Adventures in Speerology #3

Patricia Rogers has been writing some wonderful posts about helping Ruth Speer sort through Jack’s fan stuff. Patricia sent me the newest installment on July 22, and I’m finally catching up. She’s attending the San Diego Comic-Con as I write. Here is her third installment of Adventures in Speerology:

Jack Speer was a very lucky man. I am just home from spending another wonderful afternoon with the charming Ruth. Now here is a woman who just lost her life companion, best friend, and beloved husband of 57 years. Yet even in her time of grieving she is the perfect hostess: full of life, quick to laugh, and exuding the very essence of joie de vivre. A pearl of great price.

We laughed so often in the 3½ hours I was there that even though I am exhausted from running a zillion errands today, Ruth’s laughter has energized me… Shouldn’t I be giving her my energy? Well, maybe it is mutual.

I told her of all your good wishes and comments on what I have written describing our forays into Jack’s ziggurat. I also gave her hard copies of Speerology 1 & 2 to read. Now I am the anxious student waiting to find out if I will get a passing grade on my term paper. I gave her veto power on anything I have written before it is committed to paper and asked her to please let me know if I have gotten anything – I used the word “wrong,” her more ladylike take was “interpreted incorrectly.”

Let me jump back to last night. While washing, packing, cleaning, and doing a myriad of other chores that needed doing in my home before I leave for San Diego early Wednesday, I would occasionally take a few moments out and sift though Jack’s 1938 envelope of photos. Some of these photos are very small – postage-stamp size. Ruth says that Jack enjoyed developing and printing them himself, which explains why there are multiple copies of some photos. The pictures are so small that after a while I found myself wandering back to my library/office in search of a loupe so I might better make out what was in them. One tiny landscape needed no magnifying glass to identify, though it did take my brain a moment to register what I was seeing; with a childlike smile I realized that here was a teensy-tinesy Munchkin-sized photo of the Emerald City. Dorothy and friends have just turned the last corner on the Yellow Brick Road and a breathtaking Emerald City looms before them. The first thing I thought was: “Oh look – Jack took a photo of The Wizard of Oz on the TV. All the problems with this statement quickly occurred to me and just as fast I remembered that the movie came out in 1939 and he must have been seeing it in a theater during its opening run. So I pictured our 19-year-old Jack seeing The Wizard of Oz for the first time and being so in awe of the futuristic design of the Emerald City that right then and there in the dark theater he pulled out his camera and took a photo of the screen. You can even see the outline of other moviegoers’ heads in the foreground. I feel like I know and like him all the better now because of this postage stamp image.

Another image also looked familiar, but took me a few more moments of thought to figure out with its strange spires, angles and shadows. Finally it hit me: here was a photo from a World of Tomorrow, the General Motors “Futurama” ride from the 1939 World’s Fair – Jack must have snapped the photo from the chair moving past the models. WOW! So now we have a photo from the time and place of the World Con in 1939! There must be more! There are some photos of individuals standing on what appears to be New York City street corners. Also, there are shots of lots of young men surrounded by paper and books. Maybe just maybe we are on the right track. Really, I will scan these for you when I get back… I promise. There will be prizes for anyone that can identify anybody in the photos… But remember these images are so very small!

I kidded with Ruth that here we have Jack taking photos of everything from The Wizard of Oz to the World’s Fair – surely there have to be World Con photos!!!! Unless Jack filed them separately… Always a possibility.

Speaking of filing: Ruth and I chatted for a long time and I mentioned Curt’s idea of taking documentary photos so we headed off to Jack’s office. I got down at the level of his chair and started snapping pictures of Jack’s office as he would have seen it every day. Ruth laughed and said “Wait, he would not have this (mundane) business paper out,” and we quickly got out his last mailing of Synapse. (Which by-the-way, Robert – Jack had opened and made a file for but had not started to work on yet. Ruth says he never worked on anything until the last possible moment.) I also started taking documentary photos of the myriad of filing cabinets.

After taking several dozen photos we headed to the garage and on the way I grabbed a few shots of the front hall and living room which are, in the words of my mother, “Company Ready.” Not a SF zine in sight. Oh, and I did ask Ruth to pose for a photo. She said, “But I’m not a Science Fiction Fan.” I came right back and said, “But you are a fan of Jack’s!” She laughed and with a soft smile said I had her there and she sat down for the camera.

Once we got to the garage I went right over to the wonderful pulp magazine area and I started opening a few envelopes to place the pulps out for aesthetic picture purposes. Of course the ones I picked up were completely different than those I had seen the other day. All I wanted to do was stop right then and there and open each and every one! But with great determination and strength of will I wrenched myself free after talking only a few photos.

Ruth and I went over to a wall of small file drawers (index card size). We started opening them to peruse the treasures inside – then the laughing started in earnest! Look, this drawer is full of old wallets, and this one is filled with old broken belts, broken eyeglasses in another… Have I mentioned that Jack never threw anything away? I liked the one full of SF pins, badges and name tags. There is more – like the one full of plastic coffee cups from the late 1960s, but also in there was what I am sure is a Bakelite red and black marbled holder that once held shaving cream circa 1910-1930. So like every good dig, there may be a mountain of oyster shells in your midden, but if you keep looking you may just find a perfect spear point.

We took lots and lots of photos amidst our laughter. I said I had better get some shots of the attic and Ruth asked for the camera so she could take photos of me on the way up. I started to climb and Ruth, standing below me with camera in hand, kept saying – “Just go up one more rung, OK, one more, well, maybe one more so they see your head going up into the dark.” I envisioned the classic Grand Canyon scenario: “No, really, Honey – just step back one more step.” I took some photos in the attic too and of the garage from that angle.

We dug around for a while longer in drawer after drawer of bill statements that had been paid 25 years past and ancient Christmas holiday giveaways in a festive card – small plastic devices that you could press into you checks like a notary seal that would protect your writing from fraud. There were a bunch of these from some fifty years back. I said to Ruth – “Well, now you are all set for next Christmas.”

To escape the heat of the garage we took a cool respite in the lovely green backyard which is complete with fountain and recently-added gazebo. Camera in hand I headed over to the shed to document the plethora of boxes housed there and some of the oh-so-water-damaged files.

Finally we went back into the living room and had another long chat and made a date for next Tuesday July 29 when I am back from Comic Con.

Ruth said during our afternoon conversations that – “Jack tied to squeeze every last bit out of life.” Not a bad thing to emulate… I am sure going to try to do the same.

-Patricia