Johnson to Wolfe; Wolfe to Johnson by Allison Zimmer


Samuel Johnson to Tom Wolfe

Passage from Johnson's "The history of Leviculus, the fortune-hunter, in Rambler No. 182

It has been observed in a late paper, that we are unreasonably desirous to separate the goods of life from those evils which Providence has connected with them, and to catch advantages without paying the price at which they are offered us. Every man wishes to be rich, but very few have the powers necessary to raise a sudden fortune, either by new discoveries, or by superiority of skill, in any necessary employment; and among lower understandings, any want the firmness and industry requisite to regular gain and gradual acquisitions.

One of the most indefatigable of this class, is my old friend Leviculus, whom I have never known for thirty years without some matrimonial project of advantage. Leviculus was bred under a merchant, and by the graces of his person, the sprightliness of his prattle, and the neatness of his dress, so much enamoured his master's second daughter, a girl of sixteen, that she declared her resolution to have no other husband. Her father, after having chidden her for undutifulness, consented to the match, not much to the satisfaction of Leviculus, who was sufficiently elated with his conquest to think himself entitled to a larger fortune. He was, however, soon rid of his perplexity, for his mistress died before their marriage.

He was now so well satisfied with his own accomplishments, that he determined to commence fortune-hunter; and when his apprenticeship expired, instead of beginning, as was expected, to walk the Exchange with a face importance, or associating himself with those who were most eminent for their knowledge of the stocks, he at once threw off the solemnity of the counting-house, equipped himself with a modish wig, listened to wits in coffee-houses, passed his evenings behind the scenes in the theatres, learned the names of beauties of quality, hummed the last stanzas of fashionable songs, talked with familiarity of high play, boasted of his achievements upon drawers and coachmen, was often brought to his lodgings at midnight in a chair, told with negligence and jocularity of bilking a tailor, and now and then let fly a shrewd jest at a sober citizen.

Translation of above passage to Wolfe's prose:

"Lost Leviculus"

Everyone tries to make money. Eventually everyone though reaches that point when there's nothing else you can do. There'll be these old men, who are still trying, trying so hard to win by chance, win the good life, who can't stop chasing these dreams of riches. But one day, he'll be old and grey and disappointed, and already you can see those who tried so hard to make it the easy way, have spent their lives just doing what they can do get what they want, but one day, they're disappointed, and then ... they just get old, and sad and all they talk about is what they've lost, but they keep talking about the good life, and the money and the women who had all this money, and didn't they almost have it all.

And here's Levi, who used to smile and flirt and who can't even be bothered to put on his fancy duds, his threads anymore. It is pathetic to see him open his mouth to say something to me-

-remember how there was Flav, that shopkeeper's daughter and she still was hot and rolling in the dough, and she still wore those flowers in her hair to that rave where she met that dude; and Allie, that rich old broad with her fifteen nephews and nieces who she adores and then takes a younger lover; and Latronia, so rich, but her domestic she spilled the dirt on me, man and that Prune, the dead man's wife still hooted and flounced away at the idea of marriage-

-his hands tremble and his thoughts are fragmented and his toupee is stringy and is no longer on his head properly, and he is just remembering how she that day, the widow who laughed in his face and said she would never marry him, and said You're a fraud and turned and flounced- a fraud, she called him a fraud!- and he went to her home with a bouquet of flowers and found that she had gone to church with a younger guy, and he hadn't known why, couldn't understand why, but she had fallen in love with this man through a quick glance through a window. But it couldn't be true that he has failed- no, he still has time to marry some rich old broad, because the Good Life couldn't be that far away, just because his wig is on crooked and his hands now shake and he doesn't know the best pickup lines to use, and he doesn't have season passes to the opera any longer and he is often cold and his legs cramp but no one will help him to move about and he can no longer smile properly, it was his smile see that every woman could not help but-

After all this- didn't they almost have it all? Just an old man with his sad, mop-like toupee and no one to listen to his stories- didn't they almost have it all?

