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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 new york (31)


In Which She Appeared To Be There For The Fight

Mal de Mar


Midwest summers in my grandparents house were hot and leaden with the smell of perfumed soaps and car oil. It was summer when Mom told me of her younger brother Ben’s death and handed me a photo from the mantelpiece. It was encased in a frame, and inside was a tiny unfamiliar body with hands smaller than my eight year old mitts. “It was a farming accident. Your grandmother never recovered,” she told me. We didn’t speak of him, or my grandmother, again. Idle after university I began to resist this falling away. I hungered for a history proven elusive with a ferocity that perhaps matched my grandmother’s hunger to disappear.

I imagined my grandparents’ world mirroring the seasoned black and white photos on our mantelpiece. The light hit sternly from above, giving them a ghostly hollow cheeked conviction. My mother rarely told stories of their lives, sound bites not to be elicited like announcements made over an airport loudspeaker. Their history felt fragile to me even as a child.

I followed my grandmother to New York; I imagined Pakistani cab drivers struggling to understand her sharp Norwegian consonants. It was here that I found myself, with a question more profound than its answer: a shoddy apartment in Bedford-Stuyvesant, trying to piece together an old narrative in a city pulsing with forward momentum. It was 2011; I was broke, aimless and lonely.

I had picked up a job at a bar in the East Village. Our busy season was ending with the dying of summer, as was my patience for sleeveless regulars. It was here I met Sophie. She came in for a job application but was quickly engaged in a fatal shouting match with the owner Lucia. Despite a crumpled resume in her hand, she seemed to be there for the fight. She plopped down in front of me and casually tossed peanuts into her mouth. Pulling me in by the shoulder, she whispered, “Don’t worry, I always carry a gun.” It’s laughably absurd in retrospect, but irony had died with the Bush era, so I said nothing and watched her kick a chair over on her way out.

Much later Sophie told me she dreamt about that day. Throwing back the rest of the peanuts she had taken me by the hand. The back patio opened up into an endless beach and we ran through a landmine field of cruddy drunk kids sprawled on the sand. Together we blew away in an overturned beach umbrella. We shared that desire to take sail; I was searching for something, while she was hoping to lose herself. From that first meeting I recall her tiny hands, fingernails filled with dirt, as though she clawed her way out of bed each morning with orphic desperation. I was not alone in my desire for her. She seemed destined for a great story, the femme fatale caged on the island of sirens.

My love of her was amorphous. I straddled a tightrope of detachment and lonely urges of wanting to belong. I needed her most when New York felt very far from the Midwest. I remember my mother calling me from the road. Her sister had skipped town leaving her five kids in a series of destructive events. She had gone to help out in her absence. I knew she wouldn’t tell those kids the truth. These secrets live behind her smoke colored eyes. “The rain is coming down hard now honey, I’m going to have to let you go,” she said. I knew she was crying. She dropped off the line.

I had forgotten where I was going; I dialed Sophie’s number. Ben’s death seemed to surface like a toxic oil spill. Without a sound, the tragedy had seeped into the drinking water of the whole family.

I chose to stay in New York through what I think of in hindsight as the lonely years. One year became two. I was still on the hunt for my grandmother’s story, imbued by a tragedy I wanted desperately to understand. Sophie and I would walk through her old neighborhood breathing life into corner stores and old shoe repairmen who might have once shared her space. I was unhappy and empty-handed, but Sophie seemed to tolerate my quiet spells, if not feast on my despondency.

We began moving in the same circles, her role in them much more glamorous than mine. My last spring in New York, though I did not know it yet, was anachronistic, marking the end of so many things. On this particular night I found myself at a going away party, an occasion that turned me into a cool spectator of my own sensations. I watched myself make grand plans I knew would never be kept, trips to places like Geneva for jazz, Brazil for some party. Youth afforded us these fantasies; we seemed to have all the time in the world to break them.

Sophie arrived with Martine, her boyfriend du jour. I thought of all her boyfriends this way, a sarcasm truly born from a jealous longing. It was the kind of evening you could feel; change hung in the air like words unsaid. At the time it felt like a beginning, but it is always harder to sense the ends of things. 

I had been skirting around the party all night, my third eye on the comedy show Martine and Sophie were putting on. Martine would make a crude joke and Sophie would double over or throw her head back- the mating dance. I hated this party. I lost sight of them and slipped to the bathroom locking the door behind me. I fell against it, closing my eyes against my reflection. I felt suffocated. Every time I retold the narrative of my life, I changed. I was whirling fast, falling away from anything that I knew, from the girl I was when I moved here. Leaving this party was my only option. I opened the door and ran straight into Sophie. Her pupils were dilated and sweat collected on her hairline. She cornered me in the bathroom doorway.

