SOUNDTRACK: SONIC YOUTH: A Thousand Leaves (1998).
This CD actually ties to the book because the crossed out title on the CD is “mille feuille” and the first song is called “Contre le Sexism.”
This opening song is weird and lets you know that this disc is not going to be a friendly listen. Over some feedback and scratchy noise, Kim whispers and hollers, most notably that “it’s just a kitten.” But just when you think that the disc is going to be a crazy noise experiment, the next track “Sunday” proves to be another one of Thurston’s supremely catchy singles.
The back and forth continues with Kim’s abrasive “Female Mechanic Now on Duty” and Thurston’s delicate “Wildflower Soul.” But the pattern is broken with Lee’s spoken-word over simple guitar lines piece, “Hoarfrost.” It lacks Lee’s usual catchiness, although his later song “Karen Koltrane” more than makes up for it. Then Kim surprises us by giving us the catchy “French Tickler.”
To me, “Hits of Sunshine” is the centerpiece (literally and metaphorically) of the disc. It’s 11 minutes long and ranges through the main stylistic feelings of the disc.
The whole disc is over 70 minutes long and it feels meandering. This is not to say that it has no focus, it’s just not full of pop gems. And yet for all of its wandering, it hasn’t lost the tunes. Mixed reviews abound for this disc with everything from 1 to 4 stars coming from the pros. And, I think depending on my mood, my overall rating could be just as diverse.
I admit that at the time I was starting to lose my adoration for the band. These longer, more abstract pieces were less enticing than the noise of yore. But now that I’m a bit older, I can appreciate what they were doing.
[READ: Week of August 17] Infinite Jest (to page 651)
I was planning on starting this week’s write up with a bit about J.O.I’s filmography, which I delved back into and found some fascinating information. But this week’s write up is pretty long already, so I’m going to do a mid-week (but still spoiler line approved) retrurn to the filmography shortly.
So until then, let’s get back to the book:
This week’s reading gets off to some detailed viewing of the Incandenza men’s psyches before launching into an adrenaline fueled rush.
Mario is still freaked out about Madame Psychosis not being on the air. He’s not sleeping well at all, and when the insomnia hits him, he goes for walks (even though he knows, and is worried about, how much it freaks out the Moms).
Mario is slowly turning into the absolute heart of the book. He absolutely and without question loves Hal, and he is concerned for him because he’s been acting differently lately (Mario himself never changes). He also prays nightly, and in a serious way, talks to God (although he doesn’t expect any one to answer…he’s not crazy). And, in a very touching scene, which seems to resonate so well with late 1990s America, he is troubled that no one can talk about things sincerely without it being ironic. (Pemulis wants to set up a prayer hotline for atheists that would just ring and ring).
The only place he finds real honesty without irony is at the Ennet’s House (sic). Pat has invited him in twice (feeling some empathy with his handicapped situation), and offered Mario, the book’s beverage of choice: Millennial Fizzy (caffeine free of course). And Mario felt truth and honesty in spades. He finds the house, chaotic as it is, existentially comforting, since people are allowed to cry without shame. And when one of the residents, coming in for curfew assists him with his police lock and lead block, it is one of the more selfless acts that book has presented.
Mario also hears someone playing a tape of the Madame Psychosis show. He recognizes it as being about three years old (from the Year of the Purdue Wonderchicken) when she still had her accent and actually seemed to be talking, intently, to someone. This little flashback gives a bit of insight into why her show was so popular initially.
An interlude with Gately features the word ‘picayune’ three times. And in light of this, we see all of the details of Gately’s evening Staff duties. He keeps logs of residents, minds curfews, makes sure the house is clean (and tries to find out who messed the place up). He reveals that he dislikes going up the ladies’ side of the building because of all the steps that he has to go through (safety doors, shouting “Male on the floor,” and generally feeling untrusted and unwelcome). He also reveals that anyone who is late for curfew can be automatically discharged. We also learn that Kate Gompert says something that could be taken as suicidal (because of its vagueness) and that Gately has to log that too. He hates the paperwork, and winds up doing probably more than he has to because he’s afraid of getting grief if he doesn’t do enough.
And then a jump back to Orin’s “Swiss” hand model. We learn that Orin, despite his vast number of Subjects, doesn’t really get any pleasure out of sleeping with all of them. Rather, his pleasure comes from the happiness they receive (which makes him a very considerate lover). He even enjoys the post-coital talking and cuddling because the Subjects find it very comforting. And this is all nice, but also incredibly sad.
But while he is chatting with the “Swiss” hand model, there’s a knock at the hotel room door. It is a man with no legs in a wheelchair (who Orin–as previously mentioned–believes is a sort of reverential fan, since Orin’s own Leg is so massive and worshippable).
