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November 9, 1989
Hey, they’re, Udo!–
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COAL FOUJINz’ Thanks for the xeroxed articles. 0n the basis of those plus what I read (not in The Bee), I can see that investigation proceeds, but without the customary fervor of inspired research. My only comment, as a former test-tube washer, is that I have some reservations about the endless accusations of “impurities” in the water. Somebody somewhere MUST be using chemically pure water by this time. The pulses of heat are baffling, so why not leave it at that until the reason for them has been identified. It’s getting so I hesitate to drink the water in Sacramento for fear of unexplained heat pulses in my tum—tum. Coal foujin or taco sauce? (I am not asking for a Federal grant, just scientific proof.)
AS ONE WHO KEEPS HIS FINGER ON THE PULSE of current events, you have no doubt seen the advertising for “Little Boy & Fat Man,” which is supposed to tell The Real Story of what went on in The Forbidden City during the war. (You may have even seen the picture itself.) On the basis of the promotion for it, I get the impression that Groves is presented as a sensitive, highly intelligent commander who debates the moral issue of The Bomb with an equally sensitive, intelligent Oppenheimer. If that’s how the tale is told, somebody who REALLY knew what went on (and a lot of them are still around: Weiskopf, Norm Ramsey (just took a Nobel), Segre, Bradbury, etc.) should Tell It Like It Was: Groves was a mental mediocrity, far over his head in such a program, and was finally shouldered aside so the bomb could be built. The great waterline fiasco was no fluke, Udo: Les at His Bes’. If you decide to speak up, I’ll support you to the limit (eXcept for sending money). If you haven’t seen the picture, don’t go unless you get free passes. Better yet, picket the theater.
BARE MINIMALISM: It’s good to hear that your friend the English professor says that minimalism is dead. I hope his View is based on an in-depth survey of the literary landscape. We have had too much overpraised minimalistic smirking in jigsaw prose. My idea of a REAL story is the kind that starts out…
“Lord Leatist, your ladyship.”
“Sir Charles. I’d almost given you up for this evening.”
“I apologize most abjectly, Lady Occipita! I’m afraid I was detained at Downing Street.”
“Blaugh, please bring his lordship a whiskey and soda.”
“At once, your ladyship.”
“You were saying, Charles?”
“I’m very much afraid the P.M. is not at all sanguine.”
“Surely you don’t… !”
“He’s gone to Buck House.”
“Great heavens! That must mean…!”
That’s how a REAL story starts, Udo. None of this crap about “Rain they said it was rain. Or not rain. Into the rain he threw his oat. Toy cat. Rain. At the window he laughed Cat In A Hot Tin Rain. Driverless car passed toy cat crushed. Toy? Car in the rain. Cat in the rain. Toy car? Telephone rings not answered. Thus.” No longer the rage in academia? We’ll see.
BUT I AM SADDENED to report that The Times Literary Supplement (London) carries an excerpt from a talk by Alain Robbe—Grillet (you remember Al) asserting that the very latest nouvelle vague among French writers is “narrative minimalism” (minimumisme narré). This would not be important except for the knee—jerk reactions of English Departments in this country. When Deconstruction crossed the Atlantic from Paris, our English Departments opened wide their arms. That movement is now deservedly dead in France, but thriving here. Minimalism will probably receive a transfusion in much the same way. Your professorial friend and I may have to slash our wrists.
Oh Irony of Ironies! A couple of months ago the Sunday NY Times Book Review carried an article in defense of minimalism by one of Donald Barthelme’s brothers (several survive him, and they all seem to be writers). The article may have exceeded 100,000 words, and clearly belonged in the Write—As—I—Say-Not—As—I—Do category. It was so rampantly prolix that I lost the thread of argument. But that’s not important, because—-as you know from your experience in the art world-~nobody was ever converted to a disliked esthetic by polemics. You like Jackson Pollock, I like Norman Rockwell. We’re both openminded. The hell with you.
