LIFE HARVESTER #2: Joan Armatrading, A Golden Girls Revelation, Trader Joe's Babka, etc.

who cares?
I'm changing the name of this newsletter from Pittsburgh Dispatch to Life Harvester. The format is more or less the same except I'll be writing everything more explicitly like the reviews I did in my infamous, long defunct pizza magazine Slice Harvester. Not sure what the rating system will be in the end, but for this issue at least everything is rated on a scale of 1-5 hotdog emojis. Let's see if it sticks.

world's best podcast.
Last month's episode with Caroline Paquita was great. We talked about punk damage, why beers are smaller in Florida, getting in touch with queer elders, running an independent publishing house, plus so much more. Def give it a listen. This month's episode is with my old friend Tamara Santibañez who is a famous and very important tattooer. We also talk about running a publishing imprint, come to think of it. But more importantly, we are old friends who don't always agree and there were two moments where we lightly check each other on some shit we each think is bogus. It's not spicy, because each one of us is just like, "oh yeah, you're right," about the other person's point, but I think it's important to note that it happened and also went super smoothly, because it seems to me a lot of people nowadays think that disagreeing about stuff is cataclysmic and I'm here to tell you that it's not! This is not to say that like, disagreeing with your racist uncle about the humanity of black and brown people isn't a good enough reason to tell that shmuck to kick rocks. But not all disagreement has such high stakes and I think it's really important to remember that part of how we learn is from being wrong, and that goes for other people too.

kind of embarrassing but ultimately great.
Every so often I get into this thing where I listen to Joan Armatrading's first album of the 1980s, Me Myself IIt's often heralded as a huge shift in her sound, from the probably good but I don't like it singer songwriter shit she was doing in the 60s-early 70s. But actually, I kind of see it as a culmination of the sound she started developing on 1977's To The Limit, when she first added heavier instrumentation and power-pop song structure. The titular track of Me Myself I's angular staccato guitars and the hook ("I WANNA BE BY MYSELF! I CAME IN THIS WORLD ALONE!") feel like the songwriting of someone just getting into punk. That might be my own bias, but whatever, this review isn't about that song, it's about the next song.

"Ma-Me-O Beach" is a borderline embarrassing Bonnie Raitt shuffle in which Armatrading imagines a beach vacation that she plans to take with her girlfriend at some indeterminate point in the future. While it's clearly a daydream about a plan that hasn't yet come to fruition, it's also a reminiscence about past experiences at this same beach, and there's something about that simultaneous forward-looking but essentially nostalgic perspective that hits me right where it hurts. Every time she sings "running on the sand or just lying in my baby's arms" I see this picture of Becca laying on the beach during the first trip we ever took together to some Southern California beach town, I forget which one, when we first started dating.

We rented a tiny house for a few days and walked down to the beach most mornings and afternoons. One of those days I took a picture of Becca drinking white wine through a straw out of a plastic pineapple-shaped sippy cup we'd found in the cupboard at the house we were staying in. She's laying on her side and kinda mugging for the camera in an exaggerated pin up pose. We were newly in love and deeply in lust and it was a perfect few days. Not every song about the beach makes me think of that moment, (and frankly, I've been listening to this record regularly for a decade and this song has never really been this evocative before), but there's something about the sound and sentiment of "Ma-Me-O Beach" that really puts me back in that place and it feels good.

seemed like 🌭🌭 because it hurt at first, but ultimately I learned so much about myself.
Everyone knows that the gals of Golden Girls are A+ character archetypes, practically the Cardinal Directions of human personality. I had always thought I was a Sophia because I'm a no nonsense bitch from New York. But then the other night I was hanging out with Becca and our friend Amber watching GG in our new king size bed (🌭🌭🌭🌭🌭 fits so many people and animals + accommodates the fact that I sleep like the Pearl Jam guy) and Becca blew my mind by saying she thinks I'm a Rose. I was deeply offended, because Rose Nylund is, first and foremost, a naive hayseed from rural Minnesota. Her whole shtick is that she never understands sexual innuendo and is kinda dumb. Then Becca was like, "no way, you're flattening out her character too much. Fundamentally, Rose is an optimistic good sport who is always down to go along for the ride, is deeply supportive and loyal to her friends, and can't stop talking about the place she comes from." She was right, on both counts—Rose's core characteristics, and my fundamental Rose-ness. This, of course, shook my whole world up and nothing has been the same since. The question, though, is can I be a Rose without being a Synclaire? Because I've always felt like a Khadijah.

it's not good, but it's still a babka.

