Coffee with Honey

I’m not sure how much this section advanced the plot exactly (whatever the plot is at this point), but I really enjoyed the way it filled in the missing pieces in a few different ways.  I also really like Levin’s conversational tone and the way he can drill down on something.  Whether it is Belt and Trip obsessing over something or those meandering tangents, I found this week’s reading far more enjoyable.

I am also very intrigued that the next section is called “Jonboat Speaks,”  I didn’t really think we’d meet him, so this should be interesting.

Kudos, by the way, to Daryl’s arbitrary week breaks.  Each one seems to have ended very nicely on a kind of cliffhanger.

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Part IV of the book is called Compound. In it, Belt visits the Jonboat housing compound (they took over most of a cul-de-sac).

There’s a few interesting revelations here, and a remarkably lengthy discussion of a sexual practice that I don’t think I’ve ever seen discussed–certainly not at length–in a book before.  But overall this section does what I like best about this book–have lengthy passages that don’t move the plot along but make me laugh at the ideas and the extent to which Levin is willing to stretch out an idea.

Part IV Section 1 is called “New Modes of Fascination.”

As Belt wakes up his pillow is talking to him.  This is new.  Or, not new exactly, but unusual.  Indeed, the pillow is mad because Belt hasn’t talked to it at least six years (and it’s grumpy because of it).  There’s not much more with inans in this section (aside from a false interaction with a bracelet at the compound), but it’s probably important not to forget about them.

One interesting idea that the pillow suggests is that it can talk with books.  Belt wonders why he never talked with books.  Or had he?  Was the book reading the words to him as he held it or did books have other things to say besides the words on the page?  That idea must be tabled for now.

Belt runs into his dad who is standing in the kitchen acting like he’s had a stroke. He’s acting very strangely, frying up a huge pack of bacon and getting grease on a Jonboat shirt.  There’s a nice call back to Belt smashing the frame that held the Jonboat Says t-shirt.  For this is the shirt that Clyde has.  Clyde essentially believes that he blacked out and smashed the frame but doesn’t remember doing it.  he finds this disturbing because he distinctly remembers why he wanted to do it, but is concerned that he blacked out and doesn’t remember that part.  Belt does not put his mind at ease with the truth.

Belt also learns that his father never really liked Jonboat–he wasn’t rubbing it in by buying that T-short–rather it was … overcompensation because he felt bad that he didn’t like belt’s new friend.  This made Belt feel very good about his dad and they even shared a lengthy, sincere hug.

This week’s reading had several sections that I just loved.  The don’t advance the plot.  They are long-winded, almost set-pieces.  And each one delights me.

Like when Belt decides to sweeten his coffee with honey.

It turns out to be terrible and his dad is there to say, well, duh.  But I love the logic his dad uses to back it up.  It is way too long to quote in full, but essentially Clyde says that we live in a society that

that not only encouraged the free exchange of ideas bit for some reason particularly encouraged the free exchange of ideas about foods and beverages, the fact that neither my father nor I, prior to that morning, had ever even heard of anyone putting honey in their coffee had to mean that those who had tried it, i.e. all those hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of men and women of the last five decades who had ever put honey in their coffee (perhaps because they’d run out of sugar, perhaps because they were foolish, perhaps on a dare from a mischievous friend)–even if some…had determined honeyed coffee was mediocre, rather than outright disgusting–they had, each and every last one, unanimously found honeyed coffee to be less than great.  Were it otherwise we’d not only have heard about honeying coffee, we would have long before this morning tried honeyed coffee. And that was why, my father explained, it was distinctly not bright of me to ever have thought that by honeying my coffee I might realize some heretofore undiscovered and desirable potential, let alone greatness.

I could read ramblings like this all day.

Belt and his dad decide to watch A Fistful of Fists before brunch (Clyde has decided not to go despite being invited and assumed Belt will be pleased about that).  Belt figured the movie was fifteen, twenty minutes, never imagining it to be over two hours.

They start to watch the collage and Clyde says it reminds him of a VHS tape that used to circulate called Bumfights Gone Wild by the Bell, Maybelline, If You’ll Give Me a Chance, a collection of outtakes from pretty much everything in the title–the darker side of 1990s per-internet “entertainment”: Bumfights, Girls Gone Wild, an audition tape for Saved by the Bell and … Chuck Berry peeing on a woman in a bathtub. Belt was very familiar with it even though he hadn’t watched it in decades.

