Mentions | Issue 7 ​


Titanic Conspiracies |


The Titanic’s demise might seem like a closed case: boat hits iceberg, boat sinks. But since the royal mail steamer submerged, some have mythologized its failure to both laughable and persuasive ends. Take, for example, the fact that several prominent survivors, including three Vanderbilts and J.P. Morgan, pulled a Seth MacFarlane and narrowly missed the trip. Could Morgan have orchestrated the tragedy to kill his rivals? A 1912 Washington Post article puts forth a somewhat less plausible theory: that on-board artifacts, tainted by “the avenging spirit of an Egyptian priestess who died in the holy city of Thebes,” doomed the voyage from the start. Others believe the owners, White Star Line, swapped the original vessel for a shittier and highly-insured alternative; Redditors now trade pictures of the portholes as proof. The title of one of Robin Gardiner’s four books about the conspiracies sort of sums it all up: Titanic: The Ship That Never Sank?


Everything Everywhere All at Once |


The latest A24 hit arrived to ecstatic reviews and a shocking, meaningless rise to the position of Letterboxd’s official favorite movie. The film is full of ambition and clever visual gags — hot dog fingers! a raccoon chef! — so it seems almost quibbling to note that the story of an overburdened, underappreciated, and unremarkable person who discovers they are responsible for saving the world, and have the power to do it, is also the plot of Harry Potter and Percy Jackson. If Michelle Yeoh’s Evelyn is shocked at her newfound abilities, she hasn’t read enough Y.A.


“Mohabbat” |


If Obama’s music recommendations are to be believed, he has been listening to Arooj Aftab’s Grammy-winning recording of Hafeez Hoshiarpuri’s Urdu ghazal — which is radically, and refreshingly, different from previous renditions. The song is a heartbreaking anthem of disillusionment in which a former beloved is told, “Your followers will not lessen, but I will not continue to be one of them.” It’s a post-Trump inversion of “Yes We Can,” and sadly befitting of a man whose recent contributions to public life begin and end with Netflix. 


The Chopped & Screwed Revival |


Since Moonlight’s soundtrack brought us the brilliantly lackadaisical chopped and screwed remix of Jidenna’s “Classic Man,” there’s been a noticeable uptick in avant-garde pop stars deepening their vocals and tempo in salute to this codeine- and Sprite-laced genre. Originally emanating from the Houston hip-hop scene of the ’90s, chopped and screwed is known for its slowed-down remixes that leave listeners in a semi-drunken haze. Hints of its auto-testosterone-tuned reverb can be heard across new, subversive projects from FKA twigs (“ride the dragon”), Tinashe (“Bouncin’, Pt. 2”), and Rosalía (“CUUUUuuuuuute”), serving as a pleasant counterbalance to the pixie-pitched, high-speed style of current hyper-pop. Downers and uppers, coexisting at last. 


Out of the Blue |


Even though this Dennis Hopper bildungsroman was a contender for the Palme d’Or when it debuted in 1980, it never had a wide American release. The film — Hopper’s first after The Last Movie in 1971 — follows Linda Manz as Cebe Barnes, a latchkey renegade teen who runs away from home, shrugs off her shrink, and brutalizes the adults who have preyed on her. In a film doomed from the opening scene, Cebe’s closing murder-suicide lands like an act of vigilante justice. “There’s nothing behind it,” she maintains. “It’s a punk gesture.” Maybe. But it offers good reason why, per Metrograph’s promotional materials for its Blue-branded screening series, “Punks Don’t Go Home for Thanksgiving.”


“Synthesis and Characterization of Binary, Highly Endothermic, and Extremely Sensitive 2,2’-Azobis(5-azidotetrazole)” |


This Journal of the American Chemical Society article, which describes how to make one of the most explosive compounds yet discovered, lets cracks of humanity peek through the leaden prose of peer-reviewed science. One can almost imagine the University of Munichbased researchers, after the fifteenth time this new-to-the-universe compound exploded in their faces, hanging up their singed white coats and writing: it “decomposes detonatively under any kind of stress, whether thermal or mechanical, as well as spontaneously in the absence of light.” Unfortunately, this is no innocent coincidence. The group’s work is partially funded by the U.S. military because, it turns out, its explosive expertise encompasses the development of munitions potentially useful in “tunnels and caves” as the “war against terrorism tracks groups such as Al Qaeda to the remote areas of the Mid-East.” Not even the petty frustrations of European chemists can quite escape the global reach of the twenty-first century American war machine.


