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Steve’s Gold Bug Variations page

(notes-free version | full version)


Harper Perennial


Updated: 29JUL20

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?)


-       Four sections, each with four stanzas, each of which is four lines long. 64 lines presaging the 64 entries on the RNA codon chart that features prominently late in the novel (the chart is shown on p603).

-       “tetragrammation,” classically refers to the four letters YHWH (the Hebrew name of the Judeo-Christian god, occasionally pronounced “Yahweh” but usually pronounced “God”) but here refers, surely, to the initials of the four nucleotide bases of DNA: A, C, G & T (adenine, guanine, cytosine, and thymine)

-       “Do, ti, la, sol” notes in the “Do Ray Me” song, referring to the notes C, B, A & G, which never appear in that order in the 32 notes of the Goldberg Variations base patterns (p191)

-       “can egg-chaos really be all the blueprint needed,” a reference to meiosis, the gene-scrambling program that produces egg and sperm cells, and along with non-familial mate-selection ensures a high level of variation among individuals of sexually reproducing species. [Interesting how, when I first read The Gold Bug Variations in 2005, a LOT of this bio sailed right over my head. Now, having taught advanced high school biology for three years ('08-'11,) I'm on much firmer footing understanding—and now here explaining—most of the science that appears in the book.]



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…


FTodd’s card sounds so bizarre—has such an unnatural rhythm—as to be crying out for some decrypting.


Our Dearest O’Deigh,

It’s all over with our mutual friend. I’ve just this instant heard. The

attendant at the testing center assures me that all the instruments

agree: Dr. Ressler went down admirably. No message, or, I should

say, no new message. I wanted to inform you right away, naturally.


The first of the five sentences is no real doozy (although why “it’s all over with…” and not “It’s all over for…?”)  but the second? “I’ve just this instant heard”? Why not “I just got the news” or “I just got word”? Toward the end, “No message, or, should I say, no new message.” What the hell message would there BE at a time like this? Is he saying ‘Ressler had no last words, or rather, no new last words?’ Or is he saying ‘I have no other news for you, or rather, no new other news?’ Either way: hmmm. The final sentence might be a reference to the Dutch word for naturally (naturanikk) which appears a couple of times in the text.

* If Ressler died on June 23, 1985 (p19), would a card from FTodd with news “a few days cold” arrive on “the longest day of the year,” June 21? (p13) I realize that on page 19 it doesn’t say “died,” it says “6/23/85: Stuart Ressler—dead” but if that’s not the day he died, why specify June 23? “Stuart Ressler—dead” would be a true statement on any day after his death.


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.

"Sept. 26, The Allies launch an offensive...Two weeks later, the war formally ends on...the eleventh day of the eleventh month." I don't know what to say about this aside from the obvious: Nov. 11 is not two but six weeks after Sept. 26. (Thanks to Frank C. for spotting this!)

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?


- p19. “Stuart Ressler—who once put his hands cleanly through the molecular pane…” A recurrent image in the novel: p. 206, 367, 372, 467



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.


-       Referring to the “Are you beautiful” question of the previous section and the fact that he didn’t give his name, Jan at the end of this section says “He left me that day with two unknowns…”

-       “trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly…” …courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent. The Scout Law, Boy Scouts of America.


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)


Two clues point to July 10-12 ish

        1)  Jan worked for “…a humiliating week and a half…” with no luck (p38) which, figure 10 days would take us to Sun., July 3rd or Mon., 4th. (5th? p62).  Then “I hit the payoff only by coincidence, after another week of ingenious, impotent search,” (p39) which from July 3rd or 4th would indicate July 10th or 11th.2) From the next chapter: “Last week the dance seemed a duet…tonight I hear trio” (p40) The first time she’d heard the Bach was at dinner with FTodd last week, which we learn on p62 was on July 5, 1983, so she heard this “trio” Bach on July 11-13?


        (Although, “As I’d done habitually with every book I’d touched for the last two weeks,” (p38) so two weeks after FTodd’s first visit is June 23 + 14 days Ň July 7, but I’m assuming Jan’s “last two weeks” comment was a rough conversational referent)


        p40+4 “The day Frank Todd took me to his office…” ? Would seem to have been on or after the night of the dinner date June 5, 1983.


