08.07.20

CONSUMED: SOME (MORE) HORROR

the rental. i got over the potential squickiness of staying at strangers' homes via airbnb a long time ago, which is helpful, as i've stayed at a shitload of airbnbs (most of which have been pretty good and a few of which have been spectacular: if americans are allowed into europe before the world ends, you should ask me about the rooftop terrace with a view of st. peter's basilica we scored for my 40th birthday, or the milanese jewel box to which we ended up retreating after the 2016 election). i even write about them for a living! well, i wrote about them for a living. anyway, this is dave franco's directorial debut, and the story of four earnest portland types who head to the coast for a weekend of the sort of disastrous interpersonal conflicts that crop up when you don't establish ground rules about drugs and hiking or acknowledge the fact that anyone who shares screen time with sheila vand (the star of a girl walks home alone at night, ana lily amarpour's exquisite iranian vampire western) will fall hopelessly in love with her. the excellent alison brie (franco's offscreen wife, of glow, who is also exquisite) is here too, but she's no match for vand's gravitational pull, and the non-murdery disasters in store for this quartet are pretty clear from the get-go. there is also a dog—dogs are big in horror right now—and if i found myself in this rental i would have absolutely survived, since i would have rejected the idea of breaking the no-dogs rule and jeopardizing my pristine user rating and refused to show up in the first place. these kids aren't so lucky, and nastiness ensues: it's even more harrowing than when i accidentally peed in our milanese host's bidet. like a number of reviewers, i think the rental would have been better without its final act, but you can't always get what you want. oh! dan stevens (of downton abbey, which i despise) is also in this, though he isn't anywhere near as entertaining as he is in eurovision song contest: the story of fire saga, which you should see immediately. i hope i get to sleep in another building someday, even if there's a hidden camera in the shower.

velvet buzzsaw. dan gilroy (nightcrawler) reunites rene russo and jake gyllenhaal and misses a golden opportunity to give the latter another terrible haircut; where nightcrawler satirized prurient local news, velvet buzzsaw goes after the los angeles art scene (and also ropes in john malkovich, toni collette, and daveed diggs; it's a crazy ensemble cast). an outsider artist dies and leaves instructions for his work to be destroyed; no one listens, so the work destroys everyone. i'm reminded a bit of bliss, another art-world slasher we saw at the tribeca film festival last year, but velvet buzzsaw is more fun; i'm no insider, but i've written a bit of curatorial copy in my time ("...meticulous scissorings, in turn, reveal her subjects’ poetic architecture: a gallery wall revealed in a cut is a caesura, not an absence"), and the silliness of the critical word salad here is entertaining. i feel pretty strongly that most if not all movies should probably end with john malkovich drawing with a stick, and i think that would have worked out rather nicely in the rental. did i ever tell you that my conceptual-artist brother-in-law's site-specific work in an old hospital is the reason kendall jenner painted her house baker-miller pink? true story.

08.06.20

CONSUMED: SOME HORROR

les affamés. i meant to write about this one three months ago, and i will spare you the tedium between then and now; this is probably the best zombie movie i've seen in a decade? (that's saying something; it's possible that i watch zombie movies more regularly than i vacuum my apartment.) while i can't offer scene-by-scene praise, as my personal horizon has experienced a titan's lifetime of freaky dawns and gloamings in that interim, i can tell you that this québécois take on the genre gets at the existentialism your humble narrator has been experiencing since the before times in an unexpectedly poetic way. (again, there's volume to consider here.) not especially gory, quietly contemplative, and, shot by shot, easily one of the most beautiful additions to the canon i've seen in a long time (or ever?). we're so intent on what the undead have to say to us about biting that we neglect their ikebana (i am serious about this?), and that is a shame.

the blackcoat's daughter. well of course kiernan shipka eventually snagged the title role in chilling adventures of sabrina after this movie; she's stone-cold perfect for will-she-or-won't-she relationship-with-the-devil roles (i have not seen and will not see her in mad men). that said, wow, i am terrible at picking possession movies; despite KS's best efforts and director oz perkins's stabby pedigree (he's anthony perkins's son), this was both too long and weirdly abrupt. i was raised more or less areligiously (southern california protestants, or the ones i knew, at least, cared more about shell necklaces and second base than they did about accidental salutations to satan), but oh boy did the few catholic-school ghost stories my dad shared over the years scare the shit out of me. i thought this movie would keep me awake, but it just left me with faint distastes for pea soup (again?) and turnpikes. which sucks, as pea soup rules and turnpikes are useful.

