Monday, August 26, 2019

From the Top of the Hill # 26: April 15, 1948

Here's the next installment of John D MacDonald's 1947-1948 newspaper column, From the Top of the Hill, published in the Clinton Courier, when the MacDonalds were living in that university town in upstate New York. Some interesting tidbits of JDM's personal life at the time, including his failing eyesight, the life of a pulp writer, and being a concerned parent.


By the time this column is printed, we will have come back from Utica wearing glasses that do a more effective job of correcting our crummy vision than the old ones did.

So, in a sense, this is an apology for the innumerable times we have stalked right by friends and acquaintances without the suggestion of a nod.

Actually, you have all been pretty well fogged over for some months now.

Human nature being a stubborn and ridiculous thing, we began to worry a great deal when, about a year ago, the horizon began to creep toward us. We worried so hard that we didn't go to a doctor, fearing that it would be something serious and he would say, "You've got to stop using your eyes."

And we can't afford a stenographer to take down this deathless prose, even if we were able to dictate it.

But discomfort overcame fear, and we found that slightly thicker lenses would do the job. (The man said slightly thicker. Maybe he means like those at the ends of flashlights.)

Also, he made no mention of any bad effects that might result from our furtive occupation of sitting here at an electric typewriter, inflicting all sorts of horror on the newsstands of America.

Of course, it may be a pretty reckless thing for us to promise to recognize people and speak to them. We can't seem to remember names or faces well. A book said that the idea is to pick out some distinguishing feature on the person to be remembered and connect it up with his name. Thus, if a man is named Smith and has silver-colored hair, when you meet him, you mumble, "Silversmith" a half a dozen times, and you're set.

Note: This system will not work in Clinton where the last name happens to be Burns.

Anyway, while trying to apply the system, we once met a man with a small bit of lint on his cheek. It was at a party. From then on, at that party, we got his name right every time. But we've never been able to remember him since. If he'd had any sense, he'd have made things easier by leaving that lint right there from then on.

* * *

Professional Note:

This is the week we will remember mostly because of a letter that came from an editor in New York. He wanted us to write a story for him. But with certain conditions. It had already been made up. And it had to fit the enclosed photostat of a cover of the magazine, showing a gruesome action picture. And it had to be 15,000 words.

The things we do for the sake of "art"!

The story has been mailed. Haven't heard from him yet.

* * *

Fair Warning:

Spring is in the air and that certain sub-human species, the Daring Cowboy of the Highways, is with us again.

He has lately been much in evidence zooming over the crest of College Hill and heading out into the wild blue yonder.

Two of them roar by often enough at speeds well over fifty so that we have begun to know the cars. One of them drives a green crate four or five years old, and one of them drives a jalop.

Since this area is liberally bespattered with children, and the crown of the hill limits visibility, we consider those two citizens to be potential criminals.

So, here is a warning to those two spiritual refugees from California. We are going to try to clock them and catch the license numbers. From the license numbers we are going to find addresses. Then we are going to visit them, ask a few questions and print the answers in this column.

One of the questions is going to be -- "What in the world do you do that makes you so eager to either get to it -- or get away from it?"

* * *

See you next week.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks, Steve, as ever. I've always enjoyed different writers' takes on writing-to-fit a cover. Wonder which cover of which magazine MacDonald's 15,000 words fit--and how well it did so.