Worthy

This week took us to the end of the book.

Dana arrived home with Kevin this time.  He’s initially happy to be home, but is soon very restless. He was in the past for five years.  They have only been in their new house together a few days–noting is familiar here.  He is agitated and irritable.  He tells her about some of the horrible things he’s seen like a woman dying in childbirth.  It’s interesting that this horror comes from Kevin telling Dana about a woman’s whose master beat her until the baby fell out of her.

I feel like Kevin is overreacting to his return–his agitation seems way too great.  I realize that things are new in this house, but you’d think that even after five years, being home wouldn’t be such a bad thing.  And then he tells a story like the above and while I still don’t understand why it’s not just a relief to be out of there, i can see that he’s got PTSD.

But he was jumpy–the sound of jet overhead freaked him out.  Again, would five years without a jet overhead make you forget that they existed before hand?

Earlier Dana had been concerned that Kevin could be “won over” to the bad side. But he tells her that he had been helping slaves to escape.  he even imagined that they might both want to go back to help more slaves escape–to do good historically speaking.

This story is obviously not about Kevin, but it is interesting to think that if he felt his life wasn’t amounting to much here (despite or because of the marriage), that he might feel he was more useful in the past.

But before either one of them could settle down she felt herself pulled back once again.

She arrived in a storm to find a drunken Rufus passed out–face down in a puddle.  [Not saying that this doesn’t happen in real life, but I’ve never seen anyone drunk, face down in a puddle,  But it does happen quite a lot in fiction]

She helped get Rufus back home where his father was waiting.  His father was much older, he had a cane and had lost much of his edge. But he still had sass for her.  He asked what happened to her face–she had a scab.  She told him that’s where he kicked her.  He roared at her that it was six years since he’d seen her last. She told him that for her it was only a few hours.

Rufus was in a really bad way–he had malaria.  Of course no one knew anything about mosquitos back then, so she tries to teach them about microbes but they don’t believe her.  She was able to mend him (she had brought back aspirin an Excedrin which helped with the pain). I love the way Dana is exasperated with the “doctors” of the day.  I also wonder a the limited supply of things that Dana brought with her.  While she couldn’t get antibiotics OTC, I wonder if there’s any medicine beyond aspirin that se could have brought with her.

As Rufus was recovering, his father became deathly ill.  Rufus insisted that Dana help him.  She rushed to his side, but he was already dead when she got there. Nevertheless Rufus blamed her for not being able to save him.  It’s not entirely clear if he really did blame her or if he just needed to blame someone.  Although Rufus ha come to think of her as supernatural (which she was).

The next day Rufus took it out on her by putting her to work in the fields under the an incredibly nasty field manager.  He mocked her as useless (which she was, she would admit), and supposedly “so smart.”  Then he beat her hard.  And continued to do so no mater how hard she worked.  She didn’t know if she would make it through the day.

Rufus came and took her out of the field telling her that she was no good as a worker–embarrassing her but also saving face.  Then he told her that his mother was coming back to stay with them and he wanted Dana to sit with her.  Dana was shocked–assuming that the woman was dead.  But also never wanting to see that horrible woman again.  But Rufus assured her that his mother had been taking laudanum and had mellowed considerably.

She also learns that Rufus is continuing his father’s policy of selling slaves and breaking apart families.  But he also threw parties for the slaves and allowed them to marry–something other slaveholders didn’t do.  Rufus continues to be a(largely bad)  contradiction.

All this time, Rufus had been with Alice–and she still didn’t like him.  They had had some children but they’d all died or been sickly.  She had had a boy who survived but he was not very psychically strong.  Luckily for the boy, he looked a lot like Rufus and he was very smart.  Alice was pregnant again and Dana hoped it would be Hagar, Dana’s ancestor.  Surely the birth of Hagar would be the end of Dana’s duty.

Finally Alice gave birth to Hagar (Rufus hated the name) and finally one of the children looked like Dana.

