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Entries in los angeles (16)


In Which We Overcome The Sirens We Look Both Left And Right

Second Summer


Leavened and unleavened bread drops from the sky. Someone, perhaps the ghost of Keith Moon, sits on the edge of the scored lake. He is breakfasting on the noodle. You know he is out of his mind because he sings to himself, but no sound comes out.

The cabin remains very cold at night. The gate shakes when the wind moves through, but mostly the reason for the noise is the people who used to live here. They want to get back in.

Letters arrive by the hundreds. The mailman gives me a snooty look. He told me that this is part time stuff while he gets his PhD in abnormal psychology. I said, “OK.” He said he measures everything in mail, and so should I.

I did meet Gabriel, who is a student at the extension. I asked him to come back to the cabin, but he made a choking gesture with his hands. “You can’t breathe up there,” I said. He doesn’t speak much English, but when have I ever let that stop me? (This is the kind of joke my mailman is not entertained by.)

Hey, you can’t connect with everyone. The closer you get, the more apart you are in your heart, because a pernicious separation is an aspect of all closeness, the same way sometimes you can see the moon when the sun is out, but it’s not the moon you know. Instead it’s a reflection, or more properly described as the Etch-A-Sketch version of what you thought was there.

I have this vision that when I go down to the convenience store to buy Cheerios, the fire department trucks have taken this opportunity to invade my person space. I told Gabriel about this paranoia, and I asked him where it comes from. “God,” he said, “everything comes from God.” He couldn’t prove it, but neither could I.

At the local church our father - the people here like him very much - is obsessed with this letter he received from an old congregant. You see, the letter began grateful to the father for assuaging the man’s doubts and all that. Predictably, something went wrong in the man’s life again, and he fell from this throne. The father said he could rise again, but maybe he wouldn’t and that would be up to him.

The next week the father reported the congregant had left a note saying he stopped by but the father wasn’t there. In his little talk he didn’t say where he was that he missed this gentleman. My second guess was a grocery store.

I want there to be people in this life who knew me the way that people in the other life knew me. I doubt it will happen. A flower never opens as fully that second summer, and that is when the flower (the flower is I) notices that even the street smells of body odor.

There is this place I go to for lunch. They only open for lunch, while tells you how completely important this meal is in their sphere of understanding. There is this guy who waits outside for them to open, OK. He wears about half a sweatshirt, and some nice enough pants, and no shoes. Dirt cakes some of his body, but you can discern a sincere effort to wash as much as he can. They are plenty of public bathrooms around here, although if you go in the grocery store you have to take the elevator down one floor, and that is not recommended. Everytime I see this guy before the place opens, he seems like he is really keen to go in, but then he doesn’t. His feet do not move, and his posture slouches. It took me three or four days of solid mail to discern his emotional reaction to the opening of the restaurant: he was relieved.

Some of the letters say don’t go. Others tell me to stay. To leave a place you know is what Gabriel calls a channeling, because you are going into not only a new environment, which may or may not accept you on a molecular level, but a place where none of the stimuli are familiar. In New York I had the advantage of myself; nothing was threatening above 22nd Street, and the elevator always worked.

The letters sometimes say, predictably, that we have heard your latest broadcast, and we wonder if it is still you. On the condition that it is, here is a check for seventy five dollars, and a card that says we miss you. I put it away.

In the new place, you can still see movies, but they are not the same kind of movies – they are a jaundiced, petrified version of the same, as if Reese Witherspoon is exponentially less sure of all her choices.

I could not list all the people I miss after reading their letters. Reminders contain a hopeful and a sorrowful melody, and so we must engage in them or deny ourselves. On some level I know that is exactly what I ought to do. I am so near sighted that someone when I only open one eye, in the dark, so that I can see the screen, and then I realize I have been pressing the other one shut, and I open it, I think I am seeing myself from above. It is a challenging view but the mail never stops.

She never liked it when I talked about my dreams and she will hate reading this. It’s too abstract.

