Even now, it’s hard to believe he’s really dead. Not because his suicide is a priori implausible, but because the Liberal Lamestream Media™ can’t be trusted. When a shooting star falls, we mourn its loss, even though we know it’s in a better place—namely, incinerated during its passage through the atmosphere.
Where was I when I heard the news? I’ll never forget; the memory is burned into my consciousness, like I was shot—shot with a diamond bullet straight into my brain. I’m pretty sure I was either watching a historical reenactment of a jousting tournament while eating a steak and baked potato at the Medieval Times restaurant-theater in New Jersey, or I was assembling pipe bombs in the basement of the Institut für Unternehmenskybernetik (Institute for Entrepreneurial Cybernetics), a gay dance club in Bangkok. And, in a sense, a part of me will always remain in that basement, because I accidentally severed a finger and couldn’t find it again. But I might have been somewhere else.
When I first read Infinite Jest, I found it so gripping I devoured it in a single sitting over the course of one long, heroic decade in Latvia, where I had gone to research my own magical realist, postmodern, Jewish novel about the Holocaust and September 11th. Knowing I could never hope to rival his artistry, I put aside my Jewish novel and devoted myself to copying Infinite Jest word for word, and although my manuscript, Infinite Jest by Robert Pritchard, did not find favor with the snobbish New York publishers, I soon got over any ill will I might have felt by mailing him a pipe bomb.
Most of all, he will be remembered for his writing and for his ground-breaking s’mores. He had a peculiar way of writing that consisted of putting one word after another until he formed what he called “sentences,” and although my aphasia prevented me from seeing anything but letters, my God! what letters! There were M’s, H’s, Σ’s, and a motley crew of other bad-ass typographical characters, plus an occasional “spoo,” one of the new letters now available from Amalgamated Corporation—check your local yellow pages for vendors—and even, if I looked at the page really hard, a syphilis spirochete. He set impossibly high standards for himself, and I recall him once saying, “If I can’t master the ball-in-a-cup game by age 47, I’m going to commit suicide.” Yet he remained an incorrigible optimist—he used to spend hours playing impromptu three-card-monte on the streets of New York, and although in thirty years he never once won, he was confident he was on the verge of developing a foolproof system. “I think it has something to do with the way they move the cards,” he said to me. Tragically, now we’ll never know.
What remains is his fiction—his characters, many of whom seemed more real than our own family: Kermit the Frog, Marcia Brady, that judge from Night Court, and my mom. His work will be indestructible, as was his hair (a genetic mutation caused his scalp to excrete strands of diamond filament impervious to any known scissors).
Truly, he was a luminous being. I know this because when I met him I had just dropped a cap of peyote that caused him to glow, and also he said to me, “Truly, I am a luminous being,” and I took his word for it. Why would he lie?
Farewell, beautiful butterfly. You were too good for this earth—also, too clinically depressed. If, like the Greeks, we could set you in the heavens as a star, where you would burn brightly forever, we would set you in the constellation of Ophiuchus, because all the more famous constellations are already full, and because in many ways you reminded us of the Ophiuroidea, a class of radially symmetrical marine echinoderms related to the common starfish. Still, you’ll be in good company in that constellation—Richard Nixon is there and also, I think, Pee Wee Herman.
The Smithsonian has already received his bandanna.