Monday, August 01, 2016

Poor Yoricks' Summer - Infinite Jest, Pages 430-461

From 0500 to 0800, Don Gately works as a janitor at the Shattuck Shelter For Homeless Males in Jamaica Plain. While it is a disgusting job --
He mops down broad cot-strewn floors with anti-fungal delousing solvents. Likewise the walls. He scrubs toilets. The relative cleanliness of the Shattuck's toilets might seem surprising until you head into the shower area, with your equipment and face-mask. Half the guys in the Shattuck are always incontinent. There's human waste in the showers on a daily fucking basis. Stavros lets him attach an industrial hose to a nozzle and spray the worst of the shit away from a distance before Gately has to go in there with his mop and brushes and solvents, and his mask. ...

The inmates at the Shattuck suffer from every kind of physical and psychological and addictive and spiritual difficulty you could ever think of, specializing in ones that are repulsive. There are colostomy bags and projectile vomiting and cirrhotic discharges and missing limbs and misshapen heads and incontinence and Kaposi's Sarcoma and suppurating sores and all different levels of enfeeblement and impulse-control-deficit and damage. Schizophrenia is like the norm. Guys in D.T.s treat the heaters like TVs and leave broad spatter-paintings of coffee over the walls of the barrackses. There are industrial buckets for A.M. puking that they seem to treat like golfers treat the pin on like a golf course, aiming in its vague direction from a distance. There's one sort of blocked off and more hidden corner, over near the bank of little lockers for valuables, that's always got sperm moving slowly down the walls. And way too much sperm for just one or two guys, either. The whole place smells like death no matter what the fuck you do.
-- it seems like, in some ways, it's a positive experience for Gately, who "always screws right out of there at 0801h. and rides the Greenie back up the hill with his Gratitude-battery totally recharged."

In July YDAU, at ten months clean, Gately speaks at the Braintree's Tough Shit But You Still Can't Drink Group:
Don G., up at the podium, revealed publicly about how he was ashamed that he still as yet had no real solid understanding of a Higher Power. It's suggested in the 3rd of Boston AA's 12 Steps that you to turn your Diseased will over to the direction and love of 'God as you understand Him.' It's supposed to be one of AA's major selling points that you get to choose your own God. You get to make up your own understanding of God or a Higher Power or Whom-/Whatever. But Gately, at like ten months clean, at the TSBYSCD podium in Braintree, opines that at this juncture he's so totally clueless and lost he's thinking that he'd maybe rather have the White Flag Crocodiles just grab him by the lapels and just tell him what AA God to have an understanding of, and give him totally blunt and dogmatic orders about how to turn over his Diseased will to whatever this Higher Power is. ... He's both pissed off and ashamed to be talking about this instead of how just completely good it is to just be getting through the day without ingesting a Substance, but there it is. This is what's going on. He's no closer to carrying out the suggestion of the 3rd Step than the day the Probie drove him over to his halfway house from Peabody Holding. The idea of this whole God thing makes him puke, still. And he is afraid.
Again, we have the issue of choice. In this case, the residents can choose their Higher Power. But Gately, whose minimal relationship with religion and God is described as "unconsidered atheism", is nearly sick with worry that he is not getting it. He wants desperately to succeed, but has no idea how to go about making this Higher Power thing work. Nevertheless, Gately "hits the knees in the A.M. and asks for Help and then hits the knees again at bedtime and says Thank You, whether he believes he's talking to Anything/-body or not, and he somehow gets through that day clean".

He is both ashamed and afraid, he wonders if maybe his will is still Diseased, but afterwards, he gets nothing but handshakes and cheers. (Though he doesn't get any advice about his problem.) A biker named Bob Death tells Gately "the one about the fish": "This wise old whiskery fish swims up to three young fish and goes, 'Morning, boys, how's the water?' and swims away; and the three young fish watch him swim away and look at each other and go, 'What the fuck is water?' and swim away." (Wallace would, of course, use this same story to great effect in his Kenyon Commencement Speech in 2005.)

We also get some background on Gately's alcoholic mother:
Near the end of his Ennet residency, at like eight months clean and more or less free of any chemical compulsion, going to the Shattuck every A.M. and working the Steps and getting Active and pounding out meetings like a madman, Don Gately suddenly started to remember things he would just as soon not have. Remembered. Actually remembered's probably not the best word. It was more like he started to almost reexperience things that he'd barely even been there to experience, in terms of emotionally, in the first place. ...

