CHAPTER 12

Another long, complicated chapter. Thanatoid Weed Atman (in the present, and clearly a ghost, since his unambiguous death is described later) has an (undescribed) interview with DL and Takeshi. In a brief flashback (set, apparently, after still-to-be-told events at the CotS) Weed wanders around Southern California, becoming something of a persona-non-grata. Flashforward to a Thanatoid Roast '84 at which Weed may be Guest of Honor. There are silly Thanatoid jokes, and very...slow...music. In a brief cut-away, we're told that Zoyd is hiding out in a hard-to-find dope-growing community called Holytail. The CAMP anti-smoke assault, headed by ex Luftwaffe Kommandant Karl Bopp, is briefly noted. Paranoia grows in Vineland. Back at the Thanatoid Roast Van Meter sings "Thanatoid World."

A couple of tourists wander in by accident: a dentist (Dr. Elasmo) and his receptionist Chickeeta. Weed remembers having some contact with Elasmo during the CotS events in Trasero County. A flashback details the story: Elasmo used to run a chain of discount dental franchises. He and Weed pass each other on the Freeway one day, after which Elasmo seems to be following Weed and Frenesi, after which Elasmo sends Weed a form requiring him to come to the dental office. For some reason, Weed complies, and spends days trapped in a vaguely Kafkaesque, Trial-like holding pattern. Elasmo never sees him, but for some reason Weed is powerfully effected by this routine: He grows deeply confused, especially about Frenesi. Moreover, his "disciples" are driving him crazy. Everyone is confused, paranoid, coming apart.

Rex is disappointed by Weed's lack of revolutionary fervor. In a nested flashback Rex proves his fervor by giving his beloved Porsche to a group of black activists. A vaguely-fantastic flashforward to Rex's fantasy of a picnic-in-the-future at which Rex and Weed discuss the fact that the FBI had been setting them up, and joke agreeably about the time that Rex shot Weed. The fantasy-picnic fades back to the main Weed flashback: Behind Weed's back, Frenesi tells Rex that Weed is an FBI plant, and makes plans to film the confrontation when they accuse Weed directly. Who's remembering this part? Not Weed, the presumable owner of this flashback. Probably it's Rex. Meanwhile Frenesi keeps sleeping with Weed -- and Vond.

Vond gives Frenesi a gun, and asks her to give it to Rex. She agrees, and there's a brief flashforward to Frenesi testifying before a grand jury. Back in the main flashback, Weed confronts Frenesi -- with most of 24fps present and filming. He seems to know that she has set him up. Rex appears and shoots Weed. In the end Rex seems to understand that Frenesi is responsible for the action. 24fps moves out into the night to film the inevitable FBI victory. Vond rescues/abducts Frenesi via a mysterious network of secret highways. She ends up in a sequestered "holding area" (i.e., concentration camp) "hours to the north," apparently prepared as a refuge in case of an atomic attack.

DL returns to Berkeley and reunites with the 24fps survivors. They drive off to rescue Frenesi. DL uses Ninjette techniques to sneak into the camp and break Frenesi out. After dropping the 24fps people in Berkeley, she and Frenesi drive to Mexico, where Frenesi confesses to DL. DL is disgusted. She drives Frenesi back across the border and drops her in Las Suegras -- where, presumably, Frenesi is about to meet Zoyd. It was (says DL, narrating the end of the flashback in present tense at Ditzah's) the last time she ever saw Frenesi. There's some astrological stuff, the main thrust of which is that bad as things are they're about to get worse. (Generally a safe prediction.) There's also an alarming message from Zipi (Ditzah's sister) that several of the old 24fps members have recently disappeared. DL searches for (and finds) a bug. Then Ditzah, Prairie, Takeshi and DL pile in the Ninjamobile and head for cover.

