Posts tagged ‘Carol Pohl’

Algis Budrys

Algis Budrys

Algis Budrys became my client within a matter of just months before, crippled by money troubles, I closed my literary agency’s door forever. I hadn’t really had enough time to position him in the kind of publications he deserved, but I had made a pretty good start. I had sold almost all of his backlog of science-fiction short stories and novelettes. I got him contracts for paperbound novels — not the genteel old-line kind of publishing house I had envisioned for him, but at least a step in a better direction. And then I turned him loose.

By then A J had begun to have a certain reputation. He negotiated a few contracts on his own, he got a film offer for one of them and successfully saw it through all the log-jams that lie between an expression of interest and an actual movie that people buy tickets to and then watch in a real motion-picture theater. It wasn’t big money, but it was a sign of success denied to almost all of his colleagues.

He didn’t abandon science fiction, because one of his best friends — me, that is — having jettisoned his literary agency, had become the editor of the Galaxy group of magazines. And, for the next couple of years almost every issue of my magazines had at least one Budrys story in it.

I should describe A J’s work habits, because they were a bit unusual. Every evening, after supper and perhaps an hour or so of television, AJ would fill a thermos with hot coffee, check his tape recorder to make sure the batteries were healthy and there was plenty of tape, kiss his wife, Edna, good night and then get into his car and drive away. Drive where? That didn’t matter because he wasn’t sightseeing. What he was doing, Scheherazade-like, was dictating a new story each night, though instead of into the impatient ears of a threatening sultan it went no farther than a spool of magnetic tape — at least, not until AJ got home sometime in that early morning, dumped the filled tape spools next to Edna’s typewriter and went cheerfully off to sleep. Edna was an excellent typist, so by the time A J shambled into the kitchen for breakfast around early afternoon, the manuscript was ready to be shown to an editor.

You must understand that by the words “an editor,” what I mean is me. The Budrys house in Monmouth County. New Jersey, was no more than a twenty-minute drive from mine, and on “story days,” the ones on which typing had produced a salable manuscript, A J, having phoned to make sure I was going into the office the next day, would bring in the story and sit in my third-floor office while I read it.

Truthfully, the act of reading A J’s stories was little more than a formality. I never rejected one. I had no reason to do so; AJ was hot. And the next morning I would pop the manuscript into my briefcase, along with anything else I wanted to buy and their purchase orders, take the Jersey Central train to New York and my little fraction of the offices of Bob Guinn, the man who owned Galaxy.

I had long ago convinced Bob that writers weren’t like printing-supply vendors. Each one had his own peculiar ways, and A J’s weird trait was punctuality. That is, he would give me first look at everything he wrote as long as he could get the check to pay for it the next day. So that’s what he got, By the time I got home for dinner AJ would be sitting in Carol’s kitchen, with a cup of her coffee in his hand, the other hand poised to accept the check.

It was, for both of us, a pretty smooth-running machine, most of the time.

 
(More to come.)

 
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Robert Silverberg, me and Betty Anne at ConJose in 2002. (Photo by Laurie  D.T. Mann.)

Robert Silverberg, me and Betty Anne at ConJose in 2002. (Photo by Laurie D.T. Mann.)

Robert Silverberg has been a good friend for a pile of years, but “good friend” doesn’t quite describe some of the more disconcerting parts of our friendship.

Along about the early 1960s, while I was just getting comfortable as the new editor of Galaxy and its companions, Bob Silverberg was sending me almost a story a month according to our agreement, and Earth was fair beneath our feet. Agberg, as he had taken to calling himself (Ag being the scientific abbreviation for “silver,” and if you don’t already know why that is, there’s no particular reason for me to burden you with it) seemed happy with our contract, as I knew I was, and it never seemed particularly spooky to me until I got another of those letters.

“Dear Fred,” it said, “have you noticed how your life and mine are playing a fugue across the calendar?”

They were, too. I bought a big house in Red Bank, New Jersey; Bob bought a bigger one in Riverdale, New York. My then wife, Carol, and I suffered one of the worst blows any couple has to live through when our first-born son died in infancy. Not long after Bob and Barbara Silverberg lost a newborn baby of their own.

