I was a bit embarrassed about my little digging-related miscalculation in A Throne of Bones. I felt a little better about it after encountering a mistake in Isaac Asimov’s Forward the Foundation, in which a
highly improbable nightly murder rate was asserted on Trantor. And
given the level of attention to detail for which David Foster Wallace,
supposedly one of the greatest novelists of the last 30 years, is
rightly lauded, I feel downright positive about my own blunder after catching the following error in this passage from Infinite Jest. Apparently, the longer the book, the more likely it is that the possibility of a basic error approaches certainty.
E.T.A. Weight Room. Freestyle circuits. The clank and click of various
resistance-systems. Lyle on the towel dispenser conferring with an
extremely moist Graham Rader. Schacht doing sit-ups, the board almost
vertical, his face purple and forehead pulsing. Troeltsch by the squat
rack blowing his nose into a towel. Coyle doing military presses with a
bare bar. Carol Spodek curling, intent on the mirror. Rader nodding as
Lyle bends and leans in. Hal up on the spotter-shelf in back of the
incline-bench in the shadow of the monster copper beech through the west
window doing single-leg toe-raises, for the ankle. Ingersoll at the
shoulder-pull, steadily upping the weight against Lyle’s advice. Keith
(‘The Viking’) Freer 68 and the steroidic fifteen-year-old Eliot
Kornspan spotting each other on massive barbell-curls next to the water
cooler’s bench, taking turns bellowing encouragement. Hal keeps pausing
to lean down and spit into an old NASA glass on the floor by the little
shelf. E.T.A. Trainer Barry Loach walking around with a clipboard he
doesn’t write anything down on, but watching people intently and nodding
a lot. Axford with one shoe off in the corner, doing something to his
bare foot. Michael Pemulis seated cross-legged on the cooler’s bench
just off Kornspan’s left hip, doing facial isometrics, trying to
eavesdrop on Lyle and Rader, wincing whenever Kornspan and Freer roar at
‘Three more! Get it up there!’
‘Get that shit up there man!’
‘It raped your sister! It killed your fucking mother man!’
‘Huhl huhl huhl huhl gwwwww.’
makes his face very long for a while and then very short and broad,
then all sort of hollow and distended like one of Bacon’s popes.
suppose’ — Pemulis can just make out Lyle — ‘Suppose I were to give you
a key ring with ten keys. With, no, with a hundred keys, and I were to
tell you that one of these keys will unlock it, this door we’re
imagining opening in onto all you want to be, as a player. How many of
the keys would you be willing to try?’
Troeltsch calls over to
Pemulis, ‘Do the deLint-jerking-off face again!’ Pemulis for a second
lets his mouth gape slackly and his eyes roll way up and flutters his
lids, moving his fist.
‘Well I’d try every darn one,’ Rader tells Lyle.
‘Huhl. Huhl. Gwwwwwwww.’
Pemulis’s wince looks like a type of facial isometric.
‘Do Bridget having a tantrum! Do Schacht in a stall!’
Pemulis makes a shush-finger.
never whispers, but it’s just about the same. ‘Then you are willing to
make mistakes, you see. You are saying you will accept 99% error. The
paralyzed perfectionist you say you are would stand there before that
door. Jingling the keys. Afraid to try the first key.’
his lower lip down as far as it will go and contracts his cheek muscles.
Cords stand out on Freer’s neck as he screams at Kornspan. There’s a
little hanging mist of spittle and sweat. Kornspan looks like he’s about
to have a stroke. There are 90 kg. on the bar, which itself is 20 kg.
‘One more you fuck. Fucking take it.’
‘Fuck me. Fuck meyou fuck. Gwwwwww.’
‘Take the pain.’
Freer has one finger under the bar, barely helping. Kornspan’s red face is leaping around on his skull.
Carol Spodek’s smaller bar goes silently up and down.
comes over and sits down and saws at the back of his neck with the
towel, looking up at Kornspan. ‘I don’t think all the curls I’ve ever
done all together add up to 110,’ he said.
Kornspan’s making sounds that don’t sound like they’re coming from his throat.
Yiiissss!’ roars Freer. The bar crashes to the rubber floor, making
Pemulis wince. Every vein on Kornspan stands out and pulses. His stomach
looks pregnant. He puts his hands on his thighs and leans forward, a
string of something hanging from his mouth.
‘Way to fucking take it
baby,’ Freer says, going over to the box on the dispenser to get rosin
for his hands, watching himself walk toward the mirror.
starts very slowly to lean over toward Kornspan, looking around
confidentially. He gets so his face is right up near the side of
Kornspan’s mesomorphic head and whispers. ‘Hey. Eliot. Hey.’
Kornspan, bent over, chest heaving, rolls his head a little his way. Pemulis whispers: ‘Pussy.’
It’s an amusing scene, but first
of all, no 15-year old boys, with or without steroids, have ever done a
single 110 kg curl, let alone more than four. That’s nearly 250
pounds. Even at my most bulked up, when I was benching 325 pounds, I never curled more than four reps at 150. These days, I usually top out with 4×52 kg, which is only a bit more than 115 pounds.
Based on the fact
that Wallace mentions 90 kg being on the bar, it’s pretty clear that he actually meant
90 pounds, which is one 45-pound plate per side. Still impressive, as with
the bar, (another 45 pounds), it is 135 pounds. Which is readily doable, although still not reasonably conceivable for 15-year old tennis players who are described as having one arm more developed than the other.