Sunday, May 4, 2008

Letters From Hell, You Dig?

All of the attention garnered by my post, that concerning Wendy Wilson and the letter she sent to me back in 1977, has inspired me to investigate other saved ephemera in my dusty morgue of curiosities, notably publications that feature letters from readers. Filing through a great variety, everything from a 1939 issue of Popular Mechanics, to British, soccer-themed comic books from the 60s, to the March 1970 issue of Aramco World Magazine, featuring Nabil Fawzi, the Saudi Arabian Superman, I eventually came across one periodical, the letters of which I found to be astonishingly rich, missives steeped in the linguistic, social and geo-political nuances of their time, magnificent cultural blips that flippantly, but strikingly, mark the epoch of an era we know as the Vietnam War.
     The publication in question is the July
1970 issue of Hot Rod Cartoons, a magazine-sized comic book title that was published from 1965-1974, by the Patterson Publishing Company of Los Angeles. This is an item from my own youth, part of an accidental, and temporary, divergence in my reading habits, one resulting from confusion on my mother’s part when confronted with an extensively-stocked magazine stand, intending to buy her sick, bed-ridden son something with which to ease the boredom. It was the first issue of Hot Rod Cartoons I had ever experienced.
     It wasn’t that I didn’t like cars. Quite the contrary. I had as many
Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars as anyone on the block, perhaps more. I made models of Don “The Snake” Prudhomme’s famous dragster, I incessantly drew “souped-up” hot rods belching clouds of smoke. I was, like most boys my age, of the general mind that cars were pretty darn cool things. What made me unfamiliar with Hot Rod Cartoons (and its sister title, Car Toons) was its strange, off-putting nature. The content of the stories being cars, and the people who drive and race them (often at the same time), made for narratives built entirely around a mature populace. There was hardly a child to be found within their pages. But, unlike Marvel or DC, and their ever-growing litany of super hero titles, these were cartoons of a familiar, pedestrian nature, mainly featuring grown men tinkering with their garaged hot rods or troublesome, driveway-devouring jalopies. They were speaking directly to car enthusiasts. They were, in essence, comics for adults, or near-adults, an all but unique thing on the American landscape of the early 1970s.
     The end of the war still some three years away, it isn’t hard to imagine copies of
Hot Rod Cartoons stuffed into the mud-caked field packs and ammo belts of young GIs, the Camaro and Charger fans mired in that wretched mess. It is their letters I’ve come across, numerous pages of them, the editors of HRC apparently recognizing the extraordinary lot of the majority of their readership, posting these war-scene missives as a public service, a newsprint bulletin board, a means by which the torn, and tired, and homesick, could share an unquestioning love for their cars and their girls, those universally-held, potent reminders of a world they had been so irrevocably removed from.
     Contemplating the fascinating variance of public correspondence, while reflecting on my own past experiences in this realm, and the recent rash of blogging comments and e-mail communications I have been receiving, I thought it might be illuminating to take a look back, some thirty-eight years, to a time when computers weighed as much as
Chevy, and were about as big. The following selection of letters comes from the very issue of Hot Rod Cartoons I disappointedly flipped through that long day home from school, a seven year-old whose cognizance of the reality of war extended no farther than the tiny bandages he’d wrap about his G.I. Joe, daringly pricking his own finger to draw blood in order to authenticate his soldier’s wounds.
     In order to make things a bit more interesting, I’ve fabricated a small percentage of the letters. It’s up to you to see if you can enter the mindset of these young writers, and the epoch of their times, enough that you might be able to spot the
forgeries. The list of fakes can be found by scrolling to the bottom of the right hand side column. But let me warn you, it isn’t going to be easy, for the actual letters are often as surreal and obtuse as anything I, or anyone, could imagine.
     NOTE: In keeping with the spirit of the times, I have included the full names and mainly military addresses, just as they were printed, feeling that if all were “cool” with it then, they wouldn’t mind now. My apologies to any who aren’t. I’ve left in any grammatical slang, but have attempted to fix all misspellings. It seems that good proofreaders were hard to find in 1970. Perhaps they were all in the fields and jungles of the
Indochina Peninsula, desperately trying to cover over someone else’s mistakes.

