Chapter Sixty-three

   I don't feel any pressure. I really don't. Honest. It may say sixty-three up there, but it could be the first chapter the way I'm feeling. Calm. Serene. At peace. With the exception of maybe one little thing: You. You bother me, and I don't know why. Maybe it's the fact that you're always there. You are, you know. You never leave. You can't. Try. See? You can't. You have to read this, because if you stop, then -- see, you didn't stop -- you're still reading, right now, as I write. I write, you read. You read, I write. Right? I don't know. It seems that if I, the author, can have such control over you, the reader, then... how can there ever be any bad reviews?
   ("Promising, but needs an ending!" -- J.D. Salinger)
   Did I say anything about not feeling pressure? Holy shit! The Great American Writer-in-Hiding comes out of hiding to say that? Give me a break.
   ("Just kidding!" -- Kurt Vonnegut)
   Oh. Funny, funny. But true.
   ("Well, it was only a joke, Jimmy Boy, nothing to get yourself in a lather over" -- Kurt Vonnegut)
   But it's true. I do need an ending. Desperately. Do you have any idea how embarrassing it's going to be when I turn in a manuscript that ends... here? They'll use the pages for the Blabbo Blabberman ticker tape parade! I'll be humiliated. And you won't look so good either, Kurt.
   ("Call me Mr. Vonnegut!" -- Kurt Vonnegut)
   But, I --
   ("Just kidding!" -- Kurt Vonnegut)
   You're the master.
   ("No I'm not. I'm not even Kurt Vonnegut" -- Kurt Vonnegut)
   You're not?
   ("Nope. I'm just another Joe lookin' for a steady job, somethin' I can do for awhile, so's I can settle down in one place, build a nest egg, and raise a family" -- Kurt Vonnegut)
   So, you're really not Kurt Vonnegut?
   ("Nope, 'fraid not. Sorry" -- Kurt Vonnegut)
   This has all been -- an illusion?
   ("An illusion wrapped in an enigma enclosed in a riddle" -- Kurt Vonnegut)
   I'll be damned. Nothing is real. Nothing. Kurt's an impostor. What about Maureen? Or me for that matter?

   (AUTHOR'S NOTE: Should I tell him?)

   If nothing is real, if the world is irrational, than everything is an illusion, every character, every experience, every thought, all are illusions... even, even -- the AUTHOR!!!

   (AUTHOR'S NOTE: What? Yikes!)

   Even the AUTHOR, the lousy author of this thing, is an illusion. I should have known, I should have known. Damn!

   (AUTHOR'S NOTE: Gulp!)

   All is phony, all is baloney. Even the baloney is phony. Even the oxymorons are contradictions-in-terms. What a mess, what a mess, what a godawful mess. So, having exhausted all other tricks and gimmicks, having expended every last bit of nervous energy trying to get through his first novel, I'm forced to go to Plan B, or, more specifically, LET'S GET SERIOUS.


