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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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Entries in brooklyn (5)

Wednesday
May092012

In Which We Barely Bring A Change Of Clothes

Goodbye Station

by LUCY MORRIS

I was up at Grand Central the other day and walked by the line of airport shuttles on 42nd Street, where I more than once deposited different boyfriends and where they more than once deposited me. I remembered in an instant the individual goodbyes we exchanged and the looks in their eyes — green, green, brown, brown — in those moments, and seeing my own eyes — blue reflected back in them.

That was all very good and edifying in its own way: there are nuances of life you are unable to sense until you’ve intertwined yours with someone else’s for some period. But none of it was as good and edifying as what’s been happening the last few months: there are just as many nuances you are unable to sense until you’ve made your life solely yours, assembled a set of routines and rituals and plans for which you alone are responsible.

I want to say all of this comes as a surprise but I’m afraid it doesn’t. I think deep down I always suspected it could get better than those greetings, those goodbyes, whatever pleasures came in between.

This is not to say I assumed it actually would.

+

For a while late last decade, Micah and I lived out at the southernmost tip of Brooklyn in a house crowded with other people’s furniture. We were legally prohibited from painting the walls or getting rid of the excess of knick-knacks because of some issue with the original owner’s will. It was a material abundance we were too young to deserve, to know what to do with. Sometimes when we didn’t want to do the dishes we’d go to the basement to dig out the silver cutlery of the elderly woman who had lived — and died — there before us.

I was too small for the size of our house, for the seriousness of Micah’s intentions, but maintained a steadfast ignorance of these facts, a quiet campaign of avoidance that I assumed was essential to all relationships. During the years we were together, I hardly went out at all, as if I was afraid that seeing what else and who else was out there might make it impossible to go home again.  In the end, it turned out I was right. Once I did start going out and seeing what else was there, I could not return to that house near the Verrazano, to Micah’s overwhelming affections, to our bed with the misshapen blue sheets we struggled to fit to the mattress each morning.

When I moved out, I found that everything I owned fit into the back of an SUV. This confirmation of my material compactness should have been a relief but instead I found it alarming, as if it indicated some other insignificance or inexperience. It seemed that in the absence of a love that had swelled up into all the corners of my being, into all the hours of my day, I was highly portable, my existence in one place — or with one person — more or less temporary.

Having a major space in your life suddenly vacated is no rarefied tragedy: it happens to most people, and likely more than once. But it takes a long time to fill that expanse inside you again, the minutes and habits and parts of yourself that used to be shared. This did not bother me then and it does not now: it’s a fact of a life in which you choose to love and I would not choose another kind.

+

The appeal of what came next was not that it was better — I knew from the start it wouldn’t be — but rather that it wasn’t as big, that it would in fact be so small, so insufficient, I could start restocking my life with other things again. I took long walks alone around the northern edges of Prospect Park the summer after I left. Everything felt simultaneously new and rusty: a rerouted commute on the same trains, the choreography of cooking old meals in a new kitchen, pacing unfamiliar streets until they became known. I was suddenly aware, too, that there was now a whole variety of experimental forms of pleasure available to me, minor and major, risky and not.

One of these, located somewhere on the axis of minor and risky, was Jonah. If there can be a single explanation for the trajectory of any love, it goes like this: it’s fun until it isn’t. Jonah was no exception.

The last time I recall feeling fondly towards him, early one evening in late summer, we were outside drinking Red Stripe and playing Scrabble. Jonah won the game by a huge margin and then confessed to cheating throughout, but with a grin I had noticed he employed specifically in instances where he wanted his behavior excused, not just with me but with everyone: his friends, family, employers, store clerks. It was an effective expression — humbly crooked but with eyebrows raised as if to say, “How could you not forgive me?” — but once you caught onto it, it was hard not to observe the frequency with which it appeared, and then not to wonder why he was constantly in need of forgiveness, or doing things that required it, however trivial.

I allowed him this for the reason I allowed him many things: it made me wonder. But after a while, to no one’s surprise — including my own — wonderment ceased to be enough, started, in actuality, to seem like an absurd premise for spending time with someone. We continued to become less tender to each other, until we were only capable of being pleasant after we had sex — although during the act we both managed to persist with our minor cruelties.

On another outdoor night, one of the last we spent lodged against each other in the hammock with string imprints forming on our cheeks, a few bats swooped down near our heads and we yelped simultaneously. I remember how embarrassed we both were in the moments afterward at our show of fright. In the whole history of bad things people have done to one other there is no accounting for what we choose to be ashamed of. There is also no accounting for what we choose to forgive.