Despite the threat that we all know is lurking from the wheelchaired men, this particular man simply has a survey for Orin (which Orin thinks is a cute way to get his autograph and therefore doesn’t find it odd that he’s getting surveyed in a hotel room). The survey is seemingly mundane. The oddly worded question “What do you miss?” is hard to interpret, and Orin starts talking about TV on the Big 3 networks and commercials and half-off deals and watching reruns because they programmed them, not because you wanted to (as you can now).
The “Swiss” hand model has been hiding under the sheets while this has been going on (she says she doesn’t want to get caught having an affair). She coughs at one point and the wheelchaired gentleman doesn’t acknowledge her (even as she silently reaches for her gun). And yet moments later the surveyor asks if he should come back since Orin seems to be occupied.
And then we head back to Ennet House. The events here all transpire shortly after the Lenz/Green, dog-killing, Nuck-aggravating incident. Gately waits for the stragglers to come home (some from the “sober club” called Footprints which, much like with the Sober Bikers, Gately finds sad and pathetic). Bruce Green comes in shortly after curfew. It’s up to Gately is he should be kicked out, but he and Green play cribbage together, and he is usually so not-a-problem, but tonight he seems so freaked out that Gately gives him a pee test and then sort of apologizes for the trouble.
Amy J., however, has also not returned for curfew, and as she is new she gets no clemency. He’s already planned to put her stuff in a garbage bag at the font door.
And then we get to another section that I remembered from the first time I read the book: everyone has to switch their cars at midnight for alternate- side of the street parking. I was living in Boston at the time, and although they didn’t have quite this level of insanity regarding parking, there was alternate side parking in downtown, and it could be quite hairy. ( I also once got a parking ticket in front of my apartment (and had my car broken into twice and stolen (and recovered) once). This exaggerated look at Boston parking clearly resonated nicely for me.
And so at midnight, residents of Boston must switch their cars for alternate side of the street parking. And the tow trucks all hang around at 1 minute after midnight getting ready to tow people who don’t move in time.
And so Gately, doesn’t want to deal with the hassle of having his residents’ cars towed (and trying to get them not only to the scary place where cars are towed, but also with trying to deal with people’s work, where they may not know the residents are in rehab, so how does he explain why they can’t pick up their own cars) as well as many other bureaucratic nightmares). So, he ensures that everyone with a car is awake at midnight (half an hour after curfew). And the managerial expertise that is needed to coordinate multiple residents who shouldn’t be out after curfew, ensuring that they get in their cars to do a U turn to the other side of the street AND come back,in is something which Gately really doesn’t possess.
And, of course, (these are rehab residents after all) not everyone comes down when Gately warns them that it’s towing time. I loved Gately’s awareness that college students and alcoholics are the two types of people who absolutely believe that the laws of physics and the world simply do not apply to them. They will walk out in front of cars, or assume that their own car will never get towed.
I also loved the visual of Gatley corralling all the residents and then having to run upstairs to get the stragglers (including going through all of the rigmarole of the going up the women’s side) and fearing that they’ll just start drifting off if he takes too long.
Finally he realizes that Lenz has not come down to move his car. So he traipses up the stairs and finds Lenz doing vertical pushups against the wall. He is in nothing but a jockstrap and is farting into his roommates’ pillow every time he goes up the wall (awesome visual, that).
Gately pulls Lenz down, and Lenz, rather than being hurt or grieved by this, is totally psyched to see Gately. And within seconds, Gately realizes that Lenz is high; he relishes the thought of kicking Lenz out, and he’s already got the pee cup ready in his mind. He gets Lenz out the door first, to move his car.
But then he remembers that Doony Glynn is suffering from diverticulitis and can’t get out of bed to park. So, he asks if anyone can move Glynn’s car ( he sort of grovels to Green, who is cool with the whole thing). But rules state that he needs to ask permission from Glynn (which refers tidily back to the earlier picayune section and how much paperwork Gately must deal with, and his utter fear of getting caught doing something wrong with the paperwork).
While he is talking with (the largely out of it) Glynn and trying to determine if he needs to go to the hospital (he is totally feverish), Green comes running up the stairs (and Gately becomes aware of commotion outside) yelling that Gately has to come now!
And when he gets outside, he sees giant men in flowered shirts and leis chasing Lenz around a half-parked car (the rest of the residents are in varying stages of U-turning with cars basically littering the street). Gately realizes that one of the men has a gun, and another is holding Lenz’ mustache.
The resulting melee is an adrenaline-filled (albeit initially slow-paced) look into Gately’s processing of the scene. He is somewhat excited at the prospect of jumping in and saving the day, even though he also fears the amount of trouble he could get into if anything Happens on his watch.
