arrivals & departures, parodies and portents: the openings of pynchon’s novels

pynchon-8

CHRISTMAS EVE, 1955, Benny Profane, wearing black levis, suede jacket, sneakers and big cowboy hat, happened to pass through Norfolk, Virginia. Given to sentimental impulses, he thought he’d look in on the Sailor’s Grave, his old tin can’s tavern on East Main Street. He got there by way of the Arcade, at the East Main end of which sat an old street singer with a guitar and an empty Sterno can for donations. Out in the street a chief yeoman was trying to urinate in the gas tank of a ’54 Packard Patrician and five or six seamen apprentice were standing around giving encouragement. The old man was singing, in a fine, firm baritone:

Every night is Christmas Eve on old East Main,

Sailors and their sweethearts all agree.

Neon signs of red and green

Shine upon the friendly scene,

Welcoming you in from off the sea.

Santa’s bag is filled with all your dreams come true:

Nickel beers that sparkle like champagne,

Barmaids who all love to screw,

All of them reminding you

It’s Christmas Eve on old East Main.


"Yay chief," yelled a seaman deuce. Profane rounded the corner. With its usual lack of warning, East Main was on him.


Since his discharge from the Navy Profane had been road-laboring and when there wasn’t work just traveling, up and down the east coast like a yo-yo; and this had been going on for maybe a year and a half. After that long of more named pavements than he’d care to count, Profane had grown a little leery of streets, especially streets like this. They had in fact all fused into a single abstracted Street, which come the full moon he would have nightmares about: East Main, a ghetto for Drunken Sailors nobody knew what to Do With, sprang on your nerves with all the abruptness of a normal night’s dream turning to nightmare. Dog into wolf, light into twilight, emptiness into waiting presence, here were your underage Marine barfing in the street, barmaid with a ship’s propeller tattooed on each buttock, one potential berserk studying the best technique for jumping through a plate glass window (when to scream Geronimo? before or after the glass breaks?), a drunken deck ape crying back in the alley because last time the SP’s caught him like this they put him in a strait jacket. Underfoot, now and again, came vibration in the sidewalk from an SP streetlights away, beating out a Hey Rube with his night stick; overhead, turning everybody’s face green and ugly, shone mercury-vapor lamps, receding in an asymmetric V to the east where it’s dark and there are no more bars.


V. (1963)


Book Covers - Thomas Pynchon's "The Crying of Lot 49" by Clampants.
ONE summer afternoon Mrs Oedipa Maas came home
from a Tupperware party whose hostess had put per­haps too much kirsch in the fondue to find that she, Oedipa, had been named executor, or she supposed executrix, of the estate of one Pierce Inverarity, a California real estate mogul who had once lost two million collars in his spare time but still had assets numerous and tangled enough to make the job of sorting it all out more than honorary. Oedipa stood in the living room, stared at by the greenish dead eye of the TV tube, spoke the name of God, tried to feel as drunk as possible. But this did not work. She thought of a hotel room in Mazatlan whose door had just been slammed, it seemed forever, waking up two hundred birds down in the lobby; a sunrise over the library slope at Cornell University that nobody out on it had seen because the slope faces west; a dry, disconsolate tune from the fourth movement of the Bartok Concerto for Orchestra; a whitewashed bust of Jay Gould that Pierce kept over the bed on a shelf so narrow for it she’d always had the hovering fear it would someday topple on them. Was that how he’d died, she wondered, among dreams, crushed by the only ikon in the house? That only made her laugh, out loud and helpless: You’re so sick, Oedipa, she told herself, or the room, which knew.


The letter was from the law firm of Warpe, Wist-full, Kubitschek and McMingus, of Los Angeles, and
signed by somebody named Metzger. It said Pierce had died back in the spring, and they’d only just now found the will. Metzger was to act as co-executor and special counsel in the event of any involved litigation. Oedipa had been named also to execute the will in a codicil dated a year ago. She tried to think back to whether anything unusual had happened around then. Through the rest of the afternoon, through her trip to the market in downtown Kinneret-Among-The-Pines to buy ricotta and listen to the Muzak (today she came through the bead-curtained entrance around bar 4 of the Fort Wayne Settecento Ensemble’s variorum re­cording of the Vivaldi Kazoo Concerto, Boyd Beaver, soloist); then through the sunned gathering of her marjoram and sweet basil from the herb garden, read­ing of book reviews in the latest Scientific American, into the layering of a lasagna, garlicking of a bread, tearing up of romaine leaves, eventually, oven on, into the mixing of the twilight’s whiskey sours against the arrival of her husband, Wendell ("Mucho") Maas from work, she wondered, wondered, shuffling back through a fat deckful of days which seemed (wouldn’t she be first to admit it?) more or less identical, or all pointing the same way subtly like a conjurer’s deck, any odd one readily clear to a trained eye. It took her till the mid­dle of Huntley and Brinkley to remember that last year at three or so one morning there had come this long-distance call, from where she would never know (unless now he’d left a diary) by a voice beginning in heavy Slavic tones as second secretary at the Transyl-vanian Consulate, looking for an escaped bat; modu­lated to comic-Negro, then on into hostile Pachuco dialect, full of chingas and maricones; then a Gestapo officer asking her in shrieks did she have relatives in Germany and finally his Lamont Cranston voice, the one he’d talked in all the way down to Mazatlan. "Pierce, please," she’d managed to get in, "I thought we had—"


"But Margo," earnestly, "I’ve just come from Commissioner Weston, and that old man in the fun house was murdered by the same blowgun that killed Professor Quackenbush," or something.


