In Which We Make All Of This A Lot Easier On You

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 have been seeing a girl named Shanda for a few months. I met her through a friend of a friend. Shanda is very focused on taking things slowly when it comes to the physical side of our relationship. It seems to be having the effect of making me want her all the more, but at some point the lack of sex does seem frustrating. I really like her, but this is starting to feel like a waste of time. Should I just bail?

Arlin B.

Arlin,

A few months is extreme unless she is a religious person and maybe just doesn’t want to tell you that she has no plans to be with you.

If you are a man, it is best to have sex as quickly as possible. You will know if you are compatible, and feel more connected. If you are a woman, it is best to wait a bit. If a guy can’t wait a few weeks to be with you, he is most probably human garbage. Any longer than that, and she most likely does not want to have sex with you in general.

I would take a hard pass, but make sure she knows exactly why you are ending things.

Hi,

I am running into a problem in my relationship with a guy I will call William. William has a group of friends from his college that he spends a lot of time with. This in itself is no problem; I also enjoy being with my girlfriends although our activities and outings aren’t as focused on drugs and alcohol.

The issue is the astonishing amount of discussion between us about each other’s lives. Did you see that episode of The Mindy Project when Peter Prentice pretended the plotlines of Grey’s Anatomy were his real life at the hospital in order to make his wife think he was still working? Well, the incredible amount of storylines revolving around these people usually concerns the most mundane shit posturing as intense drama. There is no drama, but I am having to hear about it a lot more than I have ever wanted to hear about anything.

Any suggestions for bringing this annoying practice to an end?

Ally K.

Dear Ally,

Some people talk out of nervousness, or just to fill the pauses between the penetration. While on six or seven various types of drugs, Benicio Del Toro once talked for ten straight days without stopping. You can bet all of it was not super-interesting.

If your boyfriend is this much of a chatterbox, maybe you can emphasize to him that, “Isn’t it great when you’re close enough to someone not to talk all the time?” This is grade-A bullshit, but William doesn’t sound very intelligent, so you can probably get away with it.

If this doesn’t work, attempt to create an actual schism between William and his friends. Best practice is to claim one of them hit on you.

Illustrations by Mia Nguyen.

In Which We Put Our Hands On An Executive

Prodigy, CompuServe and AOL

by ETHAN PETERSON

Halt and Catch Fire
creators Christopher Cantwell & Christopher C. Rogers
AMC

A monkey’s paw is all this third season of Halt and Catch Fire is. Coined by the terrible English writer W.W. Jacobs, the little paw of a monkey is a concept that refers to when you wish for something but the thing you end up getting, while ostensibly identical to what you asked for, is substantially worse than your desire.

Halt and Catch Fire did everything right for two wonderful seasons, and all I wanted was a third. Now it looks like it is being made in some guy’s barn. This is supposed to be Silicon Valley?

I understand that it makes sense that the coders of Cameron Howe’s social tech company would bring their clothes from their previous home of Texas to their new California environs. It seriously looks like they are just reusing the costumes from last season to save more money. “Why make more costumes,” AMC probably opined in a memo, “no one watches this show enough to notice.”

I watch this show, AMC. This third season reads like they only had the money to get the show’s signature star, Lee Pace as sinister web security mastermind Joe MacMillan, for a couple of hours each day. The focus here is all on the relationship between Donna Clark (Kerry Bishe) and Gordon Clark (Scoot McNairy), which was exactly the wrong choice, since like most couples, the Clarks are only interesting when they are fighting.

I blame AMC for this entirely. There is one new actor in the season premiere of Halt and Catch Fire. Drink that in. I understand that later in the season Matthew Lillard and Annabeth Gish will be coming onto the show, but that would cost all of $10. What about maybe casting a star onto this project and giving it a budget to look as good as the other shows on the network. Fear the Walking Dead probably spends more on catering.

Despite the obvious lack of network support for this project — this show could have been Stranger Things — I have full faith that this season will eventually turn it around.

The early days of online interaction as a metaphor for our current view of technology leads to a lot of bracing critical moments. The soul of Halt and Catch Fire was really in the relationship between Cameron Howe (the brilliant and sexy Mackenzie Davis) and Joe MacMillan. The show’s run began when they had sex, and the two barely share the screen together at all. Howe now gets along really well with the Clarks and in fact all of her employees, even though she misses the boyfriend she left in Texas.

The premiere was the perfect time to introduce her to a new love interest, someone who was also powerful in Silicon Valley who could become a major character on the show and a rival to MacMillan. This can still happen, but just think of how much that would cost in additional sets.

