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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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Sunday
Jul032011

In Which We Secretly Harbor The Desire To Be Looked At 

Escape to New York

by ELIZABETH GUMPORT

Just as our first romantic relationships impress types upon us, so, too, do our early urban experiences determine if and how we will live in cities. There are people from whom we do not recover, experiences into which we try to fold all others, places we do not leave.

Born in Oak Park, Illinois in 1933, the photographer Bruce Davidson spent his adolescence on the train, riding the El into Chicago. "I’ve left Chicago," Davidson later told an interviewer, "but Chicago hasn’t left me."

The experience was "catalytic," he said; as an adult, he would go on to document New York’s transit system in the series Subway. On the trains he found "an iridescence like what I had seen in photographs of deep-sea fish."

Before Subway, he had submerged himself in South Brooklyn, where he documented the romances and rituals of a young street gang called the Jokers. After covering the Civil Rights Movement, he returned to New York, to its parks and streets, and, for two years the 1960s, its tenements. He set up on the block between Second Avenue and First, working with a large camera on a tripod to capture the street’s sidewalks, bedrooms, and the people who used them.

East 100th Street appeared at the Museum of Modern Art in 1970. Nearly twenty years later, my parents and I moved into an apartment a few blocks west, on 100th between Park and Lexington. Both streets belong to the part of Manhattan known as Spanish Harlem, which runs from 96th Street, where well-tended medians on Park Avenue give way to train tracks, up to the northeastern edge of the island and the Harlem River.

The neighborhood is largely Puerto Rican, and home to 24 public housing projects. Last year, the Department of City Planning designated the neighborhood a "food desert," which means its residents have little access to fresh food, specifically produce, and are therefore likely to suffer from diet-related illnesses.

When I was very young, I did not realize people considered my neighborhood unsafe; once I did, I thought they must be mistaken. It was not until after the building next door to mine burned down that I learned it had been a crackhouse. Nobody ever told me anything. If someone was admitted to the hospital, I was informed days or years after they were released.

Now this seems to me fantastical: how do you not talk about things? But my parents and I, we did not talk about things, so for a long time I pretended everything was fine. Then, when evidence to the contrary became impossible to ignore, I decided not to care. This is actually a choice you can make.

The images in East 100th Street do not disclose secrets like a diary, those subjective assessments of material experience. They hold only the brute, dull detritus of daily life: 15-cent pie, a flyer from a camping show, Hart brand bird food. Looking at Davidson's photographs is like visiting someone's apartment for the first time, or reading his blog: I eat a sandwich, I drink a beer, I do not make my bed.

To see the people Davidson photographs is to be reminded that people exist when we do not see them. These are not candids, or stolen shots of animals taken securely from safari caravan, but their subjects accept him without ceremony, as one admits not a stranger but a sibling, someone who has a key and does not care if you have cleaned your apartment.

At the Howard Greenberg Gallery, East 100th Street is accompanied by Davidson’s wide, expansive shots of Central Park. In the foreground of one lies the sweating, bathing-suited body of a woman; beyond her, more bodies, and trees, and beyond them the city, the buildings rising together like a great crenellated castle.

In comparison to his photographs of Central Park, the images in East 100th Street are airless and cramped. The exteriors feel like interiors. Rarely do you see the sky, or the spine of the Triborough Bridge, that big animal, lying across the East River. The city resembles a room, a closed space, a closet. The effect is counterintuitive; in Davidson’s work, narrow alleys and low ceilings serve as reminders of the city’s size, of how much it contains, and conceals.

If you believe people do whatever they can get away with, you might imagine his portraits of people peering out windows or sprawled on beds to be portraits of lust and false-heartedness. Manhattan's geography generates infidelity: ours is a capacious city, a vast island whose size permits isolation and therefore betrayal.

Davidson's photographs remind us that people's personal lives are mostly tedious. Everybody has dirty plates and families. Privacy protects us. Behind closed doors we shine our shoes and our personalities; we rest and then resume playing the roles of interesting people. We hide our worst selves, and our dullest: we would rather have people see us as bad than boring.

What is universal are chores, the failure to do them, and the desire to be looked at. From the way one girl turns her foot you can tell she has taken ballet. She is wearing church clothes; in another picture, a sign on a storefront church proclaims, "All are welcome!" Sunday devotional services meet at 12:30, and something abbreviated "W.P.W.W." gathers on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 6:30.

