Steve’s Gold Bug Variations page
(notes-free version | full version)
This page is my effort to decipher events and chronology of Richard Powers’s wonderfully complex 1991 novel The Gold Bug Variations, which, if it’s not my single favorite novel in life it’s comfortably in the top five.
Feel free to use this page as a scene-spotter, a memory aid, or a reading companion, but know that the main thing I was trying to do with it was get my head around the scrambled chronology of events in the novel’s three time frames. Each begins more or less in the summer and spans roughly one year:
- 1957-58: Stuart Ressler is in his late 20s, working with Ulrich, Jeannette Koss, and others at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. These scenes are usually written in some form of third person, and are represented on this page in black text.
- 1983-84: Jan O’Deigh is working as a librarian at a Brooklyn branch of NYC’s system, interacting with both Stuart (now in his early 50s) and Stuart’s young Manhattan Online coworker Franklin Todd. These scenes are almost always written in first person from Jan’s POV, and will appear in green.
- 1985-86: Jan’s sabbatical year, studying molecular genetics, remembering her year with Ressler and Todd at MOL, and writing. These scenes also are first person from Jan’s POV, and will be in blue text.
Apparent contradictions are in red. If you see a resolution or an error on my part, please email.
The boxes around the note sections were intended to make things easier on the eye, but—owing to MS Word's penchant for margin shifting—they seem to make the problem worse. Don't be surprised if they disappear sometime soon. You can check out another version of this page and dispense with the notes entirely.
- David Dodd’s bottomless Gold Bug Variations page: http://www.richardpowers.net/novels_gold_bug.htm
- An unedited version of Jay Labinger’s terrific (and inexplicably uncredited) 1995 Configurations article on the structure of the novel: www.its.caltech.edu/~bi/labinger/nontechpdfs/2goldbug.pdf
Ultimately I would like to add a simplified timeline of events to this page, but having already taken a few stabs at that I’m thinking it probably won’t happen for a while, unless I can keep it simple…and I surely can’t. (Seriously, almost every overwrought page on this site—which is all of them—began with modest intentions. See that enzyme discursus down in the p394/Deus Ex Machina notes? I added that entire thing on upload day. And this Timeline section too. Yeah. My ADD has ADD for chrissakes.) In a perfect world I’d have some sort of single-page, three-tiered affair like the (exceedingly handy) graphic on p10 of Jay Labinger’s pdf. (Also linked above.)
7 The Perpetual Calendar
Allegorical preface, touching on many of the novel’s story lines and themes. (Four to the fourth, What could be simpler?)
11 The Care And Feeding of Foreigners. Fri., 6/21/85
Laid low by a card from FTodd saying Dr Ressler has died, “The news is a few days cold,”; In the fog of slow waking recalling the snowy weekend the three of us spent “a year ago” in a cabin in NH; Off to open the big city library where I work – on lunch hour at home when I got the card, first I’d heard from FTodd in months…
15 Today in History. Fri., 9/24/82.
Squared off with an early-morning patron about the accuracy of that day’s Today in History; Stuart Ressler.
19 But What Do You Do For A Living? Fri., 6/21/85
Still home on lunch break; Card was postmarked from IL university; Music to grieve by; Uncharacteristically returning two hours late; Decline and fall of the Quote Board; Gotta dance; “This afternoon….gave my two weeks notice”; Where’s FTodd?
26 Who’s Who In The American Midsection. Thu., 6/23/83
Squared off with an intriguing stranger looking for info on Ressler; Franklin Todd; I’m finding nothing; FTodd asks “Are you beautiful?”
32 Was She Beautiful? Thu., 6/23/83
FTodd loved loveliness; I’m OK I guess, but he actually was beautiful.
35 The Question Board. Thu., 6/23/83
I was an asky child; Questions from 6/23/83’s Question Board; (Shakespeare’s rude mechanicals; Anagrams; Guano island; Satyr)
38 Face Value. Sun., 7/10 – Tue., 7/12/83
Found Ressler…hey! He’s that old guy! From last fall! (p16)
40 Rule Of Three. 7/10 – 7/12/83? Tue., 6/28/83? 1985?
The Bach sounds different tonight; “I’ve been to the place, picked up the spore…”; Whenever I visited FTodd, a third unnamed party seemed to be there, it’s creeping me out, especially tonight, since Stuart’s gone
41 Today in History. Fri., June 28, 1985?
Final week at the library; Nascent Ressler obsession.
43 We Are Climbing Jacob’s Ladder. July 1957
Bus trip to Illinois; Tortoise crossing; Crick-Watson spurs Ressler to switch to molecular bio at Champaign-Urbana; Welcome letter from Ulrich, July 16, 1957: “Don’t be a stranger!”; The Library; Code to crack*; CYFER’s membership introduced, underwhelms Ressler (“How can so human a collection hope to penetrate its own blueprint?”); Stuart escapes, buys the 1957 version of a Hello Kitty record player, and some records, listens to them on his lawn: Paul Robeson brings tears to Ressler’s eyes with “Jacob’s Ladder.”
52 Today In History. Wed., July 13/14, 1983.
DNA chase had completely obsessed Ressler; Pursuit of Ressler—then DNA research—now obsesses me.
54 The Question Board. Tue., July 5, 1983.
FTodd comes by the library, we peruse some old Questions of the Day [curiously still on display over a fortnight after having been posted] and consider some newer ones (“Above all else, what will save us? Tend to your moat.”) FTodd asks me out, and asks about my Ressler research, both in circuitous fashion; What’s the origin of “Make the catch?”
57 Persistence of Vision. Tue., July 5, 1983.
Keith Tuckwell prances through the world with self esteem; Dinner with FTodd goes weirdly, we were “an accent away from splitting the tab and quitting,” then some serendipitous Bach saved the evening; Home to Keith; Answering FTodd’s “Catch” question.
63 Canon at Unison. Fri., July 5, 1985.
Last day at the library; Awkward going away party turns emotional.
65 Today In History. Sat., July 6, 1985.
Postcard from FTodd, he’s in Belgium, possibly going to finish his dissertation on sixteenth century Flemish painter Herri met de Bles; I figure I have roughly a year until I have to go back to formal employment; Trying to decipher FTodd’s cryptic postcard [final sentence is from the Exeter Book, “Husband’s Message,” lines 41-45]
69 Imitation of the Dance. July/Aug 1957
Ressler daily dunks but doesn’t dry his head, and walks right into Blake and Lovering’s Wet Hair debate/experiment (or would have, had Koss not warned him about it); Having two women in the lab is unusual, but none of Cyfer’s males are the type even to notice, let alone pursue; Steriles vs. breeders (type As vs. type Bs?); Koss slips Ressler a playful note: “Ulrich digs Poe’s Gold Bug;” Lots of DNA wonder, and Ressler realizes what Cyfer is up against….looking not just for the “words” in the DNA molecule, but how the instructions are implemented: how those words make flesh.