Instead we meet Ryan (Manish Dayal), who is meant to take the new role as the enterprising technical genius. Cameron struggles to believe in what Ryan is selling her, even though only months ago she was in his exact same situation and her bosses didn’t listen. This is slightly implausible, but not as difficult as it is to identify with a character whose only trait is that he likes to work a lot.

Here’s the problem: when you are good at one thing, you have a great situation. You are only good at that one thing, so you go and do it as well as you can. But what if you’re good at more than one thing? How do you know which thing you are best at? You can’t really know, since it depends on how good other people are at the thing you do. If you are the best at it, great and it’s lonely at the top. If you are not, maybe you go back and revisit that other thing you do well.

At the end of the day (shut up), a show like Mad Men had two key characters and anything that took the focus off of Peggy or Don was a flat-out distraction from what made the show successful. Halt and Catch Fire created other characters that we love and respect. But there is such thing as being too respectful of what you make. For example, the executive played by Toby Huss should have died a long time ago, preferably in a fire.

Ethan Peterson is the senior contributor to This Recording.

In Which We Already Made Our Choice And We Regret It

Spill the Beans

by DICK CHENEY

Sausage Party
dir. Greg Tiernan & Conrad Vernon
88 minutes

Sausage Party was made for a cool $19 million. The animation was done by Nitrogen Studios, whose disgusting reputation for awful treatment of their employees emerged during the press surround the film’s release. It seems even more egregious that animators weren’t paid or credited for their work on Sausage Patty considering the production company behind the film is Annapurna Pictures, which was founded by the daughter of Larry Ellison, the fifth wealthiest man in the entire world.

The real tragedy is the end product itself. Animated movies require substantial financial investment in order to look good, and Sausage Party is an aesthetic mess. Most of the work is focused on a group of sausages that include Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill and Michael Cera. The sausages themselves are a little too glossy, but it makes sense for them to not really resemble meat in any way, since no other living flesh in Sausage Party is given human personification.

Ethically, the most egregious animated film was Ratatouille, which turned a monstrous species of vermin into a cuisine loving pet. It had the advantage of looking substantially better than Sausage Party, where the character models so infrequently resemble food of any kind and yet don’t go completely in the direction of being entirely unrecognizable. You spend a lot of time during the movie asking yourself, “What kind of food is that?” and not really caring whether you can figure it out.

Bill Hader plays a bottle of Firewater, and he was instructed by the directors to adopt a Native American accent for this important role of the liquor who warns Barry (co-writer Rogen) that the world beyond their supermarket is not exactly the happy place they had been led to believe. Most of the jokes revolve around the idea that Barry is a penis who needs to be in a vagina. If you find this idea hysterical, it is relatively certain that you thought Knocked Up was a powerful and important statement about pregnant women.

The racial humor in Sausage Party is actually pretty tame, and a lot less offensive than the general visual direction and the meandering nature of the script. The voice acting is also all over the map, with Kristen Wiig sounding like she recorded her audio in an afternoon and Michael Cera doing an almost unrecognizable boy’s voice. Edward Norton portrays a Jewish bagel since there are no Jewish actors in the cast to take on this key role.

There is nothing actually funny about Sausage Party, since only amusing part of the concept was pretty much encapsulated by the trailer in which a bunch of sausages were upset about being cooked. With such a flimsy concept, it would have made considerable sense to make Sausage Party a musical, but unfortunately hiring songwriters would have cost too much money. There is an opening theme but it is rushed through as quickly as possible since there is no humor whatsoever in it.

Later, a package of Meatloaf sings “I Would Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That)” for about ninety seconds. Seemingly at a loss for another direction to take things, Rogen immediately has one of the characters get incredibly high in a scene that features prominently in every one of his projects. In this state, he is able to communicate with Barry (Michael Cera). Meanwhile, Kristen Wiig’s bun gets involved in a lesbian subplot with a taco (Salma Hayek).

In order to escape from the supermarket, the food products shoot a bunch of toothpicks infected with bath salts at the store’s shoppers, so that everyone becomes real to each other. They tie up a man with licorice, and murder a bunch of other people, but this is all just preface to the sausage penetrating the bun while all of the other food watches. It turns into something of an exciting orgy, but even the massive, um, hilarity involved in watching sex among inanimate objects aren’t enough to salvage this disaster.

Dick Cheney is the senior contributor to This Recording.

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In Which We Have Frozen All Of Our Desires

Smilla’s Sense of Smell

by ALEX CARNEVALE

Engagements
play by Lucy Teitler
dir. Kimberly Senior

Sex Object: A Memoir
by Jessica Valenti
224 pp., Dey Street Books

“Why does anyone want to get married knowing what we know now ?” whines Lauren (Ana Nogueira) in Engagements, a play by Yale graduate and Mr. Robot writer Lucy Teitler. She spends the rest of the play’s 80 minutes complaining about how degrading it is to live in Boston.

