Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Umnak Island, 13 October 1944

My adored onager,

The package could not have been nicer, not unless you had tucked yourself between the date bars and the anchovy paste. Three boxes came today, two from you and one from Dad. …

As I write I am in a state of great content—as the lonely Aleutian variety of content goes. Yesterday after nearly a week of plugging away at the novel I knocked off for a day’s vacation and slept for fourteen hours. Then this morning I typed up the first fifty pages of the final draft and did some more work on chapter nine, in which Angel  encounters a Saroyanish character known as El Presidente. I took a nap in the afternoon and when I awoke, lo! the long-awaited packages, plus a tower of PMs and New York Times, a New Yorker, a Harpers, and a Saturday Review of Literature.

Now I am ensconced on my chair before my desk in the hut. On the table before me are two newly arrived books, one new and intriguing, the other one of my oldest friends and full of memories of Washington and Milt [Stewart] and political arguments in the early morning. On my improvised filing cabinet a pot of water bubbles on the hot plate, and below it in a neat triplicate pile are the first fifty pages of the revised chapters and part of a sixth, awaiting typing. I am full of vitamins, phosphorus pills, Mannings tea, date sticks, some odd olive oil—reminding me of Toots Shors and the night you and Phyllis went to see Gilbert and Sullivan while I did Timely chores, and a rum cake. I feel myself a veritable cookie Croesus.

Somehow, my plikka pet, the tea you send tastes better and there is more health in your vitamin pills and more shine of the writing paper you send than in any I get any other way. And the date-sticks, piltzer, are not only date-sticks but memories of the Kincaid apartments and Frank’s shiners [Murray’s lifelong friend Frank Sadler had been a boxer] and the green and black study room at the ATO house and the editor’s hole at the [UW Daily] Shack and scuffing leaves on the paths and foggy mornings with the Chimes for an alarm clock.

Bernard Anastasia, 1945, from Windblown and Dripping
I keep thinking of fall weather in Seattle and you walking where there are leaves, my nunny. Scuff a few for me. Our local variety of fall has gone through a spring at Longmire stage and is now back to variations on the Grays Harbor theme. What rain we get these days falls horizontally (“It never rains in the Aleutians, it rains in Siberia and blows over”) and the sky is still dark and seven and twilight gets in around five-thirty. On the days when there is no rain, fog sweeps over the island and blows away with incredible speed and even more incredible persistence. The weather changes ten times in an hour. One day we had hail, rain and sunshine all at the same time. The wind is so variable that most of us have been broken of our habit of outdoor urination. Several of the fellows have broken out their longhandled underwear and the fight over how hot the hut should be is enough in itself to overheat an auditorium.
As I write the local GI radio is rebroadcasting Dewey’s first speech, the one in which he blamed the Depression on the New Deal and promised to bring the soldiers home sooner. He has the most magnificently unmoving voice I have ever heard. The recitation is excellent but the conviction is lacking.
The Armed Services editions have brought out Henry Seidel Canby’s biography of Walt Whitman and looking through it I ran across this passage that the great optimist wrote in 1860 about American politics.
Walt Whitman
….”The members [who nominated James Buchanan] who composed it were, seven-eighths of them, the meanest kind of bawling and blowing office-holders, office-seekers, pimps, malignants, conspirators, murderers, fancy-men, custom-house clerks, contractors, kept-editors, spaniels well trained to carry and fetch, jobbers, infidels, disunionists, terrorists, mail-riflers, slave catchers, pushers of slavery, creatures of the would-be presidents, spies, bribers, compromisers, lobbyers, sponges, ruin’d sports, expelled gamblers, policy-backers, monte dealers, duelists, carriers of a concealed weapon, deaf men, pimpled men, scarr’d inside with vile disease, gaudy outside with gold chains made from the people’s gold and harlot’s money twisted together; crawling serpentine men, the lousy combings and born freedom sellers of the earth. “  …
As Koestler says of our time, it seems that in the 1860s, “pessimism was obligatory.”
M


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