Study Guide

The Crying of Lot 49

The Crying of Lot 49 Summary

At the start of the novel, Oedipa Maas is named executrix of the estate of her ex-boyfriend Pierce Inverarity, a California real estate mogul. We learn that Oedipa leads a life surrounded by a number of strange male figures. Her husband Wendell "Mucho" Maas is an extremely sensitive ex-used car salesman who now works as a DJ. Her psychotherapist, Dr. Hilarius, wants her to take part in an experiment on the effect of hallucinogenic drugs, and the family lawyer— Roseman—wants her to run away with him.

Oedipa is confused about the whole business with the estate. Thinking back on a time she went to Mexico with Inverarity, she imagines that it was a failed escape, though she doesn't know what it was an escape from.
Oedipa drives down to San Narciso to meet the co-executor of the estate, a lawyer named Metzger. As she drives, she experiences the sense that there is a revelation just beyond her reach. Oedipa and Metzger rendezvous at a hotel called Echo Courts. They watch a movie that Metzger starred in when he was a childhood actor named Baby Igor. In a super absurd scene, Metzger seduces Oedipa by having her play a game called Strip Botticelli with him. The two of them have sex in the hotel while the hotel manager's band, the Paranoids, serenade them from out by the pool. Afterward, Metzger reveals that Inverarity predicted the two of them would sleep together and Oedipa begins to cry.

At this point, the plot quickly grows much more convoluted and ri-diculous.

First, Oedipa and Metzger go to a bar called the Scope, where they meet a strange guy named Mike Fallopian, president of the right-wing libertarian group the Peter Pinguid Society. The Society is strongly opposed to the government monopoly on mail, and so is using the inter-office delivery service of Yoyodyne, a huge aerospace company based in San Narciso, to communicate with one another. In the bathroom, Oedipa sees a symbol that she will later realize is a muted post horn as well as the acronym WASTE.

The next day, Oedipa and Metzger travel to a resort Inverarity used to own, where they meet a bizarre lawyer buddy of Metzger's named Manny Di Presso. Manny tells them about a lawsuit his client wants to bring against the Inverarity Estate, which has to do with the fact that his client dredged up the bones of American GI's in a lake in Italy and sold them to Inverarity to be used in cigarette filters. Apparently Inverarity never paid Di Presso's client.

One of the Paranoids overhears the conversation and says the whole thing sounds a lot like a Jacobian Revenge Play called The Courier's Tragedy. The next night, Oedipa makes Metzger take her to go see the play. The play's plot echoes recent events in strange ways. It revolves around a usurped duchy, whose elite military men were massacred and thrown in a lake. Their bones were later turned into ink.

But that's not the only spookily familiar plot point in the play. The betrayed Duke's son wants to get revenge, and almost does, except that he is in disguise as a Thurn and Taxis mail courier. (BTW—Thurn and Taxis was a real organization that had a monopoly on mail in Europe from 1300 to 1867.) A rival mail organization, the Trystero, takes the man's disguise at face value and brutally murders him. After the play, Oedipa tries to get some hints at its meaning from the director, Randolph Driblette, but he tells her not to read too much into it.

Oedipa goes back and rereads Inverarity's will in an attempt to make herself useful. She travels to a stockholder's meeting at Yoyodyne, and gets lost in the plant, happening on a disgruntled engineer named Stanley Koteks who is sketching the muted post horn when she approaches. Dum dum dummm. Koteks is obsessed with Yoyodyne's patent clause, which claims rights to its employee's inventions. He tells her about a modern inventor at Berkeley named John Nefastis who has built a fantastic-sounding perpetual motion machine by implementing Maxwell's Demon.

Oedipa tries to press Koteks for information about WASTE, but he clams up. Thinking of Nefastis and of the publisher that printed The Courier's Tragedy, Oedipa resolves to make a trip to Berkeley.

Oedipa's next obsession is with a historical marker she saw near Inverarity's resort, which claims that some Wells Fargo employees were massacred by a bunch of men dressed in black in 1853. She immediately thinks of the Trystero.

Stopping randomly at Vesperhaven Nursery Home, Oedipa meets an old man named Mr. Thoth whose grandfather was attacked by some men dressed in black when he was a courier for the Pony Express. Thoth's grandfather cut off one of their fingers in the fight, and on it was a ring with the symbol of the muted post horn. The coincidences continue to mount around Oedipa, but she has no idea what to make of them. (And neither do we!)

Soon after visiting Thoth, Oedipa receives a call from a stamp expert named Genghis Cohen, who is inventorying and appraising Inverarity's collection. Cohen has found some strange stamps that have been forged, some dating all the way back to the time of Thurn and Taxis, whose symbol was—surprise!—a (unmuted) post horn. Cohen and Oedipa see the possibility of an 800-year tradition of postal fraud by some group opposed to Thurn and Taxis… a group that still seems to be active in the present day.

Oedipa travels to Berkeley to track down the 1957 textbook in which The Courier's Tragedy appeared. She is shocked to find that the one line in the play that mentioned Trystero is different in the textbook, and she determines that she will go visit the English professor (back in San Narciso) who edited the textbook to determine how the word "Trystero" found its way into Jacobean Revenge Plays.

But first Oedipa goes to visit John Nefastis to see if she is a "sensitive," one of the special people who can make Nefastis's perpetual motion machine work. Nefastis explains Maxwell's Demon to her, and then she is left staring at a picture of John Clark Maxwell. It doesn't work— big surprise!—and Oedipa decides that Nefastis is a nut. When he asks her to have sex with him while watching the evening news broadcast on China, it only confirms her suspicion. She screams and runs out.

Oedipa spends the entire night wandering around San Francisco, and as the night goes on she becomes increasingly convinced that she is hallucinating. First she wanders into a gay bar called The Greek Way where she meets a man wearing the WASTE symbol. He tells her that he is part of an organization called "Inamorati Anonymous," which helps people kick the addiction to love and which used the muted post horn as its symbol. As the night continues, Oedipa sees the WASTE symbol everywhere she looks. Late in the night, a homeless sailor asks her to send something for him via WASTE, and he tells her where a mailbox is. Oedipa goes there and then follows the courier along his route. Inexplicably, he takes her all the way back to Nefastis's house, and she realizes that twenty-four hours have passed.

The next day, Oedipa goes to see Dr. Hilarius, hoping he will tell her there is no Trystero and that she is just crazy. As it turns out, Hilarius himself has gone insane. He reveals that he was a Nazi at Buchenwald who took part in experiments to induce insanity in Jews. Hilarius claims that practicing Freudian psychology was his way of doing penance. The police break in and take Hilarius.

Oedipa's husband Mucho arrives a few minutes later reporting on the event on behalf of his radio station, KCUF. When Oedipa and Mucho go out to dinner that night, Mucho reveals that Hilarious gave him LSD and that he has been taking it ever since. Oedipa realizes that Mucho has also lost his mind, and decides to head back down to San Narciso to track down the English professor by herself.

When she gets there, Professor Emory Bortz announces that Randolph Driblette, director of The Courier's Tragedy, recently committed suicide by walking into the Pacific Ocean. Bortz gives Oedipa access to all of his material having to do with the play, and she manages to piece together the story of the Tristero from their origins in the late sixteenth century to their journey to America during the Civil War. Excited, Oedipa goes to see Mike Fallopian and tell him what she has found out. But Fallopian suggests that perhaps it is all just a hoax, and that someone (perhaps Inverarity) is playing a joke on Oedipa. She becomes angry, but admits to herself that he might be right… and begins to worry that she is losing her mind.

At this point, Oedipa is simply doing her best to hold it together, and she begins to lose interest in the Tristero. Yet Genghis Cohen keeps revealing forgeries done by the Tristero, and certain details do seem to fall into place.

One day, Cohen tells Oedipa that the forgeries will be sold at an estate auction as lot 49. Moreover, he reveals that a mysterious bidder has emerged, and both Oedipa and Cohen suspect that the bidder is from Tristero. Oedipa attends the auction with Cohen and the novel ends as she settles back in her seat to await the crying of lot 49.

