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Alex Carnevale

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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 emma barrie (5)


In Which All Your Clothes Smell Like Coffee

How Big is the Big? How Small is the Small?


I’m 23, but at times I feel like I’m 11 and back at sleep-away camp. I wish I could say these times are few and far between (I hated sleep-away camp), but they’re not. On a morning shift, they occur every few minutes: every time a bagel pops out of the toaster.

My urge is of course to say “Not it!” or “Nose goes!” and quickly touch my finger to the tip of my nose. But it’s an unspoken rule that whoever is standing next to the toaster as that fateful noise sounds has to cream cheese that bagel. I put on a disposable glove and pull the bagel halves from the toaster. The bagel is so hot that the gloves melt to my fingers.

But here is the first coffee shop secret I will let you in on. If the bagel pops up and you’re by the toaster, press the button again to toast it twice and then slyly walk away to begin another task. Someone else will have to get it soon. “They wanted it toasted dark,” you could say aloud, or even to yourself if that helps. This is called cheating. It feels good.

My increasingly high tolerance for pain has become a perk of this coffee shop job. I’ll accidentally grab a metal steam wand. I’ll spill a pitcher of boiling water on my leg. Coffee splashes out of the cups and onto my hands as I take them to the customer. We never scream. We grit our teeth and raise our eyebrows. We mouth “Fuck,” but only if we are behind the espresso machine and out of sight. We don’t drop what we are holding, even if it is what’s burning us. What I’m trying to say is, I think this will make childbirth bearable.

A good number of my friends have those “real jobs” everyone refers to with air-quotes. And while I understand that a “real job” means a job in which one can move up, or a job in which one is doing something that he or she has some interest in long-term pursuing, it still seems unfair, as if I wake up in the morning to serve invisible coffee to stuffed animals. Though at times my job seems unreal, or surreal, I’m pretty sure it is taking place in reality.

Most mornings, I’m awake at 4:30. It’s pitch dark outside, and I immediately think of a few excuses I didn’t show up for work for when they inevitably call me in a few hours. Food poisoning, 109 fever, my grandfather died and I just got the phone call this morning (both of my grandfathers are already dead so this is not a jinx), my kitten got eaten by squirrel, I set my hair on fire with the blow-dryer, I just woke up in Central Park with no shoes on and I don’t know how I got here. Then I pull myself out of bed, try to remember to brush my teeth, and walk to the subway.

On the streets, and in the subway station, there are only a few other people around. As I see it, there is an unspoken code. Some kind of mutual 5 a.m. understanding: we are invisible. There is no eye contact, no acknowledgment of one other. Some of the subway riders are still out from the night before, and some are heading off to work (mostly fast food and construction jobs, some nurses). You can tell the difference by their fresh-from-the-shower wet hair versus just-partied sweaty hair, and sad eyes longing to get back into bed versus expectant eyes longing to get into bed.

I open the shop alone with keys I was given after working there two weeks. “Are you sure? Are you sure is this OK? What if I screw up?” I think I asked the manager, fearful of a soon-to-be-discovered latent urge I might have to flee to Atlantic City with all the money in the register.

I put on music I like, because I know no one is there to make fun of the fact that I have the new Taylor Swift single on my iPod. I organize bagel by type and grind coffee by the pound. At 6:30, someone else comes in to work with me. We decide who wants to be on bar, and who wants to be on register.

Days to be on bar: You’re hungover, you’re nauseous, your boyfriend broke up with you via text message and tear remnants are still visible on your face, you haven’t slept in three days, you accidentally slept with one of the customers last night and would prefer to not make eye contact, you’re pretty sure if someone orders a big-sized macchiato (oxymoron!) from you, you’re going to snap.

Days to be on register: You’re feeling social, you want to chat people up, you’re hopeful that a celebrity might come in and you can make a killer joke which would of course lead to a job as their personal assistant, it’s 100 degrees outside and you don’t want to be excessively steaming milk with your hand on the burning metal pitcher, you’ve already had too much coffee and the idea of not talking makes your face feel like it’s melting and your brain feel like it’s going to explode.

