In Which We Assume The Worst When We See The Best

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The Bonfire of the Bosom Buddy, Part II

by ELLEN COPPERFIELD

I was watching The Polar Express and trying to recover the spirit of Christmas for some muffins I was planning when it occurred to me: doesn’t that train conductor remind me of something ineffable and someone specific?

My aunt told me it was Tom Hanks, and I was like, “they modeled the conductor after a producer on Big Love?” She explained that Hanks was the owner of a long and storied Hollywood career, while her daschund Leopold stared at me unforgivingly for my ignorance. I spent this past weekend watching all of this old-timey actor’s moving pictures, and I have summarized the plots of these films so you can easily find what interests you. UPDATE: I watched more movies of this old gentleman. He must be 80 by now. Was he also the male lead in Mad About You? If so, I will address it in a forthcoming feature-length essai.

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Splash

A man has sex with a mermaid and feels somewhat bad about it. The mermaid’s father frowns upon the match because it conflicted with the IPO of his underwater company.

Inferno

A repressed homosexual finds a riddle in his morning coffee. He pretends to have a relationship with a woman and convinces her that the message in the coffee was of such tremulous importance that they can never consummate the immense attraction between them. She dies.

The Money Pit

A home restoration project goes south when a man realizes his wife is Shelley Long.

Bachelor Party

A famous football player insists that protection is for Ravens while attempting sex. The woman mishears “Ravens” as “cravens”, freaks out, and ends up majoring in communications. Todd Phillips is passed out nearby and gets the idea for The Hangover.

Dragnet

Two white police officers pay tribute to a long-running television series by visiting Santa Claus at the North Pole. Santa tells them to come back when they’re animated.

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Big

A man shrinks to the size of a gumdrop to become a boy again and lives inside a huge piano with all his friends. Older women are constantly intuiting he’s more advanced sexually than he professes. To return to full size, he is forced to rape a gypsy woman.

Punchline

A comedian is infected with AIDS by Denzel Washington.

Turner and Hooch

A man and an anti-Semitic dog fight crime.

The ‘Burbs

You may be more familiar with a recent remake of The ‘Burbs, Saw IV.

Joe Versus the Volcano

A pet detective finally marries his true love (Courteney Cox) and decides that Meg Ryan is likelier to have a successful big screen career. He struggles to find a way to break off the engagement before deciding to burn his penis off in an active volcano.

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The Bonfire of the Vanities

A journalist with no imagination finds it easier to make things up than interview any more astronauts than he has to. He uses a revolutionary technique to clone himself. He names the clone Malcolm Gladwell.

A League of Their Own

An alcoholic womanizer leads a baseball team of women to greatness and inadvertently creates a popular daytime television program. A text card at the end of the film specifies that they would have achieved nothing without a male manager.

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Sleepless in Seattle

A woman facebooks a guy and he ends up taking it way farther than it ever has to go. She falls in love with his eight-year old by accident and they go live on a cute houseboat for the rest of their lives.

Philadelphia

The two main people in a gay man’s life are Antonio Banderas and Denzel Washington, and he’s still unhappy as a clam for no discernible reason. Andrew Sullivan cameos as “another guy with HIV.”

Forrest Gump

The thinly disguised life story of Joe Biden. He has a sexual relationship with Robin Wright Penn and everyone has some misgivings that she took advantage of him. Biden emphasizes the fact that he rides Amtrak in his speeches because he is unable to pilot an automobile.

Sully

A pilot lands a plane. Everyone pretends to be impressed, including the seagulls.

Saving Mr. Banks

Walt Disney loved Jews, including Carl Bernstein, Jonah Hill and Barbra Streisand. You believe us, don’t you?

Apollo 13

A bunch of guys head into space, reassuring their wives with platitudes like, “We won’t fuck up in space,” and “It’s space, what could go wrong?” and “Kevin Bacon’s coming with us to space, this will be hilars.” These predictions prove largely inaccurate.

