thrill patrol

Getting lifted at a recent Sisters of the Dick function. I spy Sarah, Belle, Haley, Hazel, Lai Guy...who else? Photo by Rosie O.

Getting lifted at a recent Sisters of the Dick function at Fort Consolation. I spy Sarah, BabyBelle, Haley, Hazel, Lai Guy, Bree, Kathleen. Photo by Rosie O.

What up, dandelion heads? The sidewalks and already-way-pale awnings of Greenpoint, where I type this to you, are scorched, and everything is pretty untenable i/r/t heat, sweat, y “why didn’t I bring sunglasses”–style regret. But, since I am (a) wearing my favorite linen jumpsuit (this red paisley deal-o that’s very Skank Joan Baez) and (b) undeterred as ever, I’m out in the world, staring loosely at a paper cup of coffee, and feeling mad aestive.

AND QUITE CLITERALLY PECKING AWAY TO YOU ABOUT THE GODDAMN WEATHER! Is this who I am now? I gently ask you to lead me out to pasture, should this meteorological bloviatin’ go unchecked for too much longer. At least maybe it’ll be breezy there!!!! (Seriously, my temple aches for a gun.)

Some stray addenda plucked from my recent-style lifezone:

- I wrote a Rookie essay about Mark Ruffalo/Sappho, crotchvasions, being a cool sex-haver in stylish denim jeans, and wanting to howl foul invectives at a stunning wonder of the natural world, which is to say, I wrote about the mechanics of sexual consent!

- If you would like to read my first Rolling Stone piece, you first have to guess what it’s abou—WHOA, quick draw, the answer is Morrissey, but maybe give the others a chance next time! You don’t always have to be the smartest li’l eukaryote in the room. (Aw, don’t give me that look—you know that’s part of what I like about you. Your arrogance, and your having-of-a-nucleus. Great work.)

- I cannery stop making playlists! This one has an overwrought name and an overwrought tonality, but what else are you supposed to do when your heart is a protean mass of carbonated slime, the Ramones cover of “Needles and Pins,” glacier shards, this poem by Marianne Moore, yawnin’ yearnin’, actual needles and pins, and discarded gum wrappers? I mean all that in a good way. (Kind of.)

To this end: Here are the jams I’ve been kicking out of late. If you’re not into Terry Reid, unfocused shoegaze, Ike & Tina (or just the latter, at the very LEAST, and if not: I ask you press a finger to one of your pulse points immediately—I’m concerned about your status as a living human person), ’80s coke-shimmy optimism, and/or Mary Wells, TURN BACK NOWWWW.

 

So that’s WHAT IT IS, your girl–wise, this restless aestivus. Consider my amorphous heart hot and pale, like the shredded awning of a second-rate pharmacy. Consider me “your obedient servant, but also, in this age of supermarkets, your friendly neighborhood grocery store.” Consider me yawning, yearning, slimy, and sunnily shredding.

ABOVE ALL ELSE: Consider me Skank Joan Baez.

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I really do feel I’ve earned it. Wouldn’t you agree?

In diamonds and lust,

ARS

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collective corrective surgery

An impossible comic by Ken Doll Koch.

An impossible comic by Ken Doll Koch.

Hey smiling strange

You’re looking happily deranged, which, coincidentally, is exactly the feeling I’m living inside of righ nah, as ever. How’re you, though, really, ya little multigraph? Keeping them terrible teeth n’ claws well-sharpened, I hope? Some new things happening to/for/with your girl:

- I wrote my first piece for The Guardian recently, if you want to read me doing my serious voice about Kultural Koncerns.

- As of a week ago, I’m home from a two-leg flânerie to:

Me, me, and Jessica Hopper's knee in our Seattle suite, as told to Instagram.

Me, me, and Jessica Hopper’s knee in our Seattle suite, as told to my Instagram.

A) Seattle, where I attended my first-ever EMP Pop Conference. I presented a paper about the way introversion/extroversion is expressed in Morrissey’s music (and inside/outside of me and other listeners) and appeared on a panel called Critical Karaoke, where I mumbled a weird half-poem I wrote about this Kendal Johansson cover of a Big Star song, feeling pandered-to in the series of yellowed rec rooms where I yawned through the dull romances of my teenage years, and the whooshing ocean.

Radio, my Transmission. Photo by Nick Kozel for City Pages.

