Mentions | Summer 2021 ​


Hudson Yards food carts |


There’s no shortage of writing about how bad this place is, but it bears repeating: Hudson Yards is an anti-neighborhood, a place to go in New York City if you hate New York City. The project’s developer, The Related Companies, is a caricature of movie villain proportions, from its semantically inane name to its Trump-boosting, drone-racing owner, Stephen Ross, to its latest plot to eradicate the Yards’s sole redeeming feature: food carts. Nowadays, vendors attempting to sell melon on a hot day might find their regular parking spaces taken over by gargantuan flower planters and extrusive landscaping. Those that prevail are treated to NYPD fines, in spite of de Blasio’s promise to cut back cart searches. The vendors are organizing with the excellent Street Vendor Project, but unlike Ross, few can count on a cash influx from their parents, and Related’s appetite is unyielding: it will continue to evict any trace of unpolished city life. Or maybe it represents what city life has become. What says post-Bloomberg Manhattan more than an 80-year-old billionaire denying a pedestrian a hot dog?


Design Home |


Design Within Reach armchairs are actually within reach in this app that allows you to roleplay as an interior decorator. Warning: too much time may pass as you stock up on mid-century benches for Miami timeshares, wicker stools for coastal balconies in Cape Cod, and a wagon wheel coffee table for “an industrial living room” in Brooklyn on behalf of a “video editor” with curiously ample income. It’s all fun and games until your digital wallet runs dry, and you find yourself reaching for your IRL Mastercard instead.


169 Water Street |


The classic walk-through video, a low-rent, shaky-cam affair that conceals as much as reveals, is familiar to any would-be home-buyer. But recently, real estate auteurs have attempted to elevate the genre. This video by Halstead Property adds a meta twist: mocking the rituals of home sales prep in order to sell the house. “Is the film crew here?” the self-described “pesky owner” asks at the outset, primping her hair for the camera. The agent demurs, ever-conscious of the actual film crew. But as she begins to prepare the property, her duties are disrupted by a series of “unexpected” obstacles. A bespectacled playwright, struck by sudden inspiration, refuses to leave the home office; a shirtless man hops in the shower; a baby takes over the couch. Another agent, patronizing and bowtied rival, appears on the roof to run down the house’s finer selling points (all to include in the “real” video). Here’s life as it could be, should you purchase the townhouse for $4,595,000: hamfisted tomfoolery, “affordable” monthlies, and passive aggression. The low-grade melancholia of inhabiting a lifestyle ad comes free. 


Darryl |


In Jackie Ess’s new novel, the titular 45-year-old fetishist likes to watch men fuck his wife, an activity from which he derives “vicarious athletic enjoyment.” He is a cuck, but “not a Republican;” a pluralist, but “not a political guy;” an ally, but not a feminist. (“I’m not trying to be,” he assures the reader.) In an attempt to impress his favorite bull, Darryl even becomes a “sports guy,” imagining being cucked by LeBron James himself. “I basically don’t belong in this world,” says Darryl, a character of notably digital origins – his consciousness mediated and mutilated by surveillance, his worldview bitterly but often hilariously organized by principles of identity, nomenclature and the sort of overdetermined self-reflection that runs amok online. Some of today’s flashiest fiction takes up the internet as its subject — sometimes explicitly, showing characters caught in its throes, or formally, in prose designed to mimic the fragmentation of digital life. Darryl doesn’t obviously fall into this tradition; Ess writes in a fairly standard first-person confessional, and its narrator is disposed more to Reddit than Twitter. But Darryl still typifies the abasement and alienation of life online, leading you to wonder if the novel, too, has been cucked by the World Wide Web.


