LIFE HARVESTER #1: Three Loosely Related Novels, The Television Show Riverdale, Punk Demos & Cardi B, Chili

Welcome to my monthly newsletter. This is mostly a solipsistic exercise, but I realized I'm a monster and need an audience to do ANYTHING, so here we are. You knew what you were signing up for.

You know I do a podcast where I interview my friends and people I want to be friends with right? Last month's episode with Mya Spalter was great. She's been my best friend since high school and she just wrote a book about witchcraft that's so sick. This month we have Caroline Paquita, my best friend since less than high school but for probably like, nearing ten years. We talk about punk stuff, getting into and making zines, healthcare, interacting with queer elders through art. It's tight. Caroline is the shit. It'll be out before the end of the month, subscribe now so you don't miss it.

I read three novels this month. Dogeaters by Jessica Hagedorn, The Bull Loving Truth by Ian Lawrence Campbell Swordy, and Rat Bohemia by Sarah Schulman. They bear some similarities. They're all three about tragedy and loss; all three mention heroin addiction prominently, though only two of the three have characters who are addicts; two take place primarily in New York City, while the third ends there; two have multiple narrators, one is a memoir.

I read Dogeaters like 15 years ago, but barely remembered it. Honestly, I picked it up a couple weeks ago because Hagedorn's author photo looked like someone I'd be friends with and her last name is close to mine. I had a vague memory of enjoying it, but I don't remember much of what it was like because I rarely remember much of anything I've read, only vague emotional impressions. Part of this monthly exercise is an attempt to synthesize information better, pay more attention, be more alert. Or at least keep a record.

So Dogeaters. It takes place in the Philippines in the 1950s. The story is told from a number of voices--the daughter of a country club owner, a corrupt general, a junkie hustler/nightclub DJ, a young douche trying to make it in the movies--and documents chaos, corruption, and scandal in the political upheaval of that moment, a time and place in history which I know little to nothing about. For me what stands out here is Hagedorn's casual attitude towards sex work and drug use, neither of which seem to be deployed for shock value, but are dealt with matter of factly. It's a riveting story, well told, with gripping, realistic characters whose' inferiorities reveal greater insights into the human condition. There's also lots of seedy shit and I like that.

Next, or actually in the midst of reading Dogeaters, I read ​The Bull Loving Truth by Ian Lawrence Campbell Swordy in one sitting. Ian is my friend so I can forgive him that his name is too long and his book is too short. I can't, however, talk about it with any clarity because it's just too close to home. Ian documents his life from high school in Long Island, to now, living in Queens, and the distances he travelled, both physical and emotional, to make it there. He makes his way across the country and abroad, falls in love and gets married, drifts apart from his best friend, who dies of a heroin overdose. That best friend was also a friend of mine and his death was ten years ago. I dedicated my book to him. I've been on a weird nostalgia trip lately, largely reflecting on this decade, so coming home from New York for Thanksgiving to find Ian's book in the mail couldn't have been more serendipitous. It's good, I read it in one sitting, but I'm not sure how much there is to hold on to if you didn't know us back then, which may be honest critique or may just be me inscribing my fears for my own book on the work of a friend. I guess I'll have to get a therapist again if we wanna find that one out. This is a perfect snapshot of youthful bravado, a New York that old-timers were already saying was dead and buried but which clearly had some life in it still, and a glimpse into the emotional brutality of the art world in general, and rigorous MFA programs in particular.

Lastly I read Rat Bohemia by Sarah Schulman, which I kept calling "Rat Suburbia" to Becca, which she thought was very funny since Schulman hates the suburbs so much. Speaking of nostalgia trips! This is what Schulman does best, right? Evokes the gay 90s in New York City. Talks about the AIDS crisis in a way that makes it seem both banal and heartbreaking. Weaves interesting stories together with diverse characters that don't feel tokenized or forced. (Although I wonder if someone who isn't from New York would read her repeated description of a Puerto Rican woman as "Spanish" as racist rather than cute and colloquial.) I like reading Schulman because I love a Jewish wit, I love lesbian romance, I love to feel connected to my queer elders. Depending on the mood I'm in it can be either invigorating or deeply depressing to be reminded that people have been struggling with some of the same issues as me and everyone I care about have since we were kids. Not just institutional shit like homophobia and the machinations of global capitalism slowly eroding away vibrant local cultures, but smaller, more personal things like drug addiction and hating your fucking friends sometimes. I think right now it's both. It's comforting to know that someone else has walked this path before, but also frustrating and so fucking infuriating to realize that we've been fighting for the same crumbs for literal generations. It makes me think of what we've already lost, which is nothing compared to the last generation, who lost so many people to AIDS and our government's heartless lack of concern for their lives.

I watched over 40 episodes of Riverdale this week. Television is the thing I do most alcoholically in sobriety. I watched it on tv in my living room, on my laptop in my kitchen while I cooked dinner and did dishes, on my phone on the elliptical at the gym. Believe it or not I'd never watched TV on my phone before. Now I don't know if anywhere is safe. As far as compulsive behavior is concerned, this falls firmly into being rationalized as harm reduction. It's not ideal, it's a dark reminder that I'm susceptible to uncontrollably compulsive behavior. But like my old therapist Marty G used to say, "everyone has to touch the void somehow."

