CHAPTER 6

This chapter is very beautifully written. We finally meet Frenesi in present-tense, at home (presumably somewhere in Texas or Arizona), with her current husband Flash. There's a flashback to her leaving Vond, and some exposition on her subsequent career (and her "specialization" of betraying people she sleeps with.) In a complex triple-flashback we learn about Frenesi's early history, then her mom Sasha's Wobbly background, then her grandma Eula's involvement in even older left-wing activities. Back to Sasha in San Francisco in WW II, then back to Frenesi in Texas/Arizona in the present. Flash says people are disappearing from the computer. Frenesi tries to cash her latest government "snitch" check, and discovers that someone has stopped payment.

 

p. 68 "a pale humid Sun Belt city whose almost-familiar name would soon enough be denied to civilian eyes by federal marker pens"   That is, censored in Frenesi's Freedom-of-Information file. This marker-pen image recurs later, too. One gets the feeling that Pynchon has, at one time or another, worked with such files -- or looked at his own.

p. 70 "once you get that specialist's code..."   Frenesi has the specialist's code for sexual betrayal. Cold.

p. 71 "a zombie at her back" = Frenesi's past. Embodied, we shall see later, by the Thanatoid Weed.

p. 71 "full-auto qualified"    More military usage. Technically, this means qualified in automatic-fire weaponry, but the meaning here seems more like: empowered, into her own.

p. 71-72 "When the sixties were over...a world based on the one and zero of life and death..."   A moving section, extremely fine writing, and the first appearance of Pynchon's powerful binary metaphor -- which rolls on to the end of the chapter, and indeed, throughout the book. Actually, it first appeared near the end of The Crying of Lot 49: "For it was now like walking among matrices of a great digital computer, the zeros and ones twinned above.... Ones and Zeros. So did the couples arrange themselves...[for example,] either an accommodation reached...with the Angel of Death, or only death and the daily, tedious preparations for it. Another mode of meaning behind the obvious, or none."

P. 74 gaffer  The movie electrician who sets up the stage lights for filming; probably a member of IBEW (IATSE local 40),

p. 75 "all over the jukeboxes..."    Pynchon makes a rare departure from his usual devil-may-care style to explain one of his weird names. Frenesi's parents named her after the popular Artie Shaw swing tune.

p. 75 "Crocker 'Bud' Scantling"    An appropriate name for a logging goon, since a scantling is, among other things, a small wooden beam, or a small timber. As Pynchon tells the tale, Scantling was hired by "big timber" (the Employers Association), to help eradicate the "timber beast" (the IWW). Scantling's first name may be a reference to Charles Crocker, a 19th Century California tycoon who made a fortune building the Union Pacific Railroad.

p. 75 "the Employer's Association" of the State of Washington was the anti-wobbly arm of the Lumber Trust. In April, 1918, its hired thugs raided the IWW headquarters in Centralia, Washington -- leading, inevitably, to yet another massacre in Centralia during the Armistice Day parade, November 11, 1919.

p. 75 "...a local attorney for the damned, sure no George Vandeveer..."   George F. Vanderveer (either Pynchon, his editor, or his typesetter has misspelled the name) was a prominent Seattle attorney in the 'teens, popularly known as "counsel for the damned." In 1917 Vanderveer successfully defended IWW members in the legal free-for-all following a series of violent confrontations in Washington state in which Wobblies were slugged, kidnapped, shot, hanged, tarred and feathered, driven out of town -- and, when all else failed, jailed and charged with treason for endangering the war effort.

Subsequently Vanderveer became chief counsel for the IWW, and in 1918 headed the defense of 101 Wobblies against bogus charges of sabotage, and conspiracy to obstruct the war. The trial lasted five months; it was the longest criminal trial ever held in the United States to that date. Despite Vanderveer's best efforts, all 101 defendants were found guilty, and given long sentences by Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis (later the first Commissioner of Baseball). This was the beginning of the end for the IWW, although it lingered long enough to contribute to the events described in this chapter, and remained technically active well into the sixties.

p. 76 "Wobblies, sneered at by property owners..."   Wobblies = members of the IWW, the International Workers of the World. And definitely preterite.

p. 76 "bindlestiff life"    Hobolike. Bindle = bundle, usually a hobo's clothes and stuff, rolled up in bedroll. Hence, "Bindlestiff" = hobo, a stiff with a bindle, but sometimes a thief who will stiff you of your bindle.

