From "A Place So Foreign and Eight More," a short story collection published in
September, 2003 by Four Walls Eight Windows Press (ISBN 1568582862). See
http://craphound.com/place for more.
Originally Published in Science Fiction Age, March 1998
* Northern Suns
(Tor, 1999, David Hartwell and Glenn Grant, editors)
* Year's Best Science Fiction XVI
(Morrow, 1999, Gardner Dozois, editor)
* Hayakawa Science Fiction Magazine (Japan)
"Like most aliens-mingling-with-human-society stories, Doctorow's story serves
mostly to hold a mirror up to human nature, but the odd corner of human nature
it examines is fascinating, and the story is smoothly and expertly written, with
some good detail and local color and some shrewd insights into human nature and
human culture, and an almost Bradburian vein of rich nostalgia running through
it (although the nostalgia is quirky enough that perhaps it might more usefully
be compared to R.A. Lafferty or Terry Bisson than to Bradbury)."
- Gardner Dozois
Editor, Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine
Blurbs and quotes:
* Cory Doctorow straps on his miner's helmet and takes you deep into the
caverns and underground rivers of Pop Culture, here filtered through SF-coloured
- Neil Gaiman
Author of American Gods and Sandman
* Few writers boggle my sense of reality as much as Cory Doctorow. His vision
is so far out there, you'll need your GPS to find your way back.
- David Marusek
Winner of the Theodore Sturgeon Award, Nebula Award nominee
* Cory Doctorow is one of our best new writers: smart, daring, savvy,
entertaining, ambitious, plugged-in, and as good a guide to the wired world of
the twenty-first century that stretches out before us as you're going to find.
- Gardner Dozois
Editor, Asimov's SF
* He sparkles! He fizzes! He does backflips and breaks the furniture! Science
fiction needs Cory Doctorow!
- Bruce Sterling
Author of The Hacker Crackdown and Distraction
* Cory Doctorow strafes the senses with a geekspeedfreak explosion of gomi kings
with heart, weirdass shapeshifters from Pleasure Island and jumping automotive
jazz joints. If this is Canadian science fiction, give me more.
- Nalo Hopkinson
Author of Midnight Robber and Brown Girl in the Ring
* Cory Doctorow is the future of science fiction. An nth-generation hybrid of
the best of Greg Bear, Rudy Rucker, Bruce Sterling and Groucho Marx, Doctorow
composes stories that are as BPM-stuffed as techno music, as idea-rich as the
latest issue of NEW SCIENTIST, and as funny as humanity's efforts to improve
itself. Utopian, insightful, somehow simultaneously ironic and heartfelt, these
nine tales will upgrade your basal metabolism, overwrite your cortex with new
and efficient subroutines and generally improve your life to the point where
you'll wonder how you ever got along with them. Really, you should need a
prescription to ingest this book. Out of all the glittering crap life and our
society hands us, craphound supreme Doctorow has managed to fashion some
- Paul Di Filippo
Author of The Steampunk Trilogy
* As scary as the future, and twice as funny. In this eclectic and electric
collection Doctorow strikes sparks off today to illuminate tomorrow, which is
what SF is supposed to do. And nobody does it better.
- Terry Bisson
Author of Bears Discover Fire
A note about this story
This story is from my collection, "A Place So Foreign and Eight More," published
by Four Walls Eight Windows Press in September, 2003, ISBN 1568582862. I've
released this story, along with five others, under the terms of a Creative
Commons license that gives you, the reader, a bunch of rights that copyright
normally reserves for me, the creator.
I recently did the same thing with the entire text of my novel, "Down and Out in
the Magic Kingdom" (http://craphound.com/down), and it was an unmitigated
success. Hundreds of thousands of people downloaded the book -- good news -- and
thousands of people bought the book -- also good news. It turns out that, as
near as anyone can tell, distributing free electronic versions of books is a
great way to sell more of the paper editions, while simultaneously getting the
book into the hands of readers who would otherwise not be exposed to my work.
I still don't know how it is artists will earn a living in the age of the
Internet, but I remain convinced that the way to find out is to do basic
science: that is, to do stuff and observe the outcome. That's what I'm doing
here. The thing to remember is that the very *worst* thing you can do to me as
an artist is to not read my work -- to let it languish in obscurity and
disappear from posterity. Most of the fiction I grew up on is out-of-print, and
this is doubly true for the short stories. Losing a couple bucks to people who
would have bought the book save for the availability of the free electronic text
is no big deal, at least when compared to the horror that is being irrelevant
and unread. And luckily for me, it appears that giving away the text for free
gets me more paying customers than it loses me.
You can find the canonical version of this file at
If you'd like to convert this file to some other format and distribute it, you
have my permission, provided that:
* You don't charge money for the distribution
* You keep the entire text intact, including this notice, the license below, and
the metadata at the end of the file
* You don't use a file-format that has "DRM" or "copy-protection" or any other
form of use-restriction turned on
If you'd like, you can advertise the existence of your edition by posting a link
to it at http://craphound.com/place/000012.php
Here's a summary of the license:
Attribution. The licensor permits others to copy, distribute,
display, and perform the work. In return, licensees must give the
original author credit.
No Derivative Works. The licensor permits others to copy,
distribute, display and perform only unaltered copies of the work
-- not derivative works based on it.