Radio, my Transmission. Photo by Nick Kozel for City Pages.

B) Minneapolai, where I inhaled Westerbergian air, bought some INCREDIBLY salacious denim shorts in preparation for the looming, blooming SUMMERTIME, and did a little soft-shoe and a little boogaloo (for you) at an excellent Smiths night called Transmission. I’ve since become breathtakingly obsessed with its DJ’s radio show, which I aggressively recommend you check out on The Current, Minnesota’s lovely public station.

 

- I’m currently scarfing down Kenneth Koch’s visual poems (see all the way above),  this teeth-licking, bouncy Italo disco track by Baby’s Gang, the collected Lingua Franca (if anyone can hook my brain up to some old issues, EMAIL A BITCH POSTHASTE), this De La Soul megamix by DJ Platurn, the occidental, wondrous, and hella grisly novel Lonesome Dove, and Arab Strap’s Philophobiaa handsome little cut of which you can hear in this video YouTube sound-o-gram.

- I spoke to the Huffington’s Proste about the tinctures and balms I smooth onto my face in order to feel a little bit less monstrous as a human being with other human beings’ eyes scuttling across her.

Overall: I’m okay. I’m cool. I’m blooming, and looming, and, above all else, happily deranged. I hope the same is true of your own personal soft-shoe-ing and boogaloo-ing, however it is you may be doing it at the moment.

Yours in sweaty fervor,

ARS

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shruggy dancing

I accidentally spoiled the entire plot of Empire Records for Laia this morning (I have never seen this movie):

 

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in the flesh

I interviewed my queen, Debbie Harry, and her Blondie bandmates for NME and cried on the sidewalk after. Here’s the story.

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Blondie singer Debbie Harry’s laughter is more eloquent than many people’s spoken vocabularies. She modulates it in the same self-sure way she does the famously varied range of her singing voice, and uses different species of it to communicate disparate levels of her enthusiasm about any given topic: A slow hiccup of laughter signifies indifference, as I hear when I ask her a tired question about women and sexuality, and she expels a strongly annunciated “HEE HEE HEE” through a grin when she’s genuinely taken with something, like when I nearly fall over when she tells me how much she loves Pitbull. “Mr. Worldwide?!” I sputter. “HEE HEE HEE,” she answers, apparently pleased at having shocked me, before going on to sing the bridge of the Wanted single “I’m Glad You Came,” another current listen of the band’s. My universe will never be the same.

“That’s a total reggaeton song, but sung in English,” opines guitarist Chris Stein, whose globe-encompassing appreciation for musical genres of all stripes has most recently included what he calls “Latin electronica,” the newest in an encyclopedia of sounds the band has explored over the past 40 years, including punk, new wave, disco (most notably on the international smash “Heart of Glass”), saccharine 1960s-style pop, reggae, and, unforgettably, hip-hop, which they helped break to radio audiences in 1980 with “Rapture,” which features Harry performing spoken word in lieu of singing. “Rap wasn’t everywhere [back then] like it is now,” she remembers—not even in New York City. “It was in neighborhoods like the Bronx, Harlem, and Newark, New Jersey.”

“You had to seek it out,” continues drummer Clem Burke. “Debbie and Chris had a couple of friends who pointed the way, like Fab Five Freddy and Jean-Michel Basquiat.” These downtown bedfellows speak to how Blondie, one of the key bands to come out of the legendary rock club CBGB, is utterly of New York—for music fans, one cannot mentally exist without the other. But the band applied what it absorbed creatively in its ancestral homeland to an audience far larger than one metropolis, continuing to expand their sonic reach as they did. “We were one of the first bands to bring in synthesizers and work with electronic sounds versus acoustic or guitar sounds,” Harry says by way of describing Blondie’s freewheeling incorporation of styles over the years. “It’s been a path. I’m always inspired by new technology—I think it’s really exciting and wonderful.”

That adventurousness, Harry says, is inherent to the band’s existence, despite the pressure to stay in line with the visions other people had for them. “I don’t know how many times we were told, ‘Do another song like “Heart of Glass!” It’s impossible to really do that. I’ve seen artists come out with a second song after they’ve had a big hit, and then they try to replicate it with a follow-up song, and it usually just falls flat. I think it’s more of a challenge to be creative and do something that you like instead of taking the easy way out and doing another ‘Heart of Glass!’” Record labels weren’t always pleased with this stylistic game of hopscotch, but, Harry maintains, “You have to take a stand. It’s a toss-up between being in a business, and being an artist. Sometimes you have to hold your ground and refuse to do what’s expected of you, even if it could make you money.”

