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Bruce Green Goes to the Beach

August 12, 2009

Spoiler Line: 589

Photo by Flickr user Carlos Madrigal, used under a Creative Commons license

In the mid-500’s of Infinite Jest Wallace bombards us with a bunch of tropical beach-themed references. You’ve got your Bruce Green inadvertently killing his mom with “a gaily Gaugin-colored can of Polynesian Mauna Loa-brand macadamia nuts” (578), which causes in him a “silent, substratified fascination/horror gestalt about all things even remotely Polynesian”(581). Then you’ve got Green’s recollection of the beach-themed party at Harvard, “with a dumptruck’s worth of sand on the common-room floor and everybody with flower necklaces and skin bronzed with cream or UV-booth-salon visits” (584), &c., and finally the terror of the Canadio-Hawaiian themed party where they’re blasting Don Ho and where Lenz gets himself into all sorts of shit with his dog-baiting trick.

Before I even dig into this I should point out that Wallace’s first novel, The Broom of the System, opens in a dorm where there’s a beach-themed party going on that’s pretty much identical to the one Green recalls attending: “It’s all really cute and clever, and at dinner downstairs Lenore saw them putting up plastic palm trees and strings of flowers, and some of the girls had plastic grass skirts” (10). Later in the book, Lenore, the main character, goes to a theme bar called Gilligan’s Isle, which features walls “painted to look like the filmy blue horizon of the ocean, and the floors were painted and textured to resemble beach. There were palm trees all over, fronds handing down ticklishly over the patrons” (138). Inside the bar, patrons sit and are served on “plastic molded likenesses” of the entire Gilligan’s Isle cast (cf. the creepy film-director chairs that JvD sits in at Molly Notkin’s party).

I can barely even begin to speculate what Wallace’s beach-obsession is all about. In most of the instances above — the college parties, the Canadian party, and the bar — the beach-kitsch is accompanied by serious alcohol consumption. Also, it’s interesting that the characters we’re following in the beach scenes — Bruce Green and Lenore Beadsman — are always outsiders to the beach-festive environment. Green crashes the college party and then watches, kind of voyeuristically, as the Canadian party implodes around Lenz’s heinous act. Lenore is a visitor at the dorm where the beach party is happening, and in the bar scene she happens to see someone she knows as she’s walking by and so pops in. There’s an element here of outsiders looking in on the carefree, bacchanalian fun of others. It’s like these beach-parties are these mini-carnaval environments that Wallace’s characters always stand apart from.

Of course, there’s also something inherently humorous, I guess, about grass skirts and tropical drinks with umbrellas in them and the like. Something a little trashy and low-rent, too, if you ask me. Also, Dr. Jacoby, a weirdo-y character on David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, had something of a Hawaii-fetish going on.

I have my own personal Hawaii/macadamia nut-association that goes something like this: At one of my old jobs every morning when I would get into work there would be these little grainy things strewn across my desk, and I would sometimes find little insect-husks from where some filthy little insect had shed its skin and left it on my desk. I would typically find these in the vicinity of my telephone, which would weird me right the hell out. One morning I went in and actually saw a weird-looking little black-and-yellow bug scurry across my desk and shimmy up into my telephone. So I ended up completely tearing apart my phone and Raiding the life out of it, and when I was done I found the corpses of about five or six black-and-yellow bugs of various sizes inside.

A co-worker saw me and came over to ask what was up and I was like “There’s bugs in my fucking phone.” And we made some lame-ass jokes about how my phone was bugged, &c. Har har.  But then he tells me this story about how several years ago, before I got there, our company had done business with a company in Hawaii. And when everything was wrapped up, in order to thank us the Hawaiian company sent us a box filled with cans of macadamia nuts. And apparently — this is how it was told to me — one of the cans, some lady peeled back the foil top and then like screamed and went batshit because the can was filled to the brim with half-eaten macadamia nuts and lots of bugshit and maybe hundreds of these bizarre yellow-and-black Hawaiian fucking bugs that had stowed away in the macademia can and had been porking out on macadamia nuts and shitting and breeding like filthy Hawaiian bugs for God knows how long.

So naturally the woman flips out and drops the can, which causes hundreds of yellow-and-black macadamia-fattened insects to go running off in hundreds of different directions. It was a big fiasco, apparently. They called in pest control and sprayed the living bejeezus out of the place. But these bugs, apparently, being Hawaiian bugs, were drawn to sources of heat, so they ended up stowing away in people’s computers and telephones and any other porous electronic devices they could find that were plugged in overnight and gave off a little warmth. And this was a technology company, by the way, so the place is floor-to-ceiling with expensive warmth-generating gadgets. Which makes the insects pretty much impossible to get rid of, according to my co-worker. Every once in awhile they’ll open up somebody’s computer tower and it’ll be crawling with the things. So that even now, probably to this day still, they’ve got bugs shacking up in people’s telephones and leaving during the night to forage for food scraps and deposit little grainy bug-turds and dessicated bug-husks on people’s desks.

This is what I think of when I think of Hawaii.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. August 12, 2009 7:54 pm

    i’m glad someone is blogging ahead of schedule! this post is great. between bruce green and your story about the bugs i don’t know if i’ll ever think of hawaii the same way again.

  2. August 12, 2009 8:05 pm

    Great story, and images! In reference to Infinite Jest, what comes to mind is ‘There’s trouble in paradise’.

  3. fredricktoo permalink
    August 12, 2009 11:57 pm

    there was an indoor beach party in the movie “Real Genius” with Val Kilmer, which was probably out while DFW was writing the book. The nucks upstairs while Lenz was at the dogs theoat were wearing Hawaiian shirts, I think. Having had a brother who attended BU I could see a lot of winter beach themes being popular in Boston. We’ve also been living in a society that is turned on by Tiki related bars, idols &c. thanks for the post.

  4. August 13, 2009 7:39 am

    W.P.: I like that “trouble in paradise” bit, because it dovetails so nicely with the book’s major theme of the dark side of pleasure and entertainment.

    I guess there would also be Hal’s paper on the hero of Hawaii Five-O, who Hal labeled the modern hero of action, as opposed to the post-mod. hero of reaction or the hero-to-come of inaction.

  5. August 16, 2009 9:45 pm

    In “A Supposedly Fun Thing…,” (the essay) Wallace talks about having a sort of mixed hydrophobia/agoraphobia, so I’m guessing he didn’t dig the beach.

    pg 261 “…I, who had never before this cruise actually been on the ocean, have always associated the ocean with dread and death…”

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