Harold S. Kahm

the self-declared "oldest and least-known writer in Minnesota,"

           "I suppose my writing came from my education at True Confessions magazine. You have to feel the emotion first, and then your reader will too. But I enjoyed writing The Crowded Bed because I can sympathize. The shock to the two men when they discover they're sharing the same woman! Just imagine that situation!"

           At other times, Kahm believes his problem is not that the words have left him, but that there are too many of them to fit into his remaining years. For though it goes largely unmentioned, the subject of death is stenciled onto an invisible agenda: When it will happen, how it will happen, why it has not happened yet. "My problem right now," he says "is that there are three books I urgently want to write. And there's a fourth too, which I forget now." In addition to the unauthorized autobiography and the writings on Jesus and science, Kahm hopes to complete an updated version of The Crowded Bed, and a guide on how to enjoy life targeted to retired men. Kahm says they frequently commit suicide, and he thinks there is a market. Which is not to mention the approximately 15 short essays from the last year on topics ranging from euthanasia to domed cities of the future--pieces that don't seem to fit into the unauthorized autobiography. That makes five books. "Most of my ideas come while shaving," Kahm says. "I don't know why."

           For the first time, I notice a five-foot long, red felt banner behind Kahm's head--a decorative French calendar from 1970. The months are listed: janvier, février, mars, avril. In two years, 1998, the days and dates will again realign. Meanwhile, out on the street, Caterpillar machines pound the pavement. The next day, an even bigger machine that resembles a Zamboni will peel back all the fractured asphalt as if it were cookie dough. Kahm is being assessed $2,000 in municipal repair expenses for the work the street crews will be doing along his driveway and curb. But the joke is on them. "The payments," he says, "are due over 20 years!"

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           The next afternoon Kahm is expansive. "You must start writing books, " he tells me. "Books are where the money is. If you write non-fiction, you can query a publisher beforehand. I wrote a book on musical instruments. Histories. Styles. Uses. It was bought but never even published. All you have to do is collect information and write it up. Give me a subject that you're interested in and I'll tell you how to write it."

           I tell him that I am interested in a history of lost Minneapolis, and the stories of its last surviving occupants.

           "See, that wouldn't do at all. No one's interested in it. There's no market--not even here in Minneapolis. Give me another one."

           "I don't think I'm ready to write a book yet," I say then, and Kahm nods his head sympathetically. He has written 28 published books while other people were checking for inspiration, waiting to get ready.

           "Think about it, though," he tells me as I walk toward the door. "I could give you advice. Artists write for themselves. They starve. I write to please other people. The only literary award that's ever interested me is the one that comes on small rectangular paper and reads: Pay to the order of Harold S. Kahm."

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