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The Beam Yard

Dell Kaniper

Durky was a sacred cow, an old boy. He’d been a foreman since before your father, your cousin, were even born, let alone worked the mill. Hell, he’d always said, lazy-spitting, letting drips of chew further stain his yellowed beard. Hell, he had whiskers that’d worked the rollers longer.

Durky was a nice man, a kind soul, but he hadn’t gone easy. He could spot a gagged beam from way down and, no shitting, he’d stop the rollers, stop the line, and point out the man that’d let the twisted metal pass. It’s good for the boys, he’d always said, one hand buried under his two-bowling-ball gut, it’s good they know the steel comes first. Gives ’em the fear of God. Keeps ’em honest, Durky had liked to say, rubbing his under-belly. I’d pull the whistle on my own mother, he’d say then rock back on his heels and laugh and laugh.

In ’67, at seventeen, Mike had started rolling. Just like with the other pinkies, Durky had trained him. He’d showed Mike the pressure lever, the hot metal, the one two—lever up, pedal down.

First day at shift change, Durky had said he knew Mikey’s father, Frank. He’d said Frank was a good one, an old boy. Said he and Mikey’s dad had met before Frank went to the refinery. Decades ago, when they’d both started the line. At second shift—careful, he’d warned Mikey, it gets in your nose. Then, even in the yard where you can feel the wind and see the river, all you’ll smell is steel. Damn metal, it’ll ruin you, Durky had said, cracking a smile, a thick finger tapping his bulbous, broken-veined nose.

When the rumors started, Durky denied them. He’d said the Japs don’t know how to say steel let alone make it for eight cents a day. He’d said not to worry, that Durky and Mikey and Frank, they were the steel’s old families. He’d said the unions would protect them. He’d said they’d be safe.

Durky didn’t understand why he’d had no warning before the mill closed. He was an old boy, a sacred cow. If anyone, he’d deserved to know.

Almost 1

Sunny Park-Johnson

Almost 1

Almost 2

Sunny Park-Johnson

Almost 2

Varying Degrees of Closeness

Tishon

The Flight

After years of marriage, often the only link a couple has between who they were in the early stages of their love and who they had become is their children. Helen and Leonard, a couple whose marriage had long ago grown its own set of vocal chords, oddly, had nothing to say to one another during their flight from New Jersey to D.C. A mutual fear had bound their mouths shut. Leonard, for the first time, wondered how good of a father he had been. Helen was praying silently. Since Horsham’s phone call, all her private thoughts were litanies. Leonard, a man who normally was never short of words, was silent. He wanted to comfort his wife but each time he began to speak, it came out as a deep breath or sigh. Helen reached across the armrest and quietly placed her palm on her husband’s hand. It was the most they had said to each other in years.

After the flight.

Military facilities are like small states within states, fortified, autonomous complexes with their own inner workings, streets bearing the names of ships, or planes, or men of a certain level of honor.

Walter Reed Medical Center was no different from any other military facility. It was a place that, aside from the people passing through it, appeared unaffected by time. Rather, it seemed to be built by time itself. Old war tanks planted on patchworks of perfectly cut lawn stood like relics of some form of glory. The streets wrapped and arced, crisscrossing what could be mistaken for the same road over and over again, were it not for the buildings, whose shapes alternated between industrial and downright homey. The hospital itself was wall to wall of antiseptic marble tiling and green-white fluorescenty corridors, ending in double doors that always seemed to lead to more corridors. With so many hallways, one often wonders where hospitals find the space for patients.

The Martins’ morning began with a complimentary continental breakfast of shrunken bagels, an apple for Helen, and sweetened English Breakfast Tea. An old television flickered in the dining room. After breakfast, the Martins met a young officer named Bailey, who’d been assigned to take them to the hospital.

“We’re not going but five minutes from here.” Bailey explained. “But the hospital is big and it can get a little confusing. I still get lost sometimes and I work here.” He chuckled, in an attempt to lighten the mood. “We just want to make sure you folks get where you need to be.”

“Thanks.” Leonard responded.

He was uncharacteristically quiet; His mind on Delroy. The last time he called, Leonard was busy doing yard work. Helen had offered him the phone but he refused, saying he’d call him back. He didn’t call back but it was just the same. The two hadn’t spoken in months. Their last conversation ended in some forgotten insult. Now that Delroy was too old to be disciplined, insults seemed to be the only bit of conversation they had left.

Bailey led the Martins through the hospital, past other military families, and doctors who even though dressed as doctors, still bore the rigidity of perfect soldiers. Delroy’s room was dim. The natural light from the window, mixed with the industrial fixtures gave the room a mud glow. Everything seemed to beep or tick. The temperature was cool.

