In Which We’d Like To Buy The World A Coke (Cake)

Oh, Relax! It’s Just a Little Coke!

By Tyler Coates

My father worked for the Coca-Cola bottling plant in my hometown, so we were strictly a Coca-Cola family. This with exception of my pre-teen years, when my acts of rebellion were calling my father by his first name, asking for a Dallas Cowboys Starter jacket for Christmas (our proximity to Washington, DC meant that everyone was supposed to be a Redskins fan), and drinking Crystal Pepsi whenever I had the chance.

Basically, I love Coke: It’s my soft drink of choice. I’ll drink a can in the morning while the rest of you “normal people” drink a cup of coffee (or, you know, something nutritious like orange juice). So when I found out that you could make a cake with Coke in my senior year in college, I decided that it would be my signature dessert.

I had made Coke cake four times before my most recent attempt: once in college with help from my roommate Martha, who was practically a Midwestern housewife, once with my former roommate Kristin, and twice with my ex-boyfriend. I tend to get really tense and worked-up whenever I make an attempt at cooking, so I always needed someone to hold my hand through the process.

I woke up on a recent Saturday morning (uhm, well, afternoon) in a funk: I’m underemployed, I’m single (again), and I have a general sense that I can’t accomplish a damn thing, even when I put my mind to it. Which is why I decided at the spur of the moment to make a Coke cake. By myself. For reals.


So here are my instructions for the best soft-drink enhanced cake you’ll ever have (with thanks to Southern Living for the recipe, and apologies to Emily Gould for the food-blogger’s shtick).

Coca-Cola Cake:


* 1 cup Coca-Cola
* 1/2 cup buttermilk
* 1 cup butter or margarine, softened
* 1 3/4 cups sugar
* 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
* 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
* 2 cups all-purpose flour
* 1/4 cup cocoa
* 1 teaspoon baking soda
* 1 1/2 cups miniature marshmallows
* Coca-Cola Frosting

Coke II is not a recommended ingredient.

Since you don’t have any of the materials to make a cake (except a cake pan and – surprisingly! – sugar), make a quick list of ingredients and head out in the 13-degree Chicago weather to the Dominick’s, which you begrudgingly agree is closer than the Jewel (for once your roommate is right, and she shouldn’t rub it in every time she finds out you have shopped at Dominick’s). Also, buy a whisk and a spatula, since you have neither, and then make a quick stop at Walgreens to buy a hand-mixer for twenty dollars. (Congratulations! You’re on your way to becoming an adult!)

Before you mixing your ingredients, make sure to clear the dishes out of the sink. Give your plastic mixing bowls – the ones that your mother bought you from Wal-Mart when you moved into your first apartment in college, which you have since turned into “popcorn bowls” – a good washing, as they have been sitting in your cupboard for months collecting dust. (It has been a long time since you have had the money to spend of frivolous snacks like popcorn.)


Pull out your first ingredients: the two liter of Coke and the smallest bottle of buttermilk you could find. Combine one cup of Coke and half-cup of buttermilk in the medium-sized mixing bowl; set aside. Remember that you need music to listen to while baking, so jump around the corner into the next room and put the soundtrack to The Big Chill into the boombox you have had since you were in seventh grade. (Remember to play “The Tracks of My Tears” twice when you get to it; you’re in that kind of mood today.)

Shake two sticks of butter out of the package, then triple-check that two sticks actually do make up one cup. Place the butter in one of the ugly plastic bowls your roommate bought from Walgreens and place it in the microwave to soften. Heat for about thirty seconds, I guess? (Sure, why not!)

Place the butter in the large mixing bowl and begin to beat it with the electric mixer you bought this afternoon. Second-guess that the speed of the mixer is actually set at low; when you are satisfied it is, be slightly confused that the butter looks like scrambled eggs. Do you think the butter is supposed to look like scrambled eggs?