Noncommercial. The licensor permits others to copy, distribute,
display, and perform the work. In return, licensees may not use
the work for commercial purposes -- unless they get the
And here's the license itself:
THE WORK (AS DEFINED BELOW) IS PROVIDED UNDER THE TERMS OF THIS
CREATIVE COMMONS PUBLIC LICENSE ("CCPL" OR "LICENSE"). THE WORK
IS PROTECTED BY COPYRIGHT AND/OR OTHER APPLICABLE LAW. ANY USE OF
THE WORK OTHER THAN AS AUTHORIZED UNDER THIS LICENSE IS
BY EXERCISING ANY RIGHTS TO THE WORK PROVIDED HERE, YOU ACCEPT
AND AGREE TO BE BOUND BY THE TERMS OF THIS LICENSE. THE LICENSOR
GRANTS YOU THE RIGHTS CONTAINED HERE IN CONSIDERATION OF YOUR
ACCEPTANCE OF SUCH TERMS AND CONDITIONS.
a. "Collective Work" means a work, such as a periodical issue,
anthology or encyclopedia, in which the Work in its entirety in
unmodified form, along with a number of other contributions,
constituting separate and independent works in themselves, are
assembled into a collective whole. A work that constitutes a
Collective Work will not be considered a Derivative Work (as
defined below) for the purposes of this License.
b. "Derivative Work" means a work based upon the Work or upon the
Work and other pre-existing works, such as a translation, musical
arrangement, dramatization, fictionalization, motion picture
version, sound recording, art reproduction, abridgment,
condensation, or any other form in which the Work may be recast,
transformed, or adapted, except that a work that constitutes a
Collective Work will not be considered a Derivative Work for the
purpose of this License.
c. "Licensor" means the individual or entity that offers the Work
under the terms of this License.
d. "Original Author" means the individual or entity who created
e. "Work" means the copyrightable work of authorship offered
under the terms of this License.
f. "You" means an individual or entity exercising rights under
this License who has not previously violated the terms of this
License with respect to the Work, or who has received express
permission from the Licensor to exercise rights under this
License despite a previous violation.
2. Fair Use Rights. Nothing in this license is intended to
reduce, limit, or restrict any rights arising from fair use,
first sale or other limitations on the exclusive rights of the
copyright owner under copyright law or other applicable laws.
3. License Grant. Subject to the terms and conditions of this
License, Licensor hereby grants You a worldwide, royalty-free,
non-exclusive, perpetual (for the duration of the applicable
copyright) license to exercise the rights in the Work as stated
a. to reproduce the Work, to incorporate the Work into one or
more Collective Works, and to reproduce the Work as incorporated
in the Collective Works;
b. to distribute copies or phonorecords of, display publicly,
perform publicly, and perform publicly by means of a digital
audio transmission the Work including as incorporated in
The above rights may be exercised in all media and formats
whether now known or hereafter devised. The above rights include
the right to make such modifications as are technically necessary
to exercise the rights in other media and formats. All rights not
expressly granted by Licensor are hereby reserved.
4. Restrictions. The license granted in Section 3 above is
expressly made subject to and limited by the following
a. You may distribute, publicly display, publicly perform, or
publicly digitally perform the Work only under the terms of this
License, and You must include a copy of, or the Uniform Resource
Identifier for, this License with every copy or phonorecord of
the Work You distribute, publicly display, publicly perform, or
publicly digitally perform. You may not offer or impose any terms
on the Work that alter or restrict the terms of this License or
the recipients' exercise of the rights granted hereunder. You may
not sublicense the Work. You must keep intact all notices that
refer to this License and to the disclaimer of warranties. You
may not distribute, publicly display, publicly perform, or
publicly digitally perform the Work with any technological
measures that control access or use of the Work in a manner
inconsistent with the terms of this License Agreement. The above
applies to the Work as incorporated in a Collective Work, but
this does not require the Collective Work apart from the Work
itself to be made subject to the terms of this License. If You
create a Collective Work, upon notice from any Licensor You must,
to the extent practicable, remove from the Collective Work any
reference to such Licensor or the Original Author, as requested.
b. You may not exercise any of the rights granted to You in
Section 3 above in any manner that is primarily intended for or
directed toward commercial advantage or private monetary
compensation. The exchange of the Work for other copyrighted
works by means of digital file-sharing or otherwise shall not be
considered to be intended for or directed toward commercial
advantage or private monetary compensation, provided there is no
payment of any monetary compensation in connection with the
exchange of copyrighted works.
c. If you distribute, publicly display, publicly perform, or
publicly digitally perform the Work or any Collective Works, You
must keep intact all copyright notices for the Work and give the
Original Author credit reasonable to the medium or means You are
utilizing by conveying the name (or pseudonym if applicable) of
the Original Author if supplied; the title of the Work if
supplied. Such credit may be implemented in any reasonable
manner; provided, however, that in the case of a Collective Work,
at a minimum such credit will appear where any other comparable
authorship credit appears and in a manner at least as prominent
as such other comparable authorship credit.
5. Representations, Warranties and Disclaimer
a. By offering the Work for public release under this License,
Licensor represents and warrants that, to the best of Licensor's
knowledge after reasonable inquiry:
i. Licensor has secured all rights in the Work necessary to grant
the license rights hereunder and to permit the lawful exercise of
the rights granted hereunder without You having any obligation to
pay any royalties, compulsory license fees, residuals or any
ii. The Work does not infringe the copyright, trademark,
publicity rights, common law rights or any other right of any
third party or constitute defamation, invasion of privacy or
other tortious injury to any third party.
b. EXCEPT AS EXPRESSLY STATED IN THIS LICENSE OR OTHERWISE AGREED
IN WRITING OR REQUIRED BY APPLICABLE LAW, THE WORK IS LICENSED ON
AN "AS IS" BASIS, WITHOUT WARRANTIES OF ANY KIND, EITHER EXPRESS
OR IMPLIED INCLUDING, WITHOUT LIMITATION, ANY WARRANTIES
REGARDING THE CONTENTS OR ACCURACY OF THE WORK.
6. Limitation on Liability. EXCEPT TO THE EXTENT REQUIRED BY
APPLICABLE LAW, AND EXCEPT FOR DAMAGES ARISING FROM LIABILITY TO
A THIRD PARTY RESULTING FROM BREACH OF THE WARRANTIES IN SECTION
5, IN NO EVENT WILL LICENSOR BE LIABLE TO YOU ON ANY LEGAL THEORY
FOR ANY SPECIAL, INCIDENTAL, CONSEQUENTIAL, PUNITIVE OR EXEMPLARY
DAMAGES ARISING OUT OF THIS LICENSE OR THE USE OF THE WORK, EVEN
IF LICENSOR HAS BEEN ADVISED OF THE POSSIBILITY OF SUCH DAMAGES.
a. This License and the rights granted hereunder will terminate
automatically upon any breach by You of the terms of this
License. Individuals or entities who have received Collective
Works from You under this License, however, will not have their
licenses terminated provided such individuals or entities remain
in full compliance with those licenses. Sections 1, 2, 5, 6, 7,
and 8 will survive any termination of this License.
