With this week, the book comes to an end and I can’t help but feel disappointed by the ending. At some point a few years ago I realized that endings are often the worst part of a book. Endings can’t ever do what the reader really hopes will happen, especially if the reader has a different idea of what the book is doing. I must have had a very different idea of what this book was a bout because I left that last page with so many questions–questions that Levin clearly had no intention of answering.
Like what if the entire book from after Belt gets his cure until the very end is all in his head. He is just crazy and none of these things happened. There are no cures. Everything that seems off about his world is because his perception is skewed. He has the wrong date and perpetrator of 9/11. He misunderstands The Matrix, he believes he was given hundreds of thousands of dollars from the creator of The Matrix. His father is dating the mother of the wife of an author that he likes. But really he’s just in Costello house imagining he’ll meet up with Lisette someday.
I don’t really think that’s what happened, but there’s so much left out after the ending, that I have to fill it in somehow.
I was particularly interested in this first section being called AOL. There has been no real explicit nudge from the author that there is no internet in the book, but this title was clearly a wink at us. Particularly since Belt doesn’t know what it stands for either.
But before we find out, Belt explains that it’s November 5, 2013. He’s finished up the transcript, he has 350 pages of his memoir written and he wants to celebrate with someone. He thought of all the people he could celebrate with. Fon? (not a chance in hell); Denise? (he didn’t have her number); Lotta Hogg? (she was with Valentine);, his father? (at work); Burroughs? (it seemed wrong, somehow), Herb? (he didn’t want to seem like he was badgering Herb about Lisette); Eli Khong, his older editor at Darger? (in a 12-step program). There was no one left. He considered going to Arcades and buying (is that the verb?) a good prostitute. But rather, he decided to buy a really good bottle of Scotch.
Last week everyone said how much they loved the names of the Scotch he buys: MacGuffin 12 and Glenfibbly 21. This time the liquor store owner suggests a MacGuffin 18-Year-Old Sherry Cask (I have no idea what that means) which cost $293. Its flavors: “honey and leather, then butter and apricots, and then, at last–and this was the best part–deep Robitussin cherry.”
He had also been spending more time with Blank lately. But Blank was still off. Belt was worried that he was boring his cure. So he thought he’d buy a present for Blank. He went to the new A(cute)rements Warehouse (formerly A(cute)rements PerFormulae/CureWear/ EmergeRig-vendor), a supermarket sized warehouse.
The place is abuzz with hostility because they don;t have enough Independence in. When Belt tells the clerk that’s not what he;s there for, the clerk relaxes. But they have no toys for cures, of course. They mostly have things to hurt your cure with and lots of Formulae. When he tells the clerk he wants to buy a present for his cure, the clerk says “That’s adorab–” but he is cut off because someone is furious hat they don;t have any Independence. Belt says he didn’t see a sign saying so, and the clerk says its’ because his manager thought that people would come in an anger-shop.
Belt is surprised so many people want their cures to not need them.
But then the clerk mentions AOL. Which, he explains, stands for Auto Over Load. You give the Cure Independence and NeedyBuddy, put it in front of a mirror and it commits suicide. The clerk is so excited for Belt to watch this–they have homemade clips of cures AOLing on a loop in the store.
Belt purchases a six month supply of pellets and a new PillowNest. He has to watch some of the clips while he is online, although he can’t handle it (after all of that Fistful) and neither can I. I did enjoy the young kids in the store arguing about what happens in the clips (and also the color coding of the items in the 75 cent bin).
When Belt gets home there is a package from Gus (whose full name is Gus Aronov-Katz [hey, maybe there is a connection to the bubblegum music after all]. It contains three handkerchiefs and a letter about his book. I feel like Gus sums up my reaction to Bubblegum.
The most confused I got was at the end. The end made me sad, and I do not know why, don’t know was I even supposed to be sad. Maybe it was just a personal reaction I had, specific to myself.
Belt put aside the letter and presented Blank and presented with the new PillowNest, which Blank was very excited about. Until her sneezed green mucus and said merf. Belt takes Blank to a vet (very few vets know how to tend to cures, obviously) and is convinced he has a Cure disease but that he can be fixed. Even in this very sad scene there some amusement. Like the cat magazine (Cats’n’Jamming Monthly), and the fact that Belt’s “T” looks like an “A” and the vet tech calls him “Bela.”
There’s also the woman with her exotic cats Cadman and Uk (I don’t get this joke). She believes she should go before Belt to see Dr Kleinstadt (small town) who deals with exotic pets. Her cats are, you see, Savannah, as in from Africa. But nope, they are still just cats after all and she will be seeing Dr. Mills.
In the vet’s room, Belt stares at a poster of an Axolotl (which is neotonic). The doctor had one a a patient named Ghostheim. Gave him the creeps.
