The Unknown: The Red Line.

We drank with Chuck Aukema in the MaidRite bar across the street from Coe College, a quick few or so before the reading. The Cedar Rapids air smelled like burnt Hi-Ho cereal. The MaidRite was pretty much as Scott had described it, big and wooden, a place where people drink. This Aukema turned out to be a fascinating man. He had the look of authentic Beat poet. Scott claimed he would have probably never gotten interested in hypertext at all, and would have been therefore been unable to help me write my hypertext novel, The Unknown, were it not for the fact that this Aukema had told him all about it back in 1989-92, well before the Internet had become such a big thing. Aukema, it seems, had been writing hypertext fiction since the 1970s, but had not had the hardware available to him at the time to make it work properly. His “string theory” stories were more than two decades ahead of their time. It was because of him that Scott had first read Borges, Pynchon, Raymond Carver, Robert Coover, and William Gibson.

The MaidRite was filled with college students and ex-cons. William nearly got into a fight with a car-thief, also named William. As usual, I had to resolve the problem, just as I resolved many others during our journey. The resident adult, I put up with both William’s violent nature and Rettberg’s immaturity. Yet still they scorned me as a mere poet and dragged me through that great desert of corn. But I am indeed stoic, I will do whatever it takes, and I will not stop until I have saved American literature. Gillespie was slugging back the Grainbelt whiskey like there was no tomorrow. I decided to go light on the LSD that evening, since this Aukema was turning out to be such an engaging host. They rang a bell every time someone ordered a shot, and this pleased William no end. Pavlovian, lumpen, William. Pitchers were very reasonably priced at the MaidRite, and we had a few.

Aukema explained to me, in an intellectual aside while the two youngsters were playing pool with two felons, that his theory of hypertext was that it was the true way for writers to achieve immortality, that what would be possible in the future was a kind of technologically-aided consciousness, that what writers will do in the future is upload their entire personalities onto the World Wide Web. My retort was that such a thing was already possible, and in a more humanistic way. Just look at Jesus, Buddha, and Mohammed. All that would really be necessary to achieve immortality was to start a religion, and then imprint your teachings upon the minds of the gullible many, and thus, via memes, replicate yourself in a more spiritually meaningful way than either technological replication or genetic manipulation (i.e. cloning) could provide. Granted, I agreed with him that it would be difficult to do such a thing effectively on a large scale, and that it would take a vastly powerful force of personality. Impossible, really, but then one never knows, does one? I was interested in steering the conversation the way of T.S. Eliot’s influence on Ronald Johnson, but this Aukema would have none of that. Ah well, another fictionite.

By the time we left the MaidRite, it was dark and William reeked of cheap whiskey. Nonetheless, the reading went remarkably well. When we arrived in the lovely room in Stuart Memorial Library, backed by long horizontal picture windows and spooky paintings of spooky farm people by Grant Wood, I was given a piano player, who did a not-terribly-horrible job of accompanying me on “Someone’s Always Fucking With My Mirrors.” William’s rap song about Iran-Contra went over very well with the faculty, who were evidently liberal, but not very well with the students, who were clearly conservative. One thinks of the “How You Gonna Get Them Back On the Farm After They Seen Paris” song that was popular during the First World War, only inverted. Scott’s fairly shallow short-short “Bombs Making Love” was well-received but I suspect only because of its shock value. Such a young writer, is he. Ah well. Then we read from my hypertext novel, and you of course already know how well that goes.

We wandered off after the reading to a cement pier on a pond behind some train tracks in the shadows of the world’s largest cereal factory and smoked a tremendous amount of marijuana, skillfully rolled into joints by yours truly. It was the last of the Central Illinois Gold, but Aukema promised that Coover would be bringing in some killer hydroponic shit from the greenhouse at Brown for our reading the next day at Prairie Lights in Iowa City.


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