In Which This Is His Most Difficult Confession

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 or by dropping us a note at our tumblr.


My boyfriend Hal and I were recently watching Bravo’s Married at First Sight for reasons. One couple on the show renewed their bows in Las Vegas. It was absolutely disgusting.

Hal started talking about his only trip to Vegas seven years ago, and confessed that during the trip, after some encouragement from his friends, he had sex with a prostitute in a brothel.

I guess I didn’t really know how to react at the time. Maybe I still don’t. I know STD-wise that Hal is clean, but I’m having trouble dealing with this admission. Am I right to be upset?

Joan R.

Dear Joan,

I’m more worried about Hal’s judgment. He could have lied about this and you would never know the difference until the prost in question came looking for child support.

I had a friend who looked for sex on Craigslist for years before his marriage. He also patronized Asian massage parlors quite frequently.

Whether or not his wife knows about this period, I couldn’t say, but I told him what I would have told Hal. Nothing good comes from telling the truth about sex with women for money.

As is, there’s no going back to the place where you did not know this information.

The bright side is this: not only do you have a get out of jail free card for anything you want, you can be sure Hal is super into you. Finding a man who can’t lie is not the worst development. Make sure this is the case by going all “Did you order the Code Red?” on him and try get him to admit to other prosts. Also, ask the woman’s name. It always helps to get all the information first.


I recently wrote to Hard to Say about my boyfriend Jeff. He was insisting on taking things slow, and after I wrote in, things have only gotten more serious. One thing hasn’t changed, though – he still insists that he has no intention of ever getting married again.

In the intervening time, Jeff has made plans to relocate to my city and we are thinking of ways that we can live together as soon as the fall.

Am I making a mistake?

Andrea R.

Dear Andrea,

It’s impossible to know completely what Jeff is thinking without taking stock of other factors. It’s good that you and Jeff are not moving in together immediately. If he does move in with you or stay with you for any extended length of time you will be married in everything except name, which is not a very good situation to be in.

Why not say you’ll be needing your own space for the indefinite future? If things are going as well as they seem to, he’ll crack on this issue. Anyone’s mind can be changed, but the one way you can be sure that it won’t be is by asking him outright at this juncture. You need to know more about the relationship and judge it on its real terms before suggesting ultimatums or making promises of your own.

Actually, fuck Jeff.

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


“Current Carry” – Vetiver (mp3)

“Time Flies By” – Vetiver (mp3)

In Which We Jenga For Days In The Dark Recesses Of Our House Of Cards

Spoilers for the third season of the Netflix series House of Cards appear in the following essai.

Douglas Stamper’s Romper Room


Doug Stamper (Michael Kelly) saw that movie where Jennifer Aniston complains a lot about being in pain and took it to heart. Lynne calls Doug Stamper ‘Stampsies’, and every time he does something that requires a questionable amount of moral integrity, such as squirt whiskey into his mouth with a syringe or pitch a crying fit in the oval office, she cries out, “Oh Stampsies, what will you do next?!”

This season of House of Cards oscillates from utterly boring to bald-head-to-the-wall fascinating in mere seconds, which makes it a difficult show to review in my inimitable style. The point of this constant temperature change is to echo the real pace of politics, which most of the time consists of sleepy policy proposals and pseudo-scandals about Hillary Clinton chucking her hard drives into the Chesapeake Bay or you know, lying about the murders of American ambassadors.

It’s disgusting that Jon Stewart could give a shit whether or not he is lied to. All politicians lie, he moans between clips of the man he is dangerously obsessed with, Bill O’Reilly. You can judge someone pretty much completely by the types of people they take seriously. Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) doesn’t take anyone seriously except his wife – and that abiding belief is erased by the events of House of Cards‘ third season.

At times in his rise to power, Underwood had various crises of faith and through her officious and cold decision-making, Claire Underwood (the stunning yet vaguely asexual version of Robin Wright) pulled her husband past the crisis. That he is unable to save her the way she has done for him is the through-line here.

To obtain the presidency, Frank had to do a lot of messed-up, implausible shit. Now that he is the president, he has to do a lot of moaning, spinning around in a chair, and gripping the throats of women with his non-masturbating hand. Frank is no longer the asynchronous terror he once was, and this season of House of Cards has been accused of being dull, watered-down, and excessively foreign policy focused.

The last charge comes with a new antagonist, Russian president Viktor Petrov (Lars Mikkelsen). Featuring the real-life situation of the suddenly disappeared Russian president in the real world hews a bit too close to home, making us realize there are tyrants far worse than Frank Underwood. That an aging and more sympathetic Frank comes across like a weak baby in comparison to the strong Russian president is an easy irony, but it doesn’t really help the narrative of the show. House of Cards has not lost the breakneck pace or compelling, theater-esque characterization that propelled it to success, but this season does seem to be missing a lot.

Spacey has aged precipitously since the last Cards ended with the Underwoods’ ascent to the Oval Office. His virility has dissipated more quickly than any of us could imagined. I know the feeling: I lived it. At one point in my life I had hair, and then I didn’t. (Likewise, Putin has returned from his sabbatical, where he received medical treatment to restore his low testosterone, but he will never really be as threatening to the West again.)

In order to sell the public on his brilliant American Works program that would employ every person currently sitting around during the day watching House of Cards on Netflix, Frank hires a novelist (Paul Sparks) with whom he has a weird, ambiguously sexual relationship after admiring a video game review the man wrote about iOS smash Monument Valley.

