In Which We Emerge The Victor Of These Events

service of the lord

The Friendship Mask

by ALEX CARNEVALE

She says the same thing, that bitch, that you do about me, that I’m an emotional cripple, by which she means that I don’t release my true emotions, that it’s a cover-up, what I show the world.  

Elia Kazan to his therapist about Barbara Loden

Elia Kazan decided to break things off with Barbara Loden. She had already felt, almost imperceptibly, his reluctance. She had recently told him at length of all the men she had ever been with. She informed him of her history, she said, so he did not have to wonder.

Enraged, Kazan began cheating on her whenever he could. She rehearsed her part in The Changeling all afternoon and evening at Lincoln Center, and he was free to stroll off from the set during those times. With a blonde girlfriend, he now exclusively courted brunettes.

One of these available women was a singer in a religious choir he had met in Tennessee. She kept her eyes closed while they fucked, mystifying Kazan. Another was a Greek brunette who tried to convince him to impregnate her and disappear. He refused.

While Loden was being fitted for costumes for her role, he wandered in Central Park one day and picked up a girl playing softball. She gave him her dead husband’s favorite sweater.

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Kazan’s friends feared that Barbara Loden had trapped him years before by keeping her only pregnancy. The boy, Leo, was now three, and Kazan had less than no interest in him. “I’ve never regretted telling Barbara that if she wanted a child it was all right with me,” he writes in the best show business autobiography ever penned, A Life. “Knowing my nature, wouldn’t you say she was taking a riskier chance than I was?”

Seven years into the relationship, Kazan was now weary of her. (“No one can tell me that novelty is not a great charge in sex,” he states in A Life, as if that were a revelation.) His numerous indiscretions only further convinced Kazan that he and Loden did not have love between them anymore.

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He planned to pick up Barbara Loden from rehearsal in a cab and head back to her place, where he would break the news gently. In the taxi, she immediately began complaining about how he had blocked her scenes, and criticized his directorial efforts in general. Kazan turned on her, dismissing his earlier reticence towards cruelty. She listened quietly to what he said.

Once her room, she took off all her clothes immediately, as she always did, to appease him. “I wanted to lie still on the bed and hold her,” Kazan writes about the post-coital mood. “But I noticed she didn’t like this the way she once had, and although her head was on my upper arm, and her leg over mine, she seemed tense, like a runner before a race. Then she said, with a casualness I thought feigned, ‘Daddy, I wish you’d tell me what you want me to do.'”

He could think of no real reply. Moments later, she said, “It’s either we marry or break up for good.” After seeing her home, he went to the apartment of the young widow. There he was happy for a time.

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When Elia Kazan had first introduced Barbara Loden to his friend John Steinbeck, the writer told him, in no uncertain terms, to stay away from her. Kazan planned to resolve his conflict with Loden by leaving for Europe; his therapist suggested he would feel better if he said goodbye to her. There, on a bench in Central Park, he met his son Leo for the first time.

Elia had been with his first wife Molly Kazan when he first met Loden. Ostensibly a playwright, Molly was not much of a writer and on some level, even after four lovely children by her, Kazan could not forgive this weakness. Molly first learned of Kazan’s penchant for infidelity during his not-so-quiet affair with the actress Constance Dowling.

He always made a habit of introducing his wife to his mistress, but his affair with Constance was so obvious Molly was told by a third party. His wife banished him to the study of their home, right next door to the bedroom, and seriously considered divorce. A friend gave her a piece of advice: “If you want him, you’ll have to take him as he is.” The only one who supported the director in the marriage’s impasse was his parents.

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He started up with Loden originally on the set of Splendor in the Grass. They had sex during every single lunch break. When the production was in New York, he would go home to his wife and their maid would serve the family dinner. He only stopped having sex with Loden when she became visibly pregnant.

Again he was compelled to see what Molly thought of Barbara, and vice versa. Unable to resist, he asked Loden for her opinion on his wife. “She’s a very handsome woman,” Loden said.

