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Herzog, Saul Bellow

The Viking Press, Inc., September 21, 1964

Some people thought he was cracked and for a time he himself had doubted that he was all there. But now, though he still behaved oddly, he felt confident, cheerful, clairvoyant, and strong. He had fallen under a spell and was writing letters to everyone under the sun.

Henry woke from fitful rest. A quick glance toward the digital clock on the nightstand established the time at 3:34 A.M. He grabbed for a stray pillow and smothered his head, as air from his noxious breath heated tiny pockets of space beneath the pancaked foam used to prop a laden head for nights well in excess of the factory tested warrantee. Even in suffocating darkness with eyes squeezed shut, the red LED numbers “3:34” charred Henry’s vision. Sleep was pointless. He pulled the sheets aside, thinking next time he might make a greater effort to brush his teeth before sliding under layers of stale blanketing.

Bed empty, Henry walked to his desk in a stretched pair of boxers with an elastic band that had dried out some time ago. The underwear hung on his waist with a fraction of the enduring attachment Henry had to the shorts themselves.

With a quick flick of the wrist, a wireless mouse brought his desktop computer monitor to life. The room blushed in the glow of the screen’s pre-programmed, nondescript wallpaper. Fingertips furiously tapped at the keyboard, unleashing the musings choking sweet dreams.

Dear Heidi Montag, I read on the gossip blogs that you are addicted to plastic surgery. You are in your early twenties. Self-loathing is hideously unattractive. How do you look at yourself in the mirror?

Typing continued into mid-dawn.

“I shouldn’t go out—I have a lot to do—letters to write.”

People attempted to lure Henry out of the house. Sometimes an Evite arrived in his in-box, requesting an RSVP for a birthday party on the other side of town, or the phone would ring with an acquaintance hoping to sit at a nearby coffee shop to catch up. As much as Evites were a nuisance, the Site made responding “No” simpler than doing so with live contact. Click the appropriate button—no explanation necessary—and good-bye. Better to reserve lengthy statements for the letters. Phone calls were naturally left unanswered. Henry reached for a pen.

Herzog scarcely knew what to think of this scrawling. He yielded to the excitement that inspired it and suspected at times that it might be a symptom of disintegration. That did not frighten him.

Facebook does not achieve its intended goal of bringing people closer. Rather, it creates a society of misfits and stalkers—people tracking the moves of others without an investment in what anyone actually does. Select information (TMI oftentimes and outright lies at others) posts on the WWW in an egocentric bid to shamelessly self-promote. An exchange of ideas and emotions between human beings on a meaningful level is absent. Pathetic! By the way, Mark Zuckerberg, you have yet to accept my friend request.

I know how long—endless—people’s stories are when they have grievances. And how tedious for everyone.

Ms. Woolf, I have a room of my own, and publishers have yet to bust down the door to get a hold of a piece of my work. Something tells me that the safety of a roof over an artist’s head and a few bucks in the bank may not be the answer to a prospering career. Or, maybe I am just nostalgic for the notion of the starving artist.

Looking for myself, I found no one.

Henry wrote the last thought down without a clue to whom the sentiment might be directed. His therapist? A priest? He had neither. Stockpiling beliefs would suffice for now. He wrote virtually without break. A beard festered on his tired face.

A letter gives one a chance to consider—think matters over, and reach a more balanced view.

Loose pieces of paper, drafts in his e-mail, and texts in limbo accumulated everywhere around Henry. He took pride evolving into a literal man of letters. His vocabulary flourished; the only averted word and action was “send.” Ideas were formally documented, preserved. That was enough. Delivering the actual messages could wait until when the world around came into even sharper focus.

His state was too strange, this mixture of clairvoyance and spleen esprit de l’escalier, noble inspirations, poetry and nonsense, ideas, hyperesthesia—wandering about like this, hearing forceful but indefinite music within, seeing things, violet fringes about the clearest objects.