In Which They Consider Themselves The Awkward Stepchildren Of The Nuclear Age

Pleasures of the Open Air

by ALEX CARNEVALE

The Americans
creator Joe Weisberg

Next to a nude man in a queen-sized bed, Elizabeth Jennings slightly uncovers herself so that her asshole can experience the routine pleasures of the open air. It is always pleasant to wake up next to someone before they do. Their lives are in your hands, or at least remain perilously close to your hands, for those fleeting moments.

When I was a kid I had a friend who never liked to leave his bed. He did all his homework there. Sometimes he convinced me to sit on it and play the game of Life; other times I requested we do so on a table like human beings. If there is no safe place, then a place must be made safe. I have developed plans to place this sentiment on a bumper sticker and merchandise it on several platforms.

Nothing really changed on the family’s vacation except Paige is now working people like a pro and Elizabeth feels moral compunction over some simple blackmail. It was honestly his fault for going up to her apartment in the first place and drinking wine. Then, he demurred at the slightest touch of her hand to his leg – bullshit. He knew why he was up there, he just wanted to seem somewhat reluctant to make them both feel better.

Pastor Fucking Tim can’t leave well enough alone. When someone goes out of their way to secure you a great deal on international travel, you do not tell him that his daughter is sad. Tim will likely never come back from this African country, panicking his wife. Then he will show up suddenly with an African bride. Tim’s ill-advised trip to Africa reminded me of how little an impact racism or sexism plays in the Cold War.

Despite the fact that Oleg seems to sleep with every single one of his gendered colleagues, nothing is made of this and the elegant, hardscrabble Tatiana seems to be using him for intel. It is still kind of messed up that they are so willing to be with this whimpering sod of a KGB officer. When Oleg finds out, defects to the United States and begins to feed her false intel, this will make Tatiana even more ridiculous. Unless this has already occurred?

Sleeping with other people, or pretending to, is the main intelligence-gathering function for women in the KGB. Just once I would love to see Elizabeth get what she needs by friendzoning some poor security guard. Presumably things are the same on the American side – we will never know since the closest thing to a woman operative is Agent Gaad’s wife, who has taken him to Thailand for debriefing. For some, The Day After came and went a long time ago.

Paige’s slow descent in agentdom is going better than ever, but it would be fun to see Hans get more screentime on the show as a boy she casually meets at church and brings home to her parents. They could sit on the edge of her bed and listen to records. I doubt she is wanting to talk much about God, but she could tell him all about her parents, and how all their friends are as straight and white as the day is long.

While Elizabeth was babysitting three Korean-American children, she taught them all the ways of her people. Pizza, racquetball and Chevrolets. It is impossible not to become addicted on some level to what is on offer, precisely because of the availability. We get good at everything we do repeatedly, finding all the shortcuts. If Elizabeth were to disappear to another part of the country, leaving all this behind, we sense she could do it without a second thought. Masks become habits.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

“Brand New Feeling” – Matt Costa (mp3)

In Which Aging Remains Difficult For Some

Children Get Older

by ALEX CARNEVALE

Captain America: Civil War
dir. Anthony Russo & Joe Russo
147 minutes

Hello, My Name Is Doris
dir. Michael Showalter
95 minutes

Getting older seems so difficult: unless things actually improve with age. Tony Stark and Doris Miller have lived substantially more than half their lives and they find the prospect of going on daunting. One thing is absurdly clear: they intend to make serious changes in their personalities in order to accommodate this new reality.

Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is consciously uncoupled from Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) when Captain America: Civil War begins. She was very unhappy when he murdered a generation of Eastern Europeans battling a robot voiced by James Spader. She was willing to accept his drinking and flirting with other women, but all the death really soured the relationship.

The primary relationship of Doris Miller (Sally Field) was with her mother. The woman was something of a pack rat, and Doris inherited some of her mother’s inclinations while keeping her data entry job at an advertising agency. When the agency’s new art director John (Max Greenfield) tells her that he likes her glasses, she becomes obsessed with him.

