Sunday, November 4, 2012

A Record Collection Reduced to a Mixtape

In the basement event space at WORD last night, I read a chapter from A Record Collection Reduced to a Mixtape, my work-in-progress novel about a music nerd with a busted heart. This has been a difficult week in NYC, and I wasn't sure we'd get anyone out for LOCAL ORGANIC: New Works by the Greenpoint Writers Group, a reading which was the culmination of a 12-week intensive with eight writers sharing their stuff with one another, providing feedback and becoming better for it. WORD was packed. We were grateful. Eve, my fiancee, shot video of my reading, and because the sound wasn't terribly good, I figured I ought to just put the chapter I read here in case anyone wanted to try and read along. 
A Record Collection Reduced to a Mixtape tells the story of Sam, a playwright recently back in New York and staying with his parents after a tough breakup. Some of the novel goes as far back as his college days at UCLA and the time he spent living in Los Angeles in the years which followed. In this chapter, he's back in New York, trying to get over Renee, and is considering looking for love on the internet.  

The Bees – “I Really Need Love”
Vivian Girls – “Second Date”
Peter Doherty – “New Love Grows on Trees”
I filled out an online dating profile. I don’t know why I did it, because I guess I did alright when I actively tried to hit on women, and even when I've had a long dry spell I didn't much care. But my friend Diego said it was working for him, and why shouldn't I get in on the action?

I checked it out, mostly so I could find something wrong with it so I wouldn't have to create a profile. But it turns out Diego was right. My objections were primarily based on the television commercials where the blandest motherfuckers on the planet seemed perfectly happy now that a website found their bland ideal. I've come across countless bland chicks already, and I’m sure plenty of women have found me to be pretty vanilla too. So I figured, why pay for disappointment and awkwardness when I get that shit for free?

“Dude, this is different,” Diego said. “It’s like it was made by a bunch of indie-rock bloggers. It’s called OK Cupid.”

Immediately my hackles were raised. To say I have a complicated relationship with Radiohead would be a vast understatement. It would also be wildly inaccurate, of course, because there is no relationship. The crown princes of dour indie obviously don’t know me at all, and as I’m unlikely to visit any sullen hyperbaric chambers masquerading as beep-boop-blip recording studios, it’ll probably remain that way. On my end, I sometimes enjoy the music of Radiohead, but there’s always the din of fawning praise drowning everything else out. So what then to think of a dating website named after OK Computer, Radiohead’s 1997 alt-prog-wank opus?

“That sounds fucking terrible, man. Seriously.”

“It’s free.”

So I gave it a shot. And much to my great disappointment, I actually kind of liked the feel of it. I looked around, and there were plenty of cool women with cool jobs and cool haircuts and cool ideas. I set up a profile and began browsing.

New York, NY

“Music is the weapon of the future” – Fela Kuti
I am: Funk, punk and crunk

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Identifying the best orange in even the largest of grocery store bins.

My shoes and my awesomeness

Books - Catcher in the Rye, Psychotic Reactions & Carburetor Dung, Up in the Old Hotel, Please Kill Me, Miss Lonelyhearts/Day of the Locust, London Fields, Money, The Adventures of Augie March
Movies - Annie Hall, Do the Right Thing, On the Waterfront, The Third Man, My Life as a Dog, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Touch of Evil, The World of Henry Orient, Dig!, A Hard Days Night, Double Indemnity, L.A. Confidential, Chinatown, Arsenic and Old Lace, Star Wars, Philadelphia Story, Midnight Cowboy, Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid, Rushmore, Manhattan, Strangers on a Train, West Side Story, A Shot in the Dark
Music – Six songs completely at random on my iPod…
Ty Segall – “Fuzzy Cat”
Black Moth Super Rainbow – “Zodiac Girls”
Tronics – “TV on in Bed”
Belle & Sebastian – “It Could Have Been a Brilliant Career”
Field Music - “A House is Not a Home”
Jurassic 5 – “Quality Control”
Food – I enjoy food, especially Indian, Japanese…Really, anything you like, I’m probably gonna like.

I’m taking the question to mean material things rather than ideas or emotions. Mostly I just want to be incredibly shallow.
iPod (though it is falling apart)
iPad (though it is falling apart)
iPhone (it won’t fall apart until my AppleCare expires)
Signed vinyl copies of Plastic Beach; Blank Generation; 3 Feet High and Rising; and Ladies and Gentlemen, We Are Floating in Space
Dogeared copy of Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung
Uniball Micro pens and Moleskine notebooks (because it looks cooler than entering shit into my iPhone)

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Agnosticism, but not too serious about it

Gemini, but it doesn't matter

Graduated from college/university


Rather not say

Doesn’t want children

Likes dogs and dislikes cats

English, fluently
French, poorly

Girls who like guys
Ages 21-35
Near me
New friends, Short-term dating, Long-term dating, Long-distance penpals, Activity partners, Casual sex

(left blank)

I loaded up a few choice pictures – the one where I’m coveting the “butcher” cover of the Beatles’ Yesterday and Today behind the counter at the Amoeba Records on Haight in San Francisco; a black & white shot of me standing in front of the Brill Building in Manhattan; a pretentious shot of me standing in front of a far more erudite friend’s bookshelves while wearing my God Bless Brian Wilson t-shirt – and put the fucker live.

