Cleaning Out the File Cabinet

Some months ago I went through various folders in my small (two-drawer) file cabinet to see if there were things I still needed or if there were things I could dispose of. I pulled out several folders tentatively identified for the latter, and piled them on the floor. Months later I’m picking them up again and going through them one last time… before throwing them away.

As I do, I’ll summarize, if only for my own records, what is going into the recycle bin. With comments. Going from the least to the most personal.

Locus Foundation. For at least 15 years I’ve been on the Board of Directors of the Locus Foundation, and protocols for such a non-profit organization have required an annual meeting followed by meeting notes distributed to members. These were done by paper mail up to about 2010. I also have paperwork concerning the Charles N. Brown Trust, distributed in 2010 and his death in 2009. Since 2010, all matters like these have been done by email. Also: statements and check stubs from the early days of Locus Online, when proceeds from an online ad service were received by Locus HQ and forwarded to me.

1982 Hughes offer. When I was searching for my first industry job in 1982, I applied to three places: Rocketdyne, JPL, and Hughes. JPL never did make an offer; my interview went OK but they had no immediate openings. Hughes made an offer — it was for $25,400 a year — but the job was in El Segundo, by LAX. I took the Rocketdyne offer instead, for slightly more, and much closer to home. I saved the offer letter (did I save the Rocketdyne letter?) and correspondence to decline the offer.

Aunt Maude inheritance. In 2004 my Great Aunt Maude, who lived most of her life in Davenport Iowa died. I had last seen her, in a nursing home, in 1992 when I traveled to Cambridge, Illinois, in the aftermath of my grandfather’s death. Aunt Maude and Uncle Edwin (who had died earlier) lived a prosperous life in a big house on a shady street in Davenport that my family must have visited once or twice around 1970. They were my father’s aunt and uncle on his mother’s side. After her death paperwork was sent out to her designated heirs to distribute her estate, which was worth almost $300,000. There were 15 heirs named, including my father, but since my father had died in 2001, his share went to his four children; and since my sister Lisa had died in 2002, that left three of us. My share was $4805.56. At the same time, the Edwin O. Olson Trust was distributed; it was worth $679,000, and my share was $11,350.

TV Show Listings. In my college years and into my 20s, I compiled episode lists of TV shows I watched regularly, some of them in syndication, like The Twilight Zone, shown five times a week, others newly broadcast in the evenings, like Hawaii Five-O. I compiled episode titles, writers and directors, and guest stars. UCLA had an excellent film/TV library and in some cases I paged through old issues of Hollywood Reporter that reported episodes I had never seen and when they were first broadcast. Other shows I compiled data on were Jonny Quest, Upstairs, Downstairs (when first broadcast in the US), Mission: Impossible (notorious for one or two word titles, often “The Something”, which were not displayed in the episodes themselves, unlike virtually all these other shows), the ’80s revival of Twilight Zone, Hill Street Blues when first broadcast in the ’80s (it didn’t display titles either), and a few older shows I saw in reruns, like Mannix, The Avengers, The Outer Limits, The Invaders, It Takes a Thief, and The Time Tunnel. And of course Lost in Space and Star Trek. In the ’80s and ’90s popularity of some of these old shows made it profitable for books to be published about them, with exhaustive listings and background material, and nowadays of course all the listings are in Wikipedia or on similar sites.

Change of Hobbit newsletters. A Change of Hobbit was a specialty science fiction bookshop near UCLA, that I discovered when I started college there, and patronized for about 15 years, until it closed (after having relocated twice to larger quarters) in the early ’90s. It was run by Sherry Gotlieb. She published a one or two page newsletter once a month, listing visiting authors and books scheduled for publication.

Database notes. I’ve always compiled lists of books I owned (when and where bought, since 1970) and in the early ’90s began developing macros in Microsoft Word to convert straight listings of book contents into indexes alphabetized by author. The purchase records and library records eventually migrated to Microsoft Access (though I still have the ledger books) and the indexing project became focused on awards, perhaps because by that time William Contento was indexing books for Locus, and issuing annual volumes of the contents of all books and magazines published in each year (before migrating to the web by the ’90s, and then overtaken by isfdb.com). While my own awards index, at one point generated using Word macros into 100 pages or so of formatted output like a published book, moved to the web, first for Locus Online and now for sfadb.com. These old notes from the earliest versions of these projects are fascinating, mostly because I have no memory at all of how I would use Word macros to do that, but also because at one point I used another database product (Dbase?) and have notes about tables and fields and whatnot using that terminology.

Gay Articles. That is, articles from newspapers or magazines that I tore out and saved, articles about the dating scene or campus groups or true stories of how, e.g., “Gay Air Force Captain Forced to Resign” from 1986. (How times have changed.)

Personal Ad correspondence. My earliest forays into dating — long before email and the internet — were launched by answering personal ads in various magazines and newspapers published in LA. You wrote a letter and mailed it, and hoped for a reply in a few days, and maybe would go on a date. In retrospect I’m amazed I saved so much of this stuff, especially since, obviously, none of these contacts became a serious relationship. Out, out, now, into the trash — before any of my survivors paw through it after I’m gone.

It’s worth mentioning that I pursued ads like these because I never, more than once or twice ever, visited bars to meet people. Because I didn’t like the noise, and I hated the cigarette smoke (of that era). By the late ’80s or early ’90s the personal ads scene moved online, first to ‘bulletin boards,’ which were DOS based dial-ups (via the old modems that made those noises) that enabled a few or dozens of people to be logged in at any one time; you could browse profiles or ‘chat’ privately. The two I frequented were Delos and NoName. They were succeeded by AOL with its chat rooms, and then personals websites that are still around.

Personal Correspondence. There’s a companion folder of letters and cards from people I kept in touch with, or perhaps tried to date, over the years. Chuck A, from the CSUN on-campus gay group. Bruce O, whom I roommated with for one year. Larry K, whom I shared a house with for about a decade, and who now lives in Texas, and remains my oldest friend. Taro S, whom I dated a bit before he became too needy.

Even More Personal Correspondence. The last two and most personal (because slightly awkwardly embarrassing, not because of anything racy) folders are full of letters from two specific people that I kept in touch with for quite a while. The first was Ron Hardcastle, an older man (20 years older) who lived in one of a row of cottages on Wilshire Blvd. just east of Westwood, called The Grove, now long gone. We shared an interest in classical music, and he was interested in me, but I did not reciprocate, and he didn’t understand why. The second was Howard Faye, whom I met via one of those bulletin boards in the early ’90s. He was younger than me (by 7 years I think), very cute, smart and well-educated, but temporarily living back home with his parents (not far from where I was living in Granada Hills at the time). I was smitten. We met two or three times before he announced he was moving in with an older guy in Hollywood, Ken Rudolph, who owned a small special effects shop — and who coincidentally I had met myself via some ad some months before, and who couldn’t understand why I didn’t want to pursue anything. Then oddly, it seemed to me, Howard wanted to keep in touch and be friends. So we sorta did, seeing movies, traveling once to Chicago and another time to Seattle (to attend the local film festival). I grew uncomfortable with his relationship with Ken, whom I thought he was taking advantage of, and he cut me off. He had AIDS even when I first met him (that’s why he had moved back home with his parents), and he died in 1995. It was only quite by chance that I saw notice of his passing, on some online newsgroup.

I am doing no more than flipping very briefly through these stacks of letters. Not reading them. Throwing them out. They evoke precious memories that I want to remember fondly, without revisiting the difficult parts.

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