Throughout these lascivious trails, Kazan reveals he felt very little in the way of guilt. His penchant for self-acceptance in A Life reeks of 20/20 hindsight, but there is something else at work there, too, an essence his analyst identified and determined could never be fully repaired. Kazan did not long for other women because there was something lacking in his life. He had determined that this was his life: what primacy could any other part of his self claim, to stand up to that?

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Elia’s commiseration with Loden waxed and waned as the years went on. Sometimes she sent him letters describing an empathy she felt for him; at other moments she wondered if she even liked the man at all.

From his perspective, her innate destructiveness and lack of interest in how others viewed her was what attracted him in the first place. It was also the inner element which produced the natural charisma invaluable to her work as an actress and filmmaker.

Loden and Kazan continued to see each other, if infrequently, in the last years of Molly Kazan’s life. (Molly died from a brain hemorrhage in 1963, and was buried with her wedding ring.) Given a new primacy in his life after Molly’s death, Loden challenged Kazan regarding the stage roles he gave her. She constantly threatened to move to Los Angeles.

Kazan openly wondered to friends whether he’d required Molly to make his relationship with Loden work. He lost the ability to maintain an erection with her during sex, and attempted to break things off, as I have already described.

Free of Barbara, wandering the earth, Kazan felt somewhat alone. He wrote to Loden, suggested he missed her and asked her to come to Japan. They kept writing until she arrived, and when he saw her at the airport, he knew he had made a mistake. Still, she did everything she could to please him, and he responded in turn. She seemed happy to be with him again until Kazan told her that he had been fucking around with another woman in the month before she arrived.

Back in the U.S., Kazan continued seeing both Loden and his new mistress. (He was never able to manage much more than two at a time.) Again, his curiosity got the better of him, and he encouraged Barbara to confront the other woman he was seeing. Kazan called the girl to warn her Loden might try to see her.

“She’s right here,” the girl said.

“How are you getting along?” Kazan asked.

“I like her very much.”

Loden somehow emerged the victor of these events, and she moved in with Kazan a few months later, walking into Elia’s study and putting Leo in his lap. They were married in Kenya soon after, and a ceremony was held in the Caribbean. They were wed for less than a year before he found a mistress that would complement her better.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

you sure about that

 

In Which Motorbikes Claim So Many Innocent Lives

You Before He

by DICK CHENEY

Me Before You
dir. Thea Sharrock
110 minutes

I only break my post-Game of Thrones semi-retirement for Emilia Clarke movies. Alex started talking up this movie real early, claiming “It wouldn’t be like the Terminator movie b/c the Dragon Queen has to play a normal.” Boy, was he right. Louisa Clark (Emilia Clarke) proclaims in the first twenty minutes of Me Before You that she doesn’t enjoy watching films with subtitles because it requires too much work and she’s too basic to read.

Her dad is Bates (Brendan Coyle) from Downton Abbey because of course he is. When Louisa loses her job at the neighborhood bakery that seems to be giving away most of its food, her dad is like, “We’re really screwed now,” as the bakery $$$$ was all that was holding his small family together.

Louisa’s boyfriend is Neville from Harry Potter because half the excitement of this movie is realizing what other, peripheral movies the cast has been in. Neville is a long-distance runner, and since Louisa can’t share his passion for fitness because it is painful to run with her breasts, they start to grow apart.

By the far best part of Me Before You — although there are a lot of best parts since this is the best romantic comedy in awhile, even though there isn’t much in the way of comedy but who cares since the Dragon Queen is loving a paraplegic — is the fashion.

The costumes in this disasterpiece/masterpiece are stunning. At one point Louisa’s sister Katrina Clark (Jenna Coleman, who is a superstar in the making) wears a yellow shirt that was so perfect emblematic of her character that I began to sob quietly. Katrina is really supportive of Louisa’s relationship with the main antagonist in Me Before You, an ex-corporate stooge named Will Traynor (Sam Claifin).

I was once hit by a motorbike and the bike bounced off of me and everything was absolutely fine. It was a tiny little bike I mean who cares. Will Traynor is hit by a motorbike and he immediately goes down like a sack of potatoes and he never gets back up. Neville suggests maybe he should try a fitness regimen, which would make a lot of sense but Will pooh-poohs that advice since all the information he has from his doctors is that he’s pretty much incarcerated from the neck down.

