In Which We Did It For Our Country Or A Woman

The Years After Kobe


creators William Broyles, David Broyles & Harvey Weinstein
History Channel

You might not know it, but Harvey Weinstein is a patriot. The terrorist villain in Six, his ode to the great country some call the USA and other call ‘Murica, is a vengeful American adherent to the religion of Islam called Michael Nasry (Dominic Adams). He is very upset that Navy SEAL Richard Taggart (Walton Goggins) killed his brother Omar during some godforsaken mission in Afghanistan. The show builds to a climactic scene where Michael confronts his brother’s killer. “Omar was from Detroit, remember?” the evil villain states. “He loved the Lakers because of Kobe, that’s what he told you.” Fuck everything.

“I made a mistake,” Goggins responds. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry I didn’t kill all you motherfuckers.” This is the hero of our story.

Flashbacks make Goggins no more sympathetic. We never see his penis at all, but we do see him losing interest in his wife in the years previous to his Kobefrontation. At first when he comes home from a mission, he is excited to see her and pounds her gleefully in her car, which from all appearances is absolutely terrible for the environment. Then, after the next mission she picks him up after lunch with his fellow soldiers and he is like, “Give me one minute,” and the prospect of having to wait is too much for her. They break up with a round of hate sex and it is suggested his alcoholism is a major impediment beyond the frequent absences.

When they learn of Rip’s abduction while on a security detail in Africa, his friends all desire to save him. Bear (Barry Sloane) is unable to conceive with his wife, has no money and also drinks heavily. Ricky (Juan Pablo Raza) cannot afford his daughter’s private school and is losing touch with his wife (Nadine Velazquez) with whom he frequently cries during wintercourse. Alex (Kyle Schmid) sleeps with the waitress at Denny’s during his off time and never sees his daughter. Can I take back what I said about Harvey Weinstein being a patriot?

None of SEAL Team Six’s family members can reveal to their friends or families about the elite unit they represent. It came out that the men who killed Osama Bin Laden made an average of $54,000, which does not seem like a lot. However, military pensions are generally lucrative. When I was vice president, I only made $230,000, which was frankly not a lot either for the hours. When I went to Wendy’s I frequently made the choice to opt for the 4 for 4.

Six consists of several deployments to Africa in order to find Walton Goggins’ character. None of the fighting in the show makes these excursions seem particularly, exciting dramatic or fun. Bear, Ricky, and Alex are deployed against a terrorist group called Boko Harum, which has the virtue of not being particularly active anymore. Although they rape an entire coterie of Nigerian children, most of this is offscreen. During one outing, SEAL Team Six loses a member. His widow is not particularly enthused by the way the rest of the squad takes the death, which includes riding golf carts erractically and making a big scene at the man’s wake.


William Broyles also made an amazing show about the Vietnam War called China Beach. At the time Dana Delany was legitimately the most appealing woman in the Northern Hemisphere, and the show got a lot of mileage out of the moral uncertainty involved. With the way that war has changed, it is always easier for us to put such things out of our mind now. As the cost of waging war decreases, you would think the ease with which it is waged would go up. Six argues that this is not really true. The more we know of war, the more we come to hate it regardless of scope.

Dick Cheney is the senior contributor to This Recording. He is the former vice president of the United States.

In Which We Continue A Course Of Birth Control

Wet Work


creator Aubrey Nealon

Screen Shot 2017-03-13 at 10.54.49 AM.jpgJohn Cardinal (Billy Campbell of The Killing) is one hell of a guy. His wife developed dementia just a few years ago, and he placed her in a full-time care facility. He feels too guilty about this to pursue any other woman, even if he wanted to – he still loves his blonde wife, who intermittently forgets her name. Each time some aspect of her illness presents itself to him in conversation, you can see the sorrow vaguely emanating from his beard. Since he is Canadian – more specifically a resident of the freezing fictional hamlet of Algonquin Bay – he does not weep openly at these developments, but tries to do some good in the world to make himself feel better about the bad.