Captain Phillips

A man is almost certain that he is going to die, so he decides to make up an improbable story that he figures won’t matter because he will be dead anyway. He lives, and crosses his fingers every night that no one finds out his lie.

Saving Private Ryan

Despite the fact that Jews are dying by the millions in camps across Europe, it ends up being a lot more important for everybody’s peace of mind that one goy be rescued by a squadron of morons.

You’ve Got Mail

A man flirts with a woman on the internet; she is somehow not disgusted by the fact it takes 20 minutes for him to type one instant message into AIM. He misunderstands “Shop Around the Corner” for a sexual euphemism, she apologizes for the miscommunication. Not only does he not accept her apology, he puts her out of business and cuts off her airway with the skin folds from his degraded neck. The funeral is a lovely affair, and each of the eulogies emphasize the dangers of misrepresenting yourself on AIM.

The Green Mile

A magical, physically imposing black man heals people with his touch, so the white prison guards murder him, but not before he cures all their urinary tract infections. It turns out that the black man had the spirit of a white guy (Rob Schneider) inside him all along.

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Cast Away

High on cocaine, Robert Zemeckis has an idea that later becomes Lost; a plane crashes on an island and only the boring characters survive.

The Circle

A few guys are really attracted to Emma Watson to the extent completely unjustified by her looks, personality or apparel. One day, they hear her say she likes guys with beards, so they quickly all grow beards and spy on her in the bathroom. When confronted, they apologize and are rewarded with multiple seasons of their pet projects by Netflix.

Road to Perdition

Two playwrights debate the existential nature of life over dinner one evening. Hot topic: ‘what does the word perdition mean?’

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Catch Me If You Can

Christopher Walken has a son, and – shock, surprise! – it doesn’t turn out all that well. The son becomes a pilot and figures prominently in the September 11th terrorist attacks on America. He ends up dating Cardi B, probably.

Bridge of Spies

A bunch of people in Hollywood beg all their friends to pretend a movie is interesting. It isn’t.

The Post

Rich white people pretend that things they did were important. Ta-Nehisi Coates guest stars as a skeptical onlooker.

The Terminal

A man who jerks off into people’s luggage is apprehended and forced to copulate with Catherine Zeta-Jones while Michael Douglas looks on approvingly.

The Ladykillers

A brother-brother writer-director team misfires with their latest film and decides to nab an Oscar by utilizing the foolproof method of having Tommy Lee Jones do the movie’s voiceover.

The Polar Express

A shocking expose of how the Japanese kill 500 of Santa’s dwarves each year in front of a live studio audience in the Arctic.

The Da Vinci Code

Dr. Robert Langdon is infected with HIV by Denzel Washington.

Charlie Wilson’s War

Mike Nichols’ 100 minute logic proof that Elaine May had all the talent.

Angels and Demons

Dr. Robert Langdon gives up treasure hunting and retires to a tropical island with Audrey Tautou, Emily Blunt, and Denzel Washington.

Ellen Copperfield is a contributor to This Recording.

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In Which We Remain Smaller Than We Were Before

All You Have To Do Is Say Yes

by ETHAN PETERSON

Downsizing
dir. Alexander Payne
135 minutes

Screen Shot 2018-01-15 at 8.48.15 AM.pngThere is a scene late in Alexander Payne’s Downsizing where a bunch of Norwegians watch the sun go down for the last time. It is an oblique commentary on President Trump’s desire to see more Norwegian-Americans, and as such it is very topical. Around 150,000 non-whites live in Norway, but as Payne pans across this collection of Norwegian people, they are a diverse panoply of different ethnicities. It is the moment where the question of, “Is Downsizing pandering?” is answered definitely in the affirmative.

Payne has been often celebrated for his satires. That is until Downsizing, because no one could seemingly figure out what was being satirized, or why it would be unusual for human beings to shrink down to a size of five inches. Once Paul (Matt Damon) makes this move, his wife (Kristen Wiig) refuses to go through with it and files for divorce. Instead of having a life of considerable wealth in his tiny village, he has to answer telephones for Lands’ End, which Payne presents as a humiliating job.