On that same night, after the bats, I recall whispering, “I love you,” in the way I now can see many people do, when they have run out of other things to say to each other, or stopped looking for more precise ways of relating. But I knew as I said it that it was the only time I had ever lied about loving someone, and although I have done many other things wrong since — left a whole trail of different errors in my wake — I have never again done that.

+

Peter’s bed was so big I could lie across it horizontally, vertically, or diagonally, and still not reach the edges. I was very tired when I first arrived in it, but simultaneously having a lot of trouble sleeping. The exhaustion was a broad one, an encompassing uncertainty that made me lethargic and unproductive during the day but also unable to put my mind to rest when I turned off the lights. Peter’s main allure at this particular moment was that his sleep schedule was compatible with mine. We spent three weeks staying up all night talking and then more than a year trying to replicate the intimacy of those weeks, and for the most part, to everyone’s surprise — including our own — we actually succeeded.

In the months I spent camped out in his attic apartment, I rarely brought a change of clothes with me or used his shower, but I was closer to him than I’d ever been to someone else. As happens when you feel unchallenged in other aspects of your life, I rerouted my energies into conducting the relationship as a kind of experiment, testing out behaviors like jealousy and anger, from which I had so far mostly abstained. I had a hypothesis, which I announced to him often, that the ability to exercise these latent emotional muscles was proof of a deeper bond. This was met with minimal reception and was also never proven correct or incorrect, but it was certainly facilitated by the fact that we could sleep in the same bed after arguments without even noticing the other person was present.

Late in winter we both got sick for a month, shared a Neti Pot, let cough drop wrappers and Advil bottles and Kleenex pile up around us. We watched movies to rest our voices but could never make it through one without pausing to talk. Then we got better; it got warm. On weekday afternoons we went to a public water park to float down the lazy river while listening to the oldies station, toes hooked around each other’s tubes to keep from drifting. By then I had begun to worry that the lazy river days were symptomatic of something bigger, that Peter was in some abstract sense slow moving and was reducing my rate of acceleration by proxy — I would have generally preferred to swim laps — but our conversations were actually so rapid I could never figure out where to stop them.

I knew well the sheets on the cot that served as his couch; he slept there, not in his bed, when I wasn’t around. When I talk to him these days, I know he is lying on that cot, and I feel guilty — and then I don’t — for the excess of my own bed, the room I now have to spread out, how I wouldn’t exchange it for anything — or anyone — anymore.

+

The month or two that Ryan spent pursuing me, I spent much of my time hiding out in a large store in the Flatiron District where my cell phone got no reception. There I could thumb through racks of dresses I’d never wear and delay confronting his attempts to win me over. I put it off not because I didn’t enjoy them, but because I did, a great deal, and this was so unfamiliar a sensation to me, so unlike my customary ambivalence that I found it almost physically uncomfortable. To convince myself it was a good use of my time, I usually needed a drink in hand when I called him, leftover party gin in leftover plastic party cups I stacked on my windowsill after we hung up.

On New Year’s, after the countdown and the kiss, we locked ourselves in the bathroom at a party to take a nap. The tiles on the floor were the same as the ones in my mother’s house; my eyes blurred as I studied them. I slept with my head on Ryan’s hip. The rivets of his jeans left an imprint on my forehead.

Some time later we crash danced around my tiny bedroom, unsettling my precarious piles of books, knocking the cheap garment rack that served as my closet at an angle. We had a lot of fun together and not much else, which was the kind of less consuming experience I had believed I wanted but turned out was probably constitutionally incapable of. We fell asleep on top of the covers, this time with his chin on my shoulder, and in the morning we had sex.

“What do you want to do today?” Ryan asked afterwards, pulling on a t-shirt, and in response, without thinking even for a second, I said, “I think we should break up and also we should go to the Met.” Which is exactly what we did. Standing side by side in the American Wing, it was like nothing had ever happened, which seemed like a good sign. But generally this — the suggestion that nothing has changed, when things substantially have—is actually the deadliest sign of all.

