Tag Archives: neutral milk hotel

La mort d’un beau soutien-gorge

I haven’t looked my best at work lately.  Over the last few weeks, I’ve gotten into the habit of immediately hitting “snooze” when I hear my alarm go off at 6:30am.  Forty-five minutes later, I’ll force myself out of bed, pull on whatever jeans and t-shirt I can find crumpled up in a heap on the floor, and ease my feet into my blue and purple Adidas.  After rolling some deodorant against my stubbly pits and rubbing cornstarch into my oily, sweaty scalp, I’ll consider myself good to go.  The t-shirts are usually stained, the jeans are usually smelly, and, while it may be a great alternative to dry shampoo, the cornstarch tends to leave a powdery build up in the part of my hair.

I’m sexy.  And you know it.

My appearance doesn’t affect anyone else’s workday.  That is, I didn’t think it affected anyone else’s workday until the foxy Frenchman made a comment about it on Tuesday.

The Frenchman is one of the most amusing people in the office.  He asks hilariously European questions, such as,”Stéphanie, if I were to put a banana in ze freezer, what would happen?” When I first started at this company a year ago, he used to ask me questions about the bun I would wear in my hair: “How deed you make eet so pear-fect?  Eet eez like a dough-nut!”  He has great arms despite his claims that he never works out.  He rides a motorcycle.  He’s classic.

“Stéphanie,” he said to me on Tuesday when I passed him in the hall, “Remember when you used to dress nice at work?”

I flipped him off.

“No, really,” he continued.  “Do you remember?”

My only indication that this was an earnest question lost in translation as opposed to an outright dig was the fact that he was smiling the same doofy smile that was plastered across his face when he once asked me if his pants were too tight.  Still, I wasn’t thrilled to be put on the spot.

I said, “Fuck you” and walked away.

Maybe he should have kept his mouth shut.  Regardless, I knew I didn’t look nice.  Far from it.  For weeks.  I asked myself, Would you like to put more effort into your appearance?  The answer was Yes.  I asked myself, Is this for the foxy Frenchman, or for yourself?  The answer was, For my damn self!

Wednesday went fine.  I got out of bed at 7:00 instead of 7:15, which gave me just enough time for a quick shower.  I put on a black tank top, a blue cardigan, jeans that had been hanging up in my closet, and knee high boots.  The foxy Frenchman told me, “See?  You are like a new person!”  I flipped him off.

Thursday was the same.  I got up at 7:00, sprayed sweet-smelling dry shampoo in my hair, and put on a clean dress.  When I got home that night I took a shower, blow dried my hair, and selected a dress to wear the next day.  I chose a Free People dress I had splurged on in July during an intense “Oh My God, What Am I Going To Wear To All The Nick Cave Shows I’m Seeing This Week?” shopping spree.  I didn’t end up wearing it to Nick Cave, but I did wear it to Neutral Milk Hotel.  I felt like a Harvest Moon Princess.

“Look at me,” I thought to myself as I got into my bed at 9:30 on Thursday night.  “Look at how much better I feel about my appearance, all because I am making an effort to make a minimal amount of effort.”

This morning began as the two previous mornings had.  Up at 7:00.  Contacts in.  Deodorant on.  Sweet-smelling dry shampoo sprayed.    After I put on my Harvest Moon Princess dress, I heard my roommate call my name and ask if I was ready to leave.  I wasn’t ready.  Not quite.  Still, I grabbed my car key from my purse and followed her downstairs to the garage.  We each have a place to park, but our spaces are tandem — one of us is always blocking the other in, regardless of how convenient that is.  It’s a bit of a pain, but my roommate and I seem to have an understanding.  There’s not much we can do besides communicate with each other when one of us has to get the hell to work.

She pulled away.  I re-parked my car.  When I got out and walked to the door that leads to the lobby, I saw that it was open ajar.  This door is usually shut and locked.  Shit, that’s lucky, I thought.  I don’t have my key with me.  I pushed the door open, walked through the lobby, and stepped into the elevator.  I felt the weight of my car key in my hand.  My one key.  My car key.  I gasped.

