Hitting Back on the Brickhorse

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.

Poor Belt.

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?

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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.


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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 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.

You Can Be Right and Kind At The Same Time, or: Why Would You Hate a Part of Speech, Dude?

Here’s the penultimate week of this book and there’s no clear ending or answers in sight.

I was really looking forward to seeing Jonboat again.  He has been this looking figure–billionaire, astronaut, husband of the most beautiful woman in the world, father of Triple J.  And we know very little about him besides that.  And WOW does he make an impression.  Sort of.  Actually, he doesn’t make any impression except on Belt’s psyche.

This section begins with a bit of a misdirection: Belt picking up a magazine at the White Hen because astronaut Jonboat was on the cover. Flipping through, he couldn’t find the article (typical of big glossy magazines) and wound up looking at an article about the famous chef Clem.

Clem (I’m guessing inspired by Emeril?) was eggplant shaped with arms like noodles–he looked like a combination of Ringo Starr and Yasser Arafat–he seemed all wrong and yet he looked fantastic.  This was because everything in the room was custom made just for him.  He was measured for an oven, molds were made of his hands for his knives etc.  Somehow the objectively handsome assistant looked unfit in the room because everything fit Clem.

I love the librarian joke that Pang shouts at him: You think my name is Marian? (and a wonderful discursive joke about this not being a library).  But Belt didn’t buy the magazine because he needed money for Quills.

This is all a set up to say that Jonboat looked in his office as if every inch of it was measured to fit him.

As Belt walks in, Jonboat says “Hey, you,” and holds out his arms for a hug.  It take a second before Belt realizes he’s talking to Fondajane who is next to him.

There’s some playful banter between Jonboat and Fon.  And yet I can’t decide how to read this.  Is Jonboat a pedantic jerk or is he fun and good at teasing? Continue reading

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. Continue reading

A Fistful of Fists is a Handful

After the academia and “high brow” thoughts of Triple J’s essays, this week’s transcription of Triple J’s film A Fistful of Fists: A Documentary Collage is rather tough reading.  It reminded me of reading something like David Foster Wallace’s Brief Interviews with Hideous Men or Roberto Bolaño’s 2666 (The Part About the Crimes) in that there’s some really horrible things to witness but their inclusion serves to prove a point and even to further the plot and fill in some gaps.

A Fistful of Fists is a collage of twenty-seven short films all about the joy of killing cures.  The transcription is a print version of what is seen on the videos, sometimes in graphic detail.

1.  The first is a Prelaunch announcement ad for PerFormulae during Super Bowl XXV.  It calls to mind the Super Bowl ad for Apple computers, with the use of “Also Sprach Zarathustra” and 2001 imagery. The first PerFormulae are Chunker, MegaChunker and PinnochiNose.  The terrible tagline: Cuter Newer.

2. Next is a home video called Popsicles in which pencils are screwed into Curio exits.  The cameraman is Jeremy-Niles Nelson (presumably the Niles from Belt’s group who will appear in a later clip).  He is filming Doc Robbie as he demonstrates how to popsicle Scatty–a curio who blows kisses to the camera while also flipping off the camera. These two are real idiot characters: “immortalized forever on V to the H to the sweet-ass S.”  Scatty is in pain but also wants to please–it’s face contorting from pain to smiles.  The end of the clip has Niles and Robbie fighting over who will overload on Scatty.

3. This one made me laugh.  It’s PlayChanger product placement on Beverly Hills 90210 (1993).  In another twist on reality, Jared Leto is a main character in 90210.  The loser kid is David (who was the loser kid on the show).  David tries to do a skateboard trick but Jared Leto’s friends make fun of him.  Then Jared Leto lightens up and they bond over GameChanger, the PerForumlae line.  It’s a pretty genius parody of a 90210 bonding scene.

4. Shows the Garagenhauer R&D team making a Formula Trial.  For this this formula they are turning the painsong into barks.  Call it DogThroat?  No, Barker.

5. This is a college workshop, a linguistics class about defining the proper use of the word overload.  I loved the nod to David Foster Wallace by having the teacher (who I even considered might be Wallace) saying “And but so your answer….”  He wonders, Do we used “Dave overloaded” or “Dave went into overload.”  Is it elective or involuntary?   What if you are in a state of wanting to overload but are physically prevented from doing so.  Did you “overload” or not?

6. Called The Best.  In this home video a boy tapes a cure to a wall just out of reach of their cat, Frankenstein.  We know from the instruction manual that cats want to catch Curios, and that cures should never be left alone with a cat.  Adam is on screen while his sister Rachel is filming.  The cure is called Percy.  Percy whistles “Yellow Submarine.”  Frankenstein sees Percy taped up and begins hissing, jumping, spitting, wanting to get Percy.  Percy is bicycling its legs trying to get away, then going limp like it’s about to painsong.  Its “the best.”  Perfect tension!  You want something to happen, but if it does happen its over.

In the process they wake up their little sister Paula who pets Percy then crushes it.  Rachel starts crying. Adam says,” don’t cry it’s only a cure.”  Rachel says” it was my turn.”

7. The next is an R&D film from Graham&Swords.  Their “Chameleon Trials.” to test out a  Formula that make a cure turn the color of the object touching it.  The scientists look on as each subject dies…over and over.

8. The Story of Spidge Part 1 from an HBO film. We lean what spidge actually means and where it comes from.

There’s an interview with a man named Woof.  He and Burnsy were responsible for discovering spidge.  These two guys were trying to find a way to get high.  They tried to get high by ingesting PreFromulae but it didn’t work.  They thought that maybe the grieving chemicals that cures release when the dact would get them high.  So they swallowed a recently dead one (it was gross) but it didn’t do anything.  But when Woof pooped he saw the cure’s spine in his poop–you can’t digest it.  They thought the chemicals might be in the bones.  So they ground up some bones and snorted them, smoked them, put them in cookies and it was excellent.

They started a company called Burnsy&Woof. They were going to make the perfect spidge pipes and were eventually bought out by Graham&Swords.  They had their brand logo done by Jizzbrain.

Now, I’m guessing, since the metal band that Woof is talking about is pretty much Metallica, that Jizzbrain is probably Pushead the artist who dis a lot of early artwork for Metallica.  Woof explains

Metal band makes a classy black-and-white video for a song with a couple slow like acoustic parts in it [Metallica’s “One”] and they go number one, heavy rotation, platinum times ten and still every kid at their concert just knows he’s the only person in all the world who really understands their music, even while he’s thinking it from row nine million at a football stadium he paid fifty fucken 1991 dollars to be at even while all the fuckers who ever picked on him at school, razzing him over his haircut and boot and acne or whatever, they’re down in front of the stage high-fiving each other and like … aw man

Then we learn that Burnsy died in a mosh pit saving some eccentrically dressed probably gay kid who was getting kicked.

I think Burnsy went into that mosh pit that night partly because it was full of a bunch of fratboy-type jerks who were turning our beloved subculture…into a kind of mainstream date-rapey, baseball-cap-wearing travesty of bullying jock-type aggression–rather than the joyful celebratory-type aggression it once was. I’m saying he want to to reclaim it, you know.

As a fan of the subculture around the same time, I can totally relate to everything he’s saying here.

Turns out “spidge” was something Burnsy used to say for thingy or whatchamacallit: “Ladle me out a bowl of that spidge.”  When he introduced other to it others, “You should try this spidge I have with me.”  It just caught on.

9. Cuddlefarmer Harvest.  A school boy is beaten up for his cures. A girl makes him feel better by showing him her hobunk which destroys his remaining cure.  They walk off arm in arm.

10. A clip from 1992 shows soldiers handing out curios to citizens, presumably in Yemen (as the war was in Yemen).  One of the soldiers names is Clybourn (which is the name of the woman whose spade Belt destroyed).  They hand out “demons” to the locals and try to teach them to take care of them not to just kill them on the spot.  One does and they tell him he can’t have another one (although they relent and give him another).