The Northman |


The aim of Robert Eggers’s take on the Norse legend that inspired Hamlet is neither to celebrate the pagan medieval world nor to critique it, whatever that could mean, but to illuminate its total difference from our own. The charm of the art of the “old peoples,” Karl Marx wrote in the Grundrisse, is “inextricably bound up … with the fact that the unripe social conditions under which it arose, and could alone arise, can never return.” On these terms The Northman is a partial success. Chiseled Nordic bodies engaged in ultraviolent blood sport, psychedelic fugues on Viking mythology, a hackneyed romance, all conducted by a parade of disorientingly familiar Hollywood faces: all weird, but could be weirder. At the end of the day, as far as riffs on Hamlet go, this one is way less reactionary than The Lion King


@the.brisk.god |


This wildlife documentarian for the “content” era — known as “brisk” — cuts together short clips of animals, mostly non-human but always performing some vaguely human action. He accents his subjects’ incongruous behavior with soundtracks of house, trap, or something between funk and groove, and quick close-ups, giving bemused animal expressions the air of YouTubers mugging for the camera. In a recent piece, the unseen filmer offers a grasshopper to a pair of frogs, whereupon another amphibian soars in from off-camera, seizes the hapless bug, and stuffs it down his gullet. The camera cuts back to one of the original pair; he looks wounded, but with a glint of anger. The background music? Young Nudy’s “Revenge.” 


Watergate Salad |


A spectacular mixture of Jell-O pistachio pudding, Dole canned pineapple, Cool Whip, and nuts, the Watergate salad bears famously little resemblance to the garden salad, except in color. “Salad,” a term descended from Old French and Latin, comes from “herba salata,” or “salted vegetables.” An American intervention in the early nineteenth century limited it to lettuce. From there, according to food historian Lynne Olver, the domestic science movement became obsessed with taming the “messy” tossed dish, in favor of more “orderly presentations.” The logical endpoint was the molded gelatin salad, which “offered maximum control.” Jean Baudrillard once accused Nixon’s cover-up of creating a “scandal effect” that concealed the basic sameness of “the facts and their denunciation,” ultimately reinforcing the existing moral and political order. The same can be said of the Watergate salad. What is a salad, after all? Whatever society says it is.


Bridgerton (Season Two) |


There were, to be fair, some Indians living in Regency England (1811-1820), the setting of Netflix’s hit pseudo-period drama with “color-conscious” casting and two Indian half-sisters as protagonists. Some, like the instructors at the Haileybury College for Indian languages in Hertfordshire, even married English women, as Arup K. Chatterjee describes in Indians in London. But they were not exactly bold-faced names. One after another, those men became destitute, paralyzed, and sick; were assaulted by white Britons; insulted by peers; ostracized by students; and, if they didn’t die in a few years, were shipped back to India with meager pensions. After repeated pleas that students show some “humanity and kindness” towards these actual Indians in Regency England, the school admitted defeat and stopped employing Indian instructors in 1823.


Women Running |


If you are a conventionally hot female protagonist in a recent movie release — regardless of how free your time, or how walkable your city — you are bound to be running. Not in the Nikes and spandex of a standard spin around the track, but the halter top and ungenerous denim you’ve been wearing all day. Love simply cannot wait. What Licorice Pizza and The Worst Person in the World teach us, first and foremost, is that it’s no longer acceptable to run only through the airport. If you want to get the guy, you must run everywhere. 


“Chaise Longue” |


Wet Leg’s breakout single, driven by a spare drumbeat and thrumming bass, has earned comparisons to aughts indie-rock favorites, while the band’s bawdy lyrics and singer Rhian Teasdale’s flat delivery complicate The Strokes’s formula with layers of irony and apathy. I am told these qualities are cool, and the music video, which sees the deadpan duo dressed in a faux-peasant style, is mesmerizing, if oddly detached. Soon enough, the guitar riff mercifully kicks into gear, the words become a percussive force, the band drops the pretense, and we can finally dance.


