|Photo by Rosa Morgan|
Tuesday, March 29, 2011
Dear Rosa and Carmen,
First I want to tell you how much we enjoyed last Wednesday with you...It was so nice to eat your horseradish stuff again...Gusti too I know was very happy to see your place and to be with you again.
Now we looking forward to seeing you this weekend and we do wish you could stay until the Fourth...we can take you sailing and way out in the country and two days are really not long enough...for everything...to say nothing of job hunting. In fact if you will just move down bag and baggage we'll be happy. We are enclosing a couple of old bus tickets for you to see if they are still good.
I have been hovering over those glads we planted to try to get at least a shoot up before you get here and there may be some results. In any case we should have home grown peas and roses.
Otto learned of my tiff with the law when I came home and told him about the day.... I must have used an unhappy voice because he said...You sound as if a great tragedy had happened so then I had to tell him everything. But he only beat me a little.
I liked that soldier quite well....He is really very nice and we hope he has occasion to visit here sometimes.
And now I hear my boss' footsteps so we'll be seeing you when you come.
It seems I am always packing.
My change to APO 948 has been approved, at least by all local powers, and currently I am sweating out receipt of orders from Seattle. I am supposed to be ready to go at a moment’s notice when the orders to arrive, so today I reloaded my barracks bags.
I will probably travel by Milair: by Army transport plane. That means my total weight allowance is 300 pounds, including myself. So I will have to ship one of the barracks bags. Most of my packing time was spent wrapping books in old socks, long underwear and wilted fatigues.
Now the bags are untidily lined up beside my bunk and there they may remain for weeks and weeks, this being the Army. On the other hand, I may be out of here at any time. You had better begin writing to the new address…
|Springfield rifles in sunnier days|
The reactions to my impending departure were not even faintly flattering. Hoiman (“The Goiman”) West said, “Scheiss. There goes the typewriter.” Paul declared, “They can’t do that to us. Not when you just got the hotplate.” And Ray rumbled, “You can’t go until I’ve finished reading the book (Barnes’s Intellectual and Cultural History of the Western World).” Of such stuff popularity is made.
In a way I hate to leave. Especially the hut. While it is crowded and usually too hot [Murray thought anything above about 55 was too hot, an attribute that suited him well to later life at Trout Lake], it nevertheless is what I am used to as an Aleutian home. And we have been improving it steadily. Since I have come we have built a couple of walks leading into it, shoveled dirt around the edges so that the wind no longer whips through the floor, erected a urinal and put up the storm porch which Perry purloined. Currently the engineers in the hut are planning a running water sink and an oil pipe running to the fifty gallon drums which sit outside the hut.
But there are certainly compensations, even as to leaving the hut. We have become a poker hut, one in which a game is always in progress. This means steady noise, cigar smoke solid enough to fill chinks in the floor, and occasional bad feelings. For me it has been an especially bad development because the games are always played at our end of the hut and it is practically impossible even to keep a lien on my typing stool, much less to concentrate on writing.
In my last letter I mentioned that I was going to replace Terry Moore, a friend of the Elliotts and Jameses. The subconscious of a former sports editor must be permanently warped. The man I meant was Johnny Moore. Terry Moore exists. In fact there are a couple of them: (A) an infielder with the Giants; (B) a welterweight who once fought 12 rounds with Barney Ross.
Good Bill Green has a letter from Moore describing his station. Moore was not particularly enthused, but his unhappiness seemed to stem from the fact that he was not doing the same sort of work that he and Gene had done in Seattle. He spoke of going on a fishing trip and seeing fox and caribou, which would indicate a more interesting assortment of wildlife than we have here.
It is true what the strange sailor told us about worms. On the other hand, there are increasing numbers of birds—the early ones of which are bound to be disappointed. We are also getting an early spring influx of insects, including some surprisingly sturdy limbed daddy-longlegs. At one time this forlorn foxhole was commercial foxhole. A trapper bred blue fox hereabouts. I saw his shack the other day. When things were the worst in this area, he turned loose his animals and took to the hills. Later he was evacuated, and now he is back, serving the Army in a civilian capacity. It is said that his foxes are reproducing madly and that if he can round them up after the war he will be in the money. But that is rumor. I haven’t talked to anyone who has seen any of the critters. How they keep hot here I don’t know.