Delroy’s was in a deep sleep, his head wrapped in a turban of bandages. Immediately upon seeing him, Helen fell to her knees at his bedside, sobbing, her weight shifting the frame slightly on it’s wheels. Leonard, overcome by his wife’s emotion, didn’t move. Bailey, who had been watching from just inside the door, helped Helen to her feet and sat her in a chair next to the bed.

“It’s alright,” he said. “He’s still alive. God didn’t let him die. He’s gonna make it.”

The doctor was tall and thin, in the way you expect doctors to be tall and thin. He carried a single manila folder attached to a plastic clipboard. He greeted the family with an air that was neither warm or cold.

“He’s lucky to be alive.” He said, looking at Delroy, but not really looking at him, rather looking at the space Delroy occupied. “I’m Dr. Wallace. I’ll be taking care of (he paused to look at his clipboard) Delroy while he’s here. Are you his family?”

“Yes, I’m Helen, his mother. This is his father, Leonard.”

“He’s in pretty bad shape.” Dr. Wallace said, adjusting the array of bags and wires attached to Delroy’s body. “The good news is that his heart is beating fine and there doesn’t seem to be any damage to his lungs but it looks like he suffered severe head trauma. Parts of his brain aren’t getting enough oxygen.”

“What does that mean?”

“Well, we can’t say for sure, but it could mean brain damage. We won’t know until he wakes up.”

“Oh lord!” Helen’s face fell into her palms.

“When will he wake up?” asked Leonard.

Before

Dirt and Gravel fell from the bottom of the garage door as it creaked open. Delroy pushed aside his old bicycle, a basket of wooden clothespins, and a set of dumbbells covered in dust. His father’s records were in two cases tucked behind two speakers, nearly twice his size. He squeezed behind them and unlocked the first case. The springing of the latch caused a tiny explosion of dust. A feeling of joy and mischief overtook him. There were at least a hundred records. Never had he been so close to them alone. The only time he got to see them was if his father had friends over or asked for his help cleaning the equipment. Most of the records had plain black sleeves, their titles printed in white, but every few records, a spot of color jumped out. Delroy resisted reaching for them. He wanted the classics and he knew those were always wrapped in white paper sleeves.

First, he pulled out Gregory Isaacs’ Night Nurse. He’d first heard the song when he was about 7 years old. It was a staple at Jamaican cookouts.  His father’s friends would stand around in the backyard with Styrofoam plates of curry chicken and rice, discussing what they called politics, but what really was just conspiracy theories on subjects like the death of Bob Marley and why The Knicks couldn’t win a championship. The women populated the tables, sipping wine coolers and talked about the men, often laughing at their inane conversations.  At some point in the evening, his father would put on Night Nurse and the mood of the entire party would change. The music would take over. Gregory ‘s voice, soothing and sinister all at once, moved something in everyone. Even the kids stopped and listened. Those who knew the words sang along. Those who could dance danced. Delroy held the record to his chest as he waded through the memory.

The second record he pulled out was a limited-release single of Mary J Blige’s Love No Limit. It had several remixes, one of which was a dancehall version that had Mary J singing a Sister Nancy styled version of Love No Limit over a dub beat. He had been searching for it all summer but couldn’t find it anywhere. That Leonard had it was not much of a surprise. Even though his father hardly spun parties anymore, he spent hundreds of dollars on records and deejay equipment. They were his prized possessions. Just being in the same room as the records, without his permission could get Delroy into serious trouble.

He moved quickly and covered his tracks. He set aside all the records he intended to borrow and closed the cases. He pushed them back into the corner, taking care to place his bike and the basket of clothespins where he’d found them. He was feeling good. He closed the garage door and walked back to the house.

As he walked into the kitchen, he felt his heart fall right into his stomach. His father was sitting at the table eating a sardine sandwich.

He had been caught.

“Delroy, what’s that you have in your hand?”  Leonard took a bite of the hard dough bread, tilting his head forward but keeping his eyes on his son.

“Nothing.” He tried to speak and swallow the word at the same time. “I mean⎯”

“I hope that’s not my records. You know you’re not supposed to touch my system.”

“I know, Dad.’ His palms were hot. His skin itched and he could feel his underarms begin to sweat. His father must have seen the garage door open.

“Anything good in there? Let me see.”

Delroy handed him the records.

“You know you’re not supposed to touch my records.” Leonard’s face tightened. “They’re not toys. Go and put them back!”

“I know they’re not toys. I’m not stupid.”