Better Call Saul |


The moral universe of Breaking Bad was a simple one: beneath the sometimes frustrating and undignified veneer of the lawful, mostly white sunbelt suburban middle class lies a murderous, mostly black and brown criminal underworld. As soon as Walter White decides to dip his toe in, the show’s title spoils the inevitable result. Better Call Saul, the spin-off whose final season is airing now after a two-year hiatus, complicates its predecessor’s Manichean worldview. Here, the criminal underworld is more nuanced and human, but where the show really excels is in its portrait of lawful society — and the smug, decadent establishment the law exists to serve. It challenges us to distinguish between actual justice and our base desire to see a satisfying comeuppance for the legal elite.


A Dance to the Music of Time |


Nick Jenkins — the narrator of Anthony Powell’s gargantuan novel about the dissipations and failed dreams of the British mid-century — faces a particular problem: he only learns about major events in his friends’, reviled acquaintances’, and even family’s lives through gossip from some of the dumbest people alive. It’s in the bitter monologues of a psychotic careerist that Nick discovers one of his great childhood friends has disintegrated from years of drink and sexual abuse. A lover, married to a boring brute, abandons Nick and her husband for an even more boring man — a baffling twist revealed to Nick by the brute himself. If some of the novel’s anxieties now seem dated, the tragedy of revelation by way of bumbling morons remains relatable enough. 


Black Wings Has My Angel |


Convict Tim Sunblade, in this sleek 1953 heist story by Elliott Chaze, spends his time in pursuit, and in fear, of the abyss. After escaping from Parchman prison, he links up with a cold, sparkling prostitute named Virginia, and the two plan a robbery while creeping westward from Mississippi through highway towns, getting sunburnt and sloshed. The plan goes down in Denver; it leaves one man dead, and the evidence is heaved down a dilapidated mineshaft in the Rockies. Once flush with cash, though, Sunblade is haunted by what lurks inside the hole: the dead man, his other crimes, and deeper evils, all of which catch up to him with the nightmarish logic of the law. The final, hellish scene takes place on the mine’s rim. While reading, I couldn’t believe that the story hadn’t been adapted by Hollywood yet, but it should stay that way. This book is its own bottomless pit, and bad, boring things will happen if the wrong producers find it.


“Before Yesterday We Could Fly” |


Much like Bridgerton, this Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibit provides delicious evidence that revisionist history can be more chic (and nicer to look at) than the truth. Operating more as a “future room” than a “period room,” it invites the viewer to imagine black generational wealth in a modern-day Seneca Village, had it not been destroyed. It’s a show caught between diasporas, placing artifacts from ancient Cameroon near photographs by contemporary artist Tourmaline. In this world, a young black Manhattanite sets the table for a dinner party with inherited Senegalese plates; Moses Sumney croons from the record player while a dog-eared Parable of the Sower lies open on the ottoman — a beautiful, though unreliable, vision of undisturbed blackness.


Bear Paws |


To everything there is a season. National Catfish Day and World Milk Day belong to June, and, in Alaska anyway, the month also marks the start of a four-month period when people call dispatch services, unsure whether their dog is chewing on a rotting bear paw or human hand. “A lot of people can’t make the determination,” Anchorage-based wildlife trooper James Eyester explained over the phone. Eyester is called in to investigate roughly a paw a week during the summer season. “I can tell in under sixty seconds,” he said. One local hunter wondered why people were leaving severed paws to rot: he often trades his to a local restaurant in exchange for free meals. The paw, he explained, is the tastiest part of the bear.


Bring Me the Head of Quentin Tarantino |


In both the first and last stories of his 2017 collection, Julián Herbert offers reasons for writing: (1) “To give myself the pleasure of depositing a little vomit on those readers who adore straightforward literature,” and (2) “Without fiction, human beings are like Olympic swimming pools with no water.” While Herbert’s appetite for bodily fluids is certainly on display throughout the book — someone vomits on Mother Teresa — his gags aren’t what leave you feeling satisfied. It’s his prose that could fill a swimming pool.


