Mentions | Issue 3 ​



“The physiological links between the smell and language centers of the brain,” naturalist Diane Ackerman once noted, “are pitifully weak.” A brief sniff around Fragrantica, the fragrance fansite, should make you doubt that. After a squirt of Sven Pritzkoleit’s cult parfum, Hyrax, user KingRydesBy96 reports that he “had been reminded vividly of a childhood memory of carrying out a dare that involved defecating on the hood of someone’s black Trans Am during a searing summer heatwave.” (There is a reason for this: user RosaMilena points out that “castoreum,” the scent’s top note – made from an unctuous beaver secretion – “in large amounts smells like a dog’s infected anal gland leakage.”) Like Nabokov, Napoleon, or bloodhounds, this crowd leads life nose-wise. Any random vial review should put to shame most of those actually paid to rhapsodize about books or music for a living. A bottle of Shalimar gives “a little melodious scream;” a squeeze of Etro’s Shaal Nur suggests “a lullaby of airy amber;” Muscs Koublai Khan proposes “panties, but not in a good way.” No man is an island, though. In the forums, Covid’s rot reeks. “This morning I peeled a fresh cucumber and opened a can of tuna — very distinctive and intense smelling items,” writes a user named Nomen. “But I could smell nothing at all!”


The Q Shaman's Zoom Classes |


Jake Angeli, the shirtless, horned QAnon influencer now in custody, was booked and busy in the months leading up to the Capitol siege. From Arizona, he spoke at multiple live Zoom events to discuss “ascension” — the process of leveling-up one’s consciousness involving self-love, shrooms, and decoding the Satanic messaging in Ellen DeGeneres’s Wayfair collection. He likes assuming power stances a few feet from his webcam, tenting his fingers and annunciating on quantum fields with the energy of a New Age frat bro. In one 4-hour event, Angeli joined other callers. One was Kosol Ouch, a man from Cambodia, who appeared to be participating while at work as a Wells Fargo security guard. At one point, Ouch began swaying, claiming to channel an A.I. from the future. This was too weird, even for Angeli. “I’m good,” he said, laughing and turning off his camera. Behind each insurrectionist, I suppose, is someone pilled even harder.


Bagdad Café (1987) |


Maybe where I want to be, instead of my apartment, is Bagdad, CA, in the middle of the Mojave desert, where there is nothing but a highway and a cafe with an adjoining gas station, motel, and tattoo parlor. The last realized American Dream is that of the Bavarian tourist who has just left her husband and befriends Brenda, the café’s owner, who is fresh from kicking out her own husband. “Jesus I hate things that don’t make sense,” says Brenda. I disagree. This West German film makes no sense, and it’s perfect: the solution to Brenda’s economic and familial problems is to run a magic show and peddle nudes of her new bachelorette friend to an old Hollywood actor.


Matt Stonie’s Youtube Channel |


Kafka’s titular hunger artist conflates “the honor of his profession” with a less-noble truth: if only food had been more appetizing, he narrates, “I should have made no fuss and stuffed myself like you or anyone else.” YouTuber Matt Stonie has no such excuses. The competitive eater, who made his debut as the youngest member of Major League Eating in 2011 with six pounds of deep-fried asparagus, has amassed fourteen world records and more than two billion views in eight years of self-imposed challenges. 10,000 calories of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos in ten minutes, 14,000 of Pop Rocks in thirty — Stonie defies the bounds of the body. But unlike the Hunger Artist, whose unyielding palette reduced him to straw and ribs, Stonie emerges from the glut unscathed, a marvel of physical resilience in a black bandana. He clocks in at 13.2 million subscribers, which is roughly the population of Benin.


The Line of Beauty |


Alan Hollinghurst’s book of perfect prose taught me the word “ogee,” and now I will feel emboldened to call myself an aesthete at dinner parties, once those start to happen again. A Wildean affair, the story of Nick Guest can be read as a cautionary tale of class divides or a billet-doux to cocaine and cruising. Either way, a scrumptious read.


Most Stuf [sic] |


“The best part of grocery shopping,” comedian Alex Blagg once tweeted, “is seeing what kind of fucked up new shit the psychos at Oreos have come up with.” Their latest effort, Oreos Most Stuf, confirms that the best snack minds of our generation, creators of a universally adored vegan treat, have been destroyed by madness. Coerced by the speed of the 21st-century snack-product cycle, Oreo’s product development team is throwing darts at the wall, making alterations to proportion, color, and flavor that seem less driven by consumer taste (in the literal sense) than by a hunger for something new. The amount of frosting in these cookies is, in a word, unpalatable. In fact, the one good thing that can be attributed to these bad boys is the superlative usage in the title — a guarantee that, while the stuf might be flavored, perverted, or otherwise messed with, there will never be more stuf than this.


Full Length Movies on Facebook Watch |


Instead of scrolling through thousands of titles on Netflix, visit Lionsgate’s Facebook page and choose among The Age of Adaline, Chris Rock’s documentary Good Hair, and two animated Hellboy movies (unfortunately, Scream 4 was recently removed). Each movie is roughly as good as the next, and Facebook Watch is designed in such a way that it’s impossible to find out if there are any other options. 


The Relentless Picnic |


Everyone deserves a friend who will honestly tell them when their writing sucks. Then again, if Theodore Kaczynski had one, we would be deprived of this podcast’s close reading of his 35,000-word ‘Unabomber manifesto,’ in treatment alongside canonical essays in American shut-in literature by Henry David Thoreau. Before the latest season, titled Cabin, each Picnic episode stood on its own, a decoupage of odd sources pasted together with conversation that can be intimate and contemplative one minute and side-splitting the next. Highlights included Jimmy Carter’s “Crisis of Confidence” speech coupled with Amazon product reviews (E31), a romp through the world of Kai Ryssdal and crypto-coin YouTubers (E26), and meditations on a solar eclipse and what it means to be human or, alternatively, to be Elon Musk (E21). Cabin retains that eccentric, cut-up brilliance. It’s a journey that begins with recorded cold calls to find someone within the Montana Historical Society’s remarkably complex hierarchy willing to answer questions about Kaczynski’s cabin. “I am curious why you are interested in this?” a voice on the other end of the phone finally asks. Apparently they don’t get as many visitors as Walden Pond.


