In Which We Remain Engaged For Six Years

About the Last Few Nights

by ELEANOR MORROW

Marry Me
creator David Caspe

Odd couple romances drive society to exceed its norms and boundaries, bringing the joy of love to unexpected, dark places. In the background of David Caspe’s new NBC comedy Marry Me is one such arrangement, a love story that recalls Belle and the beast, Mariah Carey and Nick Cannon, or Minnie Driver and anyone.

Gil (John Gemberling) is a divorced hair-plug salesman who looks like a sheep with only its head unshorn. Dennah (Sarah Wright Olsen) is a leggy blonde fresh off portraying the nuanced role of Jerry’s daughter on Parks & Recreation. She is always clad in a romper; he is nearly always wearing a two-tone sweatshirt. One appears to have nothing to do with each other: yet because each has flaws, they must accept each other.

In contrast, the central relationship at the core of Marry Me, embodied by Ken Marino and comedian Casey Wilson, already feels completely neutered. Six years into things, there are not a lot of surprises for us to uncover, except that Annie is a “drama queen” and Jake has a penis. It is hard to believe that a connection this mediocre is supposedly based on the true life coming together of Wilson and writer David Caspe, except the penis part!

Caspe sets Marry Me in Chicago, the city where all romance goes to die. About Last Night, the Chicago romance between Demi Moore and Rob Lowe, did not end well as I recall, The Break-Up was gross and depressing, and no one was actually happy in Happy Endings, especially not Elisha Cuthbert, who was forced into a two way with a guy who owned a food truck.

The men of Chicago are the drizzling shits. Reduced to such a meager collection of candidates, even a leggy blonde like Dennah has to learn how to settle, which is basically the message of Marry Me: if you don’t lower your expectations and fall in love with basically whoever is around, you will end up alone.

Wilson’s impressively rehearsed histrionics have carried over from Happy Endings, and at times she seems to be playing an abridged version of the character. None of her friends on the show seem like the actual people such a charismatic individual would attract. Wilson is essentially too good for everyone in the entire city of Chicago, and it would have been amazing to start Marry Me with the tension filled Mexican vacation the couple finds themselves returning from in the series’ opening scene.

Kay (Tymberlee Hill) has the unforgiving role of the token black and the token gay; in order to set up her character, she admits to Annie that she peed in her friend’s clothes hamper. There is also no world where Ken Marino’s mother (JoBeth Williams) is blonde.

When Jake moves in with Annie after six long years of separate apartments, she starts to feel crowded and moves her liquor cabinet, drapes and collectibles into her car, giving her the space she needs. It seems like a bad sign that she finds Jake in a set of boxer briefs revolting, but this is glossed over. How can you lead the story to the conclusion that its central characters aren’t right for each other when the show is called Marry Me?

Marry Me really should have been about a leggy blonde fresh off fake-dating Rob Lowe who meets a schlumpy guy and decides that love is destined to take an unexpected, more rotund form. A concept episode surrounding their intensely unlikely intercourse is sure to outdo M’Lady in youtube views. When he reaches out a grizzled, foodstained paw to stroke her manicured hand, she will not shudder.

Eleanor Morrow is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Manhattan.


In Which We Accept That You May Require Different Remedies

Hard to Say is This Recording’s weekly advice column. It will appear every Wednesday until the Earth perishes in a fiery blaze, or until North West turns 40. Get no-nonsense answers to all of your most pressing questions by writing to justhardtosay@gmail.com or by dropping us a note at our tumblr.

Hi,

My boyfriend Aaron and I have been seeing each other for six months after meeting on Tinder. He is something of a nervous guy at times, never more so than when we are being intimate. He is extremely well-endowed so has nothing to worry about on that front. Still, he gets a little anxious and as we start, begins narrating every aspect of ahat is happening. The amount of apologies on offer is amazing, but quickly gets old. If my head is accidentally bumped he will stop completely and ask me if I am OK. Once, completely unprompted, he left to get me ice.

I have tried to talk to Aaron about this, but even after I explained, he looks verbally constipated during sex and I can tell he’s not himself. Is it possible to get him over this hump?

Lucianne R.

Dear Lucianne,

I despise puns.

Some men are brought up to think women are very delicate. At the same time, they ignore pretty clear evidence that Angelina Jolie keeps the souls of the men she couples with. Do you think she was like, “Hey Brad, I’m heading for your anus” on that fateful first date? Some things are better when you don’t know about them beforehand, like Ellie Goulding and the Batmobile.

I suggest physical intervention in this case. Aaron won’t shut up, but he probably wants to, so put your finger on his lips and shush him as you take over. Failing that, cover his mouth and nostrils tightly. When he begs for his life, remind him, “I thought I told you to close your trap.”

