09.04.20

i snuck a photo of a fabulous tagged van as i was scrambling to meet E in a hard-to-reach corner of brooklyn this afternoon, and joe snuck a photo of the moon caught in the williamsburg bridge as i butchered an avocado this evening; balance is satisfying. here they are in my phone, punctuating shots of the cats slinking into the hall to huff the elevator.

i would like to say that i blundered through the navy yard as gracefully as steve and matty intimidated the neighbors' welcome mat, but i've left manhattan just four times since the spring and am no longer accustomed to interiors in which i shouldn't be naked. E and i talked about traveling in the After Times - we met in tasmania in january - and lifted our mouth-drapes at each other re: how very few people would get how our work has changed. it was strange a year ago; now it's unimaginable, from where i'm sitting, though some of our mutual friends continue to happy-talk about meeting in, like, istanbul next year. she's planning to go for an MFA this fall, and i have saurian memories of the essays i pitched before i decided to bank coals and say yes to a season of simple carbs.

i confessed to E that i think i just read a dozen books by women, no breaks for dudes, for the first time since i was a tween. that wasn't especially intentional, but i do notice that my reading list is evolving: prior to this spring i grabbed anything that caught my eye, a not-insubstantial portion of my reads came from my used bookstore volunteer gig, hey, it's all easy and usually cheap. now literary social media is my weekly booster shot; i feel like a baby grad, an ickle neonate in a mortarboard. am i better?

08.31.20

it's ten before midnight and one of my twentysomething neighbors is running laps along the paved path in our garden, arms bent and tucked, gait jittery, which can only mean one thing: he's trying not to turn into a werewolf. i should have stopped him, as i'm sympathetic: the corn moon and his increased power and impulses to prowl and howl are seasonal and beyond his control. (better the lower east side than the moon.)

growing claws is wild, no? first the toe boxes of your shoes constrain you, then you start scissoring your sheets in the middle of the night, and all of a sudden you're shattered in the moonlight, dumb and hungry and awake to the fact that you might need to be an animal for the first time in your life.

one of my dearest friends grabbed me on election day in 2016: we are the people who run into the fire. he was wrong, and we have been so complacent, but i have broken for lycanthropy.

08.24.20

one of my favorite new york cities is the one that scrapes across my scalp when i wander out on our balcony in the dodgy moments of the almost-morning. when we first looked at this apartment i worried that i would sleepwalk out and over the railing, or that our cats would follow a pigeon out past those unforgiving 18 stories; it hasn't been a problem. i also had no concept of what i would feel when i watched a tugboat pushing a barge full of landfill unzip the east river late at night. it is the nissan hour; no one, or almost no one, is out for a reason they'd choose. (while i wish i could wish nissan drivers well, they're scoundrels.) the little cat whips his tail like a flag — at last, we're active at the same time! — and i pick him up and show him a plant he can't eat.

i sort-of volunteered to watch the republican national convention this week and to suggest, and contextualize, moments a friend might watch with her boys, Just To Be Fair. i had a story that ended up taking all day to file, so i've been catching up via twitter, which has been about as useful as one would expect. the story is probably not life-changing, but the people i met to write the story are dead serious; it's taken me three weeks both to corral their permissions and to do them justice.

friends have been sending me links to both jerry seinfeld's response to the idea that new york is dead and bats filmed upside down that look like a goth club, which means that i am lucky to have friends who get me (while jerry seinfeld's new york is not my new york, i appreciate upper-west-side-on-upper-west-side violence, and two LPs from the band scoring that youtube clip were en route to us; i feel seen). i have a week or so before i have to file anything else, so i am going to launch into my backlog of books like an old-timey circus performer swan diving into a teacup. one of my editors notes that her budget for the rest of the year is due soon, and that all thoughts i might have for her between now and january should roll in before thursday. no problem! and: shit's gonna get so weird.

