On page 102 I had scribbled a large bracket and a pretty impressively proportional question mark to the side of the page.
Even the lightest umbrella-to-umbrella contact can be erotic. “If it’s the right umbrella, you’re saying,” Heidi once sought to clarify. “Picky Heidi, any umbrella, what would it matter?” “Airhead Maxi, it could be Ted Bundy.” Which this evening turns out to be something like that, actually. Maxine’s under some scaffolding waiting out a brief intensity in the downpour when she becomes aware of some kind of male presence. Umbrellas touch. Strangers in the night, exchanging– No wait, that’s something else. (102)
This seemingly straightforward description, idea, conversation had me hung up for close to half an hour, working to unpack it. This entire scene seems to find its purpose in highlighting more of Maxine’s character. I find the form Pynchon uses here very intriguing, that unannounced and varying shift between Maxine’s personal thoughts and narration. His voice is a mesh of his own with Maxine’s, which makes for an interesting dynamic.
The moment is constructed with this long stream of consciousness type of description, made possible by commas, dashes, and run-ons. This allows for movement and time to pass through the narrating voice, though it is an aside it is not stagnant. This structure paired with the affectionate language allow Maxine’s loneliness or longing for personal connection and human interaction to be seen. To her the rain changes things. It forces people to become present, to slow down, to acknowledge one another. To Maxine, the rain is the only time there is an excuse to carry an umbrella, and umbrellas are just about to only way to get close to another person.
It is then that we are introduced to people taking houseplants for walks, followed by the eroticism of touching umbrellas. Strange. The umbrella reference is then developed upon, in a way that almost alludes to it being used as a sort of euphemism. Heidi assumes Maxine means her umbrella theory selectively, but for Maxi, an umbrella is an umbrella, and any umbrella is a good enough umbrella to bump into. I can’t help but feel her desperation for human interaction is on a physical needs level as well. Moving on.
Unpacking Pynchon is sometimes tough work, especially when references go over your head unnoticed. It was only when I read the excerpt to a friend that I was made aware that Ted Bundy was a serial killer, giving the passage much more meaning. I have definitely found the wiki to be a friend to keep close by throughout this read, but taking the time to sit with it is something I have found to be just as crucial. Every allusion and reference Pynchon makes is for a purpose, and it is important to read with that in mind. Otherwise, you’ll make the same mistakes I was making, and miss crucial facets because of negligence.
So, when the text following this newly understood reference says that “the night turned out to be something like that”, it made so much more sense. This alludes that the man she bumps umbrellas with, Agent Windust, is somewhat similar to Ted Bundy. And to Maxine, an umbrella is an umbrella and she desperate to bump. The play on Frank Sinatra’s lyrics really drives home this kind of foreshadowing tension between the two and plays on Maxine’s eclectic metaphor/view and the romance of it all. Interrupted then by reality.
“Umbrellas touch.” Oh, I have never heard anything more erotic. I still have trouble with that pairing. And to our surprise only 4 pages later, Maxine is waking up from a very vivid dream of the Agent she had this experience with. A very strange vivid Agent dream. And I come to the conclusion that my confusion was with just how lonely Maxine was. She is tough and smart, the divorcee that bears no scars; yet Pynchon slips her humanizing qualities through to the reader with hints like erotic umbrellas.