When you finish The Telephone Booth Indian (and by the way, I haven’t received any New Yorkers recently), you had better turn to the Mark Twain set and read “Life on the Mississippi” because that is the number one project on our postwar list—just while we are deciding where to go next. And I would also sort of like to show the Columbia who is boss. Box Canyon still bothers my conscience. And so do the last two hundred miles of the Danube.
I see the Republicans not only went back to 1920 to get a Harding candidate who represents zero squared, but made the farce complete by picking another Coolidge as the vice presidential candidate. Looks like we have to vote for that man again. (How about the straight Prohibition ticket?) Up here all tidings of the Republican doings were received with momentous unconcern. I doubt that the Demo conventions will raise any more excitement.
|Dewey and Gover|
From the fact that Willkie immediately congratulated Dewey, I assume that he is going to follow the oldest of political axioms: If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. Of course there is always the excellent chance that he was always with them
One of the more interesting things should be watching the Luce publications chew up all those nasty things they have been saying about Toothbrush Tom. (Did you notice the repetition of the joke which came out after Dewey was pictured with his Great Dane: “I’m going to vote for the big man with the little dog.”) There was an amusing editorial in a recent Life entitled “Advice to the Republicans.” In it, Life said that it was “non-partisan” but would choose between the GOP and Democratic candidates later. It advised the GOP to think twice before nominating Dewey. By implication, at least, it was for Taft or Bricker. Ugh.
|Roosevelt, Fala, and Ruthie Bie|
We had a swell letter from Howard Lewis yesterday. I’ll send it along as soon as I have finished it. Somebody pulled the wrong card from a file and he was yanked right out of his beautiful Miami Beach project and deposited, unadmittedly disgusted, at the Muroc Army Air Field—right in the middle of the Mojave Desert. He is doing publicity work there and still talks as though he expects to be sent overseas before the business is over, although I suspect that his eyes will keep him home. [Howard was in fact sent to Italy, where he earned a Bronze Star.] He sold his “Why I Fight” essay to “This Week,” the New York Herald Tribune Sunday supplement, for $250. Distinctly not fodder.
There is a short story in the June Harper’s, “Look at Miss Memford,” which you should not miss. Neither should Phyllis. John-Boy’s Harper reviews are progressively poorer. He seems to me to be busy justifying himself for becoming wealthy out of his writing. He should take his money for granted and quit rationalizing. He has a lot to say of more interest.
Keep writing, my sweet. Your letters are so wonderfully like you.
My orders came through this afternoon. My transfer to the new post is approved. I will leave by plane as soon as it can be arranged, quite likely tomorrow. My next letter is likely to be from APO 948.
The change is coming just in time. It will probably save me, at least temporarily, from the epidemic of GI-ism endemic here. The disease may spread to all posts in the Aleutians but I hope to be able to retain my semi-civilian immunity at least a while longer.
The latest mark on the fever chart was the announcement that hut inspections by the officers will start on Saturday. This will be salubrious in that really efficient cleanings will be done at least once each seven days. But we all expect it to lead straight to a hospital-like, barracks-like, like-nothing-else-in-the-world regimentation of bed arrangements. As a literate corporal commented tonight, "It's bad enough to be celibate without having to be sterile."
|Bacall and Bogart marching in support of the Hollywood Ten|
There is a rather interesting article on Humphrey Bogart in the Life on June 12--a bit too heavy on the Luce style of goshgeewhiz adulation, but with some pretty good cracks. It seems that HB and Mrs. B battle joyfully in their spare time. One day in running away from a crowd of autograph hunters (and muttering "filthy little monsters" as he ran) HB slammed the car door in his wife's face. "Why you cheap little ham actor," she started and gained momentum with each syllable. The kids listened in awe. Finally one shut his autograph album with a snap and said reverently, "Gee, she's even tougher than he is."
I must get some sleep, my darling. More tomorrow.
How much I miss you! How impossible it seems that nearly ten more months must pass before I can return to you. When I left I knew I would be lonely. But I thought I would be able to cram my time too full of work and reading and writing to think. I thought by keeping busy I could push loneliness aside. It does not work.
One the job, the hours drag. I sweat through the day minute by long minute. “Fifty nine more make an hour and seven more hours will make the day almost over. Then go to bed and when I wake up there will be only 300 more days…Now fifty-eight more minutes and…” As slow as that.