Will immediately gets the idea that since he is in no way as sexually active as he was before the accident, that life is not remotely worth living. His previous girlfriend moves on and his mother hires Louisa to cheer him up between pithy remarks.

Although this setup isn’t much and anyone not attending the Republican National Convention can pretty much see where it is going, I have to admit some things that I did not expect and am ultimately not proud to have to say. Emilia Clarke is fantastic in this movie. It turns out that it is actually the shit-tier dialogue of David Benioff and D.B. Weiss holding her back. Me Before You lets her carry the action with a bubbly personality. You know what, Sam Claifin is really good too — he mostly just has to play off the Dragon Queen but she is always knocking things over and making mistakes but she never apologizes for them, she just accepts them as a part of life. I never knew how attractive a person like that can be until this movie.

It also helps that Emilia is a bit funny-looking but not without her charms. By all evidence her sister is the greater catch and we sense that when Will Traynor meets her family at a climatic birthday party at the end of the movie’s second act that he is maybe more interested in seeing where things go with her. But instead he gives Louisa these wacky socks that she was really wanting. You can never underestimate the impact of a thoughtful gift on making a woman want to dump her boyfriend.

Me Before You kinda slows to a crawl after that. Louisa and Will can only consummate their romance with chaste kisses. She never even plays around with his dick just to see if maybe there is an involuntary reaction. He likes having her in bed next to him and their lips touch at odd, bizarre intervals. To prevent him from wanting to take his own life she takes him to the horse track; I guess logically thinking that watching animals bred for human amusement would somehow cause him to rise out of his chair like Matthew Crawley.

The one reason that all of this inaction comes across so well is Thea Sharrock’s brilliant direction. She is completely spare with all of the varied emotions in Me Before You. To be honest, I was quite confused by that the different aspects of love depicted here and Sharrock keeps everything spare and understandable. Will’s parents are pretty unhappy with his choices but they treat him as an adult and abide by his wishes, even though it’s kind of hard to see why you would want to die living in a castle with Daenerys Targaryen waiting on you hand and foot and giving you soft kisses right before bed.

I won’t spoil what happens at the end of Me Before You, even thought my target audience has probably read the novel. I really don’t understand the negative reviews this movie got. I was legitimately hard throughout the last third of it, especially in this amazing scene where Will’s dad Charles Dance/Tywin Lannister chases after Daenerys at the airport. For a second, I was relatively sure that he was going to murder the poor girl. Instead she just rode away on the bus. From an airport. That girl sure was a normal.

Dick Cheney is the senior contributor to This Recording.

In Which We Think About How To Make The First Move

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.

Hi,

What is the right time to introduce sexting?

I don’t ask this question because it particularly turns me on. The women I’ve gone on dates with recently seem to expect a great deal of texting before we actually meet. On one hand, I understand this is a decent if potentially misleading way to get to know someone. On the other hand, I feel like sometimes the conversation peters out or loses a spark because of a lack of physical presence. It’s also tiring to keep up with some of these women, and I’m not sure how often to communicate with them.

I feel like if I introduce how attracted I am to them early on it will prevent me from getting friendzoned, so when is the best time to make that move?

Mike C.

just plain afraid to fail

Mike,

In my experience, there are three types of texters we need concern ourselves with to properly answer your question:

Women who don’t seem particularly texty. Some women just don’t love to text guys they haven’t met yet too much, since they view it as a waste of time if they don’t like you in person. Others are probably furiously texting other people and the fact that they don’t have time to text you indicates you are not exactly a priority. You can still make yourself a priority from there, but it is tough.

The best thing to do if you are getting mediocre responses to your texts is change lanes. Just call her and see where it goes. If she doesn’t call you back, she’s not interested anyway. If she does, you can accomplish everything that texting does in a fifth of the time and spend the remaining hours watching Workaholics.