  • Chapter 1

    • Oedipa returns home from a Tupperware party to find that she has been named executrix of the estate of her ex-boyfriend Pierce Inverarity, who was a wealthy California real estate mogul before dying.
    • She stands in her living room and remembers her time with Pierce—at a hotel in Mazatlán, sitting outside the library at Cornell University, sleeping with him beneath a bust of Jay Gould that he kept over his bed.
    • She wonders: "Was that how he'd died... among dreams, crushed by the only ikon in the house?" (1.1).
    • The thought makes her laugh out loud.
    • The letter comes from a law firm called "Warpe, Wistfull, Kubitzchek and Mcmingus" in Los Angeles, and identifies a lawyer named Metzger as co-executor of the estate (1.2).
    • Oedipa notes that she was named executor a year ago and, as she goes through her day in her hometown of Kinneret-Among-the-Pines on the Peninsula of California, she wonders what might have caused Pierce to name her executrix at that time: "She wondered, wondered, shuffling back through a fat deckful of days which seemed (wouldn't she be first to admit it?) more or less identical, or all pointing the same way subtly like a conjurer's deck, any odd one readily clear to a trained eye" (1.2).
    • Then she remembers that Pierce called her in the middle of the night a year ago while she was lying in bed with her husband, Wendell ("Mucho") Maas.
    • Pierce spoke in a series of different accents—first Slavic, then "comic-Negro" (whoa, racist), then Pachuco, then German, "and finally his Lamont Cranston voice" (Lamont Cranston was an alter ego of the hero on the popular radio show The Shadow in the 1930s and 1940s) (1.2).
    • That's the last time Oedipa ever heard from Pierce, and she wonders if he was originally calling to tell her about the estate.
    • "She felt exposed, finessed, put down. She had never executed a will in her life, didn't know where to begin, didn't know how to tell the law firm in L.A. that she didn't know where to begin" (1.6).
    • Oedipa's husband Mucho, who currently works as a DJ, enters the house and begins to complain about his day before realizing that she also has something to say. But he's not a jerk.
    • Actually, Oedipa thinks that Mucho is too sensitive. We learn that Mucho used to work as a used car salesman, but was so disgusted with his profession that he did everything he could not to look and act like a salesman.
    • In fact, "the sight of sawdust, even pencil shavings, made him wince, his own kind being known to use it for hushing sick transmissions" (1.11).
    • Through his work in used cars, Mucho used to see all sorts of poor people come in to trade their cars, and it made him miserable.
    • As he cleaned out cars, he found the residue of people's lives "like a salad of despair, in a gray dressing of ash, condensed exhaust, dust, body wastes—it made him sick to look, but he had to look" (1.12).
    • Mucho had quit the lot and taken a job as a disk jockey at the station KCUF two years before he met Oedipa, but absurdly he was still tormented by his time at the lot the way some husbands are tormented by their time in war (Hint: Spell the radio station backwards to discover Pynchon's mischievous side. Oooh, Pynchon. You're bad.)
    • Back in the present, Mucho pours himself a drink and begins telling Oedipa about a conflict with his boss, Funch.
    • Yes. All these names are ridiculous.
    • Mucho claims that Funch thinks he flirts with young girls on the phone and now insists on editing all calls before they go on the radio.
    • Oedipa interrupts Mucho to show him the letter from Metzger, and he "withdrew along a shy string of eye-blinks" (1.16).
    • Mucho suggests that Oedipa call their lawyer, Roseman, to see what he has to say.
    • That night, the Maas's phone rings at three in the morning, just as it did the last time Pierce called before he died.
    • Oedipa picks it up to find that it is her crazy psychotherapist, Dr. Hilarius, but "he sounded like Pierce doing a Gestapo officer" (1.21).
    • Hilarius asks if Oedipa has been taking some pills he prescribed her, which he claims are tranquilizers. She tells him that she has not. Oedipa doesn't trust Hilarius.
    • Hilarius tries to recruit Oedipa for an experiment he is doing on the effects of hallucinogenic drugs: LSD-25, mescaline, and psilocybin.
    • Oedipa refuses, and then hallucinates Uncle Sam above her bed, pointing at her: We want you!
    • Hilarius proceeds to act like Oedipa called him and asks if there is anything else she wants to discuss. She says no and hangs up.
    • Oedipa thinks of Hilarius's theory that you can cure patients by making weird faces at them. She remembers a strange one Hilarius called the Fu-Manchu, where he pulled his eyes back and stuck his tongue out at her.
    • Ew. Racist moment #2.
    • In the morning, Oedipa goes to see her lawyer Roseman.
    • We learn that Roseman is obsessed with a television trial lawyer named Perry Mason, whom he is both jealous of and wants to undermine.
    • When Oedipa enters he is trashing a rough draft of "The Profession v. Perry Mason, a Not-so-hypothetical Indictment" (1.38).
    • We learn that Roseman and Oedipa go to the same group therapy sessions.
    • Oedipa tells Roseman that she has to execute a will, and he says, "Oh, go ahead then, don't let me keep you" (1.42).
    • Oedipa explains the situation over lunch. Roseman tries to play footsie with her, and asks her to run away with him.
    • She asks "Where?" which shuts him up (1.49).
    • Back at the office, Roseman tells Oedipa she is going to learn about the business of executing an estate.
    • She asks if he can just do it for her, but he is surprised that she is not interested in what she might find out.
    • As things develop, the narrator tells us that Oedipa will have all sorts of revelations: "Hardly about Inverarity, or herself, but about what remained yet had somehow, before this, stayed away" (1.55).
    • Oedipa imagines herself as Rapunzel with Pierce coming to save her.
    • She remembers a time when they were in Mexico City and saw a triptych by Remedios Varo in which a bunch of young girls were trapped in a tower surrounded by a void.
    • The girls are weaving a tapestry that hopelessly attempts to fill the void: "for all the other buildings and creatures, all the waves, ships, and forests of the earth were contained in this tapestry, and the tapestry was the world" (1.55).
    • The painting had made Oedipa cry because she felt that by running away with Pierce to Mexico she was like the young girls weaving a fantastic tapestry in a hopeless attempt to fill the void.
    • Oedipa realizes that what ultimately keeps her in place and prevents escape is "magic, anonymous and malignant, visited on her from outside and for no reason at all" (1.55).
    • The narrator's last thought: "If the tower is everywhere and the knight of deliverance no proof against its magic, what else" (1.55)?
    • Good question.
  • Chapter 2

    • Oedipa drives down to San Narciso to meet Metzger, the co-executor of Inverarity's will.
    • When she first arrives, she experiences "an odd, religious instant" (2.2).
    • She wonders if this is how Mucho feels at work when he makes signals to the other DJ, but cannot hear the music that's being played; "did Mucho stand outside Studio A looking in, knowing that even if he could hear it he couldn't believe in it?" (2.2).
    • Oedipa drives past Yoyodyne, a giant aerospace company that Pierce invested in and originally lured to San Narciso by getting the county tax assessor to give them a break; "It was part, he explained, of being a founding father" (2.3).
    • Oedipa imagines the highway as a vein flowing into L.A., and herself as one melted crystal of heroin doing her small part to feed the city.
    • Oedipa stops at a small motel called Echo Courts, which features a young seductive looking girl on their billboard.
    • The manager is a young boy named Miles who whistles a song in an English accent as he walks her to her room.
    • He then explains that he is in a group called the Paranoids, and they sing in an English accent because their manager thinks it will help them sell records.
    • Oedipa tells Miles that maybe Mucho can play their tape on the radio, and he thinks that she is trying to proposition him and begins to move into her room.
    • Oedipa picks up the TV antenna to defend herself, and Miles backs off.
    • That evening after Oedipa has let her hair down, the lawyer Metzger shows up. He brings a bottle of wine, and Oedipa is surprised to find that he is remarkably good looking.
    • As they begin talking, Metzger tells her that he used to be a child movie star, and that he performed under the name of Baby Igor.
    • Metzger asks if Oedipa wants to know what Inverarity said about her as they drew up the will, but she is not interested.
    • Oedipa turns on the television, and it is a movie called Cashiered that Metzger played in when he was a young boy actor.
    • It's about a man who gets kicked out of the British Army because he is covering up for a friend, but to redeem himself he follows the regiment with his son and St. Bernard.
    • The three of them build a mini-submarine and torpedo Turkish Merchantmen with the dog manning the periscope. (Yes, in case you were wondering, Pynchon is messing with you.)
    • At one point there is a musical interlude, and Baby Igor sings a song.
    • Oedipa thinks that Metzger must have paid the hotel manager to play the movie; "it's all part of a plot, an elaborate, seduction, plot" (2.31).
    • The next commercial is for Fangoso Lagoons, which Metzger informs her Inverarity owned part of. The commercial brings back Oedipa's feeling of an odd religious instant, but then Cashiered comes back on.
    • Oedipa and Metzger continue to drink wine, and then—in the movie—the sub passes through a minefield. Metzger rolls away from the TV set as if in trauma.
    • He then explains that there was always a gate in the minefields for German U-boats to pass through, and Oedipa is vaguely impressed.
    • The bottle of wine gone, Metzger pulls out a bottle of tequila. He reveals that he knew about Oedipa and Inverarity's trip to Mexico because Inverarity wrote it off as a business expense and Metzger did his taxes.
    • Metzger begins explaining the kinship between lawyers and actors, and moves in on Oedipa. He tries to get her to bet on what'll happen in the movie, but she refuses.
    • An ad comes on for Beaconsfield Cigarettes, in which we learn Inverarity also owned a stake.
    • Oedipa bets that Baby Igor's family will survive the submarine battle, and Metzger continues to be coy.
    • Oedipa "[hears] commercials chasing one another into and out of the speaker of the TV" (2.66).
    • Oedipa changes her mind and bets that the whole family will die. Metzger kisses her hand.
    • When the movie comes back on, Baby Igor and the dog are nowhere to be seen and Oedipa thinks she is right.
    • She begins asking Metzger questions, and he says that they will play Strip Botticelli—every time she asks a question she has to take something off.
    • Oedipa agrees, but tells Metzger she is going to slip into the bathroom and he has to close his eyes.
    • In the bathroom, Oedipa puts on all the clothes she can find. When she looks in the mirror she sees "a beach ball with feet" and begins laughing so hard that she falls and knocks over a can of hair spray that begins atomizing and flying all around the room (2.78).
    • Metzger rushes in and dives onto the floor beside her while the can flies around the room, breaking the mirror and shattering the frosted glass in the shower.
    • Miles and his band—the Paranoids—enter, and think that whatever Oedipa and Metzger are doing, it's kinky.
    • Oedipa asks the Paranoids to serenade her and Metzger, and the band goes out to the pool to set up.
    • Another commercial comes on, and Metzger tells her that Inverarity owned part of that company too.
    • "Sadist," Oedipa yells, "say it once more, I'll wrap the TV tube around your head" (2.86).
    • The Paranoids begin to serenade Oedipa and Metzger from the pool.
    • Oedipa and Metzger go back to Cashiered, and begin playing Strip Botticelli in earnest. Though Oedipa begins undressing she thinks "that they, among all possible combinations of lovers had found a way to make time itself slow down" (2.105).
    • At some point, Oedipa goes to the bathroom to put on even more clothes, and returns to find Metzger passed out in nothing but boxer shorts. She rushes to him and begins kissing him.
    • Metzger wakes up and starts undressing her, but by the time he has finished, she is asleep. They have sex anyway, with the Paranoids playing a fugue in the background.
    • When they finish, the Paranoids blow a fuse in the hotel and all the lights go out.
    • As they lie there "amid a wall-to-wall scatter of clothing and spilled bourbon," Baby Igor and his family drown on the TV screen (2.106).
    • Oedipa is angry because she thinks that she should have won the bet. Metzger doesn't care.
    • Oedipa asks what Inverarity told Metzger about her.
    • Metzger says, "That you wouldn't be easy" (2.110).
    • Oedipa begins to cry, but after awhile she goes back to Metzger on the floor.
  • Chapter 3

