My friend Aldo Carrasco — Aldo Egbert Carrasco y Febles — died twenty years ago, May 28, 1986. Aldo was an extraordinary guy — wickedly funny, passionate about literature and music, devoutly Catholic (despite all challenges), utterly loyal to his friends, utterly intolerant of bigotry, hypocrisy, and pretension (or "pretension flambé," as we called it — my coinage). He was a "grand guy, period," as he once joked.
I first knew Aldo, very slightly, through mutual friends at Fordham University in the Bronx, New York. After I moved to Boston in 1980 to work on a doctorate, our friendship deepened through the mail. As I remember, we met up at a party in the Bronx and agreed to correspond. Our friendship ran to Aldo's death — my wife Elaine and I last saw him in the hospital just a day before he died.
Aldo was a letter-writer without peer. Knowing that, I'm still astonished to see, going through boxes of correspondence, how many letters he wrote, and the length of those letters — often four or five pages, sometimes handwritten on legal pads, loose-leaf paper, sketchpads, exam booklets, paper placemats; sometimes typed, single-spaced, on a manual typewriter. Some letters are made of separate pages written over two or three days. I was evidently quite the letter-writer too, as many of Aldo's letters begin with thanks for my latest "tome," followed by a commentary on the funniest bits. Nowadays I suppose we would have "kept in touch," as they say, by e-mail, in which case much of what we said to one another might never have been written.
I've preserved all idiosyncrasies of punctuation and spelling in these excerpts. (Aldo picked up my habit of ignoring the Shift key when typing.) All ellipses are in the letters. I've omitted a few names, though those involved are unlikely to read these excerpts. I've added dates and a few notes in brackets. And I've preserved all true confidences: what was private, is private.
If what Aldo wrote on March 14, 1981, holds, I think he'd love the idea of other people reading these passages. Anyone who knew him will hear him in these words. And if, reader, you didn't know him, they might provide a glimpse of a friend whom you would like to have known.
From the earliest letter I have from Aldo:
i did not understand the first cuban idiom you sent me: something about cuchanbe or some such. i have no idea what that word means. if it's a country word forget it the closest i ever got to country living was when ricky and lucy moved to conn. while back home i never saw so much as an arbol in my life. nothing but cement for this groundhog, thank you. [December 15, 1980]A memorable sentence in the course of a long discussion of attitudes toward love:
Marriages are most definitely not made in heaven; they're made (quite literally, crafted) on earth. [March 4, 1981]A small slice of the life of a graduate assistant in an English Department:
There was something about __________ that I neglected to tell you and I must get some back-biting in this letter: I asked him if I could sit in to hear the lectures on __________. He said "yes." But when I showed up for the following classes, he asked me not to come any more. Every time I offered a rationale, he said apologetically "No, NO!" This went on 5 times. I got the hint. Then, today, I hear that he was looking for me all day. When I find him later in the afternoon and ask him what he wanted, he says, "I wanted you to mail a manuscript" and after some verbal wordage says, "Well I thought you're the kind of person that wouldn't consider himself put upon if asked to do a favor!" — Sometimes, I don't know what to make of anybody. [March 4, 1981]On letters:
I for one keep all my friends' letters for a time; one usually knows when the time comes to throw them away, if ever of course. I always wait because I have never regretted throwing anything out when it was done at the right time, so I trust my instincts there where I do usually nowhere else. That's a real frightening thought — my letters roaming Boston (et, le monde!) for all eyes to see. I have a responsibility now to all those voyeurs out there; I just can't give them anything to read. . . . [March 14, 1981]Aldo and I were given to writing various cryptic remarks on envelopes:
what do you mean by "I are out of patience"? uhm . . . How can you write anything as "personelle" outside the envelope is beyond me. I mean, the man can read, ya nowe? [April 25, 1981]On priorities in academia:
[Note: I don't know what I meant by "I are out of patience" (probably just exasperation with my life), but I know that it's a takeoff on a pun in James Joyce's Ulysses — "My patience are exhausted."]