p. 76 "One Big Union"    Often confused with the IWW, this was actually an earlier labor movement that led to the formation of the IWW. First seen around the turn of the century, it was supposed to be organized along industrial, rather than trade lines. The Lumber Trust, which controlled the authorities in the area, called this movement "The Timber Beast," and did its best to eradicate it. Nonetheless, in the early 'teens it took hold among Northwest loggers, most of whom eventually joined the IWW.

p. 76 "Joe Hill" (1882 - 1915) was a Swedish emigrant who arrived in the US in 1901, and fought in the Mexican revolution before becoming an IWW organizer in California in 1912. A songwriter as well as a soldier of fortune, he is credited as the author of many labor union songs, including Casey Jones (The Union Scab), The Preacher and the Slave, Rebel Girl, Pie In the Sky When You Die, and many others. In 1915, Hill was framed on a murder charge, and executed by firing squad, in Utah. Whether in spite of, or because of, his murder, he went on to become a legendary labor hero, inspiring countless thousands of working men and women. Hill's life fully justifies his legend.

p. 76 "piss on through"    As opposed to "pass on through." Nice bit of local/period usage -- unless it's a typo.

p. 76 "the City"    There's only one: San Francisco. Pynchon's flawless idiomatic usage reveals him to have spent at least some time in the Bay Area.

p. 77 "a rip-roaring union town..."    Excellent details of pre-war labor history in San Francisco.

p. 77 "the General strike of '34"    The surprisingly successful San Francisco General Strike of July, 1934, was initiated by Harry Bridges' Longshoremen's Union, along with a number of other unionized maritime workers. Jack London wrote about it in his story, "South O' the Slot." Although the authorities eventually succeeded in putting it down, some of the strikers' demands were actually met. As a result, "strike fever" spread throughout the US, especially in the coal mining, and textile industries, and among agricultural workers. Pynchon lists some of the west coast agricultural strikes.

p. 77 "standing midwatch guard"    Midwatch is a Naval term, probably an abbreviation of "midnight watch" since the midwatch (also known as the "balls to four") is the stint between midnight and 4 AM. It's followed by the dogwatch (4 AM to 8 AM).

p. 77 "Tom Mooney"    Thomas J. Mooney was a famous jailed radical, for whom thousands of picket signs ("Free Tom Mooney") were carried by thousands of lefties during the twenties and thirties. In 1915, Mooney was the foremost labor radical in San Francisco. He was solidly against the United Railroads of San Francisco, which in turn put its money behind Charles M. Fickert, a leader of the "crush the unions" drive. On July 22, 1916, Fickert framed Mooney by staging a homicidal dynamite blast on Market Street. Ten people were killed; Mooney (and Warren K. Billings) were held in prison until 1939, when they were pardoned by California Governor Culbert L. Olson.

p. 77 "Campaign for Culber Olson in '38"    Another typo/misspelling. This must be the Culbert L. Olson who eventually freed Tom Mooney.

p. 78 "Oh, the joints were jumping those nights..."   Pynchon does a great job of capturing the wartime atmosphere in San Francisco, with a cute ref to Orson Welles' War of the Worlds radio broadcast.

p. 78 "Wild and rowdy like the Clark Gable movie."   That's San Francisco [1936].

p. 78 Eddie Enrico and his Hong Kong Hotshots   Some readers believe that Pynchon’s creation of Eddie Enrico and his Hong Kong Hotshots is a reference to Earl Mac Rauch’s 1984 film The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension (which itself contains references to The Crying of Lot 49) — and in which Buckaroo Banzai plays in a band called the Hong Kong Cavaliers. Your call.

p. 78  "Ramón Raquello...with the news from Mars"  Fictional bandleader and fictional event, both created by Orson Welles’ Mercury Players for the famous War of the Worlds radio broadcast on 30 Oct 1938.

p. 79 "Chinese references in those days [were] code for opium products"   A fascinating (and typically Pynchonian) inside "period" tip.

p. 79 "ork"   Pynchon uses this obscure bit of (presumably) forties slang,  meaning orchestra, at least twice in Vineland. We've never run across it in any of our period reading or listening. However, in Kovacsland, a biography of Ernie Kovacs, author Diana Rico makes reference to Kovacs' habit of "creating a special language" in a column he wrote, briefly, for a newspaper called the Trentonian. ["Special language" = "idiolalia." See note on p. 263. A paranoid would connect these, but we'll pass.] To illustrate her point, she notes Kovacs' habitual use of the word "orks," meaning orchestras. Now Kovacs was writing in 1946, so there are two intriguing possibilities: 1) Rico is wrong; Kovacs didn't make up the term, he picked it up from hearing it used, thereby verifying Pynchon's correct use of it. Or, 2), Kovacs did invent the term, and Pynchon picked it up from reading one of Kovacs' columns.

