GCSPrank Is Here

For people who spend the day saying and writing things that others accept, while thinking things that are infinitely more interesting.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005


In those days before e-mail swamped us and placed letter-writing in a comatose state, I wrote letters, actual pieces of paper covered by my handwriting (such as it was) or my Smith-Corona’s inky output. They were often monologues—as letters tend to be—but always ended in a P.S., or two or eleven, although I once wrote a letter that was 98% P.S. (That’s “P,” okay?)

I wrote well over 300 hundred letters over a five year period, averaging 5 a month. The bulk of those letters I wrote to Carol, filled with anecdotes, tweaks (I bugged her a lot!), sports news, asides, feelings and low comedy. She wrote back often and the long-distance dialogue, the closing of space too vast for me to contain, went far towards healing my first bouts of loneliness.

I wrote to my mom, letters that let me express my feelings in a light manner, trying to hide my moments of pain or confusion and doing as good a job at that as is possible when a mother’s instinct has an uncanny way of seeing straight to the truth. Letters to my dad were military reports: long on facts, short on interpretation. He usually answered on the back of deposit slips that he got at the bank, often sent to me in bank envelopes he scratched the return address from and always with a stamp he charmed from a bank officer. A lady bank officer, of course.

My sister got more emotional letters, ones where I expressed concerns about her and about me. We seldom wrote as each tried to establish a space of one’s own, separate from family. As my sister kept mom and dad in the dark about many things (she was geographically closer, but emotionally more distant at the time, the opposite of my case), it was up to me to sound her out and pass on the “all clear,” true or not.

Letters to a high school friend were exercises in the excess of “one word.” Using my Smith-Corona and time, I wrote him letters that were one word, with no separation or punctuation between the letters. After the straight-through version, one letter was one word that spiraled in to the center of the page. Later I wrote a letter that had to be read vertically, again with no separations or punctuation. Another had to be read following the line from the front to the back, then back to the front again, a spiral across both sides of the paper. And my last, greatest effort, had a diagonal pattern, starting in the upper right corner and spiraling over both sides of the paper, ending in the lower left corner. And these were not random efforts either: I told him and his family my news, observations and thoughts, all within the exact confines of the pages and format. He still has them.

Another friend who kept my letters was Joeann. I flirted with her outrageously when we were in school together (her boyfriend was my friendly sports “nemesis”) and I did the same in my letters, behaving like a sex-mad fiend who was just a split-second away from conquering her with his animal magnetism. (Comedy is often based on reality.) (Often, not always.) Years later, Joeann told me she had kept the letters and when sadness or depression gripped her, she would read the letters and eventually start laughing, sometimes until she cried. She even showed me the creased, almost split pages, carefully tucked in their envelopes and wrapped in a linen handkerchief.

But the strongest emotional impact I’ve felt about my letters happened many years after the fact. My dad’s only sister and I wrote to each other 4-5 times a year. Some 15 years after I left college and stopped writing letters, I went to visit my aunt in San Francisco. We spoke about her dead husband, Jack, a former Air Force pilot who I only met twice, but with whom I traded news through my aunt. I knew Jack thought highly of me, but not much else, so I asked her to tell me more about him. She told me that even when his health faded badly and he didn’t even want to watch television, Jack would perk up whenever one of my letters arrived. He would ask her to read them aloud and laugh at my comments and sarcasm. Sometimes he would ask her to pull out older letters and read them, too. The week before he died, she gathered all my letters and read them to Uncle Jack, one after the other, to take his mind off the pain of dying. His soft laughter echoed hers, she said. That night he slept soundly for the last time.


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