Always Coming Home

Chapter One
Jeanne Gomoll • JG TAFF Trip 1987

Published 1987 in Whimsey 6 ed Jeanne Gomoll

"Going anyplace special for your vacation this year?"

Funny you should ask.

Sunday, March 16, Scott and I drove home from Anamosa, Iowa, where his folks live. March 15th was the TAFF voting deadline and I was tremendously excited about the outcome of the voting, but I figured that nothing could have been officially done until midnight of the 15th. Patrick and Teresa would have called Greg Pickersgill very late ... or rather, very early in the morning of March 16th, in order to give any tardy fan the chance to catch a red-eye plane to New York City and personally hand their ballot to a bleary-eyed Teresa or Patrick. Maybe the telephone conference would take place on the dot of midnight, or maybe early the next morning. It would still be cheap rates on Sunday, after all. And it would be easier to count votes after a good night's rest.

Yes, they probably wouldn't know who the winner was until Sunday morning. That's the way I had it figured. Why stick around the house, getting all hyper and jumping out of my skin every time the phone rang?

So we went to dinner and a movie with Scott's brother and sister-in-law, and drove back to Madison Sunday morning. Well, actually it was early afternoon. We got up late.

By the time Patrick managed to get hold of me by phone, every fan in the free world knew the voting outcome except me. And they were all sworn to secrecy and had promised not to contact me before Patrick and Teresa had been able to talk to me. They'd added up the votes Saturday night. And no red-eyed fan flew to New York to upset the voting statistics.

The phone rang 15 minutes after Scott and I stepped though the door.

"Hello?" I said, trying to keep the excited squeek out of my voice.

"Hi, this is Patrick," said Patrick.

Pause. Pregnant pause.

"You were raised a Catholic, weren't you Jeanne?" he continued. Is this the Twilight Zone, I wondered.

"Yes, but ..."

"OK." Another pause. "... Three puffs of white smoke."

(There really was a female Pope, you know. Pope Joan. But I'd rather be a TAFF-winner anyway. You don't have to wear a funny costume.)

And I laughed madly for a minute or so, and mumbled incoherently for a while after that, jumping up and down, and hugging Scott as Patrick told me that he'd been trying to call me over and over again since the night before. Finally, I settled down a bit and copied down the voting statistics as Patrick read them to me, accepted congratulations from both Patrick and Teresa (who yelled, "Congratulations, sucker!"), and promised to write a note to them the next day with a more coherent reaction than I'd been able to muster over the phone. One with a subject and a predicate, say.

And I did, managing not only a subject and a predicate, but finding myself strangely compelled to begin telling a fannish sort of anecdote, as well.

"All they want is a reaction, Jeanne," I told myself. "They didn't ask for a story." So I cut myself off, jotted down a note in case I eventually decided to flesh out the story about the contests I have won in my life, and stuck the aborted anecdote into its envelope.

I won TAFF. Thank you, all of you. I still tend toward giggles and hopping about when I think about it.

Time to get serious, and get ready, I told myself at one point.

"Time to make plane reservations," I told Scott.

So, Scott and I went to South Towne Travel Agency to get some travel brochures. We didn't intend to make reservations right away; we just wanted some information. But we found the Perfect Travel Agent, and everything changed.

My usual experience at travel agencies has generally gone something like this:

"I'd like to leave Friday and return Saturday in the next week. Please find me the cheapest flight." I say.

The travel agent squints into a computer screen and tells me that a round-trip ticket will cost a small fortune. "With tax, that will come to $450.00."

"Hmmmmm," I say, puzzled. "I've heard about an Ozark flight for only $200 this month."

"Do you want me to check on that?"

It always makes me wonder what else I should be asking them to check.

But we found someone at the South Towne agency who seems entirely different. Kathy checked flight information on two screens at one time, and thumbed through some files in her desk to answer a question I'd asked a moment before, and when she noticed that I was craning my neck around to check her nameplate (I'd already decided that this was the travel agent for me and I wanted her name), she handed me her business card. I figured that we'd discovered a bionic travel agent.

By the end of our fact-finding visit to the South Towne travel agency, we'd made our plane reservations and promised to pay for the tickets in a couple weeks.

What a great way to start! We find the Perfect Travel Agent, who will Take Care of Us, and make sure our flight plans work out smoothly and perfectly! We had faith.

"What a good omen!" Scott said. He's always been a little nervous about flying, but he's going to England with me, and there's no way he's going to get out of the fact that we'll have to fly to get there. But Kathy made both of us feel very confident about the arrangements.

Two weeks later, the day before we would have to pay for the plane tickets (or lose them), we happened to be driving past South Towne. Fire trucks were parked next to the travel agency sign. Water was being squirted on what remained of the building. The odor of charcoal hung in the air. Our travel agency had burnt to the ground.