(Do you remember when you made this same cake for Thanksgiving two years ago, and your boyfriend laughed at you because you were so spastic in the kitchen? Try to control yourself. You’re on your own now and you need to buck up. Relax! How about that time you made a Coke cake with your ex-roommate in her new apartment, only to discover a third of the way through prep that the attachments to her hand mixer were actually still in your old apartment? The outcome of today’s cake will be much better than that one. And you won’t have a boyfriend to laugh at you, because you are alone. Tiny victories!)

Gradually add sugar to the butter and beat until blended. Throw in the vanilla extract, then two eggs. Make sure you remove the large pieces of shell that fell into the mixture. Just because you still can’t crack an egg correctly doesn’t mean you can’t make a cake. Continue to beat the batter until blended.

Combine flour, cocoa, and baking soda. You will probably want to do this in a large mixing bowl, and try to remember that for next time since you only have the smallest bowl left. Also, you don’t need to use an electric mixer to combine dry ingredients. Misconception! Take a wet paper towel and wipe down the microwave and counter, which have become covered in flour and cocoa. Don’t forget to brush off your roommate’s package of cherry tomatoes!

Add the dry mixture to butter mixture alternately with cola mixture; begin and end with flour mixture. Beat at low speed just until blended. This will be tricky, of course, because you have two bowls of ingredients to blend into a third. Think of it like a giant Venn diagram, but with food (and without logic). And you have to do that with one hand, because the other will be holding the electric mixer. You’ll probably regret not buying a mixer with a stand, but remember: you make about a hundred dollars a week right now doing data entry as a temp job while you “hold out” for that administrative assistant position of your dreams. You cannot have nice things right now. That is why you buy your kitchen electrics at Walgreens.


Stir marshmallows into the batter, and don’t hesitate to drop a few extras in there (who measures marshmallows in cups, anway?). After pre-heating the oven to 350 degrees, spray your 13- x 9-inch pan (which you bought specifically for this cake years ago, as it is the only thing you have ever put in it) with some Pam. Even though your recipe says to grease and flour the pan, you don’t need to use flour after the Pam (so, go ahead and rinse it out and then try it with just the Pam this time, okay, big shot?).

Bake the cake for 30 to 35 minutes (and remember: set the timer – this is not a DiGiorno pizza we’re cooking here). About fifteen minutes before it finishes baking, prepare the Coca-Cola frosting.

Coca-Cola Frosting Ingredients

* 1/2 cup butter or margarine
* 1/3 cup Coca-Cola
* 3 tablespoons cocoa
* 1 (16-ounce) package powdered sugar
* 1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Bring the first three ingredients to a boil in one of your nice saucepans (thank God they’re in better condition than your mixing bowls, which is appropriate as the only thing you normally cook is pasta) over medium heat, stirring until the butter melts. Remove from heat and whisk in sugar and vanilla.

Notice that you still have ten minutes left for the cake to bake, and then ten minutes for it to cool before you are supposed to pour the warm frosting over it. Since you overestimated the preparation of the frosting, and you don’t want it to cool and settle in the saucepan, you’re going to want to whisk it for the next twenty minutes.

After exhaustively stirring while waiting for your cake to cool, pour the frosting over the center of the cake. You don’t necessarily have to spread the frosting evenly; just let it do what it needs to. Congratulate yourself on your first solo attempt at cake making with left over Coke and the Seagram’s 7 Crown you remembered stashing in your cupboard. You may be broke, underemployed, and single, but you make a damn fine cake. Cheers!

Tyler Coates is the contributing editor to This Recording. You can find his Tumblr here.

“Community” – Mirah and Spectratone International (mp3)

“Luminescence” – Mirah and the Spectratone International (mp3)

“Following the Sun”  – Mirah and Spectratone  International (mp3)

“My Prize” – Mirah and Spectratone International (mp3)



Molly enjoys beer milkshakes here.

Molly returns to her adolescence here.

Molly on Scorsese here.


In Which We Have Been Trying To Live Without You Now

Breaking Up and Breaking Down

by Tyler Coates

Call me a pessimist, but I think I have an unnatural obsession with romantic disappointment. Most of my favorite songs are about failed relationships, and my favorite album is Exile in Guyville, the quintessential Liz Phair album, which is almost entirely about fucked-up relationships.

