How to Conduct a Sincere Discussion Group on Nicholson Baker’s Checkpoint with a Disruptive Norwegian Forest Cat on the Premisesby
In the spirit of the novel being discussed, arrange to meet in a hotel room in Washington D.C. Search the Internet for flight and hotel rates while playfully reciting Baker’s muscular dialogue and pretending to shoot your friends with your Paper Mate. When it becomes apparent that this is financially impossible, mostly because you’ve just inherited a Norwegian Forest cat from Veruschka von Lehndorff, one that’s decisively hooked on biodynamic meats and Tahitian Noni juice, and you know that in order to preserve this very tenuous thread to celebrity, you must keep the damn thing alive—decide to stay local and hold the discussion in Brooklyn. Assure yourself this is the right decision anyway, because there are actual snipers in Brooklyn, perched on your roof even, and the bodegas are always well stocked with “loosey” magic bullets and Brazilian Mojo Hammers of Justice.
Now that you’ve buzzed everyone into your apartment, begin the discussion. Start with the jacket cover: a target whose bull’s-eye is punctured with a pushpin. What does this mean? After batting the question around, suggest that George W. Bush is like a dirigible unmoored from the bounds of reason and compassion, fueled with hot air. Liken this balloon to the “airborne toxic event” in DeLillo’s White Noise, a less salient political thriller that, for the purposes of this conversation, you should simply frame as a precursor to Baker’s Checkpoint. Conclude that all it will take to bring this balloon down, in the end, is the pinprick of an unclouded mind. After a long silence that seems to fill the room with hope, detect a suspicious whistling sound in your bedroom. Excuse yourself to investigate, then find your Norwegian Forest cat with its claws stuck in your rapidly deflating air-mattress. Curse under your breath, grab the feline behavior modification spray, and fill the room up with a pheromone fog so thick that your eyes begin to water. Close the door halfway behind you, then remind yourself that you’ll need to pick up a gallon of Romanian box wine if you want to get any sleep tonight.
Flustered and angry, try to guide the discussion group to more whimsical territory. Didn’t everyone privately, if just for a moment, want the characters to be named Ben and Jerry instead of Ben and Jay, especially after seeing the jacket photo of Nicholson Baker? Wouldn’t the story have been better if it were about two men hunkered in a D.C. hotel room, one of whom was plotting to gorge the President with spoiled ice creams resurrected from their notorious Flavor Graveyard? Economic Crunch, Fudge Behaving Badly UK, KaBerry KaBoom! and Nutcracker Sweet? This wouldn’t have been funny? What? While everyone chuckles and idle chatter breaks across the circle, notice your Norwegian Forest cat snake across the living room, dip her head in her water bowl, and inhale. Watch her snort and sneeze violently on your pleated slacks, recover, then race around the room in pursuit of invisible prey. Yell at your cat, “Bring it down a notch, chief!” then turn back to the discussion group, all of whom are looking at you, confused, because you not only just yelled at a Norwegian Forest cat, but also called it chief.
Take control of the discussion. Demand to know: what’s up with room service? What role did this seemingly superfluous entity play in the book? Why was it even there? Cite previous plays, books, and films that might have been enhanced with this odd device. Estragon and Vladimir interrupting their heartrending dialogue to count out crumpled fives in Waiting for Godot. Plato authoritatively silencing Socrates with a raised hand while ordering plain loucoums and masticha—his way—for the both of them. Colonel Ripper pausing his rant against communism to whine about the forgotten spirited mustards, while Mandrake obligingly coos: Damnation! Implore the discussion group: couldn’t they hear Mandrake saying this? Kubrick didn’t drop the ball? Become sad when your Norwegian Forest cat is the only one to register an answer by vomiting almond-butter and Starburst on its wrought iron jasmine canopy bed. Repeatedly scold the cat until it trots under the Ikea EKTORP loveseat you scavenged from the dipsy dumpster last year.
As the group begins to cite reasons why they need to get going, fill up with a sense of abandonment bordering on betrayal. While they put on their jackets, ask them to at least, before they leave, turn to page 72 and find the words ROBE ALERT, ROBE ALERT, ROBE ALERT nearly halfway down the page. Once they have, confess that this is something you used to yell to your brother when he was heading into the living room to ask your father for a raise in his allowance, your brother not realizing that your father had just downed a fifth of Wild Turkey and decided to “air himself out” while he alphabetized coupons for pork tenderloin and disposable razors. Tell the group that your brother never listened to you, that he never trusted you, that he made decisions for himself in the face of all warnings, that he ultimately split your family in two. While you are making this point, watch your Norwegian Forest cat knead the rug underneath your feet, then leap into your lap, purring. Watch the group awkwardly file out, assuring you they had a good time, and that you should do one of the groups again. As the last person closes the door, notice your cat spread out and asleep on your lap. Pick the cat up off your lap, and calmly evict her from your home.