1988 TAFF Report: Christina Lake

Chapter ?

Published 1989 in The Caprician 4 ed Lilian Edwards & Christina Lake

Voodoo Jambalaya

By the Sunday of the Worldcon, Lilian and I had thoroughly adapted to the lifestyle : get up at midday, go to whichever panel(s) we'd been put on that day, eat at six, recover, go to that night's quota of parties, collapse into bed about five in the morning -- and repeat. That day I'd been persuaded to meet Alyson Abramowitz in the lobby of the Marriot at 12.30 to go out for lunch with the women of AWA (the American women's apa). 'You have to,' Alyson had informed me the night before. 'You're women aren't you?'

This being undeniably true, I'd said yes.

Leaving Lilian asleep in her bed, not sure if she were woman or vegetable, I went to sit in the lobby of the Marriot, trying to look inconspicuous as fans of all denominations streamed past in an awesome tide. I felt not so much a TAFF delegate as a visitor to an alien planet. Nonetheless, my disguise was penetrated by George 'Lan' Laskowski who ambled over, apparently expecting normal conversation. I did my best. 'No, it's not raining outside -- I've just come out of the shower,' I told him to explain the wet hair. Normally in New Orleans the drowned rat look means that you've just been caught in one of the frequent cloud-bursts that can soak you to the skin waiting to cross the road. Eventually George decided he had some twelve page articles to catch up with and disappeared, photographer in tow : fanzine production is big business in the U.S. of A.

Alyson arrived looking inhumanly cheerful, and took me up to where the women were assembling. In the lift, we met two more AWA people: 'Hello,' said one, 'I'm Anna Vargo's mother.' 'And I'm Anna Vargo's sister,' said the other. Fortunately I'd met Anna Vargo in Seattle so I was not too bemused, though I'm not used to this type of whole family participation. I half expected to find her aunt and grandmother waiting for us upstairs. In fact there were only two people in the room I recognised, Canadian fan Catherine Crockett and the sempiternal Alan Bostock, who seemed to have being turning up everywhere ever since we'd met him in California. What's he doing here, I wondered? Surely he can't be a member of AWA -- didn't Jessica Amanda Salmonson chuck all the men out years ago? Nobody bothered to explain, but when he started kissing the tall black woman wearing a badge saying D. (David) Potter, things began to seem clearer. Looking around, and by dint of squinting at badges, I managed to ascertain that the room also contained Canadian librarian Fran Skene, whom I should have recognised from Channelcon, Paula Liebermann and another black woman called Allyson Dwyer. Alan left and the rest of us set out for Felix's, the slowest fish restaurant in New Orleans (as we were soon to discover).

I found myself sitting opposite the two Allysons, who were soon busily exchanging notes on how to spell their names. 'Allyson with a "y" is pretty uncommon in the UK,' I said with stunning acuity, feeling that, as visiting delegate, I owed them this observation. They were duly impressed; in their grade school class all the Allysons had been blessed with y's. Fortunately the limits of the topic were apparent, even to the most enthusiastic Allysonophile, and Allyson Dwyer switched to discoursing on the secret of the success of her marriage. 'We spend all of our days apart,' she explained cheerfully. Apparently her husband is into video fandom, whatever that might be. 'But we're still part of the same subculture,' she concluded triumphantly, 'so it works.' It sounded almost plausible.

Allyson told us she was going to put a full page ad in the programme book when her husband came out of the services. 'It will simply say "We are free!"' Talk then goes on to using pages of the worldcon programme book for obituaries, complete with black borders for anyone deceased who has contributed in any way to fandom. They are serious -- I find it gruesome. Maybe this is another example of the cultural gap between Britain and America. But from death we get on to resurrection. Allyson Dwyer claimed there had been a lot of revenants at the convention -- people she hadn't seen in years. 'That's why they're calling it voodoo-con,' she said enthusiastically. It's the culture gap again. Not being part of the American mass Worldcon gestalt I can't distinguish between newcomer, revenant and regular.

Anna Vargo's sister asked who won the bid for the 1991 worldcon. The Chicon flyer was passed round, along with a pocket calculator to work out how to convert from various types of membership. Outside it was raining the typical tropical New Orleans rain again, but no-one was worried, except Fran Skene who had to get back for the children's programme. 'They can't do it without me,' she explained pitifully, as she scraped together change, including a Toronto subway token, to pay for her meal. (The money was going to Catherine Crockett for whom a Toronto subway token is as good as currency).

Meanwhile I started on my gumbo which in this restaurant was a murky brown fish soup poured over a plateful of rice. I suspected that I did not have the best example of the genre -- but by this time the food had been so long coming I was thankful to be served at all. Still the tardiness had its virtues -- by the time we left it was only drizzling, and I was in with a fighting chance of missing my panel appearance of the day (especially as Alyson insisted on taking a group photo in the scenic Marriott car park.)

