Wake Up, Sir! by Jonathan Ames
Rating: •• (Mildly Recommended)
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There are funny episodes throughout Jonathan Ames’ new novel, Wake Up, Sir! Patient readers will find those episodes and laugh after struggling through a rambling narrative, a directionless plot, unappealing characters, and incomplete plot lines. Protagonist Alan Blair hires a valet named Jeeves, and the title refers to Jeeves’ statement to Blair at the beginning of the book. At once, I expected a return to those Wodehouse days of fine writing and characters that are engaging and entertaining. Unfortunately, Ames is no Wodehouse, and the two Jeeves are not comparable. What Blair and Wooster have in common is drinking too much. Here’s an excerpt, all of Chapter 30, pp. 247-255:
Serotonin Springs * Paradise Lost in Space * We all join the navy * The escape pod is activated * We take the waters
“I’m so glad I came to Serotonin Springs,” I said, “and met you fellows.”
“What did you say?” asked Tinkle. He looked at me as if he were peering up from the bottom of a deep well. The marijuana had sent him very far inside himself He was lying on his bed; I was at the desk chair again; and Mangrove was in the easy chair, hunched over, preparing another bowl of his medical marijuana in his small ceramic pipe. We had smoked several already. I was planning on attending Woodstock and had made a mental note to finally read the poetry of Allen Ginsberg.
“I’m so glad I came to Serotonin Springs,” I repeated.
“Saratoga Springs!” said Tinkle.
“That’s what I said.”
“No, you said Serotonin Springs.”
“You did say Serotonin Springs,” said Mangrove sagely.
I traveled back in time, replayed my speech, and realized that they were correct. I had said Serotonin Springs! How curious!
“You’re right,” I said to my two friends. In that moment, I loved them both very much. The marijuana had me feeling as beneficent as the Dalai Lama. “I guess it was all that talk earlier of serotonin. . . . But what if this place is loaded with serotonin? That would be incredible. Then people could really come here and get cured and not just pretend to be cured.”
I was referring to Saratoga’s history as a spa, which it was as well known for as its racetrack. In fact, it occurred to me in a stoned instant of great vision, as I sat there in Tinkle’s room, that the wealthy people, the ones who had abandoned Sharon Springs for Saratoga Springs at the end of the nineteenth century, probably needed diversion while soaking in the baths and taking the waters and so had built themselves a racetrack. The two had gone hand in hand, I realized. Water and then horses. You can lead a horse to water, I said to myself, and maybe you can’t make it drink, but you can make it run! The history of Saratoga was summed up in the phrase you can lead a horse to water! The town tourist bureau could use it as its slogan! It combined the track and the spa! Maybe the town would pay me for this sentence! I wanted to share my marijuana-induced bit of marketing genius and insight into the history of Saratoga with my friends, but before I could do so, Mangrove said:
“You know, they’d make millions if those fountains in town were coughing up liquid antidepressants.”
“If you drank it,” said Tinkle, “you could take off that patch and use both your eyes again.”
Suddenly a new fantastic idea replaced my thoughts about a good touristic slogan for Saratoga. I could hardly keep up with myself It was like the northern lights were going off in my head.
I said, with great cannabis-sparked
enthusiasm, “Yes, Reginald, you could heal yourself You see,
we three are like space travelers searching for serotonin. We’re searching
because we’re so depressed and crazed, each in our own way, sort of like
superheroes, but instead of superpowers we have superafflictions.
And because we’re so depressed and screwed up, we landed in the wrong spot.
We thought Saratoga Springs was Serotonin Springs. We read it wrong on our galactic map, and
now we’re stuck here. Our ship broke. . . . I
don’t know if this really happened, but it could be a science fiction movie. A science fiction movie
that’s also a comedy, since it’s about reading a map wrong and being
depressed.. . . I was going to
write this screenplay about homosexuals taking over
“What are you talking about?” asked Tinkle.
“I’m talking about a screenplay about the three of us as space travelers searching for serotonin.”
“That’s not a bad idea,” said Tinkle, sitting up. “In Dune they’re searching for spice. What would you call the movie?”