To the extent it's Gately's place to diagnose anybody else as an alcoholic, his mom was pretty definitely an alcoholic. She drank Stolichnaya vodka in front of the TV. ... She drank little thin glasses with cut-up bits of carrot and pepper that she'd drop into the vodka. Her maiden name was Gately. Don's like organic father had been an Estonian immigrant, a wrought-iron worker, which is like sort of a welder with ambition. He'd broken Gately's mother's jaw and left Boston when Gately was in his mother's stomach. Gately had no brothers or sisters. His mother was subsequently involved with a live-in lover, a former Navy M.P. who used to beat her up on a regular schedule, hitting her in the vicinities between groin and breast so that nothing showed. ...

Gately at like ten or eleven used to pretend to listen and watch TV on the floor but really be dividing his attention between how close his Mom was to unconsciousness and how much Stolichnaya was left in the bottle. She would only drink Stolichnaya, which she called her Comrade in Arms and said Nothing but the Comrade would do. After she went under for the evening and he'd carefully taken the tilted glass out of her hand, Don'd take the bottle and mix the first couple vodkas with Diet Coke and drink a couple of those until it lost its fire, then drink it straight. This was like a routine. Then he'd put the near-empty bottle back next to her glass with its vegetables darkening in the undrunk vodka, and she'd wake up on the couch in the morning with no idea she hadn't drank the whole thing. Gately was careful to always leave her enough for a wake-up swallow. But this gesture of leaving some, Gately's now realized, wasn't just filial kindness on his part: if she didn't have the wake-up swallow she wouldn't get off the red couch all day, and then there would be no new bottle that night. ...

This all came burpling greasily up into memory in the space of two or three weeks in May, and now more stuff steadily like dribbles up, for Gately to Touch. ...

No one tells you when they tell you you have cirrhosis that eventually you'll all of a sudden start choking on your own blood. This is called a cirrhotic hemorrhage. ... She'd been Diagnosed for years. She'd go to Meetings for a few weeks, then drink on the couch, silent, telling him if the phone rang she wasn't home. After a few weeks of this she'd spend a whole day weeping, beating at herself as if on fire. Then she'd go back to Meetings for a while. ... At first Gately just couldn't go out to the Long-Term place, couldn't see her out there. Couldn't deal. Then after some time passed he couldn't go because he couldn't face her and try and explain why he hadn't come before now. Ten-plus years have gone like that.
All of this is tremendously sad. Gately is 29, so his mother could not be more than probably 60. She must wonder constantly about her only child, from her room in the "Long-Term Care Medicaid place". No way to get in touch with him, no idea where or how he is. More than ten years. ... And then there are her past attempts to quit drinking, going to Meetings yet failing to stay sober, and then weeping all day and hitting herself in anger and frustration.

Wallace mentions these memories "burpling greasily" into Gately's memory. A similar description was used when Joelle was telling Gately about the meaninglessness of certain usages of the phrase "But for the Grace of God". At that time, Gately felt "a greasy wave of an old and almost unfamiliar panic, and for a second it seems inevitable that at some point in his life he's going to get high again and be back in the cage all over again".

Bits and Pieces:

Mario Incandenza, who "was usually next to impossible to agitate", is
weirdly agitated about Madame Psychosis's unannounced sabbatical ... WYYY had been evasive and unforthcoming about the whole thing. ... At no time had anyone of managerial pitch or timbre mentioned Madame Psychosis or what her story was or her date of expected return. Hal'd told Mario that the silence was a positive sign, that if she'd left the air for good the station would have had to say something.
In an extremely detailed chapter regarding what happens during dawn drills at a junior tennis academy (all you need to know and much more), Wallace describes the colour of the early AM Boston sky the morning after the I.-Day celebration:
By the time they're all stretching out, lined up in rows along the service-and baselines, flexing and bowing, genuflecting to nothing, changing postures at the sound of a whistle, by this time the sky has lightened to the color of Kaopectate.
And the look of the Charles River:
The river at dawn is a strip of foil's dull side.

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