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[December, 1994] Sowing the Seeds of Goth

12/26/94 

“No matter where you are I can always hear you when you drown” – SP [Smashing Pumpkins]

Went to the circus yesterday. Didn’t feel well most of the day. Finally on the way home I opened the car door and puked 3 consecutive times. Puked again later that night. What a lovely feeling that was. Had a dream two people lent me two different Cure tapes (or something like that).

I’m watching “The Crow” right now. Liking it a lot. The music in it (Cure, NIN) is very cool. Just going to try to keep some liquids down today.

“You got a head full of traffic
You’re a siren song” – U2

...

I remember that circus outing quite well, especially its aftermath. I think my parents were more excited to go than I was, because it was the Moscow Circus, which they had probably seen as kids in the motherland or something. I was still looking forward to it; after all, my favorite movie featured a trapeze artist, and I figured if Russians were so good at producing Olympic athletes, they probably put on a good circus.

Mom made me an omelet for breakfast that day, which tasted strange, sweet. I asked what was in it and it turned out she had mixed some orange juice into the eggs because we were out of milk. How she imagined that would be a suitable substitute is beyond me (in later years I think she also used flavored coffee creamer at least once; we’re a family of Russian kooks, what can I say). I didn’t want to hurt her feelings, so I didn’t make a fuss at ate the whole thing. 

At the circus, I started to feel unwell, breaking out into that ominous sweat that leads to very bad things. The acrobats and clowns were impressive, but my churning stomach made it difficult to enjoy. It could have been a stomach flu that I caught some other way, but I blame those eggs.  I still remember the ride home, too, and my father stopping around the corner from our apartment to get something from the corner deli. When I opened the rear door to be sick, I did not see the little boy watching me from a few feet away until I was done triple-puking. The poor kid looked vaguely traumatized. 

I had this very picture hanging up in my room back in the day.

As for The Crow, I remember news stories reporting Brandon Lee’s accidental death on the set of the film in 1993. He was only 28, engaged to be married, and died at the beginning of what many said would be a promising film career, following in his father Bruce’s footsteps. For whatever reason, I didn’t see the movie when it came out in theaters, because despite the cool leather clothes and dark make-up, it still looked like a shoot-’em-up action movie geared more toward guys.

When I did finally see The Crow on cable, I was taken in by the tragedy of the story (on and off the screen), the music, and of course the gloomy aesthetic. Yes, it was gritty and violent, but at its core it about a man avenging the death of the woman he loved and I found the whole thing to be brutally romantic.  

I was still too passionate about wearing color and listening to a variety of of music to classify myself as a goth, but the foundation was being laid. Between my obsession with Nine Inch Nails, my growing appreciation for The Cure, Joel-Peter Witkin, and Clive Barker, and now movies like The Crow, I enjoyed exploring these darker themes, the drama and intensity of them.

But it’s not like I was about to dye my hair and all my clothes black or anything. That would come later.

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[December, 1994] Writing Exercise: A Musical Portrait

The red spiral notebook was a journal started out of a requirement for a creative writing class. I usually didn’t use it for the actual writing assignments, but the one below somehow got included.

The assignment was to pick someone in the room, and write a detailed description of them. Then some of the students read their descriptions out loud and the rest of us tried to guess the subject. We weren’t given any restrictions on what we could write apart from not using the person’s name. I looked around the room for potential subjects but then decided to write about myself. Go vain 16-year-old me! Now I kind of cringe at my teenage self-centeredness, but am also glad for the verbal time capsule. Then I actually read through it and cringe again.

[12/5/1994 – WRITING EXERCIZE]

[To this day, I intuitively misspell “exercise” because it seems wrong for the word not to have a “z” in it.]

She has long brown hair that ends 3 inches above her waist. She has been growing it for almost 3 ½ years. She has medium brown eyes (not too large or small) and rather thick eyelashes. Her lips are kind of small, she wishes they were fuller but she wears dark lipstick most of the time anyway. Her eyebrows are slightly arched and she plucks them.

[And let’s not forget that the haircut I was growing out was inspired from Chynna Phillips from Wilson Phillips, and necessitated by the need to get rid of the last dregs of a bad perm. Though let’s be honest, is there really such a thing as a good perm?]