They get through some of the clips, but Clyde leaves after a few–not his cup of tea (who would have ever thought they’d be on the same side as Clyde?)  Belt watches it but is not happy to being seeing the violence to the cures.  The Popsicle one was distasteful and he was happy to have closed his eyes before the end of of barker.

Once he saw one of the Yachts clips and knew that Triple J was in the video, he figured he’d seen enough.  Belt assumed Triple-J would mostly want to hear about the part of the video that Triple-J was in.

An unexpected footnote informs us that Hillary Clinton wrote the introduction to the fifth anniversary reprint of Fondajane’s FABRYTAYF (2003).

Part IV Section 2 is called “Hangstrong, Ulysses,” a puzzling title that refers to two of the games that Triple J has invented to test the resilience of those who want to resist overloading on a cure.  These games are like the Flick&Look game, but more demanding (or at least on a larger scale).

When Belt arrived at the compound, Triple-J was in the middle of demonstrating the Hangstrong game to a large group of youngsters.

Belt is disturbed by all of this for a number of reasons.  The first is that he was last at the compound in 1988 and there was a half pipe where Triple-J’s set up now stands.  The second is that he felt that Jonboat’s games/activities/challenges were at least physical (skateboarding) bu that Triple-J’s exhibitions seemed less challenging.  Third because he thought this was a meeting just for him (and Clyde).  I also greatly enjoyed the comment that everyone thinks their dad makes the best omelette, but Jonboat’s truly are the best.

But as he watches Hangstrong, he develops a grudging respect.

In Hangstrong you hang one-armed from the jungle gym’s monkey bars.  Each contestant holds a Curio in his dangling hand.  The idea was to maintain one’s grasp on one’s bar while squeezing one’s cure just enough to make it painsing.  This was, I soon gathered, harder than it looked.  Then you would try to hang on as long as you could without overloading.  Chaz fell in 57 seconds. Triple-J lasted five minutes.  Triple-J told the crowd that if they could beat 57 seconds, they would become a Yacht.  If they could beat 5 minutes they would become captain of the Yachts.

Up next was Ulysses.  This is cleverly titled because of the connection to The Odyssey.  I found the details of this one a little harder to visualize. The contestants are hanging on to a small carousel.  There is a “siren” in the center of a carousel.  This is a Curio, a single-legged, long-tailed calico, three-year-old valued at $750 named Spotsy (and rasied by Lotta Hogg’s mother).

When Triple J asks if the Yachts are ready for Ulysses, another one of Levin’s delightfully weird conversations arises. There’s something about the Yacht’s use of intelligent language and absurd slang that cracks me up.  So we get this weirdo exchange.  Triple-J asks if they are ready.

Chaz Jr says “out naked from my mother’s bosom, I say, was I pulled ready.”
Chaz shouted, “Be you muddy, all-class, or any way in between, I beg you not to hold against our doe-eyed and verily virginal pally his rather telling ignorance of basic female plumbing.”
“Word up,” said Bryce.
“Word straight to the dang-darn muth,” Lyle said.
Chaz tells Chaz Jr, “Though all we swell fellows can be said to have once been pulled out naked from his mother’s womb, not a one of us has ever been so outwardly pulled from his mother’s bosom, sir.  Not unless something truly unYachtlike and wiggity-wack, t say nothing of illicit were going on.”
Chaz Jr retorts, “Perhaps I didn’t want to say womb.  Perhaps referring to the womb of one’s own dear mother smacks of more than a little impropriety, given that womb;s nearness to the other parts of one’s mother that no chap worth even but his diggity-doggity weight in copper pennies would want to incite another to envisage, for that is total disrespect plus gross on the real, yo?”
Chaz: “That’s an awful lot of protest, kindly chum–too much? … does not speaking loosely of one’s dear mother’s bosom bring no impropriety to bear?  Speaking loosely of climbing out naked from one’s dear mother’s bosom, dog?

Before this scintillating argument can proceed further, Triple-J shuts it down because Ulysses is about to start.

