Tales from the attic

There are at least a half dozen boxes of file folders filled with something called “letters.” These are pieces of correspondence that people used to write with something called a “pen.”

This is possibly not true of some people, but I like being able to actually be able to FIND specific things in the attic. I don’t have patience rummaging through a dozen and half boxes.

So the area has been a source of frustration for the last three years. First, everything got put into one half of the attic, while the other part was being insulated by spray foam insulation contractors in Houston – First Defense Insulation. Then my wife wanted to paint the insulated half; while I still find that step unnecessary, it does look better. Six weeks of being able to at least get to stuff.

Then the other half had to be insulated, so all the stuff was jammed into the painted half. This process was interrupted by the need to get the roof replaced, a legit issue. But then the room remained undone, month after month, while the contractor dealt with a series of other people’s needs, some of their emergencies. But once it hit a year, I got irritated and asked him if he wanted us to find someone else. (I hardly dealt with him; he was my wife’s contractor for a number of years, and I was loath to interfere.) Once he did return to the room, we discovered the floor needed to be reinforced, and that’s actually a nice addition.

Finally, a full attic, accessible! Well, if you call the narrowest steps around a bend I’ve ever experienced “accessible.” A project for the future.

I care to get to things upstairs because I have two bookcases up there with books. Couldn’t reach them for too long a time; now I can! And now I must put more books in the attic since the shelving in the office is jam-packed.

There are at least a half dozen boxes of file folders filled with something called “letters.” These are pieces of correspondence that people used to write with something called a “pen”, or occasionally written using a device known as a “typewriter.” Based on something I read a long time ago, there are even copies of a few letters I wrote back; I used “carbon paper” when I typed or, usually, hand-printed, because my cursive tended to smear the copy.

I did discover some things I knew were up there but couldn’t get my hands on, such as a bunch of Beatles mono box CDs that got put in a box while painting; a bunch of FantaCo publications, helpful because I’m one of two guys indexing them; my stash of TV Guide season previews; the one box of comic magazines I inadvertently failed to sell when I dumped my collection in 1994, with Deadly Hands of Kung Fu, Rampaging Hulk, and Savage Sword of Conan; plus the comics I was buying but had all but stopped reading in 1992 and 1993.

While I got rid of some old bank statements. I kept wedding and funeral programs and the like because it’s the only way I can remember whether a particular event took place in 2005 or 2007.

Oh, and I’d give these away to people, even shipping them within the US (because that international postage has gotten outrageous): I have a cache of green and white buttons that have “Choose Peace” imprinted, vintage the period just before the Iraq war. I also have about five dozen copies of “And don’t call me a racist!” A treasury of quotes on the past, present, and future of the color line in America / Selected and arranged by Ella Mazel.

The process of sorting involved schlepping boxes downstairs because the attic is too hot after about 10 a.m. One Sunday, I was carrying a particularly large box from the second to the first floor when I dropped it. It broke open, sending a cascade of paper products down the stairs like a waterfall; it was, at the moment, actually quite impressive.

D is for Duplication; D is for Duplication

To this day, I have copies of correspondence from the 1970s and 1980s, back in the day when I used to write something called “letters.”

From here: “The stencil duplicator or mimeograph machine (often abbreviated to mimeo) is a low-cost printing press that works by forcing ink through a stencil onto paper. Mimeographs…were a common technology in printing small quantities, as in office work, classroom materials, and church bulletins. Early fanzines were printed in this technology because it was widespread and cheap. In the late 1960s, mimeographs… were gradually displaced by photocopying and offset printing.”

This is just one of many technologies I was not particularly good at. But my father, who usually did the bulletin even into the early 1970s at our church, Trinity AME Zion in Binghamton, NY, was excellent at typing the stencil, then wrapping it “around the ink-filled drum of the rotary machine.” When I attempted to do this, the stencil was always wrinkled, and the subsequent output of copies not particularly attractive.

A YouTube video of the Gestetner 180. My wife still remembers mimeos in her small rural school district as recently as the early 1980s.

Here’s something I did not know: “The word ‘mimeograph’ was first used by Albert Blake Dick when he licensed [Thomas] Edison’s patents in 1887.” The A.B. Dick Company of Chicago once owned the trademarked name, but “over time, the term became generic and is now an example of a genericized trademark.”

But what if you were going to write something, and you wanted to have one or two copies of it? From The Exciting History of Carbon Paper! “Carbon paper is thin paper coated with a mixture of wax and pigment, that is used between two sheets of ordinary paper to make one or more copies of an original document.”

To this day, I have copies of correspondence from the 1970s and 1980s, back in the day when I used to write something called “letters.”

Of course, the limitation of carbon paper was that it “could only produce copies of out-going correspondence…; if copies were needed of incoming documents, they still had to be copied by hand. This problem was not solved until the middle of the twentieth century when xerography became commercially available in the form of the photocopier… The invention of the photocopier began the decline in demand for carbon paper that has continued to the present day.”

Still, the terminology of making a “carbon copy”, or cc, has survived, in e-mails. One can even make a bcc, or blind carbon copy, with no wax and pigment required.

ABC Wednesday – Round 11

Two Letters

I’m thinking to myself, “You talk about me at work?”

When I was 22 or 23, I wrote my father a really nasty letter. I no longer recall what prompted this, though I’m sure he ticked me off in some way. Nor do I recall what was in it, except I’m sure there was something pointed about his spanking policy. I suppose my goal was to engage him, even angrily.

The results: he didn’t talk to me for six months. Any communication that took place went through my mother. But I should not have been surprised. My father’s modus operandi when angry was often to become like this black cloud, and he’d just shut down. One didn’t always know WHY he was upset, but you usually knew THAT he was upset. I was pained by this, and I hated having my mother in the middle of this triangulation.

So I wrote him another letter. I described how great he was, how much I appreciated him coming to school every semester to sing to my classmates. How much I liked singing with my sister Leslie and with him. How much I enjoyed going to minor league baseball games and exhibition pro football games with him. How much I really enjoyed playing cards – pinochle and bid whist in particular – with him. How much I enjoyed him cooking waffles on Saturday mornings, and spaghetti Saturday nights, especially during those six years he worked nights at IBM and we didn’t see him that much during the week. My father made a great spaghetti sauce; the secret is that he cooked it for hours.

Then my father started talking with me as though nothing had happened. For 50 years, we never spoke about the letters.

Now, I’m not recommending this. But I do think that it allowed me to vent my frustration with him and my love for him in a way my sisters did not have the opportunity to do. I talked with sister Leslie at length around her birthday, and she agrees with the theory. There were things she and our sister Marcia never said to him.

Not that there aren’t issues I still wish I could ask him about, such as his genealogy or his time in Europe after World War II. But I don’t think I had unstated FEELINGS left unsaid.

The bottom line is, ultimately, I think it helped our relationship. I remember one day when I needed to catch a plane back to Albany from Charlotte, NC. For some reason, peat – the stuff you burn – came up in discussion, and I, as was (is) my wont, went to the dictionary or encyclopedia to look it up. He said that he tells people at work that I’m prone to do that, in a way that made it seemed like a good thing. And I’m thinking to myself, “You talk about me at work?” I was floored. Pleased, but very surprised. He’d often given me the impression in the past that me, buried in some reference book, was somehow, for lack of a better word, nerdy.

Sidebar: if you wanted to get a ride from him to take you to the airport or train station, you needed to lie to him about the departure time. In fact, that particular day in question, if the rules of flight now were in place then, I’d have missed my plane altogether, rather than running through the airport and just catching the flight.

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