Pretty Poison (1968) |


Anthony Perkins plays the troubled anti-hero, a Salinger-esque boy-man, who tells Tuesday Weld’s anti-heroine — the epitome, at least on the surface, of the blonde All-American girl next door — he is a secret agent in town on assignment. They drive around in her convertible, adorably playing at espionage until it all goes wrong. (There’s a peculiar scene where they take drugs before having sex, and he asks if she’s “ripe and ready to burst.” Then later she kills a guy.) They are Bonnie and Clyde if Bonnie and Clyde had absolutely no idea what they were doing and were in desperate need of therapy.


CoStar’s Chaos Mode |


Most people know AI-powered astrology app Co-Star for its one-sentence daily horoscopes. “Fuck and run.” “Entering a bathroom isn’t like leaving it.” Now the app has a newish feature: Chaos Mode, which lets you send messages to friends and fellow users, or to yourself, that will be delivered “when the stars align.” This begs a few questions: What kind of time frame are we working with here? Are the messages anonymous? (Not in my experience, but Reddit users have disputed the issue.) Even with these head-scratchers, “Chaos Mode” is a misnomer. Faced with a steady stream of days that look the same and a future that feels algorithmically generated, writing your own horoscopes suddenly feels like a totally reasonable thing to do.


Andromaque (1667) |


Jean Racine’s 1667 tragedy in five acts. The set-up: Ancient Greece, a royal court, a quartet of fools for love. Orestes loves Hermione; Hermione loves Pyrrhus; Pyrrhus loves Andromaque. They slide on and off the candle-lit stage, sharing their secrets in alexandrine rhyme. No one becomes any happier, though some manage to die. It’s gossip as pathology. You whisper about someone till you’re all enamored and start to echo them. A timely reminder: never get lost in a lover’s voice.


World of Tomorrow |


Once Don Hertzfeldt has a couple of stick figures and fifteen minutes, you can pretty much let go and say, “Fuck me up, Hertzfeldt.” The DIY animator’s third episode in World of Tomorrow, an endearing, darkly comedic sci-fi short series where speculative concepts flow like water, and neurotic musings populate the dialogue, is a torturously funny spin on the Back to the Future 2-time-travel-paradox genre. While the first two episodes  followed the real-life rantings and speculative whims of Hertzfeld’s young niece, the third episode considers  a new lonely, male character named David Prime. David is so stricken by a romantic video message he receives from a woman that he keeps deleting basic brain functions and life skills in his memory banks to make room for more and more messages.While it’s an understandable gambit in a bleak and lonely future, some of us just join Hinge. 


The Shards |


Bret Easton Ellis’s new autobiographical novel, which he’s still serializing on his podcast, was probably my favorite book of 2020. Except it’s not really a book: Ellis expressly wrote it to be heard, not read. And in his voice, variably tender and prickly, composed and digressive, the thread he unspools — revolving around the arrival of a mysterious student during the author’s senior year of high school, in the fall of 1981 — becomes a kind of ghost story, a waking nightmare, all nostalgia tinged with dread. Naturally, everyone’s also hot and rich, and having sex and doing coke, and not feeling bad about any of it.


My Dinner With Andre |


Everyone I know is dying to travel. Everyone I follow on social media swears when this is over they’ll head straight for the airport, to board a plane for some faraway place, to feel something new. André Gregory (played by André Gregory), the titular character of Louis Malle’s 1981 film, has spent the past several years on trips of this kind, in pursuit of extreme emotion and experience — to devise experimental theater in a forest in Poland, to stargaze and ride camels in the Sahara with a Japanese Buddhist priest, to be buried alive at the tip of Long Island. Back in New York, he meets Wallace Shawn (Wallace Shawn) for the titular dinner, and, over the soothing sounds of clinking silverware and glugging wine, describes how his travels jolted him from the numbness and deadness of modern life. Eventually Wally loses it. “Isn’t it a little upsetting to come to the conclusion that there is no way to wake people up anymore except to involve them in some kind of a strange christening in Poland or some kind of a strange experience on top of Mount Everest?” he sputters. “The awful thing is, if you’re really saying that it’s necessary to take everybody to Everest, it’s really tough because everybody can’t be taken to Everest!” (Though we certainly have tried.) Wally just wants an ordinary life with his girlfriend Debbie: to drink his cold coffee in the morning, read Charlton Heston’s autobiography in the evening, and take out the garbage somewhere in between. The pair push each other back and forth — Everest or Charlton Heston? Ecstasy or contentment? Is the world out there or in here? Of course, there is no winner to this debate, but it’s in this encounter that they find the awakening, the point of transformation. And so did I, without leaving my couch. 


@azealiabanks, quarantine cook |


Whether dropping recipes for chickpea-flour pancakes (“Bitches haaaaaaate that I’m gettin’ to the money,” she sings as they sizzle) or pineapple and sea moss jam, Azealia Banks is holding culinary court on Instagram. Many a home cook has been forged during the pandemic, but Banks sets herself apart by positioning her new enthusiasm for plant-based eating as a revolutionary act against corporate forces that undernourish vulnerable populations (fast food, food deserts, et al.). Sure, Banks is a rapper by trade (and her newest single, the cerebral and densely rhymed “Black Madonna” proves she is still at the top of her game), but the appetite for an Azealia cookbook grows in the comments section. Will a hunger for cashew spirulina alfredo replace widespread cravings for McDonalds? Does everyone have the means to season their avocado toast with boutique, unfiltered apple cider vinegar? No and no! But Banks is doing important work linking food availability and economic and racial justice — and at the very least, she’s more entertaining than Alison Roman.