11. Called The Afterbirth of Rock n Roll.  It’s the closing credits of 20/20 with a promo for Barbara Walters talking to Fondjane Henry next week.  In the video we see The P.A.L. (PerFormulae Abuse Labs) Brothers Donny Mark and Greg Biscuits.  They like to stack ’em and abuse ’em.  In this video they use BullyKing and Screamer in megadoses.  When dosed like this they get Bitchy Elvis.

12. More from The Story of Spidge this time a girl who dissects and removes the spines (in great detail) from Curios.  She grinds up just the spines and makes the purest spidge.  Most people use all the bones which dilutes it, since the good stuff is in the spines.  She makes a lot of money doing this.  People think it’s disgusting, but they are hypocrites.  She is also vegetarian saying it is disgusting to eat meat.

13. A clip called “Sacrament” from Come Again!? with Philip Daley Alejandro.  This is a sensationalist talk show about a cult figure who says that overloading is like a sacrament–teaching the beauty of selflessness.  Alejandro is having none of that.

14. This is the first of several “Yachts Joints.”  This one called Flick&Look:a Yachts Joint.  This is game to see who can hold out the longest from killing their cure after flicking it and making it painsong.  The Yachts are of course Chaz Jr, Chaz, 3-J. Lyle and Bryce.  3-J wins.

15. The opening of Inhuman Self Denial.  This one is about Basho the longest lived cure (aside from Belt’s) and the monk who owns it.  He is The One Who Sees Basho.  People from all around the world come to see Basho as well but it takes all of the monks to hold back the crowd from trying to overload on Basho.

16 Yachts Joint 2 is Charity Party.  The Yachts surprise a teacher by giving him a cure that is trapped in he teacher’s door handle singing painsong.  The teacher looks around and quickly destroys it.  The Yachts burst out snd shout surprise.  They never gave a hoot about World War II until this teacher’s class.  This is their way of saying thanks.

17. The next clip is a Public Service Announcement from PAVIOSI [Parents Against Violence In Our Schools Initiative].  Fondajane alluded to these PSAs in her speech to the art participants.  In this one, a boy is picked on and is about to get revenge.  But his friend gives him his cure and lets him overload instead.  It’s an easy way to prevent violence in school.

18. The next one was also mentioned earlier.  And Now, For What You Thought was The First Time Ever is the 20/20 segment that Belt and his father watched.  It enraged Clyde and Belt was sure he recognized Niles from his Belinda Carlisle shirt.   At the Carl Sandberg Middle School Talent Show, Niles shows off all the adorable things his cure can do and by the end he kills it in front of the horrified crowd.

19. This is the first part of the Silver-Medaling US National Science Fair Entry featuring Maya Mehta.  In this first part she nervously introduces herself and her methodology.  She is very shy and wants to study shyness in cures.  Are cures too shy to rear-eject in front of people?  She wants to see if she can film cures rear-ejecting at night.

She has four cures: Mick & Keith and Paul & John.  She thinks that they associate the camera with her, so when she put the camera in their nest, they were too shy to rear eject in front of it.  She has more work to do.

She is also clearly accident prone and at the end of the clip she loses her balance.  In the next clip she has her arm in a sling.

20. The next Yachts Joint is another Charity Party, this one called: Charity Party II: Charity Parties. They leave a cure tied in a urinal for a man to drown.  They do another one in the girls’ bathroom.  A girl happily kills it but when the Yachts jump out she is annoyed that they are in the girls room: “What the fuck, you guys?  You’re not supposed to be in–oh, hey Triple J.”  The final one is in Triple-J’s house, a gift to Oliver.

21. Part two of the Silver-Medaling video.  This is a pretty funny/adorable sequence of the cures hiding their rear ejections.  The cures who had never seen a video camera before had no problem rear-ejecting in front of a camcorder at night–victory for science!

She puts the camera in with the cures who were shy of the camera and after several days they finally started rear-ejecting. Keith grabbed Mick to cover him while he rear-ejected.  The funnier one is Paul who rear-ejects in his sleep right onto John’s abdomen.  He is so embarrassed that he puts it behind John’s rear and then sleeps near the other two.  John is pissed.  But sadly, John dacts after 8 days without a rear-ejection.

22. This clip is from a home cooking video from Timmy and Tommy Kamanski.  They BBQ everything: they never heat without fire.  Except this time they are going rogue because they are going to crock pot a cure to soften it for eventual BBQ.  We already know that cures taste terrible, but maybe with some BBQ work they’ll be edible.

23. Schrödinger’s Curio is another home video from Robbie.  This time he is filming his popsicle’d cures as an extra credit project for Dr. Martin.  I was amused that, like in Triple J’s paper, much of the video is taken up with Robbie addressing his teacher–this time apologizing for bad behavior in class.

When he gets to the “academic” part, he is demonstrating the Observer Effect.  He and his frat brother Micky McMichaels have their cures painsinging.  He postulates that all cures will appear to be happy when they see someone watching them.  But the ones that belong to Robbie will attempt it more intensely.  The ones that belong to Mickey Double-M tried less hard and the ones that did not belong to either tries the least hard to look happy.  This earned him some extra credit and an overload session.

25. The final Yachts Joint is called Charity Party III: Tree of Charity.  The Yachts have tied up and made painsing a bunch of curios all over a playground.  [I assume this is what they were planning to do when they met up with Belt that day?].  A large group of grade school children run onto the playground.  The Yachts tells the kids that this is their last day of school present.  All they have to do is repeat: “This Charity Party comes compliments of the Yachts.”  They happily do and the next 10 minutes are slow-motion footage of the kids overloading to tune of Bach’s “Toccata an Fugue in F Minor.”

26. And Now, For What you Thought was The Second Time Ever is not from 20/20, it is from 60 Minutes.  This clip is of security footage from Kim’s Liquor Food.  The convenience store owner argues with a man about what he is going to pay for his New Coke and his Chick-o-Sticks.  He offers a cure, which the owner seems willing accept.  Then guys beat up the first guy and kill the cure.  The first man is devastated.

27. The final clip is from the University of Chicago Graham&Swords Study dated January 23 & January 30, 1988.

This clip is immediately familiar.  It is the camera-eye version of the earlier scenes with Belt and Lisette. The first scene is of the two of them playing footsie.   The second one is when Belt tells Lisette that his mother is dying.  He punches James who says “It’s okay, I knew you were a hitter.”

But the new information is from 47 minutes after Belt has left.  James tries to comfort Lisette by letting her pet Zappy, his cure.  Then he tells her he loves her.  She is angry with him but then an offscreen voice who we would recognize as Bertrand says, “Wipe the oozey jizz from your pinkeyes, Dicksuck!  She’s in love with Suspendersed.  Everyone knows it.”

James tells Zappy he is almost as cute as Lisette.  He strokes it harder until it starts to painsing. Lisette gets upset saying she doesn’t think it likes that.  Why would you do that? Please stop!

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I found this section really hard to read sometimes.  Despite Triple-J’s assertion that cures are just robots, the detail of viscera and painsong was really hard to read in such detail.  And yet this section did give a lot of interesting insights.

Insights into characters and scenes we had only heard about.  Also into the origins of spidge.

It also shows that people of all ages are overloading–so it’s not regulated in any way.  And in the one scene when the boy tells his sister its only a robot, he thinks she is upset because the robot is killed–but she isn’t.  Children are inured to it, even though initially people were not.

Of course, the greatest revelation is the final scene with Lisette.  Is there any way that Triple-J knows that that was Belt?  Did he show him this on purpose?  Also, if Lisette was against harming cures then, is she still?  I had the idea that maybe she was the girl who could also talk to inans because of it.  But that seems unlikely since she couldn’t back then (unless she could but didn’t admit it?  That whole business about female objects?)

Either way, with about 300 pages left in the book, a lot can still happen.  But I really liked the way these disparate ideas seem to be circulating and crossing back on each other.

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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 The Banana Splits with “Tra La La (One Banana, Two Banana).

