Mentions | Issue 2 ​


The Entire History of the Louisiana Purchase (1997) |


People from New Mexico rarely let themselves off the hook for making art about New Mexico. Joshua Oppenheimer, the director of The Act of Killing and The Look of Silence, partially grew up in Santa Fe, a city dedicated to selling the state to outsiders. This film mixes archival footage with the fictional  story of a woman living near the Trinity Site, where the atomic bomb — the doing of a different Oppenheimer — was? first detonated. She believes her baby to have been immaculately conceived, before deciding it’s the second coming of Lucifer. She kills it in the microwave. Oppenheimer’s work, like Kubrick’s, considers the overwhelming legacy of the genocide of Indigenous people in North America: blood pours out of the microwave as if from the Overlook Hotel elevator.

E. S. B.

“DVD Menu” |


Anchored by Rob Moose’s gravelly violin, the spacious little instrumental intro to Phoebe Bridger’s Punisher, could easily work as a prestige-TV theme song. But as its title suggests, “DVD Menu”  will also take 20th-century babies back to those pre-Netflix nights where you’d pop in the disc and go make popcorn as a thirty-second snippet of the film’s soundtrack repeats, repeats, and slowly sinks into your nightmares.


The Beach Bum |


Is it possible for a single movie to eliminate every positive feeling you have toward a director? 


Reptile Facebook Groups |


A scene where the harshness of the reptilian world — where dinner means live rats, not Purina — clashes absurdly with the infantilized mewling of pet culture. Photos of grass snakes draped on school-aged kids appear alongside screeds against faulty gecko deliveries and the rotting, ulcerated nodules of S.F.D. (Snake Fungal Disease). Some groups are highly specialized. Try Reptile and Amphibian Bioactive Setups for how-tos on low-maintenance enclosures; DIY Terrariums for help with hydro rocks or fake moss bundles; or Rehome your unwanted reptiles here for giving up. But most are social spaces to mingle, gossip, and swap tips on things like “field herping.” Facebook may have gotten older, conservative, and conspiratorial (look no further than South Dakota Reptiles to find QAnon’s trace on the platform’s collective psyche), but the internet’s tendency toward monoculture yields many rabbit holes. Some people just care about Malagasy leaf-nosed snakes. 


Reds (1981) |


“You don’t rewrite my writing!” John Reed says twice in Reds: first to one of his New York editors, Peter Van Wherry; and then, a couple of cinematic hours and several historical years later, to Grigory Zinoviev, one of the seven members of the first Soviet Politburo.Van Wherry is a fictional character, and, played by Gene Hackman, he stands in for any gin-soaked hack the world over — they fuck with your copy because they can. Zinoviev, played by actual writer Jerzy Kosinski, rewrote Reed’s address to revolutionaries in Baku, changing his call for international class war to a call for holy war against the American infidel: don’t go into politics if you don’t want your copy fucked with. (Zinoviev was executed by Stalin in 1936 after the Trial of the Sixteen.) In between these episodes of nonconsensual editing, we witness the love affair of Reed and Louise Bryant — a passion hashed out between Warren Beatty and Diane Keaton across typewriters, where lovers’ quarrels over which line to put in the lede lead straight to the bedroom. It’s safe to say that Hollywood will never produce another epic on the joys and pains of freelancing and leftism quite so lavish. Also featuring Jack Nicholson, as Eugene O’Neill, Reed’s friend who had an affair with Bryant, and apparently never entered a room without asking, “Where’s the whiskey?”


Emma Willard’s Maps of Time |


Mesmerizing illustrations of time, if you can get past the fine-with-genocide brand of nationalism woven through Willard’s renderings of American “manifest destiny.” Modern visual timelines — screentime apps, work calendars, and more recently, Covid-19 mortality charts — tend to be suffocating and dimensionless; Willard’s chronologically-constructed rivers, valleys, and temples, give time space to breathe.


Natalie Portman’s Master Class |


I learned that shuffling the stuff around on every surface in a room shows people that you’re very upset. 


Blue Circle’s Classic Norwegian Roasted Salmon |


The fish is impressively sculpted into an almost perfect, believably salmon-colored, rectangular prism. With wild salmon in their final century of existence, one can rest easy knowing that we’ve perfected the industrial salmon product to replace them. A product that briefly swims, eats, lives, and dies so that it can become the ideal pinkish-monolith for Whole Foods shoppers everywhere.


