That reminds me of a story. submitted by
“HELLFIRE AND DALMATIANS!” I shouted to no one in particular.
“What’s the problem, dear?” Esme asks in that way she has of telling me to calm down without having to say it directly.
“This bloody fucking country. A day late and several dollars short.” I fume. “Can’t get a new liquor license because of the bloody COVID. Can’t go to a hotel bar and have a snort because of the bloody COVID. Can’t even slip across the border to Dubai and soak up some room service and buckets of complimentary cocktails because of the bloody COVID.”
Yes, the Sultanate of Oman, in its infinitesimal wisdom, has traditionally followed other GCC countries by at least three months in making any sort of proclamations regarding this latest bugaboo: the hideous, deadly, itchy, loathsome, and possibly serially bent, noxious, pandemical COVID-19; aka, this pandemic’s entry for flu.
Their response is one of immense knee-jerk without first having thought of the consequences.
“Bloody lockdown, 2100 to 0700. What is this, the whole fucking country’s been bad and now being sent to bed without any supper?” I wondered aloud. “Idiot benchodes.”
Even Esme couldn’t come up with a rejoinder to that.
“Plus they close all the bars. And all the hotels. And the fucking bottle shops. It’s not enough that these fucking Muppets jack the ‘sin tax’ on booze and cigars by 100%, now they’re not even legally available.” I swore.
Of course, once you’ve spent even a small portion of the time that I have in the Middle East, you have your connections. Your system. Your access to the seedy underbelly of any society; the venerable Black Market.
Jesus Q. Christ on toast with baked beans, fried tomatoes, black pudding, and mushrooms, I could get most anything in the Middle East, be it legal, shady, or just plain illegal. However, before you all recoil in horror that the venerable Dr. Rocknocker dabbles in the prohibited, just remember: the ends always dojustify the means.
“I'm telling you, Esme dear; this Gulf story is getting too complicated. The weasels have started closing in.” I complain to Es as she hands me a fresh drink.
“Do you think…?” Esme asks expectantly.
Esme is more than ready to go. I’ve used this place as a base of operations for years whilst I wear out the Omani legal system suing those asswipes that think just because they’re local and I’m a kafir, they’re immune to the law.
I’ve spent a long, profitable and time-consuming period of the last few years proving them wrong.
But, time was marching onwards. I agreed with Esme, we’ve milked this particular cash cow dry. It was time to hitch up our bootstraps, call it a day, and get the hell out of Dodge.
But not before I took care of a few loose ends.
Now, the country had recently lost its venerable Sultan, who croaked back in January of this year.
Sultan Qaboos was a good egg, friend to expat and local alike. Did a shitload of good for this benighted Middle East sandpit. Dragged it kicking and screaming out of the 12th century into, well, not exactly the 21st, but a whole hell of a lot closer.
He realized that he needed revolutionary, not evolutionary change in the country. By revolutionary, he needed American, British, Canadian, and the like Western Expats here to do the heavy thinking and lifting and Eastern Expats like Indians, Bangladeshis and Nepalese to do all the scut work.
Yeah, I know. That sounds racist as fuck, but sometimes that’s the way the ball bounced.
Simple evolution of society where Omanis graduated the local equivalent of grade school, through high school, into University, and finally into Entry level jobs in the oil and gas industry wasn’t going to cut it. Took too long and the country needed a serious cash flow now.
So, that’s what he did. And it worked a treat.
Then he died.
And his chosen took over.
Except his chosen was pretty much antithetical to everything the previous and very revered and successful, Sultan wanted.
Soon, there are 100% ‘sin taxes’ aimed directly at the western expats. Tourists included.
Then there’s quotas and ‘Letters of No Objection’, which are impossible to get so that the Eastern Expats can’t switch jobs.
Then, there are Sultanic proclamations of new taxes on tourists, new taxes on fast food, new taxes on this, that and the other. Then there’s, in his own words, “Oman is for Omanis”, blatantly ridiculous and xenophobic Omanization, and the general swipe at all expats.
This was the clear message of the new sultan.
He wanted to take over and possibly nationalize all the oil workings in the country.
Ask Venezuela, Iran, and Myanmar how well that worked out for them.
Then he wants all expats out on their asses. He wants Omanis to take over all the jobs, even though they’re nowhere near educated nor experienced enough for the positions. Then take up the massive GDP slack in lower oil production and oil prices with tourism.
Given everything else, that last line should be enough to get him off the throne.
He’s fucking nuts if he thinks people are going to want to cruise or overland anywhere near a place where foreigners are seen only as a cash supply, are despised, and would welcome these all new 100% tax levies.
Be that as it may, Esme and I decided that we have had enough of 135O F summer temperatures, virtual house arrest under the guise of a COVID lockdown, and idiots who were the only ones stupid or twisted enough not to vamoose when the great, big bloody letters were clearly written on the wall.
But, there was the physical act of getting out of the country.
Now, I had plenty of strings which I could pull, but I decided I’d start low and save those until we really needed them.
So low, in fact, we went to the US Embassy in Muscat.
“How low can you go?” reverberated through my head.
What a haven of sad-sacks, flubadubs, and third rate hobbyists.