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


        - “Last week the dance seemed a duet…tonight I hear trio” (p40) Presumably the last time she’d heard the Bach was at dinner with FTodd last week, which we learn on p62 was on July 5, 1983, so tonight is July 11-13. Fits with previous section clues, except that…

        - “Half of my two weeks [notice] is over…” (p41) Jan gave notice on Fri., June 21, 1985 (p25) so this was spoken/written seven days later on…June 28?


41    Today in History. Fri., June 28, 1985?

        Final week at the library; Nascent Ressler obsession.


       - Confusing. Oblique references to Jan’s final week at the library point to June-July 1985, but the mention of “twenty-five years after Stuart arrived in the midwest…” (p42) places this in 1982.

       - "OSRD," Office of Scientific Research and Development.



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.”


-  *In my copy (Harper Perennial paperback) there appear to be two typos in the code on page 47. The final letters of the encryption should read “…WKH TUI HQQ BTI USR EP.” As published—intentionally or not—the code decrypts to “…THE PARTY IS REALMY WEDNESEAY KU”

- “Four years earlier…waving the Watson-Crick article in Nature,” which was published Sat., April 25, 1953


52    Today In History. Wed., July 13/14, 1983.

        DNA chase had completely obsessed Ressler; Pursuit of Ressler—then DNA research—now obsesses me.


- The last line on p. 52, “Three days after coming across the magazine photo, I turned up two more citations,” appears to refer to July 13th/14th, 1983.

- FTodd first mentioned Ressler to Jan at the reference desk on Thursday, 6/23/83, (p27; Date is reasonably confirmed by latest-dated cards on pp36-37).

- Jan worked for “…a humiliating week and a half…” with no luck (p38) which, figure 10 or 11 days would take us to July 3rd or 4th. (5th? p62)

- “I hit the payoff [i.e. finding the photo]…after another week…” (p39) which from July 3rd or 4th would indicate July 10th or 11th.

- “Three days after” is July 13th/14th.


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.


       “tomorrow’s Today [In History]…Homestead strike clash” (p64) = July 6, 1892, confirms today as the 5th.



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]


       “A few weeks” after getting the note about Ressler’s death on June 21; On p127, Jan states this card is/was dated July 6.


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.


In 1978 posted about Apollo/Soyuz from three years prior in 1975. “That same day, six years later…” presumably six years after the post, which would be 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.


       “A week went by before Franklin turned up again…” Which would indicate July 22 give or take, and that his alien intelligence question sat in the box for three days or so.



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.


       Those p93 Punnett squares could hardly be helpful to the layman. [Y-axis genotypes listed horizontally? Try these. Note that the fourth chart in the linked graphic corresponds to the chart at the top of p93, and the third, to the lower one. The axes are reversed, but it has no effect on the results.]


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.


        The McClelland Senate Select Committee hearings (p103) ran from Jan 30 – Mar 31, 1957, which doesn’t necessarily clash with the stated “hot August day” (p100.) Certainly people would be talking about it for months afterward.



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.


-       “…although I’d seen him only once the year before…” A reference to the previous September when Ressler wandered in and corrected Jan’s Today In History date. (p15)

-       “you’ve-been-in-Afghanistan-I-perceive…” a reference to the moment Sherlock Holmes meets Watson in A Study In Scarlet. (p111)


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.


        - Khrushchev appeared on Face The Nation June 2, 1957.(p116)

        - Canadian armistice supervisor was Albert Edward Luclan Cannon, slain in Saigon April 12, 1957 (p117)

        - South Vietnam President Diem visited Washington D. C. May 8, 1957

        - Ressler’s grandfather: “…third child from the right…in a famous photo of child mine workers.”


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.


-       Ike heart attack, Sep 24, 1955 (p128)

-       Radio show Official Detective, ran from1946 to 1957. (p129)

-       Name That Tune began as a radio show in 1952 but ran on TV from 1953, on and off until 1985. (p129)

-       *This “White Coat Ruling” (p129) comes up utterly snake-eyes on Google. All I can find—even on the FTC’s site—are references to its existence, no bill or law numbers, or dates.

-       Both Jan’s revelation about news reports (featuring not the day’s most important events, but the most alarming and unusual, p128) and Stuart’s encounter with the White Coat legislation (thirty year old details, fifty year old brain, p129) came at age twenty. (The number of aminos RNA codes for.)


