Saturday, January 22, 2011

Why You Should Read Infinite Jest, Pt. 1

In a previous post, I discussed how Infinite Jest, for all of its uneven-ness, has some startlingly well-written set pieces. Because four of this blog's contributors have lived at one time or another, I thought that this set piece, describing what it is like to drive on Boston's dangerous streets, would ring particularly close to home.

To set the scene: Don Gately, one of the main characters in the novel, and a former drug-addict and burglar-turned sober halfway house drug-and-alcohol addiction counselor at a halfway house called the Ennet House Drug and Alcohol Recovery House (sic). Gately has borrowed his boss' sports car to make a grocery run to cook dinner for a couple of the halfway house's new residents.

"One of the possible weak spots in Gately's AA recovery-program of rigorous personal honesty is that once he's jammed himself into a black-as-water Aventura and watched the spoiler throb as he turns over the carnivorous engine, etc., he often finds himself taking a ltitle bit less of a direct route to a given Ennet-errand-site than he probably could. If he had to come right down to the heart of the issue he likes to cruise around town in Pat's car. He's able to minimize the suspicious time any particular bit of extra cruising adds to his errands by basically driving like a lunatic: ignoring lights, cutting people off, scoffing at One-Ways, veering wildly in and out, making pedestrians drop things and lunge curbward, leaning on a horn that sounds more like an air-raid siren. You'd think this would be judicially insane, in terms of not having a license and facing a no-license jail-bit anyway, but the fact is that this sort of on-the-way-to-the-E.R.-with-a-passenger-in-labor driving doesn't usually raise so much as an eyebrow among Boston's Finest, since they have more than enough other stuff to attend to, in these troubled times, and since everybody else in metro Boston drives exactly the same sociopathic way, including the Finest themselves, so that the only real risk Gately's running is to his own sense of rigorous personal honesty. One cliche he's found especially serviceable w/r/t the Aventura issu is that Recovery is about Progress Not Perfection. He likes to make a stately left onto Commonwealth and wait to get out of view of the House's bay window and then produce what he imagines is a Rebel Yell and open her up down the sertentine tree-lined boulevard of the Ave. as it slithers through bleak parts of Brighton and Allston and past Boston U. and toward the big triangular CITGO neon sign and the Back Bay. He passes The Unexamined life club (a bar that turns up in a couple of scenes), where he no longer goes, at 1800h. already throbbing with voices and bass under its ceaseless neon bottle, and then the great gray numbered towers of the Brighton Projects, where he definitely no longer goes. Scenery starts to blur and distend at 70 kph. Comm. Ave. splits Enfield-Brighton-Allston from the downscale north edge of Brooklune on the right . . . The giant CITGO sign's like a triangular star to steer by. He's doing 75k down a straightaway, keeping abreast of an inbound Green Line train ramming downhill on the slightly raised track that splits Comm.'s lanes into two and two. He likes to match a Green train at 75k all the way down Commonwealth's integral curve and see how close he can cut beating it across the tracks at the Brighton Ave. split. Its a vestige. He'd admit it's like a dark vestige of his old low-self-esteen suicidal-thrill behaviors. He doesn't have a license, its not his car, it's a priceless art-object car, its his boss's car, who he owes his life to and sort of maybe loves, he's on a vegetable-run for shattered husks of newcomers just out of detox whose eyes are rolling around in their heads. Has anybody mentioned Gately's head is square? Its almost perfectly square, massive and boxy and mysticetously blunt.: the head of somebody who looks like he likes to lower his head and charge. He used to let people open and close elevator doors on his head, break things across his head. The 'Indestructible' in his childhood cognomen referred to his head. His left ear looks like a prizefighter's left ear. The head's nearly flat on top, so that his hair, long int he back but with short PRince Valiant bangs in front, looks sort of like a carpet remnant someone's tossed on the head and let slide slightly back but stay. Nobody that lives in these guano-spotted old brown buildings along Comm. with bars on the low floors' windows ever goes inside, it seems like. Even in thunder and little astericks of snow, all kinds of olive Spanish and puke-white Irish are on every corner, bullshitting and trying to look like they're just out there waiting fo rsomething important and drinking out of tallboys wrapped tight in brown paper bags. A strange nod to discretion, the bags, wrapped so tight the outline of the cans can't be missed. A Shore boy, Gately'd never used a paper bag around streetcorner cans: its like a city thing. The Aventura can do 80 kph in third gear. The engine never strains or whines, just eventually starts to sound hostile, is how you know to hurt your hip and shift. The Aventura's instrument panel looks more like the instrument panel of a military aircraft. Something's always blinking and Indicating; one of the blinking lights is supposed to tell you when to shift; Pat has told him to ignore the panel. He loves to make the driver's side window go down and rest his left elbow on the jamb like a cabbie."

Also from that chapter, footnote #202, defining the term "Storrow 500" as:

Local argot for Storrow Drive, which runs along the Charles from the Back Bay out to Alewife, withmultiple lanes and Escherian signs and On-and Off-ramps within car-lengths of each other and no speed limit and sudden forks and the overall driving experience so forehead-drenching it's in the metro Police Union's contract they don't have to go anywhere near it.

1 comment:

Ellen said...

I completely missed that you finally finished it. Congratulations!