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Updated: 46 min 32 sec ago

New York City, June 22, 2017

Fri, 2017-06-23 18:00

★★★ The morning light was ransacking upper-floor apartments but the playground was shaded and cool. Spirits were up; the five-year-old was moved, for the first time in memory, not to loiter by the far fence but to play on the climber. Two children collided at the gate between the inner and outer playgrounds, with an audible thump and then tears. There were enough clouds to mellow the midday light. An ice cream truck jammed its way through the crosswalk, making a turn. The late afternoon was comfortable in the forecourt, but upstairs the lowering sun and the stove combined to make the air conditioner necessary for the first time all day. A pearly glare covered the west, and when that subsided, the darkening sky was scrawled with pink tracery.

New York City, June 22, 2017 was originally published in The Awl on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Jared and Ivanka Plan a Summer Trip

Fri, 2017-06-23 13:37
And consume a year’s worth of fiber in the process.Image: Rosemarie Vogtli

JARED has just returned home from his afternoon of leisure — Bocce club at the local Whole Foods. He is thrilled that IVANKA, has suggested they leave D.C. without clarifying that it’s just for the summer. JARED hates their lives as high-level pols. IVANKA, typically very calm, is zealously juicing in the kitchen. She has sent her staff home for the day, with strict instructions to return tomorrow morning and not nose through the trash or the recycling or the plumbing, whatsoever. Her butler, before he emigrated to America, was a plumber for Carlos Slim, and IVANKA is nothing if not extremely careful.

IVANKA [chopping kale]: Did you speak to my father about reducing your workload?

JARED [searching the refrigerator for a bottle of water]: I emailed him.

IVANKA [chopping rhubarb]: He doesn’t have email.

JARED [giving up his search for bottled water and pivoting to the sink]: I emailed Reince.

IVANKA [chopping asparagus]: You should’ve spoken to him directly. He won’t like that you used an intermediary to avoid confrontation.

JARED [turning on the faucet and drinking directly from the stream]: You said — fuck. [JARED has burned himself on the scalding water from the tap. He can never remember which direction to turn for cold.]

IVANKA [evening out a stack of paper]: I said no such thing. Do you want to get out of here or not?

JARED [rubbing his mouth]: Of course I do. I never wanted to move here. I thought we had no choice. [JARED picks up a carrot stick, takes a bite, and immediately gets the hiccups.] What are you juicing?

IVANKA [criminally]: Documents. [IVANKA hands JARED a pair of scissors and a stack of paperwork that confirms she and her husband profited immensely from collusion and money laundering.] Get cutting.

JARED and IVANKA snip away. There are reams and reams of documents, each one more incriminating than the last. JARED removes the pen from his ear and edits one of them.

IVANKA [taking her Vitamix down from the cupboard]: We’re blending them into the fruits and vegetables. It doesn’t matter what they say now.

JARED [accidentally papercutting himself]: You can finally host your conference about women interrupting men.

IVANKA [handing JARED a Band-aid]: The keynote speaker can be whichever male comedian has most recently been booed off of a college campus stage. What should we call it?

JARED [affixing the Band-aid]: The politicization of the word ‘actually.’

IVANKA [violating her own rule to never validate a loved one]: That’s fun, Jared.

JARED and IVANKA continue their cycle of chopping, snipping and juicing. For the first time in a long time, they are happy and balanced and enjoying each other’s company. There is a loud clanging in the hallway. It’s STEVE BANNON, too lazy to walk, gliding along on a motorized scooter he ordered from TOM PRICE.

STEVE BANNON [wistfully]: Look at you two. A couple who destroys evidence together. Our very own Bill and Hillary. Who will be punished for whose sins though?

STEVE BANNON drives his motorized scooter directly at JARED.

IVANKA [playfully, for her]: That’s so smart of you, Steve, to learn how to ride one of those before your feet are amputated.

STEVE BANNON runs over JARED’s cool sneakers as JARED yelps.

STEVE BANNON [sniffing the air]: Why do you smell like the inside of a Subway franchise?

JARED [sniffing his armpits]: It’s body odor.

IVANKA [raising her voice]: Jared!

JARED [feeling strong, for once]: I was at the Bocce court.

STEVE BANNON [awkwardly]: I rode in here to tell you that I’m taking off for the summer. [STEVE BANNON extends his hand to JARED, and does not yank it away when JARED naively offers his own.] Your hand shake is firm, wow. [to IVANKA] How have I never shaken his hand before?

JARED [feeling weak, again]: Why wouldn’t I have a firm handshake?

There’s a loud honk outside. It sounds like a chorus of beached sea lions whose ocean home is inhabitable because of dangerously high concentrations of carbon dioxide. It’s CLARENCE THOMAS announcing his arrival.

STEVE BANNON [making an obscene gesture popularized by pro wrestlers]: Justice Thomas is here. We’re taking a road trip across the fatherland, converting his RV into an opioid clinic, and saving this country ourselves.

[IVANKA says “Yeah right” with her eyes.]

STEVE BANNON [truthfully]: We’re tailgating in the Redskins parking lot until football season. Now that he and his buddies saved the mascot we don’t have to become Chiefs fans.

[The KUSHNER CHILDREN enter, happily singing songs from Hamilton, and unaware that their mother has misrepresented to their father that tomorrow they’ll be moving under the cover of night to an undisclosed location.]

KUSHNER CHILDREN [in unison]: Colluthies!! Yay!!

[IVANKA feeds her children the smoothies containing the paperwork, because someone has to drink them, and because if the children are drinking they can’t discuss their field trip tomorrow, the Smithsonian with Karen Handel. They can’t trigger their father.]

IVANKA [lying, and directing her children to the sun porch where they will play chess until bedtime]: Jared, what country should we move to?

JARED [his own Dog Days just beginning]: Wyoming.

IVANKA [delighting in her own sociopathy]: Wyoming isn’t a country.

STEVE BANNON’s motorized scooter is stuck in the doorway leading out of the kitchen. He backs it out, to renegotiate the frame, and hits the stool where IVANKA is keeping the stack of documents. Paper flutters everywhere, including an email about James Comey’s October’s surprise letter.

JARED [feeling panic as he remembers Election Day, what he and his mother and brother refer to as Hell Day]: Why do you think James Comey sent out that letter?

IVANKA [telling the truth]: Why would I care what Jim Comey does? His letter was only pretext for racists who were never going to vote for her anyhow. [IVANKA pulses the email noting the Comey letter’s timing.] And who taught the children to say ‘colluthie’? You know we want them to use non-abbreviated, intact language wherever possible.

[STEVE BANNON, frustrated his motorized scooter is wedged in the KUSHNER doorway, decides to use his legs, for just a few steps. He gets up, kicks the scooter, and then unplugs the carbon monoxide detector he notices on his way out the door. The device sounds an alarm, briefly, but JARED and IVANKA are too busy arguing about who taught their children to shorten collusion smoothie to ‘colluthie’ to hear it.]

JARED [ingesting a muscle relaxant]: I’ll tell Kellyanne she’s not to shorten words in front of our children ever again. [JARED dumps the last of the shredded documents into the mixer.] I’m going to go lie down. We have a big move tomorrow.

IVANKA [calmly, and then powerfully]: You’ll sleep when you’re dead.

The muscle relaxant hits JARED’s bloodstream, and then his brain, and though he thinks to clarify what his wife means by sleeping when he is dead, he doesn’t verbalize the thought. Instead, JARED walks upstairs, picks up Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone from his children’s bookcase and calls his mother’s cleaning lady STEFA, to ask her if she will read to him while he follows along. He can’t get through, because IVANKA has also phoned STEFA, to ensure that she has prepared their Hamptons home, before the KUSHNERS arrive the weekend of the Fourth of July.