The doctor says that few people know how to treat cures anymore, but he studied them. And after a cursory exam, the doctor determines that Blank has cancer–probably from second hand smoke. Ouch.
He also tells belt that pain singing is a misnomer. They don’t sing when they are in pain, they sing when they are afraid. Yikes! Is it worse to get off on someone’s pain or someone’s fear? Is there a difference?
And then the unthinkable and to me wholly unexpected event occurs: Kablankey dies.
The next section is called “Settlement” and it is mostly about Clyde. First we learn that Grandmother Magnet has also died. “(DUI, maple)” is simultaneously hilarious and insanely callous. Speaking of hilariously callous, it’s on page 695 in a footnote that we learn that Belt’s mother’s name was Annie.
Then we learn that Clyde had gotten into a terrible accident at work. I can’t quite determine what an impeller does, but essentially a machine tossed off a heavy bitch block when it wasn’t supposed to. And if Clyde hadn’t tried to stop it, it would have crushed Leif’s foot and killed Mikey. Clyde is basically a hero, saving these two, but something bad happened to his body. He assumed he’d had a heart attack and as he was dying. He imagined haunting Billy. But then he came to and found out he’d been in a coma because he was allergic to morphine. “They specified mild coma to get me to think twice about to causing major legal trouble.”
He had what’s called sudden-onset impeller’s twist. The doctor says he should be fine as long as he never impels again, “which, why the fuck would I ever impel again, anyway?” So basically, Clyde is retiring five years earlier than he planned with a huge financial settlement.
After rehab, he told Belt that he was going to take a trip to St. Wolfgang, in Austria, the village from which his parental grandfather had emerged. Between the two of them we learn that Austria is known for coffee, mountains, Mozart, opera, delicate pastries: “All of that stuff. Everything you’ve always lived for, plus Hitler.”
Clyde asks if Belt wants to go to. He doesn’t. Has no interest in it. And then he tells his dad that he has to “get back to the bricks.”
“Get back to the bricks–that’s not what that means. That doesn’t mean anything What you wanted to say was get back on the horse.”
“You sure about that?”
“What you really wanted to say, though,” he said, “was hit the bricks which means hit the road which is what I’m proposing.”
Later, Belt says that he was drinking and thinking beside Blank’s grave because it “might somehow help me hit back on the brickhorse” (hilarious).
Belt complains that Clyde is only going their because his father wanted to go there and he, Belt, “wasn’t raised to care about that kind of stuff–origins–and it was you who raised me. I think you probably care even less than I do, truth be told.”
Clyde asks Belt why he sounds so angry. What happened to him? Belt snaps:
Oh, right, sure. Belt. You called me Belt. You called me by my name. I’m melting. Little boy blue and the man in the moon. Come on. Enough big ropes. We’re not having a moment here, and I’m not going to Austria.
Belt is standing up for himself now, too.
Belt then reveals to us that he is on his second recent dry spell of writing.
This includes an outstanding footnote about The Matrix. I think it’s awesome that he uses this film because his re-writing of the film is great, but also because The Wachowski Sisters are trans women (and were The Wachowski Brothers when they made the film). In Belt’s version of The Matrix, Neo (played by Benedict Cumberbatch) is a talented cuddlefarmer/formulae designer. He realizes that cures are actually part of a larger hive mind bent on taking over the world (after destroying all of the cats).
Holy cow that must have been fun to come up with.
There’s a hugely (to me) surprising payoff to this section when sometime later he sells all of his footage of Blank to Lilly Wachowski for a future Matrix film.
[If, in reality, the Wachowski Sisters make a film out of this novel, the self-referentialism will be out of this world].
The dry spell led to him re-reading his memoir and he found he no longer had any empathy for himself. He bought and read other recently released memoirs to bolster his spirits about writing memoirs. And his take on memoirs pretty much mirrors my own:
the author overcame adversity with virtue. As a reader, you’d either 1) spent your life being complicit in the systemic injustice that had caused the adversity, but now that you’d read the book, you’d been awakened to the role you played and are thus made virtuous (perhaps even brave) or 2) you’d spent your life being a victim of the same systemic injustice as the author while being equally virtuous, but it wasn’t until you read the memoir that you were able to realize just how virtuous you’d always been, just how much adversity you’d already overcome. Congratulations either way.
Belt gave up on writing and thought maybe he needed a new Curio. So he cloned Blank, but it did nothing for him. He brought it to Lotta’s mom who tried to cold shoulder him. He explained what he was giving her and when she said he wasn’t very nice to her daughter, he said:
“I just gave you something you value. And Valentine seems like a really good guy. I don’t need your fucken guiltmouth, Catrina.”