The Crying of Lot 49 (1965)


A SCREAMING COMES ACROSS THE SKY. It has happened before, but there is nothing to compare it to now.


It is too late. The Evacuation still proceeds, but it’s all theatre.
There are no lights inside the cars. No light anywhere. Above him lift girders old as an iron queen, and glass somewhere far above that would let the light of day through. But it’s night. He’s afraid of the way the glass will fall—soon—it will be a spectacle: the fall of a crystal palace. But coming down in total blackout, without one glint of light, only great invisible crashing.


Inside the carriage, which is built on several levels, he sits in velveteen darkness, with nothing to smoke, feeling metal nearer and far
ther rub and connect, steam escaping in puffs, a vibration in the carriage’s frame, a poising, an uneasiness, all the others pressed in around, feeble ones, second sheep, all out of luck and time: drunks, old veterans still in shock from ordnance 20 years obsolete, hustlers in city clothes, derelicts, exhausted women with more children than it seems could belong to anyone, stacked about among the rest of the things to be carried out to salvation. Only the nearer faces are visible at all, and at that only as half-silvered images in a view finder, green-stained VIP faces remembered behind bulletproof windows speeding through the city.


They have begun to move. They pass in line, out of the main station, out of downtown, and begin pushing into older and more deso
late parts of the city. Is this the way out? Faces turn to the windows, but no one dares ask, not out loud. Rain comes down. No, this is not a disentanglement from, but a progressive knotting into—they go in under archways, secret entrances of rotted concrete that only looked like loops of an underpass . . . certain trestles of blackened wood have moved slowly by overhead, and the smells begun of coal from days far to the past, smells of naphtha winters, of Sundays when no traffic came through, of the coral-like and mysteriously vital growth, around the blind curves and out the lonely spurs, a sour smell of rolling-stock absence, of maturing rust, developing through those emptying days brilliant and deep, especially at dawn, with blue shadows to seal its passage, to try to bring events to Absolute Zero . . . and it is poorer the deeper they go ruinous secret cities of poor, places whose names he has never heard. . . the walls break down, the roofs get fewer and so do the chances for light. The road, which ought to be opening out into a broader highway, instead has been getting narrower, more broken, cornering tighter and tighter until all at once, much too soon, they are under the final arch: brakes grab and spring terribly. It is a judgment from which there is no appeal.


Gravity’s Rainbow (1973)


LATER than usual one summer morning in 1984, Zoyd Wheeler drifted awake in sunlight through a creeping fig that hung in the window, with a squadron of blue jays stomping around on the roof. In his dream these had been carrier pigeons from someplace far across the ocean, landing and taking off again one by one, each bearing a message for him, but none of whom, light pulsing in their wings, he could ever quite get to in time. He understood it to be another deep nudge from forces unseen, almost surely connected with the letter that had come along with his latest mental-disability check, reminding him that unless he did something publicly crazy before a date now less than a week away, he would no longer qualify for benefits. He groaned out of bed. Somewhere down the hill hammers and saws were busy and country music was playing out of somebody’s truck radio. Zoyd was out of smokes. On the table in the kitchen, next to the Count Chocula box, which turned out to be empty, he found a note from Prairie. "Dad, they changed my shift again, so I rode in with Thapsia. You got a call from Channel 86, they said urgent, I said, you try waking him up sometime. Love anyway, Prairie."


"Froot Loops again I guess," he muttered at the note. With enough Nestle’s Quik on top, they weren’t all that bad, and various ashtrays yielded half a dozen smokable butts. After taking as much time as he could in the bathroom, he finally got around to locating the phone and calling the local TV station to recite to them this year’s press release. But — "You’d better check again, Mr. Wheeler. Word we have is that you’ve been rescheduled." "Check with who, I’m the one’s doin’ it, ain’t I?" "We’re all supposed to be at the Cucumber Lounge." "Well I won’t, I’ll be up at the Log Jam in Del Norte." What was the matter with these people? Zoyd had been planning this for weeks.


Desmond was out on the porch, hanging around his dish, which was always empty because of the blue jays who came screaming down out of the redwoods and carried off the food in it piece by piece. After a while this dog-food diet had begun to give the birds an attitude, some being known to chase cars and pickups for miles down the road and bite anybody who didn’t like it. As Zoyd came out, Desmond gave him an inquiring look. "Just dig yourself," shaking his head at the chocolate crumbs on the dog’s face, "I know she fed you, Desmond, and I know what she fed you too." Desmond followed him as far as the firewood, tail going back and forth to show no hard feelings, and watched Zoyd backing all the way down to the lane before he turned and got on with his day.


