This is the letter I wrote two years or so ago, but never mailed, during the administration of the Previous Guy. As I wrote yesterday (and is further explained below), it takes as its model S.H. Manto’s nine Letters to Uncle Sam. But this is addressed to Uncle’s wife. It would be interesting to know (a) if you like it and if so (b) should I write a second one to the new Auntie in the administration of the Current Guy, or, alternatively, (c), fuhgeddaboudit.
Dear Auntie Sam,
Excuse me for writing to you out of the Blue, and let me assure you straight away in paragraph one that I will not be asking you for money in this letter, or if, later on in our correspondence, I do ask you for money, it will not be for myself but for worthy causes against which Uncle has unaccountably set his face.
But I am so clumsy! Sorry, Auntie. I do not want this to be the first mention in my letter of your great husband, Uncle Donald J. Sam, of whom I can truly say that I love him!, and the Republic for which he stands!, even though we are strangers, how could it be otherwise? - given the millions upon millions of his nephews and nieces, and their children and also theirs. Also I must immediately concede, as must almost all those millions upon millions of nephews, nieces, great nephews, great nieces, et cetera et cetera et cetera (as the late lamented King of Siam Mr Yul Brynner would say), that he is not my Uncle by blood, but by that other bond as deep as blood, which is to say, citizenship, my membership along with him in this greatest of families, Americans! God bless America, I say every day, even though I must confess I am entirely deficient in religious belief, Auntie, I hope you will not hold this against me.
But it is not only citizenship, Auntie! Also a question of ancestry! For it was my great-great Uncle Sadat Hasan Manto of Lahore, Pakistan who first wrote such letters, back in the 1950s, Auntie, long time back. He, Great Uncle Manto, who was so infinitely superior to myself, addressed his letters to honorable Mr Sam himself, nine letters total, dispatched between 1951 and 1954. At that time it was mostly Uncle Harry S. Sam, of course, Auntie, and in the end also Uncle Dwight D. Sam, both now deceased, ex-Uncles to honor and hold in our memories, as are they all. Great Uncle Manto was a writer, Auntie, first an Indian then a Pakistani, never an American, but he loved Uncles Harry S. and Dwight D. like true Uncles, in our part of the world an Uncle being not only brother of mother or father but close friend of theirs also, or, in general, a person to respect. So I hope you are understanding this word Uncle, Auntie, its flexibility, and the honor of being so called.
Great Uncle Manto was a failed Muslim, Auntie, religion failed in him as it has in me, like a virus to which we found ourselves to be immune. If he had been a failed Hindu, however, he might have thought of Lord Vishnu with his many incarnations, such as the beloved blue love-god Krishna, Nandi the bull, and of course mighty lord Ram himself, and he might have compared Uncle Harry S. and Dwight D. to such Vaishnavite incarnations, he might have argued that there was a greater, supremer Uncle Sam, a Vishnu-Sam, not an individual but a grand Over-Uncle, the divine or quasi-divine embodiment of the nature of being American, and these incarnation-Uncles, Uncle Harry S. and Uncle Dwight D., were simply avatars of the quasi-divine entity.
And if that is so then you also, Auntie, are an avatar of the Over-Auntie, and when I write to you it is a kind of prayer, because I am reaching through you - yearning through you! - towards that greater entity, the quasi-divinity, I am praying to that eternal Auntie Sam whose avatar you currently are. (Footnote: Avatar is a word meaning incarnation, Auntie, and precedes the use of it by Mr James Cameron in his movie, which has confused so many of us.)
At any rate, Great Uncle Manto was a magnificent writer, but dear Uncle Sam never answered his letters, and in the end Great Uncle Manto became sad and drank himself to death. It is because I do not want to become sad and drink myself to death that I have taken the bold step of daring to write to you instead of to presently incumbent Uncle Donald J. Sam. Maybe you will write back to me though he would not. Maybe you will disappoint me. I am prepared for the worst and will try not to end my life if you continue to keep your distance. You are a busy woman. You have much to do. I see that. You are a mother and a shopper. While Uncle is at golf you have to pace around your giant gilded cage sky-home all day and then there is the exercise régime. It is taxing. I understand.
However, I persist, and you have every right to ask, why? Why after a lifetime of ignoring both his Uncle and his Auntie is this importunate nephew importuning me now? Probably the fellow is after some petty gain for himself. Probably he sees me as a string he can pull. Auntie, I swear, I am not that guy. My purpose is not personal. It is a family matter. Oh, Auntie, I have been meaning and meaning to write long before I started writing, because I am so worried about Uncle, and so must you be, you are, I know you are, I see it in your face in the photos and TV clips. I see you looking at his tie hanging down too far and at the tightened sphincter muscles around his lips and his eyes so narrow and his health in general seeming so poor, and there are rumors of mental issues too, and at least one commentator has suggested that maybe he has syphilis, oh! how horrible if true!, and this must squeeze your heart with worry. I hear your thoughts as clearly as if you had spoken directly to me. I see you flinching thoughtfully, with infinite delicacy, from his touch. And so I believe we can speak openly to each other, Auntie, I voicing my worries, you, if you choose, responding with yours.