Nomadland (2020) |


As Fern, Hollywood’s foremost no-nonsense thespian Frances McDormand tootles around the West living in her cargo van-slash-home. This feature captures the tension between the evasion of normal life obligations and the pursuit of freedom en plein air, but glosses over political realities — the circumstances behind why McDormand and so many others are working at Amazon on New Year’s Eve, for example. The seasonal hustle rewards these independent contractors with money, flexibility, and time to experience many sherbet sunsets. Major images include five-gallon buckets for bodily functions and McDormand’s fatigue-crinkled visage beneath the moody skyline.


#APSTogether |


Online read-alongs hosted by A Public Space: a brilliant writer holds our hands through 12-15 pages per week. Yiyun Li with War and Peace, Garth Greenwell with A Turn of the Screw, Ed Park with True Grit. If reading in public is “sacral,” “romantic,” and “the private self made public,” as LitHub would have us believe, then close reading in public must be bondage-slash-exhibitionism.


The Blacklist |


Imagine the most entertaining Nicolas Cage movie you’ve ever seen stretched over seven seasons (so far) of network television. And instead of Cage it’s James Spader, not so much chewing the scenery as gnashing it to bits with unhinged exuberance. The writers’ flourishes constantly threaten to send things off the rails, but they ultimately stick to soothingly predictable recipes, like the Great British Baking Show reconceived by Dan Brown. Also the soundtrack is really good for some reason.


4 3 2 1 (2017) |


What’s better than one Bildungsroman? For Paul Auster, the answer is four. If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to grow up Jewish in New Jersey in the decades following WWII, and you’re sick of Philip Roth, then count yourself lucky. Now, you can immerse yourself in that world not once, not twice, but four times in a book the length of four books.


Carefree (1938) |


Fred Astaire is the psychoanalyst we need but don’t deserve. A gloriously uplifting film about subconscious mind control: Ginger Rogers is manipulated by hypnosis, sedation, and, in the end, a punch to the head. Includes the irresistibly senseless musical number “The Yam.”


Roasted Watermelon |


An attractive vegan YouTuber said roasted-then-smoked watermelon “looks just like meat,” so I tried it out. The result looked vaguely pot roastish, like red meat with a dark glaze. But the illusion only deceived one of the five senses. For the first half of a bite, the desiccated fruit’s rubbery texture was uncannily flesh-like, but each mouthful finished with a slight crunch that can only be grown on a vine. I left the table confused, and determined to no longer cook across Aristotelian categories. All in all, much less tasty than a fresh watermelon. 


Desperate Living (1977) |


There’s something unnervingly topical about watching a character in the throes of a mental breakdown find her calling as the henchman to a dictatorial queen hell-bent on infecting her subjects with rabies. John Waters has always been prophetic. 


William Gass’s Hatred |


In an interview with The Paris Review in 1977, William Gass poses the hypothetical question “Why do you write?” and answers: “I write because I hate. A lot. Hard.” Each of his three major novels deals with characters coming to terms with their distaste for the world. In Omensetter’s Luck (1966) a preacher subjects his parish to his suffering, concealing his atheism and daydreaming about how Jesus urinated. In The Tunnel (1995) a Nazi-obsessed professor hates his wife and reflects on being the child of an alcoholic and getting swept up by the energy of Kristallnacht. In Middle C (2013), a music professor specializing in Schoenberg builds an Inhumanity Museum in his attic showcasing newspaper clippings of human atrocities, and perpetually rewrites the sentence: “The fear that the human race might not survive has been replaced by the fear that it will endure.” These are familiar attitudes for Gass. In the afterword to Omensetter’s Luck, he says of the years he spent writing it: “I didn’t much like my life. I didn’t much like my job. I didn’t much like the world.” 


Pick Me Up Off the Floor |


Norah Jones’s new album — how do you judge something so tied to the absolute high of your first Vanilla Bean Crème Frappuccino? The new songs are totally 100% just fine. 