Tony Stark’s obsessions take a different form. After the tragedy of the last Avengers film (it claimed Joss Whedon’s credibility as well, a serious loss), Stark has kept his eye on a Queens teenager. He shows up at the boy’s house, sits on his bed, and relays instructions as to what to tell his family and friends. This actually happens in Captain America: Civil War, the most tone deaf movie since Taken 2. But really, discovering Spiderman is only a distraction in Captain America: Civil War. Stark is most focused on subduing the will of another, less susceptible person.

Steve Rogers (a magnificent Chris Evans) holds things together by dint of his colossal charisma. Captain America: Civil War subtly alludes at a love relationship between himself and the winter soldier Bucky Brooks (Sebastian Stan) who he tries to protect from the government and the other Avengers when a man attempts to frame Bucky for a terrorist attack. The two make a very handsome couple, and short shrift is given to Rogers’ beard Sharon Carter (a bloated looking Emily VanCamp), a disloyal intelligence operative.

Steve actually is quite old, and previous films chronicling his return to the world focused primarily on how he would adapt after being frozen or something. These jokes never made much sense, since besides the advent of the computer, almost nothing has changed in American life that cannot be understood by watching three hours of cable television.

All the people Steve cared about are dead besides his winter lover. Tony Stark was abandoned by his close ones by dint of his own behavior — except for his parents, who he lost at a young age before he could make them proud. His new family was more recently ripped from him when Pepper started dating her own male assistant, who was much more savvy when it came to understanding her idiosyncratic romantic requirements.

Stark’s new family is a bunch of mutants. Most of them are men. He is not really effective at forming relationships with women; in previous films he simply harassed them into a disturbed submission. In Captain America: Civil War, he confines the telekinetic Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen, more radiant than ever) to her chambers with instructions for an android (Paul Bettany) not to let her out. He has reached an eerie detente with Natasha (Scarlett Johansson) who doesn’t seem to view him as a romantic prospect whatsoever, despite the fact this was a key feature of the comic.

This is sad for Natasha, who plays the role of therapist for the disturbed people involved in these mass murders. Johansson tries really hard, but Mark Ruffalo is nowhere to be found and she has little chemistry with the other possibles. Her outfits are unfortunately mediocre, as if no one involved with this production even thought very much about her.

Captain America: Civil War is mostly focused on the men, which is fine, since Hello My Name Is Doris has enough to say about women for both movies. Sally Field works overtime here, oscillating facial expressions so that we can see she is more full of emotions than anyone else in her story. Without her vamping there would not be much to admire about Doris Miller.

When the object of Doris’ affection finds love near a blonde woman with a questionable singing talent (Beth Behrs), Doris immediately plans to sabotage and ruin the happiness John has found. She posts lies on his facebook page in order to break up the lovely couple. We are still supposed to sympathize with her — I guess taking into consideration the questionable idea that the elderly are not fully responsible for their behavior.

Doris’ friend Roz (an amazing Tyne Daly) is deeply worried about her disturbed infatuation. By the time we reach Doris’ age, Roz suggests, individuals of all genders should understand the meaning of this childish concept. Just as different substances scale as uniquely appetizing, so too do people. Roz no longer feels such elementary pangs of humanity for others; the self-acceptance she radiates seems to be what eventually gets Doris to act as a mirror.

There is still a wisdom in youth before it is corrupted by later events. In Captain America: Civil War, Nigerian king T’Challa (the mercurial Chadwick Boseman) sees a man kill his father, so he reacts by heading off to repay the favor. Roz’s granddaughter Vivian (Isabella Acres) possesses a similarly straightforward perspective as she counsels Doris on her stalking. In her world, if a guy pays attention to you, he probably likes you. It is only further on in our lives that attention is traded so easily, for so little in return.

When Tony Stark was young, people constantly observed him because he looked and sounded good. They required no other reason — what need would there be for one? After the basic impetus of beauty fades, human beings have a tough time adapting to any kind of indifference from the universe. We must be essential: not simply caught in the flow of our lives. The only pleasant surprise is that in these humbling moments we are most ourselves.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

“Can’t Go Wrong” – You Won’t (mp3)

“Friends in Exile” – You Won’t (mp3)

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In Which We Know Exactly Where We Originate

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,

Before I went off to college last fall I asked my mom some questions I had for a long time about my dad Glenn. He killed himself when I was two. A few years later my mom remarried, to a guy she had been with for awhile named Henry. We have been a relatively happy family since, but I never really understood what happened since I was so young.