This one type of person you can only find in the early morning. She dresses all in black because you can imagine some cranky executive wearing his old black clothes, but hers are too worn to merit that appraisal. She does wear socks in her black sneakers, because white socks represent the last vestiges of humanity. On some level, this is the way I remember everyone I meet, to myself.

And then one day the father says to those assembled, he finally connected with the man who wrote him all those times. Maybe the man was lost, maybe he wasn’t. Sometimes people exaggerate the depth of their despair, and he might have a very good reason for that. In a few months he might receive a check for $75.00, or that could be the low end of what proper faith bestows upon the devoted.

My mailman does not want to hear about such things. He is into the following: what it takes to climb over a high fence, how much gas is consumed before the day is done, how two people connect in a more meaningful way than three or four or seven, whether to carry a basket on a shoulder or under an arm, choosing the proper words for the occasion and then showing up at the proscribed time. In contrast, I display the words as they come to me, and if they never arrive on the scene, I say nothing at all.

The gate rises higher and higher, and opens at odd hours, and then only to me. Impresarios, vagabonds, milquetoasts and strangers.

In a frosted-over envelope, next to one with the check, a message from the one I loved. “Come home.”

Dan Carville is the senior contributor to This Recording.


In Which She Has Nothing To Do And Nowhere To Go

Nerve and Blood


April in my small mountain city always slams the senses with such a boisterous beauty, its cruel, tiny daggers through your body with every bursting pink tree. Two years ago falling in love under these conditions felt revolutionary.

New love makes you feel like you’ve made a recondite discovery about a secret dimension of beauty, everything raw and glittering like manna from the gleaming atmosphere above your skull. It seemed, viscerally, like I had never loved anybody more. It felt, I wrote that spring to no one but myself, like an ecstatic skinning. Even then I associated love with violent metaphors, and two years later I found myself falling out of it again like skin skidding across pavement hitting the ground was always going to hurt. Which is an experience I actually had early this April: tripping like a demolition in the middle of the deserted dark street I was trying to jog across, taking savage pleasure in inspecting the road rash swelling across on my knees, the bruises seeming like an omen for something that was just out of conscious reach.

“I love living alone,” I announced last winter to my friends, after my previous living situation, a cozy one-bedroom for two, had fallen apart with the force of fine china flung against a wall.

Alone, I spent the rest of April supine, sober, physically injured, unemployed, and browsing the internet a month I’ve posthumously re-named Purgatory 2k14. I’ve always read novels like it was the first commandment but something about this less-than-idyllic situation shifted my appetite away from anything that couldn't be finished quickly, within a few hours at most; movies qualified but mainly I found myself glued to my laptop elsewhere on my internet. In Purgatory I consumed a hundred poems, a thousand essays, a hundred thousand youtubed songs, half a million tumblr posts, and approximately one million tweets; something about the chaotic stream of word and image and sound-all flowing out of context and nearly out of time in the wild-west landscape of ‘online’ felt like a gentle mental anesthetic, a soft psychic massage.

Twitter became my very favorite time-wiler, scrolling all day like snacking, starring every other stray tweeted thought and messaging my Internet Friends things like “lol if u were insane how wld u even know?”

Jennifer Lawrence, in one of her vast array of adorable interviews with the media, said she didn’t like exercising and wanted to punch anyone who said they did in the face; “Be careful, normcore kills,” I said to anyone who asked about my unsightly flesh wounds. Regular exercise was only something I decided I liked after I stopped drinking, just another one of those dysfunction-to-‘health’ narratives that’s fueled a decade of reality TV arcs (Intervention even used to be pretty good).

If I could give one piece of advice to all the pretty young things in the world I’d tell them to never, ever quit drinking right after a breakup, or just never at all. Never stop and never surrender, not unless you want to be the kind of person who can’t exist in any kind of social situation for more than 45 minutes. Living alone quickly spoiled me for time unfettered, time with my precious movies and music and books, and sober conversations with other people, unless they wanted to sit next to me in a 1:1 ratio and talk for hours, suddenly became a colossal bore. When I stormed out of one new lover’s life and another stormed out of mine I felt too tired to audition replacements, like I had clawed my way from the ocean onto some distant beach and, half-drowned, could manage nothing more than laying there in the stark April sunshine to breathe.

