Ask Dr. Salvo
November 14, 1995
Dear Dr. Salvo,
Perhaps, though, this note should be addressed to Tim, "your faithful research assistant," who wrote you in the published contribution which The Harbinger published 9/26-10/6, 1995. Because it was the 2nd paragraph of that "Dear Boss" letter where I read: "Do bats eat cats, or do cats eat bats," and I mused that surely it was a literary allusion.
Then it came to me: Alice In Wonderland. The revelation was not very astounding on my part because I had been keeping a copy of the book on my bedside table for sometime as a sort of occasional restorative. It is, of course, reassuring that the eminent Dr. Salvo (or, at least his faithful research assistant) reads Lewis-Carrol.
And further, Dr. Salvo, I have intended for months -- so many months that they stretch out into a handful of years, to write you to say that I might be considered a Salvo groupie, so much do I enjoy your essays in The Harbinger. Devotedly,
[from Alice In Wonderland:
There are no mice in the air, I'm afraid, but you might catch a bat, and that's very like a mouse, you know. But do cats eat bats, I wonder? And here Alice began to get rather sleepy, and went on saying to herself, in a dreamy sort of way, "Do cats eat bats? Do cats eat bats?" and sometimes, "Do bats eat cats?" for, you see, as she couldn't answer either question, it didn't much matter which way she put it....]
Thanks for your gracious letter -- I wish you would write more often. I picture my readers as waiting impatiently every other week, hoping that this time ole Doc will make sense. I do not, however, see them as sitting right down to comment on cats and bats. My audience I see as confirmed Taoists who read to find out how the grain of the Universe is running, then put themselves in tune and join the great harmony. I can hear them humming "AUMMmmm..." from here. May they follow your example!
I am always glad when some reader mentions Lewis Carroll's writings. It lets me know in advance that here is someone I need not labor to persuade of the world's essential absurdity. He knows it already, and has discovered for himself that nonsense poetry is far more memorable and apropos to his life than any of the serious/profound works we are tortured with in high school. "Rich beautiful prose and poetry."
Also, aside from the esthetic pleasure and philosophical understanding Carroll's music offers us, it is a practical help in time of trouble. For instance, you are waiting in the dentist's office. He is late, the time moves slowly, and there is no reading material there of more recent date than the last presidential election.
At this point you recall with pleasure that you have a library inside! You may choose to recite The Pig Tale, a masterpiece of psychotherapeutic philosophy and far out non-sense. Or, if you feel like waking up, repeat to yourself the muscular rhythms of Father William. Now is the time to switch on to the most enchanting tunes of all, brought to us by the Walrus and the Carpenter. (When Salvo was in high school he had the good luck to participate in doing this epic with a choral reading group. It was hypnotic, and put Vachel Lindsey's "Congo" in the right perspective.)
By now you are half through the elegiac Mad Gardener's Song and suddenly realize the nurse has been shaking your shoulder and smiling. You have had a pleasant, private recital of great poetry, and made the time pass as you liked it. This may be better than Transcendental Meditation, although Salvo might have some kind words for that discipline some time.
Today Salvo was re-reading with pleasure the last issue of The Harbinger when he realized his column had taken up a whole two pages. This was undoubtedly due to the divine intoxication of answering 20 questions for God -- comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable. Also due to the generosity and patience of E.T., the editor's editor.
It will never happen again. Well, practically never.
It is a strong temptation to return to Salvo's cogitations about the Dogon in the land of Mali and Timbuktu. I'd like to have readers prepare themselves first by studying a mad text called: Half Awake in Frog Pajamas, by Tom Robbins. Salvo and his wife listened to this weird work all the way up to Greensboro, N.C., and back through demascened leaves to Alabama. When we reached leaf heaven in N.C., we realized that the Dogon, Little Blue Men, the Dog Star Sirius, Its White Dwarf Twin -- all these characters were about to be figures in a new cult. And, that we might be jumping on the band wagon. Now Salvo realizes he should have taken Tim along to read the basic texts in a calm, disparaging growl, i.e., he could, and must make cooler heads prevail!
Tim has not been idle in our continuing naturalistic researches in Alice In Wonderland. For instance, some devout Wonderlanders have experienced difficulty in describing the Armadillo's appearance, even though they were digging into rich new material on the "little armored thing." Tim solved all their problems by suggesting they study the Armadillo and Alice at the same time. Then the student discovered what he had: The Tenniel drawing of the Mock Turtle are exactly true renditions of the Armadillo! Some little minor difficulty with toes, but easily remedied.
In this serendipitous fashion of good research, this discovery brought forth the immortal curriculum endured by the Mock Turtle in the undersea academy. These were: Reeling, Writhing, Fainting in Coils.
As well as: Ambition, Distraction, Long and Short Derision, Uglification too. Mystery, Ancient and Modern. Dear Reader, some day in the dentist's office when you're meditating, look back over these subjects and see if you don't remember not only the subjects, but the mad martyrs who tried so hard to teach them.
-- November 14, 1995