Novello has been exchanging letters with big shots since the Nixon administration and has put together three books of correspondence. The latest, From Bush to Bush: The Lazlo Toth Letters, includes submissions to the Campbell Soup Company suggesting a new product, Andy Warhol Alphabet Soup ("Face it," he wrote, "the best thing about your soup was his painting"); Kim Jong Il (Madeleine Albright "has a crush on you," he told the North Korean leader); and Al Gore, whom he referred to a top opening at Ben & Jerry's ("They like the environment, too").
Toth's letters are filled with grammatical errors, excessive punctuation, and cheeky enclosures (he's included single dollar bills as donations to candidates). Yet, Novello says, he isn't always joking. "I don't feel that I'm tricking people. I'm a citizen participating. I want to know if they [will respond]. A lot of times, it's interesting what they don't write. It says a lot."
And while only one of his proposals has been adopted -- the San Francisco Giants employed his Baseball Retrieving Canine Swimming Team, dogs that dive into the bay for home-run balls -- Novello continues to put pen to paper. "You'd think the professional letter writers would be aware of [me]," he says. "Like in Las Vegas, where they know the pros.
"The letters are almost monologues now. If [people] write back, and it's good, it keeps things going. Then the books can go in any direction they want."