Jared and Ivanka Plan a Summer Trip was originally published in The Awl on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Two Roads Diverged In A Yellow Wood

Fri, 2017-06-23 11:53
And Donald Trump was elected president.Image: Gary Millar

According to a huuuuuuuge report in the Washington Post today, everything that could did go pretty wrong in a way that is hard not to find maddening because it’s all in hindsight: some Democrats held back, worried that coming out hot might read as too political; many Republicans were skeptical of the widely corroborated reports of Russian meddling in the election; Comey refused to sign a public warning about Russian interference on October 7, “saying that it was too close to the election” for the FBI to be involvHAHAKDJFHLSDKHFKSDJLSDKJFLSDKJFLSDKFJLSDKFJLSDFKJSLDFKJSDLKFJSDLKFJLSDKJFLSDKJFLSDKJFSLDKFJSLDKFJLSDKFJSLDKFJLSDKJFSLDKFJLAKJDSLDKFJDSLKFJDLSKJFLDSKFJLSDKFJSLKDJFLDSKJFDSLKJFLSKDJFLSKSDLFKJSLDFJLSDKJFSLDKFJLSKDJFLSKDJFLSKDJFLSKDJFLS; Mitch McConnell is basically the man behind the curtain; one senior Obama official says of his difficulty processing what (didn’t) happen, “I feel like we sort of choked”; it was never entirely clear if Russia was hacking just because they could create chaos and/or whether there’s really a difference between mucking things up and doing things explicitly in the name of discrediting Hillary Clinton and getting Donald Trump elected. The Obama administration debated dozens of options for sanctions and punishment measures, and perhaps most maddening of all is that Obama was very Obama about it—measured, resourceful, calculating, leading from behind—right when you wanted him to be kind of illogically superheroic about it and save us from this mess. The only positive thing I can say about that is that the whole thing was a bit of a Catch-22 and we should all be grateful that Trump wasn’t the one navigating these choppy waters because LORD KNOWS he’d have gone for the “embarrass him” option, thus spiraling us further into a world of hypocritical geopolitical cul-a-cul. The WaPo piece has passages like this that will make your eyeballs spontaneously fall out of your head and run away:

In political terms, Russia’s interference was the crime of the century, an unprecedented and largely successful destabilizing attack on American democracy. It was a case that took almost no time to solve, traced to the Kremlin through cyber-forensics and intelligence on Putin’s involvement. And yet, because of the divergent ways Obama and Trump have handled the matter, Moscow appears unlikely to face proportionate consequences.

Anyway, not to worry, because here we are, and this is the way that history happened; the road we farted our way down to a Trump presidency doesn’t so much matter in any meaningful way except it reveals in greater relief what did not happen. (Remember: the Robert Frost poem does not mean what you think it means; or as David Orr might prefer it, it does and it doesn’t.) Anyway, you can read the whole, essential thing here, and I hope you don’t enjoy it.

Obama's secret struggle to punish Russia for Putin's election assault

Two Roads Diverged In A Yellow Wood was originally published in The Awl on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

> Tiny kindnesses

Fri, 2017-06-23 11:16
From Everything Changes, the Awl’s newsletter. Subscribe here.

You had a mission this week: to notice people doing tiny kindnesses for each other.

Here’s what some of you saw:

My toddler and I were waiting in a long line at Russ and Daughters this morning, and a guy gave me a much earlier number. He’d somehow ended up with an extra number right after his, and waited until he saw someone he thought needed it. I gave my number to the last couple in line, and if they did the same, it might still be going. — AnnieA guy let me and my friend pet his two corgis and instructed the shy one to “please be a gentleman.” — C.Driving to work one morning I saw some cars stopped ahead in the road. An older gentleman in a big truck had stopped to move tree branches out of the road so folks could drive through. He got back in his car and pulled away. As he pulled away a smaller car stopped and a much younger man got out to keep clearing the smaller debris. After seeing these two guys one younger who looked like he was coming or going from a job where he was painting houses and an older retired gentleman in a big car both stop I stopped too. Either of these cars could have driven around or over the branches that were there when they stopped but they didn’t. The truck could have manged the big stuff that was there when he stopped. The sedan could have managed the small debris. But they stopped thinking that the next car coming through that might not be able to. — Megan M.First of all, here is the sign outside my local Tube station today (below). Secondly: as I was waking to this same Tube station I saw a woman duck into a Pret, buy a croissant, duck back out and hand it to the elderly homeless man and his dog sitting in the shade beside the station. That was all — she just gave him a croissant, told him to have a nice day, and walked on. — AnneAbout a week ago I was taking the bus home after a long day of working my two jobs. My stop is the very last one and all other patrons except for me exited, leaving just me and the bus driver. The driver called me up to the front and said that this was his final route of the day and offered to drive me a little closer to my final destination. It was only a few blocks — but in those few minutes we shared about our days and talked a little about yoga (I was wearing the iconic stretchy pants as I had just left the studio that I work at). I thanked him for his kindness and we wished each other good weekends. — CarolJust yesterday, a stranger found my ID in the park near my office and actually took the time to rescue it, call my number, and offer to mail it to me. It’s my court ID (I’m a lawyer), and I would have been screwed next week without it. She turned out to work on the next block, so I picked it up in person, and when I met her she seemed bemused by how grateful I was. But, especially given this week, it was such a gift, not just to get my ID back, but to be reminded that people are sometimes pretty great. — Sarahoh man, in brooklyn boro hall on the sidewalk, saw a homeless elder beardy standing and trying to light a cigarette with thumbs only and then a young guy passing by brings out his lighter and lights the thing as he walks by without breaking stride even. — LolaI was in the parking lot of a mall and saw a big, white expensive car hit and run a parked vehicle. No one really noticed (not even security!) except this young couple (early to mid 20’s) that was waiting to park in the spot that was being vacated by the offending car. (Keep in mind that this is a very, very popular shopping center and parking spots come at a premium as you usually have to wait 30-to-40 minutes for one). So, they change their plans, ignore the newly opened spot and go on a brief chase of the white car to try to get its registration. After a small circuit, they pull up behind the car and seemingly take a photo. The white car’s driver didn’t even notice this. Then, they went around, left the car at the curb, took out pen & paper, wrote down the color, model and registration of the white car and left the note on the hit car’s windshield. I bet it was anonymous, too! — CRMMy friend is moving and selling a lot of her furniture and appliances. She’s been lowballing the prices a lot just to move the process along, like selling her pretty new washer and dryer on Craigslist for $50 total. The family that bought the washer and dryer hugged her they were so happy. My friend could have sold those appliances for hundreds of dollars, and she would have made more money. But, I don’t know, maybe that family wouldn’t have been able to afford that? This might seem like a longshot example, but it’s made me reflect on what tiny kindnesses can be. People often assume that “doing good” has be a difficult or profound choice, like you have to “sacrifice” something. Really, it’s just about being mindful of what our priorities are and, when and to the extent we can, prioritizing general greater good over personal profit in your everyday decisions.Perhaps a bit more than opening the door. Two members of the United States Air Force take part of their Saturday to honor the memory and service of one of the Greatest Generation, a total stranger to them but one very near and dear to our family and my father. — RonaClimbing out of the subway I saw two women ahead of me. They did not seem to know each other. The woman ahead on the stairs tripped and her shoe twisted off. The other woman behind her caught the shoe and with both hands perfectly slipped it back on the stranger’s foot. This happened as if choreographed, and under 4 seconds.A man was sitting on the subway with his daughter in his lap, a water bottle full of coffee at their feet. A woman handed him a plastic bag, saying “it’s going to spill.” He said, “You’re right, it is!” And he tied the bag around his coffee. — EllaA lady was walking the opposite direction of me and [a man who kept blocking the path on the sidewalk] as he stopped completely, in my direct path again, so I had to stop right behind him so that I didn’t walk into him. He started walking again, and I just stood there for a second, to give him a chance to get several steps ahead, with what I thought was an exasperated look on my face. As the lady walking toward me and this gentleman passed, she said to me in a low voice, without even making eye contact with me, “Are you okay?” At that moment, I just replied, “Oh, yes, thank you,” but as I walked on, it occurred to me that she may have thought that this man and I were together, and that the look I had on my face was me trying to signal her that something was wrong/I needed help. I thought it was wonderful that she saw a stranger she thought might need help, that she actually made the effort to ask if things were okay, and that she did it in a way where no one else would notice her asking in case it really was a situation where things were not okay. It made me think that I need to pick up that habit in the future.a bagel shop cashier abandoned his post and ran across the store to help a woman with a stroller with the heavy door.Today I was sitting on a ledge waiting to go to a meeting. I laid my umbrella next to me. After reading something I stood up and walked away leaving my umbrella behind. A man yelled out “Hey,” and I turned he pointed to the umbrella and asked if it was mine. I said yes and walked back and he walked over and handed it me. I thanked him and continued on. This is the second time I’ve forgotten this umbrella and the first that someone has noticed and returned it to me. — LindaMy husband and I were having lunch together at a deli. A woman two tables over from us was eating by herself and received a phone call on her bluetooth. She began crying from what appears to have been bad news. She was fairly quiet about it and kept it to herself, but she was obviously crying. Another patron in the restaurant stopped, patted her shoulder and mouthed “Are you OK?”. She nodded through her tears and continued with her phone call. He and a few other patrons continued to monitor her out of the corner of their eyes, but gave her her privacy. It seemed a small gesture — but I felt all of us in the restaurant sending her strength through the man’s small pat on the shoulder. — LGThis week I saw a struggling small business owner take the time to send a personal note of thanks, encouragement, and acknowledgment to each of her minimum wage-earning seasonal employees when she etransferred them this week’s pay. — Kate S.I was on a very early flight with a lot of people who should have been cranky and impossible to deal with, but instead waited their turn, apologized when they needed to, complimented shoes, shared outlets, and were respectful of others’ space. A lot of tiny kindnesses turned a potentially shitty situation into an altogether pleasant one. — Maggie C.I was about to cross a side street in Brooklyn when a concerned-looking man crossing in the opposite direction stood in the middle of the street and began frantically waving a tshirt in front of the cars that were about to get a green light. I quickly realized that he was stopping traffic so that a blocked ambulance with its sirens on could make it through further down. It worked — the traffic cleared and the ambulance moved. When I got a few blocks down in the direction he’d been coming from, EMTs were on the scene, attending to an unconscious, apparently homeless person on the sidewalk. I think most people would call 911, but this guy went the extra mile. He did what a family member would do.My family moved into a new home in a new neighborhood and FOUR neighbors all dropped by to welcome us with baked goods.I had a small solstice dinner and invited two friends. They’d never met before, it just so happened that their husbands were both overseas. We were chatting over pasta and I asked my friend how her mother-in-law was doing. She explained to our other guest that her mother-in-law had been recently widowed. He apologized and put his fork down right away and turned his face and body towards her to give her his full attention and empathy. It was subtle and simple and beautiful to witness. — Sonya G.My boyfriend and I were delayed for 5 miserable hours (until 4am) on our way home from a lovely rare holiday. We were sat on the cold stone floor trying to get comfortable and wait it out. We must have looked as hungry and tired as we felt, as two cleaning ladies who had been busy around us cleaning the empty first class lounge nearby brought us out leftover sandwiches and chocolates. It felt like they were angels! Their kindness brightened our spirits and even now I’m home I’m still feeling that brightness. — Maki

