Mentions | Issue 6 ​

JONATHAN AGIN, ERIK BAKER, SARAH BOCHICCHIO, TEDDY BURNETTE, ANDREW BURTON, EMMELINE CLEIN, MIKAELA DERY, ADIN DOBKIN, AUSTIN GROSSMAN, BRIAN HARKIN, JOSEPH ILARDI, SOPHIE LALANI, CHARLIE LEE, HUW NESBITT, SOPHIA NGUYEN, TERRY NGUYEN, MAX NORMAN, YEN PHAM, MEGHAN RACKLIN, CAL REVELY- CALDER, MAX SALTMAN, ANNIE LYALL SLAUGHTER, NIV M. SULTAN, ERIKA UNDELAND, SIMON WU, BRIAN ZAYATZ

Burning Boy |

NON-FICTION

Paul Auster’s 2021 biography of Stephen Crane begins with a justification for its own existence — that, in spite of Crane’s significance in the development of modernism, the average contemporary reader rarely engages with him. It ends after 751 pages, however, without effectively making a case for why the former should care about the latter. In scenes from his brief, 28-year life, Auster describes Crane scraping by: questioning the non-responses of peers, letting need rather than inspiration drive his output, counting down the days until publication — and a paycheck — arrives, sometimes regretting his haste. There’s no romantically ordinary day job that gives way to nighttime frenzies; only Crane’s desire to earn the epithet “writer.” The reader sees a young person wanting to write, grappling with the difficulty of making a dignified life doing it. Some 28-year-old writers, not yet dead, may at least recognize that.

A.D.

Three-hour runtimes |

CINEMA

Many of the marquee films of 2021 were very long; it was challenging to find a new release that didn’t require committing to over two and a half hours. A vicious-cycle dynamic explains some of the metastasis. No need to synthesize your many ideas for the new James Bond into a single coherent narrative when you can stuff them all in there — giving cover to the next filmmaker reluctant to kill their darlings. If Bond can be Lawrence of Arabia-length, why can’t Netflix bundle three R.L. Stine adaptations into a five hour and 28 minute viewing experience? Other movies, more forgivably, seem to have deliberately padded their runtimes to deliver the kind of cineplex spectacle theatrical audiences missed out on last year. The makers of Dune, for instance, understood that taking in a masterpiece was not really the point of returning to the theater. The point was to leave the house, sit with friends in the dark, and watch big worms in the desert.

E.B.

Dial Up |

DATING

In an age of meticulously edited Tinder profiles, this voice-chatting app provides a low-stakes alternative to the elusive fantasy of stumbling into conversation with a stranger. Users sign up for a time slot based on their particular interests — books, music, tarot reading — and get automatically paired in anonymous one-on-one conversations. The Dial Up encounter has a peculiar intimacy, as well as an easy escape: to end a bad date, you can just hang up.

S.L.

The Majorca Daily Bulletin (Sunday–Monday 26–27 September 2021) |

LOCAL NEWS

If you happen to be in Mallorca and dabble in light conservatism, this free English-language newspaper for Spain’s Balearic Isles can be found in most expat bars. In its pages you’ll learn that the graffiti in the capital is “extremely ugly” and “getting worse by the day,” that the exiled president of Catalonia is a “separatist leader,” that the post-Covid return of “normality” means “another ‘avalanche’ of migrants,” and that Mallorca is actually spelled “Majorca” (it is not, except by Brits). The stories are proudly consistent in their stance: the world is engulfed in chaos, except for the part of it that, however Catalan, will forever be a corner of England abroad.

C.R.-C.

"Poog" |

PODCAST

The success of this comedy series has thankfully relieved it of the need to pretend to be about something. Putatively wellness-themed, the real draw is hosts Kate Berlant and Jacqueline Novak’s freewheeling metaphysical comedy. Come for the bone broth and Barbara Sturm, but stay for the dissections of why the can is constitutive of the Pringles experience (concealing what they would otherwise be: air-baked Lays), or how there’s nothing interesting to say about how the passage of time feels simultaneously fast and slow. From “Poog,” listeners may realize they, too, possess the superstition that we hold on some unconscious level the knowledge of everything that will happen to us in life.

Y.P.

Felixes |

LITERARY FICTION

Last year’s hot new releases by Lauren Oyler, Clare Sestanovich, and Sally Rooney all feature a love interest named Felix, and no one will say why. It’s the kind of convergence that nags at you, like learning that 99 percent of exported bananas are genetically identical: one fungus could wipe out the whole crop.

