In Which We Forget What We Know

Think Like A Hermit

by DICK CHENEY

Curb Your Enthusiasm
creator Larry David
HBO

Why isn’t Curb Your Enthusiasm funny anymore? I was browsing through the nether regions of my DirecTV package the other night and I flipped on the Clippers game against the Suns. Suddenly, the enterprising director went to a close-up on Larry David. He looked his usual mix between alarmed and disoriented, only perhaps even more so, since the comedian celebrated his 70th birthday this past summer.

Seventy used to be a grand old age, but now it is basically reverse adolescence, filled with a similar set of painful indulgences. When I turned seventy in 2011, I remember buying and eating an entire cantaloupe at first light, and spending most of the evening attempting to figure out the name of a movie where Helen Hunt befriended a zebra. Unsurprisingly and somewhat disappointingly, the film I remembered never existed.

This was not so different from how I was occupying my time sixty years ago, except I had a non-gastrophysical reason for purchasing a cantaloupe. Naivete is an asset when experience is so easily disregarded, so Larry David wanders around a cleaner version of Los Angeles, dabbling in all of the city’s richest parts. The show’s long awaited upgrade to true high definition now makes every scene look like the memorable season finale where Mr. David went to heaven, the joke being that he is the only man who could find hell there.

It was always painful to watch the awkward improvisations that made up David’s life on Curb, but this season is particularly unwholesome because Larry has nothing positive in his life that is sacrificed by his miserable attitude. His ex-wife Cheryl Hines has moved on with Ted Danson, although like most of Larry’s relationships with people, their quintessential dynamic is never altered.

Still, this gets us no closer to finding out why Curb Your Enthusiasm has become a turgid collection of dated blunders, attempting to relive a time when some of us could actually bother to give a shit about what white people were going through. Whenever I look in the mirror, I honestly have a thought in my mind that there is a chance a creature visually similar to Clarence Thomas will look back.

It used to be that nostalgia could free us from the uncomfortable newness of the present. But Larry has already cycled through his various reunion storylines, and we definitively learned that there is no bringing Seinfeld back at this point — the only thing left would be infants cryogenically preserved in the frozen winter of their discontent. The reunion didn’t work, and Curb does not work now, because everyone except Richard Lewis is forced to play the straight man to Larry, and the comedic talents of the surrounding cast inhabit humorless, monotone versions of the characters they usually play. (See Cranston, Bryan).

Anyway, the parallels to our president are too obvious to explore. In time, Mr. Pence will be our new leader, and I will write thematically fascinating essais about how Karen Pence takes her thinspiration from Gilda Radner and her smile from a mountain lion. The question will be as repetitive as it always is: how much we permit ourselves to tolerate what other people bring into our lives. Not to be cynical, but it might be worthwhile to think about how much they take.

Dick Cheney is the senior contributor to This Recording.


 

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In Which It Is The Reason I Have Been Standing On The Wire

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Odd Numbers

by HEATHER MCROBIE

You love Jerusalem the way you love your father. You have to, it’s like God. Golden and eternal and looming down, only there are no shadows to hide in when faced with it, not in any quarter. You submit to its logic, its walls weighted with allegory and tiny little tucked-away dreams, scrolls upon scrolls of little insignificances, lost in the stony face of the city, hills like smoke mixing physical geography and parable. Its gates open and close – announced and regularly – but beyond your control. It’d be as useless to resist as it would be to remove the pattern of your fingerprints on your fingers, or change the day you were born. You’re nothing in the face of it – at best, you’re a little unoriginal replica or a conduit that it moves through. It exists, complete and eternal, irrespective of you.

You love Tel Aviv the way sometimes in a café on either side of the Mediterranean you’re the just right temperature already, there is heat and breeze in the right combination already, unholy and earthly and just-right, some shitty music of just the right kind and some faint laughter from teenagers outside, and then at some inexact point in the afternoon you see someone suddenly and – you were complete before, you understand; it’s not that you need anything – and yet you are suddenly blurred in love, in a smudge of watermelon flavour and soft alcoholic edges and the Dopplering mush of music up and down the beach, none of which you needed until it was suddenly there.