In contrast, Paul’s true calling is as an occupational therapist. He is always noticing when someone is walking funny or suffering from some kind of chronic pain. He dates a woman who doesn’t want him to meet her kid, and comes home to the same shitty apartment he might have in a large person’s world. In other scenes, he witnesses a depth of poverty that transcends the size of the people involved.

Paul spends the rest of the movie as a pseudo-doctor to those in the slums who can’t afford anything better. It is a strange choice for Payne’s film, but not as strange as the presentation of poverty in this context. Like many rich whites, Payne believes that those who depend on the efforts of others for their subsistence are uniformly non-white. Payne shares this view with – you guessed it – our beleaguered president.

Watching Matt Damon minister to the poor strikes us as a pathetic recreation of his actual life of justifying and defending the abhorrent behavior of his friends and colleagues. Yet in Paul there is something of the sycophantic enabler that Damon must be to the point where we sense Payne is using our disapproval of the actor behind the mask to draw suspicion to all those individuals who would do something positive for the wrong reasons. In the end, the wrong to be rectified is so much more awful that we accept any reason is just.

Poverty is a disgraceful symptom of a certain, more inclusive society. (Norway has never had to face such problems.) In order to eradicate it, we could conceivably shrink ourselves. As Payne presciently notes, there are ensuing problems – the amount of taxes collected would go down, the amount of consumer spending would go down. But what we should have realized before our government prevented the collapse of massive, irresponsible banks is that a new economy will always replace the old. This is the essential, undiminished spirit of capitalism. Payne writes around this essential question by drawing the world to an end in Downsizing.

By the end, the main character in Downsizing becomes Ngoc Lan Tran (Hong Chau), a Vietnamese woman whose leg was amputed at the knee. She falls in love with Matt Damon while he is attempting to fix her prosthetic leg. In one exciting scene, they have sex after he is massaging her stump — she makes very elaborate groans which are meant to be a cue to initiate intercourse. Hong Chau is a fantastic actor in a somewhat problematic role, since Lan Tran has no flaws whatsoever and is basically presented as a female Confucius. Still, this at least feels like a risk in a movie that has very few.

As a result, the remedy that Downsizing offers for American life is focused on the personal. It is a very inoffensive, ineffectual answer to the serious economic question posed by this film’s premise, and I think audiences and critics reacted to Payne’s cowardice. I tend to give him a wider berth, but I understand it. In art, it’s not enough, anymore, to say how and why the world feels wrong to you. You should probably have an idea of how it could be changed for the better.

Ethan Peterson is the reviews editor of This Recording.

 

In Which We Solve Many Problems With Tears

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,

I have been dating my girlfriend Lydia for over a year. My apartment was damaged by a fire in a neighboring domicile less than three months ago, so I moved in with Lydia. Things have been going great, but recently she has been alluding to the idea that I won’t be moving out.

Living together is a new experience for me, and it is hard sometimes to be around someone so much, even someone you love. We have different interests and it has been difficult making time for some of mine since moving in.

Since it wasn’t feasible to secure a new place until I received money from my insurance company, I held off. But I do intend to move out and recently secured a room in a multiperson apartment until I can purchase or rent my own place. What is the best way to break this news to my girlfriend?

Taylor R.

Dear Taylor,

You know that rap song where it’s like, “Hotel, motel, Holiday Inn”? That should have been you.

There are a few problems with the path you have chosen. The first is that you did not make your situation clear to Lydia before moving in. You should have done that in writing, and if possible through some kind of henna. The second is that you are looking for a way to not be honest with her. Crying can solve a lot of problems that reasoned discourse can never approach in its particulars.

Who am I kidding? They call HTS the House of Sweet Lies for a reason. The best way to get out of this is if her building doesn’t allow pets. If they don’t, you can claim an animal has been forced on you. Choose an exceptionally short-lived creature, e.g. a housefly or a pigeon.

