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Alex Carnevale

Features Editor
Mia Nguyen

Senior Editor
Brittany Julious

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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In Which We Manage To Make It Work

End of the Trip


The dwarfing stones caused the city to be even more gigantic for him than it already was. The manmade horizon, the brutal cut in the body of the giant city it felt as though they were entering the shadow world of hell, when all the boy was seeing was the railroad's answer to the populist crusade to hoist the tracks above the grade crossings so as to end the crashes and the pedestrian carnage.

- Philip Roth, American Pastoral

Davis, California: a veritable Cow-Town where the U.C. Davis Aggies rule the playing field, displaced snowy owls and rabbits foment rage, passionate debate, and press at city council discussions, and Baggins End exists. Davis, California, where greenbelt lanes snake and bike cop citations are a very real threat. Tiny little Davis, my childhood home, where Mom's piano studio was always 98% Asian (to my great delight when Chinese New Year brought moon cakes and recitals brought homemade refreshments and charming extended family).

Yearly hongbao, bi-annual chicken foot-y outings to the New China Buffet, shopping at the S.F. Supermarket in Sacramanto, and a plethora of Guangdong take-out notwithstanding, my small-town schooling could never prepare me for the Mainland itself. From childhood home to college life in Walla Walla, Washington, I traded a small-town high school for a degree in a city known for its sweet onions and Seattle expats, and thus was most green (in the wet-behind-the-ears sense, and also in the where-is-the-azure-sky-and-recycling-program sense, too) upon arrival in Beijing.

Peering out of the Beijing taxi window at endless monstrosities of human engineering, I relished the romantic evocations of Scarlett Johansson's Tokyo scenes in Lost in Translation — and felt very small. This wasn't my first experience with Roth's "man-made sublime that divides and dwarfs," but it was the first time I'd been besieged on all sides by Joy City Malls and Easy Life Malls and Paradise Malls and unfinished subway lines and other things that make David Sedaris' snarky turn snarly.

"Plan of the City of Peking," British LithographIn one of the cafes where coffee is not served to businessmen in a corporate casual atmosphere, I was approached by a small man from a table of The Cools: a Chinese girl with platinum white hair, several subscribers to the black monotone dressing doctrine, and a bald Spaniard who kept giving my boyfriend flirty eyes over his latte. Said small man introduced himself as Juan and asked in adorably broken English if I'd like to model some t-shirts as a "foreigner friend." For want of a more compelling professional life, I consented to do a few jobs for VANCL, a Beijing-based online company that seems to hire hoards of waiguo and nationals alike whose thighs are uniformly much less thunder-y than mine.

This baffling shirt may or may not be an inside joke of the Chinese youth. Either way, it regularly serves as a reminder of why my boyfriend is extra-cool.

VANCL paid better than my teaching job — 600 RMB per 2-or-3-hour job — and visions of free t-shirts with cutesy graphics danced in my head, reminding me that I had yet to purchase a shirt from Threadless.

The first shoot took place at what had been some sort of factory or government compound: firebrick warehouses and snaking alleys now peppered with hints of film and fashion industry gentrification: shiny luxury vehicles, decay-chic rusted doors, an eerie veil of anonymity. The shoot itself was fun, if not a ringer for Bob Harris' "Suntory Time" translation troubles. I was instructed by photographer Han, a most genial young fellow involved with directing and shooting films (many were, he admitted ruefully, "boring propaganda"), to look happy, drunk (I think?) and also that very distinct misty/innocent/pensive pose that's spotted in manga and certain Asian fashion circles eyes demurely downward or at a thoughtful 45-degree upwards tilt, chin coquettishly jutting, hands behind back, or finger at lips, feet together, or slightly pigeon-toed.

During most shoots, a young man would crouch below me, aiming a hairdryer directly at my head. Half the photos capture my futile attempts to extricate flyaways from my over-glossed lips.

What ultimately inspired the photographers would always be my hair. I'd come with it tied up in a bun, hoping to keep my tresses locked away from the snarls, split ends, and the leonine mane it revels in when freed from ponytail prison; everyone always wanted it down, though — I was to shake, twirl, fluff, flip, twist, braid. I ended up under a curling iron more than once and 45 minutes later the proud stylist would present his creation: Sandra Dee meets Amy Winehouse with bubblegum lipstick.

If I look happy, it's because I thought they weren't going to curl my hair.

I made friends with a girl who'd seen my photos on VANCL, a friend of Juan's. Her job confounded me until I realized that rather than sell clothes, she contracted out photography jobs for companies — they chose the model and backgrounds, she styled and produced the photoshoots. Once, I modeled 60 down coats in June for a big website. It was cool, I got free Victory Vitamin Water.