I often prefer to be on register, but being on bar can be enjoyable, too. Latte art is a skill I’ve come to take a lot of pride in. It’s kind of like arts and crafts! I can make leaves on top of your lattes, and hearts atop your cappuccinos. But more importantly, I can talk to you about it. People (read: my family) find this endlessly impressive. I have spent many a dinner party waving around my glass of wine saying things like, “For cappuccinos you have to stretch the milk, but for lattes you really want to keep that steam wand in place.” Everyone (read: my grandmother) looks at me like I just told them I can shoot fire from my eyeballs.

For me, being on bar is fairly tedious because of my height, or lack thereof. I’m virtually invisible. And over the loud grinding of espresso beans, I can’t pipe in and make a joke. I can’t even snoop on other peoples’ conversations. So at most 6:30 in the mornings, I request the position on register. I’m just being honest here: it’s because I want to talk to you.

For the most part, you’re a regular. I know your drink by heart depending on the season, and I probably know your first name. I have a vague idea of what you do for a living, or I know exactly what you do for a living and I’ve already Googled you. I know which customer is your husband or your wife even if you’ve never come in together, because you both carry the same baby or you get drinks for one another.

“I’ll have mine, and also a Big With Whole Milk and Nine Sugars,” you might say. Nine sugars? Wait a second, you must be Jim’s wife.

Because you and I only have a few moments with each other every day, our knowledge of each other’s lives grows slowly over the course of time. Today you find out what my parents do for a living, tomorrow I learn that you used to bartend because you teach me to always make sure to hand out one-dollar bills, the next day I find out that you got an advance on your novel, or that when you were in the Korean War you had to pee on your weapons to keep them from freezing. It’s the longest and most mysterious first date. And then one day I learn that it’s your birthday. Coffee’s on me.

You all come in and you take your same seats and your toddlers squeal in delight when they see each other. You order for your spouses and trade crossword puzzles for book reviews. If there’s no line, you stand at the counter and stir your drink for five minutes so that we can chat. Yes, I’m always free Friday nights to watch your really cute kids and your HBO. Sure, I will absolutely take that unwanted stack of books from you, and tonight us baristas will read aloud to each other from The Infidelity Pact.

Of course every job has those days where the rhythm is missing. I’ve been up since 4:30. I haven’t eaten. I’ve taste-tested too much coffee and it’s giving me a weird kind of buzz where my body feels jittery but my brain feels dead. Someone sent back her cappuccino because it wasn’t foamy enough. Someone took the wrong drink, causing everyone behind him to take the wrong drink, causing us to remake every drink. My co-worker broke up with his girlfriend the night before and has to go into the bathroom periodically to collect himself. A woman in a pants suit threw crumpled up money at me while she was on her cell phone.

But I can tolerate those days, because the days with rhythm are like a natural high. I made a great playlist the night before. I’m working on the floor with my best friends. We gossip about customers while we steam milk. (When we don’t know names, customers’ drinks become their names. “Small Skim Latte Extra Shot was on Law & Order last night,” or “Honey Soy Macchiato’s cute boyfriend broke his collarbone scuba diving.”) We scoop ice to the beat of the music. All our favorite customers come in. I have a thirty second exchange with each one because the line is out the door, but each exchange tests my wit and memory. Our boss comes in and pats everyone on the back, yells, “The A-Team!” That 80’s power pop song he loves comes on and he starts singing all the wrong words. Customers look on, pleased, at what probably makes them feel like they’re back in the small town they’re from, or always dreamed of moving to.

In the beginning it was a job, but now it’s a lifestyle. And not one I’m ashamed of just because it’s not “real,” just because I don’t have dreams of cream cheese-ing bagels well into my thirties. When people ask me what I do, I don’t need to say it in that self-deprecating way I used to (though sometimes I mistakenly revert to my old ways). After college, I needed proof that there was comfort somewhere in New York City. Proof that it wasn’t just a place where people walked fast and told each other to fuck off.