Last fall my mom told me that my dad had been suffering from depression and she didn’t fully understand why he had done what he did. She also mentioned that she had been restless and had cheated on him with Henry and others. When he found out, that was when he killed himself.

I can’t help but feel a little angry at both of them, even though I realize cheating alone shouldn’t be a sufficient to leave your daughter.

Jean B.

Jean,

I can’t really speculate on why Glenn felt the need to take his own life. It was his choice to do so, and he must have had a very good reason. You were lucky enough to have two people who didn’t want to abandon you so to be angry about that seems like a misplaced use of resources.

It sounds like your Mom is still managing a bunch of half-truths rather than telling you the entire story so you don’t end up hating Glenn. From her perspective this makes sense, since it is rather distressing to know your father didn’t care as much about you as he should. Still, if there are mitigating circumstances, you should know them, since it really does not matter in the end if we respect the dead.

Hi,

The amount of time my girlfriend Harper spends with her friends is truly astonishing. It is like she is in a cult — they plan constant outings, talk on the phone every night, and their world revolves around each other. I have never quite seen anything like this. On some level I am probably jealous of Harper paying attention to other people besides me. It isn’t really the time it takes away from our relationship that is the issue, but maybe I’m just sick of these other relationships? What can I do about this, if anything? I love Harper and the feeling is mutual.

Brent D.

Dear Brent,

Wanting to change the people we love is the only valid use of the slippery slope argument. If you want to spend more time with your girlfriend, do it. She likely will not say no. If it conflicts with the attention that she pays to her friends, complain. But a general band-aid on this situation is not impossible without destroying your relationship. The only thing you can do is slowly arc her towards you over time by offering superior experiences. People do not have just one life.

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

“You’re Still A Mystery” – Bleachers (mp3)

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In Which You Do Not Aim To Please Anyone

1:20 a.m.

by MAUREEN O’BRIEN

Lying in bed next to me, you begin to tell me about another woman you are seeing. I wonder if, to an outsider, this enumeration of your conquests would feel misplaced post-coitus. I am familiar with your breed of flirtation.

You tell me sure, she’s hot. She has a decent body, small tits like you like them, tall like you like them, she’s all right in bed. When people ask me about you, how would you feel if I told them you were a lazy lover, that you had a belly that hangs over your belt and the back of a woman?

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Instead, I say you are a “banker type,” and I fly to Mexico because I hope it will validate me, as a sexual trophy for you – your choice spoils. I pray for something to fill the hole in my heart left by the last man who brought me through that airport.

I sleep next to you – you, who have no passion for pleasing me, and no interest in the woman I am – rich in flaws and complexity. You don’t hear me when I speak, so I stop.

I follow you silently down narrow cobblestone streets as you trip over your shoes, checking your phone. Staring at the back of your head, I feel so lonely. I’m too apathetic and ashamed to fight you when you patronize me. I sleep with you despite myself, with my eyes clenched shut. I will it to be over before it begins; take the morning after pill thinking, “God, I deserve this.” I watch you get down on your knees in church and am amazed that you still have faith. What do you believe in, if it isn’t love?

Maureen O’Brien is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Brooklyn. You can find her website here.

Art by Claire Lee.

“River” – Pearl and the Beard (mp3)

“Good Death” – Pearl and the Beard (mp3)

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In Which We Unfather Jon Snow In Retrospect

He Is Something

by DICK CHENEY

Jon Snow isn’t Jon Snow anymore. He is no longer that something, he is now another, peripheral thing. He falls in love and regrets his choice. She dies, unfortunately, and he becomes otherwise. He is a new man; he is always becoming a new man.

