15 June 2012

End Zone by DeLillo, 1972

Filed under: Fiction — ktismatics @ 4:42 pm

The window was open and there was a breeze. We were speaking very slowly, almost drunkenly. Our words seemed to rise toward the ceiling. The air was light and sweet. The words we spoke did not seem particularly ours; although we said nothing remarkable, the words surprised me at times. It may have been my hunger that accounted for these feelings.

“What’s it like to weight three hundred pounds.”

“It’s like being an overwritten paragraph.”

“They should get you a larger bed.”

“I don’t mind the bed. Everything is fine here. Things are going very well. I’m glad I came. It was good thinking. It showed intelligence. The bed is perfectly all right.”

“Does the silence bother you?”

“What silence?” he said.

“You know what I mean. The big noise out there.”

“Out over the desert you mean. The rumble.”

“The silence. The big metallic noise.”

“It doesn’t bother me.”

“It bothers me,” I said.

I was enjoying myself immensely. I was drunk with hunger. My tongue emitted wisdom after wisdom. Our words floated in the dimness, in the room’s mild moonlight, weightless phrases polished by the cool confident knowledge of centuries. I was eager for subjects to develop, timeless questions demanding men of antic dimension, riddles as yet unsolved, large bloody meat-hunks we might rip apart with mastiff teeth. Nothing unromantic would suffice. Detachment was needed only for the likes of astrophysics, quantum mechanics, all painstaking matters so delicate in their refracted light that intellects such as ours would sooner yield to the prudish machine. There was no vulgarity in the sciences of measurement, nothing to laugh at, to drink to, to weep about like Russians guzzling vodka and despairing God a hundred years ago in books written by bearded titans. Bloomberg and I needed men, mass consciousness, great vulgar armies surging dumbly across the plains. Bloomberg weighed three hundred pounds. This itself was historical. I revered his weight. It was an affirmation of humanity’s reckless potential; it went beyond legend and returned through mist to the lovely folly of history. To weigh three hundred pounds. What devout vulgarity. It seemed a worthwhile goal for prospective saints and flagellants. The new asceticism. All the visionary possibilities of the fast. To feed on the plants and animals of earth. To expand and wallow. I cherished his size, the formlessness of it, the sheer vulgar pleasure, his sense of being overwritten prose. Somehow it was the opposite of death.




  1. Here’s a nice convergence. I’m writing away on the latest novel. On Tuesday I started drafting an incident involving a group of people inside a desert cantina, “circumambulating counter-clockwise the inner perimeter like Hajjis performing the Tawaf. No iconic black cube anchored this human orbit, which swirled around a cluster of wooden tables and chairs meant for serving plain food to plain people.”

    Today I finished reading the DeLillo. About 25 pages from the end Gary (the narrator) is at the library with his friend Myna. He pulls a book toward himself across the table: “It was a dictionary, opened to the facing pages that began with Kaaba and ended with kef.” Then on the next-to-last page Gary is hanging around in Taft’s dorm room:
    “There must be something we can do,” I said.
    “It’s getting to be time to turn toward Mecca. The black stone of Abraham sits in that shrine in old Mecca, the name of which I’ll have to look up again because I keep forgetting it…”


    Comment by ktismatics — 15 June 2012 @ 5:04 pm

  2. “Nothing unromantic would suffice.”
    I feel like that could be a really awesome tattoo. On the right person, with the right life.


    Comment by Jennifer Stuart — 15 June 2012 @ 6:45 pm

  3. I like that sentence too, Jennifer. It’s an unexpected word choice, “romantic,” placed in the context of a (purposely overwritten?) reverie about a conversation between two West Texas football players. Near the end, when he’s talking with Taft, Gary has a reflective moment (lol): “I was forever finding myself pausing in a doorway or standing before a window, looking into rooms or out of them…” Then, a few pages later, Gary says this:

    “A man (perhaps a woman) stared at me from a window of the nearest building. It disturbed me that I couldn’t be sure of the person’s sex. It’s always interesting to stand by a window and exchange looks with an unknown woman in another building. But in this case I couldn’t be sure whether I was looking at a man or woman. Therefore it seemed dangerous to get interested. It was definitely much too delicate a matter to involve myself with at the present time. I went back to the chair and sat down.”

    It’s not a stretch to regard this as a self-aware moment, Gary looking out the window at his double looking back at him. But is his double male or female? He doesn’t want to think about it, so he moves away from the window.


    Comment by ktismatics — 15 June 2012 @ 7:33 pm

  4. …and of course it’s “dangerous to get interested” if it’s a man.


    Comment by ktismatics — 15 June 2012 @ 8:48 pm

  5. That standing in a window looking at another window across the way was in a Richard Ford story that I read recently. Is this a trope? Other lives in other cells in the hive. That passage that you quote persuades me that I ought to give De Lillo another try. “devout vulgarity” There are many alters.


    Comment by ombhurbhuva — 16 June 2012 @ 9:00 am

  6. It’s easier for me to think of it as a cinematic trope. In movies the window often stands in for the camera viewfinder, but to have someone looking back at the character, the director in effect watching himself? Rear Window is the paradigmatic case, when Thorwald starts looking back at Johnnie. Off the top if my head I remember also Dekalog 6 by Kieslowski — here are some pertinent screengrabs). And here’s a post on Videodrome by Cronenberg.