Cardinal is a detective paired with a young, female partner named Lise Delorme (Karine Vanasse), who is secretly investigating him as well. During the six episode first season of Cardinal (happily, the show has already been greenlit for several more), the pair follow up on the case of a tortured little girl. The mystery story is not much of one – it is purely a genre pretext to investigate how small communities relate to each other, and how little knowledge of the outside world is really relevant to their lives.

A whole group of human beings, Cardinal suggests, are worried about what happens in the world at large. These emotional swells are caused by what they read in the news or see or television. The rest of humanity, as depicted in Cardinal, is focused more closely on the drama of their friends and neighbors.

The severe environment of this area in Canada has always made an impact on the local culture, of course. As Cardinal and Delorme investigate a couple perpetrating the murder-abductions, all the witnesses to the events are deeply upset by the wrongness in the community. Most are angry at Cardinal himself as if it were his personal responsibility to end crime as they know it.

Cardinal’s daughter Catherine (Deborah Hay) is a student at a Toronto college. The geographical separation from her parents seems intention on Cardinal’s part – he does not want her attention so inwardly focused in this tiny community. His partner shares his reservations about making a life in this frigid place. She clandestinely takes birth control while she and her husband Josh (Alden Adair) are trying to have a baby.

The violent aspects of Cardinal are as severe in other shows of its genre, but they are far more clumsily done. The boy that serial killer Eric Fraser abducts is more threatened and confined; he never really comes to harm. Delorme’s investigation of Cardinal is the more exciting thread, but she only confirms he is as virtuous as we expected. This traditional result comes as a relief, since it is not reassuring to think of a morally ambiguous man patrolling this last place.

Based on the novels of Giles Blunt, Cardinal does feel like a relic at times, both the character and the show. Wary of stepping into the familiar rhythms of the police procedurals Cardinal is intent on not being, there is a striking focus on how Canadians deal with justice and loss in their own inimitable fashion. The American actor Billy Campbell himself is keenly suited to this role, expert as he is at conveying a basic sincerity that is not at all naive. Anything that survives so long in the cold deserves to be preserved.

Ethan Peterson is the reviews editor of This Recording.

In Which Joan Crawford Possessed The Requisite Nerve

The Disagreements


creator Ryan Murphy

Mannerisms have always been Jessica Lange’s great forte as an actress. She is most deft at using her head, which never seems to be in motion, yet it is generally turned in exactly the right direction — away from the inevitable, and towards a possible recusal of the pain any other avenue offers. Feud‘s Ryan Murphy (American Horror Story) loves her for these subtle contortions, and for how her unmistakable vocal properties can accelerate from the austere iciness with which we associate her finest roles, to a hot, insensate rage. Joan Crawford was nothing compared to her.

In Feud, Alfred Molina plays director Robert Aldrich. Educated in Providence, RI, Aldrich became a brilliant director after running away, West, from his family fortune. Aldrich becomes the weirdly sympathetic center of Feud, which is not terribly surprising given that he has to deal with both Bette Davis (Susan Sarandon), one of the strangest looking women of her time, and Crawford herself, who was a slightly better human being, if Feud hews at all close to the truth, but no picnic.

Aldrich was an artist in the studio system. His story is at least the equal of any actor, but he is merely an accessory to the main story here, which is, I’m not quite sure. Murphy makes a lot of noise around the idea of a feminist allegory to this story, whose essential composition — that women in the same business struggle to get along — is anthetical to the stated point.

The rest of Murphy’s cast is filled with exciting actors in familiar roles. Kathy Bates and Catherine Zeta-Jones make cameos in the pilot, and the wonderful Judy Davis stars as a reporter. Her scenes with Lange are both the most humorous and the most joyful. In contrast, Sarandon does not seem to have the quite the same joy in hamming it up, sensing that this approach is a bit facile. Murphy doesn’t rest the weight of this show on its made-up surfaces, but he knows how good he is at that part of things.

