Carly Janine Gutierrez
Professor Craig Thompson
The Two Mickey Wolfmanns
In Inherent Vice, Thomas Pynchon follows the adventures of Doc as he tries to track down the elusive and mercurial Mickey Wolfmann, among other cases. A central figure, Mickey Wolfmann is a real estate developer who has a change of heart, or rather mind. He creates the Channel View Estates while at the top of his game, conning residents into moving into this atrocity that overlooks an ugly waterflow channel, and displacing the previous tenants of the neighborhood. Much like the mystical island of Lemuria, emerging from the sea, Mickey’s conscience breaks through and he has a change of heart. Mickey realizes that charging people for somewhere to live is wrong, and as a rebuttal he creates a newer, more beautiful property in the desert known as Arrepentimiento, which is Spanish for repentance. Mickey Wolfmann wants to atone for the pain he has caused by creating a sanctuary and charging no rent, and it is beautiful. Where Channel View Estates stands for capitalism, greed, and disconnection from the world around it, Arrepentimiento is the opposite. Representing free society, humanity, and connection, Arrepentimiento is a utopian dream. Not merely a housing development, it was to be its own entity, a city rising up naturally from the desert, supporting all those who would call it home. But Arrepentimiento was doomed, as was Mickey’s change of heart.
Wolfmann’s Channel View Estates is all about money. It does not blend into the environment, and has been called an eyesore and worse. When Doc inquires about Mickey Wolfmann’s whereabouts to his Aunt Reet, she responds, “…I’m told Mickey’s been spending time out at his latest assault on the environment – some chipboard horror known as Channel View Estates” (Pynchon, 8). The units in Channel View are definite, everything is laid out and completed, and rent is very expensive. This construction priced out the previous inhabitants of the neighborhood. Everything about the Channel View Estates reeks of capitalism and the void, a devotion to the mighty dollar and the physical items it can buy. The view isn’t even pretty. During a conversation with Crocker Fenway, Doc is told, “Sounds like you’ve been talking to His Holiness Mickey Wolfmann. You’ve been out to have a look at Channel View Estates? Some of us have moved heaven and earth, mostly earth, to keep that promise of urban blight from happening” (Pynchon, 347). Doc and Crocker Fenway both dislike the Channel View Estates, but for different reasons. Either way, it is a dark smear upon the neighborhood, garish, and without conscience.
Unlike the Channel View Estates, Arrepentimiento is built to be a free utopia. It blends into the landscape, a maze of “zomes” and rock. It is difficult to make out the individual units, and all the details surrounding the actual floorplans are hazy, fog-like, and obstructed. It isn’t a definite anything, more of a sprawling idea. As Doc and Tito arrive, “They came over a ridge, and there, down a long slope into a valley whose river might’ve vanished centuries ago, was Mickey Wolfmann’s dream, his penance for having once charged money for human shelter – Arrepentimiento” (Pynchon, 249). This dream of Wolfmann’s had some roots. At the Kismet, Fabian told Doc, “Mickey dated a lot of showgirls back in his day, loved the town, old Vegas dog from way back, built a house out by Red Rock. Also had this dream about putting up a whole city from scratch someday, out in the desert” (Pynchon, 240). Arrepentimiento was a genuine passion of Mickey Wolfmann’s, and the fact that it is now abandoned, incomplete, is sad. This awakening of Mickey Wolfmann’s was very important, a moment of clarity, a tremendous shift. Unfortunately, it was not to last. Much like Lemuria, Arrepentimiento is a utopia lost to the people.