Leonard catapulted from his chair and grabbed Delroy by the collar. He pushed him against the table, then spun him around and pressed him against the wall. “Who ya tink ya talking to?” His accent thickened.

Bits of sardine and spit flew into Delroy’s face, the smell so strong he could taste it through his skin. He trembled with anger and fear.

“Get off me!” He struggled to break free but couldn’t.

He took a hard swing at his father’s rib. Leonard laughed, pulled him in close, and pushed him back against the wall.

“A fight ya whan fight?”

Delroy threw another punch. His knuckle connected with the back of his father’s head. He was scared, his face swollen with adrenaline. Tears ran down his cheeks and onto his father’s fists, which still held him at the collar. He didn’t want to fight. He wanted to run away. He always wanted to run away. He hated his father and wanted to get as far away from him as possible. He tried to speak but couldn’t. He tried to move but couldn’t. Exhausted, he dropped his hands and wept. Leonard, still holding him, looked at his son and shook his head.

“Stop crying like a lickel girl!”  He snapped, loosening his grip. He pushed Delroy aside and left the room. “And put back my records!”

Still sobbing, Delroy picked up the records and brought them back to the garage.

Sur Mesure

Ania Pietraszek

Sur Mesure

The Wine Assault

Brie Hero

The two of us joined the others at Tandem at approximately 11PM on a damp, mid-March Saturday. The wind blowing down Troutman Street was wet and still cold. We had numbed the long subway ride—we came from South Brooklyn via the G train, switching to the L at Metropolitan—with a Coke bottle filled three-quarters with Jim Beam. The remaining quarter of cola was allowed to remain. We were looking for Sherrie.

The backroom of Tandem was being zealously pumped opaque by a fulblast fog machine when we got there, the fog scatter-shot through with poison green, pencil-thin laser beams. A birthday party for a stranger was in swing. The birthday girl was drunk and friendly and introduced herself. She wore vintage-style lingerie made out of a sort of worn, faintly-snagged white satin. I say “vintage-style” but it may have been real vintage, because otherwise I don’t know why she would have worn that size—it bagged around her body, like a diaper worn with a romper-top. She danced with a lurch, tottering on her heels, but above her gaping white top the birthday stranger’s lips, painted pin-up red, wore an enviable grin. She didn’t give a fuck. ’Cause it was her birthday.

She had a balloon drop planned for midnight, and as our group danced in the blanketing fog, spangled with lasers, we were suddenly buffeted by falling balloons like a kind of extraterrestrial weather event. Pink rain on Venus. They were filled with air, not helium, as I guess all balloons used for balloon drops must not be, and so they quickly began to pop under the feet of the dancers, adding their offbeat, machine-gun percussion to the DJ’s blaring flow.

Our plan was never to stay at Tandem; crashing this party was our point of assembly. Once everyone arrived, got their buzz started and popped a few balloons, Sherrie led the group out the door and down the maze of Brooklyn blocks towards another party, this one hosted by the Inca Fetish.

Sherrie bounded ahead of us down the block. She was dressed in another white vintage piece, but a better and more flattering one than the unfortunately Gandhi-esque lingerie. She wore a crisp, hospital-white jumpsuit, translucent on her small frame. She wore it with Raggedy Ann pincurls twisted on her head. The white glowed faintly, reflecting back the blank glare of the streetlights.

Sherrie was the leader of a difficult to define arts’ collective—she wouldn’t like to say they did performance art, but its best stunts did fit in with what I know about the early days of performance art, the funny satire that skewered art world snobbery instead of perpetuating it. Like Joseph Beuys going around a gallery explaining the pictures to his dead hare. Something like comedy.

Her collective was mostly female (some of its members were in our group that night) and, as she explained, she thought of Inca Fetish as “the boys club to her girls club.” She had been playing some kind of art world flirtation game with them, some kind of collaboration mating dance, and this appearance at their party was expected, she conveyed in as many words, to seal the deal on making some concerted happenings.

The Inca Fetish who greeted us, about 10 to 15 boys, were all bearded, skinny, in their twenties, with a kind of hard, punk attitude. Despite currents of macho spurting through the air, they were dressed in women’s clothes. It’s unsettling to see wirey chest hair sprouting from a tight, lacey bodice. To see a dude’s junk making an bulging through a pleated skirt. There was something about their badly done, not purely buffoonish drag, that seemed sinister. An insult to women. A comment on women’s clothes, bodies and what those add up to. They were questioning whether there is more to women than the sum of parts.

Also we learned the dress-clad collective was on acid. Communally. Looking around the disarrayed loft where the party was being held, you could almost see the mass of their swirling hallucinations projected on the walls. They ushered us into the kitchen; the main table was an empty coffin up on sawhorses.