If you are keen on a more psychological approach, tell him a story about a friend named Marcia Hamsbottom who had an ex-husband who would not stop quoting The Big Lebowski, no matter how many times she told him she hated it. If he says that the name Hamsbottom sounds made-up, wonder aloud how he has not heard of RCA recording artist Duracell Hamsbottom. I think he was in Outkast?

Hi,

My girlfriend Anne really loves to discuss political issues. Sometimes these arguments can get a bit out of hand; to a certain extent I have gotten used to leaving emotion of such discussions, but when we are socializing with friends or family, Anne is just as vociferous about her views. I’m not trying to change who she is, and I really don’t mind. But these arguments lead to conflict that gets us not invited to places and affects other people’s enjoyment of these events.

Anne seems to understand that everyone does not share her views, and I don’t think she holds grudges or even argues in anger. What can I do to alleviate this situation?

Markel S.

Dear Markel,

People who are confused about their views are far less likely to articulate them to others. You need to cloud Anne’s thinking on a number of issues, and a subscription to National Review isn’t going to get the job done.

If necessary, approach her from the left and right on each issue. Make her feel like she isn’t going far enough – she is already advocating for taking rich people’s hard-earned money; why not their houses, cars, and children too? If she feels like her views mean that she is going to have to be the mom of some insolent teen portrayed by Amanda Bynes, she’s going to have reexamine her viewpoints closely. Playing the devil’s advocate is just a gaudy old-fashioned way of saying you’re a professional troll.

Then again, the last person who did the wrong thing for the right reasons ended up married to George Clooney.

Illustrations by Mia Nguyen. Access This Recording’s mobile site at thisrecording.wordpress.com.

“Put Your Number In My Phone” – Ariel Pink (mp3)

“One Summer Night” – Ariel Pink (mp3)

In Which We Clean Our Fridge By Food Group

The Host

by NATHAN JOLLY

We are at a house party, walking from room to room, while Charlotte points out the tiny signs that the host is a functional junkie. Things that only someone who had been a drug addict before would ever notice: slightly bent paperclips, odd items in rooms they should have no occasion to visit, snowflakes of ash on bookcases, slight burn marks on pillowcases, the Lost In Translation soundtrack perched on the stereo.

Charlotte was once a drug addict and is now a drug user because even bread has habit-forming qualities and is probably killing us just as quickly. She was right about soy snacks, about plastic and fake sugar and Susan’s old boss, and she swears she is right about this, too – so I believe everything she says. Charlotte fell asleep on her arm two nights in a row, and it scared her enough to slide slightly straighter. We split up weeks after that, and neither of us argued hard that this wasn’t the real reason.

This kitchen is immaculate, which Charlotte notices and now I notice, and she assures me this also means something, and I nod, and she smiles, and we wonder how firmly we need to ingratiate ourselves with the host before we can change the CD. I like when house parties have CDs rather than iPods, and I like when they have punch, too, because we all learned early from the same ten TV shows that punch equals party and therefore this is a common bond we share with every single host who serves punch – even if she is a closet junkie who spends hours manically cleaning and organising her fridge by food group.

Charlotte tells me you can instantly tell a house party will be filled with terrible people if there isn’t a bookcase and a stereo in a common room. We argue for a bit about how books are often kept in bedrooms, especially in share houses, before Charlotte points out there should be more books than bedroom storage, especially in a share house. This presents another wrinkle: does the overflow mean the books in the common room are an accurate representation of tastes – three people’s least precious reads – or a greatest hits collection, a boast which vastly overstates each individual’s true tastes, making the more-interesting seem less, and the less more? We can’t decide. I helpfully point to a cracked tile, but it doesn’t mean anything apparently – sometimes tiles crack.

The living room is filled with people I will never know. The stereo is loud and muffled, like it has been ordered to shout but is embarrassed by what it has to say. I take this music as a personal attack on me, but Charlotte sees it as a shortcut, the way she has seen most human behaviour ever since she changed majors from economics to sociology then back again. Charlotte never finished her degree and her mother still doesn’t know. She has never needed it, and come to think of it, neither have I. “I need a T-shirt with a photo of Yoko on” she says lazily, before collapsing into a cane chair. Charlotte once told me the best time to interact with society while being on drugs was before 9am, because everyone looks like a shaken mess that early in the morning anyway. It made me skip back over every morning spent with Charlotte to try to remember signs: to remember her eyes, her reaction time, her pale, speckled face. But Charlotte was always quicker and much smarter than me (than I?) and now her eyes are dancing because she caught me looking at them for too long; I realised I didn’t know what color they were – or thought I didn’t – until I knew of course I did. She kisses me on the lips sharply, then slowly for a few seconds longer. I realise I’m now sitting in her lap, on a cane chair in a lounge room swimming with strangers, so I get up and walk with purpose towards the stereo, but am too scared to stop the music.

