|LoneStarCon2 · The 55th World Science Fiction Convention · Monday, September 1, 1997|
I'd like to reassure Texas fen who may have feared that their adopted favorite son, Howard Waldrop, had disappeared forever into the wild forests of Washington state. Carrie Root and I had occasion to visit the Living National Treasure at his new home just three weeks ago, following a hot Saturday hike along the nearby Sauk river. We promised ourselves cold sodas at the general store where Howard lives, and set off to find him.
The Oso General Store features all the essentials for life in a small river town¬bait and licenses, food and feed caps, video rentals and lotto tickets. And naturally they had an espresso machine. We had toyed with the idea of telling the owner that we were on a pilgrimage to see the famous writer, but he didn't look like the kind of fellow who would suffer pretension gladly, so we just asked if Howard was around. The owner said he wasn't sure, but sent us to the back of the building.
When we got to the back of the store, there was an attractive little hut crammed right up against the side of the building. There was a simple wooden arch above the tiny fence which separated an equally tiny front garden from the parking lot, and suspended from the gateway arch was a sign that read "Little Reata." On the front door was another sign, this one hand-written, which read, as I recall, "NO, this is NOT the bathroom, you moron. How many bathrooms do you know that have doorbells? Keep going around back."
"This is the place," I said, and rang the bell. "Hey, H'ard, you in there?" The door opened and there he stood. He was shocked for a moment, then said "You got my letter."
I'm happy to reassure anyone who may have worried about Howard's self-imposed exile to the wilds of Washington that his surroundings are actually pretty nice. The whole place is only slightly larger than the average dorm room, but he has some comforts¬a small electric stove discarded by the Forest Service, a rope-frame bed for his futon, a VCR, and a TV (although there's no broadcast signal that he can pull in that far up in the mountains). His tiny office is decorated with prints of cover illustrations from his recent collections, several toy Zeppelins, and a model of the Oscar Meyer Weinermobile.
As we stepped inside he admonished me to watch out for his fly rods, and offered us each an Atomic Fireball candy from his stash. "I was happy to discover that they're just as hot as they used to be¬you'd think that they'd have toned them down for contemporary tastes." I had a sudden flash of a novel I was reading, Tim Powers' Expiration Date, in which one of the characters subsists entirely on tea brewed from Eat-em-and-Weeps, and found that Howard was right about the Atomic Fireballs¬they're still just about as hot as one can stand. I kept taking pulls from my Coke to keep my tongue from catching fire. He pointed to a cardboard box on the counter top in the kitchen. "People keep sending me care packages of stuff from Texas that they don't think we have here, spices, like paprika."
When we stopped laughing at that, he proceeded to narrate, with pictures, the entire history of the refurbishing and reconstruction of his cabin. Howard's little hut has been part of a larger remodeling project on the store, but much of the labor was his own. He can be justifiably proud of the work he's done; the place was a spider-farm when he moved in.
Of course, the real problem confronting Howard is the fishing. There were some bad slides during the winter, opening a lot of dust and soil to the air, and this gets washed into the river every time it rains or snows on top of the mountains. But the good news for the week was that he may have an American buyer for his latest collection, Going Home Again, which was published in a tiny-run edition by Eidolon Press of Australia this past spring.
When I asked him if he might be coming down to Seattle for the Labor Day party, he said "I'll come back into town when I get rich." So, do us a favor, and go buy a couple of his books, so we can see him without having to drive up to Oso.
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