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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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Saturday
Apr092011

In Which You Didn't Even Pay For Your Burger Sandwich

Great Moments in TV Dubbing

by LAUREN BANS

The network TV office where all things FCC-prohibited meet their vanilla alternatives is obliquely dubbed the Standards & Practices department, in the way Stalin was officially titled General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party. Censorship Czar: it does not look so nice on a business card. Standards & Practices is where "Jesus!" becomes "Gee Whiz!" and the 300 or so ‘fuck’ utterances in Pulp Fiction become signifying bleeps. It’s where, as one Adult Swim segment put it, "funny goes to die."

And it’s true — for the most part watching delightfully ribald, filth-soaked movies through the sugar-rimmed lens of network TV is like watching a George Carlin special had an Azkaban dementor given him a pre-show soul suck backstage. (That is a Harry Potter joke! I’m 28!)

But on rare occasion, Standards & Practices comes up with a dub so fantastically absurd and terrible it actually adds to the enjoyment of the scene rather than detracting from it. (Ahem, looking at you “Yippe Ki Ay, Mister Falcon.”) Without further ado, may I present the five best inadvertently hilarious dubs in television history.

1. Die Hard With A Vengeance: "I Hate Everybody."

In 1995’s Die Hard With A Vengeance (aka Die Hard 3 aka Die Harder-er) Detective John McClane (Bruce Willis) is forced to walk around Harlem wearing a huge sign that reads "I Hate Niggers" on the orders of a sadistic criminal mastermind, “Simon,” who threatens to bomb a popular NYC location if McClane doesn’t oblige. In the TV version, McClane’s sign is altered to simply read “I Hate Everybody," which basically packs the same punch as Taco Bell’s “Think Outside the Bun.” To be clear: I’m saying it packeth no punch. But the ensuing reaction around McClane remains unaltered — a woman sees the sign and furiously remarks, “OH NO HE DID NOT... that man is asking for a BULLET in his head” and a group of VABK (very angry black kids) approach McClane intending to beat him into sweetbread parts. I mean, please, white people, do not go into Harlem just throwing around the "I Hate Everyone" bomb. Do you not get how ANGRY black people are, just like, ALL THE TIME?

2. Good Will Hunting: "Give me my burger sandwich!"

Will, Chuckie and Morgan are Boston townies. They say "fuck" a lot. Especially when their fucking double burger is on a fucking car dashboard layaway plan. But apparently Televisual Powers decided that substituting "fucking" with “burger” might pass as a wicked believable Bostonism. You know those people in the suburbs who pull up to the Arby’s drive-through window and order a Panini Sandwich? This is like that.

"Give me my burger sandwich!"

"You didn't even pay for your burger sandwich."

"I don't care! Give me my burger sandwich!"

"Fine! Here's your burger sandwich!"

3. Snakes on a Plane: "Enough is ENOUGH, I have had it with these monkey-fighting snakes, on this Monday to Friday plane!"

Oh yes, a Monday to Friday plane, I see.


4. The Big Lebowski: "See what happens when you find a stranger in the Alps?"

Like many of you, I too enjoyed The Big Lebowski.

One day we’ll meet at a party and express this shared interest, maybe throw around a few of the money quotes (“You mark that frame an 8, and you're entering a world of pain!”) to demonstrate our cultural likeness, and then become fast friends based on our mutual love of the oversaturated symbols of our cultural demographic, like the kids do these days. And I’ll say, “OMG, have you seen the adapted for TV version?” And we’ll talk about how John Goodman and the Coen brothers came up with the meta-parody solution of "See what happens when you find a stranger in the Alps?" for the scene where Walter is bashing Larry’s car screaming, "This is what happens when you fuck a stranger in the ass, Larry!" Later that evening we’ll become friends on Facebook and never speak again IRL. Fin.

5. Weird Science: "I’m not talking candle wax on their pimples or anything like that."

Let’s start with this: Weird Science, when you get to the heart of it, is a movie about the full-scale corporeal coup d’etat that is teenage sexual awakening — that terrible phase in life when just watching a bee pollinate a tulip can give you a raging boner and all you can do is wrap your Coed Naked Volleyball sweatshirt around your waist in vain. Just about everything is sexual to both sexes, but neither sex understands the opposite sex, so everything is REALLY FRUSTRATING.