“It’s not that I don’t want you to stay, it’s just that I like having more space to sleep,” I lied lamely to the last of them. We haven’t spoken since.

There’s nothing like total sobriety to make you feel washed-up at 24. But newly loveless and numb is a hell of a place to start reevaluating your life and don’t try it at home unless you’re prepared to risk dramatic results, to rip the surfaces of your life to shreds. In a grand dramatic gesture I threw my hands in the air like Kanye told me and quit my job, decided to go back to “freelancing”, odd jobs whenever I could scrape them off my “network” or the internet. Pre-freak jogging accident I had taken to rolling out of bed mid-morning and going on long walks through my blooming Mountain City during business hours, floating rather than tunneling through my lengthy free time the scenery didn’t matter nearly as much as the motion, the feeling of keeping the frames rolling in the endless cinema of living.

I knew, inexplicably but from experience, that not everyone conceptualized their life like this; it seemed like I had spent most of my young adulthood begging less-enthusiastic boyfriends to go on walks or drives with me, hundreds of vain attempts to sell the appeal of willful aimlessness to people illiterate in the language of its charms. The Ex   recent recipient of that capital-E designation that most people begin using, at some point in their twenties, on the person who embodies their most intense experience of romantic love and utter romantic failure, the one person who claims the title as shorthand for anyone who knows you agreed as reluctantly as any of them, routinely scaling around a few blocks and turning towards home at the first possible opportunity like there were a  thousand more pressing uses of his time. 

But time, in the cut of my life-movie that played during Purgatory, felt strangely dilated, stretching through its slow-motion progression like a lazy housecat. Days were weeks, weeks were months. It’s amazing how many airy relationships it takes to fill the area formerly occupied by a single denser one, the kind of thought you never think about until you’re forced. But in deleting most of the demands on your time there’s always a chance you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the new ones that start to fill it; friendships move into the empty space like eclectic furniture in surprising shapes. Inside the molten minute before a major change cements back into routine, the options for organizing the living room of your life seem almost infinite; like liquor this can be pleasantly intoxicating.

One night, drunk on the cheap grocery-store beer he found abandoned in my fridge, a handsome male friend with a girl’s nickname dragged my porch bench into the middle of the street so we could “sit and look at the goddamn moon." It was the night of the April 15th eclipse and we sat in comfortable silence as the odd car appeared on the road and swerved around us, watching as the ‘blood moon’ sliced through, in glorious reddish hues, the familiar routine of the black-white sky.

But intoxication, in all its dizzy glory, was mostly for March. That was the month I took a roadtrip with a bunch of new people to Los Angeles and pretended to be irritated by the long drive; but spending all day flinging forward on a freeway secretly felt like the dark movie theaters of my childhood, an activity that allowed for the visceral luxury of jolting through time and space while staying seated, doing nothing. The cars in L.A. never stop moving, even if it’s only inch by inch during some hours of the day, perpetually rolling through time and space to get to some slightly different place in the same general place. But the car I arrived in was somebody else’s rental and mostly stayed parked, so I took the subway and located destinations with my legs a method of motion that perfectly suited my aimless mood. Walking, I decided that week under a canopy of sunlight and rooftop pools and palm trees, was wonderful.

Scrolling through WebMD on the edge of my bed, my best friend informed me it was possible to fracture your kneecaps. That was the day before I reluctantly went to a doctor about my mangled knees, which had continued to burn and swell with a viscous entropy that promptly prevented moving at all; staggering to the bathroom in my one-bedroom apartment was suddenly a major ordeal. I lay in bed and tried to imagine what life would be like with useless legs; I rewatched Blue is the Warmest Color that night on Netflix and felt surprised at the scene that made me cry: Adele, walking across the street, makes eye contact with Emma for the first time and can’t stop looking. Her head snaps around in wild disorientation the world goes spinning recklessly off its axis and it’s over, she’s doomed.

