By John Hertz: These days we have some of the diversity for which we clamored so long. Not enough, in my opinion, but more than before.
One by-product is that it can less than ever be assumed what people have read or heard. I just asked a woman “Does the name Ernie Kovacs mean anything to you?” She said “Of course.” I said “Not of course. I’ve learned I’d better ask.” She thought it over, and agreed.
Also I’ve been saying “The word oldfashioned is oldfashioned.” We who love diversity may take an interest in things long ago or far away, or both, and discuss them in letters carried by jet airplane, or faster.
Rex Stout (1886-1975) beginning in the 1930s was a name on everyone’s lips, for his fictional detective Nero Wolfe, who never leaves his Manhattan house on business — well, hardly ever — and Wolfe’s assistant Archie Goodwin, who does the legwork.
My Death of a Dude (1969) is the 1981 printing; a note at the back says the 46 stories, many novel-length, had by then been translated into 22 languages and sold over 45 million copies. They are, among much else, fine pictures of life in these United States at the time of writing. I’ve read and re-read them. Maybe you have too.
I say this to bring in a passage that comes to mind (ch. 8). Wolfe is interviewing people — in Montana, a startling place for him to come — about a murder. Goodwin narrates. He uses brackets [ ] for his comments, which I have to report, so I’ll use parentheses ( ) for mine.
* * *
(Mel Fox, who runs a cattle ranch.) “It showed me once more, when I heard about it … that you don’t always know what you’re talking about.”
(Wolfe.) “How could you? Not only ignorance. Man’s brain, enlarged fortuitously, invented words in an ambitious attempt to learn how to think, only to have them usurped by his emotions. But still we try. (To Emmett Lake, an old cowhand.) Mr. Lake. Tell me about Mr. Brodell.”
“Dang Brodell,” Emmett said.
Actually that isn’t what he said…. Those of you who like the kind of words he liked can stick them in yourselves, and don’t skimp.
“Dang [AG] Brodell,” he didn’t say.
“It can’t be done,” Pete Ingalls (postgraduate at the University of California, Berkeley) said. “He’s dead and buried.”
“It was me that said the atrocious [AG] scourge [AG] might marry her, and that shows what a misguided [AG] ignoramus [AG] I was.”
“I thought you were showing understanding and compassion,” Pete said.
“Balls. I said how I figured it. You know what I said. You’re a lot younger than I am and you’re bigger and stronger, but if I sit here and cross my legs good, let’s see you get them opened up. Every breathing [AG] female [AG] alive is a born siren [AG]. The reason I called him an atrocious [AG] scourge [AG] was because he didn’t belong here and all the panting [AG] dudes can thumping [AG] well leave their outstanding [AG] bats [AG] at home when they….”
Oh piffle [AG], that’s enough…. Wolfe stood it a little longer … and then stopped him by saying in a tone that had stopped better men with better vocabularies, “Thank you, Mr. Lake, for illustrating so well what I said about words.”