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.


       *The fifth of Touchstone’s “seven degrees of the lie” in Shakespeare’s As You Like It, Act V, Sc 4. (The Retort Courteous, The Quip Modest, The Reply Churlish, The Reproof Valiant, The Countercheck Quarrelsome, The Lie Circumstantial, The Lie Direct.)


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.

        Making excuses for why I’m not home right after work; 1752, the year without Sep 3-13; KAL 007;  Last ordinary evening at home (a week or two before equinox which in 1983 was on Fri., Sep. 23.)


        - Apparently mirroring 1752, Powers alludes that this section occurs on Sep. 2nd (“One early September evening….I’d chosen for tomorrow’s event, the September 3 in that year there was no September 3…”) but then the first card Jan reads by A.N. is dated Sep. 14. So, as in 1752, we have “lost” a week and a half.



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.


        - “…famous as Avery…” (p156)  Oswald Avery, who in 1944 with MacLeod and McCarty determined that nuclear DNA (and not nuclear protein) carried genetic information.

        - Gould, born Sep. 25, 1932 is “a shade younger than Ressler.” Perhaps almost exactly a year. On p119 we learn Ressler was born in Sep. 1931 when, on Aug. 30, 1957—“the last Friday in Aug. 1957”—Ressler noted that he’d turn twenty-six “in a few days,” and when Koss brings him the record for his birthday he says it’s not his birthday, “not for awhile.” Since almost no significant date in the novel does not fall on or near an equinox or solstice, pegging Ressler’s BD on or about Sep 23, 1931 is probably safe.)

        - “…bobby soxers and Britten.” A reference to the Summer Slumber Party LP and the bottle of wine, the two gifts Toomey and Eva brought Ressler on p118.


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.


        If Jan O’Deigh is 30 on the fall equinox 1985 (as it is hinted, albeit weakly, on p170) this indicates a birthday in 1955. (Unless her birthday is Dec. 31, as I suspect [and discuss in the notes for Friends of the Family, p385]—in which case being 30 on Sep 23, 1985 indicates a Dec. 1954 birth.)



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.


-       *The “air is brisk” and later, “cicadas are swarming” (p181)

-       Interstate highway reference (p177)…Work on the Eisenhower Interstate highway system began in 1956-1957


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.


-       “The first great analysis of the [Goldbergs] written at the moment of Mendel’s triple rediscovery” (p191) is D. F. Tovey’s 1900 book.

-       The 32 notes of the Goldberg Variations base are shown on the bass clef. Note the key signature, the # on the far left of the staff, centered on the “F” line: all Fs are sharp which puts this in the key of G major. The notes are:

                     G F# E D B C D G    G F# E A F# G A D     D B C B G A B E    C B A D G C D G


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.


        p195 Jan is said to have been a toddler in 1956. If we go by the “1-2-3” developmental saw (“1 walk, 2 talk, 3 potty train”) we infer she was born in 1955, 1954 at the earliest.


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.


        Jan mentions October 1983, and indeed several news stories from NY Times Page one “four weeks ago” are from Sep. 27, 1983 (p232) Then on p233 another story from Sep 27, 1983: Teen Advises House On Computer Crime is described by Jan: “I look at the artwork tonight, having yellowed by two years.” She’s reminiscing about 1983 as she writes in 1985.


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?)


        “numinous half moon” (p265). The first-quarter moon in Nov. 1983 was on Nov. 12.


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.


        Sudetenland (1918), von Mayer’s 1st Thermodynamics paper (1867), “lost woman of 30 moves across town” (Jan moves out of Tuckwell’s apartment in 1985) all are non-leap years that begin on a Tuesday. (J’Accuse is listed with these three but was published in 1898, which, as was noted in the novel’s previous sentence, began on a Saturday.)



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.


        “tooth fairy payola” (p273), payola scandal of 1959 began in 1958.

        “Strange Ness” (p273), Eliot Ness d. May 16, 1957.


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)


        - The “File repack” described at this chapter’s outset sounds like what we today might call a hard drive optimization.

        - W particle (p297) now referred to as a W boson, discovered Jan 1983

        - Stone age tribe (p297): I couldn’t identify the tribe Powers refers to here, but the reading was fascinating.