girl on the third floor. i really, really want to foist this one on my college roommate, as she has renovated multiple ancient homes in chicago (à la the movie's principal), but she is the mother of two young children, and her waking hours have all kinds of demands that don't involve puzzling out why a vengeful collective of long-dead prostitutes decided to exact their revenge on questionable men via ooze and marbles (MARBLES). girl on the third floor is notable because its lead seems, at least initially, like he's going to be a bruce campbell, evil dead-style antihero; it's also the most fluid-soaked horror movie i've seen in some time, on the order of michel faber's the crimson petal and the white (also a long and decidedly viscous story about prostitution). several writers who reviewed this bad boy for major critical franchises thought it was kind of good, which reminds me of how i've snagged several print credits for articles about house plant maintenance and also managed to kill a potted rosemary bush in 48 hours.

the platform. somewhere between the cook, the thief, his wife & her lover (a movie i watched on video with a date who'd seen it before), delicatessen and, like, cube (or saw?), the platform is a spanish skyscraper hellscape that was apparently one of the most popular netflix titles in the world back in march. this makes sense, sort of: atop a vertical sort-of-prison, chefs prepare a lavish smorgasbord that descends slowly through hundreds of levels of concrete cells. the inhabitants of each cell can eat for the few moments the platform pauses, then it descends to the next level, where the inhabitants beneath them eat their leftovers, if there are leftovers, and so on. it's an unsubtle and exceedingly moist allegory, but it also...kind of works, for at least an hour? i am extra-glad i've never eaten a snail. a dachshund meets a messy end, because capitalism.

train to busan. as far as i'm concerned, bong joon-ho is the master of space re: class in recent years: snowpiercer's lateral logic was inspired, and parasite's morality and verticality was almost perfect. yeon sang-ho's train to busan isn't as explicit or as cartesian as either of those movies, but its geometry is almost as compelling, and the stunt work, choreography, and blocking is absolutely incomparable. i have no preference between george-romero-esque shambling zombies and danny-boyle-ish skittering ones — is that a taste one can have? — but i can say that this is the most balletic zombie movie i have ever seen, and that it has emotional heft. it's absolutely at the action end of the horror spectrum, but it nips at your heels. (no dog fatalities.)

07.22.20

joe came back on monday after a week in oregon, where his father had a 'moderate to serious stroke' while on an RV trip with my mother-in-law, sister-in-law, and nephew. though he is the evel knievel of the circulatory system (he had emergency open-heart surgery this past fall; i think maybe when the family made him sell his motorcycle a few years ago he just became his own motorcycle), joe the elder has more lives than several cats, and he seems to be recovering well. we are grateful that he was away from home when it happened, as home is rural arizona, medically questionable at the best of times and the tail end of a bosch triptych at the moment. we would like them to trade their RV for a beaver state rental house, but you try herding someone who has more lives than several cats. i was extremely upset about the idea of joe flying west and home—we got news that we had neither coronavirus nor coronavirus antibodies the day he left—but flying to see one's family and giving them advice they will ignore is our generation's love language in 2020. i have made my peace, such as it is, with this.

i spent monday of my week alone pulling my first professional all-nighter, a filthy evening that peaked when i snuck outside for a walk on the promenade at about nine and cratered for the first time a few hours later when i found that one of my huge rubber cockroaches had fallen out of the closet and into the hall and it made obscene gestures at me when i bent to pick it up. i skittered to the kitchen and grabbed a pint glass to capture it, and when i got back it was gone; i then made my peace with lifestyle-writing-induced hallucinations. i found it a few feet away 15 minutes later, caught it, and chucked it off the balcony, which feels ok, given the reports of the creepy AI guy we knew in college whose experiments determined that roaches can handle pressure that's more than 900 times their body weight. also all american cockroaches can fly, though they tend to do so in humid climates? we're well into the miso soup phase of summering in new york, so.

