This weeks reading was really intense. It also showed things that I never imagined would come up in this story.
- A lengthy and carefully edited suicide note.
- A lengthy treatise on transgendered persons/prostitution/homosexuality
- Academic papers that are simultaneously well-written and yet obviously the work of a child.
Part Two, Section 5 of the book is called “Letters and Facts.”
This was an interesting place to stop/resume reading because, although they reference the same incident, the beginning of this section differs from the end of the previous section.
The previous section ends:
Abed was palming the top of my head, saying something hummy in Urdu or Hindi
Whereas this section opens with
“Then Abed put his hand in top of my head and sang or said something in Indian or Arab that was probably either a prayer or a spell–here comes dad with Rich and Jim.”
The book explains that the quote above was the “last line I wrote in my daily journal for weeks.”
Belt’s mother had been diagnosed with cancer more or less throughout her body. It devastated her quickly: “My mother was dying, and before I got used to that, my mother was dead.”
But before she dies, they spend some time together at home. She gave Belt a copy of Franny and Zooey that she’d bought for him. He read that while she read Breakfast of Champions because she knew he liked it. She also asked to read his journals to get a better sense of him. She promised not to show his father. And also later said what a strong writer he was
This whole sequence is remarkably tender–especially for a book that has some really strange and vulgar sequences.
His parents thought it would be best if he went back to the study (they needed the study to pay for his treatment). Rick and Jim drove him. I love that Jim called him “duke” a couple of times. Nice throwback to “the duke of puke” which Belt didn’t learn about until present time.
This is his last day at the study. He sees Lisette who tells him that her rat, Misty Cunningham, is dead. She loved it so much she squeezed it to death–just like Stevie wanted to do to Blank when she first saw it. When he says he is sorry, she says, “you don’t think I’m lying?” He says no, but when she asks to see Blank, Belt wouldn’t let her and she stormed off.
Later when he told her that his mother had cancer, Lisette yells that he’s full of it. James overheard the argument and supported Belt. But Belt turned around and punched him in the face. James says, “I knew you were a hitter.”
Belt didn’t return to the study, even though Manx said he could.
At home, he tells his father that he beat up a kid. Clyde is partially delighted:
The doctor seemed to think the kid you hit must’ve deserved it, or at least he didn’t argue when I said that was probably what it was so I’m gonna go ahead and say “Good job.”
Later Belt has restless sleep. In a scene that reminded me of the scene in David Foster Wallace’s “Backbone” sequence, Belt tries to get full access to his body parts–working one muscle at at time: wiggling his ears, getting his scrotum to jump, flexing his pecs.
That’s when when his father presents Belt with two notes from his mother. Belts’ father also got two notes. One was typed and one was handwritten. The handwritten one is dated 1/21/99 1:07AM-2:49AM from the living room couch.
This letter says that she can no longer speak. But she still wants to communicate. Most importantly, she wants him to know she loves him. She wanted to make sure he read this note before reading the typed note–her formal suicide letter.
The typed note was written 1/25-30/88. It is … impressive.
Part 2, Section 6 is “Look at Your Father.”
While Belt and his father are watching TV (Sledge Hammer!)they switch the channel and there’s a promo for 20/20. A Botimal is onscreen with the announcer asking what the creature is and what could bring a boy to ends its life. Belt says he thinks it is Miles, no Niles. He didn’t know Niles, Niles was in the study in a different section. But Niles wore a Belinda Carlisle shirt (not a lot of junior high-school aged boys would admit to their Belinda Carlisle fandom let alone be willing t advertise it). The episode was about how Niles did whatever he did (we don’t know specifically yet) for the Sandburg Middle School Talent Show.
Belt’s father is mad because Barbara Walters told half the world that the only people who have Botimals are a few “psychotically disturbed kids” enrolled in the study. Clyde says belt has his blessing, no he is instructing him to break any kid’s nose who gives him a hard time about that. You got that, Billy.
But nobody talked to him–people gave him a wide berth.
For timeline purposes: This was all just before the “Jonboat say” T-shirt incident happened.
Part III is called Portfolio.
Earlier in one of the sections Jonboat ‘s son Jonny Pellmore-Jason Jr. (Triple J) asked Belt to read his manuscripts and watch his film. Well, now we get to see them.