S.N.

Fragments of an Infinite Memory: My Life with the Internet |

NON-FICTION

Maël Renouard’s internet memoir begins with the 42-year-old, Prix Goncourt-nominated French author wondering what it would be like if Google could recall every footstep he’d ever taken. It ends with him contemplating the pitfalls of digital life, remarking that, with the mass transfer of culture to the online world, we have become “capable of forgetting nothing and incapable of remembering anything at all.” In the future, this geriatric millennial intones, digital natives won’t conceal their secrets in the abyss of memory; they’ll “bury them in the infinite” for anyone to find. Renouard’s anxieties about the internet — beyond that his SEO is currently dominated by the scandal that he allegedly wrote a biography for his former boss, ex-prime minister François Fillon, on taxpayer money — read like dated technological fantasies turned sour. Fortunately for him, most Zoomers know the internet isn’t an eternal domain, but a bunch of cables and boxes that, like human beings, might not even survive the climate apocalypse.

H.N.

Last Night in Soho |

FILM

The people who cast this psychological thriller accurately surmised I would see it for the opportunity to gape at Anya Taylor-Joy, but the payoff of its ending — intended as a redemptive feminist turn — requires its viewers, like its creators, to have bought into the film’s presumption of female helplessness and naiveté in the first place.

Y.P.

“Effect of Shrink Wrapping on Shelf Life of Bananas” |

This article from a high-impact agricultural science journal proves beyond doubt that bananas are nature’s biggest loser. What else would you call something that spends its whole life growing a peel inferior to shrink-wrap, which, per this paper’s anal-retentive statistical analysis, extends “the shelf life and maintained the quality of banana fruits for 14 days”? Francis Bacon’s scientific method reaches its zenith in the glistening sheen of fruit life-extension technology. No longer will the soil’s extravagant gifts grow without regard for efficiency or human convenience. Instead, we sentence them to live and die according to our whims, without hope of apeel.

J.-P.H.

Tomás Nevinson |

NOVEL

Many people who run away aren’t missing in the milk-carton sense; they’ve simply drawn up new lives elsewhere. In Javier Marías’s novel, a British secret agent named Tomás Nevinson is tasked with unraveling the pasts of three women, one of whom was supposedly involved in ETA terrorist attacks a decade earlier. Under the alias Centurión, he decamps to a midsize Spanish city where fog is common but evidence is hard to come by. As Nevinson searches, identities blur, and facts are obscured by a fog of their own. In a world where even cities have pseudonyms, guilt can be slippery, and there’s more than one reason to run away. In Marías’s hands, this inscrutability is evidence of a better era, one in which getting truly lost was plausible, a time he treats with such tenderness and obvious preference to the present that it registers as almost unreal: the 1990s.

B.H.

Bleecker Street’s plant-based community fridge |

YUPPIES

Overthrow New York, a quasi-political gentrifier boxing gym, is also home to the city’s first communal fridge that refuses to feed meat-eaters. Beside the high-end retailers of Bleecker Street, its black and pink community-led pantry houses free plant-based meals — pre-packaged soba noodles and locally grown kale — organized by the same juice cleansers who pay $36 per class to get kicked around by “Pistol Pete.” Health food is infamously overpriced, but conflating the PLANT- BASED messaging and #veganzone rhetoric of Overthrow’s Bowery denizens with the needs of Manhattan’s underfed is insensitive at best. Maybe the studio should heed its own slogan — “New York: What Are You Fighting For?” — and, with unclenched fists, consider the caloric intake of a browned banana.

A.L.S.

Bear |

FICTION

A scandal at the time of its original publication, this 1976 Marian Engel novel, reissued last year, is about the difficulty of finding one’s way in life, the power of nature to heal, and more straightforwardly, a woman who fucks a bear. The woman is Lou, an unhappy librarian spending the summer at a remote house in northern Canada. The house comes with an unlikely romantic prospect: the beast chained up in the back- yard. What follows is, to say the least, imprudent, but there is a logic to it. One can read in this how deeply Lou needs to create a new story, and how little use the old ones have been. Yes, the bear sex is neither safe nor sensible but then, neither is a lot of sex.

A.G.