Sometimes One Looks Like The Other, Bad Taste and Stupidity

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?

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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 The Fun and Games with “Elephant Candy.”

Douglas Coupland and Botimals

As I’m reading Bubblegum, I am also reading Kitten Clone by Douglas Coupland.

It’s a non-fiction account of him visiting the Alcatel-Lucent plants in New Jersey, France and China.

Over 150 odd pages he makes observations about technology and how it will impact us in the future, etc.  He also throws in some speculative fictional ideas.

It’s an enjoyable book, in part because he wrote it in 2014, so it’s kind of dated, but not as much as you might think.

Anyhow, at the end, he creates this future scenario

The year is 2245.  Your name is Saager, and you’re just getting back to work after a snack break. … You visit your son, who works for the same company, except in the Kerguelen Islands in the middle of the Antarctic ocean.  Well, technically he’s not your son–he’s your clone, and one of many, as you carry around a mutant gene that made you unreceptive to a strain of influenza K that swept through the world thirty years previously. The overlords decided to make your DNA go wide.

So you call your clone son.  he says

“I just had my work break and it was great.  Number seventeen and I re-chipped the canteen’s sucrose dispenser, and tricked it into cranking out zygotes.  I made thirty-seven great-grandchildren, but then the bell rang and here I am, back to work.”
“What did you do with the zygotes?”
“I ate them.”

I’m not sure why he ate them, there’s no reason given.  But I put that in here as prep for the end of the story.

The father says he found feline DNA from the archives.  It’s maybe three hundred years old. The son sequences it and attempts to rebuild it (it takes 30 seconds).

The father watches the son remove a small fluffy kitten from the tank. It’s wet but healthy.  The father asks him what it looks like.

“It’s very–what’s the word… cute.  Yes.  I think it’s what people used to call ‘cute.'”
You look at the kitten.  It’s a… well, it’s a kitten.  Just like in the Grand Archive images.
“What do I do with it now, Dad?”
“What do you mean, what do you do with it?  … I don’t know.  Make it a pet?”
“People haven’t had pets in over a hundred years.”
“Can you give it as a birthday present?”
“The Kerguelen Islands are a No Small Mammal Zone.”
“Well then…”
“Holy crap!  My boss is coming this way!  What do I do with the kitten?”
“You better eat it.  Hurry!”
“Good idea”
You watch your son eat the kitten in four quick bites.  A chip off the old block.

Coincidence overload.

Not exactly the same idea I realize, but come on.
 

Lacing up my rhinestoned shirt in Vegas or: Finking wrecks fun

Part Two of the book is called “The Hope of Rusting Swingsets”

So if you thought the swing set murders were not going to be revisited, you’d have been wrong.

Part 2 Section 1 is called “Look at Your Mother.”  It concerns Stevie Strumm.

Belt has had a crush on Stevie for a while.  She’s the only girl that he can comfortably talk to.  Stevie had once given him a mixtape because he liked her Cramps shirt.  Stevie, the second youngest Strumm, invited Belt over to destroy their rusted swingset (number ten in his murderous spree).  She was babysitting her younger sister while the rest of her family was at a G N’ R show.

The end of the second paragraph promises two events that we haven’t seen and may or may not.  He has a vertiginous feeling that he will feel “while dressing at the foot of Grete the grad student’s bed and after reading No Please Don’t‘s first review.”

This swingset murder attracts a large crowd, but is notable for the conversation he has with the swingset.  The swingset is grateful that Belt came along.  Nobody swings on it anymore, it’s swing is wrapped around the crossbeam.  It’s just rusting.  The swingset is really down on itself ||I know I’m repellent|| and Belt tries his best to comfort it saying he wants to swing on it one last time.

This event is also significant for a few other things.  Jonboat’s driver Burroughs introduces himself for the first time (Jonboat wishes Belt to “break a leg”).  Belt is doing this for Stevie, but is aware that she is not watching and then see that she gets a hickie from Jonbaot in his limo.

And the cops arrive.

A bunch of the kids are at the station and they try to figure out who called the cops.  Blackie is a suspect (he wasn’t there).  Rhino Riggings suggests it was Jonboat (he has a phone in the limo).  But the fink was Sally-Jay Strumm, Stevie’s eight-year old sister. She gives no reason but Belt has some ideas.  She was brought to the station by her grandfather (a biker with hair dyed blacker than his leathers).  The grandfather tells Sally-Jay that “Finking wrecks fun and Finking makes trouble.”

Grandpa has a teardrop tattoo and when he sees Stevie’s hickie he assumed it is police brutality and he stars a brawl.

When Belt’s mother comes to pick him up she is mostly concerned that he wasn’t drinking or taking drugs. She can’t believe he was at a party where people were doing that.

Eventually she asks why he did what he did to the swingset and the story shapes up that Stevie asked him to do it and his mom is happy he likes a girl (even if she throws parties where kids get drunk).

One thing that fascinates me is that the flashbacks are set in 1987.  That’s the year I graduated high school.  All of the flashbacks are part of my childhood memory, so I can relate almost 100%.  But when I think back.  If hypothetically this book was written in 1987 and the flashbacks were set in 1957, those flashbacks would be like the dark ages to me.  So if you are reading this in high school now, 1987 wasn’t really that long ago. It was just a world without the internet–just like Belt’s world.

I hated family sitcoms–so I played the troubled teen who refused to be pacified… You either aimed for Ferris Beuller [Ferris Beuller’s Day Off] or Dallas Winston [The Outsiders]–which on its own was bad enough–but in the first case you’d end up coming off like Ricky Stratton [Silver Spoons], maybe even Mike Seaver [Family Ties], and in the second case Cockroach [The Cosby Show?] or Boner Stabone [Growing Pains].  By You I mean I.  At least for awhile.

My favorite evidence of a different world than ours comes in this hilarious section where Belt is thinking about what a Botimal could actually be.  He hasn’t seen one yet, but could you imagine:

A pet that was somehow cuter than a mogwai?  One that smelled like candy, spoke and sang, and hatched from an egg you wore on your wrist.  A pet of that description that was also a robot?  It sounded about as real as genies.  As ray-guns, light sabers, X-ray glasses. As pocket-size, voice commendable Game Boys that doubled as camcorders , tripled as calculators, and made long-distance telephone calls.

Fantastic.

Part 2, Section 2 is “Eleventh”

It begins with Belt watching Grandpa Reinhardt Alfons Grandpa Strumm making a statement to the media about the pigs.  Then Rory Riley calling him to say he’s a star.  Even Wheelatine High School’s own Milo Sorkin called him!  They all wanted to know when the next swingset murder would be.  But Belt decided not to do any more at least publicly.

Belt wanted to give Stevie a note in school the next day but she wasn’t there.  People speculated why she wasn’t in school.  But it was also revealed that Grandpa fell off a barstool and died last night.

Blackie and “his aspiring toady, schoolwide chess champ Harold Euwenus mocked Belt:  “Why the long face, fuck-ass… Sad about pawpaw.”  When Euwenus jokes that her family probably does call him pawpaw because “they’re total white trash,” Blackie says “My family says pawpaw.”  And give his toadie what for.

But Stevie isn’t sad about her grandpa dying.  “He’s a terrible person.  He beat on my dad.”  He is a Nazi.  in a white supremacist gang called the “Aryan Fuckers.”   But guess who is a Jew?  Stevie’s mom.

Stevie has seen Belt reading Cat’s Cradle, so she was reading Slaughterhouse-Five, “The only non-board book I’ve read twice.”

There’s a fascinatingly thoughtful section about young love.

Belt says he thinks he’s in love with Stevie and she says she knows.  He’s the only boy she ever has real conversations with.  It’s a big deal that he tried to understand her.  She wishes she wanted to kiss him.