Women who will text you a lot. If a woman is texting you a lot, she probably is looking for a relationship with a guy who will answer her texts. If you don’t answer her texts, you are not the type of person she wants to reproduce with. The positive side of this arrangement is that it gives you a lot of possibilties to flirt or as you call it, “sext.” You should only do this with a woman you don’t know in real life if you are (1) solid in terms of a connection or (2) you don’t give a fuck. Otherwise just stay flirty but keep it light. Otherwise she’s probably just interested in the attention you give her.

hard to say mia nguyen

Women who will text you a little. The story of Goldilocks and the three bears is a homophobic metaphor for almost everything in our lives. Did you know that Goldilocks was originally a disgusting old woman? The point of the story in Goldilocks is that we can never truly know who is in our bed, and afterwards, who has been there. She may have eaten the porridge also, she may not have, but we have no way of knowing. The truth is, the food is gone.

Many women fall in love quickly and heavily like Myrcella Lannister, but others are not so apt to be entranced by the text you send that contains the words “how r u?”

It’s important to know your strengths. If you’re not clicking with this person over text, I doubt that will suddenly change when you start telling her how much you love the MTV program Are You The One? Text communication is important, but it doesn’t represent how much you might enjoy spending time together, or even how she would text you once she gets to know who was in her bed.

Illustrations by Mia Nguyen.

In Which We Never Went To Jail For So Long

Savior Chic

by ALEX CARNEVALE

The Night Of
creators Richard Price & Steven Zaillian
HBO

John Stone (John Turturro) finds it very difficult to drape his physique in the right way. He has long legs, perhaps a bit ungainly for the abrogated shape of his torso. His feet are coated with unsightly blisters, the residue of dyshidrotic eczema, and he claims he wears sandals in order to expose them to the healing air.

These winsome character traits are mostly a distraction for Stone’s work as a criminal attorney in the New York City court system, depicted here with an absurdly pleasing amount of over-faithfulness. Richard Price was tired of his books turning into garden variety procedurals since he put so much work into detailing exactly the way things are. The result of his frustration is The Night Of.

Dennis Box (Bill Camp) is just as fun to watch as Turturro’s overwrought lawyer. The sparring between he and his legal opponent becomes the main centerpiece of A Night Of, while the accused Nazir Khan (Riz Ahmed) is instructed to never speak. When he does talk, he sounds like a fourteen-year boy instead of the college student he supposedly is.

Every Pakistani-American male I have ever met is acutely aware of how American society defines him, but somehow growing up in an insulated Queens neighborhood Nazir remains blissfully innocent of the world around him. On some level we have to buy this conceit in order to believe in A Night Of, since it allows us to enjoy the story of a proud family of American immigrants turned into a showpiece for white guys to debate the true meaning of the justice system.

In the show’s first episode, Khan finds himself ensconsed in the blood of a woman he has met the evening previous. In his pocket is the knife which carved her up. Despite the fact that the lifelong abstainer was under the influence of copious amounts of drugs and alcohol, he never once entertains the idea that he might have done this horrible deed. And so what if he did? He’s still entitled to a defense.

Stone gives him this, hectoring him at length whenever Khan speaks up to proclaim his innocence or talk to cops. Price’s depiction of the entire process of Khan’s arrest and incarceration is the most realistic depiction ever done in this medium, and Steven Zaillian, who directed all but one of the series’ eight episodes, revels in each tiny parcel of procedure. Every single notation or moment within the process is adjudicated its own little sense of justice, until it begins to make up a larger moral whole.

Price has been critical of the police and larger justice system in his novels, but A Night Of is mostly about how great everyone is. As Dennis Box, Bill Camp delivers a star-making performance and gets most of the good lines here, going on and on to his Pakistani suspect about how he is the only one who really believes in the truth. The veteran theater actor commands the scene with his unmistakable presence; there is not even any describing his poise — it just emerges like a force of nature.

Price has always been interested in how and why people lie. Deception is simply the greater part of both Box’s job and Stone’s job. The dance between the two of them is the only sunlight in the bleak views of Queens and Manhattan. A Night Of offers this contrasting diegesis without much in the way of a musical score to tell us what to feel. The spareness adds rather than subtracts from the mood.