Fittingly, the TV version of Weird Science is edited with the grace of a Puritan minister who realizes that just the word “nipple” can cause a spontaneous orgasm in many members of the viewing audience. Emilio Estevez bragging “we’re studs” in the locker room becomes “we’re stars.” (Stud: a sexually virulent word again!) And “candle wax on their nipples” is changed to "candle wax on their pimples.” Another amateur acne remedy that will scare Mom.

Lauren Bans is the senior contributor to This Recording. She last wrote in these pages about Bradley Cooper. Her website is here and she twitters here.

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"The One In Your Dreams" - Donavon Frankenreiter (mp3)

"All Right" - Donavon Frankenreiter (mp3)

"Dance Like Nobody's Watching" - Donavon Frankenreiter (mp3)

Friday
Apr082011

In Which There's A Girl In New York City Who Calls Herself The Human Trampoline

Where We All Will Be Received

by NELL BOESCHENSTEIN

I know a six-year-old in Berkeley who starts each day by asking his parents to “put on the rock & roll!” and they know he means Graceland. It’s a record that refuses to turn off.

—Daniel Wolff in 1988

When my sister who had been living in Colorado for six years finished chemotherapy treatments for breast cancer, she and her husband decided it was time to move closer to family. He went ahead of her to start work as she stayed behind to pack; between the two of them they had collected enough stuff to make the move back to where she and I had grown up in Virginia not a simple matter of throwing worldly belongings in a car and gunning it across I-70. It was a move that required preparation and, to make the trip itself easier, we decided I would fly out from New York and drive east with her.

We couldn’t afford to make a real road trip of it, but we did allow ourselves the luxury of one tourist stop along the way, provided it was not too far afield. It wasn’t much of a dilemma: a brief consult and Graceland was the destination we mentally marked on the map. The inaugural album for the drive was a no-brainer. As the second song reminded us of how the Mississippi Delta could shine like a National guitar, the Rockies receded in the rearview mirror and the Denver exurbs dissolved into grassland. We were going to Graceland, Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee. We were going home.

photo by edie baskin

Paul Simon’s Graceland celebrates a quarter century this summer: it hit your parents’ cassette player in August 1986. I was six and my sister was twelve. We were both still single and life was great. This means that Graceland is now the same age that “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” by the Shirelles, “Stand By Me” by Ben E. King, “Hit the Road, Jack” by Ray Charles, and “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” by the King (of Graceland) were when Simon’s album came out. I name only songs because in 1961 albums as we understand them today hadn’t yet been invented. I have not come here to complain about time but to make the point that dues have been paid. Graceland at 25 has reached the echelon that boasts only the most rarified classics.

When he sat down to record the album Simon was struggling creatively. Hearts and Bones, released three years earlier, had been welcomed to the sound of popular and critical crickets. A few years before officially beginning work on it someone had sent him a cassette of umbaquanga music (a genre of South African music with Zulu roots). He had played the tape in his car, been thrilled by it, and subsequently fascinated by the rhythms and culture he heard in the music. He then recruited renowned African musicians to work with him — Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Youssou N’Dour, and Miriam Makeba — as well as the likes of Linda Ronstadt and his childhood heroes, the Everly Brothers, and Graceland came to life. Simon has often said that American popular music of the 1950s was where he found his original inspiration and in the liner notes of Graceland he observes that in umbaquanga he heard rhythms and a musical sensibility that recalled for him that boyhood soundtrack. As soon as the album was released Simon was back on top. It won the Grammy for Album of the Year in 1986, eventually sold more than fourteen million copies, and Rolling Stone called it “the whole world’s soundtrack.”

