I had not seen Samuel for years, but his letters annoyed me. They were so melancholy, so sad. I couldn’t figure it out. In 1970 I returned to Manhattan for the summer and called him. “I’m double the size I was when you knew me; so is Doris; we eat all the time. Don’t you?” We made a date and I broke it—too depressing.
Following that, several letters came. The contents varied, but always the same refrain: “So many things to say; we must get together soon; you have been a better and truer friend than I.” Puzzling me since, to I did not understand what we had to say to each other, and why I was such a good friend. First a letter came about the sudden death of his father from cancer. I remembered Mr. Weintraub’s grocery store; Samuel’s Marxist stories and poems condemning his father for ringing up sales on the case register, and conveniently forgetting to put in a bar of soap, a can of soup, when packing the customer’s purchases in bags. The next letter told of the death of his mother from cancer. Then good news: his novel published. He inscribed it to me: “To Bruce—There were four people who thought I might be a writer. You were one of them, and your confidence and friendship were very important to me .. . during dark, difficult days. Sam.” Not true, unfortunately—never believed I in Sam as a writer. I hope the other three did. I read the book which was, in a strange, unreal way, about black power. All the attitudes were proper, and, if set down more convincingly, might have netted Sam a home in Scarsdale, a sale to Hollywood, a livelihood. But true to Sam’s writing style as I remembered it, everything was tone-deaf: a black’s Afro was “crunchy” ; his lips “like accordian folds.” What emerged incessantly, everywhere, was the theme of masturbation. The characters could not keep their hands off them- selves, no matter how militant. Everyone: the beautiful blacks, the fuzzy liberals, the reactionary dogs .. . at every free moment was settling down with a wad of toilet paper. It was uncanny in such a short, serious and shadowy book. And while it was not well-written, it had an authority: there was no doubt that here was something the author really knew about.