Chapter 13: ARMENIAN RHAPSODY
Yet another weird dream! This time I dreamt I'd won a competition in the Daily Mirror newspaper for a trip to the moon in the space shuttle. Not only that, but the flight occurred during my TAFF trip, and I was delighted that I'd be able to begin a section CHAPTER 13: THE MOON. Then I started to worry that no-one would believe I'd actually made the trip and I awoke, still wondering how I was going to convince them. Only slowly did full wakefulness and the realisation it was just a dream creep over me.
We were up by 8.15am, and looking forward to the long drive ahead of us. Ever since I'd first arrived at the Avedikian household there'd been a note about today stuck to the refrigerator door, a note now in my possession:
Ourganian - Baranian Reunion
Saturday - Sept 15th, 1984
53 Main Street
Toms River, NJ
Ourganian is apparently the Turkish form of Baranian, which was Queenie's maiden name. When the family came to America some of them changed their name back to its Armenian form while others retained the Turkish version. At one point Avedon's sister, Sally (who I wouldn't get to meet for another eight years) used her mother's maiden name in a renaming sequence stretching over many years that went from Sally Avedikian, to Sirani Avedis, Sara Embree, Sally Piano, and Sara Baranian. Of course, Avedon started life as Ruth Carol Avedikian and became Carol Avedikian, then Carol Kaufman, before finally settling on Avedon Carol. Their brother Rick, so far as I'm aware, has always been Rick.
After a brief sidetrip to a gas station for Avedon to fuel up (and me to pick up some maps) we set off for New Jersey, following her parents' car. Gary had a sticker in the back window that read: "We Remember April 24th, 1915", a reference to the Armenian Genocide when the Turks slaughtered a million Armenians. Answering the doubts of his lieutenants when planning the final fate of Europe's Jews, Hitler is reputed to have said "Who now remembers the Armenians?", hence Gary's sticker.
The journey through Maryland was picturesque but uneventful, and I fell into my usual habit on this trip of jotting down names that caught my fancy: Patuxent River, Ellicott City, Pulaski Highway, Big Gunpowder Falls (followed soon after by Little Gunpowder Falls), Magnolia, Aberdeen, Bynum Run, Havre de Grace, Susquehanna State Park, Millard E. Tydings Memorial Bridge, Rising Sun, etc. As soon as we crossed from Maryland to Delaware, the roadside sprouted a forest of billboards, a change I pointed out to Avedon.
"Delaware has always been a notoriously tacky state", she sniffed.
Maybe so, but it was in Delaware that we stopped for brunch. The '295 Diner & Truck Stop' was the American equivalent of our transport cafes, and a typical example of its type. Rows of huge rigs were parked outside, while inside beefy truckers demolished plates piled high with pancakes and eggs. We all had smaller portions of the same, and I was much taken with the individual jukebox selectors fixed to every table and arranged at intervals along the main counter. We stayed maybe half-an-hour before setting off again.
"Y'know," said Avedon as I was adding Mantua and Bellmawr to my collection of names, "you're lucky your riding with me and not with Gary. His driving is legendary, and so are his crashes. According to Queenie, he compensates for his poor driving skills by going faster. Even so, he's very proud of the fact that he's been driving since he was fourteen."
"Fourteen? That means he would've started in ... 1928! Hah! Weren't you required to have a guy walking in front of the car waving a red light back then?"
"The roads would be a lot safer if Gary was required to have one now."
As it turned out, I never got to ride in a car with Gary during my TAFF trip. It would be a few more years before I was treated to that particular white-knuckle experience.
Soon after entering New Jersey we passed a car whose numberplate, improbably, read: DUFF. I immediately suspected an elaborate prank, but Jack Herman was nowhere to be seen. Voorhees, Mount Misery, and Leisuretowne were some of the places we passed before finally pulling into Tom's River, NJ, a little after 2pm. We may have been late as far as the invitation was concerned, but we were fairly early in reality since few Ourganians or Baranians were actually yet inside Tommy's Restaurant.
I wish I could tell you what Tommy's Restaurant -- or indeed Tom's River itself -- was like, but knowing I'd be writing my TAFF report up in the next few months I figured I could rely on my memory for the descriptive stuff. Ten years on, and I have no clear memory of the place at all. What I do remember, and what my notes confirm, is that I was complimented on my "lovely accent" for what may well be the first time in my entire life.