 

p. 218 "up over the passes and out long desert arterials, out past the seed and feed houses and country music bars and Mexican joints with Happy Hours featuring 99 cent margaritas out of a hose, under the smog, the dribbling rain, the toxic lens of sky..."   Mr. Pynchon, meet Mr. Chandler.

p. 219 "What an evening"    Thanatoid Roast '84 is the "tenth annual get-together" -- which means there have been thanatoids since '75. So what happened in 1974-1975? Patty Hearst kidnapped by SLA. Nixon is impeached over Watergate, and resigns. Motion picture ratings system created. US Bicentenial celebration. Vietnam War ends; last 1,000 Americans evacuated from South Vietnam.

p. 220 "Willis Chunko"    Nice name.

p. 221 "Kommandant Karl Bopp"   Ditto.

p. 221 "pacified territory"    Growers discuss CAMP progress in Vietnam-like terms.

p. 222-223 "All right, you parrots, listen up!"   Parrot sale and shared dreams: Magic realism, gorgeous and surreal; tropical colors and flashy imagery.

p. 223 "can't shit, can't get a hardon"    The Thanatoid Roast rendered from Van Meter's POV; his paranoia is expressed in terms familiar from GR.

p. 225 "old-time Combo-Ork arrangements"    There's that lingo again.

p. 225 "rallentando"    A typically obscure Pynchon word, this musical term means exactly the same as ritardando: played with decreasing pace. Perfect for the Thanatoid gig.

p. 226 "Larry Elasmo"    Cool name. Plasticman? But what the fuck is he doing at the Thanatoid Roast? Pynchon is pushing the outside of the coincidence envelope.

p. 226-228 Elasmo sequence.    Mr. Pynchon, meet Mr. Kafka. This all seems boosted right out of The Trial. Here's Weed, another rebellious American child (like Frenesi), submitting to, or fascinated with, authority. "Because the Doctor says so..." turn your body over to coaches, boys with hardons. Go to the Draft Board Center and sit on the group W bench. Even rational, mathematical, radical Weed does what the dentist tells him to, even if it is manifestly senseless.

Among other questions worth asking: Who authorized Elasmo to issue these compulsory forms that require people to come to his office? And by what mysterious process does Weed's merely waiting around cause him to become confused and dispirited? Maybe the idea is simply to take Weed out of the picture at intervals, so Vond and Frenesi can talk and fuck. There's some hint (from Vond if not from Pynchon) that Weed is collaborating with Vond. If so, we'd expect at least a short scene showing that collaboration. The Elasmo sequence stands in the right position, and serves the same function -- but there's no hint whatsoever of Vond. Pretty weird.

p. 226 "Dr Elasmo's video image had swept, had pixeldanced in"   Image/raster TV techotalk. Pixels = the tiny dots that make up the Tube image.

p. 227 "Dr. Larry Elasmo, or a person wearing, like a coverall and veil, his ubiquitous screen image grainy, flickering at the edges..."   So not only is the real Elasmo tracking Weed, his TV image is doing it too!

p. 228 "Ilse, the hygienist..."    Naturally, the dental hygienist in Larry's World of Discomfort is none other than Ilse, the high-heeled Nazi heroine of sixties S&M porno flicks, e.g., Ilse, She-Wolf of the SS.

p. 230 "...adjusted the pulsing vacuum to meet his own quickening rhythm..."   The scene of Rex adjusting Bruno's carburetors while masturbating in the intakes clearly harks back to certain intimate moments involving Rachel and her MG's gearshift lever in V.

p. 230 "Trash the Xanthocroid"    (See note, p. 197.)

p. 232 "...smile and relax beneath some single low oak out on an impossible hillside..."   Flashsideways (or some-even-stranger-ways) to an imaginary, 4th-dimensional picnic in which Rex, Weed, and Prairie "negotiate an agreeable version of history." This is an important little scene, since it's where the details of the murder are made explicit at last. Or are they? Note the "nearly" in "he nearly blew me away," which seems to suggest that maybe Weed is merely wounded? (It's just Pynchonian smoke; Weed really is killed.) This scene appears to be Rex's fantasy -- except how does he know about Prairie?

p. 236 "...he reached for the Tube, popped it on, fastened himself to the screen and began to feed."   A great William Burroughs-style science-fictional, Tube/addictive image.

p. 236 "It's takin his soul, man"    Certain primitive (and not so primitive) tribes believe that when someone takes your photograph it steals your soul. Or maybe Howie means the Tube.

p. 236 "Culito Canyon" = Spanish for "Little Ass Canyon."

p. 237 "...might make the Guinness Book someday..."   The Guinness Book of Records, published regularly by the Irish brewery/distillery company, chronicles current achievements in urban sports like phone booth stuffing.

p. 238 "Famous worms of song"    A play on "The worms crawl in, the worms crawl out, the worms play pinochle on your snout," sung to Mozart/Haydn/whoever's requiem. A famous childhood song, right up there with "Great green gobs of greasy grimy monkeymeat," "Hitler he had just one big ball," and the tragic ballad "Found a Peanut." This is kind of a heavy Pynchon hit on Frenesi's knowledge of Weed's impending doom.

