Saturday, October 30, 2010

Umnak Island, 23 September 1944

My queer cucumber…  

[...the first two pages are quotes from Good Night, Sweet Prince, a biography of John Barrymore…]

Another item from the Times is about a psychological disease called “chronophobia,” fear of time (small T), which causes mental disintegration among prisoners and “may possibly appear in the Army and Navy, in concentration camps and among shipwrecked sailors.”

Salvatore Russo, the psychologist who has been studying the problem, says that prisoners fear time because it is the symbol of their confinement, that time, to a prisoner, “is life itself.” Punishment is meted out in terms of time. Prisoners always ask one another “How much time to you have in?” they are always “doing time,” and they always know how many days much still be served before release comes. According to Russo the realization of the true duration of a sentence does not come at once. First there is hope, uncertainly a studied indifference, a carefree attitude. Perhaps an appeal may succeed, perhaps friends and relatives can intercede with the politically powerful. False hopes are thus aroused. Something happens after a few months, sometimes only after a few years. There comes the realization that a long stretch much be served. Friends do not write or call as often as they once did. Suspicion is aroused that a wife or sweetheart is no longer faithful.  These gloomy thoughts are followed by anxiety, restlessness, dissatisfaction. The prisoner complains of sleeplessness and of other ills—stomach trouble, pains in the chest, back or head, a fast heart, dizziness, palpitation. If the prison physician tells him that his ills are imaginary, fear is heightened—the fear of dying of neglect. In the end the prison psychiatrist takes him in and classifies him as a neurotic…These crises often pass. But when they do pass it is the clock and calendar that rule life. Russo says that the men are reduced to the status of mere automata. It is nature’s way of helping them. Time then passes more smoothly. Life is lived one day at a time.

Up here we are being presented with a fine psychological study of a character in disintegration. Our Tim is such a blend of alcohol and paranoia that it is a pity he can’t be subjected to clinical analysis. He is the only drinking man I have ever known who cannot drink, the two latest gags about his infinitesimal alcoholic capacity are: “He should be served beer in jiggers” and “He could get high on a good rub down.”

It isn’t funny, of course. The dissolution of an intelligent mind, the collapse of a well-knit character, cannot really be funny. Somewhere along the line Tim has crossed the line between drinking as a stimulant and drinking as a perversion. To quit now will take more character than he has left, I am afraid. 

In Fairbanks, after his Aleutian year, he was drunk all the time and said it was because he had not had his furlough. When I arrested him that day in Seattle he said he was drunk because he could not bear to think of coming back. When he got to Alaska he drank his way out of Anchorage on the excuse that he didn’t want to stay there anyway. In Fairbanks he drank himself into a stupor and explained he was longing for a little town. He was sent back out here and on every drunk has paranoically prated about persecution.

But his latest binge came on the day after he was told that everything was set for him to clear out of here. He and Thornton and Jack will all go on the same plane, as soon as transportation can be arranged. So Tim with his usual unerring instinct locates alcohol and besots himself. From noon on today Jack and Greenleaf were trying to get him up to get packed so that, if transportation were suddenly available, he should be ready to take off. But not our Timothy. “Ahhhhh hell wi’ it. Don wanna go till my laundry back.” They finally hauled him out of bed and steered him off to work, mumbling, “Fine buncha friends, fine buncha friends, won’ even hold down a circuit for a fella when he’s sick.” Later he asked Greenleaf to pack for him and Thornton told him to go to hell. Said Tim, “I always knew you were a sonofabitch.” 

There was to this latest fling one fitting touch. We have broken Tim of the habit of urinating off the front porch of our hut but he, and a few other of the fellows, persist in letting fly within a foot or two of the rec hall. Drainage is poor there, and the problem complicated by the fact that the rec hall is the beer hall. Last night when one Good Samaritan located Tim in the rec hall, conscious but beyond the realm of self-propulsion, he started to take our Irishman home. After getting him outside he let go of Tim for a moment and turned to shut the hut door. When he turned around, no Tim. He played the flashlight about the walk. There was our little man, face down in a pool of urine. Later Time duplicated his feat of going out to relieve himself, unbuttoning his pants, taking out his scrotum and urinating down his pants and into his shoe, then going back to bed, clothed and shod.