Jerusalem is saying never to forget that you alone are just a fragment or scrap and you won’t even understand the enormity of the page you come from. Tel Aviv is saying – through its neon and its Bauhaus buildings, which you don’t need and which don’t need you but just curve and curve and curve – that you don’t need to live in your worst moment forever; that you can construct yourself anew, enamelled and glistening with careless, improbable joy.

Perhaps, too, both are saying to you – do not think of the other half of the sentence. Jerusalem in its achingly solemn eternity, Tel Aviv in its miraculous hurtling to the future, say together, as opposites, as twins – don’t think, just for a moment, what buys this beauty, what’s hidden and erased now, what and who have had to pay for all of this.

This isn’t a story about either Jerusalem or Tel Aviv. It is not really a story anyway. It’s a little exercise in not becoming too enamelled and not making everything a story. It’s difficult to keep things light. It’s difficult not to draw constellations out of an arrangement of lights. This is what I wanted to explain about Tunisia – not golden iconic Jerusalem, not neon miraculous Tel Aviv, but a place as a place, breezily intangible, that wouldn’t ask to be decoded.

23

The summer I was twenty-three I won a writing prize only five other people had entered with a story that grew into a novel, which was published and froze my embarrassingly unformed juvenilia in place out in the world like a pre-historic bug trapped in amber, or like some kind of pinned not-quite-butterfly. I wore a white dress to the book launch and, drunk in front of my Dad for the first time, I told a real grown-up writer that I was wearing white because “because, maybe, maybe this party is like…my wedding, and maybe it’s like, my books will be my children? Maybe…” I trailed off, imprecisely. The real writer and my out-of-place Dad laughed at me as though I was twenty-three and unformed, and I remember I felt ashamed.

25

The summer I was twenty-five I was studying on the same course as this guy, and I moved in with him because I was lost by all the fractures and codes and loaded surnames of where I was. This guy with a specific passport and a specific surname and of origins of no relevance here crucially once threw my clothes out of the window of the apartment we were staying in, and said something about ‘smashing my teeth in’ because of something to do with the length of my skirt and something to do with my passport, and really there is too much that isn’t mine in this story for me to try to explain it. To stop being trapped – in Novi Zagreb, ugly part of a pretty city, miles from the cool of the Croatian coast – festering in the building with this guy I’d once liked and his fists and sudden changes of mood, I made a bargain with him. I’d write his thesis for him if he would leave me the summer alone and unbruised, and let me keep the apartment while I do it.

I was writing my thesis too. July and August were a blur of decoding graffiti on concrete footbridges and my attempts – alternating with my own thesis – to write in the voice of the man who’d left. I felt detached and professional, numb enough to slump by the electric fan every evening and watch the dubbed and dated soap operas and without feeling affinity for one character in particular. I thought I was mastering the art of getting the overview of a situation, though I wasn’t.

My thesis was on writers persecuted by the state, why we need writers, how literature expands our empathy. The thesis of the man who’d once found a cockroach in the apartment and thrown it at me because I took too long coming back from the shops was on the idea there’s no such thing as morality. Once, after he’d left, I walked back from the bakery stocked up on sirnica and individually-sold sachets of ‘Nescafe’, and briefly appreciated this symmetry between my thesis and his. It was more difficult than writing a novel or building something you believe in, trying to write like him – thinking which avenues of arguments his mind wouldn’t walk down, which subtleties he would have smashed through. Bluntly, because I was feeling bruised and needed to nourish myself with anything I could find within me, I liked having to think of which book he wouldn’t have read, how to limit the thesis’s arguments accordingly.

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If that sounds unkind and intellectually snobbish, the guy with the surname had had plenty of educational opportunities, and also once spat in my face and called me a whore for speaking to [ ] because [ ] had a passport from [ ] country. Also, he was willing to have someone else do his work for him.

Like many overgrown boys full of anger, he claimed to be a big fan of Nietzsche. I quoted the philosopher in the thesis I was ghost-writing for my freedom, but – as a subtle, feminine act of resistance – I always made sure I did it slightly incorrectly. Just like you can deliberately sew a button on wrong: not so it comes off straight away, but so it will not hold.