Scenes with Khan’s parents Salim (Peyman Moaadi) and Safer (Poorna Jagannathan) also take on intense emotional weight because of their novelty. Poorna Jagannathan’s understated mothering plays well in comparison to Turturro’s intensely louder role. We see John Stone at home, so sure of himself in everything he does, so convinced he is the hero of something. In The Night Of, no other people are afforded that same silly confidence, the braggadocio that only comes with being white.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.


In Which Stranger Things Have Not Yet Occurred

The following review contains mild spoilers for the first three episodes of Netflix’s Stranger Things.

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Pleathers

by DICK CHENEY

Stranger Things
creators Matt Duffer & Ross Duffer
Netflix

Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder) lives in a run-down half ranch ever since her husband left her and moved to Indianapolis. Her clothes are draped over her shoulders in a casual-Mom esque way, the colors all poached green and residue brown. The makeup she does apply tends to make her look older, not younger. She is completely familiar yet entirely fraudulent as a divorced Midwesterner, since a remarkable feature of the Midwest is that it only has Jews in Ohio or Chicago.

Most of Winona Ryder’s family died in the Holocaust so she could play this gentile imitation of life. Her sons Will (Noah Schnapp) and Jonathan (Charlie Heaton), are maudlin, secretive individuals unhappy in themselves and uneasy with others. Jonathan is an amateur photographer who enjoys taking photographs of his unsuspecting classmates. Will is a strong student more interested in bonding with his tight-knit group of friends than his disassociated family.

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Stranger Things leans so heavily on the concept of the 1980s that it will fall over and collapse without constant referring to its own time period. Between games of Dungeons & Dragons, Will’s friend Mike (Finn Wolfhard) tells his parents about the guy his sister is fucking, a bro named Steve Harrington whose idea of a good time is shotgunning a beer. Everything in this epoch seems way toned down from what it actually was, like the 1970s never actually touched the small town of Hawkins, Indiana.

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Mike’s sister Nancy (Natalia Dyer) is the breakout star of Stranger Things, which attempts to arrange a bunch of clichés from the terrible science fiction of the period into some kind of amalgam of inventiveness. She does the dirty deed with Steve Harrington, and the next day her friend has disappeared and her mother is screaming at her for telling the truth. This is such an absurd fate for a honest woman living her life as she sees fit.

Slut-shaming is everywhere in Stranger Things, a concession to small-town American values and how they stay intact no matter how much the surrounding world changes. In order to hide a young girl who they find in the woods, Mike Wheeler and his friends dress her up in a wig and do her makeup. No one in this society could possibly deal with a young girl who shaved her head.

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I was actually alive during the 1980s. It was nothing like this, and as Tony Soprano famously said, “Remember when is the lowest form of conversation.” To further enforce the prurient sense of nostalgia at work in Stranger Things, the chief antagonist is portrayed by a desiccating Matthew Modine. His role is as completely vacuous as the faceless monster who appears to absorb Will Byers into his carapace in the show’s dull first episode.

Stranger Things gets substantially better from there. Ryder, it turns out, plays a fantastic Christian woman, and her considerable charisma is always a relief to engage. Just as entertaining to watch is the breakout performance of Hawkins’ only sheriff, Jim Hopper (David Harbour). The rest of the casting on this project is as sublime, and it is great fun to watch all these characters engage with one another, no matter how slight the premise.

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The science fiction elements of Stranger Things are in fact pretty dreadful, and contain nothing much in the way of science at all. This decision appears purposeful. Like much of the cinematic output of that dreadful decade, the context of horror in this small town is more basic fantasy, and not overly ambitious fantasy at all at that. Joyce believes that she can contact her son through the electrical circuits in her house. Mike’s telekinetic friend that he found in the woods has a similar idea, and things develop slowly from there.

The synthesized music adds to general fantastic atmosphere. It would have been easy to turn this flimsy story into a tongue-in-cheek situation, but almost nothing is played completely for laughs, and the general tone in Stranger Things is, if anything, over-serious. “Sometimes people don’t say what they’re really thinking,” one of the characters explains to Nancy at one point, but in Stranger Things they mostly do, again and again.