Cooking With Paris |

REALITY TV

Paris Hilton doing what she does best: letting cameras follow her around as she awkwardly completes basic tasks. In this new Netflix show, she cooks in minidresses and rhinestone-dusted fingerless gloves, decorates dishes with edible gold, and stomps around grocery stores in stilettos — once stopping a sales associate to ask what chives are. Wielding Swarovski-encrusted spatulas, Hilton reveals the basic absurdity of the notion that ultra-rich celebrities would ever be “relatable” in their kitchens. Namely, she rinses meat with bottled water.

E.C.

The Metallica Blacklist |

ALBUM

This four-hour, 53-track compilation, released in September for the original album’s 30th anniversary, includes twelve covers of the Metallica hit “Nothing Else Matters” and seven of “Sad But True” — a so-called “blacklist” that rivals only Senator Joe McCarthy’s in size and superfluity. Some covers, particularly those from non-metal contributors like Phoebe Bridgers, Flatbush Zombies, and Kamasi Washington, are worth listening to, but most barely differ from the originals. My advice: choose your ten favorite tracks, and use the remaining three hours to learn the guitar; Metallica may need fresh collaborators for their next project.

J.I.

The Power of the Dog |

FILM

Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog takes a while to get where it’s going, but where it does go is ultimately worth the watch: a contention that the largely isolated lives of the men of the recently settled West were not as homogeneous as the genre’s mainstays would suggest. Instead, the film presents a cast of male characters taking significant liberties in their respective interpretations of masculinity, though generally still at the expense of a baleful Kirsten Dunst. In this way, Campion does for the Western what others have done for the mob movie. Still, I was left wanting for some interrogation of what white ranchers were doing out there in the first place, besides exploring their sexualities.

B.Z.

Cose Morbide Gratuite |

COSTUME

In this collection, staged on live models at the West End Theater in October, artist and designer Allison Morgan presents a loving but acerbic vision of Venetian Renaissance fashion: less leisure fantasy than decadent commedia dell’arte. Unlike the stoic sitters of Bronzino paintings, Morgan’s models — sporting bug-shaped plushies, bulbous dresses, or sleeves styled from their garments’ internal architecture — accentuate the absurd excesses of the time. The theatrics are the point: if Morgan’s puffed silhouettes and bloated headdresses didn’t clue you in, the mise-en-scène might. The costumes came out in a parade, set to live opera. These people were ridiculous and fallible; they just had really good clothes.

S.B.

r/FridgeDetective |

FORUM

Like a gustatory version of MTV’s “Cribs,” this subreddit lets you creep the interiors of various users’ refrigerators and extrapolate assumptions about their lives, whereabouts, and income levels. Some users posit hyper-specific theories about the folks behind the fridges, while others argue about the nutritional value of eggs. The posts vary, but it’s the extremes that elicit the most inspired projections. In response to a fridge packed exclusively with plastic water bottles, one user wrote, “You’re 42 years old. Female. You live in the Pacific Northwest. Near Grangeville Idaho, but you work across the border in Oregon. … You read Chaucer, but hate it.”

S.L.

Heritage Store Rosewater Spray |

SKINCARE

The only ingredients are purified water and rose flower oil, but the water — or rather, “Vor-Mag (TM)” — has been “vortexed and magnetized to raise the energy to a higher vibration,” a description that’s possibly illegal and almost definitely bullshit but makes sense in context. The bottle says the product was recommended by Edgar Cayce, noted turn-of-the-century psychic, who died in 1945, and whose trances revealed a surprising amount of skincare advice (he supposedly favored a mixture of peanut oil, olive oil, rosewater, and lanolin for the complexion and suggested twice-monthly mud packs). The endorsement links a beauty product sold on Whole Foods shelves to the labyrinthine terrain of American mysticism — Cayce has been called both the “father of holistic medicine” and a forefather of the American New Age, with trance-induced “readings” that covered everything from the Akashic records and astral projection to reincarnation and the myth of Atlantis — reminding users that the pursuit of beauty is always at least as much about faith and a belief in impossible things as it is about treatments backed by clinical trials.

M.R.

Saucony Jazz |

FOOTWEAR

The sneaker company — whose signature design represents three boulders in the Saucony Creek, near its founders’ birthplace — released the Jazz the year Reagan was sworn in. Even then, this playful trainer was a visual throwback; it looked like something your Mod father might have worn to class, back when union jobs were commonplace and austerity just meant a stern manner of speech. Two years later, Rod Dixon solidified the brand as a leader in long-distance footwear when he wore a pair during his New York City Marathon win. But the octogenarian brand would soon be permanently blown out by a teenage Nike, after the latter doubled down on the sort of “visible technology” exemplified by the absurd polyurethane “bubble” in the sole of its Air Max. This was an early portent of both the ugliest sneaker ever produced, the Nike Shox, and an aggressive sequence of Reaganesque names: the Killshot, the Air Force 1, and the semantically confusing Air Stab. But as sneaker militarism continued to proliferate, some still preferred to just float down a gentle creek.