Liz Phair

Some of my favorite novels are similarly depressing (Sophie’s Choice and Lie Down in Darkness by William Styron; The End of the Affair and The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene).

Styron was brilliant, happily-married, yet still incredibly depressed.

I have a thing for movies with climaxes that are particularly bleak (despite the frequently awkward, comedic moments).

There’s Broadcast News, my absolute, all-time, favorite-favorite, in which none of the main characters end up together (uh, spoiler alert), or Annie Hall, the most realistic film about a relationship I’ve ever seen (and about which Molly has written). The latter of the two provided inspiration for the only poem I’ve written that I will unabashedly share – as opposed to tearing it up or locking it away in a diary (read: a “friends-only!!!” Livejournal post).

Dead Shark

Placing the paperbacks on the crease of her inner arm,
Annie carries the collection across the room to fill
the empty brown boxes with books without
noticing whose name is on the inside covers.

She picks out the classics, the novels, the volumes of poems,
leaving behind the books that he bought her
in an effort to teach her more about life and death.
She turns and stares at the sturdy oak shelves,

still packed and crowded with cardboard and paper.
The boxes of books still half-empty,
Annie wonders if he will notice the
slivers of air tucked inside the library.
She returns to her cargo, packing it with

lobsters, rollercoaster rides, tennis lessons,
and Bergman films worth repeating.
She folds over the flaps, fitting them into place
and seals the break with the flimsy, yellowing tape.

I don’t think these two could have made it.

It seems appropriate that the only poem I wrote was about a breakup, since my previous forays into creative writing (which took place in my two semesters of undergraduate creative writing) produced a overdrawn, completely autobiographical story about a girl on whom I had a crush in college.

Looking back on it, it’s really embarrassing, as I didn’t even bother to change the names in the story, and when you go to an average-sized liberal arts school, you find that things like that get around. It’s more embarrassing than blogging about yourself.

To give myself credit, the story had a lot of style: it was based around songs that reminded me of the girl, so it read like liner notes to an album. I also told the story backwards (I had watched Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind a LOT during that time). I will not post the story here.

Whenever I am irrationally obsessed (but the good kind of obsession) with someone – and when I went through my first major break-up a year ago – I listen to exclusively heart-wrenching music, eventually associating those songs with the object of my affection. I’m sure I have a stockpile of mix CDs somewhere that serve as historical accounts for the dramatic and sad moments in my romantically-confused life.

The Sid and Nancy of blogging

I’m used to being the dumped one, or at least the person whose feelings were unrequited. While some (*cough*Julia*cough*) might turn to blogging about the situation, I’ve learned (through, well, blogging about the situation) that publicly revealing your mistakes, as well as your partner’s shortcomings, proves fatal, especially if you’re in a city like Chicago, where the young, post-collegiate, middle-class crowd segregates itself to one small section of the city.

Instead, take this blogger’s advice and stick to sad music.

A lil’ bit of emo never hurt nobody.

There’s the awkward nature of an amicable break-up, one where both parties decided together (or peacefully, meaning that no dishes were hurled and no insults were shouted) that things had to come to an end. One comes out of such a situation defeated, sometimes for the sake of feeling defeated. There’s no torch to carry on, no immediate need for rebound sex. There’s the inevitable guilt that comes with accepting a failure. I haven’t yet figured out how to come out of that funk; if you come up with any ideas, feel free to share them on your own blog.

Tyler Coates is the contributing editor to This Recording. He is a blogger living in Chicago.

My name is Tyler and I have feelings.


“A Case of You” – Joni Mitchell (mp3)

“The Last Time I Saw Richard” – Joni Mitchell (mp3)

“Help Me” – Joni Mitchell (mp3)

“Down To You” – Joni Mitchell (mp3)


Tess’ debut post/poem.

Nobody moralizes like children.

We did heroin just for the glamour of it.