All this time Rufus still fancied Dana.  It’s unclear what he wanted from her exactly, because sex didn’t seem to be it.  It was more just a matter of possessing her.  So when he saw that one of the slaves, Sam, was making eyes at her, Rufus had him sold.  When Dana learned about this, she slit her wrists.

Which sent her home.

She figured it was the best way to get home, because Kevin would know immediately what had happened and could take care of her (if she had OD’d on something they would have no idea what happened).  She was home for fifteen days this time.  Kevin was certain that she was back for good since Hagar had been born.  But Dana could not relax.

She would not leave the house and would certainly not drive (imagine if she disappeared while behind the wheel).  And she was right.  Because she was sent back once more.  This time it was not ling after the last visit.  Rufus seemed fine but he showed her in the barn where Alice had hung herself.

Why? because he sold her children (his own children).  Why?  Because she ran away and he wanted to punish her.

He explains to Dana that he did not sell them, he sent them to his family in Baltimore as punishment to Alice.  Alice was even starting to come around to Rufus a little.  But this was the last straw.

Dana says that he basically killed Alice.  He refuses to accept that.  She tells him that the least he can do is raise their children free.

He agrees to bring them back home if Dana will help him raise them.  She says he knows that she’s going to leave.  Man, Rufus is a master manipulator.

The children come home and he finds that he actually likes the little ones.  Dana asks him to make a will in which he frees all of his slaves on his death–something other slaveholders have done.  He says she’s crazy–he knows that she will kill him if she thinks the slaves would be freed.

He lay with her on a pallet, forcing her hand, pleading with her and threatening her. I wonder how much of this book was meant to bring attention to manipulative men–the scenario is extreme, but you can see the manipulation at work.

He gets close to her and asks her some hard questions

“You never hated me, did you?” he asked.
“Never for long, I don’t know why.  You worked hard to earn my hatred, Rufe.”

That is a staggering admission.  Butler has created Rufus to be a complex person.  Unlikable for so many obvious reasons, but seemingly willing to break the mold of what he has grown up with.  At the same time, is Butler showing how easy it is for abused women to find good in their abusers.  Of course, she also puts Dana’s own future on the line as motivation to care about Rufus.

He lay with his head on my shoulder, his left arm around me, his right hand still holding my hand, and slowly, I realized how easy it would be for me to continue to be still and forgive him even this. So easy, in spite of all my talk.  But it would be so hard to raise the knife, drive it into the flesh that I had saved so many times (256).

As the book opened, Dana told us that she had lost her arm.  I sort of get what Butler was doing–Rufus’ grasp was so strong, as if he would never let go, and in a sense he didn’t. It does come across as peculiarly science-fictiony to have that happen though.

In the epilogue she is back with Kevin and they fly to Maryland to see where they were–see what remains–see if there is any legacy of their being there.

This must have been a difficult book to end.

So much intensity had gone on, but Dana is now living with it yet so far removed from it.  Having them able to find some information but not a lot also rings true to the history of slaves.  There are no complete answers–not to what happened to her ancestors or even what happened to her.  Most slaves were not deemed worthy of being remembered. if it were not for Dana’s ancestor writing the family tree in the Bible, Dana would not have known what she was even fighting for.

I’m really looking forward to Parable of the Sower–having no idea what it’s about.

Tolerance

This week’s read is one long, painful chapter. It made me think about how much pain one could tolerate. And also how one could be sol intolerant to unleash such pain–and feel justified about it.

After the first few sections have established the scenario, the more you think about it, the more you realize how many things can (and likely will) go wrong for Dana.

Each time Dana is sent back in time, the gap between instances grows.  Time doesn’t pass in the present the same way it does when she goes back.  She had been gone for nearly two months but when she returned home she had been “gone” for less than a day. This time discontinuity has to mess with her head even more.

Now that Kevin has remained, she fears for him as well and those fears are completely reasonable–he was treated well in that world because he was white.  He looked forward to watching the expansion of our country West.  Could he become a hardened white person if he was there for too long?  Kevin seems like a pretty decent fellow and doesn’t seem like he would become an owner of anyone, but you could see him getting caught up in everything that’s happening. I’m curious if this was also a commentary on the fragility (at least from societal pressures) of interracial marriages even in 1979.

