The Unknown: The Red Line.
  Brown was paying us ten thousand dollars and giving us a very large auditorium with a state-of-the-art overhead projector Mac with a T-1 Internet connection, so we could read our hypertext “live” from the Net. They were stocking their bookstores with our books and large color posters of us. Coover was making the reading required for his students in Hypertext 301: Spaces and Fragments.

When we got to Providence, though, extraordinarily exhausted from three days of solid 70+ MPH, a call from Marla on the cellular informed us that the gig at Brown had been canceled because the auditorium had been requested at the last minute by the Kronos Quartet. Kronos had been delighting and outraging their fans this tour by performing the album Led Zeppelin II straight through (as arranged for string quartet, theramin, waterdrums, and a variety of original microtonal instruments built by Harry Partch). But Brown was paying us anyway.

So, after our underattended (even for us) reading at Books on the Square, there was nobody from Brown to greet the Unknown in Providence. Sleep-deprived, our discouragement tainted with relief, we had nothing to do for the rest of the day but drink. So we went from the bookstore to the bar across the street—O'Leary’s Alehouse—and the four of us—me, Scott, Frank, and William—settled in at a table by the jukebox (which played only Gaelic music) with an ashtray, pretzels, and four pints of a frothy Welsh beer named Schlwtz.

There was an old man at the bar and a man in a suit playing darts alone and a cozy sense that if time passed here, it passed by outside. We each began writing a scene for The Unknown II: The Time Machine. (The next day we would have an argument which would lead to us rejecting the time machine idea.)

Scott, on the snappy laptop Marla had bought him for his 30th birthday, began typing his proposal (none of us ever knew if he was serious) for a cable station called UTV: Unknown TV. UTV would feature lavishly-produced text videos in which young poets lip-synched their writing in psychedelic image-processed dramas involving sexy models and sports cars. UTV also featured “Closetcase Classics”—videos of old writing. UTV also featured feature-length movies, such as the powerful biography of Gertrude Stein (Oliver Stone’s Stein) or Gus Van Sant’s Infinite Jest. Videos would be introduced by charming young people in designer clothing. There would be concert movies, and literature would be reconciled with the mainstream in a way that would leave the mainstream fond of literature while literature continued to be alienated and wary of the mainstream.

William continued working on The Unknown: Crossword Puzzle. It was a poetry project based on a list of 100 constraints, which operated simultaneously across two languages. He had had to learn French and C++ in order to write the code to search the OED online to find the words. He had been working on it for a year. Nobody else really approved of the project but they knew better than to criticize it. And the mood at O'Leary’s was good. In that dank warmth, the idea of a crossword puzzle written in Alexandrines without the letter E or five-letter words made sense, and was even worthy of a toast or three.

Frank wrote a scene about how, around the year 2010, the Unknown had a reunion concert at Carnegie Hall. A lot of our old fans and friends had paid 100 bucks a ticket and there was a certain tension. Our old fans weren’t crazy about our newer stuff. We were reading our latest hypertext novel—The Unknown: Suburbs—about how four writers named Scott, Frank, Dirk, and William all got married and moved into a gated community together. Half of the crowd was trying to boo us off the stage. They didn’t properly appreciate the depth of the scene with Frank in AA, nor the scene with Scott borrowing Dirk’s lawnmower, nor the scene with William pushing his daughter on the swingset and telling her about insurance copayments.

I was writing about Unknownpalooza—the Unknown’s outdoor rock concert. We gave seven readings and between them different bands would play. It was weird because we were the oldest people there and we had never heard of any of the bands. But the kids loved us, and by the end of the concert I had dreadlocks, and Scott had a nose ring and a pierced lip. William wanted to get a tattoo of Gaddis on his back, but the tattoo artist, who claimed to be able to do any tattoo, had never heard of Gaddis and was apologetic but uninterested.

We were all writing and chuckling and drinking and eating pretzels when the man in the suit stopped playing darts and pulled up a chair at our table. He had recognized us.

He introduced himself as John Tormey III. He was an entertainment, art, and media lawyer who handled transactional matters, as well as certain claims and litigation matters as they pertain to the entertainment business. He told us about his Martindale-Hubbell lawyer’s rating, as well as his timely and responsive representation of his clients. He had studied at Harvard and at the UCLA School of Law.

We were all very impressed. We had a certain detached admiration for those who had gone to college in order to obtain marketable skills. There ensued much backslapping and handshaking and roundbuying. Tormey told us stories about U2, Negativland, and Casey Kasem; we told him about Krass-Mueller. Just by way of fucking with the man, Frank posed an interesting hypothetical legal case:

“Say a man has been, using email, helping to write a hypertext novel, and has been given little in the way of editorial power. Say that the man no longer wants to write the hypertext novel, and wants all his writing excised from the novel so that he might publish those scenes elsewhere, or incorporate them into different print novels composed by him alone. Then there ensues disagreement between the four or more collaborating authors as to which of the various parties actually wrote what. Because many of the scenes were written together; or written by one person and edited by another, and proofread by another; were written under the influence or over telnet; the disagreements are very complicated indeed. Say, for example, that there is a very heated argument over whose property is the soft-core porn art-poemStill Life with My Pecker,’or 'Somebody’s Always Fucking with My Mirrors’. . . Say the man hires you. How do you proceed?”

But we never got to hear his opinion because at that point Robert Coover, the Kronos Quartet, and a gaggle of Brown faculty entered the bar. Carole Maso was buying everyone drinks. Gale Nelson winked at us, and put a five-dollar bill into the jukebox.

It looked like we might get to have fun in Providence after all.
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Bumped at Brown
Read 4/7/99
at Brown University
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