The curio is placed in the center of the carousel and a  bright sunshine lamp is shone on it.  It had been given Vampire PerFormulae as well as Wailer so that it can sing loudly.  Everyone in the audience is is told to put in earplugs to block the enchanting painsong.  Belt, like Odysseus, leaves them out for a moment to actually hear the song.  They have their own cure in their hand and they must try to resist overloading on it while Spotsy sings.  Bryce is out first and once again Triple-J wins.

We also learn of the fascinating security detail that the compound employs.  There are a number of “Burroughs-shaped men” on the premises.  They are Burrough’s sons: Duggan, Hogan and Valentine.  They are all business and sent Belt through security detail.  Valentine is the one who breaks strict character and says he is pleased to meet Belt because he himself wants to be a writer.  Although when Belt whisperer him a compliment, Valentine smiles at the compliment but then says “Please keep your distance from my ear Mr. Magnet.”  We also learn that Burroughs is his first name and the whole family’s last name is Archon.

Much of the security concerns Belt’s “gift.”  The gift was Clyde’s idea and was why he was staining the Jonboat shirt.  Belt would give Jonboat an original Jonboat Says t-shirt.  Clyde wanted to make sure that it wasn’t pristine (as if it was kept like a trophy) nor too worn (as if it were a favorite shirt).  Belt decided to bring it in a box of Cap’n Crunch like a cereal prize.  Burrough’s kids all decide it’s not very funny, and Belt agrees.

Page 501 offers another explanation fro the three dots on our pages.  When Belt was last at the compound in 1988 there was gum on the ground and now all of these years later the “gum was still there, in the middle of the cul-de-sac, three black near-circular stains on the pavement before which I paused overcome by a memory, a long-lost memory: … my mother’s left temple. She’d had a trio of birthmarks that you could see only one of unless she tied her hair back.  Like those gum stains, her birthmarks were arrayed in such a way that, were you to connect them…they’d form an obtuse scalene triangle.

Part IV, Section 3 is “A Force and an Emblem”

In this section Belt meets Fondajane up close for the  first time. He is smitten immediately and she is very cool about it–basically expecting him to be so smitten.

There is a wonderful weird thing about Fondajane’s latest enhancement.  Belt is transfixed by Fondajane’s “delicate divot in the center of her collarbone, that dip in flesh where her chest became her throat.”

She is flattered that he is staring at it.  “Do you have any idea how much we paid for my suprasternal notch?”  She thinks it the most underrated body part “especially now that the cosmetics companies have begun in their ads to direct the consumer gaze at the philtrum”

Fondajane tells Belt that she loves his writing.  She loved the first story that he’d written called “Certain Something.”  She believes it was  Fairchild’s Quarterly (it was actually in The Ferrier’s Review) published in 2000.  She read it “and, but immediately I was your biggest fan.”

Belt then tells us that the story was “a tiny, angry exercise in empathy I wrote in one sitting.”  It was based on a guy named Mike that he always saw at the Denny’s.  He did not like Mike.  Not his hat, not his braided belt, not his Oakley sunglasses, not the way he rattled his Altoids to get the waitress’ attention.  But in this story he wanted to see the depth of Mike’s inner life but was “mostly trying to be funny.”

It’s a fun short story in which Mike wants to tell Brenda that he’d had a dream about her in which she died.  And he was very upset about that.  (this pick up tactic had worked on another girl).  But Brenda has pure beauty, a certain something, that made you feel like you were the only person on earth when they talked to you. Bill Clinton had it.  He made you feel like you were the only person on earth when he talked to you. If he really felt that way about you…if Brenda really felt that way about Mike, it would be incredible.  She doesn’t.

Fondajane also explains in more detail why Jonboat thought that Bam Naka was supposed to be him.  Jonboats father Hubert “All Hell”  Pellmore  was a bootlegger, a smuggler of Canadian whiskey.  So since Bam Naka is a smuggler and an astronaut, Jonbot jumped to conclusions.  Fondajane assures Belt that she never considered it and that no sane person would ever consider it.  Jonboat was just paranoid.  There’s also the funny part that the action figure was originally a _____ _____ action figure.  But the small pres was afraid of getting sued by using the name of this very popular film franchise.

Part IV section 4 is “The Part about Triple-J.”