In Which We Are Haunted By The Ghost Of Your Precious Love

Our series on the films of the 1980s rolls on, as Tyler Coates tackles Sid & Nancy. You can find the archives of the series here.

Love Kills

by Tyler Coates

The biopic has always been a popular genre in American film making, and the 80s certainly produced many iconic examples of the form. Most important, possibly, was Coal Miner’s Daughter with Sissy Spacek as Loretta Lynn, which established the basic plot of the musical biopic: an artist is born, suffers through various trials and tribulations as a child / young adult, but eventually becomes famous and successful through hard work and determination. Eventually, the star loses all of that glory through various self-destructive behavior. It’s a well-worn device that exists in nearly all films of the genre.

And then there’s Sid & Nancy, the anti-biopic:

The 1986 film directed by Alex Cox follows the young Sid Vicious (played by Gary Oldman), the bassist for the Sex Pistols, and his tumultuous relationship with his American girlfriend, Nancy Spungen (played by Chloe Webb), which ended with his arrest for her murder at the Hotel Chelsea in 1979.

Biopics usually span an artist’s entire life, from childhood to death. Sid & Nancy begins the day that Sid met Nancy in London, right after becoming a member of the Sex Pistols. The span of time of the film is fairly short, as it focuses entirely on the main characters’ relationship, which lasted just under two years.

The real Sid and Nancy

Sid and Nancy begin the film as junkies, breaking the biopic mold wherein the artist takes the drugs after his ascent to fame. Often compared to Romeo and Juliet, Sid and Nancy instead poisoned themselves at the beginning of the story, and spent the rest of their action trying, in vain, to cleanse themselves.

Sid Vicious lacked another important trait with subjects of other popular musical biopics: he was incredibly untalented as a musician, never bothering to sober up long enough to be able to play with the Sex Pistols (and, inevitably, was only a member of the band for about a year). By the time he dated Nancy, however, he was infamous enough to embark on a solo career, which she laughably tried to manage by using her connections as a punk-rock groupie.

Of course, we all know how that turned out.

I’m not a fan of the Sex Pistols. I don’t think that there was much to either Sid Vicious or Nancy Spungen that was in the least bit redeemable. Yet at the same time, Sid & Nancy is one of my favorite movies, one that I watch over and over again.

Part of it may be because I’m fascinated with such troublesome relationships. I also have a tendency to follow with great interest the gossipy stories of musicians, writers, and artists of the ’60s and ’70s. But I think that on top of both of those reasons, Alex Cox’s film is a beautiful portrait of an ugly time, and it gives a contemporary audience a peek of the seedy underbelly of New York City in the late ’70s.

There is definitely a dichotomy of beauty and filth in the film. The love story itself is a troublesome one. Can one call Sid & Nancy romantic at all, considering that the pair destroyed each other and themselves? Perhaps the mysticism and mythology behind the debaucherous rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle blurs the images for the viewer, who can certainly find moments of tenderness between Sid and Nancy, possibly because Alex Cox does not judge them or treat them with too much negativity.

Of course, knowing that Sid most certainly killed Nancy in a drug-fueled frenzy, and sensing that Nancy was some sort of punk social climber skews the picture as well.

Featuring powerful and incendiary portrayals by Goldman and Webb and an intense glance at a scene most of us missed out on (and probably wouldn’t be able to remember had we partaken). Not only is it one of the more important  (yet underrated) films of the 1980s, it’s perhaps one of the best biopics ever made.

Tyler Coates is the contributing editor to This Recording. You can read his other articles here and find his Tumblr here.


