Fifteen Old Friends
From Previous Issues

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Here we note many of our favorite
essays, reviews, poems and articles
from the last eleven years of RALPH.

The Trial of the
Chicago Seven

Paul Krassner
Judge Julius Hoffman looked exactly like Elmer Fudd. I expected him to proclaim, "Let's get them pesky wadicals!" The court clerk looked exactly like Goofy. It didn't matter that a Disney character was making a guest appearance in a Looney Toons cartoon --- one learns to accept such discrepancies in a dreamlike state. Now I was being instructed by Goofy to raise my right hand and place my left hand on a Bible that was positively vibrating. "Do you hereby swear," asked Goofy, "that the testimony you are about to give in the cause now on trial before this court and jury shall be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?" The truth for me was that LSD --- or any other catalyst for getting in closer touch with your subconscious; whether it be meditation, Zen, yoga --- served as a reminder that choices are being made every moment. So naturally I assumed that Goofy was offering me a choice. "No," I replied.

Although I hadn't planned to say that, I realized it was a first in American jurisprudence. Ordinarily, the more heinous a crime the more eagerly will a defendant take the oath. However, my refusal to swear on the Bible was a leap of faith. Everything was swirling around in pastel colors, but there was still a core of reality I was able to grasp, and somehow I managed to flash back to a civics class in junior high school when we had studied the Bill of Rights in general and the First Amendment in particular. Now I found myself passing that lesson on to Goofy. "I believe in the constitutional provision for the separation of church and state, so I will choose to affirm to tell the truth."

--- From Confessions of a
Raving, Unconfined Nut

©1993, Simon & Schuster

Go to the Full

Learning by Heart
Contemporary American
Poetry about School

Maggie Anderson,
David Hassler, Editors
(University of Iowa Press)
This collection isn't namby-pamby stuff: there are tales of school bullies, beating up on "faggots," back room sex, and "Catatonia: In a Classroom for the Slow to Learn," which begins:

    Jason, look at this book, I say,
    but feel like I'm in a dream he's having.
    a ship at anchor off the island he is
    that dispenses words like boats to his shore.
    He knows better than to talk.

The text is divided into seven parts, including "O Where Are They Now?" "Sports and Clubs," "A History of Our People" and, under "Homeroom," an old favorite from the late Richard Brautigan:

    Oh, Marcia,
    I want your long blonde beauty
    to be taught in high school,
    so kids will learn that God
    lives like music in the skin
    and sounds like a sunshine harpsichord.
    I want high school report cards
         to look like this:

    Playing with Gentle Glass Things

    Computer Magic

    Writing Letters to Those You Love

    Finding out about Fish

    Marcia's Long Blonde Beauty

Go to the

World War II
A Photographic History
David Boyle
No matter how you look at it, six years of human sacrifice (mostly concentrated in the period 1942 - 1945) ended up being a staggering price to pay for what the Germans called "Lebensraum," the Japanese referred to as "The Greater Asia Co-prosperity Sphere," and the Americans referred to as "The War Effort." It was nationalism in action: billions of dollars spent to destroy whole cities, to kill and maim people, just because they happened to be citizens of another country.

It was called a World War, but that's typical Western arrogance. Almost half the world --- much of Africa and South America, even in the far reaches of the "belligerent" countries --- were not forced to participate in the general mayhem. I remember it as being a particularly pleasant time for me and my family.

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Tonight's Lecture:
The Effects of Head Wounds
On Foot Soldiers,
A Case Study

Ronald Wallace

(University of Pennsylvania)
Government scientists are experimenting with cats
to determine the effects of head wounds on foot soldiers. The cats
are strapped to special tables, their heads in a vise,
and shot with military assault rifles. The effects
are noticeable. Without their heads, the cats become dis-
oriented, have trouble breathing, and no longer function fully as cats. The government scientists speculate
that head-wounded foot soldiers experience similar discomfort.

The cats are kept in cages for observation.
They lose their appetites and often become depressed,
reflecting post-traumatic stress syndrome as well.
The lecturer stops. The congressmen are incredulous,
shake their collective heads. War is hell! They'll
approve the development of better headgear for foot soldiers.

Go to the original

Dr. Laura
The Unauthorized

Vickie L. Bane
(St Martins)
If Doctor Laura was seeking to become famous, she picked the right guy. If she was looking for someone who would keep her deepest secrets, she shoulda stood in bed. Over the years, Ballance seems to have lost whatever little affection he had for his old squeeze. His uncensored memories of their time together have appeared in The Los Angeles Times, Vanity Fair, and several other newspapers and magazines. They are uniformly obnoxious, highly personal, and hilarious.

