Authors: Thomas Pynchon
About the Author
Thomas Pynchon was born in 1937 and attended Cornell University, where he published his first story, "Mortality and Mercy in Vienna," in Epoch. Soon after leaving Cornell, he published three short stories - "Under the Rose," in Noble Savage #3; "Entropy," in The Kenyan Review; and "Low-Lands," in New World Writing #16 - which earned him an immediate reputation among the narrow but intense circle of short-story readers. His novel V. won the Faulkner Prize as the best first novel of 1963. A second novel, The Crying of Lot 49, was published in 1966. Since then he has published "The Secret Investigation" in The Saturday Evening Post, and an essay on Los Angeles in The New York Times Magazine.
In these few published works, Pynchon has earned a widespread and even fanatic acclaim, and remains a uniquely forceful figure on the American literary horizon:
"Pynchon surely ranks as the most intelligent, most audacious and most accomplished American novelist writing today." - The Nation
Table of Contents
In which Benny Profane, a schlemihl and human yo-yo, gets to an apocheir
In which Stencil, a quick-change artist, does eight impersonations
In which Esther gets a nose job
In which Stencil nearly goes West with an alligator
In which Profane returns to street level
In which Rachel gets her yo-yo back, Roony sings a song, and Stencil calls on Bloody Chiclitz
In which various sets of young people get together
Confessions of Fausto Maijstral
In which things are not so amusing
In which the yo-yo string is revealed as a state of mind
In which Benny Profane, a schlemihl and
human yo-yo, gets to
Christmas Eve, 1955, Benny Profane, wearing black levis, suede jacket, sneakers and big cowboy hat, happened to pass through Norfolk, Virginia. Given to sentimental impulses, he thought he'd look in on the Sailor's Grave, his old tin can's tavern on East Main Street. He got there by way of the Arcade, at the East Main end of which sat an old street singer with a guitar and an empty Sterno can for donations. Out in the street a chief yeoman was trying to urinate in the gas tank of a '54 Packard Patrician and five or six seamen apprentice were standing around giving encouragement. The old man was singing, in a fine, firm baritone:
Every night is Christmas Eve on old East Main,
Sailors and their sweethearts all agree.
Neon signs of red and green
Shine upon the friendly scene,
Welcoming you in from off the sea.
Santa's bag is filled with all your dreams come true:
Nickel beers that sparkle like champagne,
Barmaids who all love to screw,
All of them reminding you
It's Christmas Eve on old East Main.
"Yay chief," yelled a seaman deuce. Profane rounded the corner. With its usual lack of warning, East Main was on him.
Since his discharge from the Navy Profane had been road-laboring and when there wasn't work just traveling, up and down the east coast like a yo-yo; and this had been going on for maybe a year and a half. After that long of more named pavements than he'd care to count, Profane had grown a little leery of streets, especially streets like this. They had in fact all fused into a single abstracted Street, which come the full moon he would have nightmares about: East Main, a ghetto for Drunken Sailors nobody knew what to Do With, sprang on your nerves with all the abruptness of a normal night's dream turning to nightmare. Dog into wolf, light into twilight, emptiness into waiting presence, here were your underage Marine barfing in the street, barmaid with a ship's propeller tattooed on each buttock, one potential berserk studying the best technique for jumping through a plate glass window (when to scream Geronimo? before or after the glass breaks?), a drunken deck ape crying back in the alley because last time the SP's caught him like this they put him in a strait jacket. Underfoot, now and again, came vibration in the sidewalk from an SP streetlights away, beating out a Hey Rube with his night stick; overhead, turning everybody's face green and ugly, shone mercury-vapor lamps, receding in an asymmetric V to the east where it's dark and there are no more bars.
Arriving at the Sailor's Grave, Profane found a small fight in progress between sailors and jarheads. He stood in the doorway a moment watching; then realizing he had one foot in the Grave anyway, dived out of the way of the fight and lay more or less doggo near the brass rail.
"Why can't man live in peace with his fellow man," wondered a voice behind Profane's left ear. It was Beatrice the barmaid, sweetheart of DesDiv 22, not to mention Profane's old ship, the destroyer U.S.S. Scaffold. "Benny," she cried. They became tender, meeting again after so long. Profane began to draw in the sawdust hearts, arrows through them, sea gulls carrying a banner in their beaks which read Dear Beatrice.
The Scaffold-boat's crew were absent, this tin can having got under way for the Mediterranean two evenings ago amid a storm of bitching from the crew which was heard out in the cloudy Roads (so the yarn went) like voices off a ghost ship; heard as far away as Little Creek. Accordingly, there were a few more barmaids than usual tonight, working tables all up and down East Main. For it's said (and not without reason) that no sooner does a ship like the Scaffold single up all lines than certain Navy wives are out of their civvies and into barmaid uniform, flexing their beer-carrying arms and practicing a hooker's sweet smile; even as the N.O.B. band is playing Auld Lang Syne and the destroyers are blowing stacks in black flakes all over the cuckolds-to-be standing manly at attention, taking leave with rue and a tiny grin.
Beatrice brought beer. There was a piercing yelp from one of the back tables, she flinched, beer slopped over the edge of the glass.
