On Letters and the Mail

“A Letter always seemed to me like immortality because it is the mind alone without corporeal friend.” — Emily Dickinson in a letter to Thomas Wentworth Higginson, 1869

“Destroy these letters!” — Warren G. Harding to one of his lovers, Carrie Phillips, who received more than 250 of his mash notes between 1909 and 1920

“It’s long past my bedtime. But writing letters is my chief dissipation at present, writing ’em to you being the chiefest and most dissipated.” — E.B. White in a letter to a college sweetheart, 1921

“Let us consider letters—how they come at breakfast, and at night, with their yellow stamps and their green stamps, immortalized by the postmark—for to see one’s own envelope on another’s table is to realize how soon deeds sever and become alien. Then at last the power of the mind to quit the body is manifest, and perhaps we fear or hate or wish annihilated this phantom of ourselves, lying on the table. Still, there are letters that merely say how dinner’s at seven; others ordering coal; making appointments. The hand in them is scarcely perceptible, let alone the voice or the scowl. Ah, but when the post knocks and the letter comes always the miracle seems repeated—speech attempted. Venerable are letters, infinitely brave, forlorn, and lost. Life would split asunder without them.” — Virginia Woolf, Jacob’s Room (1922)

“I’m a guy that likes to get his mail.” — Humphrey Bogart, Dead Reckoning (1947)

“…and around the corner was a street lined with brothels where whores from all over the world took their siestas in the doorways in case there was something for them in the mail.” — Gabriel García Márquez, Love in the Time of Cholera (English translation, 1988)

“The age of technology has both revived the use of writing and provided ever more reasons for its spiritual solace. Emails are letters, after all, more lasting than phone calls, even if many of them r 2 cursory 4 u.” — Anna Quindlen, “Write for Your Life,” Newsweek, January 22, 2007

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George “Hound Dog” Lorenz

In the earliest days of Rock & Roll music, even before it was called Rock & Roll, I was blessed with a brother who was five years older than myself. Growing up in a suburb of Buffalo, we shared a small room, with a radio on the table between our beds. At bedtime, I wanted to sleep, but my brother wanted to listen to music. “One more song,” he would say to put off my whining, “one more if it’s a good one.”

And more often than not, the disk jockey on the radio was George “Hound Dog” Lorenz. “The Hound is around,” he would intone, before playing something by Johnny Ace or Ruth Brown. This was on WKBW before the ill-fated arrival of Top 40 Radio. Some times the Hound spun records live from “The Zanzibar” on William Street, a club that hosted performers like Fats Domino, Bill Haley, and Little Richard. At the War Memorial Auditorium, the Hound booked Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and Chuck Berry. But the real history was in the audience: white kids and black kids together, loving the music.

The Hound had a rich, soft voice and a ready portfolio of slang expressions from the Beats and the Blacks. And I had an in: One of my Lindbergh School classmates, Arnie Glaser, was the son of the Zanzibar’s owner, a relationship that scored my brother and I autographed photos of our hero. “To Kihm,” mine was inscribed, “one cool cat.” I hung it inside the door of my toy cupboard. I was a geek in every other way, but the Hound thought I was cool. He’d even put it in writing.

I was not alone in my adoration. The Hound had tens of thousands of fans in the Northeast, including a young man who took him as a role model and gained fame a generation later as Wolfman Jack.

Today, I am not the only person who remembers the Hound fondly. There is a wonderful tribute site, HoundDogLorenz.com, and you can find recordings of his broadcasts on CD at the eBay store of Rock-it Radio. The Hound died in 1972, much too soon, but he changed music for many people, and left a fabulous legacy.

May I See Your Library Card?

In May of 1933, the Nazi party in Germany decreed that all literature must fall into line with Nazi principles, and that existing books that were not appropriate would be purged from the libraries and the culture of the nation. Book burnings took place all over Germany; books by Jewish authors, of course, were destroyed, but also titles by such undesirable authors as Ernest Hemingway and Helen Keller. This posed photo is notable not just for the chubby smugness of the book carriers, but also for the trembling knees of the superman in the middle, who was about to throw his back out. I hope it hurt.

Everyone Knows

“Every year, my family rents a divine villa in St.-Tropez, one of my most beloved vacation spots. Before setting off, we spend time with my grandmother in St. Jean Cap Ferrat. Once we arrive at our final destination, I return to the same places I’ve loved for years. Everyone knows about the St.-Tropez market on Tuesdays and Saturdays, but on Sundays, I head to the market in the village of Grimaud for antiques and the prettiest vintage lace. After shopping and a lazy-day siesta, I head to Tarte Tropezienne — a lovely shop with a sea of cakes from tarte au citron to tarte au pomme made fresh every day — where the lines snake down the street. Le Club 55 is famous for its amazing crudites and people-watching, but its boutique on the beach is what’s really irresistible. They source the best small labels from around the world, dresses to bikinis to the tiniest sea-shell bracelets; you want it all!”

— Poppy Delevingne in “Dispatch: St.-Tropez,” Vogue, October 2008

The National Library, Sarajevo

From April 5, 1992 to February 29, 1996, the people of Sarajevo were under artillery fire by Serb forces in the mountains that circled the city. From 200 gun emplacements, they shelled the city; within the city, Serb snipers shot at civilians. Of the 12,000 who died during this time, 80% were unarmed men, women and children. The National Library was a victim as well. This photo appeared in The New York Times; it was taken by Zelko Pulic.

Tolerance & Understanding

A letter I and my classmates received in June 1962, from a teacher at Kenmore West Senior High School:

My dear Student:

Before we close the final chapter in our course in World History may I take this opportunity to pass on to you these parting thoughts.

I want you to know that, whatever may have transpired between us, it has been my pleasure to have had you as a pupil. I want you to realize that, as an individual, there is no one else like you and that your individual self has added to the sum total of the good that we have shared in class. Take pride in the fact and remember that, regardless of your mental capacity, there is a mystery and individuality about you that no one else possesses. Remember the words of Emerson, “envy is ignorance — imitation is suicide”; do not let anything interfere with the free development of your own powers. Give your individual self a chance to grow and to grow on its own, not limping along in the shadow of the imagined greatness of others. Your future teachers will, as I have, appreciate you for your effort far more than for your ability.

Finally, I trust that our study of history together has somehow endowed you with a tolerance and understanding of other lands and other eras, and that this endowment is but one step towards the future development of your personality and character.

Good luck to you in your future work!

Sincerely yours,

Mellie J. Mooshie