There really is not anything close to enough material for eight episodes here, and Feud suffers from frequent slow patches where he relies on the basic charisma of his actors and his Douglas Sirk-esque sets to fill time between the spicy confrontations that feature prominently. It is never very clear why exactly Ms. Davis and Ms. Crawford detest each other from the start, only that we should not allow it to undermine the very basic theme that there are not enough roles for older actresses.

I don’t know if we can exactly say that this is completely true anymore, given that Lange and Sarandon have not stopped working at all in the past two decades. The idea that any actor should be entitled to work, when they rely entirely on writers and directors for their roles, is a bit inexplicable. Here Joan Crawford does not rest on her laurels when parts are not coming her way: she reads every book with a woman on the cover of it before happening upon a paperback copy of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?

There is a lot less joy, by half, in the Bette Davis sections of Feud. Positioned as the more serious actress, Davis’ overwrought style is very much out of date. Rewatching Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, the Aldrich film on which the two women clashed, is very difficult because of these performances. Aldrich’s director is impressively modern, but he seems to have to work around the dated style of acting that Davis made famous. The idea that we are entitled to the same success in old age that we achieved in youth, regardless of the work’s quality, is a very American notion.

Ethan Peterson is the reviews editor of This Recording.

In Which We Dig Up All Our Colleagues


The Way to Slovenia


The Americans
creator Joe Weisberg

Digging a hole and getting stuck in it isn’t a subtle metaphor. The last season of The Americans saw our favourite spies contemplating their escape – being offered the chance to return to Russia – but here we meet them, stuck in repetition compulsion, still in America and still trying to dig up. Between the end of the show’s fourth season and this week’s premiere, increasing evidence has piled up of Russian involvement in the presidential election, and allegations of wiretapping fill our 2017 headlines, so our fictional Soviet spies are not the only ones trying to dig themselves out of a mess.

Elizabeth and Philip, aka Nadezhda and Mischa, are excavating the body of a colleague who was caught, infected with the disease he’d been tasked with taking back to the USSR, and died in the hands of the CIA. So there is unfinished work here, and when their colleague cuts himself as they try to retrieve a tissue sample from the corpse’s body, Elizabeth tells him in reassuring tones that it’s okay, don’t worry – and then shoots him.


There is new work too, as Elizabeth and Philip play at happy families under new identities with their new Vietnamese ‘adopted son’, Tuan. Elizabeth and Philip work for an airline under this identity, presumably because the show refused to finish without having a character wear a quasi-nautical Duran Duran-style double-breasted suit.

Tuan makes awkward conversation at school with the new kid who has just arrived from the Soviet Union. The details of the school cafeteria makes us think for a moment that we are watching another 80s coming-of-age drama. Then we are back in Moscow, where Oleg, just returned from his posting in America, has given the new assignment of sniffing out corruption amongst the nomenklatura, the Soviet elite in which he was raised. It might make for awkward conversations with his family, but his boss tells good jokes.


In a hint, finally, to all the therapy that teenage daughter Paige will one day require, she tells her mother she has been having nightmares since she saw her mother kill a mugger at the end of the last season. Her mother takes her down to the garage and starts pushing her around to teach her self-defence. Meanwhile, the blossoming romance between Paige and Matthew, the teenage son of the friendly neighbourhood FBI agent, is concerning her parents. But who knows, maybe they would be concerned anyway – it’s always hard to map over what would be problems in some parallel universe in which they are a normal family.


Playing at being another normal family, with their son Tuan and under their new guise as airline employees, Elizabeth/Nadezhda and Philip/ Mischa have dinner with the family of Russians who have defected to the west. The father of Tuan’s awkward new Soviet classmate speaks like a stock character out of the Robin Williams’ 1994 film Moscow on the Hudson, of how full the supermarkets are in America. He isn’t wrong, of course, but his wife looks embarrassed, and he doesn’t seem to notice or care that his wife looks embarrassed.