A few of the buildings Davidson photographed still stand, but this church is gone. The northwest corner of the block has been cleared for a baseball diamond, and luxury condominiums now run along First Avenue up to 101st Street. In 2006, one of the new apartments on Lexington Avenue sold for $8.5 million dollars.

The protagonists of children's books are usually orphans. The family home is a prison that must be demolished before the book can begin. Only once they are freed from their cells and captors can the characters' adventure begin. Out of the cradle and into the boxcar, or boarding school; the best world is the one without parents.

My parents sold their house this fall. Like Davidson's subjects and storybook orphans, I am one of the lucky ones: I never have to go home again.

Elizabeth Gumport is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in New York. She last wrote in these pages about the life of Maeve Brennan. You can find an archive of her work on This Recording here. You can find an archive of her work at n+1 here.

"Strangeness (live at the Wiltern)" - Florence and the Machine (mp3)

"Between Two Lungs (live at the Wiltern) - Florence and the Machine (mp3)

"Ghosts (live at the Wiltern)" - Florence and the Machine (mp3)

"Cosmic Love (live at the Wiltern)" - Florence and the Machine (mp3)

Friday
Jul012011

In Which We Harken Back To Our First Warm Breath

Home Depot Oscillating Fan

by MARK BAUMER

The day before I moved to New York to become a mutual fund portfolio manager, I saw a guy at McDonalds holding a medium-sized, oscillating fan that he bought on sale at Home Depot. The medium-sized, oscillating fan was not plugged into a wall outlet so it was not oscillating. Less than thirty percent of all oscillating objects in the world are connected to a power source. About seventy percent of all Americans are friends with at least three people who own medium-sized, oscillating fans that were purchased on sale at Home Depot, but have not been connected to a power source. The last person I met who was holding a medium-sized, oscillating fan that was plugged into a wall outlet did not understand what buttons to press to make their medium-sized, oscillating fan oscillate.

This other time I saw a guy holding a sandwich and this guy said he didn’t believe in global warming. His sandwich eating technique reminded me of a conversation I overheard on a bus between two medium-sized, mid-career goosebumps. One of the goosebumps said, “The air conditioning in my boss’s office does not know that I left work early today.” The other goosebump said, “If I continue to live in the city I will probably become a permanent skin modification that someone will mistake as a pimple that they will then try to pop.” Three million years ago, the entire human race was nothing more than a goosebump on the eyelid of the first protozoa that learned to exhale warm breath. This first warm breath that ever existed raised the global temperature on earth about 2.8 percent. It took thirty thousand years for the first protozoa to invent a medium-sized, oscillating fan. Another three billion years passed before anyone figured out how to connect a medium-sized, oscillating fan to a wall outlet.

The man holding a medium-sized, oscillating fan in McDonalds said he was born three years before the existence of anything that oscillated.

On my first day of work as mutual fund portfolio manager I asked my boss if I could replace the air conditioning in his office with a medium-sized, oscillating fan that was not connected to a power source.

The man holding a medium-sized, oscillating fan was wearing headphones. The headphones played music. His headphone mumbles said, “mumble mumble mumble.” The man holding the medium-sized, oscillating fan sang along to the music in his headphones. He sang in a soft voice that did not interrupt anyone’s meal at McDonalds. I had to lean very close to his lips to hear the sound of his mouth. I heard the small voice of a man holding a medium-sized, oscillating fan. This small voice said, “Once, I went to a party in the late nineties and I brought my keyboardist.” He repeated this line to himself three or four times. These lyrics reminded me of the keyboardist in my brother’s high school band who was allergic to digital photography and died of an asthma attack while watching a basketball game. My brother tried to find a replacement keyboardist, but couldn’t. Four years later, he sold out and went to work for a digital cable company. His days were spent touching wires inside modest and pleasant homes throughout the Pacific Northwest. Once while at work my brother came up with the idea of becoming a solo artist who played songs on his acoustic guitar in small air conditioned rooms while people drank alcohol. That night when my brother got home from work he was too tired to turn on the air conditioner so he could practice. Instead, he watched a video online of a patient child that didn’t have enough face stamina to maintain constant eye contact with the digital video camera he was talking to.

