"But have you never played with a clockwork doll?" the man insisted, the voice muffled through the door. "A doll which does everything perfectly, because of the machinery inside. Walks, sings, jumps rope. Real little boys and girls, you know, cry, act sullen, won't behave."
Thomas Pynchon, V
They shall wait, and be puzzled, and baffled and blinded; not with wine, shall be drunk, and shall reel without liquor; for Yahweh will pour on them a spirit of stupor, close their prophet's eyes, and will blindfold their gazers. Their visions shall be like words sealed in a book, passed to one who reads not, asking, "Read this book, pray." And he answers, "I cannot, because it is closed." Or gives it to another who knows not a letter, and says, "Read this, I pray." But he also answers, "I know not a letter!"
My battlegray-blue eyes popped open rather late by GT standards this Monday morning, mulling the plans we had set into place. Night had passed a gallstone of heavy sleep solids past my REM gourd but now an unbias light announced New Year's Eve minus one, and I had no one to blame for my tired blood enemy but myself. The big red digital clock on the dresser stared back at me from across the room, forcing me to acknowledge that it was after seven, and I wasn't getting any closer to the age of dissent. Rich chunky familiar odors were already wafting along the quiltsong architectural canvas of the Dollhouse, mixed with a few ambient splashy smells bouncing hard off walls and ceiling fans with a force of prank-incited wedgies up my nostrils. I needed no introduction to these smells. Tim was busy with kp duty, and I was willing to bet he was dishing up his best laid culinary delights for his newfound friend. Of course, it had never occurred to him the whole of his nearly nine month stay at the Dollhouse to offer to fix breakfast for Sue or Gabriel, even after all the hints in China, probably a habit he learned at home. But there was no animosity there. Meals had gotten off to a bad start in the very beginning of TimTime, and the fact that he now took care to feed himself, while we rarely offered him a freebie meal servicing anymore was quite enough explanation to suit me as to why he never came through with the Shipwreck Breakfast Special. Well, there WAS that one time early on, wasn't there? I don't recall, but I'd wager a mouthful of words to a number that Tim does.
With much to resolve on this lovely morning I awoke fondly reminiscing on my second round of light-hearted debate aimed at debunking Jennifer's intellectual guardian, Franz Boas, the morning before. Actually I had no idea when I first dropped his name that Boas was still such a powerhouse figure on the anthropological front, but then after a bit more consideration, I realized Darwin is no less fingered today than in his own heyday. Nor Jesus, Newton, Freud, Friedan, or Malcolm X in their own fields of opportunity.
Having only recently finished Dinesh D'Souza's controversial book on American race relations, The End of Racism, I was fresh to the subject of cultural relativism, a phenomenon D'Souza attributed directly to Boas and his first generation of prized disciples, which included such household names as Margaret Meade and Kenneth Clark. Without trying to recreate the whole argument "for" or "against" Boas, it can be easily accepted that the father of modern anthropology espoused biological evolution while denying cultural evolution, stating that culture is a matter of socialization processes. He therefore dismissed any notions of cultural superiority and inferiority that could be ranked according to a linear scale of savage, barbarian, and civilized. Strange that cultural relativists lust after the rewards of a civilized culture while refusing to adapt to the very methods that allowed the civilizing culture to prosper in the first place. But again, I must admit that this is no place to argue these subtleties. Even the previous statement leaves volumes unstated, and much to be distorted by the opposition. Emphasizing that the Jennifer and Gabriel debates barely skimmed the surface either, the list of liberal fallouts is too long and specific to labor beyond its purpose here, but suffice it to say D'Souza, a first generation immigrant to this country, born in India in 1961, moving to this country in 1978, wrote in defense of a more conservative capitalistic approach to race and economic problems in this country and worldwide. Liberals and black activists have seethed at his conclusions. I watched in absolute astonishment as Phil Donahue tried his damnedest while repeatedly failing to unstitch this boyish-looking defender of individual inertia and productivity as being the criteria for resolving the well-documented inpenetratable contradictions and fallout of liberal ideology. I was persuaded by his arguments, welcomed them as a solid framework for change so many politicians on the grift continue to mouth to loud applause while stumping for office while remaining clueless, or more precisely, spineless to help initiate their implementation once collecting a paycheck, and I was ready to address them with someone whose topical fiber could no doubt withstand my own diligence on this issue. Jennifer was visibly astonished, appearing to be caught completely off guard in discovering that I was even FAMILIAR with the name Boas. I was more surprised to find that she knew very little about D'Souza and his book, but her excuses of studies, focus and time constraints were obviously valid.