07.04.20

the lower east side has been going Full Gandalf for the past month and a half; i don't know what the big-ass fireworks are called, they were illegal in california when i was a kid and i never worked up the nerve to buy the bunker busters when opportunities presented themselves over the past few years. i love fireworks and my personal sleep is so permanently fractured that i can't wish the pyros ill on my own behalf, but i feel for small animals, small humans, and their new parents, oh god. victoria, i love you.

i reached out to the social worker who introduced me to the families i've been shopping for a week ago and told her i needed to phase myself out; my work load was increasing, i said, and if new york was maybe opening up a bit i needed to let them go. i didn't want them to panic—i told them i could shop for another month while they figured things out—but oh, i have needed to move on from this cycle. i was starting to understand that my families had other help: G would talk about things her daughter had seen at our local grocery store, and i realized that neither G nor F asked me for paper goods, and that F never asked me for meat, though it seemed clear that she and her husband weren't vegetarians. i feel strongly—have i said this before?— that radical generosity is important; i can't and shouldn't know what my families do with what i've been bringing them, or why they need it. i was also falling apart, and those hints that the time and risk i offered weren't as crucial as i thought they were had been making me feel like shit.

i shopped for F and her husband for the last time this past thursday, and her list was smaller than usual. i rang her doorbell when i dropped off her groceries because i wanted to say goodbye, but she didn't answer; i set her bags down next to a couple of boxes of shelf-stable food from the city of new york(?) and went home. she texted me later to offer thanks and say that she's going out for doctors' appointments next week.

G absolutely did ask me for meat, all the time: she's so, so russian, and i bought her herring, chicken, and salmon for months. she gave me her credit card and her CVS keytag ages ago, so i put them both in a card for her when i made my final visit this week. when i rang her doorbell her cat squirted out the door, and i offered to grab her. "oh, no, she won't let you pick her up," G said. "she is waiting for a treat." G's cat's name is lola, and lola absolutely doesn't come back into her apartment without a treat. G and i stood in the hallway as lola was bribed to go home; she sauntered down the hall, just as steve does, and she polished G's ankles.

06.28.20

[Martha] Gellhorn told [John Simpson, the BBC's world-affairs editor] about attending John F. Kennedy’s Inauguration ball. Gellhorn was alone and feeling out of place when she sensed the President and his entourage moving in her direction. “There was Kennedy himself coming towards her with all the hangers-on and the freaks and the creeps,” Simpson said. “And, as he walks up to her, and she said, ‘Oh, fuck. He’s gonna make me Secretary of State.’ ” It wasn’t that. Kennedy had heard that Gellhorn used to live in the White House and might know of a way to sneak out from time to time. “ ‘Darling’—she called him ‘Darling’—‘That’s easy,’ ” Simpson continued, in a broad American accent. Gellhorn told the President about a small gate at the back of the property. “There’s only one guy in charge of it,” she said. “Roosevelt used to just give him money all the time.”

(sam knight, "a memorial for the remarkable martha gellhorn")

06.11.20

i run into M, a retired firefighter who worked as a personal trainer in our building's fitness room in the before times. he used to give me shit about not seeing me in there every day, and i would tell him about the international work trips that took me away from our treadmills and tv news (i pitched my friend the fitness magazine editor-in-chief a piece about angry running a couple of years ago, but i think it seemed too unhealthy, and that was right about when another publisher was acquiring her title, anyway). now he gives me shit about the days we don't run into him on the promenade, and i tell him that most of my workout is up at the track at 10th street. as always, he tells me that he gets terribly bored when he runs in a circle. M and i differ in a number of ways, but that, somehow, is the gulf of note: running in a circle is the 2020 version of afternoons at skateway in the late eighties when i'd get so excited about janet jackson that i'd slam into the carpeted wall on tight turns. the boys-only-on-the-rink songs were no problem, i'd just take my big earrings off and stick them in my pocket. a guy brought an amp to the bleachers this sunday and cranked "let's dance," which faded into "billie jean." i've always loved watching people succumb to sets, but watching runners try to play it cool through a shitload of, like, billy ocean and hall and oates was especially delightful.

two nearly-identical dogs on st. mark's this evening were both named lucy; pro jazz ensembles are playing for tips in tompkins square park. i have gotten over the fact that i forgot "sectional" as i filed yet another piece on living rooms a few weeks ago ("OH GOD JOE WHAT DO YOU CALL A LONG COUCH IN PIECES") and have learned the difference between a sideboard and a credenza; if i don't keep the world up to date on the latest in open-concept living spaces, internets, my god, who will. i thought about instagramming a wax print fabric i bought from a ghanaian woman in st. croix a few months ago and have been working into my huge, ongoing quilting project and worried that i couldn't talk about how a chinese company produced it. i might email the social worker who hooked me up with my neighbors to let her know that i need to stop doing their shopping, maybe, perhaps at the end of the month. i keep thinking of this man's posture.