Why isn’t everyone afforded the privilege of rebirth? Only the Starks are lucky enough to get to make pledges and gain allies, changing who they are. It is, in fact, what distinguishes them from the animals. I have to admit it is nice to see revenge finally in the offing. I find myself feeling more sympathetic to the Lannisters — but shouldn’t it be other way around?

I have written some negative things about Donald Trump in this space. Now that he is the candidate for sure, I have gotten a number of questions that I don’t feel I need to answer. He’s just an annoying man for godsakes. He never was a Republican. Just because someone has a bad personality, doesn’t mean they can’t be president. Harry Truman was a dick. Still, I will answer some of your questions:

Did Samwell Tarley father a child? I forgot.

No, he is just the kind of man who cares for another man’s baby, like whoever is dating Selena Gomez at this moment.

Do you think Trump will win, and if he does, how much of a catastrophe would it be for Murica?

Yes, I think he will win. If Clinton chooses Julian Castro, it looks like pandering, plus he and his twin brothers resemble the Mexican cartel twins in Breaking Bad. If she chooses Elizabeth Warren, as is more likely, it reduces her main strength as a candidate by rendering her history making story less unique. She really needs to choose Tom James from Veep.

Who would you say has a “good personality”?

Fiona Apple, Margaret Atwood, Neil Gaiman and anyone named Molly. I would not want to be friends with Lena Headley — how many times can you listen to someone describe their bowel movement without hoping they’ll never have another? So many crucial events in our country’s history would be different if people refused to drink coffee at night.

You know someone has a good personality when they are clearly, obvious humble, but everything they say somehow reflects well on them, and not even minutely negatively. They are holding the world back with their pinkie finger. This digit looks slightly wet, but upon closer inspection is drier and cleaner than anything you have ever inspected so closely.

How does this relate to the HBO situation comedy Game of Thrones?

Throwing up in a bucket is not a personality. I’m glad Samwell Tarly found a woman who was so thrilled not to be wintercoursing with her father that she accepts him for who he is. (This is just about the only way that will ever happen, regardless of gender, in my experience, so do yourself a favor and hide who you really are.) But wanting to help Jon Snow is not a personality.

This episode was a fucking chore. Long, badly written conversations between Tyrion and his eunuch-friends? More fucking time travel that tells us nothing important about Robert’s Rebellion and suggests that Ned Stark was twelve when it occurred? Jon Snow looking at people sadly for fifteen minutes?

Real people have conflicting motivations. Characters on Game of Thrones are disturbingly single-minded. This trend has been going on for quite awhile now, but in the books it was mitigated by a sense of inner turmoil that we don’t have time for here. Arya Stark spent all of two weeks in training to be a faceless man. It is nice that she is an invulnerable magic assassin now, but I come to Thrones for the deep feelings within me and the Littlefinger jokes. After this episode I just felt cold.

Do you think Daenerys Stormborn can afford an acting teacher? She should look into that.

Yeah. Things reach a nadir when Lena Headey and Emilia are presented back to back. It is like watching a movie and its pornographic parody in the same sitting.

Dick Cheney is the senior contributor to This Recording.

“Decks Dark” – Radiohead (mp3)


In Which We Can’t Get Underneath The Stars Tonight

Where We Used To Live

by ELLIS DENKLIN

I am thinking carefully about everything Eva told me the night before. The look someone gets when they have heard too much: I tried not to show it.

Eva asked if I had ever been to Marrakech. I thought: What a fucking pretentious question.

Once, many years ago, I was with someone I thought was too good for me. This one was not like Eva. She would ask terrible questions all the time, e.g. “What do you think Lawrence Durrell was thinking when he wrote Justine?” or “Can I get egg whites on a flagel?” (A flagel refers to a flat bagel.) I looked up what happened to her yesterday: she does PR for Maybelline.

I was telling you what my girlfriend said last night that so appalled me. Other thoughts keep intruding. Did you know that scientists brought a molecule down to absolute zero? It was a mitzvah.

There is this episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents where this hotshot business executive is driving on a long road trip, and his car gets totaled by a truck. He survives, but he is catatonic. Men come to take his bags and jewelry, never noticing that he continues to live. Other men come in prison jumpsuits and strip off his clothes. Right before they’re about to toss his body in the incinerator, a coroner notices a single tear dropping from the executive’s eye. That was basically the face I was making, last night.