It’s a dating profile, so naturally I fudged it just a bit. I wasn't actually in New York City, but I was certainly willing to jump on a commuter train if it meant I might meet someone. Besides, I didn't want my face to show up if anyone did a search of the area where my parents lived.

I wasn’t “fit” either, though I figured I might actually get there now that I was home with fuck all to do with my time.

I spent the first hour or so answering questions about politics and how I’d handle myself in bullshit situations, like if I turned a corner and found a stack of hundred dollar bills, what would I do? I’d fucking take it, but even though I knew full well anyone would do the same, there were four options, and I figured I’d take the sensitive route and pretend I’d donate it to charity instead of blowing it all on vinyl.

I trolled profiles for the next 30 minutes, ranking women based on their looks and anything else I was able to scan in roughly three seconds, and I felt a little shitty and shallow and I kept on doing it anyway. I saw red flags everywhere, and I saw Renee everywhere too, or rather the absence of her, because no one on there was Renee.

I was fumbling around, having a little fun but not really allowing myself to take the next step and say hello to anyone. And that’s when I realized I was already under the microscope. It’s not like I thought I wouldn't be looked up and down and judged like everyone else, but maybe I didn't think it would happen so soon. I found the “visitors” link in a drop-down menu on my homepage and saw every woman who’d looked at my profile. And even though I’d only been signed up for maybe two hours, there were like 40 of them.

By the next morning, I had seven messages in my profile inbox. Two informed me that women I’d ranked either 4 or 5 stars had done the same for me. One was from someone called “ToxyRoxy” who’d added me to her favorites list, making me instantly suspicious of her motives, even though she claimed to be bisexual, which I thought was pretty great. Another three were a mixed bag, and after reading their messages and profiles I determined them to be somewhere between irritating and borderline psychotic. Using this random sampling, I’ll leave you to determine which end of the spectrum I put them on.

Slybootz11222: OMG you like Tame Impala too no way I love them are you going to show at MHOW? Wanna buy me a drink? LOL

GlitterFreezes: …I have three cats and they’re named Mittens, Mittens II and Mittens IV. Please don’t ask about Mittens III when we meet…

BarrenToTheBone: …so I got out of the car, made sure no one was around, and dropped the bag of dogshit into his mailbox…

The seventh message was from a woman called SignedBC, a play on a song by Love, the seminal ‘60s Los Angeles group which only gained fame years after half of them were dead or in prison and the other half in and out of rehab: Street cred forever guaranteed.

Our conversation began with promise…

SignedBC: …My apartment is small, though it’s my own fault for being a completest record collector. I’ve got an entire shelf dedicated to post-Big Band, pre-fusion jazz, for crying out loud…

Stereoblab: …I’ve got more Impulse-era Coltrane than almost anyone except the Beatles…

SignedBC: As well you might.

Predictably, we quickly moved to more intimate realms…

SignedBC: Top Five Best Make-Out Albums Not Featuring Marvin Gaye…Go!

Stereoblab: What song was playing when you lost your virginity?

SignedBC: Have you ever gotten off at a live show? Which band was it?

There was something pure and beautiful and appealingly weird about our conversation, and we weren't in a hurry to spoil it by moving it into a different medium. Logging in to OK Cupid, I’d see that I had messages, and if it was from someone other than her I’d ignore it completely, and if it was from her I’d read it at least half a dozen times, trying to convince myself she was for real. We didn't talk on the telephone, and even though it would have been easy enough to arrange, we didn't try to meet in person. I didn't even know her name.

SignedBC: What are your Desert Island Discs?

Stereoblab: Have you ever worn a concert t-shirt so long it fell apart?

SignedBC: I know he’s pushing 70 and collects knives, but I totally have the dirtiest fantasies about Keith Richards.

…but before long, cracks began to show…

SignedBC: I think Coldplay are pretty underrated.

Signed BC: Black people just smell different than the rest of us.

Stereoblab: …

SignedBC: I have three cats and they’re named…

For the next week messages continued to trickle in, and I became more discouraged every time I clicked one open. They weren't all crazy or boring or lousy with cats. Some of them were sexy, smart and sarcastic. They were just the wrong sexy, smart and sarcastic. I didn't even know what I was looking for, but that didn't stop me from trying, either. I’d scroll through the recent visitors to my profile, click over to check them out and enjoy the voyeuristic thrill of knowing they would know that I’d checked them out. But it didn't last. None of it lasted. I was chum in the water, and I didn't know what to think of that. I thought about deleting my profile before it got out of hand, and that’s when I heard from Ingrid.