“Love Kills” – Joe Strummer (mp3)

“Haunted” – The Pogues (mp3)

“Pleasure and Pain” – Steve Jones (mp3)

“Chinese Choppers” – Pray For Rain (mp3)

“Love Kills” – Circle Jerks (mp3)

“Off The Boat” – Pray For Rain (mp3)

“Dum Dum Club” – Joe Strummer (mp3)

“Burning Room” – Pray For Rain (mp3)

“She Never Took No For An Answer” – John Cale (mp3)

“Junk” – The Pogues (mp3)

“I Wanna Be Your Dog” – Gary Oldman (mp3)

“My Way” – Gary Oldman (mp3)

“Taxi To Heaven” – Pray For Rain (mp3)


Molly hates your tattoo

Tyler reviews All the Sad Young Literary Men

Sid and Nancy would have loved the McNuggetini

In Which Tumblrs Are Like Assholes In That Everybody’s Got One

The Tumblies: The Tumblr Awards

by Tyler Coates

Tumblr! It’s the greatest blogging site of our generation! It’s made up of so many different people from different backgrounds and cities, with different opinions! (The majority, of course, are young, urban, liberal white people who love graphic design, Mad Men, and Robert Downey, Jr.)

Tumblr, once heralded as the blogging platform for busy people, quickly turned into the LiveJournal of 2008: it’s a blog software pretending to be a social networking site, where you can collect followers and re-blog glory, and everyone is aiming for a spot on the Tumblr Radar. Forget YouTube: with the power of the re-blog, Internet “fame” can happen much quicker, albeit to a smaller audience. On Tumblr, nearly everyone can have their proverbial fifteen minutes of fame (which, on the Internet, amounts to 24 hours at best).

In the olden days of blogging, you had to put forth the effort to link to someone else. Nowadays, with push-button publishing, Tumblr makes it easy to participate in a meme, a feud, a controversy. On any given day the Tumblr Dashboard reads like a message board: people chime in and give their two-cents, responding to whatever “scandal” is on everyone’s minds. And that’s why we want to reward those special individuals who spend hours upon hours entertaining each other and, more importantly, us.

So if you’re someone who checks your Tumblr dashboard several times an hour for any new re-blogs, enjoys a lot of inside jokes about the Tumblelogs you follow, AND loves award shows (think of the following as the Tumblr version of Bravo’s A-List Awards, only Kathy Griffin is not around and, sadly, Joel McHale was not available to host the show in front of a green screen), we now present THE TUMBLIES.


Most likely to refer to herself in the third person: AntiKris

Most likely to start a debate about feminism: (tie) Peter W. Knox and Jessica Gold Haralson

Most likely to overshare: The Ch!cktionary

Most confusing: Young Manhattanite

Most likely to get you fired from your job: mathew loves the internet (generally NSFW)

Most likely to hit on Alex Balk: cvxn

Most crossover appeal: Garfield Minus Garfield

Tumblr Sweetheart: Katiebakes

Biggest flirt: SoupSoup

Best dressed: Sara Zucker

Most likely to succeed: Molly Lambert

Nicest smile: The Doree Chronicles

Best account name: thumbwrestlinginbaltimore

Worst account name: rebloggingrebloggingjulia

Gayest (and campiest) account name: Faggotry

Bitchiest, most bitchin’ Tumblr: Frangry

The Tumblr we missed the most: Ryan Adams

The Tumblr we hate to miss the most: Jakob Lodwick

Best Tumblr criticizing an Internet celebrity: Reblogging Julia

Best Tumblr criticizing Internet non-celebrities: Trainwrecks

Worst Tumblr criticizing an Internet celebrity: The Unbearable Balkness of Being

The Tumblr Queen Bee: Julia Allison

Best Supporting Tumblrs: Mary Rambin and Meghan Asha

Best In Drag: Blakeley

Best political Tumblr: Squashed

Biggest conspiracy theorists: Cajun Boy and Karion

Biggest (shortest?) Heartbreaker: Nick Douglas

Best n+1 editor with a Tumblr: Keith Gessen

Best unsolicited advice: Rules for My Unborn Son

Biggest crush (male): Mills (also winning for Biggest Hair)

Biggest crush (female): Molly Young

She reads Domino so you don’t have to: Look Mom

She reads Hipster Runoff so you don’t have to: Britticisms

Best Tumblr by a fictional person: What Would Don Draper Do?