In the first few months and even years after Graceland established its place on the charts, it provoked controversy and accusations of colonialism. Some of its recording sessions — the ones that took place in Johannesburg — violated the cultural boycott of the South African apartheid regime. While Simon was on record as ardently anti-apartheid, he perversely claimed the album could somehow not stand as a political document, a claim that sounded defensive and disingenuous given the album’s underlying themes of a family of man that crosses cultural, political, and racial boundaries. His attitude seemed to be that, despite the very real ghosts haunting the album’s inspiration, as he sang in the album’s title track: “Maybe there’s no obligations now.” Simon argued that no matter the content, art and politics remained separate and that his art consistently abided by boundary lines — that if his art was about anything it was about relationships. Some bought this posture, others (such as the United Nations Anti-Apartheid Committee) did not.

The violation was tempered by the fact that the album did afford the African musicians on it unprecedented exposure in the West. While Simon claimed he was careful to give credit where it was due to his collaborators, rumors circulated that he was a song stealer, and would pick up riffs he heard African musicians working over in the studio and incorporate them into his compositions. Whether this constitutes stealing per se, however, is open to interpretation. Like some of the best songwriters — from Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan to Jay-Z — Simon is a master of musical collage, adept at taking what he hears in a cultural vernacular and incorporating it into his work. Regardless, the album has been identified as breaking the dam for the world music trend, now responsible for the Putamayo CDs sold at your corner Starbucks.

Details of its making and initial reception or controversy aside, today Graceland is the kind of album that, when a friend posts the question “Don’t I know you from the cinematographer’s party?” as her facebook status, within an hour there’s a comment thread 20 lines long. “There’s a girl in New York City who calls herself the human trampoline,” someone writes. “And sometimes when I’m falling, flying and tumbling in turmoil I say, ‘Oh, so this is what she means,’” writes another. “Aren’t you the woman who was recently given a Fulbright?” chimes in a third. The concluding comment hung for days in the virtual air of my facebook homepage: “Losing love is like a window in your heart. Everybody sees you’re blown apart.” Robert Christgau once remarked that Paul Simon “writes like an English major” and Christgau meant that as a not-so-veiled swipe. Christgau would have done better to stick to critiquing what he was paid to because Simon’s lyrics have stood the test of the time.

Graceland has surpassed form and virtuosity to become a touchstone, a thing we go to when we need to be reminded of who we are, where we come from, what we’re about, the things we have in common. In the title song, the place of Graceland is never reached. That truncation is significant because the larger sense of the song — of the whole album, really — is that Simon’s Graceland is about the journey, the search for the very grace of the lands — within us and without — themselves. It’s also one of the only albums I can think of that belongs as equally to my parents’ generation as to my own.

Context and time do sometimes matter. The Paul Simon who, on a bus en route to New York City told his sleeping girlfriend that he was empty and aching and he didn’t know why, that Simon belongs to our parents. My generation may love him but he’s not ours. The Simon who is soft in the middle (or at least feels an affinity for men who happen to be), however, the one who reminds young women of money, who has been divorced and has a kid to prove it, and who has the means to catch a cab uptown and take it all the way downtown talking dispassionately while doing so about the comings and goings of breakdowns, that Simon belongs to us as much as he does to our folks because he is our folks. Not our folks the way they were before we were born, but the way they were when we first knew them, as they were losing their edge and feeling maybe a little insecure about that loss; our folks as we knew them when we ourselves were entering that era of childhood which finally allowed for reflection and the retention of memory and for the level of awareness that clued us into the fact that a baby with a baboon heart was something to wonder at and to then distantly — vaguely — mourn when she died three weeks after her baboon heart first beat inside her body; this was our folks the way they were when they were trying to raise us right: to say please and thank you and to only send food back under dire circumstances; the way they were when we really saw them for the first time. At least, in retrospect. Now that we’re grown, that first introduction lingers. We also recognize not just our parents in the words of those songs, but ourselves and our own impending midlives that loiter like shortening shadows on the horizon.