I remember once, an evening like that not too long ago, she was asking me about my past. I felt like I had to reveal something, or else she might stop asking. “When was the last time you were in love?” she managed. First I said, “Murphy Brown.”

Just because Eva originates from something flawed, does not mean that she herself is wrong.

She did not want my real story, the same as I did not want her real story. But we had been together for about fourteen months, although maybe 1/3 of that time was long distance, while I finished a job in Seattle. It felt like she could not wait another moment. She brought out this old photo album. It took us right through her teenage years. We saw her dad, an intensely obese man who had been killed by a drunk driver when she was 14. He had not been around much before that.

I met Eva’s mother in San Diego, where she used to live. My girlfriend prepared me a lot for this meeting, she said she felt it was too soon, but that since her mom usually was overseas, this could be the only chance we would have to all get to know each other.

I have never been to Marrakech. I was in Bilbao once for a month. I met a girl online and she invited me to stay. The food is the only thing I remember, and how she never washed her hair. I told her I could not have sex before marriage, as a stipulation of my religion, but we could do whatever else she wanted. Eventually we did have sex anyway, but not until the last week I was there. By then, we both probably could have lived a lifetime on the anticipation alone, and I asked her to wash her hair, so that was no longer any kind of impediment. When I summarized this life experience to Eva, I stated, “I fell in love once in Spain.”

I attended a lecture last week by a man who wrote a verbose novel that numbered many leatherbound volumes. Someone asked him during the Q & A how he was able to be so prolific. He said that he had gotten divorced. The crowd gave a knowing laugh, but I felt my head get warm. It happens to me in these fast moments. Say it, I thought, say the real reason.

Last night Eva started talking about this ex-boyfriend, who I will call Max. You see, she loved Max dearly but he had some problems. I assumed the end of the story involved Max being the drunk driver who killed her dad, but this was sadly not the case.

Max actually did not treat her all that badly, until he got off drugs. He did not hit her or even yell at her or scream. He just made her feel really bad about herself, for like, years.

There is a compulsion among certain people who believe that others are “too good” for them. Over the years I have heard this every once in awhile, but not as often as some of my friends. It is apparently what her mother told her about me, after we spent an afternoon by the woman’s pool.

I looked in the mirror for a long time after that, wondering what Eva and her mother saw in me. They had both encouraged me to go in the water, but I shook my head and said nothing.

Max is married and he looks happy. His wife has the longest blonde hair I have seen since I used to go to this cafe in San Luis Obispo, where every single picture on the wall was of Max’s wife.

You are probably wondering aloud to your flatmate, I wonder what his girlfriend will think when she reads this! The answer is, she will realize I am the finest writer of my generation.

Tolstoy bought a villa for his daughter Olga in Marrakech. Before his marriage to Olga’s mother Sophia, he listed all his prostitutes, and admitted fathering a child with one of the women. Sophia Tolstoy took it in good stride. We always know the kind of person we are with, since it is the only meaningful way we can understand ourselves.

I told this to Eva just now, when she woke. She said, “Don’t act like you know me,” and turned over.  The woman on the walls of the coffee shop was actually Marilyn Monroe. She died of an overdose. The drunk driver who killed Eva’s dad died in prison from a brain tumor. No one else in this essay is dead.

I do not like knowing these hard stories, even if it is about a person I care so much for. But I would like them a lot less if I was the one telling them. I know we can’t forget what happened to us. Taking the next logical leap, it means that the present is as fixed as what preceded it.

Bilbao had the most wonderful restaurants. San Luis Obispo is a great place to live. Seattle’s not so bad either, even if there is not much history. You can always make it up.

Ellis Denklin is a writer living in Los Angeles. You can find an archive of his writing on This Recording here.

Photographs by Gueorgui Pinkhassov.