For instance, there's the matter of pet names. He called Laura his little plum, she called him her "Pillow Plumsicles." She wrote notes to him signed, "Your Tottle Bug." We used to thrash around like a couple of crazed weasels, he told Vanity Fair. He dubbed her "Ku Klux." Why? Because she is a wizard in the sheets.

He didn't limit his comments to their love affair. "We were sitting in the Musso and Frank Grill on Hollywood Blvd. one day and I said, 'You're scratching your head and a cloud of dandruff is floating over into my consommé.'

"Talk about gnashing your teeth; it was an actual snarl. She said, 'Don't you ever tell anyone I have psoriasis.' I said to Laura, 'If it weren't for your psoriasis you wouldn't have any character at all.'"

Go to the complete

& Rebellion
The Making of
A President, 1884

Mark Wahlgren Summers
(University of North Carolina)
One of the joys of reading of this campaign is the feeling that they had a hell of a lot more fun with presidential elections than we do now. There was no television to turn the candidates to oatmeal. There were marches, and extended speechifying --- filled with rhetorical flourishes, and dozens of newspapers in the major cities to give dozens of different views of what was said.

The big issue of the campaign before the RR&R gaffe was widespread belief that Grover Cleveland, the Democratic candidate, had fathered a child out of wedlock by a Maria Halpin. The author's conclusion: it might have been Cleveland with his finger in the pie, or --- as likely --- it might well have been some associates of his who he wanted to protect. In any event, he did the right thing, at least by the standards of the time: arranging for housing and shelter for mother and child.

But then as now, the supposed misdeeds of the candidates were subject to extensive, sometimes tedious, examination. Blaine himself was accused of having "betrayed the girl whom he married, and then only married her at the muzzle of a shotgun." He was even accused of not watching his busses. According to the Indianapolis Sentinel,

    No longer ago than last night he kissed two men in this city, and one of these two was a Democrat. It is thus seen that the habit is growing on him. So long as he confined this method to the Republicans the Sentinel did not complain, but he shall not play it on Democrats with our consent.

Go to the original

The Madness
Of Art

Interviews with
Poets and Writers

Robert Philips
(Syracuse University Press)
Over the last twenty years, Robert Phillips has interviewed writers and poets for The Paris Review. He includes eight of these here --- including ones with Philip Larkin, Joyce Carol Oates, Karl Shapiro, William Jay Smith and William Styron.

God knows why anyone in their right mind would want to interview these characters, much less read an interview with them. We should be spending time with their books, not wasting it on questions about where they went to school and who influenced them and what they do on weekends and if they have a cat and what they eat for breakfast and most of all, what they think about their own writings.

Most worthy writers stay the hell away from these arty interviews. Vladimir Nabokov loathed critics and strenuously avoided those who wanted to ask him dopey questions like "Tell us about the sources of your inspiration" and "Is there a person who was your inspiration for Humbert Humbert?" and "Did you have a happy childhood?" I can see one of these interview ninnies turning up in the early 17th century asking Shakespeare whether his father loved him, and whether he named Hamlet Hamlet because of the death of his own child Hamnet, and why he only left his wife his second best bed and what exactly did he mean anyway by the lines "To be or not to be..."

If you want to be driven mad (or, still, after all this time, have that fake romantic notion about "The Madness of Art"), I suppose this would be your book. All it proves to me is that Joyce Carol Oates in live interview is just as arrogant and unseeing as the characters in those low-life novels she churns out like hot dogs, she being the Oscar Mayer of what's left of American literature.

And William Styron! Butter wouldn't melt in his mouth. One only has to read Darkness Visible, his account of his nervous breakdown, to see that he couldn't tell a neurosis from a tea-pot, and neither from reality.

Go to the original

The Blood Runs Like
A River Through
My Deams

Nasdijj's writing consists of short Hemingwayesque sentences and, at the same time, a Jamesian circling about a character that reveals --- a slowly developing photograph --- friends like Mary Potato, Maxine, Navajo Rose, Codetalker, Mose Zah, and Tommy Nothing Fancy: the last being another of the templates for Awee.

The writing is filled with affection for the world of the Navajo and Native Americans in general. There is the truth of growing up in a family of alcoholics, suffering --- as Nasdijj does, as most of his young charges do -- with FAS (Fetal Alcohol Syndrome), a disease that slows down learning, creates frustration and violence, fomenting children who are difficult to care for.

The book turns all the clichés that we have about Native Americans on their heads. Yes, Nasdijj shows us the drinking and car bodies on the lawns and shootings and knifings and thievery. But he also tells of the ceremonial life (still not lost) and delves into the grim history of the collision between the Spaniards and the Indians in the 16th and 17th Centuries, most especially the coming of Don Juan de Oñate. 300 years before King Leopold II devastated the Congo, 400 years before Bosnia's ethnic cleansing, Oñate indulged in the chopping off of hands and feet of innocent Indians, all done in the name of God's wrath as visited on the heathens.