Whit Stillman has resorted to making period pieces since his own knowledge of what to satirize was last relevant in the late 1990s. It used to be that the upper, educated class of any society was the first to understand new things and create trends, but this is no longer the case. Technology democratized haute. As she pursues a PhD in Victorian literature, Lauren faces detractors who denigrate her chosen field because it is gauche to study the novels that first attracted you to literature. She possesses no special knowledge or distinguishing trait.

y648Lauren sleeps with her best friend’s boyfriend Mark (Michael Stahl-David). She fucks him in a gazebo and it is admittedly great: really emotional and both of them come at the exact same time, like Prince having dinner/sex. Mark turns out to basically be a dirtbag, but what the hell, like most satire these days, Engagements is really about women and how they relate to the concept of men as objects.

I recently read Jessica Valenti’s memoir about guys masturbating on top of her during her subway trips. The best chapter in Sex Object is about this Brooklynite with whom she shared a certain emotional connection named Ron. Ron was very clear about one thing: he was a feminist. He also had what appeared to be a titanic addiction to cocaine, and in lieu of a sexually transmitted disease, he passed that on to Jessica Valenti. Once, while he was in missionary, he asked the author to marry him.

lucy teitler

This was the most upsetting moment of Sex Object, and incidentally, of Engagements as well. Ryan (Omar Maskati) gets down on one knee to illustrate a point to the girlfriend (Brooke Weisman) he met at Yale, and she mistakenly believes that he is about to ask her to marry him. Any proposal should be answered at the time in which it is administered. If you want to be with someone for the rest of your life, what difference does it make how they ask you this question? And if you don’t, you should end things then and there. This basic rule would have allowed Jessica Valenti to avoid a lot of trouble.

Instead of telling her friend about this gazebo-sex, Lauren decides to learn more about Mark at first. Since he is such a paper-thin character these scenes are not totally satisfying. He sends her anal beads in the mail and follows that up with a vibrator. This is not usually the sort of psychology employed by a man who is serious about a woman, and there is something bizarrely childish about Engagements that parallels the worldview of the show Teitler writes for, Mr. Robot. Neither show is filled with particularly good liars.

jessica valenti

Eventually Jessica Valenti meets someone she really cares about, a bro named Andrew. Almost immediately she is in couples therapy with this guy, and for some reason he is really resentful of the trauma that she has gone through. Men are so exhausting to pacify. She makes a really specific point of mentioning, in Sex Object, how keen her sense of smell is. A lot of times she will come home from her day of work, and she detects a bad smell in the apartment that he does not notice or care about.

Maybe that’s something important in compatibility. It’s a word I have been thinking about a lot. In memorable scene in Sex Object, even the most simple act is enough to convince Jessica of her husband’s value. Valenti writes

Once when I was pregnant I refused to drink a glass of water Andrew had brought me because it smelled terrible. Water doesn’t have a smell! he yelled, but he brought me another, because he is a kind person in that way. Boston smells the worst.

The Boston of Teitler’s Engagements is a sad and lonely simalcrum. There was recently an article about how bad single women in New York have it. It’s true that in New York these creatures outnumber their male counterparts by two to one, but things are far worse in Boston. There are like three guys in all of Boston with any personality, and even those men can barely plan an afternoon beyond, “I have Sox tickets” or “we should stay in.” Being an unmarried woman in Boston is a recipe for a lengthy stay in psychoanalytic therapy.

There was an emotional moment on The Real Housewives of New York this week when Skinnygirl mogul Bethenny Frankel told her friend that she had a picture of her fiance cheating on her. “I don’t want to know,” LuAnn sobbed, and married the guy anyway. I don’t know exactly why the rise of female empowerment also precipitated a dramatic lowering of standards among powerful, sexy intelligent women. Bethenny Frankel’s boyfriend, for example, looks like Dr. Evil from Austin Powers.

Even Jessica Valenti ends up settling. Two years into her difficult marriage she becomes pregnant for a second time and decides to have an abortion. Her daughter Layla struggles with selective mutism, despite communicating well with her mother. Boston is so far from the city of her dreams. Sex Object is a woefully depressing book, both for the ways it tells us our culture treats women, and how the author has managed to make a meal out of these desiccated ingredients.