We will welcome the plane that takes him away as a refugee welcomes the Gripsholm.

The weather up here reminds me of the Hoquiam high school bear that Elmer the Yogi played with. It keeps getting rougher and rougher. In the early days of my stay on the island, even the grey days were soft, and the warm ones were playful and prankish. But through August there was a rising strength to the weather, the wind developed power. And now, although the wildest weather is still months away, the wind has an almost terrifying strength. It pounds against the flat drumends of the hut in staccato bursts. It curls under loose fittings and screams and whines of things to come. It snarls down the tin stovepipe and rattles the sides of the iron oilburner. Because the direction of the wind changes each moment (standing on the bank I can watch it race over the bending grasses of the meadow, shifty as a Husky halfback of the thirties) it makes a whole symphony of sound, booming hissing, thrumming, humming, crashing, sassing, screeching, howling, wailing, fading away like a beaten banshee, screaming back like an angry puma.

Lying in bed today, nursing my cold, I watched everyone as he passed Time’s bunk after the “Don’t Wanta Go Till the Laundry’s Home proclamation. Each man, thinking of how he would like to be getting out of here, looked at the Irishman as a money-minused clerk would look at a fellow worker who lit a cigarette with a ten dollar bill, puzzled, unbelieving, disgusted....Sometime during the afternoon, after listening to another pair of warriors discussing their plans for soon-to-be-realized furloughs, I jotted down this notion on the back of a book, “Men of meager imagination and harlot hopes.”

Somehow the last phrase sums up my attitude toward my fellow man, these days. But, as I keep arguing with Jack, no matter how much you dislike most individuals, there should be no arguing that each does not have equal right to opportunity, education, protection, security. It seems to be that the true test of reaction is whether it denies these rights, the test of liberalism is whether it, by deed, upholds the rights of all. The “by deed” is the important thing. There is extremely little liberalism in of an active sort in the world today. Too much of it is in the form of proclamations and charters, too little in action against the forms and characters who restrict the possibility of human growth.

John-boy in a recent review of “Germany: A Short History” says “They do not rest the case there (on the fact that Ludendorff changed the first world war from a war of limited objectives into a total war of societies when he let Lenin back into Russia in order to help collapse the czarist regime). The Germany of the Weimar Republic might have been won for peace in spite of Ludendorff and Hitler if a worldwide ethical collapse hadn’t followed hard upon the blasting of the more utopian hopes of the peacemakers. In 1919 we expected the millennium; in 1938 we didn’t believe in morals, ethics, honesty or charity. The moral of the Shuster Berstraesser book would seem to be this: if you don’t expect too much of peace, you may work harder to preserve it.”

This sort of reverse-English assurance which the authors present seems to me based on the miscalculation that everyone expected the millennium last time. The last peace was sabotaged by those who did not think it could be accomplished, by the willful minority in the Senate, by the men and women who were afraid it would cost us something to help someone else. And there are probably more such doubters now than before. To believe that a preponderance of such sentiment will help the peace seems a little naïve. 

And this is all for this one, little lover. Do write as often as you can.  …
M

Friday, October 29, 2010

Umnak Island, 20 September 1944

My darling…

We had a nice letter from Lynn today. He is still in England and although now a major seems as disgusted with the military life as ever. He wants to get back to Steilacoom and the girl he has never seen. When he wrote, September 6, he still had two missions to go to complete his operational tour and said that nobody seemed interested in letting him take his final two flights and then head for home. Here are some of the better quotes:

I wish to hell you had never mentioned your stay in Mexico. [Murray and Rosa lived in the Tarascan town of Patzcuaro on a Pulitzer traveling scholarship in 1943.] The dream of a place like that stayed with me for a good six weeks. No help to my morale at all. I think I’ll head to a place like that after the war. But on the whole, I don’t have any too definite plans for after this show.