Unfortunately a lot of buildings allow pets, which moves our situation to Plan B, which I call the Godfather plan. Someone made you an opportunity you couldn’t refuse, and you had to take that apartment. Possibilities include an amazingly cheap apartment, or that your new roommate is a friend who needs you there or (s)he will slit her wrists.

If you can’t think of a compelling reason, suddenly explain that you have been doing some thinking and there is evidence to suggest that people have better relationships when they don’t live together before marriage. Lydia’s eyes will light up at the thought of a long term committment with the plan who is currently plotting a way to spend less time with her.

Hi,

My boyfriend Davis served a short prison term from 2011-2012. He was incarcerated because of a drunk driving incident where he harmed another driver.

Davis and I have been talking about possibly getting engaged in the next year. My question is whether you think I should mention any of this to my family before or after the engagement/wedding?

Mallie R.

Dear Mallie,

It is impossible to keep such a thing a secret if you are going to include Davis as part of your family. It is going to come out at some point, e.g. when his prison buddies show up to take you hostage demanding liters of your blood or Jim Beam.

The key is to present this information to your family in the correct way. That correct way includes while Davis is performing some relevant community service, like ladling out soup at a kitchen, counseling young individuals on the error of his ways, or cunnilingus. Let your family know that Davis is a changed man. I assume he gives speeches for a modest rate as a part of his rehabilitation? OK, see ya.

Illustrations by Mia Nguyen.

 

 

In Which We Recognize Ryan Gosling For A Reason

Gestalt

by ETHAN PETERSON

Blade Runner 2049
dir. Denis Villeneuve
161 minutes

dfefrefefefefefefefetttyyy.jpgBlade Runner 2049 begins when K (Ryan Gosling) kills a robot on the robot’s farm, which is owned by Wallace (Jared Leto) who invents robots for a living and is probably a robot himself. (K is also a robot, the most handsome robot imaginable.) If you just take as a given that everyone is a robot in Blade Runner 2049, you will be fully correct most of the time, since the film has taken the step of eliminating the distinction between humans and automatons with their own consciousness, if there ever existed one in the first place.

Gosling reports back to his boss at the LAPD, Madam, who is played by Robin Wright Penn. All of Wright Penn’s recent roles have involved an unfeelingness, so I guess this is why Villeneuve cast her in this familiar part. This is a general problem across Blade Runner 2049 – when actors are too readily identified with their roles, we substitute our knowledge of their characteristics for ones that may be present in the drama.

Villeneuve leans on this heavily, since there is not a lot here in the way of character development in general. In Blade Runner 2049, a crooked businessman is a crooked businessman, a fixer and forger is a decent and hearty sort, and a prostitute sells her body for a reason.

At the site of the killing, Gosling finds the remains of Rachael, a robot from the first movie. The skeleton indicates she was pregnant. Wright Penn’s character wants to find and destroy the child for the implications a pregnant machine would bring, whereas Wallace wants to find a way to breed robots since it is too expensive to construct them on the interplanetary scale he requires. The implication is that neither solution is definitively correct, since both approaches involve the underlying assumption that an articially constructed person is not a person. “You got along just fine without one,” Penn tells Gosling. He responds, “Without what?” “A soul.”

This kind of hamfisted obviousness was missing from Ridley Scott’s original, as was the concept of an automaton as a kind of depressed person who believes or she is missing something because they are not fully human. The date of birth of the robot reminds Gosling of an implanted memory he has – in short, he is running from other boys at an orphanage, and he has to hide a wooden horse from them. On the bottom of the wooden horse is the same date as the one on the birthed robot.

Gosling perhaps reasonably assumes that he is the birthed robot, who was given over to an orphanage. In order to be sure, he visits the creator of the memory to see if it is a real memory or a fake one. When she looks at it, she says it is real. But she is lying to him, because she is actually the first and only robot baby, and she is in hiding. Her father is Deckard (Harrison Ford), and for some reason he is living in a decimated Las Vegas, where some kind of electromagnetic bomb went off.