Likewise, I have a hunch the album means what it does to our parents because it captures who they were at that moment in time. Here was this man who’d been young with them and who had put into words and music what it was like to be young when they had been young. Here was that young man all grown up and growing older still, struggling with a career slump and aging and still exploring this stuff of life by funneling it into words and music. And that’s just it: Paul Simon was never a rock star. Hell, he wasn’t even a folk star. You can see it in the clips of the concert he put on in Zimbabwe after Graceland was released: his best dance moves are worse than your uncle’s worst dance moves at your sister’s wedding. He can’t dance and he can’t preen, but he can write. He is a startlingly intelligent and creative Schmo of sorts, and that, to me, is perhaps his most interesting aspect. Stardom implies a certain panache that Simon has never had because the man is a nerd. That he became famous at all is a testament to the fact that sometimes cream really does rise to the top and that is a small reassuring piece of information for the world.

Los Lobos’s Steve Berlin is one person who has pointed the song-stealing finger at Simon. According to Berlin, their shared record company (Warner Brothers) asked Los Lobos to do “the family” a favor and help Simon out since the band was big at the time and “Paul…was kind of floundering…before Graceland, he was viewed as a colossal failure.” The band agreed to help and appear on “The Myth of the Fingerprints,” the song Berlin later claimed Simon stole from them. Describing Simon’s reaction to the accusation, Berlin says Simon's response was, "'Sue me. See what happens…He’s the world’s biggest prick, basically."

That’s true: Paul Simon is not known for being the least prickly porcupine scuttling across the forest floor. When Steve Martin presented him with a Kennedy Center Honor, Martin’s running gag was that each of Simon’s collaborations had ended in an “acrimonious split.” But allegations of song stealing and personality shortcomings aside, I read this particular accusation and feel a certain sympathy for Simon. It highlights a vulnerability that comes across in the lyrics of the album. It’s the desperation of a has-been, one that can come only with age and the mixed blessing of having clocked some years on the personal timeline. Which highlights another merit of the album: that it is proof of life after the bloom of youth, proof that there is as much life in middle age as there is at any age, which has always been and will be one of the most difficult ideas for young people themselves to grasp. Here is Simon proving that he could be divorced and soft in the middle and still make an album that put him back on the playing field, and as a center forward. This, too, is why I think the album has been such a mainstay of so many station wagons since the late 80s: It said to those rear ends planted in those drivers’ seats, “Our idols have aged and proven human. They have turned into yuppies like us who smoke weed only occasionally and in comfortable living rooms with Persian rugs and who have kids who play soccer, and that’s okay.”

The observation has been made several times over the course of the years that Elvis’s Graceland has transcended its initial station as a palace of kitsch and grown into a symbol of that which belongs to all Americans, a place where we’re all welcomed as we travel various literal and metaphorical highways. In a 1995 article for the NYT magazine about Graceland, Ron Rosenbaum observed that the turning point from kitsch icon into just plain icon seems to have come around the time Paul Simon wrote a song about making a pilgrimage to the place and then named the album after it. “That haunting title song,” writes Rosenbaum, “about a pilgrimage by an urban sophisticate in pain, a guy who’s ‘blown apart’ by the loss of love, going to Graceland with ‘the child of my first marriage,’ seeking some kind of secular spiritual succor for his pain at the place where the pain-racked body of Elvis Presley finally came to rest— suggested that the grace of Graceland was something accessible to all…The pilgrimage to Graceland has become a way for all kinds of Americans to come to terms with all kinds of pain and loss.”

My sister and I could have chosen any number of places to be the single detour we took off the highway on the way home, neither of us young anymore but not quite middle-aged either. I don’t think it was a coincidence we agreed on Graceland. Both she and I believe in nothing beyond science, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t still searching for some proverbial welcome mat, that place where “we all will be received.” For the six days we were on the road, my sister wouldn’t let me take any photographs of her. She looked awful, she said. Pale, bald, and hiding her baldness beneath a head scarf. She didn’t want people to see her this way. And anyway, she added, “I don’t want to document this chapter of my life.”

I didn’t get it. I am a consummate documenter. If I don’t document — or at least attempt to — I don’t understand. I don’t like to forget or even to try to forget. And so I did sneak one picture. I snapped it in the mirrored wall of the living room at Graceland and, in doing so, captured the three of us: me and my sister, partially obscured in the reflection by a large plant, and then Elvis, eyeballing us from inside his picture-framed perch, a not-so-holy trinity, but a trinity nonetheless, a family of sorts. I never noticed before, but looking at the photograph now I see that in the left-hand corner, on a shelf below the painting of Elvis, is a small black and white studio shot of a couple I somehow assume are the two people who got together and gave us — not just the two of us but all of us — Elvis.