This entire threadline is setup for what will surely be played out in the show’s fourth season, reminding us how much we lost, character-wise, from the first two. Peter Russo was a gentleman and a scholar; Zoe was a witch but at least she was our witch; Christina had a certain something I once saw in a young Courteney Cox before her smile became frightening; Claire’s ex-boyfriend who she reverse cowboyed was a terrible photographer, but at least he provided something in the way of relief. It can’t be all-Underwood, all-the-time. That’s the mistake the Democratic Party made before the 2000 election.

Even in this season characters which might have been further fleshed out or reappropriated – like Benito Martinez’s savvy and handsome Hector Mendoza or Derek Cecil’s disturbingly manipulative Seth Grayson – don’t get much in the way of screen time. If you measure it out, more than half the show’s scenes feature Claire flipping her hair or being subtly disgusted by her husband’s misogyny. A hammer can only pound a nail so many times. Ask Lynne.

Dick Cheney is the senior contributor to This Recording. He is a writer living in an undisclosed location. You can find an archive of his writing on This Recording here.

In Which Manuel Puig Always Returned The Favor

This is the first in a two-part series.

Want To Go To A Movie?


Manuel Puig would go to a movie. Any movie with music or dancing was preferred; say, Swing Time with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Afterwards, he would attempt to dress up like Ginger, and his father would inevitably beat him bloody.

His dress-up turned sexual at a very early age. Under the rubric of fair play, he allowed older boys to touch his private parts. They rarely returned the favor, welshing on their offer.

Puig worked tirelessly in school, even after being forbidden the stage by his mother Maria. (His cousin had seen him gesturing effeminately, and reported the crime.) “In grammar school,” he later wrote, “I encountered a violence I never ceased to hate. The systematic humilation of anyone who was sensitive or weak.”

He found an outlet for his sexuality in masturbating students in older grades. He enjoyed this until he was almost raped by a fifteen year old before struggling away. At 13 he was sent off to boarding school in Ramon Meija, a suburb of Buenos Aires.


He immediately disliked it there. “If it hadn’t been for those letters I would have died in that boarding school, beautiful as it was,” he later wrote. “The teachers and wardens were all insane. When I remember how they’d make us take off our undershirts to sleep and put on our freezing pajamas ‘for hygiene’ I die laughing.”

Perón’s rise to power was accompanied by a commensurate increase in xenophobia and anti-semitism in the populace at large. Puig fell in love with an older Jewish girl named Laura Kacs who reminded him of his mother. She was not interested, and Kacs was one of the last women Puig would ever pursue.

Puig with Laura Kacs

Before he had a childishness about his desire for others. Suddenly, he was attractive in his own right. Just as suddenly, his parents moved to an apartment in the city in 1949.


Later that year, Puig entered architecture school where he did not even last six months. Instead he began to study Italian at the Dante Aligheri Institute, and other languages elsewhere. For the most part, Puig kept his homosexuality under wraps, venturing out for ass alone or in secret.

Perón’s attitude towards homosexuality was complicated, but he was motivated to restrict it in order to enact his own personal biases and restrict the spread of disease. He legalized brothels in order to encourage men to seek out women.

In 1953 Puig met Borges, who was then in his early fifties. (Borges had been reduced to teaching because of Perón’s influence.) He gave his lectures in English, instructing students in a course on the detectove novel. “What first drew my attention,” Puig wrote of Borges, “was how shy he was. We were merely a few attentive, depersonalized, silent adolescents, but we managed to make him tremble. His eyes would roam the class until they rested on some girl in the group, where they remained for the duration.”


Perón’s Argentina required compulsory military service for all males. In 1954 Puig entered the military. He was assigned a clerical position in the Air Force. The experience was mainly one of drudgery, but the all-male environment convinced him that women were no longer of any interest to him. When a friend asked if he ever slept with women, he responded, “Now I think that if I did it, I would only do it once, out of curiosity, to see what it’s like. Twice would seem a perversion to me.”


Puig used his newfound appeal to both sexes in the Buenos Aires barrio called La Boca. The district was heavily Italian; gangsters dominated the miniature economy. On the streets he would pick up men or let himself get picked up.

In 1955 Perón was on the receiving end of a military coup and Buenos Aires featured a messy state of affairs. Puig decided to flee to Rome to study his number one love: film.

leaving for Rome

After his cross-continent naval escapade, Puig moved in with a poor Roman family spanning three generations – two older women, the 30-year daughter of one, and her little girl. The school Puig entered strictly allowed students to pursue the study of so-called ‘neorealist’ films, ignoring all other aesthetics by Mussolini’s decree.

Puig felt stifled at the Centro, but he started writing his novels. “Eric Rohmer has the odd idea that a bad school can have a positive effect,” he writes, “because a bad school – unjust, intolerant and old-fashioned – provokes reactions and makes students rebel, so that in the long run bad teaching produces good results.”


The European openness about sex astounded Puig. He travelled through Europe, eventually leaving Rome for a dishwashing job in Stockholm. Every morning he would bike to the American library and work on his writing. When he ran out of money, he had no choice but to take a ship back to Argentina. On board a young woman named Vera fell in love with Manuel, and they met to have quiet sex on a lifeboat.

When they got back to Buenos Aires, Puig wanted nothing to do with Vera. She was pregnant, starting rumors that Manuel wasn’t gay; he simply hadn’t found the right woman. He helped Vera get an abortion and never spoke to her again.