“I think just Serotonin Springs.”
“No, that’s no good,” said Mangrove.
“Lost in Space,” offered Tinkle.
“That fits, but it’s been used,” said Mangrove.
“You’re right,” said Tinkle. “I can’t believe I forgot. . . . But I never realized what a great title that is until just now”
“Lost in Space is very beautiful as a title,” I said. “I guess anything with the word lost is always pretty good. .. . We could call it Paradise Lost in Space, which would be a funny mixture of two mediums, or just Lost.”
“The word space is also beautiful,” said Tinkle. “Space. Space. Space. Hear how beautiful it is? I can hear Kirk’s voice saying, ‘Space, the final frontier,’ at the beginning of Star Trek, and that sounds really beautiful to me right now.. . . But I wish I could watch an episode of Lost in Space. I haven’t seen it in years. It’s weird. I have mental munchies for a TV show”
“I think you should call the movie The Lost Depressives,” said Mangrove.
“I like that, too,” said Tinkle.
“It’s very strong,” I said. “But what about The Three Lost Depressives?”
“No,” said Mangrove. “Just The Lost Depressives.”
“You’re right,” I said. “It’s unusual for a science fiction movie, but I think it’s okay.”
Pleased with our work on the title, Mangrove lit a match and took a luxurious hit from his pipe and passed it around. We then washed down our lungfuls of smoke with some more of Tinkle’s whiskey. I was quite pleased that I seemed to be maintaining consciousness. I also wasn’t vomiting, which had happened to me a few times in college when I mixed booze and marijuana, once notably destroying a white dinner jacket I had worn to parties all junior year as a fetishistic nod to my hero and fellow Princetonian Fitzgerald.
Mangrove excused himself and went to the bathroom. He returned almost immediately. I said to them both, “Have you guys ever noticed that when someone else goes to the bathroom, it seems to take no time at all?”
“I’ve noticed that,” said Tinkle.
“Me, too,” said Mangrove. “Though I’m surprised you experienced that just now. Time is usually different on marijuana. It elongates. One minute would normally feel like ten minutes.”
“Maybe the bathroom thing trumps the effects of marijuana,” I said.
“Possibly,” said Mangrove. ‘Anyway, I was thinking we should go to a spring in town and see if it has serotonin. It might actually have lithium. That would be good.”
“I have a car,” I said. “I can drive us in. I saw a mineral fountain near the library today.”
“Let’s go,” said Tinkle. He was in a good mood now Full of life.
“My car will be like an escape pod, since our main spaceship broke down,” I said.
“Yes, let’s get in the escape pod,” said Mangrove.
“Reginald, you should be our commander, since you’re like our leader,” I said.
“I’m your leader?”
“I think so. There’s something tragic and heroic about you, which is good for leading.”
“Yes, you’re our leader,” said Tinkle.
‘We’re kind of like a space navy;” I said. “And you, Alan, can be our science officer You’re Science Officer Alan Tinkle, played by Alan Tinkle”
“All right,” said Tinkle
“I’ll be the sergeant, since I fly the escape pod I don’t know if they have sergeants in the navy, but maybe they have them in space t navies.”
“I think that sounds correct,” said Mangrove.
So with that, we three intrepid spacemen issued out of the Mansion—we didn’t see anyone, they were all still at Hibben’s~ and got into our escape pod, previously known as a Chevrolet Caprice Classic. As I revved the engine, preparing for takeoff, I said, “I think the future of space travel lies in the spiral. Previously rocket ships and space shuttles have traveled in straight lines. But if they really want to voyage great distances, they need to spin or corkscrew, mimicking the movement of the earth and the sun. The spiral is in, the straight line is out. I read in The New York Times Science section about the power of the spiral.”
‘Well, later dash off a note to NASA, Sergeant,” said Mangrove. “In the meantime, warp drive, please.”
Following the commander’s order, we then careened, without getting arrested by any space constabulary, into town, and I am very fortunate that as a drunk and stoned driver—the roads were quite dark—I did not hit any innocent citizens of Saratoga, and in retrospect I condemn my selfish, impaired driving! But at that time, it was rather fun, especially since we all had taken to this notion of being spacemen searching for serotonin, and that my Caprice had transformed itself into a highly advanced escape pod.