"No, no", said Avedon, quickly leaping in, "it's actually very low-rent."
She thoughtfully provided an instant correction whenever anyone made this same terrible mistake. Truly, she was tireless in her efforts and exemplary in her dilligence. It still chokes me up whenever I think of it.
One of the most delightful aspects of cultural diversity is the range of cuisines there are out there. Queenie was an excellent cook and I got to sample the pleasures of Armenian food over the course of my stay at Woodfield Road, feasting on stuff such as beoreg (a sort of cheese and filo dough samosa), cheoreg (Easter bread), yalanchi (pine nuts, rice, currants, and spices, wrapped in grape leaves), lachmajeun (a savoury Armenian pizza), keufta (spicy meatballs), and pilaf (rice and noodles). I'd half expected the food at the reunion to be more of the same but instead we had a simple but tasty buffet of turkey, roast beef, ham, cheese, fried chicken, and moussaka. I ate my fill, and more.
Once again, Avedon and Rick sang a duet and Queenie, determined to have a singalong, started handing out the songbooks she'd brought along with her. She was still trying to get people to sing right up to and including the family photograph taken in the final few minutes before we had to vacate the premises, but there weren't enough people who shared her enthusiasm. Immediately prior to this, the various Ourganian and Baranian families had been introduced by one of their number. Just as this was finishing, Gary leapt up and, with a big grin, said: "Let's hear it for the Avedikians!" He then proceeded to introduce the family (and me as "Avedon's friend from England"), concluding:
"I think that's all ... oh yeah, there's my other daughter, Sally, who can't be here because I didn't send her the air fare." He grinned his huge grin again.
On the drive back to Maryland, Avedon filled me in about Gary and the New Jersey part of the family.
"Unlike my folks, they're all Republicans and were big fans of Nixon. During Watergate, Gary used to drive up to New Jersey to rub it in: 'So whaddaya thinka ya Nixon now?'"
"What a guy!" I laughed.
"Really. My father was a Nixon-hater from way back. Hell, I was raised to hate Richard Nixon! When Nixon was elected, Gary decided to grow his hair in protest. Or, as he put it: 'I ain't cuttin' my hair 'til that bum goes!'. This may've been the sixties, but he was then in his mid-fifties. Eventually, he had this long pony-tail down his back, brown at the tip and greyer as you went up. The day Nixon resigned, six years later, all our friends came around to see the ceremonial hair-cutting. Gary had his favourite chair parked right in front of the TV and the rest of us were sitting all around him. As soon as Nixon announced his resignation, Gary said : 'Cut my hair!', and Sally cut his pony-tail off. We had it mounted on a board for years."
What a guy, indeed! Truly, Gary was one of the most unforgettable people I would meet during my whole TAFF trip.
Chapter 14: HANGING WITH THE PONG BOYS
Early on Sunday afternoon, we drove over to Falls Church to link up with Dan and Lynn Steffan. They were in the process of moving the last of their belongings out of 1010 N. Tuckahoe, the house next door to Ted White's place and their home for the past few years. To readers of the focal point fanzine of early-1980s transatlantic fandom, the two houses had a collective identity that Dan's departure was now ending forever. Being the fan that he is, Dan appreciated the significance of the occasion.
"You realise," he intoned, "that you're among the last to see World PONG Headquarters as it was?"
Indeed we did, and we observed a moment's silence at its passing as a mark of respect.
Dan and Lynn had moved to the Adams-Morgan district of DC proper, which is not one of the more salubrious areas of the city. However, when we followed them over to it, their new apartment proved to be surprisingly pleasant. Reached by steep stairs, it was the upper floor of a converted two-storey Victorian house. The high-ceilings added to the feeling of spaciousness while Dan and Lynn's, ah, eclectic taste in decor gave it a quirky feel. Dan handed me a copy of The Washington Weekly, the magazine he was then art editor of, and chuckled as he demonstrated his battery-powered toy chainsaw. It truly is a wonderful country that would make such a thing. Meanwhile, Lynn had put on a record album by Captain Kirk himself, William Shatner, so that we could all marvel at his unique interpretation of 'Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds', which he delivered in a style that can best be described as over-emoted declamation.
"God, that was awful!" I said with great feeling when it was over.
"Sure is," laughed Lynn, "but I intend to sell it to a rich Trekkie eventually and to retire on the proceeds."