We sat in the dark main room and they showed us videos they had made. It smelled like smoke. I remember a few women lying sprawled back in dark messy corners. A flock of wheelchairs—rickety, rusting, some missing wheels—was their seating. Nonsense images flickered on the screen. I sat in a wheelchair, drinking a 40 ounce of malt liquor we had picked up at the store.

Sherrie flitted in between the bearded, tripping men in drag, but she wasn’t making any progress. She was thinking, clearly, no great collaborations of art are going to be hammered out tonight. So she rallied our group, pointing towards the exits. And it was then, in the hallway, that the party got truly weird.

The leader of the Inca Fetish, who had introduced himself earlier as Jacob, followed us out into the hall. He pushed Sherrie back. He held her pinioned against the wall. He was brandishing a cheap bottle of wine. He gripped its neck, cocking his arm back behind his head. Before anyone could react, he tipped the bottle over her head. An ocean of red booze flooded down. It covered her face, making her gasp. It drenched her white jumpsuit, rendering it see-through. Then he smashed the bottle at her feet. He yelled, “It’s art!” He disappeared into his room.

Minutes later we were outside in the cold night, trying desperately to get Sherrie into a cab. The wind was blowing even colder. It was 2AM. Sherrie shivered, huddled with us under the streetlights. Her sodden jumpsuit no longer reflecting the streetlight glow.

Boring ≠ Bad: A Defense of Art

Sarah Van Bonn

A top-notch meal requires a skilled chef and an appreciative eater, a soaring skyscraper needs a strong foundation, and a healthy, happy romance calls for heaps of work. No pain, no gain, as the platitude puts it. Right?

The author of this piece in the NYTimes mag earlier this summer lamented what he saw as a pretentious drive to like art that we don’t actually “get” precisely because we don’t get it. He offered Solaris as an example of one of these aesthetic vegetables we don’t like but think we “should eat” anyway (the original—not the bastardized version with George Clooney, about which I just Google-stumbled on a delightful Salman Rushdie quote). In this guy’s view, Solaris was nothing more than long stretches of obscure imagery strung boringly together for the purpose of giving film snobs something to pretend they found meaningful. He readily admits he didn’t “get” it.

What I don’t get is how you can’t “get” something from Solaris. When I watched it, I saw a heartbreaking film about love, loss, memory, the beauty and folly of the human spirit: the main character forced to watch his dead wife parade around, knowing she is a mirage but not being able to help loving her or pretending partly that she’s real; the throbbing faultless malevolence of the planet below, which these astronauts have failed to comprehend the very sentient aliveness of (just as we here in the “real world” fail to comprehend the aliveness of our own planet); the ending’s false homecoming, showing with piercing clarity how much all the tiny little elements of earth matter, and nearly providing comfort—indeed, showing just how much comfort these details can provide—but in actuality leaving us even more bereft because (as every person experiences living out their own coming-of-age stories), it’s too late to return to what we once had, and “Home” has become something of a simulacrum. I could go on.

So reading this Times mag piece, written by someone whose need to be “entertained” was apparently so demanding that he couldn’t spend two or so hours of his life contemplating the very nature of his own incredible ability to contemplate what that life entails, I was grumbling out loud and clenching my fists a little, and feeling sad and honestly a little personally offended, especially when he mentioned Antonioni.

I get a lot of crap, most of it good-natured, from my non-snobby friends about how much I love art that most people find “difficult” or boring (and for how much I don’t enjoy sappy string-pullers or special-effects popcorn vehicles). And Antonioni has been a centerpiece of some of this ribbing. I once went to a screening of L’Avventura with a few friends, one of whom said afterward to my enormous dismay that his farts were more interesting. (The worst was that he actually thought of himself as an Antonioni fan, because he loved Blow Up (probably just for that awesome Yardbirds scene); clearly he failed to recognize the intensely similar thematic undercurrents of these two films.)

I don’t hate joy or fun, as I’m most often accused of when confessing to people that I detest movies like Indiana Jones and Titanic. And I don’t hate being entertained. But I also don’t think “boring” in the sense that most people might use that word to refer to a movie that doesn’t detonate a nuclear bomb every five seconds or feature Celine Dion’s wrought crooning about eternal love is a bad thing. I love a good TV binge as much as anyone, but I don’t actually think the job of good art and film is to entertain us.

It’s like how I’m quick to defend David Foster Wallace’s idiosyncratic prose, his nearly endless clauses, his narrative (un)structuring, his careful wordiness. I’ll do so any time it comes up, passionately (it comes up less often now that he’s proved the seriousness of his brain by committing suicide because of it). I know I can’t stop anyone from disliking him, but I can, and will, at least try to get them to appreciate what he was doing.