We’re putting on a production, a high school play. We are a cast and a crew, isolating ourselves with shoptalk, bonding over complaints. We’ll stay late mopping up and making jokes. Dishing dirt, being irritated and speaking in tongues you can’t understand. Did we get a new portafilter? Is your grind the same as her grind? Well, how hard is your tamp? We roll our eyes at a decaf espresso order. We hate when you ask for your drink “with no sugar,” because we don’t always hear the “no.” We mechanically repeat phrases: Sorry we don’t have one (a bathroom), Sorry we don’t take take them (credit cards), All our shots are pulled double so do you want two double shots? We beg for shift coverage when we’re at the ends of our ropes. And then we come in on our days off because it feels the same as stopping off at home.

The other day, my boss asked me if I could drive around and do some coffee deliveries with him. We were in his Jeep, and I was asking him if he could sing me any of the songs he wrote from when he was 17 and wore a leather vest in a rock band. He was belting out a love ballad when the phone rang, and I caught the tail end of his conversation.

"How’s your wife?...And the kids? Good, good. No, no kids for me. How come? What do you mean how come!? I’ve already got thirty of them to take care of!" He looked at me and winked. I belong to a community now, in a place where I wasn’t sure community existed.

Oh, and thank you for my ever-growing collection of umbrellas. Thanks for never coming back for those.

Also, we all hate Splenda, and you should know it’s bad for you.

Emma Barrie is a contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Brooklyn. She tumbls here. Her last entry in these pages was The Keyboard Company.

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"Good Morning, Good Morning" - The Beatles (mp3)

"Rise & Shine" - The Little Ones (mp3)

"Good Morning" - Gene Kelly (mp3)


In Which You Have To Ask The Price of Orange Juice

The Keyboard Company


Los Angeles is large and spread out. It is impossible to see it as one entity. When you’re on the west side, it’s as if the east side doesn’t even exist. There is no big picture.

During high school, after a few of us got cars, we tried to see other parts of L.A. It was like we were lab rats let out of a cage, eager but blind, bumping into walls, stranded in the middle of a giant maze. My best friend Jeff would often make an effort to find new places for us to eat. He would research restaurants on Yelp — a website I had only heard rumors about — and drive me somewhere foreign for dinner. Jeff and I have always been similarly sized (size small, or XS perhaps.) At the time, we were sixteen and we both could have passed for twelve. Now that we’re twenty-three, we could both pass for sixteen.

We would kidnap his parents’ car and if Jeff forgot to make one of his famous mixes, we would have to listen to Celine Dion or Enya, or whatever his father was listening to that week. If Jeff did remember a mix, we’d groove to Dave Matthews and The White Stripes the whole way there (obviously an eclectic taste) — to a place that supposedly had the best chicken sandwich or the best fries or the biggest selection of hot sauces.

But even after our attempts at exploration, I still didn’t know which thing was Burbank and what was Los Feliz and where did the Valley even start and where were people who weren’t us hanging out? As a result of the myriad possibilities, most weekends were spent on my bedroom floor watching Sandy Bullock flicks alone, my car seldom seeing the outside of our garage except when I felt obliged to make cameos at high school house parties where boys named Josh smoked hookahs and pretty girls compulsively yanked at tube tops.

At eighteen, I handed in my driver’s license and my inability to parallel park, and moved to New York. A city full of culture, history, full of places where You’ve Got Mail I mean Manhattan was filmed, full of excitement, yet still accessible. I could walk the length of the city in a day. Streets formed grids, neighborhoods were named in a literal fashion — the Upper West Side was on the upper west side, exactly where it said it was going to be! Go figure.   

