Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Usual Drugstore Gossip

The Complete Letter Writer (1957) by N.H. and S.K. Mager is full of examples of - well, letters of course. You knew that.

But what makes this book special is the bizarre, soap-operatic detail in the imaginary letters. They are like mini short stories; a lot of thought went into them, you can tell.

Here's one of the many that I was intrigued by. Betty, who has moved away from Janesville (perhaps to get away from the letter writer), is going to get this missive from a nameless pal. Let's take this one paragraph at a time:

1. The Big Car News. Yeah, this is more important than asking Betty how she is. Is one not supposed to do that in a letter, preferably in paragraph one? Also I want to know about Paul and his wild driving on Slate Hill. He has a rakish side, buying that bright yellow convertible, does he not? Mid-life crisis alert, possibly.

2. Next paragraph: invite yourself for summer vacation to the friend's house. They will be honking the horn, too! Betty, you'd better stock up on Jell-O.

3. Gossip Item #1: Bart Evans new wife, from Europe yet. Mucho gushing, such a lovely girl, delicious cake etc. Translation: she isn't quite what we look for in a Slate Hill matron. They only rented a "little" house. That little "gay Viennese operetta" remark is a little double-edged. "Can Lisa cook!" What in the name of fancy gelatin molds does that mean? Well, can she? Hmmm. I guess she can make Linzer Torte, anyway.

This ends with a virtuoso bragging remark about how multicultural and gourmet the writer is, she can make that Linzer Thingie too. Take that, Lisa!

4. Gossip Item #2, AKA The Usual Drugstore Gossip. Because we all hang around the Janesville Pharmacy like teenagers, ripping the neighbors to shreds. Hence the little dating item, and then the zinger about Mrs. Thelan painting her house bright pink. Otherwise, it's all pretty boring here.

5. In fact, it's SO boring, we wish you'd come back, Betty. You and Stan generated half the hot topics in Janesville! (She doesn't say this, but I'll just bet it's true). Alas, Betty and Mr. Betty are in Zenith now. Isn't that the town where famous fictional bore George F. Babbitt lived? Stan's probably his nephew. George Babbitt did generate a lot of gossip in the second half of the Sinclair Lewis novel, actually (he calmed down at the end and got boring again).

Betty is going to read this and promptly write back to her dear friend, the shocking pink Mrs. Thelan. I hope so. I would love to see a letter from her.


Tori Lennox said...

Are these letters really real??? What a hoot!!!

vanilla said...

--and if she will gossip to you, she will gossip about you.

Lidian said...

Tori - I think that the authors made them up, like the thank you notes in etiquette books(which I also love)

vanilla - Oh, I agree. This is just the tip of the iceberg! ;)

Tori Lennox said...

I have the sudden urge to break out my 1950 edition of Emily Post's Etiquette....

Lidian said...

Tori - I love the letters in the old etiquette books, too. i used to read the ones in my mother's Amy Vanderbilt (circa 1964) - i ought to see if I can find it next time I visit.