Dan & Lynn later treated us to dinner at an Ethiopian restaurant called 'The Red Sun'. This was the first time I'd encountered this particular cuisine and I needed directions from the Steffans before I could figure out how you're supposed to eat it. Basically, you're each given a plate of small, bready pancakes and you use these to pick up mouthfuls of the various dishes provided on a large tray in the middle of the table. The food was delicious, though since it bore little resemblance to any other cuisine I knew, I can't really describe it to you. To my delight, the restaurant carried imported British beers, and it was with immense pleasure that I drank my bottle of Theakston's Old Peculier. It was inevitable we'd discuss the Bergeron Affair at some point, and it proved to be the main topic of conversation during our meal. Fortunately, that was the only time it was mentioned all day.
Back at the new apartment we watched TV and I got to see an episode of 'Monty Python' for the first time in a decade, the BBC having never re-run it in that time. I also got to see my first ever televangelist, and was fascinated by him. The Reverand Ike was a wiry, fast-talking, black man, and while not as glitzy as others of his ilk was no less a salesman. I watched in fascination as snippets from the Bible were interspersed with exhortations to send money, phone numbers flashing as a host of operators readied themselves to fleece the gullible in what was obviously a well-practiced operation. Reverand Ike was less subtle in his appeals for money than more celebrated televangelists, but he was slick enough to pull in the rubes.
"Send money for the 'Secret of Good Luck' package," urged the Rev, "straight from the Bible. You'll learn how you can get what you want -- success, good luck, and more money!"
The Bible must've changed considerably in the years since I was given religious instruction in school as I don't recall material success and the secret of making more money being a big part of Jesus' teachings. But then, I never understood what the world's last great absolute monarch, the Pope ("Vicar of Christ, Successor of the Apostles, Pontifex Maximus of the Universal Church, Patriarch of the West, Primate of Italy, Archbishop and Metropolitan of the Province of Rome, State Sovereign of the Vatican City"), with all his pomp and splendour, has to do with them either, so what do I know? For entirely non- religious reasons, Dan was a big fan of the Reverand Ike and regularly sent off a couple of bucks for the various religious artefacts the Rev plugged on his show. Dan thought these things were hilarious, and when he showed me some of them I could see why. They included cheap plastic crosses, 'holy' oil (in a bottle the size of a thumb-tip), prayer rope (a four-inch piece of string), a 'holy' shower cap (indistinguishable from those supplied for free in hotel rooms), a 'holy' prayer mat (being a material sample swatch), and a prayer fish (which was one of those cellophane fishes that curl up when laid on your palm).
"Holy shit!!" I laughed, shaking my head at this junk.
"Not yet," said Dan, "but I'm sure they'll offer that soon."
Avedon and I had greatly enjoyed our day with Dan and Lynn, and left them that night feeling pretty good. Alas, this mood was rudely disrupted the next morning when we received a bumper crop of mail from Bergeron, Locke, and Mayer, which depressed the hell out of Avedon. In the hope of finding something to cheer her up I turned on the TV ... right in the middle of a news report from the Vietnam Memorial I'd visited a few days earlier, about a Vietnam veteran who'd committed suicide in front of it during the night. It looked like it was going to be one of those days, and so it proved to be.
In the afternoon, Avedon and I drove to her bank to deposit $180 of TAFF money I had on me but was unlikely to need in the few days remaining of my trip. Though she'd been banking there for 15 years, the bank staff were unable to find her account. In the aeons that passed while they searched for it, I ambled across the road to the small local track rail station, a wooden building all cream and brown, bearing the legend 'KENSINGTON, 1891, B&O'. I suspect this would've meant more to me had I been any sort of railway enthusiast, my appreciation of the building being purely aesthetic. When, finally, the bank had located Avedon's account and the money had been deposited, we drove up to Barbarian Books which, of course, was shut.
However, the day picked up considerably that evening when Ted White treated us to dinner at a Mexican restaurant. I tucked in to beans, rice, and chile rochas -- washed down with liberal amounts of Dos Equis beer -- and felt considerably mellower afterwards. Later, back at 1014 N. Tuckahoe -- the other part of World PONG HQ -- we sat around drinking cola, calling Dave Locke names, and generally chewing the fat. I played Ted the tape of the Kettle interview and also the three Astral Leauge tapes I'd brought over with me. Ted was greatly taken with these, and offered to release them on vinyl.
"Since when are you a record executive?" I asked, skeptically.