Prime ads during Mad Men |


When Mad Men first premiered, it played ad-free on the AMC channel and later on Netflix. The show recently moved to Amazon Prime, where most episodes feature upwards of seventeen ads (many of them Amazon’s own). In one plotline, Don Draper tells Heinz to stop trying to sell beans and ketchup separately: it’s just Heinz — not an assortment of products that share a manufacturer so much as a signifier, a name that represents the vast expanse of processed American cuisine. In a Doritos ad that plays during commercial breaks, a voice-over emphasizes that the triangular orange chip, with its well-established brand recognition, need not even be named. But Amazon dispenses with subtlety, superimposing directions around the edge of the screen: “Don’t forget it, just list it. Just say, ‘Alexa, add Doritos to my cart.’” As Don loses Heinz to another agency less concerned with semiotics, Amazon overrides both Mad Men and Doritos for trying to make advertising appear anything other than a blatant grab for cash.


Subject to Review |


This stylish, slant short by Theo Anthony, available on ESPN+, is about the philosophical implications of the Hawk-Eye computer system in tennis, which uses cameras to track the trajectory of balls and judge whether they are in or out. Unfortunately, it’s hard to make a sports documentary about anything more interesting than the players themselves. The film should have more moments depicting mid-aughts tennis stars rebelling against their new cyclops god; in one of the few, from the 2007 Wimbledon finals, Roger Federer approaches the umpire and contests a shot from Rafael Nadal that Hawk-Eye determined “in” by one millimeter. “You can’t turn it off?” he asks. Good question.


Henry Cavill's gaming PC |


Last summer, the English actor of Snyder-cut fame shared an Instagram video documenting his assembly of a new computer. Cavill, a vocal appreciator of video games, exemplifies the Mr. Potato Head school of acting. This is, of course, a compliment. Cavill cuts an undisguisable profile. His characters’ costumes (Superman’s spandex, a white wig in The Witcher) serve to emphasize, rather than hide, his protagonist-shaped face and physique. The DIY video features Cavill as a tinkering nerd, costumed at home, too: bearded and tank-topped, absolutely rippling out of it. Poor guy — even his attempts at earnest everyman scan as superhuman. Over Barry White’s honeyed bass, the post shows Cavill fiddling with little screws and delicate parts, culminating in a shot of the finished computer. Its exposed guts glow, cycling through a technicolor spectrum. In this image — revealing the insides of a geeky machine as carefully constructed as its maker — lies the most charming glimpse into Cavill yet caught on camera.


Blaze |


Country artists from Hank Williams, Jr. to Blake Shelton have written ballads about what makes them country. Blaze Foley, a rowdy, rumpled fixture in the Texas music scene of the ’70s and ’80s, had no need for such self-mythology. Equal parts lore and biopic, this film tells Foley’s tragedy through the voices of his friends, sampling real interviews from Townes Van Zandt and Gurf Morlix. From the treehouse he shared with his wife Sybil to the few Texas honky-tonks that hadn’t banned him for brawling, Blaze toted his only possessions along — a jacket and a guitar, both held together by duct tape. Shot and killed at thirty-nine while defending a friend, he never achieved fame, but his songs reached millions through chart-topping covers by John Prine, Willie Nelson, and Merle Haggard. The film’s juxtaposition of two Blaze Foleys — the rambling, alcoholic vagabond and the gentle hero — leaves us wondering whom to believe. In the chasm between tall tales and tragic realities, the legend of this unpretentious, unknown cowboy has room to grow.


The Chopin Project |


Before Ólafur Arnalds served as the drummer for hardcore Icelandic bands like Fighting Shit, he grew up listening to Chopin at his grandmother’s house. For this 2015 album, Arnalds and the German-Japanese pianist Alice Sara Ott scouted out vintage instruments in Reykjavik, then overlaid their tones with snippets of the 21st century soundscape — ambient noise, clips of conversation, whispers, and rain. These nine tracks of spatial sounds and gadgetry conclude on 30 seconds of decaying static: the technologically altered silence of a white noise machine.