I’m not pretending or putting on airs or trying to act smart or be pretentious in my love of “boring” art, and neither are the artists who made it. Some people probably don’t even believe me when I say I LOVE these films. But I do. I really truly do. I don’t love boring art because it’s boring, but I’d never dismiss it for that reason either. Much of it is powerful and beautiful—meant not to confuse us for pretension’s sake, but to show us things we haven’t seen before and things we didn’t know other people could see too; to paint portraits of us so that we can learn not just what we look like but what we are like; to engage us in a conversation, to help us. The Emperor isn’t naked; he’s dressed in something we have to look hard to see.

No doubt artists exist who create obscure work that is really meant to be “ungettable,” but they are certainly far fewer than their detractors would have you believe. And of course, there’s something to be said for accessibility—you probably don’t want to make something so difficult to decode that your audience gets essentially nothing out of it. BUT…

Let’s go back to the oft-maligned Antonioni for a minute. Antonioni was a master of the sometimes-boring. I was recently totally stabbed in the heart by my first-ever viewing of Red Desert, which NYers had the luck of being able to see on the big screen when it played at BAM in September. I’ve always loved Antonioni, but after seeing Red Desert, I’m not actually sure how my past-self could have loved him SO much before seeing this film: it is so spectacular I can’t imagine A or my love of A without it. His first color movie (and he made that fact matter), it overflows with big and tiny elements that bowl me over (and, disclaimer-wise, what’s discussed here is just what I noticed on my first viewing—there is no doubt a bunch I’m missing).

I was hooked from the start:

Great puffs of fire fill the screen with a regularity that only nature or machine could produce. You can’t see where they’re coming from or what is making them (like so much of what we’re surrounded with in our modern lives). They are majestic, dangerous, captivating. Then it’s revealed: they are coming from a smoke stack. A factory. Industry. And what better symbol of human dominion over nature than fire? I mean, where would we be without it?

And then there’s Monica. Monica Vitti’s general amazingness is not really up for debate, but seeing Red Desert as I happened to—the day after attending a screening of L’Avventura at MoMAreally shows just how amazing that general amazingness is. She acts with her whole body: you see it in L’Avventura as she writhes around trying to push Carlo away and bring him into her at the same time, and you see it in the desperation that has drenched her entire body and spirit in Red Desert. Monica’s Giuliana is suffering with essentially the same struggles as Monica’s Claudia, but here they’ve been pushed so much further (to the limit, if there were such a satisfying teleological thing, which there isn’t and that’s part of the point—even suicide doesn’t work). In L’Avventura there’s no direct acknowledgement of the emptiness inside, the sense of slipping away. It is felt but not named. But in Red Desert, Giuliana tries everything she can to draw it out, pin it down, put words to it, identify it so that she has some hope of coping with it.

With the hungry desperation of a starving and possibly feral person, and probably in an attempt to care for her son or herself, G buys a sandwich from a worker standing outside the factory. She doesn’t care that he’s already eaten part of it (someone who knew the rules of care-taking would), and she offers to pay him for it (immediately we see that she could very well have bought her own sandwich, but for some reason was unable to). She doesn’t know how to get it herself so she uses money to buy it—a perfect little analogy for the alienation caused by modern industry and capitalism, the worker alienated from his own labor. How fitting, of course, that G is, as we soon learn, the wife of a head-hauncho at this sprawling menace of a factory.

The factory, indeed the entire movie, is the locus of a troubling sense that things aren’t quite right. As G’s husband and his colleague Corrado stroll the grounds, we see a giant puff of steam erupt sideways, obscuring the landscape (if that’s the right word), the puffs so loud that they wipe out any other noise and destroy the possibility of conversation (again: metaphor). It doesn’t look normal, and a silent exchange between the two men seems to address this. We see the steam and its blanket of unknown awfulness and wonder: Is it supposed to be like that? Is this a mistake? Is something broken? Will people be harmed?

That unasked and unanswered question of IS THIS WRONG? is a silent, pervasive query hovering over everything in the film, from the industrial domination of the natural environment, to G’s eventual infidelity with Corrado, which you can’t bring yourself to fault her for. The movie is a cascade of IS THIS WRONG? and HOW WRONG IS THIS? and WHAT IS WRONG?

Noise versus silence—the unasked, the unanswered. The factory is alive but the streets are dead. That’s the opposite of how it should be, right? People are alive; machines aren’t. Yet in the middle of the night, we see G’s child’s toy robot move aimlessly back and forth in his room, bumping into things, not knowing how to change its path or set itself up, make itself stop, make itself change, make itself right. In this way, the robot toy is more like G than any of her human cohorts.