In the kitchen, where the knives are kept, Elizabeth/ Nadezhda and the wife of the family of defectors make small talk about learning English and recipes, and Nadezhda, as Elizabeth, gives advice to the other woman about how to make a home here. But we hate to meet those who have come to a place for the opposite reasons to the reasons that brought us there, and in the car home afterwards Elizabeth/ Nadezhda expresses her frustration at their new ‘friends’ and their seduction by the west.


The sexiest new cast member of The Americans this season is 80s Yugoslavia, the kind of edgy new high-school kid of twentieth century ideology shown here as Mischa’s son – released from a psychiatric institution at the end of last season – makes his way to Slovenia. Yugoslavia, having split from the Soviets some thirty years earlier, is reminder of the ambiguities and alternatives that exist to the show’s usual Washington DC versus Moscow binary.

A decade later and the hills you can see in the Yugoslav bus ride would be covered in soldiers, as Tito’s state ripped to pieces. For now, Mischa’s son is in this liminal place, slowly making his way west, away from home but towards his father.

Heather McRobie is the senior contributor to This Recording. She last wrote in these pages about the Mecca Mall.


In Which There Might Be A Simpler Explanation

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


My husband Grant and I have done a lot to help his brother, who I will call Martin. Grant deeply loves his brother, and is very forgiving of his flaws. In the past few years, he has given him money, a place to stay, enrolled him in a drug program and organized an intervention. Martin pretends to want to change his ways, but I have never felt him to be really sincere in those statements.

At some point tough love has to enter the picture. I worry for Grant regarding how much his brother’s situation weighs on him and I believe it affects him negatively at work and home. I don’t want to say this outright, but I think he would be a lot better off if this problem did not exist.

I would hate to be the cause of a falling out between the two of them, so I have come to you. Is there any way to accomplish my goal without being seen as the bad guy?

Tina G.


Dear Tina,

Usually momentum propels any destructive relationship to become more destructive over time. It’s kind of how my allergy to pollen is currently a hot nightmare, whereas when I was a kid it was no big deal. In all likelihood, your husband will eventually discover the truth about his brother, or Martin will die of an overdose.

Since the latter outcome does not seem entirely a worse case scenario from your perspective, a darker advice column would sanguinely have you introduce Martin to the theoretical work of Zoe Lund. Then again, there is no guarantee you could beat a manslaughter rap after that, and crime doesn’t pay.

It is best practice to preserve all the lives you can. Martin does not want to reform himself, and until he does, Grant will be no use to him. This important moral distinction has been reflected in a number of cinematic endeavors. As I recall, Requiem for a Dream did not end well onscreen or in real life. Permanent Midnight was also decent in this regard.


Lately my boyfriend Roy spends a lot of time in front of the television. He did not used to be this sedentary. I worry that this behavior is bad for his health. He says that when he comes from work, he does have the energy to go out. We used to be more social, and we also used to do various cultural things just the two of us. Now it seems like all he is interested in is marathoning some new TV show.

Is there any way to change these habits?

Angela R.


Dear Angela,

Your boyfriend Roy was probably waiting to spring this on you for awhile. His subconscious (or perhaps even conscious plan) was to wait until you believed you were on the verge of the life you wanted for yourself, and then force you into accepting a substantially worse existence through episode after episode of Person of Interest.

By all rights Roy should be in jail for what he has done, and in fact, he is in jail. This prison is of his own making, and involves a substantial amount of Sarah Shahi.

Some people never get addicted to behaviors of any kind, and others fiercely hold to their routines. You may want to consider the possibility that there is something wrong health-wise with Roy, and this is his way of managing his condition. There is still an outside possibility Roy is not a lazy bum.

Illustrations by Mia Nguyen.

In Which We Meet Our First Prostitute



I’d met my first prostitute when I was a seventeen-year old crime reporter for The New York Graphic. A veteran newspaperman walked me into a brothel at the corner of 97th Street and Broadway, giving me a tip about saving nickels on phone calls. Instead of using the pay phone at the corner to call my city editor, why not ask “the girls” if I could use theirs? Madame thought I was cute and let me make my call. From then on, I used to drop by the house of ill repute when I was on the Upper West Side and needed to phone in a story. It was a fascinating environment to my young eyes.