Vineland (1990)


Snow-Balls have flown their Arcs, starr’d the Sides of Outbuildings, as of Cousins, carried Hats away into the brisk Wind off Delaware,— the Sleds are brought in and their Runners carefully dried and greased, shoes deposited in the back Hall, a stocking’d-foot Descent made upon the great Kitchen, in a purposeful Dither since Morning, punctuated by the ringing Lids of various Boilers and Stewing-Pots, fragrant with Pie-Spices, peel’d Fruits, Suet, heated Sugar,— the Children, having all upon the Fly, among rhythmic slaps of Batter and Spoon, coax’d and stolen what they might, proceed, as upon each afternoon all this snowy Advent, to a comfortable Room at the rear of the House, years since given over to their carefree Assaults. Here have come to rest a long scarr’d sawbuck table, with two mismatch’d side-benches, from the Lancaster County branch of the family,— some Second-Street Chippen­dale, including an interpretation of the fam’d Chinese Sofa, with a high canopy of yards of purple Stuff that might be drawn all ’round to make a snug, dim tent,— a few odd Chairs sent from England before the War,— mostly Pine and Cherry about, nor much Mahogany, excepting a sinister and wonderful Card Table which exhibits the cheaper sinu­soidal Grain known in the Trade as Wand’ring Heart, causing an illu­sion of Depth into which for years children have gaz’d as into the illustrated Pages of Books…along with so many hinges, sliding Mor­tises, hidden catches, and secret compartments that neither the Twins nor their Sister can say they have been to the end of it. Upon the Wall, banish’d to this Den of Parlor Apes for its Remembrance of a Time bet­ter forgotten, reflecting most of the Room,— the Carpet and Drapes a little fray’d, Whiskers the Cat stalking beneath the furniture, looking out with eyes finely reflexive to anything suggesting Food,— hangs a Mirror in an inscrib’d Frame, commemorating the "Mischianza," that memorable farewell Ball stag’d in ’77 by the British who’d been Occu­pying the City, just before their Withdrawal from Philadelphia.


This Christmastide of 1786, with the War settl’d and the Nation bick­ering itself into Fragments, wounds bodily and ghostly, great and small,
go aching on, not ev’ry one commemorated,— nor, too often, even recounted. Snow lies upon all Philadelphia, from River to River, whose further shores have so vanish’d behind curtains of ice-fog that the City today might be an Isle upon an Ocean. Ponds and Creeks are frozen over, and the Trees a-glare to the last slightest Twig,— Nerve-Lines of con­centrated Light. Hammers and Saws have fallen still, bricks lie in snow-cover’d Heaps, City-Sparrows, in speckl’d Outbursts, hop in and out of what Shelter there may be,— the nightward Sky, Clouds blown to Chalk-smears, stretches above the Northern Liberties, Spring Garden and Ger-mantown, its early moon pale as the Snow-Drifts,— smoke ascends from Chimney-Pots, Sledging-Parties adjourn indoors, Taverns bustle,— freshly infus’d Coffee flows ev’ryplace, borne about thro’ Rooms front and back, whilst Madeira, which has ever fuel’d Association in these Parts, is deploy’d nowadays like an ancient Elixir upon the seething Pot of Politics,— for the Times are as impossible to calculate, this Advent, as the Distance to a Star.


Mason & Dixon (1997)




"
Now single up all lines!"


"Cheerly now … handsomely …
very well! Prepare to cast her off!"


"Windy City, here we come!"


"Hurrah! Up we go!"


It was amid such lively exclamation that the hydrogen skyship
Inconve­nience, its gondola draped with patriotic bunting, carrying a five-lad crew be­longing to that celebrated aeronautics club known as the Chums of Chance, ascended briskly into the morning, and soon caught the southerly wind.


When the ship reached cruising altitude, those features left behind on the ground having now dwindled to all but microscopic size, Randolph St. Cosmo, the ship commander, announced, "Now secure the Special Sky De­tail," and the boys, each dressed neatly in the summer uniform of red-and-­white-striped blazer and trousers of sky blue, spiritedly complied.


They were bound this day for the city of Chicago, and the World’s Columbian Exposition recently opened there. Since their orders had come through, the "scuttlebutt" among the excited and curious crew had been of little besides the fabled "White City," its great Ferris wheel, alabaster temples of commerce and industry, sparkling lagoons, and the thousand more such wonders, of both a scientific and an artistic nature, which awaited them there.


"Oh, boy!" cried Darby Suckling, as he leaned over the lifelines to watch the national heartland deeply swung in a whirling blur of green far below, his tow-colored locks streaming in the wind past the gondola like a banner to leeward. (Darby, as my faithful readers will remember, was the "baby" of the crew, and served as both factotum and
mascotte, singing as well the difficult treble parts whenever these adolescent aeronaunts found it impossible to con­tain song of some kind.) "I can’t hardly wait!" he exclaimed.


"For which you have just earned five more demerits!" advised a stern voice close to his ear, as he was abruptly seized from behind and lifted clear of the lifelines. "Or shall we say ten? How many times," continued Lindsay
Nose­worth, second-in-command here and known for his impatience with all man­ifestations of the slack, "have you been warned, Suckling, against informality of speech?" With the deftness of long habit, he flipped Darby upside down, and held the flyweight lad dangling by the ankles out into empty space—"terra firma" by now being easily half a mile below—proceeding to lecture him on the many evils of looseness in one’s expression, not least among them being the ease with which it may lead to profanity, and worse. As all the while, however, Darby was screaming in terror, it is doubtful how many of the useful sentiments actually found their mark.


Against The Day (2006)


She came along the alley and up the back steps the way she always used to. Doc hadn’t seen her for over a year. Nobody had. Back then it was always sandals, bottom half a flower-print bikini, faded Country Joe & the Fish T-shirt. Tonight she was all in flatland gear, hair a lot shorter than he remembered, looking just like she swore she’d never look.

