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Spell Check: The School of Hard Knocks

The Goon Show: Part II

When I was thirteen years old I met Mike Fox, my dad’s old pal from his days in show business. Three years later, I visited Mike in London during a summer trip to my grandparent’s home in Belgium. “Hope and Glory,” John Boorman’s autobiographical story about growing up in England during the Blitz had just been released. Mike was the camera operator on the film and was duly proud of his work on it. He took me to a cast and crew screening in London, one of the highlights of my vacation.

That fall, my junior year in high school, I sent Mike an awful lot of letters. I wrote them all by hand and sent loads of newspaper and magazine clippings with them. Here is an excerpt from one of his responses, dated November 2, 1987:

And here, the Great Round Elf must take time out to tell you that if you are finding spelling more or less easy to do THEN YOU ARE CERTAINLY NOT DOING IT RIGHT! And for a young man old enough to be living under a sex cloud, illiterate spelling is like having BAD BREATH or FARTING at the Vicar’s tea-party or VOMITING over the Thanksgiving turkey or wiping your arse with an alter-cloth or PISSING in your girlfriend’s mother’s kitchen-sink! It’s inexcusable! The following should not be beyond your capicity: stationairy, dispise, Carribian, relativly, debued (suspect), succesful, Scrotom [a nickname for Croton-on-the-Hudson, where I lived], mystry, writen–I cannot believe that you did not know that these, all found in your latest letter, were elementary misspellings, and are therefore DOUBLY inexcusable. Pleasae, Alex, start to show some sign that you actually care for the English language and your good friends who are going to have to read your versions of it. Sloppiness is not the best quality in a man.

As for your letter, it really was most amusing and the opening sentence: “Due to hard times I’m resorting to using another parsons stationariy, but I figured you’d still dispise me just the same.” Excellent, as were all the other gags–first rate. You must hone and polish this style if only because it sits well with you and suits your persona. But the sloppiness must go. I suspect, your mind racing ahead to other things, you don’t bother to read through, carefully, what you’ve written. Given your age, and the fact that you are seriously pussy-whipped, allowances are made and no more would be made of it than that if you were hoping just to be some mindless baseball-jock or a fag football-player or some other kind of limp-wristed, Commie-pinko, fellow-travelling, bleeding-heart liberal freak in the performing arts. But you’re not—so you say–and if you want to be up there anywhere near SJ Perelman or (please stand up) Damon Ruynon or, dare I say it, Mark Twain, (sit) you have to start training for it now. Believe it or not, Norty [my middle name is Norton], all this carping is meant to encourage you and BECAUSE I CARE ABOUT YOU–God knows why. I suppose having made an honorary Englishman out of you, I feel responsible for your future behavior.

Well, best love you and thanks for making me laugh. Regards to all including your asshole sister and brother who refuse to write. They still talk of ‘Alexandre of London’ and his fabled Belgian astronaut’s jacket out at Gatwick. You really made an impression.

Punks jump up to get beat down.

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