November 17, 1992. Georgia Gets Mugged.
I just talked to Georgia on the phone, and I’m upset to hear that she got mugged. Some guys came up to her on the street near her new apartment on Baker Street (near Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco) and demanded her wallet. And then, when they’d taken out the money she yelled at them till they tossed the wallet back to her.
Is the city worth it—one wonders. Maybe Georgia should find a nice small town and make a living doing graphics like our friend Nancy Blackman with her Design Group in Lynchburg, Virginia. But how to pick a random small town? At Georgia’s lovely young age, she should have peace to safely bloom, settle down, have children, get a career—instead of bleeding to death on a filthy sidewalk, as it could conceivably end!
Brave Georgia, yelling to get her wallet back. It reminds me of a time when she was eleven. I was with the three kids in a park atop a low mountain in Heidelberg, Germany, where we were living. We had plastic sleds. There was one good slope that Georgia and Rudy and I were sledding on, and Georgia was pulling her plastic sled across the main track, and some boys about her age or older yelled at her.
“Doofes mädchen, hau ab, du bist im Pfad.” (Dumb girl, get away, you’re in the path.)
And Georgia, who knew German by now, put her arms akimbo and started bawling them out.
“Blöde kuh! Halt den mund! Dummkopf!” (Stupid cow! Shut up! Dumb-head!)
The boys yelled back, but Georgia kept yelling till they gave up and sledded around her. And then she walked over and took my hand and we sledded down together. My Georgia.
November 19, 1992. Hacker & the Ants Done.
On Thursday, November 5, 1992, I finished writing my first draft of The Hacker and the Ants.
There’s always an experiential hiatus between thinking I’ll never finish and being done. It’s not really a hiatus, because it DOES happen, it happened the Thursday two weeks ago when I had them throw the acetone on the plastic ants and light it, and then bailed out and sketched the Epilogue. My feelings right then were not glorious “I reached the peak” feelings, they were more like “Okay, hang in here, do this, do this.” And flabby surprise.
I’m so flabby, I get high and work on the book and drink. Well, soon I won’t have the excuse of the book anymore, “Where’s your book, Mr. So-Called Artist?” Oh, right.
I got a lot of good Cal-speak into The Hacker and the Ants. I think it’s a hell of a book. I got a lot of father/child and man/woman stuff in. Some radical politics a little bit. Cyberspace and a-life out the yang. And loads and loads of California. This is my picture of California. I moved here seven (well, 6.33 right now) years ago and Hacker is my transreal photojournalistic report. I did some of my best transreal sketches of people yet.
November 23, 1992. Broken Bone. Randy Karl Tucker.
Sunday I broke my collarbone.
The way I broke my collarbone was that it was Sunday and I’d mailed off the Hacker and the Ants manuscript on Friday, and there was really nothing to do, so I scraped some THC tar out of the stem of this crappy toy “Bob”-Dobbs-style plastic pipe that I’d recklessly been using to smoke pot with a pinholed-tinfoil screen over the bowl. I wiped the tar from inside the stem onto some ZigZag papers (I’d been using this technique for the last ten days to get high, and it seemed the tar would never end), smoked a couple of the tarry papers wadded into the pipe’s bowl, and set off on a bike-ride, on the loop I’ve ridden well over a hundred times by now.
On one steep cliffside stretch of the route there’s a safety regulation that you must walk your bike, as I always do going downhill, but I ride uphill. Today there was a ranger there, he stopped me and started giving me a ticket. I’d heard from guys swimming illegally in the reservoir that the park’s tickets could run as high as five hundred dollars. As I had no I.D. on me (and wouldn’t have admitted it if I did have), I gave the ranger a fake name: Randy Karl Tucker of Los Gatos.
When I told this story to Paul and Hal last week, Hal couldn’t get over that name as an alias. A redneck serial killer name.
When I gave that ranger the fake name, I was thinking, “It’s a good thing that we aren’t so futuristic yet that this bullying ranger can use a computer to check if that’s a real name.” But then, oh-oh, the ranger takes out a walkie-talkie and says, “Sir, can you just wait right there while I call in to get your DMV license number.”
So now, I realize, he’ll find out that my name isn’t in the database and I’ll be in even more trouble, for lying, so I turn my bike around and start walking, then riding back downhill. “Mr. Tucker,” calls the ranger, “Mr. Tucker.”
And I lose it, I’m shaking in panic, and I can’t hear well as I have my sweatshirt hood over my ears, and I can’t use my feet well as I have knobby-soled jogging shoes on instead of pedal-smooth leathers, and I’m high of course, and off to the left I see a cop-car on the thruway, and I damn near fall off the cliff path, the adrenaline has me, I’m weak in the knees. I fling my pipe of “Bob” away, lest I suffer a drug charge as well when, likely as not, the Man pops me.
I make it down to the meadow by the street—okay!—but I see two burly men near the gate, and, lost in pot paranoia, I decide that they’re plainclothes rangers, and that the ranger has been in radio contact with the cop car on the thruway who will now be pulling up to the street I’m planning to ride onto—so I slow down and waveringly cut to the left, to go across the meadow and down a gully to change my clothes and find a different exit. And my front tire sticks in the soft soil and slowly, trivially, I go over the handlebars.
Oh! I know I’ve hurt myself, I’m thinking sprained or dislocated my shoulder, but now at this point, I’m even less willing to give in to the fucking Pig, so I get to my feet. The burly men are staring at me, but not running towards me. Maybe they’re just bystanders, but I feel the cop really might be out there. How terrible it would be get caught now, with bike-riding, false name giving, and flight all on the docket. And to go to a copshop with my shoulder like this.
So I dragged the bike fifty feet down a gully. There was a grinding feeling in my shoulder—it was in fact the two broken ends of the collar bone rubbing against each other. The gully turned much steeper than I’d imagined, I was going to have to go back out the gate. Shutting off the pain in my shoulder, I pulled off my sweatshirts and traded them so I’d be blue instead of red. I took off my sweatpants and bike-helmet and left them with the bike, throwing some brush and leaves over the bike. I walked home and Sylvia took me to the emergency room.
Walking home, I couldn’t believe how stupidly I’d acted. “You’ve fallen for your own fantasies, Rudy,” I was thinking. “You’re not the hero in one of your adventure stories, a Jerzy Rugby who never loses his cool. You’re out of touch, you were acting like a twelve-year old. Now someone is going to steal your bike, and the doctor is going to cost thousands of dollars.”
The hospital was efficient, but grimmer and more robotic than ever. On the way in, the orderly told me, “You’ve broken your clavicle, I just heard your broken bones rubbing together. There’s nothing they can really do for it except maybe give you a brace.” Then the real doctors took four X-rays, then five more, then two more and then this one gung-ho guy ordered a CAT-scan and an arteriogram with a cable to be run up my femoral artery, and then he went home. He’d never gotten it through his head that by “bike” I meant “bicycle,” and not “motorcycle.” I bridled at the arteriogram procedure, and finally the other doctors settled for a CAT-scan.
I was ashamed to tell anyone the true story of how I’d had the accident, I simply said that I’d decided to try cutting across the meadow and had fallen off. The pain was astonishing, although the codeine worked well. The next morning I went and used a rope to haul my bike out of the gully. Sylvia helped me with that, and I told her that I’d been fleeing a ranger, and she was sad that I’d acted so crazy.