"That you, Shasta?"

"Thinks he’s hallucinating."

"Just the new package I guess."

They stood in the street light through the kitchen window there’d never been much point in putting curtains over and listened to the thumping of the surf from down the hill. Some nights, when the wind was right, you could hear the surf all over town.

"Need your help, Doc."

"You know I have an office now? just like a day job and everything?"

"I looked in the phone book, almost went over there. But then I thought, better for everybody if this looks like a secret rendezvous."

Okay, nothing romantic tonight. Bummer. But it still might be a paying gig. "Somebody’s keepin a close eye? "

"Just spent an hour on surface streets trying to make it look good."

"How about a beer?" He went to the fridge, pulled two cans out of the case he kept inside, handed one to Shasta.

"There’s this guy," she was saying.

There would be, but why get emotional? If he had a nickel for every time he’d heard a client start off this way, he would be over in Hawaii now, loaded day and night, digging the waves at Waimea, or better yet hiring somebody to dig them for him . . . "Gentleman of the straight-world persuasion," he beamed.

"Okay, Doc. He’s married."

"Some . . . money situation."

She shook back hair that wasn’t there and raised her eyebrows so what.

Groovy with Doc. "And the wife—she knows about you?"

Shasta nodded. “But she’s seeing somebody too. Only it isn’t just the usual—they’re working together on some creepy little scheme."

"To make off with hubby’s fortune, yeah, I think I heard of that happenin once or twice around L.A. And . . . you want me to do what exactly?" He found the paper bag he’d brought his supper home in and got busy pretending to scribble notes on it, because straight-chick uniform, makeup supposed to look like no makeup or whatever, here came that old well-known hardon Shasta was always good for sooner or later. Does it ever end, he wondered. Of course it does. It did.


Inherent Vice (2009)


harold bloom on the fading american dream and the deepening american nightmare

 

I might have thought the American Dream had ended, but the election of Barack Obama makes a difference. He invoked our national dream in his victory speech, an important citation though edged by the ill omens of financial and economic disaster both at home and abroad (I write on 20 November, 2008).

 

Like so many potent social myths, the American Dream is devoid of clear meanings, whether in journalistic accounts or in academic analyses. The major American writers who have engaged the dream—Emerson, Whitman, Thoreau, Mark Twain, Henry James, Willa Cather, Robert Frost, Wallace Stevens, Ernest Hemingway, Scott Fitzgerald, Hart Crane—have been aware of this haziness and of attendant ironies. And yet they have affirmed, however ambivalently, that it must be possible to have a nation in which all of us are free to develop our singularities into health, prosperity, and some measure of happiness in self-development and personal achievement. Call this Emerson’s Party of Hope, whose current prophet and leader is the still untested President-Elect Obama.

 

Let us call the Other Side the American Nightmare, from Poe, Hawthorne, and Melville through T.S. Eliot and Faulkner onto our varied contemporaries such as Cormac McCarthy, Thomas Pynchon and Philip Roth. Between Faulkner and these came Nathanael West, Flannery O’Connor, and Ralph Ellison. Dreamers of nightmare realities and irrealities, these superb writers are not altogether in Emerson’s opposing camp, the Party of Memory because, except for Poe, Eliot and O’Connor, they shared the American freedom from dogma.

 

But they dwelled on our addiction to violence, endemic from Moby-Dick’s Captain Ahab through Blood Meridian’s Judge Holden, and on our constant involuntary parodying of hopes for a more humane life.

 

What are we to believe about our nature and destiny in the sea of history that has engulfed so many other nations? We make terrible blunders, of which the Iraqi War and our current financial panic are merely the most recent, and only rarely can they be mitigated. Our American Dream always is likelier to bring forth another Jay Gatsby than a reborn Huck Finn. Our innocence is difficult to distinguish from ignorance, a problematical theme throughout the novels and stories of Henry James, our strongest novelist even as Walt Whitman remains our more-than-major poet. What Whitman discerned (in Emerson’s wake) was the American Adam, unfallen and dazzling as the sun. Is that national myth sustained by the extraordinary rise of Barack Obama?

 

Eight years from now we may be able to answer that question. A country without a monarch and a hereditary nobility must find its heroes in the American Presidency, an absurd ground for such a search ever since the murder of Abraham Lincoln in 1865, almost a century and a half ago. Emerson’s Party of Hope trusts for a reversal, in the name of the American Dream.

 

—from The American Dream, edited and with an introduction by Harold Bloom (2009)

from chapter two of pynchon’s inherent vice

TWO

DOC TOOK THE FREEWAY OUT. THE EASTBOUND LANES TEEMED with VW buses in jittering paisleys, primer-coated street hemis, woodies of authentic Dearborn pine, TV-star-piloted Porsches, Cadillacs carrying dentists to extramarital trysts, windowless vans with lurid teen dramas in progress inside, pickups with mattresses full of country cousins from the San Joaquin, all wheeling along together down into these great horizonless fields of housing, under the power transmission lines, everybody’s radios lasing on the same couple of AM stations, under a sky like watered milk, and the white bombardment of a sun smogged into only a smear of probability, out in whose light you began to wonder if anything you’d call psychedelic could ever happen, or if—bummer!—all this time it had really been going on up north.

