HLS - The Letters Of Harvey L. Slatin

September 11, 1989

Hey, they’re, Udo!–

(As Promised Earlier)

TIME: 08:18 a.m.
BAROMETER: 29.25″ Hg.

STAMFORD REPORT: Happy to hear that all is well on Main Street, except for the issue of the Burned Victorian And The Bureaucrats. Another instance of The Little People vs City Hall: aux barricades!; blood in the streets. With such distractions, no wonder you haven’t cleared up the Cold Fusion Confusion.

JOHN & THE LAWYERS: I can’t remember how much I (plus Bill James) may have told you about this issue, but your comments indicate that you may be in the dark about some details. Bear with me if part or all of what follows is already on the record.

John’s ex-wife hired an attorney in Santa Fe to take John to court about money she claimed he owed her. (I can’t confirm the validity of her claim or his rejection of it. I got the impression that he felt she was just being vindictive. I think the amount involved was a thousand dollars.) To fight her, he retained Catron, Catron & Sawtell, a firm that he said had the reputation of being the toughest in Santa Fe. They suggested a private detective to get background information on Jeanne. John agreed.

She lives near Fort Lauderdale in Florida, so the detective went there. The cost was over $6000. He learned that Jeanne had re-married after she and John divorced, but when she had another daughter in Germany, by her new German husband, the child’s last name was Herzog. And Jeanne’s passport was for Jeanne Herzog, not her German married name. The law firm, according to John, felt that Jeanne could be charged with falsifying her passport. John also felt that Jeanne might be trying to set him up as the child’s father, and claim child support.

The Santa Fe judge threw out Jeanne’s lawsuit, deciding that it did not come within his jurisdiction. So John’s attorney fees accomplished nothing, and Jeanne took the suit back East, where the court acknowledged jurisdiction. For some reason, John did not tip off the Feds about the passport falsification. I have no idea why not.  Anyhow, I think C, C & S recommended more detective work, and John blew his stack. For $6000 plus attorney fees, he was no better off than before. His attitude was that the law firm should have anticipated the jurisdictional dismissal. He felt that they were taking him for a fat fee when they should have known–or actually did know–that the case would be thrown out. How valid his suspicions might have been I don’t know. He wrote the firm a strong letter, severing connections. However, he forgot that they were the executors of his estate.

This may be the firm with which your “adopted” daughter’s husband is affiliated, since he is an attorney and his name is Catron. He sounds like a nice guy.

I have been wondering whether John’s moody impetuosity might have been caused by too much alcohol in relief of unmentioned pain from his cancer. He didn’t talk about a recurrence of cancer, and what happened took everyone by surprise.

If he deliberately left his estate a mess to spite Jeanne, the strategy might work. Catron, Catron & Sawtell, if they are as tough as reputed, could demand their fees and leave nothing for Jeanne. I wouldn’t bet either way.

THE TEMPEST: It was no surprise to learn that Thomas the Bosun was applauded. With your coaching, a skill acquired at The Groves Memorial Playhouse in The Forbidden City, he couldn’t miss.

See Also: the name at the top of the third list under “Spirits of Wind, Water, and Wood”: Elaina Osterhout. That name rings bells here. My family and Mary’s first met on summer vacation near Oneonta, at a farm that took vacationers. (The Palenville scene came later.) It was called Springside Farm, owned by a family named Osterhout. I wouldn’t bet that Elaina is their great-granddaughter, because the area is full of Osterhouts, but she’s probably some kin. So we know two performers in the cast of The Tempest. How many outside of Stamford can make that statement?

BARTHELME: Thanks for sending the clipping on Donald Barthelme. The national edition of The Times is available here, but that full obituary was not in it, just a brief article.

Barthelme practiced a genre of fiction that I avoid. I have pelted you with uninvited comments about minimalism before and at length, so I won’t repeat myself. He is quoted as calling it the “collage” approach to writing. Any fiction based on a theory is fitted to a formula. I expect westerns or detective novels or spy novels to be written to formula because they are light fiction, and readers welcome it. I don’t see how serious fiction can be written as “collage” or any other delimiting concept. And he Borrowed the term from a Visual art genre which has not exactly swept all before it in its own field.

He is also quoted: “Art is not difficult because it wishes to be difficult, rather because it wishes to be art.” I am spooked by painters, dancers, architects, writers or other practitioners who pronounce themselves artists. That ranking belongs to history or the beholder’s eye, not to a self— interested advocate. Gertrude Stein was an earlier practitioner of non—standard fiction who wrote to a formula (of her own devising) that she intended would make prose convey the esthetic equivalent of music or painting. She was immersed in the arts and imagined herself a literary artist, but she has never been ranked as one. Her works are categorized as interesting, but unsuccessful, literary experiments.

Minimalism should be pigeonholed and forgotten the same way. It won’t supplant traditionally structured fiction, but it has enraptured the English departments and The New Yorker, thus effectively shutting out any serious fiction not minimalist in execution. This is tiresomely elitist, and I have gone back to The Rover Boys and Tom Swift. After that, Frank Merriwell. Then: Bomba The Jungle Boy; Tom Slade, Boy Scout; The Boy Allies.. Nick Carter.. Horatio Alger.. maximalists all.

“Three cheers and a tiger for maximalism!” cried Frank Merriwell, removing his clean straw hat and waving it in his customary modest and sportsmanlike manner.

“That sentiment gets my vote!” cried Bart Hodge, raising his lacrosse racquet in full support of his chum’s enthusiastic endorsement.

“And mine!” shouted Dink Stover, stoutly rallying from the pages of another novel. Thus will minimalism be defeated from the playing fields of Eli!


Fred C. (“Maxed Out”) Dobbs

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