06.01.20

we had two rounds of banging pots and pans and rattling cow bells at the neighbors and the street tonight, the one between 7:00 and 7:03 and another for either two or 20 minutes just after nine, who can say? joe went to the window when he first heard voices on cherry street come around to the service road in front of our building, and the march began (that was part of the march, right? i mean, they were?) with guys on bikes going north on the southbound lanes of the FDR. by the time i was on the balcony the street was full, no signs, just marchers. no one cheered, cheering is for 7:00 to 7:03.

we took our daily walk up the east river promenade just after when we figured joe's office business was probably done for the day (my office business is always and never done for the day) and headed west into the city around stuyvesant cove, then down first avenue and back east on st. mark's. how stupid am i for actually thinking the same bars that were selling cocktails to go on friday would be on the sidewalk this afternoon? we didn't walk that way because i wanted to buy anything—i don't really know what i wanted, to be honest, i just wanted people—but oh, how stupid. by the time we turned south again every storefront on both sides of every street was boarded up or in the process of being boarded up. there are thick bolts of shame all through the grief i've felt this spring, and they're wider and more tensile now, how dare i mourn the little threads of normalcy we were just starting to follow in this city when so many people who are also in this city experience grief as normalcy.

i'm writing a print piece on insomnia that was originally going to be due a month from today; a month or so ago my editor told me it was bumped to a 2021 issue at the earliest and she would understand if i wanted to pitch it somewhere else in the interim. she asked me last week if i could write it for this year's september issue and send that draft over a week from today, and then this morning she bumped it back to the beginning of july, and a week sooner than that an hour later. i am tempted to draft this feature about stephen king's insomnia and the robin williams / al pacino alaska thriller of the same name as a secret art project for myself, but my editor is a lovely person and who among us couldn't use a few expert takes on insomnia right about now, half a dozen, actually, i am supposed to do six interviews.

05.10.20

the dirty dozen: admonitions from the management

01 As a precaution, anyone who is quarantined in their apartment, please do not go out into the hallway for any reason. Please place your garbage outside your door from 10AM - 12 noon and 1:00PM - 2:30PM and we will dispose of your household trash and recycle items only. No bulk items, please.

02 We know there are people who are contagious within our buildings and we know a small number have tested positive for the coronavirus. We expect all those who have tested positive to remain in their apartments and adhere to the rules set forth by the CDC, NYC & NYS. As a precaution, anyone who is quarantined in their apartment, please do not go out into the hallway for any reason.

03 As with any emergency situation, everyone is involved to some extent and we cannot be in all places at all times. If anyone knows of an elderly shareholder who needs checking, please let us know. If you believe, as a neighbor you can be helpful to someone, while maintaining social distance and appropriate precautions, please try to help. Help can be as simple as, "a question" - "Do you need anything?" If we can help, let us know.

04 People using the laundry room must be there when the wash and dry cycle ends. No one should have to wait because of your lack of time management or caring and no one should have to choose between removing your laundry or returning to their apartment. As a safety measure, cooperators should try to refrain from using the room when half the machines are in use and NEVER use a laundry cart for their dirty laundry.

05 It is difficult enough to keep the recommended six or more feet of distance from others on sidewalks and in stores. In an elevator it is impossible. If you call for an elevator and there are people already in it, please consider letting the car go without you and wait for the next one. A minute of two of time can save a person from being exposed.

06 Respect must be shown to our maintenance staff as they are working under incredible stress. Remember, they also have families and one of our men was spat on by a cooperator who wasn't happy with a situation. This despicable behavior will not be tolerated.

07 We are having issues with dogs barking in apartments. Obviously, dogs will bark. Shareholders, please find a way to quiet your animal when it barks incessantly. Anyone leaving a barking dog unattended in their apartment will receive a quality of life fine. It is not fair for people to have a dog and then not be present at a time when no one should be going anywhere.