“Commander,” I said as we neared the library, “we’re approaching the town vector and my instruments indicate the presence of serotonin.”
“Very good, Sergeant,” said Mangrove. “Decrease speed of main thruster engines.” Under the influence of Mangrove’s fine medical marijuana, we had fallen naturally and capably into the argot of space travel.
The library was just off Broadway, Saratoga’s old-fashioned main street, the kind of main street America specialized in before the advent of the shopping mall and the great obesity plague at the end of the twentieth century. Visible to my scanners were restaurants, bars, clothing stores, coffee shops, newspaper stands, and drugstores. Most things were closed because it was evening, but the bars and restaurants—it was racing season—appeared to be doing a robust and healthy business. It was a Friday night and nearly 11 P.M., but things were lively.
I turned down the library’s street, and behind the library was a grassy, elegant park where several sulfur-water fountains had been built.
“There is adequate docking space two hundred meters from the serotonin source,” said Tinkle from the backseat, as the fountain closest to the library was now visible.
“Thank you, Science Officer Alan Tinkle,” I said.
“By the way, I think we should be in the Federation, like the Enterprise,” said Tinkle, who was turning out to be something of a master of contemporary culture, having referenced Star Trek, Dune, and inadvertently, Lost in Space.
“I have no problems with us being in the Federation,” I said. “Do you, Commander?”
“I’m pleased to be a Federation officer,” said Mangrove.
I then parked the escape pod. “Shields up, Commander?” I asked.
“Yes, shields up,” said Mangrove.
“They should be photon shields,” said Tinkle.
Using the master electronic window device, I put all our photon shields up.
“Commander,” I said as a brilliant notion came to me, “after we drink from the spring, I suggest that we go to one of the alien bedding stations and locate their alcohol service area. I had discussed earlier with Science Officer Alan Tinkle the possibility of securing information regarding the whereabouts of a female alien comfort hospital.”
“You’re too stoned,” said Tinkle.
“I am,” I said. “But let’s try to stay in our roles.”
“All right,” said Tinkle. “But I told you I can’t do that.”
“What are you talking about, Sergeant?” asked Mangrove.
“In non-Federation speak, I was referring to the possibility of going to one of the hotels on Broadway, sitting at the bar, and finding out if there are any brothels in town.”
“You’re referring to docking procedures with female aliens?” asked Mangrove.
“Possibly, Commander. I know it’s outlandish, but it’s something I had thought of earlier in the day, and now that we’re on leave, like sailors, the idea came back to me.”
“You’re against this plan of attack, Science Officer?” asked Mangrove, not indicating his own position on the matter.
“I am against it, Commander,” said Tinkle. “I prefer to just drink from the serotonin fountain.”
“I think then we should only drink from the fountain,” said Mangrove, “but we might consider it as a future mission. Important things could be learned from the local female alien population. All agreed?”
“Yes,” said both Tinkle and I.
“Let’s have a moment of silence and then proceed to the serotonin fountain,” said Mangrove, taking quite nicely to his appointed role as our commander, giving orders both practical and spiritual. He wanted us to gather our mental forces before venturing forth into the alien village.
But thinking I had better keep watch during our moment of silence, while Mangrove closed his one eye, and Tinkle closed both his eyes (as I observed in the rearview mirror), I noted that a lot of people were on the streets, either strolling off their dinners or barhopping. When Mangrove opened his eye after about a minute, an indication that our moment of s. had passed, I said, “There seems to be a good deal of alien-humanoid activity.”
“Is it alien or humanoid?” asked Tinkle, a little fraternally competitive with me, possibly because I had put him on the spot yet again about this business of going to a brothel, which I probably shouldn’t have done, though my intentions were good.
“I’m not sure,” I said. “They look like humans but they must be aliens. Correct of you to point this out, Science Officer.” I was trying to be conciliatory, to win him back over.
“They are aliens, but they have a very human appearance,” said Mangrove. “So be careful.”