According to Stein, they didn’t care much about their finances either way: “When we were starting out with this shit, we just wanted to play basements. That was my idea of being a rock star.” When I mention that this doesn’t exactly jibe with the image that wry fox Harry has maintained over the course of the band’s career—in the past, she’s maintained that her singlemost goal as a young artist was to be famous (to what degree of facetiousness is uncertain). Now, she clarifies that her idea of notoriety  only applied within certain circles: “My idea of fame was to be a beatnik—maybe not mega-stardom,” as if someone with her charisma, talent, and beauty could have ever tamped it down. In every movement, she is a spotlight perpetually turned on herself.

“It was the antithesis!” Stein interjects, prompting Harry to snort-laugh her staunch agreement: “Shit, yeah! I think my use of language may have been at fault there. I wanted to make a discovery about myself more than having other people discover who I was. I’m really only concerned with letting people have a certain amount of me—not all of me,” says Harry, a person whose likeness has probably graced hundreds of thousands of T-shirts and posters—not to mention artworks by her friends Andy Warhol and Steven Sprouse—over the last four decades. Excepting a certain 1950s actress, she’s got perhaps the most famous peroxide job in history. Her visage is recognizable not only to beatniks, but every other boy and girl on Avenue A and the whole world beyond it.

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Never before Blondie had a band spawned in the downtown punk scene—or any well-known band, really—so nonchalantly (but explosively) subverted the narrative of where women fit into contemporary pop music—especially if they also liked to be sexy. On songs like “X Offender” and “One Way or Another,” Harry made female desire sound predatory and vicious, perhaps drawing inspiration from the catcallers who inspired her band’s name. “I was determined not to be portrayed, or portray myself, as a victim, which I felt had been the standard for women when they were singing—it was always that your heart was broken, BLUH BLUH BLUH, you’re all ripped up…”

She breathes a less-than-enchanted, staccato Blondie-laugh, a polite conclusion that lets Stein know she’s over this topic and it’s his turn to talk. “Janis Joplin was such a strong presence, but her lyrics were all ‘Ball and Chain,’ women are losers, ‘Down on Me.’ They’re all about wanting to be submissive.” The band didn’t share in this wish, which, Burke says, some listeners were less than thrilled about: “One of the reasons we got so much criticism about Debbie’s overt sexuality was because it was scary to the male-dominated rock world, and especially the media guys. It was really a boy’s club—as much as the band scene was a boy’s club, the fuckin’ male rock-crit establishment was worse.” Expressionless, Harry picks at an unknown something on the leathern pair of pants she’s wearing.

Ghosts of Download, the band’s forthcoming album, continues to play with similar dynamics of sexual power—its songs have names like “Sugar on the Side,” in which Harry’s narrator, annoyed by her lover, tells him their relationship will be all right as long as she vengefully bones someone else, and “I Want to Drag You Around,” which is a sweeter sentiment than it sounds like, but not by much. It also incorporates the futurism its title implies, including not only Stein’s newly beloved Latin electronica, but all manner of aural meditations on the internet. “I wonder what is to become of the fact that everybody is now connected to somebody else all the time, 24/7,” Stein says. “As William Gibson said, the body language of how people used to smoking cigarettes has now become cell phone manipulation. It makes for a whole culture that is less centered, maybe, where’s there’s no place that people are drawn to because they’re always connected to somebody else. With that said, I’m always on the fucking phone!”

While most of us mortals can relate to Stein’s sense of tension between our digital and tangible worlds, Harry is less conflicted. “I’ve always fought very hard for a certain amount of anonymity and privacy. I don’t participate as much as Chris does—I’m very selective, and it’s very minimal for me. People are looking for public notice without actually being in showbiz. Everyone thinks they’re in showbiz online! If I choose to send something out, or write something to a friend, that’s one thing, but I’m not looking for that kind of attention. I have another kind.” I think she might mean the type where the subject of your sexuality has been so thoroughly parsed by outsiders that picking at trouser lint is a more interesting use of your minute. Burke counters that it’s unavoidable to be a public figure without being subjected to all the newfound intimacy of the internet: “There’s a lot more candid stuff now, like people bringing their cell phones into gym changing rooms and things like that.” Harry coos, “Ooh! I think we should all just wear raincoats,” and pretends to whip hers open and flash us.