“You’re in love with me,” her lip snarled back in a mock smile. “You are tragically trapped, admit it.” She loved that word, spitting it out: tragic.

I had told her once that she was robbing it of its theatrical qualities. “This isn’t all a fucking act?” she had replied.

In the doorway, Sophie kept speaking, but I felt a strange quiet cloak us. Tiny flecks of dust floated between us, illuminated by the ambient light coming from the open door behind me. The patina warped her voice.

I saw myself, years later recalling this moment, predicting its nostalgic powers. My pretend future self couldn’t remember any of the words she spoke, but through the dust I could acutely see tiny drops of perspiration delicately balanced on her raised collarbone. They were lined up like dominoes, waiting for the impetus to join forces and take the great plunge to the floor.

We stopped speaking after that night. I didn’t feel resentment, and remember that moment as the critical push. I left New York a month later.

A few weeks ago I received a surprisingly early morning phone call from an old New York friend Dan. Sophie had died. “She had leukemia. I thought you should know,” Dan said. There was silence on the line. “She always cared for you.”

We look for a history to call our own; we try and cling to something bigger than the life in front of us. Bigger than pulling on a short skirt for a shift at an East Village bar, bigger than waking up to 6 a.m. to sunlight stealing through the blinds of a stranger’s apartment, bigger than the mingling smell of urine and seaweed salad at the bottom of the subway stairs. We risk forgetting that we are floating through our own story.

Maureen O'Brien is a contributor to This Recording. This is her first appearance in these pages. She is a writer living in New York. She twitters here and you can find her blog here.

Photographs by Thomas Bollier.


In Which We Will Advise You On This Location

A Few Things You Need To Know About Living In New York


Living in New York? Me too. Here is a pocket list of information that may aid you in your quest to take a bite out of the big apple.

Good luck.

Things you will spend money on



Things you won't spend money on


Things you will accumulate

Cheap umbrellas

Plastic cutlery

Tote bags

Things you will not have inside your apartment

Clean towels

A kitchen counter


Interesting-shaped windows

by leeah joo

Subway etiquette #1

Don't trim your nails on the subway.

Social warning #1

Low-income smokers in New York spend 25 percent of their income on cigarettes. Try to quit smoking.

by Leeah Joo

Taxi cabs

Why are you taking a cab? The subway is faster and cheaper.

But okay. The main thing to remember with cabs is this: after you hail your cab, be sure to climb inside before directing the driver to your destination, especially if you are going to a different borough. If you stand outside and meekly suggest your outer-borough destination, the driver will simply shake his head and drive off.

This is crazy. You're a paying customer! You should not need to audition for a cab. It is also unlawful: drivers can be fined $500 for refusing to ferry customers from one part of the city to another part of the city. So get in the cab first and then tell the driver where you want to go.

Do not undertip.

Common sights you will see

Squashed rat

Bottle filled with pee

Mysteriously tiny drug bag (why is it so small?)

by Leeah Joo

Social warning #2

Melodrama wrapped in sophistication is still melodrama.

Social warning #3

Your crackpot radar needs to grow exquisitely refined. This applies to strangers, obviously, but it also applies to acquaintances. Living in any large city means that your social circle grows exponentially, which in turn brings about a statistical increase in the likelihood of encountering iffy types.

Designer juice

Don’t be ridiculous. Unless you are pulling in more than 500K after taxes, you do not have $10 to spend on a bottle of juice.

Subway etiquette #2

SCENE: A man leans against a subway pole on a crowded 2 train at 4 p.m.

Woman: This pole isn’t for you to lean on. It’s for people to hold on to.

Man: Is there a sign that says that? You see a sign?

Woman: I don’t HAVE to. It’s a crowded train. Stand up like a man.

Man: Woman, don’t loud-talk me.



God, don't let this happen to you. Avoid leaning on the pole.

by Leeah Joo

Subway etiquette #3

Situation: A train pulls into the station. It is packed except for one car, which is curiously empty. Do not board the empty car. It is empty because something truly terrible has happened there.

Social warning #4

Learn to say "no".

Molly Young is the senior contributor to This Recording. You can find her Twitter here and her tumblr here. She writes for GQ and New York magazine.

Paintings by Leeah Joo.

"Eyesdontlie" - Machinedrum (mp3)

"Body Touch" - Machinedrum (mp3)


In Which We Cultivate A Brand Of Sadness

19 to Present


1. During my college years, I cultivated a brand of sadness that was lithe, trivial and mixed with boredom, which I found shameful. Most of my internal life centered upon the relentless process of apologizing to myself for myself. In some instances, I recognized this tendency in strangers, and to them I either opened up excessively or not at all. 