At the beginning, there was little contact between me and the employees. I was pretty nervous about being in a place like that. I’d heard so many terrible things about prostitutes. Sergeant Peacock down at the precinct tried to scare me about the “ladies of the night” with some bullshit about your balls dropping off if you hung around them. Society and the media made the very word “prostitute” engender fear and distaste.

Fuller in his New York Graphic office

My mother had also filled me with a load of crap about prostitutes. Did she have a conniption when I told her I used the brothel as my office when I was uptown! Rebecca launched into a righteous speech about immorality and hygiene. Syphilis was a big problem in those days, blinding, even killing, people who caught it. I reassured my mother I’d never had any sexual contact with the girls. But for Chrissakes, I told her, nothing prevented me from talking with them.

Little by little, I got to know the girls as people. They treated me like a kid brother, though they weren’t that much older. Any sensual urges I might have had were quashed by the girls’ business-like approach to their job. I was never tempted to sleep with a prostitute because I knew them too well. They told me all about their lives, and I grew to respect them.

In the morning, they sat meditating like nuns in a convent, wearing nothing but negligees and pajamas to entice the early-bird customers. If I showed up, they would give me some money and ask me to go out and bring them back coffee and donuts. I did these little chores gladly. Once I brought some hot coffee to a girl named Helen. Before Helen could drink it, Madame called her upstairs for a gentleman who’d just walked in. Helen asked me to hold on to her coffee until she came back.

”It’ll be cold,” I said.

”Uh-uh,” said Helen, glancing at the guy. “I know my clients. Believe me, it’ll be warm.”

The girls had their own code of ethics, their own dreams. A lot of them wanted to have children and a family. That was their ticket out of that dead-end life, back to normalcy. Very few made it happen. Most languished in that netherworld where Madame provided for everything in exchange for sixty-five cents of every dollar the girls took in. From my perch in Madame’s office, I overheard their conversations about laundry bills, cab fares, and backaches. When Helen once complained about the exorbitant commission extracted from her pay, Madame looked at her with a harsh glint in her eyes and asked her, “Do you want to be a Lindy?” The not-so-subtle threat to be out on the street, all on her own, was a reference to Lindbergh’s solo flight across the Atlantic.

They had a terrible complex about their work. When they went out, the girls imagined everyone knew, with just one glance, what they did for a living, as if the word “prostitute” were branded on their foreheads. Secretly, they clutched onto romantic visions, hoping a well-to-do client would invite them to a swank restaurant or club. That rarely happened. The smart ones put aside as much money as possible, then resettled in a place where no one knew them.

One of my pals, Dotty, managed to move out of the brothel into a luxurious apartment on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. My city editor sent me to interview Dotty about a crime story I was on. She was almost a prisoner in that swell place, kept on a tight leash by the well-to-do man who’d rescued her. She answered my questions, but she made me promise not to use her name in the story. It would be bad for her new life. I promised and kept my word. Dotty had a gorgeous smile.

with Jean-Luc Godard

Cut to thirty years later. I was meeting one of my lawyers for lunch at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. I arrived early, walked up to the bar, and ordered a Bloody Mary. Somebody tapped me on my shoulder. I turned around. An elegant woman stood there smiling at me.

“I remember you,” she said. “Do you remember me?”

I looked at her lovely face and couldn’t place it. I shook my head.

”Corner of 97th Street and Broadway,” she said.

I suddenly remembered. Dotty, the girl who got out.

”I told my husband that you had ethics,” she said. Her dapper elderly husband walked over with their daughter, already a young woman. The husband was a well-known lawyer for the mob. The daughter looked exactly like her mother had when I’d met her in the early thirties. We gibble-gabbled, and I was careful not to say the wrong thing. We said goodbye, and she gave me that beautiful, mysterious smile before I turned and walked away.


