Wednesday, February 22, 2012

"I wanted him to be kidding, but he wasn’t."

The place I had in mind was gone, but there was another one just like it down the block. Apparently people still ate sandwiches. I broke the inquisitor’s fifty-dollar bill on a ten-dollar heap of bread and mayonnaise and a three-dollar cup of soda, and when the cash register opened up for my money, it performed a little burst of orchestral music that lasted until the drawer was shut again. The guy behind the counter smiled like it was the most natural thing in the world. I wanted to smile back but the smile wouldn’t come.

“I suppose your jukebox makes change,” I said.

The guy frowned like he didn’t understand. He took a little mechanical box out of his pocket and spoke into a microphone grille on the side of it. “That thing about the jukebox just now,” he said.

“Just a joke,” said a voice from the box.

“Oh, yeah,” the guy said, and he looked at me and laughed.

I wanted him to be kidding, but he wasn’t.

The above scene with it's prognosticatory riff on the social possibilities that exit the picture when something like the iPhone's Siri appears among us is from way back in 1994 when Jonathan Lethem's first novel, Gun, With Occasional Music, arrived on the scene. It's an undisclosed future era that owes as much to Raymond Chandler as it does to Philip K. Dick. He gives us cyborg slavebots, mammals evolved to human intelligence levels, the outlawing of the written word, and a culture in which out-loud recognition of someone else's electronic appliance is considered impolite. I'm a little ashamed to have arrived in Lethem land so late in the game, but none of my sources have talked him up (C'mon sources!). Let the record show that I am now drinking his Kool-Aid, but I'll have to pace myself. Raised on a sense of comic book continuity, I find I have to start at the beginning and work my way up. It's how I roll. Two words: Amnesia Moon.


Anonymous said...

there are ears here hearing, and smiles when something new, or old, comes.

Joan said...

I picked up Gun, With Occasional Music in high school based on the cover alone. It's been a delight to see Mr. Lethem's ideas get the attention and success they deserve.

You may want to check out Jonathan Carroll, who also does good things with written words..