    • "Things then did not delay in turning curious" (3.1).
    • Oedipa thinks that the affair with Metzger would be the logical starting point for her later discovery of the Tristero System that would end her sense of encapsulation in a Tower. (No, we don't know what the Tristero Sytem is yet, and her sense of encapsulation refers to her memory of Remedios Varo's painting at the end of Chapter One. Pynchon is kind of infamously confusing.)
    • Oedipa is bothered by the fact that this all logically seems to fit together as if "there were revelation in progress all around her" (3.1).
    • We learn that much of the revelation comes from Pierce's stamp collection, which has to be inventoried and appraised.
    • When Oedipa and Pierce were dating, she often felt as though she was competing with the stamp collection for Pierce's attention, those "thousand of little colored windows into deep vistas of space and time" (3.2).
    • Oedipa receives a letter from Mucho, and we learn that she didn't tell him about the affair with Metzger. We also learn that she doesn't feel too guilty because Mucho has a soft spot for sleeping with underage girls. Yuck.
    • The letter is news-less, but there is a typo on the outside of the envelope: "REPORT ALL OBSCENE MAIL TO YOUR POTSMASTER" (3.4).
    • Oedipa asks Metzger what a "potsmaster" is and he tells her it's the guy who works in the back kitchen and cleans all the heavy dishes and equipment.
    • Oedipa and Metzger feel a need to get out of Echo Courts, where they have resorted to having sex in the walk-in closet since Miles has given out passkeys to all his friends so they can come in and watch the bizarre sexual acts.
    • Oedipa and Metzger go to a bar called the Scope, which is frequented by employees from Yoyodyne (the huge aerospace company), and Oedipa feels like the employees are all staring at her and Metzger.
    • The jukebox begins to make strange noises, and the approaching bartender explains that their bar is a hotspot for electronic music.
    • A man named Mike Fallopian swings into a seat at the table and begins preaching about his organization, the Peter Pinguid Society (which we will shortly see is meant to mock the real right-wing libertarian group the John Birch Society).
    • Fallopian explains that the Society is named after Peter Pinguid, a Confederate general who in 1863 took his ship—the aptly named "Disgruntled"—around Cape Horn to attempt to attack San Francisco and open up a second front in the Civil War.
    • Though Pinguid makes it all the way to San Francisco, Czar Nicholas II of Russia has sent a fleet there to make sure that the British and French do not intervene in the war.
    • On March 9, 1864, there was some sort of clash between Pinguid and the Russians, the details of which have never been clearly sorted out. The ships fire at each other but are too far apart to hit one another, and in the morning the Russians have disappeared.
    • Fallopian isn't bothered by the convoluted history. "Who cares?" he says. "We don't try to make scripture out of it" (3.22).
    • Fallopian claims that this was the first military conflict between the Americans and the Russians, and that Pinguid was their first casualty, "not the fanatic our more left-leaning friends over in the Birch society chose to martyrize" (Fallopian is probably the only person in history to call the John Birch Society "left-leaning") (3.24).
    • Fallopian reports that Pinguid was convinced that there was some sort of alliance between the Russians (who freed their serfs in 1861) and the Union.
    • Pinguid ultimately disgraced himself by resigning—though the Pinguid Society members feel he was forced to by "Lincoln and the Czar"—and spent the rest of his life acquiring wealth by speculating in real estate (3.32).
    • Oedipa spits out her drink at this and collapses in giggles.
    • At this moment, a fat mail courier wearing a Yoyodyne badge enters the bar and begins distributing mail to its patrons, Fallopian included.
    • Oedipa and Metzger find it strange that Yoyodyne sends inter-office mail in the middle of the night, but they don't know what to make of it.
    • Oedipa goes to the bathroom, where she finds some graffiti advertising an orgy, and instructs the reader to get in touch with Kirby through WASTE (hint: We're going to learn more about WASTE later in the book).
    • Beneath the inscription is a line running tangent to a circle, which meets a triangle connected to a trapezoid. Oedipa does not realize that it is a muted post-horn, but she copies WASTE's address and the symbol in her notebook anyway.
    • Back at the table, Fallopian reveals that the Peter Pinguid Society is using Yoyodyne inter-office mail on the sly in order to subvert the U.S. Postal Service, which they are opposed to since it is a government monopoly.
    • In order to make sure that they keep up a reasonable volume of letters, all Society members are required to send one letter per week or be fined. The result is that they send each other tons of pointless empty notes.
    • Fallopian also reveals that he is writing a book about the history of private mail delivery in the U.S., and he intends to link the Civil War to the postal reform movement, which was growing at that time.
    • He saw the federal government's stamping out of independent mail routes "as a parable of power, its feedings, growth and systematic abuse" (3.54).
    • The narrator notes that this night begins Oedipa's encounter with the Tristero, which he compares to someone watching a late-night play that has been put on only for them. He hints that we will learn much more about the Tristero later in the book.
    • While Oedipa and Metzger wait for some issues relating to Inverarity's estate to be sorted out, they decide to take a day trip to Fangoso Lagoons—one of Inverarity's big real estate projects—with the Paranoids and their girlfriends.
    • As they drive, Oedipa thinks of the Pacific Ocean as some special undisturbed place that might offer redemption for Southern California.
    • They stop at Lake Inverarity (the Fangoso Lagoons resort is in the center of it), and wander down to a marina together.
    • The Paranoids decide to steal a boat called the "Godzilla II."
    • As they approach, a friend of Metzger's named Manny Di Presso emerges from beneath a blue tarp wearing a scuba suit and asks to come with them.
    • It turns out he is both a lawyer and an actor, a man that Metzger told Oedipa about when they were together in Echo Courts. Di Presso was assigned to play Metzger in a television pilot about Metzger's career, but the show bombed and now he is back to working as a lawyer.
    • Right now, Di Presso is running from one of his clients—Tony Jaguar—who is in gambling trouble and wants to borrow money from him. Jaguar is big in Cosa Nostra, the Italian mafia.
    • They all hop off at Fangoso Lagoons and begin setting up their picnic.
    • Di Presso explains the nature of the lawsuit. It turns out that Tony Jaguar had served in the Italian military in World War II.
    • He remembered a massacre of an American battalion in 1943 that took place on the shores of Lago di Pietà. Afterward, the Germans had thrown all the bodies into the lake, and Tony decided to dredge the lake and see what he could salvage.
    • All he found was bones, but he became convinced that he could sell them to "some American someplace" through his connections in Cosa Nostra.
    • The bones were initially bought by an import-export firm, and through a convoluted route were acquired by Beaconsfield Cigarette Company.
    • Inverarity threw a few of them in his lake for scuba divers staying at the resort to find (which is why Di Presso was wearing a scuba suit: he was examining the disputed bones), but the rest were used by Beaconsfield as they did research for their new filter made from bone charcoal.
    • Metzger—ever the lawyer—is relieved to find that there is no cause for a lawsuit since Inverarity never owned Beaconsfield directly, only a subsidiary company, but everyone else seems not to care.
    • Then one of the Paranoid's girls points out that there is a strange resemblance between this entire story and a Jacobean revenge play they recently went to see called The Courier's Tragedy.
    • Di Presso sees one of Tony Jaguar's men coming after him in a boat, and so hops on board the "Godzilla II," marooning everyone else on the island.
    • Oedipa and Metzger wait out the afternoon and evening listening to the Paranoids describe The Courier's Tragedy "related near to unintelligible by eight memories unlooping progressively into regions as strange to map as their rising coils and clouds of pot smoke" (3.113).
    • Eventually they are rescued by the Fangoso Lagoons Security Force, and the next night Oedipa and Metzger decide to go see the play.
    • What follows is the plot of The Courier's Tragedy, which goes on in the book for a ten full pages. As narrated, the play consists of little but a very convoluted plot, but it is meant to mirror the events going on in the novel itself, and it is the first time Oedipa learns of the Trystero. We're going to narrate it in full, but feel free to gloss this and skip to the next italicized section if you're not hooked.
    • The play begins with the main character, Niccolo, telling his friend, Domenico, what happened to his father.
    • He tells him that Angelo, Duke of Squamaglia, murdered Niccolo's father—the good Duke of Faggio—by poisoning the feet of a Saint Narcissus statue that the good Duke kissed every Sunday at mass.
    • Angelo then put his illegitimate son Pasquale in charge of Faggio, although Niccolo was the rightful heir.
    • Pasquale plots to kill Niccolo by having a henchman named Ercole stick him in a canon and fire him out of it.
    • But Ercole was loyal to the deceased good Duke, and so sticks a goat into the canon instead and sneaks Niccolo out dressed as an old woman.
    • At present, Niccolo is posing as a Thurn and Taxis mail courier (the dominant mail system during the reign of the Holy Roman Empire) in Angelo's court.
    • Niccolo pretends to be trying to open up a new market in Squamaglia since Angelo insists on using an independent mail system.
    • Meanwhile, Angelo is trying to consolidate the duchies of Squamaglia and Faggio by marrying his sister—Francesca—to their illegitimate son Pasquale.
    • Domenico tries to betray Niccolo to Angelo, but is intercepted by the faithful henchman Ercole, who tortures and kills Domenico.
    • In Act II, a cardinal is tortured and killed for not blessing Francesca's super-incestuous marriage to her own son.
    • Ercole learns of the marriage and sends a courier to Faggio to rile up public opinion.
    • Meanwhile, Niccolo learns that his father's most elite and royal military troop, the Lost Guard, disappeared around the time his father was murdered.
    • He again makes the mistake of telling this to someone who is loyal to Angelo, another courier named Vittorio.
    • In Act III, Pasquale has an orgy with a bunch of women and what he thinks is an ape (but is actually a man in an ape suit... don't you love Pynchon?).
    • They turn out to be Ercole's agents, and they torture and kill Pasquale.
    • A man named Gennaro comes forward and says he will serve as Duke of Faggio until Niccolo is restored.
    • When Act IV begins, Angelo is in a nervous frenzy because he has heard of the coup against Pasquale, and he knows that Gennaro is going to attack Squamaglia.
    • Ercole and Niccolo have not yet heard of the coup.
    • Angelo summons Niccolo (who, remember, is disguised as a Thurn and Taxis mail courier), and asks him to deliver a letter to Gennaro telling him that Angelo has good intentions and that they should not invade.
    • After Niccolo leaves, Vittorio betrays his identity. At the same moment, Domenico's body is found, which had a note tucked into its shoe that also betrayed Niccolo's identity.
    • At this moment, the play becomes much more ambiguous than before. There is, as the narrator describes it, a "ritual reluctance" to say a certain word, which we later learn is "Trystero" (3.125).
    • Angelo flies into a rage and sends some men after Niccolo (he doesn't identify them, but they are Trystero's agents).
    • Meanwhile, Gennaro learns that Niccolo is coming and he and his troops rejoice. Yet when they learn that he is in Thurn and Taxis colors, they realize that the Trystero will come after him and the mood grows somber.
    • They realize they are right near the place where the Lost Guard disappeared.
    • Back in Squamaglia, Ercole's luck runs out. His loyalties are betrayed, and he is killed in a mass stabbing.
    • Niccolo stops on his way to see Gennaro and reads Angelo's letter (remember that he didn't know about the coup).
    • He rejoices when he realizes he will be restored, but then the Trystero agents Angelo sent after him come and brutally murder him.
    • One of Gennaro's men finds Niccolo's body and brings Gennaro news of his death.
    • Yet, in the midst of it all, a miracle occurred and Angelo's letter has now become a full confession in which he admits to murdering the Lost Guard and turning their bones into ink (Oedipa thinks it is very strange how similar this is to the disappearance of the American troops in Lago di Pietà… and the fact that their bones were turned into cigarette filters).
    • Lamenting Niccolo's death, Gennaro says "No hallowed skein of stars can ward, I trow/ Who's once been set his tryst with Trystero" (3.130). In other words, once the Trystero have their sights on you, there's no escaping.
    • In the fifth and final act, Gennaro lays waste to Squamaglia, killing Angelo and the other traitors.
    • At this point the plot of The Courier's Tragedy ends and Oedipa goes looking for the program's director, a man named Randolph Driblette who also played the Gennaro character. Metzger thinks she is nuts, but she wants to ask him about the bones, though she is not sure why she is so curious.
    • Oedipa enters to find Driblette undressing from his Gennaro costume.
    • Driblette discourages her from reading too much into the play (is this a thinly-veiled warning to the reader as well?).
    • He thinks she is a scholar and doesn't understand their obsession with texts.
    • Oedipa wants the original text regardless, and he directs her to Zapf's Used Books where they sell an anthology called Jacobean Revenge Plays.
    • When Oedipa tries to discuss Trystero with him, she thinks that he acts just as reluctant to discuss it as the characters in the play did.
    • Driblette tells her that all there is to study is what happened inside his head. He thinks the text itself is unimportant. He says, "I'm the projector at the planetarium, all the closed little universe visible in the circle of that stage is coming out of my mouth, eyes, sometimes other orifices also" (3.167).
    • He again discourages her from reading too much into it, telling her that she could waste her life that way.
    • As Oedipa leaves, she is bothered by the fact that she meant to discuss the bones with him, but instead ended up discussing Trystero.
    • Metzger picks her up, and as they ride in the car, she realizes that "the whimsies of nighttime reception were bringing them KCUF down from Kinneret, and that the disk jockey talking was her husband, Mucho" (3.174).
  • Chapter 4