I’ll want to one day, I know that much, but it won’t be til you’re twenty, maybe even twenty-five, because that’s the kind of face you have, the kind I’ll like when you’re a man.  Not just me, either. Lots of girls.  Which is exactly what sucks.  For me, it sucks, I mean.  Because the reason you’re into me is I have a certain style and I’m confident about it.  Once your face becomes the kind I’ll want to kiss, though, you’ll know a lot of confident styley girls to talk to.  I’ll be old news.  I’ll be just the same as I am right now, and maybe worse.

This sounds like an insight from experience.

The next swingeset murder was a solitary affair. It was at the Temple house. Their tragic story was a local favorite.

Simon Temple won the state lottery–not the whole pot but enough to buy a BMW and make some household improvements. They had put in a new driveway and garage and just needed to remove the old driveway and carport.  Then Simon and his children Tommy and Jessa died in a car crash. The car was driven by Simon’s wife Clare and she survived.  She was only driving because she had been an alcoholic but sobered up with Simon’s lottery win.  They were at wedding that night and Simon got drunk so Clare drove home and fell asleep at the wheel.  She didn’t go out much.

The carport was still there and their swingset was under  it.  It wasn’t hard to guess the swingset wasn’t happy.  Although this swingset was not rusted, because it was under the carport.  It just had no hope of very being used again.  The swingset has a lengthy conversation with Belt.

It is delusional and believes that it is hallucinating everything, including belt [it’s remarkably sad].

Belt went into the garage across the street and borrowed a long-handled spade.

Belt proceeds to murder the swingset. But when he pauses mid way through, the swingset has second thoughts.  What if it can be repurposed.  Maybe it doesn’t want to die.  Belt tries to reassure the swingset that this is the best recourse, especially now that it is damaged.  The last blow didn’t feel so right after all. “It felt like defeat. Or maybe more like a victory I’d rather not have won.”

Then the spade says he ruined its existence.  During the murder, Belt broke the spade’s handle.  It now has no reason to exist.  Belt decides to murder the spade to make it completely dead rather than just broken. He’s about to slam it on the driveway to bend it, when the owner of the spade comes home.  Her name is Ms Clybourn.  She called Belt’s mom, not the cops, and proves to be very sympathetic to Belt.  She gives him Crystal Light and talks nicely to him: “pleasant accents were contagious.”

He talks about Stevie and she commiserates about being alone.  says she is too pretty to be alone.  She is flattered by him and apologizes for calling his mom–she doesn’t want him to get in trouble.  After he describes the murders, she suggests he has anger issues and that’s what Belt runs with.  He even tells his mother he thinks it’s anger issues because of Stevie.  His mother did not like Ms. Clybourn, calling her a drunk.

They get home and Belt’s father is especially awful.  I could quote the whole thing at length, but I’ll truncate to my favorite parts

Belt’s father says he’s acting crazy.  But there’s crazy crazy and there’s acceptable crazy.   Destroying a swingset is the bad kind.  Belt asks what kind of crazy is okay.

The kind that doesn’t last and makes sense… Like for instance, what?  Maybe this Stevie likes another boy instead of you?  So maybe you–and I’m not saying this is what you should do, but just a for-instance of something that’s the better kind of crazy–maybe you kick his fucken ass a little but.  Like in front of her.  To show her, and him–
“Stop it,” said my mom.
“I’m not trying to say he should kick this kid’s ass….  I’m telling him that hitting people makes more sense than hitting a swingset.  Or a driveway or stealing a shovel. … And don’t get me wrong I’m, not talking about terrorism. I’m not talking about bullying.  I’m talking about the targeted hitting of people who deserve it or who seem to deserve it even though you shouldn’t in the end, actually hit them, probably.  I mean, unless they seem like they’re gonna hit you, or a girl.  And if if that was what you were wishing you were doing when you were hitting that swingset or hitting that driveway–I want you to say so because that would make a lot more sense to me, and then, you know, maybe my fatherly duty is more like I have to teach you how to not be sacred to fight instead of figure out who the best kid-shrink for crazy anger problems is.  The most important thing, though–and honey, please stop shaking your head, let me finish, he has to hear this–the important things is that when you were hitting that driveway and hitting that swingset, the important thing is you weren’t wishing you were hitting this girl, this Stevie.  You don’t hit girls is the important thing, got it?  You don’t even picture it.  You picture hitting somebody, you picture a guy, okay?  And if you’re so angry that you have to hit someone, you better make sure that someone’s a guy or guess what? I’ll hitting you. … And you will deserve it, Billy. Guys like that–guys who hit girls–those are the worst kind of guys there are. Even wore than guys who kick dogs okay?  The only guys who deserve getting hit worse than the one who hit girls are the ones who rape kids, which I don’t even want to get into that with you, into thinking about that.  But am I wrong, baby?  Don’t tel me I’m wrong.”
“You’re sending him the wrong message he’s a coward….  What he should have been doing is talking to us or crying, Clyde.  Crying to us”
“Well I don;t know if that’s true…. Crying about a girl you your parents is–well it’s embarrassing.”

After this huge fight Belt’s mother starts pummeling inans–plates, beer steins.

The section ends with Murder #3.  It was at the house of Regis Piper. When he saw the murdered swingset, he thought nothing of it.  His wife had read about cults, but he didn’t think that was it.  But after grandpa and the Nazi connection came out, Piper went to the cops.  Suddenly Belt was a suspect.  Belt’s dad talked to a cop named Platzik to try to keep Belt out of trouble.  But Platzik had a brother at the Herald and his nephew was Euwenus who’d been a the murder and suddenly its was all over the Herald.

Part 2, Section 3 “Friends” provides a backstory I didn’t necessarily think we were going to get.  And wow does it fill in a lot.  We even get the origin of Belt’s name: Belt Alton Magnet (although no origin for the Alton yet).

Back to 1987.  Basically Belt’s mom sees an ad on the subway (after her car got its second flat tire in as many days) for a study introducing therapy animals to children with psychotic disorders.

This is where he met Dr Calgary Tilly and Dr. Lionel Manx and how he got Blank.

In introducing Belt, Belt’s mother explains that he was named after her Uncle Belt.  Well, Uncle Gunther was his name” but no one much liked that–how could they?”  Gunther’s older brother was bullying him at a bus stop–was making him sing the Happy Birthday song over and over at the top of his lungs

and a young black woman, who my father always swore was Billie Holiday, though no one ever believed him, she approached the two boys and said to my father, “you’re picking on him now, but just you wait.  He’s gonna be a star.  Little kid’s got pipes.  Boy can belt.”  And after that Uncle Gunther was Belt.

He never sang though, because he had stage fright.  But when he got to high school, kids thought he was called Belt because he liked to hit people. So kids picked on him and he actually got good at fighting.  He took up boxing and lost his stage fright.  So then he joined a band.  But in his next fight his hearing was damaged which wrecked his voice.

Belt was her favorite Uncle and everyone liked him so Belt’s dad (even though he wasn’t crazy about the name), let her call him Belt (which even his dad agreed was better than Gunther).

Manx asks him about destroying swingsets.  The doctor asks why he calls them murders and he says the newspapers called it that.  It sounds cooler than “the swingset mercies of the swingset help-outs.”

Belt says he is trying to help them.  Belt says he would repair them if he could but he’s terrible with his hands.  Plus eh couldn’t promise to save all of the swingsets.  He makes an analogy of giving money to a homeless person.  That basically you’re giving them money to drink or buy drugs so it’s not really helping them.  If you want to help, you should give them a home.

Belt is approved for the study.  Manx shows him a series of pets which he says he does not want: puppy, turtle, parrot, snake.  He is very interested in the sugar gliders, but then Manx tries to sell him on these new items, called Botimals.  Manx has no visuals, just a sales pitch. It’s hard to sell a thing that no one has heard of over and adorable sugar glider, but he says they are cuter than Gremlins.  This gets Belt (and Belts mom) excited about the idea.  So he lets Belt try out the Botimal for a week.

There’s a kind of throwaway section that caught my attention and I wondered if it was a hint that will lead to something ulterior.

