The Infinite Matrix | Howard Waldrop | Week 17
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by Howard Waldrop

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The World of Yesterday... Tomorrow!

1. Eyeglasses for dogs!

You know me. I'm writing this to you the week before Ms Gunn hares off for a book promotion tour/convention whirl. I have to get this to her before she leaves if I want to get paid before October...

What I am stopping doing to get this done is finishing painting my room/office, rearranging of the furniture (yet again) to try to make it all fit in a 9' x 10 1/2' room with two closets (full), two windows and the hall door...the monster is the four drawer x 35" file cabinet I got at a church sale for $4.00 because it had a loose drawer front, easily fixed with two sheet metal screws and half a tube of Superglue, and a hideous magenta paint job, uneasily fixed with a coat of off-white latex. It has to be emptied to be moved, which I did last Friday night. It determines where everything else in the room goes. Last week I built a new worktable/desk, 24" deep x 45" long, of 2x4s, 1x4s, and a piece of 5/8" plywood.

Half of my bookcases, office supplies, the daybed mattress and pillows, and the chair are out in the living room, along with the four full file drawers. You can imagine.

The rest of the stuff is squnched in the center of the office (full bookcases and all), approximately in the order they get put back in, where they belong or are going to be.

I painted last Saturday: first tape and outline the ceiling, then paint around the fixtures with a sash brush, red primer paint. Then with a 4" brush, the walls in red primer. (There's not room for a roller except on two walls.) It turned out blotchy (as always on a primer coat; it usually goes away on the paint coat). Sunday I repeated the process, only with Behr Daredevil Red Flat Interior latex, except after the initial brushwork, I used a painting pad and roller.

It's still blotchy. Meanwhile, when they built the house and did the drywall, the mud slopped over some of the baseboard trim in some places, so there's no even line... I'm going to tape a line and paint it white with enamel, whether it's on the trim or on the wall...

Meanwhile I went to Home Depot — only a mile away but 1 1/2 miles me...looking for some 3/32 x 1 1/2" bolts for closet door knows (Ms Leslie What gave me some — a big green translucent one, and two shaped like Saturn, she got off Ebay years ago; now I have someplace to put them). And look for a couple of cull lumber 1x8s for a slapped-together bookcase. (I have 40 running feet of books; I had 36 feet of shelving...)

Anyway: Sunday night at Home Depot, the cull-lumber bin — which usually has a broken railroad tie, a 3' and 2 1/2' 2x8, a cupped and warped 8' 2x4 and some broken dog-ear pickets — had a goldmine — the thing was full of @ 4' (from 46" to 51") white cedar 1x6s. At 51cents each! I bought twelve and brought them home.

Monday morning I made 1) a 27" x 12" TV/VCR/DVD stand — two open boxes on top of a 1x4 platform and 2) a 34" high x 45" long bookcase, with an open 1' x 2' shelf — at last a place for all the oversize big-ass sleaze photo books I have...

What remains on the room is the 2nd coat of Daredevil Red (I need another quart) and the trim around the doors and baseboards.

It'll have to wait til I finish this.

What, I hear you cry, does all this have to do with a column ostensibly about SF? And what, you ask, does Paul DiFilippo have to do with it?

Again, trust me.

I've been building stuff for decades — some good, some bad, some functional. (I was once supposed to go to a party at a friend's house at night; they called around 2pm to say one of their speaker cones had just blown out, and were calling around to get someone to bring a pair of speakers. "I'll take care of it." I said. I had a buttload of loose speakers around. I had two tweeters, two 6" midranges, and one 9" woofer lying around from ones I'd taken apart over the years. I got on my bike, went to Radio Shack, bought another 9" woofer for like $4.95, went home, cut out the speaker holes in plywood, mounted them, built boxes and backs for them, wired them up, put them together, and covered the fronts with some mill-end Zulu print canvas cloth I'd bought for window shades. I got on my bike, carried one and bungee-corded the other to the handlebars and rode over to the friend's house and hooked them up. They were the best set of speakers I ever built. They were still using them 15 years later. I never could duplicate them, even with the same parts, dimensions, etc. Then I started living in places smaller than those speakers...)

I haunt the clearance shelves at Half Price Books, and garage sales, and come up with true gems: The Young Craftsman: The Popular Mechanics Library ("Thrills-Entertains-Trains Young Minds and Hands") from 1943. 100 Beautiful Pieces of Furniture You Can Build (Third of the Popular Mechanics Craftsman's Library Series), 1950. All those bookends! Planters! Entire bedroom suites! My favorite, which I no longer have, was a House and Garden decorating book from 1947, showing you how to cover up those old-fashioned fanlights over your dining-room transoms, and how to hide those unsightly glass bricks and modernize the place to catch up with these post-WWII Atomic Times...

All this past is prologue. Last year at Readercon I met Paul DiFilippo in the flesh for the first time (I'd read his work for years). We hit it off and started corresponding. His stuff arrives in big mail-art envelopes that mystify the substitute mailmen they send out about once a week, but not the regular guy (who rides a Harley in his spare time). Like cartoons from Playboy circa 1964 with the caption from another New Yorker cartoon from 1983... Retro-art from the 1950s magazines with speech balloons out of Marvel Comics. They brighten up my day immensely.

Lately Paul's been either cleaning out his bookcases, or getting lots of good trade down at his nearest used bookstore, and sending me things he thinks I might like. He's been spot-on, as the Brits say, nearly every time.

But never so much so as a couple of months ago, when, in subsequent mailings, he sent me the June 1937 Modern Mechanix and the April and December 1939 Popular Sciences.

This without knowing my history as a secret seeker after arcane formulae to make lacquer flow better, or how to make dowelling jigs from soda bottle caps, or how to put magnetic locks in your light sockets so people can't steal your lightbulbs...

He couldn't have seen further into my mind than if he had been invisible and standing right beside me the whole last 57 years.

For what gifts had he given me in these three magazines?

He had handed me a glimpse into the very heart of those bygone times. ("The past is a foreign country. They did things differently there." Is the usual — and mostly accurate — summation of historical truth.)

But not in the case of these magazines, and the people by whom and for whom they were made.

These people were trying to have a future — much like our future, only with less wars and explosions and morons — and they were trying to have a cyber-world, only with what they had, or could foresee, one where everything was still big and clunky and had to warm up before you could use it; but the best the could envision would be a world where you came home from your job, got into your shop apron, fired up the bandsaw and built the Mrs. a new planter to go on top of the tele-vison...


New: Locus Magazine is offering a special deal on the issue with the superb Heart-of-Waldrop photo and interview. Che'ekidaou'ut.

Howard Waldrop is a legend in his own time. He writes, he fishes, he builds bookcases. He does not have a cellphone, a computer, or an email account.

For someone who is about as wired as an echidna, Howard has a pretty substantial online career. He has had a website since 1997. You can read The Ugly Chickens, The Other Real World, Winter Quarters, D = R x T, and his collaboration with Leigh Kennedy, One Horse Town, on SciFiction. Mary Margaret Roadgrader is available on the excellent Strange Horizons. He has an occasional column, Crimea River, on Electric Story. And now he has a blog. Go figure.

For additional embellishments of the Waldrop legend, see Who Is Howard Waldrop, Anyway? For extravagant lies about Howard, see Alternate Waldrops, on Strange Horizons. Howard's most recent books are Custer's Last Jump and Other Collaborations and Dream Factories and Radio Pictures. Buy 'em.

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