Antonioni has crafted this world for our viewing, above and beyond even the most auteurist auteurs. Giuliana, in an attempt to anchor herself to the earth, is planning to open a store. What will she sell there? She doesn’t know. What color will she paint the walls? She doesn’t know. Giuliana walks out from her shop that sells nothing onto the quiet gray street, and walks over to a quiet gray table, where a quiet gray man is selling quiet gray wares. At first glance I thought it was clay, but then realized, it is fruit! Antonioni uses paint–a groundbreaking technique (which is also how he achieves the hyperreality of Blow Up’s greenest green fields) to show us the landscape through Giuliana’s eyes. We see through them often (the blurring of faces that shows she can’t get a grasp on identity, the shifting of colors that suggests her shaky grasp on physicality), and sometimes without realizing it. The line between objective viewing and the subjective tint of a mind’s eye is blurred so that it’s not always clear which lens we’re peering though.

Giuliana’s unsuccessful attempts to define her surroundings aren’t limited to her storeless store.  She is helplessly adrift. I just wish everyone who cared about me was surrounding me now, making a wall around me, Giuliana says to Corrado. When she goes to his hotel, and the clerk at the front desk asks her the name of the person she is looking for, she doesn’t understand the question at first. She puzzles over it, Name, what’s a name? before eventually realizing what’s being asked of her.

Corrado is hard to get a grasp on, for us the viewers, and for G. (Also there is clearly some historical subtext I’m missing about his foreignness—he’s Italian but not? A foreigner but not? My knowledge of this kind of thing is totally lacking.) How much of what he expressed to G was real empathy and how much just lust masquerading as understanding, creating a false front of empathy, which is what G so desperately craves. It’s not just emotional intimacy that Giuliana can’t get a hold on. Even the pleasure of physical closeness is denied to her. When she actually wants to make love, she can’t, and when she actually does make love, she doesn’t want to.

And after her failed attempt at gaining something from Corrado, she tries again. Maybe if she leaves this place, this empty gray machine, maybe if she heads to the sea, which she can see is alive, the way she wants to be, maybe then she will be saved. The sea is always changing, she’s told Corrado, which makes it hard to look at the land. With heart-wrenching desperation she asks him: What am I supposed to look at? It’s a sentiment anyone touched by depression’s quiet gray hand can empathize with. She can’t find anything salient on land (as we see repeatedly, when A show us the world through her eyes)—but maybe at sea.

She visits a ship, forms an escape plan, and asks a sailor she finds if there’s a place for her on board. The man replies in another language (I’m not sure which) and she goes on to hold an entire conversation with him without even realizing that they are speaking different languages. Really it’s not that different from all of her other conversations. Language fails. Names fail. Identify fails.

Her grasp on her own identity is as tenuous as her grasp on others’. She describes a girl, who was in a terrible car crash, who tried to take her own life. We know immediately (or at least suspect) that this girl is Giul, and eventually she knows it too. We see another version of Giuliana when she tells a story to her ailing son about a girl who swims every day in the sea. As she narrates, we see through her eyes again, her mind’s eye, and the imagery is stunning. After the bleak dreary gray of G’s actual environment, the beauty of this dream-story beach is a blow to the senses: a feast after weeks of gruel, the smell of thawing earth after months of winter, the ocean after a desert (here: literally). This is what Giuliana wants to escape to, or perhaps what she used to be. The connection between the natural landscape and the self is evident: the landscape sings to her; it becomes alive, the rocks look like flesh. Everything around her is awake and singing. Once she’s realized how alive it is, nothing will be the same.

This is what the environment should be like. But G can’t stay at the beautiful beach; she has to come back to her gray wasteland. She is no less affected by the environment here. The wasteland has its own noise, its own effect. But she can’t stay at sea. She has to come back to land.

The yellow smoke at the end is perhaps the movie’s saddest moment. In a scene that directly parallels the film’s earliest, Giuliana and her son wander the grounds. The anticlimax is just another symptom of the general hopelessness of moving forward or elsewhere, of G’s getting better—all that has happened in the movie has happened, the plot has unfolded, and yet we end up back in the very same place. The sea is always changing, but on land nothing is. As we’re shown by the inexhaustible repetitions of industrial structures that scatter the landscape throughout the film, this environment is recursive, infinite, inescapable.

When her son asks about the sickeningly yellow smoke pouring out of a smokestack, G explains it’s that color because it’s poisonous. What about the little birdies, the son wants to know. The little birdies know not to fly there anymore, G says, because if they do, they will die. This is essentially what G herself is trying to do—stay out of the yellow smoke—and perhaps trying to warn her son to do, but she is failing.