Graham&Swords sponsored this study.  Manx isn’t sure why.  Belt’s mom asks if Graham&Swords are the “we do dishes right” brand.  Manx says that indeed it is.  But home appliances barely account for a tenth of their business.  The majority of their profits actually comes from armaments, though soon I bet it’ll come from Botimals.

Is there going to be some kind of military component to the Botimals?

So Belt has the unhatched Blank in his room.

There’s an example of an inan expressing happiness toward Belt.  His swivel chair thanked him for when he occasionally rolled around the room ||Generally speaking, we are vastly underutilized as modes of short-range transport.||

Belt has been stealing Quills from his parents ever since his mom yelled at him for asking for one.  He always knew he wanted to smoke.  But much of the reason was because he wanted to be a writer and knew his life up until now wouldn’t provide much material.  Whereas staring to smoke, “a thing that impressed me as a sign of character” could supply him with a moment worth writing about.

Then he started smoking with Stevie behind the dumpsters.  He brought Quills and his Botimal to school. He showed her the egg, but when she asked if she could hold it, he came up with a genius excuse  He told her it was a an Indian agate–like a mood ring.  There was oil or gas inside and he couldn’t let anyone else touch because his skin caused it to from shapes symbolic of his spirit or something.  She thought it was bullshit but let it slide.

When Blank finally hatches, it emitted a sequence of schwas:  “ǝ ǝ,” it said.  He blew on it; it sneezed and got its name.

The next morning his father fed Kerblankey a diced onion dusted in cayenne.  Belt can’t determine his motivation, but Clyde is pretty much a dick.  Blank strangled, thrashed and panicked until Belt taught him to spit.

His father apologized.  Then he said the way it was singing he was having an “over-kissy grammy moment.  I just want to squeeze it.  Eat it right up.”

During this section Belt’s mom tells him that she always anthropomorphized animals-in a way that she felt was unhealthy.  She connects this to his inans.  She says she understands how hard it will be to resist them, but she asks him to promise to never hurt an inanimate object again.

Belt brought Blank to school the next day to show Stevie.  She finds it adorable, but is nervous because she just wants to squeeze it.  Belt doesn’t feel that way.

Then Rory Riley and Jonboat happen upon them.  Stevie thought that Belt and Jonboat could be friends.  But the boys walk in on them looking at Blank and they get really handsy.  Belt punches Rory.  Jonboat is cool about it though and calms everyone down.  Belt tells everyone it’s a it’s a sugar glider.

From then on, kids didn’t bother him, they were respectfully distant.  Perhaps it was because

I was (or at least had been) all messed up  Troubled.  Off.  Lacing up my rhinestoned shirt in Vegas.

I have never heard this expression before.  It’s vivid and wonderful, but so puzzling.  I looked up the phrase online and found literally one entry.  It is for a memorial service.

Wear any bling you have and any bright colored scarves or hats. If you bought a boa or a rhinestone shirt in Vegas or New Orleans, please wear it because my mother would have appreciated it.

It doesn’t help, but it is fascinating.

Part 2, Section 4 is “Applied Behavioral Science.”  This final section for the week is all about Belt’s group study program. Essentially, if he goes through with this study for sixteen weeks, they will give him the animal and pay for his therapy.  Belt says that he felt that Graham&Swords were pretty great to him because he dropped out early but they let him keep Blank and paid for his therapy anyway.

There’s a grad student named Abed (which makes me think of Community).  We see the questionnaires that belt [B.A.M.] was supposed fill out before and after each session.  Mostly the children have group activities where they interact and are observed.  He says most of the kids weren’t really noteworthy, Belt described them playing truth or dare.  Most of the kids took truth and deadpanned answers to “personal” questions.  But the dares hey gave were either impossible “jump out the window and fly” or like this: “Fart really loud while running in place like you’re running from the fart you did and shout how you love it.”

But he did meet three notable children.

James is a boy with a ferret called Screwball. This boy has a lazy eye is very concerned with whether he thinks people are a retard or if they think he is a retard.  He says he’s a hugger, but he notes, “If you have to be a hugger you have to ask permission.”

James is a font of inappropriate language.  I often marvel a the words that Levin conjures.

“That’s how its supposed to be. Poontangy haze, better lays and later days, Belt!”
“James please,” said his mom.
“Pleasey von Sleazy and a bottle of redrum.”

But James has got nothing on Bertrand who greets Belt thusly:

Five in a night makes a happy and healthy twenty-fucken-eight, you cocksucking, cockfucking son of a cunt.”

Belt says Bertrand is Sergeant Harmanesque (the yelling sergeant from Full Metal Jacket).

Bertrand calls Belt “Suspendersed”(which is hilarious) and then introduces him to his gecko Mikeylikey.

This is also where he meets Lisette.

Technically, he first met her on his way to meet the doctors.  They walked towards each other in the hallway and the girl slammed into him and said “Excuse me, excuse me.”  Her mom apologized by Belt thought it was funny.

Lisette was assigned to his group.  She refused to bring her pet (she was the sole non-compliant female).  He was intrigued but intimidated by her.  He believed that he was still mourning Stevie and didn’t want to switch his focus too soon, as if it invalidated his feelings.  So he tried to avoid her.  Until she started playing footsie (aggressive footsie) with him, repeating the excuse me joke.  She makes up an elaborate story about how she got scars saving a bunny from afire.  The story seemed fake because first there were two and then there were three but it was all a test to see how Belt would react to her lies.

I don’t know how much these other children will play into the next section.  I assume we’ll learn why belt left the study, but the preponderance of children with “problems” is certainly an obvious component to the story.

Lisette talks with him about the inans.  She has some intriguing ideas.  She asks if all the voices are male.  They are.  Why?  He doesn’t know.  She asks him to talk to her glove and he says that clothes never really talk to him.  He posits that are shy, but Lisette counters that maybe they are girls and girls don’t talk to him.  Indeed, maybe most things are girls and that’s why you only wind up talking to some things.

He repeats what his father said about maybes:

“Maybe’s a shrug. A shrug and a dodge.  Maybe’s the sound second thoughts make.”
“That’s the single saddest thing I’ve heard this year.  What a disappointment.  You sound like somebody’s dumbfuck father.”

Perhaps the Inans stem from his inability to talk to girls?

As the section ends, Manx gives Belt a prototype Cure Sleeve (the one he still has).  Manx really seems to have taken to Belt or there is something about Belt that makes him think he is perfect for a Botimal.

Abed also gives the news that his mother collapsed and is in the hospital.

Abed makes a hilariously inappropriate and botched attempt at referencing Bugs Bunny.

Evidently Belt’s mother was trying to downplay how serious it was that she had fallen down.  Abed found her on the ground and

She widened her eyes, looking deeply into mine, and plainly stated, “Ah-buh-dee-ah-buh-dee-ah-buh-dee, that is all there is folks.”
“Like Porky Pig?” I said. It didn’t sound like her.  Or Porky Pig.
“No!” Abed said.  “I have made a mistake.  That was my response to her joke.  What she said was, “It appeared as though I made an incorrect turn at Albuquerque, New Mexico.”

Abed seems to downplay the seriousness, but when belt’s grandma arrives she says it is indeed serious and that’s why she’s there.

She clearly has no tolerance for any of this psychology mumbo jumbo.   She say that Belt’s father had imaginary friends too.

He would try to introduce me.  Did I pretend that I saw them?  I did not pretend I saw them.  I did not pretend to believe he saw them.  And guess what happened.  He stopped pretending to see them.

Maybe that’s why he’s mean to her over the phone.

I really didn’t expect much backstory in this novel for some reason.  It seemed like it would be all forward-looking.  I’m very curious now how much more we’ll see of 1987.  And if we’ll meet Grete the grad student.

 ♦
♦          ♦

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 Ohio Express with “Chewy Chewy.”.

Facts are Subjective Anyway

[Rats, I thought I had published this one Tuesday, but I see that I had accidentally scheduled it for next Tuesday].