When I try to read, each good sentence, each well-turned phrase, reminds me of something. In Moby Dick I find, “Ship and boat diverged; the cold, damp night breeze blew between; a screaming gull flew overhead; the two hulls wildly rolled…” And I am on another ship than the Pequod, a freighter, calm in the Columbia, its engine sounds melting into the steady splash of the water pushed by the bow, a gull, steady on black wings, quiet overhead.
The spell breaks. I am back in a hut thick with cigar smoke, foul with thoughts of casual fornication, bleak with the intolerance of the Aryan.
Strange that I had not realized that without you literature would become Timestyle, that good music would turn into Grand Ole Opry, that good talk would fade into passive politeness. Even friendship fails to reach deep when you are not present.
Today we had our first inspection since the ACS went into the army. In preparation for it each hutmaster was given a many paged pamphlet outlining the regulations. In style this guide to the GI’s varied from the patronizing to the peremptory, all overladen with what is known as army terminology.
Army terminology represents the lowest common denominator of official expression. It could serve as the ultimate refuge of the illiterate. Behind barricades of impenetrable syllables—a veritable defense in depth—the most inefficient must feel secure. Beneath a camouflage of synthetic syntax and superimposed present passives the most inept may conceal his movements. A message in the military manner is the secret weapon of the obscurantist. It is a grammatical smokescreen, effectively concealing meaning.
As an example of the new grammar, I present the following: “Wet and muddy clothes resulting from outside work complicate the problem of housekeeping and is so recognized; however by the exercise of care, co-operation and ingenuity on the part of each man, this factor can be minimized, if not entirely eliminated.”
But for the direst of doubletalk, I suggest: “The way a man takes care of his own personal quarters, the neatness and ingenuity displayed in obtaining orderliness and efficiency in the confined space at his disposal, is a good yardstick for the measurement of the man himself…Bunks to be made up promptly upon arising; uniformity of appearance should be practiced so all bunks in one hut will look alike.”
That sort of thing must be catching. Today when I came to the censor desk I found one of the more recent arrivals busy running through the foreign phrases section of the pocket dictionary. He was hunting for an impressive phrase to put in a note he was leaving for the workers on other shifts. Feeling very much like Manuel instructing the redcoats on how to greet guests at the hotel, I suggested “reduction ad absurdum.” So help me, he used it as the signature.
Incidentally, I believe the same lad is responsible for another note. It dealt with a tentative arrangement for something and began, “Attentive plans for…” This, of course, was his attempt to copy a message over the telephone.
But back to the inspection. Our hut passed, without comment, such scrutiny as it was given. The only man in the hut at the time of the inspection was in bed, sleeping off the effects of the graveyard shift. He was awake with the inspecting officer arrived but thoughtfully pulled his head under the covers and snored snappily until the door slammed. I believe all the huts were approved, even the one in which a rifle was found nailed to the wall.
While the general reaction to the inspections is not one of overwhelming enthusiasm, I don’t think they are a bad idea. Our hut was really clean, top and bottom (although not inside and out), for the first time since we have been here. And if this first inspection is any indication, things will not be carried to the point of idiocy: there will be no feeling in the pockets of suits on the hangers as at Adair, no check to see all spare shows are laced to the top as at Adair, no scrutiny of the inside of the fire extinguisher as at Adair. We hope.
Of course it is not very important to me one way or the other. I’m still sweating out my place to APO 948 and at the worst should be out of here before the next inspection. I’ve been packed for four days but can’t get the rabbit-faced wretch who is supposed to check the bags to do his job. This Everett simpleton is too busy to work. He is a pleasant character, like Koski squared.
And so, with a plaintive bleat, I bring another letter to the folding point.
Friday, March 18, 2011
I’m still sweating out transportation, and a very pleasant sweat it is, too. Because I might be going at any minute I am not assigned to any shift. And so today has really been a day off.
I climbed the hill to the hut known as the “Olympic Hotel” and had a haircut from the best of our amateur barbers. It was the first time I ever had a barber bob my curly locks without saying a word. He liked the Beethoven Violin Concerto which was on the radio. He also gave me what is probably the best haircut I’ve ever had, the more’s the pity. They are too valuable to waste on the Aleutians.