John Woo’s Unashed Cigarettes |


Hong Kong director John Woo, pioneer of the neo-noir action genre Heroic Bloodshed, is a master of the “cool guy” trope. His men ooze indifference, privilege male friendship over the allure of the female lead, tend to go rogue, etc. That decided lack of care contrasts with the hyper-stylized construction of Woo’s scenes. One example: characters rarely ash their cigarettes. Smokers go around with these comically long, curved ashes at the ends of their cigarettes, sometimes almost as extended as the unsmoked cigarette itself. But we never see the ash collapse. It always stays in place, like Tom Cruise’s hair in the Mission Impossible films, the second installment of which Woo would go on to direct. Unfortunately, when I tried this, I got ash all over myself. Not very cool.


Town Bloody Hall (1971) |


About 50 minutes into DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus’s documentary about a famed panel discussion on feminism, Germaine Greer tells Diana Trilling: “I adopt the same approach to Freud as you do. I quote him where it suits me and I don’t where it doesn’t.” Norman Mailer is moderating. He doesn’t laugh, which doesn’t matter, since he’s not in on the joke. An audience member is escorted out for not paying the entrance fee; on the way out, she yells: “Women’s Lib is for rich bitches only. Germaine Greer, you’re a traitor! All of you are traitors!” By the time the 85 minutes are up, I have forgotten Norman Mailer exists. 


Whose Line Is It Anyway, season 15 |


There should be a special Emmy awarded solely to whomever decided to replace Drew Carey with Aisha Tyler. No longer encumbered by the Brad Shelton of improv comedy, Whose Line… is now an escapist romp of dad jokes, prop humor, and the seemingly limitless talents of Wayne Brady. 


How to Behave in a Crowd |


An almost-young adult realizing that most adults, no matter their age, are still young adults. The plot of Camille Bordas’s first English book is plotless in the best of ways: preteen hero, Isidore, loses his father; while his genius siblings escape through endless PhD work, Isidore learns lessons in sex, friendship, and the German language. One of those rare books where the saddest lines are the funniest, and the funniest are the most true . “I had no choice but to be different,” Isidore tells us. “I wasn’t as smart or as good-looking as my brothers and sisters.”


The Lobby |


A character called Old White Male extols the virtues of death over dying while seated in countless lobbies in Heinz Emigholz’s latest feature. Each of these unremarkable and purgatorial spaces is filmed from improbable angles. No other new release will so accurately illustrate pandemic time.


Mozart Symphonies Nos. 39 - 41 (2020) |


Here is Mozart at the wheel of a Bugatti: Riccardo Minasi and Ensemble Resonanz take us on a near-manic peek-a-boo thrill ride. Maybe a little too zeitgeisty, but with so many surprises, a genuine blast awaits Mozart veterans; for newbies, what an ace welcome.


Darling (1965) |


If you’re a culture enjoyer who manages not to deduce your morals from works of art, come sit by me. Let’s watch Julie Christie wear great skirts in Mod London, flirt with Catholicism, and gulp dumb bitch juice for about two hours, but (not really a spoiler) become a princess in the end anyway. She won Best Actress for this through the opposite of whatever value system got try-hard Natalie Portman the Oscar for Black Swan.


Belhaven Scottish Oat Stout |


Thick, strong, earthy. Nutritional enough to replace any meal (ideally breakfast). Perfect lockdown drinking.


All That Heaven Allows (1955)/ Far From Heaven (2002) |


Some grimace at the word melodrama, and to them I say: begone, heartless trolls. Douglas Sirk made this perfect 1955 film starring Rock Hudson in flannels and Jane Wyman in pretty coats. In 2002, Todd Haynes reimagined the story, this time featuring a blonde(r) Julianne Moore in 1950s Connecticut. For Haynes, as for Sirk, political virtue — a belief in an equitable and fair world for all — is uncorrupted because it’s never something signaled for personal gain; instead, it’s held onto as a source of hope in a world that is otherwise crumbling. It’s nice, once in a while, to spend three hours in the company of people who know how to live. 


NatGeo |


If you’re looking for a break from this increasingly burnt Earth, Disney’s recent acquisition offers a lineup of streamable content set on an Earth-like planet sans ecological collapse, depicted in high-saturation colors and populated by erstwhile celebrities like Katie Couric and Joseph Fiennes. A good option if you can’t shell out the 90K for the NatGeo private jet tour.


The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History |


There’s something equal parts cathartic and masochistic about lugging a 546-page book about the deadliest pandemic in history around in your tote bag during a modern-day pandemic. John M. Barry’s expansive but gripping story contains familiar details: mass death, government ineptitude, the politicking of science, and pervasive conspiracy theories. But, importantly, it also comes to an end.