At the end of the year what matters isn’t the graduation ceremony – which was Italian in medieval redness and embarrassment, or the party afterwards – which was Southern in an outline of broken glass and Yugo-rock – but just that my thesis on literature and empathy got a higher grade than the Nietzsche-thesis I’d written for him. This simple fact secretly sustained me the whole winter after I came home and tried to find a palatable way to explain this period of my life to old friends.

I no longer feel very ashamed of this. After all, no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself. Know who said that, overgrown violent boy? Friedrich Nietzsche.

27

The summer I was twenty-seven I went to Tunisia because I was sort of studying the political situation and recreationally in love with an improbably good-natured visiting French student whose father was from Tunisia though he, my smiling sort-of boyfriend, had never been there himself. When I emailed my friend from neighbouring Libya, she wrote back: ‘Tunisia, so cool so blue so white so nice.’

Although it wasn’t completely spared the pilfering imaginations of colonial-era writers – there’s Flaubert’s Salammbô, which he wrote in an overgrown-boy sulk at the French reception of Madame Bovary; and Andre Gide’s The Immoralist, which treats the country as static backdrop for the Frenchman’s awakening to bourgeois hypocrisies – Tunisia at least wasn’t subjected to the same malignant obsession that France held for Algeria. It was colonised, it was abused, of course, but as it wasn’t anointed as the jewel in the delusion crown of imperial conceit, it could, it seemed, sometimes, just quietly be. I’d learned in the ugly part of beautiful Zagreb that there are few benefits to being an abuser’s chosen object of fixation. Tunisia was comfortable as a country among countries, not stewing in the story of itself. That summer the visiting student and I drank in the Salons de thes and ate makrout and swam and talked about going to Libya but of course weren’t going to Libya, Tunisia was cool and blue and fresh and smelled of jasmine and its revolutionary cry had been for ‘karama’, dignity, an unembellished, unassuming plea.

There were few ‘isms’ and factions in the newspapers, not the political Rubik’s cube of the international arena or the aching fault-lines that split on either side of here, the demand had been the way someone just gives you a look when you’re being unreasonable and you stop being obnoxious. It’s a beautiful word, ‘karama’, because what can you say in the face of someone asking for dignity? It just says, don’t be unreasonable.

Don’t be unreasonable, just go to swim in the sea, make more makrout, let’s not argue, why does it matter, come to bed, never mind we’ll go another day, go to Carthage if you want but these aren’t ruins like Jerusalem’s, electric with live history, these are just beautiful things to be set on the table of a mind next to jasmine and blue-and-white-painted streets. Since I thought of this summer as the French student’s story – visiting his father’s country, seeing the food he’d eaten at home at street vendor stalls, the town south of Tunis that had his surname – I didn’t read meaning into everything. I’d sometimes seek significance in things on his behalf, point out a phrase he’d use that was also spoken here or a repeating pattern in the architecture, and he’d say “but why does it matter?” and it wasn’t mine to make matter or not.

21

I didn’t always know this about places and people and things and languages. The summer I was twenty one I’d gone alone to Israel, and though I didn’t catch Jerusalem Syndrome or get drafted into one of the cults comprised of lost backpackers, in my aloneness and my twenty-one-ness I read everything into everything, in every way all at once until it exploded meaning, by which I mean I think I became unwell, in a way that didn’t get cured until the summer six years later when I was happy.

For the first few days I was just practicing the alphabet and practicing how to be alone. But soon the dead sea scrolls were speaking to the synagogue from Kerala that had been dismantled in India and shipped across an ocean, to be rehoused in a national museum, the great trade routes of empires were springing up in my mind like a global cat’s cradle that I had to consciously hold in place at all times and mustn’t ever let slip, the signs of every newspaper reporting every event in every adjacent country, the languages whose alphabets were cousins of each other, the histories upon histories, each event ricocheting off each other, each genealogy of reminiscence, each side of each story and each collective memory all at once, languages I hadn’t heard of that suddenly I needed to know – who knew about Phoenician, where can I study Assyrian, where can I study all the ways these all interlink and all at once speak to each other. All the little hurtling pollen of history landing on and blossoming in the Biblical and futuristic present – golden Jerusalem and glistening Tel Aviv together – I lay awake at night with notebooks for practicing alphabets and with several books open but not reading any of them because I didn’t know how I would fit everything into my mind all at once so that it was complete.