    • Oedipa feels as if revelations are now multiplying "exponentially" all around her (4.1).
    • She goes to see Mike Fallopian about the coincidence from The Courier's Tragedy, but they do not manage to trace it very far.
    • Oedipa feels the need to make herself useful, and so she goes back and rereads Inverarity's will, though her deep ignorance of the issues it deals with makes it difficult.
    • Thinking of Driblette's claim that he is like a projector at the center of a planetarium, she writes down in her notebook, "Shall I project a world?" (4.2).
    • Knowing that Inverarity owned part of the Galactronics company, Yoyodyne, Oedipa decides to attend a stockholder's meeting.
    • She finds the president, Clayton ("Bloody") Chiclitz leading all of the stockholders in various songs meant to glamorize Yoyodyne, and bemoaning the fact that so far they have not had the same success as many of their competitors.
    • When the stockholders are organized into tour groups, Oedipa manages to get lost. She wanders through the plant until she happens on the desk of an engineer named Stanley Koteks, who is sketching the muted post horn on the back of an envelope when she approaches (the same symbol she saw in the women's restroom!).
    • Oedipa says that "Kirby" sent her, just to see what happens, but then admits that she is a stockholder.
    • When Koteks hears that she is a stockholder, he asks her to press the company to drop their patent clause that gives Yoyodyne the right to its employees' inventions.
    • Oedipa decides to antagonize Koteks. She says that she didn't know people invented things anymore since everything is based around teamwork.
    • Koteks says that teamwork "really is a way to avoid responsibility. It's a symptom of the guiltlessness of the whole society" (4.14).
    • As an example of a modern invention, he throws out the Nefastis Machine, which was built by a scientist at Berkeley named John Nefastis and contains "an honest-to-God Maxwell's Demon" (4.19).
    • Koteks explains that Maxwell's Demon was a thought experiment conceived by the Scotch scientist James Clerk Maxwell.
    • Maxwell postulated that given two chambers, a demon could theoretically sort fast molecules from slow ones. The difference in temperature would create energy and could be used to drive a heat engine.
    • The thought experiment violates the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which says that things tend to disorder and uniformity, and instead posits the possibility of perpetual motion. Note that this is a very important metaphor in much of Pynchon's work. Check out the section on Maxwell's Demon in "Symbols, Imagery, Allegory" to find out more.
    • Koteks begins to explain that Nefastis's experiment relies on some very bizarre pseudo-science in which a "sensitive" person stares at a picture of James Clerk Maxwell, which will somehow prompt the sorting of the air molecules.
    • Oedipa thinks she is in the presence of madness.
    • Oedipa then asks if she would make a good "sensitive," and Koteks says that he is sure Nefastis would let her try.
    • Koteks throws out the address, "Box 573," but becomes suspicious when Oedipa thinks he is referring to a place in Berkeley (4.24). She guesses it is the new WASTE address, but she pronounces the acronym like a word and Koteks becomes even more suspicious.
    • Oedipa begins to think of the muted post horn as the "WASTE symbol" and she goes to see Mike Fallopian at the Scope to discuss her suspicions (4.30).
    • Fallopian says that he suspects Koteks is part of some disgruntled underground network, and he sympathizes with the engineers who were raised on the false "Myth of the American Inventor" (4.31).
    • Fallopian and Metzger begin arguing about politics, and Oedipa thinks that "a pattern was beginning to emerge, having to do with the mail and how it was delivered" (4.32).
    • Oedipa remembers a historical marker at the Fangoso Lagoons, which said that in 1853 a bunch of Wells Fargo men were massacred by mysterious men in black uniforms. The only witness was a post rider, and there was a cross etched in the dust by one of the victims.
    • Oedipa wonders if it was a cross or the initial T, for Trystero.
    • She tries calling Randolph Driblette to ask if he'd heard about the Wells Fargo incident when he had his actors dress in black, but there is no answer.
    • She goes to Zapf's Used Books to pick up a copy of Jacobean Revenge Plays. When she goes to the line in which Trystero appears, she notes that some student wrote "Cf. variant, 1687 ed." next to it.
    • Oedipa found that the play had originally come from a textbook published by the Lectern Press in Berkeley in 1957. She decides to travel to Berkeley to meet the publisher, and maybe try to see John Nefastis.
    • Oedipa thinks that the reason she is getting so tangled up in things is because she is obsessed with "bringing something out of herself" (4.38).
    • The next day, Oedipa goes to the Vesperhaven House, an old-folks home that Inverarity built near San Narciso, where she randomly happens across an old man named Mr. Thoth.
    • The old man informs her that he was dreaming of his grandfather, who rode for the Pony Express.
    • Oedipa thinks of the Wells Fargo massacre and asks if he was ever attacked.
    • Mr. Thoth tells her that he was an Indian killer. He tries to sort out his dream and thinks that it was all mixed up with old Porky Pig cartoons from before the war. (Yes, this would seem to make Mr. Thoth something of an unreliable dude. It's not entirely clear when he is describing the dream versus the actual incident in which his grandfather was attacked.)
    • Mr. Thoth tells her that once his grandfather was attacked by a group that made costumes from feathers and died them black using burned bones. He knew they weren't Indians because Indians never attacked at night, thinking they would be condemned to wander in the dark forever.
    • Mr. Thoth tells her that he has a ring from one of them because his grandfather managed to cut off the man's finger.
    • He pulls out the ring and Oedipa is shocked to see—once again—the WASTE symbol.
    • Oedipa again goes to see Fallopian. He doesn't know much about the Wells Fargo incident, but he does think that she has found "an accidental correlation" (4.56).
    • Oedipa "thought of how tenuous it was, like a long white hair, over a century long" (4.57).
    • Some time later, Oedipa gets a phone call from Genghis Cohen, a renowned philatelist (stamp expert) that Metzger has hired to inventory and appraise Inverarity's stamp collection.
    • Cohen tells her that there are some "irregularities" regarding Inverarity's collection (4.66).
    • Oedipa goes to see Cohen at his apartment/office, where he offers her wine made of dandelions that he picked from a cemetery that was later removed for the East San Narciso Freeway.
    • Oedipa immediately remembers Metzger's reference to the same cemetery and thinks that she has become sensitized to such correlations.
    • But she worries that it's closer to mental illness than intuition, and she sees "how far it might be possible to get lost in this" (4.69).
    • Cohen informs her that he has gotten in touch with an Expert Committee, and proceeds to show her a stamp with a very unusual watermark—the WASTE symbol. Again!
    • He then pulls out an old German stamp, which happens to be a Thurn and Taxis symbol. He informs her that Thurn and Taxis was the European mail service from 1300 until 1867.
    • Oedipa notices that their symbol is the post horn, but without the mute. For the first time, it becomes clear to her what the WASTE symbol might be.
    • She remembers the line from the Wharfinger play, And Tacit lies the gold once-knotted horn (4.80).
    • She thinks, "Whoever they were their aim was to mute the Thurn and Taxis post horn" (4.82).
    • Cohen reveals to her that the two stamps are forgeries. She thinks that then they must be worthless, but he tells her that you would be "amazed how much you can sell an honest forgery for" (4.85).
    • On the Pony Express stamp, she notices that behind the reader is a painstakingly engraved black feather, and there's even a letter transposition—U.S. Potsage.
    • Oedipa immediately thinks of the transposition on her letter from Mucho—the Potsmaster.
    • Cohen wonders if this tradition of postal fraud could date all the way back to the beginning of Thurn and Taxis.
    • Oedipa begins to tell Cohen about all the coincidences, and he thinks that whoever they are, they must still be quite active. He suggests that they not tell the government, since he's sure they know more about it than Oedipa and Cohen.
    • Oedipa continues questioning, but Cohen seems to withdraw.
    • He pours more dandelion wine and Oedipa thinks of a world in which "their home cemetery in some way still did exist, in a land where you could somehow walk, and not need the East San Narciso Freeway, and bones still could rest in peace, nourishing ghosts of dandelions, no one to plow them up. As if the dead really do persist, even in a bottle of wine" (4.100).
  • Chapter 5

