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Alex Carnevale

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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 sf (5)


In Which We Relocate To Portland

photo by Stephanie Crocker

Walking Away From the Fire


A week before I left San Francisco, my fire alarm sounded shortly after I got home from work. I had smelled smoke when I walked into the building and paid no attention, but when the alarm rang, it was enough to make my heart quicken. It was enough to make the clichéd question run through my head, what do you want to save?

I think of it now and mentally wander through each nook of my apartment, ticking off a combination of materially and sentimentally valuable items: my computer, my cell phone, Alex’s itchy grey sweater and the smell he left on it, old journals, a photo album, my signed copy of The Chronology of Water.

That day, I walked out of my building less than a minute later, holding only my dog’s leash. It wasn’t the sort of neighborhood where you know your neighbors, so a group of nervous strangers gathered down the street, some clutching computers or more nostalgic keepsakes to their chests, and watched the fire trucks arrive. I sat on the curb, stroking Simba’s ears to calm him from the sirens as the firefighters disappeared into the building like ants into an anthill. One of them ran the giant hose up the stairwell, eventually reaching the third-floor apartment where a gas leak had set the kitchen on fire.

The fire represents such a small event in the grand scheme of my year in San Francisco, I often forget it happened. I didn’t see it as that time I came close to losing all my belongings, because by that time, I had nothing that belonged. Weeks before I left, even my two best friends in the city had gone abroad on teaching programs. Besides the dog at my side, there was literally nothing in San Francisco, material or otherwise, that would matter to me if it burned. 


A year and some change earlier, days before the New Year and my twenty-third birthday, I flew into SFO from Costa Rica. I’d fled California on a one-way ticket after college to surf, teach English, and explore but mostly to escape, and then I’d lived carelessly and run out of money much earlier than expected. I had no choice but to come home, leaving my traveling partner to enjoy for both of us the dream life we’d built together. I got off the plane starved, dirty, and completely directionless.

My mother picked me up from the airport drunk, falsely happy, and looking more disheveled than I did after two days of traveling. My welcome home was demanding her out of the driver’s seat, trying to remember how to maneuver a stick shift through the steep streets of SF, and nearly crashing in the rainbow-painted tunnel just over the Golden Gate Bridge when an empty bottle of wine rolled out from under the seat and lodged itself under the brake pedal.

I returned, reluctantly, to my hometown. I went back to waiting tables at the restaurant I’d worked in throughout high school, not surprised to find all the same people still working there, eight years later. I didn’t unload my things from the storage unit they’d gone into when I left the country: If they went from U-Haul to storage to U-Haul, it would mean I had never officially moved back home. My goal was to save some money, staying just long enough to figure out what I wanted to do with my life, and then go do it.

San Francisco was a place I’d known since I was a child, but it was never part of the plan. It was a place we learned about in elementary school, a historic gateway to a better life, but it was not a place where anyone actually lived. It was where you went to do special holiday shopping and be a tourist for the day, eating chowder bowls at Fishermen’s Wharf and posing on the Golden Gate for pictures that would become Christmas cards. Later, it was bachelorette parties and New Year’s Eves. It was the place you flew in and out of.

My tiny hometown started to feel like quicksand quickly and in February, when Alex was killed by a drunk driver, I got depressed and desperate, yet again, to escape. I decided to go first and do the figuring out later.

I pictured the woman I could be in San Francisco: business casual, strutting the steep hills in expensive three-inch heels, hair parted on one side and slicked back into a professional-looking bun. A to-go coffee cup would be my go-to accessory. I would drink Americanos. I would work as an event planner or someone’s assistant and have Taco Tuesdays in the Marina where men in suits would buy me drinks. I’d meet someone, and we’d spend Sundays giggling over champagne and raspberries on a blanket in Dolores Park. That girl looked happy. You could be happy here, she told me.

I moved in March.