…I see where they had added an amendment to the GI Bill of Rights whereby a guy over 25 like me can grab a year of schooling at about $75 per month and that has certain attractions to me. I had a hell of a good time in school and that might be a good way to spend a year. It certainly would do me no harm and a year isn’t much. …

Unfortunately, I can’t give you much hot poop from here about the war. It seems strange but we probably know less about it than do the people at home. Some of our news is naturally a bit more authentic but all of the official stuff is a couple of days behind the newspapers and radio. We get over there occasionally, but it’s pretty difficult to see much from five miles up. Which is where I’d rather be, incidentally. Right now I’m snooping about to see how many silver stars I have to steal and wear to get over to Paris. A weekend there would not be hard to take. But the Mps seem to be travelling right behind the infantry so it’s probably out of bounds anyhow. A hell of a war.

…This looks like about it for tonight Murray. I hope you do better than I have done in answering this. But with those long nights setting in up there it should be easy for you. Though what you do in your off time during days beats me, too.  …

As I said, a very nice letter. And that news that the GI Bill has been amended to give an extra year of school to us ancients doesn’t sound bad. Maybe we will be able to make it to the University of Guadalajara yet. I will have to look into it. …

I’ve been meaning to mention the last Grafton column [Samuel Grafton was a columnist for the New York Post] that you sent me—the one about a semi-permanent armistice with Germany as a substitute for a peace. It seems to me that the idea is the perfect example of his “verbal” approach to problems. The reason that Germany was allowed to rearm after the last war was not that we called our settlement with her “peace” instead of “armistice.” It was that everyone was too tired to want to stop her. And after this war everyone will be tired again, too, whether the settlement is called peace or armistice.
Grafton says that if we call it an armistice, then the military commanders will be able to take action any time Germany makes a false move. After the last war when Germany made a false move (stopped paying reparations to France) the French military commanders were perfectly able to move. They did move. They occupied the Ruhr. And all they did was foul things up even worse than they were, and the coal the French got from the Ruhr was not equal in value to the pay of the poorly paid army of occupation.

Grafton wants to settle it all by calling the settlement by a different name. But the important thing is what sort of a peace is made, not what it is called. Further, the concentration of worry about what to do to keep Germany weak seems a bit out of place. Germany in this war has taken the sort of beating that bled France into a Maginot Line psychosis in the last war (pardon the mixed metaphor, Nunny, you don’t get bled into a psychosis.) Unlike the last war much of this one had been fought with German cities as targets. Germany has suffered terrific manpower losses and undoubtedly will suffer more in the next few weeks. She will have foreign armies all over her soil. If she thinks about another war after this one, it is going to be not in terms of conquest but in terms of defense. How to keep the Russians and the Poles and the Hungarians and all the rest of them away. The problem is not how the victorious Allies are to keep the losers weak but how they are to keep on good terms with each other. If they do not fall out—especially if Russia and America do not fall out—there won’t be another world war, not for a long long time. Germany could never get strong enough to take them both on at once. But if they fall out, then it is to the interest of one or the other to let Germany get a little stronger, just as Britain helped Germany get a little stronger last time in order to have a European power to counterbalance France. And then there could be a bigger blow up than this one. 

The problems are great. I doubt that there is enough unselfishness in the world to solve them. But under any circumstances, they are bigger than semantics.

Up here we have our own little problems. At least, Jack has. It looks like he is going to get the doublecross again on his furlough. If he gets another bad deal on it I’m really afraid for him. He was talking so irrationally about it that he might flip his lid and get shipped home in a jacket that laces u the back. 

