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1 The Necessity of Tomorrow(s) Anyone who spends any time at all in the community of SF writers, SF editors and publishers, interested academics, or among the highly enthusiastic SF readers who put on and attend the more than 70 annual SF conventions or publish the more than 300 SF fanzines that appear in the United States each year must from time to time ask: “What am I doing here?” But this is just to say we have all come here from somewhere else. An attempt to sketch out one lane along one of the many possible highways into the SF world, the following was first delivered as a talk at the Studio Museum in Harlem in New York City in November, 1978, a few streets from the three-story, red-brick building whose ground floor was once my father’s place of business and whose upper stories were my home till I was 15. At the south corner of the block was Mrs. Dade’s funeral parlor. Centered in the block north was Mr. Sterrit’s. Between was Levy and Delany ’s, my father’s funeral home. (Undertaker was a word he detested; he considered himself a funeral director.) When I was seven my father had the face of the building covered in red brick. Aluminum letters that stood out from the facade on little posts went up to replace the old sign—green neon letters in their tin shadow masks, the whole metal housing almost as big as I was. The workmen on their scaffold lowered it down over the door, first the L end, then the Y. Levy had died before I was born. Growing up with Levy and Delany, however, it was years before I thought to question why my father had kept the name of his former partner, whom he had later bought out. Originally friends, they had only briefly been in business together. (Years later my mother told me, laughingly: “Your father said he always owed Mr. Levy a great debt: he showed your father every way possible not to run a successful funeral business.”) Still, I wonder, with my father dead twenty years now, whether the two of them found an irony in the suggestion of the Jew and the Irishman running what, by the middle of the ’40s, was considered a 2 starboard wine rather swell Harlem funeral establishment. At any rate, the irony was misleading. Both were black men. Both owed their ethnic patronymics to the whites who had owned their parents, their great-grandparents. On our left was Mr. and Mrs. Onley’s grocery store, which the Onleys ran with their grown son Robbie. In summer, green wooden stands sat out under the awning, full of cabbages, carrots, green and red peppers— although what I remember far more clearly is the exotic autumn produce : bananas, kale, pomegranates, coconuts, sugar cane, mangoes. My childhood seems to have been continually punctuated with the refrain, “Would you run down to the store, Sam, and get me . . .” from my mother. After the few inevitable episodes of change accidentally dropped while lugging the brown paper bag back up the side steps to the kitchen, for several months, as Mrs. Onley stood implacably calm behind the counter in her alternating white, blue, or green smocks, my entreaty was an embarrassed and insistent: “Mrs. Onley, please don’t give the change to me. You just put it in the paper bag. That way I don’t have to even touch it so that upstairs they’ll get it all!” “No,” she would say, smiling. “You just take it in your hand and be careful.” On our right was Mr. Lockley’s Hosiary and Housepaint Store. Mr. Lockley was a thin man, slightly darker than wrapping paper, with white hair, a withered face, and a game leg I always used to wonder whether or not was hinged and wooden, like my cousin Jimmy’s. Jimmy had lost his in the Second World War and played a pretty good game of chess. As the years went on, running the store was taken over more and more by Mr. Lockley’s balding son, Albert, and his red-headed daughter-in-law, Minnie. In memory that space, always dim, seems to extend for blocks and blocks under the stamped tin ceiling and the first fluorescent lights in the neighborhood. Beside the narrow aisle, the square counter trays— the front ones of glass, those farther back in the store of wood...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780819572943
Related ISBN
9780819568847
MARC Record
OCLC
854968541
Pages
280
Launched on MUSE
2012-08-29
Language
English
Open Access
No
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