Manuel Puig was twenty-eight years old, and the one thing he knew for certain is that he was a gay man. “Buenos Aires now seems a totally insignificant city,” he sighed.

Ellen Copperfield is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in New York. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here.

“Fields Without Fences” – Oliver Schories (mp3)

“In Other Words” – Oliver Schories (mp3)

In Which We Suffer Through A Rare Constellation Of Events

Your Letter Which I Read With Greatest Concern

The light cast by substantive references, illusions and details.

Gershom Scholem had fled Germany when things started to get complicated. He begged his friend Walter Benjamin to join him in Palestine where, he argued, they would be safe from whatever was going to happen. Benjamin constantly demurred – instead he fled to Paris, while making arrangements for his vast library to be cared for in his absence. Soon, his brother Georg had been imprisoned at a concentration camp at Sonnenburg. (He later died at the last concentration camp to be liberated by the Allies at Mauthausen.) Scholem’s advice to Benjamin therefore seems prescient even at the time it is being delivered. But Walter Benjamin had other things on his mind.

The following abridged letters to Scholem relate his growing desperation at this perilous time.


I’m using a quiet hour of deep depression to send you a page once again. The immediate occasion is receipt of your utterly remarkable article, which I received only this morning from Kitty Marx from Koenigsberg, along with your letter of introduction and the announcement of your arrival. The rest of the day was taken up with work and the dictation of a radio play, which I must now send in, in accordance with a contract the better part of which has long been fulfilled and which facilitated my flight to the Balers.

The little composure that people in my circles were able to muster in the face of the new regime was rapidly spent, and one realizes that the air is hardly fit to breathe anymore – a condition which of course loses significance as one is being strangled anyway…

Publication of my work has now been suspended for more than a fortnight.

Prospects of seeing the work published as a book are minimal. Everyone realizes that it is so superb that it will be called to immortality, even in manuscript form. Books are being printed that are more urgently in need of it.



My constitution is frail. The absolute impossibility of having anything at all to draw on threatens a person’s inner equilibrium in the long run, even one as unassuming and as used to living in precarious circumstances as I am.

Since you wouldn’t necessarily notice this if you were to see me, its most proper place is perhaps in a letter. The intolerability of my situation has less to do with my passport difficulties than with my total lack of funds. At times I think I would be better off if I were less isolated.

The odd letter now and then gives me hope that acquaintances might put in an appearance, although experience of course teaches me not to put great faith in their plans.



Regarding my condition, I am once more again lying sick in bed, suffering from a very painful inflammation in the leg. Doctors, or even, medicine, are nowhere to be found here, since I am living totally in the country, thirty minutes away from the village of San Antonio. Under such primitive conditions, the facts that you can hardly stand on your feet, hardly speak the native tongue, and in addition even have to work, tend to bring you up against the margins of what is bearable. As soon as I have regained my health, I will return to Paris.

It hardly needs to be stated that I am facing my stay in Paris with the utmost reserve. The Parisians are saying: “Les emigres song pies que les boches” (“The émigrés are worse than the Krauts”) and that should give you an accurate idea of the kind of society that awaits one there. I shall try to thwart its interest in me the same way I have done in the past.

Please write me if you have read Wiesengrund’s Kierkegaard in the meantime.


Dear Gerhard,

Even if these wishes arrive far too late for Rosh Hashanah, they will at least reach you in time for the long-sought and now official establishment of your academic duties, not to mention the title of Professor.

Before I touch on this or anything else from our last exchange, let me just sketch out my situation. I arrived in Paris seriously ill. By this I mean that I had not recovered at all while on Ibiza, and the day I was finally able to leave coincided with the first in a series of very severe attacks of fever. I made the journey under unimaginable conditions, and immediately after my arrival here, malaria was diagnosed. Since then, a rigorous course of quinine has cleared my head.

Friends have transported the major part of my archives to Paris, at least the manuscript section. The Heinle papers are the only manuscript material of any importance still missing. The problem of securing my library is mainly a question of money, and that by itself presents a formidable enough task. Add to this that I have rented my Berlin apartment out furnished and cannot simply remove the library, which is an essential part of the inventory. On the other hand, the person renting it only pays what the landlord demands.

Whether or not I will be able to move into the quarters Frau von Goldschmidt-Rothschild promised me has become rather problematic because of a series of oversights and delays far too complex to recount here. It is also gradually becoming clear that the apartment is by no means free of charge.


Dear Gerhard,

The 15th of December is drawing near, and after this date the grapes of the press will be hanging even farther out of reach for an old fox like me, and what little fruit still beckons from over the shard-strewn walls of the Third Reich has to be snatched away with the nimblest of bites indeed. I had to select this shabby stationery in order to keep the narrow temporal frame set for my letter in front of me in spatial terms. And I could say a great deal more. If I could present things to you as they truly are, I would most certainly not need to ask you to pardon my longish silence: you would understand.

But, as matters stand, I can only allude to things and say that someone who was a close acquaintance of both Brecht and myself in Berlin has fallen into the hands of the Gestapo. He was freed after someone from the same circle of friends intervened, and he subsequently turned up here and filled us in about the dangers threatening the few who are still close to us.

All this is complicated in the most fateful way by the fact that we may one day have to face the possibility that the denunciations originated from a man in Paris we all know.