Lovers Rock (2020) |


Dance party FOMO abounds in the second episode of Steve McQueen’s Small Axe trilogy. Essentially just a single shindig recorded for an hour, this concise yet unhurried movie revives the joys of communal singing, an activity found nowhere now but the church. Indeed, the reveler’s sultry rendition of “Silly Games” stripped of instrumentation is a borderline religious experience.


Cappuccino (.fm) |


An app that lets users share short audio segments called “beans,” which are collected and delivered as a morning “cappuccino.” Charmingly earnest, free-for-now, and evidence for my theory that podcasts are attractive largely because they repel loneliness. Here, for zero Patreon dollars, I can hear from my actual friends.


Mentions | Summer 2020 ​


Emily Montes |


Here’s what you need to know about rapper Emily Montes. She is five. That’s clear from the jump. “My name is Emily,” she raps in the ethereal opening track, “and I’m five.” Her interests include Roblox and going outside (“I like playing Roblox and I like going outside”). Throughout her work, Roblox is a recurring theme—one song is titled “Roblox Is My Life;” her ad lib is “Roblox!” Where most child stars feel like the product of an overbearing stage mom vicariously living through her spawn, this feels like the experiment of a cool very online older sibling. In “Emily (Corona is Crazy)” she captures the current moment: “This virus is crazy! It’s the end of the world! Boom boom boom! (Roblox!)”


Venus in Furs |


I read this 1870 novella by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, the namesake of masochism, to see if it still seemed scandalous by today’s standards. Only two parts do. One, when the dominatrix Wanda yokes our poor narrator Severin to a plough and has her servants drive him around a field. Two, when Severin signs a contract with Wanda granting her permission to kill him if she wants. Impressive to get that in writing. Otherwise, it’s mostly whipping. For a more condensed version, stick to the Velvet Underground song.


Scooby-Doo |


When the live-action Scooby-Doo first lit up screens, America was reeling from 9/11 and the Bush administration was prepping for the invasion of Iraq. But kids like me were more concerned with Fred’s shark tooth necklace and the gluttonous CGI dog in a tropical paradise. It left the impression of a country on perpetual spring break rather than at perpetual war. But the two aren’t entirely inconsistent. Spring break is about getting out of control, wrecking shit, and ignoring the consequences. Scooby Doo captured that: Monsters live on party island.


History Photographed |


Childhood photos of Elon Musk (~39K likes); Brooklyn Supreme, “one of the biggest horses in history” (~109K likes); smartly dressed children in the 1940s (~69K likes). The comments section is surprisingly tame. It’s the Uniqlo of the meme account universe (i.e., perfect). Fingers crossed that whoever’s running the account skips selling t-shirts and leverages all those millions of followers for a normcore dating app. 


Robert Christgau |


Seventy-eight years old and still doing his thing—that thing being holding onto the title of Lil Wayne’s oldest fan. His favorite albums of the 2010s include one by Billie Eilish (at #4) and three by Wussy. Still better than any pop critic under forty.


The Lost Writings |


Kafka’s final wish that his remaining work be “burned completely, without reading” has long been ignored. In this collection, New Directions seems almost to take the edict as a personal challenge. Here, we’re promised “every single page, even small notebooks filled with pencil scribblings”—the writer “in his entirety” in English for the first time. But is it really the fragments, false starts, and grocery lists that make up an “entire” person? The world may always want more Kafka, but I’m not sure there is more Kafka to be had.


Whole New Mess |


Before undertaking her sprawling, elaborately produced 2019 breakup album, All Mirrors, Angel Olsen travelled from her home in Asheville, North Carolina to a church-turned-studio in Anacortes, Washington and recorded sparer versions of the songs, working only with her voice and a guitar. Almost a year later, she has pulled back the curtain, releasing the recordings as Whole New Mess. To call it a rough draft would do it a disservice—it is its own thing, craggy and quietly tortured. Not every record needs to be an opus.


MyMechanics |


No technical skill is required to appreciate this YouTube channel; tool restoration draws upon universal anxieties and desires. How much junk is in the garages of American homes? By how many decades will our appliances outlive us? We live in a world of trash, but MyMechanics pursues an alternative vision. Why buy a brand-new arbor press when you can get a rusty one for $30? Pure technical precision plus ASMR audio: he shows you how he makes new screws.


