Jeff Kallman's excellent The Easy Ace: A Journal of Classic Radio
is a wonderful place to spend hours on end, rediscovering the Golden Age of Radio
as it's meant to be discovered and celebrated. Article after article
is filled with a wonderful new vignette about Golden Age Radio History.
---The Digital Deli Online.

[I]n his matchless on-this-day approach to chronicling “yesteryear,”
he easily aces out a less organized mind like mine,
which promptly lapsed into a more idiosyncratic mode of relating the past.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Equal Time

I’ve been handed a letter postmarked from the cloud of E.B. White. Actually, it was an odd little dream from a few days ago. He demanded equal time after I gave James Thurber all that free publicity.

Well, Mr. White is lucky. I have in my library his 1942 book, One Man’s Meat. OK, I have the 1983 reprint. A mere technicality.

I don’t know why Mr. White was so indignant about equal time with Mr. Thurber when taken in context. For Mr. Thurber my context was his six rules of humour. Mr. White doesn’t have any rules of humour, at least nowhere in the pages of One Man’s Meat.

But he does have a questionnaire of a sort. At least, he got one from the draft board in 1942. And he was surprised at first that writing wasn’t considered a profession or an occupation. Not like scarfers, riggers, glass blowers, architects, historians, or metallurgists. And Mr. White thought that’s the way it should have been, proving the draft board was more perceptive than you might have thought.

Writing is not an occupation nor is it a profession. Bad writing can be, and often is, an occupation; but I agree with the government that writing in the pure sense and in noblest form is neither an occupation nor a profession. It is more of an affliction, or just punishment. It is something that raises up on you, as a welt.

You can get plenty of proof that the government was right. All you have to do is read what the government writes. Don’t try writing what they can read. You’ll end up with the world’s largest blank journal.

A paragraph or three later Mr. White got nailed when he saw his second profession listed. He happened to be half a writer and half a gentleman farmer. The draft board offered farmer: dairy, and farmer: other, as choices. And since he wasn’t going to have a cow until the following year, he thought it was something in this life to be farmer: other.

Now, Mr. White imagined the draft board wasn’t in the mood to meet a man who dared to be a farmer and a writer at once.

It doesn’t have a clean-cut sound. It is Jekyll and Hyde stuff, lacks an honest ring. In war it is better to be a clean-cut man: a hammersmith plain, a riveter simple, a born upholsterer, an inveterate loftsman, a single-hearted multipurpose machine operator. To be farmer and writer suggests a fickleness of character out of key with the war effort. To produce, in a single week, seventy dozen table eggs and a twenty-six-hundred-word article sounds confused, immature, and smacks of divided loyalty.

I still can’t tell if he beat the draft.

A little further on, Mr. White wrote that under “Job For Which You Are Best Fitted” he wrote “Editor and writer” and, under “Job For Which You Are Next Best Fitted,” he wrote “Poultryman and farmer.” And this is the last time I give equal time with one dead New Yorker writer to another dead New Yorker writer, because it isn’t E.B. White who’s laying the eggs in this space.

As matter of fact, four months after he laid his eggs with the draft board, E.B. White had a cow. To prepare for it, he wrote, “My first move was to purchase fifteen sheep and a case of dynamite. The sheep, I figured, would improve my pasture, and the dynamite would keep me out of mischief in the meantime.”

E.B. White’s way of staying out of mischief in 1942 would have gotten him arrested for terrorist activity in 2006. You explain to some official who’s seen one too many terrorist training films that you needed that couple of gross of dynamite to blast open a properly founded seed bed for your cow-to-be’s grazing grass.

Well, as I wasn’t going to say, One Man’s Meat is another cannibal’s entrée.


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