What came first, the music or the misery?
– Nick Hornby, High Fidelity
About the Mixtape project
Mixtape #1: Interpol, “NYC”
Mixtape #2: Violent Femmes, “Kiss Off”
Mixtape #3: Cyndi Lauper, “All Through the Night”
Mixtape #4: Towa Tei, “Technova
Mixtape #5: Teresa Teng, “The Moon Represents My Heart”
Mixtape #6: David Bowie, “Soul Love”
Mixtape #7: Modest Mouse, “Styrofoam Boots/It’s All Nice on Ice, Alright”
Mixtape #8: Elvis Costello, “Beyond Belief”
Mixtape #9: Mountain Brothers, “Paperchase”
Mixtape #10: Don Gibson, “Born to Lose”
Mixtape #11: TV on the Radio, “Staring at the Sun”
Mixtape #12: ABBA, “Knowing Me, Knowing You”
On the third day of the first genuine heat wave of the summer, the wilty too-tall corn plant in a dusty corner of the living room sprouted stunning white flowers out of nowhere and we threw a party for good luck. My mother swore this was Chinese tradition, that throwing a good luck party was what you did when a houseplant unexpectedly bloomed. My father said he’d never heard of such a tradition. I dropped handfuls of Andes mints into plastic ashtrays before guests arrived, eating one for every three I took out of the bag.
Tradition or not, no one could turn down a party. The cars arrived, one by one, from Queens and Brooklyn and Long Island. My father stood guard over the grill in flip-flops, a faded Spirit of ’76 T-shirt, and running shorts, basting a rack of ribs with a large pink brush slathered in barbecue sauce, while my mother set trays of noodles onto a plastic tablecloth and puffed her permed hair. I raced upstairs to wait in my bedroom for the house to fill up. I put my ear to the floor, carpet tickling my cheek, and heard muffled laughter. My heart beat faster.
After hugging hello to the uncles and aunties, I sat on the stairs with a Styrofoam plate of shish-ka-bobs and a cup of fruit cocktail in heavy syrup. The grown-ups danced; the other kids and I built pillow forts and played cards. My father poured drinks from a bottle of Johnnie Walker. If we were lucky, he’d walk on glass. In the kitchen, my mother piled plates with corn on the cob.
During heat waves, suburban lawns sat lush and steaming and each overextended day bled into the next. On days like these I would wait for the thunderstorms to come and the skies to crack open, rushing through the streets, feeding potholes. Outside, the air would smell moist and impatient, the sky heavy and yearning. We’d count the seconds between rumbles to see how close the rain was, pleading for lightning, the build-up, and thunder, the grand finale.
Going upstairs from a party was like entering a parallel universe. The house was busy with people but I was the only one on the second floor. Even my room, that sacred familiar space, felt different in the dark. The objects scattered on the floor looked foreign, like they were displays in a museum.
The storm was approaching. Rain was close, thunder rumbling low. In the living room things had slipped into chaos. A collective murmur rose over the drinking men, each of them jockeying to be heard, to be louder. Someone dropped her glass. Somebody else giggled. When the other kids left I’d lie in bed and listen to the music and laughter downstairs, comforted by the din of voices, the closeness of the crowd. Falling asleep to the party was almost as good as being at the party itself. It felt like nothing could ever go wrong.