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I think this is what going mad is like, more than thinking a book launch is like a wedding because your unwritten books are like unborn children, or like writing someone else’s work for them to put their name on, or choosing to love a completely inappropriate person, although none of those are very wise choices. The French visiting student would sometimes say to me when I was thinking through something I was studying or writing “but why does it matter? It doesn’t matter, okay.” I had rational views about how the revolution might turn out, based on the newspapers I’d developed the habit of reading, the -isms and factions I’d learned to trade in, but emotionally the idea grew that it works best when a place is a place, so cool so blue so white so nice, and with none of the colours or the names too painfully heavy with meaning.

+

If this story wasn’t about growing up exactly it was about an un-stitching from how you’ve threaded yourself into the codes of the world too intensely. Or a little loosening from that quest to mythologise everything around you – load every name and letter and alphabet and dress and swinging shop-sign and little symmetries of hand-movements of the person sitting opposite you and the major and minor notes struck every time a person laughs and every diacritic and every birdsong or mobile phone tone or date of email address and every airplane ticket and every geographical point and every funeral hymn and every goodbye and every beginning with this weight. It’s very hard to be unsymbolic, not see everything as part of its own language, with a grammar you could learn if you just applied yourself more completely.

It should be easy. For every constellation you make there’s a pattern-less un-remarkableness that you could draw just as easily, if you chose to, or chose not to choose. The summer I was twenty-two I photocopied in an office and baked carrot cake but not very much, the summer I was twenty-four I wrote a bit but not a lot, I don’t remember anything that happened the summer I was twenty-six and I just wasted this whole year I’ve been twenty-eight vaguely thinking about what it would be like to kiss someone I’m not completely sure I’d want to kiss anyway. There don’t have to be patterns. What contentment could come from no longer looking for them, even just for a while.

Heather McRobie is the senior contributor to This Recording. She twitters here and tumbls here.

 

In Which There Were One Or More Ways To Be Free

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 took a new job, and for various reasons at my old workplace, I have been telling people that I have a boyfriend just because it makes things easier for me not having other people speculate about my love life. Despite that, I have gotten close to someone who knows I have a boyfriend, sorry, that I “have” “a” “boyfriend”, and yet still seems to be interested. Is the expectation that I will just break up with my boyfriend at some point or I am just mistaking his interest?

Helen T.

Dear Helen,

Saying you have a boyfriend is simply one of those that will come true simply by speaking into existence. (Phrases that operate on a similar level are, “I wish there was a Whole Foods around here” and “I wonder if Jimmy Kimmel cried tonight.”) Most men find women with boyfriend more attractive, since things are impossible until they aren’t. Plus, lots of people cheat. Since your boyfriend is not technically real, he will either never ask about him at all or want to know more.

I’m guessing he is the first kind of person, which means he probably just wants to keep you on the backburner, plus it probably takes off a lot of pressure knowing you are a taken individual.

I respect your lie, but I don’t understand how you are going to transition out of it if you really like this guy. And if you don’t, the boyfriend will probably have to exist indefinitely.

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Hi,

I was reading one of my boyfriend’s books and I found a letter that an old girlfriend (I think) had written him. It was very sexual and nothing like the way that we would write or even talk to each other. (We do have a great sex life, but it just is not a verbal thing.) It was in fact rather graphic, not that I have a problem with that, but my boyfriend has never particularly expressed that was the sort of thing he enjoyed. Should this worry me less than it does?

Annie B.

Dear Annie,

In a relationship, say the one between Vice President Pence and his wife Karen, there is a specific erotic rapport that exists for the just the two of you. If you have a great sex life, that is more than enough. Verbal pitter-patter works for some people, and it is fun every once in awhile, but on some level it becomes more forced than authentic.

Whatever relationship he had with someone else is in the past, I mean probably, might not hurt to check the date on that letter.

You want to be authentic, don’t you? Don’t you?