There are piles of blankets near the door leading out to the back porch; the evening is stupidly cool for an October and our host is kind in that pure-hearted way where she steps out future scenarios and makes sure she is prepared. I want to tell her that I’d noticed this but since she doesn’t know me, it can’t have anything resembling a positive effect, so I don’t.

The punch looks a different, more troubling color than it was when we first arrived, so I decide not to risk another dip in the bowl; communal anything is a nice idea but it runs a short race. Charlotte’s friend Lucy is already asleep, her neck craned uncomfortably, and because the three of us had walked to the party together, we’d signed on to bring each other’s bodies home – especially because this house is across from the dark corner of the dog park where the floodlights die and no taxi dare roam.

I grab a bunch of blankets and cover her, and try to find a cup clean enough to fill with water and sit near her. She flinches and grabs my face and whispers to “Charlotte” to “try to bang [me] tonight”, because “he is being so obvious” – I stay and stroke her hair until she either falls asleep or stops moving. I slide under her limp, coathanger arm, and head out into the yard to find Charlotte. Past the fire and the five-stringed acoustic guitar, she is scrunched against the fence, her phone shining a light on her face. “I was trying to find you,” she smiles, and puts her arms out, as if she needs me to drag her to her feet.

Nathan Jolly is the senior contributor to This Recording. He is a writer living in Sydney. He last wrote in these pages about the one. He tumbls here and twitters here.

Paintings by Frances Barth.

“I Cover The Waterfront” – Annie Lennox (mp3)

“September in the Rain” – Annie Lennox (mp3)

In Which The Inside Of Pacey Is Everything I Expected

You Make A Beautiful Ranchhand, Pacey

by DICK CHENEY

The Affair
creators Habai Levi & Sarah Treem

Noah Solloway (a craggy Dominic West doing his usual terrible American accent) has sex with his wife on a Thursday. He is on top of her when she starts laughing. He asks what’s funny? “You were making a weird face,” she explains. They have three kids together, but he uses this as a reason to cheat on her with a depressed waitress named Alison Lockhart (the English actress Ruth Wilson, whose accent is better but barely passable).

I have always been kind of a Wuthering Heights guy, but the new Showtime seriesThe Affair is entirely uninteresting until Joshua Jackson takes the stage. He plays Alison Lockhart’s husband Cole, and he has kind of rapey sex with her in their driveway. Alison lost her child, and visits the grave often. It’s clear she wants to be with the more English of the two men, but she can’t because reasons.

Pacey lets his wife work catering jobs to pay for his Xanax smh

Noah witnesses one of the more disturbing sexual escapades of Alison and Pacey as he is out for a scenic stroll on in the greater Montauk area of Long Island. “Cole and I had anal sex,” Alison blurts out to her sister-in-law. When someone confesses one thing to you, they are nearly always hiding something more. Infidelity is only actually feasible in urban settings or beach towns; otherwise too many people see your car.

Noah masturbates in the shower while thinking of the borderline crime he accidentally strolled upon. His wife (a gorgeous Maura Tierney) offers to join him, but since he has just ejaculated on the floor of the shower, he declines. Are you really all that surprised that Fiona Apple sings the theme for this show?

Wife and girlfriend are in Montauk, heart is in B-more

Noah and his wife are staying with her parents, and they are not all that nice to him, I guess because they think he is faking the accent? When he is out with the kids he sees Alison selling jam at a local fair and dramatic piano music starts playing. He is completely nonfunctional for the rest of the day. The Affair replays some of its scenes twice, once from the male perspective and once from the female. You only get to see Dominic West masturbate the once however.

But honestly who cares about all this, Pacey is back and he’s a creepy ranchhand! I dreamed of this; I even wrote weird fan fiction where Pacey was the president of the United States and the First Lady cheated on him: it was so sad.

“I met my wife at Williams” is the beginning of most murder mysteries.

Even though Noah has a Macbook Air (2013 edition) and a loving family, this is still not enough for him. “I’m just bored,” he whines to his wife. He has a lot of balls to cheat on her and complain about her, he should really pick one. He also tells his daughter her dress is too short, which I regard as inappropriate. The Affair feels like something that happened in the late 1990s; people are reading print books (wtf?) and no one has a Galaxy Note.