That’s all for this week. Scully says thanks.

From Everything Changes, the Awl’s newsletter. Subscribe here.

> Tiny kindnesses was originally published in The Awl on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.


Fri, 2017-06-23 11:01
Notes on life

Liana Finck has been trapping wild birds since 2003.

Birdcage was originally published in The Awl on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Area, “Rlgl”

Fri, 2017-06-23 10:20
At the end of every week it’s another week.Photo: Michelle Robinson

Remember the last week when you weren’t like, “Ugh, let’s pretend this week didn’t happen?” When you didn’t even want credit for making it through? When even just thinking back to the events of the week didn’t feel like it took an entire week itself? Me neither. Here’s some music. Enjoy.

Area, “Rlgl” was originally published in The Awl on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

New York City, June 21, 2017

Thu, 2017-06-22 18:26

★★★ The wet air gave minor but steady resistance. A cooler pocket lurked outside the canopy of the Union Square subway but it wasn’t clear why. “Does my hear look less frizzy today?” a woman asked a man. “No,” he said. Fecal smells had carried improbable distances in the neighborhood uptown, and now downtown the soap smell from a sidewalk being hosed down was acrid and overwhelming. The shady cross-street sidewalks remained pleasant, but crossing the avenue in the open meant wading through stagnant heat. The lines of light coming sideways through the blinds toward evening were a little too amber to match the emoji beach ball being batted around through them. The sun wrapped up its long day by putting a pink rim on the top of the western clouds and sending a purple luminosity up from below.

New York City, June 21, 2017 was originally published in The Awl on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

The Lowkey Casually Dancing One-Shot Music Video

Thu, 2017-06-22 14:00
Who did it better?


Francis and the Lights ft. Bon Iver and Kanye West?

Francis and the Lights feat. Chance the Rapper?

Chance the Rapper?

Just kidding guys, they’re all directed by Jake Schreier, who directed Robot & Frank and Paper Towns, neither of which I have seen, as well as the forthcoming Showtime series, “i’m Dying Up Here.”

The Lowkey Casually Dancing One-Shot Music Video was originally published in The Awl on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

A Poem by Alissa Quart

Thu, 2017-06-22 13:22


Sanctuary Island.
Sakhalin, that
Russian penal colony:
imprisoned yet free,
each person trapped.
Chekhov traveled here
by rail, months-long,
from Moscow, tubercular.
Took a transcendent
census of inmates
and freed men,
annexes, forest burdocks,
and nettles. Tragic, beautiful
numbers. The Better, the Verst.
The people he counted were barely
named elsewhere: the Oroks,
the Nivkhs. 58 living
residents, 40 houses.
No ideas but in things.
No things but in numbers.


Americans went Wild
West. O Pioneers.
Sioux. Russians went
Wild East
Meet the Ainu,
and Koreans, forced
to Sakhalin, too.
My small gray Penguin
version of Chekhov’s Sakhalin
Island, a record of him
dying within the decade,
learning another world,
the prison wilderness,
a Russian Turner thesis,
his form of Second Life.


All parallels are strange.
Manhattan, a media prison
island. My rattling carriage,
a digital interface.
The news I escape:
whack-a-mole, hackers,
Jewish cemeteries (our own babushkas
lying there), evil billionaires,
feed after feed, Russia throwing
elections to a Trump golden tower.
Census and OSHA numbers,
horribly pretty.
That’s 49,000 retail workers
with repetitive stress disability.


Not Chekhov but
an author friend
who learned Hindi
twenty years into a worst diagnosis.
It let her be a second
person, for just a little bit.
Like Anton in Sakhalin,
briefly exchanging
his death sentence for the one
of innocent men, hanging
in a Siberian-ish wilderness.

All data yet all uncountable.
No ideas but in things.
No ideas but in numbers.


Loud and the silent
islands. The Times site blares
as another agency — mine,
yours — dismantles.
Age of power and no power.
Agentic layers
over non-agencies;
ashen impasto.


Take an Ativan,
let herself off
the Via van.
Chekhovian StreetEasy
parlor drama,
Irina Arkadina of South Harlem:
Daughter in little wool
uniform, maidenly
body constricted. But not
her questions, which are always
free: why boys have beards,
why women give birth.
Her doorman keeper mutters
“You are late” in Russian.
Her noise-cancelling head
phones equal nouveau quietism.


Icy waves, rusty porches.
All the 19th century
is poverty porn.
Where’s the outside?
I’ve that instant
urge to jump over the bridge, into
the railroad tracks, disused, nettled,
emblem of liberation and neglect.
Much like my childhood.
Escape both from and into.
Entrapment and freedom.
As Sakhalin. A city grid,
place and time,
tighten, like a noose.

Alissa Quart is the Executive Editor and co-founder of the journalism non-profit Economic Hardship Reporting Project. She is also the author of four books, including Branded, Republic of Outsiders, and the poetry book Monetized. Her next nonfiction book for Ecco/HarperCollins will be published in 2018. She is also a columnist for The Guardian and has written features and op-eds for many publications including The Atlantic and The New York Times. Her poetry has appeared in the London Review of Books, The Awl, NPR, Columbia Journalism Review, The Offing and elsewhere.

The Poetry Section is edited by Mark Bibbins.

A Poem by Alissa Quart was originally published in The Awl on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Heat Seeking in Death Valley

Thu, 2017-06-22 12:52
Entropic extremitiesPhotos by author, taken on an ancient and broken Zeiss Contessa.

What possesses any moderately intelligent being to seek out hellish, record-breaking temperature? The curious may be cauterized, but there does exist a draw — and so on the first day of summer, the year 2017, I set out for Death Valley National Park in search of high heat.

There are two road routes entering the center of the park on either side like pincers. I took the eastern path, up the baked, tire-torn Interstate 15 toward Las Vegas, veering west again in Baker, California, then up through high desert until I reached the roaring, striated mountain ranges that border the valley. Once in the park official, you quickly descend three or four thousand feet until you approach the basin. As I parked my car at the Furnace Creek visitor’s center, 190 feet below sea level, the digital thermometer at its entrance read 130 degrees Fahrenheit — only four more to reach the highest temperature ever recorded on the surface of the Earth.

That claim of 134, however, recorded here in the Valley of Death in July, 1913, has recently been disputed. “Weather nerds,” a park ranger tells me, claim the record-setting temperature was documented with then inaccurate instruments. The true, perspiration-soaked peak is likely 129. The visitor center display runs hotter than reality, I’m told.

My father, after serving tours in Iraq, once told me how his eyeballs would sweat in that extreme desert heat, the soaring temperatures worsened by pounds upon pounds of necessary gear. “Your body adapted,” he said, “but mentally I don’t think anyone ever got used to it.”

Heat, it seems, exists separately in the mind. Californians often move east and refuse to leave their flip-flops behind, doing not much else but giving Californians a bad name, ridiculously slapping sandals down the sidewalk in petrifying winters. A neighbor who worked construction once sang the praises of drinking hot, hot coffee in the summer, claiming the boiling internal temperature counteracted the external effects of the sun. Mind over matter, maybe, but here in Furnace Creek the task seems death-defying.