Our home in Red Bank caught fire when a neglected electric blanket malfunctioned, and missed total destruction only because the local volunteer fire department happened to be holding its monthly membership meeting just then in their firehouse a couple of blocks away. And then the Silverberg house in Riverdale caught itself on fire and barely missed its own total destruction.

So Bob wrote me, “It’s obvious that every disaster in your lives is going to be copied by a facsimile in ours. So, Fred, here’s the thing. Will you be good enough to give us a little warning before the next catastrophe so we can get a head start in preparing for ours?”

 
As it happened, Carol and I weren’t intending — or experiencing — any significant life-style changes around then. Not true for Bob and Barbara, though. No sooner did they see the repair work completed on their house — and there was nothing “sooner” about it: you have no idea how drearily long it takes to put a partly burnt-out house back into the immaculate shape it had when you bought it; you couldn’t imagine how long unless you were unlucky enough to live through a rebuilding of your own. Anyway, no sooner did they get it done than they put the house on the market, found a buyer, and immediately changed their whole lifestyle. No more New York grandee. Now they were California sun worshippers, putting down new roots up in the hilly countryside across the Bay from San Francisco.

You understand that I’m not criticizing them, exactly. Indeed, I sometimes wonder why I didn’t pack up and move to California myself — or to Florida, or Hawaii, or maybe Tahiti. I mean, I’m a writer. I don’t have to go to an office. I can live anywhere, and I truly, bitterly, unforgivingly HATE cold weather. (Heat doesn’t bother me at all. I attribute this to having spent the first year of my life in the Panama Canal Zone, where heat is all you ever get, so you get used to it. But whatever the reason, come every Thanksgiving I begin berating myself for not moving to where you spend the holidays at 80 degrees instead of 8.)

I did, however, wonder what Bob and Bobby had traded in that fine Riverdale mansion in for. (Riverdale, remember. That’s actually a part of the Bronx, but you must never remind any Riverdalean that that is true. They may cry.)

I can’t say I really envied the Silverbobs their semi-palace. Any more rooms than the thirteen I already owned would have simply been showing off, and I had a full acre of land, with a pretty little river flowing along two sides of it, compared to their approximately two and a half square feet of grounds, bounded by city streets all over. But, ah, that library! Their house had been owned before them by a couple of New York celebrities, and although I’ve forgotten their names, they must have been great readers. The house’s library room was nearly the square footage of my living room and dining room combined, and it was two stories high! With bookshelves going floor to ceiling on every wall! And those roll-away stepladders everywhere, too, so if you wanted to read selections from half a dozen volumes you were probably going to be getting in your day’s exercise at the same time, too!

So you understand that I wanted to see what the Silverbobs had traded in that sort of high-tech bibliotechnology wonders for. That was easy enough to arrange. Next time I was on the West Coast on my publisher’s expense-account dollar I gave Bob a call. “Sure. Come on up and see us,” he said. “Don’t come in the main entrance, though. We’ll be in the pool. Go left about a hundred feet and there’s another entrance. We’ll let you in there.”

So I did as directed, and Bob did as promised, and there they were, Bobby and Bob and their very nice pool, about the same size as my own, but surrounded by much nicer plantings and in a much nicer climate and, when you came down to it, missing only one thing. Clothing, that was. The Silverbobs weren’t bothering with bathing suits that year. Didn’t need them, either. The two of them had those diet-watched, exercise-unskipped bodies that I — well, that I didn’t.

They invited me to join them for a dip, but I declined. It wasn’t modesty that made me say no. It was mostly that I just wanted to get back on the bars and the rowing machines for a while first.

 
A while later my wife Carol and I agreed to disagree and she left the big old house on Front Street for diggings of her own. When I mentioned this to Bob in a letter he replied, “Huh. You starting up that fugue thing again? Bobby moved into her own place a week ago.”

It’s all right, though. I promised Bob I wouldn’t do anything like dying, going bankrupt or contracting a loathsome disease with first warning him, And so far I haven’t.