I didn’t have the key to the lobby, which meant I didn’t have the key to the apartment, which meant I was in a situation.  About a month ago, my parents warned me that if there were too many keys hanging on my keychain, the weight of everything could mess up my car’s ignition.  Ever since that conversation, I have been keeping my car key separate from all the others.  In my hurry to move my car so that my roommate could leave for work, I had forgotten to grab all of my damn keys.  (Note to self: come up with a slightly better way of keeping your keys organized.)

I arrived at my floor and ran to my apartment.  Locked.  I ran around the corner to where the apartment manager lives and knocked on his door.  No answer.  I knocked a bit more assertively.  Nothin’.  I banged on his door with both hands.  Still nothin’.  I got down on my knees, opened the mail slot in his door, and yelled, “HELLLOOOOO?”

I gave up and ran back to my apartment.  I tried the handle again.  Still locked.  I thought that since only the door handle lock was locked (as opposed to the dead bolt), perhaps I could force it open by jiggling the handle repeatedly and slamming my booty against the door.  I tried this for a few seconds.  It worked about as well as one might suspect it would.

Nervousness began to kick in.  What time is it?  How unimaginably horrible is the traffic getting with every passing second?  Should I go out and find a pay phone and call the office to tell them I’m running late?  How the hell will I get back inside the building if I do that?  I’m not wearing shoes!  I can’t go to work without any shoes!  Underwear!  I didn’t have time to put on underwear before I went downstairs!  

Staring down at the lock, I tried to think of ways to force it open without slamming my booty against the door.  Never in my life had I successfully picked a lock, but what if I could do it now?  Along with all the other innocent, yet miscalculated things I regretted doing that morning, I cursed myself for removing the bobby pins I had used to pull back my bangs while I washed my face.  Guess lock-picking is out of the question.

Suddenly, I remembered a scenario that took place in an episode of Friends I had once watched when I was a kid.  The three women (I don’t remember all of their names) were trapped outside in the snow.  They were with some guy (not any of the main guys — it was someone else), and they needed to get inside of somewhere (either a cabin or a car).  The man asked which of them wore the biggest bra size, and he explained that he could use a part of a bra (underwire? clip?) to pick the lock.  He said he needed to know who wore the biggest size, because that woman would have the biggest…the biggest lock-picking tool.  Jennifer Aniston and Courtney Cox argued with each other over which of them had bigger boobs (neither of them wanted to have the biggest boobs, which made me feel very insecure as a pre-teen with significant breasts), and then Lisa Kudrow was like, “Shuttup bitches, I’ll give him my bra.”  I changed the channel after that.  Did the bra trick work?  What part did he use?  No idea.

Standing in the hallway at what was now probably 7:45am, I carefully pulled my left arm out of its sleeve.  Then, I reached both hands around my back and undid my bra clasp.  I slid the bra off my left arm, and then quickly put my arm back in my dress sleeve.  I repeated the process on the right side, slipping my sleeve off, slipping the bra off, and then covering up as swiftly as possible.

Once I had the bra in my hands, I wasn’t sure what to do.  It was a flimsy old thing that needed to be replaced, so I wasn’t too upset about having to destroy it.  Still, I wasn’t sure where to start.  At first I tried to force my car key under one of the clasps in hopes it would help it slide out of the fabric.  When that didn’t work, I took the bra in both hands and started to pull in opposite directions.  After a brief, yet furious struggle, the tip of one of the underwires popped out.  It was too big and too blunt to fit in the lock.  Curses.  I hooked the bra clasps together, and, once again, pulled in opposite directions.  After a few seconds of twisting and pulling the pathetic bra while contorting my face into all kinds of ridiculous expressions and aggressively whispering, “Fuck, fuck, fuck,” one of the clasps popped out of the fabric.  I bent the small piece of metal into a straight line, and then gently stuck it in the lock.  Unsure of what to do next, I started wiggling the metal up and down, side to side, clockwise, and counter clockwise.  When I tried the up and down motion again, the damn thing snapped, leaving half of it in my hand and half of it lodged inside the Godforsaken lock.