How often can you whip out The Tempest and start a mass-reading without being thrown out? — "__________ you wanna take Prospero? uhm? __________? Miranda? — yeah, I know, it's a tuff rôle but try to act innocent, uhm? __________! — you Caliban, you!" —; imagine that mise en scène. Disaster. They're all too busy buying Entenmann's cake for each other to read anything aloud. [May 5, 1981]Aldo on Aldo:
I have only recently recovered from the spring semester past; I noticed that it had made me extremely vulgar — as my letters will attest to . . . I have finally returned to what was Aldo: gentle, considerate, brilliant, and incredibly attractive. [June 8, 1981]On deciding not to continue toward a doctorate:
i may not have told you that ive decided not to go for my phd right away. now, dont panic, i didnt say ever but im very certain that i want a break. the thought of going on next sept depresses me beyond belief. id much rather teach in a HS for a while or a community college, id even gladly take my phd part time as i work.On being done with M.A. exams:
id appreciate it if you didnt treat me as a literary apostate. [November 9, 1981]
Comè si va? "La vita," (that is) not "la nuova," simplemente "la vita," caro! eh! pizza! eh! —— in mezzo del camin di nostra vita . . . eh! — Arturo Fonzerelli! basta, caro! . . . passin' the Comps has made me a little crazy — yes! sì! — I pass 'em, got the letter on Saturday last. [May 10, 1982]Aldo's letters were often embellished with French, German, Greek, Italian, Latin, and Spanish words and phrases. He routinely spelled the name of a former girlfriend of mine in Greek. (No, she wasn't Greek.) In one letter he wrote out the Apostles' Creed in Latin, from memory, I assume ("Show your friends! amaze your mother!" he added). Here's a funny moment of Aldo being self-conscious about language. It begins with faux lit-crit questions about why I didn't date a letter:
should I interpret this as a signal from the aûteur that I should regard the letter as timeless? or that perhaps, it is an attempt on your part to assert the contemporaneity of the past and future with the present? my but pretension flambé has surfaced mightily this après-midi (that reminds me I must find out what the word for "afternoon" is in some other — that which is "other" —— language!) [June 28, 1982]Aldo joked about his religious faith (which included great devotion to the Virgin Mary), but he was absolutely serious about it too. On the death of a beloved professor, Paul Memmo:
Don't let Memmo get you down, by the way. We loved him and we can cherish his memory always. I'm truly sorry for those students who'll never know of him, who will never be brought nearly to tears just from hearing him address people in that incredibly touching way he had. Remember also that this is not the last we'll see of him. There'll be a reunion . . . And there — he can't be taken from us again. How wonderful that it serves not only as a consolation, but as a Truth. Angels may not exist, but we'll see Paul again. [August 10, 1982]On opera:
I spent the entire day reading thro' Wagner's Ring text. It was wünderbar of course but it remains one of the most tragic visions of human existence I've ever seen. I have to read the med. text Der Nibelungenlied which Wagner read and adapted for the cycle and I'm sure that it will be equally depressing. Talk about "tragic ecstasy." Yeats had nothing on these guys, I can assure you! Nothing! It's page after page of betrayal, lost love, agony, murder, injustices, etc. And the bitch of it is: once I picked it up, I couldn't put it down. [August 19, 1982]After getting his M.A., Aldo took a job teaching 7th-grade boys and girls in a Catholic school. Not as much time for letter-writing then, but he managed to work on letters even during breaks in the school day:
wes ooops! well here i am aging tho overdue somewhat (that should be again back there) with reason #1098 to listen to opera: re: le nozze di figaro: because i recently listened to the opera (entire but o'curse) and while i read the libretto i realized that the opera deals with some elemental issues of human existence: to wit: ridicule, incest, transvestism, lesbianism, betrayal, perfidy, intrigue, lust, love, passion, stutters, misogyny, may-october relats., violence, mock trials, forgiveness, revenge, sadism, beatings, prostitution, philandering, fornication, extortion, corruptions, class-struggle, peasant revolt and unrest, happy endings and beginnings and lots of fun!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! [September 6, 1982]
[Note: The reference to "reason #1098" is a takeoff on then-current television commercials featuring numbered reasons why H&R Block should prepare your taxes.]
