HLS - The Letters Of Harvey L. Slatin

February 6, 1990

Hey, they’re, Udo!–

(Franchises Available!)

TIME: 03:49 p.m.
TEMPERATURE: 78° F. (inside)
BAROMETER: 30.11″ Hg.

DO NOT BE ALARMED by the separate package of exciting enclosures. The goal is neatness and sequence. If you read the enclosures first (which John always did, in spite of my admonitions to the contrary) you won’t understand the relevance of each, and you’ll toss them in the wastebasket, unread. I ask you, therefore, to eschew the enclosures until you read the letter up to mention of an enclosure, then read it. Your life will be fuller and richer. Trust me.

UDOBBS PRESS: You “put out feelers” that we’re “on the block and would be receptive to a friendly takeover”? It’s the other way around! We’re ready to make takeovers, not invite some schnook to take us over. Unless, of course, you’re playing a cagy game, and anybody who wants to take us over will end up selling neckties from a pushcart. That’s more like it. I shouldn’t have jumped to such a hasty conclusion. You’ve been around the block once or twice, Udo.

VANGUARD PRESS: I will “remember that you had a strong connection with Vanguard Press”? You never mentioned it to me, although you might have told John. Now it is too late, and your connection has been disconnected by the ruthless takeover pirates of Wall Street. So I shall put aside the two volumes of “Kind Hearts & Serviettes,” and let them languish with the pressed flowers and yellowing photographs of Franklin and Palenville. Alas, Volume III shall ne’er reach the eyes of The American People who have waited for so long. What a cruel fate for a work of international distinction. Since you call Angela Lansbury “friend,” perhaps you could write her a delicately worded note that she would have been Lady Occipita, the crowning role of her career. And a shorter note to your other friend Alec Guiness, a decent chap who will smile ironically and take no offense. (Who is Mary Louise Wilson?)

THE GREAT AMERICAN NOVEL: You imply that not having The Great American Novel is a handicap to Udobbs Press. In that case, we should offer it as soon as possible. We can write alternate chapters and finish it in a couple of weeks. When I read in the Times Book Review how novels get written, the rules seem to be something like this: first, decide what you are going to write; second, write it; third, sell it. That shouldn’t be too hard. Decide What We’re Going To Write: The Great American novel. Write It: no problem. Sell It: less of a problem, because we’ll print it ourselves at Udobbs Press. When I finish this letter, I’ll do a chapter. We can number the chapters later; you do the odd numbers and I do the even numbers, or the other way around. Doesn’t make any difference because the editors at Udobbs Press (us) will put everything in the right order. We have total control. As soon as it’s published and off to the bookstores, we’ll go over to Osterhout’s Tavern and sink a few in celebration. The more I think about this the happier I am about making the pivotal decision to get into novel writing instead of going back in the Army, even though they offered me one grade higher than when I left.

ENCLOSURE A: Somebody is stealing our promotional thunder, Udo! Just look at the enclosed ad for “The Mask of Treachery”! What arrogance! A week after you start circulating our Spring list, these cheap chiselers use almost the same high—impact pitch for their bush—league penny—dreadful. If you know anybody at Warner Books, I suggest you alert them: knock it off, or face a lawsuit! I sent a copy of this ad to my attorneys, Hooke, Lyon & Sinclair, and if the ad is not withdrawn–plus an apology–they will initiate a suit for plagiarism. We pull no punches!

BROOKLYN POLYTECH: You may not have realized that I went to BPI because I was working in Personnel when we both joined the Boy Allies. You probably assumed I had studied accounting or business administration (or mechanical droaring at Delehanty). But I was sent to The Forbidden City as a mechanical engineer. After working at that for a year or two, I requested a transfer to a support function because I realized that my meteoric career would not develop meteorically if I continued to meteorate at the drafting board. (Now everybody uses computer terminals and CAD, which are much easier on dozers, especially if you can sleep with your eyes open, as I can.) I worked in a design group situated next to Oppenheimer’s office, directly across the hall from the office of the ever—popular Klaus Fuchs. (How many can make that statement? Or would even want to?)

In addition to BPI, I took about 8 credits toward an M.E. master’s at the University of Illinois. (Bi-axial and tri-axial stress analysis, lab, etc.) I was lucky enough to take a class under Fred Seely, the guru at that time, who wrote the bible: “Mechanics of Materials” (I think that was the title) with co-author Newton B. Ensign. In spite of this imposing academic background, I was not an engineer by temperament. (You knew it all the time? You’re kidding!) Sam Cohen called me Coster The Impostor.

Another factor that may have mislead you was my entering U N Mex’s English Department to take a master’s. That was entirely from my private interest in literature, which turned to ashes as soon as I tuned in on the academic wavelength and could read the academian encryptions about the study of English. Decoded, they all read: literature is not for reading, it is for analysis and criticism. I added master’s credits here and there in California, and have about half of what would be needed for an M.A. in English. They’re all obsolete now. Anyhow, that’s why I know everything about English Literature. Any questions? Would you speak into the microphone, please? Byron? You mean William Jennings Byron? He was an American poet. One country at a time, please.

This capsule summary of my career should be a lesson to anyone who studies engineering: don’t get in with the wrong crowd, or this could happen to you. English majors are to be avoided at all costs.

If you want to contribute to my relief fund, send money or IGA discount coupons to the above address. (Tax deductible.)

WILLIAM A. BLACKMON, JR: I have a faint recollection of a fellow student at BPI by that name or a name very close to it. He was about five-ten and had dark hair and a quiet nature. I don’t think he studied M.E., but I don’t remember what his major might have been. He is now a CPA with Price Waterhouse, and Mary’s cousin, Austin Graham, is a vice president of Merrill Lynch. They may know each other, and be eager to act in behalf of Udobbs Press, when we make our public offering.

