Home Making and Working, Last Three Chapters

 


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Chapter XXIII, Ten Years Hence


Karl Shahoskoy is striding hesitantly beside a young man in a suit through a vast airplane hanger. Karl has thinned and stooped since you saw him last, yet somehow he strides. His hair has gone from white to gray; he is a little grungy. Karl's blue trousers are a little large, his blue nylon shirt open at the neck. The young man's suit is impeccable, conservatively fashioned for the time. As they walk Karl is bending his head toward him, at the same time reaching for him with the motion of his arms. Raise your eyes from them: the hanger is huge, a half a mile long by a quarter mile wide and high enough to hold a five-story building. The air space is empty, leaving spacious your view of gray glittery walls, girders, and ceilings. There is sometimes weather inside this building. The floor space is divided in to aisles and islands. The islands are made of parts of airplanes and spacecraft. They range in size and arrangement from small airplanes almost complete, to profuse and orderly congregations of small bins filled with tiny metal and plastic devices. This is the surplus store of a large aircraft company. The highly designed, highly machined, usually shiny flotsam of the aerospace industry. Spools of wire, spools of braided cable, all sizes, man-sized to watch-sized, intricately colored in patterns more precisely meaningful than the colors of Byzantine religious mosaics. Intricate claws of giant silver crayfish supported here in stereophony because they were built to execute their geometry somewhere without gravity or air. Bins of tiny digital electric parts, arrays of switches laid together in minimal space like the scales on a fish, each bin housing tiny squares that contain 64 times more switches than those in the bin to the left. These chips with their magic circuitry, tinier than the dust gathering on them, seem more laden with movement of meaning than their size or appearance justify, as if they are objects alloyed of physical and metaphysical constituents. But other objects are quite corporeal. There are tables of screws and bolts in a bewildering variety of sizes; metals, mostly aluminum, but also brass, copper, exotic fiber conglomerates; mysterious assemblies of pure design, fiber glass moldings with knobs, wires, bits of metal cast in and on them, blocks of machined aluminum, magnesium, and boron filament amalgams, optical devices, arrays of lenses an tubes, light flying through tiny threads and transmitted through wire video, and on an on through all the images of flight and weightlessness, binding fire, guiding electricity, leading light, tricking force anew and anew and anew.

As Karl and the young man in the suit go purposefully on, other men and a few women tread the aisles slowly, searching, circling, scanning the parts with meticulous speculation, looking for the piece to their puzzles. Has someone thought out their needs before, or chanced to build them a shiny stepping stone? An exit lane with a guide rail and a cash register on a table is lost at one end of this farmyard. The cash register is one more mechanism at one more table. The woman there, the top of her blond head, her arms in energetic gestures, in a blue smock, joking with the men, trying to cajole humanity from them, is Willy Goren's widow and Karl's lover. They are the only ones in this vast space talking with their hands, she painting the air before her customers, he reaching toward the young man in the suit.


"The people you see around us," Karl said, sweeping his hands to include the wanderers, then returning them to his companion's eyes, "they think they are sifting through junk for jewels. I don't see it that way. Of course it is like a junk yard and they can get parts cheap the way you can get parts cheap in an auto junk yard, but...", he paused, "this," he swept his hand again, “this is the material of the future, the very fabric of the future, whereas junk is the material of the past."


"Let me get this straight Mr. Shahoskoy, do you own or partly own all this equipment?"


"Oh, no," Karl shook his head. "You must excuse me if you have gotten that impression. We have a concession here, my partner and I."


"What is the concession?"


"Well, you see that is very difficult because no one knows the value of it. They deliver it here at a value established by taxes; they have written it off at a loss when they give it to me. They agree to provide us with $10,000 a month worth of things...but you see that number means nothing because it is what the tax accountant has left when she is done subtracting. And then we price things, and pay the $10,000 a month for the concession and a percentage of the receipts at the cash register, which diminishing in steps as the cash flow is greater."


"Is the price of the space in the cost of the concession?" the young man asked.


"Defense Aviation rents the space from Uncle Sam, as he used to be called, for a trivial sum."


"Has the IRS ever looked at your pricing?" the young man asked.


Karl laughed, "I'm afraid not." he said.


"Jesus," the young man said, "what about the Defense Contract Agency?"


"I don't think they'd care," Karl said


"That gives us a chance to create value." Karl was guiding him toward a small wooden building that stood beside the wall of the great hanger. "The first thing I do is go through what comes in and sift out what I know I can sell to various regular customers. 3/4 of our income used to come from that, but the proportion is diminishing."


He opened the door and they entered a littered room very much resembling the on-site office of a construction company. Two desks and heterogeneous shelving consumed the space, all covered with paper at a variety of angles, dominated by bills and invoices, but with a substrate of blueprints and other mechanical drawings. Karl rummaged up a thin sheet of aluminum about a foot wide and eighteen inches long, dully shiny on one side and covered on the other with pink lettering like the page of a book.


Karl held it low in front of him in a way that accented the stoop of his shoulders and asked, "Do you know what this is?"


"I can't say as I do," Mr. Shahoskoy.


"The airplane industry is the largest publisher in the world. A tremendous amount of printing supports each model of a plane; single copies of proposal are sometimes delivered in trucks; a modern fighter requires a small library for instruction and maintenance manuals. In the base it’s on computers, but it must be printed for the field. The printing is by offset, a process like making an etching. Until recently Al the printing, the thing that was etched, was on plates like this:" he held up the sheet of aluminum. The young man could see that it was a page with a diagram in pink mirror image on the dull silver. "In recent years the suppliers have developed plastic-coated paper that is cheaper and does the same thing."