In Engagements, Lauren dates a series of unimpressive men, a list that includes a janitor, her college-aged neighbor and the boyfriend of her cousin. None understand her or even attempt to do so, and she cannot bring herself to like or respect them; it is only important whether or not they like and respect her. Her friend Allison (Jennifer Kim) eventually finds out that her boyfriend and husband-to-be has been sending the sexual gifts to a variety of women, and keeping a spreadsheet so that he doesn’t mail the same vibrator twice. It emerges that this meager, sadistic amount of attention was basically enough to captivate an educated woman who studies the Victorians, and the excitement of betraying her annoying friend sufficient erotic charge. Who could ask for anything more?

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

Jessica-Valenti-with-Andr-001

In Which Someone Very Close To Me Had A Cast On Her Leg

Torture

by DAN CARVILLE

Here are the things we wanted to take with us:

– old drawings of cars if they were people

– photocopies of our hands on top of our hands

– the pluperfect, the pluperfect

– the same rock, close up, magnified, and then from the farthest distance

– triumvirate alliterations, like daddy daughter day or ravishing rick rude

– contact lenses that are no longer our prescription

– the tonality of light, daytime leaves like a bow…

– baseball cards, all the players had our same birthday. June babies, March misfits. I knew their poses.

– when he became Venom, how did it feel?

Here is what was better left in the old house, stacked next to the stairs like a rose bush too close to another.

– casseroles of double meaning

– unused stationary, the wrong address. Mailings and return to sender in those familiar printed letters.

– the less interested of the two porcelain jugs, filled with all manner of detritus

– helmets of the Spanish conquistadors

– assembling at dawn

– retrofitting porcelain tiles that did not resemble the brochure

– remember that time in Monterrey? She thought they were smoking menthol cigarettes.

A sodden man, flipped on his side. Stands and puts his palm against the light. What would we do without these little bits of fire between the eyes, rotating our insolence? Left for carrion, a man is only so many things at once.

– There is no point, no point at all in candles where we are headed.

– Before the exit there’s a turn-off where you can see the whole town, Don’t stop there.

– I signed over the rights to this story, but I am not sure what we get in return, except a bib.

– The functions of things.

– Carnival signs, the watchword is caution.

I sanded down two thin sticks of wood and placed them in my pencil case. It is a lot easier to get inside of a building if you have your lockpicks all squared away before then. They resemble cheap, finite creatures who barter for status. There is none of that here, in the world beyond the world.

From one vantage, the past radiates through each of us, humming like an air conditioner and bringing a more favorable complexion to view. I hate to mix metaphors, but someone very close to me had a cast on her leg, and she likened it to that. I sure don’t want to forget what happened – bad first dates, God in an oxygen tank. Writing her all those frantic letters that didn’t show enough of what they meant to display, which was this: my affection.

I glanced through what she had sent me. Corny bullshit mostly: playlists and cheap polaroids, postcards from Manila and Bangladesh. Her opinion of all the painters who had ever lived. Everyone else is sentimental. I used to wish I was like that, and my wish came true.

Dan Carville is the senior contributor to This Recording.

Images by Los Carpinteros.

 

In Which The Advice Springs Forward In All Directions

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,

Through an online dating website I recently met a woman, Ellen, who has just gotten out of her marriage of two years several months ago. At first I was hesitant to pursue things with Ellen thinking it would get complicated. We have a great connection, but it is not easy to handle the presence of someone else in her life with whom she has a long, shared history. Further complicating the situation is the fact that he actively tries to get her back. More recently, she spent an entire night sobbing when he sent her a long letter.

Honestly, I’m tempted to tell her to contact me once these issues sort themselves out. On the other hand, I do feel something with her I haven’t with other women so sticking it out does have its appeal. What should I do?

Michael S.

Michael,

Participants in the degrading, sexist institution we call marriage have every incentive to stay in their committed, legal union. The tax breaks are just insane, and the thrill of unprotected sex pretty much never goes away. I am sort of joking, but sort of not.

When a woman leaves her marriage, it means that she is really not having it. There is one key exception to this situation — when her husband cheats. Then things are kind of up in the air because forgiving him is very possible and you could end up on the outside of this situation rather quickly.

Assuming that is not the cause of the divorce, you’re probably in a far more stable situation than you imagined. Most women aren’t going to jump into another relationship after something this serious goes haywire, so if she is sticking around, she isn’t just experimenting and probably has actual feelings for you. If you are there for her during this difficult time — and not just as a pillow — she will remember that kindness.

On the other hand, if she starts having all night talks with her ex, you are free to express your disapproval and disassociate until she does.

Hi,

I recently met a guy, Aiden, through some mutual friends who is attractive, confident and fun to be around. The only concern I have is that he insists on meeting up at concerts that are frequently loud. He usually drinks to excess, and while he is great fun under these circumstances, the entire night is rather exhausting for a weekday. 

