Initiating conversations with strangers on the NYC subway is not something I do often: there’s too much uncertainty about the possible responses. Yesterday, however, I broke my rule when I found myself crushed against the door of a crowded train next to a young man with a tattoo on his inner forearm just like the image above. After screwing up my resolve, I quietly asked, “Are you a Pynchon fan?” His eyes lit up, and he replied, “Yes, I am a Pynchon fan! How many people get that!”
For those not in the know, the symbol is a post-horn (used by mail carriers in Europe) and it figures prominently in Pynchon’s only short novel, The Crying of Lot 49. It’s bound up with the history of the noble family, von Thurn und Taxis (here’s one of them) and their role in setting up one of the first national systems for moving mail. A rare stamp for sale (crying a lot is an old bit of jargon – obsolete, I was told by a gentleman from Swann Galleries – that means putting an item up for auction) that shows a mail delivery airplane, accidentally printed upside-down, is the source of the title and the key to the mystery of the book.
“Hmm..,” I replied. “Don’t go overboard..,” I said, obliquely referring to all that conspiracy-paranoia stuff in Pynchon’s oeuvre. Wonder if he caught my meaning.
Here is a link to all my posts tagged Pynchon.