One of the men in the barber’s hut I had not met before. He came in the hut from the library during Till Eulenspiegel’s listige Streiche and turned up the radio—a good sign. He carried his chair next to the radio for Beethoven, so when the haircutting was over I stayed on to talk to him. His name is George Hoskins and he is a graduate of CPS [now the University of Puget Sound]. He knows Tarz and Rodger, Clark and Red, Craig and Gordon, and even Jack Mansfield—for whom he has no use. Originally Hoskins came from Peshashtin, and he was amazed when I knew where it was. Remember? – It’s one of the towns serviced by a correspondent of the Spokane Chronicle. …
Before I board the iron bird for parts unspecified, I want to tell you about one of the our lesser characters around here. He is Charlie Mac, a crypto-censor, a fat boy, a red head, and a dyspeptical.
Charlie is the youngest and fattest boy in the department. He has a hulking, soft body and a low-cheeked face, broader at the mouth than at the balding forehead. He has a first moustache, Teddy Rooseveltian and strangely bristly on an uncertain face. There is nothing uncertain about Charlie. He is a devout Catholic and an old-fashioned family worshipper. His respect for his mother and his father, who died before he could have known him at all well, is almost Chinese in intensity.
Charlie is methodical. He plots every day on a card and lives up to his schedule: ten minutes for reading before breakfast, five minutes to wash, ten minutes to pray after breakfast, and so through the day. He has alternates for his non-duty time, and if anything keeps him from (1) washing his socks or (2) writing mother, he is upset.
When Charlie is upset he usually resorts to religion. He can really concentrate in prayer. Last winter when a personal problem had him bothered he went to the shower hut in a storm. When he didn’t come back in a long time one of the boys went up to see what had happened to him. He found the shower hut door open, snow drifted on the floor, and Charlie sitting stark on a bench, counting his beads. There is something to be said for faith: he didn’t get pneumonia.
One of the recent arrivals from Seattle brought an interesting story. He is a Finn and, naturally, loves his steam baths. One day he and a couple of the boys were wearing down the pre-Alaskan furloughs along with some bad blend. Our hero suggested a steam bath. “Okay,” says a pal, “where?” They consulted the phone book and picked on a building near Fort Federal. They made an appointment and, at the designated time, climbed the stairs. The door to the steam bath palace was locked, but there was a bell. They rang it. A nightclub peephole opened, and a girl looked out. “You the three gentlemen who phoned for reservations?” “Yes.” She let them in.
The girls was wearing a tight red blouse, unbuttoned will below the cleft in her breasts, and tight blue slacks, the zipper partly unfastened. Our hero began to have his doubts.
“You all want bawths?” They all did. “I’ll take you to the dressing rooms.” She led them down a little hall. The sounds from behind the doors seemed to confirm our hero’s suspicions. The girl stopped at a door and said to our hero’s companions, “One of you here and one across the aisle.” She went down a few more doors and said to the last man, “I’ll be back in a moment. You can take off your clothes.”
He still wasn’t certain. When she came back she was carrying a towel—and not another thing. “God,” he finishes the story, “I sure wanted that steam bath.”
Today’s mail brought two wonderful letters from you and a rather incoherent two-page “note” from Bill Fett, who said that he has written a really long letter and is sending up two of his lithographs. I hope they arrive here before next year but I have picture of the censors trying to figure out surrealist posters. Bill repeated your good news that he is not coming to the states. He is terribly worried about his competence to come through with the work we all expect of him and says, “I wish you, ‘her’ and the others would quit pinning too high hopes on a simple guy just creating because he can’t help himself and actually still in the infant stage of his creative ideas…” I am looking forward very much to seeing his lithographs and the rollei reprints of them. …[See the 12 July 1944 letter for photos of the lithographs]
Your long letter about houseboat life and problems is even better than the last long one, which was the best letter I ever had: including Howard’s fabulous epic of the misplaced j’s.
From Howard Lewis20 June 1944Muroc Army Air FieldYou poor frigid bastard,…Seven days at Hammer Field brought shipping orders to a place called Muroc, which I had never heard of. When I asked some veterans about it, they just shook their heads and I wasn’t happy. Then on the Santa Fe, on the way down to this hole, I asked the conductor how about this Muroc place, and he shook his head, too. “See this car, sonny?” he asked. “Noo?” I asked, pulling my Yiddish on him. “Well,” he said painfully, “you see more green in this obscenity car than you’ll see at Muroc.”