Instead of happy, I was broke. I grew up hearing that money doesn’t buy happiness, but when you and your dog are living off Costco bags of rice, you reach a point at which that becomes total bullshit. I was so broke I couldn’t see beyond it.

I secured a shoebox of an apartment before securing a job, which seemed like the necessary step at the time, but was a mistake for which I would pay, literally and figuratively, for the entire time I was locked into the lease. It was 2009, and though Craigslist was teeming with job postings, there were thousands of applicants for every open position. I sent dozens of resumes a day, crafting cover letters about how much I’d always wanted to do whatever it was the job description said you’d be doing. I was naïvely self-assured, and unexpectedly thin-skinned in the face of rejection. In the four months it took me to find work, I drained every penny I’d saved since returning from Costa Rica. The thought of getting a credit card was a dangerous joke.

I had a few friends already living in the city, the closest of whom was at my apartment when a small immigration law firm called to make a hiring offer. The work would be monotonous and paid only $400 more a month than I paid for rent, but it was work, and we were ecstatic. Gabe ran to the corner store and bought a bottle of Cook’s and we popped the cork and jumped on the bed and laughed hard, the kind of gasping, unending laughter of girls who have gone too long without it, who have forgotten what it feels like. Laughter that comes back like driving a stick shift, in short, jerky bursts, like this, you remember. It was the beginning of summer, and the feeling of hope lasted about as long as the heat of a summer in San Francisco does — a few weeks, if you’re lucky.


San Francisco is only seven miles by seven miles. This figure is often cited to emphasize how many people are crammed into such a small space. It’s all those tiny apartments! Buildings stacked like legos! It’s true, but I mention it more to emphasize the strange space warp that is the sprawling, supposedly only seven square mile city. Walking from one neighborhood to any other was a workout and, depending on the time of night and the neighborhoods involved, an often ill-advised adventure. Public transportation was a sweaty nightmare in which a woman once set a bag of dead, plucked chickens on my lap on the way though Chinatown; in which we once had to evacuate the bus in the middle of the steepest hill in the city because a man had used a seat as a toilet. If you had a car, its main purpose seemed to be stockpiling parking tickets, and if you found a spot you could stay in for more than a night, few errands seemed worth giving it up. My apartment was less than three miles from the ocean, and still, making it there was a feat. In San Francisco, somehow a few miles away was a day trip.


One Sunday morning in early August, I awoke in a tangle of the saddest sort, completely unaware of whose bed I was in or how I’d gotten there. Unfamiliar beige sheets twisted around my legs like twine. This would not be uncommon in the months that followed. I would learn to wake at dawn even through blackout curtains. I would become an expert at escaping from even the oldest apartments in silence, a creaky floor and rusty doorknob whisperer.

Once outside, I scanned street signs, triangulated landmarks to locate myself in the sprawling city. I was in the Presidio, which, relative to every other neighborhood in those seven square miles, meant I was in the middle of fucking nowhere. I hailed a taxi with early morning ease or maybe it was desperation, and slid across cracked leather to sit behind the driver. I recited my cross-streets like a tired toast, To Franklin and Sutter! and avoided eye contact, wiping snot bloody with the bad decisions of the night before on the bottom of the seat. The crumpled bills in my pocket got me within a few blocks of home.

In those few blocks, I sidestepped a syringe and a collection of used condoms, unflinching, but I shied away from the window of the falafel shop down the street from my apartment. Inside, I knew the owner would be getting ready for the day, placing pre-made sandwiches into the cold case with hands like my grandfather’s. I knew he would smile warmly and, having caught my reflection in the taxicab window, motor oil puddles of mascara under my eyes, I couldn’t bear the thought.