Dear Gerhard,

Even though you haven’t written for quite some time, I want to return the cordial wishes you so regularly send me for Rosh Hashanah on the threshold of the European New Year. But you will have to take into account my profound weariness with the moment. For some time now, these moments have turned into days and the days into weeks. It’s not surprising that the pressure to put three new irons in the fire daily should lead to severe fatigue. I am not achieving much in my dejected state because I am convinced that I cannot ask very much more of myself.

The top priority among the little I am still capable of would probably be a change of scenery. Paris is much too expensive, and the contrast with my previous stay here is much too harsh. I see nothing encouraging when I survey my surroundings, and the only person I find of interest finds me less so.

Otherwise the town seems dead to me now that Brecht is gone.

He would like me to follow him to Denmark. Life is supposed to be cheap there. But I am horrified by the winter, the travel costs, and the idea of being dependent on him and him alone. Nevertheless the next decision I can bring myself to make will take me there. Life among the emigres is unbearable, life alone is no more bearable, and a life among the French cannot be brought about.


Dear Gerhard,

I am writing to you with unaccustomed promptness and in a unaccustomed form. I do not want to fail to make use of the rare constellation of events that puts a typewriter at my disposal, the more so since your letter of the 19th of this month as already preoccupied me.

Intensely and sorrowfully. Is our understanding really threatened? Has it become impossible for such an expert on my development as you are, an expert on almost all the forces and conditions influencing this development, to keep up to date? Do you and I stand in danger of your interest one day taking on the color of pity?

A correspondence such as we maintain is, as you know, something very precise, but also something calling for circumspection. This circumspection by no means precludes touching on difficult questions. But these can only be treated as very private ones. To the extent that this has happened, the letters in question have definitely been filed – you can be sure of that – in my “inner registry.”


“Thornfelt Swamp” – Gareth Coker ft. Tom Boyd (mp3)

“The Spirit Tree” – Gareth Coker ft. Aeralie Brighton (mp3)

In Which They Deliver In The First Hot Week Of The Season

Besides Work


In the spring, I moved out of the house I was sharing with my boyfriend and reunited with a longed-for ex. But that, too, was falling apart for all the reasons it had the first time, only much more quickly. I hadn’t just pressed rewind on the relationship; I’d pushed rewind and then 4X FF.

Writing marketing copy from home meant that I had all the time in the world and no money at all. In my city’s Gay Village, I signed a lease on a cheap apartment the super informed me had previously housed a family of junkies. When I moved in, I found broken glass in the kitchen sink, pink stuff around the caulking (blood?) and a bra hanging from the living room ceiling fan. It was wedged in so deep between the blades, I couldn’t dig it out even with a broom handle. Tattered, the bra swung down the center of the apartment, like a flag from some torn, but undefeated, civilization.

I had ordered a bed — my first piece of brand-new, grownup furniture — but for some reason, the delivery service was delaying. Same with the cleaning service I convinced my landlord to hire to tackle the kitchen, which still scared me. I ate Cheetos and slept wrapped in a sheet on my living room floor, like a kid at a sleepover. At 32, the last few years of my life had been a crash course in impermanence. Love, money, self-regard: I knew now that all of these were things that could be abruptly withdrawn. But closing my eyes against the hard floor, I felt the whiplash of adulthood in sudden reverse. I didn’t know maturity was fragile, too.

I wondered what, if anything, could be salvaged. On the first warm day of May, I took a break from waiting for my bed and met with Robert+ — the ex-boyfriend of ill-advised reunion fame — at a pub. “OK, let’s do it,” I said. “Let’s move in together and pick up where we left off before.”

“I don’t think that’s a good idea”, he said through his pint glass. “But maybe we’ll see. I don’t know.” He shrugged — like a little boy, I thought.

I remembered the night we’d met: at a party, the same way I met everyone I wound up with. For me, love had always been the result of drunken collisions; social happenstance. Hanging out. Suddenly, it struck me as important that I’d never been on a date. Even the word “date” suggested an adult world that was alien to me as a layabout copyeditor, one of calendars and schedules; things happening at specific and prearranged times. It was a small project I felt I could handle in my disoriented state. The backwards lurch of my life — the breakups, the bra — seemed unalterable. But I wondered if changed the visuals of that life, the lingo, it could, like some optical trick, quell my vertigo.

A week later, I sat across from David at a cheap Cambodian restaurant on a busy street in the West End, trying to relate a nutshell version of my life history while figuring out why I felt so fake and nervous.

On his online dating profile, David had listed his profession as “club managor/painter” — a double violation of my stated rule against poor spelling and backslashed occupations. But in the swamp of goatees and disappointment that is Internet dating, David had stood out. His username was Important_earnest — an Oscar Wilde reference. With his dark, direct gaze and big scythe of a jaw, Important_earnest didn’t look like the good spellers I knew. Around his planar cheekbones, hair twisted in distinct black coils, like the foliage on an Art Nouveau woodcut. If he were around at the time of his namesake, the right word for him would have been “rake”. Looking at his profile, a fizzy feeling rose in my ribs. In the name of adult dating, I had been prepared to reject clever guys, funny guys, “cool” guys — anyone who reminded me of my childish exes. What I hadn’t steeled myself against were good looks.

In person, though, the fizz had gone flat. When I imagined dating, I’d pictured flirting, a slingback heel dangling from a flexed toebed; “touche”. But with David, I could barely look up from my noodles. It was amazingly awkward. I asked him things he’d already answered; he started anecdotes only to stop abruptly in mid-sentence, transfixed by some movement outside the window or something on his plate.