The Concert in Central Park |


As far as live albums are concerned, bagginess is par for the course. In Simon & Garfunkel’s first live recording from 1982, the fey troubadours of ’60s folk-pop lean into the ramble. It’s a loose and heady jaunt through their hits, interspersed with languorous asides. (You probably haven’t heard their Tom and Jerry story, for one thing.) It’s nice to hear a large group of people laugh again.


The National Hurricane Center's Tropical Weather Discussions |


Stern weather reports from full-time forecasters. Anonymous pros with usernames like “Forecaster Latto” or “Specialist Roberts” divine our maritime future in Courier New font, predicting the unpredictable with snarky prognostications of the most violent storms on earth. Less a discussion, more a dictatorship of the weather posters. Blogging may have died at the hands of private equity and dubious sex tape lawsuits, but the written word lives on thanks to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s professional meteorologists.


Marginal Revolution comments section |


On David Brooks’s favorite free-market blog, libertarianism so pure and strong it’ll bleach your hair: “Voluntary exchange,” one user writes, “is actually what keeps us out of caves and is the reason many of us lived past the age of five.”


Empire of Passion |


No one feels good masturbating after watching a Nagisa Ōshima production. Empire of Passion is a testament to the director’s consistency in that regard. Loosely falling into the category of folk horror, this period piece finally answers the eternal question: “What is an appropriate punishment for extramarital sploshing?”


The 2020 U.S. Open |


What, I wonder, will be remembered about this year’s tournament, somewhat buried in the onslaught of recent news? The empty stadium filled, not with fans, but with corporate-approved messages (banners read, “THANK YOU FRONT LINE WORKERS” and “BLACK LIVES MATTER”)? Or NoVaxx DjoCOVID, the nickname for known anti-vaxxer Novak Djokovic, who flouted lockdown and contracted COVID-19, only to play a tournament that never should have happened? Or when he smacked a ball into the throat of a line judge–who was later doxxed by Serbian media–disqualifying himself and leaving the tournament without a single Grand Slam winner? Perhaps we’ll look back on it as a changing of the guard, even though it took several acts of God for the titans to give the new kids a turn. For what it’s worth, I’m confident that Roger Federer will be leaving on his own terms (not God’s).


The Old Curiosity Shop |


A frightening and grotesque Dickens novel, adulterated with the usual pummelling sentimentality. Daniel Quilp is the filthiest character in English literature, and Dick Swiveller is an idol for slackers and shirkers everywhere.


All-Dressed Ruffles |


The perfect chip—made in Canada, but sometimes found repackaged in the United States. The name is meant to be descriptive: the potato chip’s version of the “everything” flavor, but it tastes more specifically like a cross between salt-and-vinegar and honey-BBQ sauce. Salt, fat, acid, and a tiny bit of sweet.


How to Humiliate Your Peeping Tom |


Crude in both content and form, but the coarseness only adds to this handwritten fold-out book’s strange, cantankerous charm. Uneven cutouts and unexpected inserts like “Car-Lag: Six Days of Pain in the Car” abound. Susan Baker, who was at RISD in the sixties, at once embraces and parodies that decade’s counterculture, surveying the sticky territory between free love and perversity, drug-induced enlightenment and sloth, activist fervor and sanctimony. Nowadays, she maintains the Susan Baker Memorial Museum (pre-mortem).


Longmont Potion Castle |


Many people I like also like Longmont Potion Castle—the middle-aged, Colorado-based prank call artist who has released albums of his work since the 1980s. When my sharpest friend recently told me that she didn’t find him funny, I second-guessed myself and relistened to his calls. LPC occasionally punches up; he once kept Alex Trebek on the line for seven minutes, insisting he had a massive delivery of sod “from Siam” for the host. (Work never stops for Alex: “I didn’t order anything from Siam, and Siam is no longer in existence.”) Locals are the more common victims, trapped by his absurdist requests and stoner lilt. As he distorted his voice and adopted aliases like “Cokie Blaylock,” “Dr. Gordon Hucker,” and “Trinidad, from UPS,” I laughed out loud in the privacy of my “home office,” and then continued emoji-reacting to messages on Slack. 