My point is that there are now two Gracelands. There are now two of these touchstones, which somehow contain the grace of our internal and external geographies. This doesn’t diminish the first Graceland or taint the second as a Johnny-come-lately; they are their own houses occupying their own lots on the block, paid for in cash and in full. What they share — what their shared name signals they share — is that within them both is a dark hint flecked with light of that third Graceland: that place inside us where all roads eventually lead.

Nell Boeschenstein is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Brooklyn. She last wrote in these pages about Trio. You can find her website here, and she twitters here.

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"Graceland" - Hot Chip (mp3)

"You Can Call Me Al" - Jens Lekman (mp3)

"That Was Your Mother" - Ryan Montbleau  (mp3)

"Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes" - Melodica, Melody & Me (mp3)

"Homeless" - Jens Lekman (mp3)

"The Boy In The Bubble" - Candy Golde (mp3)

with carole king

"Homeless (demo)" - Paul Simon (mp3)

"Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes (unreleased version)" - Paul Simon (mp3)

"All Around The World or the Myth of Fingerprints (early version)" - Paul Simon (mp3)

with stevie wonder and lionel richie

Thursday
Apr072011

In Which Some Letters Are Failures But Few Are Lies

The Breakup

by LUCY MORRIS

1

I am home in the Midwestern city where I was born, and I am not entirely certain how I got here. I know that I have taken a lot of trips in the last year, to two continents and three countries, over and across the United States a handful of times by air and once by car. I know that my pockets are filled with bar coded baggage tags, and that I never have the clothes I need for the right seasons. I am rarely dressed for the occasion at the best of times, but lately I have been looking stranger than usual, hoping a smile and a pair of earrings can compensate for living out of a suitcase. 

I am not exactly sure why I am here, but like a lot of things I have done this year, I suspect it has something to do with a boy. Twelve months ago, the idea of uprooting myself for that reason seemed unfeminist and absurd to me. Back then I was working long hours and eating Goya beans every night for dinner with produce retrieved from dumpsters by a fregan acquaintance who was spending some months on my couch. Cutting the mold off a block of cheese, he would ask incredulously, "How can you eat something straight out of the can?" The Squatter, as I affectionately called him, also advocated following your heart. I had never before considered my heart to be a particularly reliable compass, and following it is not the marketable experiment that a year spent following Oprah or the Bible is, but nothing else was working for me so I decided to give it a try. 

I had lost my bearings and two consecutive Metrocards during a period when a lot of things in my life were turning over. I'd moved from a two-story house I shared with my boyfriend to a basement apartment with three roommates and a number of mice. I thought of the former house as the place where I had learned to cook soups and invest in quality tights. It was easier to eulogize it that way, rather than as the first place where I made someone important to me cry, and then learned to look away, in a way that seemed like self-preservation but was in lieu of having to change, a callous made thick from gardening instead of just buying gloves or learning to hold the spade right. 

Once settled in my new apartment, I began the process of something many people I know have done in reverse: New York was breaking for me and so I decided that I was in love with someone far away. The super of our building was ejected from his nearby home over marital issues, so he began converting the laundry room off our kitchen into an apartment for himself. Bugs crawled through the new incisions he made in the walls. It seemed like the city sanitation department never recovered from holiday weekends, the trash mounting in lolling piles around lampposts. I had developed a difficult relationship with the man at the laundromat, and when I walked to the bodega at night, a guy on the corner had started saying things like, "I would do anything to touch your legs." I loved my neighborhood anyway, the sudden jolt from the smell of dried fish in cardboard boxes at Nostrand Avenue produce stores, or Saturdays sprawled in Prospect Park's islands of shade. But sometime last summer I thought I might be able, for a while at least, to love this boy more than I loved the city. For a while I did.