There is a statue of Oñate in Alcade, New Mexico. Nasdijj's friends Roy Laughter and Jimmy Dog decide one day to commemorate the rapine of Oñate by cutting off one of the feet of the statue. And they do.

Go to the

Before the Government's
Committee on the Proposed
In short, the proposed operation will bring necessary government funds into the city, erase persistent hard-core unemployment, give a whole community new self-respect, and provide a continuing source of funds to the willing, able-bodied, and hard-working citizens of this desperate district.

Gentlemen: the people need our project. Their well-being, and the security of our whole movement, demand that we provide for their immediate needs. We must give the people of Belsen some pride. I ask that you vote favorably on the construction.

Go to the

Wings in
The Snow
Jim Oliver
A novel works when the characters are interesting, there is a plot that actually moves, and the writing --- and the dialogue --- are worth bothering with. By these criteria, Wings in the Snow makes it. But it does more than that: it's funny, and wise, and doesn't overdo it. Theo is gay, but there are none of those hot boring sex scenes so familiar to Alyson readers --- you remember, those filled with grunting, goggling, and far too much smegma. Dr. Theo is not only restrained and dry most of the time, he's human, and he loves doctoring. In fact, he's so gaga about it that it drives Sweet Sam away, just because he's never there. And when Sam leaves, Theo reacts just like the rest of us would:

    He lay on his side of their bed in the dark...He felt sorry for himself. He felt offended. He was a doctor. His days were used up by the needs of others. He was at the beck and call of people with scheduled needs and with needs for him which happened suddenly....He could not live the predictable life of a normal person. When he was needed, he was needed....

The events of Theo's life move the book, and move us. His sisters think their step-mother is a danger to their father, and the twist is that neither Theo nor the reader is quite sure if this is true or not. Theo fathered Natalia because Dr. Susan said he had "great genes" --- but it may have been that she said he looked "great in jeans." Susan goes bonkers, and drops his daughter off to stay with him even though he had understood he was just a turkey-baster father (he has never seen her before now). After being with Natalia for a few weeks --- weeks of her staring at the television and ignoring him are masterful presentations of a sullen, impossible five-year-old that one would love to strangle --- he wonders whether someone "switched cups" in the fertility clinic.

Go to the full

Wait? (Hee hee)

James Joyce
Bald Pat who is bothered mitred the napkins. Pat is a waiter hard of his hearing. Pat is a waiter who waits while you wait. Hee hee hee hee. He waits while you wait. Hee hee.

A waiter is he. Hee hee hee hee. He waits while you wait. While you wait if you wait he will wait while you wait. Hee hee hee hee. Hoh. Wait while you wait.

Go to the complete

Quitting the
Nairobi Trio

A Memoir
Jim Knipfel
(Berkley Books)
As he looks out the door of his room, "a skinhead in complete Brownshirt regalia walked by; shiny black jackboots, armband, cap ... A few minutes later, another Nazi walked by, headed in the same direction." A nurse comes in with a package --- "a gaily wrapped bright-red box with a huge black bow."

    I tried to tell her about the Nazis, but nothing came out of my throat. She set the box on the edge of the bed and lifted the lid. Three huge black Norway rats scurried out of the box and slid to the floor, clutching at the sheet as they scrambled down... "How beautiful!" she crooned. "But whoever sent it didn't include any card." She peered into the box to make sure. "You must have a secret admirer! Well, I'll just leave it right here so you can see it."

The power of Knipfel's writing is this excellent (and scary) blend of lunacy and non-lunacy. All the while he is seeing Nazis and rats, he is reading Jacques Lancan, "The Mirror Stage as Formative of the I as Revealed in Psychoanalytic Experience." Reading Lancan in the looney-bin is a bit like looking at a picture of someone looking at a picture of someone looking at a picture.

Knipfel takes time out in his story to give a fairly good disquisition on Lancan's theory of language and communication: to wit, since language is "the only thing we can use to represent ourselves to others," there will always be "miscommunication." And miscommunication comes close to being the theme of this wonderful story...that Knipfel has been miscommunicating with the world, and (mostly) with himself, all these years.

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A Gaudy Spree:
Literary Hollywood When
The West Was Fun

Samuel Marx
(Franklin Watts)
The sheet that came along with this book says "The tumult and joy of Hollywood in the thirties is rendered with affection and insight..." but perhaps they are thinking of the affection and insight of some other Marx. Like Karl or Groucho. Sam Marx spends most of his time (and our money) telling us what a funny, perceptive, interesting fellow Sam Marx is.