p. 239 Note the asterisk at the top of the page.    How come? Pynchon hasn't needed no steenking asterisks before! Can those worms have thrown him so far off balance that he can't carry on without typographic help?   (Actually, there is one earlier asterisk occurrence, at the bottom of page 8. Go figure.)

p. 239 "ND-1 filters"    ND = Neutral Density; the suffix digit tells how many f stops it reduces incoming light (or outgoing baby-blue intensity) without changing color values.

p. 239 "Nixonian reaction...continued to...compromise...what may only in some fading memories ever have been a people's miracle, an army of loving friends..."   Pynchon seems bitter over the ease with which the government (and its media, and its money) destroyed the ideal/idyll.

p. 240 "'therapy sessions,' Brock called them..."   Brock seems connected with Elasmo. Does this mean that Weed has really turned? Or that Weed's sessions with the tooth-yanker are just Vond's "reality adjustments," in which Weed is somehow osmosified to believe in Brock's version of reality (in which only power counts, and resistance is futile)?

p. 240 "Smith" = Smith and Wesson.

p. 241 "24-frame-per-second truth"    Hi, Jean-Luc.

p. 242 "frogwork"    Frogs are the knots in which ornate cords (like the ones on doormen's uniform coats) are tied. Similar to Buddhist "priest cords" sometimes used as hangings. Here, frogwork is an evocative metaphor for the intricate shadow cast by the tangle of overhead cables and trolley wires -- and a very apt one, you'll agree, if you've ever seen the rat's nest of wiring suspended above the street in San Francisco or San Diego.

p. 244 "the Arri and...a wind-up Bolex"    Two small, light, quiet, highly portable 16mm movie cameras. The Arriflex' electric motor is powered by a battery pack; the Bolex is (like Pynchon says) spring-driven.

p. 245 "a battered old Auricon"    Another 16mm camera, also battery (or AC) powered, with the handy capability to record live sound right on the film.

p. 246 "the shirt cloth still burning around the blackly erupted exit, pale flames guttering out..."   Sounds great, but while we're no forensic experts we'd guess that burns would be characteristic of the entry hole of a gunshot wound, not the exit.

p. 247 "a Mole-Richardson Series 700 generator ... legendary Eclairs ... Miller heads, Fastaxes ... Norwood Binary light meters"    All deluxe loot from the CotS Film Arts Dept. The "legendary" Eclairs (there you go again, Mr. Pynchon!) are innovative French 16mm cameras, quieter (and producing a steadier image) than the Arri, Bolex or Auricon cameras mentioned above. The Miller fluid head goes on top of a camera tripod and allows very smooth pans.

p. 247 "Blue Cheer concert"    Blue Cheer was a popular "acid-rock" band of the time, named after one of underground chemist Stan Owsley's most popular (and potent) releases of LSD tablets. The tabs got their name because, in the charming flower-power style of the time, Owsley used to dye each new release a different color -- and the blue tinge of this batch reminded users of a well-known laundry detergent.

p. 247 "7242"   16mm Ektachrome EF reversal film, a medium fast (125 ASA) workhorse stock.

p. 248 "...a handful of persons [were] unaccounted for. In those days it was unthinkable that any North American agency would kill its own civilians and then lie about it.... Vond referred to it humorously as 'rapture.'"   Rapture is a Biblical reference to the Day of Judgment, when the dead and the living will be taken to Heaven. Vond uses the term again, later, to describe winching Prairie up "into the sky" and abducting her (p. 376). Pynchon may have picked up the term from Job, Robert Heinlein's last great fantasy novel.

p. 248 "Fawning, gazing upward at the zipper of his fly, media toadies..."   Here we see the "official" media, directed by the government, rewriting the Sixties on the spot. The only reporter to challenge Vond is dragged away.

p. 248 "field-gray trucks"   Feldgrau, that popular old Wehrmacht color!

p. 249 "tenebrous cool light"    tenebrous = dark, gloomy.

p. 249 "Federal Emergency Evacuation Route (FEER)"   What a quintessentially Pynchonian idea, and what a powerful image, and what a great acronym!

p. 250 "ruins from Camelot"    Little left from the Kennedy presidency.