So I got my bike back, and I got out of the ticket. A doctor’s bill came yesterday already—from the guy who suggested the CAT-scan and arteriogram. He gets two hundred dollars for his helpful advice.
I’m an idiot. What a pathetic way to celebrate finishing my novel.
I’m wearing a shoulder strap, in PJs, taking codeine pain pills. The codeine pills are nice, they really take the pain away, kind of a buzz, but not really a high. I’ve always wondered about the effects of opiates. Well-being, the most insidious of drug states?
The kids are coming for Thanksgiving. Yay!
December 12, 1992. Memories of Mom.
I think about Mom often. It’s so hard to grasp that people really die. Nobody talks about it that much because there’s nothing we can do about it. Mom was so sweet and kind in so many ways over all the years. Sometimes family members say that I’m “acting just like Mom,” and I often do. Her stubbornness and her truculence and suspicion towards strangers is definitely a characteristic I have. When my broken collarbone was hurting so much I couldn’t do anything a couple of weeks ago, I felt like Mom, too, storing up things to ask the people around me to do the next time anyone appeared in my field of vision. “I need some water and a pill, and could you move this pillow.”
But there were the good years too. Back then, there was nothing so soothing for me as being around Mom, back when she was happy and feeling good.
December 14, 1992. Next Book? Collarbone Ache.
Monday. Last week I hacked, rewrote the crummy, crooked contract that the Waite group offered me for Boppers, worked a little on a new short story called “Easy as Pie,” wrote up the nanotechnology article for Mondo 2000, and tried to start my projected tome about the meaning of computers. Without a book to be working on, I feel like I’m getting nothing done, I even wonder why I’m not teaching this spring. I probably should have let my agent negotiate the Waite contract, but I had the idea I could do it myself.
This morning I went to see my bone doctor, who says I will get better on my own, even my numb and tingling left arm (result of a stretched or otherwise traumatized big nerve somewhere on my left side.) Then I went to SJSU. It was as rundown and friendly as ever in the Math & CS Dept. Old Howard Swann started cackling when he found out I was no longer at Autodesk.
“Who are you working for?” Howard asked.
“Uh…I’m working for Sylvia.”
He loved it.
December 16, 1992. Galen Gibson is Murdered.
Wednesday. Yesterday Don Marritz called and told me that he’d seen on the news that our pal Greg Gibson’s son Galen was killed—a crazy kid at his school shot six people, and Galen and a teacher died. This is the saddest thing I’ve ever heard. Poor Greg. I called him twice, he says time has never gone so slowly in his life. And earlier in the day, Pop called to say he thought he’d had a stroke, although it doesn’t sound like a crisis, he might have just fallen over. What a month of bad luck.
The story about Galen was in the paper today. I feel so angry at the kid who shot Galen, it’s so sickening to see this story in the media, like why does the paper have to call the killer “talented” twice? Galen was the one who was talented. The news glorifies killers, and the media has an endless sick interest in violent death.
I couldn’t really sleep all night, I kept jerking awake in fear when I’d start to dream about the horrible death. I lay awake thinking about the Boppers menus and then when I’d go to sleep the menus would get set wrong, there would be a crash coming up, Galen’s death, and I’d struggle to wake up. Death seems so present these days.
I say I’d like to believe in god, I say, and I do, actually, but with death and all these people going underground, I feel like there’s another order of reality out there, not just our homey world and the resounding cosmic harmony in the white light of god—the vision of Christmas—no sometimes I feel like there’s a wormy nasty seething underworld where you get buried, and we’re struggling to stay up out of it.
December 23, 1992. Greg and Galen.
Wednesday. My broken-collar-bone shoulder is killing me. On the worst nights I take a codeine pill and, instead of sleeping, scuba-dive into surprisingly three-dimensional-seeming (there should be a short word for that concept, maybe “stereoimmersive” or “cyberdelic”) reality. The same reality I always dream of, the missed class, the railway station, the mountaineering hut, the honeymoon cottage.
I’ve been hacking and stressing over the holidays. Greg is better, I guess—he says he and Anne Marie “saw the light” in a cosmic sense. Light coming out of his belly button. Galen is all around him. An emergency body defense system. “Our lives will never be the same, and the sorrow of that will never let up, but it’s also an opportunity to *change* our lives,” said Greg. It was almost scary how cheerful he sounded. I feel like to a certain extent he’s whistling in the dark, and I shudder to think of how stark it might be for him if his new light disappears. But maybe it won’t. He seemed quite confident that this level of grief had tapped him into some higher level. He says they’ll do Christmas anyway, for his other two kids, and hopes to even come for his annual bookfair visit here.
I may go see Pop with Georgia on January 14-18. I don’t see how I’ll finish “Easy as Pie,” as well as write a new chapter of The Hacker and the Ants by January 30—my editor John Douglas asked for another chap’s worth of stuff at the end. I just called Susan Protter, and she said not to worry about the formal Hacker deadline too much.
I’ve converged on a contract for Boppers with The Waite Group. I’ll be glad to actually get the package out in the world, to get those fucking ants off my back…
The other night I dreamed I was dead, I’ve never had that dream before, it was a Galen dream, I was dead and outside my body and near the people who I’d left behind…and now and then the scene would shift to this Antarctic dream I’ve had before, on a ship in Antarctica near the icebergs and penguins, and then I was trying a bit to help my loved ones—like the guy in the movie Ghost—but kept spacing out as well, and then was about due to be reborn, and was wondering how it would work, and, like, what would I reincarnate into. The available options were the Swarthmore College lawn, or an atom, or an insect—and then I was saying why not be reborn on another planet, and I was expanding out and trying to find a cool new place to be reborn.
Speaking of ants off my back, I’m nowhere near in the right frame of mind to dig back into The Hacker and the Ants rewrite.
February 9, 1993. Time Cover Story on Cyberpunk.
I finished the second version of The Hacker and the Ants on Wednesday, January 27, (adding about six thousand words,) and mailed it in.
Time magazine had a cover story on “Cyperpunk” in the February 8, 1993 issue. I can hardly grasp the wonder of this. It happened because of the Mondo 2000 User’s Guide, which happened in some part because of me. I brought cyberpunk to the West Coast, and we made it into Time. Incredible.
Needing to visit the Waite Group to talk about my Artificial Life Lab software package, I drove up to Marin in my new red Acura Legend with the black leather upholstery. California has been good to me.
On Friday, Isabel came down from Oregon, and on Saturday we went to Berkeley and Chez Panisse for a festive dinner with the three kids. It was Sylvia’s birthday. All the kids had made things, and Isabel and I read her poems.
Thinking about jellyfish again. Here are some notes on the jellyfish exhibit that I revisited at the Monterey Aquarium yesterday—I’d been there last year with Bruce Sterling to speak at a conference on computer interfaces.
The jellies pulse by a cellular automaton process, which is why the smaller ones pulse much faster. The spotted jellies live in Jellyfish Lake in Palau in the south Pacific. The siphonophore lives in deepish water and is up to 120 feet long. With tentacles extended, the longest animal on earth is the 100 foot plus Arctic lion’s mane jelly, which has a bell that’s six feet across.
