Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Umnak Island, 9 December 1944

Hello Rumpus the Rabbit…
Today’s long-awaited mail delivery brought a nice letter from Myrtle [James] and a P-I clipping from my busy sweet. Myrtle, with myriad ejaculations reminiscent of Father Divine, told about the trip to the San Juans, and I expect a full report from you, sooner or later.
And do tell me more about your newspaper and picture work, little lover, for you must remember that you are the one now fully in the professional swim, and I want to know how we are getting along, stroke by stroke, as in the Aberdeen nator narrative that made me so envious. Yesterday I wrangled from one of our soon to depart comrades a copy of Shakespeare he had intended to read in enforced isolation. The first sonnet I tried expressed how I feel about my careerwoman’s frantic pleasures:

As a decrepit father takes delight
To see his active child do deeds of youth,
So I, made lame by fortune’s dearest spite,
Take all my comfort of thy worth and truth;
For whatever beauty, birth, or wealth, or wit,
Or any of these all, or all, or more,
Entitled in thy parts do crowned set,
I make my love engrafted to this store:
So then I am not lame, poor, nor despis’d,
Whilst that this shadow dost such substance give,
That I in thy abundance am suffic’d
And by a part of all thy glory live.
Look, what is best, that best I wish in thee;
This wish I have; then ten times happy me!

Going from the sublime to the Day of the Dead, I must report that the book is only one page longer today than yesterday. That page was done five times last night before giving up. In a few minutes I will tackle it again. But in the meantime, a report on a bull session.

After knocking off writing last night, I had a long talk with Tookie the Texan. I have told you before that he is a strange, moody youngster, intelligent, introspective and uneducated. His is always locked in dubious battle with melancholia, and consequently as unpredictable in his moods as the Aleutian weather. Last night, for the first time, I learned a lot of his story.

He is the youngest  of seven children, all but two of them boys. His family life was out of the ordinary. His father was a trapper in Louisiana, a skilled mechanic in the Texas oil fields. Tookie knows nothing about his paternal grandparents. His mother, from a conventionally poor, conventionally genteel family, was a school teacher. She was thirty when she met her man, and after a quick courtship married him. In the next ten years she had seven children and other disillusionment. For as Tookie puts it, “Daddy could earn money, but he was just damn no good, just a damn no-good.”

Daddy, it seems had a penchant for traipsing off with trollops. Whenever he met a particularly pleasing whore he went off to live with her awhile. He made good money. At one time, trapping muskrat, he was averaging a sturdy hundred dollars a day. But the family got little of it. In fact at the very period that the furs were flying thickest for Daddy, Mother had sold all the goods her family had given her, spent all the money in the bank, mortgaged what was left of the property and had to deposit four of Tookie’s brothers in an orphanage.

One of Tookie’s early memories is of his father threatening his mother with a knife. She had refused to give him a divorce so that he could legitimize a relationship that was strictly commercial. This incident ended with Daddy being beaten up by his two oldest sons and thrown on the lawn, along with his belongings. But he came back a few months later, temporarily reformed but unrepentant, and few months after that proudly told his wife of the birth of a bastard.

Tookie says, “There is only one thing I respect my Daddy for. He never was ashamed. When he was living with a whore, he told everyone, and if they didn’t like it, it wasn’t all he told them. And he was very polite. He came in the house one day with blood all over him. It wasn’t his blood. He said to Mother, ‘Really I am very sorry to bring blood into our house. I will try to see that it does not happen again.’”

You can, of course, hear the Oedipus overtones in all of this. But they are not as loud as might be imagined. For out of this strange family relationship came a kid with as nasty an attitude toward conventions as anything spawned outside of Sydney [reference is to Howard Daniel, from Sydney, Australia]. The only thing lacking to make Tookie a really interesting person is some sort of an education. I have been trying to interest him in reading, but early in the game I offended him regarding books and he stubbornly steers clear of any and all suggestions.

But his independence is wonderful and he has a definite personal integrity. Consequently he has the weirdest assortment of friends of any man here. I envy him his collection, although, I must admit, I detest most of them. There is Johannsen, the anti-Semitic Norwegian; Tookie is the only man who even speaks to him. Then there is Hoopes, our only stripe-conscious non-com, whom most shun but Tooke defends. I must include myself, for certainly my circle of popularity is limited. And now that everyone in the place is disgusted with the frenetic Pole, Tookie defends him, too.

He gives the local Babbitry a bad time, from Leedom down, for he barefacedly defends things he detests and relishes in their agreement. The worse the show, the more he praises it and the more he enjoys agreement. Our amiable Alvin [Al Hesse] he gives a particularly bad time, drawing him from agreement to agreement until Al finally realizes his leg has been pulled and disagrees on principal, only to find that he really is disagreeing with something he believes. I might mention that Martin was Tookie’s first friend here. Also, Tookie hates Texas.
Less than four and a half months now, Nunny,
M

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