Igor the Tulku RodentIn 1973 when Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow came out, I read it straight through over the weekend. One section must have stuck to my brain (p. 228 Viking, p.266 Bantam):
Dog Vanya, back for the moment in an ordinary state of mind if not of kidneys (which are vulnerable after a while to bromide therapy), has been allowed a short break from the test stand, and he goes sniffing now over to the cage of Rat Ilya. Ilya puts his muzzle against the galvanized wire and the two pause this way, nose to nose, life and life.... Silvernail, puffing on a hook shaped stub, lugging a 16mm projector, leaves ARF by way of a long row of cages, exercise wheels strobing under the fluorescent lights. Careful youse guys, here comes da screw. Aw he's O.K. Looie, he's a regular guy. The others laugh. Den what's he doin' in here, huh? The long white lights buzz overhead. Gray-smocked assistants chat, smoke, linger at various routines. Look out, Lefty, dey're comin' fer you dis time. Watch dis, chuckles Mouse Alexei, when he picks me up I'm gonna shit, right'n his hand! Better not hey, ya know happened to Slug, don'tcha? Dey fried him when he did dat, man, da foist time he fucked up runnin' dat maze. A hundrit volts. Dey said it wuz a "accident." Yeah... sure it wuz! From overhead, from a German camera angle, it occurs to Webley Silvernail, this lab here is also a maze., i'n't it now... behaviorists run these aisles of tables and consoles just like rats 'n' mice. Reinforcement for them is not a pellet of food, but a successful experiment. But who watches from above, who notes their responses? Who hears the small animals in the cages as they mate or nurse, or communicate through the gray quadrilles, or, as now, begin to sing...come out of their enclosures, in fact, grown to Webley Silvernail-size (though none of the lab people seem to be noticing) to dance him down the long aisles and metal apparatus, with conga drums and a peppy tropical orchestra taking up the very poplar beat and melody of: PAVLOVIA (BEGUINE)...
A few years later I was working late at night repairing video equipment, occasionally getting high voltage shocks. I thought how wonderful it would be to have a miniature helper to do the dangerous parts of the work. "Put on the little teflon suit, Igor, today you're going into the High Voltage cage." When I got an answering machine, Igor was in charge of it. He still is. There were conflicts with the (real) cat Ada, who sometimes took control of the answering machine by leaping directly from the pushbuttons.
In 1987 Robin arranged for a birthday gift to be smuggled onto my desk before I arrived at work. When I looked up I saw a small rodent looking at me intently, and said "Igor".