b. Subject to the above terms and conditions, the license granted
here is perpetual (for the duration of the applicable copyright
in the Work). Notwithstanding the above, Licensor reserves the
right to release the Work under different license terms or to
stop distributing the Work at any time; provided, however that
any such election will not serve to withdraw this License (or any
other license that has been, or is required to be, granted under
the terms of this License), and this License will continue in
full force and effect unless terminated as stated above.
a. Each time You distribute or publicly digitally perform the
Work or a Collective Work, the Licensor offers to the recipient a
license to the Work on the same terms and conditions as the
license granted to You under this License.
b. If any provision of this License is invalid or unenforceable
under applicable law, it shall not affect the validity or
enforceability of the remainder of the terms of this License, and
without further action by the parties to this agreement, such
provision shall be reformed to the minimum extent necessary to
make such provision valid and enforceable.
c. No term or provision of this License shall be deemed waived
and no breach consented to unless such waiver or consent shall be
in writing and signed by the party to be charged with such waiver
d. This License constitutes the entire agreement between the
parties with respect to the Work licensed here. There are no
understandings, agreements or representations with respect to the
Work not specified here. Licensor shall not be bound by any
additional provisions that may appear in any communication from
You. This License may not be modified without the mutual written
agreement of the Licensor and You.
Craphound had wicked yard-sale karma, for a rotten, filthy alien bastard. He was
too good at panning out the single grain of gold in a raging river of
uselessness for me not to like him -- respect him, anyway. But then he found the
cowboy trunk. It was two months' rent to me and nothing but some squirrelly
alien kitsch-fetish to Craphound.
So I did the unthinkable. I violated the Code. I got into a bidding war with a
buddy. Never let them tell you that women poison friendships: in my experience,
wounds from women-fights heal quickly; fights over garbage leave nothing behind
but scorched earth.
Craphound spotted the sign -- his karma, plus the goggles in his exoskeleton,
gave him the advantage when we were doing 80 kmh on some stretch of back-highway
in cottage country. He was riding shotgun while I drove, and we had the radio on
to the CBC's summer-Saturday programming: eight weekends with eight hours of old
radio dramas: "The Shadow," "Quiet Please," "Tom Mix," "The Crypt-Keeper" with
Bela Lugosi. It was hour three, and Bogey was phoning in his performance on a
radio adaptation of _The African Queen_. I had the windows of the old truck
rolled down so that I could smoke without fouling Craphound's breather. My arm
was hanging out the window, the radio was booming, and Craphound said "Turn
around! Turn around, now, Jerry, now, turn around!"
When Craphound gets that excited, it's a sign that he's spotted a rich vein. I
checked the side-mirror quickly, pounded the brakes and spun around. The
transmission creaked, the wheels squealed, and then we were creeping along the
way we'd come.
"There," Craphound said, gesturing with his long, skinny arm. I saw it. A wooden
A-frame real-estate sign, a piece of hand-lettered cardboard stuck overtop of
the realtor's name:
EAST MUSKOKA VOLUNTEER FIRE-DEPT
LADIES AUXILIARY RUMMAGE SALE
SAT 25 JUNE
"Hoo-eee!" I hollered, and spun the truck onto the dirt road. I gunned the
engine as we cruised along the tree-lined road, trusting Craphound to spot any
deer, signs, or hikers in time to avert disaster. The sky was a perfect blue and
the smells of summer were all around us. I snapped off the radio and listened to
the wind rushing through the truck. Ontario is _beautiful_ in the summer.
"There!" Craphound shouted. I hit the turn-off and down-shifted and then we were
back on a paved road. Soon, we were rolling into a country fire-station, an ugly
brick barn. The hall was lined with long, folding tables, stacked high. The
Craphound beat me out the door, as usual. His exoskeleton is programmable, so he
can record little scripts for it like: move left arm to door handle, pop it,
swing legs out to running-board, jump to ground, close door, move forward.
Meanwhile, I'm still making sure I've switched off the headlights and that I've
got my wallet.
Two blue-haired grannies had a card-table set up out front of the hall, with a
big tin pitcher of lemonade and three boxes of Tim Horton assorted donuts. That
stopped us both, since we share the superstition that you _always_ buy food from
old ladies and little kids, as a sacrifice to the crap-gods. One of the old
ladies poured out the lemonade while the other smiled and greeted us.
"Welcome, welcome! My, you've come a long way for us!"
"Just up from Toronto, ma'am," I said. It's an old joke, but it's also part of
the ritual, and it's got to be done.
"I meant your friend, sir. This gentleman."
Craphound smiled without baring his gums and sipped his lemonade. "Of course I
came, dear lady. I wouldn't miss it for the worlds!" His accent is pretty good,
but when it comes to stock phrases like this, he's got so much polish you'd
think he was reading the news.
The biddie _blushed_ and _giggled_, and I felt faintly sick. I walked off to the
tables, trying not to hurry. I chose my first spot, about halfway down, where
things wouldn't be quite so picked-over. I grabbed an empty box from underneath
and started putting stuff into it: four matched highball glasses with gold
crossed bowling-pins and a line of black around the rim; an Expo '67
wall-hanging that wasn't even a little faded; a shoebox full of late sixties
O-Pee-Chee hockey cards; a worn, wooden-handled steel cleaver that you could
butcher a steer with.
I picked up my box and moved on: a deck of playing cards copyrighted '57, with
the logo for the Royal Canadian Dairy, Bala Ontario printed on the backs; a
fireman's cap with a brass badge so tarnished I couldn't read it; a three-story
wedding-cake trophy for the 1974 Eastern Region Curling Championships. The
cash-register in my mind was ringing, ringing, ringing. God bless the East
Muskoka Volunteer Fire Department Ladies' Auxiliary.
I'd mined that table long enough. I moved to the other end of the hall. Time
was, I'd start at the beginning and turn over each item, build one pile of
maybes and another pile of definites, try to strategise. In time, I came to rely
on instinct and on the fates, to whom I make my obeisances at every opportunity.