“I’m sorry,” he said at one point. “I still live with my ex-girlfriend.” He said this as if to explain the odd lapses in his speech. And I guess it did.

“I had a really nice time,” I said when the bill came. What I was thinking was, “that was fucking awful.”

David’s well-shaped eyebrows inverted, turning his brow into a dark, pleading wave. “Did you?” he asked. His voice was quavering. “Because I really like you. I really, really want to go on another date with you. Did you know I’ve never been on a real date?”

The carbonated feeling returned. Maybe, I thought, I didn’t need someone more mature than me, to show me how adulthood was supposed to be done. Maybe what what was called for was not tutelage, but partnership; not a guided tour, but a buddy system. Maybe growing up was something David and I could figure out together, date by uncomfortable date.


Dating David was difficult, not least because he lived with his ex-girlfriend, worked most nights at a hellish thumping club, and, like me, had no money. But over the next two weeks, we found our way into our own weird, broke version of the montage in a romantic comedy. We met at Canadian Tire before his noon shift and picked out a recycling bin for my apartment. At midnight, we shared a pitcher of beer on a bar patio up the street from his club. That these meetups were always at weird times, and never lasted more than a couple of hours, seemed less relevant to me than the fact that I got to call them dates.

How different the pomp and ritual of dating was from the hangouts of my past! With hanging out, love could slip out of ordinary moments without logic or warning. Dating, on the other hand, was a defined happening, a place so distinct from regular, ungrownup life it had its own language; its own rhythm and economics. To date is to give and receive clear signs: to understand that “I like you” is a heartfelt confession while “you’re pretty cool” means it’s over. It is letting him pay on the first date, but splitting the bill on the second and treating him on the third. With my exes, something like the wording of a compliment or who winds up getting the bill was ripe for misinterpretation; usually, these were signs of nothing at all. But when David told me he liked me, I knew that it meant we were moving along — or, in the patois of dateland, “connecting”. After years of ambiguous encounters, it was comforting to enter a world in which nothing could come as a real surprise. Every moment with David came pre-stamped with importance.

David liked dating too, or so he said, sitting across from me at an all-night Greek bakery, just a block down from the apartment he still shared with his ex. It was a dirty little room with metal chairs, and we were the only people in there. Still, he had ironed his t-shirt, and between us — beside the plate of baklava we were sharing — was his offering: a pretty clump of carnations in a plastic sleeve.

“This is the only thing I’ve got going on besides work,” David said, gesturing vaguely in my direction. He poked at the baklava and sighed. He told me that he’d moved and switched relationships so many times he often woke up misremembering where he was or who was sleeping beside him. “You feel like you’re moving backwards; I feel more like I’m in a Mobius strip.”

Across the table, David passed me his iPhone. A black-and-white painting of a bald woman, naked but for a black garter belt and stockings, filled the small screen.

“Just so you know, this is my real work,” he said. “Feel free to scroll through.”

I flicked through the slideshow of images with my thumb. All paintings of naked women, seen from behind or below, through parted curtains or keyholes or open doors. All in moments of undress, their heads turned; unaware they were being watched by someone just out of sight.

“They’re great,” I said, absorbed. I meant it.

“My thing is fantasy,” he said, shrugging.

“My real work is writing stories,” I confessed. It wasn’t something I liked to say out loud. “I guess my thing is fantasy, too.”

We smiled at each other — a rare moment of eye contact. Our forks hit one another as we poked at the honeyed square. With every small ding, I felt some layer — between me and David, between me and the life I wanted — flake away.

To date is to not only know what is going to happen, but how to feel about it when it does. Installed on my living room floor that night, I looked up at the ceiling and thought, “I am elated.”

To go from hanging out to dating at 32 was to enter a world that was both completely alien and completely familiar. It was the same slightly dissociative experience I had visiting Paris after years of seeing stock Paris visits on TV.: here I am at the Eiffel tower, this is me avec baguette. “I can’t, I have a date,” I’d tell people breezily, hearing myself saying it as I said it. I welcomed the feeling. This was something that might have said by a sleek, joyful woman in a razor commercial, not by a 32-year-old girl-child who couldn’t handle a simple furniture delivery. In the hours before I was due to meet David, I would comb my hair in my bedroom mirror and watched myself watching myself, getting ready for a date, infinite refractions of Woman Before Date that pushed the actual me temporarily, but blissfully, out of frame.

Spring went on, each day a little sunnier, a little more temperate, than the last, mirroring my brightening mood, making me feel buoyant and almost carefree. I got a long-overdue check for a website I’d written for a juice box company. Just back from a date with David, feeling bold, I called the line for the delivery service that had my bed.

“Twelve to fourteen business days, miss,” said the guy on the other line. He had a thick Northern Ontario accent: furteen. “Just like I told you last week.”

“Well, I just got paid, and I if you rush it, there is a cool sum of forty dollars in it for you,” I said.

He chuckled. “Yeah, it doesn’t really work like that.”

“What will make it work like that?” I asked.

“Look, miss, we’ve been back and forth about this bed for weeks now. And I’m not going to lie: I feel sorry for you. I know you want it, bad. So I’ll tell you what — I’m going to make sure your item gets out of the warehouse and on the Toronto delivery truck on Wednesday. That’s two days from now. So that would put it at your door between nine and eleven AM on Friday.”

