THE MISFIT OF GRAVITY
You may think this is about my journey of reading Thomas Pynchon’s novel GRAVITY’S RAINBOW. In many ways, you would be right. But this is also an apology. My apology.
Because I am a liar.
That’s why Mona Wilson broke up with me. I lied, and I now remember her the same way Truffaut shot Jeanne Moreau in JULES ET JIM: playful, fragmented, and ultimately tragic. It was gravity that brought Mona and I together. Gravity was what we shared. And it was gravity that made Mona weep…
If Mona Wilson knew anything, she knew tears. She didn’t know how to whistle, she didn’t know how to properly make an omelet, she didn’t know beer (she preferred wine), she didn’t know late night talk shows, she didn’t know comic books, she didn’t know video games, she didn’t know poker, she didn’t know anime, she didn’t know where the best brunch places were, she didn’t know there’s no such thing as a black panther, she didn’t know the difference between trance and house, she didn’t know The Marx Brothers, she didn’t know astrology, she didn’t know military terms, she didn’t know Grand Guignol, she didn’t know how to fly a plane, she didn’t know Veikko Ennala, she didn’t know the Abergavenny Railway, she didn’t know from Korean BBQ to Japanese shabu shabu, she didn’t know the call letters to any local radio station, she didn’t know graph theory, she didn’t know the backhand slice, she didn’t know The Bad Girls Club, she didn’t know Persians were not allowed in some of the hip Los Angeles night clubs, she didn’t know American film noir, she didn’t know swine flu from bird flu, she didn’t know when to properly exit from the car pool lane, she didn’t know how to drive a stick shift, she didn’t know the SyFy channel came with basic cable, she didn’t know Cahuenga Blvd. run in all four directions, she didn’t know LSD or ecstasy, she didn’t know that only one movie studio existed in Studio City (“Then why does the name imply a city full of studios?”), she didn’t know a little bit of this and a little bit of that in the same way all of us have gaps in knowledge and trivia retention. But Mona knew tears, like it was a family member. She had a degree in tears. She cried when she read, and reading was all she did. She cried at the soulfulness of Byron, she cried at the musicality of Shakespeare, she cried at the playfulness of Nabakov, she cried at the short stores of Fitzgerald, she cried at the pathos of Kafka, she cried at the philosophical romanticism of Kundera, she cried at the humanity of Bellow, she cried at the machismo of Mailer, she cried at the complexity of Amis, she cried at the purple prose of Murakami, but most importantly, she cried when she read Thomas Pynchon’s GRAVITY’S RAINBOW. That was her favorite book of all time, and she cried at its sublime mastery and gyroscopic harmony. She cried at its galloping sentences and surprising turn-of-phrases. She read the book many times, she cried many times.
I met Mona almost a year ago. She was the only girl I ever met on the internet. In fact, she found me on Facebook. You know, that cyperspace portal where you spend hours just perusing your casual acquaintances’ or rediscovered high school friends’ profiles just to see what their interests are, where they ended up, who they married, how ugly was their divorce, what they did for a living, how long have they been unemployed, how many kids they had, how many cars they owned, how many years in prison they spent, when they came out of the closet, how many tours of Iraq they did, how conservative they got, how liberal they wish they were, how many “mutual” friends we shared, a poke and a gift, a like and comment, all mundane details that you really don’t give a fuck about but have too much time on your hand to pretend otherwise. Like most people, I acted like Facebook was a waste of time when really it changed my life with the stroke of one incoming message.
Mona was a lit major at UCLA. She was tired of dating guys who were smart, but not well-read. Since reading was such a big part of her life and consumed most of her time, she longed to find a man who could keep up with her intellectual vigor. At the suggestion of her best friend, Fabiola (aka Fabby), she signed up for a Facebook account, created a profile with all her interests detailed, then searched for males in the same city and cross-referenced their likes in literature to her’s. Apparently, I was the only guy in Hollywood who had read Thomas Pynchon’s GRAVITY’S RAINBOW and listed it as one of my books of interest. GRAVITY’S RAINBOW also happened to be Mona’s favorite novel of all time, post-modernists literature a particular passion. She messaged me on Facebook. I ignored the message for two weeks, automatically connecting her attractive profile pic to porn spam. Finally, tired of all the messages accumulating in my in-box, I clicked on it. I was pleasantly surprised to read the following:
“Hey there! I see GRAVITY’S RAINBOW is one of your favorite books. It’s also one of mine. Wanna grab coffee?” -M
Before I messaged her back, I instantly researched her profile and “got to know her” before I got to know her. First I made sure her status was single. She was.
Political views: liberal. Okay, good. My last girlfriend was conservative and the sex we had was full of guilt. Her feeling guilty for falling into temptation, while I felt guilty for contributing to her guilt. Granted, it made the sex that much more potent but was ultimately the cause of our breakup.