Dick Cheney is the senior contributor to This Recording.

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In Which You Could Hardly Call Such A Thing Beauty

Tinseltown

by DAN CARVILLE

for D

You asked me, picking at your lower lip, did I see you as a person or a woman?

I guess what bothers me the most, besides you retching when I told you the score, is how you said you gave up on people. It was not for you to decide that bit of business. I had all this faith in you. I know now that it was not faith in your desires, but only faith in mine. The way I love you almost appalls me, too.

Since that day, I saw again an image I cannot forget, of a round window there in a place that I know. I always search for myself in it, as a fool looks for what he remembers of his own face in the mirror.

You said you were below a bridge, looking out on the canal. Your throat closed (you had pertussis last year). I credit you for this everything in the world that deserved to be taken seriously, you gave it that allowance. But you did not laugh a lot.

I know I sometimes go on and on about reflections. But I really only love them when nothing is reflected, and I get to thinking, whatever might belong there. Is that now a sadistic way of looking at the world? That is what you said to me. You did not admit you wronged me, lied to me, destroyed the feeling there.

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I have never forgotten anything either. I only pretend to so I can seem more like other people.

Slipping away from the city, all the trees shed their lights when the train swings near. Place aches, so I will not go to any of ours again, half-hoping to find you swiveling your neck to absorb the next scene. Within the frame, one man calls to another, hidden beyond a door. God, you said you loved all those things. I tried to forget that, and here it is.

We talked sparingly of my true theistic beliefs. You see, I do not care who views me praying for you, or against you. When a person does not care where they are going, only with whom they have been, it makes a sorry sight for any decent deity. I have to admit I am the one who did all this, tracing a new pattern over the old. It resembled the original too closely, I see now.

I grew to trust the writing advice of Derek Lam when he was first my instructor, and then my friend. I showed him some of these lines, especially the one where you did not realize what you had managed. He said that the second person, used it in this way, was so overdone. He’d had enough of the editorial, worldly You. Who gave these writers, he said, the right to make their primary subject all of ours as well? I told him this struck me as a kind of disturbing fastidiousness to one particular part of speech, and I also mentioned that he didn’t know you.

That address comes before the invention of self, incarnate in us all. It reforms speech as the primary act. Calling to a person so radiates truth, because I would never lie to you, my darling. (See how this statement excuses both of us from culpability?) Calling to a woman is no different. In stockings and tights, denim or polyester fleece, the sullen take their bows. I looked for you there, among the carollers, thinking I had heard your gravelly voice.

There is a Manichean residue on what you touch, as well as the oil from your hands.

A laminated card, or a picture shifting out of its frame. A half-eaten sandwich that resembles the skull’s refractions in brightest light or unexpected darkness. A ramshackle, bouncing strategem. Rumors of insanity in final days, last strokes. A telescope tripping on its legs.

I showed someone else the things you said. “She was probably just confused,” my correspondent wrote, “don’t you ever feel that way?” I said I did about various things, including bocci and Old Maid. A moment later my phone rang. The voice on the other end of line said, “You can’t understand why a person would be wary of someone who is never confused, or at least not very often?” I hung up the phone.

The thing about the second person is, ‘you’ constitutes the highest form of address. It will always be what we call a king, or a queen. You (you) can never take that away from me (again, you). In the border wars of Apollonia, men would bring their wives to see the fight, and the fight to see that they had wives. I have been party to this general type of thing before, but never as completely as when you exposed who you are to me.

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I should not have listened so closely to you.

Take, for example, a capsule. Sealed inside, a daring pilot knows nothing of the world he enters. Each cadet is equipped with the same rations, the identical equipment. Of maybe 1000 pilots, one or two turns over the possibilities within the fragile walls of his enclosure. He emerges from it like the rest, but what he sees will be different from his fellows. The place he has come to is not unfamiliar.

I told all those pilots that they also didn’t know you, not like I thought I did.

A couple of days before I told you to go away you sent me some pictures of yourself. I nearly did not recognize you because you looked so unhappy in them. The light I saw was only my own light, and the stars their reflection.

