Busted Time Machines And Harmonica Madness
Yippy dippy dippy,
Flippy zippy zippy,
Smippy gdippy gdippy, too!
While the Chums are on leave in New York City, a stray remark made by a messenger sent from Chums Hierarchy, a street kid named "Plug" Loafsley, sends them on a quest to find the honest-to-gosh Time Machine.
Meeting Loafsley in an underage underworld dive in the city's raunchy Tenderloin district, where they are beguiled by Angela Grace, a nymphet chanteuse, Darby Suckling and Chick Counterfly bribe Loafsly into taking them to Dr. Zoot, the man with the machine, whose lab is several blocks away, in the West Village.
At the lab, which steals electric power from the Ninth Avenue El, Zoot assumes the two Chums are tourists looking for new kicks and dickers price for a ride in his Time Machine. Seated inside, the boys have visions of vast social disorder and, worse, emptiness, before the machine disintegrates around them. They are pulled from a void by Dr. Zoot wielding a giant performers' hook taken from a Bowery theater.
Dr. Zoot is revealed as a fraud and tells Suckling and Counterfly that he got the machine secondhand at a yearly conference on time travel held at Candlebrow University, institute of higher learning out there in the distant heart of the Republic (405:17) He directs them to a bar there, the Ball in Hand, and one Alonzo Meatman who will, Zoot says, help them get a time machine.
At Candlebrow, an enormous university underwritten by the vast fortune of Gideon Candlebrow, inventor of Smegmo, an all-purpose condiment, and hair product, made from rendered pork, the Time Conference is in full swing (indeed, it has the trappings of an eternal event) and the Chums again meet up with their old pal Prof. Vanderjuice. With him they visit the town dump and there see heaps of scrapped time machines. At the low saloon down by the river, the boys are dismayed when a young patron asks if they're looking for Meatman, then turns color and vanishes. Daunted at this, all leave except Chick Counterfly, who waits for Meatman (for it was he) to reappear.
Alonzo leads Counterfly to an older, gas-lit part of town, explaining he knows a conduit there by which mysterious beings make known certain desires which he is employed to fulfill. In a suite of vacant rooms in a block of vacant buildings, Meatman introduces Chick to "Mr. Ace", who says that he is a refugee from a destitute and broken future, the end of the capitalistic experiment, an emigrant across the forbidden interval of time trying to aid the migration of others.
Mr. Ace tells Chick that the Chums have unwittingly been used to frustrate the entry of these future beings at several points across the globe, and then offers a deal: If the Chums aid the invisible others through the barrier of time, they will compensate the Chums with the secret of eternal youth.
After reporting back to the Chums, who seem interested in the deal, Chick brings Miles Blundell to his next meeting with Mr. Ace, relying on Miles' second sight to suss out the truth of the matter. Miles starts weeping at the first sight of Mr. Ace, intuiting his true intentions and warning (417:19) Assuredly, he does not have our best interests in mind. Miles also sees other beings, through, he tells Chick, something like windows. What's more, they see him too and begin pointing this thing back at him, not exactly a weapon--an enigmatic object, he, kind of, explains.
Indeed, psychic interference by the Trespassers soon causes the Chums to undergo a strange transformation (as does, we're told, the whole Chums of Chance network), becoming without realizing it the Marching Academy Harmonica Band, students of the Harmonica Band Marching Academy, an alternate of Candlebrow U. They hallucinate entering and attending the Academy, a revery which culminates in a hot musical number where all sing and dance about the AWOL 'Zo Meatman.
'Zo, we learn, had met earlier that day with the Commandant of the school, a wrinkled, white-haired, gold-toothed martinet keen on controlling his students' every moment. Alonzo is paid for his work as an informer and, meeting over, leaves the premises, apparently never to be seen again.
Meanwhile the spell on the Chums begins to lift. (It is unclear if it has been in force for hours or weeks.) First they doubt they are harmonica players. Then they wonder if they are really just readers of the Chums of Chance adventure series, left behind on Earth as surrogates for the true Chums. In doing so, they dream of meeting those real Chums, hosting a dinner for them followed by a harmonica recital.
Gradually, after a certain release from longing, they walk to the edge of an unnamed small town and find sky ready, brightwork gleaming [. . .] as if they had never been away, the Inconvenience and Pugnax, barking with unrestrained joy.
No sooner have the Chums returned to themselves then they're visited by that Alonzo Meatman, who brings the Sfinciuno Itinerary and a warning to await orders. These promptly arrive via the Tesla Device, directing them to proceed to Bukhara, in Central Asia, to rendezvous with the Saksal, a British frigate that sails under desert sand, commanded by one Capt. Q. Zane Toadflax.
Needing, of course, under-sand diving suits, the Chums are brought to inventor Roswell Bounce by their mutual friend, Prof. Vanderjuice. Bounce is happy to sell them the needed Hypops units, undercutting the price of those available from the Vibe Corp., including one especially modified for Pugnax.
So supplied, the Inconvenience flies eastward, leaving Candlebrow U. behind, along with the Mysteries of Time to those with enough of that commodity to devote to their proper study.
So ends Iceland Spar. Bilocations dead ahead.
I hope you Chumps will forgive me for saying that I think these are the strangest fucking 30 pages our Mad Lad has put down since the controversial ending of Gravity's Rainbow. Signifiers and subjunctive clauses abound. I noted a nod to Burroughs (William, that is, not Edgar Rice) in Meatman's disappearing stunt at the bar (very Nova Express), the air of Lovecraft in the utterly creepy description of the time-dead rooms (pg 414) where Mr. Ace comes and goes, a feeling for Arnold's Dover Beach (the continuous roar as of the ocean 404:11) in that view from the Time Machine, and something of the end of the Nestor chapter of Ulysses, in which Stephen Dedalus listens to the old school master Deasy in his office, next to an open window, as he natters on about Irish cattle and the Jews. Like 'Zo, Stephen gets paid and walks away. And then there're those worn out Asimov Transeculars seen in the town dump (I love, love, love that!) Less interesting to me is Smegmo, a very sophomoric joke aptly nestled in a collegiate setting.
But only a master can pull this shit off, and I suggest interested parties pay attention to how Pynchon uses the nearly interior narrative voice in the Marching Band passage to arrange events and create a sense of mystery in the reader's mind as to what's going on. As if is a favored construction, used deftly enough to almost disappear, along with Were they, Perhaps even, may really, Had they, and some would. It is a precise use of imprecision, and it casts a strange spell.
Speaking of, note that on the way to Zoot's lab, Darby and Chick pass a memorial landmark of the devastation wrought on New York by the creature of the Vormance expedition, passing through the gate proclaiming THE DOLEFUL CITY, seen first on page 154.
And Mr. Ace? Miles, we are told, cries like a cleric seeing God when he meets him. From this we may infer that Mr. A. has a creative authority over the Chums, though whether he is meant to be the author of the Chums of Chance adventure series, or the author of the whole Against the Day shooting match, I will leave for others to kick around.