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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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Thursday
Dec052013

In Which We Try To Maintain Better Posture

Unplanned

by AMANDA OLIVER

My grandfather is bad and I guess I did not know how bad that meant. Not bad like misbehaving, bad like he doesn't understand the word Thanksgiving anymore. Not the meaning of it, the sentimental values attached, but the word itself. He also doesn't know where his coat is or his gloves or why we have him out in the hallway ready to go out a door. As my parents and I are helping him into the car someone says something about grandpa and he says, "I'm not old enough to be a grandpa!" 

When we start driving he screams "NORTH WEST!" from behind me and I wonder for a moment if he knows my next travel destination before I realize he is reading the electronic direction off of the rearview mirror.

What he remembers is to salute every American flag. That he was in the army. My mother sits in the back seat and says, "Good job, Dad" each time we pass the familiar red, white, and blue. I think how strange it is, what we remember. How the military must bark orders and routines enough to make something stay, even through this.

He reads the names of things. "Play and Learn Center", "Episcopal Church", "North". I choke on tears and laughter when he shouts, "McDonald's!" with disgusted emphasis placed on the Don part of things. He remembers McDonald's is no good. 

When we arrive he settles into a brown leather chair not unlike the one he used to have when I was little, the one that was so big and smooth that my cousins and I would sit straight up in it and let our bodies slide all of the way back down to folded knees on the floor. Again, again.

He reads an atlas. Conversation carries on around him, my newest cousin arrives in a turkey onesie and I hold him and smell his head and wonder if anything is more soft and perfect than a baby, and my grandfather continues to read and call out places where he has been. He announces that he needs to go get his other son. Says his first, middle, and last name. Bobby is in Australia, Dad. With Sarah and Anna and Andrew. 

At dinner he points at things and tells us what they are. I know this song. That dresser is from Norfolk. Not Virginia, but the Buffalo street he grew up on. He can name my two cousins in the frames behind their heads at the dinner table. I am the third girl sitting next to them. 

"Is that a little cup?"

"No, Dad, that's a little candle in a jar."

My mother talks about the troubles of getting him here, how he went to bed and loudly refused to get out. He sits directly across from her and I realize he is not listening or, more likely, does not know it is him we are speaking about. He is not being offended. My grandmother says how hard it has been, the times he has scared her. They met when she was 22 and he was 20 and, on their first date, he spent most of his time speaking to another girl. She had not planned to see him again, but they ended up married with eight kids.

Two months ago, my grandmother was in the hospital with pneumonia. When I visited I asked how my grandfather proposed. She laughed and said, "There was no proposal. That man doesn't have a romantic bone in his body." When my grandmother was very sick for many months eight years ago, my grandfather kept a small black leather notebook filled with what she did on those days so he could tell her about it when she was well again. He has beautiful penmanship. 11:31 a.m. You tried jell-o today. I wonder now if he ever showed her.

When he is given coffee, he dumps more than pours the milk until it reaches the very top of his cup and, afraid he will keep going, afraid he will soak himself in hot coffee, my uncle takes the spoon and cup and creamer from his hand and says, "No, Dad. Stop, Dad." I can see my grandfather fighting back yelling. I can see my uncle fighting back everything. When the excess coffee is dumped and brought back to him, he immediately puts the cup to his lips and I start to say HOT! like trying to teach a toddler this new concept, but my mother tells me he is careful.

At the end, for his last two sips and since his pie is gone now, he says, "How am I supposed to finish my coffee?" 

I remember how his hair used to be neatly cut, carefully parted to the side, how all of his books were about some matter of history, how his conversation was minimal unless it deeply interested him, how his entire attitude and appearance commanded respect, how an infrequent joke of his own caused him to laugh most of all. How an untucked shirt on someone else unnerved him. How he prided himself on his neat appearance and good posture.

I remember being seven or eight, opening a paint-your-own-bird-house kit from him on my birthday. I remember when a bee stung him on a hike and then came for me with no stinger left. How he frantically searched my hair like it might still hurt me. I remember being a freshman in college and learning he kept a file in a locked drawer in his basement, neatly labeled Mandi’s Writing. I remember him in all of the ways he will never be again while he is sitting right in front of me.

And I do not know how he is supposed to finish his coffee.

Amanda Oliver is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Washington D.C. You can find her website here. She last wrote in these pages about her parents and her summer.

Photographs by the author.

"Laughing With" - Regina Spektor (mp3)


 

Wednesday
Dec042013

In Which We Stand Too Close And Too Long Beside The Window

Personal Histories

by SUMEJA TULIC

The day we were born our mothers knew that we would be lonely and odd and that we would seek unsustainable happiness that would perpetuate a life of melancholy. So they chose to ignore the faith cast upon us, and for it, they have ignored us.

