Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Umnak Island, 9 August 1944

Hello Darling…

First to clean out my notebook:
I see by Chamberlain’s column in the Times that Noel F. Busch, whom I knew on Life, has written a book. He is the Life correspondent who does most of the general assignment personality sketches. I didn’t know him well but we had lunch together one day. Anyway, what I wanted to tell you, is what he has to say about Life’s highpowered  photographers, presumably including the magnificent MBW [Margaret Bourke White]. “The paraphernalia required by professional picture takers is, says Mr. Busch, merely window dressing, designed to increase pay and prestige. Mr. Busch’s simpler method is to get an old Brownie, point it at the object and click the shutter.” And John-Boy adds “He claims excellent results, but the magazine editors still pay for his prose.”
On the back of an old envelope (from Howard Lewis) I find these comments scribbled: “A cowboy singer riding a whine” and “an unerring feeling for the banal.”
The latest sign on the bulletin board is again about the ban on books in the operating room. This one is labeled “Perminent.”

And, the final note in the little blue book, says “Capa and Hemingway.” It must refer to the news story I heard on the radio the other day. You probably saw it too, but anyway, the story is that they were walking along the road somewhere in France and a German shell lit just ahead, knocking them both down and blowing all the clothes off Hemingway. Capa rolled in a ditch and got away first. Hemingway had to lie there and fake being dead until he had a chance to make the ditch. And the tragedy is that he was not able to get up and show the Germans the hairy chest the explosion had bared.

In regard to hairy chest writing, I’m a little upset that you feel so strongly about that one paragraph in “A Job for Joe.” If I had know it would really upset you, Nunny, I’d have knocked it out completely. As it was, you know, I did modify it.
I love you so much, my little one. At times I wonder if I should try in each letter to find words to tell you. But there is always the sudden awareness of censorship when I try to tell you and though, God knows, I am not embarrassed by my love for you and am often kidded relentlessly for talking about you all the time up here, the idea of an official eavesdropper hearing me fumble for the word I want upsets me.
It is only one of the frustrations, of course. Everyone, except the fools and the religious fanatics, gets unhappy here. Watching the fellows, I have come to the conclusion that after the first month everyone goes into a manic-depressive cycle with the periods of elation flattening out from week to week, covering low plateaus of sub-contentment, and then shelving off abruptly into ever deeper ravines of discontent. When on the bottom, even the prospect of climbing back out offers no pleasure. It does not seem worth the effort. 

My interpretation is not, I believe, unduly subjective. I think I have allowed for the Aleutian drive toward introspection. Nearly everyone I have talked to about mental attitudes has noticed the exaggerated graph of individual emotional behavior.
Fortunately the stimuli which turn men morbid vary. They range from no letters to, believe it or not, too many letters. (One of the guys came up with that unbelievable complaint today, but, as he is a bachelor, we didn’t shoot him.) The most common depressant is the weather. Recently it has been mildly miserable, and the cumulative effect is that an unusual proportion of the personnel is peter oboed now. …

KP today was interesting. Robbie, the cook, was writing a letter to his mother-in-law, or perhaps his girl’s mother, I forget which. Anyway he kept asking me how to spell words. They were, really: louse, bored, stupid, moisture, soaked and—hold your breath—sergeant. He was a classmate of Jack Martin’s.

Jack has told me of Robbie’s predecessor, a hillbilly who three years ago got drunk, landed in jail and chose the army over a sixty day sentence. This is the fabulous individual who onetime mistook the slop for stew and started to serve it. He had a speech habit which is sometimes echoed about the place even today, months after he left. “It ain’t any more bread. The bread is all went.”

Getting back to Godelewski and his delirious diktats for a moment. He overslept this morning and Ted Godfrey, who is in his hut, woke him up by screaming: “Get up Hank, you’ve overslept. The joint’s all going to hell. All the operator s are in there reading magazines.” Godelewski, who has the sense of humor of a totem pole, climbed out of bed and hastened down to see. Later he told Ted that he had been wrong about the magazines. And Ted said, “You mean, “it ain’t any reading material?”

My reading material—dutifully kept out of the operating room but lusted for in the dull moments—is still Mark Twain. This afternoon I found a fine passage about the Southern conversational fixation—the Civil War. Twain quotes this explanation, which was offered by a Southerner:
inconsequentialities when you’ve got a crimson fact or fancy in your head that you are burning to fetch out.”
I suppose by this time you have a new job. I am so anxious, my little one, to know what it is. I keep my fingers crossed that it is something you like, something that will be both interesting and all the time fun. The dough does not matter, really. Take something you will like.

Perhaps you should take Phyllis and Otto up on their suggestions—repeated in letters to me—that you come to Shelton, especially if there is any work in photography for you to do there. You could undoubtedly sublet the houseboat for the rest of the year.
Just writing to you, Nunny, cheers me up. In this none too cheerful letter I have written most of the venom out of my system, and I can again look at the petty annoyances here as being what they really are: ridiculous at worst, and perhaps even funny.
Perhaps a job of reportage is the best love letter I could offer you anyway. If I can catch the feel of this place in writing, we can share it, and sharing my life with you is what I like best…

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