But after all I made it in time to join Lilian, Jerry Kaufman, Patrick Nielsen Hayden and Teddy Harvia in selecting jewels of fannish wit and wisdom to appear in a hypothetical Fanthology '88. Feeling distinctly redundant, I examined my scattered thoughts and found them irrelevant. Fortunately Lilian had made a list from our various musings on the subject. Less fortunately, Jerry Kaufman had made one too -- containing, quite literally, hundreds of suggestions, emanating from his abiding enthusiasm for fandom, not one of which he was prepared to sacrifice. Famous editor of File 770, Mike Glyer, a large, stolid looking man, was moderator. He seemed quite happy to let Jerry work through his list while Patrick, Lilian and I said where we agreed or disagreed. Finally even Mike came to realise that this could go on forever, and tried to draw in Teddy Harvia the token artist, sitting isolated on the far end of the panel looking bored. Teddy suggested that articles be sent out to be illustrated by worthy artists. Patrick poured scorn on this. Deadlines would be missed. The fanthology never completed. When he and Teresa had done one they had stuck to the written word. Someone else suggested portfolios, someone else art editors, but most people thought that Dennis Virzi should just go ahead and do it the way he had last year. The panel broke up and Lilian, Jeanne Gomoll and I decided that what we really wanted to do was a multi-continental feminist/female anthology, showcasing the works of Sherry Coldsmith, Jenny Steele et al.

I disentangled myself from the conversation before I could be tempted to volunteer for something I might later regret and went to look at the dealer's room. Surely I would find something fabulous in the dealer's room of a big American convention? Surely it would be an experience not to be missed? Well, actually, no. I'd seen better selections of books in some of the stores of San Francisco, newer American editions at British conventions, more children's fantasy in Horfield junior library. In fact most of the stalls seemed mainly interested in selling Star Trek memorabilia or dragon/unicorn jewellery.

Unimpressed I went off to see a panel enticingly entitled 'Real Writers Don't Write Short Fiction'. Of course, it was entirely a defence of short fiction peopled mainly by writers who'd had several stories in Aboriginal SF or some such. It was decided to the satisfaction of all concerned that short stories required more intellectual effort than novels, trilogies and Terry Pratchett books. As before at other panels I was impressed by the articulateness of the fans who contributed from the audience, particularly the women who argued with an optimistic confidence that is rare among British women.

Next the most important decision of the day -- where to eat. Lucy Huntzinger was forming a party, but Lilian and I wanted to get back in time for the Hugos, so instead opted for the charms of Popeyes, the Southern Fried chicken joint next to the hotel. This place was pretty good as fast food emporia go, offering fried chicken, 'dirty' chicken rice (made from the parts of chicken no-one want in their fried chicken -- but very nice all the same) and biscuit (a savoury scone-like accompaniment favoured in this part of the world). The perfect venue for any self-respecting chicken brother (had they not all gone off with Lucy).

Then it was back to our room to change for the Hugos. I remember that I put on something black and shiny, but my notes don't say anything about what Lilian was wearing, but knowing her it was probably something black and shiny too. Not that we were anticipating winning anything, and we didn't know at that point that we were going to be made to stand up in front of everyone (Look -- real live TAFF winners. The embarrassment!) But we did have passes for the nominees section to pick up prizes for Interzone or Dave Langford should they win, so we thought we might as well at least dress up a bit -- just in case we got invited to any exclusive pros parties (one lives in hope). Outside the hall where they held the Hugos was chaos. Even the magic blue passes weren't getting us anywhere. Pro and fan alike milled outside the closed door, looking bemused, or in the case of Tom Whitmore, who'd been helping out in the (dis)organisation all weekend, wryly amused. Eventually they decided to let us in. Happily seated behind Texas hopefuls Pat Mueller and Dennis Virzi and next to Tom Whitmore, I saw nemesis approach me in the form of a ginormous (or even humungous) American fan. There was an empty seat next to me. I quailed. The ginormous fan looked down our row then went away. I relaxed. The ginormous fan came back and sat down next to me. I found myself with only half a seat left, and a choice of being over-intimate with him or with Lilian. Naturally I chose Lilian.