Those recollections jarred me into writing The Naked Kiss, a yarn about a prostitute who decides to start anew in a small town where nobody knows her. She thinks she can escape the double-dealing and deceit of the big city. However, she’ll have to struggle against just as much ill will and hypocrisy in the sticks. My story would delve into the small-mindedness that thoughtlessly points its finger at sinners, fostering intolerance and hate.

I wanted to grab the audience like a screaming headline, and quickly establish the character of my lead, Kelly, in the first scene. Critics have called this my “signature” scene. That’s bullshit, because every scene in every movie I ever made bears my imprint.

That sequence was the last thing we shot, because I wanted Constance to shave her head. She did it without a qualm. In France after the Liberation, I remembered how they’d shaved the hair off women who’d been sleeping with German soldiers. Kelly’s pimp pulls this horrible trick on her as punishment for her revolt against his authority.

When I was a crime reporter, I covered suicides. A helluva lot of them left behind suicide notes for their loved ones. Typically they wrote things like “God forgive me” or “I can’t go on.” I’d never forgotten one note written with an eyebrow pencil on a paper bag by a prostitute: “Today is my independence day. I am going to celebrate it now.”

Film directors all over the world have told me how much they have been influenced by the opening sequence in Naked Kiss. I’m always pleased to hear that. At the time, however, I was only thinking about portraying my character honestly. Extending the language of film sometimes starts with just trying to show one true thing.

Samuel Fuller died in 1997. His autobiography, A Third Face, can be purchased here.

In Which We Leave The Countries On The Other Side Of Here

The Mecca Mall


Just before I first moved to Amman my boyfriend at the time gave me a book about Jordan that he annotated with his own notes and little jokes. He was a graduate student and so I unkindly joked at the time that he had time to produce such labour-intensive gifts, but it was touching nonetheless. It touches me more now.

There was a picture in the book that he gave me of a statue of Artemis in Jordan’s National Archeological Museum, and next to it my then-boyfriend wrote about how Artemis was remarkable because she was both the hunter and the symbol of the home. I think he was right that it was strange, that she was both the one who leaves and the one who keeps the house – even then, I knew there was a choice, especially for women – the world will try its best to make you pick only one of those roles. I saw a similar picture of a bust of Artemis seven years later, in a seminar last year, when a Libyan archeologist stood there and explained how they are hiding artifacts from ISIS, and I cried in the darkness while the old man clicked through his slides of all of what will and may be lost.

Like many people coming from Europe and north America, Amman was my first experience of living in the Middle East. In that late Bush and early Obama era –when Jordan was awash with sketchy western businessmen ‘just back from Iraq’, their SUVs with tinted glasses and their job titles smudged into plausible deniability – my friends and I joked that Jordan was the ‘starter country’ for Arabic language learners and kleptocrats-in-training alike. Every expat graduated to a new city within a year or two, and in the meantime westerners were fond of the unkind nickname for the country, the Hashemite Kingdom of Boredom. All of which is to say that all the dodgy influences coming and going from the north (Lebanon), south (Saudi), east (Iraq) and west (Israel) didn’t do anything to make Amman remotely sexy in our ungrateful eyes. It was shopping malls and roundabouts and people trying to get to or from the airport as often as possible.

The general sense – even from our Jordanian and Palestinian friends, as much as from the little group of internationals I fell into spending my time with (I’d yet to learn the tricks of getting away from fellow countrypeople abroad) – was that Amman was a kind of under-achieving sibling of the region’s metropolises, and it was a kind of permanent arch joke that we’d all wound up there instead of somewhere Real. It wasn’t really fair to the city that three great golden universes of history were each a taxi ride away – Beirut, Damascus, Jerusalem – the places where shit went down, historically, instead of the place that just sold a lot of nice shit.

Being from England, Amman was also the first and the closest I got to experiencing what popular culture has told me life is like in mid-west America: we’d drive to the mall, we’d drink milkshakes, we’d go bowling, we’d have young-people arguments and we’d go home. The mall for bowling and for boredom-induced milkshake-drinking was called Mecca Mall, its neon sign written in the Latin alphabet, its escalators and entertainments full, just like American movies told me that malls are, with kissing teenagers and girls talking about clothes. My friends and I never did make it across the Saudi border all the way to Mecca; the Mecca Mall stood as testament to how all our lives were facsimile, in starter-setting: the Hashemite Kingdom of Boredom, we’d laugh, Mecca Mall and we’ve never been to Mecca.