I’m sweating like a flash flood, saltier than ever. The actual high this day is 126 and it feels like a fire. It weighs down on your skin, suffocates as you suck in dry, broiled breath, and cooks your insides. Walking a short distance zaps your entire body as if you’d just ran miles…with a fever.

Heat rises, I remember learning, but here on the very bottom floor of America it swirls and multiplies. The high valley walls cage it, sending it downward and compressing the hot air even more, packing the basin in moving masses of super-heated ether.

Heat is a quantity, a measured amount of energy transferred between two systems. A cube of ice doesn’t contain a definite amount of heat. In the freezer, the mechanically cooled air keeps its state. Place a flame beside it and the energy passes on, absorbed by that which is lacking. This entropic discombobulating of two beings reminds me of loving or being loved. My being holds no definite amount of love, is only measured by the quantity I give or receive.

Maybe the heat is getting to me. My eyeballs are sweating.

Two people perished due to the temperature last year, the ranger plainly states, but these extremities rarely produce fatalities. It’s the slightly lower temps that claim lives. A measurement of 110 degrees is more likely to fuck the being from a being—the tourist hiker mistaking the temperature for what it “feels” like, maybe closer to 80, 85—keeping them from imbibing adequate amounts of water.

Many visitors to the park come from far-off lands, planning their vacations for a time of year more moderate. It seems to be a case of “locals only” when it comes to visitors enticed by the mercury-surging spikes. Despite recent newspaper reports, the park ranger tells me they haven’t seen many “destination heat-seekers.”

Heat-seekers. Crazed missile humans targeted toward some thermodynamic draw.

Contrary to the ranger’s observation, the LA Times and CNN both reported on specific bodies hunting the Valley’s boil this week. Anomalies, the lot of us. Which makes sense, I think, as I push through hot whipping winds ascending Zabriskie Point. Heat is not sought out.

As I leave the park, utterly diminished, my body all buzz or howl under the influence of heat, I wonder what has been given to me by the searing sun, by the broiled air in the trapping terrain. Have I been temporarily altered, my molecules all in disarray by the transference? Maybe, maybe not.

But this I do know: the true beauty of the harsh desert, or any conditions of extremity, displays a sneering existence, a life laughing in the face of logical death.

The world may be burning yet here I am kicking; tanned and triumphant.

Heat Seeking in Death Valley was originally published in The Awl on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

We Should Ban The Word “Wanderlust” But It’s Also The Only Word I Can Think Of To Describe Rimsky…

Thu, 2017-06-22 11:45
We Should Ban The Word “Wanderlust” But It’s Also The Only Word I Can Think Of To Describe Rimsky-KorsakovClassical Music Hour with FranImage: Moritz Barcelona

After dipping back into the Russian canon last week, it made sense to stay within the region, especially after friend of the column and #tbt queen Kristen Sales suggested I write an entry on Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade. Rimsky-Korsakov! The ol’ R-K. I have to admit, Scheherazade was a relatively new work for me; my go-to R-K (this is the last time I’ll use this nickname) is Capriccio Espagnol which, like many pieces from my youth orchestra days, is both an old favorite as well as a source of pre-teen trauma. We’ll get there one day, maybe.

Context is essential in listening to Scheherazade: Rimsky-Korsakov was absolutely wild about what we now call “wanderlust.” He’d say he likes to travel on his dating profile. My guy was bonkers for being any place but Russia. Born a ways outside of Saint Petersburg to a family of great nobility, Rimsky-Korsakov spent his earliest years totally fucking obsessed with his older brother Voin, who was 22 years his senior. The reason for this obsession (admiration is probably the polite term, I guess) is that Voin was an expert navigator and explorer — an extremely cool job for a brother to have. For what it’s worth, my brother is “only” a teacher. When he was 12, Rimsky-Korsakov enrolled in the School for Mathematical and Navigational Sciences in Saint Petersburg with every intention of joining the Imperial Russian Navy upon his graduation.

While at school, Rimsky-Korsakov was enrolled in piano lessons at the behest of his older brother (a director at the school) in hopes that it would help him overcome… his… introversion? Oh, for sure, dude. Like the social activity of playing piano has ever helped anyone become more social. Mmhmm. His teacher for the bulk of that time was a Frenchman named Théodore Canille, who introduced Rimsky-Korsakov to Mily Balakirev, who then introduce him to César Cui and Modest Mussorgsky. All three of these guys were young composers in their twenties, which, okay, I guess learning piano did help Rimsky-Korsakov to make friends. They formed a little clique of pals who would meet up and talk about composition and music and play duets. Very cute, to be honest. (It’s worth noting these pals, along with Alexander Borodin joined together to create “The Five” a.k.a. “The Mighty Handful” a.k.a. the group of big symphony boys who were always mad at Tchaikovsky for not writing purely nationalistic music and instead going off on his little impressionistic adventures.) It inspired Rimsky-Korsakov to start writing a symphony, which he took with him as a little passion project while out on a nearly 3-year expedition around the world. See!?! My guy looooves his cruises! Eventually Rimsky-Korsakov traded in his sea-faring job for a clerical position and started composing all the time.

So you get why my guy was composing pieces with titles like Capriccio Espagnol and Scheherazade: he was obsessed with the culture of “other,” be it the folk music of Spain or “the East” or wherever. He loved to live vicariously through his music, and he wasn’t, to his misfortune, living in the 21st century where someone could be a sailor and a composer and no one would bat an eye. (Can men really have it all?) And so, Scheherazade (conducted here by Thomas Beecham, recorded in 1954 by the Royal Philharmonic) is a symphonic suite inspired by One Thousand And One Nights a.k.a. Arabian Nights; pick your preferred title, I don’t care. Scheherazade, of course, is the name of the queen in One Thousand And One Nights who, in an attempt to delay her own death by an all-women-should-die sultan, tells a story — a collection of stories, really — that last, you guessed it, 1,001 nights. Good strategy! Men are easily distracted. As a symphonic suite, you’d think Scheherazade would qualify as programmatic music, especially as each movement has a title surround one particular tale or characters, but Rimsky-Korsakov actually intended for each movement to exist as its own anecdote for a listener to project their interpretation of the music onto. The movement titles, in fact, were suggested by a student, Anatoly Lyadov, and not organically a part of the piece as Rimsky-Korsakov intended.

The Sea and Sinbad’s Ship starts off the suite, its opening melody distinctly representative of the sultan. Ominous and foreboding, this theme quickly gives way to the quiet persistence of the woodwinds, and then to a violin solo representing the queen. From there, melodies flow in and out, motifs change and shift through the suite. There’s no sonata form to latch onto, but it’s easy to see why Scheherazade has resonated with so many audiences: its details are lush and full, the music itself clever and wondrous. It has a choppy, forceful power to it like sailing on a wild and unpredictable sea, while at the same time intercut with melodies like the 6:16 mark, sweet and unassuming. Also… okay… here is a weird thing: the Beecham recording of Scheherazade on Spotify lists the first movement as The Sea (yup) and (gotcha) Sinbad’s (his?) Soup (what?????). His soup??? Literally everything else I have referenced calls this movement The Sea and Sinbad’s Ship. I mean — the story from One Thousand And One Nights is about a ship! Was I having a stroke when I was writing this? Honestly… I don’t know. Anyway. A fun mystery for me and my readers. Please let me know if you have any insight as to why this movement is labelled as soup.

I was most familiar with the second movement, The Story of the Kalender, as in when I started listening to it, I was like, “oh, right, obviously.” Kalenders were monk-like men who roamed around markets and performed magic tricks and told stories, but the one in question from One Thousand And One Nights is like half-prince, half-kalender which is neat and nice for him. In turn, you wind up with this initial melody that seems a little more regal and controlled than the movement prior. It’s almost like a fanfare in parts, “here comes the guy who is both a magical storyteller but also a nobleman.” A hero’s journey, in fact!

The third movement, which, despite this not being a symphony does take on sort of a Romance vibe, which I do mean in the capital R-Romance type of way, although it’s entitled The Young Prince and The Young Princess, so maybe in the r-romance way too. It’s perhaps the most simple movement to listen to. It plays like a courtship, a dance, no doubt, between two people or two factions of the orchestra. It’s got harp, you know? The lovers’ instrument (go with me). It should certainly be clear by this point that, even acknowledging of this fetishization of “the East,” Rimsky-Korsakov does achieve this firm sense of place in Scheherazade. The music is curious and mysterious, no doubt wildly different than the sound of French or German classical music at the time, and invokes setting so much more so than it does story or capital-T Theme like “fate” or “God” or “beauty.”