Jack has been trying to get a furlough ever since coming in the army. He was all set for one in December 1941, but Pearl Harbor popped. He was supposed to get another before being shipped north but Fairbanks needed an operator in a hurry. After more than a year in Fairbanks he was ordered out to the islands and again there was too much of a hurry for him to be given his furlough. According to the ACS regulations he was supposed to be able to add his Fairbanks time to his time out here and get a furlough after about five months in isolation. The rule is right in the book. But the boy who was CO here then refused to go by the rule. He made up his own for the station and he said that the longest time in isolation was what counted. 

Now Jack has put in more than a year here. When he put in his application for the furlough it somehow got lost for a while and went in at the same time as Greenleaf’s. Greenleaf has been here a couple of weeks less than Jack. Now it looks as though Greenleaf will get out first and, replacements being as hard to get as they are, that may mean several extra weeks for Jack. So he has got it coming and going. Everytime he goes to get our, the rules are changed. 

Now Greenleaf is, next to Jack, my best friend up here. I hope he gets out as fast as he can. He has some business to attend to in Kodiak and is anxious to get there. He is, in fact, so anxious that he is willing to pay some of the guys here to fill his shift by overtime work until his relief arrives. But the thing that bothers me about the whole arrangement is that the guys who are getting the breaks on the deal are the ones who have sort of fouled things up from time to time. It is scarcely an incentive to get in there and pitch when Eagon gets a greenlight to get out of here when he is drunk half the time and goofing off the rest. Tim hasn’t done a real day’s work since I’ve been here, but he is going to get out. Greenleaf went on a tear the other day and cracked up a car and, for a time, had a possible court martial hanging over his head. But exceptions are to be made to the rule to get him out. And Martin, who is sarcastic and unpopular but who really pitches in there on the circuit, gets the go-by.

Bad deal.

Well, darling, enough of the gripe session. I suppose it comes in part from my typhoid shot fever and the start of a cold which I think I now have licked. But the whole thing rather irritated me.
I love you, my weird little watermelon,
…M

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Umnak Island, 24 September 1944

Greetings my voluptuous violet…

Enrico Traina, the brainless, bawdy Baudelaire of the 971st Signal Service Company, this afternoon greeted your stolid classmate Al Hesse with the salutation “Voluptuous Character.” Al was reasonably sure that our queer Corsican was misapplying the term and on returning to the hut he woke me to ask the exact definition and the derivation. I said “sensually pleasant” but could not even guess at the derivation. So we looked it up in F&W and found, my voluptuous one: “Belonging to, producing, exciting, or yielding sensuous gratification; 2. Pertaining to the enjoyment of pleasures or luxuries; 3. Having fullness of beautiful form, as a woman.” It comes from the Latin voluptuosus, meaning pleasure. 

Once up and into the dictionary I kept to my feet/seat and heard the Sunday symphony, Toscanini conducting. The program began with P’s Classical Symphony and was climaxed—to misuse a verb—with the Nutcracker Suite. I have come to have a great affection for the Classical with its swift, light clarity and if I don’t hear something by S soon, I may lose an argument to Mrs. Elliott by default. By some quirk of Special Service fate I have heard the Classical five times in by five months up here. To hear of it is to think of that wonderful last Christmas together, a thought which arouses wildly mixed feelings, my ambivalent bivalve.

With a symphony, a few hours sleep, a covey of cups of tea inside me and four long letters from my adorable aardvark to re-read I could feel almost at peace with a warring world. Every letter from you fills me with wonder that I should be so lucky as to find the one person worth finding. How I love you, my nunny.