. . . at this very moment, my kiddies are singing "Go Down Moses" in "la classe de musique," taught by a certain Miss Indelicato. I asked her what it was her family had done in the past to deserve such a name. No answer so far. [October 7, 1982]Aldo's first teaching gig didn't last long — he had to deal with a monstrous nun-principal in what turned out to be untenable circumstances:
It isn't that now I don't know what to do but that I know what I should feel and think before I do anything — whether it be grad. school or carpentry. I simply got a sense of my own mind, of some kind of purpose and have cleared the fog and cobwebs. I've cleaned the room but kept some of the furniture, as it wère. So there it is: most things are back to square one although I carry the benefit of experience (some) and contémplation to that first peg. I hope for the best. The best of all possible worlds. [November 8, 1982]After leaving this teaching job, Aldo was unemployed for over a year. He knew himself well enough to know that grad school was not his vocation. His letters during this time were filled with difficulties — frayed friendships, doubt, feelings of inertia. He quotes Charlie Brown's "AAUGH!" again and again. But there are still moments of humor:
No, I am not in a Howard Johnson's "motor-lodge," whatever that is. [On Howard Johnson's stationery, February 3, 1983]This partial list appears in a letter signed
im thinking of having a t-shirt made with the following printed on it, "have you accepted the pope as your personal savior?" or maybe "only the bishop of rome binds and unbinds." el fanatico strikes at the heart of the garment industry. besides while the summer lasts such things are great conversation starters. [June 26, 1983]
Eva Marie Saint
aldo,From a Honeymooners trivia quiz:
king of spain and portugal,
regent of france,
friend to germany and her high culture,
governor general of the annexed province of england which lost MISERABLY when the glorious spanish armada of 1983 destroyed their pathetic womanish "fleet" and liberated ireland, ever-faithful daughter of the TRUE FAITH, from the yoke of these anglosaxon hoodlums,
liberator of ireland,
grand guy, period [November 15, 1983]
question three: what did alice sacrifice in order to afford the fishing equip she bought for the raccoon lodges annual fishing trip? question four: what was the amount of ralphs tax refund check that he was going to spend on "one glorious week of fishing at freds landing"? question five: what was the name of the judge who was to award ralph the driver of the year award? part two of question 5: and for what was the judge best known? [November 28, 1983]In February 1984, Aldo got a position in Butler Library, Columbia University. He was very happy to be back in an academic setting:
[Note: I knew and still know the answers: Going to the beauty parlor for three months. $42. Hollerin' Hurdle, famous for his $50 fines and 50-minute lectures.]
i went to columbia, filled in my application, took my typing test (gasp!) — and got 44 words a min no less! — and handed in my resume. the ball's in their court now, as it were. i've everyone i know throwing my name before the throne of God. the entire celestial court is rooting for me. [January 21, 1984]Aldo's letters during his time at Columbia are quite happy. He took classes in German (with As) and was working with congenial people.
now to matters of little importance. butler library hired me. i start this monday the 13th. i get to take free courses at columbia which is very nice. you may venerate me as one of the gainfully employed. [February 11, 1984]
They're giving me a new assignment at work because I've done such a good job on the backlog of deadbeat country books. Got lots of praise that went right to my head and am now insufferable. [April 20, 1984]He was happy for me too, as in January 1984, I'd met Elaine Fine, whom I would later marry.
if the new moon has brought about all these changes, wünderbar! la tua vita amorosa TAKES OFF!!!!! aside from vous-même, who rests happier than I? [January 21, 1984]Elaine and Aldo first talked when she, at work, called him, at work, and made him guess who she was. He did, right away.
we have both had revolutions in our lives, both for the better. you with élaine, and me with "myself." the situations were always before reversed. i was lost in this sea of strangers without myself and you (for the most part) had nothing but. im glad to see that some kind of grecian mean has been struck. also this strikes me as one of my most substantial letters to date. i never once had to think of what to say. and very little flippancy too, i must have a fever. anyway let it resound throughout the land: aldo is happy and he dont give a flying f--- who knows it. [March 3, 1984]
[Note: It was Aldo who typed the hyphens in "f---," not I.]
Élaine rang me the other day, npi. I also received several looney post-cards. I did indeed love the work of your post-card idol; never heard of him before tho'. A cp is in the works for Élaine, la très fine, and I think it will please her. [March 21, 1984]Aldo was very happy when Elaine and I decided to get married. He offered only one warning, on the back of an envelope:
[Note: The abbreviations "pi" and "npi" (pun intended, no pun intended) ran through our letters. Aldo's "cp" must stand for "carte postale." The "post-card idol" might be the artist Glen Baxter, or perhaps Ken Brown, whose work was popular in Boston.]