If there’s one undeniable red flag to signal that you’ve hit rock bottom, it’s thinking you don’t deserve the smile of a stranger. I woke early the next day and watched the sunrise from Lafayette Park before work. Even the soft, apricot morning light wasn’t enough to make the buildings look anything but cruel. I knew then that I would leave the city.

photo by Stephanie Crocker

I had lived there five months. It had been six since the drunk driving accident that killed Alex. A month before, my mother had made her first suicide attempt of many, on my first day of work at the law firm. My car had been stolen a week after that, then recovered, then set on fire and completely destroyed a week later in a random act of arson. My family dog had gotten sick during my mother’s breakdown, and everyone was so busy taking care of her that his refusal to eat went unnoticed. By the time his withering frame was obvious enough to warrant a trip to the vet, he was too far gone to save. My father was, as always, absent. My bank account was, as always, empty.

The long versions of those stories are for another time. The short version is that the city had fast established itself, in my mind, as a backdrop for bad things to happen. With seven months until I could leave, goodbye was already on its way out of my mouth.


I’ll never know if, under different circumstances, I could have stayed in San Francisco. How much of your experience of a place depends on the place itself, and how much depends on circumstances of your life unrelated to your environment? I wrap my mind in circles trying to answer that question, wondering if, at a different time, I could have been happy there; if I could have lived a Full House fairy tale in business casual attire.

And even if I could have, would I want to? That woman does exist, somewhere in the city, but I have a feeling I was not ever supposed to be her.

Instead of the woman I once pictured being in San Francisco, I think of the girl I was there: Instead of learning to scale steep hills in expensive heels, Gabe will teach me how to sneak onto BART by choosing a friendly-looking stranger and following creepily close behind them as they walk through a turnstile. Instead of guacamole and margaritas in the Marina, I will eat a lot of rice.

I will learn to stop saying no thank you when I want to say yes please. It is only in dire need that I will finally learn how to ask for what I need.  

I will pay too much for my apartment, and though I’ll have a cough all year because of mold deep in the walls, I’ll adore it. I will love it the way a dog grows to love the confines of its kennel, the safety of low ceilings and comfort of dark corners. Inside that apartment, and in some ways because of it, I will read more in a year than almost every other year of my life combined.

I will watch sunsets from fire escapes and tar-speckled rooftops, taking pulls from a brown paper bag until someone eventually starts strumming a guitar. I was not meant to meet businessmen but artists and musicians and bartenders and hair stylists, a melting pot of people who come together late at night to collapse onto a couch someone found two years ago on the street.

I will hit rockier bottoms than I ever have before, or since. But I will gain things in return that are more important than happiness. I will shrink, become just this hip-bone body, and some days I’ll see my own cheekbones in the faces of the crack addicts outside the Civic Center. I will learn gratitude. I will recognize all the ways in which I am lucky.

San Francisco will teach me how to self-preserve. I will learn that, no matter how much you love them, some people have problems you are not equipped to fix. I will leave knowing not to blame myself for my mother’s unhappiness, or my father’s absence. I will leave knowing not to predicate my own wellbeing on anyone else’s.

When my phone rings one Saturday at six a.m. and the police tell me that a schizophrenic homeless woman burned my car to the ground last night, a boy I met only a few hours earlier will get up and leave the apartment wordlessly, returning minutes later with an 18-pack of beer.

I will never be 30 and boring with no stories. San Francisco will be a ruthless bitch, but she will give me so many stories I will spend my life trying to find ways to tell them all.

Even on the greyest days, rainbow flags wave in the Castro and the reds and oranges of the murals in the Mission dance with each other like flames from opposite sides of the street. For a year straight, every time I step outside I will feel the city vibrate under my skin like standing too close to the speakers at a concert. This will both wear me out and keep me going, depending on the day.

One afternoon a few weeks before moving to Portland, I will indeed giggle over champagne and raspberries on a blanket in Dolores Park, where a group of friends, all soon to abandon the city, have gathered to say goodbye. After seven months of staying when I wanted to be gone, I will lie back on the grass and close my eyes, my head sounding with a tired optimist's mantra: what hasn’t killed me, hasn’t killed me. I will feel more alive in that moment than I ever have before, or since.

I arrived in San Francisco with all kinds of baggage. I left holding only my dog’s leash.

