Studies in Crap: Beloved real American George Leonard Herter explains How to Live With a Bitch
Each Thursday, your Crap Archivist brings you the finest in forgotten and bewildering crap culled from basements, thrift stores, estate sales and flea markets. I do this for one reason: Knowledge is power.
How to Live With a Bitch
Author: Legendary coot George Leonard Herter
Publisher: Herter's, Inc., a Minnesota sporting goods outfitter now distributed through Cabela's.
- "Do not establish a nudist camp in your home but keep a natural body exposure around the house on a normal basis. Children, including boys, should see their mother nude wearing external menstrual pads." (page 3)
- "All facts show that many women have built-in traits to nag, bitch, insult, try to be cruel and try to be demanding. Such traits, of course, cause much divorce. Again a woman is not exactly like a Canadian goose, she does not intend, in the vast majority of cases, to mate for life." (page 59).
There's crap and then there's bullshit.
In the first fifty pages of this pioneering achievement in all-American jack-assery, George Leonard Herter decries the pill as "racial suicide," insists that logic tells us that the nine unmarried apostles had to be masturbators, claims that men are a fine wine but women a whiskey ("The more they age the worse they get"), and offers this explanation for why the bitches that men marry crab so much:
"Murder through continual stress situations is not difficult for some people. Watch out for this in selecting a mate."
Once I mopped my blown mind off the tarp I spread about my desk for such occasions, I put the book down and got to Googling. Come to find out, this cranky sumbitch is considered an American treasure.
Just ask the critics at niche publications like Field & Stream (they called him "an eccentric genius"), the Minnesota Fishing Blog ("isn't quite as misogynistic as it sounds"), and the New York Times ("one of the greatest oddball masterpieces in this or any other language.")
Impressive notices for the man who wrote, "The jeweled engagement ring is quite recent and was created by Jewish jewelers to sell more rings and jewels."
That Times quote, from a warm appreciation by likable bookhound Paul Collins, refers to Herter's best-known work, the recipe book Bull Cook and Authentic Historical Recipes and Practices, justly celebrated on the better cooking sites for including "titty sauce yams."
Herter's second most celebrated work: the thousands of excitable entries he penned for the Herter Sporting Goods catalogs in the 1960s.
That said, the shrill harangues of How to Live With a Bitch don't square with Collins' description of Herter as "a genius of straight-faced balderdash" and "a teller of tall tales."
Here, Herter rants joylessly against Catholics ("There is nothing wrong with Italians but there is with 400 years of Italian Catholic Church rule bought by murder, money and dirty power politics" ) psychologists ("far below a reliable witch doctor" ) and sometimes both at once :
"The Roman Catholic Church taught reincarnation for 300 years, castrated the boys of their choirs in Rome and put Castro to power in Cuba by supporting communism. I think their support of psychoanalysis will do more real harm than any of these things."
If these are tall tales, Paul Bunyan was a John Bircher.
Herter's ire is especially provoked by women.
"There is nothing in the world so utterly disgusting as the woman who has used every trick in the trade all of her life to keep from having children, then wailing at menopause that she has no children."
But unlike the "careless Catholics," he doesn't oppose birth control in all instances.
"At puberty and through the teenages [sic] your strongest desire is to have sexual intercourse with almost any girl who will lay still long enough to let you. You can get a girl pregnant very easily if she wants you to . . . Either use contraceptives or have sexual intercourse with a girl you wouldn't mind marrying."
So, this is less a rustic lark from the Times's lovable crackpot than it is a sour belch from a sour man. Thankfully, some lighter passages do read like a put-on.
"The problem of a woman's lack of sex enjoyment or sex frigidity . . . was actually solved and described in detail way back in the days of the Greek philosophers. All it takes is a little exercise of the right muscles to start female sex enjoyment. Just pretend that you are going to urinate, then don't. Do this for an hour or so a day, or less if it takes up too much of your time, and your problems will soon be over."
And occasionally, a flight of fancy justifies Collins' insistence that Herter resembles "John Hodgman, but with a gun."
"In the whole history of the world only two women were able to become even fairly well-known painters. Some women can learn to play the piano fairly well. Well-known women cannot compose lasting music. Women are different in more ways than just sex. Women can hold their breath for 2 1/2 minutes and descend and work in water 45 feet deep, men cannot."
But such jokes - if jokes they are - only sweeten the poison that Herter's recent celebrators ignore. By housebreaking Herter, by ignoring his xenophobic viciousness, they diminish the American spirit that they suggest he exemplifies. Collins glosses over the mean streak by describing Herter as "a surly sage," which cutens up the truth: Herter was touched by a peculiar greatness, but the dude was also a prick.
Key to being a Crap Archivist-- or an American -- is acknowledging such prickishness among our forebears while never losing sight of all that's worth admiring in them, too.
What I admire most about Herter is his crazed dilettantism.
Purportedly a marriage guide, How to Live With a Bitch opens with twenty-odd dense, humorless, science-y pages explaining ovulation, pregnancy, and the functions of the sex organs. The book closes with an alarmed report of new missile technology and a short story about De Gaulle.
Herter even includes his own anatomical illustrations:
The birth of Beavis & Butthead!
And just when his meticulous description of the anovulatory menstrual cycle gets dull, he springs this doozy:
That's a joke, right?
[The Crap Archivist lives in Kansas City, where he originates his on-line Studies for the Voice's sister paper, The Pitch.]
The mighty Studies in Crap e-mail list updates you whenever a new SiC post hits. Sign up at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Village Voice's biggest stories.