Let's hear it for the fates: a genuine collapsible top-hat; a white-tipped
evening cane; a hand-carved cherry-wood walking stick; a beautiful black lace
parasol; a wrought-iron lightning rod with a rooster on top; all of it in an
elephant-leg umbrella-stand. I filled the box, folded it over, and started on
I collided with Craphound. He grinned his natural grin, the one that showed row
on row of wet, slimy gums, tipped with writhing, poisonous suckers. "Gold!
Gold!" he said, and moved along. I turned my head after him, just as he bent
over the cowboy trunk.
I sucked air between my teeth. It was magnificent: a leather-bound miniature
steamer trunk, the leather worked with lariats, Stetson hats, war-bonnets and
six-guns. I moved toward him, and he popped the latch. I caught my breath.
On top, there was a kid's cowboy costume: miniature leather chaps, a tiny
Stetson, a pair of scuffed white-leather cowboy boots with long, worn spurs
affixed to the heels. Craphound moved it reverently to the table and continued
to pull more magic from the trunk's depths: a stack of cardboard-bound Hopalong
Cassidy 78s; a pair of tin six-guns with gunbelt and holsters; a silver star
that said Sheriff; a bundle of Roy Rogers comics tied with twine, in mint
condition; and a leather satchel filled with plastic cowboys and Indians, enough
to re-enact the Alamo.
"Oh, my God," I breathed, as he spread the loot out on the table.
"What are these, Jerry?" Craphound asked, holding up the 78s.
"Old records, like LPs, but you need a special record player to listen to them."
I took one out of its sleeve. It gleamed, scratch-free, in the overhead
"I got a 78 player here," said a member of the East Muskoka Volunteer Fire
Department Ladies' Auxiliary. She was short enough to look Craphound in the eye,
a hair under five feet, and had a skinny, rawboned look to her. "That's my
Billy's things, Billy the Kid we called him. He was dotty for cowboys when he
was a boy. Couldn't get him to take off that fool outfit -- nearly got him
thrown out of school. He's a lawyer now, in Toronto, got a fancy office on Bay
Street. I called him to ask if he minded my putting his cowboy things in the
sale, and you know what? He didn't know what I was talking about! Doesn't that
beat everything? He was dotty for cowboys when he was a boy."
It's another of my rituals to smile and nod and be as polite as possible to the
erstwhile owners of crap that I'm trying to buy, so I smiled and nodded and
examined the 78 player she had produced. In lariat script, on the top, it said,
"Official Bob Wills Little Record Player," and had a crude watercolour of Bob
Wills and His Texas Playboys grinning on the front. It was the kind of record
player that folded up like a suitcase when you weren't using it. I'd had one as
a kid, with Yogi Bear silkscreened on the front.
Billy's mom plugged the yellowed cord into a wall jack and took the 78 from me,
touched the stylus to the record. A tinny ukelele played, accompanied by
horse-clops, and then a narrator with a deep, whisky voice said, "Howdy,
Pardners! I was just settin' down by the ole campfire. Why don't you stay an'
have some beans, an' I'll tell y'all the story of how Hopalong Cassidy beat the
Duke Gang when they come to rob the Santa Fe."
In my head, I was already breaking down the cowboy trunk and its contents,
thinking about the minimum bid I'd place on each item at Sotheby's. Sold
individually, I figured I could get over two grand for the contents. Then I
thought about putting ads in some of the Japanese collectors' magazines, just
for a lark, before I sent the lot to the auction house. You never can tell. A
buddy I knew had sold a complete packaged set of Welcome Back, Kotter action
figures for nearly eight grand that way. Maybe I could buy a new truck. . .
"This is wonderful," Craphound said, interrupting my reverie. "How much would
you like for the collection?"
I felt a knife in my guts. Craphound had found the cowboy trunk, so that meant
it was his. But he usually let me take the stuff with street-value -- he was
interested in _everything_, so it hardly mattered if I picked up a few scraps
with which to eke out a living.
Billy's mom looked over the stuff. "I was hoping to get twenty dollars for the
lot, but if that's too much, I'm willing to come down."
"I'll give you thirty," my mouth said, without intervention from my brain.
They both turned and stared at me. Craphound was unreadable behind his goggles.
Billy's mom broke the silence. "Oh, my! Thirty dollars for this old mess?"
"I will pay fifty," Craphound said.
"Seventy-five," I said.
"Oh, my," Billy's mom said.
"Five hundred," Craphound said.
I opened my mouth, and shut it. Craphound had built his stake on Earth by
selling a complicated biochemical process for non-chlorophyll photosynthesis to
a Saudi banker. I wouldn't ever beat him in a bidding war. "A thousand dollars,"
my mouth said.
"Ten thousand," Craphound said, and extruded a roll of hundreds from somewhere
in his exoskeleton.
"My Lord!" Billy's mom said. "Ten thousand dollars!"
The other pickers, the firemen, the blue haired ladies all looked up at that and
stared at us, their mouths open.
"It is for a good cause." Craphound said.
"Ten thousand dollars!" Billy's mom said again.
Craphound's digits ruffled through the roll as fast as a croupier's counter,
separated off a large chunk of the brown bills, and handed them to Billy's mom.
One of the firemen, a middle-aged paunchy man with a comb-over appeared at
Billy's mom's shoulder.
"What's going on, Eva?" he said.
"This. . .gentleman is going to pay ten thousand dollars for Billy's old cowboy
The fireman took the money from Billy's mom and stared at it. He held up the top
note under the light and turned it this way and that, watching the holographic
stamp change from green to gold, then green again. He looked at the serial
number, then the serial number of the next bill. He licked his forefinger and
started counting off the bills in piles of ten. Once he had ten piles, he
counted them again. "That's ten thousand dollars, all right. Thank you very
much, mister. Can I give you a hand getting this to your car?"
Craphound, meanwhile, had re-packed the trunk and balanced the 78 player on top
of it. He looked at me, then at the fireman.
"I wonder if I could impose on you to take me to the nearest bus station. I
think I'm going to be making my own way home."
The fireman and Billy's mom both stared at me. My cheeks flushed. "Aw, c'mon," I
said. "I'll drive you home."
"I think I prefer the bus," Craphound said.
"It's no trouble at all to give you a lift, friend," the fireman said.