Now who is most reliable source for backstage info, Auntie? Spy? Journo? Relative? No! You know the answer as well as I: hairdresser! So here is my secret info. My friend, American artist, has beautiful daughter, American actor, who has best friend, profession unknown, who has hairdresser!, same hairdresser! as you! Yes, Auntie! Your hair is snip-snipped by same scissorhands as snip best friend of daughter of writer! So, my friend the American artist says to me that his daughter the American actor says to him that her best friend profession unknown says to her that her hairdresser reports that YOU say, I hate him, he’s a pig, I made such a mistake, I should have left him long ago, I don’t know what to do. I confess that to me this is sad news, Auntie, trouble in Sam House is a grief to me, or to be correct I should say trouble in Sam Tower because you are not presently inhabiting Sam House on Pennsylvania Avenue, isn’t it. I offer to you my deep regrets for your plight but I must tell you what my wicked cousin says to me. My wicked cousin may reappear later in our correspondence, Auntie, he is like an opposite-Jiminy-Cricket to me, mister Bad Conscience being my guide, so I will call him only BC which is better than WC I think on account of toilet resonances of the latter.
Here is what BC whispers to me. “Tell your American artist friend to tell the American actor daughter to tell the best friend profession unknown to tell the hairdresser to tell Auntie Sam this: if Auntie wishes to become a national hero right now, she should leave Uncle. She should go on national CNN right now and say, I hate him, he’s a pig, I made such a mistake, I should have left him long ago, I can’t take it any more. Tell her also to say, I only want my son, Junior Sam, I don’t want his money, I only want out, plus child. Now I know that for Auntie Sam money is important but tell her, no need to worry, the day after this announcement she will have a thirty million dollar book deal just like ex-Uncle Barack Sam and ex-Auntie Michelle. Also the face of the Statue of Liberty, presently being renovated by generosity of Madam Diane von Fürstenberg, will be remodeled to look like beauteous visage of Auntie Sam. She will be a hero from zero!” I do not know how you will respond to this, dearest Auntie, I say only what my BC, my Bad Conscience is saying. It is for you to consider, of course, it’s a free country, so far.
Have you heard about the “strangers drowning test,” Auntie? This is in a book, so maybe you have not. Imagine, Auntie, that you are standing with Uncle by the bank of a mighty river, let us say it is the Rio Grande, and in the Rio Grande are two persons close to drowning, probably they are Mexicans! Wetbacks, literally! People that have lots of problems, bringing those problems with them. Bringing, maybe, drugs. Bringing, maybe, crime. Rapists, Auntie. Although it is possible they are good people. Good people who went out for a swim and were caught in the tide. But human beings still, Auntie! Two human beings, drowning! And just then oh dear! Uncle slips badly and falls and slides and splash he is in the water and it is deep and running hard and he is drowning too, Uncle himself, and there is only you on the riverbank! (Of course I know the secret service would be there but this is not reality, Auntie, this is alternative truth.) Now here is a thing I am aware of from reputable magazine profiles: Auntie, you are a strong swimmer. Maybe not Olympic caliber, but super strong, congratulations! I myself can dive not so badly from high board but this is not the time or place for that matter. Here is my question, Auntie. One life drowning to your left, two lives drowning to your right. On your left, dearest Uncle, who if the writer-singer-friend-hairdresser account has credibility, you think is a pig, and on your right, two Mexican rapists! There is only time for you to save either/or! So my question is, who do you save? The rapists or the pig? Or let us move towards a higher ethical position. Some would argue that two lives are always more worthy of saving than one. Strip away the characteristics of the drowning persons and think only, one life, two lives, and your choice becomes clear. Others would dispute, saying the one life to whom we are closer means more to us than the lives of two people who are not close, and this is human nature. Please answer, Auntie. Whom would you rescue from the flood?
I ask because there is also the question of saving America, which is a related question, I must admit. BC tells me that maybe it is America that is drowning in that river which we are calling for the sake of argument the Rio Grande. BC thinks it is America in the water crying Help! Help! or possibly in Mexican ¡Socorro! ¡No puedo nadar!, and you and Uncle are watching from the shore and of course Uncle cannot go to the rescue because (a) too old (b) too fat (c) the question of the hair (d) maybe can’t swim and (e) why would he anyway, so it is you or nobody, Auntie, it is nobody or you, and we, all the hundreds of millions of nephews and nieces, of great-nephews and great-nieces, et cetera et cetera et cetera (in best King Yul Brynner voice)… we hold out our hands to you. Save us, Auntie Sam! Save us and let the blasted rapists drown. ¡Socorro!, Auntie. ¡No podemos nadar!
I will write again soon, whether drowned or not. Always with the proviso that if the world ends soon because of North Korea, it will be harder to get my letter delivered.
Yours most truly,