To celebrate my 23rd birthday, I decided to go back home for a few days to see my family. I was especially excited to see my grandmother, DeeDee, who I had heard was learning to use the Internet for the first time, something I definitely wanted to get recorded evidence of. My brother and I think everything she does is funny. She’ll offer us snap peas or watermelon in the middle of sentences, pull twenty-dollar bills out of her filing cabinet (M for Money!) and put them in our pockets, and there’s also her obsession with cartoons.  Most of her clothes have Snoopy or Tommy (of the Rugrats gang) sewn on them, somewhere.

DeeDee is the only person I know aside from Chase Bank and National Grid who still sends real mail. She uses a giant, old Xerox machine to make copies of articles from health magazines, then highlights names of vitamins or headlines that read, “Scientists Discover Laughter Truly IS The Best Medicine,” folds them up, and mails them to me. She also sends me pages ripped out of her Nordstrom’s catalogue, with “You’re so much prettier than her!” scrawled next to a model’s face.

So naturally, I thought that with the power of immediate mail and endless articles at her fingertips 24 hours a day, she’d grow to love the web. And my whole family would probably grow to hate it. I could already see my Gmail Inbox full of 100 unread messages. Messages with subject headings such as: Live Love Laugh, I Almost Forgot, Do You Drink Snapple? and 50 Ways to Cure Menstrual Cramps without Medication.

I arrived in L.A. My mother drove me home from the airport, only taking the side streets, as she finds freeways to be overwhelming. We got to the house and I walked through our jungle of backyard to our guesthouse, where DeeDee lives.


“Hi DeeDee,” I said and gave her a hug.

“A hug! How did I get so lucky!”

The first thing I noticed as I walked in was DeeDee’s new keyboard.  My mother had purchased a giant yellow keyboard for her, so that she could see the keys. It was appropriately called KEYS-U-SEE, obviously trying to integrate internet abbreviations into old people’s vernacular. Never too late to start, the KEYS-U-SEE manufacturer probably said one day.

I asked my grandmother what she wanted to look up so that I could show her how to use Google.

“Clark Gable!”

The rest of the night was filled with gasps of marvel and wonder. And stale licorice, loose in a drawer.

The next morning, Jeff and I decided to go to brunch at a place in Venice he had heard about from a co-worker. Jeff and I view things in a similar way and tend to have the same neuroses. We both read e-mails about fifty times before we send them. We both claim to hate bands we’ve never heard or movies we’ve never seen. We both spend twenty minutes looking at a pair of jeans in the mirror before we decide to buy them, and then when we get home we put them back on and realize we look stupid. And I know we have similar issues with L.A., so at brunch I was hoping to bounce some ideas off him for this L.A. article I was trying to write.

We walked in to the Venice restaurant and could immediately tell it was a few notches too nice for us. We had sneakers and cut-off shorts and phony Ray-Bans. They had real, white cloth tablecloths and fancy mimosa glasses. We sat down anyway.

“How much is the orange juice?” Jeff asked the waitress. She looked baffled.

“I’ll have to check,” she said, and backed away slowly. I slumped in my seat, embarrassed.

“If you have to ask, you can’t afford it,” I said. We ordered food that was too expensive. He gave the waitress a literal thumbs up on the $3 orange juice. I itched to get out.

“So do you like living here?” I asked him.

"Living at home is hard. And L.A. is a mess,” he said.

“What do you mean?”

“Everything here is just so confusing.”

“Literally or metaphorically?”

“Both. Everything about it. The layout of it all, what I’m supposed to do day to day.”

“Do you think you’ll leave?”


“Can I quote you on this?”

“Yes. I think it also has to be taken into account that I’m outrageously neurotic.”


I got back home and went over to DeeDee’s house. She regaled me with stories of Clark Gable’s life and did you know his mother died when he was ten months old, and did you know he was accidentally listed as a girl on his birth certificate?

“You know you can look up other stuff too,” I said.

“Such as…” she began, and squinted her eyes suspiciously, not understanding what I was getting at.

“Such as anything! Think of it as a giant library, with anything you could possibly want to see or read about.”

“I’m spending this week on Clark Gable. Maybe next week,” she said, stubbornly. “Now teach me how to make the print bigger. My eyes hurt. I can barely read anything!”