She goes on: “I also think that there will be some kind of Luddite backlash. People in general will just all of a sudden unhook themselves. It’s such a waste of time.” To Harry, it seems “ghosts of download,” however grammatically confusing a phrase, foretells a real future in which we, en masse, will say RIP, MP3. Burke disagrees: “Bowie did the complete polar opposite [with The Next Day] and just kept quiet, with no advance content or anything.” I start to mention Beyoncé’s similar surprise attack, but before I even reach the acute accent on that é, Harry is slyly saying, “Oh, we knew about that six months before December! We’re in the industry.” When I make a joke about their actually being close friends, Harry pantomimes a telephone with her hand, cannily saying, “Bee?” into it and ruining my heart for anybody else on this Earth in the process. You can call her any-anytime, Mrs. Knowles-Carter.

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Truly, the band has a bit of a fascination with newer artists: At different points in our conversation, Burke jumps at the chance to expound upon Lorde’s PR strategies, or Stein mentions in passing that he’s a fan of the rapper Iggy Azalea. In reflecting on Blondie’s legacy, Stein says, “When we were starting out, there wasn’t anybody in the rock or pop world who were in their fifties and sixties, since it’s such a new genre. It remains to be seen who’s going to be around from this generation in 40 years. I think Gaga will.” Burke proposes Jack White as his personal Fantasy League pick.

“What about you?” I ask Harry, who wittily answers with her tongue lodged high in the flying buttresses of her cheekbones: “Will I still be around? I’ve been around! I don’t know if I can go around much more, but I’ll keep trying!” I protest—No, for real. “It’s hard to predict, because it’s a matter of whether you love it that much,” Harry says, as if challenging the very possibility that someone else out there might like the job she’s done so innovatively for the past 40 years more than she does. When one considers the thoughtfulness and straight-up glee with which she talks about her work, it does seem a little hard to believe: “I think [each one of us] is dedicated to being a musician. Obviously, if Clem wasn’t in Blondie, he’d be playing music elsewhere—that’s it. There’s no doubt in my mind that Chris would be playing with someone else. For some reason, fortunately, we’ve come together with some of the same life-force and desire to keep doing it. It never feels forced in any way for us. If you’re consumed with making something that’s going to be valued by other people, instead of thinking about the value it holds for yourself, it gets in the way of your thinking.”

Our meeting ends as the band hustles off to practice for a pre–Super Bowl performance they’re giving the next day in Times Square, one of many live shows they’ll play this year. This particular concert will be outdoors, and, to keep warm, Harry tells me she’s going to wear “a feather jacket and silk underwear, like a down comforter.” Of course she is. I’m not sure what my face is doing; I hope I’m properly stifling my joy. “Well, nice knowing you,” Harry says, and laughs her special laugh-language contentedly because she knows that, despite my best efforts, I am only walking away with a certain amount of her. Even after four decades of performing with Blondie, Debbie Harry still belongs staunchly to herself.

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MUST LIST: bulldozers in love edition

Can you find all the ghosts hidden in this picture? Hint: The first one is at bottom right.

Can you find all the ghosts hidden in this picture? Hint: The first one is at bottom right.

GREETINGS, EARTHLINGS! (God, do any of you still have, like, some uncle that says that? You have to have a talk with him about this behavior.)

I’m writing to you  from the heaven of my bed in Greenpoint, having just returned yesterday from the psychic used car lot/dirtbag Valhalla/dream factory that is my ancestral homeland, aka suburban New Jersey. I was there for a great many days, during which time I made a Christmas sojourn with my family to our favorite abandoned insane asylum (I totally pretended to see a poltergeist, see above), fucked up my nascent only-fish-and-cheeseburgers vegetarianism by eating ham almost exclusively during my stay, and tried to divine sorta-correct answers to when my little sister repeatedly asked me, “What’s trending in Miami right now?” I don’t know what’s trending in Miami, Madeline. Actually, you know what, now that I think of it? If you’re asking me, fibbing about the supernatural is really hot this season. That, or maybe neon. Pass the ham.

