I discovered Thomas Pynchon in the late seventies, and this unashamed parody of his style in Gravity’s Rainbow, in which a creepy bus gets into Oxford, was intended as the opening of a (thankfully abandoned!) novel: forgive me, I was young and impressionable…
The reek inside the bus is compounded of diesel, hot metal, hot bodies in rainsoaked clothes that steam; together with higher harmonics of smell, a girl’s scent, last night’s vomit still lurking under the seats, smoke from the driver’s cheroot, (flicking it around his mouth, a Clint Eastwood freak here, apparently, checking in the mirror for accuracy of expression, the eyes like cruel slits, yeah..) The discreet, functional farting of the inspector who got on a couple or three stops back to get out of the rain, or just for the company (company? W-wait, of course he’s here for the Company, it’s Their bus, Their route, and we only move along the streets They’ve laid down on the Running Time Card we must follow; come to think of it, isn’t there a chance here for a paranoid structure worthy of the name- the buses run even when there are no passengers, most drivers actually prefer it that way… Except on the late runs when the furtive fiddling of tenpees can become an open trading free-for-all, when we think They’re not looking… Poor deluded fools, They know, and allow us our little dream of autonomy)
Buildings loom up out of the rain, leer distorted into the bus, and their facades grimace as they faaaaall away behind; but whether this distortion is due to raindrops streaking the outside of the windows or condensation inside, or even to the more or less boozed condition of most of the passengers is unclear. By now it seems to be a quality of the city itself, into whose sprawling body the the bus slowly, even tenderly, is inserting its vibrant bulk. There are other distortions, heightenings of the normative: a hill which couldn’t, shouldn’t be real, so steep no-one could walk, let alone drive up it, the driver changing down so far on the autoshift he’s actually engaging negative numbered gears, here, and the bus moves up like a huge hand caressing the shin of some monumentally recumbent figure- levels out abruptly at the bent knee, Summertown springing sharply into focus before the bus tips forward down the thightop of Banbury Road, dimensions gone wild again as it nears the warm, moist bifurcation of St Giles’….
And inside the bus too space seems flexible, walls and floor provisional only, allowing of the unforseen need to expand, potential for new vistas of bus interior opening out, free… There’s been quite a coming and going up and down the stairs to the upper deck, students, shoppers, mums and dads with children in tow, a caucus of cobblers and ten Thai tourists, a continuous exchange of briefcases and gowns, Tescobags and folding pushchairs, lasts and Leicas, up and down and yes, further up and further down too, for there are decks available at many levels, the bus like a mobile tower block, so that you can walk right on up to the bar on the sixth deck (a passage not without its attendant dangers, for some of the revellers, having found that for all its facilities the bus does not boast toilets, are urinating down the stairwell- brilliant, unbroken tracerbursts of piss yards long, momentary rainbows scintillating as spray clouds off curiously unprotesting faces) or down to the lowest regions, decks way below street level, amongst machinery of unknown and one suspects sinister purpose, heaps of spare tyres, parts of bus engines covered in black oil, a battered watering can, mouldering uniforms and torn seats scattered anyhow on a floor drifted with used tickets, graffiti on every available surface expressing the mythology of the inspection pit, the very lowest depths of Bus Life.
The bus moves on across the city’s vulnerable torso, the rough treads on tyres which say India but will never go there stimulating who knows what ecstasies beneath its tarmac skin, until they come to rest in some version or other of Cornmarket, one of its decks on the same level as the top floor rooms in a college not far away… and the exits are flexible too, so that there is no difficulty in stepping into that other world, from Bus Life to College Life, a transition that has been accomplished before, though not perhaps in this direction, gently, without hurry, exchanging the trembling metal frame for the still, stone walls, immemorial beams overhead, and a cold grey dawn at the mullioned window.
That’ll do at a Pynch. On.
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