Howard Lewis, right, shucking oysters with modernist poet Charles Olson. Photo by Rosa Morgan
He was exaggerating, of course. There is a lawn in front of the Provost Marshall’s Office, covering an area of about 20 square feet. There are also trees—Joshua trees, which make a porcupine look like an Angora cat. They bring in two tank cars full of water from L.A. every day to keep the Provost Marshall’s lawn fresh, but otherwise there isn’t much attempt at landscaping around here. We seem to be in the middle of the whole bloody Mojave Desert, ringed around by mountains some fifty miles or so in every direction, in a saucer polka-dotted with sagebrush, where even the lizards and snakes carry water bottles, and where the temperature goes from 130 during the day to about 50 at night, and where the wind hauls freight. There is not much sand here, but a kind of coarse gravel, and when the winds gets rough, every few days, it picks up the gravel and sends it stinging against the face. On most days we clean out the barracks by sweeping the sand onto a shovel, but on one of the better days, we just use the shovel. …I ran into a guy down here named Vincent O’Keefe, who used to be a sportswriter of sorts on the Seattle Times. [O’Keefe returned to Seattle after the war, went back to the Times, and retired as executive sports editor in 1982.] Asked him if he knew anyone in Grays Harbor and he said Pete Antoncich. A hell of a big guy, he said, and a good newspaperman. It seemed peculiar to me to hear Pete described in such prosaic terms when I recalled your fabulous stories about him, but it did my heart good. It helped bring back those gigantic evenings in New York, where Rosa thought every day was Thanksgiving, where Judith [Daniel] swore like a drunken madame, and Oh God but I am flooded with memories!...Best to you both,Howard
Thursday, March 17, 2011
No. 1 from APO 948
I came here yesterday by plane. It was a beautiful flight. We cruised a white cloud sea that was broken only by the black cones of Aleutian volcanoes: some dead as Durnstein, some sleeping like Ixxi, and one playful as Paracutín.
After sweating out transportation for five days, I was still caught with my barracks bags open when word came that a plane was waiting. Ordinarily the ACS men at the old station get at least two hours’ notice before they take off. Counting on that, I had left my shaving material out of one bag and my clean sheet out of the B bag—which is to follow me here and, I hope, will arrive in time to let me put on clean underwear for Christmas.
Although I was off duty my last two days, I kept on working a graveyard schedule. So yesterday I got up in the early afternoon, caught the last lunch chow in time for coffee and nothing else, and bumped into Joe Miller, who had the day off. We went for a walk, down by the baby river near the library, and sat on the grass and tossed broken bits of plywood boxes into the water. They took the little rapids like little Romurs [all Murray and Rosa’s Klepper kayaks, over 60 years on the water, were named Romur]. Joe talked of his plans for the first night he gets back home and of his current reading, “War and Peace,” “Crime and Punishment,” and “The Insidious Dr. Fu Manchu,” which he seems to like in inverse order.
When we went back to the regular camp area I called in personnel and was told there was nothing new about a plane for me. So Joe and I picked up my last issue of beer at Hut 18 and went to his hut. The beds were out on the tundra, being aired. We sat on them and settled down to serous work on the stubbies. An hour and eight bottles later, we were interrupted. Corporal Byers came stumbling across the stream to say I had five minutes to get to the plane. Someone had just cancelled passage and I had his spot.
In five minutes I finished packing and only left behind: my rifle, my sheet, and a shirt and pair of pants which didn’t come back from the laundry as rapidly as anticipated (i.e., within eighteen days). I hope the last items catch up with me and that the rifle is reissued to some unsuspecting latecomer to APO 980. I think it is one of the originals that replaced the crossbow and the thought of having to get it clean under the new GI regime at the old station is one of my chief delights in coming here.
This station appears very pleasant, at least at first glance. I am established in a hut with a sweeping view of a swamp which looks very much like English meadowland. There are only six other men in the hut and the beds, instead of sticking out into the center of the room as at the old place, range along the curved wall. Another good point is that there are no center lights. Each cot has an individual outlet on the wall beside ti. Consequently no glare.