Tom Wolfe to Samuel Johnson

Passage from Wolfe's "The Pump House Gang," "The history of Leonard Anderson and Donna; or the search for eternal youth"

There is a built-in trouble with age segregation. Eventually one does reach the horror age of 25, the horror dividing line. Surfing and the surfing life have been going big since 1958, and already there are kids who-well, who aren't kids anymore, they are pushing 30, and they are stagnating on the beach. Pretty soon the California littoral will be littered with these guys, stroked out on the beach like beached white whales, and girls, too, who can't give up the mystique, the mysterioso mystique, Oh Mighty Hulking Sea, who can't conceive of living any other life. It is pathetic when they are edged out of groups like the Pump House gang. Already there are some guys who hang around with the older crowd around the Shack who are stagnating on the beach. Some of the older guys, like Gary Wickham, who is 24, are still in The Life, they still have it, but even Gary Wickham will be 25 one day and then 26 and then... and then even pan-thuh age. Is one really going to be pan-thuh age one day? Watch those black feet go. And Tom Coman still snuggles with Yellow Slacks, and Liz still roosts moodily in her rabbit fur at the bottom of the Pump House and Pam still sits on the steps contemplating the mysterioso mysteries of Pump House ascension and John and Artie still bob, tiny porcelain shells, way out there waiting for godsown bitchen set, and godsown sun is still turned on like a dentist's lamp and so far-

-the panthers scrape on up the sidewalk. They are at just about the point Leonard Anderson and Donna Blanchard got that day, December 6, 1964, when Leonard said, Pipe it, and fired two shots, one at her and one at himself. Leonard was 18 and Donna was 21- 21!- god, for a girl in the Pump House gang that is almost the horror line right there. But it was all so mysterioso. Leonard was just lying down on the beach at the foot of the Pump house, near the stairs, just talking to John K. Weldon down there, and then Donna appeared at the top of the stairs and Leonard got up and went up the stairs to meet her, and they didn't say anything, they weren't angry over anything, they never ha dbeen, although the police said they had, they just turned and went a few feet down the sidewalk, away from the Pump House and-blam blam!-these two shots. Leonard fell dead on the sidewalk and Donna died that afternoon in Scripps memorial Hospital. Nobody knew what to think. But one thing it seemed like-well, it seemed like Donna and Leonard thought they had lived The Life as far as it would go and now it was running out. All that was left to do was- but that is an insane idea. It can't be like that, The Life can't run out, people can't change all that much just because godsown chronometer runs on and the body packing starts deteriorating and the fudgy tallow shows up at the thighs where they squeeze out of the bathing suit-

It can be observed that age segregation, or the division and physical separation of the old and the young, happens when we eventually reach the horrific division of age after approximately twenty and five years. Every gentleman wishes to remain young, but very few have the ability to turn back time, whether physically or mentally, for once he has stepped or tiptoed across time, that line is as definitive and final as death. One of the best exemplars of this class of people are Leonard Anderson and Donna Blanchard, who lived what they deemed to be The Life, whose story was told to me by a dear friend, one of the members of the Pump House Gang; whose headquarters were located near the Windansea Beach in La Jolla, California. Leonard was the son of a professional, who through the virtues and good wishes of his father, was poised to become the most pre-eminent class of business gentleman; but, as fate would have it the times brought Leonard to a different calling, and a divergent path. He took to the sea and by the deftness of his movements, and his quickness of foot, and his preference for the water, began to simply live near where his heart was happiest and where he thought he had the most freedom to live.

He began this life with no responsibilities; life was lived from day to day, and haphazardly independently, like a wild animal leaving a pack and roaming without a place to call his own; it was simple because he no longer needed to worry about food, nor drink, for it was enough to be in the sea, so he thought; and he needed not the trappings of gentlemen, nor the respectability of a profession, for him it was sufficient to live entirely independently; for he threw off the tie and the suits and did not report for work at the regimented time. He was now free of the constraints that society and his parents had placed upon him and it was through this independence that he found a group of others living in the same manner of lifestyle and began to live in a community based upon these ideas of youth.

First, their membership in this group was contingent upon their being of a certain age and this age was determined by this mark of twenty and five years. I had inquired as to the determination of this limit, but my question was met with quizzical glances. Donna was fast approaching the age of twenty-one years; the horrific age, marked by the slowly ticking beats of Time, and especially for a female member of the Pump House gang. They were so enraptured by the idea of the The Life, and lived so by the rules of The Life, that it was precisely on December 6, 1964 when Leonard said his last words, "Pipe it," (as reported to me by John K. Weldon) and fired precisely two shots, one at himself and the other at Donna; then the facts were that Leonard was simply lying on the ground, but the question remained why he had done it; it was precisely because they outlived their youth and the harsh rules of Time, and that was simply the end of both Donna and Leonard, two youths taken compelled and drawn, enchanted and disenchanted with The Life.

In this story, and other stories of the Pump House Gang, youth must always reach the horrific age of twenty and five, for the beat of Time marches on not to the independent and free-wheeling youth, but to the hard realities of the tick of a clock. These gang members reach this age and they either live on the beach, simply stagnating and being unfit for anything practical, or able to work within society once again, are condemned to become stories of The Life which few people will hear but all the more will dismiss.


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9 October 2007