I’ve decided I want to write another novel now, and never mind any nonfiction tome on computation. I’ve been thinking a lot about a book that I might call Freeware—a sequel to Wetware. It will be set largely on Mars, will use femtotechnology (direct matter control), and the aliens will arrive as info patterns which stimulate sympathetic vibrations in limpware happy cloaks.
Yes, the aliens have to show up in this novel, Vol. 3 of the Ware series. The advent of the aliens is a traditional move. Talking to Bruce Sterling about writing the other day, he said, “transcendence is a move.” SF riffs. Power chords.
February 23, 1993. Greg’s Visit. Bill Clinton.
Tuesday. Life more or less back to normal now, after Greg Gibson and his wife and two remaining kids visiting us for a week. I feel more centered again. I’m working on an artificial-jellyfish SF story with Bruce Sterling, and I started on “The Tessellated Andy Warhol Beach Party” story with Marc Laidlaw, but I’m not sure that one’s going to work out.
Greg left Wednesday, and then I took it easy with the drinking. On Friday, Sylvia and I made it to a movie, Groundhog Day, which was great, the main character lives the same day over and over, like a thousand times, but it’s not a frozen-time story, the characters are reacting to him and he’s getting better and better at dealing with them—for them it’s always the first time through that day. Life is like that—you have to do the same day over and over, especially me this spring, waking up in the same house with the same work, day after day.
Saturday we went in to see Greg & Co. at the used book fair. Then we went out to dinner at the Washington Square Bar and Grill, and then Greg and I got wasted, sitting on the fire-escape at his hotel, where he’d reserved a room for us. Me on the fire escape over Union Square telling Greg that this was as close to being Jack K. as I was going to get, and it was exciting. But threaded through everything with the Gibsons there’s the terrible, unrelenting grief over Galen.
Sunday night, Bill and Hilary Clinton were in Los Gatos to have dinner at the California Cafe with some local Valley execs, including the new Autodesk president Carol Bartz who fired me. Watching the cars go by, I yelled, “Carol, I want my job back,” and the people around us laughed, they understood. We saw Prez Clinton looking alert, waving out the window. Incredible, I’ve seen him three times now. It gave me a funny feeling, like history overlapping with reality.
Monday I read Evergreen Review #2 that I picked up at Greg’s book fair, it had Jack K’s “October in the Railroad Earth,” a great piece of writing, and there again I had a feeling of overlapping reality, like he was talking right to me.
March 7, 1993. Adrift.
A few weeks ago, I had planned to get our dog Arf “fixed,” but decided not to. It seemed like bad karma, and the vet said that by now it wouldn’t even change Arf’s bad habit of running off in search of females in heat. That’s ingrained in him for life, balls or no.
The local Lexington Reservoir finally overflowed—what a great symbolic thing, the dry lake near us finally filling and running over with water, a great flume. Life! I was out at the reservoir last week admiring it, and a camera crew from Channel 4 came up to me and asked me why I thought the water was important, me in my beret and red windbreaker.
“Water is life,” I told them. “And the reservoir finally filling up is like the Democrats getting in power again. Something wonderful that you thought would never come. Now we have water and the Republicans are gone and we can live.” One of my friends actually saw this on TV.
Last Sunday, Sylvia and I drove up the back of St. Joseph’s Hill and hiked in to the top. We saw the most beautiful thing: a humming-bird feeding on the blossoms of a “red hot poker plant.” It’s an aloe plant, but with many blossom stalks that have small cylindrical red flowers like Chinese firecrackers, scores of them. We’re on the top of a mountain and here’s this awesome naturalized patch of red hot poker, and there, diving great 3D paths around it is one of those aggressive little Anna’s humming-birds that come to our feeder. I dig the way a hummer looks when it feeds on a red hot poker plant, bending its head up to fit its beak into a down-pointing blossom—its body bent into a shape like a barking sea-lion’s form.
A couple of days ago, March 3, I gave a talk on “Stalking Artificial Life” at Sonoma State. At this time I’d been potless for a week, so I felt pretty balanced. I gave a nice talk on Gnarl, Sex, and Death as being the elements of life and evolution, doing some demos of the Boppers ware. After my talk, I happened to pass a botany-lab room that had a big case of books or ledgers or albums, all filled with pressed flowers and plants for academic study. In alphabetical order. Noting that nobody was around, I looked up “cannabis” and managed to rip off some ancient dried pot-plant fragments. Rolled them up in the paper from a cigarette and smoked them.
And then I had dinner with my artist friend Dave Povilaitis and wife, and the lady in charge of the Mathematics Colloquium, and a couple of my fans. When I told the one guy that I was working on an SF story about artificial jellyfish he looked at me so lovingly.
On the way home the traffic suddenly stopped in the middle of the boonies. I could see a helicopter ahead shining a searchlight on the road, and we crawled past an accident: a car in the road so beaten and crushed it looked like something they’d put on exhibit to warn the teens at a County Fair. It was heavy, in an obvious way, a kind of annoying way, but nothing I got majorly bummed over. Driving the rest of the way home, I was careful and glad to be alive.
I really should work on the Artificial Life Lab manual today. But Marc sent back our Andy Warhol story, giving it the new title “The Andy Warhol Sand Candle,” so maybe I’ll work on that. Or I could go downtown and drink.
March 19, 1993. Sick. I’m Dr. Frankenstein.
I’ve been sick for nearly six months now. First I had the agonizing pain in my broken-collar-bone shoulder from November through the end of February, and now I’ve been deaf for a couple of weeks from sinusitis that clogged up my ears, and I’m always hungover. I wish I was dead.
I’m supposed to make a bunch of phone-calls today to try and set up some interviews for an article I’m supposed to do about the special effects in the movie Jurassic Park, the article is for a new magazine called Wired. The Waite Group guys are bugging me about the Artificial Life Lab schedule. I feel full of hatred, every story I see in the newspaper makes me hate the people in it.
Isabel came home last night, looking like a lovely eighteen year old college girl. We’re supposed to have a dinner party tomorrow for my birthday with all the kids here and Marc, Geraldine, Wren, Hal and Paul. I have so much, and I turn it into such garbage. It’s heartbreaking.
We measured Isabel’s height on the old door frame yesterday, and she’s grown a half inch. Oddly enough it looks like my height has shrunk a half inch. Is that possible? I’m already shrinking with age? Certainly my heart has shrunk.
I found a copy of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein—I wanted to put a passage from it into my Artificial Life book. It turns out that Shelley’s book isn’t like the movie at all. There’s no jolt of electricity used to fire up the creature—the electricity is a later accretion upon the myth.
Here’s Shelley’s original Dr. Frankenstein rap, which is a fair description of how I feel about my Boppers program.
Who shall conceive the horrors of my secret toil, as I dabbled among the unhallowed damps of the grave, or tortured the living animal to animate the lifeless clay?…In a solitary chamber…I kept my workshop of filthy creation: my eyeballs were starting from their sockets in attending to the details of my employment. The dissecting room and the slaughter-house furnished many of my materials; and often did my human nature turn with loathing from my occupation, whilst…I brought my work near to a conclusion…
The rain pattered dismally against the panes, and my candle was nearly burnt out, when, by the glimmer of the half-extinguished light, I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open; it breathed hard, and a convulsive motion agitated its limbs.