77 Quote of the Day. Mon., July 15, 1985
Took all my cards from all three boards with me when I left; Saved QoD cards: 7/15/78 QoD, re Apollo/Soyuz (July 15, 1975); Aristotle post of July 15, 1984.
78 The Husband’s Message. Tue., July 15, 1983.
FTodd called wanting another dinner date, same restaurant and time; This time way too nice after last time’s deflation and near collapse; A week later, his QoD card on exoplanetary communication, dated July 19, appears in the submission box; I’m delighted to respond with Drake equation analysis; POSSLQ: Keith tries wit, but I’m thinking of Todd and Ressler; I locked myself in the bedroom (“Shutting the door with a furtive thump that echoed badly down the months ahead…”) and called FTood; He invited me to his and Stuart’s office, VERY close by; Tuckwell asks if anything’s wrong. “No,” I lie.
86 The Quote Board. Late July, 1983
Bacon, Dartle quotes. Information v. knowledge
86 Transcription and Translation. Mid July 1983? (before p52, after p 38, both of which are Mid July 1983)
The whole day free…what to study? Cosmology ą Psychology ą Quantum physics…the entire range is before me; Lewis Carroll’s map paradox (What good is a map the size of what's mapped?); Each level says “For more info, see below…” I settle on music, so I’ll start with DNA [WTF?] Genuine career change? Crick did it! I need to know exactly what happened to Dr Ressler between ’57 and ’83.
90 The Law of Segregation. Late July/Early Aug 1983
The genealogy of genetics; Basic genetics primer: dominant v. recessive traits and phenotypes, homo- v. heterozygous genotypes, alleles, test cross, Mendel (inheritance patterns) + Meicher (discovery of DNA) + Darwin (effect of inherited traits on survival) = 100 years of waiting and wading through genetic dead ends.
95 Public Occurrences Both Foreign and Domestic. Sun., Aug 7, 1983
Suddenly I find I have a private life; Getting a little carried away forcing spontaneity (knocked out apartment walls!) but still; Three weeks in transition as relationship dies by degrees; A grim zoo visit with Tuckwell: “What’s even the point of this place, no beauty we can’t humiliate?” Tuckwell has known the obvious: I was already gone.
99 Today in History. August 1957.
Ressler sees that the burgeoning genetics field requires input from many disciplines…can Ulrich get them speaking the same language? Ressler’s bachelor convenience food; Ressler and Toveh bump carts in the supermarket [somehow said carts are a “mauled” “mangle of metal,” (p100) leading this reader to wonder how fast Stuart was pushing his cart...] Toveh stresses a balanced diet; Lunch (uneaten) with Lovering (“Anything complex enough to create consciousness might be unsolvable to the created consciousness;”) The department review hints (and an acre of still-unused glassware screams) “Stop talking and do something.” Ressler finally gets down to experiment when Ulrich and Lovering erupt in a debate over the efficacy of vaccines, of which Lovering and other Mary Baker Eddites are skeptical.
105 Cook’s Tour. Sat., Aug 20 & 21, 1983
On August 20 I’d committed myself to leaving; Not a Today In History; Ressler and FTodd used my Question board as a communication channel; My first visit to Manhattan On-Line and its thrumming computer room…Bach was playing on the stereo, no surprise; Met Dr Ressler properly, he was impeccably dressed “Your name is Jan and you once wanted to be a dancer,” How did Sherlock perceive this? FTodd reiterated the “make the catch” question over the phone…I guess it’s official.
114 The Nightly News. Summer & Fall 1957, Fri., Aug. 30, 1957
Ressler dines and chats with Botkin often; Visits Woytowich and his young wife Renée who bores Ressler with talk of her dissertation – Woytowich is completely addicted to TV news; Tooney and wife Eva drop in on the night of Aug. 30, loan him a sofa and playing cards; Eva’s freakish party tricks, one of which evokes in Ressler a tearful memory of his mother’s death from cancer three years ago.
122 Landscape With Conflagration. July? 1985
Protein primer; Structure; amino acids; How do DNA’s four nucleotides code for the 20+ aminos that make up all proteins?
126 Canon at the Second. July 9?, 1985
No further word from FTodd; Jan’s immersion; FTodd’s card postmarked 7/6/85
128 Breakthroughs In Science. June? 1957 (Jan’s POV, but describing Ressler in 1957)
Newspapers take a science story and extrapolate from it unscientific predictions; When advertisers began impersonating scientists, because it worked fabulously, congress made them start owning up*; Madison Ave. wanted to hire scientists to legitimize their commercials; Ressler et al said no.
130 Countercheck Quarrelsome*. Late Aug? 1957
Ressler is surprised to find himself comfortable around each member of Cyfer, yet feels inexplicably awkward around Koss; He spends so much time reading her thesis he forgets to do his own work and is unprepared and embarrassed at the meeting the next day; [Childhood memories: Parents bit the bullet and bought young Stuart a astronomically expensive set of encyclopedias; Stuart at twelve had to drive dad to the hospital after he died behind the wheel;] To atone for his unpreparedness—and especially for his obfuscatory dance around it—Stuart resolves to let Cyfer have any discovery he makes; Dr. Koss drops by.
137 Facts on File. Late Aug? 1957
Any large amount of info can be turned into digits which—add a decimal point at the beginning—can be turned into a fraction, which can be represented by a notch at the fractional length on the stick; Codons, CGAT permutations – Codon order; Tooney’s overlapping prettiness; Traceable errors (sickle-cell hemoglobin point mutation) might enable code cracking.
141 Today In History. Fri., Sep. 2, 1983
I hunger for my visits to MOL; Got a bit overzealous and snarky replying to a fundamentalist’s QoD about science v. Genesis, got a wrist-slap, remain undeterred; Todd v. Tuckwell; FTodd’s personal questions and answers; For Keith, “…all I had left to give was my departure…”; 2nd tour of MOL; Computerese; Todd and Ressler have taught themselves to program; Chartres stone hauler story.
148 Home Fires. Fri., Sep. 2, 1983, Wed., Sep. 14, 1983.
152 After The Facts. Fri., Sep. 23, 1983, Sep. 24, 1983.
Slow escalation of unease between me and Tuckwell; More KAL 007 update; Our uneasy truce breaks down in the kitchen: “Too much cumin in the chili!”
155 Music Minus One. Sep. 1957
Koss visits Ressler with a well-worn copy of Glenn Gould’s seminal 1955 recording of the Goldberg Variations; Ressler is utterly enchanted by the music and the woman.