I called it quits for the day, and drove home alone with the truck only
half-filled. I pulled it into the coach-house and threw a tarp over the load and
went inside and cracked a beer and sat on the sofa, watching a nature show on a
desert reclamation project in Arizona, where the state legislature had traded a
derelict mega-mall and a custom-built habitat to an alien for a local-area
weather control machine.
The following Thursday, I went to the little crap-auction house on King Street.
I'd put my finds from the weekend in the sale: lower minimum bid, and they took
a smaller commission than Sotheby's. Fine for moving the small stuff.
Craphound was there, of course. I knew he'd be. It was where we met, when he bid
on a case of Lincoln Logs I'd found at a fire-sale.
I'd known him for a kindred spirit when he bought them, and we'd talked
afterwards, at his place, a sprawling, two-storey warehouse amid a cluster of
auto-wrecking yards where the junkyard dogs barked, barked, barked.
Inside was paradise. His taste ran to shrines -- a collection of fifties bar
kitsch that was a shrine to liquor; a circular waterbed on a raised podium that
was nearly buried under seventies bachelor pad-inalia; a kitchen that was nearly
unusable, so packed it was with old barn-board furniture and rural memorabilia;
a leather-appointed library straight out of a Victorian gentlemen's club; a
solarium dressed in wicker and bamboo and tiki-idols. It was a hell of a place.
Craphound had known all about the Goodwills and the Sally Anns, and the auction
houses, and the kitsch boutiques on Queen Street, but he still hadn't figured
out where it all came from.
"Yard sales, rummage sales, garage sales," I said, reclining in a vibrating
naughahyde easy-chair, drinking a glass of his pricey single-malt that he'd
bought for the beautiful bottle it came in.
"But where are these? Who is allowed to make them?" Craphound hunched opposite
me, his exoskeleton locked into a coiled, semi-seated position.
"Who? Well, anyone. You just one day decide that you need to clean out the
basement, you put an ad in the _Star_, tape up a few signs, and voila, yard
sale. Sometimes, a school or a church will get donations of old junk and sell it
all at one time, as a fundraiser."
"And how do you locate these?" he asked, bobbing up and down slightly with
"Well, there're amateurs who just read the ads in the weekend papers, or just
pick a neighbourhood and wander around, but that's no way to go about it. What I
do is, I get in a truck, and I sniff the air, catch the scent of crap and
_vroom!_, I'm off like a bloodhound on a trail. You learn things over time: like
stay away from Yuppie yard sales, they never have anything worth buying, just
the same crap you can buy in any mall."
"Do you think I might accompany you some day?"
"Hell, sure. Next Saturday? We'll head over to Cabbagetown -- those old coach
houses, you'd be amazed what people get rid of. It's practically criminal."
"I would like to go with you on next Saturday very much Mr Jerry Abington." He
used to talk like that, without commas or question marks. Later, he got better,
but then, it was all one big sentence.
"Call me Jerry. It's a date, then. Tell you what, though: there's a Code you got
to learn before we go out. The Craphound's Code."
"What is a craphound?"
"You're lookin' at one. You're one, too, unless I miss my guess. You'll get to
know some of the local craphounds, you hang around with me long enough. They're
the competition, but they're also your buddies, and there're certain rules we
And then I explained to him all about how you never bid against a craphound at a
yard-sale, how you get to know the other fellows' tastes, and when you see
something they might like, you haul it out for them, and they'll do the same for
you, and how you never buy something that another craphound might be looking
for, if all you're buying it for is to sell it back to him. Just good form and
common sense, really, but you'd be surprised how many amateurs just fail to make
the jump to pro because they can't grasp it.
There was a bunch of other stuff at the auction, other craphounds' weekend
treasures. This was high season, when the sun comes out and people start to
clean out the cottage, the basement, the garage. There were some collectors in
the crowd, and a whole whack of antique and junk dealers, and a few pickers, and
me, and Craphound. I watched the bidding listlessly, waiting for my things to
come up and sneaking out for smokes between lots. Craphound never once looked at
me or acknowledged my presence, and I became perversely obsessed with catching
his eye, so I coughed and shifted and walked past him several times, until the
auctioneer glared at me, and one of the attendants asked if I needed a throat
My lot came up. The bowling glasses went for five bucks to one of the Queen
Street junk dealers; the elephant-foot fetched $350 after a spirited bidding war
between an antique dealer and a collector -- the collector won; the dealer took
the top-hat for $100. The rest of it came up and sold, or didn't, and at end of
the lot, I'd made over $800, which was rent for the month plus beer for the
weekend plus gas for the truck.
Craphound bid on and bought more cowboy things -- a box of super-eight cowboy
movies, the boxes mouldy, the stock itself running to slime; a Navajo blanket; a
plastic donkey that dispensed cigarettes out of its ass; a big neon armadillo
One of the other nice things about that place over Sotheby's, there was none of
this waiting thirty days to get a cheque. I queued up with the other pickers
after the bidding was through, collected a wad of bills, and headed for my
I spotted Craphound loading his haul into a minivan with handicapped plates. It
looked like some kind of fungus was growing over the hood and side-panels. On
closer inspection, I saw that the body had been covered in closely glued Lego.
Craphound popped the hatchback and threw his gear in, then opened the driver's
side door, and I saw that his van had been fitted out for a legless driver, with
brake and accelerator levers. A paraplegic I knew drove one just like it.
Craphound's exoskeleton levered him into the seat, and I watched the eerily
precise way it executed the macro that started the car, pulled the
shoulder-belt, put it into drive and switched on the stereo. I heard tape-hiss,
then, loud as a b-boy cruising Yonge Street, an old-timey cowboy voice: "Howdy
pardners! Saddle up, we're ridin'!" Then the van backed up and sped out of the
I get into the truck and drove home. Truth be told, I missed the little bastard.
Some people said that we should have run Craphound and his kin off the planet,
out of the Solar System. They said that it wasn't fair for the aliens to keep us
in the dark about their technologies. They say that we should have captured a
ship and reverse-engineered it, built our own and kicked ass.
First of all, nobody with human DNA could survive a trip in one of those ships.