The new hut has men on every shift, so I have yet ot meet them all. Those I have met are all quiet and soft-spoken, probably because everyone in the hut has sweated out a winter up here. One kid is from San Antonio, Texas; another from Lincoln High in Tacoma, class of 1937. He doesn’t remember you but recalls Betty Blood and Florence Crow. Incredible, he doesn’t remember Werdsie. His name is Al Hesse, and he is a censor.
We have an all-Tacoma censor crew up here now. Ted Godfrey, the third censor, graduated from Stadium with Freddie B [Fred Baisch] and Hal Davis. He gnashed his teeth when I told him Fred is a Captain. The chief operator here is also from Stadium. He was in my class and, although he doesn’t remember it, was involved in the football play on which I twisted my shoulder and banged up my knee. He tossed the pass I was trying to catch. His name is Johnny Hazen…End of old home week information.
My duties here are just what they were before except that I handle both types of work at the same time instead of specializing for a while on one and a while on the other. I also may get a chance to do some teletype work, a la Hoquiam. At least I won’t have to try to punch box scores with the whole northwest circuit waiting. Remember? (What’s the matter, Hoquiam? What’s the matter, Hoquiam? Better phone, Hq. We’ll put it on the wire from here.) The height of humiliation.
The physical plant at this station is better than the old one. The operating room is more compact and we have no hot house plants who can’t survive if the temperature drops below ninety, oil heat. The huts are all near enough to a central washroom so that there is no need for the old water hauling detail. The shower room doesn’t steam up so that a man leaves it sweatier than he was before he bathed. And, honest, there are three flush toilets.
There is a fine recreation hall, complete with a pool table, ping pong table and a stack of old Lifes and Esquires. There is also a bar at which beer is sold when there is beer available. There is no beer available. A few books fill a shelf above the magazine stand and while the assortment is rather haphazard, the first one I saw was “The Plumed Serpent,” by D. H. Lawrence, which I was unable to find in Seattle.
A horseshoe pit lies between my hut and the operations building, and there is a rather rundown softball field. In one hut I saw a punching bag, and in another a set of elastic exercisers. The fellows say the fishing is good here, and they take quite a few hikes. There seems to be little of the tension that characterized the old place. This is to APO 980 as CBS was to Time.
I am very pleased about the change. My only reason for being blue today is that I can think of other Fourths. I remember stuffed fried chicken and apple pie topped by misshapen American flags and Madaraz Gabor worrying about being late to pick up his girl on the way to the Amusement Park. I remember the Washington statue in the Budapest park, and the little porcupine the Hungarian woman gave you…I remember a Fourth in New York, hot and sticky and busy. And a Fourth in Hoquiam…in fact a pair of them: the first just after our escape from Spokane and the Chronicle, the second just before our escape from Box Canyon and the Columbia. But the Fourth I think of most is the next one. We will celebrate it.
Tuesday, March 15, 2011
The outer characteristics of the local contingent of GI characters are coming into focus. There is an individual with the most magnificently mashed nose I have encountered since the dear dead day of Leo Dardeen. There is a San Antonio special who believes that Negroes come in heat like dogs and should be shot likewise. There is a lad who looks enough like Alan Ladd to spit for him. There is the man whom the sweating Sergeant Luckman and I had to arrest that day in Seattle. And there is smiling Jack Martin, unfamiliarly known as Juan Marteen.
Jack is a curly headed kid of 22 years. Irish extraction and uncertain U.S. citizenship. He has been trying to get his U.S. papers for four years but keeps bumping into the problem of where he is from.
He was born in Northern Ireland and went with his parents to Canada. His father took his sisters, two, down to the states, and later Jack crossed the border with his mother—a mistake, that.
His parents took out papers and Jack claims derivative citizenship from that. But they took out papers as Canadian immigrants and Jack was a minor while in Canada and born in Ireland. He had not come under the jurisdiction of Canadian citizenship. As far as the Canadians are concerned he is either North Irish (United Kingdom) or American. The U.K. claims him, and the U.S. says that since he crossed the border with his mother instead of his father he cannot be a citizen by derivation. This seems silly to everyone except the authorities concerned.
Jack is still fighting it through and the last word he received was that if he would appear in court in any Alaskan town the case would be reopened. You know how many Alaskan towns there are in this area. But the whole affair is becoming slightly academic because Senor Juan has an overpowering urge to go to Mexico after the war. He may take out Mexican papers.