Beginning on Artesia, signs directed Doc to Channel View Estates, A Michael Wolfmann Concept. There were the expected local couples who couldn’t wait to have a look at the next OPPOS, as Aunt Reet tended to call most tract houses of her acquaintance. Now and then at the edges of the windshield, Doc spotted black pedestrians, bewildered as Tariq must have been, maybe also looking for the old neighborhood, for rooms lived in day after day, solid as the axes of space, now taken away into commotion and ruin.

The development stretched into the haze and the soft smell of the fog component of smog, and of desert beneath the pavement-model units nearer the road, finished homes farther in, and just visible beyond them the skeletons of new construction, expanding into the unincorporated wastes. Doc drove past the gate till he got to a patch of empty contrac­tor hardpan with street signs already in but the streets not yet paved. He parked at what would be the corner of Kaufman and Broad and walked back.

Commanding filtered views of an all-but-neglected branch of the Dominguez Flood Control Channel forgotten and cut off by miles of fill, regrading, trash of industrial ventures that had either won or failed, these homes were more or less Spanish Colonial with not-necessarily-­load-bearing little balconies and red-tile roofs, meant to suggest higher-priced towns like San Clemente or Santa Barbara, though so far there wasn’t a shade tree in sight.

Close to what would be the front gate of Channel View Estates, Doc found a makeshift miniplaza put there basically for the construction folks, with a liquor store, a take-out sandwich place with a lunch counter, a beer bar where you could shoot some pool, and a massage parlor called Chick Planet, in front of which he saw a row of carefully looked-after motorcy­cles, parked with military precision. This seemed the most likely place for him to find a cadre of badasses. Plus, if they were all here at the moment, then chances were Mickey was, too. On the further assumption that the owners of these bikes were here for recreation and not waiting inside drawn up in formation prepared to kick Doe’s ass, he breathed deeply, surrounded himself with a white light, and stepped in the front door.

"Hi, I’m Jade?" A bubbly young Asian lady in a turquoise cheong­sam handed him a laminated menu of services. "And please take note of today’s Pussy-Eater’s Special, which is good all day till closing time?"

"Mmm, not that $14.95 ain’t a totally groovy price, but I’m really trying to locate this guy who works for Mr. Wolfmann?"

"Far out. Does he eat pussy?"

"Well, Jade, you’d know better’n me, fella named Glen?"

"Oh sure, Glen comes in here, they all do. You got a cigarette for me?" He tapped her out an unfiltered Kool. "Ooh, lockup style. Not much eating pussy in there, huh?"

"Glen and I were both in Chino around the same time .: Have you seen him today?"

"Till about one minute ago, when everybody suddenly split. Is there something weird going on? Are you a cop?"

"Let’s see." Doc inspected his feet. "Nah … wrong shoes."

"Reason I ask is, is if you were a cop, you’d be entitled to a free pre­view of our Pussy-Eater’s Special?"

"How about a licensed PI? Would that—"

"Hey, Bambi!" Out through the bead curtains, as if on a time-out from a beach volleyball game, strode this blonde in a turquoise and orange Day-Glo bikini.

"Oboy,’ Doc said. "Where do we—"

"Not you, Bong Brain," Bambi muttered. Jade was already reaching for that bikini.

"Oh," he said. "Huh … see, is what I thought is, here? where it says ‘Pussy-Eater’s Special’? is what that means is, is that—"

Well … neither girl seemed to be paying him much attention any­more, though out of politeness Doc thought he should keep watching for a while, till finally they disappeared down behind the reception desk, and he wandered away figuring to have a look around. Out into the hall­way, from someplace ahead, seeped indigo light and frequencies even darker, along with string-heavy music from half a generation ago from LPs compiled to accompany bachelor-pad fucking.

Nobody was around. It felt like maybe there had been, till Doc showed up. The place was also turning out to be bigger inside than out. There were black-light suites with fluorescent rock ‘n’ roll posters and mirrored ceilings and vibrating water beds. Strobe lights blinked, incense cones sent ribbons of musk-scented smoke ceilingward, and carpeting of artificial angora shag in a variety of tones including oxblood and teal, not always limited to floor surfaces, beckoned alluringly.

As he neared the back of the establishment, Doc began to hear a lot of screaming from outside, along with a massed thundering of Harleys. "Uh-oh. What’s this?"

He didn’t find out. Maybe it was all the exotic sensory input that caused Doc about then to swoon abruptly and lose an unknown amount of his day. Perhaps striking some ordinary object on the way down accounted for the painful lump he found on his head when at length he awoke. Faster, anyhow, than the staff on Medical Center can say "subdural hematoma," Doc dug how the unhip Muzak was silent, plus no Jade, no Bambi, and he was lying on the cement Hoor of a space he didn’t recognize, though the same could not be said for what he now ID’d, far overhead, like a bad-luck planet in today’s horoscope, as the evilly twinkling face of Detective Lieutenant Bigfoot Bjornsen, LAPD. 

Continue reading

chapter one of pynchon’s inherent vice

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

  

Under the paving-stones, the beach! 
Graffito, Paris, May 1968

ONE

She came along the alley and up the back steps the way she always used to. Doc hadn’t seen her for over a year. Nobody had. Back then it was always sandals, bottom half a flower-print bikini, faded Country Joe & the Fish T-shirt. Tonight she was all in flatland gear, hair a lot shorter than he remembered, looking just like she swore she’d never look.