"I don't think this is a very good omen," said Scott.

Since this part of my TAFF report is being written as it happens, I don't know yet whether to portray this ominous event as a foreshadowing of events to come, or note happily that it was just like when the plane flew into the side of the house when Garp and his wife were househunting (in The World According to Garp). They buy the house. They figure the worst that will ever happen to this house has already happened. The worst is over.

• • • • •

I've gotten a few other tasks completed since that March phone call. Scott and I both applied for our fannish passports, of course. You have to go to the Post Office for those, and they forward your fannish birth certificates to the secret SMOF headquarters. All I needed for proof of fannish birth was my Big Mac nametag. Scott's case was a little more complicated, since he's never attended a worldcon. He brought along a signed statement from the WisCon registrar and I made a xerox of the letter-of-comment he had in Whimsey. The clerk seemed a little doubtful about whether this would be adequate proof, but apparently it was enough, because both of us received our fannish passports a few weeks later.

They're really quite impressive. Since I've never traveled outside the US except for a quick trip up into Canada for a convention in Vancouver, and a possible border crossing by canoe on Minnesota's wilderness boundary waters, I've never needed a passport before. I examined it carefully. There's a picture and personal statistics on the first page, of course -- a listing of my fannish birth date, SF group affiliation, publications, and even a space for pseudonyms if I had one. The second page holds the English and French version of the passport Invocation:

The secret Master of Fandom of the United States of America hereby requests all whom it may concern to encourage the fan named herein to meet and converse with them, and in case of Coa Distress to remind them of their true fannish home.

I guess this last part has been added because of the US coa deficit. I hear there is even a chance that fanzine tariffs might be charged if the fan drain isn't controlled.

Neither Scott nor I were looking forward to the shots, but we gritted our teeth and made the appointment. Better to get it over with, we figured.

I knew we'd have to be inoculated for English humor. And it really wasn't all that bad. In fact, after it was over, the doctor made a dry comment about the process ... I forget exactly what she said, but she didn't laugh or anything when she said it, and it didn't sound like a joke, but I laughed and laughed all the same. The doctor was satisfied. "It's already taken effect," she assured me. I rubbed my arm, which felt like someone had just punched me. But then I made the mistake of mentioning that we might be traveling to Wales, and we had to get another shot for that. Ever since then I keep thinking I understand what dogs are saying.

Scott's got more to do than me. He's been taking a crash course in fannish tradition and fanspeak in preparation for the trip. He stays up late at night listening to the tapes we borrowed from the library.

"When will the trip report be finished?" asks the voice on the tape recorder.

He learns fast. I hear him responding clearly, without hesitation. "Real Soon Now."

• • • • •

First we've got to make the trip.

We leave Madison -- well, Chicago, actually -- on Sunday, August 23, and return back to the US on Monday, September 14. In between well try to see as much as we can in Britain, go to the worldcon, and visit with enormous numbers of Brit fans. I figure I'll take off another couple days for semi-comatose staring-at-the-wall recovery when we get back, but right now, I can hardly wait to make a start. I've accumulated vast stacks of books and brochures describing British sights and events, and have jotted down a short list of "must sees," which only amount to one side of a legal-sized piece of paper. I'm going to have to edit it down some.

• • • • •

It was my intention to finish both this issue of Whimsey, and a one-shot with Pam Wells and Linda Pickersgill before the TAFF deadline. Neither happened. I was slow getting my articles to Pam and Linda, and Wiscon derailed my plans for an early-in-the-year Whimsey. I do expect the one-shot to come out eventually, however. The three of us all contribute two articles (In two different styles), which makes six articles all together. We call the zine, Six-Shooter, of course.

There are a couple other articles of mine coming out in various fanzines, but I expect that this is the last fannish writing I'll be doing before I return from England. It has been and will continue to be a busy year for me. The TAFF trip of course will take up some time and much more energy. But there are other things going on too. I'll be devoting some time to TAFF administration. Already there's been one auction -- at Minicon -- and I've been writing to other cons and arranging more. There are, after all, seven boxes of TAFF auctionables that the relieved Patrick and Teresa sent to me from the former TAFF US headquarters in New York. And I'm already sketching out plans for the J. G. TAFF Catalog, the first edition of which will come out some time after I return from England.

But even if it weren't for TAFF-related activities, I'd be busy. Things are changing at work for me. Lots of politics and maybe a job change of sorts. And Scott will be moving in with me at the end of July. And we're talking about buying a house within the next year.

I've always kept a do-list. But now I've got lists, plural. I've got a daily do-list. I've got a do-before-England do-list. I've got a do-before-Scott-moves-in list. And before the year is over, I'll probably have a severe personal-gravity list. The leaning tower of Jeanne, they'll call me. But I think it looks like a fun year. I'm sure I'll think of lots of things to write fanzine articles about.