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

 

In Which We Reject The Fatal Gift

Dig Another Hole

by JANICE LEVENS

Choir of the Mind
Emily Haines & the Soft Skeleton
Emily Haines and James Shaw
producers Emily Haines and James Shaw
September 15th on Last Gang

It has been eleven years since Metric lead singer Emily Haines released Knives Don’t Have Your Back, her best ever album in any form, and one of the best eulogies ever preserved in pop music. Haines had lost her father, the poet Paul Haines, in 2003. He lived again on Knives Don’t Have Your Back, in a tightly wound cry of sorrow in which the piano was used as a hammer to flatten Emily’s most depressing personal moments.

Admittedly, I have never been a fan of Emily’s day job, Metric, which usually just seems loud for the sake of being loud.  Watching Emily perform live in support of Knives, I never understood why she didn’t focus on the piano driven ballads that make up every song she has done as part of The Soft Skeleton. Haines is a tremendous live performer, with a voice that reverberates through space and a massive stage presence that belies her short form. Her command of the piano is stunning.

Lyrically, Haines has also been on another level when writing for her side project. She has the fatal gift of giving the most banal metaphor the slight twist required to succeed on the merits. “Like oil in the ocean, I couldn’t keep to myself,” she sings on the devastating “Statuette”.  For the most part, Haines seems a lot happier, so in order to keep Choir of the Mind sufficiently dark, she imagines her earlier, more despondent self: “How can you resent love? Can you prevent any love at all? I meant what I said back then,” she offers on “Nihilist Abyss”.

Sonically, Knives featured a texture so completely lush that the nuance of the production seemed somewhat lost. At times her vocals were buried beneath the soundscape, but on Choir of the Mind writing partner James Shaw has pared back the choir to allow the intricacies of Haines’ ethereal voice to stand out more prominently. “Minefield of Memory” has Haines’ piano telling the entire story in a vaguely hypnotic fashion. This trend continues on the album’s title track, where Haines uses spoken word to great effect, resulting in what feels like the equivalent of syncopated call and response to the 1850 piano she plays through the album.

On the album’s standout track, “Wounded”, Haines explains what she means by a fatal gift. Choir of the Mind deals with what happens after you achieve what wanted, and the album finds Haines questioning whether material things are even worthwhile at all.  Later she is more honest with herself: “I only want what I can’t reach.”

Emily’s best writing comes on Choir of the Mind‘s haunting final track, where she seems to bring the people she has lost back into view. Shaw’s arrangement is note perfect as Haines sings, “Dial down the overdrive. Otherwise top yourself off in time. To sail on in toward what?” Hopefully she trashes Metric and focuses on the Soft Skeleton full time.

Janice Levens is the music editor of This Recording. She is the pseudonym of a writer and poet living in Los Angeles. You can find an archive of her music reviews on This Recording here.

 

In Which We Can’t Give What We Don’t Have

A Bit of Sport

His lengthy time in prison no doubt made the bisexual playwright, poet and memoirist Brendan Behan more inclined to alcohol once he left confinement in a juvenile British prison called a borstal. His influential and gripping narrative of his time in jail after he was arrested for an IRA plot he was almost sure not to carry out, 1958’s Borstal Boy, rendered him a household name in his native Ireland and Europe as a whole. He was not the finest writer to ever come out of that proud and beautiful land, but he was the one who spoke for those who could not speak for themselves. His letters were few and far between; most mention his wife Beatrice Behan, who suffered through his losing battle with alcoholism, and to whom he never wrote very much. Then again, one of the major themes of his work was that how much you talked about something did not equate to how important or wonderful that thing was. Here is some of his private writing.

Dublin, May 1951

Some months ago, I wrote you that I had started a book. I am calling it Borstal Boy.

Here is a bit of it.

I might see you in the summer if you are still there. I was in Dieppe last month but only on a jump with an Irish boat. Got drunk on the North Wall and — off with them. Had no papers and so could not go up to Paris. Came home, armed with bottles of Pernod, 200 fr. ex-bond, which was what I principally came for.

Dublin, June 1951

You must excuse the terrible typing. It was not my fault. I had to do it myself. No typist in Dublin would look at it.

A woman that used to do a bit for me I fell out with.

I have no copy of that mss. I wonder would it be a terrible big thing to ask you do whatever excising you would think necessary?

For the … and so forth, could you manage an initial and a dash?

It is an extract from a novel. Why shouldn’t it read like that?