Imagine how the world would be completely changed if only everything limited itself to one chance. Or don’t, but that is how I plan to live out my days. It is as you said. From high enough up, they all look like ants.

We always have a right to defend ourselves. I hope you are done, and that no one heard you.

Taking another form (not the tu form) comes beset with danger; this vibration of language is what gives time all its legerdemain. On occasion, I prevented myself from turning towards you, where you sat, arraying your things around you like the function of a light disorder. You showed me the inside of the capsule: exactly what was foretold when the man wrote, “Not to be pulled in.” Pressing indistinctly on the high cheekbones of your face. You could hardly call such a thing beauty.

Dan Carville is the senior contributor to This Recording. He is a writer living in Brooklyn. You can find an archive of his writing on This Recording here. He last wrote in these pages about the falcon and the angel and the light in the trees.

Photographs by the author.

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In Which We Were Meant To Be A Bird In Flight

karla desk pic

Recitals

by KARLA CORNEJO VILLAVICENCIO

•  This document is a restrictive covenant (hereafter “Covenant”) executed pursuant to today, year two thousand and sixteen in the Lord’s calendar. Today I turn 27. The Internet has given that number a club, the matter at hand.

•  This covenant is required because sometimes you are scared, and because sometimes I am.

•  It is the purpose of this Covenant to restrict certain activities and uses of the Property — once mine but ours now — to protect the environment. You once said I was dense as a forest, beautifully saying that I am a lot, and I thought maybe you were saying I was something like the willow tree that Hamlet’s Ophelia climbed up and fell off, landing in the brook where she drowned. You told me your uncle personally picked the White House Christmas tree from a forest in Alaska. I want to be that one.

•  The following are the details of this Covenant:

If anybody could have saved me it would have been you.

That is a line for a girl with no Covenant in walking distance from the River Ouse.

I went to Catholic school until I was a teenager. I don’t believe in salvation, but I quite like the songs about it. My 7th grade teacher, I think she was a lesbian, wrote one on her guitar with my 8th grade teacher, I also think she was a lesbian, and it sounded a little bit more Pentecostal than either would have liked and it went something like: And the Father will dance, [something] day of joy, He will [something] and renew you with his love. There were even tambourines involved, and this was before the storefront churches moved into town.

I am prepared to sign without reservation a 60-year mortgage for a cardboard-drywall house in a small town by the water, even though you cannot drive and I cannot drive and you cannot swim and I cannot swim and your father would never let us sign for that loan, I believe he has got a smart portfolio.

It’s funny, my drawing up this legal document, because whoever knew I could. Would you love me more if I were in law school, I once said to you on a city bus. I know you like to kiss me more, but what if I had a job, a real job, a job with benefits and security and a future, what if I could buy you things, Lacoste underwear not marked down for slight imperfections, bottles of water that cost at least three dollars, a hypoallergenic puppy from a breeder. We were at a hotel downtown in front of a memorial we agreed was poorly designed. It was meant to be a bird in flight but it looked like a plane crash at the moment of contact. We kept the shades up through the night because you or I had paid for the view and we liked seeing each other during because it was early and still painful, and if you were going to be my cold and broken hallelujah, I wanted to see your face when I took something from you as you saw it happen and you took it back from inside me, bruising viscera bruised already, but you always did say I love you after. I made you cry the next morning and to calm you down I offered you my sports drink and you could not well breathe and you could not well speak and through the thickest of tears you said, I don’t drink blue shit and that’s when I thought, holy shit.

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You had been safe in a distant suburb on 9/11, one of the ones with no sidewalks and let this serve me as a mental note to research whether this is true of all suburbs, but I’m from New York and my dad disappeared that whole day and part of the night, we didn’t know he was crossing the bridge, and so that long night in the Financial District it felt like we were doing something really bad, like hooking up in a closed confessional, curtain drawn, at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, which I suggested that one time. You were in between trains, I had an hour for lunch, and it was equidistant.