Was either Esme or I surprised that when we finally secured an invitation to the embassy, that required a bit of string-pulling with the ex-Ambassador to Oman, now in Kabul; that besides the peach-fuzz faced Marine guarding the place, we were the only Americans in the joint?
“This is American soil!” I laughed, as I pulled out a huge Cuban cigar and was immediately told to extinguish it. “We’re as American as apple pie and napalm! We file our fucking 1040s every April; I pay my fucking long-distance taxes and demand US assistance to vacate this gloomy place of sandy, sweaty, sultry Sturm und Drang!”
“Shut up, Rock”, Esme chided me, “They don’t understand English. Much less, the florid English the way you trowel it on.”
“Fuckbuckets”, I remonstrated. “Here I had memorized the whole Patrick Henry speech he made to the Second Virginia Convention on March 23, 1775, at St. John's Church in Richmond, Virginia. Troglodytes. No admiration for the classics.”
“Rock, dear?” Esme noted, “It’s almost 1100 hours. Best to get to our appointment.”
True, our appointment was slated for 1100 hours. But around here, anything starting within three hours of the stated time was considered close enough.
We dragged ourselves, none too cheerfully, to the waiting room. Once we pried open the door, there was the usual “If you hear a high pitched wail, hit the deck” signs, and other things one could do while kissing one’s ass goodbye if there was a terrorist attack, we had a whole new slew of bullshit with which to deal.
“Social distancing. 6 feet. Or if you’re from Baja Canada, 1 cow’s length.”
“Must wear a mask. Bandanna, bandoliers, and large-caliber weapons or sombrero optional.”
“No sitting. Faux Naugahyde seats are too difficult to sterilize. You must stand at attention, do not talk amongst yourselves, and remain patient until your number is called.”
“Well, fuck!”, I snorted quietly, as I raised my first secret flask in rapt attention to our old glory of red, white, and blue.
“Good thing they didn’t say nothin’ about getting a load on. If I’m going to be treated like cattle, I’m going to at least have something to chew on in the process.”
“Oh, lord”, Esme grumbled, “You didn’t bring that Japanese Rye Whiskey with you, did you?”
“ルハイム”, I said, which is Japanese for “L’chaim”!
“Oh, hell”, Esme grinned as she borrowed my flask, “This is going to be a long day.”
I began to protest but remembered that I was wearing my Agency-issued field vest. I must have had at least 5 or 6 more flasks lurking around in those pockets somewhere.
Funny aside: they don’t bother with my going through an X-ray machine nor do they confiscate my phone, radio, knives, nor other field equipment when I go to the US Embassy.
It took them almost two solid hours last time, and by the time they got to my Brunton Compass, emergency flasks, a few spare blasting cap boosters, and saw the label sewn into the back of my vest, they decided they’d just send Rack and Ruin some evil Emails and let me pass unmolested.
“I’ll drink to that”, I say as I raise a flask as the locals raise an eyebrow. “Courtesy of Atheists International. We’re here for your children…”
The collective gasps and growls indicate they weren’t happy with me or my betrothed.
“Don’t care, Buckwheat”, I smiled, “Never did, never will. We’re out of here for good. You can curse my name all you want then. But, then again, why you standing in the American Embassy trying to get a visa to visit the land of the great evil empire?”
All the locals and most of the Eastern Expats crowded into a corner as far away from us as they physically could.
“BOO!” I snickered over a shot of Wild Turkey 101 Rye.
“Now serving number 58! Number 58!” came the call over the tannoy.
“Look at that”, I remarked to Es as I stashed both our flasks, “It’s only 12:35. Record time.”
We both shimmy into the glass-fronted and presumably bullet- but not C-4 resistant- glass.
We pick up the telephones there and acknowledge that we are who we said we were.
The East Indian fella, one Harsh Talavalakar, behind the multiple layers of glass asked us why we were here.
“Didn’t you read the appointment card?” I asked, “We’re here to have Uncle Sam get us passage out of this sordid and sultry place.”
“You are American citizens?” he asked, vacantly.
“That’s what it says on appointment cards and these here blue passports,” I replied.
“Well, how was I to know?” he scoffed, returning to his half-consumed powdered sugar doughnut.
“Maybe read the appointment card and see that we are US Citizens here on the behest of Ambassador Bethesda Orun?” I replied.
“Like I have time to read everything that comes across my desk”, he scoffed again.
I tapped on the glass to make certain I had his full attention.
“Look here, Herr Harsh. I’m not sure how you got this job at the American Consulate but want to be very clear with you. My wife and I are residents of this place for the last 20 years. We’re American citizens of very high standing and have more high powered connections than an Arduino in a nuclear power station. We have direct connections with Langley, Virginia and if you want to retain your cushy job, you’ll put down that fucking doughnut and pay very rapt attention to the two Americans standing here who are getting more and more irritated with some Indian benchode that doesn’t think he has to really do his job. You savvy? You diggin’ me, Beaumont”
I guess the benchode got his attention. The two scowls he received from Esme and myself sort of cemented the idea that we’re not too pleased and not with to be trifled.
“Yes, sir?” he said, “And ma’am”, as Harsh quickly corrected himself as the doughnut disappeared.
“We want out. Gone. Vamoose. Outta here. AMF. You got me?” he nods behind the shatterprone glass.