Clyde left for Austria and then sent a postcard. The upshot is the Austria is boring so he’s going to Paris. It was signed “Clyde, the Dad.” In the next postcard, he is in Paris which he loves. The people are bitchy but deservedly so. He’s especially enamored of the bread–is there a conspiracy against Stateside bread eaters?
Then there’s another letter from Paris. Essentially he went to a bookstore where an American author was reading. It turned out to be Adam Levin (ha) reading his book Self-Titled. Clyde didn’t think much of the title and the book looked really short.
[That would be the most hilarious advanced promotion for a new book if he actually released such a book (it sounds great)].
So as Clyde was looking for a book to buy Belt he happened upon a book called Estrangement Effect by Camille Bordas.
[I have read four stories by her and loved every one of them]. I was really surprised to see her name in this book. And then to find out that in the book Levin is married to her. He is in real life, as well. She does not have a book with such a title, but again, that would be a hilarious promotion for an upcoming book if she is indeed writing one called that (and judging by Clyde’s reaction, she certainly should).
Long story short, Clyde hits it off with Camille’s mother Sandrine (no idea if that’s Camille’s mother;s real name) and the four of them go out together.
Levin tells Clyde he was always upset he never got to see a swingset murder in person–he’d lived so close but never went to one.
Clyde writes that day after tomorrow Sandrine was flying to the South of Spain to ______________ and Clyde is going with her. He also sent Belt an open-ended ticket to go there. Signing this one, “Love, Clyde.” He had recently told Belt that he felt they were better as friends rather than father and son, and that sounds about right.
Belt realized that he was a few days late on handing in his transcript. So he called Burroughs who came over. Belt and Burroughs have some MacGuffin 15 (confit plums, custard and pine) and Burroughs explains that Triple J had cancelled the screening of A Fistful of Fists.
Belt guesses that the museum couldn’t handle the content of Fistful, but that’s not it at all. In fact, they loved it. But once people started showing films of their cures AOLing, he felt his film was redundant. Burroughs says:
One of the Yachts–the less bright Chaz–I think it was Jr. but can never keep them straight–so Chaz or Chaz Jr whichever, just a few days after the initial airing of the second AOL clip, he brought over his Executioner Set along with a cure he’d previously taught to perform executions on other cures … [after seeing all of this and realizing everyone would be doing it] …Trip has a major crisis is the point. Artistic, moral. Crisis, Deep. Feels almost attacked… [by] everything. The universe.
And then it feels like the book is talking to all of us who weren’t sure what we thought about Trip:
He’s barley fifteen years old, and he’s smart, this kid. Whatever you or anyone else might think of him, he is sharp as a tack, highly introspective. But yeah, barley fifteen years old. Ideological in that way younger people tend to be.
Technology has done what he was planing to do with art. Technology–at which he failed–has beaten him at what he worked so hard for. He feels like moral shitbag.
So anyway, Trip replaced it with Colorized War Crimes, which sounds ten times worse than Fistful. Trip gave Belt a copy of this horrorshow of a film on DVD and Burroughs explains that if he shows “this DVD to anyone else, now or later, we’d thoroughly destroy your life and so forth.” Belt doesn’t really want it but Burroughs really hopes he’ll take it,
That way I can tell Trip you took it, if he asks. And not for nothing, he’s really proud of this and I think right to be.
Again, I love Burroughs.
Finally Burroughs tell Belt that he’d given Trip some Panacea and he felt a lot better–clear headed and clever. Belt says he would love a panacea not realizing it is an actual thing.
“Right, sure. Please do that, Burroughs. Bring me my panacea posthaste.”
“I don’t get the tone, he said, lowering the phone.
Once again, Belt has no idea what anyone is talking about. Panacea is not a drug (according to the FDA) it is a food. Burroughs offers to send him a several month supply (they have tons).
And as the conversation ends, Belt offers money for Panacea and Burroughs gets annoyed
“Wait. What? What do you take me for Belt? You just fed me fine Scotch and listened to me spill my guts for…” he said and looked at his watch “Oh dear, no time to take umbrage, I have to get back.” He stood, I stood, we shook hands and shoulder-clapped “I’ll have some Panacea sent over.”
And that’s the last we’ll see of Burroughs.
The final section is The Only Wrong Person.
It starts out with yet another very funny sequence in which we learn that Grandmother Magnet used to take them out to see a terrible movie every Christmas. Belt wanted to see Clue the first year he was “sure it would be one of the all-time great comedies, an instant classic that nothing else playing could possibly compete with–a movie about characters from a board game, ingenious!” This year he’d guessed it would be The Three Amigos which he was “sure would be one of the all-time great comedies, an instant classic that nothing else playing could possibly compete with–a movie about characters mistaken for characters those characters played in movies; ingenuous.” The punchline that she got them tickets to see Platoon on Christmas is hilarious.