She loves music and is always wearing a band shirt (usually U2 or Nine Inch Nails). Speaking of NIN, she’s unbelievable excited about the concert in 2 days. She’s going with her friend Claudia and then Friday with Claudia again and Salli too. This concert is something she has been looking forward to for over a month.

She’s really happy that her best friend Anita got Pretty Hate Machine a few days ago. They tried to listen to it in sync (over the phone) but it didn’t work. Amita is the one who got her started on U2 (which many people were ready to murder Anita for later on).

[I remember that Pretty Hate Machine listening party quite well. I had the cassette and I’m pretty sure Anita did, too. We were gradually incorporating CD’s into our music libraries during our village outings, but it would be a while before compact discs outnumbered our tapes. Anyway, we spent a ridiculous amount of time on the phone trying to press Play at exactly the same time, but the whirring electronic beats of “head like a hole” always started just a little bit sooner for one of us. No matter how many times we rewound and tried it again, we couldn’t get the music to sync up perfectly. I think we still listened to the whole album over the phone, most likely peppered with my enthused and worshipful commentary.]

One of the few U2 shirts I still own. Goes for $50-$80 on eBay!

Since that summer just two years ago she has accumulated quite a lot of U2 stuff. Sometimes, when she can’t sleep, she’ll go over her U2 collection in her head and has estimated it is worth $850 at face value (she underestimates these things though). 

[Some people count sheep, I counted 7″ and 9″ records, bootlegs, books, magazines, and other scraps of fandom. I still have a box of memorabilia at my mom’s place, though I don’t think it’s worth is going to surpass my 401K any time soon.]

U2 have greatly inspired this person, giving her the words she lives by “dream out loud.” She has learned to accept this part of herself, this “U2-ism” and has come to terms with it in a healthy way (this NIN thing on the other hand…). She now puts together a U2 ‘zine “Faraway, So Close!” that has been doing pretty well (she hopes to complete the second issue over winter break). She’s planning a big trip to Dublin after she graduates and doesn’t really expect to meet any members of the band (such as her favorite, drummer Larry Mullen Jnr) but if she does happen to run into them…so much the better. 

[For the record, I made it through all of my various music obsessions without a single restraining order.]

One more U2 thing, she has met lots of people through penpal listings and such and so now she is in the “U2 network” and has been for over 6 months.

She wants to see if there’s some NIN network (there is On-line, but she’s not with all that).

[Remember when the Internet was this thing you could simply choose not to be part of? No doubt many of you do not.]

She thinks Trent Reznor (who writes, arranges, and performs all NIN songs, hiring people to help during tours) is one of the (if not the) most talented, fascinating people she’s ever known of. His music is so dark and scares so many people (good!) but she finds great strength and expression in it.

This is what you find when you search for a photo of Tori Amos and Trent Reznor together.

She also loves Tori Amos and if you’d ask her who she would like to trade places with right now, she’d say Tori.

[Probably because she was creative and quirky and likely got it on with Trent Reznor.]

Then there are so many other artists and bands she listens to, like The Trash Can Sinatras for the beautiful, tuneful songs. Then there’s Afghan Whigs, Moist, Alice in Chains and Pearl Jam for their melodic anger. Also Smashing Pumpkins and Radiohead for the “guitar-driven angst.” And Belly and Liz Phair because she, well she just likes their songs.

[And somehow I never got that music journalist career off the ground…]

While this is in no way a complete portrait of her it is a near-complete musical portrait.

[And a somewhat dull and pretentious one at that, so if you made it all the way through, you deserve a cookie.]

[November, 1994] The Crush Report

...

11/9/94

“I’m drunk and right now I’m so in love with you.” – NIN

NIN COUNTDOWN: 28 DAYS

Yes, the countdown has moved up 2 days because I’m going to the Wednesday show (after Claudia the Wonderful gets us tickets). It was an up day. Don’t care about randomness too much. T.W. Wrote back, just what I need. Wonders indeed (I use that word too much. Even though I don’t use it all that often). Chorus sub looks like a Depeche Mode reject. Bad thing? Naw.

“Love comes in colors I can’t deny” – S.P. [Smashing Pumpkins]

More of my teenage code in this entry, but I’m actually able to decipher most of it.