The feeling of defeat was palpable.  I had no shoes, no underwear, and now, thanks to a desperate, half-formed idea inspired by an old episode of Friends I never finished watching, no bra.  My purse was inside my apartment, along with my phone, my makeup bag, my black sandals I had planned to wear, and the food I had planned to bring with me for lunch.

Should I just go to work?

I remembered I had a pair of brown boots in my trunk.  They would work.  I still had my car key, which was a good thing.  This doesn’t have to be that big of a deal.  

I walked back downstairs and opened my trunk.  I zipped up my boots and got in the car.  I put on my sunglasses, slid The Pogues’ Rum, Sodomy, and the Lash into my CD player, and thought about how much easier this morning would have been if I had the ability to walk through vaulted doors.

I got to work on time.  Early, in fact.  I had time to drink a cup of tea and enjoy the silence of an empty office.  When I was finished, I walked into the bathroom to check out how my boots coordinated with the dress.  I was pleasantly surprised.  I will definitely be wearing this outfit again.  With socks, next time.

For a few more seconds, I admired my appearance in the mirror.  My hair looked polished.  My outfit was groovy.  My makeup-free face looked pretty great, too.  I felt confident.  I didn’t feel like an artificial, overly done-up version of myself, nor did I feel like the lazy, slightly smelly version of myself I had recently been showcasing.  I was just me.  Silly old me, with a pretty dress, no socks, and a torn up bra in my trunk.

When I returned to my desk, I opened up my email.  I threw a few old messages away and printed out my boss’ daily edition of The Hollywood Reporter.  I was about to get up to get a second cup of tea when I heard someone enter my doorway.

“Stéphanie,” said the foxy Frenchman.  “Zat eez a great dress.”

I flipped him off.  As he walked away, I smiled as I imagined how I must have looked while I was struggling to tear my bra in half.  Maybe after I get my next paycheck I’ll treat myself to Chantelle.  And a keychain.

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11.

Sometimes you feel like going for a run.

It doesn’t happen often, but it happened today, because today was an interesting day.

You put on the yoga pants and the sport bra you bought last year when you signed up for that gym membership that you canceled after four months and you put on the only pair of sneakers you own and you load some Amanda Palmer onto your iPhone and you walk out the door.

Run for one song, walk for one song.  You decide to let shuffle do the decision-making, because you’re out of breath and now is not the time to stare at your music library on a hand-held screen.

Run for “Supergeil.”  Walk for “Peaches en Regalia.”  Walk for “The Band Played Waltzing Matilda.”  Run for “Streets of Sorrow / Birmingham Six.”

It’s dark.  You’re sweating.  Your lungs feel small.  It’s time to walk home.  Your iPhone decides you need to hear “Indian Summer.”  You get really happy.  You love “Indian Summer.”  You loved it the first time you heard it and you love it tonight.  You loved it that one night you listened to it on that mix tape you made and you imagine yourself dancing to it at your wedding with a faceless person you haven’t met and you wonder if that’s lame.

You look up at the moon.  Jim tells you he loves you the best, better than all the rest that he’ll meet in the summer.

Summer.

You think about why today was interesting and you get a little annoyed.  You wonder why you’re even annoyed at all because you should be above it all because you’ve been through it all and you’ve been through a lot.

You contemplate the Human Condition and wonder what it even specifically means.  Does it refer to the way we’re all gonna die and we know it?  Or is that Existentialism?  And are you allowed to pay attention to coincidences when you’re an Existentialist?  Or do Existentialists not believe in coincidences?  Or do they think coincidences are just coincidences and not anything to pay any attention to?