“I can’t!” I said. “I can’t then. I have a date.” Even now, I got a thrill from saying that.

“You have a date from nine to eleven a.m. on Friday?”

“He works a night shift,” I explained.

The voice exhaled. “All right,” he said. “I’ll have the driver loop back to your neighborhood between three and five. Good?”

“Yeah,” I said, relieved. “Thank you.”

“This must be some guy you’re dating, meeting him at 9 a.m.,” he said. “Now I understand why you want this bed so bad.”

I hung up in a daze, wondering how I could have missed this. David and I had met in coffee shops and on park benches, we were dating like crazy, but not once had we even come close to having sex. Other than a few dry, on-cue goodnight kisses, our time together had been completely chaste.

In dateland, the consensus is that you should wait three dates before having sex. This is supposed to be a long, torturous delay, but David and I hadn’t even noticed. By the usual standard, we were three dates overdue.

I picked up my phone to text him, but he’d beaten me to the punch.

“Why dont we hang out @ yr place tmw?” he wrote. “I can cook.”

An uneasy feeling squirreled around inside me. “My kitchen is covered in junkie blood/glass,” I replied.

“I work @ club,” he texted back. “If I can do anything its clean up blood/brkn glass.”


The bed didn’t come, of course, but I refused to take that as a sign. Grownups had sex on couches, right? It was more spontaneous that way; more passionate. But that evening, as I leaned against the doorjamb of my kitchen, I watched David’s hipbones shift around the waistband of his jeans and realized I felt nothing. He was crouching over my stove, turning the knobs this way and that. The glass on the floor didn’t bother him as much as my ancient stove, he said, so he’d cleaned the burnt-up gunk out of the burner holes with a dental pick. The igniter clicked and stopped as he turned it on and off, testing the flame. I kept my eyes on his hips, trying to feel more than abstract appreciation. David was a gorgeous guy; he’d worked as a model. He’d fixed my stove, and now he was going to make me dinner. But determined as I was to sleep with him, there was nothing in the fact of him — nothing in his gestures or the way he talked, no detail in his face or physique — that made me want his body against mine.

“Well,” David said, turning to face me. He leaned back against the stove and glanced at me, bashful but expectant.

“Yeah,” I replied. I thought of our first date, the awkwardness. We’d gotten past that — could this be a first-time nervousness, too? Outside the kitchen window, the sun had become a low, orange stripe.

“We should get to the supermarket,” I said. “If we want to cook dinner.”

“For sure,” David said. “But would you mind if maybe we first smoked a joint?”

I expelled a long, grateful breath. Weed: it was a perfect idea. I’d bought wine, but this was better: it would take the edge off the nervousness, but not mess up the mechanics. It wasn’t exactly an adult move — there was nothing about cannabis in the dating lexicon — but if it would help me relax, who was counting?

David and I went into my living room, where, on my third-hand IKEA sofa (Ektorp), I watched him unpack his drugs and rolling papers and spread them out on my coffee table. He took out a shot glass and scissors and cut up the weed. Bending over the glass, he snipped away for what seemed like forever, the only noise in the room the sound of the scissors and some guys laughing on the patio of the gay bar next door. I couldn’t think of anything to say that wasn’t about the very meticulous way he was cutting up the weed, so I just watched the scissors open and close against the sides of the shot glass. Music, I thought. I should have put on music. Or would music just draw attention to the fact we weren’t talking?

At some point in this self-questioning, I realized I was holding the joint, and sometime either before or after that, I understood that I was high.

“Hey,” David said, turning to me. “So.”

“This is really good weed,” I giggled, but he kissed me anyway.

Around this time, it struck me that we were making out, and that his hand was under my dress, and my leg was over his knee. It was good, if only because it meant I no longer had to find things to say.


In my preparation for the date sex, I had bought wine and put on a black lace bralette and matching panties. But, because I was out of practice and also, I thought now, because I was an adolescent in all the ways that mattered, I had forgotten entirely about condoms. Sitting naked on my couch, I tried to figure out our options. We could go out and buy them, but that might ruin our momentum. There was no way I could do it without one (or could I?). Of course, we could not do it all, but we’d come this far, and to end a date like this would be a dramatic failure: a kid-like chickening-out. None of the options seemed to jive with my fantasy of mature grownup dating.

“There’s a drugstore across from the subway,” I said, finally.

David stood up and stretched, oblivious to the fact he was standing naked in front of an open window. “Oh,” he said dazily, “I think that one closes at 7.”

The room was dark now, and I went back and forth about whether or not it was weirder to turn on the light or to continue the conversation in blackness. There was more laughter coming from the patio up the street; vague dispatches from the world I’d left behind: hanging out, hooking up; fun. I decided we should stay in the dark.

“Do convenience stores have them?” I wondered.

“Yeah, probably,” David affirmed. “But — this is embarrassing — I haven’t gotten paid this week yet? Condoms are like, twelve dollars.”

Don’t do this, I thought, but then I was walking over to the dresser where I’d slung my purse and then I was counting a twenty out of my wallet — the juice box money I’d set aside for the groceries I’d planned to buy with David. And then I was at my living room window in the dark, watching David enter, and then exit, the yellow-awninged HastyMart across the street.

When David came back, he produced a 3-pack of “Pride Edition” Trojans: yellow, purple and green. I looked up at him, disbelieving.