“Now I know the borders are sealed and the airport’s closed, but fuck that. We want out and we want gone for good. I can’t make that much simpler or clearer. Get after it, son.” I said, as seriously as I could.
“Well, sir”, he began, “ The airport’s closed…”
“Are you deaf or born stupid and been losing ground ever since?” I asked, rhetorically. “I know that. We all know that. My HAT knows that. So, what devious little plan does the US Embassy have in store in just such an unsavory situation?”
“Well”, he chokes a bit, “There’s this unofficial lottery where America citizens are issued random numbers and if their number comes up, there are seats made available on special clandestine charter flights.”
Considering that Es and I are some of the last American citizens left in the country, I thought our chances might be pretty good.
“OK”, I said, “Let us have two of your finest numbers.”
“Yes, sir”, he said, “That will be US$500 total.”
“Excuse me?” I said.
“Oh, yes”, he smirked, “US$250 per number. Chances are you’ll never be called, but with these numbers, at least you stand a chance.”
“OK”, I said, “Forget the numbers. I want your name and operating number. I’ve got a report to file that’s due in Virginia before breakfast.”
“Oh, sir”, he smirked more, “I cannot release that information. Thanking you. Now be having a good day.” And he slammed the supposedly bulletproof shield between himself and Es and me.
“Bulletproof? Maybe. Nitro proof? No fucking way.” I groused as I fished out a couple of blasting cap superfast boosters.
“Calm down, dear”, Esme smiled to me as we walked out, “When he wasn’t looking, I took his picture, got his operating number, and full name. In fact, I think I got some information on where he lives…”
In the cab on the way back to our villa, I reviewed and confirmed Es’s subterfuge. Flasks number 6 and 8 needed serious replenishment by the time we arrived home.
“That’s fucking right, Ruin.” I yelled over the phone, “We need extraction. And now. Along with our personal effects and a few hundredweight of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ boxes of stuff we need to be transported.”
“Well, Rock”, Agent Ruin replied, “That’s a tall order. Usually, extraction is for one person and the stuff they’re wearing. Tell you what. Let Rack and I work on it for a week or so. We’ll arrange transport of your personal effects, then we’ll see about getting you and Esme to Dubai. At least there, you can order a plane. Hell, knowing you, you’ll get Tony Stark to fly in and provide door to door service. Sit tight. We’ll be back in touch.”
“Good!” I say as I slam the phone down. With these newfangled cellphone telephone instruments, they lack the same sort of satisfying “KER FUCKING CLANG” the old landlines used to have.
“Es!”, I yelled, “Start packing. We’re due out of here within a week.”
That meant we needed to do some packing triage:
• Things going home with us.
• Things being shipped.
• Things being sold.
• Things being left behind.
• Things no one was about to get their furry little mitts on.
“Oh, fuck!”, I startled. I had just remembered the John Wick-ian stash of various explosives, and adjunct materials I had buried in the basement. Obviously, I couldn’t take it home with me, I couldn’t sell it, and I sure as festering frothing fuck wasn’t going to leave it here.
I needed to call one of my more shifty and swarthy friends and arrange for passage out to the deep, dark desert. Around the area where the new sultan had opened a couple of brand new landfills.
Looks like I was going to expand them a few meters once we disposed of the few hundred kilos of accumulation I attained over the last few years.
See, I’m a packrat. I never leave nor toss anything that might be convenient. Might have a benefit. Might prove to be useful sometime down the line.
So, I’ve accumulated a bit of kit.
Like…well…a few hundred sticks of Du Pont 60% Extra Fast Dynamite. A couple dozen spools of Z-4 Primacord, in various degrees of fullness. A shitload of C-4; enough bricks for a Floydian wall. A couple, well, a dozen, well, two dozen cases of binary liquid explosives. Hey, this stuff is hard to come by…
Continuing, several thousand blasting caps and superfast flash blasting cap boosters. Some mercury fulminate. Some nitrogen triiodide. A couple tens of pounds of PETN. An equal amount of RDX. A few Erlenmeyer flasks full of shit even I’m not certain of what it is…
And a few kilos of freshly decanted, raw nitroglycerin; packed in sturdy wooden boxes lined with new fuzzy lamb’s wool.
Not that much. Just 10 or 12 kilos.
Yeah. I can’t leave that here. Even a small accident with this stuff would lay waste to not only our villa; but my landlord’s villa with whom we share a common wall.
Besides, as Omanis go, my landlord was the only dishdasha dressed denizen for which I had any respect or admiration. He was a good guy. I needed to return his villa at least in some semblance of what I received when we first rented from him.
So, I had to dispose of many, many billions of kilojoules of potential energy. I needed to do this out in a distant and far away from prying ears and eyes regions and I needed a truck to haul this stuff out to the range.
To be continued…
Alright, home stretch foax. This section's a beast. Hang in there and keep sharing your insights! All together now... Section 66 submitted by
"You will want cause and effect. All right." (663) What an opening - it's almost confrontational, mocking our need for clear narrative structure and causality.