I mentioned to Mary that my yearbook must be somewhere around here, and she agreed, but finding it will take a little time because we are storing our own stuff in the attic along with the possessions of two stepsons and their families until they can buy their own homes and take back their belongings. (A third stepson is an architect in Paris, and has married a French girl. We are storing his possessions, too: in four steamer trunks.) It should be clear that I married into a glamorous family with many possessions, all–except my stepdaughter–suffering from chronic lack of storage space. From what I can tell, the Administration has no plans to do anything about this scandalous problem. Anyway, unless I happen to come across the yearbook sooner, give me about six months. This bears looking into.

THE INGROWN CATSKILLS: Yes, you may very well offend some old-line resident of Stamford if you comment innocently on some other old-line resident. The Catskills were settled by three or four families, they all intermarried, and everybody is related to everybody. The safest course is to say, “Wonderful folksfi” if somebody brings up the name of another person. Right now you’re known as The City People. In 200 years you will be known as The New People. After another 200 years you’ll be “Them Main Street 4people.” You might want to give a copy of “None On The House,” by Cornelius Osterhout, to the local library, to promote Udobbs Press. Of course, nobody would read it, even the author. But it will be covered in the paper: “Locul Publisser Presence Book To Libarary.” Your name will be spelled “Hardy Staten.” Don’t take it personally. Think how it would be spelled if you presented a book to the Sacramento Public Library, and it was written up in The Bee. Count your blessings, Udo.

SPEAKING OF THE BEE… Oscar Wilde defined foxhunting as the unspeakable in pursuit of the uneatable. Would it be unfair (see ENCLOSURE B) to call The Bee’s writing “classes” the untaught teaching the unaware? It was laughable when The Bee held a Speleng Contesst, but this borders on the criminal.

Crocodile Tears: The ombudsman’s column (ENCLOSURE C) tells less about The Bee than a dozen grand juries, so I’ll add to it. The length of the column is a clue to the defensiveness of The Bee about this particular issue, as well as what it implies.

Background: The Sacramento Union is the other paper in town, but it has faded to insignificance for two reasons: it needs the kind of capital available to The Bee, which is owned by a newspaper chain, and the Union’s management has not been very good. Too bad, because the Union is the oldest paper in California, and we need another paper here to rattle The Bee’s cage. The Union did just that in this case, and The Bee is screaming foul.

In the column you will see the name of Gregg Lukenbill. He is the wealthiest developer in Sacramento, with three other developers close behind. Not a day passes that Lukenbill is not splashed favorably somewhere in The Bee (the others, too). The self–serving and blatantly obvious reason is that the more the developers promote Sacramento–and attract population and industry-~the more circulation The Bee will have, and the more advertising it will carry: ergo, more profit.

As if printing Lukenbill’s picture at every chance were not enough, The Bee recently ran a “poll” to determine the most influential person in Sacramento during 1989. To aid the confused, the entry blank contained five names, two of which were developers, one of them of course Lukenbill. The editors do not seem to consider that a form of thought~control. The results have not been published, but I have a tiny suspicion that A Certain Developer will be the surprise winner of the poll. That will of course call for his picture on page one. (I’ll send you the coverage when it appears.) Word goes around–clearly spread by anarchists-~that the name of Sacramento will be changed to Lukenville, in honor of his efforts in our behalf. Who deserves it more? The Bee plans a poll.

Lukenbill owns the Sacramento Kings basketball team, and wants a pro football team here, too. He wants the city/county to build a stadium, although The Bee claims that all he wants is their “participation.”  The Bee is understandably in favor of such a team: more sports advertising: more profit. The ombudsman writes, “It’s hardly a secret that The Bee today lays much heavier emphasis on sports journalism than ever before in its history.” That belongs in the “Understatement Of The Week Department” instead of the ombudsman’s column. ENCLOSURE D is the top 3/4ths of the front page the day after the Superbowl. The paper now comes across as a sports daily with wire—service general news. I should point out that in addition to printing sports news in the general news sections, there is also a large sports section by itself.

And on the newsracks around town, The Bee beats its chest about being “The fastest growing newspaper in the country!” We may mOVe to Palenville, where I’ll work on the IGA loading dock and Mary will be the cashier. If you and Anne drive over on Saturday night, we’ll all go to Inteman’s Inn and drink beer, like real Catskillers. (No fakes allowed.) Better than the NCO club in The Forbidden City.

APRIL IN CLAREMONT: It should be possible. Send me your sister’s name, address & phone number. But one factor might prevent it: right now we have my geologist/geophysicist step— son, wife, and two totties living with us. They have been here since July because of an unanticipated job hang—up: he has been working since September but the company has a 6—months probationary period. That means he cannot qualify for a bank loan or a company credit—union loan until probation has been completed. As soon as it has, they will look for a home to buy. That_presents another problem: home prices are rising in Sacramento because Bay Area workers can’t afford to live in or near San Francisco. Many of them live here now, and more are moving here. (They commute 100 miles each way every day!) Step— son and wife can afford just so much, and to find it they will have to search. As soon as they find it, they will move. If that happens in April, it could de—rail a Claremont trip. We will have to help them move because step-son’s work keeps him in the field long hours (leaves here at seven, comes home at 8 or 9). Also works weekends, unpredictably. He will not be around to help daughter—in—law with the move, so we will have to help her. You will be alerted to all developments.

“WHO PUT THE KNIFE IN BIG SNYKE’S BACK?” That is a title I dreamed one night, for the next Udobbs Press release. I don’t have a plot, of course. That’s where you come in.

I sent some recipes in a separate envelope earlier, but you didn’t mention them. Did they arrive?

Fred C. (“Who’s Snyke, Anyway?”) Dobbs

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