Tommy and I had met in jail. Which is probably the best place in America for reading- it’s only the selection that’s lacking, but everything else you need to really absorb a book is there, plenty of free time, loose comfortable clothing, monotonous scenery. And of course there’s nothing better to do (besides draw and play cards and you have plenty of time for those too, even reading a book a day). Still I had read Empire Falls and most of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man during my 39 day jail stayamidst all the Steven King and Michael Crichton and other assorted mass appeal authors. Tommy and I both got out early through sudden reversals of fortune and met up about three weeks after his release. We’d both gone down for thievery of different types; he’d stolen from his parents and taken off for Vegas only to get sold out by his roommate and I’d gone overboard shoplifting stuck in the same place for two weeks trying to hitch a ride (my last ride having only taken me a few miles and dropped me in front of a no hitchhiking sign and the ride before that being a Canadian musician with whom I had bonded and had several days of adventure). Anyways beyond food and camping gear I successfully shoplifted 27 books from Borders and became friends with Jill one of the associates there before being caught in Target at the same mall and hauled off to county while some ridiculous pop song played on the radio.
So out of the can and into the wild—we acted like we were in platonic Badlands or hobo Peter Pan and scavenged blankets, mattresses, boards, etc. and set up camp in an open space in the middle of the city. And we got by. Which lead to us hiking down to one of local libraries one day and checking out books on Tommy’s card.
Now I picked the book but Tommy checked it out and then we never returned it. And it was not the only book so taken that day, but it was the book that warped my mind, pulled me through the slogs of winter camped out there, sitting on benches in front of King Soopers waiting for a buddy to meet me so we could talk and I could eat. It was the book that I read and then reread and eventually lead me out of the pointless hermit shit that my life developed into. Sitting in the woods thinking, reading, dumpster diving at night … drifting. The long months.
I read Inherent Vice first and liked it alright but then I chomped down on the book. Gravity’s Rainbow. And I fell as a full-fledged street philosopher into its wily grasp. The phantasmagoric zany pun-filled paranoid depths of Pynchon’s bizarrely gorgeous centerpiece. The epicenter of a too-smart mind.
I don’t know how to tell the tale full (I have the feeling it isn’t done) but Slothrop, Roger Mexico, Katje, Jessicae Swanlake, and all those others got me through the bitter cold, the swarming snow, the emptiness of night, all alone (Tommy left and I saw him once right before I fled to Thailand). Fiction has always had me better than the present. But Pynchon got me better than anyone and Tommy had halfheartedly led me there. He was a kid who didn’t know what he wanted. Who couldn’t handle the out there world of the street savvy. He liked fantasy worlds. Harry Potter. Other books I loved. But not the ones that gave me warm blood when I had spilled all mine. I do not know where he is now. But the tones of Pynchon’s words are still in me, their falsetto joking oh so gradual cadence as true a pattern as my heartbeat.
My bookshelf contains multitudes (Chabon, Fitzgerald, Perrotta, Murakami, Eugenides, Gaiman, Tolstoy, Mitchell, DeLillo, Austen, etc) but Pynchon stands tall with all his varied gems. In the deepest stretch of horror I reach for his words. When I feel the terror hot on my face I open the page to “a screaming comes across the sky”.
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