Afterward he called me from California to say he wished I was there, which was what we both seemed to think I wanted to hear, but in that moment I realized it was not, that I did not in fact want to be in California at all, I wanted to be where I was: slightly but forgivably late for dinner with a friend across town, sprawled on my bed staring into the apartment across the street. This was a sight I now confronted more than any one person’s face and in truth I found it, in its total impenetrability, more compelling than the eyes and features I used to examine so often. Ryan said he had to go at the exact same moment I did. “I’ll call you later,” he said, and he didn’t, and I was surprised to discover how relieved I was by this, how much more I immediately liked him knowing that we were no longer in any way obligated to each other.

By now I hardly had any real obligations to anyone beyond whomever I promised to meet for a drink, go on a walk with, have over for a meal. I had expected to feel unmoored in the absence of a major commitment, but instead I felt flush with time, the very best kind of currency. I dispensed it freely to the people whose company I most appreciated, and in a very limited way to everyone else. I found this significantly more fulfilling—in reality it made me far less lonely — than I had when all the free hours of my day were accounted for, pre-allocated, in large part, to someone else.

+

On the days when the past sneaks up on me in a song or smell or unanticipated flash of nostalgia, on those occasions when I cannot help looking back, it is difficult not to be upset with myself for how I spent the first couple years of this decade and the last few of the previous one. I was frivolous with my time and money and body and energy during what could feasibly be the only period in my life when my time and money and body and energy are wholly mine and unshared.

By some combination of fortune and miracle, I managed to remain employed the whole time, avoid major financial trouble, and not get pregnant, in spite of expending the absolute minimum effort to prevent any of these undesirable outcomes. Perhaps it is as simple as this: there are periods in life when this is the most you can hope for, the absence of select failures, rather than solid accomplishments.

It is good to have this knowledge but what’s better still is exiting that kind of period and entering, by a similar combination of luck and chance, a new one.

Lucy Morris is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Manhattan. She tumbls here. She last wrote in these pages about Brighton Beach. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here.

Images by Louise Bourgeois.

"Watching the Fires Waltz Away" - Damon Albarn (mp3)

"The Marvelous Dream" - Damon Albarn (mp3)

Wednesday
Oct052011

In Which We Examine The Funniest Of Girls

Known in Flatbush

by ELLEN COPPERFIELD

Manny Streisand was her father, known in Flatbush as the instructor of troubled men at the Brooklyn High School for Specialty Trades. The E. 7th street tenement he was born into charged a rent of $15 a month. Heading into Manhattan for the only honeymoon he could afford, Manny Streisand banged his head against the windshield when the car in front of him stopped short. Five years later, he began to suffer the first of many seizures. On August 4th, 1943, he was dead.

His daughter Barbara was almost a year and a half. She was not yet Barbra, she was still Barbara. She did not cry as a child, despite the fact that her grandfather was a malicious tyrant. Her mother Diane, unable to cope with her husband's early passing, was keen to drop the girl off with a caretaker whenever she could.

When she was old enough for school, she was old enough to experience its displeasure. Her peers called her Big Beak and drew attention to her lazy left eye. The Yiddish word for an ungainly misfit was "mieskeit," and everyone knew that was her.

Her mother was attractive enough to find a second husband, and young Barbara did not care for her suitors. Barbara tried to turn them away like Penelope. When these strange men kissed her mother, Barbara thought they were trying to take Diane from her.

A neighbor in her Brooklyn building knit the young girl a sweater to wrap around her only toy: a hot water bottle. Her mother became concerned by Barbara's lack of interest in eating. The only time she paid attention to the girl was when she was force-feeding her something or other, possibly a knish.

She sang for the first time at the age of seven. She rushed breathlessly into her mother's embrace afterwards, eager for her approval. Her mother told her, "Your arms are too thin."

Her mother found another man, one in the garment business. He impregnated her but refused to get married for some time. Diane Streisand moved into a one-bedroom on the corner of Nostrand Avenue. The rent was $105 per month.

Barbara's new father Louis Kind hated her, would criticize her clothes in front of her friends, brought no money to the family, beat his new wife. When one of her friends asked why Kind owned a different last name, she told the girl, "Oh, he uses that name for business."

On the plus side, her new father possessed the only television set she had ever had. She imitated everything she saw, showing her mother the correct way to hold a cigarette for the first time at the age of ten. Lucille Ball was generally regarded as the best.

Her first band in elementary school was Bobbie and the Bernsteins. She was Bobbie, backed by twin sisters, her closest friends at school. She never invited them over to her house out of fear. One of her classmates told her, "Barbara, please don't sing anymore."