Dana tells us about her relationship with Kevin and how neither his sister nor her aunt and uncle approved of their marriage.  Kevin’s sister had married a racist doctor and she refused to allow her brother and his new wife into her house.  Meanwhile, her aunt and uncle were offended because they assumed she’d marry a man like her uncle–proud and black.

Then she woke up and realized that every part of her body hurt.  She could barely move.  She had been whipped.  Brutally (although we find out later that Rufus’ father went “easy” on her).  Her clothes had bled and stuck to her body–this detail really got me. She managed to clean herself off and made sure she would not get infected (from a whip that had been tempered by oil and blood). It’s details like this that really emphasize elements of the barbarism.

Kevin had not returned with her.  She was by herself so she prepared for her next inevitable return.  She grabbed a denim bag and filled it with necessities–medicine, a knife, pens and paper, clothes.  Eight days later, she was whisked back to Rufus’ side as he was once again in danger of being killed.  This time, a black man–Isaac, all grown up–was beating him to within an inch of his life.

Turns out hat in the decade or so since she was last there, Isaac had married Alice, (even if it was not legally binding for slaves to marry).  But Rufus still wanted her.  He was willing to do anything to have her.  He had tried to take Alice but Isaac was having none it.  It was Dana who spared Rufus’ life by calming Isaac down.  She also spared Isaac’s life.  If Isaac had killed Rufus, he would have no hope of survival (although I do wonder who would know it was Isaac who did it). She encouraged Isaac and Alice to flee and promised that Rufus would not say anything. How foolish was this for Dana to do this? Did she not realize how impossible it would be for them to escape? Her own failure later shows just how hard it was.

Rufus was as good as his word, but Isaac and Alice were found anyway.  Alice was sent back.  After being beaten so badly she forgot a lot (including how she felt about rufus).  Although her memory did come back slowly.  But Isaac (and therefore Alice) wasn’t so lucky.  They sent him down south.  And they had cut off his ears(!). What the fuck.

Dana went to Rufus’ house.  Things were different.  His mother had left.  She had given birth tow two girls who both died.  She had a nervous breakdown).  Rufus’s father was still there but seemed to be tempered somewhat.  Rufus even said that he was a fair man–not kind, but fair–after all, he beat and whipped people but only what the deserved.

Rufus father recognized Dana immediately.  He seemed to have a strange kind of grunding respect for her.  He had seen her disappear, which clearly made him think she was a witch or something. Although I have no interest in Rifis’ father’s point of view, I do wonder what he must have thought when she just disappeared like that.

Dana heloped nurse Rufus back to health.  She gave him some of her aspirin.  She had also brought a history book with a map of the area.  But when he saw the history books she had brought, he grew angry at what they said (it sucks finding out you’re on the wrong side of history).  He didn’t believe the things he was reading.  Then Dana realized people like Harriet Tubman could be in trouble if a white man heard about what she was doing. 

It’s easy to forget the science fiction-y nature of the book because everything is so visceral and real. But then you get a moment like this where you have to pull back and say, yes, we’re talking about time travel here, she could really be changing things in the future. And no matter how much she’d like to change things for the better, all signs point to her giving away important secrets.

Rufus insisted that she burn the book–including the map of Maryland that she had torn out of the book. 

If she did all that he would allow her to send a letter to Kevin.

Kevin had left Maryland for the north and had been there for a few years.  He was in Boston or possibly Maine at this point.  Dana wrote him a letter and imagined he’d be there to take her away within a few weeks.

But Rufus had no intention of sending her letter.  He told dan that she was home now and he meant it.  He “loved” Dana and didn’t want her to leave him.  So he did to her what he had done to Alice–whom he also “loved.”  He used threats and duress to keep them near him.  He wanted to have sex with Alice– luckily not with Dana.  But he held Alice’s safety over Dana’s head–she should talk Alice into sleeping with him or he would take Alice by force.

I wondered if Butler was commenting on contemporary men as well with this segment–and the way men “possess” women even in the late 20th and 21st century.