They're part of Craphound's people's bodies, as I understand it, and we just
don't have the right parts. Second of all, they _were_ sharing their tech with
us -- they just weren't giving it away. Fair trades every time.
It's not as if space was off-limits to us. We can any one of us visit their
homeworld, just as soon as we figure out how. Only they wouldn't hold our hands
along the way.
I spent the week haunting the "Secret Boutique," AKA the Goodwill As-Is Centre
on Jarvis. It's all there is to do between yard sales, and sometimes it makes
for good finds. Part of my theory of yard-sale karma holds that if I miss one
day at the thrift shops, that'll be the day they put out the big score. So I hit
the stores diligently and came up with crapola. I had offended the fates, I
knew, and wouldn't make another score until I placated them. It was lonely work,
still and all, and I missed Craphound's good eye and obsessive delight.
I was at the cash-register with a few items at the Goodwill when a guy in a suit
behind me tapped me on the shoulder.
"Sorry to bother you," he said. His suit looked expensive, as did his manicure
and his haircut and his wire-rimmed glasses. "I was just wondering where you
found that." He gestured at a rhinestone-studded ukelele, with a cowboy hat
wood-burned into the body. I had picked it up with a guilty little thrill,
thinking that Craphound might buy it at the next auction.
"Second floor, in the toy section."
"There wasn't anything else like it, was there?"
"'Fraid not," I said, and the cashier picked it up and started wrapping it in
"Ah," he said, and he looked like a little kid who'd just been told that he
couldn't have a puppy. "I don't suppose you'd want to sell it, would you?"
I held up a hand and waited while the cashier bagged it with the rest of my
stuff, a few old clothbound novels I thought I could sell at a used book-store,
and a Grease belt-buckle with Olivia Newton John on it. I led him out the door
by the elbow of his expensive suit.
"How much?" I had paid a dollar.
I nearly said, "Sold!" but I caught myself. "Twenty."
"That's what they'd charge at a boutique on Queen Street."
He took out a slim leather wallet and produced a twenty. I handed him the uke.
His face lit up like a lightbulb.
It's not that my adulthood is particularly unhappy. Likewise, it's not that my
childhood was particularly happy.
There are memories I have, though, that are like a cool drink of water. My
grandfather's place near Milton, an old Victorian farmhouse, where the cat drank
out of a milk-glass bowl; and where we sat around a rough pine table as big as
my whole apartment; and where my playroom was the draughty barn with hay-filled
lofts bulging with farm junk and Tarzan-ropes.
There was Grampa's friend Fyodor, and we spent every evening at his
wrecking-yard, he and Grampa talking and smoking while I scampered in the
twilight, scaling mountains of auto-junk. The glove-boxes yielded treasures:
crumpled photos of college boys mugging in front of signs, roadmaps of far-away
places. I found a guidebook from the 1964 New York World's Fair once, and a
lipstick like a chrome bullet, and a pair of white leather ladies' gloves.
Fyodor dealt in scrap, too, and once, he had half of a carny carousel, a few
horses and part of the canopy, paint flaking and sharp torn edges protruding;
next to it, a Korean-war tank minus its turret and treads, and inside the tank
were peeling old pinup girls and a rotation schedule and a crude Kilroy. The
control-room in the middle of the carousel had a stack of paperback sci-fi
novels, Ace Doubles that had two books bound back-to-back, and when you finished
the first, you turned it over and read the other. Fyodor let me keep them, and
there was a pawn-ticket in one from Macon, Georgia, for a transistor radio.
My parents started leaving me alone when I was fourteen and I couldn't keep from
sneaking into their room and snooping. Mom's jewelry box had books of matches
from their honeymoon in Acapulco, printed with bad palm-trees. My Dad kept an
old photo in his sock drawer, of himself on muscle-beach, shirtless, flexing his
My grandmother saved every scrap of my mother's life in her basement, in dusty
Army trunks. I entertained myself by pulling it out and taking it in: her Mouse
Ears from the big family train-trip to Disneyland in '57, and her records, and
the glittery pasteboard sign from her sweet sixteen. There were well-chewed
stuffed animals, and school exercise books in which she'd practiced variations
on her signature for page after page.
It all told a story. The penciled Kilroy in the tank made me see one of those
Canadian soldiers in Korea, unshaven and crew-cut like an extra on M*A*S*H,
sitting for bored hour after hour, staring at the pinup girls, fiddling with a
crossword, finally laying it down and sketching his Kilroy quickly, before
The photo of my Dad posing sent me whirling through time to Toronto's Muscle
Beach in the east end, and hearing the tinny AM radios playing weird psychedelic
rock while teenagers lounged on their Mustangs and the girls sunbathed in
bikinis that made their tits into torpedoes.
It all made poems. The old pulp novels and the pawn ticket, when I spread them
out in front of the TV, and arranged them just so, they made up a poem that took
my breath away.
After the cowboy trunk episode, I didn't run into Craphound again until the
annual Rotary Club charity rummage sale at the Upper Canada Brewing Company. He
was wearing the cowboy hat, sixguns and the silver star from the cowboy trunk.
It should have looked ridiculous, but the net effect was naive and somehow
charming, like he was a little boy whose hair you wanted to muss.
I found a box of nice old melamine dishes, in various shades of green -- four
square plates, bowls, salad-plates, and a serving tray. I threw them in the
duffel-bag I'd brought and kept browsing, ignoring Craphound as he charmed a
salty old Rotarian while fondling a box of leather-bound books.
I browsed a stack of old Ministry of Labour licenses -- barber, chiropodist,
bartender, watchmaker. They all had pretty seals and were framed in stark green
institutional metal. They all had different names, but all from one family, and
I made up a little story to entertain myself, about the proud mother saving her
sons' accreditations and framing hanging them in the spare room with their
diplomas. "Oh, George Junior's just opened his own barbershop, and little
Jimmy's still fixing watches. . ."
I bought them.
In a box of crappy plastic Little Ponies and Barbies and Care Bears, I found a
leather Indian headdress, a wooden bow-and-arrow set, and a fringed buckskin
vest. Craphound was still buttering up the leather books' owner. I bought them
quick, for five bucks.