I’d better back up a bit. I met Martin my first day here and noticed nothing about him except that he looked faintly like Craig Hartwich, minus the girlishness, and that he wore a turtle-necked sweater with an Errol Flynn arrogance. One of the kids in the hut noticed my Spanish text books as I unpacked and suggested that I talk to Jack, because “I think he talks it.”
So last night when Jack wandered into our hut looking for someone who wasn’t there (the second time he had been in the hut in eleven months) I asked him about Spanish and he said he had studied it for several years. He made several visits to Ensenada and has plans to go to the University of Mexico after the war. That, of course, led to pictures of Patzcuaro and a general bullsession. Somewhere along the line I mentioned being from Tacoma. “Do you know many people there?” he asked.
“Quite a few. I grew up there.”
“Know Roger Mastrude?”
He had met Roger at Fort Lewis in 1941. They became almost inseparable. As we talked he kept pulling things out of his pockets—the key to Mastrude’s car, which Jack later bought from him; Roger’s old GI drivers license; a piece of poetry they had copied while in the Tacoma library. He is a great admirer of Tarz, whom he always calls Margaret; and he knew Kenny and Fay, Elmer Stewart (he has one of Elmer’s Esperanto books), Otto’s friends and Brown’s Point, Jack Mansfield, and others. He had dinner once at Clark and Maurine’s houseboat, but did not see them again. He thinks that he met Otto once but is not sure.
Jack lost track of Roger more than a year ago and could hardly believe (A) his current lofty status in the United State Army (B) Ruth Leo’s reports in Roger’s current attitudes. Jack is now rounding out his second year in Alaskan service. He put in around thirteen months in Fairbanks, where he seems to have done considerable drinking with Roger Shaw, a friend of the Elliotts. You met him. He is the individual who came to that first or second evening at the James’s place with Jean Elliott and at the end of eight hours in which we had not spoken to each other told me how much we had enjoyed our conversation.
Roger Shaw and Jack lived together for a time in Fairbanks. They shared a hut which was mounted on sled runners and could be moved around. It was furnished with a woodburning stove, a kitchen chair and a pile of old clothes into which they burrowed when the temperature got into the minus forties. “That place was stark,” Jack says. “The sight of a kitchen chair, alone at the end of an elongated room, has always been a symbol of insanity for me anyway. Oh, but that place was stark. However in the end I fixed things. I used that chair for kindling.” Shortly thereafter he and Roger Shaw moved out.
Politically, Jack is as lackadaisical as Craig used to be. I don’t know if there is such a term as “apolitical” carrying the same connotation in politics as “amoral” does in ethics, but here there such a word it would fit perfectly. He simply does not care. In a way that suits him admirably for a life in Mexico.
deadrock that morning: he had fifteen cents which would buy him (1) breakfast, or (2) cigarets, or (3) a ride to UCLA to take his final exams for the quarter. He bought cigs and started to hitchhike to UCLA when he saw an Army poster. He enlisted, got a meal ticket, and took the test. The Army positively ended any vague ideas he had of backing out of his enlistment. So he decided to buy his way out, as you could in those beautiful days. But first you had to be in a year. By the time he had spent a year in the Army and saved enough money to buy out—nobody could buy out.
And so endeth the first chapter about Jack Martin. Of him, undoubtedly more later. And, Nunny, next time you are in Tacoma would you try to find out from Mastrude’s folks or Tarz’s or someone where Roger is now. Jack owes him some money he wants to pay.
Besides the bullsession, I spent yesterday learning the ropes in the local operating room and, after that, knocking together a desk and a clothes cabinet out of a couple of old packing cases. Since I can expect to be here longer than I was at 980, I am doing a slightly more elaborate job. But I’ll never be the man with a saw and hammer than you are!
Jack and I walked to the PX and I bought a case of fruit juice, and later in the evening we made a pot of tea. Which reminds me, I have forgotten to put in my weekly requisition sheet to you: I’ll take the cups you suggested previously, the cheaper the better but they should have handles of some kind. Drinking tea out of a hot bowl is unhandy. I could also use some more Mannings, since the commissary kind is a bit Curacuaroan.