This constant background-noise of how studiedly unremarkable Amman was held extra significance for me because living in Jordan, in my early voyage out practice-of-adulthood, was also the last period of my life when I felt remarkable myself. My first novel had been published eighteen months after I graduated from college, at the time when my peers were facing down the tarmac-chewing period of internships and it’ll-be-great-for-your-resume servitudes, and tightrope-walking the precariousness of my status of half-waitress half-celebrity was a disorientating experience – so much so, in fact, that I’d run away to the Middle East. At twenty three, there was a serious discrepancy between the period in which a person can actually socially trade on ‘I’ve written a book’ (one year and four months) and the time I thought could glide through life as an ingénue (forever. I thought I could do it roughly forever).

So I got a job in Jordan working on human rights, and called my boyfriend in America as often as was inconvenient to tell him all the atrocities I’d either researched or read about or, you know, sometimes just dreamed about. Aged twenty-four there was an obstructive chasm between the amount of time a person can use ‘I work on human rights’ as an excuse to make Skype calls at 3am out of insomnia and weltschmertz (one year and eight months) and the amount of time I thought this professional badge of Being A Good Person would be a get-out card for having to learn to not bulldoze through other people’s lives (forever, more or less. But I promise I have learned since that there are no badges or titles that give you a pass on that). He finished his PhD on ancient artifacts while I was slowly learning to not use either the Being A Professional Good Person badge or a fluke of early success as a free pass through human interactions. I wrote to him, last year, after I’d been to the seminar of the Libyan archeologist who stood so solemn and quiet as he showed us the artifacts he risks his life to save. My once-boyfriend wrote back in a timely manner with helpful advice, and maybe that is the mark of a real good person, with no badges.

In our youthful arrogance, back in my Jordan days, my friends and I constructed this narrative about Amman so effectively – or perhaps inherited it, from whichever young people had been hanging out in Mecca Mall in the years before we arrived – that we didn’t even bother to notice when the city in its complexity refused our story. We occasionally discussed the divide between east and west Amman – one side historical Palestinian refugee housing then layered over with precarious temporary accommodation from the Iraqis who had fled since 2003; the other side the shops of Shmeisani where you could get anything you didn’t really want made out of gold (we went to look once for the most ridiculous made-out-of-gold item we could find there, and I think the winner was a stapler), and where, my research and my nightmares told me, wealthy inhabitants beat their Sri Lankan maids and confiscated their passports.

More often though, we went from our day jobs of report writing on human rights violations to our evening past-times of wandering the mall and drinking milkshakes, and our nighttime pastimes of Skyping people far away and pretending to be better than we really were.

back in amman.jpg

Eight years later I live in Tel Aviv – the Mecca of my queer friends who left the countries either side of here and neon in its own self-mythologies – and Amman is two short bus rides away, give or take any trouble at the border. The man who gave me the book lives far away. Amman’s complexity shows more now – would even if these last years hadn’t beaten from me the ability to ignore that which doesn’t fit with an arrogantly neat summation of a place or person – through the Syrian refugees who have since layered over the parts of the city the Iraqi refugees were pushed into, and the Palestinians before them.

Still of all the horrors in all those reports and all those years and all the nightmares, there is a singular little cruelty in how we dismissed Amman so easily in our practice-run adulthoods. Even if, as they did in our stories, people just went to work and went to the mall and went home and lived their lives, that seems now to be something to hope for, a normality lost in the golden places nearby that we so aspired to be in and be like. Just be a place, like Amman, just be a person, like any other person. Much better that than a statue of Artemis, once revered and now with her face smashed in.

Heather McRobie is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Tel Aviv. You can find her twitter here and her tumblr here. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here.