I wanted to ask the guy with the medium-sized, oscillating fan why he was holding a medium-sized, oscillating fan, but instead I called my father and told him I was at McDonalds and was going to eat something that would make him ashamed of me. My father gave me some comforting advice which made me feel better. He asked if I was still working on a novel about the time I touched some corroded meat sandwiches in third grade which sort of made me mathematically dyslexic. I told him I had decided to write a series of memoirs about every raindrop that had ever existed since I had been born. I said, “Each raindrop will get its own individual book in the series.” My father asked how many books I was expecting to be in the series. I told him that I was prepared to write one billion memoirs. My father suggested I write a memoir called, “I went to Cornell and became a dentist because everyone at Cornell has teeth.” I told my father that our conversation was developing a bitter frequency in my mouth. He said, “When you were three a man holding a garden hose stood in our front yard for six months and did nothing but rotate from side to side. This man with the garden hose only watered the same nine blades of grass. I remember avoiding the area where he watered because I was afraid to tell the man to leave our lawn. I was also afraid of getting wet. Your mother got tired of my fears and did not spend very much time at home. Most days, she would leave early and go to the mall to see if any of the noodles at Panda Express were on sale.”

A few minutes passed. My father continued to talk. I made notes about what he said and then wrote a poem called, “oscillating grass.” Before my father hung up the phone I read the poem to him. He said he liked it.

When I was alone in McDonalds again I looked at the guy holding the medium-sized, oscillating fan. I was ready to give up on the idea of having conversations with people, but then I opened my mouth and it made a sound I was wasn’t prepared to hear my mouth make. The guy holding the medium-sized, oscillating fan looked at me and said, “I think I am going to give this medium-sized, oscillating fan to my girlfriend for her birthday because it feels like a medium-sized, oscillating fan is more romantic than a handful of flowers.” I asked him if he wanted to buy my poem about oscillating grass and give it to his girlfriend. He said he was thinking about going to Bed, Bath, & Beyond to buy her a pair of grass-woven panties. I told him that I didn’t think grass-woven panties were a retail item at stores that sold dish towels. The guy holding the medium-sized, oscillating fan said, “I once bought a taco at Bed, Bath, & Beyond and it tasted like crunchy toothpaste so when I finished eating it I didn’t brush my teeth for a week.” I asked him what happened next. He said, “I got a job wearing clothes that people who have a lot of money, but not much style will buy from companies that make a lot of money selling expensive clothing that isn’t very stylish. My employer believes that my presence in the global economy has boosted sales a quarter of a half percent last year. I am one of billons of men who believe that they are individually responsible for the wellbeing of the future of our planet. If I was not wearing this shirt right now the world would end tomorrow.”

I didn’t want to talk to the guy holding the medium-sized, oscillating fan anymore, but I wasn’t sure if I had any other friends so I continued to stand next to the guy holding the medium-sized, oscillating fan. The mouth on his face was still set at a frequency I was capable of understanding. He said, “I did something interesting once. Even though I am going to tell you about it now I will probably talk about it again some other time and it is very likely that as our relationship grows I will often ask you if you remember the time when I first told you about the time I did something interesting.” I waited for him to tell me the interesting thing he would tell me. I did not wait very long. The thing he thought was interesting was sort of interesting.

So, anyway, I ended up being a mutual fund portfolio manager in New York for six months. The warm breaths I made in my boss’s air conditioned office probably raised the global temperature of our planet by twelve percent. Once I got a goose bump at work and got embarrassed because everyone could see it. This was also the day when I spilled leftover garlic sauce on one of my client’s retirement portfolios. I unraveled a bit and had to take a long vacation to the birthplace of the first warm breath. When I arrived I felt a little better, but when I plugged myself back into a wall outlet I realized I could no longer oscillate.

Mark Baumer is a contributor to This Recording. He is a writer living in Providence, Rhode Island. This is his first appearance in these pages. You can find his website here.

Photographs by Par Veez and the author.

"Little Birds" - Jolie Holland (mp3)

"Tender Mirror" - Jolie Holland (mp3)

"Gold and Yellow" - Jolie Holland (mp3)

The new album from Jolie Holland, Pint of Blood, was released on June 28th.