We discover that Thanatz was tossed overboard in the same storm that sent Slothrop off the Anubis and off on his adventure with Frau Gnahb. Thanatz is rescued by someone even stranger - an unnamed Polish undertaker
(think on the etymology of that word) who happens to be a lightening aficionado. I'll stop here and comment that, earlier, when Slothrop fell into the water before and
after getting on the Anubis, it brought to mind the river Styx in Hades - another underworld. It washes clean one's identity and memory. Makes you forget who you are. And there's traditionally a ferryman, Charon, to help people cross it. Can't help but think that's who saved Thanatz here, carrying him from the land of the dead to the land of the unliving, the preterite detritus of WWII. (An aside: Speaking of Styx, has anyone listened to Mr. Roboto recently? That song has some Gravity's Rainbow vibes.)
Our undertaker here is inspired by the Franklin myth and is trying to get struck by lightening in order to experience that "singular point, [that] discontinuity in the curve of life" (664) passing from a rate of change of positive infinity to one of negative infinity in the blink of an eye. Seems there's something of a conspiracy among those who have been through this point of infinite inflection - a secret society of lightening heads who are aware not of another
reality but of a new layer of reality laid on top of our own
. Insight into a higher level of reality, of hidden systems.
We get an example of the content of the lightning-aficionado's publication A Nickel Saved
and it's supposedly full of coded messages for Those Who Know, each part being a veiled reference to other topics that contain the true meaning, requiring a true paranoid's ability to see (make?) connections. For example, there are repeated mentions of April, Easter, and Spring - the season of rebirth. To an Amperage Contest and lightbulbs failing - Byron the Bulb's attempts to strike back, perchance? A screen-door salesman - what is a screen door except a permeable interface?
But our undertaker isn't interested in secret knowledge - he just wants to be a better businessman - and he deposits Thanatz on the shore and rows back off into the storm. Here, Thanatz meets a group of 175s - men formerly imprisoned in the Dora camp for being gay - who have formed their own solitary community in this isolated section of northern Germany.
I suspect some of this imagery may initially shock readers - concentration camp victims who want to return to their prison
? Who set up their own 175-Stadt to recreate the conditions of their imprisonment? But think about it - just last section, we saw Katje, someone who's been used and abused by those in power, balk at the thought of being truly free because she had become dependent on systems of control. She had integrated those control systems as part of her identity, her sense of self. "She needs the whip," Blicero wrote of her (662). Just like Katje, these men became so conditioned to depend on a system of total control and rigid social hierarchies that they don't know how to function without it. Their 175-Stadt doesn't seem like such a ridiculously dark, inappropriate caricature now, does it? Because isn't that a central point of this book - that everyone has been conditioned to need
control, to need Their System, to not know how to function without it? Slothrop was our perfect everyman from within this system, and look at what it took for him to actually be free (and even then, the ideal of America still has a colonial outpost in his head). But in their 175-Stadt, these men at least control their system of control. They built it, they staff every level of it, and it's entirely under their control. An isolated state, separate from the broader System. But is there a ruler in this system, a king? No, simply the figment
of Blicero. His name, his specter, looming over everything. A system of control with no real king? We've seen that before.
Not only that, but this micro-society is not based strictly on the SS command from Dora, but what the prisoners inferred
about the rocket command structure in the Mittelwerke. So even their "recreation" of their imprisonment is an approximation of a different system. I'd also stop here to comment that, is this imagery really as ridiculous/insane as it first appears? I'd say no, since the queeS&M community absolutely took inspiration from Nazi uniforms as symbols of dominance and control, repurposing it into fetishwear. But then, as in this 175-Stadt, the control is by choice,
as is the submission. As we've seen elsewhere in this book (Blicero's Oven-State), turning submission into a fetish can be a form of rebellion, since it subverts Their means of control (fear of pain) and turns it into a source of pleasure. Is it truly control if you're choosing it? Enjoying it? No one said this book asks easy questions of its readers...
Thanatz keeps looking for answers, and gets swept up amidst the vast swarms of preterite Displaced Persons being shifted across the zone. What's concerning is that these supposedly-free, albeit displaced, people, are shuffled without purpose across the Zone, with minimal food, water, or medicine, being "herded into wire enclosure[s]" and shipped around in freight cars, "deloused, poked, palpated, named, numbered, consigned, invoiced, misrouted, detained, ignored" (669). It's almost impossible to miss the painful similarity here to the treatment of Jews and other victims of the Holocaust. Only here the mistreatment isn't out of some pathological hatred, simply a system without a place for so many people, and without the committed resources to actually, effectively help them. The thought is unsettling, since we like to imagine that only Naziesque hatred could prompt such brutal mistreatment, not apathy.
Finally, he's rescued by the Schwarzkommando thanks to his knowledge of Blicero and the firing of Rocket 00000. Here, we learn a bit more about what happened that day. Looking into Blicero's eyes, he saw windmills reflected, though none were in the area. Another four-way mandala, like we saw last week with Slothrop. Thanatz isn't in great mental shape by this point, and he's beginning to equate Gottfried and Bianca both as his children. Why? Because he felt some sense of responsibility to them? Because he failed them? Either way, the Schwarzkommando learn all they need from him about that fateful noon on the Heath, though we do not. The section ends with a simple touch of hands between Enzian and Christian, a moment of connection, of trust. Section 67
Man, how do I even start
summarizing this complete doozy of a section? As Weissenburger writes, "In this episode the narration begins to fragment." (344) Ya don't say... Well, here goes.