“The yellow’s almost clear,” he shrugged.

“Alright,” I said, but I didn’t really care anymore. Whatever pretense of maturity David and I had been keeping up was gone; a distant mirage — as remote and fantastical as a condom box rainbow. I had almost called off the sex, but now my determination was redoubled: the damage was done, I’d be a kid forever; so I may as well get some action. Even if it was teenager style: on a couch, high, and in total silence.


The first time I hung out with Marcus, the guy I had been living with, we talked in a bar for four hours straight, a conversation that unfolded like the best kind of road trip, great, distance-traversing stretches that gave way to sudden, exhilarating turns and poignant moments of rest. The conversation was so absorbing we missed last call; the bartender had to kick us out. Outside, we made out in the middle of the sidewalk with such open abandon we drew honks and cheers from passing cars.

In my hurry to transcend the laissez-faire patterns of my past, I’d forgotten that I had endured them for good reasons. Excitement; vulnerability; the seismic thrill of meeting someone who, within a few moments, could crack my life in two. When my relationships were good, I didn’t get caught up on surfaces, on how things looked, because I was in the core of the things themselves. I asked myself now: what was more childish than trying to be grown-up?


Afterwards, David and I sat facing each other at opposite ends of the Ektorp and smoked another joint.

“Do you want to stay over?” I asked. “I have no bed.”

“I dunno,” David replied. “My ex was pretty upset last time we went out and I didn’t come back until late.”

“So you have a curfew,” I said. “Perfect.”

“Yeah,” he said neutrally.

“You know,” I remarked, “I’m starting to think this woman isn’t an ex at all.”

“I dunno,” David conceded, shrugging. “It is what it is.”

I should be outraged, I thought, I should scream and cry. But I was high, and I couldn’t get a grip on the anger. Was it even David I was upset with? I thought about my bed and the delivery guy on the phone. I thought about the fact that the next week, I’d have to write a website for a company that made instant macaroni-and-cheese. I thought about Robert breaking up with me through the bottom of a pint glass. Vaguely, and then with tremendous volume, I again heard laughter from the patio of the gay bar. Before, the voices had seemed to be making a point of everything I was missing, but now, I knew, they were laughing directly at me.

“Do you ever feel like people are laughing at you?” I heard myself say softly.

David sighed, a whorl of smoke curling around his face. “Oh man,” he said. “All the time.”

He hugged me goodbye and promised to call, though I knew we’d never talk to each other again. It was as positive a way to end things as we could have managed, I thought. There were no hard feelings. But when I turned the light on in my living room, I noticed that David hadn’t left the change from the twenty I’d given him, and he’d also pocketed the purple and green condoms.


Spring became summer, and the sun in my windows was bright as bleach. My mind, too, seemed clear and empty. After the drama of the spring, it wasn’t a bad feeling. I wrote the website for the macaroni and cheese company, plus some others. I understood why people talk about taking refuge in work. I stacked one dumb task on top of the previous until they became a wall around me, something through which I could see neither present nor future, forward nor back.

On the first day of the first hot week of the season, my bed arrived, a great foamy square that the big-shouldered delivery guy said couldn’t fit into my tiny bedroom.

“It’ll fit,” I urged. “Just try.” It did fit, but barely. Still, when I threw myself down on its crisscrossed surface, I realized that it didn’t matter that my bedroom was cramped. Only I had to see it, and I didn’t care.

“It’s getting hot in here,” the guy said as he left, and reached up to yank the chain on my ceiling fan, the one with the bra permanently wedged between the blades. It turned for days, maybe a week — I forget how long. But at some point, I came home and the bra was on the floor. It had come down on its own. It had needed a push, I guessed, but mostly, it had just needed time.

Alexandra Kimball is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Toronto.

alexandra kimball author photo

In Which We Want To Embrace Our Dates

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 or by dropping us a note at our tumblr.


I have been going out on first dates with a lot of women from a fairly well known dating site with a maritime theme. Even if I think things went well, they usually disappear in the ensuing months. I try to be respectful and consider the first date a getting-to-know you experience. What could I be doing wrong?

Alex J.

Dear Alex,

The first meeting can be really tough, especially for the man. A lot of guys are either too wary to make a move of any kind, which can make a woman feel you are not interested, or take certain things for granted, which can make a woman feel like using her taser.

It appears you are of the first variety. Here are some things you should absolutely never do on a first date:

Pay. Do not pay for her. Subconsciously, a woman who lets a man pay for her on a first date is wondering why he is doing this. You’re not a couple; there should be no expectation of this. Pay for what you each consume. You can buy dessert if it gets that far (it shouldn’t).

Compliment her. I mean if she wrote an article or something that was rather insightful, mention that. You can also be like, “You look great” when you see her. Don’t start moaning about her eyes unless the timing is clearly right, e.g. you are both hammered and eating one another’s faces.

Invite her to your home or apartment for any reason.
Especially do not cook for her, unless you are Bobby Flay or close friends with such.

Wait to have sex. If it is there, make it happen. No one wants to feel unloved or unwanted. Sex only brings people closer together. Look at Brad Pitt. One second he was feeling a tongue in his anus, the next he has beatiful adopted children with confusing last names for first names.

Finally, don’t seem overly interested. It’s a first date, not a lifelong committment ceremony. Don’t text afterwards or tell you want to see her again before a day or two goes by. At that time, don’t text her. If she texts you, write her an e-mail that says you’re not going to have your phone for 48 hours for reasons and remark that she can’t get enough of you. Women love negs?


