Chapter Sixty-two


   Are you shy? Are you nervous? Are you overweight? Are you deaf in one ear? Are you allergic to corn? Are you from Milwaukee?
   Whether you answered "yes" to any or all of these questions is irrelevant because this is Pointlessism, the hot new aesthetic taking the anti-art/anti-literary/anti-intellectual world by storm. Pointlessism is freedom, freedom from the constraints of the tired old post-modernism we've been stuck with ever since that nude fell down a flight of stairs and Bu˝uel slit Dali's eye with a razor. Pointlessism has distinct advantages over surrealism, dadaism -- even deism. In Pointlessism you not only can do whatever you damn well please, you're expected to do whatever you damn well please. Pure Pointlessism is pure randomness. It's anti-order, anti-meaning, anti-everything. The only discipline is lack of discipline, which isn't easy, kind of like taking a shower in weightlessness. Ask any astronaut. Have I made my point? Oops -- here comes Maureen.
   "Jim?"
   What?
   "It's getting late, and Chapter Sixty-five is just around the corner. You're dawdling."
   Yes, I know. Any suggestions?
   "Plenty. For starters, how about working on a final speech or soliloquy? And it better sing or the entire weight of this tome will come crashing down around your shattered ego."
   Well put -- but I'd like to accomplish more than just make the words sing. There's a hidden meaning to this that has so far eluded me and I want to find out what it is.
   "Trust me, Jim, you don't want to know. Why don't you just entertain and leave the deep thinking to the metaphysics wonks?"
   Because I'm curious. Maybe I'm not such a pale, two-dimensional character after all. When you stop to think about it, how many of us actually want to know why we're here and what it all means? How many? You could count them all on one hand.
   "Well, you might need both hands."
   Meanwhile, Miss Know-it-all, how come you don't want to know it all?
   "I don't want to know because I already know."
   You do? You know?
   "I know."
   You know what it all means?
   "I know what it all means."
   Yeah? So? Mind sharing it with the rest of us?
   "I can't."
   Why not? We're all friends -- you, me, the readers.
   "It's not that I don't want to tell you, Jim, I can't tell you. It's impossible, by any law of nature, or physics, or even metaphysics. The knowledge is imbedded in a higher memory that my character can't access."
   Huh?
   "In other words, there's a big 'Wet Paint' sign on that bit of info and you can't touch it."
   I bet I could get it out of you -- with a little friendly persuasion.
   "Don't bother. You'd just be wasting your time, time better spent composing that flashy finale."
   Oh, yeah. The finale.
   "You've got a lot of explaining to do."
   Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe something will happen, maybe someone or something will intervene -- my very own deus ex machina -- and clear it all up.
   "Like who? An editor? God? Sounds like a cheap cop-out, Jim. No, you really ought to do it yourself. You got yourself into it, now get yourself out of it."
   I'm scared.
   "You should be. But that doesn't mean you can't do it."
   Hmm, you got me thinking, Maureen. There should be a service for people who can't punch their way out of a prose paper bag. There are a lot of us, I'm convinced. You could do real well with a business like that, a business that provided endings for first novels. You could make a pretty penny, you could.
   "Not a bad idea, Jim."
   I know. Think of it: Some poor schnook is up late every night, banging his head against the wall, desperately in need of a final chapter that neatly ties together all the loose ends, all the unrelated elements, all the random references; an ending that explains, defines, amplifies, expands, and reveals; an ending that satisfies the reader as well as the critic -- assuming the critic can read; an ending that puts the final coat of paint on the prose and packs it away for posterity. Pow!
   "And you'll get it, too, Jim, I know you will, I'm positive you will. In the meantime, however, I, uh, have to go to work. The work never stops for the working girl. Ta-ta."
   Work? What are you doing now?
   "I'm, uh, the hat check girl at Bop City, a new club that just opened near me."
   Bop City? Where'd you hear that? Where'd you get that?
   "Where? Come on, I'll show you."
   No. Where did you hear of Bop City? I thought it was mine and mine alone? I paid five thousand bucks for it, too.
   "It is, technically, Jim. You bought it. You put it in this book. But, naturally, you know how people are. Speculators -- honest, hard-working speculators -- will dabble in the art market occasionally and invest some capital in what they call "Fiction Futures," banking on the possible breakout success of a soon-to-be-completed first novel, sometimes spending something in the neighborhood of three hundred thousand dollars financing a night club named after a club of the same name that's mentioned in your better-be-soon-to-be-completed first novel. Their goal is unheard-of popularity if the novel's a hit, but a more likely scenario is they'll incur unheard-of debts."
   So, you mean that there are people out there who speculate on things like this, before they're completed?
   "Lots of them. The guy who owns Bop City is not alone. There's a group of investors in Salem, Oregon who have spent nearly one hundred million dollars building a theme park called Baloneyland, which is mentioned only twice according to the Index -- well three times, if you count this paragraph. And a woman in Texas is marketing a breakfast cereal called Perpendicular Porridge, after your intrusive non sequitur."
   Intrusive non sequitur? You're not working as a hat check girl, Maureen, that's for sure. You're working with another writer, aren't you? Come on, out with it.
   "Well, it's true. It's Blabberman."
   Blabbo?
   "No, his Uncle Leo."
   He has an Uncle Leo?
   "Of course not, I'm kidding. Jeez, Jim, you can be so gullible sometimes."
   I'm a little on edge, okay? A little nervous. Three chapters from the end of my first novel and nothing makes sense, the ink's smeared, the whole thing's going down, down, down...
   "Jim, Jim... "
   I'll never make it. The further I go the more confused I get. It's hopeless, Maureen, hopeless. Only you can save me. Only you.
   "How bathetic. How pathetically bathetic. Stop the slobbering, sit up straight, look sharp."
   Look sharp. Look sharp. And look out. Look out for the fiery balls of criticism sure to come hurtling my way when the magistrates of culture pass judgment on this thing. Look out for the less-than-flattering comparisons to Twain, Eco, Calvino, Maclaine, TV Guide. Look out for the ridicule, the abandonment, the loneliness, the cheap hotel rooms, the lousy food.
   "Then again, Jim, there is always the chance it will be well received and pick up mostly positive reviews and become a modest success, possibly creating a bit of a ripple in the university crowd, finally settling in as a regular fixture in the 'Bargains Under $3.00' section."
   Maureen, you're a pain in the ass sometimes, you know that? I just want to find a way to end this thing rationally, or at least justifiably, or if not justifiably then just end it because if I don't you'll only be able to reach me through the American Consulate in Mexico, in Mexico City, Mexico. That's in Mexico, I believe.
   "You're going to Mexico?"
   I am if I can't get the ending right.
   "How will you know if it's 'right'?"
   I'll know, I'll know. It'll be a classic ending, too, one they'll remember, especially if it's the only thing they read. I'm counting on that actually.
   "You're expecting people to only read the ending?"
   Yes, because a good number of people go right to the last page, read it, and then say they've read Ulysses or Finnegan's Wake or Moby-Dick or whatever. If I can just get enough people to even whisper this book in the same breath with those then I'll be in hog heaven.
   "You're worse off than I thought, Jim. Well, this seems about as good a time as any to take my last vacation, so I will say ta-ta, see you in, what, Chapter Sixty-four?"
   Maybe I'll come down and visit you at the club.
   "If I'm not there, it means I'm on a break, having a cigarette out in back. No smoking when you're the hat check girl, you can understand that."
   I can understand that.


(This ends Chapter Sixty-two.)


Chapter Sixty-three