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John Sladek
A Letter

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To his Aunt Wanda, 9 February 1960. At this time, “John was 23, and living off campus in Minneapolis, Mn.” (Sandy Sladek)

Dear Auntie and brood *

We’re all well here at the headquarters of “Germs Unlimited”.

Sorry to hear of your episode with the @*!!!# railroad. Reminds me of a trip I took a few ye-ahs (years) ago on the Oriental Express. It seems there were two people in the compartment with me. One was a pretty little thing, very blond, carrying a wicker telescope (grip [suitcase]). She had a decidedly worried look. Seemed to be afraid of the third passenger, a short, dark, bearded chap. He wore a homberg, a trenchcoat and pince-nez. Well, sir, he looked out the window a moment and I found her pressing a scrap of paper into my hand. Covertly I read it. “The bearded gentlemen is a spy. He wants to kill me. Do something, post-haste. I cannot urge upon you too strongly the necessity for dispatch,” it read.

I was just asking myself ** how the deuce she could have written such an eloquent note, when the whistle blew, and we entered a tunnel. The sound of the whistle blended with her scream. Then, as we came out ...

But enough about me. Let’s talk about you. Glad to hear you’re still carrying the flag for Zen in Ft. Dodge. ***

We can win yet! Today Ft. Dodge, tomorrow, the world! Be sure to get the local paper to do a Sunday Supplement article on you. “Mother of Many a Mystic” for a title, and lots of pictures: “Mrs. Porter, in full lotus position, contemplates the universe in her navel”, “Local housewife burns prayer sticks before living room Buddha”. (You can get some fat neighbor to be Buddha.) Get lots of controversy started. Denouncing articles by doctors: “Does Navel Contemplation Cause Cancer?” and “Eminent Pyrotechnologist Denounces Prayer Sticks As Greatest Fire Hazard”. Get people to discuss Zen, dabble, and forget about it. As someone said, “Once we get them to accept (Zen) as mediocre, we’re in.”

This mail order idea isn’t so bad, either. Run ads: “Grow Buddhas in your own home!”, “What strange navel did this man possess?”, and “They laughed when I sat down to pray!”.

So! Once more the battle lines are drawn, the dark clouds gather like moss on the rolling hills. (How’s that for a little bit of everything? It’s great to be a writer.) I plan, like you, to become a neutral nation. I wonder if this means stopping laundry trade agreements.

My writing career is in a slump (temporarily, of course). Haven’t submitted anything to True Confessions, Modern Romance, Mechanix Illustrated, or Gardener’s Digest for eons (or is it ae-ons? [or aeo-ns?]). Gardener’s Digest rejected my article “The History of the Peony”, but I still haven’t heard from Mech. Ill. on my essay, “The Influence of Oscar Wilde on the American Auto’s Engine in the Rear Policy”. They probably will want to expurgate it. C’est l’auto. (That’s French for “Fate has sat upon me and farted”.)

Well, fun must end. I must get this in the mail, so may Allah smother you with good fortune.

Love, John


* Referring to your family, of course. This is not a command.

** We Britishers are forever asking ourselves things, y’know.

*** The pronunciation of Ft. Dodge is bothering me and the other linguists hereabouts. Is the Ft. pronounced like a shortened “fit” or how? Please clear this up. If you refuse, I won’t give you the lowdown on “pumkah”.

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