I had worked hard for nearly two years, for the sole purpose of infusing life into an inanimate body. For this I had deprived myself of rest and health. I had desired it with an ardor that far exceeded moderation; but now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart.
March 22, 1993. My 47th Birthday.
Monday: My Birthday! I’m 47. All is happy again, and the party on Saturday night was great. First the San Francisco freaks showed up: the Laidlaws, Paul Mavrides and Hal Robin. This morning Isabel came back, then Georgia and Rudy arrived with their friends Mark and Kim. We had a Hungarian meal, with tears in the morning, sex at noon, liptauer korozoet, chicken paprikash, wilted cucumber salad, and that birthday cake, a von Bitter layer cake with a Pere Ubu spiral of green on top: 4 candles up and 7 candles down. They brought it in lit, and everyone was singing, and there was candlelight, and I felt so loved. I’ve been feeling so unloved recently. And to look slowly—the time so slowed down with the mammal dopamine of group love—back and forth and see everyone’s face in the candlelight like a Panavision pan, it was lovely.
After dinner I was out on the deck with Hal and Sylvia. She says, “Hal, there are so many different age groups here, which do you band together with?”
“Against whom?” asks Hal.
“Against each other.”
“I don’t think that Balkanization has to extend to such small social groupings,” goes Hal. “As Rodney King said: ‘Can we not all get along?’” He’s quoting that guy whose beating by the cops sparked the riots in LA.
On Sunday, Sylvia and I went to the beach with Georgia and Isabel. I always like to gloat over having two daughters, and I even declaim a Kentucky hillbillyism: “How can I have two daughters when I still don’t understand women at all?”
At the beach, I saw Sylvia and her two daughters in a dug-out sand-pit and it reminded me of a photo in E. O. Wilson’s book—showing a newly-landed ant-queen nesting under a rock with her first two children, known as callow workers, the females who help the queen build her nest.
Today, on my actual birthday, I went for a big bike-ride and found a spring running out of a cliff and I thought it was the Fountain of Youth. The spring was lined with soft moss and with spongy, fungal growths. I looked at it for a long time, deeply stoned.
Yee haw. I’m glad to be alive.
May 6, 1993. Visiting Pop. ILM. Angry at Waite.
Two or three weeks ago, Pop had a stroke, and I went out to see him. Very upsetting. I had a thought of refining the experience into material for a Wares novel, and came up with this:
Cobb Anderson was dying again. He was in the Sol-gel Hospital on Mars. He faded out, and when he woke his sons and grandson were leaning over him. “What’s going on?” asked Cobb. “You’re having brain trouble said one of his sons.” “Brain trouble,” said Cobb. “Brain trouble.”
Pop can’t remember anything at all, he’ll forget who you are as soon as you tell him. To tell him he had brain trouble there in the hospital, and to feel the reality of it, it was terrifying, crushing, like being thrown right into a movie, or Twilight Zone, only it was real. Imagine some day coming out of a haze and finding the kids with me and I don’t know where I am. “You have brain trouble,” says one of them. “Brain trouble.” I can hardly stand to think about this.
It was good going out there with Rudy Jr. along. It was the weekend of a big gay march in D.C. and the plane was really just about all gays and lesbians except us two. It was so odd, to be in the minority. Made me less homophobic. The guy next to me snuggles in, we’re in the middle of a row, and says, “Cozy, isn’t it!” and I’m thinking oh no. But then I talked a bit to him and his companion, and it was okay.
Another thing I’ve been up to is writing an article, tentatively titled “Kit-Bashing The Cosmic Matte,” for Wired. The article is about special effects, computerized and otherwise, at Industrial Light and Magic in San Rafael. George Lucas’s company. I even got to see the “real” Yoda, R2D2, and the Lost Ark in a huge, barn-like storehouse on Lucas’s ranch—exactly like the scene at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark, only this was happening in my real life. What a rush. I sent in the article today, I have the feeling the Wired editors are multi-rewrite types so I’ll probably get it back.
Speaking of rewrite, the Waite Group has been editing my chapters of Artificial Life Lab, and they have two editors for god’s sake, and yesterday I got my first comments from the “scientific editor,” who writes in a longhand scrawl on index cards with the egocentricity and brashness of a high school kid, with lots of ignorant and insulting suggestions to totally change things. Like my definition of a-life should be exactly the same as Chris Langton’s, and the idiot thinks chaotic patterns are random for chrissakes, and says of my robot section, “The author expresses a lot of his opinions about robots, but I don’t learn much about artificial life.”
I went nonlinear over it, as Bruce Sterling likes to say, I tore up his index cards without reading the rest of them, then worried I should have saved them, then got them out of the garbage, then threw them back in, then got them out, then started piecing them together, and then I saw a remark that said I should say “gnarly” instead of “gnarl” so then tore them into still tinier pieces and, with a balloon of rage in my chest, phoned up the Waite Group to complain that the comments were unprofessional and unacceptable.
I mean why should I put up with such abuse on my eighteenth book? So then the people at Waite were, thank god, apologetic, when I’d half been expecting them to be cold and mocking.
Having grown up as a younger brother, I’m always so sure my plaints will be mocked that I get extra angry and desperate when I have to make one. So now I feel a lot better.
All I have to do is write the rest of the a-life book for Waite. And then I’ll finish the jellyfish story with Bruce, and the Andy Warhol story with Marc, and then I’ll start up on my “Sta-Hi Goes to Mars” novel, which I want to call Freeware. But, wait, I’m about to crash into the brick wall of teaching three computer science courses at SJSU this fall.
May 18, 1993. Pent-up Tears.
Driving home from S.F. yesterday, it occurred to me that maybe my ongoing nasal congestion is pent-up tears over Pop’s stroke. So now I just called Pop’s companion Priscilla, she has Pop at home, she put Pop on the phone, and he said “Hello, Ru,” and not much else, I said I was working, and then he asked on what, and of course lost the thread when I said a book about electronic ants. Then he said, “I guess I’m confused,” and gave the phone back to Priscilla.
She said that this morning Pop realized he was in some sense blind—he can’t recognize objects—and he was crying about it. Poor old Pop. She says if I write him a simple letter, she can read that to him a few times and he’ll enjoy it. So that’s what I’m going to do now.
May 19, 1993. Software Immortality
My editor John Douglas called to say that Software, Wetware, and Freeware can be issued in a single volume for the Science Fiction Book Club—if and when I ever manage to write Freeware. They’re already talking about a joint title for the omnibus. I’m trying to think up a good one. What the books are about is the man/machine fusion, right? I came up with a few possible titles today:
Killer Robots Fight It Out With Crazed Junkies
Boppers, Punks and Flickercladding
The Higher I
People That Melt
Moldies and Meatbops
I didn’t use the phrase “artificial life” in Software, but the trick of letting self-replicating robots evolve is an example of an artificial life technique—exactly. I’m sure there were earlier science-fiction books with robots that build robots—but I think Software may be the first book in which the evolution of robots is a theme that’s explicitly worked out in detail. I’d also argue that Software is the first SF novel where people use computer tech to transfer their minds onto robot copies themselves. Not that I get fuck-all’s worth of credit.