As we watch the scene unfold, it’s a bit hard to know what to wish for. You want Lenz punished for the dog killing, but you don’t want Gately to get in trouble. You also don’t want this gun to go off at any of the residents. And what about the parking? Who will get towed? And where on earth are the security guards who are walking around whenever you don’t need them?
And, in a few short moments it’s all over: (I won’t recap the details, as they have to be read to be enjoyed), but in the end, Gately has dispatched the three Nucks (and some of the residents are assisting with high-heeled shoes…the survival rate does not appear very high for them). Aside from Gately, no one else has been hurt (well, actually Green received a bloody nose, but that was actually from the helpful foot of Nell Gunther who roundhoused a guy that Green had in a headlock and whose head hit Green’s nose.)
But indeed, Gately breaks a toe and gets shot in the shoulder. Gately still does some damage even after he’s shot. But once he goes down, the residents all jump into chaotic action. It’s only when Joelle van Dyne shimmies down a tree (in her kimono and bathrobe) to assist with Gately’s wound (and Ken Erdedy realizes that she really LIKES Gately) that somebody starts taking charge. She begins ordering people around (and Gately recognizes her voice as Madame Psychosis). The residents are dispatched to call an ambulance, the police and Pat.
When a random security guard shows up and insists in wondrous Boston-ese that every body stand still, Erdedy is sent off to occupy him. Green and Lenz try to drag Gately back to the House.
A sudden shift to downtown Boston. Some backstory tells us that virtually everyone in the society watches entertainments at home on TV, so whenever some spectacle happens outside, people congregate looking for public spectacle (the midnight U turns for example, or when the flung waste was miscalibrated and hit Troy, NY).
One of the big events (which is never posted but which always causes lot sof excitement is the draining of the Boston Commons Duck Pond. (The one made famous in Make Way for Duckings.) [This doesn’t really happen, by the way].
And as we scroll along the Common, this scene is one that DFW does so well/maddeningly depending on your POV. He sets up the entire Boston Common in staggering detail, complete with winos, frisbee players, and hacky-sackers. (This has one of those amusing bits from DFW where he describes something as if no one had ever seen it before: Two Frisbees and what looks like the disembowelled ring of Frisbee). The student engineer from WYYY who is sunning himself on a NASA blanket. He is happy to finally be getting some sun, since his life has been nothing but annoying since M.P. disappeared (even he doesn’t know where she is, but he has heard rumors of rehab).
Chief Rodney Tine and Agents Rodney Tine Jr and Hugh Steeply are also in town in a hotel room overlooking the Common.
And all is serene. It is a soporific regaling of a blustery but sunny day in Boston. People are playing, the homeless are throwing up; all is as it should be until two nondescript vans pull up. And in a scene that is such a flurry of activity it is actually hard to visualize exactly what’s happening (something of a rarity for DFW). But in a nutshell, a wheelchaired man with no legs pops out of a van at the top of the Common, zooms down the hill (with no brakes, clearly) knocking aside vagrants and shopping carts until it scoops up the WYYY engineer and his NASA blanket, and escorts him wailing and screaming into the open waiting van at the bottom of the hill.
In my mind the wheelchair had a cow catcher type device in the front but that doesn’t compute. I’m still trying to picture this fascinating contraption.
The next scene is all about eating. It is the meal that follows two important events, once of which we learn about, the other of which we do not.
The first event is the fallout from Eschaton. All we know is that fallout has occurred and Hal and Axford are in their own worlds. Pemulis doesn’t seem at all bothered (so maybe they haven’t been busted by the urine expert).
The other event is that Ortho “The Darkness” Stice nearly beat Hal on the court–something which no one (especially not a 16!) has been able to do since Hal became number 2 at E.T.A. Axford also lost to Tall Paul Shaw, and if he loses to him again, his ranking will drop to #5-A. So clearly, something is up with them.
In fact, Hal is personally swearing off any substances at all from this moment forth.
But let’s get back to the food. The food-ingesting scene is quite funny for the animalian way that the athletes eat, some with utensils in both hands! I also enjoyed that the kids can feel when their blood sugar stabilizes. And so, the kids have plates full of carbs (and bread with no sugar) and glasses of skim milk (or skim chocolate milk which everyone tries once until they realize it tastes like skim milk with melted brown crayons in it).
Everyone relishes their chow. Except for Axford who, due to a bizarre bike accident as a child has lost all taste for food. In fact, it is described that to him all food tastes like vomit smells (and there is an awful lot of vomit this week). So, obviously he does not enjoy his meals as much as the others do.
And then there’s Troelstch who holds forth to the older kids’ table (the highest ranking players get to sit near the fire place and/or air conditioning because R.H.I.P.). [I needed to look up the abbreviation (and R.H.I. (literal) P.) even though I feared I was spoiling something. I wasn’t familiar with it and it means Rank Has Its Privileges]. He claims that the milk is in fact powdered. And he can tell by the residue. Pemulis is quick to point out that you can see them pouring the milk in from large udder-like bags labeled MILK. (John Wayne is seen giving his glass an extra-long look too). But Troeltsch will not be denied, and he states that for what they are paying (E.T.A tuition is $21,700/yr. (I had been wondering what it cost to go there)), that they should not be getting powdered milk.