161 The Equinox. Sep 23, 1983
The vagaries of FTodd’s newspaper clipping(s) habit; I meet James Steadman, “Uncle” Jimmy, MOL’s Chief of Operations.
164 The Perpetual Calendar (I). Sep. 23, 1985
[1/4] Selfishness and selflessness both have survival value; Codon overlap; Having trouble grasping how a living thing can be…encoded; 1939 Westinghouse time capsule; Cicadas; Everything happens/happened in autumn (scenes from Jan’s youth;) Will try to find FTodd using the Herri image on the card announcing Ressler’s death.
173 Canon at the Third. Summer*? 1957.
Koss leaves unnecessary note for Lovering just to see Stuart?; Drops in on Ulrich “The cell is our Rosetta apparatus;” Koss leaves Stuart a Rube Goldberg cartoon/pun; Another dinner with the Blakes; Precocious daughter Margaret attempts Hopkins’s “Spring and Fall;” … Stuart is entranced by how her DNA has assembled her; He was the prodigy once (summation notation shortcut, etc); Stuart is so entranced with Koss he fervidly propositions Eva on the spot, right in front of her husband. Tooney and Eva deflect with humor and grace, respectively, but they can see his melancholy.
183 Program Notes. Oct. 1983.
“Uncle” Jimmy fits squarely in the camp of good men; In the second month of my regular visits to MOL on Oct. 4, 1983, FTodd was hosting bank teller Annie Martens, and introduced us.
186 Pocket Score. 1983, 1957
Music finally brings Ressler out of his shell and gives me “what I haunted this place hoping to hear;” Stuart tells story from Sept. 1957 (“Dangerously close to 26”) Listening to one particular variation, I felt the melodies twine around one another like the complementary strands of the DNA double helix; “four triplet rungs” (ACGT = 4 possible nucleotide bases, codons = groups of 3 bases each) “twenty tones” (20 amino acids that are building blocks of all animal proteins) 64 = possible three letter codons using the four bases ACG & T = 43; All things are possible; He wanted me to play piano for him.
194 Double Check. Early-mid Oct 1983.
DNA replication with mutation: it’s the occasional genetic error that gives rise to the physical varieties nature rejects/selects.
197 The Question Board. Oct 1983
Riddle: “There is an enclosure with ten doors…”
198 A Day Without the Ever. Late July 1985
Museum-hopping in Flanders, futilely tracking Todd.
199 The Date, No Longer Off. Oct 1983
Tuckwell’s civil court invite to me, refused; My museum invite to Todd, accepted.
202 Hunger Moon. 1957.
Sputnik (Oct 4) and Laika (Nov 3). Ressler is on the verge of a codon substitution breakthrough, motivated by dreams of Koss.
206 Night Music. 1985, with a flashback to 1983
Frameshift mutation explained; In-depth 10th Variation analysis; SATB = GATC
210 The Enigma Machine. 1957-58?
The invisible but unmistakable dividing line in Ressler and Lovering’s office; Lovering concludes that Stuart has blue balls, tells lewd stories of exploits with Sandy, his mistress; Repulsed by Lovering, Stuart drops in on Botkin and receives an encyclopedic survey of western music over the last six centuries (“Michaut to Milhaud”) “More Bach please!” The lesson lasts several hours; they go to dinner.
218 The Enigma Variations. 1958.
Nobel recipients trade coded messages; Beadle vs. Delbruck.
220 The Census. Oct 16, 1983
Brueghel, Census at Bethlehem; Poem about census; A slew of Oct 16 events from history
222 Near Where The Wheatfield Lies Cut Down. Oct 1983?
At the Met with FTodd (the museum meetup from p202); Breughel’s Harvesters (Todd says “Meet me here if we get separated…”); My attraction for Todd is undeniable, and I’ll tell Tuckwell tonight; “It’s time,” but their first kiss was underwhelming, “It’s not time.”
225 I Sit Still And Wait For Cloudburst. Late Oct 1983?
Breaking up ain’t so hard to do; How Tuckwell and I met (cute); How Tuckwell and I separated (efficiently, if not entirely painlessly); None of my close friends turned to me in distress, so I can’t turn to them now (when I’m not really even in distress) so I turn to Todd.
229 North East West South. Late Oct 1983 and Oct 1985, Nov. 1, 1983
Telling Todd about it; Avoided MOL for two weeks (until Oct 30?) It’s time after all.
234 In The Archives. 1985, remembering early 1984
I don’t have “the right tools” to track down FTodd, but the Painters volume solves one mystery: The HmdB postcard conflagration image finally returns to memory…FTodd bought the postcard in Boston when the three of us were driving north for our New England cottage snow-encounter; Science is arduous and unglamorous.
236 The Polling Problem. Feb 1958
Stuart officially has it bad for Koss (how can he remain impassive?) and based on one shared glance he has convinced himself that she burns for him as well; Woytowich wheels a TV into the lab, because he and his wife Reneé are a Stainer (Neilsen) Ratings family; Teller/Pauling debate (Feb. 20, 1958) comes on and Ressler is riveted…it dawns on him the DNA coding problem is a polling problem; Calls Koss but hangs up.
247 The Natural Kingdom. Nov. 3rd – 16th, 1985
I’m starting to get in deep; I see how ACGT can make an eye, but how can it/they make the perception behind that eye? [A terrific description of a number of disparate aspects of evolutionary theory.] The great Darwinian Tautology: Survival of those that survive.
253 Canon at the Fourth. Feb 1958
After the aborted Koss call (p246) Ressler seeks out someone to bounce his polling hypothesis off of, but Botkin is out. The Blakes are in and happy to see him; Stuart lays it out and Blake puts a name on it: “You want to trace protein synthesis forward in a cell-free system…” Stuart goes to the library during a home football game, fighting the crowd before and after…decides he will crack this problem and prove to Koss that he’s the man for her.
258 Learning the Irregular Verbs. mid & late Nov. 1983
Why was I giving Tuckwell away? Throwing? Finally tired of his advertising? We bicker over his Holiday Inn campaign; He bolts into the dangerous city night [some Tuckwell bio]; Another day he came with me to inspect the apartment I’d picked out, and I didn’t go “home” afterward but bought bed sheets (but no towels) and stayed the first night in the new place; Next day at work—twenty months before I quit—I assured Mr Scott I would never quit; Adapting to the changed environment; Waiting another two weeks then returning to MOL on a Friday (Nov 25?)
265 Perpetual Calendar (II)
Only fourteen possible patterns for a calendar year: January 1st can fall on all seven days of the week. The other seven add Feb 29.
267 A Young Person’s Guide To The Orchestra. mid-1957
Ressler, weary from research all-nighters, dispenses with the idea of enzyme-dispensing enzymes, thinks about messenger RNA; Botkin leaves a care package; Is the code tangible, or merely metaphor?