p. 79 "telegraphing the chord changes"    Only musicians think about these details; another hint of Pynchon's musical predilections.

p. 79 "gave her the O-O"    O-O = the once-over. But the way it looks on the page also suggests "the big eye," or in this case, two of 'em.

p. 80 "long-hull Sumner-class destroyer"    More Navy stuff, unlikely to be found in newspaper archives.

p. 80, 81 "Friends of Hub's had sold out friends of Sasha's..."   Extremely accurate rendition of left-wing bitterness, with nice joke ("nobody talks") to cap it.

p. 82 "You want to see a hot set?....see that? Shook all over? That's scab carpentry..."   Presumably the paint on the scab construction hadn't dried yet either. This is great, authentic-sounding slang.

p. 82 "You want to see a hot set...some scab local the IA set up..."  IA is short for IATSE – the International Alliance of Theatrical and Stage Employees. Originally a theatrical union for stagehands and set decorators, it expanded into Hollywood and the up-and-coming motion picture industry in the 1920s. In the early 1930s, the union was taken over by the Chicago crime syndicate headed by Frank Nitti—Al Capone’s successor. Throughout the '30s and '40s (and, some say, even today) IA was a so-called "sweetheart" union—meaning that it existed primarily to protect the studios from labor unrest. During those years IA paid millions of dollars in kickbacks to the mob. During the CSU strikes of 1945-1947 (see note, p. 289) "company" unions were formed by IA leaders for the express purpose of breaking the strikes. "Hot" was a term the far more radical CSU (Conference of Studio Unions) used to refer to sleazy sets constructed by these "scab" IA unions.

p. 82 "loud birds...were attracted..."    Not even birds can resist TV; it charms them out of the trees.

p. 83 "Believing that the rays coming out of the TV screen would act as a broom to sweep the room clear of all spirits, Frenesi now popped the Tube on and checked the listings."   So we learn two more notable Tube Facts: TV has supernatural powers; and it sweeps out good, as well as bad spirits.

p. 83 "Let the grim feminist rave..."    Frenesi's fetish for men-in-uniform manifests itself in masturbatory fantasies featuring Ponch and Jon from CHiPs. This scene marks the return from Frenesi's flashback to her parent's history and her childhood.

p. 83 "Sasha believed her daughter had 'gotten' this uniform fetish from her...a helpless turn toward images of authority..."   Authority = God = election to Calvinist salvation. Pynchon's attitude towards authority in this context is pretty well spelled out in DL's angry-ironic monologue on schoolrooms (p.128): "...better just hand [your body] over to those who are qualified, doctors, and lab technicians and by extension coaches, employers, boys with hardons, so forth..."

p. 85 "a lot of people we know -- they ain't on the computer anymore. Just -- gone."   Paranoia strikes deep, except this time it isn't just paranoia. This echoes the passengers vanishing from the Kahuna Airlines plane in Chapter 5, and foreshadows the "handful of persons unaccounted for" (p. 248) after Trasero County events to be revealed presently. It seems that Vond (or certain "unrelenting forces" that may, or may not, be connected with Vond) have been "disappearing" people for some time.

p. 87 Long Bihn Jail  Long Bihn was the principal US military prison in Vietnam during the Vietnam War. Located in Saigon, and best known as "The LBJ" by the troops, it housed US military personnel who had crossed to the dark side.

p. 87 "...a kind of alien-invasion game in which Flash launched complaints of different sizes at different speeds and Frenesi tried to deflect or neutralize them..."   A marital argument is described with a Space Invaders simile. Very telling, very clever.

p. 90 "Jasonic"   From Jason, the main character in Friday the 13th [1980].

p. 90 "alphanumeric" = letters and numbers, like a typewriter keyboard.

p. 90 "It would take eight human lives and deaths just to form one character..."   Computer reference: eight bits, each of which can be either a one or a zero, make one byte (or alphanumeric character).

p. 90 "We are digits in God's computer...and the only thing we're good for, to be dead or to be living, is the only thing He sees. What we cry, what we contend for, in our world of toil and blood, it all lies beneath the notice of the hacker we call God."   The life-and-death-as-ones-and-zeros conceit is concluded. A beautiful, elegant, unbearable idea. The phrase "toil and blood" may be a tip of the hat to Bob Dylan (the same words occur in "Shelter From the Storm"), or it may simply be a reference to Winston Churchill's famous WW II speech.