I wasn’t planning on focusing on names again this week, but there are a few things that came up that put names back on my radar.  The first of which was the fact that he mentions Adam Levin, author of the novel The Instructions, as a person who smoked as much as he does.  But speaking of this, there is a lot of fiction within fiction revealed here.  So these were two interesting ideas.

In fact though, this was a tough section to write about because a lot happened.  With more action, there seemed to be less to ponder because so much moved things forward.  Not a lot happened in the first week, but comparatively, this was action galore.

Chapter 1, Section 4 “All-Encompassing and Tyrannical”

As this part opens, Belt muses about Lotta’s conspicuous generosity.  As with many other things in this story so far, Belt is super analytical.  He decides that her generosity had to mean something.  But what.

  • What she too spidged to realize she’d given so much money?
  • Was it a communication of some kind?  But what?
  • Was she hinting that she loved him?
  • If she did, it was not mutual but he didn’t want to offend her.  So how should he proceed with the loan?  Anything he did might offend her, which he didn’t want to do.

He “knew a stalemate of hypotheticals when [he] saw one.”

The question of if he should spend the money is mooted when his father returns early.

His father tells a lengthy story about why he left the fishing trip.  He’d gotten a fight with his friends who claimed that Belt was a puker.  Belt did once puke  on a fishing trip.  Clyde’s friend Rick’s son Jim pretty much butchered a fish trying to take the hook out and belt threw up.  Rick said they call Belt “the Duke of Puke.” So Clyde got into a fight with his best friend.  He also realized he’d forgotten to leave Belt money so he came home early.

Clyde is a prickly dude to be sure.  Here’s a couple of example of Clyde’s behavior to his son.

He asked if it was I who’d left the water on the kitchen table, and, if so then why had I left the water on the kitchen table, but before I could answer either question, he’d already begun to sarcastically offer a number of reasons why someone who has just celebrated his thirty-eighth birthday might feel entitled to leave water on a table instead of feeling obligated to spill it in a sink and wash its container or, at the very least, rinse its container. He didn’t say container, but he didn’t only say tumbler.  He named a large assortment of containers–glass, cup, mug, tankard, stein, grail, chalice, etc.–as if he felt that uttering a exhaustive list of names of containers from which one might drink was necessary to bringing his point across with clarity.
When at least he finished speaking, I told him I wasn’t yet finished with the water.
“So finish it,” he said.

We also learn that Clyde had not only purchased one of the “Jonboat Say” T-shirts, he mounted it in a glass frame (and assumed that it bugged Belt.  It did, but doesn’t any longer.

Chapter 1, Section 5 “On the Chin” also has a lot of “action.”

Belt talks to a few inans and it’s interesting to learn that the inans have opinions about each other.

The slide is a whiner and mocks Belt for having to talk to the inans out loud rather than in his head.  The slide encourages him to try to talk in his head, but it’s so muffled the slide rips him apart.

He leaves the slide and when his feet hit the ground, the SafeSurf spoke up.  The SafeSurf is empathetic. and here we get some more incorrect names.  The SafeSurf initially calls him Blight Magnificat.  ||I knew Magnificat sounded off||.  SafeSurf also reveals how much he dislikes the slide because the slide has been calling him |not pebbles| because it replaced pebbles, I guess. But even that’s insulting because SafeSurf didn’t replace pebbles it replaced woodchips which replaced the pebbles.

Then comes the frankly astonishing information that there is a girl, unnamed of course, who can also speak to inans.  Belt has known about this girl for some twenty years and had been looking for her.  But how do you find someone who is talking to inanimate objects?  Especially if she is talking to them in her head.  The inans can’t tell people apart aside from gender, so they’re no help.

Then we hear that ten years ago she had killed herself with pills in the bathtub (news travels slowly among inans but it does travel).  But now the SafeSurf tells him there is a new girl who an talk to inans and it has encountered her.

Then comes some real drama and real action.

Five fourteen year old boys all wearing identical baseball hats embroidered with “yachts” approach.  Their names are on the brims: LYLE, BRYCE, CHAZ, CHAZ JR.  There was a fifth who was further back and called Triple-J (or Trip).  Belt had let Blank out and the boys spotted it immediately The boys think Blank is adorable and want to buy it.  The fifth boy is ignoring them as he is doing something by the slide.

Belt gets tense about the boys closing in on him and he lashes out at them.  Triple-J comes over and subdues him but jumping on his kidneys.  But in a remarkably restrained manner.  He even makes sure that Belt is okay.  But belt has figured out who this boy is.  When Triple-J said “Dicksneeze,” Belt knew that it was Jonboat’s son.

After the beating Belt passed out.  When he wakes up he find a cure taped to the slide–Triple-J had taped him there with Band-Aids.

Belt brought the cure home and wanted to save it.  He doesn’t want to dact on the cure because he wants to remain innocent of that experience.  He assumes that the cure has bonded with Triple-J, so he knows he will need the Independence

He thinks of Chad-Kyle because of his Bic lighter. The sound it makes is claimed to be a flick but it is duosyllabic and it sounds a lot like CHAD-kyle.

Chapter 1, Section 6 is called “Toe”

The cure that belt brought home died over night (Belt tried to save it but wound up killing it instead).  The cure had been in the process of laying a reproductive pearl.

Belt is actually burying the dead cure in the backyard when his father sees him.

It begins with a possibly touching moment between Belt and Clyde.  Clyde got a cure from the cuddlefarmer at the brothel the night before with the intent of then both dacting on it together–a bonding experience.  But it was so cute that Clyde couldn’t get it to his mouth fast enough.

When Clyde sees him burying a cure, he assumes they both self-dacted which makes them even.

But then there’s more of Clyde’s prickliness.

Speaking of forgot, I hope you’re better at remembering which hook you took that spade from than you are at remembering to lock the shed door.
I had locked the shed door.  “It’s locked,” I said.
“Sure,” said my father, “I can see it’s locked now, but it wasn’t while you did whatever you were doing with my spade over there for however long you did it.”
“No one would’ve broken in while I was standing in sight of it.”
I didn’t say they would.  I’m talking about habits. The more often you fail to lock the shed when you leave it, the more likely you are to forget to lock the shed.”
“Maybe,” I said.
Trust me,” he said.
“I trust you,” I said.
“Don’t get all autistic, I’m fucking with you Billy.  Lighten up.  Take it easy.

As Belt leaves the scene, Clyde says he’ll just dig up whatever Belt has buried (which Belt said was a 25 year-old cure).

Belt goes to the bank to return Lotta’s money and to talk to Chad-Kyle about Independence.

He has an awesome conversation with Gus about handkerchiefs and how the demise of the handkerchief is essentially responsible for the death of romance and the rise of child beating (its pretty spectacular).

Gus is an interesting character and Belt likes him.  He even says “I really like your name.  It’s an old-timey name.  A tough kind of name, but not like a bully.  Just straight up tough.

When Belt reveals that his father is Clyde Franklin Magnet, Gus knows him–he was Clyde’s supervisor (before he retired or, you know, was fired).

Later Gus says to Belt, “And so your name’s uh–its’ Cuff, right?”

Belt says he’ll give him an autographed copy of No Please Don’t.  And soon enough Belt’s book will come into prominence in the story.

But first he goes to talk to Chad-Kyle who is trying to get his Independence cure (and two others) to do a (violent) trick which he thinks will get him on the marketing plan for Independence.

Chad-Kyle goes on a long, hilariously inaccurate, diversion about the inventor of dynamite.  “I can’t remember his name” [Aflred Nobel].  Nobel created it to blow up mountains but then someone realized it could be used as a weapon in WWI against the Nazis.  That’s when he had his Topeka moment.  When Belt says he doesn’t think that’s right, Chad-Kyle says, “facts are subjective anyway.”

Finally Lotta Hogg drags Belt away (No worries, Beltareeno) and says she wants to take Belt to lunch.  She says she hates the idea of killing cures–and this makes him think twice about her.  He calls CK a “wang scab” but she says he’s not that bad.  She is playing Berlin’s “Take My Breath Away,” the first music mentioned in the book, I believe.

