A Remembrance of Harold Taves
& about Hannes Bok

Jessica Amanda Salmonson

   

I was asked if the following clues meant anything to me & did I know who Max was talking about:

> In the early 80's there was a really dirty and depressing book store in 
> Seattle's  U District in an alley.  The owner was a weird middle aged
> eccentric closed-mouth type who played classical music stations
> as well as his own classical recordings on some really good speakers.
> He favored Beethoven and Berlioz  —  loud.  Portions of Symphony 
> Fantastique could dislodge books from the upper shelves.   As I recall, 
> he kept a couple of big villianous-looking dogs to stare down his 
> infrequent customers. Since I was half-in-the-bag anyway and only 
> looking for reading copies I did not let the decor or attitude get to 
> me but instead matched it point for point as a matter of pride.   I am 
> planning a trip to Seattle this spring sometime & I would like 
> to check out this store again (nostalgia?) but since I am sober
> nowadays I am not sure that I could find it again.  Any Ideas from
> these clues?  -Max 
And suddenly I was overwhelmed with remembrances & answered as follows.


Middle aged? Harold Taves must've been about 70 by then. You must've been visiting him near the end of his life, as he's been gone a good long while now. In his youth he'd been lovers with the fantasy illustrator Hannes Bok, & was a storehouse of tales of gay s-f fandom in the pulp era when nobody dared be "out" except to each other. You can track that circle by tracking who used to pester Clark Ashton Smith — they all wrote articles about Smith — who was not only a totally hetero bachelor but something of a local Don Juan, so must've wondered why all these faggots seemed to be his sole fan base. I even saw a picture of Smith taking a piss cuz one of these young men couldn't resist taking a photograph of his pecker. Not all Taves/Bok circle were gay — they were buddies with Ray Bradbury for instance — but all had to be at least gay-friendly. Smith was known to gripe about all the poofs visiting him, but seems he was glad of the company while they were there. Ultra-queeny August Derleth was also significant in this circle. Some in this circle are still living in their 80s or 90s!

When Harold Taves realized I was an obsessive fan of vintage horror & fantasy, he took a great liking to me. And after he saw me with some cute butch girlfriends, he started telling me about s-f fandom's old gay underground & his adventures with Bok, with Emil Petaja, & sundry others.

I have a vivid memory of the day he decided to "come out" to me. He said, "Come sit here Jessica I wanna show you something," & he began thumbing through his private stash of classical sheet music, pulling out some drawings & sketches & setting them in front of me. I was flabberghasted. I said, "These are Hannes Bok originals! Do you know what these are worth Harold?"

He knew.

"We were lovers," he said. "I've got lots of his stuff still."

That was the first time he told me tales of The Good Old Days when every "invert" pulp writer thought Harold was about the cutest thing they'd ever laid eyes on — or just laid. I sat petting the doberman & staring in awe. Harold concluded that first "contact" with his his history thus: "And you thought I was just a crazy old fart sitting in an alley bookshop, someone who'd never done a thing in his whole godforsaken life."

"No, no, I never thought that!"

Well, maybe.

Harold & Bok lived together in New York when they were young, & a few other places here in there, California for a while, but both were from the Seattle area & that's where Harold eventually returned. And everywhere they went they became the center of the local "gay fandom" including whoever were the weird pulp magazine authors & artists & lettercolumnists (several of the old weird & sf pulps had extensive lettercols wherein s-f fandom really originated). He always promised to introduce me to an old woman, Gladys, who was the oldest of old-time-dykes, & was a Weird Tales fan from way back. She'd evidently become the type of recluse who never leaves her house & never lets anyone but a couple trusted friends inside. She died before Harold could convince her it'd be safe to have me over, alas. For a while there, though, a terrible greed was stirring in my mind, what if I won over some elderly dyke with a huge collection of pulp magazines, & she left 'em to me in a will! Bad me.

Harold was an intelligent & very kind man & several booksellers adored him & spoke well of his long history of bookselling & assisting him now & then when they could. They didn't necessarily speak well of his choice of male companions who tended to be quite troubled fellows or at least severe drunks. One of the craziest bookstore haunters in the city, an old loony who dressed like a classical boyscout, had been in the Bok/Taves circle when a young beauty — he was someone whom unfaithful Bok had frequently laid & Harold just had to put up with Bok's non-monogamous habits. But most of the local booksellers knew him only as this old nutcase in boyscout knickers who wanders in asking lasciviously, "Got any boy scout books for me today, heh heh, ohboy, yumyum." Apparently he gave the creeps even to his peers in that early f/sf fandom, but since Bok liked him that was that, & Harold remained the weirdo's final friend.