Gosling is usually a treat to watch. He has great facial expressions, and an engagingly repressed enthusiasm for life. In casting him as a robot, Villenueve goes to great lengths to preserve these strengths, even though the natural limitations of the role are at odds with them. We don’t realize how much Gosling seems to strain at these restrictions until we meet Deckard inhabiting an empty casino where videos of Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra cycle from before the blackout.

Mr. Ford is not much of a pilot, but he is tailor made for this role. Even his expressions of what, on the surface, appear to be genuine human emotion contain an innate reserve that we often call dignity. In contrast, Gosling’s anguish is of a more base, helpless variety. There is something powerful in the contrast of the two performances, but it is only natural that we gravitate as viewers to the one that places our species in the most positive light.

Villeneuve is a slick director with a gift for composition and a handle on what is required in successful art direction. There are lots of neat touches and update to the genre defining look that Blade Runner introduced when it bombed at theaters in 1982. Even some of the same locations get a makeover, although for the most part the grittiness and verite of the original is missing here, replaced by the emptying aftereffects of climate change.

You could probably make an infinite number of Blade Runner movies on roughly the same themes — how technology has the potential to continue the objectification of women, pets, and racial minorities, how replacing humans with AIs makes no tangible difference to life as it is generally constructed, how every living thing demands to be treated with a certain amount of respect no matter who or what it came from. All these messages are timeless, but in Blade Runner 2049, they start to feel a bit closed off to us. Should the future be so concrete?

Ethan Peterson is the reviews editor of This Recording.

 

In Which We Require Our Own Space

Efficiency

by ELIZABETH BARBEE

I needed an apartment to match my bohemian lifestyle, so I found a small efficiency on the outskirts of Austin. The place was rundown and seedy, facts obvious upon sight, but my mantra was there is beauty in decay. I had just broken up with my boyfriend of four years and it felt hypocritical to discriminate against anything that needed mending. I trusted my ability to romanticize the yellowed walls, the stale cigarette stink, the fact that my neighbors had Wi-Fi names like “Bitches Cum” and “The Dave Matthews Band.” For at least the first week I made the best of it.

Immediately after graduating college I took a job editing erotica. It seemed like the perfect gig for a young English major desperate to demonstrate the depth of her open-mindedness, so I pounced at the opportunity. My first assignment was a gay vampire e-Book called Pack that the publisher described as SEXTREME. Because all of the characters were male there was a lot of pronoun confusion. I could never tell if the protagonist were masturbating or getting lucky. Most of my notes in Track Changes consisted of a single question mark. Regardless, I felt like Anaïs Nin. If only I had been brave enough to shave my eyebrows.

My only friend in town was a free-spirited University of Texas graduate named Saul. He had just sold a story to This American Life, so we were both in the literary biz. He was my first visitor. The moment he stepped through the door he began speaking in the third person. “It isn’t bad, but Saul wouldn’t live here,” he said. I think now this was his way of distancing himself from the filth of my living space. It was also the first sign of the horror to come.

the vampiric type

Later that night, when I was in the early stages of sleep, I heard screams coming from next door. They were not the kind of sexual screams I read about in Pack. They were frightening. The logical thing to do would have been to call 911, but in my dreamlike state I saw only two options: go back to sleep and let my neighbor die, or put on a pair of pants and rescue him. Because of guilt rather than altruism, I chose the latter.

It took him five minutes to open the door, just enough time for me to realize I might get shot. When he finally appeared he was wearing a knee length Madonna concert t-shirt and casually smoking a joint. “Hey, girl, what’s up?” he said. “You want to hit this?” I shook my head and explained frantically the reason for my visit. He looked amused. “I get night terrors sometimes. No biggie. I’m surprised you haven’t heard me before.” I asked no follow up questions and bought a pair of earplugs.