Thursday
Jun302011

In Which We Earn The Right To Hurt Someone Else

In Love With

by LUCY MORRIS

Dear C,

I am back in New York but without a bed. I sleep on the couch but I do have a cabinet that holds some clothes and offers a surface on which to stack the books I continue to buy wildly, compulsively, like words are the solution to every problem I have and an appropriate celebration for every small, daily achievement. With the books accumulating and a picture of you propped against the stacks, it is starting to feel like home here.

Can you tell from the photo I sent you how hot it is in my room? Of course you can’t. New York got hot and it’s the kind of hot that alternately makes you want to do nothing at all and do something terribly drastic. I spend all day while I work thinking of drastic things to do, but the good thing about work is that it keeps me from doing them for at least eight hours.

The events of past summers are coming back to me very vividly in a way that makes me want a strong drink, but it’s also comforting to have seasonal context restored: summer makes you do crazy things, of course. It makes you want to cheat on your boyfriend or else marry him. It makes you want to go macrobiotic or else order a personalized sheet cake just for fun. It makes the pursuit of immediate pleasure seem very important and everything else, like the niceness of having someone to say goodnight to every day or the security of putting part of your paycheck into savings or the long term health benefits of good posture while you work — it all starts to seem secondary to sleeping around and spending and slouching.

I think I’ll start taking my life advice from rap music again, or maybe I’ll eschew words entirely for classical. What do you think that would to do my mind, which spends all day processing words from one language into another, and all evening trying to quiet itself down enough to sleep? Meanwhile, when I open my window at night the air smells like bars, like nightlife, like people out on the prowl for pleasure, and I appreciate being able to take part in that without even leaving my apartment. The proximity alone is comforting; it squelches my eternal fear of missing out. Also, here in the construction zone that is my apartment, my comb is coated in dust daily, just like yours is in the perpetually transforming city of Beijing.

love,

L 

Dear C,

Just about a year ago, I went home to see a boy I had decided I was in love with. I wonder when I’ll be able to forget the coolness of the early summer cement in Wisconsin that weekend, or the scratchy dry grass I laid in while I tried to work up the courage to be real. A love that takes as long to blossom as that one did, even — or especially — if it’s fostered mostly in your imagination is crazy dangerous. 

A month later, he came to visit me in New York.  I bought new sunglasses on St. Marks Place for the occasion and took him to the Met because he considered himself something of an artist. He said the most impressive thing there was a velvet rope cordoning off some sculptures, which should have been a sign but was not. There were a lot of signs; there always are, with almost anyone, but in the variegated, cataclysmic history of good times, has anyone ever chosen not to ignore them?

A love like the one I had then is only possible in summer. You can spend late July nights saying insane things to each other, like that you’ll move to Bahrain and build a house together, and then you can end it before it’s cold enough that you have to sleep in clothes again. In some ways this is harder than you think it will be, and in some ways it’s not hard at all, because autumn changes everything. But when summer comes back around, the vestiges of that last love – an anthem from that season, a meal you ate together often – will return to you in a terrible, almost paralyzing way. It will make you cry to your new boyfriend, and you will know this is wrong but you feel that because someone else hurt you, you now have the right to hurt someone else.

Something I was just then starting to realize, not on late night small town barstools but in the clarity of the early morning bus rides that followed, is that sometimes you might think a person is crazy for you but really they are just crazy. Another thing is that maybe when you devote yourself to loving someone intensely, you are just trying to balance out a negative elsewhere in your life. You think having someone’s hand in yours makes you invincible and capable of ignoring your shitty job or decrepit apartment or the guidance counselor nightmare that is an utter lack of direction. It can, but only for a while.

It took me another year to learn that it is possible to be an okay person who loves someone who is not good. You can cope with that by doing destructive things to convince yourself you’re not that good either: you can drink a lot and resent other people when you are with them. Then, when you are alone, you can try to be good enough to compensate for your companion’s poison, perhaps by studying for the LSATS or running loops around your neighborhood, as though you can actually chase down the person you want to be, or the person you truly want to be with.

