Johnson to Wolfe; Wolfe to Johnson by Simmi Aujla


Samuel Johnson to Tom Wolfe

Passage from Johnson

The character of a liar is at once so hateful and contemptible, that even of those who have lost their virtue it might be expected that from the violation of truth they should be restrained by their pride. Almost every other vice that disgraces human nature, may be kept in countenance by applause and association: the corrupter of virgin innocence sees himself envied by the men, and at least not detested by the women; the drunkard may easily unite with beings, devoted like himself to noisy merriments or silent insensibility, who will celebrate his victories over the novices of intemperance, boast themselves the companions of his prowess, and tell with rapture of the multitudes whom unsuccessful emulation has hurried to the grave; even the robber and the cut-throat have their followers, who admire their address and intrepidity, their stratagems of rapine, and their fidelity to the gang.

The liar, and only the liar, is invariably and universally despised, abandoned, and disowned: he has no domestick consolations, which he can oppose to the censure of mankind; he can retire to no fraternity, where his crimes may stand in the place of virtues; but is given up to the hisses of the multitude, without friend and without apologist. It is the peculiar condition of falsehood, to be equally detested by the good and bad: "The devils," says Sir Thomas Brown, "do not tell lies to one another; for truth is necessary to all societies: nor can the society of hell subsist without it."

It is natural to expect, that a crime thus generally detested should be generally avoided; at least, that none should expose himself to unabated and unpitied infamy, without an adequate temptation; and that to guilt so easily detected, and so severely punished, an adequate temptation would not readily be found.

Translation of above passage to Wolfe's prose:

Cal Unitas pops the can's top and says "I would have made ten grand diamondy." Diamondy is the cash boys get from selling diamonds they swipe from Smyth's, or Kay's.

"Ten grand!"

"Weren't for that chudo, I'd be in Atlantic City now, spinning it for more." A chudo is the boys' term for a liar, usually.

"That chudo!"

"Ten grand!"

It's unbelievable — the Providence guy said he didn't know a thing about Baltimore jewelers, just knew a truck was coming in from Rhode Island, chock-full, and he could tell the boys where and when. Said he needed help. He had these long, skinny fingers that wouldn't stop moving, and after he scarfed down his cannoli he kept shifting around the crumbs on the plate, not eating them, just moving them around. Cal even paid for dinner at Sabatino's, which is a place one needs some diamondy for. But the chudo is gone. The boys know it.

The guy from Boston will come through. He drinks too much red wine at Sabatino's when Cal takes him, starts talking shit about Catholics, but he doesn't chud. Even Trenton, who kept grabbing the waitress when she was trying to put the veal down, even he was all right. The boys once swiped Shaw's, on Light Street, with a man who stabbed someone to death in a Reisterstown bar. All through the job, he kept whispering under his breath he'd kill anyone who got between him and the diamonds, which the boys never do. But he didn't -- no! -- he didn't drive our Chevy to the diamonds on Fayette Street and tell us the job was on Charles.

Tom Wolfe to Samuel Johnson

Passage from Wolfe's "The Pump House Gang"

Tom Coman lights a cigarette and says, "Let's have a destructo." A destructo is what can happen in a garage after eight or 10 surfers are kicked out of it.

"Mee-dah!"

"Wouldn't that be bitchen?" says Tom Coman. Bitchen is a surfer's term that means "great," usually.

"Bitchen!"

"Mee-dah!"

It's incredible — that old guy out there trying to scour the whole surfing life out of that garage. He's a pathetic figure. His shoulders are hunched over and he's dousing and scrubbing away and the sun doesn't give him a tan, it gives him these ... mottles on the back of his neck. But never mind! The hell with destructo. One only has a destructo spontaneously, a Dionysian ... bursting out , like those holes through the wall during the Mac Meda Destruction Company Convention at Manhattan Beach — Mee-dah!

Something will pan out. It's a magic economy — yes! — all up and down the coast from Los Angeles to Baja California kids can go to one of these beach towns and live the complete surfing life. They take off from home and get to the beach, and if they need a place to stay, well, somebody rents a garage for twenty bucks a month and everybody moves in, girls and boys. Furniture — it's like, one means, you know, one appropriates furniture from here and there. It's like the Volkswagen buses a lot of kids now use as beach wagons instead of woodies. Woodies are old station wagons, usually Fords, with wooden bodies, from back before 1953. One of the great things about a Volkswagen bus is that one can ... exchange motors in about three minutes. A good VW motor exchanger can go up to a parked Volkswagen, and a few ratchets of the old wrench here and it's up and out and he has a new motor. There must be a few nice old black panthers around wondering why their nice hubby-mommy VWs don't run so good anymore — but — then — they — are — probably — puzzled — about — a — lot of things. Yes.

As it might have been told by Samuel Johnson :

" The character of the elderly man who tries to destroy the young is at once so pathetic and vicious, it might be expected he would succeed in his quest, no matter the cost. It is he who will risk even his safety for the cause: he will brave the harsh sun to clean a room that had housed ten of these youth, and inhale the toxic cleaning materials intended to banish the last whiff of narcotics.

His efforts accomplish nothing: they will not drive the children back to their parents' households, nor force them into regular employment. The youth are, invariably and universally, fortunate enough to find another abode. Given the time and the means, the young boys and young girls will end up crowded into another room, perhaps one mile away, perhaps two, but always within a stone's throw of the sand and the sea. Furnishing their humble homes, and obtaining a mode of transportation, are as easy as finding the place to rest their heads. Whether in Venice or Balboa, in Newport Beach or La Jolla, the sun's devotees will continue their worship, though unrelenting rain or vengeful elders may attempt to stand in their way.


Victorian Web Overview Victorian courses

2 October 2007