        - Pioneer 10 (p297) crossed Neptune’s orbit June 13, 1983 to become the first man-made object to leave the planetary solar system. (The Kuiper Belt, the Scattered Disc, the Oort comet cloud and the heliosphere are all considered part of the Solar System and extend well beyond even Pluto’s orbit. The latter two are theoretical.)


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!


        - hath e. to hear = New Testament (Matthew, Revelation, two locations in Mark)

        - high crest, short e. = Shakespeare, “Venus and Adonis”

        - I have e. in vain = Keats, “Ode To A Nightingale”

        - in e. and eyes to match me = ? (Browning, “Rabbi Ben Ezra")

        - Jug Jug to dirty e. = Eliot, “The Waste Land”

        - leathern e. of stock-jobbers = Cowper, “Table Talk”



        The Nautral Kingdom (II). Mon., Dec 9, 1985

        Q. How big is the biosphere?


        This chapter is so dense with important ideas I’d do well to excerpt the entire twenty page affair right here. (I abandon the first person POV a lot here, and I’m leaving the text black despite Jan obviously having written this during her 1985 sabbatical.)


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…


-       *The ‘what good is a map that’s the same size as the terrain?’ problem, but here with a twist: the different life forms on earth are so disparate in so many fundamental ways that classifying them seems almost nonsensical. (I find myself in sort of an Inception-like situation here; Linnaeus wrestled with the catalog of life, Jan is trying to précis Linnaeus, and here I am trying to distill Jan!)

-       This section is a spectacular overview of life as we currently know it on earth. It’s difficult to imagine anyone else saying more about biology in so few words. **I especially call your attention to the paragraph on p320: “Radial, bilateral, transverse….Hermaphrodites.” Volumes have been written about each of the phenomena described in each economical sentence in this paragraph. Good God, where to start? Here are but a few:

o  “horseshoe crabs, butterflies, barnacles and millipedes…” are all arthropods, a phylum containing roughly one million of all 8.7 million or so species on earth, and 80% of all animal species. When people say that roaches will be the sole survivors of a nuclear war, they're referring to insects in general. And I don’t contest the claim for a second.

o  “sedentaries that sprout free swimmers that mate to make sedentaries…” Ten words that encapsulate a jaw-droppingly complex, two-phased reproductive process often called “the alternation of generations” which is employed by—among so many other plants and fungi—algae and mosses, the simplest of all plants. (If, that is, you consider algae plants. Not all biologists do.)

o  “Animals that expel their own organs to eat…” A starfish (an echinoderm) grasps a clam, spreads the two shells as little as a quarter of a millimeter apart, insinuates its stomach through the crack, devours the clam's soft body, and retracts the stomach. (What is it with echinoderms? Sea cucumbers, when threatened, will “eviscerate” several internal organs. Predators chow on the these organs and the sea cucumber escapes, able to regrow the expelled organs relatively quickly.)

o  “Dwarf males that live in the bellies of their mates,” Osedax, bone-eating worms. (Who in the happy hell can be impressed by goofy stories about aliens when there are things like this—or anything mentioned in this paragraph, for that matter—living right now on this planet?)


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.


        - “rock outcrops…digested by a two celled limited partnership” The alga-wrapped-in-fungus (lichens) mentioned a page earlier. Lichens attach to rock, break it down, and begin and/or exacerbate and/or expedite the process of soil formation, the literal foundation on which (and in which) all terrestrial life rests.


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?


-     “Split the Lark…bird was true?” a distillation of an already short poem by Emily Dickinson.

-     “Swedish Sweepstakes,” Nobel prize winner selection.



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.


        The year of Herri met de Bles’s birth -

        - The year Da Vinci invents the parachute? Some sources say1483, some say 1485, precisely 500 years prior to the 1983 and 1985 of the novel.

        - Ferdinand Magellan, b. 1480

        - Bartolomeu Dias rounded the Cape of Good Hope in early 1488, so if this is when met de Bles turns seven (p342) he is presumed to have been born in 1481.

        - “Hang out the wash on the Siegfried Line…” (British war song c. 1939)



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.


        Actual tornado outbreak: Dec 18, 1957, Murphysboro, IL, about 80 mi SE of St Louis, about 3-4 hours down I-57 from Champaign/Urbana. [One day removed from the Dec. 19 solstice and within the same state? RP couldn’t pass it up!]