Josiane Curtis is a contributor to This Recording. This is her first appearance in these pages. She is a writer living in Portland. You can find her website here.

Photographs by Stephanie Crocker and the author.

"The View" - Modest Mouse (mp3)

"The Good Times Are Killing Me" - Modest Mouse (mp3)

photo by Stephanie Crocker


In Which It Was A Fight We Would Later Have A Dozen Times

by joan brown



The second time was at Christmas. My best friend took me over to her boyfriend’s mom’s two-bedroom house with the intention of introducing me to the older brother, who was in town from New York. “He has a pompadour and this big face,” was her only description. When we got there the mother was in bed and the brother was sleeping on the sofa in the uncomfortably small sitting room. We startled him awake and promptly installed ourselves on the adjacent loveseat, speaking gently and staring at him inquisitively, hands folded in laps, like caseworkers. His voice rumbled with a shower of gravel in a wheelbarrow. He put on some music. I asked him, after an awkwardly small amount of conversation, if I could touch his hand. I asked because it dangled over the back of his chair like an accessory, and it looked coarse and weathered. I knew he’d been working as a commercial fisherman off the Alaskan coast. I needed to fact-check.

Maybe you have never suffered from this fetish. Maybe you didn’t spend lonely Friday nights in high school charting every tic of Travis Bickle’s waxen face over the entire 113 minutes and crying at the part when he takes Betsy to the dirty movie. Some women are sick people. As children, they take the Beats too seriously, and then they go off to college and lament all of the squirrelly young fellows around them who manage to seduce with unsteady intellect and little else. Like how Jake Barnes describes Robert Cohn as someone who did something because he read about it in a book once. These women seek the antidote to that; the man who is the book, not just the reader. We dabble unconsciously in Marxist literary criticism and fake-suffer from the fact that there are no Men around. “Where are the Men?” we ask, like a team of Marlon Brandos will just materialize on the far side of the quad, all leather-daddied out and everything.

by joan brown

So this fisherman person was a revelation. He never went to college; it was a fight we would later have a dozen times. He wooed me with inimitable stories about stealing chickens from Hasidim, gutting fifty pounds of octopus, getting picked up by a transvestite so he would have a place to sleep indoors for the night. I gave him an AK Press copy of You Can’t Win, and he patly told me he used to volunteer at AK Press. We disagreed about Charles Bukowski, and he spent an entire day scouring every bookstore in town until he found a copy of Ham on Rye, which he wrapped nicely and presented to me at work. I read it on Christmas Day. It was a perfect burst of romance for whatever it was. I wish we hadn’t ruined it.

Our relationship was confusing. He left to fish the crab derby and I’d hear from him once a week, in strange Alaska time, which was usually at the end of my college night. The more weeks passed, the more he seemed like an apparition. The more I began to subtly imitate his coolly slurred diction, his impenetrable slang. The more I flirted with women in the way that I imagined he would. I didn’t want to love him as much as I wanted to be like him. It was a lame and quiet fury. The fury of a sad person.

If you’re from Alabama but you’re not presently there, everyone will call you Bama. As the girlfriend, I was forbidden from using this moniker. I was hardly able to say it with a straight face anyway, seeing as how we were sleeping a block away from the University of Alabama campus. If I drank too much and it slipped out, he would scowl like I’d called him some nasty epithet. Sometimes when I came home from class he would be drunk already. He was almost his sweetest then, like a proud father watching his daughter succeed. As the night progressed, though, this appreciation would curdle into resentment, and I’d get an earful of what exactly I didn’t learn about the world from behind my ivy walls. The thing is, though, I loved being talked to like that. He was right. I didn’t know. And because I loved it, I would explode with defensiveness. 

by joan brown

He got his entire throat tattooed while he stayed with me. He stalked around the apartment with the residual ink-and-pus mixture oozing onto the neckline of his wifebeater. He laughed in slow motion. One night in May, we threw an impromptu pool party at a shitty apartment complex where only one of our friends lived, and he swam in a pair of my bikini bottoms. He filched wooden pallets from behind the Publix next door and built a fire in the cookout pit. It was like California all of a sudden. Everything he did extemporaneously came off without a hitch. He was desperate with charm. I would beam at him from short distances, watching him operate completely without anxiety. I was so envious of this human.