You wonder why you don’t tell more people to fuck off.  You wonder why your first instinct is to get to know why a total asshole is a total asshole so that maybe, one day, you and that total asshole can be friends.  But why would you wanna be friends with a total asshole?  But aren’t we supposed to make friends while we’re here?  And is there something innate in all of us that makes us want to hang out with each other and not kill each other?

Is that what God is?  Is God the voice in your head that stops you from punching someone in the face?  Is God the voice in your head that tells you to apologize?  Is God the voice in your head that stops you from telling more people to fuck off?

Yes.  You’re contemplating the existence of the divine.  Not Divine: the divine.  You’re wondering why more people don’t talk about how God may be a force of energy as opposed to a man who keeps tabs on everyone.  You wonder why paying attention to things — things like coincidences — is considered silly and spooky, and yet condemning groups of people for the way they live in the name of God is allowed in the year 2014.

“Indian Summer” ends.  You’re alone with the passing cars and the sound of your own footsteps.  You look at the sign for the LA River and think of an episode of Six Feet Under, immediately followed by a scene from Inside Llewyn Davis.

Suddenly, loudly and beautifully and perfectly, “In the Aeroplane over the Sea” fills your ears and your brain and — perhaps? — your soul.

You love this song.  You really, really love this song.  You think about the people you love, and how some of them also love this song, and you think about how maybe you really should start paying more attention to what music other people like, because if they don’t like music that you like, that’s kind of actually a big deal.  Or maybe they don’t need to like all the music you like, but they do need to like music, because if they don’t like music then what the hell are they doing?

You turn on to the crowded boulevard and you look at the neon signs and you feel almost like you live in a cool city, and there’s that bar you like and there’s that sushi place you like and you still have to go into that weird little shop and check out their Tibetan prayer flags.  For Tibet.

Looking at your neighborhood reminds you that it’s the 11th.  It’s March 11th.  You moved into your apartment exactly one year ago.

One year ago.

You remember what was happening one year ago.  You remember how afraid you were one year ago and how much more broke you were one year ago and dear God — thank God it’s no longer one year ago.

You pass the stupid lingerie store you’ve never been inside of and Mick and Keith take over and sing to you about “Wild Horses” and remind you you’ll ride them.  Someday.

You wonder if you should write when you get home.  You wonder who even reads your writing.  You wonder if people read your writing and never tell you they read your writing.  You wonder if people read your writing and tell you they love it but really they don’t.  You wonder if people purposely avoid reading your writing because they don’t actually care about you when you’re not around.  You wonder if you’ll ever write some more.  Some more meaningful stuff.  Stuff that more people see.

Here’s your street.  You hang a right.  Your feet hurt because your sneakers really weren’t designed to be used for running on concrete and your shirt is plastered to your back but yeah, man, going for a run was a good idea.

You think, Wasn’t it weird how your iTunes shuffle came up with such a perfect little set of songs?  It was great, wasn’t it?  You almost want to keep walking just to see what comes on next…

Warren Zevon comes on next.

Everybody’s restless and they’ve got no place to go
Someone’s always trying to tell them
Something they already know
So their anger and resentment flow

But don’t it make you want to rock and roll
All night long
Mohammed’s Radio
I heard somebody singing sweet and soulful
On the radio, Mohammed’s Radio

You stop.  You laugh.  You can hardly believe your iPhone chose to play you a song that implies a divine figure is spinning rock and roll for the restless.  On the 11th.

You open the gate, walk up the stairs, unlock the door to your apartment and step inside.  You hang up your key and walk straight to your bedroom, where you plop down on the floor, set your laptop on your bed, and open up your blog that some people sometimes read.

And now you’re finished.  And you’re hungry.  And you’re excited to take a shower and put on your pajamas and watch another episode of Twin Peaks.  You’re also a little freaked out and excited by how Twin Peaks is all about mysteries and synchronies and coincidences, and you think about Agent Dale Cooper and how he’s nice to everyone and never gets mad or annoyed or nasty

So.  What have you learned today?

