“Voice of the Hamster” is a fiction serialized in four issues of Pynchon’s high school newspaper, the Oyster Bay High School Purple and Gold, in 1952-53, begun when Pynchon was only 15 years old (he graduated high school at 16). The text is taken from Clifford Mead’s Thomas Pynchon: A Bibliography of Primary and Secondary Materials (Elmwood, IL: The Dalkey Archive Press, 1989), and according to both Mead and our own investigation these stories are in the public domain.
Remarkable for juvenilia, Pynchon’s high school fiction features many of the stylistic flourishes and literary themes he employs to this day: surreally silly names, paranoia, copious drug use, and an oddball sense of humor. These stories were published under pseuodnyms, such as “Roscoe Stein,” “Bose,” or no name at all.
By Thomas Pynchon
Purple and Gold, 13 November 1952, 2. “The Voice of the Hamster.”
You may remember me I don’t know. I met you at that party in Huntington last August. I was the squat individual with the red crewcut who was doing the imitation of Winston Churchill. Anyway, you expressed interest in this school I go to and asked me to get in touch with you. So, here I am.
Hamster High is located on a rock about a half mile off the South Shore, and not a very big rock at that, as anybody can tell you who’s been there at high tide. Nobody seems to know why they call the place Hamster High, other than the highly debatable rumor that its founder, J. Fattington Woodgrouse, had a strong liking for the fuddy little creatures. There is a statue of J. Fattington Woodgrouse in front of the school. He is a little bald-headed man with a pot belly, and he looks like a cross between the last Martian and a hungry barracuda. Last Hallowe’en someone wrote on this statue a very nasty word in bright orange paint. There was a big scandal. I was suspended for four weeks.
Maybe the fact that we’re fairly well isolated accounts for why Hamster High is well, not exactly crazy, but slightly odd. Take for example our trig teacher, Mr. Faggiaducci. He’s a quiet respectable young man who wears thick glasses with chartreuse rims. He also wears peg pants, satin shirt, cool cardigan, and bop beret. He tears around in a long, baby-blue hotrod sedan, and he’s always telling be-bop jokes in class. There’s nothing actually wrong with him, it’s just that he used to be a bop drummer, and now he wishes he were back with the boys at Birdland and Eddie Condon’s. He talks to himself a lot and I’ve heard rumors he takes heroin. A real “gone guy.”
Then of course there’s our principal, Mr. Sowfurkle. This boy also has music leanings he plays the bagpipes. The bad thing about it is that he uses school hours to practice. He’s very devoted to the bloody instrument. He locks himself in his office for about an hour every day to play it. Somehow one gets the idea he doesn’t like interruptions. He was born in the hills of Tennessee, and he still carries a shotgun with him, a nasty thing with a sawed-off barrel. Anyway, one day the chemistry teacher somehow wandered into his inner sanctum and started banging on the door, and old Furk got real excited. Poor Miss Phipps. We had to get a new door, too.
You might think we’re pretty limited as far as sports go, being out on a rock like we are, but that isn’t so. Of course, we can’t have our own football or baseball fields, so we use the ones in the nearest town, Riverhampton. I feel sorry for Coach Willis. He turned down a chance to coach Football at one of the Big Ten colleges and came to Hamster High instead. Coach Willis drinks a lot.
He smokes like a fiend, too, so that the Alumni Association is screaming to fire him for setting a bad example for the boys. Coach Willis claims that it’s the teams that have driven him to drink. He says: “What can you do with a football team that consistently runs the wrong way, a basketball team which refuses to dribble the ball, and a track team which is afraid to high jump, and throws the shot-put underhand?” In a way, I think he’s right, about football at least. In the past three years we’ve lost every game except one, and that was a tie with some grade school. The only reason we were able to tie them was because the grade school team was continually being penalized for unnecessary roughness.
But still the crowds come out and cheer for our boys, so colorful and manly-looking in their brown fur football uniforms, and they cheer our loyal little team mascot, Talleyrand the Hamster. We keep Tallyrand muzzled and on a long leash, for he is a vicious little monster. This hamster has razor sharp fangs which must be at least an inch long. If you don’t believe me, I can show you the scars where Tallyrand autographed my wrist.
But now I must say so long because I am getting tired, and I have a lot of trig homework to do. Not that it has to be done for tomorrow, as chances are Mr. Faggiaducci won’t be there; he’s out on another binge. Remind me sometime to tell you about the time the State Education Inspector came to Hamster High. Poor fellow he’s in an institution now. And remember me to Beer-belly MacPherson and the rest of the mob.
Your drunken amigo,
Purple and Gold, 18 December 1952, 3. “Voice of the Hamster.”