2. I was once told by a man I loved desperately that he loved me, too, just not in the way that he needed to see me all of the time.

3. I once kissed a boy with green eyes and a sort of whimpering, pouting quality of mouth to which I tended to be impossibly drawn. He was drawn to me, too, but he couldn’t take me seriously. We spoke about Europe and Jung in the darkness of his sweat-ridden apartment, and though the blackest of blacknesses, he sought to puncture our intimacy. Our tense touching harbored the impression of anonymity; our unseen forms made contact and then released. For days after, I reflected upon the way his mouth formed the soft phrase, “I’m not going anywhere.” I wondered if he’d meant it, or if he’d already grown tired of me.

4. As a young person with literary ambitions and an irrevocable, cerebral bent, I immersed myself in the solipsistic examination of infinite dynamics of self to self. To this end, I drank profusely, read Infinite Jest, and generally felt kind of sorry for myself. 

5. I attended lectures taught by professors of a certain renown who, in the early morning, to a sea of soft faces, whispered. I attended a class where I was the only one who wanted to discuss the queer slant to Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. I was taught by a professor who drank seltzer with ice in a tumbler at nine in the morning and wore a fedora around the literary department of New York University. No matter what I wrote, he marked my papers with B+’s. I once scheduled a meeting with him to tell him that this wasn’t normal for me.

6. At the crux of my freshman year, I walked in an unfamiliar daze suffering what felt like tiny heart palpitations and the onset of insanity. I listened to “Karen” by The National on repeat, which seemed to capture the strange disconnect between heart, head and hands that my body had suddenly inflicted upon itself. I texted my mother to ask her if it was possible for me to be dying from an amphetamine overdose. Twenty minutes later she responded, “Not really.”

7. The complexities of my relationship with Casey confounded the two of us but bored or distressed all my friends. Harbingers of doom presented themselves with brazenness and profound frequency. We were on the floor of his shower discussing things when he told me, “I don’t know how to interact with you outside of this realm.” The evening withered and beckoned us into its dissolution. When we finally fully broke from one another, I told him, “Ending is hard, but it’s easier than loving you.” “Okay, that sucks,” he said.

8. We met for lunch in the sterile light of a basement cafeteria at a campus dormitory. He told me that my shoes made me look like a Dutch prostitute and that he’d started dating someone who was “sexually illiterate.” His interest in her was cultivated, it seemed, by her interest in him and a set of preternatural good looks. I hoped. I fingered haphazardly and anxiously the insane display of off-colored, lukewarm food that I had, in my nervousness, assembled. We suffered through requisite, bloated lapses in conversation and held deliberate eye contact. As we parted ways, he gave me a long hug and whispered, “let’s not do this again.”

9. Thinking got me intro trouble. Doing got me into trouble. Feeling got me into trouble more than anything else.

10. I have lived, thus far, for five years in New York City, which, as necessitated by the nature of its mythology, rarely exemplifies the nature of its mythology. In order for any of its potential ecstasies to find themselves felt, one must suffer, in equal or greater portion, shades of despair and desolation. And as extremes rarely manifest, the day-to-day sense of triviality and frustration was pronounced, diffuse. I tried to mediate this quality of ordinary life by getting drunk and texting ex-boyfriends. I wanted desperately to be affected by people. As I get older, to most of my urges and inclinations, I mutter, “No. Take a walk around the block. Put yourself to bed.” 

11. Incapable of discerning good influences from bad, I regarded people indiscriminately for what new sentiments they could stimulate in me. All the dudes I dated shared a slightly cruel bent and the ability to debilitate, in some manner, my already shaking sense of self. None of these men struck me as particularly happy, but I am fairly certain that at least two will become famous.

12. My sense of guilt established itself paramount and manifested in diverse ways. I kept track of the damage I had done to myself. I wrote relentlessly, and, perhaps exclusively, poorly. Kafka’s The Metamorphosis exposed to me the possibility of perfect writing and simultaneous redemption, and as I was capable of neither, my profound swell of inadequacy arose. Guilt lingered about my flesh and inched the fat from my bones. My body seemed to me to harbor the imprints of some slight, unnatural disaster, which made it all the more surprising to me when I realized that people found me pretty. 

13. Petty boundaries presented themselves ripe for the breaking. Kerrie and I once flirted shamelessly with the opening act at a Yoni Wolf concert and then retold the story fondly, as though we hadn’t basically humiliated ourselves. We did things, I think, simply because we didn’t know what else to do. For awhile, I was waking up regularly in a famous filmmaker’s house in Brooklyn and suffering tiny spasms of confusion and nausea. A sense of inconsequentiality permeated as experiments in intimacy and camaraderie mounted, diffused, and pittered into absence. The world was loud and transient, and we did confused things within it.