Castle Faggot |


Georges Bataille meets Ed, Edd n’ Eddy. In his terrific twelfth book, Derek McCormack teleports his readers straight to Faggotland, a make-believe theme park where gay men feed each other poop and hang themselves from chandeliers. It’s sex writing at its finest, both pointless lowbrow smut and radical queer theory. The scat matter makes Ottessa Moshfegh look like Nora Roberts.


McCormick Gourmet Global Selects Szechuan Pepper Salt & Spice Blend |


This confusingly has less Szechuan peppercorn in it than any other spice. It’ll suffice in a pinch, but I’m underwhelmed; there’s a bit of that physical Szechuan tingle, but none of the sinus-evacuating heat I’d hoped for. At the end of the day, I have only myself to blame for expecting more from something stocked in my local grocery store, which caters mostly to Polish seniors. 


Henry Kaiser’s Weekly Solo Concerts |


A typical episode begins with Kaiser holding one of his hundreds of guitars in front of a psychedelic greenscreen. You might find him improvising over footage he filmed on research dives in Antarctica, performing fractured blues atop a video taken on a rollercoaster, playing in a remote quartet or in homage to Gene Wolfe. But Kaiser’s music is divisive. One commenter asks of Weekly Solo #17, which features a live score to the 1921 Italian silent film L’uomo Meccanico: “Why, why, why?”


Early Work |


Two writers begin an affair. They feel bad, acknowledge how bad they feel, and continue on. It’s all very self-aware; when Andrew Martin’s novel debuted in 2018, this meta-feature seemed the point: a humorous knock at any reader who held that the artful expression of problems resolved them. But Martin’s fiction is never just its joke, even if you get it. To revisit this novel is to marvel at introspective people who miss what they think they see. 


Hi-Octane |


Watching a young Sofia Coppola drive monster trucks and throw guerrilla fashion shows on the streets of SoHo might at first induce cognitive dissonance. Before she became  known for her ruminative, slow-burning, existential film work, the director cut her teeth doing what looks like art-house renditions of Jackass for Comedy Central. But behind the frenetic visual grammar and the series’s sometimes punkish nature are traces of her best-known obsession: the ennui of the rich, and deconstruction of celebrity. In Hi-Octane, Coppola pulls back the curtain on fame, capturing stars in their spare moments with the casual intimacy one might find in a friend’s home video — if your friends also happened to include Karl Lagerfeld, Thurston Moore, and Martin Scorsese. What Hi-Octane lacks in the biting but subtle satire of Coppola’s film work it makes up for in balls-to-the-wall ridiculousness, and its total access to anyone considered cool in the nineties makes it the best place to receive mechanics tips from Prada model Jenny Shimizu or witness carside flirtations with Keanu Reeves.


Red Plenty |


Francis Spufford straddles history and fiction in this work retelling the U.S.S.R.’s attempt to overtake the U.S. in economic growth, proving both socialism’s superiority and its inevitability. Lenin is long gone; audacity instead finds its form in Leonid Kantorovich — a young mathematical genius widely understood today as the founder of linear programming — fighting for his ideas about the optimization of production to be recognized and adopted by the state. (They eventually were — and by the capitalists too.) Expository political and theoretical discussions interrupt and bind together the lives of a panoply of characters — students, peasants, writers, apparatchiks — some fictionalized stand-ins, and others impossible to invent. Toe-to-toe in the kitchen debate in Moscow in 1959, Nixon shows off a shiny steel lemon squeezer to Khrushchev. The metalworker-turned-premier, perhaps inspired by Charlie Chaplin, looks back unflinchingly and asks, “Do you have a gadget that puts the food in your mouth and presses it down?


The Hard Rock Hotel in New Orleans |


This place was supposed to have 350 rooms, a rooftop bar with French Quarter views, and something called a Body Rock® gym. Instead, it collapsed while under construction last October, killing three workers and briefly drawing the attention of national journalists, who rarely come down here except to gawk at hurricanes and Confederate statues. The building gets a starring role in an episode of John Wilson’s whimsical new HBO show, too. For over a year since the collapse, a heap of steel and concrete and a couple of mangled cranes have sat mostly untouched, with Hard Rock International denying responsibility and demanding the dead-broke city of New Orleans pay for most of the cleanup. After the mayor reopened bars in October and daiquiri-clutching tourists rushed back into the Quarter, the hotel’s remains became a must-see destination just steps off Bourbon Street. On a recent Saturday, sightseers on Segways gazed up at the ruins while a guide told them that it took the fire department ten months to pull the last dead body from the rubble. The crowd was quiet for a second, then someone asked: “Is there a bathroom around here?” 


A Place Of Greater Safety (v.2) |


Early in Hilary Mantel’s lengthy tome, a young Maximilien Robespierre is snubbed by the new King and Queen of France, who drive away while he recites a speech, leaving the future Jacobin standing in the rain before his assembled schoolmates. It’s the sort of perfectly pat scene that, in lesser hands, has given historical fiction a bad name. But in Mantel’s telling, the encounter is personal and raw. The much-anticipated visit is discombobulated; no one seems to know quite what to do. The teachers, Fathers Poignard and Herivaux, doubt and question themselves and try to reassure the young Robespierre, who soldiers on with a smile. The short episode is awkward and never revels in the rabbit-from-a-hat reveal of the man that rain-sodden boy would become. This book is a feast of such claustrophobic, interior moments: nervous, determined revolutionaries move through cramped bedrooms, alleys, and crowds. The history can feel confusing and undetermined when the reader is so close to the sweat, candle smoke, ink, and booze. It doesn’t matter that we know who is headed for the guillotine.