In your last letter you mentioned that you wanted to hear about the time the State Education Inspector came to Hamster High. Well, it was sort of ironic since the grandfather, J. Fattington Woodgrouse, founded our school. This guy was little and fat, like the original, and he wore a stupid-looking pork-pie hat. Mr. Sowfurkle greeted him warmly and proceeded to take him on a tour of the school.
It seems the first class he went to was Miss Phipps’ chemistry class. I don’t take chemistry myself, but I got this straight from Sid Scully, who is at present engaged in an exhaustive study of the physiological effects of complex nicotine compounds upon the human body. He is also a chain smoker. Anyway, Crazy Harrigan was doing some work in the lab with unstable plutonium isotopes. You remember Crazy the guy who blew up the Farmingdale Bank. Just as Mr. Woodgrouse opened the lab door, out tore Crazy, yelling at the top of his lungs, and he cannonballed into the inspector. It’s a good thing he knocked the inspector down because a minute later there was a terrific explosion from inside the lab, and half the wall came down on him. Crazy had got away down the hall, and it seemed that Mr. Woodgrouse was the only casualty. He took him down to the infirmary and patched him up.
Then all through the day, little accidents kept happening to him. It’s fantastic, but it always happens when somebody we don’t want comes wandering around. He saw more of the infirmary than anything else. First, in Mr. McGinty’s physics class, a ten-pound weight rolled off the desk and hit him on the foot. Then in the cafeteria someone bumped him and knocked his meal all over his new Brooks Brothers suit, ruining it quite permanently. Around the first period he mistook the door to the dumbwaiter shaft for the men’s room and took a quick trip from the third floor to the cellar the hard way. He was in pretty bad shape when we found him, so we took him down to the infirmary. Then he wandered into Mr. Faggiaducci’s class while Mr. Faggiaducci was giving us an exhibition of bop drumming. Mr. Faggiaducci’s hand slipped. The inspector looked awful funny with that drumstick halfway down his throat. After that, he wandered out onto the archery course, which was a mistake in the first place, since we had loudspeakers warning people that Crazy Harrigan’s archery team was practicing. I pity the U. S. Army when those guys get drafted. Let Crazy even see any kind of a lethal weapon and he goes “nuts.” I guess that Mr. Woodgrouse couldn’t hear the warnings through the bandages on his head. A rescue party arrived just in time to see him being pursued by a band of madmen, an arrow through his pork-pie hat and another in his shoulder. We took him down to the infirmary again.
He would have left then, but Coach Willis wanted him to watch football practice. Everything went O.K. until Coach Willis caught wind of the fact that Mr. Woodgrouse had played collegiate football. Before the poor inspector knew what was happening, he was in the quarterback position, the ball had been snapped, and he was watching eleven stalwart specimens of American manhood charging at him with blood in their eyes. I think he had one last fleeting moment of sanity before they hit him, and then he went down beneath a mountain of brown fur football uniforms. And to top it all, Talleyrand the Hamster got loose and bit him. We dragged him down again to the infirmary and fixed up the wound which required two stiches and the other injuries he had acquired. I think there was also a couple of vertebrae misplaced.
He went away quite peacefully with the men in the white coats; they didn’t even need a straitjacket for him. He was talking happily to himself and laughing. He was singing a little song, too: “First the wall fell, then all the arrows, then the mob in the hamster skins, then that (here he said a very uncouth word) bit me but I don’t care. They set off an atom bomb on me, they dropped things on my feet, they rammed things down my throat, but I’m stilI happy. They set booby traps on me but I don’t care anymore hahahahaha!”
Poor guy. Every week Mr. Faggiaducci goes over to see him and cheers him up with a drum rendition. Sometimes I think that Mr. Faggiaducci is but never mind. They say that Mr. Woodgrouse will be out in another month. He was a good guy really. One sad note: somehow he lost that cute little pork-pie hat.
Well, I guess that’s all for this time. Tell me how it’s doing at O.B. H. S., will you?
Be seeing you,
Purple and Gold, 22 January 1953, 2, 4. “Voice of the Hamster.”