    Comment by ktismatics — 16 June 2012 @ 9:35 am

  7. Richard Ford graduated from Michigan State University. In End Zone, main character Gary’s father graduated from Michigan State. I graduated from Michigan State. Small world, big school.


    Comment by ktismatics — 16 June 2012 @ 10:08 am

  8. Here’s Gary stopping in to visit Taft, a few pages before he looks out the window and sees someone else looking back at him:

    I paused in his doorway, realizing suddenly that I spent a good deal of time in doorways, that I had always spent a lot of time in doorways, that much of my life had been passed this way. I was forever finding myself pausing in a doorway or standing before a window, looking into rooms and out of them, waiting to be tapped on the shoulder by an impeccably dressed gentleman whose flesh has grown over his mouth.

    I’m not sure about the gentleman. Does he represent the high-aesthetic possibility of watching without entering into conversation, of not having to enter the room, of maintaining distance from the scene — of becoming an artist?


    Comment by ktismatics — 16 June 2012 @ 10:19 am

  9. “That standing in a window looking at another window across the way was in a Richard Ford story that I read recently. Is this a trope? ”

    I think this was also in the recent Julian Barnes, unless it was another DeLillo. The teacher was a Jewish woman who liked to show her ass to her boy student across the way. I forgot how this ensued or ended, but then the Barnes was not that great a book.

    “Nothing unromantic would suffice. ”

    That’s pretty typical DeLillo, you’ll find some nice versions in ‘Underworld’, when the sexy dame snorts cocaine in Phoenix, and ‘decides she must see everything as LA-ish’. I wouldn’t have known DeLillo had an appreciation of the uniqueness of LA, since he’s concentrated on New York to such a degree and does it well, but that was interesting. And he doesn’t emphasize the slight sadness of the fact that it was unlikely that anyone in L.A. was snorting coke and thinking ‘I really want to feel everything all Phoenix’. His descriptions of Phoenix in ‘Underworld’ are interesting, and sound just like Jersey City feels across the Hudson down near me–all of the high-rise office buildings having been built since about 1983 or later.

    I doubt it’s a trope, though. It’s simply a common activity that happens literally every day, esp. in cities crowded and stacked like this, although to make it novelistic, there have to be two who decide to linger at the windows. I don’t want any eye contact with the many neighbors who can (and have) seen into my apartment over the years, but I’m much stricter now with the curtains. Other versions have to do with exhibitionism, and I even recall TV movies with girls working out to be seen by neighbours, and then they were murdered. I’ve been on the street when someone misbehaved at the window to invite me up, but that’s in the sweet long-ago, when the West Village was much more free and less Facebook.


    Comment by Patrick J. Mullins — 16 June 2012 @ 11:58 am

  10. Or it may have been one of the last Auchincloss stories I read in the big collection. Thought that was further back, though, think I stopped reading Auchincloss (after a lot of it) sometime in spring, 2011.


    Comment by Patrick J. Mullins — 16 June 2012 @ 2:20 pm

  11. “The nearest building” in End Zone would most likely have been another dormitory on the campus. Even in sparsely populated places like west Texas the college campuses are built compactly, allowing students to walk from one end to another between classes. In this sense college housing at a large university is like downtown apartment living.


    Comment by ktismatics — 16 June 2012 @ 2:41 pm

  12. Patrick:
    Sometimes a cigar is a cigar. Threshold times and places, borders, are fraught. House Private/ Street Public. We hover, unsure where to land. The dyak in their long houses when they want to talk privately turn to the wall and everyone ignores them. They have drawn back inside the threshold.


    Comment by ombhurbhuva — 16 June 2012 @ 5:45 pm

  13. Yes, yes, yes, trope or cigar is all right for the duple-lit windows in my book. Of course, the obvious hasn’t been mentioned: Was John looking for something p-p-p-p-portalic or a t-t-t-t-t-rope in his lit window when he was ‘Down in the Depths on the 90th Floor’ or did he just get off on ‘hangin’ it down’ from the 33rd Floor. And we don’t know if this was reported as an ‘intellectual virtue”s opposite or not either. Stay tuned…


    Comment by Patrick J. Mullins — 17 June 2012 @ 11:15 am

  14. “Where, my dear Charles, did you find this s-s-s-s-sumptuous g-g-g-g-g-reenery? The comer of a hothouse at T-t-rent or T-t-tring? What g-g-g-g-gorgeous usurer nurtured these f-f-f-f-fronds for your p-p-p-p-pleasure?”

    I thought that the high point of the series, although I used to try to walk like Lady Marchmain in the Village for at least ‘a season’. That’s a very embarassing confession, but at least it’s at least as far back as 1986. I told my ‘New Age Image Snake Oil Person’ (formerly a male prostitute) about this, and he said that surely ‘people would have known what you were doing’.


    Comment by Patrick J. Mullins — 17 June 2012 @ 12:28 pm

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