Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Adak Island, 2 July 1944



Rosa darling…

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.
M

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