271 The Food Chain. November 1957
Margaret Blake comes by looking for boxing lessons from Ressler (“Dad is a pacifist!”) to retaliate against one Bruce Bigelow; Ressler notes how violence brought humanity to it’s current station, but recently aspires to non-violence, or says he does; Sparring, Margaret accidentally splits Ressler’s lip; They employ the “Who stole to cookie from the cookie jar” rhyme; Stuart recalls Koss’s glance (p236) as she sneaks into his apartment.
278 Today in History. Nov. 1957
Koss cleans up Ressler’s fat lip, then plants an intense first kiss on him. Things progress, and to keep themselves from losing control, she asks him about his work; They while the night away simply sharing space and time; “In all but the colloquial sense, Koss has spent the night;” He heads out to fetch them breakfast, she reads his notes, sees how close he is; She finally tears herself away to leave.
290 Desire Per Square Mile. Late Nov 1983 (Nov 25?)
After self-imposed exile I return to MOL, Todd is overjoyed as is Stuart (in his way.) We celebrate my return with paté and wine; Ruminations on our seemingly good life in the midst of urban squalor; Todd and I turn things up a notch, pawing and smooching like moony teenagers; Todd insisted on long walks, despite the December cold, and I’m having a tough time accepting it as natural, and the plethora of vapid 3x5 questions at the branch aren’t helping (though insightful queries are redemptive.)
297 The Amateur’s Almanac. Early Dec.? 1983
I demand from FTODD a little autobio (“Tell me everything I need to know about you”) and indeed get very little; Todd sketched an astonishingly high quality portrait of me upon request, but proceeds to mock his artistic realism abilities as derivative (via arcane references to Duchamp and Malevich)
302 Quick Sketch. mid Dec 1983
Todd and I took neighborhood walks at 1/3 normal speed; Swingset dry hump (Well, figuratively dry.)
304 The Console Log. Dec 5 & Dec 6, 1983
Busted by Jimmy for knowing the password and letting myself into MOL; Ressler writes a simple password-cracking program on the fly, on a dare, and cracks FTodds login…which triggers a comprehensive system crash…which will require FTodd’s attention for twelve hours or so.
312 Quote of the Day. Dec? 1983
First visit back to Keith’s place since I left in mid-November…he’s a little unhinged; Talks fervidly about his U2 Spy Photo Ad Campaign, asks why I moved out.
315 Books. Dec? 1983
Writer’s blocked; looking to sell some of my old books, came across a couple anthologies, in one of which I found a note/puzzle Todd once gave me = end of writer’s block!
The Nautral Kingdom (II). Mon., Dec 9, 1985
Q. How big is the biosphere?
317 A. Classification. Map paradox redux (re p88)*; How many kingdoms? Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family Genus Species…How many ways to be alive? “I learn the first principle of natural selection: Living things perpetuate only through glut.” Extremes of environment; “Life is as particular as each locale it has a foothold in;” An astonishing survey of biological variety in one paragraph**; Extremes in size; Extremes in genome complexity; And after all that discussion, form turns out to be but the vessel for behavior; Increasingly complex messages, between organelles, cells, tissues, organs, organ systems, organisms…cultures? Species? My hyperactive classroom keeps me revising…
322 B. Ecology. Death is necessarily part of life; it weeds out unsuccessful attempts (the entire earth biome is a difference engine: survive and reproduce/endure? Or die and not reproduce/endure? Reproduce adequately and endure? Or not, and go extinct?) “Either/or” tests that every species ultimately fails but many orders, classes, phyla and of course kingdoms and domains have passed with flying colors for thousands of millenia; WHICH OF THESE IS MOST SUCCESSFUL? Define success: Successful hunters are only so good at killing prey, and successful prey are only so good at avoiding hunters (an unsubtle hint at things to come for the far-too-efficient-as-hunter and untouchable-as-prey Homo sapiens sapiens). Humans? Grasses? Insects? [1/2] Nope. It’s bacteria, and 2nd place is still in the blocks. So why are we in danger of sinking the ship? Because we can’t resist attempting to control the uncontrollable, we can’t resist molding our environment to us despite knowing beyond any doubt that we are here and are the way we are because of how we interacted with the environment; Some genes, if not all, are indeed selfish.
327 C. Evolution. Darwin gets major credit/blame, but Anaximander had the notion 2400 years ago (much later Aristotle—and then 250 years ago Linnaeus—suspected as well but both kept quiet); Four observable facts that gave us Evolutionary Theory: Excess of issue (surplus offspring = all living things reproduce exonentially, yet population sizes remain essentially static), Scarcity of resources, Rampant Variation (no two individuals are identical); Heredity (most of these differences are heritable) = a near-tautology: Individuals that are the best at surviving and reproducing pass traits to their offspring which allow the surviving and successful reproduction to continue; Mutation is the fodder for the variation upon which Natural Selection operates, despite most mutations being harmful; Back to the music, with a discussion of the 15th variation and Ressler.
333 D. Heredity.
Evolution is the exception, stability the rule; Procreation is usually just a rearrangement of existing qualities; My mother bore three daughters trying for a son; Went to the Met, but couldn’t enter without Todd, so went to MoMA and saw Klee’s Twittering Machine … wrote a poem about the experience; How did DNA code for it’s own destruction?
337 12/6/85. Fri., Dec 6, 1985
Tood’s letter to Jan from Holland [what seems to be one of the longest letters ever sent from one human to another!]: O’Deigh! THIS PLACE IS A WONDER! So many dialects, you have to look for clues about dialect before speaking to anyone! And the greeting kisses are hardest of all to decipher! *** Herri is an albatross around my neck now, and I see that he had so much to offer, but not to the art world; He would have flourished (there’s that word again) perhaps as a first mate on a seafaring expedition! *** I’m consumed with the whole debacle, how badly I abused us, I long for more chats with you and The Professor; Why have we had to keep apart this year? *** Much Bles discussion, A Day In The Life—three bell-curved meals and the occasional woman; I sit down to write about Herri and I invariably write about Ressler; Cracking DNA's code did not absolve him of its biological mandates; Herri wanted to be Van Eyck; “Not far back, I was sitting in a language class and the teacher noted that tomorrow is Ascension Day” [which sets this classroom scene to Wed. May 15, 1985, although I have to say, “Not far back” is a weird way to describe what a sensible letter writer writing in Dec. would surely indicate as “Last May”. -smr-]; Bear with me Jan as I cobble together this dissertative apology…and please write back immediately.