08 The laundry rooms are at capacity. Please be courteous, do not take-up additional machines, return to the rooms promptly and do not leave your laundry in the washers or dryers for others to deal with. Never use a laundry cart for anything other than clean laundry.

09 Noise complaints continue in all forms including loud music, ball playing in hallways and apartments and slamming doors. The doors could be because of the high winds we have had lately. The other reasons are more within your purview.

10 The hallway is not an extension of your apartment. Open doors with children playing from single families or different families represent a risk to everyone. We are continuing to clean and sanitize all hallways and this level of activity defeats our purpose. As hard as it is to keep children occupied and indoors, do so for the well-being of all.

11 The laundry rooms should not be places where people congregate. Yes, there are televisions there, but so are they in your apartments. Please be courteous to new arrivals in the laundry rooms - do your business and return upstairs.

12 We do not have the staff to issue memos under every door at this time.

05.08.20

the clerk at the post office gives H and F's letter back to me; there's no point in stamping it with the meter, since there's no postal service from america to israel. i carry the letter back to their apartment, where a little purple bag hangs on the front door's knob: it's a bottle of DKNY perfume, a gift. they have asked me to knock instead of dematerializing when i drop off their groceries so that they can give me 'the little something' in person, and i thank them profusely. they ask if i'm going home to work, what do i do, and i tell them i'm a writer. "do you write for the times?" just once. "you must live in my father's apartment!" F's family was among the original tenants when our apartments were built in the late '50s; the woman who purchased his father's place from him loved their immigration story so much that she was going to pitch it, per H. not me, i live in the building right across the street, but it is a wonderful story. i congratulated them on their six children, 30 grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren.

the cashiers at trader joe's are always fascinated by what the neighbors request, as am i. H and F have (mostly) pumped the brakes on chocolate-covered macaroons and are now enamored with raw fermented sauerkraut (five large jars in the last two weeks). they also wanted six large onions; "they're really up to something," the cashier noted. "and so are you! what are you making?" minestrone. "what is minestrone?" it's— "is it italian peasant soup?" yeah, pretty much.

05.03.20

i thought for a week or so that i was accumulating soot as i ran errands and walked up to the rubber track ten blocks north of houston, but i appear to be developing...a tan? the speckled filth on my forehead and cheeks is definitely freckles, and joe says the back of my neck has lost its customary translucence. i was decent about getting out of the house in the before times — though i worked out indoors, i made it into the neighborhood at least once a day, and i walked to soho for my weekly bookstore shifts and to and from chinatown to catch the subway up to the bird hospital — but i guess, surprise surprise, taking a daily late-afternoon walk with joe and, now, spending an hour a day up at the track is, despite the mostly-grey-and-rainy weather we've been having, the sort of thing that toasts a gal. i wish i could report that this stirred something in me, but it's just a thing, like the acne i've been getting from my masks and the welts i get under my breasts when i run several days in a row.

i run all the days in a row, now; it's about a mile up to the track, which is just enough time to make respectable progress on my pokémon situation (david bowie, my gyarados, is such a powerful boy) before lurching through a minimum of 13 jogged laps and a lot of strolling. the track surface mimics the spring of my beloved treadmills, i have the lanes more or less to myself when it's windy and/or raining, and the strip of grass between me and the east river promenade teems with fledgling robins and juvenile squirrels (who have yet to learn, a month in, that there's no angle in dashing across the track to forage for food on the astroturf at its center). when i'm facing north i can see the power station that blew during hurricane sandy and denied us electricity for a week; when i loop around south the williamsburg bridge eats the horizon. i couldn't tell you why ferry traffic has been up for the past two months, but i swear that it has, and racing the boats up- and downriver is delightful, even though i always, always lose. on the best days they carry salt air up from the harbor. i am wearing a neon fanny pack without irony. send help.

