my 30th birthday, I write this with remorse.

In the days prior to leaving New York I joked that my fall and subsequent injury was some weird, physical manifestation of what had been going on in my mind during those days. Each time I laughed about it and each time after the laughter stopped, I realized I was not joking.

+

I am back amongst the soil that birthed me, my golden California. I am out west in a strong calculated effort to move aside all distractions that tempt me to forget myself again. Like all those times in the past when instead of writing that essay, I worried myself sick about why someone didn’t love me. Like every time I drank too much wine and stayed up until 4am instead of going to therapy. I did this and more for nearly a decade until distractions were all that I was made of.

Dusk in California is a spiritual experience. The golden, witching hour. The Santa Cruz mountains, and the Sierra foothills; the roaring Pacific Ocean, and the towering, ancient-as-time Redwood trees all seem to become even more vast and loom even larger under the gold setting sun. This is notable to me as Mom picks me up from the airport and we drive down Highway 152. I'll be staying with her while I get myself together. I don't know how else to say that I'm home because I had a nervous breakdown. I don't know what else to call it. When I realized I could have killed myself the night I fell in my friend's kitchen, it halted me entirely. The day before my flight is scheduled to leave JFK, I write "New York didn't almost kill me, I almost killed me." The distinction is important, I'll take the blame.

As soon as I land, I am dodging questions from friends and family.

"How long will you be here?"

"How are you feeling?"

Their curiosity is innocent enough but I feel threatened by their questions. They don't know that I wouldn't be able to answer them, not even if a knife was held to my 29 year-old throat. Text messages and emails go unanswered because I don't want to sound directionless so close to my 30th birthday. This feels like proof of ten years down the drain, like a sure-fire failure. Of what?

Before I can address any of their questions, I have to answer some of my own. I want to know how it is possible that residual heartaches leftover from childhood can keep an adult up at night, long after the city has gone to sleep and street lights hum an orange glow that beams into bedrooms. I want to know why thirty feels like a deadline. How can I reconcile within me the fact that a decade is just about over and what do I do about all of these regrets? What was the point of the last ten years?

Sometime around age 23 I learned what alcohol could do. Before then it was just an additive to parties, something I could take or leave. But soon it became a tool. I manipulated alcohol to make life more bearable, to make me more bearable to me. I liked the way I felt when I was drunk because I felt like someone else. I believed the lie that my father had told me once when I was a little girl, that I was “fundamentally flawed.” I believed the lie I sold myself, that I wouldn’t be successful or happy — ever — as long as I was the deeply imperfect person that I was. And because the only time I could ever escape myself was when I drank, I kept drinking. I rarely stopped. I was positive I was slowly killing myself and still, I did not care. Like the time I passed out drunk under an awning on 145th St in Harlem during a rainstorm. I had passed out first on the subway. I have vague memories of two strangers putting me into a cab, and the when I came to, I was using my scarf, covered in vomit, as a pillow. I knew this was not good, but drinking to that point was a punishment. Punishing myself in this way felt correct. It felt like the thing I had to do in order to cope with just being alive in this flawed body, with this flawed mind. The residual beliefs of my childhood taunted me, still lying all these years later.

+                                                                                                 

What I know for sure is this: I know that when I disappoint myself, it places a sensation akin to a ticking time bomb in the pit of my stomach. I know exactly the place in my chest where it feels like a smoldering heap of blue ashes when I have lost someone I love. I know the texture life takes on when I am hating myself and indulging in excess.

That I drank too much for ten years and have been worried about turning thirty that whole time are two directly related facts of my life.

I've been the youngest in my group of friends for years so I have heard amazing things about being in your 30s. It's like Dorothy opening the door to her tornado-stricken home in Oz, the technicolor land of mystery and possibility, they say.

"You instantly get an attitude about life. You just stop giving a fuck."

"You learn to love your body, finally."

"You have better sex!"