A few months ago I met a Jewish guy named Sanders (not his real name). Things are going very well, and he says he has no problems dating a non-Jewish woman. His family seems fine with things as well, but with Passover coming up, he has invited me to spend it with his family. This has entailed a lot of preparation about the seder and education in general.

It’s not so much learning this stuff that bothers me if it’s a few days a year. My greater concern is that I am an atheist and God seems to be a big part of Sanders and his family’s life. Is it possible to be in a relationship where you don’t agree on these issues?

Melissa B.

Dear Melissa,

How good are you at telling white lies?

What seems to trouble religious people most about non-religious people is that they don’t have an easy way of finding out what they believe in. As long as you can cogently express what you do believe in, you’ll be fine.

People get turned off from organized religion for a number of supremely valid reasons: emotional, physical and sexual abuse, cult mentality, epousal of bigoted or anti-feminist male headship-esque views. Jews of all people should understand why these aspects all of religions might be a turnoff to you.

However, if he says his family is fine with it, they probably are, and you’re making more of a deal out of it than it needs to be. Lots of mildly religious Jews wear these costumes:


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


“Chasing Time” – Azealia Banks (mp3)


In Which We Choose A Woman And A President



Choosing someone can be so difficult. Can you really expect a man from Iowa to really know what exactly is good for him? President Obama has not been to Iowa since the primaries for several reasons: he feels awkward around the Bachelor, Chris Soules, and he despises the smell of cowshit.

Given that he owns 800 acres, you think he could get the people of Arlington a fucking grocery.

Obama has privately expressed a determination to stay out of the 2016 presidential race. There is a not-so-quiet movement coming from some Republicans and Democrats to ensure Hillary Clinton never attains the presidency. They have trouble agreeing on what exactly is going to drive her out of Iowa, with some even resorting to the guy who was the corrupt Baltimore mayor in The Wire. Matt Drudge appears to be in love with this man:

Hillary cannot believe she is getting railroaded by Tommy Carcetti

If this seems like a stretch, maybe it’s time to consider that no one actually wants to be the president. If you value your own time or ypur own family, the presidency is not really for you. There is a WH staffer who specifically updates the president on his daughter’s moods and suggests how much child support he will be expected to pay once Michelle leaves him for Peabo Bryson.

If we are going to elect another unknown as president, I would prefer it be someone who is not negatively represented on The Wire, like Omar Little, or Heather Dunbar.

I actually hissed when I saw her as a brunette.

Frank Underwood wanted to be president more than anything in the world, although it is not completely clear why. Once in office, all he does is have intimate chats with his biographer and lash out at his wife for not finding a two-state solution as efficiently as he would like.

The new season of House of Cards makes you realize how difficult it is to go on living after you have seemingly gotten what you wanted. Most people don’t want power or happiness; they just couldn’t think of anything else they did want.

Maybe don’t give someone a speech before they propose to you? It’s rude.

Having a blonde Midwestern wife seems like a lot of work, maybe just as much work as occupying the Oval Office. Chris Soules chose the disturbingly vocal Whitney Bischoff as his bride-to-be. Before he proposed to her in one of his many barns (he owns 8 farms!), she interrupted his proposal with a gushing soliloquy about how she had the best time with him. She even talked through their first wintercourse, informing him of the entire plot of Hart of Dixie from beginning to end.

If he dumped her in a barn, she probably would have murdered him and his parents. He made the right call.

Whitney was a pill to be honest. Right before they had sex for the first time (Reality Steve reported that it would be missionary style, as God intended), she uttered the famous words, “Check, please!” Whitney, who will be giving up her job as a Chicago fertility nurse to produce “lots of babies” for the man she calls Ka-Ryse, has a very large sexual appetite. Her main drawback was her limited vocabulary, which began and ended with the word Amazing. Her kisses were somewhat subpar as well.

Everyone wants the smell of hay permanently ensconsed in her nostrils.

Chris struggled with his choice of woman just like we struggle with our choice of president. The other woman involved treated Chris like he was a slightly overbearing uncle, and yet he still found himself deliberating over his final decision. The producers of The Bachelor couldn’t choose either: instead of selecting one mediocre woman that Chris dumped to be The Bachelorette, they went with two.

The concept of two presidents isn’t the worst idea I have ever heard. I guess we already had that, considering I made plenty of George W. Bush’s decisions, including what cereal he would have for breakfast and what game modes he would play in Call of Duty: Black Ops.

If Becca said, “I’m just not there yet” one more time, I was going to key her asexual Lexus

The two women going on The Bachelorette that Chris perhaps unwisely parted ways with were Britt Nilsson and Kaitlyn Bristowe. The former basically did not shower her entire time on the show and wept through the entire hour of The Women Tell All. Meanwhile, Kaitlyn’s accent ultimately doomed her to third place in the competition, as did coming on too strong in Bali. She should never have told him how cute she found the local monkeys; on a subliminal level a man wonders if she sees him the same way.

Who we choose says a lot about us. The important part of electing Barack Obama seemed to be how often and how effusively we could compliment ourselves on voting for him, and perhaps also saying that we voted against that Alaskan woman. An unattractive accent is everything.

Dick Cheney is the senior contributor to This Recording.

“Break the Fall” – Laura Welsh (mp3)

“Unravel” – Laura Welsh (mp3)