2

His name was Jonah and it had begun as friendship five or six years prior, but the events that find me here now started late last winter, when I was visiting family in Milwaukee for a week. In a dark bar, illuminated by the torch I'd carried for Jonah for years, I made up my mind to try something – someone – new, even though I had a boyfriend back in New York. Our big house in Bay Ridge, with its old-lady-and-new-smoke smell that still clings to my sweaters, was not enough to contain whatever quarter-life crisis I was having. A week before, I had a cinematic panic attack in a dressing room over a jammed zipper on an expensive dress, which seemed, as these things do, prophetic only later. From the B train home from work the next day, I called and told Jonah what had happened. "I'd do anything to see you in a dress," he said, which I knew was both the wrong response and exactly the one I wanted to hear. I was both old enough to see that he knew this and too young to mind his transparency. 

Back in the Midwest, he drove me around his hometown, where the snow banks were pockmarked with grime and the storefronts were empty. The palette of winter in Wisconsin was lunar in a way I had forgotten, and the realities of the 2010 economy were visible in a way they weren't in my daily New York life. We talked unemployment rates, and then some hours later, Jonah reminded me in a decidedly different, slurring tone, "You have responsibilities," by which he meant a boyfriend, a good deal on a place in Brooklyn (and how New York a perspective! I thought through the gin – the real estate consideration). To silence this line of reasoning, I kissed him on the forehead and then the cheek and eventually the mouth. We went back to his freezing attic bedroom. I hadn't slept next to a different boy in years and because of that I was mostly struck by the ease with which we melded into each other, curled like cavatappi right down to our toes. At first I thought this was indicative of some greater compatibility, and then later I knew it wasn't, that once you spend enough time sleeping next to another person, it becomes natural to anyone who comes after, that your body – or is this just women's bodies? – is memory foam adaptable to whoever touches it.

3

Back in New York, it seemed to suddenly, aggressively become spring. My ventilation-less office in Brighton Beach acquired the inexplicable vomitous smell of an aquarium, and so I spent lunch breaks on the boardwalk listening to "Hounds of Love" in regular, repetitive doses, as though it was some kind of medicine. I broke up with my boyfriend and moved out. The walls of my new bedroom were Mexican restaurant-style orange sponge paint and the slats under my low bed never stayed in place, so my mattress sank to the floor under my weight. Rent was the only physical check I wrote each month so my checkbook was always piled under detritus on my desk: behind some bottles of beer, underneath mass mailings from politicians, in a tangle of computer and printer cords. "It is unclear why we are here and what we are doing," is how I described the life of my post-college peer group in a note I wrote to Jonah from the boardwalk one day. I asked him whether he thought it was normal to forget the spelling of your landlord's name every month, and if it was weird to eat breakfast on the train or drink coffee in lieu of lunch. I suppose I was hoping his distance, his Midwestern common sense, or the four years of life he had on me might afford him the authority to comfort me. But deep down I must have known those were not resources he had in him, because I never sent that letter.

I believed I was having a lot of fun – and in the absence of any other unambiguous passion, the blanket pursuit of fun seemed logical – by making meals for one, chatting with my roommates, and drinking more than was advisable and yet not enough to be of real concern. But I was growing impatient, and while I knew perfectly well that this was an internal shift, daily city life seemed to validate it. I felt that impatience in the insufferably slow lurches of the Q train I rode each day past station construction in Sheepshead Bay. It was in the slow lines at Key Foods, where customers rifled for coupons and food stamps while clerks tapped their nails on registers. It appeared among the crowds that gathered on the steps of Union Square as days stretched toward their summer limits, everyone lethargic but urgent, ready to meet their friends and start their nights. When I thought about it later, it was the tactile elements of these months that seemed especially if inexplicably poignant: the thick envelopes my pay stubs came in (LUSYA M, my Russian boss wrote in polite cursive), the slick of my Metrocard when I reached for it in my purse every morning at the Park Place stop, or the scrape of the brownstone under my legs when I sat on the stoop at night with a glass of cheap gin and sour juice, talking to faraway Jonah on my phone, the screen of which swirled with sweat when I was finished. 