And what do you think will happen tomorrow?

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The Beat Goes On III, or: I Think I Get It Now.

What’s there to live for?
Who needs the peace corps?
Think I’ll just DROP OUT

I’m sitting in a coffee shop in San Francisco.  Progressive Grounds.  I had two mugs of black tea when I woke up this morning; I don’t need this giant cup of coffee.  This stuff is SERIOUS.  I’ve been nursing it for nearly an hour and I haven’t even finished 1/4 of the thing. With every little baby sip my heart starts racing like I just broke bread with George Jung.

I’ve been away from home for 11 days.  (Wait, Holy Cow, really?  I’ll have to celebrate…)  I’ve been in Santa Cruz, Menlo Park, Alameda, and, now, San Francisco.

Santa Cruz was a lot of  fabulous silliness that was briefly interrupted by an afternoon of dismal introspection catapulted by the misunderstanding that the bastards who stole my iPod from my car also stole my most prized nostalgic possession.  After Santa Cruz came a brief, much-needed low-key interlude in La Selva beach, where I got to spend two nights in an actual bed.  I also spent a lovely afternoon in Monterey taking pictures of headstones and crying underneath cemetery trees.  (Did anyone else just think of this song?)  Menlo Park was a brilliant afternoon and evening of Chinese Food and Catch Up.  I was back on the couch, but the couch was a comfy one.

When I got to Alameda I was ready to get silly again.  I stayed with a friend I hadn’t seen since July of 2010.  She studies Molecular Biology and she loves Judas Priest and Bridget Jones’s Diary.  She took me out for bratwurst and sauerkraut and I stole a drink coaster.  After lunch we bummed around downtown for awhile and eventually walked into a psychic shop.  We asked how much it would cost to have our palms read.  The cost was super cheap.  I went first.

The woman took me into a little room and sat me down.  She asked me my full name and date of birth, and then she looked at my hands.

“You have a long, full life ahead of you,” she said.

I was unimpressed.

“I don’t see any death or tragedy in your family.”

Cool.  Still, I was unimpressed.

The woman paused for a moment, and then her voice took on a more serious tone as she said, “I will say this: you’re procrastinating.”

I looked at her.  She was younger and prettier than I usually imagine psychics to be.  She had all her teeth and her skin was perfect and there wasn’t a single gray hair on her head.

“You’re creative,” she said.  “Every thought that comes into your head is creative.  But you’re procrastinating when it comes to work and school.  I don’t think you’re done with school.  But what you need to be doing now is focusing on your writing.

I stopped breathing.

“I definitely see a book in your future,” she continued.  “You already have it completely planned in your head — you just need to get to work writing it down.

I took a breath.  I whispered, “I know.”  My eyes welled up with tears.  I apologized for being emotional and laughed at the contrived profundity I seem to encounter everywhere I go.

To give me a break from the heaviness she was layin’ on me, she talked about my love life.  She didn’t have anything monumental to say — she basically confirmed my suspicion that I’m actually completely fine with the fact that I’m single.  Once that was out of the way, she went back to the main issue.  She said, “Take a creative writing class.”

I held my breath again as I remembered an email I received a few days before my trip.  An author I met in December wrote to me and said she would love for me to participate in a creative writing class she was going to be starting.  I didn’t respond to her.  Why?  Apparently I’m a procrastinator.

The psychic asked me if I had any questions.  I asked about my location, and she said, “I’d like you to be closer to the water.”  Totally not weird.  Because, ya know, I never EVER fantasize about moving to Santa Cruz or San Francisco or Seattle…

She ended her reading by saying, “Write your book.”  I ended by saying, “How the HELL did you know all that?”

She only asked me for my full name and date of birth.  I didn’t show her my ID, tell her where I was from, tell her that I do, in fact, want to write a book and that I do, in fact, spend less time working on my writing than I should and that I do, in fact, want to live near water.