His characterizations have the delicacy and flavor of botulism on rye: Ernest Hemingway, for example, is "the bluff heavy-set titan of American letters." F. Scott Fitzgerald appears with "built-in class and style" and a "male-model look," Sinclair Lewis sported "an unpleasant skin ailment," and Beatrice Kaufman was "that bubbling, tawny-maned woman."

What Marx obviously needs is an ego-trim, an honest editor and, perhaps, a scholarship to the Writer's Summer Workshop in lowa where he could work on his syntax, adjective phrases, and, if time, his soul.

He makes light of the whoredom of great American literary figures by the Hollywood forcemeat establishment: the screen plays of William Faulkner, S. J. Perelman, Nathanael West, Clifford Odets, Fitzgerald and Hemingway were trimmed so as to make the plots incomprehensible and the lines maudlin. Obviously, Marx sees his career as just another lark-filled time when the West Was Fun and Our Hearts were Young and Fey.

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Treasury of
Victorian Murder

The Fatal Bullet
Rick Geary
(Nantier Beall/
The facts are all there: that Charles J. Guiteau was well known in the White House; that he had harassed Garfield and Secretary of State Blaine endlessly during the summer of 1881 to be Consul to Paris; that he was presented with endless chances to murder the President (no Secret Service in those days); that once shot, Garfield lingered on in great pain from July 2 to September 19th (and was probably done in by incompetent medical help); and that Guiteau was the first of the Unabomber-style publicity-hound assassins --- in other words, using the death of others to get one's doubtful message across (the newspapers and magazines printed many of his writings).

It's an odd, a very odd way to get one's political thoughts heard, and Guiteau made it even more appalling by intoning such lines as "Life is a fleeting dream, and it matters little when one goes," and, "I presume the President is a Christian and that he will be happier in paradise than here," and, "I have no ill-will toward the President. His death is a political necessity."

Go to the original

Not Rabies, Baby,
But Baby Scabies
Scabies is a noxious little bug that burrows under the skin...moves in, bag and baggage, bringing along all of its progeny. It wanders about, hither and yon, raising general hell, and since it can't be seen, the only way we know that we are playing host to the original man-who-came-to-dinner is that the skin erupts in ways that drive one totally up the wall.

The skin, as you know, is the largest organ in --- or about --- the body, and when it is attacked by what they call Scarcoptes Scabiei it goes nuts.

You think fleas are bad. According to my beloved Merck Manual, scabies is "An impregnated female mite who tunnels into the stratum corneum and deposits her filthy little eggs along the burrows..." I inserted the words "filthy" and "little" in the proceeding sentence.

Scabies usually comes from what the manual so archly calls "skin-to-skin" contact --- in other words, from our doing those things that Granny advised us never to do with any other human. Scabies is thus another of God's mysterious ways of punishing us for our night-time pleasures and our secret daytime delights.

Scabies is known as "The Seven Year Itch," because its incidence rises and falls as regularly as the tides, or the sunspots, turning up in abundance every seven years. It is easily cured --- once you find out that you have it --- by spreading a special pink marmalade all the way from one's neck to one's tippy-toes, missing nothing (I repeat, nothing), in the process. Then you lie about for 12 hours, at which time all the little buggers are supposed to die and go off to the great corpulent body in the sky.

Go to the complete

A Novel
Ha Jin
Waiting got lodged between front and back seat of my car, and during the course of a week --- a week in which I seemed to spend too much time waiting at bridges and waiting at the laundry and waiting in freeway pile-ups --- there was Waiting.

Reluctantly, I would pick it up, and army on, cursing myself that I forgot to travel with something more hefty and satisfying from the pile of other books rising up Gargantua on my bedtable, Karakatoa in the bathroom, King Kong about the computer.

I was thus saddled for what seemed a month of stalled cars and carbon monoxide not with, unfortunately, King Kong --- but doctor Lin Kong, the star of Waiting, and his honey of eighteen years, nurse Manna Wu. Kong can woo Wu but no marry because of a previously arranged marriage with the home-bound, ugly, foot-bound (only in China!) Shuyu. Much of the tale takes place shortly after the Great Leap forward, in a medical facility in the wilds of Muji, China. That's Muji as in moo-gee. We might think of it as a post-Maoist (or post-partum) version of General Hospital, but it's not as sprightly. Nor as interesting.

Oh, there are moments. The rape scene is a knock-out --- if you are into rape scenes --- for the author gets into the head of poor Manna Wu. Her day-terrors and nightmares afterwards are real and grisly and fearsome. But outside this and outside of the sugar red-bean paste pies, coptis powder (for diarrhea), and salted jellyfish --- it's dark days not only for the characters, but the reader --- stuck out there on the steppes or plains or badlands of melancholic Muji without a dose of coptis.