You are, of course, absolutely right both about the justification of the excess expenditures and the inadvisability in the future of bulldozing anyone into sharing our lives. Any depletion in our cash stockpile I can make up simply by getting back to work with my writing. With Jack going and bad weather setting in, it will be much easier to establish a routine of work, and I have enough ideas for several short stories now. I want to do a slick paper job about Patzcuaro (a story mingling Carmen’s schoolteaching troubles with Fernano’s famous chess game, the story twist being that by lacing the pompous visiting with the carved ivories, he costs the reactionary his dignity and his chance of ousting the teacher.) Then I want to do a New Yorker piece about a drunken soldier. And I am pretty well along in another Adventure yarn, this one about Siberia and the Arctic Ocean. And there is always the novel. Some of these are bound to sell, and so—no money worries. I am ashamed of having bothered you , my sweet sea-robin, and please don’t worry more in the future. 

Howard’s good luck makes me tremendously envious [Howard Daniel worked in the Balkans as part of the United Nations Economic Commission]. Imagine getting back to the Balkans, and taking part in shaping the new Balkans. I can think of nothing more wonderful. And his postwar plans for us, well, as Daisy Mae still says to Abner, “Sigh.”
Getting back to my writing for a moment. Although I have done comparatively little real work in the last few months I think that I have learned a lot from the intense reading I have done.  A lot about writing. Probably  the most important thing has been in regard to pace and the ways of building up a climax. And, somehow, I keep gaining confidence about my ability to handle sometime in the not too distant future a serious novel, probably the “And Shadows Fall” piece. But before I do that I want to do a few more good (i.e., “Change of Station”) short stories and character sketches.

The enforced isolation of this year has already produced in me a contemplativeness which I find rather surprising. While many things irritate me and I am sometimes savagely sarcastic to such well meaning simpletons as Took the Tex and Abe Wyll, the rearguard soldier whom Jack calls “The Boy with the Well Founded Inferiority Complex.” But more often I am at worst ironic, and often as I talk to them I seem to be standing somewhere else, watching the scene. In “Seven Pillars” Lawrence tells of a similar experience which led to his conception of the idea of guerrilla warfare the Arabs could best pursue against the Turks. While my own experience will scarcely have such far reaching repercussions, it gives me a sense of serenity and security against the crowdings and chaffings of our excessively communal life. My hope is that this increasing detachment will make it possible for me to write with more control, to make my kills with a single thrust instead of splattering the target with a tommygun burst.
And now, this being my second letter to you today, I am going to knock off for the nonce, catch a quick sleep, and dream of my strange shallot.
…M

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Umnak Island, 27 September 1944

My darling…

Today Jack and I saw “Mask of Dimitrios” and if Howard’s [Daniel’s] letter hadn’t been enough to give be the Balkan shakes, those shots of street scenes in Belgrade and dives in Sofia were a stack of superweighted straws for this poor camel. Ever since getting out the movie I have been tasting smokey sliva, buying long sticks of barbecued meat and trying to remember to say no by shaking my head. 

I didn’t think the show quite came up to the book. Rather surprisingly, I was disappointed most by Peter Lorre’s characterization of the unintentional hero. But , oh mona, that background.

Jack was almost as excited by some of the café shots as I was. He has a pretty good feeling for atmosphere. He also has pretty good luck. At long last he is on his way. I had gone t bed after getting back from the show and woke hearing somebody running down the path toward the hut. There was only one thing that could make anyone run that hard so by the time Jack bounced down the steps I was half out of bed and had my hand stuck out for a congratulatory handshake. I am glad he finally made it, but I hate to see him go. His friendship helped a lot, especially in the shaky days when I first got here. He will probably beat this letter to Seattle.

Pete Pedersen’s letter was very nice, Nunny. One of these unfine days I’ll write to him. But first I have to write to Howard Lewis (I’ve already sent a long lament to the Daniels about their departing us) and to Milt Stewart and, especially, to Bill James.  I haven’t written to the Jameses yet so it will be a hard letter to do. …

And most of all I want to keep to my new routine which gets in a lot of creative writing. I have put in several hours daily during the past week and today finished a rather fast action pulp story. I think it is better than either of the last two, although the closing scene may bother you as the church fight did in “A Job for Joe.” I’m not sure it will, though for I kept gratuitous violence out. I just threw in three killings, but all were in self-defense.
I’m glad I finished the story because I am a bit happy about it and takes the sting of the news from Ann Elmo that the New Yorker declined to make itself immortal. She suggests that the point of the story be strengthened and then she’ll give Esquire a shot at it. I expect to get to work on it within the next few days, but first I want to tackle a Mexican idea that I’ve been dallying with. Up here, somehow, I don’t mind the idea of rewriting as much as I did before. There is an abundance of time, probably. 