Festival at Baghdad. The Sea. The Ship Breaks Against a Cliff Surmounted by a Horseman. is the longest title of a suite in living memory (I’m sure this isn’t true but I refuse to Google it). This fourth and final movement features recapitulations of some previous themes and it really, fully, leans into this desert adventure tone. “The other is good, and exciting, and mysterious, and romantic,” writes someone who spent their childhood obsessed with the idea of being on a big boat. Scheherazade both others “the East” in broad strokes, but at the same time, it also feels like a big piece of nostalgic music, obsessed with youth and love and these themes that actually are present in other big classical suites. It’s not programmatic because maybe… it’s more about… Rimsky-Korsakov than One Thousand And One Nights? Nice, I figured it out. But seriously, there’s a theme that creeps in around the 9:46 mark, a sweeping and lovely romantic melody that feels like you might as well watch a little boy chase a kite around an open field while listening to it. And I know that’s not Rimsky-Korsakov’s reality, but it does attempt to capture a feeling lost, a feeling misplaced, one only perhaps located very far away.

Fran Hoepfner is a writer from Chicago. You can find a corresponding playlist for all of the pieces discussed in this column here.

We Should Ban The Word “Wanderlust” But It’s Also The Only Word I Can Think Of To Describe Rimsky… was originally published in The Awl on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Maggie Rogers, “Alaska” (Tycho Remix)

Thu, 2017-06-22 09:15
You didn’t think you could keep the darkness at bay, did you?Photo: Kalexander2010

With yesterday’s summer solstice marking the year’s longest day you are now closer to winter than you are farther away. Whatever sunshine you see going forward at is just a reminder that the darkness has been gathering strength, waiting for the right moment start its inexorable march on the horizon and seize its rightful place as a pervasive harbinger of doom. Soon it will spread itself all over your sky. The light is dying a little every evening now and there’s nothing you can do about it. Here’s some music. Enjoy.

Maggie Rogers, “Alaska” (Tycho Remix) was originally published in The Awl on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

New York City, June 20, 2017

Wed, 2017-06-21 17:23

★★★ The wind shook leftover raindrops out of the thick foliage. The schoolyard was crunchy underfoot with freshly torn twigs and leaves. The sky was a blue three or four months out of season; the light was sharp and hazeless. The flare off a windshield came close behind the flare off a bald head. Around solar noon it was unthinkable to stand and wait where the line for food extended past the shade of the restaurant onto the unprotected sidewalk. Once the shadows were falling sideways again, though, there was no place better to be than out in the breeze-filled afternoon shade. Each cloud that came into view seemed even better than the last one.

New York City, June 20, 2017 was originally published in The Awl on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Now I Am Become Mall, Destroyer Of Cities

Wed, 2017-06-21 14:58
(And now all the malls are food halls.)Greenwich Village was once a world apart, where anything was possible. now it’s an upscale suburban shopping mall because the so-called Heartland is spreading like a cancer into the heart of this city, making it a less comfortable place for “weirdos” to exist.this makes me angry and sad beyond words.

Jeremiah Moss, Vanishing New York

I just went to lunch with my co-workers at the newly opened DeKalb Market Hall in the part of Downtown Brooklyn I affectionately like to refer to as “DumBro,” and collectively, we spent nearly a hundred dollars on pop-up food trends like poke bowls, pierogis, single-origin coffees, and South American maize patties.

As we were leaving, I spotted a sign for ten-dollar avocado toast. I kept re-reading the list of ingredients, wondering how the price tag made sense, even if an entire $2.50 Hass was used, and even if the worker who prepared it were being paid a living wage. There was no protein at all. What could justify the price? Were the micro greens grown hydroponically from the man-bun of a BernieBro? Was it the New Mexican Red Chile, i.e., a ripened green Hatch chile, which is itself mostly a marketing ploy to make New Mexico seem uber cool because it’s just a cultivar that was selectively bred for its “larger smoother, fleshier, more tapering and shoulderless pod for canning purposes”? Surely it wasn’t the pickles or the bread, which are ordinary things we are now all expected to make at home from scratch and then photograph in good light.

The food we ate was good, if vastly overpriced, but that is sort of what you’re in for with a New York “food hall” these days. From Berg’n to Brookfield Place to Eataly to Chelsea Market to Gotham West—they’re malls, but for food. Places you can walk around and spend money in bulk. Maybe it was something about being underground in a confusing maze of food stalls, maybe it was the classic rock being piped in over the sound system, but something about it was just sort of depressing. Maybe we were all in an overcast sort of mood, having just walked past a full-block construction site that was supposed to have been finished in March of this year, but didn’t even have the foundation dug yet.

We found a little corner to sit with our recyclable containers and green forks and the conversation turned, as it does, to malls, and how New York City has become a giant one (SoHo and Nolita in particular, have felt like outdoor malls for quite some time). Increasingly we see the newer malls and retail locations coupled with food stalls preparing poke bowls and cake pops. Think what Hudson Eats is to Brookfield Place: somebody’s gotta move product and it’s more likely to be the food court than the “clean, well-lighted spacecraft” of Saks Fifth Avenue.

Retail isn’t dying exactly, but it is suffering a fairly damaging and inevitable corporate fate that looks something like Island Gigantism. Amazon just bought Whole Foods, J. Crew is basically dead (though I would argue it’s been a zombie for a decade now), Walmart bought Bonobos and ModCloth, Diageo bought George Clooney’s tequila, and eventually we’ll all be owned by cable companies that have direct access to our banks and our internet footprint. According to Seeking Alpha, we’re in full “Retail Carnage”:

A multitude of threats deriving from e-commerce, shifts in consumer spending habits and an excess supply of malls have put increasing pressure on shares of retail focused businesses.

Simon Property Group: Retail Carnage Creates Opportunity

So what will save us? What is the future of malls?

“Dining and entertainment is the new anchor — not Sears, not Macy’s,” said Allan Davidov of Misuma Holdings, based in Beverly Hills, Calif., which is transforming two shopping centers in Austin, Tex.At Grapevine Mills, a popular shopping destinations in North Texas, the “experiential” formula is a major part of the marketing strategy.

Deep in the Malls of Texas, a Vision of Shopping's Future

That’s right, it’s the end of retail and the start of pure consumption, and the Simon Property Group is all over it. The mall of the future is an amusement park of a food hall, where we can easily and deliciously follow the quickest path to setting our money on fire—converting money into immediate kilocalories consumed on the spot. It’s no accident we call it “consumerism.” Food is fuel, yes—it always has been. But where is it taking us?

Now I Am Become Mall, Destroyer Of Cities was originally published in The Awl on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Melodrama On Loop

Wed, 2017-06-21 12:45
Lorde’s new album is carefully plotted surprise, and it gets you every time.“Melodrama offers the hope that it may not be too late.” — Linda Williams, “Melodrama Revised” (1998)“Go back and tell it” — Lorde, “Hard Feelings / Loveless” (2017)

Exactly halfway into Lorde’s Melodrama is the tellingly titled “Hard Feelings / Loveless” — a pivot point in the album further marked by the slash that divides the track’s two parts. The song is, as far as I can tell, no one’s favorite. It’s relatively understated and uneven; the longest song on the album by nearly two minutes. Yet if Melodrama is, as Lorde has described it, a kind of concept album about the experience of a single house party, then its midpoint track is doing some heavy narrative lifting. It dramatizes a switch from profound melancholy (“Hard Feelings” functions both colloquially and literally here) to the almost mechanized apathy of “Loveless.” To get the full effect of the song’s oscillation, I’ve been playing it on loop.

Within “Hard Feelings / Loveless” is the eye of the storm: an uncannily and distortingly calm period before the album gradually ramps up to its finale, the utopic “Perfect Places.” After the foreshortened intake of breath that abruptly cuts off “Hard Feelings” and just before the electronic heartbeats that open “Loveless,” there’s a few seconds of silence that only retroactively read as a pause rather than a conclusion. Like most of the songs on Melodrama, it’s a reminder of Lorde’s songwriting asymmetry, its pop star appeal oriented around strangeness. One might say that “Hard Feelings / Loveless” doesn’t quite belong, but that would be echoing the organizing logic of Melodrama.

In his foundational study The Melodramatic Imagination: Balzac, Henry James, Melodrama, and the Mode of Excess (1976), literary scholar Peter Brooks lays out what is now a well observed definition of the genre (or, as Brooks puts it more loosely, “mode”). Melodramas posit an ethical belief system of the post-sacred modern era, where a “moral occult” of good versus evil is dramatized within the realm of the everyday. It’s a realist genre where the sensational and sentimental — the excessive and the melodramatic — help us see what’s at stake in ordinary life. It’s a capacious genre, fitting both the prosaic and the exaggerated. Most often, melodramas conclude with a “reveal,” a revelation or recognition of some moral truth. And that’s when you cry.