04.23.20

was the neighborhood guy who masked his mini-pinscher prescient? i hear that two cats have contracted coronavirus, though the news, thank goodness, seems to be that they will recover and that they won't pass their setbacks to their humans.

we persist. i've been seized with a wild urge to chain-smoke, à la every fictional world-wearied beat cop confronted with the eleventh-hour, extra-grisly case that will end up defining her or his career, and have spit on that impulse by reactivating my long-dormant pokémon go account (abandoned in the summer of '16 when i realized that i'd gone three weeks without talking to my mother).* i sure hope that pokémon go isn't a villainous, terrible app; it pings my interests in animal husbandry, hoarding, quantified physical activity, vexing the neighbors' kids, and so much more.**

that's self-care in these parts, then: weekly grocery runs for the neighbors, daily walks with joe, near-constant local-tween-owning. i've been quilting and watching my brilliant friend. getting into fistfights with bus stops is totally normal.


*on my first post-pokémon walk i stumbled upon A LIVE EEL IN THE STREET sine-waving on land like a regular old black snake that couldn't breathe; i did my damndest to catch and return it to its grand street live-seafood tupperware tub and have a new appreciation for that whole slippery-as-an-eel thing. i saw said eel en route to my local bank branch, where i was to explain that someone had accidentally deposited a random $18,000 into my checking account (true story, i was mixed up with another, fancier contractor); when i arrived my hands were eel-slimy and bowery-grimy, so i wiped them on the carpet before i approached the teller. "oh hi," [spreads mysterious goop on the floor] "i have a lot of money that isn't mine."

**on this afternoon's walk, pokémon go taught me that charlie parker lived on avenue b; while tech will unquestionably be one of the deaths of us, i will take that factoid with me to hell.

04.18.20

CONSUMED: A PARTIAL LIST.

black leopard, red wolf (book). the last four fantasy novels i've read have all begun with some variation on "those who appear in this account" lists of dramatis personae. that could seem cute or superfluous, as the maps that frequently accompany them often are (the maps in this book, speaking of, are pretty unnecessary), but without a robust character list black leopard, red wolf would be confusing as hell. in fact, it is confusing as hell even when you can flip back to the beginning to remind yourself that the ipundulu is a vampire lightning bird and that sasabonsam (who drinks blood, except when he doesn't) is the winged brother of asanbosam (who eats flesh), and so on. it is also exhausting, as the very stories-within-stories structure and super-intricate world-building that have inspired comparisons to tolkien's middle earth, george r.r. martin's lands of ice and fire, and, like, hieronymus bosch make it extremely slow going. the comparison to george r.r. martin is an important one, for marlon james is equally fixated on sexual violence; it's been a long time since i've read something even more rape-y than a game of thrones, &c. james uses it to make important points about everything from power and exploitation to trauma and identity, and i can appreciate that, but it's rough going. that said, james blends african mythological and storytelling traditions with magical realism and surrealism to create something both ancient and new. i have absolutely no idea if it would appeal to the majority of fantasy readers, but i know i'm going to head back and read james's a brief history of seven killings, and i'll read the sequel to black leopard, red wolf when he writes it. i'm budgeting a month for it, though.

the invisible man (film). if you're the sort of person who worries that seeing too many trailers for thrillers will ruin them for you, i have bad news and good news about the invisible man. bad: as a reboot of one of universal's classic monster movies (along with dracula, frankenstein, the mummy, and so on, although most of the reboots were scrapped after the mummy tanked), its premise and basic structure aren't much of a secret even if you didn't see a bunch of previews for it on cable television this month (though this version centers the victim, elisabeth moss, rather than her tormentor*). good: even if you have been marinating in those previews, at least two of the scenes in them—including one so striking that it's featured as a still in the majority of the movie reviews i've seen—aren't in the movie at all! put that in your juul and smoke it! the invisible man was written and directed by leigh whannell (who also wrote saw**), a detail that could have squelched my interest in the movie if i'd known it ahead of time. i did not know it ahead of time, however, and i am glad that i carried on with our friday-night plan of overpaying for a home-premiering new movie and watching it from our sofas as though we were at our beloved nitehawk cinema in williamsburg. we had to make our own snacks, which was unfortunate, but we could get up to pee whenever we wanted without missing anything (the invisible man is, oddly, more than two hours long), which was pretty great. anyway, it was entertaining, especially if you get a kick out of bad things happening to tech zillionaires.

*fun fact: a tormentor is also "a fixed curtain or flat on each side of a theater stage that prevents the audience from seeing into the wings." related: teasers. quarantrivia!

**i couldn't sleep the other night and a twitter thread about cary elwes sent me down an internet rabbit hole that involved reading plot summaries of all of the saw movies. it was a dark time.