Yahoo Internet Life,
From his home in a
our writer posts his personal angle on America,
Thomas Pynchon, sex, and e-commerce.
LIKE THE LIBERAL OFFICER in Gabriel Garcia Marquez's story "No
One Writes to the Colonel," I faced year after year of empty
Latin American mailboxes. Then the Internet put me back in the
limelight.If my name is at all familiar, it's because you saw
my byline in Playboy and other big magazines in the '60s
and '70s. If it rings no bells, it's because I moved to Mexico
in 1981 with my beautiful bride, Anita Brown, our 7-week-old son,
Eli, and my daughter, Faera, 10, to write The Real Mexico,
a book that proposed to erase all myths and get right into the
heart of the Mexican way of life.
Well, we do thorough
research here at Siegel & Children Third World Slave Labor
Writing Industries SA de CV. Seventeen years later, we are another
child richer (Jesse, born in Cancun in 1984). The Real Mexico
is still in progress, but our Cancun User's Guide is a thriving
book and online document with its own domain name, cafecancun.com.
Despite this, from a communications standpoint, our progress went
into reverse for quite a while. Cancun was started by the Mexican
government in dense, remote, roadless jungle on the Caribbean
coast when only 3 people lived on the island and 117 on the mainland.
Today, Cancun's permanent population is approximately 400,000.
It gets more than 2 million visitors a year and accounts for 25
percent of all Mexico's tourism income.
The Mexican government
invited us to come here in 1983 to work on promotion. The resort
was still under construction. Few private homes had telephones.
After years of living with a telephone jack surgically implanted
in my brain, I welcomed the silence. We didn't even own a television
when we lived in the United States, but we did read newspapers
and magazines and occasionally go to a movie. While living in
remote beach locations, we pretty much forgot all that. We'd get
The Miami Herald or USA Today and other publications
sporadically, but we didn't know what "Where's the beef?"
meant until we realized it had something to do with a hamburger
You took what you
could get when it came to housing. We lived for eight months in
a house near the beach in outlying Puerto Morelos that had no
stove, electricity, or running waterjust a faucet at the
curb. We bathed in buckets and cooked our meals on a campfire.
There were no private telephones in Puerto Morelos, just a TelMex
office with a marine telephone. Meanwhile, I was going up to Cancun
and working with newly arriving high-end computerized typesetting
systems. Although I'm known as a writer, my profession is graphic
design. All the restaurants and hotels needed menus and logos.
I defy anyone to paint a tomato better than I do now.
One day Thomas Nagin,
of Crystal Springs, Arkansas, a friend and client, came to our
palm-thatched house and handed me a Panasonic Sr. Partner PC.
I rented a room with electricity in an inexpensive motel, and
I was on my way back into civilization. With a borrowed laser
printer and a program for children called First Publisher, I put
out an eight-page English supplement for a local daily. We soon
found an apartment in a spiffy condominium complex. The kids pointed
at an unfamiliar white cylinder in the kitchen and asked, "What
is that, Mommy?" Paper towels. "Well, but what are they
Over the years,
I got better and better equipment, but no phone. The Internet
began arriving in Cancun in 1994, although some geniuses managed
to get it by satellite earlier. I know of seven ISPs here, and
there are probably more, as well as half a dozen Internet café
operations where you can walk in and browse the Net or send and
receive e-mail. I've been told that we have about 3,000 online
I signed up with
one of the first ISPs in late 1996. Since I still had no phone,
I had to go into downtown Cancun to log in. This got old pretty
fast, and I soon gave in and got a telephone line.
The first thing
I did when I got online was to search for my own name. Much to
my dismay, it turned out that as far as the Internet is concerned,
I am a subset of the Thomas Pynchon industry. Literary giant Thomas
Pynchon is the most famous invisible writer since J.D. Salinger.
Pynchon and I had adjoining rooms at Cornell in 1954, and we were
friends for a number of years afterward. He hasn't posed for a
picture since Cornell, and he's never been interviewed. In 1977,
Playboy published "Who Is Thomas Pynchon...and Why Is He
Taking Off with My Wife?" my affectionate but revealing memoir
about his intense '60s affair with my then wife, Chrissie Jolly.
The article had
been placed online by Pynchon fans who debate his works in a discussion
list, Pynchon-L@Waste.Org. I contacted Pynchon-L archivist Andrew
Dinn about my copyright and wound up in extensive correspondence
with Pynchon-L. Fortuitously, Chrissie (by that time the wife
of an oil man, Robert Wexler) showed up to visit Faera and agreed
to answer online questions, expecting learned inquiries about
the great novelist's art and philosophy from these erudite scholars.
Instead, they wanted to know if he liked junk food, among other
inane details. They got a little annoyed when Chrissie angrily
demanded to know if they were a "bunch of academic powder
butts." 911! Call the fire department! Into the bunkers,
After two months
or so, I had about 300,000 words of correspondence, some of it
hilariously funny. These Pynheads can make jokes about Beowulf
in Old Goidelic while discussing postmodernist heteronomy. I edited
it down to 60,000 words, and it was published in August 1997 by
Intangible Assets Manufacturing as Lineland: Mortality and
Mercy on the Internet's Pynchon-L@Waste.Org Discussion List
by Jules Siegel, Christine Wexler, et al. Chrissie drew a sketch
of Pynchon as she thought he might look now, which was reprinted
from coast to coast. I was interviewed by The Times (London)
New York correspondent James Bone and HotWired's Janelle Brown,
and other print and online media. Although I made many friends
on Pynchon-L, I was finally hammered off the list by a couple
of hostile correspondents who insisted that I was some sort of
fraud. It was just as well, as my mail volume was becoming absurd.
My first ISP connection
was so anorexic that I moved to a brand-new service. It was hungry
for content and gave me free space for a Cancun User's Guide Web
site, which it promoted on its home page. I began pumping the
Guide through all my media connections. When Lineland came
out, the Cancun User's Guide tagged along on all the publisher's
site promotions. I started getting mail from Jupiter and Alpha
Centauri. I was pulling half the hits for the entire ISP.
Overwhelmed by all
this action, the guy running my novice ISP decided I was making
a fortune and demanded a cut. Unfortunately, since I hadn't solved
the problems of Internet credit card billing, I had sold only
six books. The ISP guy refused to believe me and abruptly pulled
the plug. The Cancun User's Guide, by now linked to every important
travel site, went down.
The site is up again
now, on a new ISP, and, let me tell you, so am I. My connection,
however, is worse than ever. We live on an island in the lagoon
formed by the main island of Cancun. My phone line is below sea
level and was heavily damaged by unusually heavy rains. Think
El Niño, boys and girls. Phone lines do not like humidity. The
salt air eats metal greedily. A 10-minute connection is glory
on a sunny day. For the past 48 hours we've been lost in a dense,
warm fog. Most organisms without gills are in suspended animation.
It is slow,
I have made arrangements
to install a special above-ground private line. I will buy a satellite
PC receiver. Will cellular phone Internet hookups function here?
Click. Click. Click.
Click. Click. What's that noise? Castanets? Maracas? No, it's
just us plugged-in usuarios, clickin' away in Cancun.
Jules Siegel's work
has appeared in such publications as Playboy, The New York
Times, Rolling Stone, and New American Review.