354 Halcyon Days. Thu., Dec 19, 1957
Ulrich seemingly emasculates Stuart’s paper so as not to give away too much to potential peer-reviewers; Stuart “wrestles” with this incomplete honesty; Tornado outbreak: the sirens are not for war; When the dust settles, Eva and Margaret Blake come by, distraught: Tooney is missing; Stuart comforts Eva, Tooney arrives having spent the night in the library basement; Tooney has had an epiphany about the feasibility of documenting the scientific enterprise, decides immediately to quit Cyfer.
365 Script. Dec 1985?
Found a huge letter from Todd (p337) in my neglected mailbox…how long had it been there? It’s all rambling trademark Todd, except for the final “please write back!” And something else is amiss here: This letter is dated five months after his Flanders post card, but here he doesn’t have the facility with Dutch he had back then, AND he doesn’t once mention Ressler’s death, or even refer to him in past tense…
366 The Question Board. Tue., 8/11/81 (?)
With Todd leaning over my shoulder, I answer someone who asks how often I’m stumped.
367 Putting One’s Hands Through The Pane. Dec 1985?
Todd wants me to write back quickly, but first I must sate my Ressler curiosity; I can crack the codon code he pursued, but what do these arrangements of aminos do? And how?
372 I have become a Stranger to the World. Dec.? 1983
On our long walks Todd talks to everyone, to perfect strangers! Todd buys me an antique blouse and can’t wait to get me out of it…and we have our first boff; I visit Todd’s charmingly eccentric attic loft; He plays some Mahler for me:
With whom I otherwise spoiled many times;
She has heard so range anything from me,
She measured very well, believe that I'm dead. . . .
I am dead to the world’s turmoil
And I rest in a quiet area.
I live alone in my heaven,
In my love and in my song.
381 Canon at the Sixth. Dec? 1983
“Are there any side effects?” Todd’s way of asking about birth control, after weeks of unprotected monkey sex…and the conversation screeches to a halt when I tell him I’ve had my tubes tied; Todd is genuinely shocked, and I cite the overwhelming birth-defect evidence I uncovered to support my decision; So no side effects for us after all. (That night, at least.)
385 Friends of The Family. Late Dec 1983
Annie Martens. Young, beautiful bank teller; she’d stop by and play guitar and sing for FTodd and Stuart (even *I* loved her when she played;) Annie’s endearing mixed metaphors; Jimmy busted me using the MOL password again; CGI surprise for my 30th birthday.
389 Operation Santa Claus. Christmas 1957
Ulrich tries to take Cyfer’s mind off Tooney’s departure by having a Christmas party in the lab; Botkin plays chorale records for Stuart; Woytowich announces his wife Renée is pregnant; Ressler has grown repulsed by this lab and this celebration, but the moment he sees Jeanette he immediately tells her he loves her and kisses her hard right in front of everyone. (Well, she was standing under the mistletoe, so Lovering comes up and plants one on her too.) Later they embrace out in the dark hall and she reciprocates his earlier expression of love.
394 Deus ex Machina. Sat., Jan. 11*, 1986
[Much discussion on enzyme function, the mechanism of feedback loops, allosteric activators and inhibitors]
I’ve tried to reply to FTodd four times today: “ ‘Dear Franklin…’ Even the adjective is problematic.” Back to enzymes; Miller-Urey**; God hypothesis; Why did chance make me? Maybe it’s time to answer FTodd after all…
401 Winter Storm Waltzes. Jan 1984?
Stuart not only knew Todd and I were sleeping together, he appeared positively buoyed by our happiness:
Binary finger counting*; Stuarts killer bee propogation simulations yield sobering outlooks; Details about the oft-mentioned roadtrip to the New Hampshire woods**; They notice life all around, “even in the pitch of winter;” Ressler and FTodd debate the value, purpose, advisability and efficacy of gene-splicing (“Transgenics is not about creating life from scratch, it’s about juggling existing genes…the way livestock breeders do, only on far shorter timescales.”) Todd wonders why Stuart is so afraid of what could come of it…if we unlock the mechanism, won’t we have a similar grasp on the effects? Ressler assures him that specific behavior of complex, interconnected and turbulent systems cannot be predicted accurately [Which immediately brought to mind the weather: We know very well how weather systems work, yet forecasts greater than ten days are essentially worthless. See p572.-smr-]; Cuyp puzzle; Ressler: “My problem with genetic engineering is that it’s about control, and real science is not about control. It’s about reverence for nature, not mastery of it.” Snowed in: We won’t make it back and Jimmy will have his hands full; As we trudge over a ridge looking for a phone, Stuart begins the tale of why, on the cusp of transcendent discovery, he just walked away.
414 Storm Waltz II. Jan 1958? Sat., Feb. 8, 1958
Stuart sees a crazy recklessness in Jeannette, they can barely keep it together when anyone else is around; When no one’s around? They can’t keep their hands off each other; Koss, Ressler and Lovering discuss the Gale/Folkes paper; Stuart is frustrated that Ulrich insists they can crack the code mathematically* with Champaign/Urbana’s renowned ILLIAC computer**; ILLIAC suite for String Quartet; Bardeen’s transistor; Shockley’s sperm bank; For Ressler and Koss the new in vitro work is stimulating on many levels; Life magazine in dentist’s waiting room [Cryptography (“the best way to protect information from enemy corruption is to disguise it as noise.”) Having one’s work appropriated by the military; Glenn Gould] Root canal; Calls Koss at home before the anesthesia wears off, asks her to leave Herbert, and in the course of their two-tone conversation (she, disguising her half of the conversation) has an epiphany about mRNA.
425 Storm Waltz (da capo). Late Jan. 1986?
Computer algorithms. Jan’s terse reply to Todd’s letter: “Do you even realize? The man is dead.”
427 The Wife’s Message. Late Jan. 1986?
Todd’s eccentricities were cute once, but now I just see them as annoyingly immature.
428 Return Trip. Late Jan? 1984
The main road by the cabin was cleared of snow, but before we left Stuart finally filled us in on when he left microbiology/genetics (“The organism is a lie.”)
Brief poem dedicated to the musical note A, slightly sharp [barely even slightly: When A = 440, A# = 466.2]
430 Return Trip (continued). Late Jan? 1984
When we got back to MOL the place was a mess, tape spools and papers everywhere, three days or work backed up, Jimmy and Annie with their thumbs still in the dikes; Stuart and Todd get things back on track; As Annie leaves she says she’ll pray for us, which spurs a discussion about her Christian fundamentalism.
433 The Question Board. 1984?
Fifty-seven questions. (Fifty-eight if the virgin question counts as two.)
434 The Coding Problem. Feb. 1984
The MOL backup (caused by our NH trip) has made the papers (“No CPU is an island…”) but the boys’ bug-fix overwrites the glitch; Dr Ressler shows me just how interconnected the world is now as we surf to browsers all over the country; I ask Dr Ressler if DNA is declarative (instruction) or merely data, and it occurs to me that Todd and I are constant reminders of his lost love (he even does a quick search on her name, and it chokes him up a bit;) I give Todd a key to my apartment.