14. I developed insufferable habits. I alternated ordering cappucinos and bellinis at cafes while trying and failing to write things. I got drunk and wrote lines from "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" on the bathroom walls of the exclusively gross bars I frequented. I became familiar with insomnia and hangovers. I settled into a mode of existing that straddled awkwardly some barrier between neuroticism and nihilism, which proved unsustainable.

15. My interest in moralizing subsided when it seemed to become impossible to justify any of my impulses to myself at any time by any logic whatsoever. My institution of self knowledge sort of came to rest on the Myers Briggs test and episodes of Mad Men, which have both been vastly valuable resources for me.

16. Exhausted by Manhattan, I made the misguided move to North Williamsburg, which proved emphatically to be not far enough.

17. In Williamsburg, everyone looked at everyone. The act of looking and of being seen created a reciprocal composite that plastered itself over the experience of existing in an infinitely public realm. The neighborhood and its cameras craved spectacle, and even at its outskirts, one felt compelled to consider deeply the appearance of self. On a date, I blithely mentioned that my bangs were so integral to my appearance that people often told me that they didn’t think they’d recognize me without them. “What other problems you got?” he asked.

18. On Bedford Avenue, I ran into a man I’d dated years prior and felt satisfied that his new movie had come out to sort of shit reviews. He looked pale and strung-out and dirty, but he was doing exceptionally well in his new job at Vice. At a piano bar in Greenpoint, we connected in a forced, dull way. Remembering more of him than he had of me, I reveled in the opportunity to suppress all my habits he’d found irritating and adopt the affects of someone slightly more to his liking. It was an experiment in utilizing my neuroses so as to suffocate my neuroses, which I found intriguing. Later that night, in a brief moment of comfortable intimacy, I accidentally mislabeled James Blake James Blunt and sort of understood why he’d broken up with me.

19. I attended parties in Bushwick where people spoke casually but compulsively about Kubrick and Heidegger. On rooftops and fire escapes, drunk kids made slurred, personal revelations and went home with one another. Typed amateur screenplays on old wooden desks fluttered in stray wind. My preferred party game was guessing peoples’ Myers Briggs types. Though I was almost always correct, I managed to endear myself to precisely no one.

20. After a night of drinking at Night of Joy, I texted Luke, “I’m making bad decisions for everyone.” “Tell me about your bad decisions,” he responded. 

21. I befriended beautiful and intelligent girls who, without exception, felt that they had something to prove. One balanced her time maintaining a 4.0 GPA and blowing pungent pot smoke out the window of our dorm room in a weird effort to lift herself from the oppression of cliché. Another occupied herself by finding increasingly elaborate methods of masking a long-term eating disorder. Still another shouted at me, during a discussion of a disappointing break-up, “but I’m so smart, Laura. You have no idea how smart I am.”

22. Between 2008 and 2013, my historic fear of aloneness evolved into such a profound reliance on my solitude that I could sustain myself for days on end on my thoughts alone.  The compulsive need I felt for silence made my choice to live here seem bizarre, rooted only in impossible abstraction. I tried to leave New York once, but it didn’t take.

23. As time passed, we all kind of started to grow up and practice settling down. I watched one of my best friends fall for and engage in serious relations with a dude that I had once unceremoniously but fervently referred to as a shithead. For whatever reason, I took this as an omen of audulthood.

24. Where I had once craved laceration and sublimation in equal amounts, I began to hanker for consistency and control. I satisfied myself, in this respect, by habitually making my bed. If I was feeling reckless or indulgent, I practiced prolonged eye contact with strangers in the street. I started reading a lot of George Saunders and cultivated a healthy terror of things to come.

25. There is a sense of profound discomfort that arises from existing in spaces made familiar by occurrences that have long since ceased to feel familiar. A tangential rationale explains why I have lost contact with most of the people I knew in college. What exists between me and the people I used to know is not bad blood, per se, but blood still comes to mind. I cannot fathom how much of myself I unwittingly lost to others when I hadn’t the slightest sense of what I was made of.

26. I want relationships, lately, without the hassle of cultivating or participating in them.

27. I moved into a windowless bedroom in Greenpoint, which expanded upon my personal, thematic divide of internal versus external. I once walked unknowing into an erratic storm in March that sent snowflakes jittering stupidly toward the sun. The air went soft for a moment. There was a rush of wind, a soft moan in the cavern of my ear, and then came the hurricane.

Laura Hooberman is a contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Greenpoint. This is her first appearance in these pages. You can find her website here.

Photographs by Sabine Wild.

"The Color of Industry" - Radiation City (mp3)

"Babies" - Radiation City (mp3)