Poems of mine in Gaelic are being broadcast from Radio Eireann but apart from not understanding Irish, Radio Eireann is but barely audible in the pub next door.

Sometime I will explain to you the feeling of isolation one suffers writing in a Corporation housing scheme. The literary pubs are not much good to me. I prefer to drink over the north side where the people are not so strange to me. Cultural activity in present day Dublin is largely agricultural. They write mostly about their hungry bogs and great scarcity of crumpet. I am a city rat. Joyce is dead and O’Casey is in Devon. The people writing here now have as much interest for me as an epic poet in Finnish or a Lapland novelist.

Dublin, June 1952

I decided to go to work as a freelance hack writer to get enough money to finish my novel in peace. That’s an easier trade than house painting, that is…

I made a packet, and very nearly lost my sanity in the process. I was drunk night, noon and morning. Now, outside of reform school and Borstal, I have been a steady drinker from from the age of fifteen, but this wasn’t that sort of drinking.

And I finally said, to hell with it, I’ll go down and do my own which is what I’m doing now, and am broke, and it is a matter of some scoff for next week. The mountains are lovely. I wish I had a snap, and this is an old hideout of the I.R.A., there was a man shot dead by the Free State Army at the very window I’m writing this. And for all I run down the I.R.A. in my writing they were the only damn ones, when I had no place to write in peace, to say, “That’s all right Brendan, you go down there and use it, it’s no good to us now, it’s too well known.” So here I am and very happy and I’ll have the novel finished in its entirety before Christmas, and I’ll submit to you a few thousand words.

Dublin, October 1952

I got a Penguin Plato’s Symposium. With difficulty: the Censorship can hardly get after him at this time of day, but as one bookman (saving your presence) said to me, “We saw a slight run on it, and the same sort of people looking for it, so we just took it out of circulation ourselves. After all, we don’t have to be made decent minded by Act of the Dail. We have our own way of detecting smut, no matter how ancient.” In common with most of my babu countrymen, he had the sort of English accent which would make you laugh, and pronounced your man’s name “Plate-o,” rather as if it were something you put in soup.

About the novel. I have about fifty thousand words done. I haven’t done much to it lately, because I’m writing a play for the Abbey and have had to do some jobs for the radio and various journals to live. As it turned out, the strain of meeting the sort of people who have to do with journalism was so great that, for the first time in my life, I drank from pure nervous strain. I have a feeling I told you ail this before. (So have you, more than likely, by the time you get this far.)

I can get over to Paris easily, but I’m getting too old for just landing in a city on my arse, flat broke.

Dublin, July 1956

Sweetheart,

If I had a one act play there is no one would get it sooner than yourself after your nice letter.

But alas! I have no such thing and therefore can’t give you what I haven’t got.

When I do write one you shall have it with a heart and a half, if Senator McCarthy doesn’t get us all in the meantime and love B. Russell from B. Behan & B. Behan.

Brendan Behan

P.S. The weather over here just now is so bad it’s driving me to drink.

Dublin, November 1956

Dear Nuala,

Did you know that Nuala means the fair shouldered one?

I need not tell you how delighted we were to get your letter this morning.

We walked one day round Poulaphouca and we nearly wept for our exiled Harrises, with whom we had last done this walk to Kilbride before — I mean you and Beatrice had.

The play is in its fifth week at the Abbey and we continue to get a hell of a lot of money out of it.

I am in the American edition of Harper’s Bazaar in a month or two. I don’t know when. I only only they paid me $150 for it — or for the right to reprint it from the English Vogue — which I gave to Beatrice for a non-birthday gift, so look out for it, the Harper’s Bazaar I mean.

Dublin, April 1957

I was leaving my father-in-law’s house, 43, Morehampton Road, Dublin at 1:30 a.m. on the morning of Wednesday the 17th, when I was accosted by two Civic Guards who came from a squad car, and very truculently asked my identity.

This I refused to give until they have me some valid reason for demanding it.

They dragged me to Donnybrook Guards barracks, and released me, and on the way down to the station, both of them addressed me by my name, which shows that they knew my identity.

I would not have attempted to bring this matter before you, were it not for the fact that I was in the company of my wife. We were going home and she was wheeling a bicycle.