J.A.

Complete Viper Discography |

SPREADSHEET

The Houston-based rapper Viper — who attracted a late-2000s cult following for his deep-fried album art and long titles (You’ll Cowards Don’t Even Smoke Crack, for one, or Fuck tha World It Ain’t Real I Bend tha Spoon wit My Mind 2) — may be one of America’s most prolific musicians. His 1,900-odd self-released mixtapes, albums, and singles could daunt even die-hard fans. But in July 2020, Redditor u/ViperJust4UOnly posted a spreadsheet to the rapper’s subreddit. The sprawling, alphabetized list catalogs Viper’s entire discography since his first release in 2003, including repeats with adjusted titles, artwork, and tracks. The uncredited archivist records each song’s name, date, and alternate versions, and includes a category for additional notes called “Special Characteristics.” Some of these characteristics are special, indeed (“These boobs on the cover are at least F cup,” for instance), but many reflect an obsession to rival that of the rapper himself. For Viper’s 1,196th album, Sexy Ladies Sexy Ladies Sexy Ladies 7, this anonymous Alan Lomax writes, “There’s an 11 minute acapella track here that must be heard to be believed.”

M.S.

Hims on the subway |

ADS

Anything can become phallic if you give male advertisers enough time; in a way, the subway’s an easy target. Lately, NYC trains have been plastered with a series of Hims ads, promoting the home-delivery erectile dysfunction pills with soft fonts and coy imagery: the shaft of a cactus, a limp plant, a bursting bottle of champagne. When models appear, they sport cut bodies, strong jawlines, and girlfriends holding them very close. Gone are the days of elderly couples promoting Cialis from sad, unsexy bathtubs. Hims isn’t marketing to older Republican senators, New York magazine argued, but to their “woke grandson,” who orders pills from the Equinox locker room post-workout. Hims has knocked down one of the last bastions of advertising geared towards the elderly. Next up for billboards? A twenty-something, chiseled man with his gorgeous wife in tow, leaning on his walker, slowly heading downtown for a wild night.

T.B.

Stooping NYC |

INSTAGRAM

Now that all of New York City’s unwanted furniture is instantly advertised to 193k eager Instagram followers, stooping is no longer a laid back pastime; it’s a race.

E.U.

Dopesmoker |

ALBUM

This 63-minute, one-song recording by ’90s metal trio Sleep is the apotheosis of tacky stoner art — a slow, repetitive pilgrimage to the “Marijuana Holy Lands” that’s heavier than a truck full of Black Sabbath records. The album might only be in its twenties, but at a time when recreational pot is legal for 45 percent of the country, it feels like an ancient relic. Now that cannabis dispensaries resemble Equinox gyms, Sleep’s droning mix of goofiness and transgression is a life-affirming antidote to the sterile aesthetic that often accompanies legal weed — a reminder that it was once actually cool to smoke up.

A.B.

tick, tick... BOOM! |

MUSICAL

This film pays tribute to the late playwright Jonathan Larson (Andrew Garfield), to victims of the AIDS epidemic, and to Stephen Sondheim (Bradley Whitford), who championed Larson’s work when encouragement was rare, and who passed away a week after the movie began streaming on Netflix. In a giddier homage to titans of the craft, a cavalry of Broadway superstars performs a musical number set in a diner. But director Lin-Manuel Miranda nearly sinks the scene with his cameo as a cook, taking the spotlight seemingly to admit himself into the pantheon. A reminder that odes illuminate both subjects and singers.

N.M.S.

Topo Chico |

WATER

Once a uniquely Tex-Mex and Latin American staple, this sparkling water has seemingly garnered a countrywide cult following, much to the displeasure of its Texas day-ones. One explanation: the brand, which sources naturally carbonated water from Monterrey, Mexico, was acquired by Coca-Cola in 2017, prompting a nationwide expansion plan — including a hard seltzer launch this past summer. But even the world’s biggest beverage company couldn’t stave off a raw materials (glass) shortage and shipping delays. “Extremely strong consumer demand,” according to a widely circulated press statement, doesn’t help with its growing scarcity. On Topo Chico’s website, the defunct “Where to Buy” page broadcasts an error message in bold, all-caps text: “Now Look What You’ve Done!” The rebuke initially reads like a dig at Big Soda but meanders towards resignation: “They say there’s no use crying over spilt milk… because it’s milk, not Topo.”