They go to Arcades Brothel.  They recently started serving pizza (which Belt decides isn’t very good).  Lotta orders them a flight of slices (ha).  It turns out Lotta’s mother is the cutefarmer who sold Clyde the cure last night.

Belt goes into the bathroom trying to decides if he could actually like or even love someone like Lotta.  When he returns he sees that she has a cures toe in her cleavage.  (His mind comes up with some repulsive alternatives before realizing what it actually is).

She tries to get him to eat one, “PWEESE? Aw we want is Cwoseness.”  But Belt will have none of it.

Chapter 1, Section 7 “What the Gold Should Have Done”

The final section of the chapter features Triple-J at the Magnet house.  It also features a lot of detail about No Please Don’t.

Belt says there are three vaguely autobiographical moments in the novel.  Although he won’t spoil the novel by revealing anything more than that Gil Benjamin MacCabby is mourning the loss of his beloved Bam Naka action figure and the chipmunk episode resonates for him in a way it really didn’t for Belt.  (I’m not detailing the chipmunk episode).

When Belt gets home, Triple-J greets him with a quote from the book, “What should gold have done.”

Triple-J says he loves No Please Don’t.  It’s the first book he ever loved and he has read it many times.

Jonboat’s former driver is now driving around Triple-J.  His name is Burroughs.  Belt tells Burroughs to call him “Belt,” but his father says “Call him Billy.”

Clyde and Burroughs get into a tough guy conflict that leads to nothing.  Eventually, Triple-J (Burroughs calls him Trip) invites Belt and his father to “the compound.”

Before they leave, Burroughs takes Belt aside and says that Jonboat was convinced that Belt modeled Bam Naka after him.  He was quite upset about it but has since gotten over it.  Belt assures him that Jonboat is tangentially involved in the narrator if at all.

Triple-J asks if Belt will watch his movie  A Fistful of Fists, and read his two papers “On Private Viewing,” and “Living Isn’t Functioning.”

But despite how much Belt would like to engage with Trip’s media, he decided to reread Chapter 9 (the end of part 1–this is also the end of part 1) of No Please Don’t, the first time he’s read it since he wrote it.

Gil MacCabe is 9 years old.  He was given a ring by his father and he suspects it is not real gold.  Like any good watcher of cartoons, he decides to test the realness of the gold by biting it, as any good cartoon prospector would do.  of course he [like me] doesn’t know what the biting is supposed to prove.

He winds up ruining the ring, but doesn’t know what it even means.

Of all the nugget-biters in the Westerns Gil’s seen…not one of them ever even once explains just what the nugget did or didn’t do between his teeth to assuage his suspicions of its being fools’ gold or confirm his hopes of its being real gold.

This leads to Gil remembering back when he was 3 or 4 years old.  Gil thought about how on shows glass would break.  So when his mother served him water in a glass instead of a sippy cup he wanted to know what kind of glass this was.  His mother doesn’t understand and says it’s just glass.  Glass is glass.

But Gil doesn’t believe his mom wasn’t horrible enough to give him dangerous glass.  So he bit the rim.

It hurt. He bled.  It was all her fault.

Triple-J related to this accusing line that it was all her fault, although Belt didn’t mean it the way Trip took it.

Gil was wrong that it was his mother’s fault.  He was just too young to know it.  But Trip must have made a psychological connection because of his own mother’s alcoholism and subsequent death in a car collision.  Darla Pellmore-Jason, née Field, may not have been an alcoholic when they were married, but she became one after Jon Jon left her for Fondajane Henry.  Presumably Trip felt that Belt also didn’t think very highly of mothers.

On the plus side, Belt takes Triple-J’s misunderstanding as a good sign.  When he was younger, Belt misunderstood J.D. Salinger (Catcher in the Rye and Franny and Zooey) and Kafka (“A Hunger Artist” this time) when he first read them.  Now he sees Trip’s misreading of his book as making him comparable to Salinger and Kafka.

He ends the section by referencing the section above “All Encompassing and Tyrannical” and the time he refused his father’s invitation to go see the Mustangs game and get ice cream.  he promises to mention other times when No Please Don’t was autobiographical in the next few sections.


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Language is so clearly very important to Levin.  You can see it in misunderstandings–as in No Please Don’t or in getting people’s names wrong.

But also in Levin’s use of exotic words.

He emphasizes the word taction (which the dictionary says is obsolete) as the unexpected word for the act of touching.  Belt says, “It seemed important to recall the word.”

And also in this phrasing after Belt gets beaten up: “I was, somewhat literarily, yards from where I’d lain when my father first taught me all he knew about suffering. [emphasis mine].

The use of literarily hearkens back not only to the meta-novel within a novel but also to Belt’s referencing The Instructions earlier in the section.


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Aside from Salinger and Kafka and The Instructions, there’s no other stories mentioned, I don’t think.

 

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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 Captain Groovy And His Bubblegum Army with the song of the same name.

A character by any other name.

As this book opens I couldn’t help but focus on names.  I have always been attuned to the names authors use.  When I used to attempt fiction, I could spend as much time trying to come up with the perfect meaningful name (see how the name comments on the action?) as with a story itself.   So when I see an author using especially peculiar names, my reading senses tingle.

This story is just full of unusual names.  And on several occasions names, or lack of names is significant.

Before starting on names though I have to chime in and say that “shut your piehole, cakeface” is hilarious.  And the whole argument about punctuation on T-shirts had me cracking up.

First of all, with a comma before “cakeface,” the shirt would have to be considered “officially punctuated” which would require a period be placed after “cakeface,” not to mention a colon, if not another comma, after “Jonboat Say,” and quotation marks around the catchphrase itself….  This, believed Jonboat, was more punctuation than a T-shirt could abide.

But back to names.

Part 1 Section 1 “Jonboat Say” starts off with the character named Jonboat.  I suspect most people have heard the nickname Jonboy, but I have personally never heard Jonboat before and I liked it immediately–weird and memorable.  There’s also his full name Jonny Pellmore-Jason and that his father is named Jon-Jon Jason.

It’s also interesting how the narrator introduces his family.  Since his family name [Magnet] is an everyday object that could be used as a descriptive word as well, introducing his family as “My family’s. We Magnets'” is certainly not the most direct way of providing information. My first thought was that it was metaphorical and that his family were the kind of people magnetically attracted to trouble.  This doesn’t even address his first name yet.  in fact, his first name won’t come for a long time.

The other prominent name in this section is Blackie Buxman.  This name doesn’t specifically signify anything to me at this point, but they all strike me as meaningful.  Most of the characters aren’t named common Anglo-Saxon names (well, okay, Jonny, but he is Jonboat).

So is “Blackie” a nickname like Jonboat or a given name?  There’s no way to know yet and maybe we never will as he doesn’t seem to be very important after the tetherball match.  I looked up the origin of Buxman and learned it’s the Americanized spelling of German Buchsmann, a topographic name from Middle High German buhs(boum) ‘box (tree)’ + man.  That doesn’t seem significant–although later he does punch the main character “in the asshole.”

Just after the first black dot triangle section break, there’s a geographically made up name: “Wheelatine Township” in the Chicagoland area.  Is the made up use of Wheelatine an indication that things are not real right from the start?  (I don’t know anything about Chicago, so if it’s a play on a region, it is lost on me).  Or is it just a simple narrative device to prevent people from fact-checking details?

Also, what the heck does Wheelatine mean?

Then there’s the main invented plot device, the “cures.”  The way these are introduced puzzles in the same way as “magnet”: “There I had my cure rustling around in its PillowNest.”  [shades of George Saunders with this naming convention].  This is deliberately confusing, there’s no question.  No capital, no italics, no capital C, there’s no indication that it is significant.  I had to read this sentence a few times just to see what I could possibly be missing.

