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shameless pleading

July 2013

Semper Ubi Sub Ubi

readme:

Special note: The Word Detective Online has always been free and always will be free. But we depend on reader subscriptions and contributions to survive. Unfortunately, the dismal state of the economy has caused a precipitous decline in the number of readers who are able to contribute or subscribe, and the Word Detective needs your help now. We are running out of peanut butter and cat food, and that is not meant metaphorically. Just ask Inky.

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Inky

If you have enjoyed the Word Detective Online over the past eighteen (!) years, please subscribe for $15 per year (roughly four cents per day), or simply contribute what you can. And now, on to our slightly late latest issue:

Wow. July, eh? Well, the good news is that we finally got the 50-foot tree off our front lawn, where it landed after the second derecho last year. We had several people agree to tackle the job, but they either wanted $500 we didn’t have or simply never showed up. Our neighbor Bob eventually conned one of his friends into sawing it up and we dragged the pieces into our north field with Bob’s tractor.

Meanwhile, another tree simply keeled over for no good reason and is currently resting atop the fence around our dooryard. We actually had to chop off a few branches to get in the door. If I could use my little chainsaw it would be completely gone, but I’m not allowed to because I can’t hold a coffee cup in my left hand.

And so it goes. Just living in this house is a full-time job. The other night our lights went out, which is not unusual. But the way they went out was rather alarming; they popped on and off rapidly six or seven times before everything went dark. They came back on about 4 am, and we went downstairs to turn off all the things that had been on when the power went off. We were about to go back to bed when we smelled something funny, and an investigation revealed that the cellar was full of acrid smoke. Bad sign.

So the fire department comes in full force, stomping through the house looking for the fire while we scrambled to round up the cats. It took them (the fire people, not the cats) about an hour to figure out what had happened. Apparently the water softener had been recharging when the power went out, and when it came back on the poor thing had gone into a sort of fit, cycling the well pump switch on and off until it arced, caught fire and melted into a choking purple cloud of dollar signs. Two days and $200 later, we had water again. Yay.

Then a week later the water heater, apparently feeling left out of the fun, up and died. $274 and change for that. Meanwhile, our little tractor broke down and took weeks (and ~$300) to fix, giving the grass a chance to grow to be two feet high. I’m gonna worry about that when it stops raining. Maybe. It’s always something. I realized today that the car is sixteen years old. Old enough to drive itself, right?

Incidentally, if you’ve ever wondered what I do with the moolah from your contributions and subscriptions to this site, what I’ve just described would have been much worse without your generosity. So thanks to all, and, as for the rest of youse, please consider subscribing.

I keep dreaming that I’m back in NYC, living on my beloved Upper West Side. Unfortunately, in this dream I seem to be living in my car. So here I am in rural Ohio, and in my dreams I’m trying to remember how Alternate Side Parking works.

Onward. A few months ago, for no particular reason, I decided to read Thomas Pynchon’s latest novel, a sort of hippie-noir mystery called Inherent Vice, which is now apparently being made into a movie. I’m not an expert on Pynchon, but it’s the only one of his novels I can even remotely imagine being made into a film, andĀ  it’s still a stretch. I really wish they wouldn’t try, but I also wish Steven Spielberg weren’t working on an “update” of The Grapes of Wrath. Anyway, I also read The Crying of Lot 49 many years ago, and had started reading his much longer Vineland when it came out in 1990 but lost the thread for some reason. So I went back to it and am glad I did. Here’s an energetic review by Salman Rushdie.

Having apparently contracted Pynchon Fever, I’m currently a few hundred pages into the mammoth Gravity’s Rainbow, which is quite a different kettle of fish, and definitely one of the strangest books I’ve ever read. It won the National Book Award in 1974, and was also chosen by theĀ  jury for the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction that year, but the Pulitzer Board blocked the award. According to the New York Times, “… Other members of the 14-member board, which makes recommendations on the 18 Pulitzer Prize categories … had described the Pynchon novel during their private debate as ‘unreadable,’ ‘turgid,’ ‘overwritten,’ and in parts ‘obscene.’ One member editor said he had tried hard but had only gotten a third of the way through the 760-page book.” There must be something wrong with me, because I find it addictive.

Meanwhile, back at Vineland, the story is set in 1984 in Northern California, and deals with the fallout of the government repression of the 1960s and 70s antiwar movement and its surrounding counterculture. The “arch-baddie” in the book, as Rushdie notes in his review, is “Brock Vond, Federal prosecutor and psychopath,” who has seamlessly transitioned from harassing political radicals for the Nixon administration to spearheading the Reagan-era Federales’ anti-pot “CAMP” (Campaign Against Marijuana Planting) raids in Vineland (a fictionalized Humboldt County). Hijinks ensue, as they say. It’s a fun book; Godzilla (or a close relative) makes a brief appearance, and some of the characters are Thanatoids, technically dead but not quite gone yet.

I was just a little ways into Vineland when it dawned on me that Brock Vond is not just a great, twisted character. He is, or was, a real person, and I’m surprised that some reviewer didn’t pick up on this when the book came out. Vond is pretty clearly based at least in part on Guy Goodwin, a US Attorney who in the late 60s and early 70s roamed the country convening grand juries and using byzantine conspiracy laws to twist the antiwar movement into knots of fear and mutual distrust.

Brock, er, Guy Goodwin

Goodwin himself was said by his friends to be a liberal Democrat opposed to the war in Vietnam, but he sure had a funny way of showing it. He eventually jumped the rails by reacting to criticism of his methods from a fellow US attorney by dragging the guy (drum roll) in front of a special grand jury. That was a bit too Orwellian even for the widely-syndicated columnist Jack Anderson, up until then a Goodwin supporter, who wrote a column suggesting that Goodwin should chill out. And that was that.

I happen to know all this, and instantly recognized Brock Vond as Guy Goodwin, because (a) I was familiar with Goodwin’s oeuvre at the time, and (b) once actually met Goodwin outside a federal courtroom in the early 70s. (I was, fortunately, not a party to the proceedings.) Heckuva guy, that Guy. He scared the bejeezus out of me. Seriously. You know the scenes in the first Star Wars where Darth Vader sweeps in with his cape and all? I think George Lucas was aiming to convey the same kind of psychopathic malevolence Goodwin radiated: a bone-chilling aura of get-me-out-of-here evil, with a double side order of crazy. Trust me, no aspect of Pynchon’s Vond is much of an exaggeration. And the Vond-Goodwin equation makes Pynchon’s descriptions of Vond — at one point he materializes in a fuzzy sky-blue 80s pantsuit — especially delicious. Anyway, Vineland is a great book, and sincerely I hope Hollywood considers it unfilmable.

So here’s this month’s issue, and barring any more disasters, there will be another moseyin’ along before too long. Please don’t forget to remember to subscribe.

And now, on with the show…

3 comments to July 2013

  • Danny S.

    So what exactly is a “dooryard”?

  • admin

    In this case, it’s a small area (about 20 x 10 ft) in front of our side (primary) door, enclosed by a tall picket fence.

  • Victoria Ayers

    What about “Yard” anyway? I think of a “yard” as being a bare area of dirt, generally tramped down to a concrete-like surface, where a lot of work goes on, like in front of barn doors. When my kids were little they played on the lawn and now I have a garden without much lawn. But I’ve never had a yard.

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