31 Dec 1986

Hey, there, Udo!–

This is the last day of the year, and it calls for a summing up The Annual Experience. I have no intention of boring you with such inconsequence. Let us press on.

TAHOE CHRISTMAS: We got in and out of Lake Tahoe without snow in transit. We left on Sunday and the highway over Donner Pass was clear. On Monday, snow fell all over the Sierras. Tuesday and Wednesday were postcard days for photographers, but lousy for skiing. We don’t ski, but some in the family group made the effort. In spite of the snowfall, they still had to ski on man-made snow. Not good, except for the totties on the Bunny Slope. (At North Star, one of Tahoe’s biggest attractions when the snow is deep, the parking lot contained four cars at 9:00 in the morning.) What did I do on this holiday week, you demand to know? I read a lot, and was the bartender in the evenings. The cabin contained a stock of old paperbacks, among them Henry Miller’s Tropic of Capricorn and Tropic of Cancer, which I read years ago. Re-reading Miller was not enlightening. He wrote only about himself, even when he gave the impression of writing about persons or places. His view of life was unoriginal. What held my interest were his descriptions of life in Paris and other parts of France in the Twenties. He gave details of everyday life that don’t appear in the writings of Hemingway or the other expatriates. He could have been the best “travel” writer the U.S. produced, but he considered himself an “artist,” which he was in the limited way of writers whose favorite subject is themselves. The sex episodes that caused him to be banned are minor parts of the books, and seem tiresome because they are so heavily macho and exploitive. Miller was born in New Yrok in the late 1900’s in the Yorkville section (Germans). He absolutely loathed New York, and then the whole country, mainly because “artists” were not respected. He planned to stay in Europe for the rest of his life. The war intervened. He came back, made a lot of money writing, and settled at Big Sur. Eventually he relocated to Pacific Palisades and lived not far from where we lived. I saw him in the supermarket one night at the next checkstand. I gave him a piercing “Noo Yawk” stare, and he left without acknowledging my existence, an impetious and unwarranted slight that I’m sure he came to regret. For Christmas I received two woolen shirts and a Cross pen-and-pencil set. Miller’s widow did not even send a card. It is clear that “artists” get no respect principally because they have no sense of gratitude. There is a great lesson in this for all of us.

Now that I have relieved you of the requirement of re-reading Henry Miller, you can spend your time more usefully rereading your other old favorites, like Edward Everett Hale, Adela Rogers St. Johns, and Major George Fielding Elliot. For too long you have allowed their works to languish, while the Little People of America cry out for edification. Hit those books, fella. You have a civic duty.

To respond to the points you raised in your letter of 15 December:

UNCANCELLED STAMPS: You solved the mystery.

S J PERELMAN: Still my favorite.

MEL SHAVELSON: His name is very familiar, and not from the aircraft inudstry. I must have seen it in print and on the screen quite a bit to remember it. I think you are right that he is in the comedy field.

CHRISTMAS TREE CHOPPING: My son-in-law is also into cutting down their own tree, largely to let the kids experience the “real meaning” of Christmas. He paid for a tree at a tree farm up in the hills near here. Cutting-down day came, and he had an operation to perform. Days went by. (His initial plan was ot put up the tree in Sacramento for a week, then disornament it and carry it to Tahoe, where it would be reornamiented by jolly celebrants.) The paid-for tree continued to hrow on the tree farm because emergency operations followed one after the other. The children forgot the whole thing. At Tahoe my stepdaughter bought a marginally scraggly tree and dressed it on Christmas Eve. Everything worked out famously. Upon departure, the tree was left for the trash man. By next year the uncut tree on the tree farm will be so large that my son-in-law will donate it to the Governor’s office, but it will be turned down because it won’t fit into the capitol building. The opposition party will hear about it and will accuse the governor of politicizing Christams. Denials will be issued. The story will be printed in red WAR DECLARED type font, because around Christmas the papers have no real news, like Madonna and Sean Penn beating up that photographer they keep on their payroll to turn up at airport and let himself get punched in the nose. The story will be pushed off the front page by the customary article on the soup kitchens feeding 127,000 people their Christmas dinner. Investigation will reveal that most of the diners were newspaper reporters assigned to write the story who stuck around for free grub. Only eleven street people were actually provided with a free dinner, and they were fed by Salvation Army (story on page 31). There is a great lesson in this for all of us.

BICYCLING: You pedal around with Thomas, you acrobat. If I got on a bicycle I would fall off and splinter my elbow. (Have you noticed that everybody who falls off a bicycle is required to splinter their elbow? Apparently it’s the law, like the law that all vaudeville performers are required to fall off the stage into the bass drum. If they fall into the snare drum, they have to go back on stage and fall off again. The law.) Anyhow, I give bicycles a wide berth. Skateboards are good enough. Why take unnecessary risks?

JOHN’S EYE(S): The eye that underwent surgery is now at 20/20, which is the first time in John’s nearsighted life that he can see with such acuity, unaided. The other eye is expected to turn out the same. In addition to being Mr Canyon Road and the toast of Santa Fe for his performing, he plans to hire out as an Indian guide (he’ll wear a band around his forehead), take tourists to edge of the city and point at the horizon, saying nothing. The tourist will think it is all very symbolic, and will burst into tears and force him to accept money. He will return to his house and donate the money to himself, thereby proving that simply city boy can learn the Way Of The West and remain pure in heart. If you ever get around to writing to him, he will respond with a letter or a smoke signal, depending on which role he happens to be playing. (One long puff and two short puffs means: “Send money. Explanation follows.” I’d think it over before doing anything if I were you.)

CHOPPING FIREWOOD: We had a wood-burning fireplace in our last house, and got more relaxation out of a gas flame and ceramic imitation logs (which we brought up here). It’s to your credit that you have not turned your back on The Old Values (like fireplaces choked with ashes that have to be carried down to the cellar, an adventure sure to end in a full frontal sprawl accompanied by a choking gray cloud that sends the neighbors to their telephone in hysterics).

…AND A HAPPY NEW YEAR! Looking forward to our ongoing correspondence, filled with the philosophy of hard-won experience, maturity, perspective, objectivity, and the other praiseworthy characteristics that have disclosed themselves up to this point. Just think: we owe it all to General Groves.

…AND A HAPPY NEW YEAR TO ANNE AND THOMAS!

Fred C. (“IT’S MIDNIGHT!”) Dobbs

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