We would keep our trembling, bleeding fingers in our jacket pockets so that nobody can tell that we are thinking of death, that purple fright that is simply staying on the beach after the sunset, with no gas in the car, no bread and no blankets. I don’t know about yours, but my mother sure didn’t like to sew torn pockets, while all the other mothers smoked cigarettes and discussed curtains.

There was that time we wore those jeans and perfect shirts and decided to be perfect children. First, I unbuttoned the top button on my shirt and felt too relaxed for a perfect child. I thought, it is possible to be good and great and relaxed, but then the ends of my hair started to curl.

I became nervous, ate a tomato and its tinny and sleazy seeds kept gluing themselves on my shirt. Beautiful girls with long hair called me out to play. I stayed by the mirror, looking at my ugly, crying face, the tears that glimmer the freckles beneath my eyes and around my nose, and the front teeth that summed up the unwanted ten year old me that would make you crazy in some ten years. You did not go through this make-believe fashion show. You fell down the moment you stepped outside of your house, and, dirty and angry, as you did most of the time, you gave up.

I was born to a monotonous line of peasants and do-gooders, who were skeptical of all things mystical and transcendent, but God. Besides, for them, God wasn’t transcendent. He was a certainty, there in that empty corner facing East and in a basket full of apples, cheese and cream. You were born to merchants, to some teachers, all in all, to people who stand too close and too long beside the window. For all that, I am a naïve daring bitch, and, you are sensitive, hurtful son of a bitch.        

If I live to be old, I’ll confess all my betrayals. One by one, the friends I wanted and never had and consequently still want. The times I choked Shut up! I hate you! Shut up! so that dinners could end romantically. Lies, wicked plans, ridiculousness, disregard and disobedience we called My Personality. If you live to be old and dumb, you’d make me a friend.

You would speak to me as if we have just met, and I don’t know a thing about the dungeon where you keep memories of people that made you insecure. You will talk of those unfulfilled dreams of yours more fondly than of the children you bore. Old, honest, probably deaf creature who still can’t bring himself to acceptance.

Yes, both of us could have done better.

If you took a monk for a lover, you would have needed to show more. I wrote this several times in SMS I never sent to you. You never wrote and erased anything to me. Children who start reading early on in their lives, (a) become deviant perverts, (b) lonelier then others, (c) people oblivious of their cruelness. Thinking of you, I encircled (e) all of the above.       

When it rains I think of the waste emptiness within everybody. People will bear it until the afternoon and fill it with food and sex, at night. When it rains you are yourself and you are browsing the bookmarked motels, the bed and breakfast places by the sea.   

Rain or no, I hope you agree with me that we are all statues in the park at dark, noticed only that time when we were inaugurated in the darkness, ignored by everyone but the dogs who stop to pee at our bare bronze feet.It grosses me out when I see old people eating bananas. I hate when I talk about my family. I used to like both. I used to like you too but then your bedsheet started to smell like library books, used, abused, read while smoking. I'd love to sleep there forever. Well, until you grow old and start eating bananas. It disgusts you that you were circumcised and you loath that the paradigm of all your failures is just that an inch or two less of your majestic dick.

When I was five or so, my ears were pierced in my fathers’ village, somewhere between the houses of my grand uncles and the hayloft. They gave me a mirror and a red lipstick and said Soon you’ll look like Betty Boop. Hours after, my ears were still red and warm. I felt strange and taken. When you were six or so, that one day you were so happy and successful at everything, your grandmother said Come! I want to tell you something. As she whispered it to you, a rush of heat, discomfort and disappointment washed your cheeks.

It is because of things like these that we completely trust and forgive each other.

Sumeja Tulic is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Sarajevo. You can find her website here and her flickr here. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here. She last wrote in these pages about the only Arab city.

Photographs by the author.

"The Blind Man" - The Happy Mess (mp3)

"Kissing Mirrors" - The Happy Mess (mp3)

The new album from The Happy Mess is entitled Songs from the Backyard and it was released on October 14th.

 

Tuesday
Dec032013

In Which Nearly Everything Has An Expiration Date

Something There

by CATHALEEN CHEN

I live on the top floor of, supposedly, the oldest building in town.

It is a modest place — two bedrooms, creaky floors and the narrowest kitchen you can imagine. A long hallway leads to the bedrooms, shared among the three of us, and adjacent to the dining room is a disproportionately vast living room, the quintessence of my domestic tendencies.

The size of maybe a small dive bar, my living room is a perfect square space of tan hardwood and Ikea furniture (both of my roommates happen to be Swedish, but that’s just a very blonde and button-nosed coincidence). On the far right, French doors open up to a balcony that overlooks a courtyard. When I stand out there on a temperate autumn night, three stories up with dim but majestic stars above, I feel like I rule the world.

