Essay 21: The Young Virgins of the Lost City

by rosalyster

I never caught RP in the act of delivering a letter. No one did. This girl in human resources said she had actually met him, but after a brief interrogation I was forced to conclude that she was lying to me and to herself. When I asked her what he looked like she said I don’t know, just normal. Old. When I asked her what his clothes were she said Just pants and a jersey. What kind of shoes? Just shoes like an old man would wear. What kind of face? Just a normal old man. What did he talk about? How long the lift took to come.

Please. Anyone who had spent five minutes alone with the letters of RP would have known that she had the wrong man. They came two or three times a week. Hand-delivered. Envelope flap stuck down with a small frilly bit of the sticky paper that edges a sheet of stamps. RP couldn’t lick the envelopes because he’d used up all his bile on the letters themselves.

His repertoire was compelling in its simplicity. RT would not be diverted. Secret Jews, non-secret but still highly sinister Jews, The Banks, The Blacks, The Catholics, The Devil. He once signed a letter “RP, Eugenicist”. He suggested on repeated occasions that to have a non-literal interpretation of the Bible was to shit all over Christ Himself. He once wrote a letter which included the phrase “the Satanic Jane Goodall.” He drew little pictures in the margins – a little ark, a little bird, a detailed rendering of the young virgins of Atlantis, Lost City. It is needless to say that he was not keen on women.

The newspaper published a letter of his about once every two months, in highly attenuated form. If you took out all the racism, all the sexism, all the bits about the young virgins of the Lost City of Atlantis, you were not left with much. They did not convey the spirit of RP, and this was probably for the best.

No one at the paper seemed that interested in him. Everyone just sort of rolled their eyes and said Shame. A lonely man. My best friend at work said that she bet his wife had died. Men can get like that, she said. When their wives die. I stored this information away.

I say that I never saw RP with my proper eyes, but when I imagine him I get a very clear picture. He has one of those shiny faces that a certain type of old man can get, like James Brown or someone. He looks like he had been carved out of an unpopular type of wood. He has running shoes and slightly flared pants and you think he has a flat hat on, but you are mistaken. A flat hat, for the RPs of this world, is an affectation. He smokes. He is always sitting on a bus and looking right into your face. I sometimes practice this face in the mirror. You make your teeth so it’s like you’re just about to start smiling. You do not follow through to the smile itself. You tilt your head slightly to the left or the right. You remind yourself of a parakeet that has been neglected for too long, all hopping up along your perch to the bars of your cage and trying to get your head through. Your one eye can roll slightly if you need. You must cast your head passionately about, looking endlessly around in a big circle. You must convey an impression of intense and unsettling interest in everything that passes under your gaze. You make the strangers around you worry that at any second you will start speaking to them. You will say things like What are you reading? What’s that you’re listening to? Do you like that song? Are you aware of the Satanic forces that reside within the Holy Roman Catholic Church? Like that.

I know these men. I walk among them. After I stopped working at the newspaper, I started working in the archives. My worry – that I would never encounter again in my working life encounter an RP  – was unfounded. They are all over the place. They are there in the reading room every day, asking too many questions, looking too thin and shiny in the face. I saw a good one the other day, sidling up to the front desk and asking the tirelessly nice archivist whether she had any information on his grandfather. She said You’ll have to look him up on the system, and he said Well but he used to be the president of the harbour so what can you tell me about him. She said The computers are through in that room. He said He was the PRESIDENT, though. Of the HARBOUR. She pointed to the computer room. I was next in line. She looked at me, shook her head, and whispered There is no such job as the president of the harbour. Poor man.

Maybe his wife is dead, I thought.

R Pism reaches its pinnacle in the archives. In the files relating to the activities of the South African apartheid-era censors, specifically. You cannot move in there without running up against an RP type, writing a letter to the head of the censorship board, demanding to know why a certain novel or magazine or song or really a birthday card with a penis on it had not been removed from general circulation. You would not believe the things they write.

Here is a classic of the genre

“Dear Sir,

I wish to draw your attention to the advert for “Shield” – some form of “intimate” female deodorant[1] – which I have just heard on the radio.

The background music for this is the music from the pop record “Je t’aime” which was banned, even in permissive Britain, by the BBC. It is the sound of a man and woman engaged in the sexual act, put to music, with grunts, groans, and other sounds. The purpose of this recorded version in the “Shield” advert should be obvious, and I would be grateful to you if you could take steps to have it withdrawn. It has unpleasant memories for me.


Not RP But Very Like.”

I read letters like this every day, nearly, and I never tire of them. This is the best job I’ve ever had.

[1] He is talking here about just normal Shield deodorant.