"Those are beautiful," a voice said at my elbow. I turned around and smiled at
the snappy dresser who'd bought the uke at the Secret Boutique. He'd gone casual
for the weekend, in an expensive, L.L. Bean button-down way.
"Aren't they, though."
"You sell them on Queen Street? Your finds, I mean?"
"Sometimes. Sometimes at auction. How's the uke?"
"Oh, I got it all tuned up," he said, and smiled the same smile he'd given me
when he'd taken hold of it at Goodwill. "I can play 'Don't Fence Me In' on it."
He looked at his feet. "Silly, huh?"
"Not at all. You're into cowboy things, huh?" As I said it, I was overcome with
the knowledge that this was "Billy the Kid," the original owner of the cowboy
trunk. I don't know why I felt that way, but I did, with utter certainty.
"Just trying to re-live a piece of my childhood, I guess. I'm Scott," he said,
extending his hand.
_Scott?_ I thought wildly. _Maybe it's his middle name?_ "I'm Jerry."
The Upper Canada Brewery sale has many things going for it, including a beer
garden where you can sample their wares and get a good BBQ burger. We gently
gravitated to it, looking over the tables as we went.
"You're a pro, right?" he asked after we had plastic cups of beer.
"You could say that."
"I'm an amateur. A rank amateur. Any words of wisdom?"
I laughed and drank some beer, lit a cigarette. "There's no secret to it, I
think. Just diligence: you've got to go out every chance you get, or you'll miss
the big score."
He chuckled. "I hear that. Sometimes, I'll be sitting in my office, and I'll
just _know_ that they're putting out a piece of pure gold at the Goodwill and
that someone else will get to it before my lunch. I get so wound up, I'm no good
until I go down there and hunt for it. I guess I'm hooked, eh?"
"Cheaper than some other kinds of addictions."
"I guess so. About that Indian stuff -- what do you figure you'd get for it at a
Queen Street boutique?"
I looked him in the eye. He may have been something high-powered and cool and
collected in his natural environment, but just then, he was as eager and nervous
as a kitchen-table poker-player at a high-stakes game.
"Maybe fifty bucks," I said.
"Fifty, huh?" he asked.
"About that," I said.
"Once it sold," he said.
"There is that," I said.
"Might take a month, might take a year," he said.
"Might take a day," I said.
"It might, it might." He finished his beer. "I don't suppose you'd take forty?"
I'd paid five for it, not ten minutes before. It looked like it would fit
Craphound, who, after all, was wearing Scott/Billy's own boyhood treasures as we
spoke. You don't make a living by feeling guilty over eight hundred percent
markups. Still, I'd angered the fates, and needed to redeem myself.
"Make it five," I said.
He started to say something, then closed his mouth and gave me a look of thanks.
He took a five out of his wallet and handed it to me. I pulled the vest and bow
and headdress out my duffel.
He walked back to a shiny black Jeep with gold detail work, parked next to
Craphound's van. Craphound was building onto the Lego body, and the hood had a
miniature Lego town attached to it.
Craphound looked around as he passed, and leaned forward with undisguised
interest at the booty. I grimaced and finished my beer.
I met Scott/Billy three times more at the Secret Boutique that week.
He was a lawyer, who specialised in alien-technology patents. He had a practice
on Bay Street, with two partners, and despite his youth, he was the senior man.
I didn't let on that I knew about Billy the Kid and his mother in the East
Muskoka Volunteer Fire Department Ladies' Auxiliary. But I felt a bond with him,
as though we shared an unspoken secret. I pulled any cowboy finds for him, and
he developed a pretty good eye for what I was after and returned the favour.
The fates were with me again, and no two ways about it. I took home a ratty old
Oriental rug that on closer inspection was a 19th century hand-knotted Persian;
an upholstered Turkish footstool; a collection of hand-painted silk Hawaiiana
pillows and a carved Meerschaum pipe. Scott/Billy found the last for me, and it
cost me two dollars. I knew a collector who would pay thirty in an eye-blink,
and from then on, as far as I was concerned, Scott/Billy was a fellow craphound.
"You going to the auction tomorrow night?" I asked him at the checkout line.
"Wouldn't miss it," he said. He'd barely been able to contain his excitement
when I told him about the Thursday night auctions and the bargains to be had
there. He sure had the bug.
"Want to get together for dinner beforehand? The Rotterdam's got a good patio."
He did, and we did, and I had a glass of framboise that packed a hell of a kick
and tasted like fizzy raspberry lemonade; and doorstopper fries and a club
I had my nose in my glass when he kicked my ankle under the table. "Look at
It was Craphound in his van, cruising for a parking spot. The Lego village had
been joined by a whole postmodern spaceport on the roof, with a red-and-blue
castle, a football-sized flying saucer, and a clown's head with blinking eyes.
I went back to my drink and tried to get my appetite back.
"Was that an extee driving?"
"Yeah. Used to be a friend of mine."
"He's a picker?"
"Uh-huh." I turned back to my fries and tried to kill the subject.
"Do you know how he made his stake?"
"The chlorophyll thing, in Saudi Arabia."
"Sweet!" he said. "Very sweet. I've got a client who's got some secondary
patents from that one. What's he go after?"
"Oh, pretty much everything," I said, resigning myself to discussing the topic
after all. "But lately, the same as you -- cowboys and Injuns."
He laughed and smacked his knee. "Well, what do you know? What could he possibly
want with the stuff?"
"What do they want with any of it? He got started one day when we were cruising
the Muskokas," I said carefully, watching his face. "Found a trunk of old cowboy
things at a rummage sale. East Muskoka Volunteer Fire Department Ladies'
Auxiliary." I waited for him to shout or startle. He didn't.
"Yeah? A good find, I guess. Wish I'd made it."
I didn't know what to say to that, so I took a bite of my sandwich.
Scott continued. "I think about what they get out of it a lot. There's nothing
we have here that they couldn't make for themselves. I mean, if they picked up
and left today, we'd still be making sense of everything they gave us in a
hundred years. You know, I just closed a deal for a biochemical computer that's
no-shit 10,000 times faster than anything we've built out of silicon. You know
what the extee took in trade? Title to a defunct fairground outside of Calgary
-- they shut it down ten years ago because the midway was too unsafe to ride.