Our fights got worse. One of his last nights in town, I didn’t eat enough food, and drank for most of the evening. We ended up wrestling on my bed. He pinned me down by my shoulders and I headbutted him in ludicrous self-defense. The blood from his nose dripped over my face and neck and onto my pillow. When  I sat up, I moved to strike him again and he clocked me in my right eye. I saw stars like a cartoon character. I slumped against the wall, knowing I’d been defeated. A few days later, when he was out, I called my ex-boyfriend, with whom I’d also fought like this, to tell him what had happened. I still don’t know why I told him, but I was almost certainly boasting. Like a tough guy.

I experienced a four-day hangover the week he left. I thought I’d been poisoned, or given some kind of disease. It was obvious things were bad and may not continue. He was silent for two weeks, and when he decided to call me again, I was already seeing someone else. He remained furious until a few months later when he called to clear the air and tell me he was also in love with someone else. A local Alaskan girl. We were glad for each other.

The thing is, it’s unfair to fetishize someone else’s life, even if they portray their life to you as some kind of glamorous fiction. Even being the antidote to the college boy doesn’t completely free you from the conscriptions of your imagination. He loved Moby Dick and he became a fisherman. Growing up he felt he was the ugly outcast. When he discovered Henry Chianski, his feelings made sense and he began to adorn his body with disfiguring tattoos in lieu of acne vulgaris. I also process fiction like this; many of us do. We all have small ways of emulating the lives of unreal people we hoped we’d become. The line of truth between him and me was that I was a woman, a pretty Southern woman, wholly uncomfortable in my skin. What I felt like in my soul was the heedless wanderer, the working-class hero, the undereducated alpha. I was imprisoned by my culture, by my body. He was my most realized attempt to escape, and it didn’t work. 

by joan brown

We grew up, and our memories of the people we were together became more foreign to us. He traveled the world, settled in San Francisco, then L.A., became a fashion maven, a filmmaker. I lingered in the South, pitifully literary and resisting as many cultural traditions as I could: a permanent, pointless rebel in a land where rebellion was a regional myth, not a pastime.

We remained in touch, emailing every now and then over the years, saying nothing in particular. I married a lithe Texas hippie and moved to Northern Italy. I grew more miserable. Married life hurt me and Italian culture stifled me even more than I was used to. I was in the most meaningful relationship I’d ever known and was totally at odds with the concept of losing the fiction of myself for this greater cause. I drank in my resistance, and in my drinking, revealed I was no different at all from the angry little person I was eight years ago, clawing and snapping, physically struggling against the person who says they know better than me, and is saying so because they love me.

The blistering morning this spring I conceded and decided to get sober, I came across a piece of crushing news. This Bama, my sailor of yore, had thrown himself headfirst into the bay beneath the Golden Gate Bridge. He broke his neck, his back, and shattered both his femurs, but survived. Just as I always believed, he is a miracle. How we managed to twin our suffering for so long, I have no idea. True, I have never quite reached the dark heart of despair that he has, but crashing into cold tiled floors, screaming at the sunset from the top of a medieval wall, tearing at my chest, I feel I have come close. And how strange that we surfaced almost at the same time? Immediately I sent him a note of condolence and he wrote back, gushing with wisdom and positivity: “Realize you are perfect right now. Everything is okay and everything can change in an instant to the life you always wanted. No matter what. When you are happy and hopeful your husband will be happy and hopeful.” I have a postcard he made in the hospital, a watercolor of a green face with a giant blue and pink eye, in the style of a Toltec carving, inscribed with a quote on the back from one of his friends there, “Maybe life’s not as hard as you thought it was.” I am already, almost instantly better. I just hope that he is also now free.