We being one serious trip of a section with Slothrop, as part of a rather unimpressive team of quasi-superheros (the "Floundering Four") fighting against evil ol' Broderick Slothrop amidst the factory-state (a Metropolis-like iteration of the Rocket-State with movable buildings?!
). Broderick, in the role of comic book supervillain, keeps trying to off Slothrop, but our hero has a lucky streak just wide enough to keep him alive.
Right off the bat, we see another image of the chessboard - the whole factory-state is laid out in a grid, and it's all A Game of Chess, as der Springer already informed us, and our movements are limited. Crucially, "Your objective is not the King - there is no King - but momentary targets such as the Radiant Hour."
(674) How can you win at chess when there's no King?
How can the land be restored and the cycle renewed if there's no King to die and be replaced?
Slothrop is joined by a truly slipshod lot: Myrtle Miraculous, the only one who seems to have actual powers; Maximilian, a suave Black club manager who can flow with all natural rhythms and thus able to navigate any scenario with ease, and Marcel, a mechanical chess player (an embodiment of the Mechanical Turk
, but crucially, one without the hidden human operator
. No hidden Grandmaster lurking inside Marcel here - nope, this android's the real deal.
This section includes one of my favorite quotes from the book: "Decisions are never really made
- at best they manager to emerge, from a chaos of peeves, whims, hallucinations and all-round assholery." (676) I can think of several times where I've been able to relate to that scenario all too well.
Their chances for success and failure are equal, but these opposing odds don't cancel each other out
- instead, the two opposing forces just create a "loud dissonance". The crew undertake some truly hallucinatory adventures through the Racketen-Stadt which I will not attempt to summarize, as that would be an exercise in futility. But we are treated to flashes of Slothrop, "Broderick and Nalline's shadow-child, their unconfessed, their monster son," (677) getting locked in an icebox, piloting a mobile building
through the grid-streets of the factory-state like a giant chess piece. One line really jumps out at me, here, that I think is important: "Their struggle is not the only, or even the ultimate one. Indeed, not only are there many other
struggles, but there are also spectators
, watching, as spectators will do, hundreds of thousands of them." (679) Makes me think of the "glozing neuters," mentioned earlier - of the masses of people who are just trying to live their lives, neither part of any conspiracy nor actively aware of being subject to one. Must be nice. At the same time, the idea of other, simultaneous struggles, is noteworthy - it brings to mind the concept of intersectionality, and how people realizing their unique, individual struggles share common sources, and common traits, which they can work together to fight.
We end this sub-section in an arena for these exact masses, where our heroes are on a stakeout, with Slothrop in full drag waiting in the Transvestites' Toilet for a message.
You may be wondering about the multiple instances of cross-dressing, in various iterations, throughout the book. Slothrop in drag and Blicero in a wig and merkin come to mind. One aspect, I'd say, is that it reflects a blending of two (as far as society is generally concerned) binary opposites. A crossing-over, a transgression against the status quo and an option other than 1 or 0.
Eliot, in his Notes on The Waste Land, wrote,
"Tiresias, although a mere spectator and not indeed a 'character', is yet the most important personage in the poem, uniting all the rest. Just as the one-eyed merchant, seller of currants, melts into the Phoenician Sailor, and the latter is not wholly distinct from Ferdinand Prince of Naples, so all the women are one woman, and the two sexes meet in Tiresias. What Tiresias sees, in fact, is the substance of the poem." (Emphasis mine).
Cue Crutchfield the Westwardman's world of only one of everything. Likewise, the women in Gravity's Rainbow often blend together, share traits or imagery. So do the men. The joining of the two sexes in Blicero, as well as Slothrop here at the end, is significant. The Low-Frequency Listeners
The introduction here of the character of Rohr, the Keeper of the Antenna, specifically as a Jehovah's witness, was odd. It's such a specific subsect of Christianity. Then we see - he heard a man on the radio, dying, asking for a priest. Rohr says, "Should I have got on and told him about priests? Would he've found any comfort in that?" (682). In what? I had to look it up, but when I did, it clicked - Jehovah's witnesses apparently do not have priests, because they are all ordained
. There is no separate priest caste in their church, and thus no Preterite/Elect division. In this section, we also learn that the Nuremberg trials are getting underway. Mom Slothrop's Letter to Ambassador Kennedy
You start to feel even more sorry for Slothrop as you realize just how terrible his parents apparently were. His mom cares enough to at least write another letter asking Ambassador Kennedy as to what the hell happened to their son, but her letter quickly devolves into drunken ramblings complaining about striking workers and managing to make an innuendo about Jack Kennedy while also dismissing her love of her sons. Oof. Maybe Otto was right with his conspiracy of mothers... On the Phrase "Ass-Backwards"
An entertaining linguistic debate between Säure and Slothrop on American idioms, specifically ones involving a reversal, as in the case of "ass-backwards". The section then slips into a story of Säure, in his youth, breaking into the home of a young woman, Minnie, who is unable to hear or pronounce umlauted letters, and thus manages to shout the word "helicopter" rather than "cute robber" well before the vehicle was ever invented. Her cry is heard by none other than a young aerodynamics student. The word is taken as a prophesy and a warning of the helicopter's symbol of the police state, with armed officers hanging out the sides, aiming down at their targets. My Doper's Cadenza
It begins with a serenade from Bodine, and then an exploration of the tenement building "Der Platz" that is home to numerous drug addicts, dope peddlers, and general ne'er-do-wells. They are building an anti-police moat
around the building, entirely underground so as to avoid detection, saving breaking through the street for the end. Shit 'n' Shinola
Another idiomatic diversion for Säure. A beautiful line is tucked away in here - "from outside, the Hall is golden, the white gold precisely of one lily-of-the-valley petal in 4 o'clock sunlight, serene, at the top of an artificially-graded hill." (687) This building, the Schein-Aula (Seeming-Hall), suggests "persistence, through returns of spring, hopes for love, melting snow and ice, academic Sunday tranquillities, smells of grass just crushed or cut or later turning to hay..." (688) Yet again, imagery of spring, of a return to life from the dead season of winter, of the cycle.