“That you, Shasta?”

“Thinks he’s hallucinating.”

“Just the new package I guess.”

They stood in the street light through the kitchen window there’d never been much point in putting curtains over and listened to the thumping of the surf from down the hill. Some nights, when the wind was right, you could hear the surf all over town.

“Need your help, Doc.”

“You know I have an office now? just like a day job and everything?”

“I looked in the phone book, almost went over there. But then I thought, better for everybody if this looks like a secret rendezvous.”

Okay, nothing romantic tonight. Bummer. But it still might be a paying gig. “Somebody’s keepin a close eye?”

“Just spent an hour on surface streets trying to make it look good.”

“How about a beer?” He went to the fridge, pulled two cans out of the case he kept inside, handed one to Shasta.

“There’s this guy,” she was saying.

There would be, but why get emotional? If he had a nickel for every time he’d heard a client start off this way, he would be over in Hawaii now, loaded day and night, digging the waves at Waimea, or better yet hiring somebody to dig them for him . . . “Gentleman of the straight-world persuasion,” he beamed.

“Okay, Doc. He’s married.”

“Some . . . money situation.”

She shook back hair that wasn’t there and raised her eyebrows so what.

Groovy with Doc. “And the wife—she knows about you?”

Shasta nodded. “But she’s seeing somebody too. Only it isn’t just the usual—they’re working together on some creepy little scheme.”

“To make off with hubby’s fortune, yeah, I think I heard of that happenin once or twice around L.A. And. . . you want me to do what exactly?” He found the paper bag he’d brought his supper home in and got busy pretending to scribble notes on it, because straight-chick uniform, makeup supposed to look like no makeup or whatever, here came that old well-known hardon Shasta was always good for sooner or latter. Does it ever end, he wondered. Of course it does. It did.

They went in the front room and Doc laid down on the couch and Shasta stayed on her feet and sort of drifted around the place.

“Is, they want me in on it,” she said. “They think I’m the one who can reach him when he’s vulnerable, or as much as he ever gets.”

“Bareass and asleep.”

“I knew you’d understand.”

“You’re still trying to figure out if it’s right or wrong, Shasta?”

“Worse than that.” She drilled him with that gaze he remembered so well. When he remembered. “How much loyalty I owe him.”

“I hope you’re not asking me. Beyond the usual boilerplate people owe anybody they’re fucking steady— ”

“Thanks, Dear Abby said about the same thing.”

“Groovy. Emotions aside, then, let’s look at the money. How much of the rent’s he been picking up?”

“All of it.” Just for a second, he caught the old narrow- eyed defiant grin.

“Pretty hefty?”

“For Hancock Park.”

Doc whistled the title notes from “Can’t Buy Me Love,” ignoring the look on her face.

“You’re givin him IOUs for everything, o’ course.”

 “You fucker, if I’d known you were still this bitter— ”

 “Me? Trying to be professional here, is all. How much were wifey and the b.f. offering to cut you in for?”

 Shasta named a sum. Doc had outrun souped-up Rollses full of indignant smack dealers on the Pasadena Freeway, doing a hundred in the fog and trying to steer through all those crudely engineered curves, he’d walked up back alleys east of the L.A. River with nothing but a borrowed ’fro pick in his baggies for protection, been in and out of the Hall of Justice while holding a small fortune in Vietnamese weed, and these days had nearly convinced himself all that reckless era was over with, but now he was beginning to feel deeply nervous again. “This . . .” carefully now, “this isn’t just a couple of X- rated Polaroids, then. Dope planted in the glove compartment, nothin like ’at . . .”

 Back when, she could go weeks without anything more complicated than a pout. Now she was laying some heavy combination of face ingredients on him that he couldn’t read at all. Maybe something she’d picked up at acting school. “It isn’t what you’re thinking, Doc.”

 “Don’t worry, thinking comes later. What else?”

 “I’m not sure but it sounds like they want to commit him to some loony bin.”

 “You mean legally? or a snatch of some kind?”

 “Nobody’s telling me, Doc, I’m just the bait.” Come to think of it, there’d never been this much sorrow in her voice either. “I heard you’re seeing somebody downtown?”

 Seeing. Well, “Oh, you mean Penny? nice flatland chick, out in search of secret hippie love thrills basically— ”

 “Also some kind of junior DA in Evelle Younger’s shop?”

 Doc gave it some thought. “You think somebody there can stop this before it happens?”

 “Not too many places I can go with this, Doc.”

 “Okay, I’ll talk to Penny, see what we can see. Your happy couple—they have names, addresses?”

 When he heard her older gent’s name he said, “This is the same Mickey Wolfmann who’s always in the paper? The real- estate big shot?”

 “You can’t tell anybody about this, Doc.”

 “Deaf and dumb, part of the job. Any phone numbers you’d like to share?”

 She shrugged, scowled, gave him one number. “Try to never use it.”

 “Groovy, and how do I reach you?”

 “You don’t. I moved out of the old place, staying where I can anymore, don’t ask.”

He almost said, “There’s room here,” which in fact there wasn’t, but he’d seen her looking around at everything that hadn’t changed, the authentic English Pub Dartboard up on the wagon wheel and the whorehouse swag lamp with the purple psychedelic bulb with the vibrating filament, the collection of model hot rods made entirely of Coors cans, the beach volleyball autographed by Wilt Chamberlain in Day- Glo felt marker, the velvet painting and so forth, with an expression of, you would have to say, distaste.