Natalie Elliott is the senior contributor to This Recording. She last wrote in these pages about being in a great man's bed. She writes the column Miss On Scene for The Oxford American. You can find her twitter here.

Paintings by Joan Brown.

"Here's To You" - Picnic (mp3)

"I'm Here" - Picnic (mp3)

The new album from Picnic is entitled The Weather's Fine.

by joan brown


In Which We Get Loud So He Knows It Is Serious

photo by carrie schneider

In Character


I wear headphones tightly around my head, letting Jefferson Airplane explode, blocking out everything in a calm coolness, just to keep them from happening. Revelations can be scary and life-changing. Or they can be subtle and intriguing. Sometimes they are both.

I didn't change my seat; it just happened that he was sitting there to my right. Looking at me. Staring at me. Not in an earnest or creepy way, just looking intently at my face, at my features. I must have smiled because he suddenly started talking.

"Do you speak Spanish?" he said. I nodded, confused by the question but not worried enough to get up and move to the other side of the train car. I do speak Spanish, barely, so at first I just answered him in Spanish, but then he kept talking to me and I was too tired to listen and respond correctly. Instead I tried to locate my stop, held my purse and luggage tight as if to prove my security, but then quickly felt guilty in my solitude. He knows I am alone, I thought. He can tell by the way I am clenching my hands around the various straps, by the way I am staring straight ahead and trying to blend in, the way I am sitting on the edge of this subway seat without anyone else by my side.

"Where are you from?" he asked and I, having turned back to face straight ahead after I inadvertently smiled in his direction, turned to my right, then made a slight twist even further and asked "I'm sorry?" pointing my good ear, the left one, towards his mouth to better hear his voice. I don't know why I made the effort.

"Where are you from?" he repeated patiently, still staring intently, gently, at me. I thought about lying, but what difference did it make, I was leaving anyhow.

"San Francisco," I muttered, in a forced Spanish accent, suddenly conscious of his insistent gaze and, more embarrassingly, that my answer, judging by his facial expression, was incorrect, not the one he was looking for. I get this all the time. Most men I meet think I’m more exotic, more foreign, more interesting than I think I really am. And when – if– the men I fall in love with realize that I am actually that interesting, they get scared and run away.

My dental hygienist once told me my name wasn’t exotic enough for me. I asked him what kind of name would be exotic enough and he said Esmeralda. I thought about the Disney film featuring Esmeralda and felt unsettled. She is the one that I look most like, with her olive skin and her dark voluminous hair, her big bright eyes and her small stature. Her gypsy-ness. Is that what I am to people? They look at me and the only thing they can pull from popular media is a Disney character?

I am exotic-looking in that I am not white, nor am I easily identifiable. Every time I am on public transportation people ask me the ‘where are you from’ question. They don’t ask me because they want to know; they ask me because they want to confirm what they already think they know.

I am often claimed to be Indian, Brazilian, Persian, Middle Eastern, Columbian, or Italian. People have gotten angry at me for not submitting to their assumptions, saying things like “You are, you are from there! You have to be!”. They think they know where I came from, they think they’ve got my look all figured out.

He chuckled, and then said, through a big grin, "No, I mean where are you from?" He emphasized the word with a slight nod of his head as he said it.

"San Francisco," I said, with a bit more strength, clear American accent this time, trying to prevent the inevitable. He just looked deep into my eyes until he pulled out what he wanted to hear. Like a dirty little secret he already knew.

"Oh," I submitted, in an effort to end the exchange as quickly and painlessly as possible, "you mean, where are my ancestors from?" I supplied an easy path for a truthful response.

"Yes," he nodded, like a knowing sage, like a man who usually gets what he wants.