The preparations went on. The room got hotter. I wondered if I could take off my black shiny top and strip down to the black skimpy one underneath, but there wasn't enough room to move an arm without colliding with mountains of fat, let alone start wriggling out of clothing. The ceremony began, sensibly starting with the minor awards for people who'd been around fandom for a long time (which made perfect sense in the context of America -- I expect they do the same for long-serving members of any club) and Japanese translators who'd brought the works of Cordwainer Smith to the Orient and working up through the fan awards to the big exciting prizes reserved only for the likes of Orson Scott Card and David Brin. Excitement in the Texas contingent reached fever pitch when Pat Mueller's Texas SF Inquirer won best fanzine (vindicating her against the forces of evil in the Texas group who'd taken the editorship of the fanzine away from her) and Brad Foster won best fan artist. Relief was the main emotion in our row when Interzone failed to win the Locus, sorry semi-prozine, Hugo (won much to everyone's surprise by Locus) and Langford failed to get the award for fan writer with the highest circulation. As predicted, Watchmen won the Watchmen Hugo and Linda Pickersgill wearing something shiny and Japanese (but not black) went to pick it up. Orson Scott Card modestly claimed that he didn't deserve his Hugo for best novella (won against a Kim Stanley Robinson vote split between two stories), but showed no sign of giving it back. David Brin in his hat did ape impressions. After that the only sensible option was to go to the Hugo losers party.

It was at this party that I finally found one of those mythical bath tubs stuffed full with ice and beer, that I'd heard so much about before I left for America. But the excitement of fumbling through the non- and marginally alcoholic for a bottle of Becks soon palled and after the room became too crowded we went off to check out Lucy Huntzinger's party in the legendary room 1630 (a party suite supplied for the duration by Dana Siegel (how rich is this woman?)). Bill Wagner a large, amiable American who was feeling a bit morose because he'd just split with his girl friend began expounding his theory on the restoration of virginity. I forget the details, mainly because I wasn't taking it seriously at the time, but it seemed to involve nuns and strange popping noises on aeroplanes. 'Yes, Bill,' I said to keep him happy (after all, we were planning to crash at his flat in New York). 'Yes, Bill, I'm sure that we'll all get our virginity back some day.' But this seemed to be missing the point. There was a whole ethos involved that encompassed rescuing damsels (or if necessary, female fans) in distress and no doubt other great acts of gentlemanly valour. Meanwhile, Terry Dowling, the DUFF winner, got out his guitar and played Beatles songs. For some reason this seemed absolutely right at the time. It was not an arcane practice that had to be performed like filk songs in the privacy of a room full of enthusiasts, but something as natural as putting on a tape. A short while later Teresa Nielsen Hayden arrived dressed as if she'd just raided Kate Solomon's wardrobe, looking like a Renaissance queen, but with baseball shoes underneath to keep things in perspective.

Just as in the haze of memory one party blurs into another, so the downstairs Lucy party in room 1630 blurred into the more intimate Lucy post party party upstairs. So intimate in fact that half the denizens of Lucy's room seemed to be asleep or at least pretending they'd like to be. Linda Pickersgill, Bill and I, plus a guy called Rusty that Linda knew from New Orleans fandom took the hint and left. Downstairs the lobby was curiously empty. Even the British official drinking team had gone to bed. 'Let's go off and find a bar,' said Linda the native, taking over. But New Orleans seemed to have gone to bed too. The evening crowds along Bourbon Street had evaporated to virtually nothing. Not surprising, since it was about four or five in the morning. Still it was 'adventure' -- to be wandering around this foreign city in the middle of the night, revelling in the knowledge that I was a long way from home.

The all-night bar was fairly empty though there was still that edge of excitement that comes from late-night people. Rusty told us it was his thirty seventh birthday -- we clinked our bottles of Dixie's and tried to look celebratory, ignoring the fact that Bill kept falling asleep. But before we'd even got to the bottom of them, the all-night bar closed. Linda was philosophical. All-night might not quite mean all night, but we could always go to Cafe Du Monde. Cafe Du Monde really did stay open all night, though only the inside tables were in use. Cafe Du Monde is one of New Orleans most famous tourist traps in the centre of the French Quarter, famous for its chicory coffee (what, no alcohol? I said when I first went there) and sugary doughnuts known as beignets. We took a few beignets to raise our blood sugar level and then went out to the banks of the Mississippi.

Sitting on the steps overlooking the silver grey of the river in the early morning light, just upstream from a dormant river boat was totally unreal. I'm actually here, I thought. On the Mississippi. In New Orleans. At six in the morning.

We sat there exchanging gossip, waiting for the sun to rise.

Walking back in the bright sunshine I reflected that this was the prettiest I'd seen New Orleans so far. The early morning freshness and light contrasted pleasantly with the heavy overcast face the city had shown us till then.

Back at the hotel R.A. Lafferty was determinedly making his doddering way out for his early morning constitutional. My watch said half past seven. I decided it was about time to go to bed.