Raising Arizona |


Movies from before 1990 contain an alternate universe, one in which today’s congealed character actors are hot young ingenues, and people can not only sit inside a restaurant, but smoke a cigarette there. An exemplar of the genre is Raising Arizona, the Coen Brothers’ 1987 candy-colored fever dream of a kidnapping caper. Nicolas Cage and Holly Hunter play an odd couple (He’s a felon! She’s a cop!) struggling with infertility, who decide to kidnap one of the locally famous “Arizona Quints” based on the logic that five babies is more than their parents can handle. What follows is a zany Southwestern not-quite-Gothic that is far kinder than it needs to be. The instigating dramatic event is the pointless cruelty of the prison system: Cage’s Hi spends the first few minutes of the film in a revolving door of recidivism. When he marries Hunter’s Ed, his criminal record is what prevents the childless couple from adopting and prompts them to try kidnapping instead — a funhouse mirror version of a system that expects the formerly incarcerated to “go straight” while putting up continuous roadblocks should they attempt to do so. “We felt the institution no longer had anything to offer us,” explains one character after breaking out of prison. Of course, he ends up tunneling back into jail to finish up his sentence — the film is reformist at most — but it’s a crime comedy that questions the logic of punishment, and a great watch (or rewatch) for anyone who, after the hijinks of the 2020 election, isn’t already sick of thinking about Arizona. 

M.K. |


“I here [sic] Silverlake is a really cool place in L.A.,” noted poster venturadude805 in 2009. But there was a catch: was the neighborhood only affordable because it was “unsafe?” Good thing he’s on, home to hoards of know-it-all NIMBY types, unaware of the new outlet of Erewhon, the “Goop”-ified grocery chain, lying in wait, a mere decade into their future. “On a scale of 1 to 10,” responded Jay100, “I would give it a 5 in terms of safety.” Bruin5 added: “Area definitely has grit.” I hope they’re still around to experience the most terrifying aspect of the neighborhood today, which is unequivocally the oversized “Salad Valet” zone at the unbearably fluorescent MIXT outpost on Sunset Boulevard.


Charming Pet Scruffles Plush Squeaky Toy |


Sources claimed “Mr. Scruffles” is indestructible. One hour in and my dog, holding a newly laminectomized Scruffles, has uncovered the lie. 


Philosophy’s “Renewed Hope In A Jar” |


It takes quite a bit of intellectual onanism to call a skincare company Philosophy, and even more to christen a moisturizer “Renewed Hope In a Jar,” but trust me when I say the proof is in the pudding. Or I guess in this case, the confirmation is in the cream. (Substantiation in the salve?) Either way, I’ve drunk the Kool-Aid and now my only religion is Philosophy.


Mentions | Fall 2020 ​


Ed Niles's Glass House |


I want to know what inspired Justin Bieber to rent Ed Niles’s dead tech supervilla for a little under 60k a month, before he changed his mind. It’s clear why he didn’t stay — its see-through walls only served to amplify the trauma of celebrity overexposure. It turns out the prospect of living in a cylinder freaks people out. Cans of beans, pasta sauce bottles, commercial real estate, yes; homes, no. The Niles house features two such cylindrical glass shafts that earned it various mocking nicknames: salad spinner, lettuce drainer, etc. I see them more as spindles of blank CD-Rs, maybe filled to the brim with the unrealized songs of pop stars who’ve graced its hallowed halls. But there’s a grotesque brilliance to its curvaceous sheets of icy blue glass and steel, which in the aggregate remind me of a child’s toy block village if Skynet were in charge. It’s like Niles took a Bush-era executive’s office and exploded it to the level of a community center, but at the last minute called it a mansion. Maybe it’s my Russian immigrant (read: small, dark quarters) upbringing talking, but there’s a uniquely American kind of optimism in modernist architecture that’s nowhere to be found in the house: it’s not even trying to imagine a future outside of capitalism. That’s the bleak honesty of it. 


Hope Gangloff's Portraits |


The bright mix of colors counterbalances the stillness of the scenes. The paintings themselves are experiments in color chemistry disguised as mini-stories. Gangloff’s people sport earbuds; dogs sleep at their feet; they are poised atop picnic blankets with a bottle of beer, or perched on the edge of the bath while painting their toenails. Lovingly rendered, they seem to have been transported from the real world into the artist’s — a world where everybody looks cool.

D.A. |


An online community of software engineers endlessly polling each other on whether they should take a plum position at a startup or a marginally less-plum position at Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, or Google, a.k.a. “FAANG” (free massages!). This website was really helpful in clarifying why I can no longer afford to live alone in coastal California. I am now spending my life savings on bootcamp at General Assembly, entrypoint to the learn-to-code pipeline.


@dylaniwakuni |


One of my favorite of this mesmerizing woodworker’s videos is a demonstration of the Kanawa Tsugi joint, which is used to extend the length of a beam or post, or replace a rotten section. Through slow, careful, and precise chiseling, two identically-shaped pieces of wood are joined into one, longer piece of wood: the same shape, elongated. It’s satisfying to see meticulous effort pay off, and that it’s possible to improve something, even if only slightly.


House |


Nobuhiko Obayashi’s 1977 movie sees seven schoolgirls — all named, fable-like, for their most notable characteristic (Gorgeous, Sweet, etc) — make a trip to the Japanese countryside to visit one of the girls’ estranged aunt, only to be devoured, one by one, by the titular edifice. Some might find the decline from recognizable teenage angst (Gorgeous, our heroine, plans the doomed rural sojourn to avoid spending time with her father’s new wife) into campy yet surprisingly bloody horror precipitous. In one scene, it is, appropriately, Melody whose hands, then entire body, are torn apart by a sentient piano. The film’s climax — which sees a now-demonic Gorgeous lure her stepmother into the house to enact revenge — suggests, in the way of all good fantasy, that Obayashi’s tale is less escapist than it appears. The bitter and familiar clarity of jealousy proves to be just as haunting as anything else in this screwball concoction.


