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White Noise in the Kitchen Supplies Aisle

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Friday, Oct 9, 2009
Postmodernism in the 21st Century: Coming Soon to a Grocery Store Near You!
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White Noise

Don DeLillo

(Penguin)

“Maybe when we die, the first thing we’ll say is, ‘I know this feeling. I was here before’.”
White Noise, Don De Lillo


An incident occurred in a grocery store aisle last Sunday afternoon that brought to mind Don De Lillo’s 1985 postmodern novel White Noise.


That’s how my brain is hard wired: everything gets filtered through a literary perspective. The ongoing contamination of beef in the US meat packing industry that was recently uncovered in the New York Times, for example, brings to my mind a discussion of Upton Sinclair’s 1906 novel The Jungle that exposed those same filthy conditions in Chicago’s stockyards and led to the creation of safety standards that we are, apparently, not adhering to 103 years later. And if you tell me that you got a GPS microchip locator implant for your pooch, I’m going to sit you down for a short lecture on dystopian novels like Huxley’s Brave New World and Orwell’s 1984. You say you’re taking a trip to beautiful coastal Monterey, California? Well, have a seat and let me tell you all about John Steinbeck and if you already know about Steinbeck then let’s talk about all the great Steinbeck-related spots you can visit on your retreat to make it a literary delight.


I would bore my friends to death, if I had any.


So I’m at the Albertson’s grocery store on Flamingo Road and Haualapia (Who-All-Uh-Pie) Road in Las Vegas. I’ve gone down the entire list she gave me when I left the house and everything is in the cart: dinner for two nights, salad, milk, garbage bags, that El Salvadoran beer that I like, a bag of Starbucks Caffe Verona coffee beans, green onions, a couple votive candles, and…shit, I didn’t get the dishwasher detergent.


I steer the cart down the kitchen supplies aisle: Playtex rubber gloves, 409 cleaning spray, Oh-Boy kitchen sponges, Windex, Windex Crystal Rain, Windex Multi-Surface Vinegar, Windex Multi-Surface Grease Cutter, Windex Outdoor Multi-Surface Cleaner.


Finally, the dishwasher detergent section; to the left of me, in the liquid dishwashing soap section (I’m buying those hardened rabbit pellet things you drop into the soap drawer), two women, obviously acquainted with each other, are engrossed in conversation. There is nothing memorable to pass on about their physical appearance because I was too engaged trying to find the cheapest Cascade or generic Cascade knock-off I could spot on the shelf to even pay them so much as a glance.


“—so, once again, I was washing my dishes at my usual time, five o’clock,” one of the ladies says, “and the sensation overwhelms me once more: I want to bake an apple pie like nobody’s business, a fresh, hot apple pie with vanilla ice cream melting all over it. I can literally smell it.”


Sounds like an olfactory hallucination, I’m thinking.


“Five nights in a row!” she continues. “Straight up, five o’clock, when I go to wash the dishes I’m struck with an overwhelming desire to bake an apple pie. And then I finally figured out what it was.”


Out of the corner of my eye I saw her sweep a 13-ounce bottle of dishwashing detergent off the shelf.


“This stuff!” she proclaimed. “Jergen’s Fresh Green Apple. It is so aromatic, you wouldn’t believe it. I mean, it tricked my senses into thinking I wanted apple pie.”


I dropped the bag of Cascade into the cart and continued up the aisle, wondering if I had just been duped into watching a commercial product pitch disguised as live theater. You never know in this postmodern world.


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It's as if DeLillo had decided to construct a primer, a guidebook to his literary life, with The Angel Esmerelda.
14 Feb 2010
Entirely too long at 117 pages, Don DeLillo’s latest novel was inspired by an installation at the Museum of Modern Art in 2006 called 24 Hour Psycho.
By Martha Kuhlman
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One suspects that a simple summary of what the book is 'about' will entirely miss the point; DeLillo's interest lies elsewhere, in the silences and gaps between words, in death and absence.
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