Thursday, November 13, 2008

Themes From Amazons: I Am A Jumper

This blog takes its title from one of my very favorite books, Amazons: An Intimate Memoir by the First Woman Ever to Play in the National Hockey League.

The book is either by Don Delillo, or partly by Don Delillo, or co-authored by Don Delillo, or something. He has never officially said he is the author, but there's enough overlap with White Noise that there isn't really any question about his involvement. For instance, Murray Jay Suskind makes his first appearance in Amazons, and there are conversations about peeing in sinks and celebrity deaths in both books. Coincidence? I don't think so.

It is not obvious to me why I love this book so much, but there is one thing I can say, which is that it's the only book I know in which a female main character tells her story with humor, nonchalance, style, and pretty much zero emotional hand-wringing, guilt, worry or anxiety.

As Cleo so eloquently puts it, "I just want to play hockey."

Early in the book Cleo befriends a young guy, Shaver, who has a ridiculous illness with a silly name: "Jumping Frenchmen's Disease" causes its sufferers to twitch, jump around, do deep knee bends, and generally do weird things at the wrong moment. Kind of like a kinder, gentler Tourette's.

Cleo and Shaver go together to a kind of big support group meeting for Jumping Frenchmen's, where the disease spokesman, Sydney Glass, says in his speech,
Aren't we all jumpers in a sense? Don't we all lose our sense of motor control, even for a split second, now and then, during out waking day? I think we have to recognize the clinical jumper is different in degree, but not in kind, from the rest of us. In line with this, and to foster a sense of togetherness, I'd like all of you to turn to the person on your right and say, "I am a jumper, I am a jumper, I am a jumper."
Everyone starts chanting: "I am a jumper, I am a jumper." Meanwhile, Shaver says to Cleo, "Let's get out of here ... I hate these people and I hate myself."

"They're just trying to express solidarity," Cleo says. "It's a little like hockey. You stick up for your mates. When Jeep goes over the plastic, we all follow."

"That's the dumbest thing you've ever said, Cleo. 'It's a little like hockey.' I wish Dr. Glass would go over the plastic."

"I am a jumper," she says.

I wish I could say things like "It's a little like hockey," and, as she says later, "It's arugula, you jackass. Dried in a bath towel. Now find us a decent place to eat it." But mostly I wish that when someone says something to me like, "That's the dumbest thing you've ever said," I could reply with something like, "I am a jumper." Something funny and kind, something totally unfazed, unhurt, and unworried.

Eventually Shaver gets put into a Kramer cube for five months of sleeping in the hope of a cure. And sure, Cleo frets about whether he'll get better and whether the Kramer is working and whether she's kept him out too long in the sunshine. But mostly she lives in the present. When her agent and friend asks her, "What's next for you two?" what can she say except, "I don't know. I haven't thought beyond the Kramer. The Kramer is now."

This is why Cleo is my total hero for life.

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