Religious views: atheist. Even better. I’m certainly not looking to fill pillow talk with debates on Noah’s Ark and how Jonah lived in the belly of a whale for seven days.
Interests: food, traveling, and reading great books. All wonderful interests. I approve.
Favorite music: Serge Gainsbourg, Wax Tailor, Capsule, Velvet Underground, The Dears, Bat for Lashes, Irvin Berlin, She Wants Revenge, Pulp, Brazilian Girls, Joanna Newsom, Cornelius, Artic Monkeys, and Roger Waters solo stuff. She had impeccable taste in music and could teach me a thing or two.
Favorite TV shows: Don’t really watch TV except THE DAILY SHOW and 30 ROCK. And I loved TWIN PEAKS when it was on! Okay, the whole not watching TV is kind of quirky in his day-and- age. But you had me at TWIN PEAKS.
FAVORITE MOVIES: Anything French New Wave! But also BOOGIE NIGHTS, MANHATTAN, HENRY FOOL, CRIES AND WHISPERS, PULP FICTION and SAY ANYTHING. High standards in cinema. I can certainly hang with this girl.
FAVORITE BOOKS: Lots! But my favorite of all time is GRAVITY’S RAINBOW by Thomas Pynchon.
She seemed like an interesting girl with interesting taste in our not-so-interesting times – a rarity in today’s Los Angeles, often a wasteland of paper dolls and plastic wannabes, honey-paced apple-green smirks of Starbucks sullied starlets lost on the art of conversation and deep thought. Mona Wilson, from what I knew of her, from what Facebook let me know of her, seemed like a rarity. So I messaged her back:
“The Bourgeois Pig is my favorite café in LA. Let’s meet there at noon on Sunday. Let’s discuss life and all things literary…” -Mike
Mona swept into the cafe with a masterly independence of a perfected pixie, a graceful blend of all the best parts of Zooey Deschanel, Natalie Portman, and Anna Karina. Befuddled by her beauty, I blinked several times and her image stuttered in my mind like a camera shutter – Cick! Click! Click! – as her divine yet delicate features was too much for my brain to process, and in an instant, all of my hopes, dreams, and desires have been reduced to their true dimensions. She looked like the kind of girl who had always been someone’s muse, assuredly she had inspired endless art and countless heartbreak. She was deadly gorgeous, and it all started with her eyes. God, her eyes -- they opened up like spotlights, big and bright with traces of gray tones unbidden to their corners. Her striking pupils darted back and forth as she took in the dim interior of the café, which was illuminated only by the glow of laptop monitors of a half dozen wannabe screenwriters hunched over in their stalled second acts. Mona’s effulgent eyes told a million stories in a million genres, and as I saw my reflection in them, my heart skipped a beat, realizing I was soon to be part of her narrative, and she mine. What story were we about to embark on? We finally locked gazes, her eyes brightening even more as she realized who I was. Before I could stand up, Mona was already headed towards me. I barely reached out for a hand-shake when she grabbed me for a hug. I could feel the delicate tickle of her dark hair pressed against my ear as she said, “I’m Mona Wilson.” I pulled away, stepped back and drank her entire image. She smiled, beaming. Yes, that’s right. There is no mistaking it. She is Mona Wilson.
She pulled up a chair and sat down next to me, our knees touched, bridging us together, never parting the whole conversation which lasted hours. Her energy was infectious, running a torrent of ten different emotions simultaneously. She wasn’t that girl. You know, that girl who would talk to me out of fear of feeling lonely yet together we served a double helping of solitude and awkwardness. Mona was the antithesis of that, she made me feel alive, connected. Engaging with her made me feel bigger than the moment, bigger than us, like we were more than two people, like we were a vibrant crowd bursting to pull an all-night kegger or ready to start a revolution with just a handful of bricks. Over several lattes and chocolate chip cookies, we did what we did best: we talked and talked. That was almost one year ago from…
…today Mona has her nose in a Murakami book, and I’m sitting at my desk working on my untitled sci-fi screenplay. One of the many things I adore about our relationship is our ability to be in the same room and completely ignore each other as we’re engulfed in our own worlds. There is no pressure to fill dead air. We value words and silence, for both are rare in quality. Occasionally, I’d glance up from the hum of my Final Draft screenwriting software and steal a look at her. Mona is never more beautiful than when she is behind a book, intensely gripping the pages as if it’s part of her body. Satisfied with the thought of her simply being across the room, I turn back to my laptop.
“Hey,” she says, eyes still on the pages. “You’ve read WIND-UP BIRD CHRONICLES, right?”
I nod, punching the keyboard, then kept nodding a little longer than I should have to the rhythm of my own typing.
“This character, Okada…,” Mona continues, contemplatively. “Did his paranoia remind you of Slothrop’s shadows?”
“What’s Slothrop?” I ask, barely listening to her as I swim in my own creative driftings.
“What do you mean?” She ask sharply, looking up from her book.