Sweating under my pancake makeup. Fashion. It's Height.

I took the 991 bus to her studio to model various outfits, and the bus trip alone cost me three hours of my life roundtrip. I'd sit with my magazines and iPod, watching the bus TV and trying to spot horse-drawn buggies on the road and marveling at the tinted, removed insulation of the Audi dashboards and BMW backseats idling at red lights below me. Such insulation was never afforded a bus passenger, leastwise a laowai.

Once, the blue-uniformed ticket collector helped me with some directions and then asked me about my other, less compelling job: how much did lessons cost for each student? (I told her — 100 RMB to me, 300 RMB to boss-lady.) She had a bit of cilantro in her teeth, perhaps from a recent Beijing Breakfast stop, and gestured at my Lapham's Quarterly every time she mentioned teaching or English. On TV there was a video of Michael Jackson performing the Sawing A Woman in Half magic trick while singing "Smooth Criminal." There were also many yelling ads.

Raised voices being frequent and tolerated in most areas except perhaps temples, shrines, and the respectable sit-down restaurant known as Pizza Hut, the promotions heralded the imminent glee of summertime, liberation at hand. Everyone yelled in these ads: old ladies exclaimed about online shopping deals, a young woman called "wu ba dian commmm!!" (online classified ads) to the world through her cupped hands, two young lovers yelled coyly about chocolate popsicles, an actress and popular microblogger rode a CGI donkey and hollered about something that sounded like "ganji-laaaaaa!" All the while, we scuttled past the blue and white corrugated walls of Yah Gee Modular Housing or JH Prefab Housing, the two choices migrant workers seemed to have regarding city lodging.

On the return trip from my last modeling job, I fell asleep and woke up sweaty as from a fever dream, wondering if my stop had already passed. Wrong as always in my evaluation of China's great breadth, I inconspicuously peeled away my false eyelashes, stained my last Kleenex with melted mauve and dripping beige foundation, and settled down to the last hour of the myriad strange smells of public transportation, aircon drips, and a stomach aching for an icy pop to usher in the oppressive Beijing summer.

Joanna Swan is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer and artist living in Beijing. She last wrote in these pages about living in China. She blogs here and tumbls here. 

Photographs by the author and Galen Phillips.

"Love Handles" - Akon (mp3)

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"Freaky" - Mook, Jadakiss and Shella ft. Akon (mp3)


In Which We Wonder Why We're So Ashamed

Bald Not Broken


Curb Your Enthusiasm
creator Larry David

Breaking Bad
creator Vince Gilligan

Being bald is more difficult than you can imagine. I remember the first hair I lost, really lost, floating among my blood and pus in the shower. It was so long I couldn't see the end of it. Every time I ran my fingers over my scalp, I was newly surprised by what I found.

As our nation's credit rating drops, a bald man (Alan fucking Greenspan) informs us that America "we can always print money." With this comment, Greenspan finally separated himself from the attachment to his idols Ayn Rand and Milton Friedman. Reading The Fountainhead, I never imagined Howard Roark bald, but looking back he probably shaved his head with a knife and ate squirrels. He didn't have time to try Rogaine, he had to blow up a building he thought was ugly. Baldness can be used for good or ill, just like Christianity or Pinkberry.

When I saw Aaron Paul bald in last night's Breaking Bad, something was altered deep within my carapace. In the bald community, Paul was known as a key holdout. The afternoon I realized that Sam Worthington actually had hair I screamed "William Fucking Buckley!" like I had seen a hairy ghost.

In the wake of certain people's proclamations that America itself is finished, bald men will have the last say. Every aspect of the culture has become a lightly veiled allegory for America's decline, although it is usually not so transparent as Boardwalk Empire. Yesterday I saw two entire families fighting over the last parking spot in the lot at Home Depot. Neither would move their car, so they just sat there. I almost cried, seeing that last hair in my tub, floating, immobile. But I did not cry.

Gifted with the hundreds of millions Seinfeld reaped for him when the show was sold into worldwide syndication, Larry David (Larry David) wants for nothing. After his wife Cheryl divorces him, he inspires his friend Marty Funkhauser to divorce his wife as well. All his closest buddies become suddenly single men in their 60s, and they find themselves the happiest they have ever been. Freed from the responsibility of being capable husbands and fathers to their children, they become children again themselves. (Larry even instructs one of his Girl Scout peers how to insert her tampon in an emergency.) The same thing happened in Rome, only without cable television.