Yet we plunged gravy-eyed and pepsident into the cultural relativism debate with heavyweight brows to match our virtual polysynthetic fighting trunks for five to ten minutes the first time out. Volume and speed controls were both jacked to the heated debate levels we embraced like hunt dogs to water fowl.
It was easy enough to concede the truth of her query, only to also square with a great laugh that while I had not read Boas, she had not read D'Souza, and I was holding my own confidences quite well quoting from my own short-term memory his criticisms of Boas and the proof he offered that Meade, and indeed many of that first school of Boasians giddy with newfound liberal presumptions, had fabricated much of their own work tailored to promote the Boasian theory, and were quite unscientific in methodology on the whole. To the contrary, great portions of the work turned in were profoundly bogus concoctions meant to hide evidence not acceptable to the relativist theory. Still on my soapbox I told her that D'Souza in my reading is no far right assailant against individual liberty nor some chalkboard framer of double standards, but he suggests with very compelling examples spred over 500 encouraging pages that we have "gone from civil rights to uncivil libertiesthe liberty to abuse freedom and then claim entitlement." But nothing was to be settled in the Dollhouse kitchen concerning Boas OR cultural relativism at this point in our lives. This was an "agree to disagree" nod to the very relativism I sought to escape successfully without the penalty of losing friends. Not that I expected to convert Ms. Hoke-Connolly from her officially sanctioned perch upon the intellectual twig of the 20th century. I simply dared to expose myself to her competence, her higher education. I wanted a refutation, or a concession to my aims but I would not accept half-hearted half-baked kneejerk responses, nor be expected to give them. I wanted to be overwhelmed by precision or else win by acclaim. Naturally, neither was achieved. Severed from yet another dialetic in my passion to please my guest, I had no choice but to let go of the debate. Washington my hands of it. At least I was standing over the sink.
Len Bracken, revolutionary pretender to the classless society, when first spelled the excitement that spirited me after reading the book a few weeks back, responded to my description of D'Souza's conservatism with typical priapic wit, "Well of course, he's a Brahman..."
Len Bracken, unfortunately, is a fragmented shadowkissed soul like the rest of us, a man of thrust, means, friendship, lightning in his eyes, a man of almighty unbridled pretentions, exploding with potential, a ladies man, handsome at six-two, six three, a man of principle just enough to deny it, trying to have it both ways: an echo of primitive expansions wallowing among darling sophisticates of choice, beautiful codes of the daring flesh embracing the ugly roads of nature's whimsy, the chaotic of unrestrained revolution in the streets while gulping well-ordered, polite after-dinner apertifs to cap an evening of safe adventure, and in this regard, will only mimic the contradictory delusions in exactly the same mete and measure as every other segment of society he would condemn in bold strokes, and no stone is left unturned in his dark views of modern society.