 He walked her down the hill to where she was parked. Weeknights out here weren’t too different from weekends, so this end of town was already all ahoot with funseekers, drinkers and surfers screaming in the alleys, dopers out on food errands, flatland guys in for a night of hustling stewardesses, flatland ladies with all-too-grounded day jobs hoping to be mistaken for stewardesses. Uphill and invisible, traffic out on the boulevard to and from the freeway uttered tuneful exhaust phrases which went echoing out to sea, where the crews of oil tankers sliding along, hearing them, could have figured it for wildlife taking care of nighttime business on an exotic coast.

In the last pocket of darkness before the glare of Beachfront Drive, they came to a pause, a timeless pedestrian gesture in these parts that usually announced a kiss or at least a grabbed ass. But she said, “Don’t come any further, somebody might be watching by now.”

“Call me or something.”

“You never did let me down, Doc.”

“Don’t worry. I’ll— ”

“No, I mean really ever.”

“Oh . . . sure I did.”

“You were always true.”

It had been dark at the beach for hours, he hadn’t been smoking much and it wasn’t headlights— but before she turned away, he could swear he saw light falling on her face, the orange light just after sunset that catches a face turned to the west, watching the ocean for someone to come in on the last wave of the day, in to shore and safety. At least her car was the same, the Cadillac ragtop she’d had forever, a ’59 Eldorado Biarritz bought used at one of the lots over on Western where they stand out close to the traffic so it’ll sweep away the smell of whatever they’re smoking. After she drove away, Doc sat on a bench down on the Esplanade, a long slopeful of lighted windows ascending behind him, and watched the luminous blooms of surf and the lights of late commuter traffic zigzagging up the distant hillside of Palos Verdes. He ran through things he hadn’t asked, like how much she’d come to depend on Wolfmann’s guaranteed level of ease and power, and how ready was she to go back to the bikini and T-shirt lifestyle, and how free of regrets? And least askable of all, how passionately did she really feel about old Mickey? Doc knew the likely reply—“I love him,” what else? With the unspoken footnote that the word these days was being way too overused. Anybody with any claim to hipness “loved” everybody, not to mention other useful applications, like hustling people into sex activities they might not, given the choice, much care to engage in.

Back at his place, Doc stood for a while gazing at a velvet painting from one of the Mexican families who set up their weekend pitches along the boulevards through the green flatland where people still rode horses, between Gordita and the freeway. Out of the vans and into the calm early mornings would come sofa-width Crucifixions and Last Suppers, outlaw bikers on elaborately detailed Harleys, superhero bad-asses in Special Forces gear packing M16s and so forth. This picture of Doc’s showed a Southern California beach that never was—palms, bikini babes, surfboards, the works. He thought of it as a window to look out of when he couldn’t deal with looking out of the traditional glass-type one in the other room. Sometimes in the shadows the view would light up, usually when he was smoking weed, as if the contrast knob of Creation had been messed with just enough to give everything an underglow, a luminous edge, and promise that the night was about to turn epic somehow.

Except for tonight, which only looked more like work. He got on the telephone and tried to call Penny, but she was out, probably Watusi-ing the night away opposite some shorthaired attorney with a promising career. Cool with Doc. Next he rang up his Aunt Reet, who lived down the boulevard on the other side of the dunes in a more suburban part of town with houses, yards, and trees, because of which it had become known as the Tree Section. A few years ago, after divorcing a lapsed Missouri Synod Lutheran with a T-Bird agency and a fatality for the restless homemakers one meets at bars in bowling alleys, Reet had moved down here from the San Joaquin with the kids and started selling real estate, and before long she had her own agency, which she now ran out of a bungalow on the same oversize lot as her house. Whenever Doc needed to know anything touching on the world of property, Aunt Reet, with her phenomenal lot-by-lot grasp of land use from the desert to the sea, as they liked to say on the evening news, was the one he went to.

“Someday,” she prophesied, “there will be computers for this, all you’ll have to do’s type in what you’re looking for, or even better just talk it in—like that HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey?—and it’ll be right back at you with more information than you’d ever want to know, any lot in the L.A. Basin, all the way back to the Spanish land grants—water rights, encumbrances, mortgage histories, whatever you want, trust me, it’s coming.” Till then, in the real non-sci-fi world, there was Aunt Reet’s bordering-on-the-supernatural sense of the land, the stories that seldom appeared in deeds or contracts, especially matrimonial, the generations of family hatreds big and small, the way the water flowed, or used to. She picked up on the sixth ring. The TV set was loud in the background.

“Make it quick, Doc, I’ve got a live one tonight and a quarter ton of makeup to put on yet.”

“What can you tell me about Mickey Wolfmann?”

If she took even a second to breathe, Doc didn’t notice. “Westside Hochdeutsch mafi a, biggest of the big, construction, savings and loans, untaxed billions stashed under an Alp someplace, technically Jewish but wants to be a Nazi, becomes exercised often to the point of violence at those who forget to spell his name with two n’s. What’s he to you?”

Doc gave her a rundown on Shasta’s visit and her account of the plot against the Wolfmann fortune.

“In the real-estate business,” Reet remarked, “God knows, few of us are strangers to moral ambiguity. But some of these developers, they make Godzilla look like a conservationist, and you might not care to get into this, Larry. Who’s paying you?”