Falling in love feels sudden but losing hope is more like shedding, losing pieces of your idea of the two of you like so much dead fur or dry skin. Post-breakup, these organic bits of matter accrue in memory an oversized significance: the times right after you stopped trying in earnest to communicate, to convey things that were important, the arguments beyond real effort when something in you shriveled and gave up. The inevitable realization that what you were really searching for, an ever-elusive bridge in the jungle between two skulls, was something you’d never find.

The times you wondered how you could have forgotten this bridge had never actually existed, ever, between anyone. All those moments you felt knocked upside the head with the blunt understanding that you were stuck again – with just yourself, like a kid stumbling in stag to the prom.

The irony of spending an inordinate amount of time online is that the internet always serves as a paradoxical reminder you’re still made of fleshy matter, that your mind’s permanent address is still a home of bone and nerve and blood. Crippled with wifi in this sorry state of affairs it seemed obvious there was a strong connection between the sloppy happenstance of my injury and the sloppy happenstance that was my whole dumb life, intensities of feeling and extremes of experience collected like old coins, an unsightly pattern of blind, blazing, blundering chaos. I wanted to reach through the time-space continuum and strangle every last one of my old selves, scorch out my own reckless stupidity. Friends, more than one, told me sympathetically this was just how it went with ‘young love’.

This didn’t console me much, so I reassured myself with the thought that I had done almost zero writing and almost zero anything while I was drunk in love (and frequently drunk for real too.) I spent a year of my life zooming so high on the view for two I could barely make out the lines of the landscape below, oblivious to anything outside my internal capital-U experience of Us. “I love reading your writing! you should write more!” I would tell him or he would tell me, but what is writing compared to the blinding-bright love-soaked light of talking and touch? The first thing I would ever publish outside of a personal blog appeared a full year after those highest highs, well after our shared velocity had started angling steeply back towards earth, back towards the separateness of one and the refuge of words. But the end of Us was not exactly a smooth transition.

“Pretty sure I’d rather just have seventeen cats surrounding my deathbed, swatting their tails in my face while I sneeze, than ever have a breakup like that again. I’m never, and I mean never, getting a boyfriend again,” I declared, in what is probably a strong contender for Most Melodramatic E-mail Ever Written.

David Foster Wallace, during the commencement speech that would arguably become his most famous work, said one of the biggest dangers of his academic education was his tendency to over-intellectualize everything; but since I dropped out of college I tend to think that tendency is just present in certain kinds of minds no matter what. This impulse to locate and justify and theorize my problems through abstraction has only gotten worse as I get older, and with every article I excitedly emailed a friend or tumblr quote I reblogged from bed I imagined a concurrent pair of eyes rolled. Still, stored and strung together, ideas become narrative. And stories-when they’re at their most dangerous-are fuel inside the engines of our lives.

Secretly I think I’ve always hoped a relationship could be a mad-scientist experiment between two bodies, a chemical reaction with unpredictable alchemy, or at the very least a lively parlor game between two brains. Secretly I think the boys I’ve dated have always hoped a relationship could be a means to a more comfortable existence. This felt like a radical realization, that the force behind a million (turbulent, frequently frightening) misunderstandings fights that began to escalate, that fall, beyond anything resembling the polite term "disagreement", the kind of discourse that disturbs all surrounding life, a fact The Ex and I took turns reminding each other while having them with variations on the theme “Shut up, the neighbors can hear you!”  could maybe have been more than "different communication styles" or "love languages" or any other self-help buzzword from pop psychology. The problem, possibly, could have included the icy friction between two people simply pursuing two polar-opposite projects.

If all you really want is a Good Girlfriend, if your idea of the perfect couple is like a coloring book with a lot of stark black lines, then almost anyone could fill in the figure beside you. Even if you felt some faces looked better there than others, an enormous number of bodies could fit the part with a little shoving. And if one of the reasons most people crave romantic connection is to be witnessed, there’s nothing like performing a role and sticking to a script to make you feel invisible. I’ve always liked to scribble.