    • Oedipa decides to drive up to Berkeley. She wants to learn how Richard Wharfinger knew about Trystero, and she wants to find out how John Nefastis picks up his mail.
    • On the way, Oedipa wonders if she should stop at home in Kinneret and see Mucho, but she misses the exit.
    • When she arrives at her hotel in Berkeley, she finds that they are putting up the California Chapter of the American Deaf-Mute Assembly, and the receptionist mistakenly starts making sign language at her.
    • In the room where she stays, there is a reproduction of the Remedios Varo painting ("Bordando el Manto Terrestre," which haunted her at the end of Chapter One).
    • Oedipa dreams of making love to Mucho on a beach, and wakes up the next morning disturbed and exhausted.
    • The next day, she goes to Lectern Press. They do not have the textbook on site so they send her to their warehouse.
    • There, she discovers that the line in which she is interested is different than it was in the play: "No hallowed skein of stars can ward, I trow/ Who once has crossed the lusts of Angelo" (5.4).
    • She looks at the footnote, which notes that there are three different editions of the text—the Quarto, Folio, and Whitechapel editions.
    • In the Folio, there is a piece of lead obscuring the back of the line. The Whitechapel line finishes, "This tryst or odious awry, O Niccolo," which, the scholar notices, doesn't really make sense.
    • One scholar suggests that the Whitechapel line is a pun on "This trystero dies irae...," (Latin for "Day of Wrath"), but the textbook's editor doesn't know what "trystero" might mean and notes that the Whitechapel edition is fragmentary anyway and contains many other corruptions.
    • What Oedipa is most perplexed by is that the line in the Zapf's edition is supposed to be an exact replica of the textbook, so where did they come up with their "Trystero" line?
    • She notes that the editor is a Cal professor named Emory Bortz, and she tries to go see him only to find that he now works in San Narciso.
    • As Oedipa wanders around the Berkeley campus, she compares it to her own college days in the mid-1950s, a much calmer and more conservative time.
    • Before going back to San Narciso, Oedipa goes to see John Nefastis at his house on Telegraph Avenue in Oakland. She explains that Koteks told her Nefastis could tell her if she is a "sensitive."
    • Nefastis shows her his Machine. He begins an elaborate explanation of the concept of "entropy," and how it functions in the two different fields of thermodynamics and information theory (5.17).
    • He tells her that these two only come together in the concept of Maxwell's Demon, and that communication is the key to the problem. The Demon only makes sense if it is able to collect information about all the billions of molecules in the boxes and sort them out.
    • Nefastis goes to watch cartoons and leaves Oedipa to stare at a picture of James Clerk Maxwell and see if she is a "sensitive" that can receive the "Demon's message" and psychically open and close the gates to sort the molecules (5.24).
    • Oedipa hallucinates that Maxwell is smiling at her but can't tell if she is opening and closing the gates. She thinks, "Nefastis a nut, forget it, a sincere nut. The true sensitive is the one that can share in the man's hallucinations" (5.26).
    • When she can't do it, she almost breaks down crying.
    • Nefastis comes in to comfort her and proposes that they have sex while watching the news on China, "that profusion of life" (5.31).
    • Oedipa screams and flees. When she comes to, she is in traffic on the Bay Bridge in the San Francisco haze.
    • She thinks that, just as Maxwell's Demon is a metaphor that came to hold Nefastis's world together, Tristero has become her own personal Maxwell's Demon: the metaphor around which everything revolves.
    • Oedipa reflects on all she knows about Tristero: it opposed Thurn and Taxis in Europe; its symbol is the muted post horn; before 1853 it opposed Pony Express and Wells Fargo and attacked their couriers; and it still seems to be functioning in California today "for those of unorthodox sexual persuasion" (5.37).
    • Oedipa think that all of this might just be a case of nerves, "a little something for her shrink to fix" (5.38).
    • She decides to wander aimlessly around San Francisco and just think about nothing.
    • Shortly into her wandering, however, she is swept up by a group of tourists. One of them—Arnold Snarb—pins a nametag on her, and then she is swept into a gay bar called The Greek Way.
    • Inside, she meets a man wearing a badge with the Trystero horn on it.
    • She tries to get some information out of him, but when she has no luck she just tells him everything that is going on and what the symbol means to her.
    • He tells her that he has heard of "Kirby"—whoever put the message in the women's restroom stall—but he doesn't know about the rest of it.
    • He tells her that in his case the symbol actually stands for "Inamorati Anonymous," a group to help people kick the addiction to love, "the worst addiction of all" (5.64).
    • The man tells a very elaborate story about their founder, a Yoyodyne executive who was "automated out of a job" by the latest IBM computer (5.71).
    • The founder was going to kill himself like the Buddhist monk in Vietnam by dousing himself in gasoline, but just before he did his wife came home with the efficiency expert who had him replaced.
    • When they find him, the efficiency expert marvels, "Nearly three weeks it takes him to decide. You now how long it would've taken the IBM 7094? Twelve micro-seconds. No wonder you've been replaced" (5.71). (For your information, if you find this hilarious you have a very dark sense of humor. Our prescription: more Thomas Pynchon.)
    • The ex-executive laughs so hard that he decides not to kill himself.
    • When he washes off all the gasoline, he finds that the stamps on the letters have gone white and that beneath them there is the watermark of a muted post horn (the letters were from failed suicides in response to a classified the executive took out in the LA Times asking if someone in his position had any reason left to live... like we said, an elaborate story).
    • The ex-executive decides that his mistake was love, and he founds Inamorati Anonymous and makes the muted post horn its symbol.
    • Back in the Greek Way, the Inamorati Anonymous member wanders away from Oedipa to the bathroom and never returns.
    • Oedipa wanders around San Francisco and sees the symbol everywhere. She sees it in an herbalist's window in Chinatown and sketched on the sidewalk by a children's game.
    • At one point, she thinks a man in a dark suit is watching her and, in a fit of paranoia, hops on a bus and starts riding aimlessly.
    • She falls in and out of sleep on the bus, and later will have trouble determining what was real that night and what was dreamed. (Kind of like Mr. Thoth and his dream about his grandfather. From here on out, it gets increasingly hard to tell when Oedipa is hallucinating and when she sees something real.)
    • Oedipa wonders if perhaps she is meant to remember all of these symbols, and if so what all of the repetition without any corresponding clarity is supposed to mean, where it is supposed to lead her.
    • She happens across some children in Golden Gate Park who are playing jump rope on a Trystero symbol, and their chant seems to be a pun on "Trystero" and "Thurn and Taxis." She can't tell if it's a hallucination and resolves not to believe in them.
    • Afterward, Oedipa wanders into a Mexican restaurant and meets Jesús Arrabal, who she met when she was with Pierce in Mazatlán.
    • Arrabal had been part of a Mexican anarchist group allied with Zapata, and now he is in exile outside San Francisco.
