I’ve been troubled lately by the English language. This happens to all of us in the writing trade. People in other professions may contemplate their navels, or go out and gaze at some distant, silent star. No, those of us who deal with words sit and ponder whether we are improving as we move toward the future, or improving as we move TOWARDS the future.
Just a couple of weeks ago, a young relative of mine inquired, “If this is the living room, are we dead in all the rest of them?” I know how he feels. I was stopped stock still in the middle of writing what I am sure is a Nobel winning book when someone on the television remarked “You can walk only halfway into the woods, because after that, you’re walking OUT.”
Anyway, I was going to alert you to more of the autographs I am going to have for sale at the third annual 25th Newberry Library Book fair. We now have two Ribert F. Kennedys, for example, one Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and one book signed by his father. We have Ed MacMahon’s autograph, and Guy Lombardo’s, and Bruno Bettelheim’s. I’m pretty sure about this latest Ron Santo, and, as mentioned before, we have Richard M. Daley and Mike Ditka. We have one book signed, with soup can, by Andy Warhol, and another copy of the same book simply initialed by him with a Sharpie that was running out of ink. (I do not KNOW it was a Sharpie; I wasn’t there. It was a Sharpie-like object. But I think Andy would have liked me to use the trade name.)
And one day (it was the same day the lady brought me twelve suitcases of books: I remember it well) I reached into a box and pulled out a book signed by her Imperial Highness, the Grand Duchess Anastasia. It’s all about her thrilling escape from Ekaterinburg in 1917 and subsequent flight to America, where she wound up, naturally, in Lake Geneva, with occasional trips to Chicago to lecture on foreign affairs.
My problem is that everyone I tell this story to asks the same thing. “Is it real?”
Is what real? The book is real: I can pick it up. The signature is real: we can’t all be hallucinating the words on the page. Yeah, it’s all real.
“So you think you have the autograph of the Grand Duchess Anastasia?” I didn’t SAY that. I said the autograph is real, not that the Grand Duchess was. I’m not in a position to state whether the woman known to history as Eugenia Smith (1899-1997) was or was not the Grand Duchess Anastasia (a man who claimed to be the escaped Tsarevitch vouched for her, and HE must have been real because SHE vouched for HIM–for a while, anyhow.) I can’t even say whether she thought for sure she WAS Anastasia (at one point, she claimed to be holding a manuscript Anastasia gave her before dying in 1920 but, of course, if you’re hiding from sinister Romanov-killers, you WOULD say that.)
So what is “real”, kumquat cupcake? There are still plenty of people who prefer Eigenia Smith (sometimes Smetisko) to Anna Anderson, the most famous of the Anastasias. There are probably plenty of people living who knew her or heard her speak in Chicago, or who own a copy of The History of Lake Forest Academy, which was written by her co-author on this autobiography. (Anyhow, he SAID he was her co-author. She never gave him credit. Frankly, Snickers Salad, there’s a lot of he said, she said in this story. DID she pass that lie-detector test in 1963? Some sources say yes and some say no. Mind you, one of her greatest detractors was a big Anna Anderson supporter, and he said she passed the test but the machine had a screw loose.)
All I can say about “real” is that I have a real book with a real signature from someone who really did autograph books as “H.I.H. Grand Duchess Anastasia”. AND I will be expecting real money when you buy it, come July.