 
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Robert Silverberg

Jack Gillespie

Jack Gillespie

Jack Gillespie was the shortest of the Futurians and the most likely to be up for any fun idea anyone had.

Jack’s parents were divorced. He lived with his mother, a devotee of, among other composers, Richard Wagner. His father ran a trucking service with an unwonted record of having merchandise fall off the backs of the trucks, so Jack always had plenty of cigarettes and Milky Ways.

Jack and I, having nothing much to do and plenty of time to do it in, would sometimes begin to write three-act plays, and sometimes kill a weekend by hitchhiking to, say, Washington, where my Uncle Les was a motorcycle cop and sometimes was reasonably glad to see us.

During the war, Jack went his own idiosyncratic way: no uniformed service; instead, he joined the Merchant Marine. He survived the U-boat menace, and after the war married a startlingly beautiful blonde girl named Lois Miles, a former schoolmate of my wife Carol, and then moved to Pennsylvania because that’s where the jobs he wanted were.

We exchanged letters in regard to a number of little-known American poets for a while. But then we pretty much lost touch.

Grandma Judy

Grandma Judy

In the 1970s, both Judy and I had become active in Canadian television, Judy as the person who handled Dr. Who for Ontario Television, me as a sort of all-purpose guest correspondent for the Canadian Broadcasting Company’s coverage of the American space doings, ending with the CBC’s coverage of the rendezvous in orbit of the Soviet Soyuz spacecraft and the American Apollo.

Things reached a point with Judy where I could do something for her. The Ontario TV authorities were getting difficult. Dr. Who had been sold to them as science fiction under the general principle that science fiction was educational and therefore good for children to watch. Educational authorities, though, were up in arms to say that such claims were ridiculous. Dr. Who wasn’t science. It was silly garbage, and it should be off the air.

And what Judy wanted to know was, “Listen, Fred, you’re pretty good at that space-program science talk. If we gave you time, is there anything you could say that would make Dr. Who sound a little more sciency?”

I thought that was a pretty funny request. I had also, for some time, been spending a lot of my time defending sf in general as healthy for people to watch. True, Dr. Who was a pretty marginal case. But you could find scientific lessons in almost any fantasy story once you allowed quantum reality to be defined as scientific, and I wrote a number of comments-on-the-air for Judy’s shows, and the problem passed.

 
It wasn’t just the opportunities for working together that brought Judy and me together at last. Most of all it was our growing number of descendants. Our daughter Ann had gone and grown up, and she had married a Canadian named Walter Weary, with whom she had two children, Tobias, who is now an excellent chef, with children of his own, and Emily, the granddaughter who won the Hugo Award.

After that marriage tanked, Ann married Juan Miranda, an Argentinean immigrant to Canada who was a high-tech electronics engineer. The reason he left Argentina for Canada is that Argentina had fallen under the rule of the brutally murderous “colonels,” who formed the habit of picking up people who criticized them on the street, torturing them, then murdering them and burying them in unmarked graves so their families could not even have the satisfaction of being sure whether they were dead or alive. Juan himself had been picked up by the death squads. But it was just at the end of their power. Legitimate law officials were arresting them and releasing their prisoners. Whereupon Juan very sensibly decided to get the hell out of Argentina. (His elder brother was less lucky. He had been picked up a year or so earlier and was never seen again.)

Anyway, Juan Miranda was one of my favorite sons-in-law of all time. He was smart, he was funny, he was crazy about Ann, and with her help, he gave us two more grandkids, Julia and Daniel. Judy was fond of him, too. Every time I (or, more frequently, Carol and I) managed to get to Annie’s house to view our descendants, Judy did her best to get there too.

Judy and I had one trait that united us. At the time, she and I were both unregenerate heavy smokers. Nobody else in our families was. When we needed a fix, what we did was go out on the front porch, light up, and spend half an hour chatting about things in general. You know. Like old friends do.

 
Part of that ended when Annie’s last marriage ended, and she moved way to the Atlantic Maritime Provinces of Canada. Then Judy’s health began to fail. She got really sick. And then, in 1997, she died.