I paused for dramatic effect. "Mexico." This feels like a lie. I have only been to Mexico on vacation and service trips. I have no family there and don’t even know the areas of my ancestors.

photo by carrie schneider

The first time I went to Mexico was on vacation with a friend’s family of Mormons. I was one of many kids, but I was the only one whose passport the border patrol checked closely, both ways. The second time I went to Mexico, to a small island off of Cancun to clean the beaches and paint brightly colored murals at local schools, there were little girls constantly swarming around me. Braiding my hair, asking about my bathing suits and my lip gloss. I asked an advisor why they followed me around and he said clearly, “You are like their Barbie. You look like them, but you’re American. You have everything they want, but will never have: opportunity.”

I resumed looking at the tiny red dots, glowing brightly before they disappeared, swift and smooth, like our train car through the very places spelled out above each flare. Subways are like little spaceships, I thought, little tin cars riding through the galaxy. When will this end?

He didn't understand that I had ended the conversation, and instead asked me if I was married. I turned to him and said without expression, "No."

My stop was next and I impatiently sat, tensing up in anticipation of my escape. He asked for my phone number and I refused.

"Why?" he questioned, innocently.

"Because I live in San Francisco," was my lame response.

"So what," he said, "I'll call you, in San Fran, why not?"

I could not think of a good reason why not, so I just sat still and looked straight ahead, trying to force the red light to black out with my intense stare, more theatrically than faithfully. I thought about all the men that have asked me for my number. There have been many. Some have actually called. The ones I’ve dated are the ones I had to call first. Maybe this is a sign.

He asked me for a pen, so he could give me his number, and I said I didn't have one, even though I knew that I did. I always carry a pen in my purse, maybe subconsciously because I sometimes need it to write down the phone numbers of guys I meet who don’t insist on giving me their numbers.

I remember interning in college for an amazing woman who once told me that you should never propose to a man. She had proposed to her first husband; it did not end well. Only now do I fully understand what she meant. Don’t be the man in a relationship. Real men just cannot take it.

"I'm just a nice Jewish guy," he said and I figured he probably was. He asked me for my name and I lied. Generally, when lying about my name, I call myself Samantha. I use this name because it starts with the same letter as my real name and is approximately the same length; it is equally bland and doesn’t give anything away. It is also the same name as my favorite American Girl doll, whose books I read religiously. Though as a girl I was only given Josefina, the Hispanic one.

Of course, when I got off, he got off, I convinced myself that this must also be his stop, but I knew he was probably just following me. Despite my weak rebuff, he proceeded to carry my luggage down the four flights of stairs we had to take to get on the A, the only way I knew how to get to JFK. He was inescapable. He stopped on the platform when I stopped. I tried to believe that he must be going the same direction, to the airport, sans luggage.

And for a minute, or a fleeting moment rather, I thought about what would it be like to be married to this man. To softly kiss his yearning lips and rub his balding head. To have his children and come home to his embrace. It probably would feel the same as marrying any other man, give or take. Belonging to someone, being the wife of someone, being an adjunct member of a sanctioned ritual.

Out of habit, I pulled out my blackberry to check the time. His face lit up and he started to give me his number. I said, “Oh no no no.” Again he asked why not and I finally said what I should have said all along. "Because I don't want to talk to you."

I said it with a newfound confidence, loud enough for him to know I was serious and for people to turn and stare. His face melted of quick yet poignant contortions - first disappointment, then sadness, then anger. I just watched, standing my ground. I felt how I always do when I reject men, powerful and surprised at my power. Powerful because it is up to me to decide who I talk to and who I ignore, who I let into my life and who I tell to leave me alone. Not remorseful in the slightest, even if my declaration was long in coming. Even after I'd been handled, sought after, followed, fucked. Then, as quickly as it had begun, he disappeared into the crowded platform of strangers and I was left alone.

Stephanie Echeveste is a contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in San Francisco. This is her first appearance in these pages. She tumbls here and twitters here.  

Photos by Carrie Schneider. You can find her website here.

photo of the author by jason van horn