The Unknown: The Orange Line.
  08/04/98 11:41:48 AM

Dear Dirk,

Amoco is paying me $13/hr (really they’re probably paying someone like $25/hr) for me to write this letter to you. So I hope you appreciate the fact that by the time I’m finished writing it, it will probably be worth $20 minimum. So I recommend you read it at least twice. Savor the compact yet elegant typeface, the characteristic sentence fragments, the subtle turns of phrase. A major oil company has subsidized this prose. Don’t let it go unappreciated. And the next time you go on a cross-country trip, I hope I don’t need to tell you which gas station I expect you to frequent.

Where the hell have you been? We’re starting a literary movement here in the Midwest, you know. I’m getting worried about our Hypertext. There’s a lot to it, but right now it’s like many threads not quite tied together, a frayed quilt. A lot of work has been done while you’ve been away taking helicopter trips in the Grand Canyon and eating jumbo shrimp in San Francisco and drinking exotic beers in Portland and watching Post-Grunge bands sing ballads in the rain in Seattle, and . . . where else have you been ? / / . . . eating nice beefsteaks in Spokane. Did you, by any chance, stop at the Corn Palace in Nebraska or Wall Drug in South Dakota? I have a feeling we’ll end up going both of those places during our tour, for THE UNKNOWN.

I know you’ll be back in Cincinnati this weekend for the world tournament of Disc Golf at Mount Hairy Forest. Unless you’re dead on the highway or locked up in a cold prison cell or have had your brain completely fried by too many hits of Jesus. Or, for that matter, found the return to the Northwest country a religious experience and returned to the true light of the Lord, and thus forsaken THE UNKNOWN, as, fundamentally, the entire project is a form of sacrilege to all that is good and true. We do worry, young man. If you’ve fallen from the path of THE UNKNOWN, it may be very difficult to replace you. I can tell you that from the applications we’ve received so far, it would be very difficult indeed. Sure, there are plenty of Ronald Johnson scholars out there, but how many of them have read In Cold Jest? Only 22. How many of them are obsessed with but nonetheless completely disdain Ezra Pound? Five. How many can tell jokes in pidgin French and bring over bottles of Booker’s on demand? Okay, two. How many of them are schooled on the thought of Liebnitz, look good in a bikini, and love to give backrubs to fiction writers while comparing us to Voltaire (in a distinctly South-of-France French accent)? Just one, and man is she a babe. We think we’re going to go with her if you don’t return from the wilds soonly.

I think William’s actually coming here next weekend, so you’ll be even more behind. But W. and I have discussed this. We’re sure you’ve been taking notes. After all, you carry one of those little notebooks around with you all the time. Material for THE UNKNOWN, I are sure. It is basically a travelogue, and you have been a traveling man, and travel makes for details, and strong imagery. Can’t wait to hear the stories. So does this mean that you’ll be coming to Chicago in the soon time? We could also potentially meet in Champaign. William just got a luxury penthouse apartment, purely on the theoretical strength of the sales of THE UNKNOWN (anthology)—so he’s motivated to get this thing moving. Me too. I’m fairly serious about spending next summer traveling around promoting this thing, rather than working for a living, which is for birds and people who take themselves too seriously. In this day and age, in this roaring economy, in this most decadent of cultures, at the fin de siecle, (fin du siecle?), there is absolutely no reason why artist types like us should not get paid to write hypertext novels. Actually, I’ve been watching related news items, and let me tell you, Dirk, this thing is gonna be huge. It’s going to be what, gargantuan. That Godzilla movie which made all the advertising people self-conscious about the size of their anatomy? That was nothing, a little anchovy-sized snack, compared to THE UNKNOWN. And I just mean, at this point, the Hypertext. Once the whole series is out, man, forget about it. You’ll be Derrida in Rio de Janeiro, sipping a Pina Colada off the belly of a silent film star married to a soccer player who will want to kill you but will not because he will fear the collective textual power of THE UNKNOWN. You’ll be more connected than Sinatra ever was, and what’s more, you’ll be a better person, a nicer guy, kinder to the little people. Though you’ll still have an awful voice in comparison to the crooner, and there will be angry words and fights when you demand of Gilliam that you get to play yourself in the film version of the Hypertext of THE UNKNOWN.

But if and when you have free time, Dirk, which I know that no matter how busy you get, whether you’re studying for your exams or working for the Man, I know your thought will bend towards THE UNKNOWN. The sublime. The unpredictable. The intangible. THE UNKNOWN.

Get cracking, Dirk. Like look here, at this letter. It kills two birds with one stone, or three. A) It is a privileged and confidential communication between me and one of my best friends (i.e. you), B) It is a part, as soon as I get home and de-windowfy it, of the Hypertext of the Unknown, and of course, lest we forget, C) it is making me appear (or at least sound) to be busy, click clacking away in front of a computer, well near into my lunch hour, thus filling my obligation of filling corporate space.

So I should expect your call in the next 20 minutes or so? After you’ve read this twice. Remember, we’re not just fucking around here. We’ve started a Millennial Literary Movement. Perhaps, if Nostradamus is right, THE LAST ONE MANKIND WILL EVER KNOW. If the shit really hits the fan, Dirk, you won’t regret a minute you spent on THE UNKNOWN. It will be the time you were doing other things, like teaching, or grading, or reading still more books, or having a meaningful relationship, or whatnot, that you will regret. Let’s put this puppy to bed. Get writing. Get on the horn. Arrangements need to be made, texts need to be produced. Art. Man.

Total Cost of this Letter: $30.50
(Payable in hypertext, upon your 1st visit to Chicago)


Scott Rettberg
New Office Temporary Agency, Subhired to Kelly Temporary Agency, Contracted Out to the Compliance Group, Human Resources Department, Shared Services Sector, Amoco Corporation.


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