Collecting crushes became something of an inadvertent hobby for me when I was 16. It was rare for me to go more than a couple of months (or even weeks) without having at least one target for my boy craziness, but sometimes I accumulated a few. I remember a lot of them today, but still can’t recall who “Wonderfully Random” was. If it wasn’t Neil, the younger punk kid, it was some classmate I decided was cute and crush-worthy.

However, none of that mattered because I was smitten with Tim Wunderlich from his first letter (and because of his last name, I was fond of making bad puns using the word “wonders.” Sorry.). He was frustrated and jaded and had the furious male scrawl of a teenage malcontent. Tim lived in a small town full of ignorant people, where he was called a “faggot” because he wore his hair a little long and listened to bands like The Cure and Cocteau Twins. He felt imprisoned and misunderstood, which was something I could identify with (as could just about any other adolescent, I imagine). Even though I lived in one of the most dynamic cities in the world, Hunter was a small school which felt like a microcosm unto itself, a brick prison full of kids who were smart, but not wildly eclectic or unusual–at least not on the surface. And while I had momentary escapes from the school, it dominated my social existence for a long time, and I felt more pressure to fit in than stand out. Tim did as well, but fought back against that pressure and did not pretend to be something he wasn’t. That quality in both Tim and Neil were big reasons I had crushes on them (on top of finding them generally attractive, of course).

You could do a lot worse than having your sub look like this.

Then there was, of course, the “Depeche Mode reject,” which was in reference to a substitute teacher who bore a striking resemblance to Dave Gahan, the band’s lead singer. Even though I was not a fan of the group as a kid, I did gradually like them more and more as my music tastes evolved. And while Dave Gahan was no Trent Reznor, he did have a certain physical appeal at times. And having a temporary chorus teacher who had a similar slender, dark-haired, broody, pale British look to him made me… rather uncomfortable. It was the first–and possibly only– time, I felt attracted to a teacher (not counting my girl crush on Ms. Donaldson, which had no sexual component to it). I was embarrassed by this crush, because it felt taboo to have lustful feelings for a so-called authority figure. Much like the crush on Neil felt wrong because he was so much younger than me, this felt wrong because Mr. Pseudo-Gahan was considerably older than me…  and because I kept picturing him starring in music videos wearing leather pants. I could barely even look at him in the classroom for fear of blushing. Luckily, he only subbed for a few chorus sessions.

[September, 1994] My So-Called Life, Lollapalooza, Details, Raygun

January 19, 2011 5 comments

9/28/94

“No more promise no more sorrow no longer will I follow can anybody hear me I just want to be me and when I can I will.” – Smashing Pumpkins

I’m watching “My So-Called Life.”  This is the only show that I make a conscious effort to watch.  It’s so perceptive.

I listened to Siamese Dream this morning.  After Lollapalooza it seemed like I was drained of my Pumpkin listening capabilities.  Got a couple of letters yesterday (big surprise) and I really need to catch up on my mail.  I’ll try for a couple this weekend.

I sent in the Details subscription card a couple of days ago but now I’m torn about what to do next month.  If I buy it and that’s the first issue they send me, that’ll suck.  I can’t fund Raygun anywhere.  What if they printed my letter?!  I might never know!

As usual I have nothing too noteworthy to say and aside from having the chance to write down great quotes, I fail to see the point of this log.  I’m feeling a little grumpy today.

“She is raging she is raging and the storm blows up in her eyes…” – U2

“Go, now, go!”

And so began every episode of My So-Called Life, with this whispered urging.

On the surface there wasn’t much to it. The show, mostly narrated by 15-year-old Angela Chase, followed her experiences in and out of high school. There were her old friends she was drifting away from, the quirky new friendships she was developing, the family who drove her crazy, and the seemingly-unattainable crush.

And yet there was so much more to it.

My So-Called Life had a wit and pathos and flat out magic to it that moved me in a way that very few televisions shows have since. The characters were fleshed out, the stories weren’t simple or easily resolved, and the narration and dialogue were strung together with these observations that were so true to a teenage voice and beautiful in their own right. There was a search for identity and desire to push past the boundaries of adolescence, but also an awareness. For example,

…this whole thing with yearbook – it’s like, everybody’s in this big hurry to make this book, to supposedly remember what happened. Because if you made a book of what really happened, it’d be a really upsetting book.