So! Now that I’m settled back in, I’d like to present this freshly-butchered MUST LIST for your perusal. I GOT SO MUCH I WANT TO LOB YOUR WAY, DARLING EARTHLINGS, so here are all the things that are totally trending in my brain right now:

1. Iron-on letters

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I bought tons of these deadstock rainbow iron-on letters from the 1970s so that I can gussy up all my gross old denims ‘n’ such with whatever ill-advised slogans my heart desires. Some ideas:

- BRUISER, the nickname I asked my friends to give me as my 18th birthday gift while knowing full well that you can’t ASK for a nickname and not even caring one whit
- IF YOU HEAR ANY NOISE / IT’S JUST ME AND THE BOYS / BOPPIN
- BILL THE CAT 2014  (Sidenote: Did you know there are two bona-fide recorded tracks credited to Billy and the Boingers? They were included on a record that came with a Bloom County book in 1987. Objectively, they’re not the most polished examples of songwriting or musical ability, but fuck a drooling cartoon feline if I don’t totally love them with all of me. Also, it’s looking like my daily struggle against getting a Bill the Cat tattoo is going to persist into the next calendar year. At this point, the best we can do is hope that I don’t opt for one that includes barf.)

I eagerly welcome further advice on this very pressing press-on matter.

2.  Kat Von D Lock-It Tattoo Foundation

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This is the best foundation in the world, although I understand if, after buying it, you hide the bottle when you have people over lest they think you’re super down with her aesthetic and are tryna become a similarly styled TAT-TOTALLY ROCKIN’ ROCK ‘N’ ROLL BITCH BABE-GUITAR. Personally, I welcome any gritty changes to my image, however hackneyed, that might help corrode the irrepressible wimpitude I unwittingly beam into the world at all times. Please, call me Bruiser.

This BADASS ROCK FACE SLUDGE is truly the most matte, long-wearing, and uniform in its coverage of any I’ve ever worn, so I’m attached to it for good now. In keeping with this new style direction, I guess I have to put off the Bill tattoo and get one of, like, a dumb old winged heart that’s somehow on fire. Or maybe one of those cultural-appropriation koi fish…that’s also somehow on fire. I’m gonna look so rock ‘n’ roll, I can’t even wait.

3. This playlist I made the other night when I was pretending to be a bulldozer pining for its unrequited object of desire (see last post for more context)

I’m still enjoying this mindset, so this one goes out to all the soft-hearted lummoxes who don’t know their own strength except for the strength of their lonesomeness. The Lennies of the world who can’t help but stay petting rabbits far too hard. The King Kongs who lie awake all night dreaming of how to look cool in front of Fay Wray. The heavy-handed true of heart and clumsy of limb. This is my ham-fisted beast-Valentine to you. Hope you like Abba and Gang of Four.

4. This Sheila Heti essay about what constitutes fiction and how that affects a reader (and whether God is dead)

I haven’t read the book that serves as the nominal subject of this essay, Karl Ove Knausgaard’s second volume of the serialized autobiography My Struggle, but I care deeply about the topics Sheila Heti covers in thinking about his work: the inherent impossibility of trying to truthfully commit the past to text, the “false distance” of nostalgia, the romanticism of presenting something as fiction vs. the supposed admirable frankness of framing the same work as nonfiction, and the differing degrees of power over the material that result from the outcome of a writer’s making that decision. Here, see for yourself, then get to reading the rest of this beauty:

Knausgaard has said that while he forgets painful stories told to him in confidence by the people he loves, and plots of novels he’s read, he vividly remembers landscapes and rooms. Writing, for him, involves filling these rooms. But before that could happen in the way it did here, he had to encounter the rooms and landscape of his childhood and past as auraless, ‘small and ugly’. Nostalgia is a false distance, we feel it everywhere, its ‘sameness’. The aura of nostalgia is akin to the aura of ‘the novel’. It brings life close but makes that life unreal. It turns the past into something it was not, the way conventional novels make of life something it is not. When nostalgia dies, our romantic stories about our lives die, our impressions of who our parents were die, and novelistic conventions also die. Also dead is the consensual safety that fiction brings with it, the presumably ethical veil behind which writers protect themselves from their family and friends: it’s not you, that’s not your name, your hair is not red, it’s made up.