T.N.

“Vintage Paintings” |

ART

In 2015, Maggie Lee released Mommy — a frenetic, devastating film about processing her mother’s passing. It was sad and raw and expressed itself through a combination of “girly” suburban aesthetics, hard techno, and webcam-inspired confessionals. Since then, Lee has continued this DIY-meets-Tumblr approach to art-making with an installation in Nordstrom called “Daytime Sparkles” and a Photobooth portrait on a billboard in Chinatown. Her newest set of paintings, exhibited November 6 through December 18 at New York gallery Jenny’s Karaoke, solidify her nostalgic aesthetics not as a fad, but as an earnest exploration of their allusive capabilities. The paintings are small and fearlessly craftsy — a canvas wrapped in shiny pink gift wrap, another with cut-out magazine pictures of jelly shoes, a third marked only with the words “Much Finer.” Text often sneaks into her pictures, culled from the glossary of suburban psychobabble. A cut-and-paste canvas reads: “Sprinkle powdered tart jelly. Sprinkle top as for a jelly roll. Cake.” One announces: “I’m from New Jersey,” twice. 

S.W.

letsdig18 |

YOUTUBE

It’s probably safe to assume that you have never had the sublime pleasure of shaping the earth with the powerful arm of a 40-ton-plus excavator. Most haven’t. But some 550,000 followers have made do by watching YouTube’s most distinguished professional excavator rescuer, Chris Guin, rescue excavators from excavations gone awry. His magnum opus is “The Worst Excavator Recovery of My Career” — a 41-minute saga in which Chris, piloting a hulking Volvo digger, liberates another excavator sunk up to its cockpit in a swamp, raking away the muck with preternatural speed and dexterously laying wooden pads to give the other digger traction. At the rescue’s denouement, the machines lock buckets in a metallic embrace, and Chris gives the stuck digger an iron hand to pull itself loose. The satisfaction of watching a gargantuan machine move with Balanchine grace borders on existential. We all sink into holes we dig ourselves; Chris just doesn’t have patience for that nonsense.

 

M.N.

Imaginary Friends |

MUSICAL

Fans of Nora Ephron films are familiar with her honeyed version of the Upper West Side, where kind, sunny heroines overcome hardships and find love in perfect fall weather, so perhaps it’s not surprising that audience members at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre in 2002 were slightly shocked to find that the only musical she wrote is set in hell. There, the esteemed writers Lillian Hellman and Mary McCarthy rehash their (very real) lifelong feud, which began at Sarah Lawrence in 1948 and, infamously, reached fever pitch in 1979 when the latter said on live television that “every word” the former wrote was “a lie, including ‘and’ and ‘the.'” Hellman sued McCarthy, kicking off a legal battle that lasted until Hellman died. In Imaginary Friends, Ephron sidelines her usual formula of softness in favor of the gleeful viciousness characteristic of her essays — where friction, pettiness, and carefully placed venom are often given free rein. “It’s just too easy to say that the reason women fight with each other is because they’re jealous,” McCarthy says in one scene. “Absolutely,” Hellman responds, “we had plenty of reasons to dislike each other.”

M.D.

Storm |

FICTION

The most ardent fans of this 1949 George R. Stewart novel tend to be meteorologists — rarely a good sign. Some consider Storm the first ecological novel; it follows the twelve-day lifespan of its protagonist (a literal storm named Mariah) with eye-watering detail. The book is remarkably boring, but it avoids the pitfalls that have ensnared today’s cloying eco-novels, which tend to be solipsistic introspection dramas of bourgeois climate dread. Storm, refreshingly, does not feign any interest in humanity. Its dullness is the result of an immersion in the tedium of climatology rather than any defect of narrative. Through digressions on isobars, wind patterns, and levee failures, Storm offers a choice: follow its gee-whiz ramblings with wonkish absorption, or confront your own laziness. Either way, Stewart suggests, the storm will come, finding each of us “staring out stupidly, looking a little perturbed but just waiting for somebody else to straighten things out.”

 

C.L.

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