Well, it turns out that the milk is powdered, ever since C.T. took over. But it’s not as a cost cutting measure, it was a fat-cutting measure. But it is mixed at midnight and then cleverly poured back into the udder-like bags labeled MILK (precisely like Pemulis joked they would never actually do) (because no one minds drinking powdered milk when they drink it, it’s just the thought of it that is disgusting (which I totally agree with)).
We also learn that the E.T.A. colors are red and gray. I’m not entirely sure if I knew that before.
There’s then the fascinating section devoted to the sudden displacement of objects around campus. Random items have turned up in weird places (ever since USS Millicent Kent’s attempt to seduce Mario (related? We don’t know.). A ludicrously heavy automated tennis ball machine showed up in the girls locker room. Floor squeegees were placed on the wall in a saltire position (had to look that up as well, see picture at right) even though there was no evidence of hooks or holes where hooks had been. And Troeltsch even knows that Stice’s bed has been mysteriously moving (how?).
And then we get to sex. We learn that E.T.A. is a largely unsexual place. That there are a few boys (Struck, Pemulis, Schacht and Freer) who have definitely had sex (even if they went to the Combat Zone to pay for it), and there are a few girls who are definitely game. But for the most part, the kids are either too busy with tennis or just too shy to even imagine talking to the opposite sex.
And Hal himself seems to be on a direct line for lifelong celibacy. He feels that Orin has has enough sex for all the Inc boys, so he’s not really interested in that pursuit.
A few more details about some of the kids appear in this section. Keith Freer’s father created a pet-rock-like novelty called the “phoneless cord” (nobody understands the joke of anymore). And that Stice had an incident in the weight room where he set the pull down station at too-heavy a setting. Dolores Rusk has exempted him from weights for a time (with the awesome joke that Stice has no fear of heights but does fear weights).
And as the scene is winding down, Evan Ingersoll comes hobbling into the caf with his leg in a cast (which equals something like 6 months falling behind from lack of practice), the direct result of Eschaton. (Penn is still not back from the hospital, and will be out for at least a year). Hal and Axford immediately go over to talk with him and sign his cast, although we don’t actually hear the discussion.
As we leave this scene, we see Stice trying with all of his might to move a cherry tomato that appears to be suspended on a leaf of lettuce. He is concentrating very hard to will off the leaf. He is also concentrating very hard to avoid the stares of everyone in the caf. They are all staring because, well, because he almost beat Hal Incandenza! And he’s only 16! And Ortho can’t fathom how he did so well. Balls seemed to bend to his will on the court today. (Even Hal seems to feel that he should have lost the match, Ortho was so on fire). And as Lyle said, Do not underestimate objects.
We return to the mountainside where two things of note happen: the sun begins to rise, and Marathe admits that he has to go soon (but would prefer it if Steeply would leave first (a point of pride, Steeply believes).
Although the bulk of this section is devoted to what is (unless Marathe’s suspicions are true) a very personal story about Steepley’s father and a roundabout tie-in to The Entertainment. Steepley’s father became addicted to M*A*S*H* (which Marathe had heard of, don’t worry about him). And we see a detailed unraveling of Steeply senior as he goes from watching the broadcasts to watching the syndications, to watching them on a Betamixer (ha),to writing about them in a journal, to writing notes to the characters (not the actors) (which Mummykins found in the garbage, before recycling (Endnote: sic, but it’s pretty obvious what Marathe means here), to actually sending the notes to the characters based at their TV address in Seoul! Yipes.
As for the Mummykins thing, there was no way Marather was going to touch that. There’s also the use of the word baroquoco which I’m still trying to figure out.
There’s a quick flash forward to November 13th at Ennet House, while everyone is still in disbelief after the Gately shooting. The main dialogue is between Kate Gompert and Geoffrey Day (with comments in the form of sleep-talking from Bruce Green, and the disturbing image of Mr Bouncey Bounce on the TV screen.
Most of the talking comes from Geoffrey Day, about how he used to play the violin. And one day, when the exhaust fan was running in his room and making a high pitched whine that never bothered him before, the music he was playing combined with the whine to form a large, dark, billowing shape. It scared the bejesus out of him, and he fears that he unleashed some form of hell. It recurred for him in college, but has been silent ever since. However, he knows that if he couldn’t get rid of it he would kill himself. No questions asked.
The Spoiler line ends about a page into a very lengthy section that I’m going to save for next week, but suffice it to say, there’s lots of tennis involved!