Monday, April 28, 2014

your english teacher

1973, Richard Lupoff publishes "12:01 P.M." in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. In it, Myron Castleman is trapped in a time loop that lasts only an hour. It and the 1990 short film based on it are rather bleak because, well--SPOILERS (even though the story is four decades old and I've written about it in this blog before)--Myron doesn't escape the time loop. Actually, I should call it a time bounce when talking about "12:01 P.M." Three years ago, Lupoff published the first of two sequels to the story.

I've got a few responses--and there will be SPOILERS obviously.

First, the little things: I don't like that Lupoff (and by extension, Castleman) doesn't call the repeated days "resumptions" in the new story. I liked that word. I've used that word since reading "12:01 P.M." in my discussions of Groundhog Day.

I actually had a weird moment of cognitive dissonance when I realized the new story, "12:02 P.M." is set in New York City. I had seen the 12:01 P.M. short before I ever read Lupoff's short story last year, and I saw the TV-movie version 12:01 when it aired in 1993, and both of those take place in Los Angeles. Well, I don't know if they actually call it Los Angeles in the short film, but it's definitely filmed in Los Angeles. I hadn't noticed in the original short story the street names fit New York. It's not a big deal; I just didn't notice it and thought of Lupoff's story as an L.A. story.

I read "12:01 P.M." in the first month of this blog, so I hadn't gotten into a lot of the details of Groundhog Day, so I didn't notice back then, for example, that the receptionist in the short story is named Stephanie. I would have probably made something of that, since in Ramis' second revision, it is Stephanie Decastro who causes the time loop to happen. Not that this Stephanie causes the loop, but it's the kind of detail I might have latched on to.

The bigger things:

The titles involved for the pseudoscience explanations for the time bounce seem a bit cheesy for me, which on the one hand makes it seem like a story written in 1973 rather than just set then, but on the other hand makes the story seem a little too... quaint. The publication that has published an article about the time bounce is called Proceedings in Theoretical Temporal Physics. The article in question is called "Aspects of Opposing Temporal Displacement Phenomena and Five-Dimensional Symmetry, with Theorems and Analyses." It reads to me like a sequel Lupoff actually wrote in the 70s and just never submitted for publication until more recently.

But, I sort of like this bit, when Castleman reads the abstract--he can't get much further because a) his time is limited and b) it's quite technical of the journal article.

Based on the abstract, Rosenbluth and Company had pretty well figured out what was happening. They had started with the idea that everything in the universe was balance. Past and future, up and down, big and small. Atoms were made of positive protons and negative electrons. Whoever wrote the abstract even mentioned that the Buddhists believed in a balance of good and bad karma. And when you carried the concept to the grandest possible scale, the entire universe was balanced with a mirror image of itself. In the counter-universe past was future, positive was negative, dark was light.

If the two versions of the universe should ever collide, what would happen? Rosenbluth et al. decided that each would bounce off the other, like one of those children's toys. Superballs dropped from a tall building. Each one would bounce back, then fall forward again, then they would collide and each would bounce back again, endlessly. (p. 190)

Not endlessly, though, as the time loop seems to be getting shorter in this second story. But, I only quoted that second paragraph because it went with the first. It was the inclusion of Buddhism that intrigued me here because, well, Buddhist ideas have been important for a few entries I've written about Groundhog Day (like this one or this one). And, there's good reason to believe that Harold Ramis' Buddhist sensibilities--

(Faust's (2004) New Yorker profile of Ramis, mentions how Ramis liked to say,

“I’m Buddh-ish” ...acknowledging that he has been unable to divest himself of “sarcasm, cruelty, self-indulgence, and torpor.” He developed a laminated “5 minute Buddhist” card that he hands out, enjoying the joke of presenting the path to salvation—“The Four Sublime States,” “The Five Hindrances”—as if it were a Chinese menu.

Caro's (2014) article about Ramis's death mentions that card:

Ramis used to carry around a sheet titled “The 5-Minute Buddhist,” which sums up such tenets as “The self, the soul, the ego are mental projections, false beliefs ….” Apatow said he got a copy from Ramis and keeps it in his desk.

“He was the nicest man I've ever met, and he taught me so much about comedy and about spirituality and about being a good person,” Apatow said.

While I've written in this blog and in a college paper about how various religions see Groundhog Day as their film, I keep coming back to Buddhism, I keep finding ways to reference Siddhartha, and Danny Rubin even says in How to Write Groundhog Day that he imagined Phil's personal journey as being like Siddhartha's (p. 74).)

--formed a lot of the core structure and heart of the film. But, Lupoff cites Buddhism here almost like a pop cultural reference point, a brief touchstone to make his story seem more thoughtful and philosophical. "12:02 P.M." is neither of these things. "12:01 P.M." was almost these things, but it's difficult to take a story with no ending as being particularly thoughtful about life... when neither the story nor its protagonist makes any comparison to the usual repetitive nature of life. Castleman even works in an office, and watching the short film, one gets the idea that his lunch break--which happens to be the hour in which the bounce occurs--is often quite dreary and uneventful, as repetitive as the time bounce version. "12:01 P.M." is a story that wants to be thoughtful, wants to be philosophical, but gets bogged down in both an explanation and a bleak ending. "12:02 P.M." suffers from more of the same, coming finally to a somewhat silly conclusion as Kastleman--and that K is not a mistake, as you will see in a moment--times his suicide with the resumption of the time bounce to put some "English on one of those Superballs." It works, and the it's like a happy ending that came four decades too late and hardly matters anymore.

But, I have a little hope because of two details. The first is that I've still got "12:03 P.M." to read, and that guy who escapes the time bounce is Myron Kastleman, with a K. In this second story, Castleman keeps noting the time with each resumption, 12:01, 12:02, 12:03, but always seeing that as the time it's always been when the time bounce happened. His days are blurring together and in the end, I think the idea Lupoff is going for is that the two universes are blurring together as well. And, the guy experiencing the time bounce consciously in the other universe--he spells his last name with a K. And, it is that guy who escapes, or disturbs the bounce, I guess. So, maybe Castleman with a C is still in the bounce, or maybe the bounce is not what Rosenbluth et al have said, and there's more to it.

I will find out tomorrow.

Today's reason to repeat a day forever: to put some English on my day.

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