The Heart Attack (1945)

Charles Harris (Brick) Garrigues, at forty-three, wasn’t feeling young any more.

For almost three decades he had been writing: His first published piece was in his Imperial Valley, California, high school yearbook.

Later: He was an opera reviewer and a political columnist and a labor organizer and the editor of the San Diego labor confederation newspaper.

He had one book in print, “You’re Paying for It! A Guide to Graft.” He had completed other manuscripts, too, including a popularized version of contemporary economics called “The Imaginary Revolution.” It had a good reception from readers at Viking Press, but his agent, Fanny Toni Strassman, wasn’t able to nail down a deal.

Brick was earning enough to support his wife and their daughter and his two other kids — no longer, though, as a crusading reporter but as a simple copy editor on the San Francisco Examiner, writing headlines and photo captions. He chafed at that desk — but he kept on dreaming.

In these letters to his agent, he wrote about his dreams.:

January 9, 1945

I think a great deal of my dissatisfaction with life (and it is still profound) is due to the fact that I haven’t sold anything. I think I’ve crowded the feeling into the background. But so long as my stuff remains unsold, I can’t convince myself that what I’ve been doing for the last five years is important. And I needed to feel it was important because I was using it as an excuse for trying to live the way I wanted to live.

February 8, 1945

Sooner or later I’ve got to get out of this damned town and have set the date for June. I don’t know where I’ll go, probably to Los Angeles or possibly to New York, which might be good for a little while. Yet I suspect it’s a little too much like San Francisco. Just at the moment I feel I need the freedom and lack of channelization which one finds in Los Angeles.

Brick’s second wife had left him. Some six years into a fitful marriage, Naomi took their three-year-old daughter with her to Arizona, back to her mother’s. He had nothing much to do then except sit at the typewriter or at the copy desk. He didn’t exercise; he smoked; he ate fatty foods and lots of eggs and as much bacon as he could get (a rarity during the war). He was dissatisfied, somewhat lonely. He was a prime candidate for, well . . . click here.

Don’t mind my moaning. I have to have somebody to moan to. As for my personal affairs — well, I don’t have any. Much to my surprise, I still find myself backing up with a cautious look in my eye whenever I observe a female in the distance. A strange performance for me.

Sometimes I think that at some time in the future I shall again make overtures in the direction of Naomi. Strangely, I really like the gal, and in spite of our disagreements we had a much better life together than I’d ever have had with anybody else.

He Usually Lived With

I don’t honestly think I’m sentimentalizing over the past — although I confess I do have that tendency. But we really did have a closeness which — in retrospect — was extremely compelling. I do think that Jewish people do have that much more than Gentiles; at least it seems so among our friends.

As you know, I’ve carried a torch plenty of times in my young life; there have been periods of complete and utter vacuum elsewhere. This isn’t like that. It’s just that something is missing which I didn’t entirely value fully because most of it was subconscious — buried between disagreements which, now, look very silly.

March 21, 1945

My own life is uneventful, except that my youngest boy is in the hospital with mastoids, and they may have to operate on him today. It has sort of taken most of the starch out of me — if there was any left.

Aside from that, nothing. No gals, no particular troubles, no particular ideas.

April 1, 1945

Spring has come to California; the robins are here; the trees are in full bloom — and I wonder if I’m going to get through without involvement. I think I will; so far the season has done no more than to lift me from utter indifference to casual indifference in regard to life.

A few months ago I wanted never to think about another manuscript, but now I want to get back in the groove. Do you know anything about the pulp field? Particularly science fiction. I think I would enjoy writing that sort of thing and may take a whirl at it.

April 12, 1945

I suppose that if either you or I ever make a dime out of my writing, I’m going to have to start to learn to write for a market which exists, rather than trying to create a market. I can’t, at the present time, write the sort of nonfiction which is wanted — personality stuff and such.

I’ve just finished a first draft of an article on spiritualism — which at least has the sole advantage of getting away from economics. Now I’m going to re-handle it in a more chatty, popular vein, attempting to point it toward a definite market. Then I’ll decide whether to send it to you or not. Probably not.

Also, I have in mind a swell anti-union article which should sell — making certain that I will be damned to hell by all my friends.

July 6, 1945

I’m working on the yarn for Astounding and am having fun with it. Also learning a lot about tempo and stuff.

Almost got a good job today. The man said “no”; if he’d said “yes,” I’d have had it. Assistant editor of Sunset magazine. (Do you know it? A Pacific Coast garden and barbecue pit mag.)

July 23, 1945

I’m still working on a serial for Astounding, chiefly as a valuable exercise in learning how to overcome the difficulties of story-building. It is difficult to realize how hard it is to shift from straight analysis into fiction. And I’ve been doing analysis now for painfully near to twenty years. One has to start at the very beginning — as an aging cello player would have to start if he decided to learn the piano. Yet I think I progress.

I suspect I’m growing mellow, and I don’t know whether it is age, or the release from the immediacy of domestic problems, or simply the amazing sight of seeing the sun shine in San Francisco in July. Something will probably happen to spoil it soon.

On August 6, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima. On August 9, it dropped one on Nagasaki.

August 11, 1945

I’m still struggling with two things: the flu and the possibility of improving The Imaginary Revolution. The flu will take care of itself, but I may have to do something about the second problem.

Brick took his flu to the office with him. It seemed to be settling into his chest. I see him rubbing his shoulder, trying to breathe. He looks up from the headline he is writing, drops his pencil and squints at the editor in the center of the horseshoe-shaped desk. Brick’s usually ruddy complexion is paper-white.

The editor stares, concerned: “You OK?” Sweat stands out on Brick’s forehead. “Sick. Feel rotten.” He slumps in his chair. A copygirl rushes to his side. Commotion. “Call an ambulance.” “Emergency room.”

The next day or the day after, August 14, in big cities and small towns all across the country:

Car horns blare in joy  “It’s V-J Day!” In the center of cities, streetcars and automobiles are stalled by throngs of revelers filling the streets. Reams of paper rain from office buildings onto the crowds below and pile up in the gutters and on the sidewalks. Soldiers and sailors grin like fools and kiss the women and drink as much booze as strangers buy them. The shops are closed, their employees given the day off; but one or two dime-store managers stand in front to sell noisemakers and confetti.

(Postcard; hand-written)
August 15, 1945

This will cancel all plans, arrangements, intentions, etc. I am stretched out on a cot in St. Luke’s Hospital after a heart attack and will be here for some weeks or months yet.

Apparently I’m going to recuperate, but in the meantime I’m not going to worry about it. Since I am forbidden to read, write, think or smoke, I dictated this to let you know. Write me when you have time.

As ever,