Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Book 14: Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon

The 920 bus disintegrated into billions of bus-like particles just past Fairfax and then, after a brief passage through unrecorded space and time, reconfigured further west along the Wilshire corridor, say somewhere between the Federal building and the cemetery down by the 405. But my iPod had been churning out a killer stream of random tunes, the book in my lap was the latest by a genius recluse, my coffee was still hot and, contrary to pattern, none of my surrounding bus comrades smelled bad enough to distract me.

Had I been sufficiently bored by 'Inherent Vice', had the iPod played something I was embarrassed by instead of enthralled with, had the lady with the Mickey Mouse brooch and the seven Ralph's bags filled with what look like beef jerky smelled just that much worse, I might have lifted my head from the page and sensed a low buzz, a slight smell of burnt chrome, a shimmer of refracted light...maybe the buildings in Beverly Hills would have blurred just enough to clue me in that my bus, my reliable public transport, was defying all known space/time behavior. Not to mention skipping a couple of stops.

One cannot rue what one does not know one has missed. If Carl Sagan or Stephen Hawking had been there they'd have been jumping for joy despite being dead and wheelchair bound respectively but they were not. So their reaction, while fabricated and impossible, was identical to mine, i.e. they had none.

Down there on my lap the pages flipped and turned. Vicarious dope was smoked, legs ogled, punches thrown and taken, sunsets rose, dawns fell, and a general sense of stupefied malaise seemed to emerge from the early 1970's decor. It all seemed so quaint and innocent compared with where we'd wind up, with these keystrokes bringing you chosen few this strange review of this strange book on this strange medium.

In that stretch of time that I did not know I'd lost, perhaps one tiny bus molecule did not make it through the worm hole. And that one bus molecule contained the whole bus, every bit of every passenger, so that somewhere in the ether, somewhere in the world that surely exists between this world and whatever other conjectural entity stands for the adjoining unknown, somewhere over there I am ignoring another fantastic universe while reading 'Inherent Vice' and crying slightly when Eminem cleans out his closet.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Book 15: The Quiet American by Graham Greene

Up til now I've tended to use these books as lynch-pins upon which I can hang hazy memories, nostalgic wax and poetic licenses. But this book I read over the holidays.

A rough holiday for me in many ways, a great one in many others. Because I am broker than a broke piece of broken brokenness, I was confined to the West Coast this year. This meant that I would not be able to spend the first anniversary of my father's death with my family in Rhode Island. This meant that my lovely girlfriend went to Paris without me and I'm the one who speaks French, merde. (Just to clarify, I was happy she got the opportunity to go, happy she went, I just wanted to go with her.)

The silver lining? Two weeks hanging out with Cashel all by myself. We saw in successive order 'Fantastic Mr. Fox', 'Avatar', and 'Sherlock Holmes', each amazing in specific different ways. We lounged around. He got a Wii for Christmas from his mom so he jumped around the room while I read 'The Quiet American'. Which I then took with us to Vegas.

Yes, I took my 12 year old to Vegas. We rolled into town at about noon and hit GameWorks, the giant arcade. We bought all day passes and then proceeded to drive, ski, bomb, fly, shoot, die, swim, kill, maim and Ms. Pac-man for the next four hours.

We wandered out at dusk bleary eyed and dazed. I was starting to get quite sick by this point. Cash said, "I think I need to go lie down at the hotel for a little while."

So we strolled back over to Luxor the giant pyramid of glass where we had rented a room. We ordered room service so we wouldn't have to walk anywhere or smell the smoke in the restaurants contained in the hotel. And then we watched the new 'Star Trek' movie.

Which, by the way, I loved.

The next morning I doubted I'd be able to make it out of the hotel I was so sick. But the whole purpose of going to Vegas was to make the small drive out to see the Hoover Dam. My ears hurt, my throat burned, I was coughing and sneezing and my head ached. Cash, ever the class act, said it would be okay if we just went home.

But after I'd choked down a Starbucks and a couple of cough drops we set out down I-93 to Boulder, NV. I am very glad we did. Because I have never seen anything quite like the Hoover Dam. The fact that we built that thing in 1930, the fact that the cement is still warm and will still be settling for years to come, the fact that the tunnels are art deco for chrissakes...it all adds up to quite an emotional experience.

I was proud. Proud to be lucky enough to have been born in this country. Proud that that thing was built in 1930 when black people couldn't vote and now we have a black president. Doesn't deserve the Nobel Peace Prize? Give me a break. History will not be so blind in viewing that award. The sheer fact of his winning that election is a feat worthy of any award there is out there to be awarded.

My father died on January 2, 2009. In November he voted for the last time. By November he'd lost his left arm. The cancer had eaten from his ribs to his shoulder. He could barely stand. But he and Mum went to the poll and he voted for Barack Obama. Now he knew that Rhode Island was in the bag for Obama. One vote would not have made a difference. Death loomed.

But, like the concrete deep in the heart of the Hoover Dam, my father, a loud American, had barely begun to cool.