I don’t think I can continue to distract myself from doing what I really want to do.  Why it took a psychic to convince me that it’s time to get serious and declare myself a fucking writer is something I will never understand.  We’re all different, I guess.

Intermission.

That night my friend and I got in trouble at a Tikki Bar for causing a ruckus.  We were mainly disturbing the bartender, Jared.  At first we both thought he was a total babe, but at some point in the night when we asked him for more drinks, he told us he’d have to ask his manager first.  “Why can’t we have another drink?” asked my friend.  Jared gave us a list of things “polite customers” — customers who deserve their handcrafted Tikki cocktails! — don’t do.  He said that polite customers “don’t steal.”  My friend and I fell silent.  You see, I’d been sneaking pieces of pineapple when no one was looking, and I also had a purse full of Tikki God cocktail stirrers.  Jared then added that polite customers, “don’t say ‘The F-Word.'”  We fell even more silent.  You see, my friend had been saying “The F-Word” quite loudly, and quite a lot.  When the lecture was over, she said, “Fuck you, Jared.”  I took another stirrer.

We still got our drinks, and we still stole shit and swore.  It was all in good fun, and no one else at the bar seemed to be annoyed by our shenanigans.

That night we went to a house party in Oakland to see a band.  They played “DARK FOLK.”  They also wore long, black cloaks, which looked a good deal like long, black Snuggies.  I kept screaming, “YOU LOOK LIKE NICK CAVE!” at one of them.  The sight of their guitars made me miss my ukulele and I cursed myself for not lugging it with me.  Lord knows I could have at least busted out a mediocre rendition of “Creep” and made a few nickels on Pacific…

The next day we went to Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley and bought CDs and ate Indian Food.  I also bought a Rolling Stones T-Shirt in a thrift shop (and I’ve been wearing it for the last two days).  That night we went downtown and drank dark beers and I stole another drink coaster.

The next day we drove to Oakland to check out Lake Merritt.  We rented a paddle boat and rode around in the lake chasing seagulls and fantasizing that the pieces of wood we saw floating around were actually sea monsters.  Every time we saw a piece of trash floating by, we vowed to one day return to the lake with a giant net.

After one last meal together my friend made it clear that it was time for her to face the fact that she had homework to do.  This meant it was time for me to hit the road.

I’ll go to Frisco
Buy a wig & sleep
On Owsley’s floor

I had bought a copy of Let Love In by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds while I was at Rasputin on Telegraph.  I was so amped while listening to “Loverman” that I drove right passed the toll booth when I crossed the Bay Bridge.

Can You Blame Me?

My first night here was spent watching Mad Men with my cousin and eating Chinese take out.  The next day, yesterday, I walked around Valencia and bought a coffee mug and a t-shirt and a note pad.  I grabbed a taxi to North Beach and got out on Columbus avenue.  I turned the corner to Chinatown and got some Dim Sum, which cost $1.30.  I was good and full, so I bought a book at City Lights and sat down inside Cafe Vesuvio to chill out.  Two guys sitting at the bar were singing “Ghost” and I felt completely at peace.  When they were done singing some freaking Decemberists song came on and Good God I will always be team Aeroplane.

Walked past the wig store
Danced at the Fillmore
I’m completely stoned

I was broke so I went across the street to The Beat Museum.  I asked the guy behind the counter if they were still doing the “Poet of the Month” contest, and when he said “No” I asked if there was any way I could check out the archives.  I said I was awarded Honorable Mention twice in 2007, and that I could only find one of the poems online.  He was really sweet and spent a long time searching for the May 2007 results, and when he found that the web page was corrupted (or corrupt?) he fixed it for me.  I felt bad for making him do all that work, so I bought some Allen Ginsberg poetry and was even more broke.

I tried searching for the poem earlier this afternoon.  I still can’t find it.