As the movie comes to a close, we see through her eyes one more time, the blur of the industrial landscape, a complex jumble of colors with no discernible features, nothing to hold on to, a sound and fury signifying nothing, which, after we step back from G’s perspective, snaps into focus as a collection of barrels and other factory detritus. Even these simple objects hold no shape to her; she is lost, awash in world with no discernible features and nothing to hold on to, trying her best to keep out of the yellow smokes that fills the bleak landscape of her existence.

So how could this movie not completely blow you away? Well, apparently quite easily. Though my movie companion didn’t fidget in impatience the way he did during the (admittedly slow-paced) first act of the four-hour screen version of The Iceman Cometh I accidentally subjected him to a few weeks prior (it was so good though!), I don’t think he was nearly as enraptured as I was. I don’t think anyone in the theater was, if the number of people scoff-laughing at the end is any indication. (HOW WAS THAT LAUGHABLE? I was fighting back tears). It sounded like they felt they’d been tricked or cheated out of something. That the “boring” anticlimax was somehow an escape on the part of the director, rather than an essential element of his message. I don’t know what film everybody else was expecting something they didn’t get from, but what I saw left me stunned and awed, my eyes a little more open, if also a little bit teary.

That’s the really ironic part.

Being educated postpostmodernism, I’m of course aware that a flim(/texts)’s “meaning” is not a one-on-one author-dictated math formula. Some of the above is perhaps not what A intended when he crafted the flim, and I’m sure I missed much of what he was trying to tell me. Same goes for that other master of “boring”: DFW. That said, I doubt anyone, including these artists themselves, would argue that these art forms are at base FOR and/or ABOUT human beings’ desire/need/maybe-impossible-quest/whathaveyou to connect with other human beings. (I’m referring most specifically to A and DFW here, but it extends.)

These artists who have so thoughtfully, carefully crafted something for us to connect to, whose very art itself is ABOUT the need to connect, the volatility and inevitable disappointing inaccuracy of language and representation, get accused of being obscure, or wordy for words sake, or boring, which they sometimes are, but why is that a bad thing? This is part of why Infinite Jest is so brilliant. Entertainment (lack of boredom) should not be the primary goal of a work of art—look at what “the Entertainment” does in IJ. It literally kills people. ‘Art’/media that is primarily for escapist entertainment purposes creates a neverending and insatiable need for itself. It makes it less and less easy for people to find satisfaction in the real world, driving them further toward escapist entertainment. It’s not healthy and it makes us sad and lonely. (Franzen said a lot more stuff a lot more eloquently about this in that DFW eulogy-of-sorts in the NYer this summer.) I’m also reminded of Cortazar’s short story “The Continuity of Parks” (same guy who wrote the short story Blow Up is based on—coincidence??), which I first read in my undergrad Intro to Comp Lit class (“Reading to Live,” was the course’s subtitle), taught by one of my favorite profs at the University of Michigan. It’s another clear cautionary tale about what passive reading can lead to, and it extends to passive viewing.

We know good things are rarely easy. If you let go of the drive to be entertained, and try to talk through things with your art, the way you would with a lover, you’ll be amazed what you find. It will stay with you for years. It will hold up a dark mirror to your world, show a haunting reflection. It will hold your hand when you’re walking down a dark road alone with what you’ve seen. And in the end, a piece of that closeness we desperately lack (a lack that Entertainment is both symptom and cause of—makes us crave and takes away from us) might just find its way in. For me, that’s worth working for.

Pillow Talk

Isabelle Davis

“Close your eyes. Think good thoughts. You need to go to sleep, it’s really late. I’ll be right here if you need me.”

“Buuuuuut. Wait. When will you go to sleep?”

“When I go home.”

“Oh. But. Where is your home? Who is there right now? Will you sleep by yourself? Where’s Beagle?”

“I told you before, remember? I live in Bushwick. It’s a neighborhood in Brooklyn, just like your neighborhood is Cobble Hill, which is also in Brooklyn. My cousin. He’s my roommate. I am sleeping alone. You just threw him out of the bed. Look, he’s on the floor. Stop squirming, that hurts my arm.”

“Oh. I forgot. I forget sometimes. Snuggle me.”

“That’s not how you ask and also, only if you try to sleep. Otherwise I’m going downstairs. You’re a big boy now–”

“NO DON’T GO LOOK MY EYES ARE CLOSED I’M ALMOST ASLEEP AND DREAMING I SEE A DREAM RIGHT NOW.”