    • Arrabal met Oedipa and Pierce on the beach one day and chatted with Pierce.
    • Pierce played the arrogant white American so perfectly that Arrabal thought him the perfect incarnation of his enemy.
    • Oedipa wonders if this affirmation of his cause is what caused Jesús not to wander away from the radical anarchist group into the mainstream.
    • As Oedipa continues to wander, she sees the post horn everywhere: on an anarcho-syndicalist paper Jesús received; on the gang jackets of a group of delinquents doing drugs; underneath the acronym DEATH scrawled on a bus, which stands for "Don't Ever Antagonize The Horn"; in the bulletin board of a laundromat; being sketched on the breath-fogged window of a metro by a young Mexican girl; in the balance-book of a poker player at the airport; beneath an advertisement for a sadistic group called ACDC, or Alameda County Death Cult, in one of the latrines.
    • In the airport, a boy determined to sneak into aquariums and communicate with dolphins—which will succeed man as the dominant species—makes out with his mother. She insists that he correspond by WASTE, otherwise the government will read their mail.
    • Oedipa continues to wander, seeing various creatures of the night and the WASTE symbol everywhere.
    • She thinks that she is like a private eye, except that the "night's profusion of post horns, this malignant, deliberate, replication... were immobilizing her" (5.101).
    • It suddenly seemed as if all of the various underground groups were using the WASTE mail system in a calculated withdrawal from the life of the American Republic (or at least its government mail service).
    • Oedipa wanders down to the Embarcadero, where she finds an old sailor with delirium tremens, who wants to send a letter to his wife in Fresno.
    • He asks Oedipa to mail the letter for him using the WASTE system, and he tells her there is a mailbox under the freeway. The muted post horn is tattooed on his hand.
    • Oedipa takes him up to his rooming house, where she leaves him with an even older man named Ramirez. When she gives the man with DT money, the other man asks for some of it.
    • Looking at the stamp, Oedipa sees a dark figure on top of the Capitol building with its arms outstretched and she wonders what it stands for.
    • Oedipa thinks of the old man's death as being like that irreversible process that will erase all of her revelations, and then free-associates that DT also stands for dt.—in calculus, a time differential "in which change had to be confronted at last for what it was" (5.124).
    • Oedipa heads to the freeway, and underneath she finds what appears to be a trashcan with W.A.S.T.E. initialed on top.
    • She waits until the postman comes to collect the mail and then follows him through his San Francisco route, on a bus to Oakland, and eventually right back to John Nefastis's house.
    • "She was back where she's started, and could not believe 24 hours had passed. Should it have been more or less?" (5.126)
    • Back at the hotel, Oedipa finds a deaf-mute ball going on. A handsome deaf man scoops her up and begins dancing with her.
    • Since none of them can hear, each dances to whatever melody is in his head, and Oedipa cannot understand how there are no collisions. The fact terrifies her, and as soon as the dance is finished, she curtsies and flees.
    • Oedipa sleeps for twelve hours, and the next day she drives down to Kinneret (Note: Wasn't her car in North Beach? Is this a slip-up, or does it imply that the entire night in San Francisco was hallucinated from her hotel room?).
    • Oedipa is determined to see Dr. Hilarius and has decided that she wants him to tell her that the whole Trystero system is part of her imagination, and that she is crazy.
    • When she gets there, however, someone starts firing at her with a Gewehr 43 rifle as she approaches the office from its lawn.
    • The secretary opens the door of Hilarius's office and lets her in. She tells Oedipa that Hilarius has gone insane; he is convinced someone is after him.
    • Oedipa speaks to Hilarius through the door to try to calm him down.
    • When Hilarius hears the police coming, he pulls Oedipa into the room with him, taking her as a hostage.
    • He keeps alluding to how strange it is that he was a loyal Freudian, and says that there was a boy in central Europe named Zvi whom he drove insane with one of his faces (remember Hilarius's unusual method of making faces at his patients).
    • Hilarius thinks Oedipa is a police agent, and asks what she is supposed to tell him.
    • She thinks and says, "Face up to your social responsibilities. Accept the reality principle. You're outnumbered and they have superior firepower" (5.166).
    • The TV people come and take down Oedipa's information through the door. They try to get some good footage of Hilarius through the windows.
    • Meanwhile, Hilarius explains to Oedipa that he was a Nazi at Buchenwald and that he took part in experimentally induced insanity, Zvi being only one of his victims. Now he is afraid that he will have to go back to Israel to stand trial.
    • He later decided to practice Freudian psychology as a type of penance (because Freud was a Jew, and Jung—the other most famous psychoanalyst of the early twentieth century—was a Gentile).
    • Hilarius is attracted to Freud's work because it suggests that the unconscious is a dark room that will be revealed to be benign when the lights are turned on. He thinks that all the atrocities that he witnessed will likewise prove benign when the light is turned on them.
    • Hilarius wanders over to a file cabinet and leaves his gun. Oedipa picks it up and points it at him.
    • She says that she came to have him talk her out of a fantasy, but Hilarius tells her that she must cherish it because that's all she has left.
    • Oedipa invites the police in, and Hilarius begins to cry when he realizes that she won't shoot him.
    • Oedipa wanders outside and finds the KCUF van among all the other media cars there. Mucho is inside.
    • Oedipa hops in. Mucho asks how she feels about these terrible events, and she says "Terrible," and he responds, "Wonderful" (5.189-190).
    • Oedipa accompanies Mucho back to the studio, where the program director, Caesar Funch, tells her that Mucho just isn't the same anymore.
    • Funch says that Mucho is losing his identity, "Day by day, Wendell is less himself and more generic" (5.202).
    • Oedipa dismisses the thought.
    • That night, however, she and Mucho go to a pizzeria and a bar in Kinneret. Mucho tells her he knows about her affair with Metzger but doesn't make a big deal of it.
    • Mucho begins explaining how he has developed the ability to break down a piece of music in his head so that he can hear all the different tracks individually.
    • As he goes on, Oedipa realizes that Funch is right—something is wrong with Mucho.
    • Mucho reveals that Hilarius opened up his experiment on hallucinogenic drugs to the husbands of his patients, and that he has been taking LSD.
    • He tells her that he is no longer disturbed by his time as a used car salesman. He realizes it was all related to a sign in the lot that read National Automobile Dealers' Association, or N.A.D.A.
    • Mucho imagined "this creaking metal sign that said nada, nada against the blue sky" (5.322). ("Nada" means "nothing" in Spanish.)
    • It used to terrify him.
    • Oedipa realized that when she left him before she left him for the last time.
    • She tells Mucho that she is going back to San Narciso despite the fact that the cops want her to stay in Kinneret.
    • Mucho walks away, whistling a complicated twelve-tone rhythm, and Oedipa realizes she meant to ask him about the letter he sent her (the Potsmaster letter that presumably came from Trystero).
    • "But by then it was too late to make any difference" (5.330).
  • Chapter 6