Universal Mother |


Sinéad O’Connor is, at this point in cultural history, far better known for her anticlerical politics and erratic public behavior than for her music. (The photograph of Pope John Paul II she ripped up on Saturday Night Live in 1992 will appear in the first or second paragraph of her obituary, for sure.) And though her recording career has been uneven, one bright spot is Universal Mother (1994) — almost a great record, and certainly a singular one. It opens with “Fire on Babylon,” anticipating the doom-laden low-end vibe of Björk’s “Army of Me” by a year. Michel Gondry’s extremely creepy music video, in which O’Connor and a child alter ego are menaced by Louise Bourgeois-ish mechanical mother-monsters inside a forced-perspective dollhouse, could support a psychoanalytic dissertation. The album also contains an introductory sound-bite of Germaine Greer enjoining women to “spontaneous cooperative action,” a Nirvana cover, a lullaby for O’Connor’s young son, a gorgeous close harmony number, and a very informative rap song about the Irish potato famine.


New Grub Street (1891) |


George Gissing’s 1891 tale about the business of literature in Victorian London, featuring romantics crushed by a brutal economic regime (“personalities wholly unfitted for the rough and tumble of the world’s labour-market”), miserable and impoverished automatons (“she was not a woman, but a mere machine for reading and writing”), little in the way of real happiness/love/genius/art, and the great success of Chit-Chat, a publication of stories and descriptions in paragraphs of no more than two inches for those “quarter-educated” readers incapable of sustained attention.


Bayou Paradis |


My 2020 album of the year came out in 2001 — it’s Bayou Paradis by Gez Varley. He and Mark Bell were LFO, the act that gave Warp Records its first big seller in 1990. Bayou Paradis has dance music in the family but not on its drivers license. This music propels itself, unshy of sending you, and creates its own deep shimmer while never stumbling. It is made from steady pulses and uneasy timbres, and it stacks itself in proportionate bundles. Varley made Bayou Paradis in two weeks, using only six pieces of electronic gear, none of them obscure. “I wanted to do an album that you could listen to at home or in the car on a long journey,” he told me. “We partied and listened to the album in Frankfurt on a Friday afternoon, all of us at the Force Inc. office whilst the bankers were at work across the street. Good times.”


Akon City |


Akon told Business Insider that one of his greatest fears is being remembered only for hits like “Smack That.” So he did what any reasonable person might do and hunkered down to work on his next project: a futuristic city powered by his own personal cryptocurrency in his home country of Senegal (with land provided by the Senegalese government and financial backing too byzantine and shady to explore here). Let’s make sure, then, that we memorialize Akon as a man who, in 2021, believes that luxury tourism is a sensible life-raft for overexploited national economies. 


Midsomer Murders |


This long-running British crime procedural — available in full, for whatever reason, through YouTube — is the ultimate wind-down show: nearly two hours of lilting accents, intergenerational village drama, competitive gardening, plant identification, vestigial aristocrat-peasant relations, and terse, loveless marriages, with the wry Chief Inspector Tom Barnaby (John Nettles) infallibly saving the day. The murders have piled up since the series’s 1997 debut, but you’re looking at — maximum — four incredibly culturally-specific deaths per episode. Maybe the victim foraged a poisonous mushroom, or took an arrow to the heart while engaging in extramarital intimacy in the woods, or was hanged in the church tower the morning of a competitive all-county-team-bellringing-competition, or is an insufferable writer whom every villager has already threatened to bludgeon to death. What a relief, to dwell in a TV world where death is exceptional and cause for investigation. 


Mank |


Citizen Kane was the most enduring artistic accomplishment of the Popular Front, the short-lived alliance between Communists, New Deal liberals, and cultural workers that produced Orson Welles’ Mercury Theater and its anti-fascist political vision. Mank reimagines it as an epic clapback delivered by a messy but lovable writer to his media-elite ex-friends. It certainly feels like a movie that took decades to make. But in its reduction of politics to the interpersonal drama of the rich and powerful, it also feels disturbingly contemporary. I’ve seen a lot of people speculate that they’d have liked it more if they’d seen more old movies. Based on how many of them also seem to think that this movie was a good example of black-and-white cinematography, I’m skeptical. It’s The West Wing for people with Letterboxd premium subscriptions.


Vida Americana at the Whitney |


I understand that they can’t slice Diego Rivera’s Man, Controller of the World off the wall of the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City and ship it to the Meatpacking District, but in this age of curatorial and technical ingenuity, I expected something better than the limp, washed-out version on view in this exhibit. More interesting was the copy of the demure note Nelson D. Rockefeller wrote to the artist concerning the inclusion of Lenin in the original mural (slated for Rockefeller Center), which “might very easily offend a great many people.” Rockefeller politely requested that Rivera “substitute the face of some unknown man where Lenin’s face now appears,” before destroying the entire painting when Rivera refused. Displaying a characteristic post-2016 historical myopia, the Times wrote that the show’s exposition of the influence of Mexican muralists on mid-century art in the U.S. “offers yet another argument for why the build-the-wall mania that has obsessed this country for the past three-plus years just has to go.” The politics on view are a lot more radical than that, but few will likely see the show anyway.


Because of Poetry I Have a Really Big House |


For four years, Kent Johnson co-edited a highly successful and polemical journal, Dispatches from the Poetry Wars, in which, under the tweaking nom de plume Emily Post-Avant, he lambasted the couch-sitting, tenured poetry scene, where everybody and his barber is an “award-winning poet.” Though Johnson denies it, he’s believed to have staged a hoax in the 1990s that fooled the literary world, publishing fake notebooks by the non-existent Japanese writer Araki Yasusada. A consummate and unimpeachable outsider, in this new book he writes “verses etched on a nuclear warhead,” as he boasts of shouting out Baudelaire while drinking Drano. Here, the poetry slam is the sound of a brawl beginning. 