Doesn't that beat all? This thing is worth a billion dollars right out of the
gate, I mean, within twenty-four hours of the deal closing, the seller can turn
it into the GDP of Bolivia. For a crummy real-estate dog that you couldn't get
five grand for!"
It always shocked me when Billy/Scott talked about his job -- it was easy to
forget that he was a high-powered lawyer when we were jawing and fooling around
like old craphounds. I wondered if maybe he _wasn't_ Billy the Kid; I couldn't
think of any reason for him to be playing it all so close to his chest.
"What the hell is some extee going to do with a fairground?"
Craphound got a free Coke from Lisa at the check-in when he made his appearance.
He bid high, but shrewdly, and never pulled ten-thousand-dollar stunts. The
bidders were wandering the floor, previewing that week's stock, and making notes
I rooted through a box-lot full of old tins, and found one with a buckaroo at
the Calgary Stampede, riding a bucking bronc. I picked it up and stood to
inspect it. Craphound was behind me.
"Nice piece, huh?" I said to him.
"I like it very much," Craphound said, and I felt my cheeks flush.
"You're going to have some competition tonight, I think," I said, and nodded at
Scott/Billy. "I think he's Billy; the one whose mother sold us -- you -- the
"Really?" Craphound said, and it felt like we were partners again, scoping out
the competition. Suddenly I felt a knife of shame, like I was betraying
Scott/Billy somehow. I took a step back.
"Jerry, I am very sorry that we argued."
I sighed out a breath I hadn't known I was holding in. "Me, too."
"They're starting the bidding. May I sit with you?"
And so the three of us sat together, and Craphound shook Scott/Billy's hand and
the auctioneer started into his harangue.
It was a night for unusual occurrences. I bid on a piece, something I told
myself I'd never do. It was a set of four matched Li'l Orphan Annie Ovaltine
glasses, like Grandma's had been, and seeing them in the auctioneer's hand took
me right back to her kitchen, and endless afternoons passed with my colouring
books and weird old-lady hard candies and Liberace albums playing in the living
"Ten," I said, opening the bidding.
"I got ten, ten,ten, I got ten, who'll say twenty, who'll say twenty, twenty for
Craphound waved his bidding card, and I jumped as if I'd been stung.
"I got twenty from the space cowboy, I got twenty, sir will you say thirty?"
I waved my card.
"That's thirty to you sir."
"Forty," Craphound said.
"Fifty," I said even before the auctioneer could point back to me. An old pro,
he settled back and let us do the work.
"One hundred," Craphound said.
"One fifty," I said.
The room was perfectly silent. I thought about my overextended MasterCard, and
wondered if Scott/Billy would give me a loan.
"Two hundred," Craphound said.
Fine, I thought. Pay two hundred for those. I can get a set on Queen Street for
The auctioneer turned to me. "The bidding stands at two. Will you say two-ten,
I shook my head. The auctioneer paused a long moment, letting me sweat over the
decision to bow out.
"I have two -- do I have any other bids from the floor? Any other bids? Sold,
$200, to number 57." An attendant brought Craphound the glasses. He took them
and tucked them under his seat.
I was fuming when we left. Craphound was at my elbow. I wanted to punch him --
I'd never punched anyone in my life, but I wanted to punch him.
We entered the cool night air and I sucked in several lungfuls before lighting a
"Jerry," Craphound said.
I stopped, but didn't look at him. I watched the taxis pull in and out of the
garage next door instead.
"Jerry, my friend," Craphound said.
"_What_?" I said, loud enough to startle myself. Scott, beside me, jerked as
"We're going. I wanted to say goodbye, and to give you some things that I won't
be taking with me."
"What?" I said again, Scott just a beat behind me.
"My people -- we're going. It has been decided. We've gotten what we came for."
Without another word, he set off towards his van. We followed along behind,
Craphound's exoskeleton executed another macro and slid the panel-door aside,
revealing the cowboy trunk.
"I wanted to give you this. I will keep the glasses."
"I don't understand," I said.
"You're all leaving?" Scott asked, with a note of urgency.
"It has been decided. We'll go over the next twenty-four hours."
"But _why_?" Scott said, sounding almost petulant.
"It's not something that I can easily explain. As you must know, the things we
gave you were trinkets to us -- almost worthless. We traded them for something
that was almost worthless to you -- a fair trade, you'll agree -- but it's time
to move on."
Craphound handed me the cowboy trunk. Holding it, I smelled the lubricant from
his exoskeleton and the smell of the attic it had been mummified in before
making its way into his hands. I felt like I almost understood.
"This is for me," I said slowly, and Craphound nodded encouragingly. "This is
for me, and you're keeping the glasses. And I'll look at this and feel. . ."
"You understand," Craphound said, looking somehow relieved.
And I _did_. I understood that an alien wearing a cowboy hat and sixguns and
giving them away was a poem and a story, and a thirtyish bachelor trying to
spend half a month's rent on four glasses so that he could remember his
Grandma's kitchen was a story and a poem, and that the disused fairground
outside Calgary was a story and a poem, too.
"You're craphounds!" I said. "All of you!"
Craphound smiled so I could see his gums and I put down the cowboy trunk and
clapped my hands.
Scott recovered from his shock by spending the night at his office, crunching
numbers talking on the phone, and generally getting while the getting was good.
He had an edge -- no one else knew that they were going.
He went pro later that week, opened a chi-chi boutique on Queen Street, and
hired me on as chief picker and factum factotum.
Scott was not Billy the Kid. Just another Bay Street shyster with a cowboy
jones. From the way they come down and spend, there must be a million of them.
Our draw in the window is a beautiful mannequin I found, straight out of the
Fifties, a little boy we call The Beaver. He dresses in chaps and a Sheriff's
badge and sixguns and a miniature Stetson and cowboy boots with worn spurs, and
rests one foot on a beautiful miniature steamer trunk whose leather is worked
with cowboy motifs.
He's not for sale at any price.
A science-fiction short story by Cory Doctorow about alien thrift-store enthusiasts, from the short story collection "A Place So Foreign and Eight More," published by Four Walls Eight Windows press in September, 2003 (ISBN: 1568582862)