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.


        I’m at a loss about the 1981 question and answer date, since Jan doesn’t meet Todd until summer of 1983 back on page 26.


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?


        “…a child’s toy: two intermeshed gears with an asymmetrically affixed pen that produces unpredictable designs.” Spirograph


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:


I am lost to the world

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.


-       “….only now, in 1980, can we at last hear…” (p377) 1980? No clue.

-       “sweet Uncle Claude…” Debussy?

-       “the last day of the year” a cryptic allusion? Might later be revealed as Jan’s birthday…



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.


It is mentioned on p195 that Jan was a toddler in 1956; So when is Jan’s birthday?

- The 30th birthday surprise comes “a few nights after my [ligation] confession to Todd” which came after

- “happily tilling the fields for weeks” (p382) which could only have happened after they

- finally “surrendered to this thing we’ve been circling for months” (p374) which happened at least a week after the

- Tue., Dec 6, 1983 (p309) “disastrous system crash that cost both men a sleepless week” (p373)


Dec 6 + a sleepless week (Ň Dec 13) + at least two weeks (Ň Dec 27) + a few nights (Ň Sat., Dec 31. There’s plenty of wiggle room here, but I like Dec. 31 simply as a nifty play on her name, Jan O’Deigh: “January Zero Day”).


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…


-     *Caesar crosses the Rubicon, 49 B.C.” (p396) “ten days past new years” (p399)

-     Enzymes are proteins that function as biological catalysts. They greatly accelerate reactions of other molecules while remaining unchanged themselves. Lord help me, I can’t resist donning my teacher’s cap here. LET’S PRETEND: You’re in a room with a thousand paper cups scattered all over the floor and you need to stack them all into one long stack. You could turn on a powerful oscillating fan, and the swirling air would randomly roll the cups around, and—because they fit together perfectly—most of the cups, sooner or later (maybe in a few hours or days) would gather into a few short clumps if not the one long stack you need. BUT, send several determined kids into the room, and your single stack is complete in under a minute. Now…imagine the room as a cell, the swirling air as the cellular fluid (cytoplasm), the cups as the component molecules (like the A, C, G and T nucleotides), the kids as the enzymes, and the final stack as a DNA molecule, you get an idea just how necessary enzymes are to ALL life on earth!

o  Note that this example works with almost every kind of polymer (long chain molecule) and its component monomers: carbohydrates and their glucose/fructose/galactose monomers, proteins and their amino acids, nucleic acids and their nucleotides. Lipids (the fourth type of biomolecule which includes fats, oils and waxes) are not technically polymers, but like the others they are enormous molecules (containing thousands if not millions if not billions of atoms) and enzymes are still required to assemble and disassemble them at the high rates necessary for life as we know it. Yes, disassemble! For almost every enzyme that brings monomers together (“synthesis” reactions performed by “synthase” enzymes), there is an enzyme that performs the task in reverse, disassembling polymers so the monomers can be recycled again! As you might imagine, most of your digestive enzymes are this type of disassembling enzyme.

-     The diagram on p395 was confusing to me until I realized that the circle and triangle lines/shapes themselves are intended to represent the enzymes. (As I revisit the image it seems obvious, but for some reason I really had to glare at it for a long time to fully appreciate the meaning.)

-     ** “The building blocks for self-replicating molecules can emerge from a milky suspension of ammonia, methane, water and free hydrogen treated with an electric spark,” (p398) describes the 1952 Miller-Urey experiment which tested the hypothesis that a lightning strike in the earth’s early atmosphere could have triggered the formation of organic compounds. Not only did the experiment generate more amino acids than Miller detected at the time (his forty-five year old sealed samples, released after his 2007 death, have been re-analyzed) but, as the data about the earth’s early atmosphere has improved in the decades since the experiment, the diversity of the biomolecules produced in subsequent trials has only expanded.



401  Winter Storm Waltzes. Jan 1984?

Stuart not only knew Todd and I were sleeping together, he appeared positively buoyed by our happiness:


    reawakened(ressler) if


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.


* Binarily, two hands can count up to 1023. Ten human digits can place-hold for: 1s, 2s, 4s, 8s, 16s, 32s, 64s, 128s, 256s, 512s. (A 1024s “column” would require an 11th digit.)