I’m a grunt in Vietnam. I’m the guy who finds the bunkers, pursues the enemy, captures the village, crosses the swamps, and kills the mosquitoes. I’m also the guy most people have seemed to forgotten. I’m infantry all the way. I found your cool mag one day (in the middle of nowhere). So, here I am. I’ll write to anyone – male or female, 5 to 500 years old.
551-78-8210 1st Cav. Div. (AM) Co. D, 5th BN, 7th Cav. APO San Fran., CA 96490

I’m 22 and in the hospital for wounds I received in Vietnam. I dig V.W.’s and Fords. Split window Volks are especially my bag, ’54 and below. Any gals 16-1600, none older please, care to write?
Dewitt Hospital 2-A, Fort Belvoir, VA 22060

Air Force, that’s me, dropping the Uncle Sam everywhere I go. Over here for the Nam and thinking about my ‘Vette back stateside. Reading Hot Rod and Toons every chance I get, but bustin’ merits and tradin’ cigs ain’t much of a life. In dig on anyone, especially gals, who knows a Ford’s place on the road is the shoulder, dig? Write and I’ll reply, guaranteed.
129-96-8003 Box 9447 APO San Francisco, CA 93623

Isn’t there any way you can keep them little kids from writing in and giving a bunch of bologna about what tuff cars they got and how they drag everybody around? Personally, I groove on Fords and V.W.’s. Last but not least, all I want to say is “shame” on all you guys that write in and beg a bunch of weird girls to send you letters, just so you’ll be getting something in the mail.
4900 W. 17th Ave. Denver, CO 80204

I think your magazine is great. I am a 17 year old girl, and I would like to write to boys 18 and over, from anywhere.
185 Victorial Rd., Oulton Broad, Lowestoft, Suffolk, England

I want to let everyone back home know that dragsters in the muck over here don’t have any chutes. It’s all straight racin’, you don’t stop until you drop. Pappy, I’m homesick and miss the girls from Cuyahoga. Write this schmuck and make it better, alright?
G-3 Combat Operations C USASATR, Fort Devens, Mass. 01433

We’re just a couple of slap-dillin’-slobbies just skitchen yore rag. Durin’ our eyeballin’ session we taught about having a couple of skibby gails type friends who rubersap Fords and need Chevies to Live & Love. Help! We need scribbles from dolls!
U.S.N. Hospital, Pavillion 13, Newport, RI 02840

I’m a G.I. from Florida. And I’m not having much mail coming my way. Any gals from 8 to 80, dumb, deaf, or crazy and would like to write, I’ll be sure to answer your letters. I’m 18 years old and dig fast cars. Any of you gals like Chevy’s?
263-96-4332 4th Ord. Co. APO New York, N.Y. 09059

What a wild scene, Pappy! I’m an amateur racer and my plugs are shot! What’s a guy supposed to do to get a subscription to your groovy mag? I’m finished with Uncle Sam but track work is hard to find. Would appreciate a gurl with a home I can settle into, no steady place currently for this bug-slapper from Kentucky. I’m 27 and like them younger. Believe in the truth and I’m yours, baby.
c/o R.C.W.H Shelbyville Hwy. Murfreesboro, Tenn. 37130

Hey, you Mini-T Dropout; what’s the bad scene with the subscriptions gig? Like I’m heading for the Great Big War soon, and then what do I do, huh Brain? You gotta help me, Pappy. A couple of well chosen words for Ford people: You had better write your will, baby, Chevy rules! Any girls, please write. Especially Debbie from Tampa, Fla.
Box 5094 Homestead A.F.B., Fla. 33030

How goes the world? I was just setting here in my sand bagged underground bunker at F.S.B. JANE (Fire Support Base) in the middle of the jungle, killing you’d never guess, FLIES! Hoping that maybe you’d print a thank you note for the November ish of HRC. In reply to my ad I got 133 replies. Unfortunately, though, one nice looking chick that’s a movie star forgot her address. I don’t even know her name. But she lives in Hollywood Hills, California. Any girl type out there wanta write to a PFC in the Artillery that’ stuck out in the boonies right near Cam Boonies? If I can’t answer it, I’ll find someone who can.
C. Btry. 6/27th ARTY APO San Francisco, CA 96221

I’m a Mopar lover from way back, but what I miss more than those big hemi’s are the big beautiful girls that I seem to remember from back home. Memories are all I have left. Would appreciate any sweet young thing who would devote a few minutes of her precious time to refresh my memories. I’m from Indianapolis, Ind. But regretfully, have been in Germany for about a year.
Box 64436CSG AF 68114787, APO New York 09132

To put it straight, I’m out here in Nam and need some LETTERS!
19 TASS Bx 11205 APO San Francisco, CA 96227