The Untamed (陈情令) |


In this Chinese serial melodrama, two exceptionally beautiful men journey to quell demons, cultivate souls, navigate familial politics—and shoot each other longing glances along the way. Turns out the answer to government censorship of queer relationships is just to make everyone else a lot gayer.


Fools Rush In |


Maybe the only romantic comedy to ask the question: Is Las Vegas the compromise between Aguascalientes and New York City? Whatever the answer, the Hoover Dam gets a lot of screen time.


Kentucky Route Zero |


The premise is simple: you’re Conway, a downcast driver making a final delivery for a failing antique store. Complications include a giant falcon and his human brother, a museum of foreclosed homes, a pair of vaporwave robots, a distillery manned by glowing skeletons, and, centrally, a rhizomatic ghost highway winding through the cave systems of Kentucky. KR0 uses simple economics to subvert the traditionally libertarian ideology of gaming. There’s no becoming the best since there’s nothing to beat. You’re in debt and you’re on the clock. Choices stop being choices; maybe they never were to begin with.


The Communist |


Walter Ferranini, an earnest postwar Italian Communist politician, is disaffected with his party, his lover, and his ideals. “I’m a modest activist with a dilettante theorist inside,” he says, reflecting my own looping inner monologue. A few months ago, Guido Morselli’s novel read like a mild warning about a wave of less-than-inspired socialist politicians who might have followed a Sanders presidency. Now, it’s a bittersweet dispatch from another world.


What’s Good at Trader Joe’s |


Detailed commentary on hundreds of Trader Joe’s items spanning a decade of new releases and seasonal drops. These are faithfully logged in a late-aughts-style blog interface, seemingly for no one in particular. Each entry is rated on a scale of one to ten “Golden Spoons” and grouped in categories from “Blahhh” to “Pantheon Level – The Best of the Best.” I hope they are making some money off of this thing.


Bitter Wheat |


A 2019 David Mamet production that may never be seen anywhere again. John Malkovich played Harvey Weinstein-inspired lech Barney Fein in this abrasive sexual harassment farce. Previews in London’s West End received praise from audiences before a barrage of one-star and no-star reviews steamrolled any hopes of an extended run or a New York transfer. Clumsily directed by Mamet (no one else would touch it), but sharp and funny enough to justify its place among his more palatable anti-Hollywood polemics. The text has not been published, so you’ll just have to take my word for it.


"Shark Lords" |


The standout segment of the FX’s Cake series presents a mismatched team of Australians—two “Extreme Sports enthusiasts,” a PhD with dementia, an intern, and an unwitting deckhand—travelling the seas to “dominate sharks.” The joke is bestiality. 


Benelet Sprinkler Pool for Kids |


The kiddie pool has been around for about eighty years. Apparently there was some craze back then and a whole bunch of inflatable things got invented all at once. Since then, most of the improvements have been cosmetic and absurd. You can get a kiddie pool with six-foot dinosaurs or one with built-in beer koozies. But the general concept––a plastic inflatable pool filled with disgusting water for disgusting children––has not changed much. This year, during a heat wave in California, I bought a splash pad, which is just a very shallow kiddie pool that looks like a pizza with little jets of water springing out the crust. There’s just enough circulation to not have to worry about sitting in filth. I’ve found it to be a marked improvement on the original, but I understand why people feel nostalgic about these sorts of things and I will not judge them for it.


Nine Eyes |


I get the feeling that it’s not uncommon to know someone who once mooned a Google Street View car. The medium is now nostalgic; being surveilled by something as conspicuous as a spherical camera on top of a hatchback seems almost quaint. Jon Rafman’s collection of Street View screenshots, which he has updated during quarantine, recalls the retro pleasures of people-watching, traveling, and hiding from—or showing ass to—multinational tech companies. Even the sinister images (an emaciated cow dragging itself across a road, a woman dry-heaving on all fours near a curb) are much better to look at than, say, virtual museum tours. 

E.S.B. |


Where lust and apparent luxury collide, coronavirus be damned. “The truth is,” the About page reads, “different cruise goer go on cruise for different reasons.” But many of these reasons are similar: “Interested in meeting other horny males,” says FuckStud before his ride on the Celebrity Summit. A hetero couple seeks anything but “male on male shit.” Luv2meet of “Cumswell,” San Marino writes: “live…laugh…lust :).” The pandemic must loom over some of the 2,367 minglers, but most don’t mention it in their bios. A perverse and distinctly American necessity, where the melancholic want “love, care and affection” and the randy are “dying to fuck on the High seas.”