"God," she said, "it's Ploy again." Ploy was now an engineman on the mine sweeper Impulsive and a scandal the length of East Main. He stood five feet nothing in sea boots and was always picking fights with the biggest people on the ship, knowing they would never take him seriously. Ten months ago (just before he'd transferred off the Scaffold) the Navy had decided to remove all of Ploy's teeth. Incensed, Ploy managed to punch his way through a chief corpsman and two dental officers before it was decided he was in earnest about keeping his teeth. "But think," the officers shouted, trying not to laugh, fending off his tiny fists: "root canal work, gum abscesses. . ." "No," screamed Ploy. They finally had to hit him in the bicep with a Pentothal injection. On waking up, Ploy saw apocalypse, screamed lengthy obscenities. For two months he roamed ghastly around the Scaffold, leaping without warning to swing from the overhead like an orangutan, trying to kick officers in the teeth.
He would stand on the fantail and harangue whoever would listen, flannelmouthed through aching gums. When his mouth had healed he was presented with a gleaming, regulation set of upper and lower plates. "Oh God," he bawled, and tried to jump over the side. But was restrained by a gargantuan Negro named Dahoud. "Hey there, little fellow," said Dahoud, picking Ploy up by the head and scrutinizing this convulsion of dungarees and despair whose feet thrashed a yard above the deck. "What do you want to go and do that for?"
"Man, I want to die, is all," cried Ploy.
"Don't you know," said Dahoud, "that life is the most precious possession you have?"
"Ho, ho," said Ploy through his tears. "Why?"
"Because," said Dahoud, "without it, you'd be dead."
"Oh," said Ploy. He thought about this for a week. He calmed down, started to go on liberty again. His transfer to the Impulsive became reality. Soon, after Lights Out, the other snipes began to hear strange grating sounds from the direction of Ploy's rack. This went on for a couple-three weeks until one morning around two somebody turned on the lights in the compartment and there was Ploy, sitting crosslegged on his rack, sharpening his teeth with a small bastard file. Next payday night, Ploy sat at a table in the Sailor's Grave with a bunch of other snipes, quieter than usual. Around eleven, Beatrice swayed by, carrying a tray full of beers. Gleeful, Ploy stuck his head out, opened his jaws wide, and sank his newly-filed dentures into the barmaid's right buttock. Beatrice screamed, glasses flew parabolic and glittering, spraying the Sailor's Grave with watery beer.
It became Ploy's favorite amusement. The word spread through the division, the squadron, perhaps all DesLant. People not of the Impulsive or Scaffold came to watch. This started many fights like the one now in progress.
"Who did he get," Profane said. "I wasn't looking."
"Beatrice," said Beatrice. Beatrice being another barmaid. Mrs. Buffo, owner of the Sailor's Grave, whose first name was also Beatrice, had a theory that just as small children call all females mother, so sailors, in their way equally as helpless, should call all barmaids Beatrice. Further to implement this maternal policy, she had had custom beer taps installed, made of foam rubber, in the shape of large breasts. From eight to nine on payday nights there occurred something Mrs. Buffo called Suck Hour. She began it officially by emerging from the back room clad in a dragon-embroidered kimono given her by an admirer in the Seventh Fleet, raising a gold boatswain's pipe to her lips and blowing Chow Down. At this signal, everyone would dive for and if they were lucky enough to reach one be given suck by a beer tap. There were seven of these taps, and an average of 250 sailors usually present for the merrymaking.
Ploy's head now appeared around a corner of the bar. He snapped his teeth at Profane. "This here," Ploy said, "is my friend Dewey Gland, who just came aboard." He indicated a long, sad-looking rebel with a huge beak who had followed Ploy over, dragging a guitar in the sawdust.
"Howdy," said Dewey Gland. "I would like to sing you a little song."
"To celebrate your becoming a PFC," said Ploy. "Dewey sings it to everybody."
"That was last year," said Profane.
But Dewey Gland propped one foot on the brass rail and the guitar on his knee and began to strum. After eight bars of this he sang, in waltz time:
Pore Forlorn Civilian,
We're goin to miss you so.
In the goat hole and the wardroom they're cryin,
Even the mizzable X.O.
You're makin a mistake,
Though yore ass they should break,
Yore report chits number a million.
Ship me over for twenty years,
I'll never be a Pore Forlorn Civilian.
"It's pretty," said Profane into his beer glass.
"There's more," said Dewey Gland.
"Oh," said Profane.
A miasma of evil suddenly enveloped Profane from behind; an arm fell like a sack of spuds across his shoulder and into his peripheral vision crept a beer glass surrounded by a large muff, fashioned ineptly from diseased baboon fur.
"Benny. How is the pimping business, hyeugh, hyeugh."
The laugh could only have come from Profane's onetime shipmate, Pig Bodine. Profane looked round. It had. Hyeugh, hyeugh approximates a laugh formed by putting the tonguetip under the top central incisors and squeezing guttural sounds out of the throat. It was, as Pig intended, horribly obscene.
"Old Pig. Aren't you missing movement?"
"I am AWOL. Pappy Hod the boatswain mate drove me over the hill." The best way to avoid SP's is to stay sober and with your own. Hence the Sailor's Grave.
"How is Pappy."
Pig told him how Pappy Hod and the barmaid he'd married had split up. She'd left and come to work at the Sailor's Grave.