NOTA BENEI can't recall why Aldo left his library job. In December 1984, he took a position with a textile importer. He was responsible for, among other things, all correspondence with European companies, which involved reading and replying to telexes in French, German, and Italian. He also had access to company (i.e., free!) long-distance, which meant fewer letters. (Keep in mind that not so long ago, long-distance calls were an expensive proposition.)
Remember though . . . . . it's FOREVER! [May 16, 1984]
[Note: "FOREVER" is underscored ten times. It occurs to me now that Aldo was offering not a joke about the woes of monogamy but a reminder that if you're going to get married, you should take it seriously and do it right.]
Aldo soon took to sending short telexes to Elaine at her day job (the telex operator there was her friend). Aldo also sent telexes through the mail to our apartment. This one was accompanied by a swatch of a garish fabric named (no kidding) "Aldo":
ATT: MR AND MRS LEDDYMy decision in spring 1985 to take a tenure-track position in "down-state Illinois" was no match for Aldo's wit. He consulted a map before writing the following:
YOUR RESERVE FOR 1,098 METRES OF 5303, ALDO, IS VERIFIED AND ENCLOSED YOU'LL FIND A PRESENT STOCK CUTTING OF THE ALDO FOR YOUR APPROVAL. THANK YOU.
PS. HELLO MY CHILDREN: BELIEVE IT OR NOT THERE IS A FABRIC IN THE LINE NAMED — ALDO — AND IT CORRESPONDS TO THE CUTTING I SENT YOU. THEY TELL ME HERE THAT IT WAS NAMED AFTER ME. I'M NOT SURE THAT THEY'RE TEASING ME.
PSS: AIN'T IT HIDEOUS
????????????????????????? [no date]
chicago, local bastion of culture, is quite far far far far far far far far far away . . . so forget it. new york, le centre d'univers (or as husserl (sic) put it, "where it's at") is on venus. boston? what's boston? i'd take heart tho'; for a mere thirty miles, or so, to the west, you have the county of "christian."Aldo from time to time sent us parcels of beautiful fabrics for curtains and such. He wasn't doing anything unethical; these pieces were all "ends." This warning, sent on company stationery, must have followed several such parcels:
during summer vacation, you can both "pop down" to metropolis il. and bid a good day to clark, lois and jimmy. somewhat to the south tho'; on the banks of the charles river, it can NEVERTHELESS BE REACHED BY MULE TRAIN . . . actually the furthest town to the south is cairo. you can take in the sphinx. take white cotton shirts, it be hot in egypt. well so much for the tour of your new home. i'll light a candle or two (poss. five). [April 29, 1985]
Be advised: __________ has contacted its law firm, the very reputable Ogilvy, Boylston and Appleton of Quincy, Massachusetts, and shall soon take action against Michael Leddy, Chic Interiors of Brookline for non-payment of services and goods. Please refer to invoice numbers 3488001, 636542, and 487760 which total $234,098,988, and that's in good ol' Yankee cash, friend . . . so pay up, or we'll have Harry (Mr. Ogilvy) break both your legs.In the fall of 1985, Aldo went back to teaching, and he finally found his true vocation, at a Catholic school in Brooklyn, teaching sixth-grade boys and girls, if I remember correctly. He loved his students, and they loved him. From one of the last letters I have from Aldo, written after his first day of teaching:
Yours in Christ/Abraham
the very reputable AE Carrasco [June 13, 1985]
Thanks for great letter. Nice and long and all that wonderful single spacing! And no! you didn't repeat yourself.
Teaching went very well today. Excellently actually. The kids are wonderful.
The school is wonderful. The principal is wonderful. The neighborhood is wonderful. So something's going to go wrong. It has too. This is too good. Of course, it's only been one day. But I'm sure I'll feel comfortable in six months or so, and really "in" next September. Tomorrow there's a faculty luncheon. So I get free food in a yuppie restaurant in Park Slope.
I miss you both terribly and am not thrilled that I just can't indulge myself in the Eastern Shuttle. Damn. Now that Atherton Place [where Elaine and I had lived in Brookline, Massachusetts] is under enemy command anyway, what wld. be the use?
Hope that — sorry, went away for a minute and forgot what I wanted to write!
I just can't remember . . . well, I'll take this for an omen and say bye. Have to get up at the ungodly hr of 6 of the a. m.
I miss the little monsters already . . . [September 4, 1985]
A related post
A telex from Aldo