08.20.20

my little sister and her family have a fist-sized turtle named taco, a little creature that came into my brother-in-law's life when he was a boy. he is not the most exciting pet, and they have not-joked since before my nephew was born that they would present him to their children one day as a new addition: "oh hey, theo, look, you have a turtle to take care of now!" taco is famously introverted, but he came out of his hollowed-out log in their guest room in los angeles to perform a clackety dance in the wee hours of the morning when same-sex marriage was legalized in 2015. same, taco, i thought.

her family left their home in santa cruz when they lost power this weekend, and they learned they couldn't go back to it the other night when wildfires emptied the neighborhood. she and her husband and kids are safe, thank goodness, and a neighbor managed to get their cats to a hotel room where he'd corralled pets from all over their area; yesterday afternoon they reunited with my fur-niece and -nephew. but spot-fires have been hopscotching through the area, the neighbor has been going back up the hill to try to prepare his house and douse what he can, and it looks like he and my sister might both lose their houses. she gave him a short list of things to save if he could make it back to their home: rings, baby books, a picture, and taco. i've been fixated on that detail since she texted it to me, the idea of this endless animate paperweight hunched among pine shavings as flames lick the sides of his terrarium. i am not interested in using that twist of fate to explore the contours of another; in fact, i keep thinking about exactly what that situation would feel like, if i was a fist-sized turtle named taco. the air graying out, and the pine blooming.

08.11.20

[i took over sending my and my friends' virtual-relay-race newsletter for the week (we're about a dozen pals pooling our miles to "run" from brooklyn to berkeley to raise money for feeding america).]
Hello from Manhattan, everyone! Lauren here, chiming in on the Lower East Side to report that the 194 miles we logged as a team this week have moved us westward to within 421 miles of our goal; with a bit of athletic tape, self-talk, and gumption, we could be in Berkeley in two weeks! With 86% of the journey behind us, we’re up to $3,483.15 in pledges raised, and I have personally performed (symbolic) Viking funerals for three pairs of no-show socks on the East River. I recently disappeared into an Internet-research vortex of what a Sock Afterlife might entail and, at least according to some theories of puppets and reincarnation posted on an Arabic Facebook page, it’s pretty complicated. My actual socks reached some sort of secret terminus on the wheel of time because upcycling them would have been biological warfare.

Our team cartographer reports that Google Maps has taken us off-road for the week, and that we’re camped out parallel to the 305 between Mt. Tobin and Mt. Moses, just past Battle Mountain, NV.

I have a soft spot — a lymph node, if you will — for Battle Mountain, which the Washington Post’s Gene Weingarten named the Armpit of America back in 2001. A year later, the people of Battle Mountain banded together

…to stage the inaugural Festival in the Pit, celebrating with the slogan "Only Inches From Your Heart." Word of the event spread around the country, eventually reaching the marketing department of Procter & Gamble Co.'s Old Spice deodorant brand.

Old Spice, not one to miss a golden opportunity themselves, approached Battle Mountain community leaders early this year about the brand becoming the corporate sponsor for this year's festival, held this past weekend.

Thus were born such unique events as a "deodorant toss," where contestants attempted to heave Old Spice deodorant through a target. Then, there was the "Sweat T-shirt Contest," taking a page out of MTV's spring break wet T-shirt contests except there were no bikini-clad young women, just men and children willing to be drenched with a water hose and to show off their "pits."


Bless.

We’ve pulled up our socks and gathered for a drink at the Owl Club Casino & Restaurant, a foodless bar and hotel when Weingarten visited in 2001 and a place that “would do well even in a big city” per Yelpers now. (“Cold eggs were delivered to everyone who ordered them.” “Clean strange bathrooms in the casino.”) I like the cut of the Owl Club’s jib; some sources say that it has been in operation for a century, while others claim it closed in 1999. Per Special Agent Dale Cooper: Don’t plan it, don’t wait for it, just let it happen.

Thank you for following along! Stay well, and every day, once a day, give yourself a present.

LMO

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.