Cure is short for Curio (which makes a lot of sense both as the real name and as an abbreviation).  It is a pet of sorts.  And he has named his Blank.  The Curio’s full name is Kablankey–named at his mother’s suggestion for the sound of its sneeze.  But ever since he’d “vented his temples” (?) he’d changed it to Blank, which was less childish but retained connections to his missing mother.

Curios had originally been called Botimals

By the way, “rear ejection” is what they call its waste.  Ha.

There are a whole bunch of names for things that happen to Curio owners. More words that have mundane meaning which are clearly used differently.  For instance, kids “go into overload” (which gets them on the news).  This is bad.

All of this in the first ten pages.

Then we finally get to the main character’s name.  Or what his name isn’t:

“Billy, listen–” said my father.
“That’s not my fucking name.”

Chapter 1 Section 2 is called “Two Hundred Some Quills”

I feel like I’ve heard the name Quills before for cigarettes, but the only thing a quick search provides is in a Stephen King story (which might be where I heard it).

As this section opens, our 38 year old narrator gets a birthday present from Clyde the Dad (his father is finally given a name).  Clyde is away (fishing with friends) and not-Billy is on his own.  Usually Clyde leaves money in the Marvin Hagler bust, be he has forgotten.

We also meet Grandmother Magnet who calls to wish him a happy birthday.  The narrator doesn’t feel like talking to her so he messes with her and she twists the Magnet/Jonboat piehole phrase to “Plug your dirty sheeny coinslot, ovensmear.”

Grandmother Magnet is full of racist name-calling, which is a shame because “ovensmear” is a wonderfully weird insult.

Not-Billy goes to the White Hen to by Quills from Pang, the owner (okay, sure) of the establishment.  Pang says that not-Billy is not creditworthy.  Instead Pang gives him a piece of Dubble Bubble (which not-Billy muses about and speculates could have been called bubbleychew). Speaking of gum, I’m glad Levin has settled the age-old debate that the plural of Bubblicious is Bubbliciousi.

Not-Billy returns home without his Quills only  to find “a check for $1,100 made out to my father.  My SSDI check.”  So he takes it to the bank.  Names are crucial at the bank as well.

The teller who helps him doesn’t have a nameplate up.  He is however, “wearing a pinstriped vest and decisive mustache … with a golden chain that disappeared inside the watchpocket.”  We soon learn his name is Chad-Kyle or C.K.

This fellow is just full of name brands:

“the most buzzed about line of Graham&Swords PlayChanger PerForumulae for Curios since 2008’s SloMo or perhaps even 1993’s BullyKing.”

He also passes out fliers at shows for DJ Crystal Worm.  And of course Crys-Dub’s style of sleazebeat was a revolution on the scale Wang Kar Pourquoi’s first forays into fuzzdub or even Murder-ers’ trademark-infringement days when they were still called Murderers Jr.  The fliers are for a party at Killer Queen Marmalade’s, sponsored by Que Padre Mezcal.

The teller is offering to give not-Billy an advance of the new Curio forumlae “Independence.”  He has already given it to his cure Tiddlywinks.  But when not-Billy says he doesn’t want to show off his Cure, the teller assumes that Blank is a hobunk.

Finally they get around to the transaction.  Not-Billy doesn’t have an ATM card.  When he shows C.K. his state ID, C.K says, “Now that is a name.”

Turns out the check is a problem because of names:

It’s my SSDI check. I’m the beneficiary.  My father’s my guardian, though, so it’s made out to him.

Outside of the bank we formally meet Lotta Hogg (a name that is hilarious, offensive and absurd but not out of the realm of believability).

Unless I missed it earlier, Lotta is the first person to say not-Billy’s full name: Belt Magnet.  She says it in full at least three times and addresses him by his first name many times during the conversation.  She even gives this name a series of nicknames: Beltenhauer, Magnetron, Beltinya Magnetovich [that one is inspired].

It turns out that Lotta and her friends (we finally have conventional names here: Kelly, Jenn and Ashley) were somewhat in awe of him back in 1987 [Belt was 12, Lotta was 9, give or take].  His actions caused them all to menstruate at the same time [?].

They talk about the return to town of Jonboat and his fiancee (?) named Fondajane. [There’s a lot to unpack with that].

As this conversation ends, Lotta wants to see his cure, but he tells her it is a hobunk and “could tear your friends to pieces.”

Chapter One Section 3 is called “About the Author.”
He tells us that he deliberately did not reveal his name at the beginning.  He didn’t want to write “My name is Belt Magnet, and sometimes I’m psychotic–at least that’s what they say.”

This section is a mostly a series of questions in interview format.

His psychotic symptoms manifest in being able to converse with inanimate objects or “inans.”  He needs to have his “gate” open to receive their messages (which are written in between vertical lines: ||Maybe that’s your own problem||.

The next question concerns Lotta Hogg and how she and her friends all had “the onset of puberty” at the same time because of what he did.  What he did has been named “the swingset murders.”  He essentially destroyed a series of swing sets with a bat, and they are continually referred to as “murders.”

In the newspaper article the girl who describes him as “so cute” is not named: “identified only, to my great frustration, as a “member of the popular set at WJH.”  Earlier it was said that the team name is Washington, so it’s safe to guess Washington Junior High.

Belt has an abetter in his murders, an eight grader named Rory Riley.  Belt had just destroyed the Blond family swing set.  Their son Ron Blond high-fived Belt for doing so (he hated that old swing set).  Riley also hated the swing set and proposed he fins another for Belt to murder.  Chuck Schmidt lived in “Old Wheelatine” where Feather lived, and they encouraged him to murder the Feather swingset.  This murder is what got the newspapers’ attention.

A question asks about his psychosis.

When discussing his medication, he talks about Eileen Bobbert who likes pun-driven jokes (and gave him Risperdal).  His prior doctor was named Emil Calgary who liked more scatological pun-driven jokes (and gave him Haldol).

There’s not much more in the way of names after this (even the doctor names aren’t revelatory I don’t think).  But one of the questions in this section stresses the naming of the Curios as botimals.  It was called a Botimal, a “robot made of flesh and bone,” but it was a pet to him–a new kind of pet.  He has never been able to think of Blank as a robot.

There’s more unusual word choice here though.  People “kill” their cures, regularly.  In fact, that seems to be what you’re supposed to do to it.  Earlier Belt said he had never so much as hurt Blank before.  Belt has been unable to do so, but he never prevented anyone else from doing it.  Nevertheless:

Blank was my pet, though.  My friend.  My sibling.  I didn’t want to kill it, even when I did.

Belt has possibly the oldest living Curio.  The oldest publicly stated Curio was owned by a monk and named Basho (17th century Japanese haiku master).

Finally, Belt reveals that he is an author.  His novel is named No Please Don’t.  It was published by Darger Editions (Henry Darger was an American writer, novelist and artist who worked as a hospital custodian in Chicago, Illinois).  It concerns a character named Gil MacCabby who has lost his most favorite toy, and intergalactic smuggler called Bam Naka (which seems Star Wars inspired).

Belt also wrote an essay for Harper’s which was not published (although it is printed here) called “The Magnets, the Birds and the Balls” (June 2006) about his Grandma Magnet having an affair with a mobster by the name of Salvatore “Sally the Balls” DiBoccerini.  The Balls had an African Gray parrot named “Mouth” who would repeat just about anything (including lots of curse words).

There’s a lot to look at with all these names.  Most are probably not significant.  Many are probably just there for a joke.  And there’s nothing wrong with that either.

I don’t imagine there will be too many more significant new characters introduced,so I doubt there’s going to be many more new names to look at.

Nevertheless, with Levin’s clear love of language, I’ll bet whatever names he does come up with will be entertaining.


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As a writer, he reads a lot.  Here’s a list of the stories he mentions

Donald Barthelme “Balloon”
Franz Kafka’s “Blumfield”
Jeff Parker “Our Cause”
Robert Coover “The Hat Act”


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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 The Archie’s “Sugar Sugar.”