Douglas Sirk, All That Heaven Allows (1955)

The stuff of melodrama is built upon the history of American theatre, which, today, implies Hollywood cinema: family and romance, breakups and betrayal, violence and horror. Lorde’s Melodrama might be a bit of everything above, thrown into the manic temporality of a house party. As she said to the New York Times: “With a party, there’s that moment where a great song comes on and you’re ecstatic […] and then there’s that moment later on where you’re alone in the bathroom, looking in the mirror, you don’t think you look good, and you start feeling horrible.” Parties are a capacious genre as well.

When I think of Melodrama, I don’t think Taylor Swift’s 1989 (2014) or Carly Rae Jepsen’s E•MO•TION (2015) — both arguably breakup albums of a sort — so much as Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers (2013). Lorde’s and Korine’s narratives chime together; the euphoria of the party before the solo depression that follows. Even the acoustic renditions of Britney Spears’s “Everytime” that punctures Korine’s film like a kind of chorus are modeled in Melodrama’s reprises of “Sober” and “Liability.” It wasn’t until Lorde’s album that I had even considered Spring Breakers to be a melodrama. But the excess, the rapture, the female tears, the overlapping intimacies, the moral occult, even the threatening hierarchy of privilege. It’s all there.

They even share gestures — perhaps the crucial element of melodrama, per Brooks. The gesture of Melodrama is the sway, as it carefully shifts between highs and lows, the everyday and the excessive, love and violence. The uncertainty of what marks their difference is mirrored in “Liability,” where Lorde merges her lover with herself: “We slow dance in the living room, but all that a stranger would see / is one girl swaying alone, stroking her cheek.”

Harmony Korine, “Spring Breakers” (2012)

The most devastating moment in “Hard Feelings” occurs in its ambivalent final verse, when Lorde sings, “But I still remember everything, how we’d drift buying groceries, / how you’d dance for me,” where the strong break occurs after the grammatical break following “groceries,” but the actual lyrical dissonance occurs between “drift” and “dance for me.” Buying groceries punctuates the classically romantic, taking its place. Such melodramatic drift and displacement occurs throughout the album in prosaic places, from when “I stumbled on a secret power / I’ll find a way to be without you, babe” in “Writer in the Dark” to the piling cadences in “The Louvre” of “Nothing wrong with it / Supernatural / Just move in close to me, closer, you’ll feel it coasting.”

Rainer Werner Fassbinder, “Ali: Fear Eats the Soul” (1974)

Like her Pure Heroine before it, the synesthete’s second album is self-consciously cinematic. The music has already been described in terms of its potential soundtrack functionality as well as its “passages of semi-incidental music,” but its filmic qualities don’t stop at the atmospheric. The very language of Melodrama comes from the movies. Even Lorde’s descriptions of songwriting appear as Platonic visual configurations: “From the moment I start something, I can see the finished song, even if it’s far-off and foggy […] It’s about getting the actual thing to sound like what I’ve been seeing.” The “actual things” on this album aspire to the mystically imagined, though their manifestations as individual jagged songs suggest that the “far-off and foggy” always remains somewhat so. Melodrama is always a little bit aspirational, if not outright impossible.

One term frequently used to describe Lorde’s music is “fluorescent” — a word that is featured in what is perhaps the most explicitly film-driven track, “Supercut.” Like “Royals” (her biggest hit to date) and its reference to “driving Cadillacs in our dreams,” “Supercut” is cinematic in its reliance on car culture. In the song, Lorde alternates between the driving beats of “In your car, the radio up” and the protracted release of “So I fall / into continents and cars.” All the while, the chorus (“But it’s just a supercut of us / Supercut of us”) toggles the song between the jolting rhythms of florescent supercut fantasies and the inevitable letdown of the falling. This frenzy reverberates in Lorde’s voice as well, which includes percussive effects such as the moan, the growl, and the whine in “Supercut.”

In other songs, her delivery could be described as drunker, or close to crying. The faux brattiness of Pure Heroine has evolved into the vigilant enunciations in Melodrama. She syncopates “I overthink your / p-punctuation use / Not my fault / just a thing / that my mind do” in “The Louvre” — drawing out “overthink” while popping her p’s with the attentiveness of a lover. Always, however, in her voice there sounds adoration. Lorde has described her relationship to pop music as one of reverence, and Melodrama is as much a love letter to that genre as it is to an ex-lover. In interviews, she’s cited Phil Collins, Don Henley, Paul Simon, David Bowie, Kate Bush, Joni Mitchell, and Robyn. It’s a formidable list and, despite the singularity of each artist, their influences can be individually traced in Melodrama. From the Bush-inspired punchiness in Lorde’s climactic notes to Henley’s syncopated punctuation in “Hard Feelings,” which, after the “slash” that transitions into the second half, introduces “Loveless” with a Collins drum sample. I would add Annie Lennox to the mix — the way she stretches a phrase, the way her verses wane.

Melodrama ends, perhaps appropriately, with utopia. And if it sounds anything like “Perfect Places” — the album’s final track and third single — then heaven is hip-hop beats with ’80s pop ballad vocals and a lot of piano.

Max Ophuls, Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948)

Narrative is crucial to melodrama — Carl Wilson writes, “Melodrama contains a lot more life experience and more craft, with songs that teem with dramatic scenarios and storytelling.” Like Wilson, I think it’s probably going to be the best pop album of the year. I think it’s perfect. But what does Melodrama finally dramatize? The house party, the decades-long history of Anglophone pop music, the aftermath of getting your heart broken for the first time, the struggle between good and evil followed by the revelation of a moral truth?

Part of its transcendence lies in its impossibility; I’m not sure what story it tells exactly. The structure of Melodrama is so conspicuous, yet I have to switch continuously between “Sober” and “Sober II (Melodrama),” or “Liability” and “Liability (Reprise),” just to remind myself that these tracks have anything to do with one another. The latter are ghostly reenactments of the former that end up taking us somewhere else entirely. It’s carefully plotted surprise, and it gets you every time. The moral occult here is both palpable and unidentifiable, and never straightforward. Melodrama rarely is.

Jane Hu is a writer and grad student living in Oakland.

Melodrama On Loop was originally published in The Awl on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Thou Shalt Enjoy This Homoerotic German Heinz Ketchup Ad From 1993

Wed, 2017-06-21 12:10
Deutschland (and truth in advertising) über us.Why eat a banana when you could eat these white blood sugar tabs?

When the real news out of Germany mirrors the real news out of America (i.e., constant and bad), fear not, because you can count on BILD, the Fatherland’s most-read publication — indeed, the most-read non-Asian-language newspaper on the entirety of the Earth — to balance out its crass sensationalism with very cutting-edge cultural commentary. Whether it’s the itemized rules for taking a bath or the topless creep shots, BILD always prints things that human beings should look at and read.

Take, for instance, this list of “11 Advertised Claims We Always Fall For,” in which BILD takes the extreme and controversial position that the things printed on grocery packaging are misleading. Wait, wie bitte?

“Sugar lies, packaging cheats and alcohol fakes!” Screengrab: BILD

This revelation comes on the heels of a lawsuit brought to the European Court of Justice (basically the EU Supreme Court), where makers of sugar wafers Dextro Energy sued for the right to claim on the package that “glucose supports normal physical activity,” and lost. The EU had previously banned that claim, says BILD, explaining that it would “confuse consumers.”

SOME PEOPLE think a BANANA is good for your blood sugar, you see. But HOW DOES IT GET THERE, wonders Guy In White Coat? He prefers Dextro Energy, which goes einfach schneller im Kopf (AYN-fock SHNELL-ur imm KOPF), or “simply faster into your head.” Clearly.

How can any reasonable consumer be enough of a dipshit to think that what is basically a gross-ass proto-candy byproduct can turn a lethargic dud-body into a pert, task-dominating machine? How indeed. All I know is that once, when this particular dipshit lived in Berlin to attend language school, she carried a weird cuboid packet of Dextro wafers in her bag at all times and popped them at regular intervals, ostensibly to ward off the bizarre bouts of stress-fainting she was experiencing at the time due to her ill-advised decision to pursue a doctorate, but really because hey, even terrible candy is candy.

And the whole time, I (I mean “she”) was all like, Oh, if the Germans claim this stuff can ward off a blood-sugar crash and keep me alive through my four-hour adjective declension marathons, then it must be true. Because, my dipshit inner monologue reasoned, IF A GERMAN PACKAGE says it, I’m sure it’s gone through all sorts of regulations that we don’t have in America, where cigarettes are basically one tireless regulator away from getting to claim they cure sore throats again.

But it turns out that even German advertisements lie. Just because Germans never lose anything, and are rarely late, and don’t believe in sarcasm (because in order to say something sarcastically you have to exaggerate, and in order to exaggerate you have to say something that isn’t categorically true, and then they get caught up in how eksually zet’s not right and by the time you explain that you were attempting to make a funny and don’t yourself actually believe that every American owns twenty guns the moment is gone and you’ll be forever remembered as the Inaccurate Gun Statistics Recounter), doesn’t mean those Bio-Gummibärchen are nutritious.

