On the Similarities Between New York City, 1933, and New York City, 2010

“‘You are fed up with the city and its teeming millions. The ways and means of men, as getting and lending and spending, you lay waste your inner world, are too much with you. The bus takes too long, while the subway is always crowded. So what do you do? So you buy a farm and walk behind your horse’s moist behind, no collar or tie, plowing your broad swift acres. As you turn up the rich black soil, the wind carries the smell of pine and dung across the fields and the rhythm of an old, old work enters your soul. To this rhythm, you sow and weep and chivy your kine, not kin or kind, between the pregnant rows of corn and taters. Your step becomes the heavy sexual step of a dance-drunk Indian and you tread the seed down into the female earth. You plant, not dragon’s teeth, but beans and greens… .
    ‘Well, what do you say, my friend, shall it be the soil?’
    Miss Lonelyhearts did not answer. He was thinking of how Shrike had accelerated his sickness by teaching him to handle his one escape, Christ, with a thick glove of words.
    ‘I take your silence to mean that you have decided against the soil. I agree with you. Such a life is too dull and laborious. Let us now consider the South Seas:
‘You live in a thatch hut with the daughter of the king, a slim young maiden in whose eyes is an ancient wisdom. Her breasts are golden specked pears, her belly a melon, and her odor is nothing so much as a jungle fern. In the evening, on the blue lagoon, under the silvery moon, to your love you croon in the soft sylabelew and vocabelew of her langorour tongorour. Your body is golden brown like hers, and tourists have need of the indignant finger of the missionary to point you out. They envy you your breech clout and carefree laugh and little brown bride and fingers instead of forks. But you don’t return their envy, and when a beautiful society girl comes to your hut in the night, seeking to learn the secret of your happiness, you send her back to her yacht that hangs on the horizon like a nervous racehorse. And so you dream away the days, fishing, hunting, dancing, swimming, kissing, and picking flowers to twine in your hair… .
‘Well, my friend, what do you think of the South Seas?’
    Miss Lonelyhearts tried to stop him by making believe that he was asleep. But Shrike was not fooled.
    ‘Again silence,’ he said, ‘and again you are right. The South Seas are played out and there’s little use in imitating Gauguin. But don’t be discouraged, we have only scratched the surface of our subject. Let us now examine Hedonism, or take the cash and let the credit go… .
    ‘You dedicate your life to the pursuit of pleasure. No over-indulgence, mind you, but knowing that your body is a pleasure machine, you treat it carefully in order to get the most out of it. Golf as well as booze, Philadelphia Jack O’Brien and his chest-weights as well as Spanish dancers. Nor do you neglect the pleasures of the mind. You fornicate under pictures by Matisse and Picasso, you drink from Renaissance glassware, and often you spend an evening beside the fireplace with Proust and an apple. Alas, after much good fun, the day comes when you realize that soon you must die. You keep a stiff upper lip and decide to give a last party. You invite all your old mistresses, trainers, artists and boon companions. The guests are dressed in black, the waiters are coons, the table is a coffin carved for you by Eric Gill. You serve caviar and blackberries and licorice candy and coffee without cream. After the dancing girls have finished, you get to your feet and call for silence in order to explain your philosophy of life. "Life,” you say, “is a club where they won’t stand for squawks, where they deal you only one hand and you must sit in. So even if the cards are cold and marked by the hand of fate, play up, play up like a gentleman and a sport. Get tanked, grab what’s on the buffet, use the girls upstairs, but remember, when you throw box cars, take the curtain like a dead game sport, don’t squawk.” …
    ‘I won’t even ask you what you think of such an escape. You haven’t the money, nor are you stupid enough to manage it. But we come now to one that should suit you much better… .
    ‘Art! Be an artist or a writer. When you are cold, warm yourself before the flaming tints of Titian, when you are hungry, nourish yourself with great spiritual foods by listening to the noble periods of Bach, the harmonies of Brahms and the thunder of Beethoven. Do you think there is anything in the fact that all their names all begin with B? But don’t take a chance, smoke a 3 B pipe, and remember these immortal lines: When to the suddenness of melody the echo parting falls the failing day. What a rhythm! Tell them to keep their society whores and pressed duck with oranges. For you l’art vivant, the living art, as you call it. Tell them that you know your shoes are broken and that there are pimples on your face, yes, and that you have buck teeth and a club foot, but that you don’t care, for to-morrow they are playing Beethoven’s last quartets in Carnegie Hall and at home you have Shakespeare’s plays in one volume.’
    After art, Shrike described suicide and drugs. When he had finished with them, he came to what he said was the goal of his lecture.
    ‘My friend, I know of course that neither the soil, nor the South Seas, nor Hedonism, nor art, nor suicide, nor drugs, can mean anything to us. We are not men who swallow camels only to strain at stools. God alone is our escape. The church is our only hope, the First Church of Christ Dentist, where He is worshipped as Preventer of Decay. The church whose symbol is the trinity new-style: Father, Son and Wirehaired Fox Terrier… . And so, my good friend, let me dictate a letter to Christ for you:

    Dear Miss Lonelyhearts of Miss Lonelyhearts—
    I am twenty-six years old and in the newspaper game. Life for me is a desert empty of comfort. I cannot find pleasure in food, drink, or women—nor do the arts give me joy any longer. The Leopard of Discontent walks the streets of my city; the Lion of Discouragement crouches outside the walls of my citadel. All is desolation and a vexation of the spirit. I feel like hell. How can I believe, how can I have faith in this day and age? Is it true the greatest scientists believe again in you?
    I read your column and like it very much. There you once wrote: “When the salt has lost its savour, who shall savour it again?” Is the answer: “None but the Saviour?”
    Thanking you very much for a quick reply, I remain yours truly,
                                                                      —A Regular Subscriber’“

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