In the end, they went for the last title—the oddest of the lot.
My dog Arf and I went running today. Arf hid from me at the high-school track cause he wanted to turn back. I looped around further, and ended up catching up with him on the hill to our house. He’s sneaky.
The otorhinolaryngologist yesterday gave me some cortisone which has brought the swelling of my sinuses down so that for the first time in three months I can breathe through my nose. It’s acute sinusitis. He gave me an antibiotic, too. What a great thing it would be to get my sinuses back. My smell and my hearing. I look healthy, with my tan, and with my jowls reduced from my daily Arf-jog.
But inside I’m a wreck.
June 12, 1993. Family Trip to Pick Up Isabel.
A few days ago Georgia, Rudy, Sylvia and I all drove up together to fetch Isabel from the University of Oregon for summer vacation. The drive was so great, with G & R in back on the way up, although at times R Jr. was driving, with me in the back with G. And on the way back down, we sat with me and Sylvia in front, and with G & R & Isabel in back. The sacred family, the holy family.
I was so thankful to have us five all together, I’m so grateful for what I have. It was wonderful. And when we had to split up again, dropping R and G at R’s in Oaktown, we stood for a moment in a circle in the street with our arms around each other and I said “I love you all” and they said “I love all of you.”
I wanted to make, like, a toast and started “Here’s to the…” but it seemed sexist and unreal to end the toast with a particular name like “Rucker.” Why that name from the male line? The girls have been working me over on the PC front during the trip, you understand. So I just said “Here’s to the…” and trailed off.
But Sylvia picked up the thread and said, “Here’s to U.S.!” And that’s really the truth of it. We are the us and we know in our group what this means. Sylvia and I the biological parents of these three young souls, we five still together, a loving family despite any problems.
I’m not avoiding working anymore—because I can’t imagine working. I’m not going to lift a finger until July 1. Write? Read? Fuck that shit.
I called Paul Mavrides today, he needs money, and he has this horrible gig where he has to paint a twelve-foot Mickey Mouse on the wall for a temporary boutique section of Union Square Nordstrom’s where they actually, horribly, sell T-shirts with Mickey Mouse and sweats with the same. Paul and I are agonizing over the irony of it, and then he tells me that the Mickey he must paint will be wearing shades. Oh, god! The ultimate Dantean torment for Mavrides, the hippest of the Nineties beatnik artists, to be painting a twelve-foot Mickey Mouse with fuckin’ shades in Nordstrom’s.
“Well, it’ll take me a day and a half. I’m just sorry it’ll make me miss spending some time with my Mom.”
June 15, 1993. NYC. A Guest of Philip Morris. Drinking Too Much.
Sylvia and I got to Manhattan Tuesday night. We’re staying at the Hotel Paramount between Broadway and Eighth. I’m here as the guest of Philip Morris, of all things, they’re paying me to give a talk to ten hipsters who won a contest in Germany to come and have a weird time in New York.
This is a cool hotel. They took some grungy old Times Square hotel and retrofitted it really well, with odd-shaped furniture. The headboard is a huge velvet puff reproduction of Vermeer’s “The Lacemaker,” with a heavy gold wood museum frame and a museum-like painting light. On the bed are four pillows and a long slender cigarette-like bolster. At night we prop the thin bolster on one of the chairs in a sitting position and call it either Mr. Butts or Mr. Jay. In the bathroom, the floor is black and white tile, with the sink a solid chrome cone tapering to a point near the floor, so that the reflections in it are a nice example of realworld ray-tracing.
Tuesday night, we cruised around the neighborhood. It really is Times Square, with all the usual scuzz, but it’s also the theater district. We had a great supper at Brasserie Des Theatres, right next to our hotel, fish soup, then Salade Nicoise for me and scallops for Sylvia. After that we saw a cool show called Fool Moon. It was two clowns, silent, with a small folk-type band onstage as well. Seeing them walk off stage in step waving their hats, baggy pants a-billow, I flashed that this was classic Broadway vaudeville. They did some routines that had to be a hundred years old, like standing in a steamer trunk and acting like you’re going down a flight of stairs.
Next morning, I came back from deli fried eggs and corned beef hash breakfast and smoked half a jay. Sylvia had headed out to the Met, we’d split up at the deli, and I was to spend the day wandering around alone. This was our first day in NYC, and we thought it would be fun not to link up for this first day.
High, I went to use our bathroom. And in there I had a big scare—the doorknob fell off and when I tried to push it back on the spindle that goes through the door, I almost pushed the spindle out on the other side. Before trying again to get the knob on, I felt the door to see if I could kick it open, it was steel. Whoa. I could really be trapped in here until 3 pm when Sylvia and I were to meet preparatory to my going to give the Germans a talk! Am I really this lame? Thanks to getting high? Instead of going out to play in NYC, I’ll be miserably locked in a bathroom all day? But then whew I got the knob to work.
Out on the street I was watching some Africans with attaché cases of counterfeit watches. When the police came, a vendor up the block would whistle or yell, and the others would close up their cases. Then I started watching a window-washer, me standing there on Fifth Avenue staring at everything. So quite soon a NYC sharpie comes up to me, a Ratso Rizzo, with an exact Dustin Hoffman smile, “Hi, how are you doing?”
I had my shades on, and instead of answering, I held up my index finger and waved it, “No,” side to side, then walked off. Last time I was in NYC I let a guy start talking to me about my camera, and he tricked me into buying a shitty lens I’ve never used, and he even put a magic smell on my camera that led to it getting lost in a cab later that day.
I was still feeling quite high and went into a lunch counter to get a bottle of water. I took a vitamin C pill with the water, and the guy at the counter who’d been shadowboxing with the owner cocked his head and gave me a frown for taking a pill in his place.
Back outside I found the New York Public Library around 42nd St, and in there I found the map room, and on the shelf a book listing the maps, and there a listing for maps of, yes, Mars. They brought me more and more maps, all made from the Mariner scans, all colored pinky red. Amazing the difference between the old telescope maps and the Mariner maps, before all was gauzy, and with lots of line-like patterns, but now it’s precisely crackled canyons. There’s the big mountain Olympus, and then three peaks called Tharsis, and then a corner in a big rift called Labyrinth. This looks like a good place where I could set Freeware.
Looking at the last map of Mars, I could feel myself come down, felt a little jolt like my feet hitting the ground, it was a relief given that I still had my talk to give at 4 pm, and I felt a tinge of surprise at the activity that the pot-randomization had led me into: looking at maps of Mars in the New York library!
Outside, a string quartet was playing with amplification to fill Bryant Park, zillions of people there having their lunches. The whole block of 42nd Street by Broadway is closed up now, all the theatres and peepshows, boarded up, shuttered over. There’s some funky scary inhabitants of this ghostly reef. A tough white hooker woman with a face that was still a hint of beautiful, a scab on her ankle, getting money from a guy.