We have two puppies in the camp. Their antecedents are dubious, but their actions are almost Blueyish. They roll and tumble and fall on their faces and run in sections instead of as a piece. When they battle one goes for the ear and the other for the tail and they chew each other joyfully and, because of their Arctic fur, ineffectually. Their names are Snafu and Tarfu. The foxes seem afraid of them, although neither is much bigger than a fox head.

I didn’t write yesterday because I slept for thirteen hours—purely by accident. The guy who was going to wake me went to sleep himself. And today I’m a bit too groggy to write much because I had almost no sleep what with seeing Jack on his way and sitting up to listen to the moans of Greenleaf and Egan, who haven’t made it yet. So this letter won’t be much.

I forgot to tell you that the pussywillow feeling flower which you liked best is the lupin.
Now I have to get to work, little lover. I’ll bat out a better letter tomorrow.
…M







 Thanks to "Greenthumb," a Fairbanks gardener, from whose online collection I lifted this image of Arctic lupine

Part of a Letter from Pete Pedersen to Murray

Pete and another Army friend had dinner at the houseboat with Rosa and Carmen Fett

...The supper table was beginning to assume an inviting pattern now -- twin candle sticks at either end, individual matted table coverings set out and centered with simple pale blue plates beautifully designed in their right (Wright?) proportions. Next came slim wine glasses and gleaming silverware set off by rough textured napkins. As if the sight of all this, and the intoxicating aroma wafting from the kitchen of spaghetti and meat sauce coming to a turn wasn't enough to inflame the senses and set the taste buds aquiver, Carmen had to bring in a bottle of Mexican tequila and insist we try one of her "Tequila Cocktails" before dinner. They were very dry and very delicious, kind of like Sauterne wine.

And then we sat down to a dinner for which I should have lived so long. There was spaghetti and meat sauce topped with Parmesan cheese, hot buttered corn on the cob--the first we had tasted in a long time. Then there was a magnificent salad bowl --the character of the ingredients preserved intact instead of all chopped up and minced and mixed together in the usual hodge podge most women like to pass off as a salad. There was French bread, sliced on the diagonal, rubbed with garlic and toasted -- and a bottle of red wine. At this point I was almost moved to remark that the only thing missing would be brandy with the coffee and dessert. Luckily, I contained myself, for Rosa marched in with a tray containing coffee and a decanter of Portuguese brandy, followed by cherry pie served on those Mexican dancer dishes.

And as the candles burned low, over a third brandy and a fourth, we remained around the table in pleasant conversation not disturbing the wonderful still life of debris between us. With a little coaxing Rosa brought out some of her photographs -- a carefully censored cross section, I'm afraid, for there appeared to be more of Otto's pictures than her own.

The evening moved on in this fashion and rounded out to its inevitable conclusion. Whether it was politeness on the part of the hostess--certainly reluctance on ours--nobody seemed willing to suggest it was time to take leave. Jean finally came bubbling in about 2 am or 3 from her party and that seemed the logical point to break off. ... You can't thank a person for an evening such as that. It can't be bought nor can it be paid for.

Pete Pedersen

Monday, October 25, 2010

Umnak Island, 29 September 1944

Hello Love of my Life…

I have just finished reading “Hell on Ice” and while it is a long hoot and a loud holler from being up the “The Worst Journey in the World,” it is a fascinating book. The story is of a polar expedition in 1879, carried out under the strange joint sponsorship of the New York Herald and the United States Navy. On a made-over schooner, the Jeannette, purchased by the Herald and manned by Navy seamen, Commander G. W. De Long tried to reach the North Pole. 