   That's right, four hundred plus pages into this thing and it's time to get serious. So sue me. I did get you to read this far (unless you're thumbing your way through, in which case -- scram!) and that is no small achievement. But it's time to level, as they say. You see, using the character or "narrative voice" of James M. Reynolds has allowed me to keep you at a distance. This protected me. From you. But now it's time to clear the air. And things could get bumpy. (I'm not so sure about this approach, Jim. We should talk -- Ed.)
   All I wanted to do was try something different, but I wasn't sure what. Taking the notion of a fractured consciousness -- Boy Xeroxes brain/Boy meets girl/Boy gets girl/Boy loses girl/Boy Xeroxes brain -- and overlaying it with the inner musings of a confused, self-conscious, relentlessly uncertain writer, I was striving for a psychological jigsaw puzzle of a thriller, a character study of a mind gone berserk, and then suddenly making sense, and then -- who knows? -- I never finished. I stopped at this point, right here, at the point of being about to finally reveal the point.
   So, was I being too ambitious for my brain cells? What do you think? You're reading it. You're reading it. You have no opinion? Nothing? Doesn't it strike you as at least a little bit funny that you've read this far and you have no opinion whatsoever about what you've read? No?
   Anyway, let me just say that, all things considered, $17.95 is not a lot to pay, not when you consider the added benefits. Quite frankly I was surprised when I learned this, but one reading, just one reading, of In the Bubble will increase your IQ by twenty-five points! That's right. You can increase your IQ by 25 points just by reading this book. Now, isn't that worth $17.95? No?
   Well, listen to this: For every copy of this novel that you purchase (No bulk buyers, please!) the publisher will award five hundred miles to your airline Advantage program. This offer is good until 12/31/95.
   By the way, if you spot any really bad spelling mistakes in this edition, you can do the editor and me a favor by sending -- or, better, faxing -- us the corrections. Small things like thys, though, ingore. Five dollars for every misspelled werd.
   Also -- and this is the best offer of them all -- if you purchase six or more copies of this novel, making each purchase at a different retail outlet, and have the receipts to prove it, then you are eligible to be the lucky reader chosen to write a chapter in a future printing! (Should there be one -- Ed.) How about that? Write your own chapter. Not bad, eh? I'd like to see any other novelist make that offer. So, honestly now, when you stop to think of all the great things you get when you plunk down your $24.95 (often discounted for less), in addition to the novel itself, it doesn't seem like so much. In fact, it turns out to be quite a bargain.
   Am I always so shameless? No, of course not. But it's this new literary climate we live in today. You can't just sit back and allow the reader to decide -- on the basis of "merit" -- a book's worth. These days you have to be aggressive, you have to be confrontational, you have to assault the reading public with your oeuvre. Beat them to the punch before they beat you to a pulp. This is a full-contact blood sport, a survival-of-the-fittest grudge match in a locked cage with no rules and no time limit. And you only get one chance. Screw it up and it's off to the remainders bin, the irrelevant's burial ground.
   Is this a novel?
   Is this a novel?
   Is this a novel? I don't know. What is a novel? The first, Melmoth the Wanderer, by Maturin, sure as hell wasn't like this. But could Maturin, a Monk, have foreseen the revolution in data transmission, the changes in almost every facet of our civilization that would occur over the next couple of hundred years? I doubt it. Can we, reader, can we predict what will happen two hundred years hence? Can we?
   "Yes, we can. By simply feeding our current models of civilization to large super-computers working in parallel, as well as perpendicular, we can determine -- with some degree of accuracy -- what the future will be like."
   That's it! That's my closing theme! That's the flashy grand finale Maureen was pushing for! That's it! That's it!!!
   "What? What's it?"
   You, you nincompoop! You! People like you, the statistical projectionists, the bean counters, the true believers in the biggest con job ever foisted on us!
   "What the hell are you talking about?"
   I'm talking about you, you -- for lack of a much better word -- clod!
   "Clod? You're calling me a clod? Hah!"
   Was that in your computer, Mr. Clod?
   "Was what in my computer?"
   This clod stuff.
   "It could have been, or something like it. It's all probability, you see. Law of averages."
   That's too sterile. And wrong. There are some things you can't predict.
   "Oh? Like what?"
   Like... snowflakes! Each one is different. No two snowflakes are alike! Right?
   "Well, not exactly. Now they're saying that every snowflake has an exact double."
   What about fingerprints? All fingerprints are unique, aren't they?
   "Technically, yes. But it's possible to graft someone else's fingerprints onto your own, so -- "
   It is?
   "That's what I'm told."
   Art. Art is unique. Art is creation, it's always unpredictable, always different. What say you now?
   "Art is -- well, I hate to tell you this because you sound so positive and optimistic, but art -- art is commerce."
   Art is commerce?
   "With a little color added."
   So, is commerce, therefore, art?
   "No. Commerce is commerce. But here's a tip, and it's probably way too late, but -- I think you should get back to Maureen and the Powloo and Joseph P. Kennedy and the rest of the gang and drop the mea culpas and the philosophizing. Who cares? Like Dancing Cloud said earlier, some day you'll be the paper."
   But, how can I go back? I've already junked the facade, spilled the beans. And with just two chapters left, I don't know how I'll resolve things.
   "It's the only way. Go bowling, go to the Olympics, go to jail, just go, and I guarantee you'll arrive at Chapter Sixty-five in great shape, smelling like a rose."
   We'll see, we'll see.

(This ends Chapter Sixty-three.)

Chapter Sixty-four