“OUCH. JESUS. Stop. Pinching. Me.”

Giggles.

“Alright, I’m going then. Goodnight.”

“NOOOOOooooooooOOOOOOOOoooooooo
ooooooooOOOOOooo!”

“Don’t whine.”

“You know I never sleep until the middle of the night. Every time. I told you this when you met me. I’m not really sleeping until the middle of the night time.”

“Hm. Right. You did tell me. My mistake.”

“Where’s your mommy?”

“At her house.”

“And your daddy?”

“His house.”

“Oh. I thought she was dead.”

“My mom?!? Why on Earth would you think that?”

“Uh, I dunno. I just thought that.”

“Isabelle.”

“Yes.”

“Why are your eyes closed? Are you sleeping too?”

“No. I’m just resting.”

“Don’t do that. You should play on your phone instead.”

“Go. To. Sleep. NOW.”

“Do you love me more than dogs and cats?”

“Sometimes.”

Hysterical laughter. “You’re funny! You’re the funniest person I know.”

“Thanks.”

More giggling.

“Shhh.”

“Um, Isabelle?”

“Hmm.”

“Are you ready to be a mommy soon?”

Almost 3

Sunny Park-Johnson

Almost 3

Almost 4

Sunny Park-Johnson

Almost 4

Three Months

Blake Hamilton

MONTH 1:
You can do no wrong and you are a miracle in my life
before you it was drinking from 5 pm until I couldn’t stand up
every night
before you I knew only rejection and hurt and nothing like this
has been in my life before, nothing
What do you need? I’ll give it to you
let me rub you all night, even while you’re asleep, let me
hold you, run my fingers over your skin
Do you need some water?  Are you hungry?
let me make you come, come with me
What do you need?  I want you to have it
I made a heart on the beach out of hand picked shells,
it took me an hour and
I wrote your name in it

MONTH 2:
You can do no wrong and you are a miracle in my life
what we have is rare
I would like you to meet my family, my friends,
no pressure
Too soon?  I understand.
let’s go to see my friends in a city a few hours from here,
it’s on me
Do you need gas?  Are you hungry?  Come with me,
let’s eat
Have you seen this film?  Let’s read together by the water,
in the sun,
our place
we have a place now, you and I
I’ve told your friends, and now I’m telling you,
I can say it cause it won’t stay in any longer I’m telling you I love you
I love you
move with me, move with me where we can be happier than this,
I’ve got a spreadsheet, all detailed, the financial holes are filled so nothing
can follow us, nothing,
and I would like to pay off your car, can I do that?
I bought you something today, an ipad, and a case to go with it
I know you’re doubtful-
Get used to this, get used to me,
I’m not going anywhere, not going to leave you, wouldn’t
do that to
you

MONTH 3:
You can do no wrong and you are a miracle in my life
what we have is rare
come to the moutains with me
in the sky, above us, on the desert road
clouds split apart
and we agree it looks like a crab
Yes, I love you, very much
No, I’m not in the mood, that shouldn’t be sad
It’s my Ex, he texts me, wants me back, but I ingore him
I don’t want to be mean
You and I, we both have bad dreams
I am reaffirming you, you are attractive to me
This is how I am, you should know this by now, I’m not
distant
I’m not unattracted to you, we got sex out of the way, it’s not
a big deal now
Ideally, yes, you and I will move together, ideally
I love you so much
back from the trip and six days together and I’m calling you
on the way (somewhere)
to tell you, I love you again
and the next day I only acknowledge you in sporadic
jolts
and you’re asking me if everything’s fine and
I say I want my space, and when you come
back to my house and want to hold me I say if you want to
and we sleep
in the morning you ask again
and I tell you
I say, I love you.  As a person.  I don’t see you in my future.
and you’re crying, so I join you, clinging to your back, my hands
like pincers, but not because I’m sad
but because you’re crying
and I see you out later, at night, the same bar
and you’re still crying, and I say to your friend that
you seem so sad
you ask why? and it’s appropriate.  I expect it.
and I say, I have no reason, and if I knew
I’d tell you, it’s not the end of the world, it’s not the Ex, it’s not, it’s that I felt
pressured and
you’ll get over me eventually, isn’t that how these things work
I’m going swimming with my friends, and we’re going out later,
no talking between us
for at least 2 weeks, and we’ll be great friends, great friends
you’ll see

THE CLOSE:
You were great, you did nothing wrong
you were great, back to being alone
for me, that’s all, that’s all

(the sky over the same road, in the desert, is clear blue.  Nothing marks it.  And it goes forever)

Almost 5

Sunny Park-Johnson

Almost 5