“America” |


The lead single from Sufjan Stevens’s first solo album in five years trades the fragile guitars of 2015’s Carrie and Lowell for thundering electronic drums and ten minutes of ambient techno. It’s his most politically charged work yet, but the message is muddled. “Don’t do to me what you did to America,” Sufjan pleads. Is he speaking to me? To God? To a fiscally conservative love interest? I’m at a loss, but the outro sure does slap. 


Democracy |


Joan Didion’s essential conservatism, here tinged with a postcolonial nostalgia, animates this novel otherwise populated by lovers rhapsodizing on the beauty of nuclear tests and an unnamed character referred to nearly a dozen times as “the Tamil doctor.” Now a Senator’s wife in Hawaii, protagonist Inez used to work alongside a character named Joan Didion at Vogue in the 1960s. The book’s settings (Saigon, Jakarta, Da Nang, et cetera) are interchangeable; these characters manage to find chicken salad and chintz chairs in 100 percent humidity. To understand Inez, imagine if an inscrutable social x-ray took to heart the real Joan Didion’s famous and slightly cryptic essay “On Self-Respect,” in which giving “formal dinners in the rainforest” is posited as a chief example of respecting oneself. Still, I was primed to enjoy a novel filled with weak, icy drinks, talk of “the American exemption,” Garuda flights, and halfhearted tennis. And I did.


The Six Times Future Raps “Nobu” on Jumpman |


John McPhee once wrote that you only need a few words (“such as corn shocks, pheasant, and an early frost”) to bring a scene to life. Future accomplishes this with one (“Nobu”).


Yewande Komolafe’s Asaro |


A bright, spicy, and—most important—unfussy stew of plantains and yams. (Just buy a thing of fried shallots, to maximize unfussiness.) I’ve made this probably four or five times this summer, and will likely make it four or five times more.


Soccer Mommy on Club Penguin |


The first time Soccer Mommy endeavored to hold a virtual concert on Club Penguin Rewritten, the fan-made Club Penguin copycat site, the servers overloaded, and the show did not go on. The event was later rescheduled, and this time, the music prevailed. Animated penguins lobbed snowballs at each other while a purple, pigtailed avatar for Sophie Allison wobbled around, offering something sorely missed in quarantine: communal transcendence through live performance. My computer crashed twenty-seven minutes in.


Jackbox Games |


Firmly in the category of thing you’re not sure you’ll continue to use “after all this is over,” these digital answer-the-prompt games employ a cheesy interface and are emceed by obnoxious, disembodied voices (see Quiplash’s “Schmitty”). Hours of extended family fun. May trigger anxiety.


Cool for America |


Many have complained that Andrew Martin’s characters are mostly well-educated and self-aware, with a real ironic streak. What is mentioned less often is how awful they are when they drink.


Inside the NBA |


On August 26, Kenny Smith walked off the set of TNT’s flagship basketball show in solidarity with the players’ strike. A new tenor for the broadcast on which Smith’s co-host Charles Barkley once dunked his head in a tank of water to try to break David Blaine’s breath-holding record—and more courageous than anything the political commentators or late-night comedians have been able to muster. 


The Price of Peace |


Portrait of the economist as a cool guy. Zachary Carter’s Keynes is an uncompromising aesthete whose economic theorizing is a means of securing the high life—art, sex, champagne—against the threats of revolutionary upheaval, international instability, and domestic reaction. The narrative ends almost seven decades after Keynes’s death, having traced the decline of Keynesianism from a theory of economy and society to a set of mathematized tools for dealing with economic downturns by way of deficit spending. Written before the coronavirus turned Steven Mnuchin into the candyman, the book introduces a Keynes who seems likely to remain ever-present but faintly heard. 


The Octonauts |


The only program my two small children watch: a British adventure cartoon about sentient animals who rescue at-risk sea creatures. The characterization borrows widely from British television culture—there are odd American accents (the lime green Engineer bunny is supposed to be from Florida, but she has a soft Texan accent) and pantomime camp (Kwazii Kitten is a Kentish rascal pirate with a flair for ghost stories). I have many questions: Is the show’s key intertext Heart of Darkness or Are You Being Served? Where did the Vegimals learn to bake? Why is the polar bear, Captain Barnacles, so small? But I’m grateful for children’s programming that isn’t entirely migraine-inducing.