He based his attempt on two geographic theories then prevalent: first, that the Japanese current divided off the Aleutians and half flowed east and south while the other half flowed into the Arctic Ocean  and moved westward along Siberia; second that Wrangel Island (then called Wrangel Land) was a huge mass extending far to the north, perhaps going across the pole and linking with Greenland. Both theories belonged to the Age of Alchemy. They had no basis at all in fact.

On September 6, 1879 the Jeannette was frozen in the ice pack just west and north of Wrangel Island. She never broke loose. For two years her crew lived aboard, carried far to the north and east by the drifting ice, menaced by bergs which crushed through the floe toward them, once almost sunk when a submerged berg moving under the ice field smashed into the hull, once almost crushed between an island and the ice they were frozen in. On June 5, 1881, the ship was crushed. The men were left on the ice pack, 500 miles from northern Siberia, with limited provisions, a few sick dogs, some sleds and the ship’s three light boats. For ninety days they moved across the pack, and when they reached the new Siberian Islands, the land was so bare it offered absolutely no support. They had dragged their boats behind them over the field, and at the islands they launched them and made for the Lena River delta in Siberia. One boats was lost with all hands. The other two were separated in a gale. One of those two eventually found a settlement. Two of the men from the other boat reached another settlement, but the eleven other men, including De Long, died of starvation after eating all their clothing. 

The author, Commander Edward Ellsberg, says the trip made many important scientific discoveries, but he does not list them. It discovered three barren islands, disproved the theories about Wrangel Land and the Japanese current, and produced a theory that the salt frozen in the sea ice was the cause for scurvy on polar trips. Other than that the scientific value must have been in the weather observations made while on the polar pack. One chance for a good deal of new information was lost when the lone newspaperman about forgot to bring developer for his camera plates. The plates would not keep in the cold temperature undeveloped. 

The chief engineer had a few negatives and a little developer about and one day got such a shot as had never been taken before, and probably never since: “The view was marvelous. Heeling now 23 degrees to starboard, the spar deck dovered with men clinging to the rigging, the rails, and the davits to keep from sliding into the scupper, showed up clearly; while with her black hull standing sharply out against the white pack, and with bow and bowsprit pointing high in the air and stern almost buried, the Jeannette looked like a vessel lifting while she rolled to a huge ice wave. Never again would I see a ship like that. I exposed a plate, the, for insurance, another; and folding up my rig, stumbled back over the ice to the ship, laid below to the darkroom on the berth deck, poured out my chemicals and proceeded with much difficulty (because of the extraordinary list) to develop the plates, which in that climate had to be done immediately or they would spoil. In the vague red light of a bull’s eye lantern, I was struggling in the darkroom with this job, when the ship got a tremendous squeeze, the north deck buckled up under my feet, and amidst the roar of cracking timbers I heard Jack Cole’s shout, “All Hands! Stations for Abandon Ship!”

Another story you might like is of the Chinese cooks who, after a year and a half on the ice, suddenly went mad about flying kites and soon had the Jeannette at the steady end of strings holding kites in all shapes, fashions and colors—birds, flies and dragons.
And a short, terrible story is of a seaman who, when a gale came up with the boat only an hour from landing in Siberia, went mad, stopped bailing and began to pour the icy water over his head, laughing like a baby in a tub.
My next reading job will be “Genghis Khan.”