I can tell you that my father was in Gormanstown with you, and my uncle Michael Slater, of Annadale Avenue, off Philibsburgh Avenue, is an old worker in the cause of your election to the Dail.

I do not claim that these things give me the right to break the law, but I do claim your consideration in this matter, when I have been illegally dragged along Morehampton Road for no reason whatsoever.

Except that the Guards who drove us home, remarked that it was “only a bit of sport.”

I do not regard it as a bit of sport, and if all else fails, and I cannot live in Ireland, without the dangers of this experience being repeated, well I shall make very certain, at the International Drama Festival in a fortnight’s time, that publicists outside this country know the way I was treated.

My wife can bear witness to the truth of all that I have stated here.

Dublin, June 1957

My own writing habit is that I write when absolutely sober.

I have written for love, (political writing) and for money, radio, newspaper work, in English and Irish, and poetry.

I swim a great deal in the summer (in the water I mean) and am very fond of race meetings — particularly a point-to-point. I spend most of my time with non-literary fellows that I have known from youth — mostly fellows that are mixed up in the greyhound business. I myself like the company and am of course always very well informed as to the form of dogs at any track in England or Ireland, but don’t like racing myself, because the track racing is too dull, and the coursing is too cruel. I like city people, in Dublin or from the East End.

I was excommunicated from the Catholic Church when I was arrested and refused to disavow the Irish Republican Army in prison, and I think the book tells of my loneliness in exile from the only church I had ever known, or taken seriously, the church of my people, of my ancestors hunted in the mountains, and of my bitterness about this.

with his wife in Tijuana

Dublin, December 1958

I enjoyed reading about myself and my wife in Time, and indeed it was very generous of you, but the nicest thing of all happened when a foreign citizen turned around from looking at my picture and said, “I did not realize you were Jewish.” “I am not,” I said, “but Our Blessed Lord is — I hope I’ve caught a little of the contagion.”

New York, May 1960

This is a great town. We all should have come here years ago.

Los Angeles, May 1961

New York is a real city. Los Angeles has no navel — no Broadway — and nothing to recommend it except the sunshine swimming pools.

You will be glad to hear that Fred Astaire got an award here recently and still looks a lean forty. Great city for a quiet piss-up.

Dublin, December 1962

I was swimming at the Y.M.H.A. on Lexington Avenue and was having a shower when a little Negro employee came in.

He surveyed our naked forms and said “Mr. Behan — there is a message for you on the phone.”

“O.K. son,” said I, “come down the locker room till I put some clothes on.” I was giving him a half-dollar and a thought struck me.

“Did you see my picture on the newspaper?”

“No, sir.”

“Well,” I said, “how did you know me?”

“You had no clothes on, sir, and the other men were all Jewish, sir.”

I gave him another half a buck.

Shalom – Slainte

Brendan Behan


 

In Which We Risk The Middle Class

Self-Erosion

by ELEANOR MORROW

Chance
creators Alexandra Cunningham and Kem Nunn
Hulu

chance-season-2-poster-key-artKem Nunn is the kind of person who just looks wrong in clothing. As therapist Dr. Elden Chance, Hugh Laurie attempts to replicate that basic mien. Hunched over in front of a patient, he resembles a man constrained by a Pullmanesque daemon, being tugged at by all sorts of sources larger than himself. The main inertia acting on him is his massive bald spot, which the second season of Chance draws considerable attention to at every juncture. The point is that while Dr. Chance is steadily, progressively losing his hair, his precisely violent friend ‘D’ (Ethan Suplee) is completely bald, but full of hair in a variety of other places.

Nunn does not exactly admire therapists. On some level you have to wonder why he has made a show about one. Dr. Chance is completely helpless to affect his patients’ lives, and this second season of Chance hammers this home whenever possible. Dr. Chance is a neuropsychiatrist, one of those terms that in the future will be described retrospectively the way we currently reference shock treatment. Dr. Chance is deeply afraid of the men who torment his patients, and so once he convicts them in his own mind, he allows Darius to threaten or disable their flaccid bodies.