Best Tumblr inspired by a real person: Stevie Nicks Has Never…

Begging you to un-follow them, but you won’t: Young Manhattanite

Begging you to un-follow him, and mission accomplished: Brian Van

Best Avatars:









Best niche Tumblrs: News of the Spam World, One Person Trend Stories, SpamBLR

Best poet with a Tumblr: The Septa Haiku

Best Comic Tumblrs (That Aren’t Garfield Minus Garfield): Eat Sleep Draw, Lessons In Loneliness, My Life in a Cube

The Chrissy Hynde Award for Achievement in Music Tumbling goes to Maura Johnston

The Pauline Kael Award for Achievement in Film Tumbling goes to Karina Longworth

And the George Orwell Award for Lifetime Achievement in Blogging goes to Alex Balk:

Tyler Coates is the contributing editor to This Recording. He is in a somewhat abusive love/hate relationship with his Tumblr account

This Recording on Tumblr:

Alex Carnevale

Molly Lambert

Danish Aziz

Tyler Coates

Will Hubbard

Brittany Julious

Tess Lynch

Yvonne Georgina Puig

Melanie Strong

Karina Wolf

Molly Young

Tumblrs We Can Never Un-Follow

It’s Bedtime


Call of the Wild


For When I Feel Like Sharing

Maria Diaz

Skeet On Mischa


Made In The Dark

White Leather Palace

Rod Townsend

Kia Matthews

Theo Is Jonesing


Rachel Kramer Bussel

Sex, Art, and Politics

hyde or die

Planet Tampon

frangry and antikris, just hanging out

Bunker Complex

News & Booze

There Goes Easy Rider



what the inside of a tumblr looks like

Up With The Mob

Blogging Via Typewriter

Alex Blagg

Muppet Pants

South Pol


“I’ll Tumble 4 Ya” – Culture Club (mp3)

“Where Is My Mind” – Nada Surf (mp3)

“Jack Killed Mom” – Jenny Lewis (mp3)

“Love Lockdown” – Kanye West (mp3)

Get this rappr a Tumblr!


Famous Lesbians in Love

We Like the Way You Move

Obsessed Times Ten

David Karp: Foundr of the Tumblrverse

In Which This Is How I Know Him

This is the second entry in our series on parents. You can find the first entry here. Now we hand it over to our contributing editor Tyler Coates.

Pictures of My Father

by Tyler Coates

The first real memory I have of my father is, like most of my “first memories,” actually something that was captured on video when I was about three years old. My father came home on his lunch break, and he walked into the house to find me screaming at my grandmother. Instead of calming me down or telling me to shut up, he instead took the opportunity to capture the moment on home video. So somewhere in my parents’ house there’s a VHS tape with clips of me stomping around my living room and screaming, “Day-day,” which was what I called him until I was about five years old.

I think that perfectly introduces the relationship I had with my dad. I always joked that my mother was The Boss. At a very young age I understood that she was the breadwinner; she worked for the Navy as a computer scientist, whereas my father was dispatched around my rural Virginia area from the local Coca-Cola bottling plant fixing drink machines and fountain units.

Northern Neck Bottling Company, Montross, Virginia

There was never a strong conflict between my parents because of their uneven salaries. I didn’t know how much they made until they co-signed on my first apartment out of college. When I say that my mother was The Boss, I mean it in the sense that she was the disciplinarian. She had a temper and very little patience for misbehavior, while my father, on the other hand, sometimes encouraged it.

Fleetwood Farm, Acorn, Virginia

My dad was born in Acorn, Virginia, which is a town only in the sense that there is a sign on the side of the road that reads “Acorn.” He was born at home, in the house that my grandmother still lives in. He was the second of three children, and he lived at home from his birth in 1950 to the year he married my mother in 1976.

My father, my uncle Andy, my grandfather, and my aunt Lynn on the Minneapolis-Moline.

My grandparents were poor, which is a knowledge I grew up with. My father didn’t tell stories about how he walked five miles to school in the snow (he only did it once – he missed the school bus and my grandfather refused to give him a ride). They didn’t have indoor plumbing until my father was seven.

My great-grandfather, my father, my uncle Andy.

