HLS - The Letters Of Harvey L. Slatin

November 4, 1988

Hey, there, Udo!–

You will notice from the enclosed that your klutzy cousin Joe has blown it again.  First he tries to hide behind changing his name to Uddo.  Then he tries to make like he’s moving to Florida to sell disinfectant, when all the time, it’s obvious that he thinks he can take over Dial-A-Croc, which is making a nice piece of change laundering money for the Albanian cosa.  On the side Dial-A-Croc will still do a disposal job if the price is right.  Please tell Joe we know all about him and the word is out.  He might be the next “customer” for Dial-A-Croc himself.  Does he need it spelled out?  Big Tony and Little Tony (also Medium Tony) have had it up to here.  If he didn’t like it in Williamsburg, he can move to Canarsie (or Stamford).  But that’s all.  Florida is OUT!  That’s the word from Mr. Big.  Nuff said.

You left the Village just in time.  Now they have tied up a prison barge on the waterfront just down the street from where you lived.  (I read this in the paper.  Not the Village Voice, but another reliable paper.  Did you know that Norman Mailer started the voice?  I wonder why he didn’t call it “The Naked And The Voice”?)  Anyhow, I was wondering if you and Anne would like a lifetime subscription to the Voice for Christmas?  Since you already have one to the Reader’s Digest, you are the couple that has everything, but news from your old home town might cheer you up.  Although that prison barge is probably not too cheering.  Makes a person wonder why they put it there, now that you have moved away.  Probably some kind of bureaucratic foul-up that Koch will explain at his next press conference, along with other explanations.

You tell me to vote for “The Duke.”  Did you know that our governor is called The Duke?  George Deukejian (I think that’s close.)  He’s not up for election, so I guess you are referring to The Other George.  Let me tell you a little story that was told to me by Raspy Kelly (between tips).  He says that the word is going around that The Other George is not really a Greek!  Listen close, because I have to lower my voice.  He’s really a French Canadian named Du Caquesse!  Do you realize what that means?  He’s not even a citizen!  It’s all a plot by the Republicans to unmask him if he wins, and throw the election to Bush!  How about that?  Politics!  Ceese!

But the real big news around The Big Tomato was turning back the clocks one hour when daylight-saving time went off.  As I told you in an earlier letter, The St. Louis, Salt Lake City & Big Tomato Overland Stage stops in front of The Last Tomato Saloon on Front Street, not far from where The Tomato Express Riders bring their dispatches in from locked saddlebags.  Anyhow, when daylight-saving time went off, the bartender at The Last Tomato Saloon called closing.  When there’s an hour change, it’s too much for the regulars, who can’t read the clock to well anyway.

The bartender staid that even if the clocks were being turned back an hour, he had already put in his shift.  The regulars didn’t even know what he was talking about, because they aren’t interested in saving daylight.  The less of it the better.  They started an argument with him, and he threw them out into Front Street.  Along comes the sage and runs over them.  Of course, in their condition they aren’t even scratched, but the stage driver — played by Walter Brennan–calls the ambulance.

The tomato-red ambulance, fully loaded with fully-loaded “accident victims,” takes off down the 8-lane Grand Tomato Parkway, the driver not realizing that it narrows to one lane a mile away because of an overturned truckload of tomatoes.  When his errand of mercy is delayed, a fight starts between the ambulance driver and the foreman of the cleanup crew (who was later charged with shovelling the spilled tomatoes into mason jars to take home).

Finally arriving at the Tomato General Hospital (with the cleanup-crew foreman now in the ambulance, too), the driver learns that because of more confusion over the daylight-saving time change, no staff has come to work yet.  (There’s no night staff; patients are allowed to walk home at night, unless they just had brain surgery, in which case they can sleep on the hospital lawn until the next morning.)

Back on Grand Tomato Parkway with tomato-colored lights flashing, the ambulance heads toward Tomato Memorial Hospital, only to encounter a second delay as eight lanes narrow to one because of overturned truckload, this time canned tomatoes.  The ambulance driver has a fight with the truck driver, who is also loaded into the ambulance and driven to Tomato Memorial at blinding speed which cannot be measured because the speedometer is obscured by spattered tomatoes.  By the time the Emergency Room entrance is reached, most of the “victims” from The Last Tomato Saloon have sobered up.  They accuse the ambulance driver of kidnapping them, and telephone the sheriff.  The foreman of the cleanup crew and the driver of the spilled truckload of canned tomatoes accuse the ambulance driver of being “mean-spirited,” and retain several of the lawyers who live in the waiting-room of Tomato Memorial.

The lawyers immediately call a press conference, and the photographers take pictures of several citizens who have come to Emergency to be cured of tomato rash, while the reporters interview the sheriff, who is running for re-election, The headline reads: “SHERIFF ARRESTS PHONY ‘RASH VICTIMS’ IN AMBULANCE HI-JACK CAPER.”

The attorneys bill their clients, who turn out to be indigents.  The ambulance driver and the canned-tomato truck driver turn out to be members of the Teamsters, and shake hands.  The cleanup crew foreman joins the rash victims in the waiting-room because he has developed a rash from tomato exposure.  The attorneys decide to sue Tomato Memorial because living conditions make the waiting-room unfit for their habitation.

By this time, The Last Tomato Saloon is open again, but no customers appear.  The bartender wants to sue for alienation of customers but nobody comes forward.  At that moment The Tomato Express Rider gallops down Front Street and agrees to be sued for a free drink.  He’s thirsty from all that galloping.  His trial is being delayed because he’s on his way back to St. Louis by way of Salt Lake City (where drinking is illegal).

And so we come to the end of another diverting day here in The Big Tomato, where the motto, “Ripeness Is All,” is displayed on the city’s flag, which used to be red until accusations of sympathy for communism were muttered along Front Street.  The flag is now made of clear plastic, until the City Council decides in executive session what the official color should be.  If it goes on the ballot, we plan to mark “None Of The Above.”

With any luck you will receive this on or before Election Day, and you can change your vite from Du Caquesse to the Farmer-Labor Party candidate–Olaf Mulchgren–who promises to “plough a straight furrow in The Rose Garden.  He adds the cautionary note, however, that he is not promising the voters a rose garden.  If that isn’t facing the issues, I don’t know what is.


Fred C. ("all the news!") Dobbs

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