On Private Viewing was written Feb 15, 2013 for an independent study class.
It is an essay about Private Viewing “the last important work of art of the twentieth century.” It was created by Triple J’s stepmom Fondajane Henry.
There is so much going on in this essay which is way too long to recount.
I love that it written as a largely thoughtful and well-written, more or less academic paper. There’s footnotes, and a bibliography and the language that Triple J uses (for the most part) is thoughtful. There’s even a citation to Camille Paglia, the perfect choice for a turn of the century era sexuality writer who would have an opinion on everything, and the wonderfully postmodern title of Fondajane’s book C(unt)ock.
But I also love that he is a high school kid (right, freshman in high school?) who is throwing in completely nonacademic personal asides and notes to his teacher (a lengthy parenthetical paragraph directly addresses his teacher). Plus it is about his stepmother and one of his source is her talking to him about things for most of his life.
And that the essay is probably supposed to be about five pages and he handed in about 70.
There is so much in here to unpack. Most of it seems to have nothing to do with the story per se–about Curios and Belt’s life.
Fodajane is an intersex artist. She wrote the book Flesh and Bone Robots You Think are Your Friends when she was twenty-two, which earned her a PhD. It was the catalyst for the decriminalization of prostitution.
We also learn in a total throwaway line that Jonboat had “just come back from his fifth mission to outer space.” And that he officially separated from his birth mother to be in a couple with Fondajane. And that he was the last man involved in her art performance, Private Viewing, in February 2000.
There’s also the fascinating statement that America was attacked on September 13, 2001 and that congress legalized gay marriage and prostitution the same week it authorized troops to be sent to Yemen for Operation Enduring Freedom.
Later, in Triple J’s second essay he says that back then “our whole country ha[d] been almost broke because of Reagan who made it cheaper to make cars in Mexico or wherever, so there’s less and less jobs in the USA.” Luckily Curios launched a Cute Economy. [I was a young teenager during the 80s and have lots of thoughts about Reagan, but I don’t specifically recall anything to do with cars and Mexico].
So, is this more of people getting their historical facts wrong, like Chad-Kyle did with Nobel? Or are we living in a different timeline where things are similar but not the same (obviously there’s no internet, but maybe that’s not the only difference).
Belt knew some thing was incorrect about Chad-Kyle’s account of Nobel, but we don’t know which parts. We don’t know (yet) if Triple J is wrong about history (of course, he wouldn’t be so wrong about homosexuality and prostitution being legalized, which would certainly be obvious enough for him to know).
The appendix to the essay is the speech that she said to each oft he participants in Private Viewing. She would say the exact same thing to each of them. It is basically her life story.
She was born in 1975 with ambiguous genitalia and given up for adoption. Her adoptive parents were each in their second marriage. They also each had had a daughter named Dolores who had died. So they named her Dolores and didn’t seem to care about her genitalia.
Unexpectedly this appendix actually refers to Cures. She threatened to destroy her mother’s cure, Jamey. They were still fairly expensive then and cathartic overload hadn’t caught on yet. She didn’t overload on it and felt better about herself.
Years later, she met transgender friends in New York City. She met Janie Sezz and Maggie Mae (this name is a little disappointing). She told them she was Lola even though she’d never used that name before. (It seemed crazy that her name would be Lola when there was that Kinks song–too coincidental to be real). They kept telling Lola that they were not fond of her name.
Over time her name became Fond, then Fonda, then Fondajane.
The second essay is Living Isn’t Functioning written June 3, 2012 for Freshmen Honors Writing and Rhetoric.
The first 2/3 of this essay present a side by side comparison of the 1988 Botimal manual with the 2012 Curio manual.
I’m curious how many people will read these two manuals in their entirety. I don’t even read manuals of things I own, and yet I loved reading this. And I loved finding out that according to Triple J, I read it the way he intended–section by section to compare and contrast them (that’s why they were printed side by side instead of one after the other).
His thesis is that “people will say anything to sell you what they are trying to sell you, especially if those people are corporations. It’s shady.” He shows the comparison to demonstrate how G&S is trying to sell things.