Instead of complaining about his family’s poverty, he described it in the way he did about everything: with a self-deprecating joke. “When I grew up the only toys I had were a spoon and a piece of asbestos.”

There are very few pictures of my dad as a child because my grandparents could not afford a camera. The majority of the pictures we have of him as a kid are school pictures, or, in the special case below, a photograph of his visit with Santa Claus in Richmond.

My father went to the same high school as my mother (which is the same school both my brother and I attended over twenty five years later), but they were not high school sweethearts. They ran in different circles (if that is possible when your high school has about two hundred students). He was in the FFA, a football player (because, as he told me, “They let everyone who tried out on the team.”), and in two bands.

The Rambling Rebels (larger image and full caption here)

It should be noted that my father could be described as a Good Ol’ Boy – he was raised in the South and matured during the ’60s. While he missed the major action of the Civil Rights Movement (his was the last graduating class of the segregated public high school in 1970), he was certainly affected by it, as were most of his generation. My mother once admitted to me that people her age in the ’60s sported Confederate insignia and repeated the line, “The South will rise again,” but, in her words, “We didn’t really know what that meant.”

At the same time, my father loved the music of the black artists that recorded with Motown and Atlantic. He saw Aretha Franklin and the Jackson Five in concert, and even when I was a kid, I remember the sounds of Otis Redding, Sam and Dave, and Wilson Pickett playing on the car stereo. So, while he was in a band called The Rambling Rebels and pasted the Confederate flag on his drum set, he sang in another band in 1968 called The Soul Creations.

The Soul Creations – my father is the second from left. I’m sure they sounded a lot like Spoon.

My parents went on their first date just after Christmas in 1972; my mother was a freshman in college and home for break. My father, who was four years older but one year ahead of her in school (he had been kept back two grades, she skipped one), was working his first job out of high school digging septic systems.

My parents always seemed like completely opposite people to me. My father grew up poor, my mother upper-middle-class. My paternal grandparents were uneducated farmers; my mother’s father was a lawyer who graduated from the law school at the College of William and Mary (he was a member of a group students who saved the law school from closure – the state originally wanted to have one supported law school at UVA), her mother a retired schoolteacher and housewife. Both of my maternal grandparents could trace their lineage to the First Families of Virginia. My mother, of course, was a debutante.

After four years of dating, my parents married in June 1976 and settled in the area where they – and their parents – grew up.

When speaking of the day he married my mother, my father always said it was the second happiest day of his life, the first being the day his father sold the pigs. His third happiest day was the day my (younger) brother was born in 1989; the fourth being my birthday in 1983.

I have to find some truth in the idea that your life flashes before your eyes before you die. After all, your life flashes before your eyes all of the time: memories come in and out of your head in a fluid motion. Like dreams, they don’t often follow a logical pattern, nor do they always represent what actually happened in the past. When I think of my childhood, things are hazy in the sense that I’m not entirely certain I’m remembering what actually happened to me, or if I’ve just seen those things in pictures for over twenty years.

I have the same feeling when I remember my father, who died in May of this year from pancreatic cancer. I look at pictures of him and think, “Yes, that is what he looked like.” But away from photo albums, I don’t see him at 38, when I was five years old. I can look at a picture of him in high school, or in 1978 and think, “That is my father, and that is how I knew him.”

But during the day, away from the scanned images of those old photos, the picture in my head is from three months ago: my father is 57, and he is laying in a hospital bed in my parents’ room. For the first time in his life he does not look young for his age; he is old, tired, and his wrinkled skin is loose on his face because he hasn’t eaten in two weeks.

There are, luckily, no pictures of my father from the last two months of his life.

My father and me, Christmas 2006

My father was diagnosed with cancer in February 2007. With most cases of pancreatic cancer, the diagnosis comes months, even weeks, before the patient dies. My father, on the other hand, was extremely lucky; his cancer was still in early stages, and his doctor was very confident that with a combination of chemotherapy and radiation, my father’s life could be extended immensely compared to other patients. He did, however, specify to my parents that the number of patients who lived for five years without the cancer returning was very low. My father, forever the optimist, replied, “So, we do have a chance!”