Chiropractor Videos |


Click on one video — “Girl Chiropractor Making Grown Men Cry” (4.4 million views), or “*FIRST TIME* Chiropractic CRACKING on Female Athlete” (17 million), or “ALEXANDRA gets EXTREMELY SATISFYING FULL BODY ASMR CRACKS” (5.6 million), or “MEGA EXPLOSIVE RELEASE OF SPINAL TENSION” (4.1 million) — and the genre will soon become a constant presence in your algorithmic life. These YouTube (and Instagram, and TikTok, and Facebook Watch) chiropractors know that sex sells: the thumbnails almost invariably feature close-ups of spandexed, contorted bodies and faces frozen in orgasmic gasps. But what these chiropractors are trafficking in is really another type of desire, one betrayed in the videos’ comments section. “With my insurance this is the closest I’ll be getting to treatment for my back for a long time,” one commenter posted. Another replied: “Mood.”


A Children’s Bible |


Lydia Millet’s latest novel begins with twelve privileged children and their parents summering in a mansion, and ends with an apocalypse. It’s strangely cheering, in the genre of climate change dystopia, to have a much smaller horror to relate to: who hasn’t peered at their receding hairline and worried about becoming their father? These artsy, educated parents give plenty of cause for concern: they start drinking at breakfast, for instance, and speak with the composed, self-congratulatory air that comes from correcting small but not large problems. When a storm destroys the château, one father explains that the children cannot leave; this would breach the lease agreement. Rather than repair the building, the parents have an ecstasy-fueled orgy. Readers worried how the next generation will judge them may find this book reassuring: look how low the bar has been set.


The Nurse Antigone |


A staged reading of Sophocles’s masterpiece, featuring Margaret Atwood as the blind prophet Tiresias, asks: how many celebrities can we cram onto one Zoom play before it gets too weird? This attempt pushes the far limit, with performances from Taylor Schilling of Orange Is the New Black, Bill Camp of The Queen’s Gambit, Tracie Thoms of Rent, and New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams. The reading, produced by New York-based company Theater of War, explores what a society owes to its dead — and what a society’s dead art forms can offer to its living audiences. The answer: yet another opportunity for millionaires to pay tribute to “front-line workers,” represented here by a trio of real-life nurses playing the chorus. 


Anecdotes |


​​When the daily Berliner Abendblätter debuted in October of 1810, the paper’s editor, playwright and essayist Heinrich von Kleist, hid pieces of anonymous short fiction and miscellany among the important news items of the day. Last year, Sublunary Editions published this collection of von Kleist’s terse little tales translated by Matthew Spencer from an incident of trial by combat in Heligoland to Ivan the Terrible’s favored ambassador to the Bishop of Dijon’s prophesied ascent to a horse shitting onstage in Russia. Kleist’s notable end a murder-suicide alongside his cancer-stricken soulmate at Kleiner Wannsee lake in 1811 may seem at odds with the frequently scatological humor featured here. But the text captures how neatly despair pairs with filthy absurdity, like a condemned soldier begging to be shot “in the asshole, so as not to tear him a new one.” Even lethally depressed Germans love a dirty joke.


“Very Bad Wizards” |


A psychologist and a philosopher ponder human morality in a bar. That sounds like a bad joke; rest assured, it is a podcast. In this series, Cornell University psychology professor David Pizarro and University of Houston philosophy professor Tamler Sommers analyze everything from Carl Jung’s theory of the collective unconscious to “pretty privilege” to low likability in the workplace. The resulting bull sessions make for unpretentious listening, blurring the lines between grad school seminar and stoned confab. The real wizardry lies in how quickly they can oscillate from dissecting Hume’s standard of taste to laughing about Jeffrey Toobin’s lack thereof. 


The Special Relationship |


Heartwarming 2010 entry into the august category of films about “the friendship between two guys,” by Peter Morgan (The Crown, The Queen). The two guys are Bill Clinton (Dennis Quaid) and Tony Blair (Michael Sheen). The rising action is that one of the guys has an affair with Monica Lewinsky. The resolution is that the U.S. and U.K. decide to bomb Kosovo.