Under lurid hospital lights a wrinkled doctor said I had bone bruises but give me a fortnight and a Tramadol scrip and I’d be fine. Freed from the weight of a dozen disaster scenarios I let him linger a little too long, stroking my arm and cooing It’ll be OK, honey in the croaking voice of Viagra’s target demographic; with the future veering sharply back within the territory of my regular life I could afford to give him a flippant smile. Across the examination room my best friend choked back a laugh and attempting to take an instagram video, and for a molten moment life felt wrestled and pinned into being tolerable. At least, I told myself, I’d soon be back to my habit of wandering around with nothing to do and nowhere to go, on my feet to any place my legs could propel me.

“I’ve decided to stop writing about myself,” I told someone earlier this year and I meant to mean it, but later I just told myself if anyone has any right, it is to change her mind. I told myself April is always the cruelest month and everything will be different now that it’s over. Post-Purgatory, I stumbled on an essay Rebecca Solnit wrote about the strange optimism of Virginia Woolf, quoting one of her famous lines: The future is dark, which is the best thing the future can be, I think. I told myself that maybe for a certain kind of brain, all this lived misery was just an excuse to fly your fingers across a keyboard, to never stop moving. You can tell yourself almost anything and it’s easy and sometimes it even works, who knows?

Kylee Luce is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Salt Lake City. You can find her tumblr here and her twitter here. She last wrote in these pages about Lars Von Trier's Nymphomaniac.

Photographs by the author.

"Temptation" - New Order (mp3)

"Your Silent Face" - New Order (mp3)


In Which One Move Leads To Everything Else

Blue Islands


Grocery shopping is an aesthetic experience. The cardboard boxes built to hold crackers are decorated with designs that the cracker companies hope will make you feel a feeling, then buy crackers. The crackers lead to cheese. The cheese leads to fig jam. Everything I know about advertising I learned from television – certain colors make you feel certain things and what I call love was invented by guys like Don Draper to sell nylons – but I remember vividly when Coca-Cola debuted those mini-cans in the early 2000s. It was all I could do to keep myself from constantly buying them. They were so cute and little and came in Diet.

If you completely fetishize the act of grocery shopping, the way I do, it becomes totally divorced from cooking and eating. It becomes about places and things. Sometimes I manage to leave the house with an idea of the foods I want to cook. More often, I’ll leave the house with a list of grocery stores I want to visit.

photo by henrico prims

I grew up in the southern suburbs of Chicago, which, in the late 80s and early 90s, did not have a grocery store that carried organic meat and produce. My mother was a sort-of ex-hippie and wanted to raise her children on organic meat and produce. We did not have pop, we had Spritzer. We did not have potato chips in the house, we had blue corn chips. All the other kids made fun of the blue chips, they looked so strange. Sometimes, a boy would agree to eat one on a dare, like sometimes a boy would agree to eat a worm on a dare. I would insist that they tasted just like yellow corn chips, but no one would believe it until they had the chip in their mouth and they were chewing. I relished the attention from my classmates, but it was also hard to be the kid with a weird lunch. 

To get our organic items, blue corn chips, and Spritzer, my mother trekked into Chicago several times a month to visit the closest Whole Foods, approximately 30 miles from our house. She buckled us into car seats and filled a cooler with ice, to keep the meat and frozen food fresh during the long drive home.

by hannah sheffield

I remember the Whole Foods from the vantage point of a person so tiny the aisles were like long, wide stretches of road and the shelves were the height of one-story buildings. Shelves filled with colorful bags, bottles and boxes, which themselves were filled with things that tasted good. Things I could have and hold and make my own. In an age before my parents give me privacy, food was something I could own because once you eat it, no one could take it away again. My brother always stole my candy; I learned to eat it quickly so it could be mine.