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It does not take very long to realize why this is not much of an idea, and having taken this project on with an open mind, it is only the matter of a few afternoons before Dr. Chance realizes it is not the best idea. His evil deeds begin to consciously and subconsciously rub off on the daughter (Stefania Owen) he shares with his ex–wife. In Chance’s stillborn first season, we watched the good doctor risk everything in his life for Gretchen Mol. This was implausible until she began acting actively freaky, at which point his attraction to her (1) made logical sense and (2) revealed his complete lack of personal integrity.

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The novel Chance has this fantastic ending where the possessory nature of the universe took over. Man, or woman, could not be held responsible for their acts when the world was so awry. The general environment of San Francisco informs on this quite broadly. No one can live in this place, Nunn seems to be arguing, without the various economic inequalities of the locale driving you insane or worse. A civilization without a middle class is therefore doomed.

Dressed in sweaters or a jacket and jeans, Nunn has never wanted to be anything like an elite. His modest but brilliant collection of novels, including his magnificent debut Tapping the Source, mines the momentary but exciting genre of surf detective fiction, that which was first gainfully developed by Florida’s finest writer John D. MacDonald. Like MacDonald’s lackadaisical but purposeful protagonist Travis McGee, Dr. Chance runs moral circles around his basic compassion for women who have been abused by men.

San Francisco, then, is the playpen for all morality. Whatever happens there will affect how we deal with the issue of the effect of random chance on every citizen. Other places in the world and in our country reward a certain psychological aspect, but San Francisco can no longer be said to endorse this view. In this abandoned metropolis, a savage immorality is the only healthy way of all-around living.

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

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In Which We Make The Right Choice After All

American Buffalo

by ETHAN PETERSON

Mr. Robot
creator Sam Esmail
USA

mr-robot-season-3-angela.jpgAbout two-thirds into the third season premiere of Mr. Robot, an elaborate proof that even a revenge fantasy can be made dull through its own generic willpower, Sam Esmail begins laying into Donald Trump. For people like Sam who thrive on words, and the general, reductive meaning they are able to apply to ideas, moments and opinions, the president is impossible to understand.

To their credit, artists, doctors, lawyers and citizens all educated, have been taught to live and die by their words. For those of this tortured mindset, any other approach could make no sense of their lives. Verbal articulation is how they define themselves and their relationship to others. Well, the president is not great with words, so he does what anyone might do who can’t speak or write very well: he shows how little power speech has.

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Eliot (Rami Malek) is a similar creature. When he does speak, a manifesto comes out, but it is not really of his own doing. His truer, more authentic self is beneath the turgid recitation of the ills of society. Beneath this veneer, his shyness tells a more nuanced story. More than anything, what drives him is wanting to be liked and respected. Such personages – I can think of many who share this ultimately useless view – intimately understand what others most want to hear. This, they believe, is the best purpose of speech.

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Eliot’s sister Darlene (Carly Chaikin) recoils from all this. When someone starts talking to her, she either responds profanely, runs away, screams, or has a panic attack. At other times, she represses her introverted calling, and dominates others through an otherworldly combination of presence and enthusiasm. Once she feels she has lost her cause, however, she returns to a state of grace.

Eliot’s friend Angela (Portia Doubleday, easily the best actor on the entire show) watched her mother die from the bad actions of a large corporation. She allows this singular tragedy to corrupt every other moment of her life. Angela pushes love away at every intersection, and when she cares for those like Eliot, people who cannot care for themselves, she wields a silent combination of pity and hate. I said Mr. Robot was dull, and it is, but the men and women standing in front of computer terminals throughout the show are all fairly alive.

Quite possibly a word, or a series of words, might serve as a guide to some future act. But the words would fairly fade with time. Irving (Bobby Cannavale) strongly believes words mean something very important. When he is promised a free milkshake after his tenth hamburger, he is intent on collecting. In short, he is like you and all your innocent, naive friends. They believe it is right to judge people by what they say. (“Action talks,” someone said, “and bullshit walks.”). Philanthropy, someone said, is the way that brands will win. We have prized speech over content, and this is actually how Rome fell, if I’m not mistaken.

Mr. Robot suffers from a similar fate. Nothing much really goes on in it. Every once in awhile, someone will suddenly and unexpectedly receive exactly what they deserve.

Ethan Peterson is the reviews editor of This Recording.