Sorry I haven’t written sooner, but I’m in the midst of recovering from a party I attended New Year’s Eve. It was what can only be called a riot, and that’s about what it ended up as. The party was thrown by Sid Scully’s sister Marge, and there must have been over a hundred people there. Everything was quiet until Crazy Harrigan, with some mob from Queens, started a conga line sometime around 1:30 in the morning, and that was about all it took to start an argument. Marge objected to the noise, and Sid agreed with her. Sid got pretty mad and started shoving Crazy around, Crazy threw a punch at Sid, Sid threw one back, Crazy hit Sid over the head with the punch bowl, and pandemonium broke loose before we knew it we had a full scale free-for-all on our hands. Marge was crying, Sid was sitting on the floor clutching his head and swearing a blue streak, and their St. Bernard, O’Malley by name, was gaily romping through the whole mess and wrecking chairs, lamps anything that happened to be in the way. The men from Queens, evidently suffering from delusions that they were musketeers or some thing, were happily dueling [sic] with the curtain rods, with Mr. Scully’s imported Oriental drapes as cloaks. Crazy Harrigan was dashing around with a chair like a lion tamer, screaming some nonsense about how he was a jolly good fellow and if anyone denied it Crazy would bash his head in. About that time the men in blue arrived, and we started to calm down a bit all, that is, except Moe Klonk, who climbed up on a chair and started yelling about how that was capitalistic oppression and bourgeois tyranny, etc. Finally he got acquainted with the business end of a nightstick the hard way, and that sort of put an end to the party. Sid had to have two stitches taken and there were a lot of split lips and bloody noses, and Marge was almost in hysterics. Happy New Year!
In your last letter you said you wanted to know more about Mr. Rafael Faggiaducci, who teaches “trig” at Hamster High. For Christmas our “trig” class gave Mr. Faggiaducci a necktie with an inscription that lights up in the dark. The first day after Christmas vacation, Mr. Faggiaducci came into class with a large red mark across his face, but he refused to tell us what had happened. We also gave him a gold-plated drumstick inscribed “To Coolcat Faggiaducci from the Boys.”
The “Boys” (note well the capital B) are a peculiar and very select group. They occupy the rear seats. Officially they are there to learn trigonometry. Actually they are engaged, under the leadership of Crazy Harrigan and Big Bob Woods, in a fascinating experiment in psychology entailing the instilling of paranoid hallucinations into the logical mind by psychoanalytic deletion of the super-ego. In other words, we are trying to see how much Faggiaducci can take before he flips his lid.
And you may be sure we are succeeding, although Faggiaducci does not exactly appreciate this. Already, he screams, his psychologist says he is getting delusions of persecution; that is, he is imagining that there is a conspiracy against him. You know the funny thing about it? There is!
For one thing, Faggiaducci hates the song “High Noon” he goes “nuts” every time he hears it. So, John Trodsky brings his guitar to class, and we all sing, “Do not forsake me, Faggiaducci,” etc. He gets very, very peeved sometimes. I can show you a scar where I was hit by a compass Faggiaducci threw in a blind fit of rage. We also have the habit of laughing unexpectedly. It may be during a test, when the whole room is quiet all of a sudden there is a huge roar from the back of the room. Every time Faggiaducci jumps as if he had sat on a mousetrap. Sometimes that happens too. We also pulled a real cool bit a few weeks ago. At a prearranged signal, the whole class started rocking from side to side. Faggiaducci said, “Stop that rocking!” and Sid Scully laughed and said, “What rocking?” Faggiaducci got mad and called the principal, Mr. Sowfurkle, and said, “My class is rocking back and forth. Come up and do something about it.” So, the inevitable happened; when Furk came into the room, we stopped rocking and sat perfectly still. The conversation which followed between Faggiaducci and the principal I leave to your own imagination.
Well, Sam, I guess that’s about all for now. Write soon and tell me if you have any teachers like Faggiaducci at Oyster Bay High.
Purple and Gold, 19 February 1953, 8. “Voice of the Hamster.”
Did it! Passed trig! I was taking it half-year, you know, with The Boys, and we finally succeeded in getting Faggiaducci to the point where he was completely fed up with us. He got so mad that the day of the Regents he refused to proctor the exam. So we were stuck with some neurotic Czech who screamed instead of talked.
Anyway, we started singing, “Do not forsake me, Faggiaducci,” and he got purple and screamed screamed, mind you, not yelled like Faggiaducci “Shut up or I’ll kick you all out!” Then he started swearing and insulting us and throwing things until finally he got us pretty riled. Now you know there’s one thing meaner than The Boys, and that’s The Boys riled. Sid Scully called the Czech something very uncomplimentary; Crazy Harrigan hit him from behind with a ruler; and Bob Woods tripped him with a chair when he swung at Sid. He headed out of the room, intending to call the principal. That did it! En masse, The Boys arose, surrounded the Czech, picked him up bodily, stuffed him in the dumbwaiter, and left him there until we could finish the exam in peace.
Faggiaducci had said that the best mark he had expected was somewhere in the low 60’s; as it was, there was no mark lower than 92. (Don’t ask me how we did it!) This, of course, had a severe psychological effect on Faggiaducci. He hasn’t been to school in a week. I hear he had a breakdown. The Czech? Well, nobody uses that dumbwaiter shaft anymore, and so we decided to leave him there. They may find him some day I don’t care much he gets fed twice a week.
Must go now