I am pleased that, at the end of the last time I saw her, she gave me a hug. Do you know that it’s possible to have happy endings, at least reasonably happy ones, in the real world, too?

 
Related posts:
Judith Merril, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8

flames

Cyril Kornbluth’s death came as a very bad thing that had suddenly happened to all of us, but it wasn’t really a surprise. Cyril’s doctors had told him, definitely and explicitly, that his heart had been worn out in the Bulge. It was barely able to continue to pump blood around its system.

It wouldn’t go on doing it, either, unless Cyril made some revolutionary changes in his lifestyle. Step One: no more cigarettes, coffee or alcohol — ever — for the rest of his life. Very, very limited amounts of spicy foods, and even more limited amounts of salt. Any deviation from any of this, ever, would have about the same effect as putting a gun to his temple and pulling the trigger. He would very quickly die.

Cyril took what the doctor told him seriously. He even tried to follow the doctor’s orders. When he came out for a brief stay with Carol and me, Carol baked him salt-free bread and cooked him fully dietary meals. Cyril ate them, without showing any signs of pleasure — I could see why, because I had tasted them for myself.

We didn’t do any writing, though. We didn’t even do any talking about writing. When I tried to get something going by showing him a section from my current work that I wasn’t feeling good about, Cyril took the pages from me and scanned them. Then he handed them back to me. “Needs salt,” he said.

And he went home, but, of course, Cyril just couldn’t live that way.

He stuck it out as long as he could, perhaps as long as a couple of months, and then he decided that he’d rather be dead than living like that. So back came the booze and the cigarettes and the salt shaker and all the other things that made Cyril’s life worth living and sure enough, next thing you know, his limbs were jerking and his eyes were rolled up in his head and he was busily dying on the train station platform.

 
All right. End of story for Cyril. The new major characters were Mary and the boys.

Cyril and I had had our ups and downs, but we had been through too much together for me to even consider walking away from their needs. I got dressed and jumped in the car and drove, as fast I could, through the hundred miles or so of rush-hour traffic between Red Bank and Levittown. Mary was waiting for me at the door, quite distraught — but, blessedly, sober.

First thing, we had to decide what on that list most urgently needed doing. There were a lot of contenders for the top need. She needed money for buying stuff, mostly food, for the kids and herself that day. They needed money, lots of it, to keep on providing for herself and the kids for the rest of their lives.

They needed to know what to do with Cyril’s corpse, which was, if I remember correctly, at that moment in the back of a station wagon borrowed from somebody in the Levittown Fire Department and parked at the curb in front of the house. They needed to know if there were documents to file, as there surely were, to properly record the fact that Cyril was now one with the ages.

That wasn’t the end of the urgent needs, but it was sort of at least the end of the easiest ones. We had some big, big breaks. What I had been dreading as the toughest of problems to deal with turned out to be the easiest. Mary wasn’t the first widow of a GI to fine herself in exactly that situation. She might’ve been about the one millionth. The government itself had set up the Veterans Administration to make sure that everything a veteran needed was available to give and, since negotiating with even a friendly government agency can curdle your blood, a horde of new veterans’ organizations produced a ton of smart, energetic, can-do volunteers to get the widows and orphans all the help they needed.

“What you’re entitled to, Mrs. Kornbluth, is so much for yourself and so much for each of your sons. It takes a little while to get started, though. Do you need money right now? Of course you do. There’s a special emergency lump-sum package we can get for you. I’ll start on that right away.”

They were, in short, wonderful. They almost made me cancel my intention to never join the beer-bellies of any veterans organization. But not quite.

The last disposition we had to deal with that day was Cyril himself. Happened my maternal grandfather, that bald and stone-deaf old man who had lived with us for part of the last years of his life, had been cremated near by. I checked some addresses and made a few calls.