I have to save any clever critique for the "All Punks Watch Riverdale" group text, but here's a list I started keeping at episode 21.
Stuff I’ve shouted at the tv while watching Riverdale:
“That is NOT giving her space.”
“Shoot him.”
A whisper: “Tell her.”
“You kissed Archie.”
Whispering again: “No. Say no.”
“Fight them. Fight the nuns.”
“Beat up that old man.”

Gaz - DEMO
Yumi and Golnar from IN SCHOOL doing hardcore again, with my old friend Sonrisa and this fourth person who's name I don't remember but Ben Trogdon introduced me them one time at a weird dance performance they were part of. Point is, to quote Vado on Speaking in Tungs, "we all fam here," which is to say, much like Ian's book, I'm not sure I can give this an honest review. Here's what I'll say though: as far as I can tell, this tape rips. Golnar is a beast of a singer, the rhythm section (and this is the type of hardcore where every instruments is in the rhythm section), is tight and heavy. I've listened to this demo on repeat for hours straight, and for me, the real banger is the closing track 1948. Fuck with this ASAP.

Orphanage - Man, Beast. Man, Machine.
I recorded this tape over ten years ago. Orphanage, née Oogle Orphanage, are the perfect band to sum up the Party Anarchist world of gentrifying Brooklyn of the mid-00s. I think I did a pretty okay job recording it considering I had no idea what I was doing, although the one song about MTV (and the holocaust somehow) sounds like it was recorded in a tin can. Not sure what happened there. ANYWAY, it's genuinely good and also cutely anachronistic. The hook of one song says "the forest has a right to remain silent tonight... and so do I." Peer into the dark souls of young men who hate society. Cute time capsule elements aside, I think this tape bangs. Haus of the Sun, the song about Bronx squat Casa Del Sol getting burned down by the FDNY (possibly at the behest of ACORN but this is getting too deep into conspiracy territory) is the stand out hit, imo. Also there's a Wipers cover.

Cardi B & Pardison Fontaine - Backin' It Up
You guys know I love Cardi B, right? The last time I was in New York I heard this song like 40 times a day on Hot 97. I noticed it initially because on the first verse Fontaine raps "looking better every day you on your Benjamin Button," and wanted to play it for Becca because of an elaborate and longstanding joke about that movie we share that it wouldn't be worth it to bother recounting to you. Upon subsequent listens, I realized that Cardi at one point says "all these bitches fuckin with me must be sick in the head." And listen, you can take all the memes about Timbs and pizza and whatever, but calling someone "sick in the head" is THE most New York shit a person can do. When I finally watched the video and saw the visual nods to Crush On You it was a wrap.

Honorable mention:
Lil Wayne - Uproar
Swizz may cosign selling off the Bronx to developers but he hasn't forgotten how to make a beat yet.

Typed this up for the homie Bryony Beynon after she texted me that her boyfriend Ben couldn't stop talking about the chili I made their band BB & the Blips when they stayed over here, and now I'm sharing it with you, my adoring public:

Very easy, but very long, makes like 15 servings. Total cook time, like 6 hours or something nuts like that.

1 med sized onion
4 cloves garlic
3 14oz cans black beans
3 14oz small cans kidney beans
1 28oz can crushed tomatoes
5 corn tortillas
2 cups dry tvp OR 1 cup tvp 1 1/2 cup fantastic foods brand chili starter which they have in the bulk bins at many co-ops here in the states, but who knows?
Some hot peppers. What kind do you like? I like scotch bonnets or habanero if they’re fresh or dried Thai chilis. Whatever works, or leave em out entirely.

As for spices, I have never measured a spice in my life, but here’s what I put in:
Smoked salt
Regular ass salt
Black pepper
Chili powder
Hot smoked paprika
Some cayenne in case the other peppers didn’t do the trick
I think that’s it?

Use a big ass pot or slow cooker or whatever because this is a lot of volume.

To start, brown the onions and garlic in the bottom of the pot.

Turn the flame down to a simmer. Add the beans, draining the water from two cans. Set the bean water aside in case you need it later.

Add the crushed tomatoes. Add whatever peppers you’re using.

Chop the tortillas really small—this is super gratifying—and drop them in.

Now you wait for hours. Like literally three hours or something. Stir it occasionally. Anxiously taste it though it doesn’t taste like much yet. This is when it’s nice to use an electric slow cooker because then you can just like, take your dog in the woods for an hour and then go do the rest of your grocery shopping and not worry about an open flame in the house.

Once the tortilla crumbs have more or less dissolved, throw in the tvp. This is when you might wanna add that extra bean water. Does the chili look hella dry? That tvp needs moisture to plump up.

You can also add all the spices now. Pour them on liberally, stir around and taste. Now let it cook for another hour or two. Really let those spices get in there. Keep tasting it, keep sprinkling incrementally more of each because you’re nervous you did something wrong. Scrape whatever is sticking to the sides off and mix it back in with the rest.

You will know when your chili is done, because you will either need to leave to bring it to the party you are taking it to, or your guests will have arrived.

Bye. Please don't unsubscribe from my newsletter I don't think I could handle it. Hope you had a good Hanukkah.

xoxo, C