“There appears to be a dairy-and-sugar station to the right of the serotonin fountain,” said Tinkle, getting back into the swing of things. “Most of the aliens are drawn to that.”
An ice cream shop was directly across the street from the bubbling mineral fountain. In fact, no one was at the fountain, but they were all on line at the ice cream place.
“Those aliens are ignoring the serotonin fountain,” I said. “Must not be an advanced civilization.”
We then got out of the escape pod and made our way to the spring. It was underneath a wooden pagoda and there were several benches surrounding it, where you could rest between sips. The spring was essentially a large water fountain that was perpetually gurgling. It had a three-foot-high ceramic base, topped by a round metal bowl, for collecting the overflow, and out of this bowl rose two upside-down, L-shaped pipes, or spigots, if you like, from which the sulfur-smelling water splashed.
We circled the bowl and studied the liquid. The bowl was stained orange from the water’s rich mineral content.
“We have found the serotonin, Commander!” I said.
“Wait a second,” said Tinkle. “Remember, it’s not supposed to be serotonin; we made a mistake when we came to this planet.”
“You’re right,” I said. “I’d like maybe to change the script. Could be interesting if it really was serotonin.”
“No, we always have to be searching for it. We can’t ever find it, if we want this to be a television series. . . . If it’s a movie, we can find it,” said Tinkle.
“I was thinking in terms of a movie, at first,” I said. “But a TV series would be fun.”
“Whether it’s a movie or a TV series, I think we should think that it’s serotonin,” said Mangrove. “Then we drink it, and it works on us, but only because we’re deluded. The placebo effect. And it’s only later that we discover we’re in Saratoga Springs and not Serotonin Springs, and we’re so devastated by this that the placebo effect goes away. Don’t forget we’re at the start of our mission; we don’t know yet that we’ve landed on the wrong planet. Then later, as ourselves, we can figure out whether it’s for TV or a movie or both.”
Mangrove then dipped his head and drank a snortful of the water. His eye patch got a little wet, but he didn’t seem to mind.
“Delicious,” he said. “And I feel happy.” He smiled. I had never seen him smile so broadly before. Minuscule grins had been all he had previously dispensed. He sat on one of the benches and stretched out his long commander legs.
Then Tinkle went. He dipped his powerful jaw beneath the flowing water. “I like it,” he said, and sat down, joining the commander.
I drank some, and to my stoned palate the water was fantastically charged, better and richer than the water I had drunk from that stream in Sharon Springs. I then sat on the bench next to the one inhabited by the commander and the science officer.
We three were happy and stoned on our warm summer night adventure. Every few minutes or so, we stood up to drink another mouthful of water. Then I had the brilliant idea that one of us should procure plastic cups from the dairy and sugar dispensary, a mission which Tinkle bravely undertook.
When he returned alive, the commander and I complimented him on his courageous action, venturing into an establishment overrun with aliens. Then we three space travelers sipped the waters like gentlemen, refilling our cups when we needed to. Occasionally, an alien or two would join us at the fountain and then move on, and we would keep a wary silence; Tinkle informed us that his “phaser is on stun.”
It was all quite amusing and exciting.
Then I seemed to be sobering up; the passage of time and the drinking of the water was undoing the blissful effects of the marijuana and the booze, and right when I was about to propose that we head back to the main space station and absorb more alcohol and marijuana, a large, shapely female alien approached the fountain from behind us, walking between our two benches. She then bent over the fountain, showed us a rather lovely backside in a short blue skirt, dipped her head, took a healthy dose of the serotonin water, and then turned to us with a wet and smiling and beautiful face.
The female alien was Ava.
I thought “Seratonin Springs” was cute and funny. There’s more like that throughout Wake Up, Sir! Those readers willing to endure unappealing characters and an unsatisfying plot will enjoy this novel more than those of us whose memories of the original Jeeves are too fresh.
Steve Hopkins, October 25, 2004
ã 2004 Hopkins and Company, LLC
The recommendation rating for this book appeared in the November 2004 issue of Executive Times
URL for this review: http://www.hopkinsandcompany.com/Books/Wake Up Sir.htm
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