We return to the Roseland Ballroom, where shit 'n' Shinola do actually come together. "Shit, now, is the color white folks are afraid of. Shit is the presence of death, not some abstract-arty character with a scythe but the stiff and rotting corpse itself inside the whiteman's warm and private own asshole
, which is getting pretty intimate. That's what that white toilet's for.... that white porcelain's the very emblem of Odorless and Official Death." (688) Here Pynchon cuts straight to the point - the almost pathological fear of death and its connections to fears of blackness, excrement. Shit, Death, and the Word. Edwin Treacle hit on this back on p. 276 when he tried to show his colleagues at the White Visitation "that their feelings about blackness were tied to feelings about shit, and feelings about shit to feelings about putrefaction and death." The cycle of life is too organic, too messy. Better to replace carbon with silicon, to hide shit with porcelain, to treat people with dark skin as "other" or sub-human to avoid acknowledging that their non-European, communal ways of life were, in fact, totally natural. An Incident in the Transvestites' Toilet
Not King Kong, but a small, costumed ape comes up to Slothrop, who's wearing a Fay Wray dress while waiting in the bathroom for a still-unspecified message. We get a Miltonic blank-verse poem (thanks, Weissenburger!) about the movie King Kong, written in the voice of Anne Darrow (Fay Wray's character). It's honestly quite good - I love the line "in your own stone living space" - the internal rhyme there sounds really nice, and I like the riff on living stone / Livingston, both of which have popped up previously. In the poem, Darrow talks about when she was tied up, hung by the natives as an offering to "the night's one Shape to come" (689), echoing both Greta Erdman's scene in Alpdrücken and the Hanged Man card of the Tarot (willing sacrifice, sacrifice that prompts a return, a renewal of the cycle). Darrow says she prayed, "not for Jack," her suave costar, but for her director Carl Denham, "only him, with gun and camera... making the unreal reel / By shooting at it, one way or the other-" (689). Throughout GR, we've seen a film motif, and this really brings it home. The analogy of a gun to a camera, both of which make the unreal real (a camera creates films that interpret real life - the "unreal reel
", a gun makes death, which we've blocked away and tried to avoid, real and inescapable). The director is in control of the movie, the actors, the story, of how it works and what is told. Darrow ends by asking Carl to "show me the key light, whisper me a line..." - a key light
is used in cinema and photography to not just shed light on the subject, but to do so in a way that provides form and dimension to the subject and the scene. So Darrow is asking for the director to literally give her form and definition, to tell her what to say next.
This ape, though, isn't so Romantic as ol' Kong though, and is much more direct. It hands Slothrop an anarchist's bomb straight out of the comics pages, and takes off. Slothrop freezes and is saved by a helpful transvestite who takes the bomb and flushes it down the toilet. But it explodes anyway, sending geysers of water up out of all the toilets. A Voice comes out of he Loudspeaker informing everyone that it was, in fact, a sodium bomb that explodes upon contact with water. Tellls everyone to get the "dangerous maniac" who threw it. That was supposed to be Slothrop, but he was saved by his indecision and the kindness of a stranger, who is now set upon by the other occupants of the toilet. A Moment of Fun with Takeshi and Ichizo, the Komical Kamikazes
We now jump to a pair of comically-mismatched Kamikaze pilots stationed on a remote island well away from any conflict. One flies a Zero, the other flies an "Ohka device" which is basically a rocket-bomb with a pilot's seat. They get moonshine from their radarman, Kenosho, who mocks them daily for the lack of opportunities to fly to their deaths and who comes up with haikus that, while in the right format, really miss the heart of what a haiku is supposed to be. Streets
Back to Slothrop, now, and a catalogue of the streets he's traveled down and what he's seen. We get a meditation on the absurdity of army chaplains, who worked for the Army and "stood up and talked to the men who were going to die about God, death, nothingness, redemption, salvation." (693) And it does seem a bit absurd when you consider that the Army that employs the chaplains is the same entity sending the men off to die. We see a bus driver (perchance our maniac bus driver from earlier?) driving through town in the night, his passengers looking out the windows, their faces "drowned-man green, insomniac, tobacco-starved, scared, not of tomorrow, not yet, but of this pause in their night-passage, of how easy it will be to lose, and how much it will hurt..." (693) Going back to the Waste Land, the phrase "I do not find / The Hanged Man. Fear death by water." is symbolic of a death without return (drowning) contrasted to the sacrifice/return symbolized by The Hanged Man. These poor passengers, it seems, aren't to expect any return.