441 Frailty and Other Fixed Constants. Feb.? 1958
A panoply of events occur at the same time Stuart is making his presentation to Cyfer; Ulrich upstages Stuart with his own insistence that the mathematical symmetry of 20 aminos from 64 codon combos is too elegant not to be true, regardless of whatever might be gleaned from Stuart’s in vitro experiment; Woytowich and Lovering side with Ulrich, Koss and Botkin side with Stuart (more or less) and he hasn’t even told them of his really ambitious ideas: DNA codes not just for the proteins of daily metabolic life, but for the enzymes and the ribosomes themselves, some of which of course make enzymes!
446 Self Help. 1958
Ressler learned many coding languages; Lovering won’t shut up about his lady love; Stuart visits Herbert Koss at the food industry trade show—he’s a decent fellow—Jeanette shows up; Later in the lab Jeanette breaks down: “We can’t have children” and Stuart smothers her with kisses…
455 Canon at the Seventh. Feb. 1958
They rut. There’s really no other way to put it. A couple of science dorks doing it right (if adultery could in any way be considered “right;”) “Millions of stu-karyotes;” Whew.
458 Trace Mutagen. Wed., Feb. 15, 1984
FTodd wants to re-write the program to jimmy a raise for Jimmy, Ressler is understandably wary; Todd does it anyway.
460 The Adaptor Hypothesis. Feb. 1958
After the lab floor wrestle, Stuart heads home and puts on the Goldbergs. His forbidden, freshly consummated love is driving him insane with wild scenarios of how he and Jeanette could be together; His madness is confirmed by the weird noises he’s hearing in the piano music.
462 Canon at Seventh (II). Late Feb. 1984
Todd sort of moves in with me without completely moving out of his place; He is so opposed to nuclear weapons he gives to enough charities so he can owe no tax come April 15; I’m still frequenting MOL; Annie and I continue our mutually fruitless debates on evolution; Annie tells us how she once lost $1600 in a pigeon drop scam.
467 Adaptor Hypothesis (II). March? 1986
Cryptography: notched sticks (p137), clamped keys; Touching on the Punctuated Equilibrium v. Gradualism debate; Roethke poem “The Waking;” Four months left in my self-imposed sabbatical…
471 The Transfer Molecule. Feb. 1958
Ressler hypothesizes the existence of what will come to be called tRNA (transfer RNA); Koss brings breakfast…and other necessities; Ulrich calls from the lab: “Some guys from Life magazine are here to see you.”
473 Transposon. April-May 1986
I have made a bush league mistake! Todd’s huge 12/6/85 letter (p337) was dated in the dd/mm/yy European style he’d recently immersed himself in and co-opted: Not December 6, but 12 June!aughter could be born to a dad who is not?)
475 Alla Breve. April-May 1986, March-April 1984, Feb. 1958
Still flummoxed: how did it take six months for Todd’s letter to get here? It doesn’t add up—Todd’s life chronology was definitely askew, but still; Todd presses Stuart for Life magazine interview details; Lovering snips at Stuart, resentful that Stuart spoke to Life magazine; Lovering’s barely contained glee at getting to break the news that Stuart’s fellowship is not being renewed for the coming year; Lovering throws some juvenile ad hominem snips…Stuart is clueless; Poleaxed, he visits Botkin who shows him Francis Crick’s “adapter hypothesis” article on tRNA from last fall*…beaten to the punch; [3/4] Stuart takes one helpful cue from Lovering’s pouty tirade, dropping in on Daniel Woytowich, Renée and infant daughter Ivy; Ivy stirs in Stuart the irrepressible drive to have kids with Koss, impossible though it is; Stuart explains his temporary notoriety to an incredulous Annie. • I wasn’t there when Jimmy spotted his inflated paycheck (Stuart helped Todd by playing along;) Massive discussion on memory transcription, assorted translations; Conjugating the verb To Translate; Shakespeare to Bantu? Or vice versa?
493 Century of Progress. March? 1984
Juicy entries from the Question Board: Nuclear test ban? World population by 2000? “One Hundred Years Hence” (Frances Dana Barker Gage, 1852)
494 Change of Venue. April-May 1986?
Todd was in Europe and hustled back to North America when he got word about Stuart; Perhaps he’s still here…
494 On the Threshold of Liberty. March 1958
Governments don’t know how to deal with the genetic implications of nuclear weapons; Birth defects are life’s motor – mutation is evolution’s arrow; Jeannette shows up in a rental car and their haphazard, “coin-flips at intersections” route trends generally south of Champaign; After spying a surreal confetti storm dropped from an airplane (pamphlets?) Stuart tell Koss of his bus trip into town the previous July (Zane Grey guy, turtle swarm, see pp43-44); Stuart is falling deeper in love by the minute; “Where you when I was sixteen?!” Jeanette, frustrated that she married prematurely, pounds the steering wheel, knocks it loose, casually hands it to Stuart and says “Here, you drive;” They end up stopping and walking though an Amish town [most likely Arthur, an hour south and slightly west of Champaign] and buying a quilt; They drive to an even more remote location and make love on and in the quilt; Back home, in the parking lot before dropping Stuart off, Koss “thinks” herself into a sort of happiness orgasm; “Stuart promise me – you must never die.”
504 The Paperwork Reduction Act. March-April 1984
When Todd added the bonus to Jimmy’s paycheck in February he somehow designated the entire check as the bonus, and insurance premiums are not deducted from bonuses, so Jimmy’s premium was delinquent, which left Jimmy with no health care coverage for the two months it would take a delinquent premium payment to be processed; Todd moved his hallowed stereo into my apartment, and as it warmed up we went out to places like the zoo…remember the soul-killing Central Park Zoo trip Tuckwell and I took? (p96) Todd’s absences kindled in me a wild, almost criminal side, in bed and elsewhere (“These were awful weeks); I left him heartfelt poems and called him at ungodly hours for phone sex; One night I bought him bagels for when he woke up. When I snuck in to drop them off I found him asleep in bed with Annie.
513 Canon at the Octave. April-May 1986?
My terse reply (p425) has come back, Return To Sender; What do I want so badly to tell him now? The same thing I wanted to tell him numerous times when we were first getting together, when I had more than enough chances; I’d tell him what I’ve learned, about how DNA is code, but you can’t just translate and read it; I would tell you a million other things I have learned, but above all: I have identified your friend.