August 2007

My father had an amazing personality. I can’t count the number of people who told me that he had never met a stranger, simply because he somehow managed to get along with nearly anyone. I credit his small-town upbringing; at the same time, he grew up with a notoriously unaffectionate father, which made my father completely opposite. My father would demand a hug and a kiss from my brother and me when we were fifteen, in public no less.

November 2007

My father responded well to his chemo and radiation therapy, and by the end of November 2007 he was in remission. At the same time, however, he tried to hide that he knew that his days were numbered. In August, as we crossed the bridge from the Outer Banks of North Carolina (where my parents have vacationed every year since the early years of their marriage) to the mainland, he cried and told my mother that it was the last time he’d be there.

After Christmas he unsuccessfully attempted to conceal his illness from my mother, which is difficult when you’re trying to hide feelings from a person you’ve known and spent nearly every day with for thirty-five years.

Dad went through a second round of radiation and chemo, which left him withered and tired. By the time he went into hospice care in May of this year, he had lost about 90 pounds. I flew home from Chicago for what was originally supposed to be a weekend visit, but I spent three weeks at home. I came home in time for his last few days of being aware of his surroundings, floating in and out of a morphine-induced haze.

He held on for a week and a half, which my family spent holding a vigil of sorts. There’d be hours were we sat around the rented hospital bed, crying and holding his hand, hoping for a quick release from the pain that my father’s illness was causing all of us to experience. Other times, we’d be down the hall in the living room, slamming down multiple glasses of red wine, which, like the casseroles and flowers delivered by the neighbors, were brought into the house in bulk shipments.

We prepared for my father to die, but in a way that surprisingly felt like a party rather than a somber occasion. We told stories about him and shared the memories we had. My mother and my father’s sister argued over events that took place in those stories, I listened to the familiar tales that had changed and evolved over the years.

It sounds like a cliche, of course, but it’s true to my father’s sensibility. He was a storyteller, a joker. He always had some elaborate tale to tell, and he never told the same thing twice – which, of course, was unintentional. He was plagued with a bad memory, and he couldn’t help but tell the same story over and over, but it changed each time. Fittingly, the preacher who delivered his eulogy somehow managed to mix up the stories that my mother and I provided as research. He placed me and my brother into a story of a trip to Washington, DC in the late ’70s, for example.

Growing up, I knew a lot of kids whose parents were divorced – so many, in fact, that I felt left out that mine were still together. I only knew one girl who had a parent die when she was a young age. I felt both normal (in the sense that losing a parent as a child was something that only happened in movies) and out of place (because I only had two parents, not four). Growing up, I realized that my parents had a nearly perfect marriage, despite their opposite upbringings and childhoods. I can’t imagine what it is like to be married to someone for almost 32 years (and being with that person for almost 36) and suddenly lose them.

My father left a lot behind when he died. For my brother and me, there is the enormous cache of stories and memories, both from our lifetimes and previous. I have pictures of him – a few from his childhood, even more from my parents’ life together before I was born, and a ton since then.

My mother, on the other hand, has two sons who look a lot like their father. She has the house they built together when they married. And she has my father’s final gift, which is the last metal Coca-Cola sign he built and painted for the owners of Driftwood, which was my parents’ favorite restaurant.

My father’s name, which he printed on his final sign, is just above the entrance to the restaurant. He told the owner that he did it for my mother, so that whenever she went there for dinner, she’d know he’d always be there with her.

Tyler Coates is the contributing editor to This Recording. He tumbls here.


“Domino” – Van Morrison (mp3)

“Respect” – Otis Redding (mp3)

“Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song)” – Otis Redding (mp3)

“Chain of Fools” – Aretha Franklin (mp3)

“I Thank You” – Sam & Dave (mp3)

“The Underdog” – Spoon (mp3)


Prayer in a wailing wall.

The moment was alive and lost.

Falling tragically short.