I’m hippy & I’m trippy
I’m a gypsy on my own
I’ll stay a week
& get the crabs
& Take a bus back home
I’m really just a phony
But forgive me
‘Cause I’m stoned

When I got back to my cousin’s place we went out for Vietnamese.  We ate garlic noodles and prawns with spicy green beans and more garlic.  Then we went back to her house and watched the last four episodes of the third season of Mad Men.  That show only gets better every time I watch it.  This time I enjoyed it all so much I was almost impressed with January Jones’s acting.

Still, it’s always been about this big hunk-o-gangsta.

I had a bizarre sex dream last night, and when I woke up this morning I kept my eyes closed so I could remember all the crazy details.  They’re still a bit fuzzy, but I do know that at one point in the dream I was very mad at the young man I had just spent the night with because he was ignoring me during a screening of Lawrence of Arabia in 3D.  This confused me, because he was more than willing to skip the screening of Cat People the night before just to be with me.  I think that the preposterousness of it all demonstrates a new all time high in Dorky Dreams.

When I got out of bed I thought I’d maybe go to Haight Street…

Every town must have a place
Where phony hippies meet

Buy another mug or three…

Psychedelic dungeons
Popping up every street

Instead I got up and went to a donut place near my cousin’s house, where I ate a maple bacon apple donut.  And It Was Good.

I never made it to Haight Street.  Instead I creeped inside a tiny coffee shop and did some writing.  And ya know what?  I had a great time.  It was fun and challenging and I feel like it’s time to take a walk.

I definitely see more writing in my future.  I also see Don Draper.  And an ice cream cone.

GO TO SAN FRANCISCO
How I love ya, How I love ya How I love ya, How I love ya Frisco!

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Neutral Milk Tradition.

On Thanksgiving, when I was 17, my big brother changed my life when he handed me a brand new copy of In the Aeroplane Over the Sea by Neutral Milk Hotel.  At the time, I only listened to bands who had reached the height of their popularity in the late 1960’s or early [to mid -] 1970’s.  My favorite movie was The Rolling Stones’ Rock and Roll Circus.  I still felt buzzed from the David Bowie concert I had seen months earlier.  I had written my 11th grade research paper on the cultural influence of Punk Rock, for which I received — and didn’t care that I received! — a good ol’ mediocre 75%.  Why, dear God, did my brother hand me a copy of In the Aeroplane Over the Sea?  All he said was, “I think you’ll like it.”

I’m positive the only reason I listened to the album was because my big brother told me to.  We weren’t little kids anymore, but that didn’t matter; handing me that album incited the same sense of urgency and fear I felt when I was seven-years-old and he handed me a copy of Soundgarden’s Superunknown.  I was given a task, and if I followed through that would mean I was Cool.  I took my copy of Raw Power out of my CD player, and replaced it with the CD my brother had just given me.  What I heard was all at once everything I loved about my classic stuff, as well as unlike anything I’d ever heard before.  It was dark in a Jim Morrison way, but not at all Bohemian.  Could Bob Dylan have written this?  Leonard Cohen?  Patti Smith?  Maybe, yeah, in another world…but that’s not how things panned out, was it?

Somehow, the rest of my family got turned on to that album.  Perhaps it was because my big brother also gave a copy to my little brother — or was it me who did that? — and then it was eventually played for my parents.  Regardless of the real explanation, it eventually got to the point where all five of us were singing, “What a beautiful face I have found in this place…”.

(My family’s love for this song gives my love for this cover a bit of extra umph).

A few weeks later, when my big brother was home for Christmas, he handed me a copy of On Avery Island.  Similar to the Aeroplane phenomenon, the remaining family members fell in love.  I distinctly remember listening to “3 Peaches” as a family on our way back home from a car trip somewhere.  Was it Vegas?  How…appropriate?

As I became a bigger fan, I learned that the band was formed in the 1990’s and that the lead singer’s name was Jeff Mangum.  When I learned about the band’s indefinite hiatus, I really, truly felt sad.  Bowie Buzz be damned, I wanted to hear “Oh Comely” live!

