Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Pynchon, Vineland

Justin found his father and Zoyd in the back of a pickup, watching “Say, Jim,” a half-hour sit-com based on “Star Trek,” in which all the actors were black except for the Communications Officer, a freckled white redhead named Lieutenant O’Hara. Whenever Spock came on the bridge, everybody made Vulcan hand salutes and went around high-threeing. About the time the show ended, Prairie came by, Zoyd and Flash went off looking for beer, and she and Justin settled down, semi-brother and sister, in front of the eight O’Clock Movie, Pee-wee Herman in The Robert Musil Story. It was mostly Pee-wee talking in a foreign accent, or sitting around in front of some pieces of paper with some weird-looking marker pen, and the kids’ attention kept wandering to each other. “There’s the Movie at Nine,” Justin said, looking in the listings, “Magnificent Disaster, TV movie about the ’83-’84 NBA playoffs – wasn’t that just back in the summer? Pretty quick movie.”

“They’ve been getting quicker over the years, from what I remember,” Prairie said.

“Hey Prairie, would you like to baby-sit me sometime?”

She gave him a look. “Some baby. Maybe I’ll have to kid-sit you.”

“What’s that?”

“Involves some tickling,” Prairie already headed for her new brother’s armpits and flanks, and Justin squirming even before they touched.

Out under yellow bulbs at a long weathered table, Zoyd found himself trying to help flash with the shock of meeting so many in-laws in one place, both men from time to time looking around fearfully, like unarmed visitors in a jungle clearing, as out beyond this particular patch of light Traverses and Beckers went practising on scales, working on engines, debating, talking back to the Tube, sending up gusts of laughter like ritual smoke cast to an unappeasable wind. A Traverse grandmother somewhere was warning children against the October blackberries of this coast, “They belong to the Devil, any that you eat are his property, and he don’t like blackberry thieves – he’ll come after ya.” Even sceptical adolescents weaved in her voice’s spell. “When you see those unhappy souls out by the roadside, back up the lanes, in the ruins of the old farms, wherever the briars grow thick, harvesting berries out in the clouds and rain of October, why just drive by, and don’t look back, because you’ll know where they’ve come from, and who their labor belongs to, and where they have to go back to at the close of the day.” And other grandfolks could be heard arguing the perennial question of whether the United States still lingered in a pre-fascist twilight, or whether that darkness had fallen long stupefied years ago, and the light they thought they saw was coming only from millions of Tubes all showing the same bright-colored shadows. One by one, as other voices joined in, the names began – some shouted, some accompanied by spit, the old reliable names good for hours of contention, stomach distress, and insomnia – Hitler, Roosevelt, Kennedy, Nixon, Hoover, Mafia, CIA, Reagan, Kissinger, that collection of names and their tragic interweaving that stood not constellated above in any nightwide remoteness of light, but below, diminished to the last unfaceable American secret, to be pressed, each time deeper, again and again beneath the meanest of random soles, one blackly fermenting leaf on the forest floor that nobody wanted to turn over, because of all that lived, virulent, waiting, just beneath.

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