Johnson to Wolfe; Wolfe to Johnson by Rachel Labine


Samuel Johnson to Tom Wolfe

Passage from Johnson's Rambler No. 182

The folly of untimely exultation and visionary prosperity, is by no means peculiar to the purchasers of tickets; there are multitudes whose life is nothing but a continual lottery; who are always within a few months of plenty and happiness, and how often soever they are mocked with blanks, expect a prize from the next adventure.

Among the most resolute and ardent of the votaries of chance, may be numbered the mortals whose hope is to raise themselves by a wealthy match; who lay out all their industry on the assiduities of courtship, and sleep and wake with no other ideas than of treats, compliments, guardians and rivals.

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 of 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:

The kid with the moustache always pretends to be wasted. The guy is stumbling all over this place, after one beer, and he thinks they like that. Those girls sitting on the floor cushions with all the bud until they get up and dance like this party is a goddamn pow-wow. He thinks stumbling around this place, obnoxious and laughing and loud, is the way to crack their shells, it's wack. Levi is new to this school, a freshman and not yet 18, but he already walks around blatantly emulating the upperclassmen and intimidating the sophomores. This skinny-legged scenester is one of the many trying to make their way to the top of the hippest of the hip before their first real crit.

He's already got a penchant - a habit - for the slightly famous. Not household-name status, but just so. My parents - yeah, have you heard of that company? Wait, what's your last name? Just so Hip. The first weekend, not move-in but the one after classes began, we heard he got with a sophomore in printmaking, you know, one of those girls we saw that Friday. You saw her, she was one of the ones with the right to be there, in her acid-washed jeans choking her scrawny torso into the tiniest of paunches. Levi hooked up with her and apparently he was sort of surprised when she dipped first thing Saturday morning before he woke up. He was probably just hoping she would smoke him up, though, because that girl's family is loaded and she always has weed. Or maybe he was thinking that she'd buy him booze that night -

Not that he really drinks anyway. Of course it was the same game that Saturday night and every weekend since. Those high-waisted girls like him for his moustache. He is ironic in wearing a moustache, and therefore ironic in pretending to be intoxicated, ironic in making bad art, and ironic in only getting with wealthy girls from The City - not because he, ironically, grew up poor. Even if his modest upbringings and current taste in girls did have a conscious connection... Back-up plans are smart. I mean, I think he's going into painting.

Tom Wolfe to Samuel Johnson

Passage from Wolfe's "The Pump House Gang," pages 22-23

But exactly! This beach is verboten for people practically 50 years old. This is a segregated beach. They can look down on Windansea Beach and see nothing but lean tan kids. It is posted "no swimming" (for safety reasons), meaning surfing only. In effect, it is segregated by age. From Los Angeles on down the California coast, this is an era of age segregation. People have always tended to segregate themselves by age, teenagers hanging around with teenagers, old people with old people, like the old men who sit on the benches up near the Bronx Zoo and smoke black cigars. But before, age segregation has gone on within a larger community. Sooner or later during the day everybody has melted back into the old community network that embraces practically everyone, all ages.

But in California today surfers, not to mention rock 'n' roll kids and the hot-rodders or Hair Boys, named for their fanciful pompadours - all sorts of kids - they don't merely hang around together. They establish whole little societies for themselves. In some cases they live with one another for months at a time. The "Sunset Strip" on Sunset Boulevard used to be a kind of Times Square for Hollywood hot dogs of all ages, anyone who wanted to promenade in his version of the high life. Today "The Strip" is almost completely the preserve of kids from about 16 to 25. It is lined with go-go clubs. One of them, a place called It's Boss, is set up for people 16 to 25 and won't let in anybody over 25, and there are some terrible I'm-dying-a-thousand-deaths scenes when a girl comes up with her boyfriend and the guy at the door at It's Boss doesn't think she looks under 25 and tells her she will have to produce some identification proving she is young enough to come in here and live The Strip kind of life and - she's had it, because she can't get up the I.D. and nothing in the world is going to make a woman look stupider than to stand around trying to argue I'm younger than I look, I'm younger than I look. So she practically shrivels up like a Peruvian shrunken head in front of her boyfriend and he trundles her off, looking for some place you can get an old doll like this into. One of the few remaining clubs for "older people," curiously, is the Playboy Club. There are apartment houses for people 20 to 30 only, such as the Sheri Plaza in Hollywood and the E'Questre Inn in Burbank. There are whole suburban housing developments, mostly private developments, where only people over 45 or 50 can buy a house. Whole towns, meantime, have become identified as "young": Venice, Newport Beach, Balboa - or "old": Pasadena, Riverside, Coronado Island

Tom Wolfe into Samuel Johnson :

It is true, as in the animal kingdom the sparrow sings with the sparrow, and the antelope grazes with the antelope, so does he of a youthful age prefer the company of his peers to that of his elders. It is natural to expect such segregation among the young as well as the old, for when any man reaches an age of independence, perhaps achieving the company of one with whom to bed, he is peculiar indeed who would rather dally with children than proceed in life, matrimony, and employment.

It has been observed by many, of youth and of age, that in youth the segregation is more adamant, the separation of himself from those especially possessing more years than he is at times spiteful, lest through proximity the young man should gain an obscene number of years suddenly. He is particularly wary of such a fate who is between the years of 16 and 25, for he is already on the cusp of old age, and through adjacency, that most feared of unknowns, death. Some have said it to be the unruliness of adolescence which causes such discrimination against his fellow man from youth of this bracket. To blame the phenomenon on immaturity, however, is short-sighted indeed, for it is indisputably the perceived nearness of any year past 25 to one's year of death that kindles the self-imposed segregation of youth from his elders.


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2 October 2007