My prayers were answered, in a way, a year later.  I was a freshman in college, and my mom came to Santa Cruz to drive me home for Thanksgiving.  To keep us entertained during the six-hour-long trip, she brought a copy of Live at Jittery Joe’s.  She was especially excited for me to hear, “I Love How You Love Me” because it was “nothing like the original version!”  She also loved how the crying baby in the background punctuated Mangum’s performance.  “Isn’t it just so good and weird?” she said.

As a result of all this, Thanksgiving makes me think of Neutral Milk Hotel.  When Halloween is over and it finally starts to get a little bit cold (here in Southern California, that is) and people start thinking about ordering turkeys and learning how the Hell to make cranberry sauce, all I can think about is trumpets and Anne Frank.  Every morning, afternoon and night, regardless of where I am, I am either listening to, or thinking about In the Aeroplane Over the Sea.

***

On Thursday night, after all of our esteemed guests had left the building, the five of us sat down in the family room to decompress and digest.  I was on the couch between my dad and my big brother.  My Big Brother.  My Big Brother who wanted me to stop listening to my Ren & Stimpy CD and start listening to grunge.  My Big Brother who changed my life when he handed me a brand new copy of In the Aeroplane Over the Sea

I turned to him and said, “Thanksgiving makes me think of Neutral Milk Hotel.”  “Oh yeah?” he said.  I then told him that he had given me that album on Thanksgiving years before, and what an impression that album had made on me.  He said, “I loved that band so much in college and I was so upset that I would never be able to see them live.  I once had a dream I did.  It was very…emotional.” As someone who knows all about emotional concerts and emotional dreams, I felt very close to My Big Brother in that moment.  “Brother see, we are one in the same…”.

My dad and I mentioned that Jeff Mangum played at Occupy Wall Street.  “No way!” My Big Brother said.  “He did a show?”  He wanted to know when, where, and how we knew.  We explained that we had seen a segment on Democracy Now! where Amy Goodman talked about Occupy, and that during the segment she showed a few seconds of Jeff Mangum singing “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea” for a crowd of people.  This really blew My Big Brother’s mind.  He didn’t seem to believe what we were telling him.  “I’m sure it’s on YouTube,” I said.

My Big Brother found a forty minute and fifty-nine-second long video of Jeff Mangum’s Occupy Wall Street set, and, as a family, we listened to all of it.  We sang along to every song: “Holland 1945,” “Song Against Sex,” “Two Headed Boy Part 2,” “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea,” “King of Carrot Flowers Part 1,” and “Oh Comely.”  During “Two Headed Boy Part 2,” when all of us took a break from singing to just listen, my younger brother — who is awesome — couldn’t help but repeat after Jeff Mangum when he sang, “God is a place where some holy spectacle lies.”  “Wow,” my little brother said.  “God is a PLACE.”  At the risk of sounding like a sentimental nut, I have to agree; and maybe, just maybe, it’s a place I’ve been to.  All I know is that I spent the night of Thanksgiving sitting on my couch singing about “how strange it is to be anything at all” with the two people who brought me into this world and the two people who I will always be inextricably linked to.  Does it get much better?  You tell me.

It is now the evening of Sunday, November 27th.  Thanksgiving of 2011 has come and gone.  While I’ve had a great time eating mashed potatoes and pie and stuffing for the last three days (curse you, delicious leftovers!), I’m looking forward to tomorrow, when I plan on ingesting some green vegetables and going to the gym.  The food binge may have reached its end, but the feeling of thankfulness will continue.  For as long as I have my Neutral Milk Hotel CDs, what ISN’T there to be thankful for?

Thanks mom and dad, for the obvious.  Thanks, little brother, for the awesomeness.  Thanks, Big Brother for more than you know…

And thanks, YouTube, for the sweet covers.

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