Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Infinite Jest, “night-noises”

A great descriptive passage:

The night-noises of the metro night: harbor-wind skirling on angled cement, the shush and sheen of overpass traffic, TPs’ laughter in interior rooms, the yowl of unresolved cat-life. Horns blatting off in the harbor. Receding sirens. Confused inland gulls’ cries. Broken glass from far away. Car horns in gridlock, arguments in languages, more broken glass, running shoes, a woman’s either laugh or scream from who can tell how far, coming off the grid. Dogs defending whatever dog-yards they pass by, the sounds of chains and risen hackles. The podiatric click and thud, the visible breath, gravel’s crunch, creak of Green’s leather, the snick of a million urban lighters, the gauzy far-off humming ATHSCMEs pointing out true plumb north, the clunk and tinkle of stuff going into dumpsters and rustle of stuff in dumpsters settling and skirl of wind on the sharp edges of dumpsters and unmistakable clanks and tinkles of dumpster-divers and can-miners going after dumpsters’ cans and bottles, the district Redemption Center down in Brighton and actually even boldly sharing a storefront with Liquor World liquor store, so the can-miners can do like one-stop redeeming and shopping.

David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest (Boston: Little, Brown, 1996).
TPs: teleputers, which have replaced broadcast television. “Green’s leather”: Bruce Green, out on a walk with Randy Lenz, wears a leather jacket. ATHSCMEs: “Air-Displacement Effectuators,” giant fans that blow pollution north to Canada. Brighton: one half of Allston-Brighton, the Boston neighborhoods that serve as the setting for much of Infinite Jest.

Infinite Jest is filled with acronyms, but with under 200 pages of the novel to go, I’ve yet to see an explanation of ATHSCME. I suspect (and suspect that I will continue to suspect) that the name is a joke on the Acme Corporation of cartoondom and on the words “Ask me.” What does ATHSCME stand for? Athsc me. I think of ATHSCME as a distant relation of an acronym from John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath: IITYWYBAD?

I remember a similar acronym from Allston-Brighton — YOADTMD, more or less, which hung above the bar of the El Phoenix Room in Brighton. Infinite Jest names several now-defunct Allston-Brighton landmarks: Bunratty’s (a bar, aka Scumratty’s), Ellis the Rim Man (an auto-parts store), Marty’s Liquors (previously Macy’s Liquors, located at the center of the universe, the intersection of Commonwealth Avenue and Harvard Avenue), Play It Again Sam’s (a bar), Purity Supreme (a supermarket). No mention though of the El Phoenix, still unrisen.

Other Infinite Jest posts
Attention : Description : Loveliness : Romance : Telephony

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