Harold had previously run much better organized & better positioned shops than his last one in an alley's converted garage. It dawned on me I'd been in one of his earlier shops when I was a teenager, but had never really noticed him individually until he had The Alley Cat, by which time old age had made him increasingly eccentric about how he ran a store. And yes, his shop was nasty. He first of all loved animals but didn't love cleaning up after them all that well. Some of the very rare & remarkable books he brought from home to his shop, they'd have water damage from his leaky roof, or they would be stained with monkey shit, I kid you not, he had a monkey living loose in his leaky old mansion. His big smelly slobbery dog had also never had a bath in its life. And Harold was a soft-touch for down-&-out young men — he provided a free place on the floor of his tiny shed of a shop for the random alcoholic youth to sleep on cold nights. So until the store aired out, it could smell much worse than any old dog.

If one knew him well he was extremely likeable, despite the unimaginable messiness of the store wherein he sat beside his enormous stinky slobbery doberman, watching some tv show turned up loud enough for an old deaf guy to hear, or playing his classical albums at annoying decibal levels. So of course many people never wanted to return to that store & his stock was not well-picked-through. He was still pricing books as they were priced twenty years earlier. And often had truly great stuff dragged from his crumbling mansion near Wallingford, like a set of M. P. Shiel's books, some of Shiel's rarest items, that had been autographed & sent to Harold as gifts from Shiel himself. I would most certainly trust Harold's taste whenever he said, "You should buy this right now" which is how I got my copy of Henrietta Weaver's rare fantasy collection The Flame & the Shadow Eater, 1917.

I had several times imposed on Harold to tell me his tales of faggoty old writers, plus I had bought some Shiel from him. So one day without prelude or warning, he brought his Shiel letters from home & sat me down to read them. "These might interest you," is all he said. And I sat with mouth agape, as I'd had no idea Shiel even "swung that way" let alone would carry on such a self-pitying correspondence with anyone I personally knew. These letters were whiny, lonesome, & rather horny in tone with Shiel begging a cute young Harold to please oh god please write me again.

One of the young alcoholics who hung around Harold for a free place to stay seemed legitimately to fall in love with the lucky old coot. Being a cynic myself I thought the fellow was taking advantage of Harold who after all did own that big tumble-down real estate that was becoming an eyesore in the midst of one of Seattle's two or three most upscale neighborhoods. But the fellow attempted his level best to assist around the shop, incompetent though his "best" turned out to be. And if you could ever catch him sober after a bath, he really was an attractive fellow & very sweet, though intellectually vacant. But I chanced to overhear a tragedy that made me realize this fellow really deeply cared about Harold, & I guess it wasn't that strange that he would do so, Harold having had such a remarkable personal history & awfully kindhearted once you broke through his defensive veneer or get over a personal prejudice that strange old guys are icky.

I became witness to the following emergency. For decades Harold had not been paying his property taxes & was about to lose his house. I was in the store when his young companion was on the phone calling his own family members for help. He had tears streaming down his face, saying, "But dad, it isn't for me, I know I don't deserve any of your help, but Harold's going to lose the house, you've gotta help Harold."


Because first impressions were so bad, along with the odor of the shop, many people would not stay in The Alley Cat long enough to find the interesting books, nor ever return a second time, so I got first-dibs on tons of stuff (& when he closed the shop, I got everything that remained as I & my girlfriend at that time had a shop of our own). For vintage fantasy & s-f, his shop fed my personal collection wonderful rarities that cost about what I could afford, which was next to nothing. I would mention an author I was after & no matter how obscure Harold would say, "I think I've got some of that writer at home, I'll bring some in for you." It might take him a whole year to get around to it, but he wouldn't forget, & eventually I'd wander in & he'd say, "Brought these in for ya," & would hand me some massively rare item by Beatarice Grimshaw or the like, books I never expected to see, let alone for a price I was able to afford.

Harold was a great old chap really & I was lucky to get to know him. I wish I'd taken notes after each conversation, as there was a big Gay History of Early Science Fiction Fandom in him that is now mostly lost. When he was telling it to me I knew it was important history, but I was still young enough to foolishly believe my own memory would never fade, so of course I've forgotten much more than I've remembered of Harold's biographical revelations. The last time I saw him, long after he'd closed the Alley Cat & sold me the last of his stock, he was on the University to Wallingford bus with his doberman. He said, "Hi Jessica," I said. "Harold! Did you get through that financial crisis okay & save the house?" "I did." "Great. I'll drop by your house sometime if you don't mind." "That would be fine."

Of course I failed to find the time & next thing I knew his name was in the obits. So take this as a warning to each of you who've ever promised to drop by my place to visit, but never actually found the time. I'm not going to be around forever you goofs, & someday the best you'll be able to do is write up a memoir of how eccentric but rather likeable I'd been in life.

   

Addendum, from Heather Hughes:

Dear Jessica,

I just read your essay on Harold Taves.

I grew up onİthe Ave & Harold was wonderful to me as a young girl.İ I was just asking my mother about him yesterday & she reminded me about so many things I had forgotten.İ One of the nicest things he ever did was to follow me out of the store when I was about ten (Miss Cutt's bookstore) & give me the book I had been obsessively reading for days.İ I asked him if that was stealing, & he said something to the effect thatİit was impossible to steal a book if you really needed to read it.

Thanks for the reminder,
Heather

PS: When I was a child he carried the monkey everywhere on his shoulder.




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