Our house smells like orange essential oils to keep away the ants, you hate the ants, and you spray lavender eucalyptus water in the air vents before we go to bed, you spray and I say hippie shit, every single time, but I accept the four drops of white chestnut under my tongue for thoughts that go round and round. We disagree on the matter of medicine sometimes, I say honey, it’s placebo at best, but I’ll take it, one of everything, I’ll try everything once, I’ll even take off my ring, once, and then you will, once, and then we will both go down on our knees, which you have never done for a god and I have never done for a man, looking for your simple gold band under the bookshelf. You grew up playing softball and throw farther than I can.

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When it was my turn to ask you to do the joint income tax thing, I did it on a softball field in New Haven because it was a reference to your favorite movie. I went down on my knee, the whole thing. My first thought was to take you to the oldest tree in Connecticut, a birch where people claim to have seen the image of the Lord. I tell you this, even though you are Jewish. We planned to go to the oldest tree in New York in February, your darkest month. I want to take you to the trees because they are hundreds of years old. They have been standing for so long. Are they tired, I wonder. In the decades of the great Latin American military dictatorships, one torture technique was to have people in custody just stand and stand until they couldn’t stand any more, and these trees are crooked but still upright. I am tired for them and I am also just tired, so I sometimes I sit, but fuck if my posture isn’t something to see.

Your hands are beautiful so small like the rain I mean I love your eyes they are better than green or hazel, they are the color of dying leaves which the French have a word for. Le passage à l’heure d’hiver. That’s not the word. Can we find a bathroom somewhere, you are between trains and we have an hour and sixty dollars between us. This time, the Yale Club is equidistant.

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Section II: Modification and Termination

The Grantor may submit a request to Ecology that this Covenant be amended or terminated. Any amendment or termination of this Covenant must follow the procedures in the document amended to this one and any rules promulgated under these chapters.

Please don’t leave.

This poet I like — Michelle K — said, “Do not make homes out of people. This will leave you homesick and sad,” but too fucking late, dude, too fucking late.

You spend your life thinking you’re Truman Capote, slung across your armchair in your dark satin bathrobe, bookish and strong and sad, and then you realize you don’t have a bathrobe. You have L.L. Bean slippers (you call them “Old Friends” but I think that’s their name?) that I make fun of but are actually quite warm and even Robert Lowell, bookish and strong and sad, wrote his wife about the birds that time, remember? He wanted her to remember. I am a strong man, and you are a strong man, and the point of this Covenant is that Robert Lowell was a good man and a strong man too, may he rest in peace, and I will teach Life Studies wherever I follow you. Like Vera Nabokov, who followed our esteemed Russian writer to Wellesley post-Lolita, I will throw the most darling of tea parties at the term’s start — the ratio of cucumber to watercress to cream cheese to white bread triangles, crusts removed, unprecedented among spousal faculty  — so blue-undertone bitches — “winters,” Mary Kay ladies might call them — see I am a forest fire and know their fucking place.

We will head outside, and I’ll hand out copies of Anne Sexton’s collected, the cheap one you can pick up at The Strand. The three-sentence bio on the flap jacket mentions her suicide, I think on line three. We will make a pile and burn them, and then we’ll recite, all together, a catechism from Karen Green: “I always feel like saying he died is letting him get away with something.”

She had her heart broken by a man who wrote this really great thing about cruise ships once.

Not like me, baby.

I have never been on a cruise ship.

I don’t know even how to swim.

Still, I make my way to the Underworld once or twice a week, kidnapped by Hades and serving my time as his bride in a plea deal arranged by my mother. The Underworld is a deep pool, dark and dense with water and souls and I alone levitate. I stare Death in the eyes, I size up his pupils, and then I make it back here, and with me, the flowers.

I promise you spring, every spring, this spring and the one nine years from now, the one sixteen years after, ten years after that, four years later, and however many springs are left until the chlorofluorocarbons we love kill the Earth or something. The day that I’ll die, old and annoyed by everything, I promise you I will die in the fall so I will have never broken my promise of spring.

Finally, I will compromise on the matter of whether or not we will share a sock drawer and, having resolved that, on the matter of whether we will share socks.

Karla Cornejo Villavicencio is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in New Haven.

Photographs by the author.

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