California IV: The Crying Of Lot 49

My favorite sign in San Francisco. I almost got a T-shirt too.

My favorite sign in San Francisco. I almost got a T-shirt too.

Today, Dad and I will leave San Francisco behind us, picking up our rental car this morning and heading southward along Highway 1 — and thanks to all the people who have effectively scared the crap out of me about driving along this road.

“Obey the speed limit.”

“Keep your eyes on the road.”

“Whoever’s driving, do NOT glance at the scenery.”

And my favorite: “You’re really doing the whole thing wrong. If you went from L.A. northward, you’re on the inside of the highway. The way you’re driving it, it’s going to be terrifying.”

If this becomes my last post, at least I’ve chosen a good book to excerpt today: Thomas Pynchon’s Crying of Lot 49. Like us, the novel’s heroine, Oedipa Maas, begins her own journey in Northern California and heads south toward L.A. Here’s my favorite paragraph from the book (maybe many readers’ favorite paragraph, I recognize). 

lot49At some indefinite passage in night’s sonorous score, it also came to her that she would be safe, that something, perhaps only her linearly fading drunkenness, would protect her. The city was hers, as, made up and sleeked so with the customary words and images (cosmopolitan, culture, cable cars) it had not been before: she had safe passage tonight to its far blood’s branchings, be they capillaries too small for more than peering into, or vessels mashed together in shameless municipal hickeys, out on the skin for all but tourists to see. Nothing of the night’s could touch her; nothing did. The repetition of symbols was to be enough, without trauma as well perhaps to attenuate it or even jar it altogether loose from her memory. She was meant to remember. She faced that possibility as she might the toy street from a high balcony, roller-coaster ride, feeding-time among the beasts in the zoo — any death-wish that can be consummated by some minimum gesture. She touched the edge of its voluptuous field, knowing it would be lovely beyond dreams simply to submit to it; that not gravity’s pull, laws of ballistics, feral ravening, promised more delight. She tested it, shivering: I am meant to remember. Each clue that comes is supposed to have its own clarity, its fine chance for permanence. But then she wondered if the gemlike “clues” were only some kind of compensation. To make up for her having lost the direct, epileptic Word, the cry that might abolish the night.

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