The irony of course is that Noah’s wife is actually a great deal more alluring than his mistress. It is more that Noah is really tired of her parents, but that’s the thing about dissatisfaction. It is incredibly contagious. The mistress actually has kind of a weird, off-putting set of lips and her shape looks like a smoothed out dumpling. “Marriage means different things to different people,” Alison explains to Noah. “Not to me,” he says, unaware perhaps that this makes no fucking sense at all.

riding without a helmet is the dumbest thing anyone can do

It’s amazing that white people have all this time to cheat on each other, or even that anyone would want to cheat on Pacey. “How many times have we had sex?” Pacey’s wife asks him. “10,000?” Who would ever get bored of that smooth beard rubbing up against their thighs, except everyone Joshua Jackson has ever loved?

Dick Cheney is the senior contributor to This Recording.

“No Shadow” – Young Statues (mp3)

“Flood” – Young Statues (mp3)

 

In Which He Stops Himself Just When You Need Him To

Before He Opened His Mouth

by SARI BOTTON

Somehow you wind up on the topic of his wife’s vagina.

“It took Terry three months to even lubricate again after the baby was born,” he says, and you’re shocked.

But more than shocked, you’re buzzed from the two glasses of house Chablis he poured you. And so you notice that as Steve Alessi’s mouth forms the “lu” in “lubricate,” his lips round off into this cushiony, slightly lopsided ring. You want him to say that word again, or anything with an “oo” sound, so you can estimate just how much play there is in the spongy matter beneath that very soft-looking pink skin. You hope he says something “oo” soon, before the wine makes you forget to watch his lips.

“She also suffered post-partum blues,” he informs you. There you go – “blooooos.”

But he’s been talking about how he almost lost his wife during childbirth two years ago – gets this super sad look on his face every time he says “summer of ’90”  – so you feel guilty for ever having flirted with him, and you question what the hell you’re doing there. You begin to wonder if you’ve misinterpreted all the looks you’ve received from Steve Alessi across the office over the past six months. You review all the looks you’ve volleyed back, and want to shoot yourself.

Then you consider where you are – a dimly lit midtown bar on a Friday evening – that there’s only a carafe of cheap wine and a small wobbly table between the two of you, and that it was Steve’s invitation.

Of course, you prompted his offer to go for a drink. You were a basket case when you hung up with your ex-boyfriend at the end of the day. Before pulling yourself together in the bathroom, you took a detour to the water fountain near Steve’s cubicle and did a little extra pouting in his line of view.

A few weeks back you wouldn’t have done that. You had gotten to know Steve Alessi better, and you thought you’d lost whatever interest you’d ever had in him – even though you never imagined anything would have happened anyway, him being, like, a real grownup, and you being just out of college. You continued to flirt with him even after you lost interest, because it was the only fun part of your job, and because for some reason it felt important – really important – to keep him liking you.

To your friends from college, Steve Alessi is known as your “flirt partner” at work. Your magazine works on a buddy system. You share your Tandy IBM clone desktop computer with a computer partner. You share the monthly task of filing photographs after they’ve run in the magazine with a photo partner. And you share looks and lines with Steve Alessi, your flirt partner. You have always believed it means absolutely nothing. All you think you’ve ever wanted from him is attention. It’s not like you actually wanted him to touch you.

Tonight at the bar you can’t help but wonder whether it’s more than attention he wants to give you, and more than attention that you want. You wonder if it’s entirely far-fetched to think he thinks something could happen tonight.

He is doing his best flirting. It’s much more effective than his usual office routine, because tonight he’s not clumsy and obvious, and because tonight there is wine numbing your brain, and because tonight you need a big boost – your ex-boyfriend blew off the date you made to talk about maybe working things out after all. You’ve been living out of an old gym bag all week, sleeping on friends’ couches, waiting for the chance to talk, and hopefully go back to your boyfriend’s apartment – to go back “home.”

And so tonight you forget that at the office, Steve’s gotten to be nervous and awkward when he has the opportunity to talk to you, that he tries too hard to impress you. He knows you studied dramatic writing in college, and so he drops the names of obscure playwrights he thinks you think are cool. But you’ve never even heard of them. And he actually shakes when he comes close enough to offer you a Breath Saver. In fact once he dropped the roll as soon as your finger touched it. That was when you thought you’d lost interest for good.

“Oopsie daisy!” he said, as he bent over, reminding you of his age. Eesh.

But before he opened his mouth, Steve Alessi was perfect. You felt strangely electrified every time you caught him staring at you from the other side of the office. Sometimes when you were bored, you’d stare off on purpose, making the better side of your profile available to his gaze.

