Wednesday, December 30, 2009


I recently read an essay by David Foster Wallace, posthumously released in the New Yorker. It was called all that. Much in the same way Wallace describes the voices that he heard as a child, I also believe that there are no coincidences and that the Lego Matchbox Kachina/shaman I assembled in March (20th) of 2009, has something to do with "IT". Trying to defend these beliefs is not here or there and division by zero and Schrödinger's Cat dead/alive at once. Brings to mind Jim Woodrings "Moon man" The body was made from a cement mixer that had come apart and I kept the shape near my drawing table for a long time.

by David Foster Wallace
DECEMBER 14, 2009

Once when I was a little boy I received as a gift a toy cement mixer. It was made of wood except for its wheels—axles—which, as I remember, were thin metal rods. I’m ninety per cent sure it was a Christmas gift. I liked it the same way a boy that age likes toy dump trucks, ambulances, tractor-trailers, and whatnot. There are little boys who like trains and little boys who like vehicles—I liked the latter.
It was (“it” meaning the cement mixer) the same overlarge miniature as many other toy vehicles—about the size of a breadbox. It weighed three or four pounds. It was a simple toy—no batteries. It had a colored rope, with a yellow handle, and you held the handle and walked pulling the cement mixer behind you—rather like a wagon, although it was nowhere near the size of a wagon. For Christmas, I’m positive it was. It was when I was the age where you can, as they say, “hear voices” without worrying that something is wrong with you. I “heard voices” all the time as a small child. I was either five or six, I believe. (I’m not very good with numbers.)
I liked the cement mixer and played with it as much as or more than I played with the other toy vehicles I owned. At some point, several weeks or months after Christmas, however, my biological parents led me to believe that it was a magic and/or highly unusual cement mixer. Probably my mother told me this in a moment of adult boredom or whimsy, and then my father came home from work and joined in, also in a whimsical way. The magic—which my mother likely reported to me from her vantage on our living room’s sofa, while watching me pull the cement mixer around the room by its rope, idly asking me if I was aware that it had magical properties, no doubt making sport of me in the bored half-cruel way that adults sometimes do with small children, playfully telling them things that they pass off to themselves as “tall tales” or “childlike inventions,” unaware of the impact those tales may have (since magic is a serious reality for small children), though, conversely, if my parents believed that the cement mixer’s magic was real, I do not understand why they waited weeks or months before telling me of it. They were a delightful but often impenetrable puzzle to me; I no more knew their minds and motives than a pencil knows what it is being used for. Now I have lost the thread. The “magic” was that, unbeknown to me, as I happily pulled the cement mixer behind me, the mixer’s main cylinder or drum—the thing that, in a real cement mixer, mixes the cement; I do not know the actual word for it—rotated, went around and around on its horizontal axis, just as the drum on a real cement mixer does. It did this, my mother said, only when the mixer was being pulled by me and only, she stressed, when I wasn’t looking. She insisted on this part, and my father later backed her up: the magic was not just that the drum of a solid wood object without batteries rotated but that it did so only when unobserved, stopping whenever observed. If, while pulling, I turned to look, my parents sombrely maintained, the drum magically ceased its rotation. How was this? I never, even for a moment, doubted what they’d told me. This is why it is that adults and even parents can, unwittingly, be cruel: they cannot imagine doubt’s complete absence. They have forgotten.

The point was that months were henceforward spent by me trying to devise ways to catch the drum rotating. Evidence bore out what they had told me: turning my head obviously and unsubtly around always stopped the rotation of the drum. I also tried sudden whirls. I tried having someone else pull the cement mixer. I tried incremental turns of the head while pulling (“incremental” meaning turning my head at roughly the rate of a clock’s minute hand). I tried peering through a keyhole as someone else pulled the cement mixer. Even turning my head at the rate of the hour hand. I never doubted—it didn’t occur to me. The magic was that the mixer seemed always to know. I tried mirrors—first pulling the cement mixer straight toward a mirror, then through rooms that had mirrors at the periphery of my vision, then past mirrors hidden such that there was little chance that the cement mixer could even “know” that there was a mirror in the room. My strategies became very involved. I was in kindergarten and home half the day. The seriousness with which I tried must have caused my parents no little anguish of conscience. My father had not yet even received tenure; we were barely middle class, and lived in a rented house whose carpets were old and thin—the mixer made a noise as I pulled it. I begged my mother to take photographs as I pulled the mixer, staring with fraudulent intensity straight ahead. I placed a piece of masking tape on the drum and reasoned that if the tape appeared in one photo and not in the other this would provide proof of the drum’s rotation. (Video cameras had not yet been invented.)
During Talk Time, before bed, my father sometimes told me stories of his own childhood adventures. He, an intellectual, had been, according to his stories, the sort of child who set traps for the Tooth Fairy (pyramids of tin cans at the door and windows of his room, string tied from his finger to the tooth below his pillow so that he would wake when the Fairy tried to take the tooth) and other “mythical” figures of childhood, such as Santa Claus. (Talk Time meant fifteen minutes of direct conversation—not stories or songs—with a parent as I lay tucked into bed. Four nights per week Talk Time was with my mother and three nights with my father. They were very organized about it.) I was, at this age, unfamiliar with Matthew 4:7, and my father, a devout atheist, was in no way alluding to Matthew 4:7 or using the tales of his fruitless childhood traps as parables or advice against my trying to “test” or “defeat” the magic of the cement mixer. In retrospect, I believe that my father was charmed by my attempts to “trap” the mixer’s drum rotating because he saw them as evidence that I was a chip off the block of ad-hoc intellectual mania for empirical verification. In fact, nothing could have been farther from the truth. As an adult, I realize that the reason I spent so much time trying to “catch” the drum rotating was that I wanted to verify that I could not. If I had ever been successful in outsmarting the magic, I would have been crushed. I know this now. My father’s tales of snares for the Easter Bunny or strings for the Tooth Fairy often made me feel sad, and when I cried over them sometimes my parents guiltily believed that I was crying over my frustration at not being able to catch sight of the rotating drum. I’m positive that this caused them anguish. In fact, I was crying with sadness, imagining how devastated my father would have felt as a child had he been successful in trapping the Tooth Fairy. I was not, at the time, aware that this was why the Talk Time stories made me sad. What I remember feeling was an incredible temptation to ask my father a question as he delightedly described these traps, and at the same time a huge and consuming but amorphous and nameless fear that prevented my asking the question. The conflict between the temptation and my inability to ask the question (owing to a fear of ever seeing pain on my father’s pink, cheerful, placid face) caused me to weep with an intensity that must have caused my parents—who saw me as an eccentric and delicate child—no little guilt over their “cruel” invention of the cement mixer’s magic. Under various pretexts, they bought me an exceptional number of toys and games in the months following that Christmas, trying to distract me from what they saw as a traumatic obsession with the toy cement mixer and its “magic.”

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Russell Maycumber said...

This story of Mr. Wallace's is fiction. A friend brought it to my attention.

Russell Maycumber said...

Someone found my blog by searching for"which direction should a cement mixer rotate"

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