Clare Danes as semi-gawky Angela Chase was pitch-perfect, and damn that girl could cry. Her whole face would turn bright red and collapse and just thinking of it makes my throat tighten. The supporting cast was equally strong, from the free-spirited Rayanne to the flamboyant Rickie (who rocked guyliner before it became trendy) to dreamy Jordan Catalano (you always had to say his first and last name together) to brainy Brian Krakow (ditto). But a single adjective doesn’t do them justice. The beauty of the show was how well it wove these nuanced, layered characters into stories that were relatable without being trite. No other show captured being a teenager in the 1990’s like this one. The tragedy of it is that it only lasted 19 episodes.

I might even have my own ticket stub somewhere…

But before all this there was Lollapalooza.

I went with my friend Darby, an obsessed Smashing Pumpkins fan. I was excited to attend this outdoor music festival to see the Pumpkins, Green Day, and, to a lesser extent, The Breeders. We were dropped off on Roosevelt Island and spent a sweaty day wandering  around, among the crowd of alterna-kids, hippies, with a few punks and goths thrown in for good measure.  I caught one or two songs from The Breeders set and then was completely blown away by Green Day, whose catchy pseudo-punk pop songs were the highlight of the day for me (little did I know/expect they would attain such mass popularity and go on to create a Broadway musical).  I missed Nick Cave’s set which I didn’t mind (this was many years before I would develop even the slightest fondness for his music) and enjoyed the Beastie Boys as much as I could for not being a big fan. Then it was a seemingly endless wait for Smashing Pumpkins, my then second-favorite band, to take the stage.  They proved to be merely ok.  Fuzzy guitar riffs blended into each other, a pre-bald Billy Corgan had less angsty charisma than I hoped for, and I was disappointed that they didn’t perform my favorite song of theirs, “Mayonnaise.”  It wasn’t long after that I discovered Nine Inch Nails, who ended up overshadowing the Pumpkins (in every sense of the word) in my personal music history.

I’ll be honest, I didn’t find Lollapalooza all that special. I appreciated the communal anything-goes vibe Perry Farrell was going for when he created the annual event, but the heat and the density of people taught me outdoor festivals are not my thing. I felt trapped on that island, out of place, and a little overwhelmed.  But it did give me bragging rights and a couple of cool points (well, maybe), since Lollapalooza was a big deal back then for music junkies.

this was one of the first issues I ever bought

As for Details and Raygun, they were my favorite magazines at the time.  Raygun was a tribute to alternative pop culture and prided itself on its wacky use of fonts and other design elements.  It was oversized and its heavy stock and inventive graphics inspired me to turned many of its pages into envelopes for my penpal  letters (I still have a box of unused ones lying around somewhere).  Details, before it became a lad rag, had sharp and funny writing that was less about appealing to a certain male lifestyle and more about being edgy and interesting.  One of the highlights was Anka Radakovich’s sex column, which was equal parts bawdy, funny, and intelligent.  There was also once an amusing sidebar on misheard song lyrics, in which the author encouraged readers to submit their own for future collection in a book.  Having a tendency to hear song lyrics incorrectly for most of my life, I sent in two pages worth and ended up being included (and acknowledged and sent free copies) of two of the books, Excuse Me While I Kiss This Guy and When a Man Loves a Walnut. One wrong lyric that made it in was “Every time you go away you take a piece of meat with you.” I’ll spare you the rest.

[September, 1994] Boxing Helena and Nine Inch Nails

September 14, 1994

“I send a heart to all my dearies and when your life is oh so dreary DREAM” — Smashing Pumpkins

Filling in the ellipsis in that second blurb: "...piece of crap. If you like terrible movies then this is..."

I think I saw the worst movie ever made last night.  It was “Boxing Helena” and awful isn’t severe enough to convey how truly bad it was.  I don’t even know why I’m writing about movies so much.  I’m more into music anyway.  I listened to the Nine Inch Nails bootleg Claudia taped for me.  It was a great concert.  I still want to know where the song “Keep Calling Me” is from.  My short story is progressing.  I hope I’ll be able to continue writing on demand.

I’m afraid this long may be boring because at the moment I am refusing to put down anything personal.  I’m not going to pour out my emotions here, the closest I will come to that is with my choice of quotes.

My trip to Ireland is less than one year and 10 months away.  I hope they don’t paint over the grafitti at Windmill Lane Studios by the time I get there.