He at first seemed way too attractive and cool to be writing about the insecticide business for a trade magazine called Pest Control Monthly – which is the way you’d like to think of yourself, too. You used to like that he had a whimsical twist to his yuppie style – the too-wide vintage ties, the retro hair cut, short on the sides, long on the top, like Michael Steadman on thirtysomething. You liked that on Fridays he wore his old Levi’s that you imagined he still had from college in the 70s with a sport jacket, and you liked that he wore them with worn out hiking boots instead of Top-Siders or penny loafers like the other grown up men in the office who were too daddyish, especially when they tried to pull off that end-of-the-week relaxed, casual look. Steve Alessi seemed, when you first started writing for Pest Control Monthly, genuinely relaxed and casual. And – just – hot.

This evening he is somehow hot again. At the bar, there are no clumsy Breath Saver offerings, no absurdist or Situationist playwright name-droppings. Steve Alessi’s flirting is subtler than ever before.

In fact, you’re not even sure he’s flirting. After all, he’s talking about his wife, his marriage. He’s giving you advice on how to get your boyfriend back, how to convey to him that commitment is not such a difficult thing, even in your early twenties, take it from a guy. He blushes every time he says his wife’s name, Terry. And every time “Terry” passes through those plush lips, you hate yourself for thinking he might have ever been flirting with you. He becomes more appealing with every soft utterance.

Then, somehow you get on the topic of childbirth, and somehow that leads to the climate in Terry’s vagina, and there’s something about the way he’s telling you that makes you wonder whether this means he’s thinking at all about yours, and whether you’d even want him to be. You try hard not to think of that TV movie about a burn victim whose lips are repaired with grafts of her vaginal tissue. Trying to not think about it makes you laugh out loud.

“Are you feeling better?” he asks. “You seemed so sad earlier. Like a little girl with a broken heart.”

You tell him that this breakup is the hardest thing you’ve ever gone through, harder than your parents’ divorce when you were ten.

“Some days, getting out of bed, or even doing the smallest tasks, seems impossible,” you say, a throat-lump forming, your voice cracking, your eyes filling. “You know what I mean?” You’re afraid if you say more, you’ll cry.

Oh, fuck it.

“Like, the other morning? I found getting dressed a major challenge,” you add, one tear escaping from your left eye, “and I was just putting on this one-piece jumper thingy.”

He hands you a tissue, and tells you he knows that jumper thingy. And he likes it.

“Does my flirting help or hurt?” he asks.

You think he’s just admitted to his half of your flirting partnership. But you’re a bit drowsy from the third glass of wine he poured for you, which killed the carafe. He is studying you, smiling at you in this warm way.

“Um…I mean, it’s flattering, the flirting. You know? It’s fun.” You hear yourself giggling, but you don’t feel as if you have anything to do with that. It’s just happening; it’s something you’re hearing. The laughter stops when you see Steve Alessi’s hand reach across the table. It is aimed directly at your face, head on, and you can’t imagine where it’s going to land…until two of his knuckles gently clip your nose in that got-your-nose way your dad used to grab it.

“You’re a good kid,” he’s saying – not really what you want to hear right now, but it doesn’t matter, because he looks like he wants to be saying, “I love you.” You don’t want to like that. But you do. So you’re just sitting there, smiling this relentless smile and not moving.

You and Steve are staring at each other, dead on. If you weren’t drunk, you would be uncomfortable right now. The waiter seems uncomfortable. He drops the check and you and Steve reach for it simultaneously. His hand lands on yours and you both laugh and say, “No, I’ll get this,” at the same time, and then Steve picks up your hand and the next thing you know, he is kissing the back of it. Those lips are pressed against your skin and they’re as warm and as spongy as they seemed.

It’s not just one of those, like, courtesy kisses, either. Steve’s eyes are closed. He is not letting go. And you are not pulling your hand away. You wonder whether you should be. You know you should be. But this kiss is warm, and, well, warming. You wonder what this hand-kiss could possibly mean to Steve Alessi.

“Why don’t you let me make you dinner,” he says to you with your hand still in his. And before you can even think of dry-crotched Terry, Steve adds, “My wife stays in Sag Harbor for the summer,” which puts a look of shock on your face, even though you are trying very hard not to look that way. And so Steve places your hand gently but purposefully back on your side of the table and begins to nervously laugh and explain away. No, he didn’t mean it that way, and of course nothing would happen between the two of you, blah blah, blah blah, blah blah.

“I’ll tell you what – you can even stay over if you want,” he says. “I’ve got a two-bedroom, and so you’d have your own room. You know, then you won’t have to go all the way downtown later. It would just be better for you since you seemed so lost earlier. I don’t think you should be alone tonight…”

You want him to stop talking. You wish he weren’t trying so hard to cover up and seem so unmistakably platonic, because he’s making a fool of himself and confusing you all at once. Wasn’t he just kissing your hand with his eyes closed? Wasn’t he stunning just a minute ago? You can’t imagine how the same man can seem alternately so attractive and so repulsive from one minute to the next. You wish he would just pick one and stick with it.