There are many contrasts, but I like that right in the beginning the phrasing is changed from Botimal: the flesh-and-bone robot that thinks it’s your friend to CURIO: the lifelike best friend that believes it’s your pet. Compare those tow Fondajane’s book: Flesh and Bone Robots You Think are Your Friends
The 2012 manual also introduces PerFormulae, specifically (and I thought of George Saunders with the way these were written: SwimHands®, RooLegs®, Chunker®, MegaChunker®, Dwarfer®, PinnochiNose®, Fanger®, FiveHead®. The mind reels with what some of these might do.
There’s also the fabulous origin story possibilities of the Curio. The person who “created” them was Dr Burton Pinflex, Former head of the R&D team and Graham&Swords LiveTech Division.
They posit that he may have been designing drone-capable soft automation fighters bomb defusers and information gathering. There’s the great slogan: Since 1911, Graham&Swords has been America’s #1 Most Trusted Supplier of Armaments®.
There’s also a bit about cuteness in the 1988 manual (that is not mentioned in 2012). Yes, your Curio will be objectively cuter and more adorable as it goes on.
The 2012 manual address the Hobunk issue but as Triple J says it seems like they didn’t know much about them or thought they would scare people, but “the way they talk about them now, it’s almost like they’re saying “user: if you don’t do what it takes to make hobunks, you’ll really be missing out on some fun.”
I love how once again, Triple J is taking an honest academic approach to the subject but with personal asides. Botimals is “an ugly-sounding word that sounds like lobotomy.” There’s also another wonderful example of overthinking an issue (this time by Triple J not Belt). This one is about Triple J’s friend who only wants to eat microwaved pizza instead of “handmade.”
I thoroughly enjoyed this discussion and the many levels it had, (although it is too lengthy to repeat here but options:
- he’s not low on funds (Triple J will pay)
- he’s not too hungry to wait (handmade takes about a long)
- he’s not worried about Triple J spending too much money (he’s happy to have Triple J buy expensive things)
- it’s not cooler to like microwaved (It’s bland and cheap and “somehow girl-repelling.”)
- he may hate Triple J and thrill at watching Triple J eat microwaved who would rather eat handmade. (That would be almost psychopathic)
.He has to conclude that his friend is just not that bright. His observation is that “sometimes one looks like the other, bad taste and stupidity and it might be that sometimes they’re actually the same thing.”
Then we find out that triple J is connected to the Swords of Graham&Swords!
Tessa Sword is the daughter of Baron Swords who is the son of Xavier Swords. Baron Swords is Triple J’s godfather. Xavier Swords is Triple J’s grandfather’s cousin by marriage. Tessa told him that Cures were supposed to be like other pets only not smell as bad or need much.
By 2012 Graham&Swords “stopped lying and started emphasizing the truth about how cures/Botimals were really just robots that whatever you did to them was totally okay.”
I also loved the circular logic of this:
everyone in the USA and most of the rest of the world has already overloaded a bunch of times and enjoyed doing it, and has learned to want to keep doing it, and, like I said, if it turned out that cures/Botimals weren’t machines made of flesh but real animals or animal-humans or whatever and that it therefore wasn’t okay to do what we all do to them, not only would the economy get messed up, but we’d all hate ourselves and commit suicide because we’d see that we’d been monsters all along. We’re not monsters, though. And that’s how we know cures are robots.
Also note that the idea of Botimals being made of real flesh sort of came up as flesh and bone robots, but could they be made of humans? Interestingly Triple J is not so concerned about that:
They never say in that FAQ answer that cures/Botimals aren’t made of human and bird DNA or whatever… the DNA stuff is beside the point.
This story just went from one thing to something else entirely and I’m really looking forward to how these ideas are going to unpack further. I’m foreshadowing a lot of potentials here. What’s a red herring and what’s just a fun throwaway idea?
Incidentally, I co-posted this on my own site which includes a “Soundtrack” for each post. All of the posts for Bubblegum will “feature” bubblegum pop songs. This week’s is The Fun and Games with “Elephant Candy.”
I read both manuals fully, and side-by-side (one has a whole section the other is missing, and there are lots of subtle and telling differences in phrasing). It was a little tempting to read one and then the other because tracking two things in my head at once is hard, but I’m glad I read them as I did.
This took me back to a similar thing Levin did in The Instructions, though the level of discourse in that instance should’ve been even higher.
Did you enjoy this part? As a detail oriented reader, I found this really fun.