But I was glad these arguments on cultural relativity were locking into place with regard to Jennifer. Surely she already knew upon which patch of promise I stood on matters of truth and consequence, their relationship to our own call of the wild, and so she knew no bootleg would ever pass for the real McCoy in MY forest. Through thick and thin our essences had remained the same. Of all people who knew me, other than my wife, she knew this without obstruction. She had claimed with sass and self-assurance the same turf for herself all through these years gorging on innocense as best she understood it. We pimped ourselves often with the chilling fact that we rarely disagreed on anything, even the language which we would use to describe a person, place, or thing, as we humored each other playing zippety doo da word games that would keep us both rolling around on the carpets, or bed, or wherever else we found ourselves on a pace and jocularity unmatched by anyone among my own fascinating if frequently irritating stable of friends, save the rather recent inclusion of Steve "Wonderboy" Taylor, whose talents for speed-dialing the brain cellular are of a certainty written on some mighty powerful but lean compiling code. As Steve puts it, "Well, not to play word games...wait...wait a minute...THAT'S what WE do!!!!"
But I had to admit now surface cracks were beginning to render this perfect text I had often imagined was possessed of almost magical qualities. Instead, a more humble shield of low-grade translucent cliché defrocking each of us with quivering elements was transpiring, and the potential loss of of a long-static relationship was pressing upon us. Jennifer's outbursts against me in an abrupt change of gears for her while straddling Sue that first night were nearly unprecedented, or so I wanted to tell myself, to fool myself into overlooking the barely apparent, just as I would overlook the visibly obvious problems Tim, Steve, Len, Tom, and Jack would cause me as I tried to sort out the good from the worthless in a decade of ruin. Something was indeed happening beneath the surface of what kept us mouthing the gospel of this cheek to cheek checkmate while actually proving the contrary with the actions Jennifer was choosing to embrace while dodging so many others as she conspired to bestow her own prerogatives on the fate of this friendship, but I wasn't certain. Today would tell a clearer story I had no other choice but to hope.
Downstairs I greeted the two dolls with a greasy good morning. Quickening to a fault, the saliva glands packed against my teeth and urged on by the whirling aromatic were no doubt pitching its own oily film to my hungering lips. Tim in the morning was sheer poetry...
Whistling while he worked, Tim was shrewdly doping vittles off the special menu he reserved for cozy overnighters. Of this of course I could only speculate. There had been no others, no other femme fatales he could call his own, no others to awaken with the thick promising bulge of uncut cucumber pressing against the warm soggy spot of vegematica, no others to fix a token morning meal guaranteed to wake even the dead nostrils of five or even six easy pieces of nickel sons and daughters. There had been no others. There was Styx a few months back, who'd gambled a few nights here on a mattress we'd picked up for her after I rescued the tragic scab-afflicted waif from the bus station, a topophobic orphan running from Texas, normality, and herself, but she apparently found the whole Dollhouse affair quite stifling, and scooted over to Tom's on the sly after we introduced them one night at Madam's Organ. Ruthless speculation indeed, but surely Timothy had finally scored some of that heavenly manna on this, his second night in the sack with the sweetheart from Cornell. Tim had remarked months before that the dungeon would not feel like home until he had bedded someone there, insuring there was no mistaking we had the makings of a homegrown myth between the Dollhouse walls and the fallguy sheets: wars and rumors of wars, sex and rumors of sex. Roll your own Tim was finally getting his chance to call the Dollhouse dungeon his home. Surely this was the kick behind his whistle.
I made haste to leave the happy couple alone, returning upstairs after getting myself something to drink, returning to the Macintosh, home of the brave and the cowards too. Lovely to the scheme, I always had E-mail to read and to write. Sue was stirring, readying herself for the daily grind of Alcalde & Fay. Tim and Jennifer would eat their cheery breakfast before he would push off to his own timeclock. Sue would engage her morning constitutionals of shower, java negro and snatches of Good Morning America, while I would nurse a sodapop until I slapped something together for breakfast later soon after the worker bees had left the hive. Everyone seemed to be happy. Energy, syzygy snapping together. Life was pumping through my veins, synapses firing squadrons of ideas through my brain. My earlier lethargy was ink and was vanishing...
Originally posted to a small group of friends on Sat Apr 05 08:54:00 1997
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