Yesterday I didn’t write you a letter, little lover, but I did send you a copy of an action short story. And today I am three pages deep into a screwball style story about the Aleutians. It is one I have had vaguely in mind for several months; if fact, I first thought of it while starting up here. The idea is simply to have a basketball game played in a williwaw, and the excuse I have devised for it is rivalry between a newcomer and an oldtimer at a post. The new man is annoyed by the talk of the post’s undefeated basketball team. The fact that the team has never played a game does not seem funny to him, just silly. So, after hearing that a champ U.S. team is to come thru is islands on a U.S.O. tour he tricks our hero into betting that the locals will remain undefeated. When the USO sponsored teams appears on the island our dirty dog of a deep dyed villain [copy missing] which of course is played under strange climactic conditions and ends in a four-four tie or something like that. It is the first comedy I have tried to write in a long time and I am not sure, although the kids who have seen the first three pages snorted and snickered on occasion.

I have been thinking quite a bit this week about the effect of life in isolation upon one’s sense of humor. Probably all but the most extroverted tend to abandon the attempts many make to be funny in other circumstances. The trouble is that the same stimuli produce the same jokes. For instance this week we have a boy on latrine detail who is really doing a good job of scrubbing, mopping, dusting and draining. Consequently each of the two score men who see him daily make comments and most of the comments are “Say, I recommend to the CO that you be put on this detail permanently.” The poor guy is so sick of hearing about it that today he was talking to himself in the mirror, “Going to put me on it permanently, are they…Next guy says that I’m going to throw him in and flush him, I am.”
Another set of gags are delivered daily at the doors of the men sweating out transportation. The four guys that Martin left behind are still here, and they are growing daily grumpier. For which no one blames them. And everytime any of them goes anywhere around the camp area he is greeted with shouts of, “Putting in for permanent duty?” or “You still here?” or “You must like the Aleutians.”

The Army term for a man who is ostentatious about dong extra work is “bucker.” It is not necessarily a term of disparagement. Corporal Bender—he of the mighty mustache now departed—has long been referred to as Buck Benny, and the gags about Buck Benny riding again are as prevalent as they are putrid. But just recently another corporal has gone hog wild for work. In fact he works so hard he is almost a nuisance. We now keep individual records of the amount of traffic we handle in a shift, and this one boy is so anxious to build his score that he actually sits in your lap to send a message on your machine so he can put his initials on it. But while this sometimes annoying, it is a good source of fun and has produced a few of the better gags. Our two buckers are now referred to as Big Ben and Little Ben. The other night the TC said, “Little Ben, if you’re going to keep racing around like this I’ll jab the broom up your rear end and let your sweep the floor as you go.” My own term for this energetic individual is The Good Soldier.

Freddie Steele
And that reminds me. Don’t miss “Hail the Conquering Hero” when it comes to Seattle. I saw it here yesterday afternoon. It is better than the “Miracle of Morgan’s Creek” and it gives the institution of the small town here as pleasant a plastering as the other show did the adulation of multiple production of progeny. But, just on top of all that, Freddie Steele plays the part of a shell-shocked marine and does a really fine piece of acting. In fact he was so convincingly punchy that I am worried about him. [Freddie Steele, “The Tacoma Assassin,” began his boxing career at 13 in Bellingham. He was a middleweight champion before becoming an actor, a career he left in turn to run a popular restaurant in Westport, WA. He and Murray both attended Jason Lee Junior High in Tacoma, a few years apart.] 

I have had a bit more exercise the past few days. Yesterday I have our hut a pretty thorough cleaning, and then going by the rec hall, ran across a football. Russ Linhart, the large lad of the Juneau boil story, was around so we passed and kicked the football for a couple of hours. Then I walked to the show. Today I got up around seven and, for no reason except I felt like it, went for a run of about a half mile. My cold is gone and I feel swell.

Besides our two pups we have another pair of dogs in the camp area now. No one knows where they are from. One is a little bitch, in heat, who sometime in the dim past had a collie near her family tree. The other is a beautiful black and white creature which looks like a cross between a chow and a Husky. He is very male. The pups should be interesting.
You are much, much loved, my distant darling. I think of you so much that it seems you are beside me whenever I see some beautiful thing here—like the moon last night, veiled behind silver clouds which raced across the cone shape of our black, black volcano.
M