Arrepentimiento and Lemuria are similar. Both represent an idea of utopia, equality, and commitment to humanity. Construction has ceased on Arrepentimiento, and Lemuria has been lost to the Pacific Ocean, perhaps forever. This shift shows an overall shift in the mindset of the citizens of the United States, and Southern California in particular. Even Doc is starting to change, realizing the amount of danger he is in. “Doc brought Denis along for, well maybe not muscle, but something like that, some kind of protection he hadn’t realized till lately he needed, a boost for his immunity against the shopping plazas of Southern California, for a desire not to desire, at least not what you found in the shopping malls” (Pynchon, 348). Not merely a bodyguard, Denis was a reminder to Doc to keep his perspective, to not fall prey to the desire to consume. Capitalism was beginning to crowd out the free-loving hippie lifestyle. No longer connecting, people were fragmenting, becoming sucked into their own worlds while believing they were staying informed. “He thought about Sortilege’s sunken continent, returning, surfacing this way in the lost heart of L.A., and wondered who’d notice it if it did. People in this town saw only what they’d all agreed to see, they believed what was on the tube or in the morning papers half of them read while they were driving to work on the freeway, and it was all their dream about being wised up, about the truth setting them free” (Pynchon, 315). A desire exists not to face reality, to disappear within their lives and agreed-upon perspectives, and to ignore the disappearance of such beautiful things as mythical utopias and hippie mindsets.
This tumultuous shift shows up in other places in the book. Doc and Bigfoot have an interesting dynamic, always influencing each other in strange ways and crossing paths, with Doc representing the hippies and Bigfoot the straights. Doc and Shasta have an undefined relationship that ties into the idea of return, and coming home. The Golden Fang itself is so many things that it cannot be defined in any quantifiable way. Through it all, there is Mickey Wolfmann, used to leading and winning, becoming a pawn in the hands of the FBI and the Golden Fang and the mob, allowing himself to become murky and undefined, if only for a little while. He is even described in such a way, when Doc spies Wolfmann at the Kismet, “The blurred glimpse Doc got was of Mickey in a white suit, wearing much the same look he had in his portrait back at his house in the L.A. hills – that game try at appearing visionary – passing right to left, borne onward, stately, tranquilized, as if being ferried between worlds, or at least bound for a bulletproof car you’d never get to see in through the windows of.” (Pynchon, 243). He is “blurred” and it is a “glimpse” and he appears “tranquilized” so for all we know, this is barely Mickey Wolfmann as he is in reality, at all.
We first hear of Mickey Wolfmann at the beginning of the novel from Shasta, and then Doc calls his Aunt Reet for some background information. She spouts off, “Westside Hochdeutsch mafia, biggest of the big, construction, savings and loans, untaxed billions stashed under an Alp someplace, technically Jewish but wants to be a Nazi, becomes exercised often to the point of violence at those who forget to spell his name with two n’s. What’s he to you?” (Pynchon, 7). He sounds like a violent and unpredictable but powerful man. Surrounding himself with the Aryan Brotherhood and arms, he is protected like a king piece in chess. Mickey Wolfmann is at war with himself, locked in an inner battle between the hippies and the straights. While Wolfmann is back to his old self at the end of the novel, it’s possible that in the future there could be more growth from him. After his experiences at Chryskylodon and out in the desert, time with Shasta, time with the Golden Fang, seeds have been planted for Mickey Wolfmann to become a better man and use his money for good. As Boris relayed, “What Mickey said was, ‘I wish I could undo what I did, I know I can’t, but I bet I can make the money start to flow a different direction’” (Pynchon, 150). The idea has been planted that he is in control of the flow of money, and it can be used as he sees fit to influence the world in good ways. Perhaps a more responsible Mickey Wolfmann lies ahead. Doc and Bigfoot are discussing Mickey and his change of heart, and Doc is bemoaning the fact that he is back to his old self again. Bigfoot responds, “Well, maybe not, Sportello. What goes around may come around, but it never ends up exactly the same place, you ever notice? Like a record on a turntable, all it takes is one groove’s difference and the universe can be on into a whole ‘nother song” (Pynchon, 334). Mickey Wolfmann is a complicated man, fighting against who he is inside, and his creations reflect his inner turmoil.