Last week I posted about Inherent Vice, the new novel by Thomas Pynchon set in Los Angeles during the spring and early summer of 1970 – that is, in the second year of the Nixon Administration. Today the book went on sale nationwide, and to promote it Penguin Press, its publisher, put up a video clip on Youtube depicting scenes in the book’s “Gordita Beach” (recognizably Manhattan Beach, where Pynchon lived for much of the 1960s and very early 1970s), and narrated by a voice sounding very much like the one credited to the publicity-shy writer on two episodes of The Simpsons. Penguin is not confirming or denying that Pynchon is heard on the clip. It’s accompanied by music that seems to be some version of Pink Floyd’s “Interstellar Overdrive,” though perhaps performed by some other band.
From page 117 of Inherent Vice, with my notes in brackets:
Sauncho [Smilax, an associate of the book’s detective protagonist “Doc” Sportello] had been out all day and night with a posse of federales aboard a garishly overequipped vessel belonging to the Justice Department, visiting a site previously identified as the spot where the Golden Fang [a mysterious ship that figures prominently in the book] was supposed to have left some kind of lagan [a nautical term referring to material deposited in the ocean]. Divers went down to have a look and, as the light shifted over the ocean, presently were bringing up one connex [sic: this seems to be a typo and Pynchon is probably referring to Conex portable containers] after another full of shrink-wrapped bundles of US currency […] except that upon opening the containers, imagine how surprised everybody was to find that, instead of the usual dignitaries, Washington, Lincoln, Franklin or whoever, all these bills, no matter which denomination, seemed to have Nixon’s face on them. For an instant a federal joint task force paused to wonder if they might not after all, the whole boatload of them, be jointly hallucinating. Nixon was staring wildly at something just out of sight past the edge of the cartouche, almost cringing out of the way his eyes strangely unfocused, as if he had himself been abusing some novel Asian psychedelic.
According to intelligence contacts of Sancho’s, it had been common CIA practice for a while to put Nixon’s face on phony North Vietnamese bills, as part of a scheme to destabilize the enemy currency by airdropping millions of these fakes during routine bombing raids over the north. But Nixonizing US currency this was was not as easily explained, or sometimes even appreciated.
It may be that Pynchon is alluding to the recession (and the beginning of the raging inflation of the 1970s) that was underway at the time the events of his book take place. But it’s hard to tell; a page or so later the book’s characters are wondering why it is that, since there’s “Chicken of the Sea,” there is not also “Tuna of the Farm” – it’s that kind of a novel.
And a page or so after that, the President himself shows up to speak at the Century Plaza Hotel, to a group calling itself “Vigilant California.” (In real life RN did appear at the hotel in 1970, but at a press conference in June, a month or so after the time in which this passage takes place.) One of the book’s characters shows up to heckle him, and is dragged from the room by security as the President remarks a la Futurama, “Better get him to a hippie drug clinic.”
Incidentally, the mystery of the underwater currency never is cleared up – like much of what takes place in Inherent Vice.