These are terrible for you. Image: Sansculotte/

For those of us who live and die by the unassailability of German groceries, this is a dispiriting revelation. Does this mean that Aldi does not actually welcome me heartily to their aggressively lit aisles? Is Pick-Up not actually Der Picknicker? Is nothing truly supergeil??????????????

According to this BILD exposé, products “without added sugar” are pre-packaged diabetic comas; anything “light” contains at least 500 calories per serving; ostensible veal products contain way too much grown-up cow; shrimp salad’s got alcohol in it; nothing is really “organic;” and — perhaps worst of all — if a package claims something is “just like your grandma made it,” it is NOT just like ANYONE’S grandma made it because nobody’s grandma stabilized her doughs with carrageenan.

“The Housewife Lie — with a lot of recipes, only the names are old; when your grandma was cooking, the ingredients didn’t even exist yet.” Screengrab: BILD

Perhaps my hyperbolic American cynicism is colored by the minor thingy when one of the world’s biggest auto manufacturers claimed their diesel engines were super-cool for the environment and that was definitely not chill.

But ekshually, my distrust of German advertisements (or Werbungen, VARE-boong-un) dates back to the first time I ever watched one, during the summer of 1995, when this non-subtitled, German-made, English-language Heinz Ketchup advertisement was omnipresent on German music channel VIVA, sandwiched fifty times a day between Scatman John and Die Doofen.

If YouTube headings are to be believed (and, unlike grocery health claims, they always are), this ad actually dates back to 1993, and I have a lot of questions about it.

First, the homoeroticism, which I strongly believe — given the Germans’ aforementioned distaste for sarcasm and exaggeration — is meant to be played straight (AS IT WERE). Is this simply a reaction that any normal outside observer might have upon observing American Football for the first time, like, Oh, this is clearly a very homoerotic sport, and all of these guys are clearly thereby comfortable with playing with their sexuality? Like, did the makers of this commercial simply assume that, because American Football consists in large part of grown men jumping on top of each other, that its players would clearly engage in sexually charged homosocial banter off the field?

If you knew nothing of the real state of American homophobia circa DADT’s debut — and Schuman was but a scraggly high-school junior in 1993, and I can tell you firsthand, as the classroom’s requisite unapologetic gay uncle-haver, that it was awful—and just parachuted down from some Luftbrücke just to watch, like, four minutes of the Super Bowl and then left again, there would be no reason to think players didn’t striptease diner waiters on the regelmäßig.

But even aside from the homoeroticism, this ad is a treasure trove of interesting claims about what a normal night in an American eatery with the Most Popular Ketchup in America (for Which One Would Give The Shirt Off His Back) entails: American NFL players go out for diner steak after games in their soiled uniforms! They all weigh 115 pounds! They have no money so they have to barter their dirty drawers for food! The only thing even sort of true about the ad is the 14-year-old quarterback’s desire to put an entire bottle of Heinz Ketchup on his overcooked steak, and even that truth took two and a half decades to come to fruition in the worst possible way.

Granted, I’d forgotten all about that Heinz ad until about a week ago — but still, somewhere buried in this decrepit brain, I knew that German ads, though they are spectacular (and sometimes contain nudity), are, alas, still lying. And I surely knew this, then, in the summer of 2005, as I pounded those Dextro tablets on my way to German as a Foreign Language school. One night during that trip, I was leaving a giant Kaisers grocery store near the Warschauer Straße U-Bahn station with a bulging tote full of peanut-butter puffs and Dextro tablets, a perturbed-looking gentleman with red eyes and chapped lips came up and asked me for some change.

I told him I didn’t have any money, which was ostensibly true, since I’d purchased my groceries with a card and wasn’t carrying cash. Instead of wandering off, he walked alongside me and his voice grew louder: “Du sagst, du hast kein Geld,” he said (you say you don’t have any money), and then continued in German (but I’ll translate it for you because I don’t have all day), “but you’re carrying a full bag of groceries. Haven’t you read the Bible?” he asked.

Don’t you remember where it says,” and here his voice shot up to a yell so loud that you could probably hear it from the top of the Alexanderplatz TV Tower: “DU SOLLST! NICHT! LÜGEN?” (Technically, the German for the Eighth Commandment is Du sollst nicht falsch Zeugnis reden wider deinen Nächsten, but is it ever a good idea to argue with a righteous junkie?)

“Did someone just yell a Commandment in Friedrichshain?” Photo: Jens K. Müller/Wikimedia Commons

At that moment, the light at the crosswalk turned green, and I darted away without saying anything. That was twelve years ago. I hope that guy is still alive, and that he’s clean, housed, and can purchase his own groceries at Kaisers — but God help him when he discovers the truth about the lies on their packages.

Thou Shalt Enjoy This Homoerotic German Heinz Ketchup Ad From 1993 was originally published in The Awl on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

The Seeds Of A Breakup

Wed, 2017-06-21 10:46
Notes on life

Liana Finck has been there.

The Seeds Of A Breakup was originally published in The Awl on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

New York City, June 19, 2017

Wed, 2017-06-21 10:40

★★★★ A thin puddle lay right inside the door of the 1 train, from the air conditioner drip. A building and a cloud had kept the sun off the edge of the schoolyard during the morning wait, but now nothing was stopping it. The light felt as if it were stretching out the skin when it hit. The sunny side of the street was only a last resort. Somehow a passerby was wearing a full suit, a blue that was headed toward royal, throwing back some of the glow. New asphalt squished underfoot. A little cloud was rounded on one side and trailed tendrils from the other, like a drifting jellyfish. In a matter of minutes, dark clouds in the far west became layers of darkness in the near west became darkness spreading overhead. Interior lights brightened to an evening coziness by contrast, and then the sidewalks were wet and umbrellas were out. Thunder sounded and kept sounding, in one improbably drawn-out boom and then, after a pause, another. Briefly things brightened and then the thunder came again. Shredded garbage flew up and down outside the third-floor window. The rain came in thick billows, with big shimmering silver drops moving retrograde to the main gusts. For some reason the people out in it still held onto their umbrellas, even as the drenching water came at them sideways. This new cloudburst subsided exactly when it needed to for the walk to the homeward train. It was raining along the way but not enough to even react to. It was raining harder inside the station, where the earlier excess still flowed down through the ceiling. Up in the apartment and clear of it all, the plain gloomy oncoming evening suddenly flared yellow, a huge shapeless light pushing through the blinds and glittering furiously in the fat drops still on the window. “OK, that’s legitimately scary,” the ten-year-old said. “It looks like it’s totally going to burn my hand off,” the five-year-old said. Down low under the wash of light, over New Jersey, a lumpy line of clouds stood brownish and grayish pink. Nearer were first silvery shreds and then dark ones. The doorbell rang. Amid delays and confusion in Newark, the plane to Mexico City had somehow left with an empty seat. There would be another one in the morning.

New York City, June 19, 2017 was originally published in The Awl on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

kodomo, “HEL”

Wed, 2017-06-21 09:13
The day goes on and on.Photo: Elliott Scott

Good morning. It is the longest day of the year, which — given how long all the days are now — seems more like a punishment than anything else. How long will this day last? No one knows. Maybe it will go on forever, and you will be destined to roam the earth begging for the sweet release of sunset. Maybe you will still be staring into the sky years from now, wondering why you haven’t died. Maybe we will all be waiting for the world to end together as we sit stunned and immobilized by a day that doesn’t quit. I don’t know, it’s confusing these days. Anyway, here’s some music. Enjoy.

kodomo, “HEL” was originally published in The Awl on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Free Ashanti (And Everyone Else)

Tue, 2017-06-20 14:58
Guatemala Diaries, Part VI

M. and Alexis were taking three boats and a bus back to Guatemala City. One of the boat routes, from Punta Gorda, Belize, to Puerto Barrios, Guatemala, was attacked in 2000, and several people were brutally murdered. I am a big chicken, but not so big I actually saw that situation duplicating itself. But even so, the trip seemed long and punishing. After much wringing of hands, I bought a plane ticket from Belize City to Guatemala City. It was expensive but a relief to just make the purchase. Seconds later, I got an email informing me that I had just gotten paid for something that I totally forgot about, so it was like the ticket was free anyway.

A few hours after buying the ticket I lost my cash card in the ocean. I had tucked it into my bikini top and put on a dress with a built-in bra, and it seemed fine, but then I was walking along the beach to dinner, and was like “Jesus Christ why am I wearing 1000 bras?” and took the bikini top off without thinking. I’d like to point out here that I carry stuff in my bra a lot and have never had anything even vaguely resembling a problem. Also, my cash card will not be lonely as there is a lot of garbage in the Caribbean. If you see a clean beach in the Caribbean, it is because someone has cleaned it for you.