"You can put out short-run vinyl recordings quite cheaply these days," he replied, taking a couple of record singles off a shelf, "and here are some we've already put out."
Ted gave me one of these, by a band called 'The Young Prof
fessionals', whose sleeve notes listed its Executive Producer as Ted's buddy Matthew Moore. Inevitably, Matthew arrived at 1014 just as I was reading them. I told Ted he'd have to contact Graham Charnock about the Astral Leauge tapes. Whether or not he ever took this any further I don't know but, sadly, no Astral Leauge albums ever appeared.
We phoned Patrick Nielsen Hayden on a three-way line shortly after 11pm to get the latest report on the Bergeron Affair and, as usual, he had a few choice tidbits to impart. Looking back, I can see that even at this early point we were beginning to get obsessed by the affair. In his autobiography, Isaac Asimov -- as big a Nixon-hater as Avedon's father -- talked of needing his regular "Watergate-fix". As much as we deplored the snowballing feud that Richard Bergeron had set in motion, the horrible fascination it had for us meant that we, too, needed our regular "fix".
Chapter 15: THE MAN WHO LAUGHED AT DEATH
We've got some hills, we've got some trees,
We sing in four-part harmonies;
And now I live in Baltimore,
'Cause that's what Maryland is for.
Having time to kill on this, the penultimate morning of my TAFF trip, I decided to pen a reply to Dave Locke's letter of a few days ago. This kept me occupied until midday, when Avedon drove us the mile or so to Grosvenor Metro Station, the nearest connection to Washington's big new mass-transit system, to pick up her friend Ken Josenhans, a local fan. We were heading for Baltimore (known to its natives as 'Bollmer'), and took Highway 95 rather than the more scenic parkway.
"I don't use the parkway any more," said Avedon, "not since a sniper decided to start taking pot-shots at passing cars. On 95 there are four lanes. Gives more room to take evasive action."
Another sniper? I thought Avedon might be pulling my leg but, this being America, who knew?
"On the way to Baltimore," said Avedon, some time later, "is the road to the future." I assumed she was waxing uncharacteristically poetic, until I saw the turn-off indicated by the roadsign ahead: Future. Good grief!
We were meeting Dave Ettlin, another old friend of Avedon's, outside the offices of The Baltimore Sun, the newspaper he worked for. When we got there, Dave was waiting for us with his wife, Bonnie Schupp, and a couple of kids (their daughter and a friend, I think), ready to act as a native guide on our tour of central Baltimore. First, we ambled down to the recently rebuilt harbour area where a magnificent old sailing ship, The Constellation, was berthed. As well as giving its name to Baltimore's 1983 Worldcon, which Avedon had worked on, The Constellation also had a colourful history.
"This baby was a real thorn in you guys' side during the Revolutionary War back in 1812," Dave told me, with great relish.
I was then shown the conference centre, Hilton, and Hyatt Regency that had been the venues for CONSTELLATION, which were of just as much interest to this fanhistorian as more conventionally historical sights. The harbour development reminded me strongly of New York's similar South Street seaport and also of London's Docklands, reflecting a particular architectual vogue, I suppose. This impression was reinforced when we sought somewhere to eat in one of the harbourside pavilions, which were essentially small malls. We ate in a balcony area that allowed you to buy from a number of stalls offering different cuisines and varieties of fast food, the first time I'd encountered this particular arrangement. I had a calzone. The food was good, but equally important was the opportunity for conversation. It turned out that Dave worked on the City Desk at The Baltimore Sun (founded 1837) and so got to report many of the city's high-profile murder cases.
"Dave just loves grisly murders," explained Avedon, "and the gorier they are the more he relishes them."
"We had a great one a while back," he laughed, "a real classic which the cops called 'The Chinese Takeaway Murder'. Don't you just love the names those guys give these things?"
"So why," I asked, taking the bait, "was it called 'The Chinese Takeaway Murder'?"
"Because the victim's body was chopped up and packed into the type of takeaway cartons they give you in Chinese restaurants, of course," he replied, "which were then dumped all over Baltimore. Isn't that great?"
"Once, back when I worked at the Sun," said Avedon, over Dave's chuckles, "I walked past when some of the other reporters were arguing over who'd get to write a particular obituary. I heard one say he was going to call it 'The Man Who Laughed at Death', so I said: 'You're talking about Ettlin, aren't you?'. Dave laughed when I told him, and said they were out of luck as he'd already written it and had it safely stored away."
