June 3, 1953
How odd it is:
Here I am much older, not nearly as wise as I would have hoped to be, still writing to you unchanged in the year 2014!
Your words over the years have helped me, though I fear mine to you has not helped any at all.
I am back from Washington, D.C. and just now reading the newspaper and your latest letter to me.
Two first impressions:
First, a creeping, all pervading, nerve-gas of immorality which starts in the nursery and does not stop before it reaches the highest offices both corporate and governmental.
Two, a nervous restlessness, a hunger, a thirst, a yearning for something unknown— perhaps morality.
Then there’s the violence, cruelty and hypocrisy symptomatic of a people which has too much, and last, the surly ill temper which only shows up in humans when they are frightened.
Nothing seems to have changed in the nature of Man.
You mention this best-selling author, James Patterson, no longer writing his own books.
He does the outlines and hires different co-writers. He does credit the other writers,
and he probably does pay them handsomely,
but the whole thing is coiled up in my stomach like bad diner food.
How to express my feelings for it? Let me try:
Early on I had a shattering experience in ghost-writing that has left its mark on me.
In the fourth grade in Salinas, Calif., my best friend was a boy named Pickles Moffet.
He was an almost perfect little boy, for he could throw rocks harder and more accurately than anyone, he was brave beyond belief
in stealing apples or raiding the cake section in the basement of the Episcopal church,
a gifted boy at marbles and tops and sublimely endowed at infighting.
Pickles had only one worm in him.
The writing of a simple English sentence could put him in a state of shock very like that condition which we now call battle fatigue.
Imagine to yourself, as the French say,
a burgeoning spring in Salinas, the streets glorious with puddles, grass and wildflowers and toadstools in full chorus,
and the dense adobe mud of just the proper consistency to be molded into balls and flung against white walls—
an activity at which Pickles Moffet excelled.
It was a time of ecstasy, like the birth of a sweet and sinless world. And just at this time our fourth-grade teacher hurled the lightning.
She assigned us our homework.
We were to write a quatrain in iambic pentameter with an a b - a b rhyme scheme.
Well, I thought Pickles was done for.
His eyes rolled up. His palms grew sweaty, and a series of jerky spasms went through his rigid body. I soothed him and gentled him,
but to show you the state Pickles was in—he threw a mud ball at Mrs. Warnock’s newly painted white residence. And he missed the whole house.
I think I saved Pickles’ life.
I promised to write two quatrains and give one to him. I’m sure there is a moral in this story somewhere, but where?
The verse I gave to Pickles got him an A while the one I turned in for myself brought a C.
You will understand that the injustice of this bugged me pretty badly. Neither poem was any great shucks, but at least they were equally bad.
And I guess my sense of injustice outweighed my caution, for I went to the teacher and complained:
“How come Pickles got an A and I only got a C?”
Her answer has stayed with me all my life.
“What Pickles wrote was remarkable for Pickles. What you wrote was inferior for you.”
You see what this says of your James Patterson and those who ghost-write for him?
If you do, please write and explain it to me.