In this section Fondajane tells Belt all about Triple J’s childhood.  Essentially, he was always outgoing and friendly (and apparently unfazed by his insane wealth) until it all of a sudden he wasn’t.  He’d had the realization that he wasn’t going to be a great creator PerFormulae because he sucked at chemistry.  This made him incredibly unhappy.  Then Fondajane gave him a copy of No Please Don’t and it gave him hope–he might one day be a great writer.

During all of this history, Belt has Fondajane’s hand enclosed in what he calls a “handwich.”  This segues into Belt’s subconscious coming up with the jingle to the Hamburger Helper commercials.  Stevie Strumm (Fondajane misremembered her name as Bobbie Rub) or maybe even Jonboat had taught him that to get an annoying earworm out of your head, just think of another annoying song.   Like if you had “Wishing Well” by Terence Trent D’arby or “Two of Hearts” by Stacey Q, think of something else.  In this case, he thinks of the Hamburger Helper jingle (because of the Handwich).

Triple-J arrives and gives Belt a present–an original Incuband.  He also shows off his new Curio named Magnet!  Magnet is really cute and Triple-J has trained him well.

Finally we get to the point where Belt talks about Triple-J’s papers.  Belt’s main concern is that the paper insists that cures are machines but he has a hard time believing that anyone who believes they are machines spending so much time training them.  Triple-J assures belt that he loves machines and he wants to learn about them, study them, train them etc.  But he has moved beyond PerFormulae.  He now wants to do something with cures that no one else has ever thought to do before.

Then comes a lengthy, well thought out, but very immature excitement over that famous french theorist Marcel Marceau.
Belt: “The mime?”
triple-J: “Why would you even know a mime;s name?”

No, he meant the French writer who was all about “how getting fisted was a new kind of power.”
Fondajane: “That’s not exactly…”
Trip: “I know, it’s more complicated than that.  But what’s the guy’s name?”

Michel Foucault.  Trip read an article about Foucault by David Ballard and this paper is why he quit wanting to be a great novelist.

I was amused and disturbed by Triple-Js lovingly detail discussion fisting.  Triple-Js takeaway seems to be something along the lines of nobody ever thought to try fisting before the first guy did.  Similarly, he would like to do things with cures that no one else ever thought of before. Thankfully not fisting them. Since fisting is a way to have sex where the point wasn’t to have an orgasm, he wants to interact with cures where the point is not to overload.  It’s a roundabout way to get from A to B for sure.

I am still chuckling imagining Magnet the cure imitating Triple-J’s demonstration of fisting.

The crux is Triple-J wants people to connect with each other via meditative endurance sports–Neo-Gratification exercises–like Hangstrong and Ulysses.

Belt’s main takeaway is that he feels that Triple-J has a heart, one that abided real affection for Magnet.

Trip explains how the Charity Parties (as seen in A Fistful of Fists) were the start of this new generosity with cures.  This discussion led to another of my favorite passages which has nothing to do with the point Trip is making but which absolutely cracked me up.

Chaz Jr cut his finger earlier in the day on a

can of tuna or something.  And his mom, she didn’t just put a Band-Aid on his finger, but she made him carry around these extra Band-Aids in case the one he was wearing got dirty or fell off and he had to replace it, or in case he cut himself again because maybe he was having a ‘clumsy day,’ and also in case ‘having a clumsy day” was like contagious and his friends cut themselves and needed Band-Aids or something–I don’t know, he tried to explain it to make it sound normal, but what it came down to was his mom is really uptight and a little bit nuts.

These Band-Aids are what Trip was using to secure a cure to a slide on the day they met (and Trip kicked him in the back).

He also explains that the first Charity Party was accidental.  They were planning on doing something which involved nailing a cure to a tree.  Bryce came along and messed up their project.  But his reaction inspired Trip to do more (and to make Bryce a Yacht).

As the section draws to a close, Trip explains that he wanted his video compilation to inspire others to do more original ideas with cures.

Trip’s insecurity is hard to read.  he is so instantly defensive and puts Belt on the defensive.  Belt tells trip that he didn’t finish the video and Trip immediately thinks its because it’s no good.  Then he apologizes for being a bitch-ass about it.

Ultimately, though, he offers to watch Fists with him in their amazing screening room.