In the subway on the way to his apartment, you and Steve bitch about your jobs at Pest Control Monthly and generally concur on which geeky reporters remind you of certain insects. It would be funny if you hadn’t had this exact conversation with him three times already. Even with a heavy buzz, you don’t need to think in order to feed him your lines on cue, and so you use your time between responses to wonder…Is it at all possible that you will sleep with Steve Alessi tonight? Do you even want to sleep with Steve Alessi? Will you go to work Monday knowing what Steve Alessi, your flirt partner, looks like naked?

Steve steers you into an Upper West Side liquor store a block from the Alessi residence and grabs a bottle of some special Chardonnay he likes, on which he then delivers an entire dissertation. In the elevator, though, he’s back to the business of bugs, expounding on his fascination with the mating habits of the Kalotermitidae termites.

“It’s amazing,” he says. “The king will work and work to get the queen’s attention, but in the end, it’s all about his scent. After a while, based strictly on that, she’ll either kiss him or diss him.”

You think he’s just used the word “diss” to show he can relate to people your age, and you hate that. If you weren’t right at his door, and deeply intoxicated, you’d probably find a way to escape. But here you are.

His apartment is filled with a cozy mix of garage sale antiques, functional Formica and pseudo-country natural wood Door Store furniture. In a corner of the living room sits a Pack-N-Play, littered with colorful toys. You sink into an over-stuffed, pseudo-shabby, vintage-looking sofa while Steve opens the wine bottle in the kitchen. You try sitting all the way back, with your butt in the crevice between the couch’s back and seat, but your feet don’t reach the floor, so you lean forward. You search for some object to get involved in so that when Steve comes back into the living room, you won’t look like you’ve just been sitting there, wondering what he thinks you think your being there actually means. You choose the big coffee-table book about Florence.

“GREAT city,” says a smiling Steve Alessi as he returns to you with two very full wine glasses. He has removed his sport jacket and his oxford shirt, so he’s down to a Hanes on top, old Levi’s on bottom. “Ever been to Firenze?” he asks, rolling the R, in case you forgot he was Italian.

You take a huge swallow of wine and then tell him you were there two summers ago, with your boyfriend. You mean your ex-boyfriend.

The word “ex-boyfriend” has a hard time making it out of your mouth. You’ve said it, but it feels like it’s still in your throat, and then it goes down into your stomach, which starts to ache, and then it goes back and forth. It’s like one of those vomit burps. The word “ex-boyfriend” is like one of those awful vomit burps.

“It’s his loss,” Steve Alessi says as he puts his wine down and moves a little closer to you on the shabby-chic couch. “He doesn’t know what a great girl he’s giving up.”

Now he starts to rub your back with one hand. He begins in big, consoling circles around your frame, then wide stripes up and down your spine, and then he concentrates on your neck, opening and closing his palm around it. At first you resist but then you let your shoulders down and lean your head forward. You close your eyes and Steve brings in his other hand. He lifts your shirt a little and starts making tiny circles with his thumb in the small of your back. This makes you a little nervous, and reminds you of junior high over-the-shirt/under-the-shirt distinctions.

You realize you should put your wine down. You are holding your glass with both hands between your knees, and every time Steve Alessi kneads your body forward, something gets splashed – your tights, the pastel Dhurrie rug, the Florence book.

Steve takes one hand away and you look up to see what other task he’s found for it. He is dabbing splattered wine off a full-page photo of a Botticelli in the Florence book. He looks concerned. But that doesn’t stop his other hand from massaging your neck.

“Which gallery did you like better,” he asks, “the Uffizi, or the Pitti Palace?”

You take another swallow of wine and ask him to repeat the question. It’s not that you didn’t hear it – you just want to watch his mouth maneuver the “U” in Uffizi one more time.

“Did you do both, the Pitti Palace and the Uffizi?” Yes, you tell him, while noting that that the “oo” view is even better in profile. “They’re both overwhelming,” he continues, “but I prefer the Uffizi because it’s curated more categorically.” Here we go again – he’s trying to impress you, and you wish he would just kiss you instead, before his charm wears off once more.

More wine. You’re so mellow. Almost numb. (What was that about him making you dinner?) You are staring at those lips with eyes that are way out of focus. Steve’s hand has stopped moving. It’s just holding the back of your neck, warmly.

He moves in.

You move in.

The kiss begins.

It is so soft and warm.