    • When Oedipa gets back to Echo Courts, she finds the Paranoids lounging out by the pool.
    • Serge, the counter-tenor, sings her a song in which he reveals that Metzger ran away with his girlfriend to Nevada to get married.
    • Serge is heart-broken, but he tells her that he learned something from Metzger, and that he is now hanging around playgrounds trying to pick up eight-year-olds.
    • Oedipa tries calling Driblette again, but his mother picks up and says there will be a statement tomorrow at noon and hangs up. Oedipa is confused.
    • Oedipa then finds Professor Emory Bortz's number, and gives him a call.
    • She talks to his wife, Grace, who is distracted by her children throwing beer bottles at one another. She invites Oedipa to the house.
    • On her way, Oedipa passes Zapf's Used Books, which has burned to the ground. The man in the government surplus outlet next door tells her that Zapf burned it down for the insurance money.
    • The man introduces himself as Winthrop Tremaine, and then reveals to her that he has been selling rifles and swastika armbands to a number of people that come into the store.
    • He thinks that there is a lot of money in swastikas, and tells her that they are putting together Nazi uniforms in time for back-to-school season.
    • Oedipa is repulsed by him, and continues on her way to the Bortz's home.
    • When she arrives, Grace is stressed out by her kids and asks if Oedipa has any. When Oedipa says no, Grace is surprised. She thinks that Oedipa looks "harassed," and just assumed she was a mother (6.22).
    • Oedipa finds Emory Bortz lying drunkenly outside in a hammock surrounded by graduate students. She tells him that she wants to know about the "historical" Richard Wharfinger (5.23).
    • Bortz says that Wharfinger's dead and all that's left are words. Oedipa recites the lines from The Courier's Tragedy that have to do with Trystero.
    • Bortz is surprised, and asks how she got into the Vatican library.
    • When Oedipa shows him the edition of Jacobean Revenge Plays, Bortz thinks that their copy of his edition is contaminated and that he'll have to take it up with the publisher.
    • Bortz explains that the line Oedipa quoted originally comes from a pornographic edition of the text, which is housed in the Vatican.
    • Bortz begins talking about Driblette and says that he had a keen understanding of Wharfinger's vision for the play: "Nobody else I ever knew was so close to the author, to the microcosm of the play as it must have surrounded Wharfinger's living mind" (5.34).
    • Oedipa notes that he is using the past tense, and one of the graduate students tells her that Driblette recently killed himself by walking into the Pacific in his Gennaro suit.
    • At this very moment, Oedipa is sitting at his wake.
    • Oedipa is tempted to ask why he killed himself, "But now she kept a silence, waiting, as if to be illuminated" (6.40).
    • Oedipa thinks that all of the men around her are going insane and killing themselves. But she is still confused by how the Trystero line appeared in Driblette's play.
    • Bortz tells her that the night he went to see it, Driblette left out that couplet altogether. He thinks that Driblette made the right decision since the Vatican edition is "only an obscene parody." (6.49) (Question: Is this a hint that perhaps this is all The Crying of Lot 49 is as well?)
    • Oedipa is flabbergasted, since the night she went to see it Driblette included the lines.
    • Bortz takes Oedipa inside to show her microfilms of the Vatican edition.
    • He points out how the figure of Death hovers in the background as if in condemnation of the play, and he tells her that one scholar thinks it is a Scurvhamite edition (the Scurvhamites being a Puritan sect).
    • Bortz explains that the Scurvhamite believes they were the only part of creation that ran off of God's will.
    • "The rest ran off some opposite Principle, something blind, soulless; a brute automatism that led to eternal death" (6.62).
    • The Scurvhamites all eventually abandoned their faith.
    • Bortz explains that the Scurvhamites made this exaggerated and dirty version of The Courier's Tragedy as "their way of putting the play entirely away from them, into hell" (6.64).
    • He thinks that Trystero was a symbol of "the brute Other" that gave meaning to the Scurvhamite theology (6.66).
    • Oedipa finally asks the question she came to ask, "What was Trystero" (6.67)?
    • In response, Bortz gives her access to his "Wharfingeriana," a collection of all sorts of things Wharfinger was interested in.
    • The first book she looks at is written in Old English and is called An Account of the Singular Peregrinations of Dr. Diocletian Blobb among the Italians, Illuminated with Exemplary Tales from the True History of That Outlandish And Fantastical Race (6.68).
    • Reading the book, Oedipa finds out that Blobb was once attacked by the Trystero when he was riding in a Thurn and Taxis car near the "Lake of Piety." (Just think how oddly and incredibly close this is to the story of the American GIs that Manny DiPresso told at Fangoso Lagoons.)
    • Oedipa wonders how Blobb got away, and Bortz suggests that maybe the Trystero were trying to expand to the English market. They expected Blobb to run ahead and spread the word that they were coming.
    • Oedipa continues to research the Trystero with the help of Bortz and manages to come up with a story of the group's founding.
    • In 1577, the Protestant William of Orange had been fighting against Catholic Spain and the Catholic Holy Roman Emperor for nine years.
    • He was invited to head up a Brussels Commune that was opposed to the Current Establishment because they thought that it no longer represented the rights of skilled workers.
    • In the process of throwing out Establishment figures, the Commune unsuited one Leonard I, the executor of the Thurn and Taxis monopoly at the time.
    • Leonard was replaced Jan Hinckart, Lord of Ohian.
    • Yet, at the same time, a Spaniard named Hernando Joaquin de Tristero y Calavera came forward and claimed that he was rightful lord of Ohian.
    • For the next seven years, Tristero kept up a guerrilla war against Hinckart, attempting to assassinate him four separate times.
    • Eventually Hinckart was disposed and the Thurn and Taxis system put back in place. Yet it was a difficult time for the postal monopoly because the Emperor temporarily withdrew his support, and they began to lose money.
    • Tristero decided to set up his own postal system; "He styled himself El Desheredado, The Disinherited, and fashioned a livery of black for his followers, black to symbolize the only thing that truly belonged to them in their exile: the night" (6.80).
    • At this time, Tristero also introduced the muted post horn as their symbol. He began a campaign of terror along Thurn and Taxis postal routes.
    • Oedipa goes to Driblette's funeral with Bortz and his students.
    • Afterward, they sit on his grave and drink wine.
    • Oedipa wonders if part of herself vanished with Driblette. She wonders if his spirit might inhabit her and communicate what happened in his final minutes.
    • She thinks that the Trystero have been killing and driving insane all of the men in her life. Yet at the same time, there seems to be little meaning to any of it, as if it is nothing but whimsy.
    • Oedipa shouts Driblette's name at the top of his grave, but nothing happens.
    • Oedipa and Bortz continue to track Tristero through the 17th century, but at some point the historical record goes silent.
    • They wonder why the Tristero didn't take revenge for being mentioned in the play. They wonder why they didn't stage a coup of the postal service when Thurn and Taxis began to decay in the mid-17th century.
    • Bortz lets his mind run wild and imagines that Tristero might have considered merging with Thurn and Taxis. Or he imagines infighting within Tristero that kept them from acting.
    • As the narrator puts it, as the record went silent and Thurn and Taxis gradually lost power, "Possibilities for paranoia become abundant" (6.88).
    • Bortz imagines that people began to think of Tristero as some otherworldly malicious force "like the Scurvhamite's blind, automatic anti-God" (6.88). He even imagines that Tristero staged the French Revolution only to obtain a Proclamation that ended the Thurn and Taxis monopoly in France.