Slothrop also, at this point, learns of the bombing of Hiroshima from a discarded Army newspaper, the photo of the atomic blast placed in poor taste next to an image of a pin-up girl. The bomb's mushroom cloud is compared to the Cross, to a capital-T Tree. But which tree? Is this a meditation on the deadly, unforgettable knowledge of how to split the atom, or of the tree of life, with the citizens of Hiroshima as a sacrifice made... but to what? I'm honestly not sure. Would love your thoughts. Listening to the Toilet
As others have noted, this book in many ways is about the drug counterculture and hippie movement of the 60s/early 70s. This is the most overt in this section, in which we learn that listening for the cessation of the flow of water to the toilet in the pipes is a cue that a police raid is imminent - shutting off the water being a way to prevent the flushing of illicit substances. But it takes a special ear to hear the cessation
of a subtle, pervasive white noise. What if the sun, in fact, massive furnace that it is, emits a constant, low-level roar that is so incessant we don't even hear it? What if eddies in the current of the Soniferous Aether cause rare spots of true quiet, where the noise is no longer transmitted and anyone in that spot can hear their own heartbeat it's so quiet? Interestingly, there are "quiet rooms" designed to absorb nearly all sound, used for precise sound calibration. I remember reading that most people can't sit in one of those rooms for more than 30 minutes or so because it's literally so quiet that you can hear the blood flowing through your veins, and people have even reported auditory hallucinations as a result. But why this digression? Maybe because we need to be asking what other white noise is out there that we've become completely deaf to? I think Roger and Jessica found a pocket of this quiet, early in the book, where the "noise" of modern society and all its associated obligations was muted by the War. Witty Repartee
A return to our Komical Kamikazes, and a meditation on the ubiquity of the Hotchkiss machine gun across nations, independent of alliances. We get an image of a false King - an inbred idiot lying naked in a dumpster, attracting the attention of potential revolutionaries. But they can't decide if he's "a diversionary nuisance planted here by the Management, or whether he's real Decadent Aristocracy to be held for real ransom" (698). While the would-be revolutionaries are debating in the alley, sentries with the aforementioned Hotchkiss guns take positions on the rooftops, aiming down... Heart-to-Heart, Man-to-Man
A dialogue here between Slothrop and ol' Broderick, with dear old dad interrogating his wayward son about a modern electric drug. Slothrop reassures him that he'd never shoot raw electricity - no, they dope themselves with waves
. Major pre-Cyberpunk vibes here, with Broderick warning "Suppose someday you just plug in and go away and never come back?" to which Tyrone replies, "What do you think every electrofreak dreams about? .... Maybe there is
a Machine to take us away, take us completely, suck us out through the electrodes out of the skull 'n' into the Machine and live there forever.... We
can live forever, in a clean, honest, purified Electroworld-" (699). Matrix, anyone? Not to mention the waves of radio, TV, etc. and the simple, episodic, controlled reality they offer. Pleasantville also comes to mind, with all its commentary on the shows of the era. Some Characteristics of Imipolex G
We learn that Imipolex G is the first erectile
plastic, stiffening in response to certain electronic stimuli. The potential of a layer of controlling wires just under the outer layer of Imipolex, making it a second skin - a synthetic interface. Alternately, there's the potential to control it via a projection of "an electronic 'image; analogous to a motion picture." (700) My gods, I made it through this section... Section 68
Tchitcherine now, dealing with a spook, Nikolai Ripov, from the C
ommissariat for I
ctivities. His pal Džabajev has run off with "two local derelicts" (700) and is impersonating Frank Sinatra
and wooing the ladies of the Zone. We get the line, "While nobles are crying in their nights' chains, the squires sing. The terrible politics of the Grail can never touch them. Song is the magic cape." (701) - Seems another example of folks recognizing the game, the Grail quest, for what it was and checking out - deciding not to play and just enjoy themselves while the Elect lose sleep over the endless searching.
Ripov explains to Tchitcherine how "the basic problem... has always been getting other people to die for you." (701) Religion used to serve as an effective control for that reason - death isn't quite as scary if you think you're going to heaven. But modern society has moved on, and needs more secular sources of control, like a commitment to "History" as if you're part of some great narrative, sacrificing yourself for some imagined end-goal of what society is "supposed" to be.
Seems Tchitcherine was doping on Oneirine theophosphate. Wimpe, his dealer, argues that a man is "only real at
the points of decision. The time between doesn't matter." (702) Points man again - the moment of decision, of choice, that splits the future in two. Points of control. Contrast that to:
"Datta: what have we given? / My friend, blood shaking my heart / The awful daring of a moment’s surrender / Which an age of prudence can never retract / By this, and this only, we have existed." (The Waste Land, Part V: What the Thunder Said - emphasis mine).
Both are arguing that it's these key moments, irreversible junctures in our lives that make us real. Not what comes next, not what people say about us, just our
moments. Integrate those moments, run them fast enough (say 24 frames per second) and you might even approximate something close to a person...