It's as if I've been watching an infomercial selling me the idea of Turning Thirty for the last ten years. Now I'm skeptical. I want a refund even before I've tested the product. I don't believe the hype. Thirty isn't Oz. I am not Dorothy. I feel time slipping away from me even though I understand I am wrong.

My 20s feel like cold, hard fact. When I think back to a year, two years, five years ago, I think of the mistakes. The alcohol-induced decisions I made, the ones that cannot be mended. I think about the people I angered, the ones I lied to because the truth was unutterable. I wonder how many of those people recoil at the drop of my name and if I'll be forgiven. I think about the men who served as mirrors that only reflected back to me my beliefs about myself. I think about the terrible things they did and said and how it was possible I could have permitted any of it. I think about the countless days and nights I drank too much in an attempt to forget about all the men who left, and all the ways in which I abandoned myself too. And that life goes on still.

There are regrets, more of them than fingers to count them on. There are failures. In no poetic way, simply, I had failed. Bills went unpaid. Phone calls went unanswered. Needs went unmet. Cold, hard fact. But because I am still here, none of that is unfixable. Life is still happening. It does not matter that I have failed, the sun will still set in the west tonight. It does not matter that I left New York before I did what I moved there to do, air still fills my lungs. Despite a raucous decade, breath still rises and falls in my chest. The depths and heights of being human have left their mark on me, and life still turns gold under a Californian sun. 

Teresa Finney is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in California. She last wrote in these pages about the exact address. She tumbls here and twitters here.

Paintings by Mehran Elminia.

Thursday
Apr102014

In Which One Move Leads To Everything Else

Blue Islands

by CATIE DISABATO

Grocery shopping is an aesthetic experience. The cardboard boxes built to hold crackers are decorated with designs that the cracker companies hope will make you feel a feeling, then buy crackers. The crackers lead to cheese. The cheese leads to fig jam. Everything I know about advertising I learned from television – certain colors make you feel certain things and what I call love was invented by guys like Don Draper to sell nylons – but I remember vividly when Coca-Cola debuted those mini-cans in the early 2000s. It was all I could do to keep myself from constantly buying them. They were so cute and little and came in Diet.

If you completely fetishize the act of grocery shopping, the way I do, it becomes totally divorced from cooking and eating. It becomes about places and things. Sometimes I manage to leave the house with an idea of the foods I want to cook. More often, I’ll leave the house with a list of grocery stores I want to visit.

photo by henrico prims

I grew up in the southern suburbs of Chicago, which, in the late 80s and early 90s, did not have a grocery store that carried organic meat and produce. My mother was a sort-of ex-hippie and wanted to raise her children on organic meat and produce. We did not have pop, we had Spritzer. We did not have potato chips in the house, we had blue corn chips. All the other kids made fun of the blue chips, they looked so strange. Sometimes, a boy would agree to eat one on a dare, like sometimes a boy would agree to eat a worm on a dare. I would insist that they tasted just like yellow corn chips, but no one would believe it until they had the chip in their mouth and they were chewing. I relished the attention from my classmates, but it was also hard to be the kid with a weird lunch. 

To get our organic items, blue corn chips, and Spritzer, my mother trekked into Chicago several times a month to visit the closest Whole Foods, approximately 30 miles from our house. She buckled us into car seats and filled a cooler with ice, to keep the meat and frozen food fresh during the long drive home.

by hannah sheffield

I remember the Whole Foods from the vantage point of a person so tiny the aisles were like long, wide stretches of road and the shelves were the height of one-story buildings. Shelves filled with colorful bags, bottles and boxes, which themselves were filled with things that tasted good. Things I could have and hold and make my own. In an age before my parents give me privacy, food was something I could own because once you eat it, no one could take it away again. My brother always stole my candy; I learned to eat it quickly so it could be mine.