Listen, just don't buy this babka. They got the chocolate right-ish, and it's not dry (the ultimate babka sin), but it's actually TOO MOIST so it just turned into mush and was impossible to slice. The egg wash is so heavy I could've used my reflection on the top of the babka to pluck my nosehairs. I guess if you live in a place without enough Jews to have a Jewish bakery this babka might fill a void in your life, but honestly if you live in a place without enough Jews to have a Jewish bakery, they probably aren't gonna have this babka at your TJ™. UGH ALSO I just remembered it was called BROOKLYN Babka. Gimme a fuckin break, Joe.

disturbing, realistic, resonant.
WHATS UP I'm not prepared to write a thorough review of Eileen as a whole, but I will say, that I can't remember the last book I read that captures the pathology of daily drinking as a means to cope with the completely awful nature of being alive in a manner that is as true to my own experience as this novel. Part of what struck me so intensely, I think, is that the realization that Eileen is drinking so heavily is slow to take because it's in direct contrast with her father's more acutely calamitous alcoholism. Hiding alcoholism in plain sight because at least some of the people around you (though in my case it was my community and not my family) are ostensibly so much worse off is a very familiar tactic to me.

There's something deeply tragic about the unromantic maintenance addictions that can develop in a person's life as a coping mechanism to just get through each day, and Moshfegh nails the banality of it so well. This low-key constant disfunction is a perfectly shaky foundation on which Moshfegh builds her engaging and well told story. Overall I thought this book was wonderful even if (perhaps especially because?) I found it difficult to read at times. And looking back, I'm really impressed with Moshfegh's focus on aroma. I can remember so many smells from the book, and that's not an impression that fiction usually leaves me with.

not challenging, often entertaining, sometimes v fucked up.
Since the last month I have read two murder mysteries. The first The Other Side of Silence by Joan M. Drury is about a journalist in 90s San Francisco who finds a body in the park across from her house while walking her dog. The body is IDed (by the one butch on the homicide squad, who our protagonist is deeply smitten with) as a local doctor, who had been exposed for being abusive to his wife by the VERY SAME JOURNALIST who discovered his body. Did she kill him? Nope, but the cops think she did and so she's gotta use all the sleuthing skills she developed as a muckraking newspaper gal to clear her name. I read it in like two afternoons. Was scared it might be casually TERFy because it's from the early-90s, but it wasn't, though there was some weird "BDSM is the patriarchy" shit in there that is clearly wrong, but seems anachronistic enough that it just came across as quaint to me. There are also a ton of good acronyms. The protagonist works at a domestic abuse agency called WINK (Women In Need of Kindness), her mother runs a non-profit called SALSA (Strong Alliances with Latinas and Sud-Americanas), there's a revenge squad called F.U.C.K. (Feminists United against Cold-blooded Killers). Ultimately this novel may suffer artistically from feeling the need to hit all the right notes for the niche-community it was written to appeal to, but at the end of the day that's why I found it so charming.

The second murder book I read was The Long Good Boy by Carol Lea Benjamin. As a step-parent to a long good boy myself, I really didn't have a choice in whether I was going to buy this novel. Mostly paid attention to the dog on the cover till I got it home when Becca looked at the women's legs and said "are those drag queens?" Then I finally read the description on the dust jacket. Oh brother. Detective Rachel Alexander has to solve the murder of a "transvestite hooker" working Manhattan's meatpacking district. There was def some garbage about the size of some women's hands or ruminating on an Adam's apple that I could've done without and for sure there was language that is outdated and offensive to some people today—though more and more of my friends seem to be rethinking what terminology resonates most with them and readopting terms to self-describe that had been declared off limits by the internet—but I was ultimately pleasantly surprised by the depictions of the trans women in this book. They were complicated people with complicated motivations. I noticed at the end that Lee Brewster, of Queens Liberation Front and Lee's Mardi Gras Boutique, was thanked in the acknowledgments, so that might have something to do with it. The attitude towards sex work was also surprisingly respectful and casual, not nearly as hand-wringy as I would've expected. But when it's all said and done, despite her seeming cognizance of their nuanced humanity, Benjamin still seems to view trans women as a spectacle and that sucks. OH ALSO it's fucking racist. The black characters' dialogue is a minstrel show half the time and at one point a pimp shows up wearing a wide brimmed hat with a feather in it even though it's supposed to be like, the late-90s. Plus the mystery itself doesn't end up being that great. The dog training sequences are sick though.

relieved to be done, sad to leave.
Please listen to Boys II Men's "End of the Road" (🌭🌭🌭🌭🌭 great song) and think back on all the memories we shared just now. See you next month. xo, C