Eventually I got back to our room, showered, met up with Sylvia, and we headed over to Madison Avenue, where I gave my talk to the ten young Germans who’d won the Phillip Morris “Talk With Tomorrow” contest. A guy called Peter handed me a check for $3K right before the talk, I was really happy, as I’d been thinking it would be $2K. All the German kids had read my novel The Sex Sphere in German: Lafcadio und die Sexkugel. The paperback had been issued to them as part of their travel kits, which was something I didn’t realize until I was almost done talking, or I would have talked more about writing.
Instead I did a lot of computer demos of cellular automata and a-life, and talked about that stuff. It was probably a kind of disconnected talk, but entertaining enough. Some of the German kids were cute, there was an “Ärtztin” (woman doctor) named Anya who was nice to talk to. I told her I wished she was my doctor. She said she didn’t like to be doctor for her friends since she would not want her friends to be sick and therefore might not notice things really being wrong with them. And I liked the organizer guy, Ussi Orsch, an unbelievable German/Viking name—he reminded me of my Finnish poet friend Anselm Hollo.
Afterwards we hung out for some catered food and some wine. This was in a very elegant venue, by the way, a high-ceilinged 43rd floor penthouse, and you could go outside on a balcony and look down at the city, we were right next to the Chrysler building. After we’d had a few drinks, I pulled open a really big waist-level window.
The German organizers didn’t like the window action. “This is not good,” they said. I closed the window.
When I started getting too loaded, about 7 or 8, we left and went back to our room, and later I ran out and got some deli salad-bar food.
The next day, Thursday, it was sunny. Sylvia and I took the subway down to South Ferry in Battery Park and got the ferry to the Statue of Liberty. We’d never been on that little island, either of us, although as children, we’d passed close to it on ships. The harbor was beautiful today, a sunny day, and seeing all the different nationalities and ages swirling around the statue gave me a good, positive feeling about the U.S. as melting-pot.
We two sat on the lawn near the statue and ate half-sandwiches saved from our deli breakfast. Sylvia said, “It’s so nice to be on vacation.”
Afterwards we walked around Wall Street with its cool old buildings, and then got the bus uptown, regrouped, and went to the party my agent Susan Protter organized for me at her office that evening.
My New York friends Eddie Marritz, his wife Hana Machotka, fellow mathematician Newcomb Greenleaf, grad-school friend Dave Hungerford, and fellow SF writer Charles Platt were all there—it was great to see them. I also met Susan’s other SF writer client, Terry Bisson, a good guy, a bit country, from Owensboro, Kentucky, no less. My landsman. He broke out a pipe and offered me some pot.
Susan, Sylvia, Eddie, Platt and I had a dinner at Joe Allen’s on “Restaurant Row.” Eddie and I shared a jay walking over there. We all talked so much at dinner that it lasted three hours. It was great to see Ed.
Back at the room, I greedily went out for an extra six-pack, with street Puerto Ricans yelling insults at me: “Walk on the wild side, asshole.”
Friday I had a serious hangover. Sylvia noticed, she said I was like an animal in a cage, and, yes, that’s how I felt. Alcohol a growing problem.
We hit the Whitney Biennial show, which pretty much sucked. I picked up a tiny new Kerouac book of poems at a shop next door, the book published only in 1992, called Pomes All Sizes, and it was fun carrying that book around.
I walked the zillion blocks back to our room alone, stopping at a restaurant to eat a tuna pizza and have a beer, me and Jack K.—hanging with his poems, all on his usual themes.
- • We all die.
- • This world is a dream.
- • I drink.
Sweet and sad, those first two points, and thinky to stop and try and see the no-mind moment Jack talks about. Too bad about the third one, though.
Passing through Times Square I saw a hooker with her pants down squatting on the street, pissing a big jet and then dropping a foul pile of orange shit. I’d been thinking of looking at some peep-shows but this “rather put me off it,” as the Brits would say.
Friday night we had dinner at no less a venue than the Côte Basque, with my Avon editor John Douglas our host, also Susan Protter there and John Douglas’s new girlfriend. I’d hoped to talk about my books with my agent and my editor, but this young woman had just sold a mystery novel, her first novel, and that was the topic for the four-and-a-half-hour long dinner. With my crapulous physiology plus my bitten-back resentment, the meal tasted bitter.
June 20, 1993. Gloucester. Grieving Greg.
Sunday we drove to Greg Gibson’s in a rental car, it was raining a lot of the way, kind of a drag to drive through ugly Connecticut. It was Father’s Day and I missed my kiddies a lot, even began morosely thinking, “Why are we doing such a long trip when we should be home with our Isabel who’s finally home from college. What am I doing driving around New England after five nights on the road and ten more to come?”
Now, writing this, it’s Monday morning, I’m at Greg’s, using my laptop in his office where he’s working on his computer, taking book orders and doing his job. He’s made his house bigger, and he put his office in the house.
When we got to Greg’s we started drinking. Greg made a great barbecue dinner, cooking on the traditional wire refrigerator shelf resting on two boulders in his yard. I go out and there’s a dog at the end of the yard watching things, and a bird in the tree singing.
Greg says, “That dog is my enemy and the bird is my friend, it’s a catbird, and whenever we come out here, it comments on what we’re doing.”
Later Greg’s daughter Celia said that the catbird was her dead brother Galen.
At dinner, like an idiot, I trotted out my old “So I told the kids, ‘Get the fucking chicken out of the fucking car,’” story yet again, and felt silly. I felt silly again trying to read a somewhat weak Kerouac poem from Pomes All Sizes, felt silly yelling to interrupt Greg from his telling a long story about business to his other friend Ferrini—I wanted to have all of Greg’s attention. I’m becoming a drunken old fool. But it was mellow in all. They are such a sweet family.
Getting attention is always an issue for me, having grown up as the youngest child. I felt that issue a lot when I last visited Pop—me trying to get his attention, and him maybe not remembering who I was. And of course that bitch Priscilla told me three or four times, “Your father doesn’t remember that you’re here to see him.” But when I’m writing I have all the attention.
Dear diary, it’s time for a beer and a V-8.
Typing that last sentence, I said it out loud, and Greg got a big joy-cackle off it. He has a generally high opinion of me as a writer, and he loves to contrast that with his intimate knowledge of my real-world frailties. He’s all, “The great man working on his journal: ‘Dear Diary…’”
Later in the day I told Greg, “I’m sorry I acted silly at dinner last night,” and he goes, “I was as drunk as you were! You’re worried about me?”
The next day we walked over to Galen’s grave with Greg’s wife Annemarie. The woods between their house and Galen are beautiful. Annemarie talked all the time. Her voice is lovely. In the woods was a rotten sofa, and she said, “That sofa used to be in our house. A boy was living with us, and he helped me move it out.” Galen’s gravestone is a chunk of raw stone a bit like a giant rough-cut banana. They picked it because it reminded them of him. Greg goes and waters the grave plot every evening.
June 23-25, 1993. Cape Cod. High with Eddie.
Wednesday, June 23. Sylvia and I met up with the Marritz family in Cape Cod. They go there every summer for a reunion—the whole gang was there, all eleven of them. The three brothers: Robert, 55, Don, 48, and Eddie, 43. Their three wives: Lucy, Harriet, and Hana. Plus Robert’s son, Sam, 4; and Don’s children Nick, 11, and Amelia, 8; and Eddie’s children, Ilya, 16, and Leda, 12. Don Marritz was our pal back at Swarthmore, and we got to be close friends with Eddie because he was at Rutgers while we were in grad school there. Both Don and Eddie often smoked pot with me.