“Well . . .”

“All on spec, eh? big surprise. Listen, if Shasta can’t pay you, maybe that means Mickey’s dumped her, and she’s blaming the wife and wants revenge.”

“Possible. But say I just wanted to hang out and rap with this Wolfmann dude?”

Was that an exasperated sigh? “I wouldn’t recommend your usual approach. He goes around with a dozen bikers, mostly Aryan Brotherhood alumni, to watch his back, all court-certified badasses. Try making an appointment for once.”

“Wait a minute, I ditched social- studies class a lot, but . . . Jews and the AB . . . Isn’t there . . . something about, I forget . . . hatred?”

“The book on Mickey is, is he’s unpredictable. More and more lately. Some would say eccentric. I would say stoned out of his fuckin mind, nothing personal.”

“And this goon squad, they’re loyal to him, even if when they were in the place they took some oath with maybe a anti-Semitic clause in it here and there?”

“Drive within ten blocks of the man, they’ll lie down in front of your car. Keep coming, they’ll roll a grenade. You want to talk to Mickey, don’t be spontaneous, don’t even be cute. Go through channels.”

“Yeah, but I also don’t want to get Shasta in trouble. Where do you think I could run into him, like, accidentally?”

“I promised my kid sister I’d never put her baby in the way of danger.”

“I’m cool with the Brotherhood, Aunt Reet, know the handshake and everything.”

“All right, it’s your ass, kid, I have major liquid-liner issues to deal with here, but I’m told Mickey’s been spending time out at his latest assault on the environment—some chipboard horror known as Channel View Estates?”

“Oh yeah, that. Bigfoot Bjornsen does commercials for them. Interrupting strange movies you’ve never heard of.”

“Well, maybe your old cop buddy’s the one who should be taking care of this. Have you been in touch with the LAPD?”

“I did think of going to Bigfoot,” Doc said, “but just as I was reaching for the phone I remembered how, being Bigfoot and all, he’d probably try to pop me for the whole thing.”

“Maybe you’re better off with the Nazis, I don’t envy you the choice. Be careful, Larry. Check in now and then just so I can reassure Elmina that you’re still alive.”

Fucking Bigfoot. Well, wouldn’t you know. On some extrasensory impulse, Doc reached for the tube, switched it on and flipped to one of the off-network channels dedicated to long-ago TV movies and unsold pilots, and sure enough, there was the old hippie- hating mad dog himself, moonlighting live, after a busy day of civil-rights violation, as pitchman for Channel View Estates. “A Michael Wolfmann Concept,” it read underneath the logo. 

Continue reading

echoes of brock vond in pynchon’s new novel . . .

Was it possible, that at every gathering — concert, peace rally, love-in, be-in, and freak-in, here, up north, back East, wherever — those dark crews had been busy all along, reclaiming the music, the resistance to power, the sexual desire from epic to everyday, all they could sweep up, for the ancient forces of greed and fear?

—from Thomas Pynchon’s Inherent Vice

 

 

coming soon!



July 9
short stories
Maile Meloy, Both Ways Is The Only Way I Want It


Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It
 

July 30
politics

William T. Vollmann, Imperial


Imperial
 

August 4
novel
Thomas Pynchon, Inherent Vice

 
Inherent Vice

“shit, money and the word”: personal crap to be mulled over later

promotion made official.  found out my antics have inspired my co-workers to nickname me the heart-break kid. like gawd hisself, i will not be mocked: they will get theirs, the bastards! now more money is coming in… to do what with? no time to travel. maybe feed a kid in africa. clone my dogs. clone myself? ugh.

sadly, unless something drastic happens, i will continue sleep-walking through life until henry james’ “great good thing” comes for me.

got rid of 55 banker’s boxes of books last weekend: stuff like musty old penguin translations of tolstoy and dostoevsky, law books, the complete works of rick moody (first editions), about 2/3rds of kingsley amis’ output, books by alexander cockburn, robert fisk, christopher hitchens, econometrics, multiple sets of doris lessing’s the children of violence series and her canopus in argos: archives series…. When and where did I get all this stuff?… goodbye my never read various abridgements of gibbon, goodbye lesbian art in america, you were so good to me!, goodbye betty page books, bye-bye the novels of william gibson, au revoir screenplays by harold pinter, derek jarman and richard price, so long multiple copies of robert musil’s five women, good riddance my omnium gatherum of philip roth — goodbye, p-ro, you one shot wonder! admit it, you blew your wad on portnoy’s complaint… please stop writing novels about your dawning realization that you too will one day be dead… goodbye, my first edition of in cold blood, which my dogs pissed on, goodbye, 10 years’ worth of the new yorker (in boxes littered with mouse shit)….  goodbye all 1625-odd of you! you’re off to be reincarnated as toilet paper…. Shit! After all the money I spent on you over the last 30 years …  you put me in mind of pynchon’s famous “shit, money and the Word”:

 

The money seeping its way out . . .   what stayed at home in Berkshire went into timberland whose diminishing green reaches were converted acres at a clip into paper — toilet paper, banknote stock, newsprint — a medium or ground for shit, money, and the Word. . . . Shit, money, and the Word, the three American truths, powering the American mobility, claimed the Slothrops, clasped them for good to the country’s fate.