I am increasingly hopeful of being able to do some really good writing here. So far, I like the place. But oh, my Nunny, how I wish that I could be with you. I’m still waiting for your letters to start catching up with me.
All my love,
Sunday, March 13, 2011
Yesterday I went carousing with a pair of the young blades of APO 948. We climbed a very minor mountain, picked wildflowers and chased a bushy tailed fox. Then, t but h, we wended hutward and spent the rest of the evening tippling the tannic.
Of the work here I can say little except that it seems unlikely I will suffer from strain. But the extracurricular activities of the last couple of days have left me feeling better than at any time since coming to the Aleutians. For instance yesterday’s walk was as close as I could possibly come to a Sunday stroll at Erongaricuaro without you along. Only your absence kept it from being truly wonderful.
I went with Senor Juan and John “Stethoscope” Moore, whom I am replacing. Is started as an impulse and ended as an outing. We intended only to climb the hill directly behind the ACS layout. It Is steep, almost clifflike, and covered with long, thick grass, over-stalked with buttercups and lupin to within about 30 feet of the top, where it breaks into a cliff of agglomerate rock too steep for vegetation. The hill is only about 200 or 250 feet high, but we were digging deep for breath when we crested it.
The hill levels into a plateau, flat, narrow and inclined slightly seaward. Tundra bushes cling to clusters of basaltic rocks which break through the volcanic soil. What grass there is is shorter than on the hill. There are not buttercups but instead an occasional purplish, waxlike flower which Juan says is known locally as the Aleutian orchid.
We crossed the plateau to look down in the next valley. Recently a herd of caribou has been seen grazing there, but yesterday they were not in sight. The valley flattened out to the sea to our right. On the far side it rose into a cape which stretched away to a mountain. Across the valley a tiny stream has cut in incredibly meandering course.
“It’s bad enough looking at it from here,” Juan explained, but if you go down there you can get really fouled up. Right in the middle of one of those loops there is a spring and another stream starts and goes off in another direction.”
So we went to see. The stream was about a mile or a mile and a half away. We followed it across thick grasslands, rippled by wind until the blowing blades looked like herds of running animals. In the grass we found big violets—an inc across the face, and tiny, starlike whiteflowers I have never seen before.
The spring surpassed Juan’s description. It races from the side of a fifty foot hill, clear and cold as the water of Crater Lake. The box-like little canyon it has cut in the hill is heavily overgrown with grass and buttercups and lupin, and clusters of grass cling to the tops of the larger rocks in the stream. No wind gets into the open-topped cavern and the grass is hot. It smells sweet.
We wandered across the meadow, heading vaguely back toward camp. Juan saw another hill he had not climbed in previous expeditions so we went up it, a stiffer climb that the first. Apparently the infantry has used it in maneuvers for there were some old fox-holes and a stand from which officers could watch the games. We followed the crest of the ridge back toward camp but were in no furry. Finally we lay in the tall grass and watched the evening clouds roll in from the sea and a great clump of cumulus condense over our best mountain.
We were talking of “Brave New World,” which Johnny had read and Juan hadn’t, and of the Huxley boys and great families in general and particular when Juan interrupted to say, “Don’t look now, but there’s someone eavesdropping.” I looked right then and sitting about fifteen feet away, head-cocked and pink tongue hanging out, was a red-brown fox.
The foxes here are very tame. They are protected and the worst that ever happens to them is a chase in which the men try to catch the scamperers in field jackets. There is a fox-hole, un-GI variety, about twenty feet from our hut, and last winter a vixen lived there. During the winter the foxes are a pest. They come right into the kitchen. So Juan and John weren’t surprised at this fellow, but he certainly astonished me.
He hung around until we got up to leave. Then he scampered away. That was too much for Senor Martin, who let out a wild yell and started after him. Johnny and I followed. We chased the poor critter all over the top of the hill and I almost had him once in an old slit trench until he got the idea of jumping out. I felt a little guilty about disillusioning M. Reynard about soldiers, but I needed have worried. When we quit chasing him, he followed us. Almost back to camp.
And so ended the third day here, and a very nice day it was. This afternoon I intend to dig up some lupin and plant them on the walk in front of the hut. Tonight I go over to—you guess it—graveyard shift. More tomorrow. Until then, auf Wiedersehen, my sweet. I love you so…