“Nothing much to say I guess
Just the same as all the rest…” – U2
 

We were encouraged to be prolific in creative writing, and had to write half a page a day in our journals. I was still resistant to keeping a proper diary wherein I’d pour my heart out, so I filled the red notebook with song lyrics and pop culture minutiae.

I wasn’t going to say much about Boxing Helena, focusing more on my burgeoning nine inch nails obsession, but in a way the two compliment each other. Jennifer Lynch’s dreadful film is a good example of how the macabre can be turned into something trite and poorly executed, whereas Trent Reznor took the macabre and turned into something compelling and beautiful.

It’s funny how much controversy surrounded Boxing Helena and how forgotten the movie has now become. There was so much buzz about the movie leading up to its release. It was the first feature from David Lynch’s daughter, so of course everyone wondered if she’d follow in his genius weirdo footsteps. Then there was the plot of the film, in which a crazy-possessive (emphasis on the crazy) amputates the arms and legs of a woman he’s obsessed with. And then there was all the buzz about the female lead: Madonna dropped out of the title role, and then Kim Basinger  dropped out and got sued for breach of contract (and initially lost, filing for bankruptcy). This made for some juicy Entertainment Weekly fodder, let me tell you.  Finally Sherilyn Fenn got cast as the lead, which was unfortunate because she went from being a bombshell on Twin Peaks to flat out bombing in Boxing Helena. All the drama surrounding the movie was way better than what was actually shot on film, which was a mess of bad writing and boring storytelling. It’s it’s gotta take a lot of work to make a movie full of sex about amputation boring and yet… Considering Basinger went on to win an Oscar and Fenn went on to star in The Dukes of Hazzard: The Beginning, it was probably worth the bankruptcy to opt out of such a disastrous career move.

stills from "closer"

And then we have creepy done right. Here’s the thing about me and Nine Inch Nails: I hated the music. I never went in for that scream-y type of singing, except maybe when Bono’s voice cracked once in a while. I used to turn off or cringe through “Head Like a Hole” and “Wish” when played on the alternative radio station (WDRE, oh how I miss you). Then “Closer,” the first single off  The Downward Spiral, was released. And I didn’t like it. And I found the video disturbing. And I mysteriously found myself going out and getting the album anyway (on cassette no less).

I remember hearing the first sharp thuds of the opening track, “Mr. Self-Destruct,” and getting a feeling of being on a roller coaster, climbing up, up, up, and then being plunged into a noisy abyss. I never experienced music like that before, a sound that shook something inside me.

My fascination with Trent Reznor and his music quickly snowballed. I bought all the albums and every magazine he was featured in. Whenever the “Closer” video came on MTV (which was often), I stopped what I was doing, utterly mesmerized by the gruesome imagery, the impassioned lyrics, and the torment Trent exuded. There was so much anger, melancholia, and sex wrapped up in Nine Inch Nails. This was an intoxicating and revelatory combination for my 16-year-old self.

It wouldn’t be long before I figured out “Keep Calling Me” on that bootleg was actually “Dead Souls,” a Joy Division cover from the soundtrack for The Crow. By that point, I was mainlining every Nine Inch Nails album, b-side, interview, video, and random tidbit I could get my hands on. By the end of the year, my bedroom door was  plastered with pictures of Trent Reznor. My father grew concerned that I was listening to music that “sounds like a factory” and wondered if I was becoming a Satanist. Hardly. But I was exploring a new channel for my inner turmoil and obsessive tendencies.

[April 18, 1994] Pearl Jam and the 90’s vs the 80’s

December 6, 2010 2 comments

how grungy it is...

Monday, April 18, 1994

Dear Journal,

Last night Anita and I went to a Pearl Jam concert.  It was great!  It was announced Friday at 6:00 and the only way to get tickets (if you weren’t in the fanclub) was through a radio station.  Anita called one for 2 ½ hours and actually got through.

Mudhoney opened up for them and they were okay.  Then Pearl Jam came on and for the first couple of songs I was real stiff (I almost felt like I didn’t belong there.  I mean my favorite band is U2 and Smashing Pumpkins are way down the line at second favorite).  Then I loosened up and just got real into it.  I danced, screamed, it was wonderful.  I hadn’t been to a concert in such a long time (about 4 years) and it was incredible.  I want to go to so many more now.