I hated the fish section, which smelled bad and still smells bad. I loved the bulk goods, the tubs of grains, each with their own consistency. I could sense their enticing textures. I wanted to touch them, the way I wanted to touch paintings in museums, to see what the heavy paint felt like when it dried. While my mother ordered fish and meat at the counter, I tried to touch everything. I did not distinguish the Whole Foods from other playgrounds.

On the few occasions my father took me grocery shopping, he took me to the “regular” grocery store (in Flossmoor, Illinois, this was either Jewel Osco, Dominic’s, or Walt’s). My father lead me through the produce section, grazing. He ate green beans and cherries and anything small left out in piles. He taught me to be grazer. When I’m at Trader Joe’s, I visit the free sample stand two or three times. I eat the green beans from the produce section at Whole Foods. I also eat the nuts, candied fruit, and yogurt pretzels out of the dried goods bins. I use the plastic spoons to pour two or three items into my palm and I eat them while filling plastic bags with lentils or red quinoa.

The only distinctive grocery store my father brought me to as a child was Calabria’s, a small Italian grocery store in Blue Island, the south Chicago suburb where my father grew up. Blue Island is primarily a Hispanic neighborhood now, but when my father lived there, all of the families were Italian immigrants. My grandfather, Michael Arcangelo Disabato, was born in a town in southern Italy called Ripacandida. Calabria’s was named after a region in southern Italy so, combined with my family’s town of origin, I sometimes like to think that Blue Island was a town for southern Italians exclusively. No one ever told me this, but my grandfather died when I was eleven and I don’t remember him very well, so I make things up to fill in the emotional gap. I don’t really remember my grandfather’s voice. I don’t remember if he had an Italian accent.

Calabria’s is hard to remember, too. Narrow aisles, wire racks, boxes of pasta – all vague images. In the back, there was an Italian deli, with fresh baked bread in plastic bins. I remember the bread bins. I remember my uncle, also a Michael, and my father making us capicollo sandwiches in my grandparents’ kitchen. My father made mine with mild capicollo and no provolone cheese. My brother, a third Michael, ate the cheese and the spicy capicollo, the way it was supposed to be.

After college, I moved to Los Angeles. Every neighborhood has a farmer’s market and the produce in the “regular” grocery stores (Albertson’s, Von’s, Ralph’s) is as beautiful as the produce in a Midwestern Whole Foods. I’ve been looking for a good Italian grocery store in Los Angeles. I haven’t found one yet because I’m not really looking for a good Italian grocery store, I’m looking for something that reminds me of Calabria’s, and nothing really reminds you of half-forgotten nostalgia. I’m looking for a feeling I never felt in the first place.

Sometimes I go on a private scavenger hunt for a particular item. I once went to three different stores searching for Morningstar Black Bean Burgers, at least half of which are still in my freezer, crusting over with freezer burn. I searched for Edmond Fallot Dijon Mustard for weeks before finding it in a cheese shop in Century City. Now I see it everywhere, winking at me at the butcher shops and the specialty stores.

I’m the kind of person who will drive half an hour out of my way to go to the nearest Whole Foods, because the grocery store near my house does not have the Sea Salt & Vinegar rice crackers that I like to eat while watching Revenge and drinking red wine. The red wine is from Trader Joe’s, because Trader Joe’s is the only place I buy my wine. I’m the kind of person who will drive fifteen minutes out of my way, from one grocery store to another, just to buy one bottle of wine.

Walking the aisles, I feel a sense of calm and control which I so rarely feel outside of the grocery store. I can pretend to remedy my persistent budget worries by cutting costs in each aisle (no nuts, no meat, no pre-prepared salad). I can combat uncertainty by completing a task, nevermind how small the task. The path before me is clear and unencumbered, the goals are modest and attainable, the competition of those goals is imminent. Checkout, paper bags, refrigerator, pantry, done.

Catie Disabato is a contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Los Angeles. She tumbls here and twitters here.

"The Wedding Band" - The Nels Cline Singers (mp3)

"Red Before Orange" - The Nels Cline Singers (mp3)