Shortly thereafter Saul took an assignment in South America. With my only friend gone, I started a tepid love affair with a first year law student I met at a coffee shop. He had all the markers of a serial killer (frightening intelligence, vacant eyes, distaste for pets), but he kept me company. Plus, he had lots of interesting views on intellectual property in the Internet age, so I decided to overlook his Ted Bundy quality.

Because I had grown to hate my own place I spent a lot of time at his. It smelled always of fried potatoes, but as far as I could tell he never ate. Instead of going out to dinner we stayed in and rented movies, most of which were directed by Ingmar Bergman. Persona is an uncomfortable thing to watch, especially with someone you vaguely suspect of being an ax murderer.

manslaplinfTwo weeks into our lackluster romance he mentioned a roommate whose existence seemed highly unlikely. “It’s a one bedroom apartment,” I challenged. “Where’s his toothbrush?” “Hugo is a busy man,” he said. “Always jetting off somewhere and taking his toiletries with him.” Perhaps if he had chosen a more believable name I would have stuck it out, but Hugo was too far fetched. I ended things that night. He rarely contacted me after that, but in a fit of paranoia I decided he was stalking me. Too cheap to buy mace, I kept a can of hairspray next to my bed. “If he breaks in I’ll douse him with Aqua Net,” I thought.

I am embarrassed now by my egotism. I wonder where I got the idea that I was interesting enough to be stalked. The dude was weird, sure, but only slightly more so than average. Looking back I think it was the unfamiliarity of him that scared me the most. I had spent all of college curled up next to the same man and now I had to get used to this new body. It had hair in places my ex’s did not, scars and tattoos I had never seen before. Everything about him, just like everything about that year, was foreign.

All of my discomfort during that time was self-inflicted. I made decisions based on the person I wanted to be (Anaïs Nin) instead of the person I actually was (Elizabeth Barbee, a suburban-bred geek with an affinity for stability). When I came to this realization, I found an administrative job that was boring as hell but allowed me to move to a nicer place. I submitted my final thoughts on Pack to the publisher. “Can we change the main character’s name to Hugo?” I asked. “It sounds more vampiric.”

Elizabeth Barbee is the senior contributor to This Recording. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here. She last wrote in these pages about her vital signs.

south congress avenue

 

In Which We Follow Him To The Ocean Floor

The Well

by LEAH BUCKLEY

A storyteller relies on deception, depends on the secrets of his characters and coddles their depth, their small lies and their great fears. It is easy to forget that they share your own blood.

The immigration line in the Mexico City airport was already a tangle of confused Japanese tourists, and adding the passengers from our JFK flight turned chaos to panic. Rodrigo pulled me into a much shorter line tucked off to the side. “But this is for citizens…” I turned and looked longingly at the angry New Yorkers commanding order from the Japanese tour guide. “I don’t even speak Spanish.” An official looking man with white rubber gloves raised his eyebrows at me. He had a look, like, “caught you, you mother fucker. You don’t belong here.

“Hola,” I smile. I wanted desperately to go back in the other line.

+

The whole family picked us up from the airport, a welcome wagon waiting with cab drivers and lovers holding flowers. We piled into his uncle’s little four door like it was a clown car, knocking knees on the speed bumps out of the garage. Traveling gives the visitor a beguiling sense of wonder—even airport parking lots have an exotic smell, like the water you can brush your teeth with but can’t drink. They passed around hand sanitizer disguised as a Despicable Me minion toy. “Take some of the minion,” Rodrigo urged. I shook my head — my hands were cautiously tucked under my legs. “No seriously. It’s dirty here.”

+

That night I took a walk alone in the just dusk and looked for shadow shapes to remember.

There was a woman in front of me in a tight dress, her gait labored as she navigated cracked pavement in high heel sandals.

The night was empty of sound and her sensuality felt unnatural as we passed looming construction vehicles abandoned for the night.

I sped up to pass her.

Just as I leveled with her she gasped, falling off her strappy platform

We were so close that I had to say something. “I won’t tell,” I smiled.