(Also I should mention the fact that there was an extremely high number of cute guys there).

–“Just Say Maybe” (the back of a cool Smashing Pumpkins shirt this really cute guy was wearing at the concert.

Few things encapsulate the 1990’s as much as grunge.  I’ll be honest, I had Doc Marten boots and a few plaid shirts, but for the most part, I hated the sloppy, unwashed grunge aesthetic.  In terms of decade trends, I felt completely and utterly cheated coming of age in the 90’s after experiencing the 80’s as a child. The 1980’s were full of so many things I adored: the clothesthe movies, the TV shows, the hairstyles, the music… pretty much all of it.

The grunge that typified the 1990’s didn’t move me as much as the new wave and pop of the 1980’s. Nirvana, Hole, and most of the other bands associated with the scene did nothing for me, as evidenced by my lukewarm response to Mudhoney.  There were exceptions music-wise, Pearl Jam being one for a short time (Alice in Chains and Smashing Pumpkins being others). But these bands never felt like a revelation to me, more like a reluctant acceptance, because they were so ubiquitous it was easier to just give in and like them after a while.

While I knew I wasn’t truly part of the scene Pearl Jam represented and didn’t love their music, I did become more of a fan after seeing them live.  They sounded infinitely better in concert than they did on their albums, their growling intensity was mesmerizing, and the show reminded me of the power of live music. I don’t listen to Pearl Jam anymore apart from a rare song here and there, but to this day, having attended ~100-200 concerts since that one, I’d still say they are one of the strongest live bands I’ve ever seen.

[March, 1994] My So-Called Crush

November 19, 2010 12 comments

some things are better bottled up

Thursday, March 24, 1994

Dear Journal,

I keep going through nice healthy periods when I don’t like Elliot Meyerowitz then something happens to make me start again.  This last time I was walking to math and passed by a room he was waiting outside. After repeatedly telling myself not to look at him I did and saw he was staring at me.  I just looking into his eyes and that was it.

Today in health (the one class I have with him) I sat a seat away from him until he moved his chair so he could see better (we were watching a movie) or sit next to Cindy J (You know all the guys you consider the cutest in your grade? Well she’s the one who goes out with them).  While he was repositioning his chair he brushed by my leg and apologized.  Pretending to be deeply involved in a crossword puzzle I mumbled “that’s okay.”

Now he was directly (almost) in front of him and the lights were out so I could only see his outline from the glow of the t.v.  A couple of times during the movie (at least 3 or 4) he turned his head in my direction like he was looking at me out of the corner of his eye or maybe he was looking at Cindy. Probably the latter.

After the movie our health teacher took out this fetus preserved in formaldehyde and had a few people at a time come up to her desk to see it.  When I went up I made sure I wasn’t standing next to him but then the people between us left.  You had to lean over to see it so we both did and he was very close to me.  I actually held my breath.  I quickly sat down after that.  I saw him a lot during the rest of the day.  I’m actually beginning to think that I…it’s not possible.  How can I if I don’t even know him and can’t even talk to him.  No.  I do not love Elliot Meyerowitz.

I can’t wait until I leave with my mom Monday.  This cruise will definitely clear my head.

“I send a heart to all my dearies
When your heart is oh so dreary DREAM.”  — Smashing Pumpkins, “Mayonnaise”

Oh, the teen angst of it all!  Being around a boy you liked could sometimes feel like navigating a mine field.  So much uncertainty and insecurity and the tiniest gesture or interaction took on an inflated magnitude.  It was like being a character in a 90’s version of an Edith Wharton novel, except I felt like I was the only one who took notice of all the nuances, the only one who gave them any meaning.  At the time, I would have traded in all those cruises with my mother to have a real connection with Elliot, one that didn’t take place in the wistful corners of my melodramatic brain. Now I can look back on it more logically, I can reason that I hardly knew a thing about this boy and never talked to him, so my crush was mostly based on his looks, and therefore I can’t blame him if he in turn developed a crush on one of the cutest girls in our grade.

I guess crushes by nature are based on superficial traits and a tenuous foothold on reality, at least the ones I’ve specialized in for a good part of my life.

I didn’t stand a chance with Elliot. But at least we’ll always have the fetus in formaldehyde.