@SebaldUte |


Speak, Silence, Carole Angier’s recent 640-page biography of W.G. Sebald, is doggedly, almost perversely thorough. But entirely missing — emblematically, perhaps — is the best authority on Sebald’s personal life: Ute Sebald, the writer’s wife from 1967 until his death in 2001. To be fair, Ute does not speak to any press, though she does maintain a dormant but public Twitter feed. She has tweeted just five times — all marooned family snaps, one featuring the late writer himself — and shared a sixth photo in her avatar: a picture of herself erging at what appears to be a CrossFit gym, in a TEAM USA jersey, grinning with an un-Sebaldian sweetness. The account follows 119 others, including Barack Obama, LeBron James, Jimmy Fallon, Justin Bieber, and something called “Heritage Chauffeurs” — a car service in Wisbech, England, which offers, per one 2015 tweet, “Anti terrorist chauffeurs for hire.”

M.N. |


Amethyst rings, purple hair spray, and a mug with “never question my purpleness” are all on offer, but so is the opportunity to become a purple lobbyist — according to its website’s About page, The Purple Store gives customers “the buying power and clout to get manufacturers to make items in purple, make things just in purple, and package them so you don’t need to buy seven pens you don’t want to get the purple one.” Those who wish to throw an all-purple wedding now know where to invest their extra political energy.


Zoo |


A mysterious pandemic has triggered a rash of animal attacks, sending zoologist Jackson Oz and a ragtag team of archetypes on a 39-episode quest to defeat electric ants, seismic sloths, invisible anacondas, mass human infertility, and the idea that sensible storylines and realistic CGI are a sine qua non for good television. “What were the secrets of the animal’s likeness with, and unlikeness from man?” John Berger once wondered. Who cares, the show answers back. 


“The Football Ramble” |


The war in Ukraine has had many victims, the least important of which may be the vitality of this British soccer show. Conceived on the precipice of the financial crisis as a group of lads chatting about the weekend’s games, its comedy content evolved to include pleas for listeners to send in “mystery meat” and admiration for the apparently limitless sexual appetite of a geriatric Swede who once managed England’s national team. Now hosts discuss “the terrible, terrible situation in Ukraine,” in the tone of 1960s newsreaders. “It’s very difficult to know how all this is going to pan out,” comedian Jim Campbell mused recently. English soccer clubs, it turns out, are owned by sanctioned Russian oligarchs and human-rights-violating Gulf states, not to mention U.S. hedge funds. The experience of watching the show is now one of “cognitive fucking dissonance,” according to Pete Donaldson, the primary mystery meat consumer. This was also largely what the show was, momentarily, helping us avoid. 


“Fundie Fridays” |


This YouTube channel is obsessed with Christian fundamentalism, but proselytizing is not its M.O. Its host, a woman identified only as “Jen,” notes on her About page: “I’m Jen and on my channel I talk about different aspects of Christian fundamentalism while (usually) doing my makeup. Please do not email me!!!!!!!” She and her partner dedicate weekly episodes to unpacking the influence of Big Religion on nearly every sector of American life — from the prolific scandals of the Duggar family (the former TLC darlings with twenty kids); to the social media musings of Ben Shapiro’s sister, Classically Abby; to the ideological underpinnings and shocking profits of VeggieTales — all while applying eyeshadow. Jen may be a left-leaning atheist, but she has inspired a certain zealotry; her acolytes call themselves Jennonites. 


Mentions | Issue 6 ​


Burning Boy |


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.


Three-hour runtimes |


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.


Dial Up |


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.


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


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.


"Poog" |


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.


Felixes |


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.


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


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.


Last Night in Soho |


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.


“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.


Tomás Nevinson |


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.


Bleecker Street’s plant-based community fridge |


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.


Bear |


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.


Cooking With Paris |


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.


The Metallica Blacklist |


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.


The Power of the Dog |


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.


Cose Morbide Gratuite |


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.


r/FridgeDetective |


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.”


Heritage Store Rosewater Spray |


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.


Saucony Jazz |


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.


Complete Viper Discography |


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.”


Hims on the subway |


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.


Stooping NYC |


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.


Dopesmoker |


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.


tick, tick... BOOM! |


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.


Topo Chico |


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.”


“Vintage Paintings” |


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. 


letsdig18 |


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.



Imaginary Friends |


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.”


Storm |


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.”