Relived she laughed back, out of breath. “Me novio…supposed to pick me up, cabron,” she whined.

I wondered if she felt very aloneThere was heartache behind her effort, and I feared my resemblance to her.

+

I wandered back from the supermarket, backlit now.

Dark corners lurched out at me and played at the uneasiness in my stomach.

Fingers found comfort in concentric circles around the crispy pastry in my bag, and the crunch in my head drowned out any possibility of danger.

+

The next morning Rodrigo’s abuelo arrived.

His slow steps down the skinny spiral staircase quieted the room.

He wasn’t particularly tall, but he bore the authority of a much larger man. He had the belly characteristic of an epicurean, someone who swam in the ocean despite — or because of — the height of the waves, and ate all the ceviche he wanted. Dignified black hair slicked across his head and shone with lacquered glittering profusion. I noticed thick muscular hands of a younger life, tan from summers in the hot dessert.

+

In private, Abuelo commanded the same awe as he did in Mexico City’s presidential palace.

But now, the living room was peppered with uncertainty.

Since the stroke his speech had gotten better, but the great labor in his voice was a quiet secret the family shared.

With each opening line he took an enormous risk.

+

There is a room in the house where Rodrigo’s uncle works. Scattered across the big desk are books and magazines, Spanish, English.

Only standing behind the desk did I notice his uncle had taped photos of thinkers and artists. I had trouble recognizing them — one was Locke, maybe.

Was it lonely to look up and only see strangers?

That morning his uncle was working in the garden on the roof. His two little boys played noiselessly about the deck, occasionally hopping off their tricycles to examine the roots of some exotic plant their father was working on, one tucking a head under his father’s shoulder, the other throwing two arms around his neck in an impetuous embrace. He took the opportunity to smooth out hair and brush dirt off faces with the tender quieting hands of a gardener.

+

The boys told me they had a joke for me, a Spanish language learner.

Había un zorro caminando por el desierto. Estaba solo hasta que se encontró con un burro. El zorro chocó con el burro y dijo

“I’m sorry”

y el burro contestó

“I’m burry”

I didn’t get it. That night, alone, I googled “Spanish English Burro joke translation.”  

+

Not too far from where we were staying in Mexico City, Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo’s house sits on an unassuming plot.

There are two buildings surrounded by a cactus fence, one blue for Diego, and Frida’s red. They are connected by the slimmest of bridges.

I wondered if Frida ever lay awake alone in her house thinking about what her art would look like if she had had children. But only because I imagined her as me.

I stopped thinking about it, and just felt like a cliché.

Abuelo stood wringing his hands in the living room until doorbell sounded sharply. He took stock of the dimly lit room, his suitcase in the corner. “What was the name of the town where the beach house was?” he asked, smiling. A facetious question — he has owned that beach house for 30 odd years.

+

Was it his fortitude of character that made him so majestic? I felt that he was very different from all the strong men I have known, as the land is different from the sea.

+

The next day Rodrigo and I escaped to that beach house and for a few days it’s just the two of us.

Rodrigo shakes his head at me. “If we are here, I think we are here for a reason.”

I wondered how forgiveness works as I kneaded my toes into the sand.

Time began to feel like a trap.

But how could we be afraid when the sky met the water and all around us waves pulled and pushed?

+

Rodrigo plucked an eyelash from my cheek. My face felt changed under his hands, slightly sad at the edges. I thought of what I looked like in that moment, to him.

Years distanced me from the image in the black mirror pupils.

“Up or down?”

“Down.”

He opened his fingers and there was nothing there, only sandy skin. I had forgotten to make a wish anyway.

+

Mornings on the beach were mine until about 10:30.

The sand was hot enough that if you wanted to swim you had to sprint to the ocean break.

A man with a factitious tan, maybe 60, tip-toe ran down the beach, boogie board under his arm.

Hair slicked back with salt water, I watched him get tousled by the waves, guffaw like a child.

