“it’s no use trying to pretend that mostpeople and ourselves are alike. Mostpeople have less in common with ourselves than the squarerootofminusone. You and I are human beings: mostpeople are snobs.”
– e e cummings
Where I grew up, no one had ever heard of the poet e e cummings. Moreover, very few of us were acquainted with snobs. Oh, I suppose there were people in town who considered themselves high class, but we had nothing to do with them—nor they with us. So it wasn’t until after I went away to college and fell in love with Becky Sharp that I finally became aware of the caste system. And even then I wasn’t at first aware that Becky was a higher class person than I—so I had to be carefully taught. Becky’s the one who encouraged me to read, and so I started reading. I read mainly in hopes of becoming the sort of person with whom Becky wouldn’t be ashamed to be seen in public. Someone who wouldn’t embarrass her family, who lived in an upscale suburb of a city much larger and vastly more sophisticated than mine.
Today while rummaging through my files I came upon a letter Becky wrote me in the summer of 1964. It’s not exactly a Dear John—that would come later—however, had my vision at the time not been clouded with the smoke of adolescent lust I would have been able to read between the lines and see clearly that our so-called romance was headed exactly nowhere.
“Dear Richard, Can I possibly express the deep and profound remorse I feel because of the delay I have made in answering your stimulating and profound epistle? Be that as it may, my only excuse is the stifling business which has been crushing my sensitive soul of late.”
Translation: You are so far down on my to-do list, I’m surprised I even remember your name.
“You can’t imagine how elated I was to hear that you now have a job. It sounds wonderful—a real opportunity for you to enrich your life. And I always say that money is money.”
Translation: Pumping gas is a job?
“Saturday we spent over at the university having seminars with various famous men on campus. I went to seminars in English and Theatre Arts. The fellow who was in English has been a favorite of mine for a long time and it just made me so enthusiastic to talk to him. And then the eminent Dr. Frank M. Whiting was in Theatre Arts. He is such an enthusiastic and magnetic person. You just want to be dramatic all over the place. Saturday night was the big dance and was it ever HOT!”
Translation: I am so HOT!
“Tomorrow night we are going to the Guthrie Theatre to see St. Joan by Shaw and I can hardly wait. I hope you’ve heard about the Guthrie—it is the most wonderful thing.”
Translation: Are you still into donkey basketball?
“I’m still trudging through Moby Dick. Your comments on it were very astute—it is very digressive. He goes off in more obscure directions—who cares about how you tie a certain kind of not (sic) or how to throw a harpoon? Perhaps if I were going to be a whaleman I would want to know this, but I hope I can find some better occupation. Anyway I’ve learned you can skip those passages without losing train of thought—the reading goes much speedier this way.”
Translation: I liked the part about the whale.
“I feel like a clod. Your letters are so nice and mine are so crumby. Some day I will sit down and write a profound and thought provoking letter to you. You will be surprised no doubt.”
Translation: And then you will probably kill yourself. Oh, well…
“P.S. I’m very glad to hear you have a kitty. Your life is now complete.”
Translation: It’s the only pussy you’re ever gonna get!