Karl paused and linked his eyes with the young man, who was the loan officer of a bank near the house owned by his lover and partner, Goren's widow. There is now a species of squid or octopus that, in perverse regard for its mollusk ancestry, secretes a shell gradually over its arms so that it has to reach ever farther through the accumulating crust to touch the world and nourish itself. "Can you think of anything related to your business you might do with these?"


The young man in the fashionable suit shook his head.


Karl looked at him slyly. He had become sly. "Ah, well, you see there is a use," Karl dropped his gaze: "shingles."


Karl held out the sheet of aluminum to the banker, who took it, turned it over, felt its weight, texture, and flex.


"I know a man who roofed his house with them. It could be a fraction the cost of red cedar; it would last three times as long at least. They take nails beautifully. They are lighter than wood or tar paper and incombustible; a builder would be able to save money on lighter roof construction alone."


"If he could get the building inspector to swallow it," the banker said.


Karl felt ill for a moment.


"I wonder whether home buyers would accept it," the banker mused. "It doesn't look like roof."


"People have accepted aluminum siding. They could be painted. They could be painted to simulate wood grain."


"Defense Aviation owns a great number of these," he went on He shook one in the air; it emitted a metallic whooping. "They have always kept the ones they used, and I'm afraid their supplier took them; just before the paper plates came in he persuaded them to order an immense quantity for a bulk cost reduction."


"The supplier probably knew what was coming."


"Very likely," Karl said, "the man with his eye to technology always has an edge. They own about eight million unused plates. It is not clear how many used ones they own...it doesn't matter to our purpose, but maybe an equal number. Enough to shingle about 10,000 houses."


"And you have no capital, because Defense Aviation, or Uncle Sam, owns all this," the young man gestured through the construction office wall to the enormous shelter of glittering junk that surrounded them, "for tax reasons. And your partner is willing to mortgage her house, so you came to our bank."


“You have a keen business mind," Karl said.


"I hope I do, so do my depositors," he said. "What do you think you can get for them?"


"A Penny each," Karl said, "Do you remember pennies?"


"Have you thought about how you would retail them?"


""I wouldn't." Karl was glad he had asked. "I would approach a large developer. I have already approached the people who are now opening up the Owens valley."


"And leave the question of public acceptance to them?"


"Exactly," Karl said, "and large developers in new areas are in a better position to deal with problems in the building code...is there a building code in Owens Valley?"


"I'm afraid there probably is, and lots of local opposition to development, which could seize on a variance. I think that is your most serious problem, Mr. Shahoskoy."


"I'm sure if they understood the advantages, the advantage not only in roofing cost, but in waste disposal, to the whole system, they would come to embrace it."


"I'm game to spend some time talking with some knowledgeable people, Mr. Shahoskoy, That's the next thing I should do."


"I would be glad to talk to them. It happens I have considerable knowledge of innovative constructions techniques."


 "No, I think I'd better talk to them myself," he said.


 


Chapter XXIV, Twenty Five Years Hence

 


"What did you use to do?"


"I was a systems engineer."


I don't understand."


Silence.


"Did you have a home, Mr. Shahoskoy," Mrs. Peabody asked.


"I'm sorry, I was thinking of something, what did you ask?"


"Did you have a home, Mr. Shahoskoy?"


"Yes, sometimes. Why do you ask? Did you have a home?"


"Were you married, Mr. Shahoskoy?"


"You don't need to shout. I was thinking of something."


"Are you always thinking of something?"


"Yes. I was thinking of something."


"Were you married, Mr. Shahoskoy?"


"Yes, at one time."


"Did your wife pass on? I'm widowed myself, Mr. Shahoskoy."


"I'm sorry to hear that. I'm sure that's a terrible experience. My wife is alive; she divorced me."


"Did she understand what you did?"


"I'm not sure."


"I'm sorry to hear that. Do you ever see her?"


"No, I lived with another woman. We weren't married, if you see what I mean."


"Did she pass on?"


"No, she left too."


"Do you have any people, Mr. Shahoskoy?"


"My father died before I was a child, and my mother some time later. I had a sister."


"Do you have children?"


"Yes. Do you have any children, Mrs. Peabody?"


"No, that's a sorrow to me. Do you see your children often."


"I see them, but only one believes in me."


"Is that what you think about: the sorrow of old times?"


"No."


"What are you thinking of?"


"Of what's to be done"


"Of the future, Mr. Shahoskoy?"


"Of what's to be done."


"What's to be done?"


"Yes."


"Tell me what you're thinking of?"


"I can't."


"You can't?"


Silence.


"Mr. Shahoskoy?"


"I was thinking of something."


Silence.


"Tell me what's to be done?"


"I can't."


"Why not?"


"I'm afraid you wouldn't understand."


"You're a hard man to talk to, Mr. Shahoskoy."


Silence.

 

 

 



Chapter XXV: The Egg

Ms. McCraken, white, well-formed, in starch and hat, light hair, round face, not old, still moving, 50-60 years, coming again, not listening. Sunny room, sunny table, always. Sunfall on the table makes it blinding, warm. She has the egg. Always again at this time, sun or cloud, for me. Such a perfect form! Made in the gut of the chicken, no beginning, no seam, built over a skin-like sack as snow builds around space in icy air. One end larger than the other. How strong for a thin shell of brittle stuff! The mathematics of it! Ah, if men could build like that. If only they would understand and coöperate! Can I now? The knife handle in my hand; not so perfect a form the knife, no, not nearly. She is not watching. I strike it. Oh, no, spilled again.


-The End-


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