“Old Folks” – Fionn Regan (mp3)

In Which Water Remains The Sweet Elixir Of American Life

The White Clouds

by ALEX CARNEVALE

The Americans
creator Joe Weisberg

“Every one of you here has the opportunity to live an authentic life,” explains a guy wearing a really nice sweater. At Est, the concept of being trapped by other people’s impressions and feelings about you is the real danger. “There is something so American about it,” Elizabeth explains, since needing help with self-realization is a Western concept stolen from the East. They just didn’t realize it.

Gary Snyder translated poems by a ninth century Chinese recluse named Han Shan that I was reading the other day. It is astonishing how modern they are, although Snyder’s grasp of the timelessness of human expression in his translation is a major factor. Many Americans know and understand very little about life in other places, even within their own nation, and there has rarely been a good way of explaining it authentically.

This week Obama made an attempt at it, so he found himself drinking water in Flint, Michigan. It was an impressive feat; something I would never do. A famous moment in the 1992 campaign took place when Bill Clinton told an enraged protestor that he felt the man’s pain; it also marked the permanent departure of the Clintons from the left-wing of that party. Why Obama drank the water I don’t really know. It probably didn’t taste very good, since afterwards he announced that “kids are very resilient” indicating that they could rebound from whatever illness the water imparted. Then he distributed filters for everyone.

One poem of Han Shan goes like this:

Spring water in the green creek is clear
Moonlight on Cold Mountain is white
Silent knowledge — the spirit is enlightened of itself
Contemplate the void: this world exceeds stillness.

This sentimentality is ancient. Even Elizabeth, after murdering an African-American woman with several kids, was momentarily absorbed into it. There is a literal nature to both politics and violence that Elizabeth grasps instinctively, in this episode directed by Matthew Rhys. What is common in both disciplines is a 1:1 relationship between the meaning of an act and the act itself.

Keri Russell’s character embodies this completely. When Elizabeth says that Martha was simple, and straightforward, she was really describing her own outlook. To the extent that she has emotions, altering them isn’t her forte, or her husband’s.

Don’t get me wrong: they can do what every good politician can do. It is only a matter of creating another feeling, and layering it over that initial anger. Bill Clinton did not “feel the pain” of the AIDS activist – in that moment he was merely a mirror. (The irony is that one of the campaign songs for Clinton-Gore was Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror.”)

Martha was more complicated than a lot of people gave her credit for. She was more adaptable than she believed, although that was likely indicated by the fact she married her clandestine lover and suggested he take her from behind. For Martha, the world was not a literal place, full of sound and fury, signifying various somethings. No, the world is full of illusions of various values. Weighing one more heavily is only possible at the expense of another.

In light of that, Han Shan becomes a recluse. He writes,

There’s no through trail.
In summer, ice doesn’t melt
The rising sun blurs in swirling fog.
How did I make it?
My heart’s not the same as yours.
If your heart was like mine
You’d get it and be right here.

It will take over two years to fix the pipes in Flint, Michigan. In the meantime, Kevin Drum put up a post explaining that very few children would be harmed by this, on average. He calculated half an IQ point, which was apparently not the biggest deal. I suppose it depends on how much of the water you drank.

In the neighborhood I grew up in, lots of people contracted cancer and many died. Looking at it statistically it must have been well above the average, for so many families to have parents taken away. Lots of theories went around as to why this was happening — many worked near a nuclear power plant, and there was other heavy industry in the area.

Most of those companies have moved their jobs overseas due to America’s corporate tax rate. I don’t think there are any travel agents around, and jobs in the region are hard to come by. Then and now, it was wise to make a point of not sampling the tap water. Some people were angry about the impact of cancer, but most tolerated it with good grace. We could not really know what had happened to us.

The Americans becomes a little too much like a fairy tale when Clark sobs for hours on end about how Martha is off to Prague. She made a choice, and knew what could happen. She’s probably alive, and she should feel lucky that she had a chance to choose. I don’t want to say that the people who make The Americans are spoiled, or that the people who walk into a town, sip the water and leave are inauthentic. I don’t have any idea what motivates such an act.

The moss is slippery, though there’s been no rain
The pine sings, but there’s no wind.
Who can leap the world’s ties
And sit with me among the white clouds?

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.