Possessor |


In Brandon (son of David) Cronenberg’s second feature, Colin Tate is remotely controlled by a murderous corporation in order to take down the executive of a data company. An assassin named Tasya inhabits his body to complete the kill. But the possessing doesn’t come easily — the characters duel for control of the body, and when Tasya tries to carry out tasks, Colin resists. At one point, the real Colin and the Tasya-controlled Colin speak at the same time, their voices coming together in an off-kilter harmony. Later, Tasya endures the experience of Colin vaping to an Orville Peck song. Exhausted by alt-country, she eventually completes the mission, before moving on to inhabit the next victim.


Where The Crawdads Sing |


The best-selling book I avoided reading for two years. Delia Owens has created a fetishized vision of white southern poverty wrapped in a murder mystery submerged in pop feminism tied up with an ecological moral. Like a penny dreadful To Kill a Mockingbird, it aims for reportage but settles for stereotypes: “Ma” and “Pa,” shacks, screen doors, grits. We’re not so much in this world as watching it, in the mind of a narrator who already knows just how pitiful everything is. The characterizations are not just thin but inaccurate. References to Mardi Gras and black-eyed peas recall the Gulf Coast more than North Carolina’s Outer Banks; the accents are recognizable only as what Paul Beatty calls “Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Plantationese.” Kya’s journey from illiterate musselmonger to acclaimed zoologist (spoiler) ironically parallels how stories travel from a world deemed to have interesting ones to a world that pays to consume them.


What Are You Going Through |


About three-fourths of the way into What Are You Going Through, Sigrid Nunez’s eighth novel — and her follow-up to the National Book Award-winning The Friend — the unnamed narrator wonders if, in a not-so-distant future ravaged by environmental collapse, kids will sue their parents for having given birth to them. The narrator has just met up with her ex, a climate crisis Cassandra on a book tour. Soon, she’ll tend to a terminally ill friend who’s elected to end her own life with a fatal cocktail of pills. In Nunez’s hands, questions of old-age, mortality, and rising sea levels are entertained with a hearty frankness. Global catastrophe, as similarly preoccupied fiction tends to suggest, is not a metaphor for personal turmoil. Dispensing with the idea that suffering ennobles, Nunez has written a warm and amusing novel, characterized not by disillusionment but by a kind of morbid and fleet-footed curiosity. It felt right for right now, as very little seems certain except the likelihood that someone, someday, will litigate the ethics of their own nativity.


The Undoing |


I understand that this is a whodunit, but the real mystery is why Nicole Kidman and Hugh Grant keep crossing Central Park to get from the Upper East Side to the Upper East Side.


Tesla |


Ethan Hawke plays canonized inventor Nikola Tesla as an inward intellectual driven insane by his contemporaries’ inability to acknowledge the deleterious future he portends — basically reprising his role from First Reformed (2018). Kyle MacLachlan charms as Thomas Edison, Tesla’s boss and later rival, and Eve Hewson, real-life daughter of Bono, provides ironic narration as Anne Morgan, daughter of J.P. The glaring anachronisms and clever set-design quickly grow tired, though deserve credit as creative responses to what was surely a small budget. Near the film’s end, Hawke sings Tears For Fears’s “Everybody Wants To Rule The World,” vamping before a light show in black leather gloves, transforming his fictional Tesla into a performer, somewhat like the South African entrepreneur whose car company has appropriated the name. Maybe we’d be better off if our current tech scions were more like Hawke in the best moments of this film — broke, isolated, and wracked with doubt, unable to realize the world-historical visions in his head.


The Presidential Turkey Pardon |


The origins of the November tradition, wherein the President poses for pictures in the Rose Garden with some larded-up bird, sparing it the fate 45 million others meet each year, are disputed. It was George H. W. Bush who first officially announced in 1989 that one “understandably nervous” turkey would not “end up on anyone’s dinner table.” But lore has it that Abe Lincoln absolved a fowl after his son started to cart it around by leash. Later, JFK — greeted with a 55-pounder sporting a sign that read “Good Eating, Mr. President!” — mused he’d “let this one grow;” Kennedy died three days later. The joke of the gesture is its basic arbitrariness. It’s hilarious when world leaders use executive powers to grant mindless gobbling birdbrains privileges few others could expect — like interstate travel during the holidays. An alternative genesis could start in 1987, when Ronald Reagan dodged reporters’ questions about whether he’d exonerate aides accused of wrongdoing in the Iran-Contra scandal (Bush would do it for him). Instead, Reagan pointed to the fat white bird before them and said: “I’ll pardon him.”


The Witch of Blackbird Pond |


Elizabeth George Speare’s 1958 story of Kit, a young girl brought up on a Barbados sugar plantation, and her Connecticut Puritan family was my favorite book when I read it in sixth grade. The descriptions — of hard Connecticut winter and rustling silk dresses — are as captivating as I remember. But a contemporary reader will notice limits to Speare’s representation: Kit is oblivious to the evils of slavery while her cousins are horrified; she is an ardent Royalist at a moment when revolution is being first imagined. I’m not sure if I am recommending this book so much as the process of revisiting an earlier self.


David Lynch's Weather Reports |


Los Angeles, 7 a.m. — David Lynch gazes straight into the camera he has set up in his office, which resembles my landlord’s. “Today I feel like Pink Floyd,” he says. “Comfortably numb. One of the saddest songs. Childhood dreams, gone away.” These days, squinting out the window on YouTube keeps Lynch busy, when he’s not building some tiny lamp he saw in a dream. A stack of shoe outsoles was visible in the background of the first video, which got ~320k views but has since disappeared, along with 94 percent of viewers. Their loss. I’ve caught myself cheering on the fog which seems to dye the room blue.