4

Halfway through June, after months of long calls and coyness, I stood up straight and wrote Jonah a love letter, offering to come spend the rest of the summer with him. "Some Letters Are Failures, But Few Are Lies," is what I called it, a line from Amy Hempel's stories, which I'd been reading on late night subway rides. Although it did not seem strange at the time, I now have to wonder what kind of person titles a love letter, and what's more, why I was compelled to include in it these details of life in my neighborhood: "Gyptian is playing on car stereos on Franklin Avenue by my burger place and Bushwick boys with jeans pegged just above the ankle ride their fixed gears up Bedford. I told K. he was an asshole but I liked him anyway, and the Squatter, beard freshly washed, asked how my writing is going." I wrote: "These nights in the gardens of Brooklyn when around 4 AM I reach that moment of sobriety and all I can think of is Milwaukee, or nights in the bed of my friend where he says we probably shouldn't do this again because I am clearly in love with someone else – these are making me (crazy) restless, sending me pacing the aisles of the E train or up and down Eastern Parkway trying to Be Present with the farmers market boys I'm with or just by myself." Who were those farmers market boys? Where was I coming from on the E train? Why was I so concerned with being present, and what did that even mean? These are the questions I am compelled to ask when I read what I wrote then. And, finally: why did a love letter to a boy really read like a love letter – an ambivalent one, maybe a failure of one, but hardly a lie – to New York? 

Jonah called me a few days later to reciprocate my sentiments. I was flustered by the sudden fact of getting what I wanted. I wished to put him on hold and confer with the Squatter, whose Spanish guitar melodies were wafting down the hallway. "Let me call you back," I said, and when I did I demurred, telling him I had to give my boss a month's notice, although that wasn't true. "I just need some time to wrap things up," I said, although what was left? All my good friends seemed to have wisely evaporated to less humid climates for the summer. I booked a ticket to Wisconsin, and then I moved it up a useless four days. During the intervening lonely weekends, I took buses to visit friends across the Eastern Seaboard. I went to the MoMA, hoping the steep price of admission would at least force me to focus on my immediate surroundings, to provide the present-mindedness I thought I lacked. Half the time I was radiant and half the time I suspected I was making a terrible mistake, but my friends disagreed. "Nothing matters before we're 30," my writerly roommate reminded me by way of reassurance. "Nothing matters ever," the Squatter added from his perch on the couch. And what more authority did I have than any of them? How could I argue?

5

Soon I was in the Midwest again, camped in the attic of the house where I'd grown up. I never fully unpacked, but I spent a lot of my time out with Jonah, and plus I wasn't staying more than two months: why commit to placing dresses on hangers or shoes in neat pairs? In fact, I was afraid. I made the mistake of thinking it was still summer, although it was August now, and people around me were already registering for fall semester classes and anticipating autumn leaves. Undeterred, I bought a swimsuit and drank iced coffee at outdoor cafes where I typed away for my Brooklyn Russians, who'd asked me to work remotely. At night, Jonah and I walked all over town, drinking malt liquor and stumbling home on empty streets, past bar after bar and successions of blinking stoplights. Sometimes we built fires and slept in hammocks, which felt very rustic, although one night during a tedious bar argument I texted a boy I had barely and briefly been intimate with in Brooklyn to say, "I miss New York," and I meant that. I did not mean, "I miss you," but like most of that summer, I was tipsy and I was tired, and didn't know who to tell. 

I started to worry that my heart's directives had led me wildly astray. I wished the Squatter had a phone so I could call and ask him to remind me that nothing mattered. I was as desperate to believe there were no consequences as I was determined to believe I still had summer ahead of me. I knew things with Jonah were breaking, that I didn't want to be drunk all the time, and that it was getting too cold at night to sleep outside. One night I made cocktails out of my mom's last melons and I meant to leave a note of apology, but first we were out on the porch arguing and then we were in my bed pretending we could make things right again. But it wasn't like the cold night in his attic room. It was sticky now, we coiled in opposite directions, and I slept with my phone pressed to my cheek, a half-composed text to my best friend on the screen.