And it is cut off by the fucking phone.

Steve jumps up abruptly to grab the extension by the window, which throws you off balance, and so you drop your wine glass. It hits the edge of the blonde wood Door Store coffee table and shatters all over the parquet floor and Dhurrie rug. The Botticelli is soaked and so are you.

“Hi, Baby!” Steve Alessi exclaims over-enthusiastically into the receiver, and then mouths, “Don’t worry about it, I’ll get it,” to you, about the spill.

Steve is dabbing your kiss off those spongy lips with a pink paper napkin, and he’s pacing and talking fast. “I wasn’t expecting to hear from you until tomorrow, but what does that matter? How’s my beauty?”

The word “beauty” sticks you in the gut. Then the throat. Then the gut. You run in search of a bathroom. You make it just in time to throw up neatly, without making a bigger mess than you already have in the Alessi household.

As you’re leaving, Steve actually begins to try and convince you that it would still be a good idea for you to stay, but he stops himself just when you need him to.

You ask him to put you in a cab. He offers you a Breath Saver. You could use one. But you decline.

Sari Botton is a contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Rosendale, NY. She tumbls here and twitters here.

Paintings by Fiona Ackerman.

“Hotel Anywhere” – Cold War Kids (mp3)

“Hold My Home” – Cold War Kids (mp3)

In Which Aldous Huxley Takes A Trip With His First Wife

Around the World

by ALEX CARNEVALE

Just tired and busy and amazed and amused and charmed and horrified. – Maria Huxley, in a letter

In 1913 Aldous Huxley began to lose his sight. His eyes clouded over, his vision was “steadily and quite rapidly failing. I was wondering quite apprehensively what on earth I should do.” After seeing an oculist, it was decided that a milder climate might help him, so Aldous Huxley and his wife Maria Nys went to Italy. Their son Matthew spent the first four years of his life in Florence and Rome.

Matthew was an extremely large and difficult child. Aldous and Maria were a bit taken aback by who they had created; Matthew Huxley would later become a prominent epidemologist. The child was a picky eater and stuck to a vegetarian diet, causing Aldous to remark, “he realizes that meat is dead animals.”

Matthew had no desire to read, which made him the polar opposite of his father. The entire family was practically grief-stricken at the young boy’s non-literary habits; only Aldous was able to be patient with him. “Too early a passion for reading distracts from the powers of observation,” he told everyone.


The whole family liked Italy, but Aldous was the only one who admired it, more in theory than in practice. Florence never suited him; it was more a place where culture had been rather than a city where it was. He chose Rome as the young family’s landing spot. “After a third rate provincial town,” he concluded, “colonized by English sodomites and middle-aged lesbians, a genuine metropolis will be lively.” They could not stay in Italy, however, as fascism was in the air. They left Matthew in Belgium with his grandmother and took a boat to Bombay.

Aldous despised the architecture of Lahore, and loathed Kashmir worse. They kept incredibly active, fortified by a gnawing fear and the weight they burned off from their time in Florence. At Srinagar they visited the lunatic asylum.

Every place that they visited, Aldous asked question after question, ostensibly as research for a series of articles that helped pay for the journey. He also did it when he felt he did not have something himself to say.

An attempt to travel second class did not go well – a holy man spit his mucus all over their car – so they paid the extra rupees for first class, money they knew they should not be spending. Maria could barely eat the food. “India is depressing as no other country I have ever known,” Aldous wrote. “One breathes in it, not air, but dust and hopelessness.”

Aldous was most put off by the beliefs of the people he met. “A little less spirituality,” he wrote, “and the Indians would now be free – free from foreign dominion and from the tyranny of their own prejudices and traditions. There would be less dirt and more food. There would be fewer Maharajas with Rolls Royces and more schools.”


He was not impressed at all by the Taj Mahal, and told everyone so. “These four thin tapering towers,” he wrote in Jesting Pilate, “are among the ugliest structures ever erected by human hands.” Whatever one thinks of the Taj Mahal, it seems a greater dissatisfaction with the world and his place in it may have been the cause of this observation.

Things got better as soon as they left Calcutta for Burma. Dutch ships took them to the Philippines. From there they landed in Japan, taking the train to Kyoto and departing via Yokohama. Aldous watched Maria’s eating closely, preventing her from having too much caviar, the only food she felt comfortable consuming at sea.