Quora |


So annoying that I have to sign in with my Google account to find out the meaning of life on


2020 |


I’d never heard a folk song about an Amazon warehouse employee until this record. 2020, the latest release from the eclectic British folk musician Richard Dawson, captures our current reality in all of its infuriating, depressing banality. Dawson’s mournful voice seesaws between registers as he sings about “voluntary redundancy” and the scarcity of healthcare in post-Blair Britain. He populates his songs with pitiful losers, from the titular narrator of the track “Civil Servant” to a UFO conspiracy vlogger cuckolded by his wife’s pilates classmate. Reviews of Dawson’s work often note that it is tear-inducing. I’ve found this to be true.


Borgen |


This show started on Danish TV in 2010 and ran for three seasons. Netflix released all of it into our pandemic bloodstream this September. The fantasy here is just rude — a politician named Birgitte Nyborg works her way into and out of power in a parliamentary democracy, simply by talking and being a fairly competent person! Borgen feels like water for anyone trapped in the desert of American enfeeblement. A smart woman negotiates with people she disagrees with, and aside from some tabloid smears, everyone works more or less in good faith. There are many hot adults and adorable children. Arguments are made and listened to. (Not listening is maybe the gravest sin on this show.) People leave bicycles willy-nilly in the street. The blend of public policy and soap opera makes you believe momentarily that people can do stuff and learn from their mistakes. Not that that happens in real life!


Fanfiction |


It occurs to me, when encountering full-grown adults’ half-formed political “your name here” fantasies (Bernie is my mean stepdad! RBG is my grandmother! Hillary is all women who are undervalued white-collar professionals who are also me!), that not enough people spent their formative years dabbling in the pastime known as fanfiction. Fanfic confers many gifts — a community of similarly besotted internet friends, a burgeoning sense of one’s sexuality, an appreciation for new ways to describe male genitalia in prose — but one of the most valuable is the opportunity to probe the delineations between reality and fiction. Frankly, society would be much healthier if everyone were to work out these fantasies as teens, before juvenile fancy becomes mature delusion. Adults, it’s not too late: there’s still Tumblr and Archive of Our Own and, for the truly young at heart, TikTok point-of-view videos. 


The Lying Life of Adults |


“I wanted to expel myself from myself as if I were about to vomit myself” is an actual sentence from this novel. But the prose is, for the most part, great (whether we want to credit Ferrante or her perennial translator Ann Goldstein for this), and Ferrante’s latest take on the loss-of-innocence tale is astute and chilling. As the protagonist Giovanna grows from a girl into a young woman, we get a bleak sense that becoming an adult does not mean getting a clearer view of things so much as exchanging one set of delusions for another. Childish naivete gives way to adult myopias, and Giovanna’s narration — blinkered from the start — becomes unreliable for different reasons. Will we ever know how selfish her father really is, or whether her eccentric aunt Vittoria deserves the label “crazy”? Is the uneven plot — which eventually takes a sharp turn away from Giovanna’s family drama and toward her love life — a fair and formally daring reflection of Giovanna’s shifting priorities?  (Characters and subplots fall off the map, but that’s kind of how life is!) Or is it just clumsiness? We can never know, and it’s unnerving, maybe even structurally bad, but if you like Ferrante more for the psychology than for the craftsmanship, Lying Life is well worth reading. 


The Silence |


We need to consider the possibility that Don DeLillo has died and that this book was put out anyways.


The Kennedy Imprisonment |


To commemorate the election of a second Catholic commander-in-chief  and the near-simultaneous fall of the House of Kennedy with Joe III’s loss, I’ve been reading Garry Wills’s gabby volume of sex and questionable psychohistory, published in 1982. To hear Wills — who was socially adjacent to the clan — tell it, the most iconic Irish Catholic family in U.S. history was driven to overperform, overpower, and outsex because their patriarch hated being Irish Catholic (hmmm). Apparently, Joe Kennedy Sr. wanted to be a powerful, liberated “man of the world” but had a bad stomach (meaning no fancy food or liquor) and didn’t like art. So he slept around, cultivating an “English” attitude toward sex, which he passed on to the rest of the poor brood. Sins of the father, yada yada.


The Other Total Landscaper |


Philadelphia, whose bell announces “Liberty Throughout All the Land Unto All the Inhabitants thereof,” has two landscaping companies that claim totalizing effects. The smaller of the two, Total Tree and Landscaping, is downstream the Delaware from its rival. Total has a pretty good website, where it lists services such as astroturf installation and “hardscaping,” something that seems to apply to rocks. A stirring, twenty-image photo album details the process of tree removal, ordered in reverse: piles of wood chips fuse into Tootsie Roll-like segments, and then reassemble into the trunk. Such a process does come across as sublime and all-encompassing; one could liken the montage to a cremation in reverse, passing the body back into the realm of the living and erect. On Yelp, the business’s description reads, chillingly, “TOTAL DOES IT ALL.”  


Reviews of Dr. Jill Biden on |


I suppose it’s a feminist victory that none of Dr. Jill Biden’s reviews on mention her husband, other than oblique references to “all that she has going on.” In the Biden tradition, her scores are middling: 22 students at Delaware Technical Community College rated her, on average, 3.6 out of 5. She ranks higher in the estimation of reviewers at Northern Virginia Community College, where she earns a 3.8. “She is a prof who can improve your writing skills, and she can teach u about the reality of life,” writes one student. Starting in January, the future of humanities in higher ed may rest in the hands of our once Second, future First Lady, who has said that she will not give up her job. A recurring theme in the students’ feedback is that she “really cares” and “has a big heart,” suggesting that, unlike that of our nation, the soul of English 111 is intact thanks to “Dr. B.” 