519 Nomenclature. Spring (April?) 1958
By spring, Stuart’s in vitro experiments are moderately successful but they need another opinion; Lovering is subdued until Sandy is mentioned, then he boils internally; Woytowich admits the ILLIAC angle is hitting walls as the permutations grow exponentially; He quizzes his infant daughter Ivy* with colored alphabet blocks, she knows her letters already; Weeks later Jeannette waits for him in his room and drags him out for a walk; She takes his arm (a very public statement) and proceeds to give him an expansive botany lesson which takes his already deep thinking about biological nomenclature to even greater depths; They get back to the apartment and before Jeannette can attack him again he manages to record in his spiral notebook: “Flowers have names.”
527 Today in History. Wed., March 21, 1984
JS Bach’s 299th birthday; Last day at MOL, need to tell Dr Ressler why I won’t be coming around after Todd’s dalliance…Todd seems not to understand, or if he does he’s playing it icy cool; “How long?” I ask him. “Almost as long as with you.” “Why?” “She’s fertile.” “So why stay with me at all?” “Because I love you;” I went to say goodbye to Dr Ressler, I tell him Todd’s Why. “He’s a fool, this is not the scenario for you two…;” Todd slowly collected his stuff from my place, I devoted more time to the Question Board (Mid-Atlantic Ridge question) and suddenly remembered how badly I’d treated Tuckwell; I went back to make some attempt at whatever an apology would entail after four months away; He seemed happy to see me, gave me a little ribbing about the parades of women he’s been seeing since I left (I did ask;) Then a beautiful lady arrived to collect Keith for their dress-up dinner date—was he joking about the wedding invites in the mail?—and I was left alone in the apartment with the undeniable evidence that Keith had clearly gotten past whatever issues he was having in December (p312.) Todd calls one night: “I’ve killed the man.”
536 Disaster. Tue., March 27, 1984
Catalog of meanings for—and examples of—the word: bad stars.
537 Uncle Jimmy. March 27? 1984
When Todd calls he’s a blithering mess, thinking he’s killed Jimmy; The powers that be had begun grilling Jimmy about the exact nature of his recent windfall, which grilling drove up his blood pressure and contributed to his stroke; I hurry to the hospital’s intensive care where in the waiting room I engage in small talk with a mom who is also on the pay phone; I imagine FTodd arriving as if everything was normal; When I finally get to see Jimmy, he’s sitting up but half his face is drooping, and he can’t speak intelligibly; I go back to MOL and tell Todd and Dr Ressler about what I saw; I went straight from there to work and went great guns on stroke research, then went back to MOL after work: Jimmy’s not covered.
545 Disaster (continued). March 27? 1984
Much of my research on the physiology of the human brain, natural selection’s effect thereupon, and vice versa.
547 Losing the Signal. Spring (April?) 1958
Ressler and Koss are just out in the open now; Life magazine article comes out, Stuart tries to talk to Lovering again who, this time, is despondent as well as confrontational; Ressler tries to offer Lovering a beer; Lovering rounds up the lab specimens, kills them and himself; There was no girlfriend Sandy (though Stuart seems to be the only one who didn’t know this;) Stuart quotes Ecclesiastes at Lovering’s memorial service; Koss comes by later, but loudly resists Stuart’s efforts to assuage her grief. A flash of anger-induced romance brings Koss up short and she bolts from the apartment in tears.
555 Disaster (conclusion). 1986? 1983
Suddenly all my work over the last year—the genetics, the chemistry, the evolution—is repellent to me; When the man with possibly more insight into how one generation begets the next (the best potential father?) decides to remain childless, it’s not a good day [Although Jan made the same decision]; Back in late fall of 1983 (“when we were drinking wine out of paper cups”) Todd grilled Ressler about his daily life “What do you do? For women?” Then it becomes clear that it is exactly the aforementioned knowledge that has “ruined him for procreation:” his transcription translates to cellular chaos and he doesn’t want to pass it along; I can’t solve any of this, but I can’t quit in light of the good doctor’s life-well-lived.
558 The Vertical File. March 28? 1984
Dr Ressler seemed ready for Jimmy’s catastrophe, somehow prepared by observing me and Todd; Dr Ressler, Annie and I went to see Jimmy in the hospital – Todd, paralyzed with guilt, could not go.
559 Challenge The Patient. March 28? 1984
Not only is Dr Ressler the only one able to understand and translate Jimmy’s stroke-twisted vocalizations, he appears also to have devised a complex plan to get Jimmy’s insurance reinstated.
562 The Cipher Wheel. Spring (April?) 1958
Woytowich’s daughter Ivy is colorblind but he’s not, a statistical near-impossibility* (“one in several tens of thousands”) so he’s punting Renée, Ivy, the works, crashing with Stuart; Stuart’s in vitro experiments are still coming up negative results; Later, some lazy afternoon, nodding off in a lawn chair out front, Ressler lucid-dreams about his empty apartment complex, imagines gregarious, eccentric neighbors…and then…his eureka moment: He runs to tell Botkin: “Trying to figure which RNA codons code for which aminos, why not just run a zillion consecutive identical nucleotides? CCCCCCCCCC…, say. So what if we get the punctuation wrong? With huge numbers it won’t matter! If the resulting polypeptide is a long string of just a single amino? Bingo: First codon cracked**. After we identify the four “homopolymers” (UUU, AAA, GGG, CCC) the other sixty will simply be a matter of combinatoric elbow grease.” “Have you told Koss?” Ah…Stuart now has the greatest gift he can give her.
569 Theory and Composition. Winter? 1984
We played Name That Tune in MOL; He got Brahms's Fourth, 1st movement, in four; Of what use was music, except when it gave Dr Ressler the pattern; “Listen and sing. That’s all he wrote. And I can name that tune in one note.”
575 Breaking and Entering. April? 1984
There’s no way Stuart can carry out his plan to save Jimmy’s insurance without getting passwords and other keys to the system from Jimmy himself, so Dr Ressler does up a letter and number grid, points to characters so Jimmy can grunt affirmation.
577 The Goldberg Variations. 1986, 1985
ALL ABOUT THE GOLDBERGS. History, structure; Like proteins, the variations have many levels of structure: 64 note Base, every third variation is a canon (a sort of round, like “Row Row Row Your Boat”) with the second voice joining in a tone higher each time; Dance, Arabesque, Canon, repeat until the cows come home.
586 A Terrorist’s Primer. April 24 – May 8, 1984
Todd, Dr Ressler, Annie and I are vitally engaged in the effort to create—to “backstop”—a dummy version of MOL software in order to get Jimmy's insurance coverage fixed. My assignment: dig up some eyebrow-raising connections between MOL and the insurance company. (And, Dr Ressler wants my Today in History card catalog!)