    • Oedipa, for her part, begins to feel reluctant to follow up on anything. She doesn't pursue the publisher of Jacobean Revenge Plays, she doesn't go back to see Thoth, and she avoids talking about Driblette.
    • In general, she "left it alone, anxious that her revelation not expand beyond a certain point" (6.92).
    • Yet she does go back to the Scope, where she finds Mike Fallopian surrounded by young women. He shoos them away to talk to Oedipa.
    • Oedipa brings Fallopian up to speed, then asks him why the Peter Pinguid Society isn't using the WASTE system.
    • Fallopian waits for a minute, then makes a new suggestion: "Has it ever occurred to you, Oedipa, that somebody's putting you on? That this is all a hoax, maybe something Inverarity set up before he died?" (6.99).
    • Fallopian encourages her to sort out fact from speculation, but Oedipa doesn't want to even consider the possibility.
    • She accuses Fallopian of hating her, and sarcastically tells him to get in touch with Winthrop Tremaine if his Society needs any more supplies.
    • Fallopian says that they are already in touch.
    • A few days later, Genghis Cohen calls Oedipa to show her an old American stamp he has come across with the Tristero symbols and the motto: "We Await Silent Tristero's Empire" (6.109).
    • Oedipa finally realizes what WASTE stands for.
    • Cohen pulls out an old Scott catalog on stamps and shows her an addendum to it about the Tristero stamp.
    • Oedipa goes "off on a kind of intuitive high," and flips to the back of the catalog, where she sees a sticker for Zapf's Used Books (6.111).
    • Oedipa goes back to San Narciso to reread Inverarity's will. She is not surprised to find that he owned Zapf's Used Books and Tremaine's Surplus and the Tank Theater (where she and Metzger went to see The Courier's Tragedy).
    • She realizes that Bortz teaches at San Narciso College, which was heavily endowed by Inverarity, and she has no doubt that Blobb's Peregrinations was acquired at Zapf's Used Book Store.
    • "Meaning what? That Bortz, along with Metzger, Cohen, Driblette, Koteks, the tattooed sailor in San Francisco, the W.A.S.T.E. carriers she'd seen—that all of them were Pierce Inverarity's men? Bought? Or loyal, for free, for fun, to some grandiose practical joke he'd cooked up, all for her embarrassment, or terrorizing, or moral improvement" (6.115).
    • Oedipa thinks that she has become one of the Paranoids. She lists her options:
    • She has either stumbled on a legitimate conspiracy, or she is hallucinating, or Pierce plotted the entire thing, or she has imagined that Pierce plotted the entire thing, in which case she is insane.
    • She still thinks that the plot is "so labyrinthine that it must have meaning beyond just a practical joke" (6.116) (Again: Oedipa is in the same position as the reader. Would Pynchon really put together such an intricate maze just to mess with our heads? What could be the meaning of it all?).
    • That night Oedipa sits alone for hours and thinks that of all the undesirable options, she hopes that she is just insane.
    • Oedipa begins to behave extremely neurotically and wonders if she is pregnant.
    • At the same time, Genghis Cohen keeps turning up with more information.
    • He shows her an article from 1865 in Bibliotheque des Timbrophiles by Jean-Baptiste Moens.
    • The article claims that there was a split in the Tristero during the French Revolution.
    • Some sympathized with Thurn and Taxis and wanted to subsidize them during their trouble, which caused a huge split in the organization.
    • As the author puts it, at that point "did the organization enter the penumbra of historical eclipse" (6.119).
    • The Tristero continued doing small-time work for European anarchists, but most of them, the article notes, fled to America in 1849-1850," rendering their services to those who seek to extinguish the flame of Revolution" (6.119).
    • Oedipa goes to discuss the article with Bortz, who points out that the Tristero arrived just in time for the great postal reform movement in the U.S.
    • He thinks that they must have continued their conspiracy; "All they've done is to change oppositions" (6.121).
    • As Bortz imagines it, they began harassing the Pony Express disguised as Indians (men like Mr. Thoth's grandfather), and running their own mail routes.
    • By now, Oedipa knows all of the Tristero stamps in Cohen's collection by heart. There are many throughout the years which are only slightly altered in some creepy way to imply that the organization still exists.
    • At night, Oedipa continues to feel as if she is losing her mind.
    • Then one day Cohen calls her and tells her that "The Tristero "forgeries" were to be sold, as lot 49" (6.128).
    • What is extremely strange, however, is that a man has placed what is called a book bid on the stamps. With a book bid, someone bids by mail so that they don't have to identify themselves.
    • Cohen assumes that the bid is coming from the Tristero and that they want to suppress any evidence of their existence.
    • Oedipa goes back to Echo Courts and gets drunk on bourbon. She goes driving on the freeway with the lights off (not quite trying to commit suicide, but not far off) and then stops at a phone booth.
    • She calls the Greek Way and describes the man she spoke with there. They connect her to him, and she begs him to tell her whether or not he was hired to play a practical joke on her. She says that she's been driven mad and is near the point of suicide.
    • After a long pause, the man tells her that it is too late. Not for Oedipa, but for him. He hangs up.
    • Oedipa realizes that she does not have any more coins to call him back and feels completely isolated and disoriented.
    • She wonders if San Narciso is really so unique, or if it is just incidental that she is handling Inverarity's Estate here and not somewhere else in America.
    • Oedipa remembers that Pierce's fascination with business was what had separated them. She considers all the other possibilities for how Pierce might have conned her, and wonders if—by enmeshing himself in this conspiracy—he was trying to ensure his legacy and cheat death.
    • Yet Oedipa also has to admit the possibility that the Tristero is real. She thinks of squatters all around America and wonders what there is left to inherit in this country anyway.
    • She thinks of the intricate miracle of communication that runs all across the American landscape, and wonders if there is something that connects all those randomly made phone calls, something like the Biblical Word that would eventually come to reveal itself through this communication system.
    • Oedipa wonders how many people knew about Tristero, how many were similarly dispossessed in America.
    • She considers splitting up the will amongst all of the American dispossessed, but knows that she'd be declared insane and removed as executor.
    • Oedipa begins to think of her search for some meaning behind things as a binary option: either there is meaning or there isn't.
    • "Another mode of meaning behind the obvious, or none. Either Oedipa in the orbiting ecstasy of a true paranoia, or a real Tristero. For there either was some Tristero beyond the appearance of the legacy of America, or there was just America and if there was just America then it seemed the only way she could continue, and manage to be at all relevant to it, was as an alien, unfurrowed, assumed full circle into some paranoia" (6.148).
    • Oedipa decides that she has nothing left to lose, and so calls C. Morris Schrift, the lawyer representing the anonymous book bidder.
    • The lawyer tells her that the bidder has decided to appear in person and hangs up.
    • Oedipa goes to the auction, where she meets Genghis Cohen, who apologizes but says that he wants to bid on some of Inverarity's stamps.
    • Cohen tells her that Loren Passerine, the finest auctioneer in the west, is "crying" today (6.154). He tells her that crying is the official name for calling out sales.
    • Oedipa sits at the auction as Passerine takes the stage and looks around the room at the backs of necks, wondering which belongs to the mysterious book bidder.
    • "Passerine spread his arms in a gesture that seemed to belong to the priesthood of some remote culture; perhaps to a descending angel. The auctioneer cleared his throat. Oedipa settled back, to await the crying of lot 49" (6.158).
    • And that, folks, is the end.