Bialetti Moka Pot |


In the world of coffee brewing, the ritual matters almost as much as the grounds. There is something about this coffee maker’s four-step process that calls attention to itself. Once in position, it invites you to assume your own: in front of it, at attention. Left too long on the stove, the coffee will burn. But under careful watch, it comes out exceptionally black, thick, foamy, scorching hot. This pot needs you as much as you need it. 


Covid-Era UFC |


The absence of crowd noise gives the Ultimate Fighting Challenge the welcome impression of unlicensed brawling, lending greater emphasis to the labored breathing and extra-meaty thumps and thwacks. Fighters can now hear the commentary of television announcers in real time and adjust their tactics accordingly. The whole thing’s reminiscent of prompt-based performance art in a sparsely populated theater.


Watching Relic (2020) at a Drive-in |


Traffic was all backed up, so I only caught the last twenty minutes. I was also parked way in the back and couldn’t see much anyway. A guy in the car next to me peed in a soda cup, and The Goonies was playing at the other end of the parking lot. I liked watching that instead. From what I gathered, Relic is about haunted Australians.


“Unalienable Rights and the Securing of Freedom” |


“America is special. America is good. America does good all around the world,” Mike Pompeo said in Philadelphia on July 16, coining an apt mantra for tyro diplomats. The seating arrangement of the Commission on Unalienable Rights looked like a Giacometti sculpture that day, according to the Commissioner on Unalienable Rights. 


Big Friendship |


Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman’s ten-year friendship, described alternately in a therapist’s third-person (“Aminatou could have been upset that Ann decided to move away. But Aminatou wholeheartedly supported the move…”) and an all-knowing “us.” Flattening the authors’ voices into an even consensus gives the book the tenor of a PR statement, which, to some degree, it is: Sow and Friedman, who co-host the podcast “Call Your Girlfriend,” are a duo in their professional lives, and the book attends to the pains and resentments that have lingered beneath the surface. Hillary Clinton called their story “universal.”           


Intimations |


Zadie Smith’s instant volume of quality quar lit begins with an apology (for not being definitive; for existing at all and so soon) and ends with an autobiography (an itemization of all the ways the author counts herself lucky—“my physical and moral cowardice have never really been tested, until now”). In between she ponders some big things—(in ascending order of interest if not philosophical penetration) the president, the compulsion to write, privilege, racism, suffering, death—and glances back at a few characters she saw in the Village before withdrawing a big wad of cash from the ATM and leaving town with her family. Heavy lies the crown on the primo interpreter of the now, ever aware of the limits of her range of vision. One night on Zoom her mother tells her of a neighbor who killed his girlfriend and burned their flat down. It could always get worse.

C.L. |


The most accurate models of how badly climate change is going to wreck American floodplains have all been private—secret projections used by asset managers like BlackRock. Until now! This new scientific model makes for much more effective doomscrolling than anything on Twitter lately.


HBO Max |


Makes my shortlist for top three HBO video apps.


folklore |


It’s nice to no longer pretend, as I remember doing in 2008, that I dislike Taylor Swift’s music.


Too Much and Never Enough |


Unreliable narrator Mary Trump guides us through a mucky overgrowth of familial grudges. Mary’s poor alcoholic father—mistreated, disinherited, martyred! Eric and Lara, so unresponsive to Mary’s supposed good-faith attempts at reconnecting! Ground-breaking insights into the modern presidency? “The White House was elegant, grand, and stately.”


12-to-18-Month-Old Mountain Lion |


First spotted in Russian Hill, then near the Embarcadero, looking at itself in mirrored office windows. The lion had wandered into the city after being separated from its mother; for a few days, its territory was all of San Francisco. The news reports on the short, strange journey read like a modern-day fable. Police detained the young male without injury—surprising some—and released it in the wild the same afternoon. Two weeks later, its body was found on Highway 1.


Canceling Quibi |


This recommendation doubles as a reminder: If you downloaded Quibi around the time it launched, your three-month free trial is probably expiring soon, if it hasn’t already. There are many benefits to canceling your subscription; among them the opportunity to reflect on the passage of time. How much has the world changed since you downloaded the ill-fated streaming app? How is it that the videos, at seven to ten minutes, seem both too long and too short?