In addition to having no cash card I also had no phone as my brand new iPhone stopped taking a charge for no reason. The bad news is that without a phone or a cash card I don’t feel like a real person. The good news is I am going to replace both of them soon and be made whole, like this woman at the Museo Nacional de Arqueología y Etnología with her complete matching necklace and earring set:

Photo by Alexis Bloom

More good news: not having a phone forced me, during a four and a half hour bus ride from Placencia to the airport in Belize City, to become intimately acquainted with the song “All Tied Up,” by Casey Veggies, Ft. DeJ Loaf. This happened because iTunes, as it does, had un-downloaded all my music. I only had three songs to listen to — “All Tied Up,” Robyn’s “Indestructible,” and Ashley Monroe’s “Like a Rose.” Why these songs? I have no idea. Ask the bag of dicks previously known as iTunes.

I could only listen to “Indestructible” once because I have heard it so many times. I have listened to “Like a Rose” a lot too, but probably not as much. In this song, a woman who had a terrible childhood and life reflects on how she turned out well anyway — how she “came out like a rose.” Listen to this song. Here’s a very simple and accurate test you can take while listening: If it doesn’t remind you of yourself in some small way, you have no soul.

I downloaded “All Tied Up” right after it was featured on an episode of “Girls” and listened to it a few times but never really gave it its due. The song starts out with DeJ Loaf singing over a floaty, dreamy sound that slowly works its way to becoming music: “I’ll be a lady in the streets in a dress with her hair tied up/Or I can be a freak in the sheets in the room with her hands tied up/It’s whatever you want/whatever you like/It’s not a problem at all.” That last line really makes it for me, how it’s like she’s telling him she’s going to bring him a cup of coffee, just casually informing him she is good at lots of different stuff. Then Casey Veggies (of the world’s stupidest name) comes in with a pretty good verse and then DeJ Loaf, thrillingly, is back again with her same part. She’s way better than he is but he’s not ruining it — it’s no Ja Rule/Ashanti emergency. (When they were popular, my friend and I kept saying we were going to make “Free Ashanti” T-shirts.)

It’s one of those songs where he likes the girl because she’s smart and pretty and faithful, fine/yawn:

Fly face, nice body, and swag crazy
She work and she goin’ to school, she ain’t lazy
And when she out and about, she look wavy
And when they try to ask what’s up, she say Casey.

Anyway, Casey Veggies is doing Ok until he’s not. At around 2:15, the sexily accommodating DeJ Loaf is repeating “whatever you like, whatever you like, whatever you like,” and he stumbles in, muttering spastically: “She’s gonna do whatever I like/ She’s gonna do whatever I like/ She’s gonna do whatever I like.” He just sounds so pre-butthurt, like he knows deep down she’s only saying all that stuff because she has to and she’s already called a Lyft.

If this song were focus grouped my hand would shoot up and I would shout “I didn’t believe the part where she said she’s going to do whatever he likes. And then, when she said “it’s not a problem at all” I thought that was definitely going to turn into something, because it seems like it would definitely be a problem? And then when nothing happened with that, like, it confused me?”

Oh well. The DeJ Loaf part is perfect, made more so by having to wade through Casey Veggies to get to it.

The bus was an inferno. I kept trying to remind myself that this was how most people in the world traveled blah blah blah but it was not helpful. I couldn’t get away from the sun. Someone was wearing a lot of Shalimar. A kid was kicking my seat, although, completely anecdotally, I have to say that children in the Caribbean cry and complain less in public than American children. Just an observation, possibly wrong.

I put a straw hat I had just bought on the seat next to me and it blew off, tumbled down the aisle and out the bus’s open door.

In Belize City, I got a taxi. My taxi driver was maybe 40, black, very big, maybe 6’3 and maybe 225 pounds, but not really fat. He and I had an instant emotional connection and fell quickly into a deep conversation. As soon as I said I was American he asked me how Donald Trump got to be president if so many people hate him and I explained the electoral college. At first he seemed to be concentrating, then he looked perplexed, by the end, he was full-on wincing. He asked me if a lot of people in the United States hated black people. I said yes. He asked me if I hated black people. I said no. He asked me if I thought I was prejudiced. I said I thought everyone had prejudiced feelings at times but I would not characterize myself as being ideologically prejudiced. I added, “Like when people say “I don’t see color,” I feel like that’s weird, even if it’s supposed to be ‘nice.’”

He nodded and said he understood.

I asked him if he’d ever been to Guatemala and he said he’d never been out of Belize. “I grew up real hard,” he said. We were at a light and he looked straight at me and didn’t look away. “I have had to hustle my whole life.” He was direct in a way that has become unusual and this moved me. He kept talking. “I didn’t have no father, my mother died, and I just lived with my aunt, and she didn’t really have no place for me, and I just worked.”

I asked what he did, and said, “Whatever. I did whatever.” He nodded and said again: “I grew up very, very hard. But I am a hustler.” He looked at me again and nodded slowly. “And I got a house now. I don’t have everything perfect but I am good, and I am a good person, try to always be calm, no matter what.”

My taxi driver would pass the “Like a Rose” test.

I flew to Flores, Guatemala in a tiny plane with an archaeologist who seemed like she’d never been in a bad mood in her life. I seriously bet she wakes up every morning, plants her feet in a sunny spot on her clean floor, stretches her arms over head and says, “I can’t wait to archaeology today!” Then her dog jumps into her lap and licks her face, then they go for a jog, then it sits at her feet as she reads the comics to it aloud. We flew from Flores to Guatemala City in a larger plane and sat together. She told me about how “the Mayans” were not just one uniform group, and that they were always killing each other. I kind of figured but it was good to hear it from someone who didn’t always expect the worst of everyone.

My friends Sam and Daisy were in Guatemala, part of the reason I’d wanted to hustle back. Daisy took us to a fancy place for dinner and told me I could pick out whatever wine I wanted. I picked out a pretty pricey bottle from Portugal because Daisy always means what she says. I was going to save the cork but I forgot. We had expensive ham. I slept in their room on a cot. M. and Alexis showed up at 2 a.m. and got another room. In the morning we all went to the Museo Arqueología y Etnología. We took a dangerous but fun cab ride.

We tried to find this one museum about the Guatemalan genocide and it seemed like there were several. Sam made fun of me for wanting to go to it because his mom and her boyfriend, who were also in town, kept asking all these Guatemalans about the war and they obviously did not want to discuss it. I said just because they were pests didn’t mean I couldn’t be interested. He said he agreed. We still couldn’t find this museum and then it poured and we took cover in a touristy restuarant where a marimba band was playing. After some time on the restaurant Wifi we were able to orient ourselves and headed out again. I was incredibly struck by the beauty of a little urban park everyone else found unspectacular.

The Casa de La Memoria was more like a conceptual art piece than a traditional museum. It started with the arrival of the Spanish and went up through today and wasn’t attempting to communicate everything that’s happened in Guatemala so much as help you begin to wrap your mind around the scope of cruelty and death.

Poem by Luis de Leon, 1940–1985

From there we went to a game-themed café — hilarious that this place existed and we happened to find it since we are all to some extent game nerds — and played a game called Secret Agent, followed by a game called Stage 2 Trivia that was 30 years old and had never been opened. The music was all 90s. I got annoyed with Sam because he likes the Cranberries song “Zombie” and he got mad at me because I like the Verve song “Bittersweet Symphony.” We called what we thought was a van taxi and were sent instead a tiny one which we piled into laughing very hard. We slept. Max, Daisy, and Alexis went to Lake Atitlán.

For 24 hours, M. and I did almost nothing. We bought some gifts. He watched T.V. I read Wikipedia articles about Guatemala. I read about José Efraín Ríos Montt, Guatemala’s president from 1982 to 1983. In December, 1982, Ronald Reagan visited Guatemala and said, “President Ríos Montt is a man of great personal integrity and commitment. I know he wants to improve the quality of life for all Guatemalans and to promote social justice.” That same day, the Dos Erres massacre took place, resulting in the deaths of over 200 people. Ríos Montt, who is 93 and already in jail for other war crimes, will face another trial for the Dos Erres massacre later this year. On our last morning I went to an art museum and was the only person there, which was both sad and luxurious.

At the airport, I watched the “All Tied Up” video. Casey V. is better in person. I literally can’t think of anything stupider than that name. Who came up with it? What is wrong with them? I see he has a management company called Peas and Carats. Why not Casey Carats? Casey Carats is good! Casey Carats, can you hear me?

Part Five:

Is She Putting You In The End Zone Or The James Patterzone?

Part Four:

I Almost Let You Into Heaven

Part Three:

Human Sacrifice, “Family Style”

Part Two:

The Fancy Bus

Part One:

Just Get On A Plane And Go

Free Ashanti (And Everyone Else) was originally published in The Awl on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.