Something about her questioning tone made me snap to attention. It’s that moment you know you fucked up, but you didn’t know how. I turn to look at the befuddlement in her eyes. “What do you mean what do I mean?” I feebly shoot back.
“Slothrop.” She repeats.
I look at her blankly. She might as well have been talking a different language.
“The character from GRAVITY’S RAINBOW? “ She says, half methodically, half condescendingly.
I am paralyzed. Shit. She caught me. A moment of silence as the truth sinks in.
“Oh my God! You never read GRAVITY’S RAINBOW,” she cries out.
“No you haven’t! If you had you would understand the reference.”
“The first few pages…”
“Oh my God….”
“Why the hell did you list it as one of your favorite books on Facebook?”
“I don’t know…I just…I just wanted to seem smart.”
“Did you also lie about THE GREAT GATSBY?”
“No, I read that in high school.”
“And EAST OF EDEN?”
“I’ve read everything…except GRAVITY’S RAINBOW.”
“I can’t believe this…”
“Nobody’s actually read GRAVITY’S RAINBOW.” I defensively declare in an exaggerated absolute.
“I have! Many times! I don’t lie when I say it’s my favorite novel of all time.”
“Yeah, but you’re a rare creature. It’s one of those books most people have cause it looks good on their book shelf but few have actually read --.”
“Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God,” she keeps repeating, shaking her head. “Our relationship is based entirely on a lie.”
“You’re being a bit over-dramatic, don’t you think?” I ask.
“Over-dramatic!” She shrieks back. “Are you justifying lying to me?”
“No, I’m just saying…” I stutter for a moment. “In the pantheon of lies, this is pretty harmless.”
“You’ve broken my trust. Do you think that’s harmless? How do I know what else is real or false with you?”
“Come on, Mona,” I plea. “You know me well enough-“
“No! No! No! I thought I knew you well enough!” She storms off into the bathroom, choking on her tears. I watch helplessly as the door slams shut. I’m rooted in place, listening through the bathroom door to her deep sobs and sniffles. Once again, Mona is crying over GRAVITY’S RAINBOW.
Two weeks crawl by and I don’t hear from Mona. She won’t pick up my calls or return my messages. I don’t know if she’s staying at her mother’s or Fabby’s place. They both won’t tell me. I fall into a depression, my mind and heart trying to adjust to not having Mona in my life. The decompression is unbearable. I lock myself in my house and re-watch THE WIRE on DVD, my favorite black-and-white photo of Mona always by my side. I spend as much time glancing at the photo as I do the TV screen. I log onto Facebook, try to cyber stalk Mona, but she has blocked me from seeing any updates on her wall. I search the profiles of mutual friends, hoping to see some sort of communication with Mona, only to come up with nothing. Dejected, I edit my Favorite Books section, deleting GRAVITY’S RAINBOW. Then I go back to feeling sorry for myself, barely moving from my couch, barely moving at all. Then one day, there’s a knock on my door. Is it her? I briskly go to answer it, opening the door only to see the backside of a UPS delivery man climbing into his truck. I look down and see a small package. No return address. I rip the package open, discovering a copy of GRAVITY’S RAINBOW with a note that reads:
Redemption is on the last page. –M
I place the book down on my dinner table and stare at it for hours. Mona is giving me a second chance, but only after I read GRAVITY’S RAINBOW. I ponder. I could read a primer or cliff notes. No, Mona is too smart for that. And she’s read it many times and practically knows every passage by heart. The stakes are too high for her. She would never let me get away with it unless I read GRAVITY’S RAINBOW in its entirety and fully absorbed it. She’s going to make me earn it, and deservedly so. I take the black-and-white photo of Mona and slide it between the pages to be used as a book-mark. If reading GRAVITY’S RAINBOW is the thing that will earn her trust back, then that is what I am going to do with a singular passion unlike anything I’ve ever done before. I pick up the book and feel the weight of the pages and their meaning. I leave the house for the first time in a long time with the book in my hand. I'm wandering the city, searching for the perfect place to read. Griffith Park? No. Top of Runyan Canyon? Not quite. I end up around the hustle and bustle of Hollywood & Highland, strolling across the Walk of Fame, and staring at the forgotten stars below my feet as tourists bump into me. There's the subway entrance. I always forget Los Angeles has an underground subway. I head down the corridor, the screeching of the trains piercing the tunnels. I make my way along the platform, maneuvering through the waiting crowd. The next train comes to a stop. Doors slide open. As everybody loads onto the train, I stand back. Doors close. Train leaves. I'm standing on the platform alone, gripping the book. Leaning against a pillar, I flip to the first page and read the first line: “A screaming comes across the sky.”
TO BE CONTINUED…
Mike Le is a writer/producer living in Los Angeles. You can follow him on Twitter: @DFTVYP
Mike Le is a writer/producer living in Los Angeles. You can follow him on Twitter: @DFTVYP