p. 250 "the flagship of the 24fps motor pool, a '57 Chevy Nomad"   Cool wheels, but not mentioned in the semi-extensive description of the 24fps vehicle collection on p. 194.

p. 251 "Virgil Ploce"    Great name. And count on Pynchon to choose an anti-communist with an exploding cigar! Rumors about this supposedly-CIA-backed anti-Castro plot emerged after the Bay of Pigs invasion. It's never been established whether the gambit was actually put into practice.

p. 252 "primer cord"    Pynchon makes a common error in this reference; he may only have heard it said, never seen it in writing. This stuff is actually called "Primacord" (a copyrighted name of the Ensign-Bickford company). It's useful stuff, serving not only as a primer, but as a conveniently cord-shaped explosive substance.

p. 252 "the sudden light from behind, the unbearable sight in the mirror"   An atomic explosion.

p. 253 "...becoming its harsh woven shadow..."   Frenesi = light; DL = shadow; together = film. Also, of course, ones and zeros.

p. 254 "Hasta la proxima, querida mia"    Spanish for "Until next time, my dear." The letter "Z" is, of course, the trademark of Zorro. This steamy scene seems virtually pointless; maybe Pynchon got horny while he was writing. "Perhaps...not unscented" indeed! (See also p. 118, with the smell of DL's "pussy excitation.")

p. 255 "the subroutine Yukai na...a low-order limbic pleasure cycle that would loop over and over"   Interesting use of computer programming lingo in the martial arts world.

p. 255 "the rodent hour"   Given the refs to Daffy and Bugs in the previous sentence, this might refer to the Mickey Mouse Club show on the Tube, but was that one hour or one half hour??

p. 258 "A llover"    What a great meal! A llover is Spanish for, "It's about to rain," but it also refers to the fact that it's "all over" for the outdoor desayuno. Pynchon puns again.

p. 259 "powder to the people"    Ouch!

p. 259 "Feel like we were running around like little kids with toy weapons, like the camera really was some kind of gun, gave us that kind of power. Shit. How could we lose track like that, about what was real?"    Frenesi has totally bought Vond's line about the powerlessness of film vs. a gun. (And that's how they got her. And us.)

p. 259 "who'd we save"    Yet another preterite reference, and one that harks back to Hector's speech on p. 28.

p. 259 "Purple Owsley"    Another run of Owsley's high-grade color-coded LSD.

p. 260 "You know what happens when my pussy's runnin' the show."   If this is Frenesi's only motivation for the series of betrayals (including her betrayal of herself) that lie at the heart of Vineland, it's a thin reed on which to build a book. Unless we buy into Sister Rochelle's Eden parable in which Vond represents the snaky seductiveness of authority, and Frenesi stands for a postwar America that's eager to surrender its freedom. Indeed, Frenesi's enjoyment of bondage and discipline games, which free her of responsibility, makes a strong connection with all the S&M sequences in the book (see next note).

p. 260-261 "behind the Thorazine curtain"    Pynchon on a sadism kick. He does seem to have a weakness for this stuff, as many sequences in Gravity's Rainbow will attest.

p. 260 "5 mg Stelazine plus 50 of Thorazine"  Thorazine and Stelazine are antihallucinatory specifics, usually used to treat schizophrenics.

p. 261 "1,000-watt Mickey-Mole spot"    An open face (lensless) focusing studio light from the Mole-Richardson company. It rhymes, too.

p. 263 "out in the zodiac..."    Vond is a Scorpio. What else?

p. 263 "idiolalia"    Pynchon loves these esoteric terms. It means a private language. Here starts the paranoia about 24fps'rs disappearing -- which echoes people disappearing from the computer (p. 85), and the Kahuna airplane (p. 65).

p. 265 "Why would he come after us?"    Good question.

p. 265 "The whole Reagan program..."    Yeah! Go, Pynchon, go!

p. 266 Vond is "after Frenesi...to use her for some task."   OK, what task?

p. 266-267 "So the big bad Ninjamobile swept along on the great Ventura [Freeway]...above the heads of TV watchers, lovers under the overpasses, movies at malls letting out, bright gas-station oases in pure fluorescent spill...down the corridors of the surface streets, in nocturnal smog, the adobe air, the smell of distant fireworks, the spilled, the broken world."   What a great paragraph! Yes, the cat can write -- rhyming verse and all: "flirters, deserters, wimps and pimps"