Larry enjoys picking on women above all others on Curb. This is because they give him the reaction he desires. They make him feel alive because he wishes, despite his critical and financial success, to be rejected. In his heart of hearts, Larry believes he deserves to be scorned. Men compliment him on his superior comedy; women are the only ones capable of the disgust he senses when he masturbates to orgasm in the shower, or views his naked dome in the mirror.

Americans have taken most things for granted. An appointment is made, the person will show up. Larry's problems with bad parking, the selling of Girl Scout cookies, his friend's reaction to a Palestinian chicken restaurant, a german shepherd's last meal, Suzy's post-beverage sigh, his girlfriend's use of emoticons, have actually become comforting reminders of things we can control. Correcting such ethical lapses are a welcome distraction from the collapse of the society that surrounds Larry. In stark contrast, the men of Breaking Bad are afforded no such consolation. 

In the first episode of Breaking Bad's brilliant fourth season, Jesse Pinkman (the newly bald Aaron Paul) watched a man's throat cut in front of him (by a bald man) as a threat. Instead of horror, or shock, or rage at the death, his steely-eyed look conveyed one emotion only: peace. He had come to terms with the event, he understood the man who committed the murder, and knew he could not be harmed by him, because he felt himself already gone. Why are you not watching this show?

When Breaking Bad debuted on AMC in 2008, it concerned itself with an Albuquerque chemistry teacher in the thrall of apparently terminal lung cancer forced into the production of meth so he could leave his family with enough money to survive. It was his brush with death and poverty that pushed Walter White (Bryan Cranston) over the edge, but he had already known himself to be divorced from the world before he learned he was dying.

Like many, Walt felt disconnected from American culture. His friends and family viewed him, smilingly, as a harmless intellect within their midst. "Oh Walt," they sighed to themselves, "this man is as meek and good-natured as a housefly." He viewed their polite condescension as an impetus for evil. Upon discarding several business partners, he entered into business with two bald men and never looked back.

A few bald men wear toupees, or use chemicals to attempt to regrow what they lost, but most do not. When I first became bald this surprised me. I used to tool around Wyoming in my Mustang, my toupee rippling against the wind, attempting to be the man I was before it happened. It took some time to realize that I could not go back to that, really, that there was more strength in the truth of what I was.

Jesse Pinkman has come to a similar realization. He is a meth user, a junkie, and now a somewhat experienced chemist. His partner in the production of this brilliantly lethal drug is Walter White, now compelled to hide the shame of his actions from his family, creating an elaborate cover story that allows him to claim his drug money as the spoils of a gambling addiction.

Here we have a rough parallel for the political debate in this country. Liberals want to cover up the loss of American exceptionalism, since for some reason they regard it as an indictment of the current administration, by writing a check. Conservatives wish to reclaim it by acknowledging what seems painfully obvious: we are one broke nation, and when you can't cover your bills, best practice is to start. Although both Jesse and Walt are guilty of a crime, it is Jesse who accepts that he must pay for it.

That douchey pinhead John Judis actually suggested the only way to climb out of the recession was to get involved in a war! I can't really blame him for forgetting we're currently fighting two. When liberals start advocating for war, I feel I have to zig where they zag.

The only people disappointed by an American fall from grace are those who actually think America is the greatest country in the world. Whether it is or isn't is not my point. A man with hair believes he is better than a bald man because he has hair; when that recedes, he philosophizes, "I may be losing my hair, but at least I am not completely bald."

He is a fool. No man is better than any other. I think I read that in Highlights or maybe that time I went to the vet and fell asleep reading a brutally boring copy of The Economist. The person who reads The Economist believes he is better than another person. The man with hair believes he is better than the man losing his hair. The man losing his hair believes he is better than the man who is bald. An American only has to be an American.

Dick Cheney is the senior contributor to This Recording. He last wrote in these pages about George R.R. Martin's A Dance With Dragons.

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"Honky Tonk Hiccups" - Neko Case & Her Boyfriends (mp3)

"The Virginian" - Neko Case & Her Boyfriends (mp3)

"Thanks A Lot" - Neko Case & Her Boyfriends (mp3)


In Which We Experience The Charm Of A Libyan Night

Teacher's Pet


My first memory is very dull and searing: a huge sun squeezing out air, mirages coming out of the pavement and me jumping from one bare foot to the other. My life began there, in the suburb of Ajdabiya, in a compound rented by the company in which my father worked. Judging by the shells we’d find when digging just a few inches beneath the surface, the compound, an hour away from the coast, was situated on soil once a seabed. Having spent preschool years digging in search of treasure and running after the ice cream van that cleverly came in the gaaila (siesta) when all parents slept, life seemed magical, sticky and painted in all possible varieties of warmth and happiness.