Intercessors for America |


Founded in 1973, this organization offers “news Christians need to pray about EVERY DAY.” If you signed up online before the election, you might have downloaded the handy Voter Prayer Guide and other “resources to help you pray strategically,” listened to audio recordings of fellow users’ prayers, or visited the Interactive Prayer Map to see how many people were praying for each polling location at any given time. And the worship didn’t stop last Tuesday. Six days later, the faithful received an “IMPORTANT PRAYER ASSIGNMENT!” Their mission: seek divine intervention in Trump’s legal battle by praying for a list of firms including Jones Day, which has also represented the Bin Laden family and Big Tobacco. “The Lord woke me at 4am to continue praying for the uncovering of fraud and criminal activity,” an intercessor named Silvia writes in a message board post. “He impressed on me that there is a recorded conversation somewhere that when brought to light, arrests would be made throughout the Democratic Party. So I prayed angels would be sent to this or these individuals and the fear of the Lord will cause them to literally tremble.” Have you prayed for Brian Kemp yet? How about Gretchen Whitmer? Click “I PRAYED” and get added to the tally.


Amy Klobuchar’s Ex-Boyfriends |


Much ink was spilled over Amy Klobuchar’s alleged mistreatment of staff: hurling binders at aides, sabotaging their future job prospects, and, after downing a salad with a comb, forcing one guy to clean it as retribution for failing to produce a fork. But nowhere near enough time was spent on the Senator’s deep-pocketed (and potentially D.I.Y.) ex-boyfriends, who––as she told a debate crowd nearly one year ago––contributed some $17,000 to her campaign. To these gentlemen: hello : ) 


Rudy Giuliani’s Year (Nov. 2019-Nov. 2020) |


Twelve months ago, Trump’s personal lawyer, and America’s mayor, was preparing for the impeachment. It would later emerge that his associates pressured the President of Ukraine to announce investigations into Burisma and Hunter Biden. Apparently, Trump’s response to those interested in Ukraine was: “You should talk to Rudy.” (“Nobody should be talking to Rudy,” John Bolton once said). In February 2020, Giuliani began hawking cigars when he wasn’t treating his 332k YouTube subscribers to a steady stream of unwatchable, conspiracy-laden videos (some accompanied by cigar commercials). His pièce de resistance was the delivery of the contents of Hunter Biden’s water-damaged MacBook Pro to the New York Post, which managed to arouse a surprising amount of interest, at least among those I know, in Hunter’s schlong. Last week, defending Trump in a parking lot between a sex shop and a crematorium, Giuliani proved that it’s possible to go lower than being tricked by Sacha Baron Cohen into flirting with a fake fifteen-year-old. A year for the record books.


Meg Whitman For Commerce Secretary |


It seemed for a second that Quibi, which took a widely-mocked six-month quick bite of the streaming wars, had been played out, joke-wise. But the Biden-Harris admin will at least stimulate that economy. The president-elect may be mulling the nomination of Republican CEO Meg Whitman, who spoke longer than AOC at the Democratic National Convention and just shuttered a business with $1.75 billion of investment cash, to the cabinet position intended “to foster, promote, and develop the foreign and domestic commerce.” Economists predict her plan may give us all, like one Quibi protagonist, “pulmonary gold disease.” 


The Debt Ceiling |


Twice in the early 2010s, a Republican Congressional majority successfully bullied Obama and the Democrats into accepting brutal reductions in government spending in exchange for raising the “debt ceiling”—a piece of pro forma legislation that allows the U.S. government to conduct basic borrowing operations. Republican intransigence, in fact, was all that kept Obama and his Congressional liaison Joe Biden from cutting Social Security in 2013. Mitch McConnell will undoubtedly extract pounds of flesh from the sure-to-be pliant centrists in control of the White House in exchange for averting economic cataclysm (reminder: the debt ceiling next expires in July 2021). I am afraid that the media, the lanyards, the Trump-radicalized liberals, and so on have not internalized an important lesson: despite what happened last Tuesday, it can get much, much worse. In fact, it probably will.


Strokes reunion concert at the University of New Hampshire, February 10, 2020 |


After knocking doors in the cold outside Newmarket, I drove over to wait in a multi-hour line for one of a few remaining spots behind the equine stables to see AOC and Bernie open for The Strokes. Their latest album, The New Abnormal, which the New York Times claimed “flipped nostalgia toward the future,” wasn’t better than their last, but 2020 had to be an improvement on 2016. So it seemed at the time: someone told us it was the best rally he’d ever attended. Maybe at some point an elderly Sanders will introduce the next President of the United States, possibly an Alexandria, and I’ll think of that concert and feel nostalgic for the future that then seemed possible.


Wilco "VOTE" Stickers |


In a desperate attempt to lock down friends my freshman year of college, I paid to go to a Wilco show that was somewhere between three and four hours long. Beside me, some Gen X hipsters who had moved to Maine to start a family hung on Jeff Tweedy’s every word. This year, Wilco — along with Alice Cooper, Jefferson Starship, The Doors, and a slate of other bands closely associated with dad-rock — affixed red, white, and blue “VOTE stickers to their classic albums on streaming services. This gesture of corporate-approved, nonpartisan civic engagement struck me as even more vacuous than the emails from brands urging me to vote. But I’m sure many of those same Maine dads nodded sagely when they opened their apps and saw the sticker on Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. “Democracy in action,” they muttered under their breath, contemplating whether to add the new art to Instagram. Pop back over to The Grateful Dead’s discography, fellas. The VOTE stickers are there too.


Dwight Garner’s Reviews of Major Living Authors |


“This is probably the place to say that, like a lot of readers I know, I’m divided about Robinson’s novels,” he writes, hitting send to his editor as if launching a probe into deep space. He is a critic at the height of his powers, though he would never use the phrase. But the one cliché he cannot avoid reproducing is that the trajectory of the Major Novelist must be parabolic. “The Silence is a minor, oddly frictionless DeLillo novel. In terms of his career, it is not waterfall but spray,” DeLillo is well beyond the apex, now, Mr. Garner says, shutting his laptop, straightening his lapels. At the sliding glass door, he watches the leaves and runs the mantra over in his clinical mind: working from home… working from home…