Japan was almost as nauseating to Aldous as India, but for different reasons. Kyoto was “such a collection of the cheap and shoddy, of the quasi-genuine and the imitation solid, of the vulgar and the tawdry.” The industrial city did not suit Aldous’ taste at all:

Little wooden shacks succeeds little wooden shack interminably, mile after mile; and the recession of the straight untidy roads is emphasised by the long lines of posts, the sagging electric wires that flank each street, like the trees of an avenue. All the cowboys in the world could live in Kyoto, all the Forty-Niners. Street leads into identical street, district merges indistinguishably into district. In this dreary ocean of log-cabins almost the only White Houses are the hotels.

with D.H. Lawrence

San Francisco was next, and from there Maria and Aldous took the Daylight Limited train to Los Angeles. They did not stay long in any one American city; Hollywood was “altogether too Antipodean to be lived in.” (Aldous would spend the majority of the rest of his life in Southern California.)

When they returned to England from New York, Maria went to see Matthew while Aldous stayed in England. It had been only the two of them for so long.

While they were apart, Aldous wrote Maria long letters. They prefigure a latent unhappiness that would lead him to dalliances with other women, but also the connection that would allow the marriage to survive his mistakes until Maria died of breast cancer in 1955.

I think myself it’s rather nice to be busy and practical on the outside – and daydreams, as you call it, inside. The things one cares about are all inside, like seeds on the ground in winter. But one has to attend to the things one only half cares about. And so life passes away.

Luckily, the inside thing corresponds with the inside thing in just a few people. I think it is so with us. We don’t fit in very well outside – but the inside corresponds, which is most important.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

“Bowls (Gavin Russo’s Rework)” – Caribou (mp3)

“Odessa (Junior Boys mix)” – Caribou (mp3)

In Which We Place Boundaries And Accept Fate

Hard to Say is This Recording’s weekly advice column. It will appear every Wednesday until the Earth perishes in a fiery blaze, or until North West turns 40. Get no-nonsense answers to all of your most pressing questions by writing to justhardtosay@gmail.com or by dropping us a note at our tumblr.

Hi,

I recently met a guy who I will call Toby. Toby grew up in circumstances very different from my own, and has a very complicated relationship with two sets of parents – his adoptive parents, and his birth parents. Without boring you with a family history, both sets of parents come with their own foibles and nuances. Although neither is what I would call a destructive influence on Toby, the resulting time commitment from maintaining these complex relationships takes it toll. For example, one of his dads expects Toby to watch football with him all day Sunday, which seems asinine to me.

I think I am in love with this Toby, but the incredible amount of baggage the situation represents is immense now and only threatens to become moreso as things become serious. Toby has asked for my advice in dealing with this, but not only am I not sure what to say to him, I have little idea with how to deal with this myself or if I should just bail before things get worse. Thoughts?

Eliza H.

Dear Eliza,

Sounds like Toby’s coming down with a classic case of the, “I’m a young adult who needs to learn how to create and enforce boundaries with my parents.” You can suggest this, but making him do it would overstep your boundaries as a romantic partner.

Position it like this: “Honey pot, you seem stressed, and I don’t see you as often as I’d like. Is there a way for you to scale back your commitments? It seems like it might be good for everyone.”

We all have parent issues, but allowing them to encroach on our burgeoning adult lives is madness. If Toby’s addicted to the drama or too scared and won’t even consider it, it’s time for you to exit the cluster.

Hi,

Is it possible to be in love with two people? I’m seriously dating this one guy, but have been falling for a close friend at the same time. When I’m with one, I barely think of the other. When I’m alone, I fantasize about both, at different times. What should I do?!

Clarissa R.

Dear Clarissa,

Yes, it is possible to be in love with two people at the same time, especially if you are Shia LaBeouf. It is a common fallacy that all our needs can be satisfied by one person; I believe this hokum was perpetuated by Jesus or Margaret Thatcher, I forget exactly which one. Since you are not married to either of them, enjoy these precious days.

There is a more limited kind of love we can have for people who we respect and treat us well. There is no word in English for it, but the disgusting substance called ambergris that come from the digestive system of a sperm whale is perilously close. This kind of love comes from inside us, is expressed when we are being loved and cared for and appreciated, but in truth is not “true love” as you probably thought of it after you finished Frozen.

You will know the real kind of love when you find it, and if you never do, perhaps it is something that you cannot actually feel. Then you might be regretful that you didn’t keep playing these two saps longer.

Transitioning a boyfriend into a friend is impossible, but transitioning a too-close platonic friend into a boyfriend is as easy as waking up. Platonic friendships that contain the seeds of an unrealized sexual chemistry that is never fully consummated are one of life’s great pleasures until you are 25. After that it’s just bullshit.

Illustrations by Mia Nguyen. Access This Recording’s mobile site at thisrecording.wordpress.com.

“Love Gone Wrong” – You + Me (mp3)

“Break the Cycle” – You + Me (mp3)