For her fourteenth birthday, her mother nixed the idea of going to see My Fair Lady. Instead, her and her friend Anita Sussman saw The Diary of Anne Frank. At first she cried at the bracing similarities of her own existence, but afterwards it occurred to her as if there had never been a question: that part was made for her.

With her family in tatters, she sought a second home and found it in Jimmy and Muriel Choy, a Chinese couple who owned a restaurant on Nostrand Avenue. Kosher food had the disadvantage of being associated with her awful parents; Chinese food meant magnificent life in comparison. She schlepped from table to table as a waitress, the only Jewish one they had.

High school was a different matter. Her desire to sing and perform became a singular force of will, the only one she required. She had never been identified as gifted in school, but a mandatory IQ test quickly revealed the truth. With a quotient of 124, she was quickly shuttled into the honors classes. Still, she did not fit in with the smart students, and she ate alone. One teacher called her "self-centered."

Sex was taboo in her home. Information had to be attained through other avenues. She asked Muriel Choy whether the man was always on top during intercourse. Muriel responded, "Not necessarily."

Her first romance was with the best-looking guy in her theater troupe. She had always been considered the ugliest girl in school. He did more than admit she wasn't: he told her she was attractive, the first person who had ever done so. Her second boyfriend was a black guy named Teddy. People were absolutely flabbergasted.

The pace of things began to pick up, even if the world wasn't exactly to her liking. She auditioned for Otto Preminger's cinematic version of the Joan of Arc story, Saint Joan. They chose a gentile. Her mother separated from her abusive stepfather and had to sue for a measly $37 a week. To make ends meet, her mother sold undergarments in her building's laundry room and asked her daughter to steal milk bottles from where they sat outside their neighbor's doors.

A theater near her home would play Italian films. She did not understand the language. When Jerry Lewis movies filled the theater, she imitated him in the lobby for other patrons. Her mother let her use their college savings ($150) to fund an apprenticeship at an upstate New York playhouse. Her first part was as a Japanese child leading a goat, and the role meant she had to clean up the animal's droppings after every performance.

She continued to lie about her age, hoping she would be accepted into a year-round program at the Cherry Lane Theater in Greenwich Village. Her mother trashed the clothes that her theater friends gave her out of kindness, and accused them of enslaving her daughter. She adopted a new style: skirt, stockings, shoes, leather bag, all blacker than black.

Some time later on, in her aspiring actress days, another student spotted Barbara and took notice. James Spada's 1995 biography of Barbra, Streisand: Her Life, has him remembering his first vision of the girl: "I remember this funny-looking girl on the stage sitting cross-legged...she had a very small part, she didn't have many lines. But boy, by some magic wave of her wand she was making everybody look at her," Dustin Hoffman said. "Did you ever see those pictures of a mother bird with the worm and there's a bunch of baby birds with their mouths open? Somehow there's one that's straining more than any other to get that worm from their mother. That would be Barbra."

She met Warren Beatty, five years her elder. She rejected him for the moment, put off by his strategy of chasing every tail he saw. Her own early rejections were brutal one casting agent wrote over her photo, "Talented. Who needs another Jewish broad?" When she invited her mother to watch her perform a particularly moving scene in acting class, her mother told her to give up and take a typing job.

Until then, her name had been Barbara. But she decided that there were a million Barbaras, and if she removed the 'a', only one Barbra.

Ellen Copperfield is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in San Francisco. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here. She last wrote in these pages about the childhood of Kurt Cobain.

with Sydney Pollack and Robert Redford

"Woman in Love" - Liz McClarnon (mp3)

"The Way We Were" - Donna Summer (mp3)

"Evergreen" - Luther Vandross (mp3)

Tuesday
May172011

In Which We Move From One Part Of Brooklyn To Another

Heirlooms

by EMMA BARRIE

I have a desk I found on the street. I carried it up three flights of stairs by myself. I have six records, but no record player. I bought them because they were colorful or had funny album art (a guy in a beret pretending to make out with a baguette) and I thought I'd hang them on my wall. I did, and my living room looked like a dorm room. So now I just have records — with titles like "Bread, Love and Cha Cha Cha" — which I've never actually heard. I have 3D glasses I saved from when I saw Toy Story 3 in 3D. I popped out the lenses, so now I can use them to look goofy or hip whenever I want.

I have an old watch that used to belong to my grandfather that I took in to get the battery replaced. The man laughed at me and told me I just had to wind it every morning. Now it's a thing I look at when I want to remember how young and inexperienced I am. I have nine journals and notebooks, most of which are a quarter of the way full (or less), all of which have neat handwriting for the first few pages and then messy handwriting thereafter.