I felt very wired and overexcited to see them all, especially Don, Eddie, Hana, and Harriet. Dinner was gay. Older brother Robert grilled tuna, Eddie made strong rum cocktails. After dinner I went biking with Leda, Amelia and Eddie to the candy store a block away, there in the Cape Cod boonies. I was worried about getting cigarette papers for smoking pot, and I asked the guy in the store for some, and he was like infuriated and told me to leave, what a joke, Puritan New England.
I said, “No, I’m waiting for these people.” And biked back, having fun doing cowboy-roping moves with Leda, like we were on horses.
If you can’t find rolling papers, the white wrapping paper around a fresh tampon works pretty well. Always a good ice-breaker with women. Or use a strip of a page from a Gideon bible.
Thursday, June 24. In the morning the Times had an article about Fermat’s last theorem being solved. What a day for mathematics!
In the afternoon, the Marritzes took us to a pond they knew, a small pond, and we swam out in it, dark blue like ink. Sylvia looked so happy swimming, wearing her bright new bathing-suit. The bathing suit and her face and her smile in the blue ink water—it was a moment I’ll always remember. She and I swam all the way across the big pond and back.
In the evening the Marritz boys and I got high and looked at the sun setting over the Cape Cod bay. The sun was sliding behind a, like, Fresnel lens zone that consists of the varying bands of refraction in the atmosphere. A Fresnel lens being one of those floppy flat plastic lenses can stick to a window. (But of course a Fresnel lens is only a linear approximation to the 3D spherical lens called the atmosphere—beneath which we small beating pairs of legs live.)`
Anyway, if you were to take a rectangular slice out of the top region of a floppy, flat, plastic Fresnel lens, and slide a disk of light behind it, you’d see the disk as having a perimeter that was stepped, or staircase-like, or zigguratted. And this was happening with the sunset.
The effect was that at first the right and left sides of the sun went flat, and the sun was drooling down to the horizon. It looked like the films I’ve seen of the early 1950s H-bomb tests over, like, the coral atoll of Bikini. And then the sun went through a corn-muffin stage—and then came the flying-saucer stages.
First it was a tureen-like mothership saucer, like the serving dome over a turkey on a salver. And then it flattened, and got into the funky, mean UFOs Against Planet Earth kind of shape.
And then I mentally pulled the sun loose from the horizon and I saw this bright thing as being over the Cape Cod bay, or even closer. It was steadily getting smaller, and now I imagined that it was speeding away.
Eddie was videoing the sun. He and Don and I were wasted, and I was talking into Eddie’s mike, dictating official documentation for our UFO sighting. “Spotted at Eastham, Massachusetts, on June 24, 1993, at 8:17 pm, a UFO moving in the westerly direction at high speed.”
Friday June 25, 1993. We’re still on vacation and learning to love it. Begin with the horseshoe crab shell that Leda found on the beach today. “Look, Rudy,” she yelled, holding it up to me.
I’m friends with Leda, she warmed up to me last night after playing with my Chaos program on my laptop. All the kids loved Chaos and CA Lab. People always like Boppers a bit less. Boppers requires too much explaining about why it’s cool.
Little Leda! I felt a kind of Lewis Carroll joy when she sought me out and clapped her hand on my head. I’ve always been fond of her mother Hana—from Eastern Europe, self-assured, feminist, motherly, and calling me “Roo.” Leda and Ilya have Eddie’s Mount-Rushmore-like George-C-Scott features, along with Hana’s crisp eyebrows, nostrils, and lip-lines.
And Don’s daughter Amelia, the smallest girl, gravitated to Sylvia, the tallest woman. I caught a look that Amelia gave Sylvia, so attentive and devoted and loving—what a cute pair they make.
Sylvia and I went out alone for most of the day. We walked out hundreds of yards on the low-tide Sunken Meadow Beach, then veered into Eastham, phoned Georgia, drove up to Wellfleet where we had some clams, oysters, and lobsters for lunch, then over to the Atlantic side of the cape to veg out in the sand, doing a bit of walking and swimming. When I dove in the deep clear water, it was so cold and clear that I felt like a frozen onion ring thrown into a vat of hot fat.
A beautiful vacation day. That night I dreamed I was at the opera, wearing a plastic lobster bib from the Captain Higgens restaurant in Wellfleet.
June 27-29, 1993. My Father in Reston.
Sunday the 27th was pretty much hell, as were the next few days. After a fond goodbye to the Marritzes, we drove from Cape Cod to Reston, Virginia, to see Pop.
The drive ended up taking eleven hours, from nine to eight. It was mild fun to see the old East coast sights. We started with a good sandwich from the Box Lunch in Eastham. Next food was a greasy Nathan’s hotdog on the Jersey Turnpike. By then we were really hot and dirty feeling, amid greasy air and lots of lumpy Jerseyites.
We saw the bridge over the Raritan from Highland Park to New Brunswick, where we used to wheel new baby Georgia in her electric blue velvet baby buggy. As always, I remembered the night of the riots in 1969 when I saw state troopers crouched with rifles aimed at the black housing projects there. New Brunswick also home of Fletcher and Harry in Master of Space and Time.
We stopped in Newark, Delaware, where we used to always get a Three-D Burger at the Howard Johnson’s, a sentimental stop, halfway between Highland Park and Alexandria/Reston, but the HoJo was closed down, and we lost an hour wandering around in the shocking heat and humidity. How do people stand to live out here? It’s really quite barbaric, compared to California.
Eventually we got to Reston, and the Cameron Glen Nursing Home, and there in the lobby was my father’s partner Priscilla. She didn’t smile to see us or even change expression, just led us towards his room, opened the door, then turned back and told us we couldn’t go in. Vintage Priscilla. We went in anyway, and there was Pop, looking cute and pink. His mind is better than it was when I saw him in the hospital, though still not really all there.
By the time we found our hotel I was unbelievably exhausted. The next day, Monday, I spent most of the morning alone with Pop. His memory is shot. Quite often he was surprisingly hostile and unpleasant to me.
I flashed back to 1974, when Pop was drinking a lot. Sylvia was pregnant, and Pop suggested that I be castrated or sterilized. He was like, “Pregnant again? A third child? I think we ought to take Rudy out and get him fixed.”
Maybe Embry and I should sneak into Pop’s room one night and nut the old gaffer, is what I thought at the time.
Pop still sort of has it in for me, it’s that old father/son battle. But by now time has won the war for me. It’s been years now that I’ve been going to see him on his alleged deathbed in the hospital. He started with the heart trouble around 1972. It’s twenty year’s worth.
I brought up how he’d once again been claiming he was going to die, this was three weeks ago. I hadn’t fallen for it and hadn’t come out. He got furious.
“I will never do that again,” he says.
“I’ve heard that before,” I said.
It was fun to be able to get a rise out of him. The happy slapping together, like two Sumo wrestlers—smack! Engaged in the old struggle. My son Rudy and I are like that also—very fast on the uptake if it’s a question of something wrong that the other one is doing.
