A few years ago, I was introduced to the work of Thomas Pynchon. A girl I was secretly seeing at the time bought me a copy of his book The Crying of Lot 49. She mentioned that out of all of his books, this was probably the easiest for her to read. She said that the rest were extraordinarily detailed and complex and often required some type of “How to read this Book” accompaniment. Now at the time I was spending most waking, and some non waking, moments with this lady. She was extraordinarily intelligent and well read so for her to say that she struggled reading a piece of modern fiction was very intriguing to me. The moment that I went home I started to read it. I was instantly spellbound. The story was so deeply complex that I found myself reading pages and then going back and re-reading them again to make sure I captured everything. The plot line was fascinating. Secret societies, underlying tones of paranoia, LSD experimentation. The works. I immediately wanted to know more.
I soon started reading his magnum opus Gravity’s Rainbow. After about 25 pages I immediately saw what my then sort of ladyfriend was talking about. I had never read anything this complicated in my life. It was also my real introduction into encyclopedic postmodernism. The complex stories told within afterthoughts were enough to send your mind out of itself and back again. I needed to know more about the man that wrote this. I put on my investigator hat and got to work.
Throughout the next few months I did some research. Internet searching, periodicals, talking to other writers about his the folklore surrounding him. It was fascinating. I learned that he was originally from Nassau County on Long Island, as was I. I learned that he spent time in Mexico City around the same time as Lee Harvey Oswald was there. However the most interesting thing about him was his total avoidance of the media. Even when Gravity’s Rainbow won the National Book Award for Fiction in 1974, his publisher sent someone else to accept it. There were tales of him showing up at events dedicated to him incognito and leaving quickly (probably untrue). There was an incident after the publication of his 1997 novel, Mason Dixon, when he was followed by CNN reporters trying to do a story on the author and his anonymity. They recorded him walking down a block on the Upper West Side. He was so infuriated he called up a producer at CNN and talked them into not showing him directly. I read about the few times that other people from the media tried to find him and talk to him and how poorly it went. It wasnt until I saw a poorly made documentary about him that I realized how close I was to him, literally. At the time I was living on the Upper West Side. I had been around that neighborhood since I was 3 years old. My mom and step dad had lived there most of my life and when they left their apartment, I was living there for a few years. I noticed in the movie that one journalist who was trying to locate him was able to snap a picture of him at a subway stop 4 block from my house. That was when I really got cooking.
Out of respect for Thomas Pynchon and to avoid anyone else doing what I did, I am not going to tell you how I found his address, but I did. It took a few days and some quick thinking, but I did it…and he lived six blocks from me. How was I going to handle it? I have a tremendous amount of respect for Pynchon and I didnt want to be a creepy stalker. He made a decision to keep out of the public eye for a reason and I had a great amount of respect for why he made that choice. However, I’m an idiot and I just wanted to see him. I wasnt going to approach him and start talking about who he was. I just wanted to see him. This was increasingly difficult, however, because there were few to no photographs of him taken after his service in the Navy in the 1950’s.
The night I figured it out, I went for a walk. I walked down his block. I just wanted to see where he lived. There is definitely something about knowing a hero’s surroundings that makes the experience of enjoying there work that much better. Knowing that this is what they see everyday is interesting to me. That night I walked around his block 2 or 3 times. I was in a state of disbelief. I coulnt believe that I found him. This secretive wizard who goes through great lengths to hide his identity. I found him.
Over the course of the next few months, I would take night walks once per week always hoping to see him. Looking for a man in drab colors with buck teeth. Anytime I needed to go in the general direction of his apartment, I would always scoot down his block in the hopes that I could catch a glimpse of him. It never happened. I soon moved from the Upper West Side to Queens and that was over.
For those of you unfamiliar with Pynchon, get familiar. He has his finger on the pulse of something that is almost impossible to explain. He gets into your mind in a way that only great writers can. His newest novel, Bleeding Edge comes out in September. Its a love/hate letter to NYC around the turn of the millennium. And what was not to love or hate. This city has completely transformed itself in the last 30 years, turning its back on what made it great, but still keeping you wanting more. It is a city as complex as the author that writes about it. Both of which I have been spending a substantial amount of time trying to understand.
Below is a the piece that CNN did on Pynchon in the late 90’s where you actually see him for a moment.