I imagined him tumbling under a big crest, the water piling and piling on top of him as he fought for a breath.

But he doesn’t drown, as big as the waves are.

Beaten and exhausted, he trudges up the beach around 11.

He has a hitch in his step like a broken toy.

The woman, equally tan (so the bronze skin was for her liking then?) was splayed out on a lawn chair.

Silently they gathered their towels and shifted to the pool deck.

+

I know those people. Unnatural tans, discomfort in the waves. Ignoble people like us are swept along by ocean streams kicking and gasping, or nervously hover about the edge of its great force.

+

We were sitting outside for lunch.

The tan couple already put in an order of quesadillas at their usual spot next to us.

“Where you folks from?” I placed the accent in an instant.

“We are coming from New York,” I replied, not sure if I should get into it.

“…But I’m originally from Minnesota.”

“Ah, we are from across the lake! Wisconsin, Hayward actually.” Her eyes lit up, while the rest of her face remained impossibly tan and fixed in place.

“Wow New York. Real busy there,” the boogie-boarder chimed in. I knew it was coming. “I could never live there, I’m afraid of that many people.”

“Yep, it gets pretty busy…” I waited for one of them to ask me when I was moving home, or how my mother feels, me being so far away and all.

“We’ve been to Times Square. I don’t know how you do it. All those people.”

I felt strangely comforted by their predictability, and immediately guilty for not fearing it.

+

But the image of that tan man staggering up the beach haunts me. He bears no resemblance to the strength in Abuelo’s calm hands.

I want that control.

“I’m ready. I don’t care if you believe me,” I say to Rodrigo, but I care more than anything right now.

I ache for him.

I’m throwing my fears into the sea and jumping with them.

When I do fall, I want to fall slowly.

He moves with the water, rising and falling, his tall form dwarfed by the sweeping swells. When I try to follow him I meet the ocean floor and gritty sand between my teeth. He was born in the waves, and will die there — fearless in the infinite blue. I dream of that ocean.

+

The next day there is a lightness in my feet. I can feel the strength of my arms, and warm blood pumping in my brain. A mercurial feeling of weightlessness rises in my chest. Wave after wave it frees me.

Leah Buckley is a contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in New York. Photographs by the author.

 

In Which We Are Between The World And Something Else

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,

My family really wants me to meet a Jewish guy. A part of me wants to make them happy, but another part of me doesn’t want to restrict my pool of potential partners in that fashion. I know if I introduce my current boyfriend to my parents that they will freak out and the prospect of dealing with that exhausts me. Is there any way out of this situation or should I just accept I’ll be happier with someone my parents will accept?

Hanna P. 

Dear Hanna,

You seem to subtly be suggesting that your parents are racist. This is a serious charge, one that you will want to assemble as much evidence on as possible. What was your parents’ reaction to the murder of Eric Garner? Do they like hip hop music, especially Chance the Rapper, or do they find his approach slight and substanceless in comparison to more prescient cultural critics in the African-American community? Do they own a copy of Between the World and Me and do they keep it in a place of prominence in their home?

Once you have the answers to these crucial questions, it is time to move onto a set of peripheral questions revolving around your parents’ reaction to other stimuli, including Call Me By Your Name and the innovative fiction of Clarice Lispector. You will have never gotten to know your parents so deeply: their inner desires, their total net worth, and their desire for the phallus in your life to be either circumsized or a reasonable facsimile of the same.

You should be with whoever you want. If your parents can’t accept it, explain to them using the theoretical context of Husserl and Deleuze why they should. Anyone can be convinced of anything over a long enough timeline. You may experience frustration at first, but if you can get your parents to actually engage and see the positive aspects of your boyfriend’s personality and physical attractiveness, you will probably be OK.

Also, are they aware that gentiles can convert? Sure, a Christian can never truly become a Jew for the main reason of why would they want to, but they can pretend, and pretenses are clearly hugely important to your parents. The concept of preserving any genetic purity is a disturbing one. Harp on this a lot.

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