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Dream On

March 19, 1995

In 21 years of teaching in the English Dept. at UC Irvine, I was subjected to enormous amounts of academic jargon and bad student writing. But I can say with some certainty that I never ran across a sentence as magnificently convoluted, outrageously overwritten, and containing as many mixed metaphors as the following from your review of "Dreaming: Hard Luck and Good Times in America" (March 5):

"While her own origins are working class, like such children of Hollywood money as Jill Robinson, Brooke Hayward, Carrie Fisher and the late Johanna Davis, she will crack wise about the deepest wounds, as if, on the fault line of a convulsive culture, having flunked puberty rite and ultimate meaning, afflicted, after so much bloody butter on a crust of Dread, with the nameless blue-eyed willies, she will levitate by laughing gas."

Whew.

I especially liked the capitalization of "Dread" in case we missed the joke.

I think you have created an historic sentence here that should be framed and mounted on the wall of every Creative Writing classroom in the country. And I think you should find the editor who allowed that sentence to get through and require him to parse it, once a week, for at least a year.

JOSEPH N. BELL, NEWPORT BEACH

*

Well, of course, I found John Leonard's review of Carolyn See's book of great interest: Hey, that's me with Carolyn in the photo, celebrating in Tijuana our 1959 wedding. I'm the guy that Leonard characterizes--as Carolyn's second husband--who "worked for the RAND Corp. when he wasn't smuggling Benzedrine and methaphetamines across the Mexican border." Give me a break!

With a "politically correct" (PC) stretch, Carolyn does romanticize me as a "Slovak-American." But, to be precise, I was born in San Diego of a first-generation father (then in the U.S. Navy) and half-second-generation mother of Carpatho-Ruthenian (or "Rusak") immigrants. Yeah, my close cousin, both by blood and marriage, was Andy Warhol(a).

And, as a UCLA graduate student, I did work at the RAND Corp. part-time as a technical editor; and, later, as full-time Editor of the Computer Sciences Department.

But I was not "smuggling Benzedrine and methaphetimine across the border" for profit. Carolyn's wrong: "meth" in the late '50s war, like Ecstasy (or whatever new-wave drug now), available only to pre-Med students. We did buy, at Tijuana's boticas, made-on-location Benzedrine tabs or a bottle of Smith, Kline & French concoctions (long gone) of multi-vitamins or aspirin laced with "speed" to keep us awake through the nights prepping for Masters of Doctoral exams; and, perhaps, a bottle of tequila or Presidente brandy to bring us down. At the same time, I was competing well as a runner.

I'm truly sorry that Leonard's brother "vanished" (literally?) into speed and acid; but Carolyn and I were, at the time, coping with the ridiculous German-American graduate-school regimen (viz. Jacques Barzun)--and, honestly, "expanding our consciousness"--which, 'til Tuesday, serves me well.

TOM STURAK,

*

Your review of "Dreaming" contained a reference to "the heroin-addicted (jazz musician) Wayne Marsh." This is incorrect on two counts. His name was Warne, not Wayne. He was named after his paternal grandmother, Mary Warne Marsh. His father, Oliver T. Marsh, was MGM's principal cinematographer in the 1920s and '30s, and one of his aunts was Mae Marsh of silent movie fame. Further, according to what I have learned in interviewing more than 200 of his friends and associates over the past four years, he was never a heroin addict. It is uncertain that he ever used heroin at all; if he did, it was extremely rarely. Like many artists, he was a complex, deeply inward person, self-indulgent in some ways, yet intensely disciplined in others.

SAFFORD CHAMBERLAIN, SOUTH PASADENA

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