I hated the fish section, which smelled bad and still smells bad. I loved the bulk goods, the tubs of grains, each with their own consistency. I could sense their enticing textures. I wanted to touch them, the way I wanted to touch paintings in museums, to see what the heavy paint felt like when it dried. While my mother ordered fish and meat at the counter, I tried to touch everything. I did not distinguish the Whole Foods from other playgrounds.

On the few occasions my father took me grocery shopping, he took me to the “regular” grocery store (in Flossmoor, Illinois, this was either Jewel Osco, Dominic’s, or Walt’s). My father lead me through the produce section, grazing. He ate green beans and cherries and anything small left out in piles. He taught me to be grazer. When I’m at Trader Joe’s, I visit the free sample stand two or three times. I eat the green beans from the produce section at Whole Foods. I also eat the nuts, candied fruit, and yogurt pretzels out of the dried goods bins. I use the plastic spoons to pour two or three items into my palm and I eat them while filling plastic bags with lentils or red quinoa.

The only distinctive grocery store my father brought me to as a child was Calabria’s, a small Italian grocery store in Blue Island, the south Chicago suburb where my father grew up. Blue Island is primarily a Hispanic neighborhood now, but when my father lived there, all of the families were Italian immigrants. My grandfather, Michael Arcangelo Disabato, was born in a town in southern Italy called Ripacandida. Calabria’s was named after a region in southern Italy so, combined with my family’s town of origin, I sometimes like to think that Blue Island was a town for southern Italians exclusively. No one ever told me this, but my grandfather died when I was eleven and I don’t remember him very well, so I make things up to fill in the emotional gap. I don’t really remember my grandfather’s voice. I don’t remember if he had an Italian accent.

Calabria’s is hard to remember, too. Narrow aisles, wire racks, boxes of pasta – all vague images. In the back, there was an Italian deli, with fresh baked bread in plastic bins. I remember the bread bins. I remember my uncle, also a Michael, and my father making us capicollo sandwiches in my grandparents’ kitchen. My father made mine with mild capicollo and no provolone cheese. My brother, a third Michael, ate the cheese and the spicy capicollo, the way it was supposed to be.

After college, I moved to Los Angeles. Every neighborhood has a farmer’s market and the produce in the “regular” grocery stores (Albertson’s, Von’s, Ralph’s) is as beautiful as the produce in a Midwestern Whole Foods. I’ve been looking for a good Italian grocery store in Los Angeles. I haven’t found one yet because I’m not really looking for a good Italian grocery store, I’m looking for something that reminds me of Calabria’s, and nothing really reminds you of half-forgotten nostalgia. I’m looking for a feeling I never felt in the first place.

Sometimes I go on a private scavenger hunt for a particular item. I once went to three different stores searching for Morningstar Black Bean Burgers, at least half of which are still in my freezer, crusting over with freezer burn. I searched for Edmond Fallot Dijon Mustard for weeks before finding it in a cheese shop in Century City. Now I see it everywhere, winking at me at the butcher shops and the specialty stores.

I’m the kind of person who will drive half an hour out of my way to go to the nearest Whole Foods, because the grocery store near my house does not have the Sea Salt & Vinegar rice crackers that I like to eat while watching Revenge and drinking red wine. The red wine is from Trader Joe’s, because Trader Joe’s is the only place I buy my wine. I’m the kind of person who will drive fifteen minutes out of my way, from one grocery store to another, just to buy one bottle of wine.

Walking the aisles, I feel a sense of calm and control which I so rarely feel outside of the grocery store. I can pretend to remedy my persistent budget worries by cutting costs in each aisle (no nuts, no meat, no pre-prepared salad). I can combat uncertainty by completing a task, nevermind how small the task. The path before me is clear and unencumbered, the goals are modest and attainable, the competition of those goals is imminent. Checkout, paper bags, refrigerator, pantry, done.

Catie Disabato is a contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Los Angeles. She tumbls here and twitters here.

"The Wedding Band" - The Nels Cline Singers (mp3)

"Red Before Orange" - The Nels Cline Singers (mp3)