Maybe this kind of thing would have appealed to me when I was in my early twenties, but we’re both in our early thirties and the idea of being a sweaty mess every time I see Aiden is a disturbing project. On occasion we will do other things, but it seems this is his idea of fun and he goes to two or three shows a week.

Marjorie W.

Dear Marjorie,

Compatibility means that you enjoy doing the same things at the same times, like going to shul on the high holidays, or interchanging each other’s limbs so you can feed each other bagels chock full of gluten. Couples require these shared activities, or else they will begin to resent one another. The fact that you are already resenting Aiden’s choice of fun this early on in the relationship is maybe not the best sign.

You will then wonder, will he grow out of what he enjoys? It’s not impossible to do so, but since music is a wonderful expression of the soul, it would be hard to imagine he will suddenly enjoy listening to it performed. Maybe if you got him a really great stereo.

Illustrations by Mia Nguyen.

In Which We Generally Keep Everything Light

Enthusiasm Curbed

by ALEX CARNEVALE

Joshy
dir. Jeff Baena
93 minutes

Screen Shot 2016-08-16 at 10.57.28 AMRather than marry Josh (Thomas Middleditch), Rachel (Alison Brie) hangs herself with his belt from a door on his birthday. In Jeff Baena’s second feature, Joshy, no one seems particularly upset about this. (Rachel had recently had sex with her fiancé and found it profoundly unsatisfying.) His friends decide to throw him the bachelor party in Northern California that they had planned despite this. Josh’s buds are similarly unhappy:

— Adam (Queen of Earth director Alex Ross Perry) was recently dumped by his girlfriend of ten years for being too clingy

— Ari (Adam Pally) is somewhat bored with his marriage and when he meets Jodi (Jenny Slate) they talk about how Jewish they both are

— Eric (Nick Kroll) is Nick Kroll.

It emerges that every single person at the party recently dated a woman with a Jewish name. “You are meant to be happy,” screams Greg (Brett Gelman), the only individual there for the weekend who doesn’t realize that Josh’s bride-to-be suffocated herself to death.

What is most surprising about this mostly improvised film is how completely dull it is. Nick Kroll tries to liven things up by mugging his way through every scene, and it quickly becomes apparent that he is the most masculine of anyone present, setting something of a low bar. As the bachelor party goes on, erstwhile director Ross Perry/Adam explains the particulars of time travel paradoxes. “We’re living in what’s called the alpha timeline,” he suggests. “We’re waiting for a momentous event which has yet to occur.”

Ari and Jodi have the exact same haircut, and when Ari cheats on his girlfriend their curls touch. Adam Pally is high for most of Joshy, a decision which restricts his innate likability to a soft disgust. The fact that he is unfaithful makes things even worse. All we want is someone exactly like us, Joshy suggests, and when we realize that this is not the case we turn back.

In the morning Joe Swanberg and his wife show up with their five year old son. Eric hides the bongs and the cocaine. Swanberg immediately takes over the mantle as the most masculine of the group, and Nick Kroll’s Eric is feminized by his simple presence. Swanberg’s facial hair alone is the most important cinematic aspect of Joshy, he is also twice the performer of anyone involved in this project. He looks like if Chris Hemsworth passed on steroids for a full calendar year.

Swanberg leaves immediately after breakfast when he and Eric fight, and before everyone takes mushrooms. Northern California is fuzzy and overcast; the weather is as improvised as the dialogue. In the fog you can’t see anything, really. Eric hires strippers but Adam just ends up talking with one of them about how he resembles her stepdad. The various mid-life crises dealt with by these boy-men take over completely and Joshy becomes incredibly depressing.

The music of Joshy is the real highlight. An original score by Devendra Banhart plays over the various arguments. Rachel’s parents accuse Josh of killing her and try to tape his confession, others fight over the various sex workers that visit this bachelor retreat, and Ari’s internal struggles over his infidelity rotate around Banhart’s drifting guitar loops.

Baena (Life After Beth) never delves more specifically into any of the character’s dilemmas, giving Joshy more of a realistic feel. There is no greater moment of catharsis, and the interplay between those who know each other and those who don’t is roughly the same. History, even the memories between people, have vanished in this awful place.

Women are absolutely on the outside here, but not in a way that seems purposeful or distracting. They are just other people, and so these men might easily be as feminine as their wives and girlfriends. At the center of the loss, Middleditch doesn’t get very much screen time, and the lame hijinks that surround him don’t seem to mitigate his grief any. As in life, he is just left with a mess of emotions and no outlet for them whatsoever. Hormones belong to everyone.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.