I showed her how to enlarge the print. She needed it to be so large that only twenty or so of these giant words were visible at a time. She’d have to constantly drag her cursor across the screen to finish a whole sentence. The borders to Firefox pages were lost. The toolbar was gone. It was disorienting, even for me.

That night, my mother invited me to a dinner party a friend of hers was having. I was the youngest person there by about 30 years. It has occurred to me that when a group of adults get together, they almost always form a panel discussion on the topic of Is The Internet Ruining The Way We Live? (See also: Is The Kindle Ruining The Way We Read?) All of these discussions and debates are inevitably a waste of energy and time. But we have them.

“Is Facebook replacing real personal friendships?” a man asked.

“Maybe Twitter is contributing to ADHD,” someone said.

“I have GPS and navigation and all that stuff,” one woman said. “But I miss just being able to get lost!  Remember when we would just get lost?!”

I wanted to tell her I still get lost even with all this technology. That Los Angeles will always be hiding something. It will still be just as scattered. There will still be streets that magically turn into other streets and sections meant to imitate other parts of the world and places named after what they aren’t. There will still be minimal parking so that you have to have to leave your car in another neighborhood, and towering homes that conceal everyone inside so you never know where the party’s at. L.A. is a city full of secrets.

And also, surprise surprise, there are hip parts of L.A. I didn’t find that out until about a year or two ago when someone let me in on it. That L.A. is hip. That hipsters even live there, and call it home, and have tattoos of the contour of California behind their ears and on their biceps. They wear skinny jeans and play shows together and buy “spaces” and turn them into “venues.” I had no idea I didn’t have to go all the way to Brooklyn for this. Thanks for keeping me in the dark for so long, L.A.  Thanks a million.

The rest of my trip went by in a blur. I had almost forgotten that my birthday was my reason for returning home. I had dinner with my father’s family. My stepmother bought me a polka dotted thong and I unknowingly opened it up at the table of the nice Italian restaurant. Something chocolate and mushy came with a candle in it. My brother and I watched Sweet Home Alabama and argued about whether it was good or not (spoiler alert: it is not). He got me a $50 gift certificate to Amoeba, a music store only on the west coast. I was leaving the next day. My grandmother shelled peas for me to eat as we played some game with tiles. She put twenties in my palm “for ice cream.” My mother got me to start taking acidophilus. I made a joke about it being a kind of dinosaur. It was all funny at the time.

Before leaving for the airport, I went to say goodbye to DeeDee. To see how she was doing with her new friend, The Internet.

“Phooey,” she said.

“Phooey?” I asked.

“I’m done. Get this thing out of here.” She motioned at the laptop and the KEYS-U-SEE.

“What happened?”

“It’s too much! It’s too confusing!  Everything is all over the place and it’s exhausting. I can’t even think of what I would want to look for, and when I can, I can’t find the thing to search them with! There’s too much information. And nothing is organized, I don’t understand it.”

“You don’t want to give it another go?  It will take some time, but--”

“Phooey,” she said. “I’m throwing in the towel. Now try this juice I made in my new juicer! It’s full of antioxidants!"

At the airport, I realized that my moving to New York wasn’t so different from my grandmother deciding she would just rather watch VHS tapes and organize her filing cabinet than try to figure out the internet. In a sense, I had given up on L.A. Neither of us could handle the overwhelming plethora of possibilities. We both lost our bearings while trying too hard to understand. I’m pretty sure DeeDee is done with the internet for good, but maybe I’ll go back someday and give L.A. another go.   

I texted Jeff.

Me: Do you think L.A. is like the internet?

Jeff: Lol. Internet is easier to navigate I think. No search function in L.A.

Emma Barrie is a contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in New York and one half of Paper Cone Stories. This is her first appearance in these pages. She tumbls here.

"Lunar Sea" - Camera Obscura (mp3)

"California" - Dr. Dog (mp3)

"Summer Holiday" - Wild Nothing (mp3)

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