@SpaceLiminalBot |


This Twitter bot imports pictures from r/LiminalSpace, a popular subreddit filled with captionless posts of empty atriums, hallways, terminals, and highways — familiar things in unfamiliar contexts, both cinematic and banal. Unlike the subreddit, which accepts a range of posts from members, the bot is curated; its images cohere into a consistent aesthetic. A pinned tweet provides the account’s only guidelines: “Reposts, pictures/videos with people in them, and off-topic (non-liminal) posts are NOT allowed,” though the latter rule is often broken (see: dolphin-shaped toilet paper holder). The collective impression of these visual in-betweens is at once nostalgic, apocalyptic, and surprisingly meaningful — unlike when anyone uses the term “liminal space” in a graduate seminar.


Martin Schoeller |


This German photographer nabbed a recent New Yorker assignment (taking Wendy Williams’s portrait for the May 24 issue), but the Obama years were his golden age. He shot the cover of Andre Agassi’s occasionally deranged 2009 memoir, “Open,” then gave his signature treatment — high-def close-ups, with operating-table illumination predating the democratization of ring lights — to Zuckerberg, Bezos, Trump, and a litany of Hollywood A-listers (also, once, a group of mixed-race people for a 2013 National Geographic story, which declared that “race is no longer so black and white”). Schoeller manages to capture his subjects as both babyish and godlike, making the stars he photographs appear just like us: narcissistic. Ultimately, the thing more people should know is that he’s a white guy with dreads.


The line to enter the Alice Neel exhibit at The Met |


Amid this exhibit’s glowing reviews and deserved recommendations, few have mentioned the inevitable hour-long line that visitors will have to weather before they can enter the must-see show, aptly titled “People Come First.” The line snakes through several galleries; on weekends, it stretches as far as the “Ancient Near East.” The outcome is a forced contemplation of works that one might have otherwise rushed past, both on the walls and in the murmurings of would-be Neel-gazers, anticipating their eventual entry. “The literary canon is all white men,” a woman examining a creamy Rodin sculpture told her friend. “He is toxic and I don’t want to talk shit about him,” another guest-in-waiting noted, hands crossed before Stuck’s Inferno. An elderly woman in a wheelchair scanned a room of “Classical Art from Cyprus” in awe: “I have never seen so much rock!”


The Art of Escapism Cooking |


Mandy Lee, a Taiwanese-Canadian architect, is not trained as a chef and has never worked in a restaurant. She taught herself to cook in China, while coping with alternating depression and anger at the pollution, censorship, and urban anomie of Beijing. This book, her first, began as an “angry food blog” popular for its surprising flavor combinations, elegant photography, and acerbic writing. Lee’s recipes grow out of love not only for street food and classic dishes, but also for straight-up comfort junk, which she makes from scratch. There’s nothing new about drawing on transcontinental cultural traditions, but the way she converts sausage into cornflakes, stuffs mochi into challah, and devotes an entire chapter to dog food leaves you wondering if she’s a dedicated heretic or just pure agnostic.


Trilliums |


These propeller-like plants take seven years to bloom from seed, with deep rooting that immunizes them against unseasonal chills. They blossom for just a single month per annum: mere weeks ago, millions unfurled across Canada; they will resume hibernation within days. The three-petalled perennial is Ontario’s official flower — a status it shares, across an ecologically invisible border to the south, with the state of Ohio. The Ojibwe people of Southern Canada traditionally harvested its roots to induce labor during childbirth. Toronto’s Gothic Revival architecture adapted their starry shape into its signature gingerbread gables. Now, teenagers use trillium-spangled fake IDs to buy booze underage, while their grandparents pay for hip replacements with similarly decorated health cards. If plucked, the fleeting trefoil ceases flowering for years, so various species are protected in Michigan, Minnesota, and New York. These native plants run like a thread of aesthetic sinew through North American culture, neat illustrations of the natural world cutting through the borders we’ve made for ourselves.


Copyright © The Drift 2021