When Belt finally does see the final scene, he runs off trying o contain himself.  He can hear Fondajane and Trip talking about him through the vents.  Turns out Trip did know that belt was the kid in the video and he wanted Belt to be excited about that–belt was the culmination of the video.  Fondajane realizes that belt is upset about Lisette. But Trip misunderstands and concludes that belt was moved by the video, which belt agrees to.

And so it turns out that Trip asks belt to write the very transcript of A Fistful of Fists that we just read.   The legal parts of the contract re pretty fascinating.  It’s now even more fascinating to realize that Belt (who doesn’t like to see cures hurt) wrote the transcript.  Woah.

There’s one more little call back in this section that I greatly appreciated.

This throw away line is such a wonderful call back to a conversation that feels like it happened years ago, when Belt talked to the bank guard: “I cleared my throat explosively, rued my lack of handkerchief, swallowed and swallowed.”

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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 1910 Fruitgum Company with  “Goody Goody Gumdrops.”

6 thoughts on “Coffee with Honey

  1. Daryl L. L. Houston June 18, 2020 / 12:13 pm

    I wondered whether the names Duggan, Hogan, and Valentine would mean anything to a lot of today’s readers. I suspect you know this (it’s the kind of detail you tend to pick up on), but these’re the names of wrestlers from the ’80s. Hogan everybody knows, but I don’t know how well known Hacksaw Jim Duggan and the Valentine guy were; I don’t believe they’ve continued into the current public consciousness as Hulk Hogan has, bruther. Anyway, the names here amused me because they’re all I guess burly bodyguard types, but there’s also a sort of literary or scholarly sensibility around Burroughs and Valentine that kind of tugs in the opposite direction of the low art slash soap operatic sensibility of professional wrestling. There also does happen to be a “real” (like Olympic style) wrestling phenom named Jordan Burroughs. Archons in Greek civilization were civil and judicial officers, which also seems sort of fitting for Burroughs in particular.

    Something I thought about writing about was the notion of Fondajane as a sort of siren. I don’t recall whether I had thought about it quite so directly until Ulysses came into the picture, but that game’s referents paired with Belt’s detailed infatuation and meeting Fondajane with her frank and disarming manner made me begin to feel like maybe there was something here. Fondajane doesn’t sing, but she had been a performance artist. Like sirens (precursor to what we think of today as mermaids), she’s got this dual physicality, and she’s near-irresistibly beautiful and draws the infatuation of the rich and powerful. Ultimately she draws the attention of an explorer of the vast realm (Jonboat’s name is a type of water-faring vessel, after all, and he’s a space explorer). There’s not full-on correspondence between the myths and the circumstances in Levin’s book (Jonboat sticks with Fondajane rather than leaving her behind, for example), but I do wonder if there’s something here, even if it’s just a little aesthetic flourish.

    • Paul Debraski June 27, 2020 / 3:38 pm

      Oh MAN, I hadn’t thought about the wrestling connection at all. That’s awesome. Wish there was a Mean Gene. I was a fan of Hacksaw but I’d forgotten about Greg the Hammer.

      I hadn’t considered Fondajane as a siren, but it does make sense until the actual sirens come into play. Fondajane is practically a goddess by the book’s standards.

  2. Jeff Anderson June 19, 2020 / 6:39 pm

    Clyde’s little aria about coffee and honey—and especially its dependence on consumer kitchen appliances—reminded me of a section in Don DeLillo’s Underworld that I remember thinking, when I read it, was an actually perfect little stretch of writing. And it’s not even that prologue about the Shot Heard ‘Round the World, although that also is exceptional. It’s the chunk about 250 pages in on the wonders of 1950s consumerism, and the crisper drawer, and frozen dinners that you heat up in the microwave. I don’t honestly remember the novel well enough to say whether I think you’d like it or not, but that section and the big prologue I do think you’d really like.

    • Daryl L. L. Houston June 20, 2020 / 3:13 pm

      I had forgotten the crisper drawer bit, though it rings a bell now that you mention it. That opening 90 pages or so about the shot heard round the world is really marvelous, one of my favorite selections (period).

    • Paul Debraski June 27, 2020 / 3:39 pm

      I had read Underworld about when it came out. I really don’t remember it all that well (except the baseball part). I’ve often wanted to read more DeLillo and might just have to go back and start with that.

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