Pop got really into lecturing me about my drinking. He kept saying he smelled liquor on my breath, even when I hadn’t had a drink. When I got annoyed, he cried, “Oh, do you think you can burn it out with rage? It’s still there.” Of course there is something to what he says, I know, I know, and after this long, wild trip I am indeed due to quit drinking for a spell.
Tuesday morning I spent mostly alone with Pop again. He was enjoying my jokes and we were on the same wavelength. Next door to him was a woman whose legs had been amputated. Every twenty to forty seconds she would bellow “Help me,” or, “Lord, help me.” But such an uncontrolled, holding-nothing-back, hollering. I wanted to kill her.
“I wish she would die,” I told Pop.
“She probably wishes she would too,” he said, taking the high road.
To get away from the noise we started off for a walk outside. But the room between the hall and the outside was full of this group of about forty shrunken white-haired eighty-to-ninety-year-olds who kept appearing there like mushrooms popping up after a rain. To me, they were sort of cute. Some of them on the nod in their seats, with no teeth upper or lower, they’d be all leaned back, with the mouth a big hole over the bump of the chin.
Pop didn’t want to mingle with them, didn’t want to run the gauntlet. So we settled down in the hallway instead of going through the room of ninety-year-old mushrooms. Sat in front of an aquarium and looked at the fish. Pop could see the fish even though he has what they call cortical blindness.
An administrator woman walked past us after awhile, humming, and Pop was all, “What was that?” He’d thought she was an animal. A moving trail of a living thing, like the fish trails in the fish tank. I was into that trippy spacetime image myself, it was good to share.
Then I opened the cabinet under the fish tank and there was a transparent filter full of orange chips for water to run over and get aerated. Pop just saw the square shininess of the filter. It freaked him out, like he thought it was the emptiness pump behind reality.
His cortical blindness means that he sees color patches but has trouble fitting them together into a 3D mental model. And there are other disturbances. Like we were both reading the paper for awhile, I don’t think he was really reading, just enjoying the activity of turning the pages and scanning, and he says, “How’d they get that mirror there? Or what?” And he’s looking at the editorial page of the Post, nothing there but type, and he points to one spot, asking in a worried voice, “What’s that? Right there?” A very Phil Dickian moment.
“It’s just newsprint, Pop. It’s that you have a vision problem.” And he looked so sad to hear that. Often he looked like he was about to cry. He feels sorry for himself and depressed.
Other times, though, he’d kind of swell up and say, “I feel better than I’ve felt in a long time,” with his old resonant booming confidence, just like when he’d hit a good golf shot or tennis stroke or make a good fishing cast he’d always say to me, “I’ve got the secret now, Rudy, I’ve got the knack.” Today he was even saying, “I just thought of the secret of how to heal myself…I had it, but now I can’t remember it.” He’s so transparent and touching.
Before we left, I shelled out $180 for a TV for Pop that Priscilla said he wanted, even though when I asked him myself he said he’d gotten terminally sick of TV long ago. Really the TV is for Priscilla to look at in Pop’s room. I regard her as an unbelievably stupid woman. Totally without empathy, at least for me. She always is trying to replace Pop’s old real biological family with the Reston groupings. My wicked stepmother. I hate her.
Pop has gotten some better, but he probably won’t get well enough to leave the nursing home. He might be there for a long time. It’s sad, and he’s often sad about it. It’s like with Mom, a sad problem that never will get better, and finally the person dies, and that’s the only solution. I hope I don’t end up like Pop. He kept saying how slowly the time goes in his rest home. It’s terrifying and pathetic.
July 7, 1993. Shark’s Tooth Beach.
So now we’ve been back for a week. I really like it in California. I had a chuckle being high and seeing a neighbor lady friend of ours down by the mailboxes and saying, “We were just on a trip to the East. It’s so nice to be back here in a civilized…a civilized environment.”
She’s all politely, Californially: “?”
And I’m all, “Yes, it’s so primitive there, so barbaric.”
Sylvia and I went to a wild beach north of Santa Cruz, just south of Davenport on the Fourth. It was awesome, a little fractal crack with a tunnel through the rock that we sat on the windless end of, in front of a wild sea, split by a humongous rock pyramid. The “Shark’s Tooth.”
You wade into superexcited superchaotic foam with torn up kelp in it, and the ocean isn’t coming in idealized slightly asymmetric sine waves, naw, it’s punching at you through cubic-Mandelbrot tooth-root giant crumbly California rocks.
A battered full can of Keystone beer appeared at my feet as I waded in. “Who am I to refuse Nature’s bounty?” I said, opening it and taking a salty sip or two, but then deciding to pour it out.
Diving under the giant waves to not be thrown against the cliffs I got a whole-head ice-cream headache and had to put my hands on my skull to warm it enough to recover. But god it felt good, frolicking like a seal, lunging into the waves. I could have swum out around the big rock, the Tooth, but I didn’t dare to do that alone. Maybe later this summer we can go back and one of the kids will do it with me.
July 22, 1993. Artificial Life Lab. Mavrides.
Thursday. Slack reigns. On Monday I drove up to Corte Madera just north of Sausalito and handed in the completed Artificial Life Lab to the Waite Group, the computer program and the formatted, illustrated manual.
I got lost on the way up—I always do, since I always stop and have a sandwich at the same Louie’s Deli I always went to when I was at Autodesk, and then I miss the turn for Corte Madera. But when I got lost today, I didn’t even start sweating and worrying like I normally do. There was no concept of being late. All I had to do was show up and hand the printout and six floppy disks to my production contact guy at Waite. I did this software package all by myself. And it’s all done and I got paid and I have enough money to live on for the rest of the summer and to pay the college tuitions. Slack reigns. Sigh.
Monday I visited Mavrides and ended up buying his black velvet painting of cockroaches for $1,299, including sales tax, a big issue for him, the sales tax, as he’s hassling with the courts over not having collected it for art sales in the past. Named Victors, the picture was depicted in the Mondo 2000 issue #10 interview that I did with him. And I was thinking, this picture’s in a magazine, it’s definitely established and a safe thing to buy.
And then the next day I was uneasy about paying so much, and I was flashing that I was the one who got that picture into Mondo in the first place, it’s not like some objective official art authority came and blessed the man’s work. But it’s all part of the greater scam, of course. And the picture does look good to me. The background is purple and green, and the roaches are gold and black. In a way, the background is like a screen from my CA Lab program, and the roaches are from Artificial Life Lab. Life imitates art imitating life.
Wednesday I went into SJSU, which was not quite so slackful, but there has to be a way to make it be so. Everyone there wants to give me slack, is the thing. I only have to let it into my soul.
Today on the way to the supermarket I had a lot of time, so I stopped in and had a beer at the Los Gatos Brewing Company. And I thought “I’m getting slack.” And I was looking around the room, trying to understand “What is slack?” in the same way I used to try to understand the Zen “What is samadhi?” or the Buddhist “What is enlightenment?” or the Beat “What is reality?”
And now I’m done typing this and I’m going to slack off and read a Neat Stuff Peter Bagge comic that I found in Rudy’s room.