Dana was there for a long time.  She became a part of the family–and was more or less a slave even if she wasn’t “owned.”  She had no proof of her freedom and, as people pointed out, any papers she carried could be torn up and ignored, anyhow.

But once she realizes that Rufus had not sent the letters–that Kevin had no idea she was even back, she decided to make a run for it

She plans out everything but doesn’t consider that one of the servants doesn’t like her.  And tells on her.

This was an aspect I hadn’t considered either. That there would be jealousy among the slaves (understandably) but that pissing off anybody could get you in serious trouble. How fragile your survival was.

Dana is very quickly found by Rufus and his father.  They bring her back and she is whipped to within an inch of her life.  A pain so fierce it seems like it should send her back home.  But she must have known that this wasn’t going to kill her, so instead she had to stay there and bear it.

That’s another detail that is really striking. A pain so bad you wish you were dead but you know it won’t kill you.

She was laid up for days. Rufus did tend to her.  And explained that his father only whipped her because he couldn’t allow other slaves to think a runway would go unpunished–that whole “fair” thing.

When she was able to walk, she saw a white man–old and bearded–riding a horse on the property. She couldn’t believe it was Kevin.  And he barely recognized her.  When he saw what had happened, he was (understandably) furious.  But Dana knew she might arrive back here again and told him to be cool.  Anything he did now would come back to haunt her if (when) she came back. She planned on riding off with him without saying a word.  Until Rufus sees them walking out of town.  He stops them with a gun.

This is the second time a gun sends her back home.

We don’t know if Kevin is with her this time or how long she’ll be home.  But since there’s 70 pages left its safe to assume she’ll be heading back to Maryland at least one more time.

I’ve never read anything like it.

I was pretty pleased to see that Octavia E. Butler would be the new reading choice.  I had recently read Mind of My Mind, which I really liked.  I liked its political sci-fi and its Afrofuturist ideas. So this was a great opportunity to read more from her.

I didn’t know what this book was about.  The cover of this book gives absolutely no indication is what’s going inside.  In fact, it looked pretty much exactly like what is not happening in this book.

Unlike other books that we’ve read for a group read, this one doesn’t lend it self to frivolity or clever post titles. The violence in it is unlike any violence I have read before–and I’ve read some really graphic stuff (yup, American Psycho). But this was worse because it was real. Butler doesn’t do a lot to set up the scene. We have just enough–and probably exactly what a slave would know. The plantation that she is on and virtually nothing behind it.

I just happened to be supplementing this book with the March graphic novels from John Lewis. Having that historical context really fresh in my mind makes this book (written a decade after the Civil Rights Act was passed) seem even more powerful. And really shows how little has changed.

So here’s my contribution with some quotes that I found especially affecting.

I was blown away by the first sections of this book.  Butler’s style is not fancy and I found this direct writing to be really effective at conveying what is going on.

Butler basically puts a horrifying slave narrative into a science fiction story.

It starts very abruptly with the prologue.  The narrator, Dana says that she lost her arm on her last trip home.  The police question her husband Kevin but she assures them it is not his fault.

Then the story resumes with The River.  It flashes back to when this all started–June 9, 1976.

In The River, Dana and Kevin are unpacking books in their new California home when suddenly Dana feels dizzy.  She is pulled through space into a river where a young red-haired boy is drowning.  Dana thinks quickly and stomps into the river to rescue the him.  She even does some mouth to mouth

The boy’s mother starts blaming Dana for what’s happening even while she is trying to resuscitate the woman’s son.  Dana succeeds and just as the boy, whose name is Rufus comes to, his father holds a shotgun at Dana’s head.  What is the black woman (who is dressed like a man) doing with her mouth on his son?

Rufus’s father is Southern and they seem very, very old-fashioned.  But just as Dana fear the worst from the shotgun, she flies back to her bedroom.  She is covered in mud and soaking wet, but Kevin says she was gone maybe ten seconds.  He has a hard time believing her (who wouldn’t) despite the proof of the mud on her clothes.

What in the hell just happened?

Continue reading

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.