And then Mary and I went to the front door of the crematorium, the station wagon with Cyril’s body tagging along behind. Somebody took the wagon and Cyril to the back entrance, while Mary and I were seated in a small auditorium, maybe fifteen or twenty seats, facing a drawn curtain. Music was playing. It didn’t take long. The drawn curtain rolled back. There was Cyril, looking very grave but otherwise about as he always looked, in a shirt, tie and jacket in one of those cardboard “coffins” they use for cremations.

They gave us a few minutes to look at him. Then Cyril and his casket began to roll away, into a pair of double doors that had rolled open behind him. I think we actually saw flames. I know we definitely felt heat. Then the double doors closed and the curtain came back down, and that was the last I ever saw of Cyril.

At some point Mary got a cardboard carton, not unlike the packaging that your milk comes in from the supermarket, that contained Cyril’s ashes. I don’t know what she did with them.

Part 3 coming up soon

 
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Unfortunately, by the time Judy’s novel came out, the stresses in our marriage were growing, and Judy and I were clearly finally heading toward a (hopefully civilized) divorce.

Before we reached that point, though, we still had a few good years. It looked as though, at whatever cost to our conflicting principles, we were able to function as married people and parents, and so we do what couples like us always did at that period in American life. We began thinking about buying a house.

So we spent quite a few weekends roaming around, mostly Southern Connecticut, northern New Jersey, western Long Island and so on. Judy picked the ads out of the newspaper listings, but there wasn’t much — at a price we could afford.

But Inga Pratt saved us. We had been spending occasional weekends at the giant house Fletcher and Inga Pratt owned, and called the Ipsy-Wipsy Institute, on the Jersey shore. When Judy mentioned that we’d been house-hunting she said, “I know of some places. Want to go for a ride?”

We did.

It took Inga a little while, but she came through. She drove us to 386 West Front Street in the part of Middletown Township called River Plaza (though it always had a Red Bank mailing address), and there it was. Thirteen rooms. On an acre of land, with twelve or fifteen great trees. Surrounded on two sides by a pretty good-looking river, with a beautiful broad porch on those sides so you could sit and watch the river. Or play ping-pong, or have parties or whatever, because that was one fine porch. We could even afford it, because it was astonishingly cheap — though that didn’t matter much because I was a veteran and thus entitled to, among many other things, mortgage guarantees.

True, it did have a few little problems and quirks — problems like it was eighty or ninety years old and was going to represent a steady drain of payments for repairs and maintenance, quirks like it had nine bedrooms and each one had a lock on the door, this I think because of the fact that in World War II it had been a whorehouse for the GIs in Fort Monmouth.

We bought it, and began moving in.

I have to say that, in spite of probable sooner or later marital discords and what were a few newly worrying financial concerns, I loved the house. I had a great sun-drenched, third-floor room, overlooking the trees, lawn and river, for an office, with one just like it that wound up as Cyril’s.

Red Bank was a useful little town, too. It was across the river, but the bridge was right at the foot of our property, so it was about a ten- minute walk to the railroad or bus stations, about fifteen or twenty to Red Bank’s stores, rather decent public library, movie theaters and, say, McDonalds. There was no reason we couldn’t live quite happily there.

 
Well, one reason. Judy no longer wanted to be married, at least to me, and then time came when she wanted me to move out. The children? Oh, they would stay with her.

I didn’t know then, and don’t know now. what the precipitating thing was that moved her to that point. I don’t think she had taken up with Walter Miller yet, and if there was any other significant man, I didn’t know it. But, of course, the signs were beginning to multiply. We had simply stopped getting along very well.

Should I have refused to leave? I don’t know. Anyway, I didn’t. I left.

The next year or so of Judy’s life, I can’t write about very well because I was little involved

As for me, it wasn’t all bad. I took an apartment around the East 14th Street neighborhood in New York and lived my life. This included meeting, and a few years later, marrying, my fourth wife, Carol Metcalf Ulf Stanton, who at the time we met was married to my good friend L. Jerome Stanton. I’ll tell you all about them, but this isn’t their story or, for that matter, mine.

It’s Judy’s, and in Judy’s life the next significant thing that happened that I know of was that one day she offered to move out of the house and sell it to me.

To be continued.

 
Related posts:
Judith Merril, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9