The beginning of my life as a pupil made life less magical and more practical, and it brought three things: the color green, ambition and ideology. At the age of nine, my motivation to be the best in my class came from hoping that good grades and outstanding display of revolutionary and anti-American spirit would lead me to meeting baba Muammar al Qadaffi. Of course, my favourite color was green and whenever someone asked how old I was, I would say I was born in 1985, the year before the Christian-Western aggression on Tripoli, in Al Haddra (the Green) hospital.

From then on, my green childhood became a string of very long summer holidays that would eventually culminate in Al Fatih’s public celebrations of the revolutions. I loved it all: the chanting and the dancing for him, the slogans from his book on TV before the news, him speaking endlessly in Libyan colloquial about the Great Man-Made River brought from deep within the Sahara, having a pencil box with two hands cutting chains of imperialism, him or his paroles printed on our green gym wear. That Libya transfixed me. I was never Bosnian, European or white. The freckles on my face were mere testimonies of human will to overcome and shape the obvious and thus, the truth.

Suddenly, our green love experienced its autumn. In an early morning, Suleiman, our young and handsome imam, was arrested and taken away. There were no charges and no appeal. Suleiman was "too Muslim" with his white tunic and therefore, a threat to Jamahiriya. The morning he was taken away, many others also vanished. For months, there were no wedding celebrations. Women whispered, men didn’t gather. Life was painfully discrete and silent.In years to come, coffins were brought to the doorsteps of those taken away years ago, before the sunrise, as when they were handcuffed and taken away.

Years went by, fast and uneasy. The imposed economical sanctions on Libya meant fewer things to buy. Oddly, the so called social supermarket distributed Benetton apparel. We may have craved all sort of different sweets, but we were dressed in Italian designer cloth from a decade ago.

Soon, satellite dishes appeared on roof tops. That changed our lives. We were shocked to learn that the U.S.A. did not have fires or tornado attacks each day, as the Libyan news has been reporting night after night.

One of those hot summer nights, I gazed at the moon trying to recite a classical Arab poem praising the beauty of the moon and the charm of the night. In midst of many failed attempts, one of my friends told me that the Americans carved Qaddafi’s face on the moon. I tried to reason with her, to explain the obvious. As I simultaneously held both arms, shaking her, I screamed “We are their enemy! Why would they want his face on the moon?!” Back at home, my father had to explain another difference between people: there are regular friends and there are friends whose parents are military personnel.

the author & her sister

In 1995 came the last stroke. In response to peace efforts between Palestinians and Israeli government, Qadaffi expelled some 30,000 Palestinians living in Libya. Some of them were left on the border, in the middle of the desert. The family of my friend Ilham was one of those expelled. Month after Ilham left, I watched the father of the first boy I ever liked being hanged on the national TV for treason and conspiracy against the Revolution.

Needless to say, I never met the man dressed in funky outfits, the one who lived in an illusion soaking in blood and oil, fear and hatred. Instead I met Hannan, Aisha, Salah, Miftah, Sayf, Ruwayda. Summer nights, we talked with each other, shouting from the sootoohs (roof tops) of our houses. The unbearable heat and the low voltage at which no air-conditioning worked meant we would be sleeping there, just beneath the sky. I was never content as I was back then. I knew harshness, injustice and evil – Sarajevo was under siege, Libya was beneath a claw – still, I felt freedom within. Anguish would come like a sandstorm, usually in the late morning and it would completely disappear by the time we drank our afternoon tea.

Dictators are "for real"; an invariable circumstance that is an integral part of an individual plan. Unlike democratically elected presidents, who are just that: a choice on a piece of paper that we or Florida made, a topless man playing hoops or a stubborn cowboy, a long relationship that will end up with him moving out. Dictators are here to stay, to have and to hold, from forever to ever, for worse, for poorer, in sickness and in health. Until recently, this union might end with one becoming a dissident. Today, you can end it by become a revolutionary standing in a square or behind a machine gun. Even then, with everything at stake, the connection remains. It is not a type of Stockholm syndrome. Nothing like it! It is a weird lasting link built of conflicting emotions and memories that can be reduced to one sentence: all the people and things we loved and lost because of people we used to admire.

Sumeja Tulic is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Sarajevo. She last wrote in these pages about her picnic.

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