X ARS

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feral superman-type outlook

What it is, young champions? I’m listening to the same song endlessly and peregrinating around my bedroom doing weird monster-in-love dances. Think Frankenstein joyously throwing daisies into gray water and you’ve basically got it. This happens whenever I set out to do some housekeeping. Fake eyelashes and other assorted grit huddle together more and more menacingly in the corners each day—my offspring. I ask you, how could I possibly murk them?

ITEM: I finished Morrissey’s autobiography earlier this month. It made my bones feel like they were both more calcified and ALSO filled with antifreeze. My posture is duly improved. ITEM: I’m now a story editor at Rookie and it’s having the same effect as above. ITEM: I have not had a cell phone since eight days ago, when I unceremoniously drowned it in a toilet bowl. My friends were making me laugh and it nosedived from my back pocket into the drink. Just be glad that certain things aren’t hereditary, as when my dad tried to dry off a phone he had given a similar funeral at sea by MICROWAVING IT on a doubled-over paper towel, engendering a small display of fireworks and one of my favorite stories to tell about who he is as a person. Anyway, this will all be rectified tomorrow when I get a new machine and close the book on this weeklong period of feeling simultaneously like an awful friend and a destination-free sailboat. My impulse has always been CANCEL ALL MY CALLS, you know? Do they make Wall Street Kid for the iPhone yet? Also, can everyone start calling me “Wall Street Kid” in place of my Christian name?

Man, what else can I tell you? I guess just this: Death-defying licks of the compass wheel.

You’re all my favorite. See you never/whenever.

Sincerely,

Wall Street Kid

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dream operator

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Copses and a marsh, as seen from the back porch.

Why, hello there! As I live and breathe! I haven’t seen you in a dog’s age, I feel. I’m currently reporting in from New York’s Hudson Valley, which, as I glance as it through the glass door to my right that my odd cat paddles at longingly at all day, is looking robustly autumnal and lovely on this particular October Wednesday. I haven’t moved here permanently; it’s just a pleasant place to come and write, listen to Velocity Girl, and gaze at the cat as she, in turn, gazes at the decaying foliage with a feline version of this song very likely coursing through her furry dome. (Side note: I fucking love Akon so much.)

So. So! What else is new? Well, it’s probably worth noting that I quit my day job at BuzzFeed exactly a week ago today in order to return to a more, shall we say, unrestrained life, in which I can costume myself daily in one of my manifold decades-old cheerleading uniforms, plus am no longer professionally required to conceal the existence of my last condiment-rife photo shoot, which took place in a heart-shaped motel Jacuzzi filled with dollar-menu McDo cheeseburgers. What can I say? I believe nudes should be tasteful in more ways than one and, when possible, (non-euphemistically) involve pickles.

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The greatest day of mein leben, perhaps.

Aw, but you know I’d be fibbing if I told you that unleashing my burger-laden bod unto the world was the real motivation behind my defection from the Land of the LOLcats. All will be revealed shortly, comrades. In the meanwhile, let’s reminisce about my recently-forgone job for a moment—it was enormously fun, for example, to attempt (quite unsuccessfully) to fend off tears in Richard Hell’s apartment, and make a pilgrimage to Nowhere, Colorado to stand at the feet of Paul Westerberg as I mooned over the Replacements with some stray teenagers, and, of course, to lose a shoe at McDonald’s, an establishment which is quickly becoming the accidental nexus of this post, as I tried my hand at attending Fashion Week for the first time.

Otherwise, during this brief interstice between jobs, I’ve been sustaining myself with vast quantities of Mary Gaitskill short stories, each of which scurries off with a new part of my heart as I finish it, foraging for deer mandibles and ancient, foggily-glassed bottles in the prodigious forest behind this strange new upstate haven, and running my meathooks lovingly through my recently-acquired hair extensions, which have the nice effect of making me feel like the imaginary fifth member of Mötley Crüe. This, truth be told, is not too shabby a state of mind—the Crüe, after all, understands the great affection I held in high school for smoking near institutional toilets, not to mention, of course, for girls, girls, girls.

Yow. So that’s how tricks have been of late. I hope you’re well, too, and at the very least, that you’re living your version of trying to build a reputation as the fast-food version of Jayne Mansfield, which is to say, your version of the truth. Have a beautiful rest of your autumn, killer.

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