I own a lot of books with colorful spines, nothing with drab colors, signifying my lack of classics and my abundance of modern lady fiction. I still have note cards with my name in cursive on the front that acted as thank-you notes for bat mitzvah presents, 11 years ago. I promised all my relatives I’d put their money, or silver Tiffany's heart necklaces, or binoculars capable of night vision "to good use!" I have boat shoes I've never worn because they make me look like a Nantucket mom. I have a pocket book from when I tried to be a real lady, and a leather uncle-wallet from when I succumbed to being a little boyish. I have a guitar I play every third Thursday of every fourth month when I’ve had a few margaritas (only "Landslide" and alternate versions of "Landslide" I wrote myself). I have two scratch tickets that are technically worth $13 if I could figure out where to collect my winnings.

I have a sweater vest that doesn’t look good with anything else I own, as is often the case with sweater vests. But I refuse to give it away because I’m convinced that someday I will own the right undergarment. I have a replica "Dundie" trophy given to me by a gray-haired-really-goofy-looked-like-he-should-be-doing-magic-tricks customer from my salad days of barista-ing after I told him I loved The Office. I tried to give him a free coffee in exchange and he said, "No, then I’d feel weird. It just is what it is."

I have a box of incense from when I thought I was that person. I have two still cameras from when I thought I was THAT person. I have body lotion I bought in France over a year ago that I still use, but it’s just Nivea (German-owned, Duane Reade-sold). I have a lot of things I thought would be cute but as it turns out, I don't have the head for: headbands, handkerchiefs, beanies with earflaps.

I have two pairs of headphones from when I thought good sound was a thing that mattered to me, and a mug that says, "#1 Father" from sweaty August days spent in the village, smirking at ironic thrift store mugs sold on street corners. I have a wall calendar with photographs of flowers and italicized inspirational quotes I worry visitors will think I’m serious about (e.g. "Cut the 'im' out of impossible.") I have a Blade Runner DVD from when I tried to get a guy to like me and I have a Father of the Bride 2 DVD from when I was just being honest with myself. I have approximately 8-12 backpacks and tote bags that I switch depending on outfit, occasion, or if one somehow collected a heap of gold glitter at the bottom and I don't want to get it on my uncle-wallet. I have a non-working flip phone and its archaic Duplo-looking charger.

I have a pair of black Converse from high school on the tongue of which my then seventeen year-old boyfriend wrote, "I love you" in Sharpie. I have a shirt claiming that I helped orient college freshmen and a few sweatshirts claiming I went to colleges I only visited. I have a lot of those socks that make it look like I'm not wearing socks, and two foreign Netflix DVDs from one year ago I have never watched nor exchanged. But it's important that you know they’re foreign.

I have a nightstand that my stepfather went out and bought me on my first day of college while I sat on my bare plasticy dorm bed and watched one roommate hang her "I Love Lucy" poster and another roommate scotch tape her Weezer concert tickets to the wall. I have a lot of pennies and nickels in a mug that says "Happy Birthday!" in a fun party-font, as if it was scribbled by the strings of balloons, over a picture of my then nine year-old brother and a five year-old me. I’m not sure who the recipient was, or what parent forced us to get it for what other parent or grandparent. But somehow it made its way back to me.

I have a stuffed lamb I pretend is a forever childhood thing, but really my mom sent it to me a year ago. I have two quilts from Urban Outfitters that I pretend I just can’t remember where I bought. (Family heirlooms?) I have a replica mix CD of the one made in The Perks of Being a Wallflower (though his was a cassette). I downloaded each song one at a time on Limewire, on my turquoise transparent iMac. I burned the CD with my much coveted and finally obtained attachable turquoise-to-match CD burner. I have a lot of letters from people I don't talk to anymore, telling me they will always love me. I imagine showing them to my children when they question my past, or ask if I had a life before they were born.

I pack it all up.

Emma Barrie is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Brooklyn. She tumbls here and twitters here, and you find more of her work here. She last wrote in these pages about her grandmother.

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"A Treatease Dedicated to the Avian Airess From North East Nubis (1000 questions, 1 answer)" - Shabazz Palaces (mp3)

"The King's New Clothes Were Made By His Own Hands" - Shabazz Palaces (mp3)

"Youology" - Shabazz Palaces (mp3)

"Free Press and Curl" - Shabazz Palaces (mp3)