** “Snow was falling thickly,” then, a mere four sentences later, “There were so many stars….” In a blizzard? Did I miss something?


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.


- Gale/Folkes paper describes how amino acids are assimilated/incorporated in protein synthesis, Nov. 1957. (p415)

- * In the real story of How The Code Was Cracked, Ulrich’s mathematical approach is analogous to the work of George Gamow.

- **The ILLIAC I came online in 1952 but was vacuum tube driven. The “transistor overhauled” iteration mentioned in the novel (ILLIAC II) was proposed in 1958 but didn’t come into regular use until 1962.

- helps(heaven,X) if helps(X,X) - heaven helps those who help themselves?

- “be not afeard, the isle is full of noises” – Caliban, The Tempest, Act 3, Sc. 2

- “The nut is a genius” quote from conductor George Szell speaking about Glenn Gould. (Actual quote: “That nut’s a genius.”)


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.”)


430  A443

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.


-     The hex decodes to Bassaniao’s line from scene I of Merchant of Venice: “Sometime from her eyes I did receive fair speechless messages.”

-     “A systematic disorder in the dress kindles in me a wantonness…” FTodd hacking Herrick’s poem “Delight In Disorder” (“A sweet disorder in the dress/Kindles in clothes a wantonness”)


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!


(all the following occurred in 1958 except where noted.)
-   Jack Benny, famous for claiming to be 39 long past that age, finally admits to being 40...in his mid-60s.
-   Explorer I (USA’s 1st satellite & response to Sputnik I & II, launched Jan. 31.)
-   Nuclear tests at Eniwetok atoll began in 1948, unless this is a reference to Operation Hardtack I, which did begin in 1958.
-   Polish anti-nuke treaty? (Could find nothing on this…)
-   Sixth Fleet moves to the Med in response to the Lebanon Crisis, July.
-   Vice-President Nixon’s car is attacked and almost overturned in Venezuela (April/May)
-   STRAC (Strategic Army Corps) is the renaming of the airborne corps at Ft. Bragg, NC, reflecting their new rapid-deployment mission.
-   Van Cliburn wins the inaugural quadrennial Tchaikovsky competition. (The Russians established the competition to display cultural superiority astride their recent scientific success with the Sputnik launches. The director reportedly called Khruschev in the middle of the night: “…is it OK to give this prize to a Yank?” “Is he the best?” “Yes.” “Then give it to him.”)
-   Composer Vaughan Williams d. Aug. 26.
-   “Jailhouse Rock” topped the US pop charts fall 1957 (topped UK charts in 1958.) The other two pop tunes are from 1958.
-  Two-year-old episodes of the quiz show Twenty-One were revealed to have been rigged.


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.


USS Maine explosion in Havana, Feb. 15, 1898.


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.


He’s listening to Glenn Gould’s 1955 recording of the Goldbergs. While recording, Gould could not keep from grunting and humming, and the microphones often picked it up. It drove his recording engineers—and many fans and reviewers—bananas, and was actually more noticeable in the 1981 recordings with the advent of improved microphones and recording techniques!


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…


-     p468. Todd’s favorite living novelist: Thomas Pynchon. (On p258 of the Penguin Classics edition of Gravity’s Rainbow Semyavin says “…information has come to be the only real medium of exchange,” to which Tyrone Slothrop replies “I thought it was cigarettes.”)

-     Apologies for the dearth of detail on this chapter; Ironically—or perhaps appropriately—the most opaque chapter in the book for me.


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.”


- tRNA was initially hypothesized in 1955 by none other than Francis Crick, and discovered by Zamecnik and Hoagland in 1958. tRNA’s structure was discovered by Holley in 1962. Click here for a lucid distillation of the story of How The Code Was Cracked.

- Ulrich’s phone call to Stuart is a bit puzzling. As Cyfer’s team leader, Ulrich himself would be the person any reporters would talk to (as, you’d think, he would have reminded them the moment they asked to speak to anyone else.) Also Stuart should know this, should redirect any/all questions to Ulrich and not say a word to the press without Ulrich’s consent. Which, maybe this call is indicative of consent…


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?


- *Crick’s adapter article was actually published in 1955.

- p482.0-2  Young Persons Guide to the orchestra…p267?

- Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied = Sing to the Lord a new song



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.


-POV pattern of this chapter has a symmetry similar to the time-pattern of the XXII/Alle Breve chapter on p475. Starting in 1st person, moving to 2nd then 3rd, back to 2nd, finishing in 1st.

- “…the score extracted from the split lark.” (see p335) Emily Dickinson – “Split the lark and you’ll find the music.”


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.”


- *Seriously, how old can Ivy be here? Woytowich announced the pregnancy at the Christmas party what…five months ago?

- “…the Edward G Robinson scenario…” Not sure. Perhaps something about wanted gangsters venturing out in public?


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.


“…in its own triple fossil…” a possible reference to MacLean’s popular triune brain theory: Reptilian (basal ganglia/instinct), Paleomammalian (limbic system), neomammalian (neocortex/language and higher thinking) complexes.


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.


The newspaper headline near the top of p561 should have been a handy time stamp for this chapter, but I was unable to pin down “Sunni splinter group shells suspected Shi’ite arsenal.”


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.


-     *Have a look. Mom’s genotype is the XX across the top, dad is the XY down the left side. B = dominant gene for healthy vision, b = recessive gene for colorblindness. In this example mom is a heterozygous carrier (XBXb) and dad is healthy (XBY). In the story we don’t know if Renée is a carrier or colorblind herself (XbXb ) but it doesn’t matter: there’s no way—without the stated “one in several tens of thousands” mutation—Ivy can be colorblind unless Dan is.

-     **Stuart’s cell-free, in vitro research and discovery was actually accomplished by Nirenberg & Matthaei in 1961. They used a long string of “poly U” RNA and got a polypeptide of almost entirely phenylalanine molecules, ergo UUU codes for phenylalanine!

-     “Stainer Central.” TV ratings (a la Neilsens. Recall from p241 that the Woytowichs are a Stainer family.)

-     By 1958 Jackie Gleason had been off The Life of Riley for eight years. He starred in the initial TV version of the long running radio show, but only until March 1950. William Bendix, the original radio Riley, took over the TV role when the show was revived in 1953 and ran until cancellation in May 1958.


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.


-     *In other words, he discovered/compiled the RNA codon chart you used in high school biology class (the chart appears on p603).



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…”


- Mönchlein, Mönchlein. Du gehst einen schweren Gang. “Little Monk, you walk a difficult transition.”


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.


-    * State of Wonder is the name of Sony’s 2002 box set of Glenn Gould’s 1955 and 1981 recordings of the Goldberg Variations.


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.)


- “Hark, the dominant's persistence…” (Browning, “A Toccata of Gallupi’s”)

- “For who would lose…” (Milton, Paradise Lost)

- “I am sure that the power of vested interests…” (Keynes, General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money. 24-V)

- “Care is heavy…” (Dekker, Chettle and Haughton, Patient Grissel)

- Le vent qui éteint une lumiŹre allume un brasier/The wind that extinguishes a light, lights a blaze. (Pierre Beaumarchais, The Barber of Seville, Act II, Sc. 2)


- “Schoolchildren slayings” could refer to the Brian Dugan murders.

- “Neo-Nazi resurgences” could be referring to fallout from the Skokie, IL Nazi conflict of the late 70s, early 80s.


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…”


*Hamlet, Act I, Sc. 2. Hamlet to Horatio, describing his recently departed father, the King: “He was a man, take him for all in all. I shall not look upon his like again.”


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.


-     “an equation relating wheat and sleepers and time and reapers,” Francis Thompson, “The Poppy,” 1891

-     “…we differ more from one another than man does from ape.” See p249-250

-      “Take the A-Train,” Billy Strayhorn (with Duke Ellington), 1939


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?”


-     “One man loved the pilgrim soul in you.”  W. B. Yeats, “When You Are Old,” Which, beware. If you are anywhere near where I was when I looked up the poem (i.e. already weeping from the revelation that, holy shit, a relationship in this novel might actually work out) this poem will just open the floodgates: When you're old, try to remember these days, when you ignored (or dumped?) the one man who loved you unconditionally.



639  Da Capo e Fine

        What could be simpler? In rough translation: Once more with feeling.


In a more functional translation:“Play the aria again then end the performance.”


Questions? Comments?