We learn that Oneirine apparently leads to "the dullest hallucinations known to psychopharmacology" (703) - hauntings of the mundane, the almost-normal. Tchitcherine's Haunting
Tchitcherine hallucinates that Ripov is interrogating him, and he becomes fixated on the question of whether or not he was supposed to die. Seems like part of him wants to believe in life after death, in some hope for meaning, which goes against the Soviet doctrine and thus isn't exactly endearing him to those above him. Thankfully this is just an Oneirine haunting, except... wait, it's too real
- no subtle violations of reality. He tries to escape, but is outnumbered. But no execution for him here - just a reassignment to Central Asia. A cold and operational death. Section 69
"The dearest nation of all is one that will survive no longer than you and I, a common movement at the mercy of death and time: the ad hoc adventure." - Resolutions of the Gross Suckling Conference (706)
In other words, they seek a nation that does not function independently of its citizens
- one that is not some separate identity with a quasi-personhood (much like how corporations are legally "people"). Rather, a nation that is inextricably linked to the people and that will die when they do. No immortality, no denial of the cycle or death.
But poor Roger's still dealing with Jessica, and now with Jeremy, too, who he's at least amicable with. But he's struggling with their acceptance of the System, their embracing of it. Jeremy's all about reassembling the rockets and firing them, asking "What else does one do with a rocket?" (note how disassembling it
or at least not using the weapon
isn't even an option...).
Jeremy's even so kind as to invite Roger to a fancy dinner with a bunch of corporate bigwigs, including folks from Krupp, ICI, and GE, and hosted by one Stefan Utgarthaloki, whose name should be a giant red-flag that something's amiss with this shindig. Roger picks Seaman Bodine as his date, the two having struck up a rather theatrical friendship, dress in their absurdist best (Bodine in the mother of all zoot suits), and join the party.
We get some insight here into the nature of rebellions, and the danger of them not only fizzling out or failing, but of being co-opted as a tool to "help legitimize Them" (713). Of either dying or "living on as Their pet" - it brings to mind the corporate branding of "rebelliousness" as cool, as "a phase" that it's normal to go through and eventually grow up from. Treating the idealism of youth, the desire to make the world better and to fight against the problems of the system before you become numb to them, as a normal phase of life is such an effective way to neutralize it culturally. How many people have heard the phrase "you get conservative [i.e. more resistant to change] as you get older"? How many of us have seen youth-led movements being dismissed as examples of immaturity, for example? Between that and companies stamping their logo on it (hello, Hot Topic), it's a way to change the cultural narrative around any movement against the status quo to one that's dismissive, just accepting enough to let people burn off their energy and eventually fall into line. Because how else can you continue to live a decent life in a society that refuses to change? You either go build a shack in the woods somewhere, die, or acclimate to the system and just focus on being comfortable yourself, not constantly fighting for change. It's a depressing thought, and I'm sure Pynchon saw a lot of that attitude in the 60s. I have to wonder - do non-industrialized societies have "teenage rebellion" as a normal part of life? Is that a part of human nature, like we tend to think, or is it an explicit reaction to reaching maturity in a system that is anti-human and anti-nature?
Anyway, back to the dinner party - between the depressing, anti-social music (kazoos?!
) and the lavish dinner, things seem fine, but there's a plot against the Roger and Bodine. Fortunately a journalist, Constance, tips off Bodine that they might just be the main course of this feast, so Bodine cues Roger to begin the evening show - an absurd gross-out session that they planned in advance with the aid of now-deceased Pudding communicating via medium Carroll Eventyr. The pair recite an increasingly disgusting list of alliterative dishes, triggering "well-bred gagging" and guests to flee, though a few find it all quite entertaining. But it's enough to break up the dinner party and allow our heroes to flee. Note: If you made it this far, actually read all this, thank you
. Bloom warned me this was a longer section, and boy, he wasn't kidding. I think this is longer than some college essays I wrote... Damn fun, though, and I hope you've found my thoughts informative, interesting, useful, or if nothing else, sufficiently diversionary for a spell. I truly look forward to seeing what you other fine foax have to say on these labrynthine sections. Questions
- In the lightning-aficionado's "A Nickel Saved" excerpt, are there any other references or hidden ideas you can find? I have to think there are.
- What is the meaning of the windmill reflected in Blicero's eyes? How do you interpret the imagery in this scene in general?
- 175-Stadt. Oven-State. Hund-Stadt. Rocket-State. Factory-State. We've seen numerous examples of specialized micro-states across the Zone, experiments in different forms of society. What are your thoughts on these? Are they hints at ways to find alternate societies, or manifestations of humanity's tendency to divide by category and put of fences?
- In the "Shit 'n' Shinola" subsection, Pynchon connects Jack Kennedy, Malcolm X, and Tyrone Slothrop. What do you make of this intersection?
- In "Streets," the bombing of Hiroshima is presented as being similar to the Cross, "it is also, perhaps, a Tree..." - the capitalized "Tree" here could be the tree of knowledge, the tree of life, the tree from which the Hanged Man dangles, or perhaps something else. What's your interpretation of this imagery?
- In Section 69, we see references to the Albatross, famous symbol from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. It's presented that Slothrop is the (now-plucked) albatross, but it's not clear who killed this bird, or who's wearing it around their neck. They? Any ideas?
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