The living room walls are a wedding cake shade of off-white, with built-in shelves on the left and a fully functional fireplace. I’ve never actually used it, but I like that I could. The mantelpiece is cluttered with trinkets — old books, a One Step Rainbow Land Polaroid camera, a Grace Jones record cover, Klimt’s Water Serpents II reprinted on canvas (Ikea, of course), and the empty bottles of certain beverages to remind visitors that yes, though my place is thoughtfully decorated, it is still a college apartment and that in this thoughtfully decorated college apartment, we like to have fun.

And we do. My roommate recently put up a poster of John Belushi from Animal House, the one in which he wears the iconic “college” sweatshirt and an expression of simultaneous awe and disgust. The poster is strategically placed so that Belushi’s impenetrable gaze falls on our couch — a stiff, brown futon that’s currently missing a leg — where we spend about 80 percent of our time when conscious. Belushi’s glance is misdirected, however, because his bemusement is unwarranted. At worst, he’d witness a raunchy game of truth or dare amidst smoke and booze, slurred secrets and all — maybe rated R in extreme cases, but only for language.

Most of the time, we’re as tame as college students could be. In the daytime, the room is fantastically well lit. On Sunday afternoons, it’s the loveliest place to do schoolwork or, I’d imagine, for a fat house cat to nap.

But it’s all the more charming after dark. Without an overhead light, we use lamps, candles and Christmas lights that accidentally create the perfect séance every night. There must be something about the color of the floor and the walls that complements the yellow lights against the darkness outside, because the room, along with everything in it, glows.

+

When I first moved in a summer and half ago, I had to live alone in the barely furnished apartment for almost a month. For some silly reason that I can’t remember now, I had a lot of trouble setting up the internet. Finally, AT&T came to install their service one day, but left before I got home from work. It happened to be an exceptionally drab day but it got worse when I found that the internet still didn’t work. And after two hours of angry 1-800-number calls, I collapsed on the hardwood floor and burst into tears.

That was the first night I cried here. And hell, I sobbed.

The next week, my roommates moved in, the couch arrived from Target.com and all was well in the household. To christen the apartment together, we lit an entire bag of tea lights in the living room and drank wine in our pajamas — the first night of many to come.

+

Instead of stuffing myself into marshmallow goose down for the four relentless months of Chicago winter, I spent the first part of 2013 in Washington, D.C. There, I saw Beyoncé lip sync at the inauguration. I witnessed Hilary Clinton cry at a Senate meeting. I ran into Ted Cruz right before he starred in Rand Paul’s filibuster, which we endearingly nicknamed the “filiblizzard.” But most bizarre of all, I felt homesick. Homesick for not my home in Pennsylvania, but for this one in Evanston.

Historically speaking, homesickness for a specific residence is a rare sentiment for me. The longest I had ever lived in one piece of property was eight years, and that was the first eight years of my life, in China. Then I moved to Morgantown, West Virginia, where my parents and I relocated to different houses twice. After the ol’ Mountaineers, we moved to Grove City, Pennsylvania, where we also relocated twice. And then at Northwestern, I lived in a dorm for a year, and finally, I moved here, on the top floor of the oldest building in town.

When I was in D.C., my heart was in the living room of this apartment, eating macaroons with my roommates and listening to Grace Jones on vinyl.

When I came back in April, my roommates threw me a surprise party. I came home one Friday afternoon to find balloons, champagne and a dozen familiar faces lurking in my living room. Surprise, they yelled. I was confused and happy and it was bliss.

+

Last Thursday, I caught one of my roommates — we’ll call him Blonnor for the sake of anonymity — on the balcony at 3 a.m., after I heard a splattering sound while brushing my teeth. When I walked into the living room, he turned around and said, “I aimed for the trees.” I found out the next day that it was a lousy attempt.

On most nights though, nothing really happens here.

I sit on my couch that is missing a leg, supported by a stack of old Vogues instead, and I read. Buttery lights flicker around me, emitting an illusory heat that glazes my skin. I look to my left and there’s Blonnor, also reading or writing or playing a Chopin prelude on the keyboard. If it storms outside, I’d open the balcony door, and the symphony of thunder and rain would accompany his melody. It would be one of those nondescript moments in time that eventually, inevitably disappears from memory because of its bareness. What remains is a familiar comfort, a visceral sort of nostalgia that could only be kindled by an unsuspected scent or a haunting refrain. That is what makes this living room perfect — these lights, the Klimt and my Scandinavian companions — the loveliness of a fleeting moment. From the tea lights to the Belushi poster in its exact placement on the wall, everything here has an expiration date.

But when that day comes, I hope my heart remains on the top floor of the oldest building in town, even if the details become hazy.

Cathaleen Chen is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Chicago. You can find her twitter here. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here. She last wrote in these pages about Chopin and wormholes.

"So Says I (live at Third Man Records)" - The Shins (mp3)

"The Rifle's Spiral (live at Third Man Records)" - The Shins (mp3)