But Belt’s mom didn’t want him to see Platoon so they went to see The Golden Child. Belt’s mom also didn’t like like Eddie Murphy’s stand up “every other punch line is faggot.” [She’s not wrong–he was incredibly homophobic]. But they saw it and Belt misheard a punchline that made him laugh and laugh. I couldn’t imagine what his had to do with anything. Eddie Murphy asks the golden child, who is very chill in a moment of panic. “Did someone give you a Valium or what?” Belt heard it as “did someone give you a volume or what?” and believed it was Eddie Murphy signalling to the world that other people heard voices and that he could use this volume knob to turn them down.
When the Panacea arrives it warns of Temporary Paradoxical Effects–sleepiness, lucid dreaming, anxiety loss of appetite and or loss of sex drive. Belt slept for a half a day and then woke up feeling that everything was awesome.
He reread his memoir and loved it. Loved th opening and then, once again, showing that everyone here was on to something, he praises the genius that is “thats.” And I’ll let those of you who latched onto this usage gloat and explain it.
The Panacea lets Belt imagine that he can open and close his gates and can see them opening and closing allowing him to communicate with inans. The desk he’s sitting at starts to complain and Belt closes his gates on it. Unfortunately, he can never do it again.
Because later when he picks up a copy of No Please Don’t (which he hadn’t read it since it was published) the book itself yells at him. Because a book waits all its life to be picked up and have its pages slowly turned, but not by the author of the book–the exact wrong person.
Since Belt can’t write anything, he thinks about Adam Levin raving about how great the swingset murders were. he decides that’s what his real calling is. But he promised his mother he would never destroy other people’s property again. So he decides to buy the rusty swingsets. However, the first one he tries to buy, the woman assumes he;s a junk removal truck and pays him–could this be his new source of income?
He hits the swingset with a bat and immediately thinks he’s having a heart attack (like father, like son). He realizes he hadn’t really cared about swingsets for years and gives up on that idea pretty quickly.
When he decides to get writing done, Herb contacts him. He has the number of Dr Abed Patel who remembers Belt, of course.
Belt calls Abed and Abed’s tone to Belt is fascinating. He asks if the voices stopped, and what kind of drugs he took to get better (no they haven’t, and none). Abed read No Please Don’t and was very impressed by it–especially since he thought Belt was crazy.
Finally we learn her full name: Lisette Banks. Lisette has been in touch with Abed many times over the years looking for Belt. Abed could never give out her information. She sounds unwell–but Belt thinks her reactions are “funny unwell” like she was back in the study. She lives at the Costello House Intermediate Care Facility. There had been a real murder there back in 2002.
At the Costello House there are several people with Tardive dyskinesia causes repetitive, involuntary movements, such as grimacing and eye blinking which is caused by long-term use of neuroleptic drugs used to treat psychiatric conditions.
There’s also a person who ask:
“You want to know who it is? Who it really is, buddy? Who you’re saying those things to? That’s Judah Maccabee, buddy. That’s who you’re hurting.”
If you haven’t read Levin’s The Instructions, Judah Maccabee is the father of the main character, Judah is a famous defense attorney and is especially known for defending horribly racist people (and women). He is currently defending a neo Nazi–not because he is a self-hating Jew but because he believes in justice.
Belt calls Lisette–who assumes it is him calling. And they agree to meet off site.
When he sees her he is dismayed at her appearance (is it shallowness or because she is clearly crazy)? She doesn’t recognize Belt and introduces herself as Hulga. He says his name is Clyde and she make a Pac Man joke, which went over my head until she explained it (duh, I might have made the same joke–how did I miss it?)
Then she starts talking about something… aliens? When he asks what she’s talking about, she says “The black gum. The old marks.” And you can’t believe there is only one page left in the book
She says they are circles but they are not really circles and they are clustered and your eyes are always making triangle out of them. But they are always just awkward triangles. She calls them pavement melanoma.
And then she goes to wait for Belt. And how can that be the end?
Was this really just a story of lost romance?
What of Trip and the Yachts?
What of the memoir (I guess he wrote it if we are reading it).
What of Clyde and Sandrine? Did they get married? Is Belt going to hang out with his step brother in law Adam Levin?
What of Burroughs?
And what about the hundreds of questions we had about Cures and how we are supposed to think about them?
I feel like this book was part one of something even bigger.
The more I think about the ending the more questions I raise. So I’m just going to see what other people wrote before I go crazy.
Incidentally, I co-posted this on my own site which includes a “Soundtrack” for each post. All of the posts for Bubblegum have “featured” bubblegum pop songs. This week’s final song is The Rock And Roll Dubble Bubble Trading Card Co. Of Philadelphia – 19141 -“Bubble Gum Music” (1968). A great band name and a wonderfully self-referential song.