I went west for three weeks to see her, and there I cried in cars and at Catherine's kitchen table, because what was I doing, anyway? I sat on her lawn and had a long phone conversation with an old friend who had last called a few months earlier when I was at a party in Brooklyn. At some point I stopped listening to him and just mentally returned to that night in late May, when it had been disconcertingly, amazingly windy and on the walk over from my apartment, Catherine and I had stopped outside the Brooklyn Library to allow the wind to push us around, surrendering to the moment at hand, a custom I had come to think of as uniquely New York, although I had been enough places to know it was not. In the garden in Park Slope, people attacked a piñata filled with condoms and miniature bottles of liquor, and everyone there seemed set on a kind of self-destruction that alienated me in its deliberation, the agreed-upon premise that we might work good-for-the-world jobs during the week, but we'd still drink too much and go home with the wrong people and have to beg cab drivers to take us back to our out-of-the-way apartments in early morning hours. Months and miles removed, I now found I missed those strangers the way you miss exes in spite of their flaws. They did do good jobs, they made mistakes but endeavored to fix them, they even hired a mariachi band to make a spring night more festive for their friends. Where was that ingenuity, that ambition back in the Midwest? It was time to go, but I wasn't sure where.

6

Catherine moved to China, so I bought a one way-ticket there, and then I started seeing someone new in Milwaukee, someone even more ill-advised than the last, for reasons of age, acquaintance and temperament, and most of all my reasons for engaging: what were they, exactly? I couldn't remember – the heart I'd followed for thousands of miles was like a crazy cult leader full of bad ideas I couldn't escape – but I kept finding myself at his house, and I wasn't unhappy. He was from New York and we mostly talked about that, our vocabulary a glossary of street names. Like the last relationship, it had an expiration date – my departure for Beijing – but like the past-sell date yogurt from the dumpsters of Gristedes that had formed my breakfast diet all spring, sometimes that doesn't have real significance.

Fall came while I was in China, evident in boot displays in store windows and the slow fade of the sky around 5 PM every day. I thought frequently of falls past, which is to say I thought of New York, where I had spent the last five of them, seasons rich with foliage and laughter. Happy Chinese girls perched on the racks of their boyfriends' bikes couldn't distract me from the chasm of nostalgia and anxiety that always opens at that time of year – or is that just in us overly sensitive, us seasonally affected types? My excitement for my eventual return to New York made me lightheaded, but it was counteracted by the dread that swelled in the pit of my stomach when I thought of actually going back. Waiting there in the improbably clean metro stations, so untarnished you almost expected new-car smell, I thought of the early evenings I had spent staring down the train tracks in Brighton Beach, willing the B to arrive and whisk me from work back to non-Russian speaking Brooklyn. Listening to boilerplate subway recordings on the train in Beijing, I thought of the pleasant impatience I felt those nights, ready to get home and sink into my boyfriend, but also of the panic I felt transferring to the R to go home to him once things with us were breaking. I thought, as surely everybody has at some point, that I could get on the train and just keep going, right until the end of the line, and start over there. But our house was just three stops from the terminal one. Nowhere seemed like it could be far enough.

7

And with this fickle heart guiding me, maybe nowhere could be, which is why I'm calling off the experiment and heading back to New York. Recently I have been back in Milwaukee, spending time with someone and waiting for a place to open up for me out east. My old place in Crown Heights is now occupied by strangers. This year's exes have new girlfriends. Most days, I am less certain of my own growth, but as I'm packing, I keep finding old Metrocards – maybe the ones I thought I lost a year ago – at the bottoms of my bags, tucked inside yellow papered notes to Jonah. These objects are like relatives I haven't seen in years, familiar but foreign: I recognize my handwriting but not the sentiments I express in it, which is comforting and alienating all at once. Someone told me recently that your heart, that misguided compass of an organ, gets less resilient as you get older, not more. If most of us believed this, I am not sure that living or loving would be bearable rituals, but by some miracle of human nature they are. At least for me. At least for now.

Lucy Morris is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer and translator living in New York. She last wrote in these pages about living in Beijing. She tumbls here.

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