590 Canon at the Ninth. May 1958
Stuart ambles aimlessly about campus during a crowded class change, still incredulous at his luck at being the one to figure out which RNA codons (and by extension, which DNA triplets) code for which amino acids in protein synthesis*; Returning to his room he sees Koss’s Dear John letter (“I never lied to you, but I wasn’t totally truthful: they told me I was barren but I wanted some empirical evidence of my own. Don’t for a minute think this means I wasn’t actually in love with you, because I was. Herbert knew all along and let me do my ‘research.’ But enough was enough and he gave me an ultimatum, so we’re moving to another town.”) She leaves him a Field Guide to Flowering Plants with a simple inscription: “Flowers have names,” (see p526;) The book falls open to the page with the Jacob’s Ladder.
599 The Placebo Effect. May 1958
Koss’s abschied and Lovering’s felo-de-se leaves four Cyfer members. Ulrich calls an emergency meeting: “Is there any point to holding this thing together?” Botkin outlines Stuart’s progress for a distracted Woytowich and a thunderstruck Ulrich, who promises Stuart the world: “I need a week to think,” and he takes three to decide “Screw this bureaucratic BS” and says goodbye to Botkin in person: “Play me something…”
603 The Lookup Table. May 14-15, 1984
Dr Ressler added my complied list of logrollers, kickbackers and backscratchers into the new version of MOL’s software, then I showed him the codon chart, over which he ruminated wistfully; Todd offered a little sex-with-the-ex: bad idea, I said and resisted any discussion of his current situation with Annie; After one more poignant life-lesson from Dr Ressler the foundation had been laid for my year of self-directed bio-study; After some prognostications by Dr Ressler about the field of genetics and the proposed Human Genome Project, Todd suggests we, as keepers of crucial financial data, hold said data hostage to effect real change in the world: “What do we ask for? Clean air act? Some endangered species?” “Stay focused on Jimmy,” Dr Ressler advises; At long last Todd comes right to the point with Dr Ressler: “What could have been so traumatic as to drive you out of science?” “Oh, I’ve never quit science. Now I’m sort of doing mathematical music; the ‘firmware language of the brain;’” (“The real purpose of science is to revive and cultivate a perpetual state of wonder.* For nothing deserves wonder so much as our capacity to feel it.”) Dr Ressler’s Opus #1—the reboot of MOL’s system—is successful, and the three of us toast success with crappy wine in paper cups.
613 At The Cadence. Late May, 1986
I’m done with this year-long research-that-has-evolved-into-writing project: it’s ready for print; And…I haven’t gone fully broke! I have enough in reserve to look for another job or run home to Indiana; Alas, the resurgence and emergence I witnessed in Dr Ressler that year was not (entirely) due to his enjoyment of Todd(’s) and my companionship: he has an abdominal tumor (see p608, “They can’t do anything to me, I’m already spoken for.”)
616 The Threshold Effect. Late May? 1986
I imagine Todd and I gazing at Magritte’s Threshold of Liberty in Boymans-van Beuningen museum in Rotterdam; My sabbatical is over, and the only thing I can say is I don’t much care to die apart from him.
617 A Child’s Guide to Surgery. May 16-18, 1984
The next morning, MOL data techs began to see guilt-trippy messages on their screens “A stroke victim, one of our own, is about to be cut loose by our insurance company…” Financial forms had obscure albeit inspirational literary quotes at the bottom along with CEO phone numbers; When FTodd and Dr Ressler got to work they were taken into custody; Annie, of all people, came by; I showed her the apartment and she said something about understanding how some species do change; On her way out she gave me, surprise, a rather long kiss and seemed to want more; We were each taken in for questioning; I spilled the beans as completely as I could, which mercifully wasn’t very; When questioned by the press the insurance executive said “What problem? There was an issue, but it was rectified long ago…” and Dr Ressler gave up the unscrambling word; He and Todd were fired…I thought they might fire me from the library, but apart from some ribbing from colleagues nothing there was different; Some weeks later Todd had snuck into my apartment and left a bottle of wine, a playful note hinting at reconciliation, and inexplicably, a book of prints from Breughel’s painting Children’s Games. (Considering his stated Why (p530), this was such a heartless dick move I now wish I’d never left him a spare key.)
626 The Perpetual Calendar. Fri., June 6, 1986
The Question Board isn’t doing it anymore, data continues to accumulate too quickly; I’ve bought a classified ad; After all the wasted days, I still have these writings. Who knows, maybe I can crack this 26 letter code and play my variations…
628 Today in History. Mon., June 23, 1986
Last Monday (June 16?, 1986) I closed the research notebooks and embarked on the job search full force. When I went to the ATM to get cash I put my card in, and an unmistakable musical message came out!
629 The Quodlibet.
Some nights at home Bach and family would mash-up popular melodies from the day, some elegant, some less so, some not on the same continent…and that’s variation #30; No Canon at the Tenth as you might expect, Bach heads for home with his fusion of folk melodies.
631 Quote of the Day. Mon., June 16, 1986
The ATM speaker continues to play #30, and a crowd gathers, even in midtown; “Machine adaptation by SR….he is a man. Take him for all in all.”* As I yank my card and crumble into a heap of tears and laughter a stranger asks about the alien ATM: “I couldn’t begin to tell you…”
632 A Walking Tour of the Known World. Mon., June 16, 1986
I had to tell Todd, but where was he? Back on p223 he’d said “Meet here if we ever get separated,” so to the Met and Breughel’s wheatfield of Harversters I sped…to no avail. Of course he wasn’t there, but I had to give it a shot. So I walked home, but as I got toward my apartment I saw a light on inside. And…a shadow?? There’s no WAY. He’s let himself in and is relaxing reading my journals! I attack him, still in disbelief at this coincidence.
634 The Question Board. Mon., June 16, 1986
Todd asks “What’s impossible?” I tell him about the ATM easter egg, skipping over every other thing that happened in the past year! He was just across the Hudson in Jersey City, of all places, since about last August. He’d been living off Dr Ressler’s life insurance, and told me about how he dropped in to see Dr Ressler, dying slowly, hair ghost white. He heard the Goldbergs on the radio one day, but noticed it was different, slower, no pauses between variations, and when it’s done the DJ tells how the pianist is now a stroke victim, frozen in time at age fifty; Dr Ressler gave Todd a trunk full of his musical scores; Todd would have come back sooner but didn’t want to arrive empty-handed: he too had been writing. His project had morphed from a dissertation on Herri met de Bles to a biography of Dr. Stuart Ressler, and when he saw my memoir suggested we merge the two, “Let’s make a baby.” No way, he’ll want a real baby someday, which of course I can’t provide: “It would never last.” “Why do you think they invented sperm banks….and who said anything about lasting?”
639 Da Capo e Fine
What could be simpler? In rough translation: Once more with feeling.