The Curse of The New Yorker After a number of years of completely objective evaluation, I have decided that The New Yorker was responsible for the blight that has fallen on the world of belles—lettres. Under the editorship of Harold Ross, we used to read fiction by Perelman, O’Hara, Benchley, Thurber, etc. With the installation of Shawn, the fiction editor became William Maxwell, who promoted the When—I—Was—A—Girl—In—Czechoslovakia—My- Grandmother—Said—To—Me kind of fiction, in which plot is rejected, and focus——if any——is interiorized. After reading the fictionalized wisdom of several hundred admonitory Czech grandmothers, I threw in the towel. Of course, Truman Capote made his sly contribution, confusing us innocents with boys disguised as girls, and smokescreening the meaning with baffling motivation and dialogue. (When the closet door opened, all was instantly clear.) Having run out of Czech grandmothers, Maxwell published Barthelme. Then he put him on staff.
Newhouse jettisoned Shawn, but I doubt that The Ross Touch will be restored. Newhouse is staff—plucking like a reincarnated William Randolph Hearst, all the while feigning astonishment at the response to his Genghis—Khan approach to management. If The New Yorker continues to slide, I shall not grieve. Pauline Kael will slide out of sight with it, plus the constituency for minimalism. We may see Frank Merriwell, Bart Hodge and Dink Stover in weekly installments again! And don’t forget that when Thomas joins the Boy Scouts you can read Boy’s Life without fear! The future is brighter than you think!
EARTHQUAKE: The 23 people you heard about who just missed being trapped in collapsing overpasses were all real, and the daughter of my stepdaughter’s nanny was one of them. Near misses all over the place. Nobody in our immediate families happened to be in the San Francisco area at the time. When we go to San F we don’t use the Nimitz Freeway, which had the worst collapse, but we do use the Bay Bridge, from which one section fell. We are considering the abandonment of San F as a destination. That will not be too hard to endure, because the city is strangled by traffic and narrow streets. It is also overrun with weirdos, creeps, loonies, drifters, panhandlers, street musicians, druggies, drunks and marginal criminals who are promoted by the San Francisco tourist bureau as “colorful.” Send for your brochure today to arrange a colorful weekend in The City By The Golden Gate!
THE BENEDICT CANYON INCIDENT—PART III: Since we both agree that 1), I was not there and have no first—hand details to recall, and 2), you feel that your recollections may be somewhat blurred by time, the only course would be to ask Jeanne, so I leave that to your good offices. (You always kept a good office, Udo.) But I would like to raise a question concerned with comparative physiology: you say “It may have been that too much booze flowed, and what with the Indians’ incapacity to hold liquor…” My question is: do Indians really have a low tolerance for alcohol? Or is that just the kind of folk wisdom that spreads notions like Norwegians Have Square Heads, Blacks Are More Musical Than Whites, Orientals Are All Sinister, Sailors Have Sweethearts In Every Port, and so forth? I have seen tipsy Indians in Gallup, Albuquerque and Santa Fe, easily outnumbered by tipsy Anglos, especially on Saturday nights. Your informative comments are solicited. The decision of the judges will be final and, in case of tie, duplicate prizes will be awarded.
0 WAIL THE MAIL THAT TRAILS THE SNAIL! Sacramento was the last stop for The Pony Express, which may have been faster than the routing you describe for a letter from Stamford to here. The delayed delivery I called to your attention may have been caused more by an obliterated zip code than klutzy mailhandlers, but from Stamford to Albany to New York to (probably) San Francisco to Sacramento seems needlessly lengthy, especially since transcontinental mail (so I heard) has been by air for years. Ask the whittlers down at the IGA for the real skinny, Udo. I think somebody at the Stamford P.O. has been belting Jersey Lightning on the night shift again. Just because their motto includes “..gloom of night..” doesn’t mean they should deal with the gloom by gargling the sauce.
THE PASSING OF DELEHANTY is a knife in my heart, Udo. Now who’ll teach mechanical droaring to ambitious lads from Brooklyn? I’ll never forget the words of my instructor, Tim O’Connor: “Remember to do front, side and top views, and use a 3H pencil at all times.” Where do you hear that kind of wisdom today? I look at the instructions for a digital watch from Taiwan, and all I see is a front View. And they don’t know a 3H pencil from a chopstick. If we didn’t have an hourglass in the kitchen, I wouldn’t know if it was ten in the morning or five in the afternoon. Another Old Value gone forever. (Nathan opened a hotdog place in the San Fernando Valley, and it flopped. But the dogs are for sale in markets, even in Sacramento. All may not be lost to Progress.) Ask your professor friend about Deconstruction.
(ATTENTION: You need a new ribbon on your printer.)
Fred C. Dobbs