I got very in shape doing that, and it made me write more than I had been, but that’s about it.

love,

Dear C, 

When I send you my frenzied late night e-mails, library computer terminal e-mails, typed-beneath-the-table restaurant e-mails, all begging you to come home, often what I am trying to convey is how much I miss having someone with whom to traverse all my troubled topographies: a bus stop where I cried out of job search despair or the first date restaurant of my last relationship. If you were here, at each stop on the landmark tour of my minor daily tragedies, you would say, “Don’t be ridiculous,” but the glimmer in your green eyes and the grin emerging at the corners of your mouth would tell me that you were sympathetic to the miles of difficult memories I’ve created here, that you, too, know that the past does not always stay where it should but can in fact sneak up behind and overwhelm you if you’re not careful. 

Joan Didion says that we keep notebooks in order to remember “what it was to be me.” These letters to you are records of a certain time, a sometimes self-conscious and sometimes totally uninhibited portrait of who I am – or at least that is how it will seem years from now. You know better than anyone that I am always on a dual quest to forget everything that happens to me and to record it all for eternity. I am furious when I cannot forget things fast enough, when memories stick to my ribcage and eventually gang up on my insides, flooding my lungs and making it hard to breathe. But I’m so afraid, too, of losing memories, of losing what I knew in a neighborhood, in a man, in a dress I once wore or a song I once heard.

Despite my best efforts to adopt a new model of experience, the past informs everything I say and do; who will I be next if I don’t know who I was before? I am forever hoping that recording things will make them easier to forget, that if I can file them away in a digital card catalogue, I’ll free my mind up for new acquisitions. I wonder if this process is what makes a person a writer more than any classes or strict writing routines do. I also wonder if this is the most efficient way of making yourself miserable on a day-to-day basis. 

Every day, I used to write my little urban experiences down in my phone, and a lot of times I sent them to this boy, but sometimes I didn’t, sometimes I kept them just for myself. When my phone was stolen last fall, I was disproportionately devastated for all those lost mementos, those fast-captured paragraphs recounting the moments when I was twenty-one and twenty-two and learning a lot about things, although not fast enough to suit either of us. I am sorry for all the things it took me so long to learn from you, and that I did such a terrible job of following the advice I so often doled out.

It took me a while to see that it is not a good idea to spend time with men who make you dislike other women, or make you forget your own plans, whether it’s the train you meant to catch or the career you want to have. I learned that sometimes being nervous around someone is thrilling but sometimes it keeps you from being your full, best self, the way you are in the company of friends. I also realized that break-ups are the kind of mistake it’s okay to cop to, that my dad was right when he told me that heartbreak is a disease 99.999 percent of people survive, except for in Tolstoy. 

Do you remember the time in Washington Square Park last spring when a man came up and asked us, “Are you looking for love tonight?” And we said, simultaneously, “I’m good.” It is my recollection that we were good – in the sense of satisfied but also morally – because we were together. But you would say there were so many more factors to that moment, the way there are to every one, that things don’t just hinge on a single person or event: that the temperature then was one of hopeful May and not oppressive August, that we had just seen two men somewhat absurdly, comically carrying a piano right through the park, that we had, as usual, eaten too much for dinner and gotten cookies and ice cream for desert anyway, and that you were going back uptown and I was going home to Brooklyn, and we each had so much then to look forward to. 

The walls in my apartment are all painted now, so I hung up some pictures of us. There’s one of us in a candy store in California a handful of summers ago. We appear accidentally identical: dark brown hair swooping in front of our faces, navy blue sweatshirts with DIY thumbholes on the sleeves, sunburnt cheeks wrought large as we bite into candy apples at the same moment, in the flash’s glare. We are nineteen years old but in our uninhibited delight and with our unselfconscious appetites, we look like we could be much younger. When I see this, I sometimes panic about time passed or wasted and think, “Will we ever be that young again?” On other days, though, I look at it with relief, because I know we never will be, and that is the proper order of things, forward moving, and for the best. Right?

love,

Lucy Morris is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in New York. She tumbls here. She last wrote in these pages about the break-up. You can find an archive of her work on This Recording here.

"Some Other Time" - Jill Scott (mp3)

"Quick" - Jill Scott (mp3)

"Making You Wait" - Jill Scott (mp3)

The new album from Jill Scott, The Light of the Sun, was released on June 21th.