Dave Ettlin had also been a founder member of the Baltimore Science Fiction Society. BSFS was the third flowering of organised fandom in Baltimore, the others having occurred in the early-1940s and late-1950s, and it was born during a bus journey on 1st January 1963 when, returning from the Washington Science Fiction Association's New Year's party, the Baltimore fans who'd attended decided to form their own group. These were Jack Chalker, Dave Ettlin, Mark Owings, Enid Jacobs, and David Katz (who disappeared from fandom soon afterwards). Jerry Jacks -- invited by Jacobs, and a student of Chalker's -- attended the first meeting a week later. BSFS lasted until October 1968. Dave was later part of a slan shack known as Toad Hall (no relation to Geri Sullivan's later Toad Hall) along with his then-wife Vol, their infant daughter Jenny, and Jack C. Haldeman. Among those who hung out there were George Alec Effinger (or 'Piglet', as he was known) and Roger Zelazny.
Dave started work late afternoon/early evening, so before we went he showed us around the Baltimore Sun building. We started in the newsroom, walked through the composition room, and finally came to the huge room housing the printing presses and a sight to gladden the heart of any fanzine fan.
"This is it," said Dave, gesturing expansively, "the twenty-six million dollar mimeograph! That's how I've always thought of it."
Ah, the fannish spirit! It endured despite Dave having little to do with fandom anymore. A little later, puzzled by his question about that year's Hugo Awards, Avedon queried why he'd only asked about the pro nominations.
"I don't get sent fanzines anymore," he replied, a little sadly I thought.
Dave may not have any involvement with fandom anymore but his daughter Jenny, now known as 'F.L.', is active in the BaltiWash fandom of the '90s and a regular congoer.
Later, as we drove back to Kensington, the overpass carrying us out of Baltimore passed over a Coors depot, prompting Avedon to launch into a tirade about what a "fascist scumbag" she thought was its owner, the allegedly aptly-named Adolf Coors. I knew nothing of that, but I can personally confirm his beer is a crime against humanity.
That evening, Avedon had a computer class at the University of Maryland, so Ken Josenhans and I decided to go along with her and to hang out on the campus. With Avedon installed in her class in the Millard E. Tydings building, Ken (who my notes describe as "big, broad, and bespectacled") and I wandered across the spacious campus to the student union, stopping first at its record store (cash register sign: "no credit, no checks, no receipts, no exceptions"), where he bought expensive imports from exotic England -- y'know, by bands like the Cocteau Twins -- before settling down in the Roy Rogers, a burger chain franchise. I had the R&R burger (cheeseburger with ham), which I piled high with tomato, lettuce, and ketchup at the relish bar. Ken showed no such restraint, and I watched in amazement as pickles, onions, cucumber, lettuce, tomato, rutabaga, zucchini, peas, carrots, corn, beetroot, asparagus, taco chips, apple slices, artichoke hearts, pumpkin, ketchup, mustard, sour cream, thousand island dressing, chili sauce, castor oil, and many other things besides flew from the relish bar as Ken swiftly and skilfully constructed a dangerously unstable tower of a burger that he carried back to his seat with great care and proceeded to chow down on. It's just possible I may have got one or two ingredients of Ken's burger wrong -- it has been ten years, after all -- but one thing I've never forgotten is the taste of my own, which was the best I had during my whole trip. Roy Rogers has been a must-visit on every trip I've made to the US since then, which is one in the eye for the surprising number of people who think I wouldn't know good food if it bit me in the ass.
This being my final night in America, it was perhaps appropriate that when Avedon and I got back to Woodfield Road the final thing we did before retiring for the night was watch the final hour or so of the final episode of MASH. The tearful goodbyes of the characters as one-by-one they set off for home were also the genuine happy-but-tearful goodbyes of the actors to each other at the end of what many admitted was one of the best experiences of their lives.
I knew just how they felt.
Chapter 16: HOMEWARD BOUND
I awoke late on Wednesday 19th September, my last day in America. Not so Avedon, who had risen hours earlier and bashed out a letter to Dave Locke, which I read while eating breakfast. While agreeing the necessity of some sort of response to Locke's letter, this seemed a bit too intemperate, so I suggested we should stick to the letter I'd written yesterday. Since we'd arranged to see Ted White one last time before I left, we decided to get his opinion. Queenie wasn't pleased when Avedon told her we were going over to Ted's:
"But he's seen Ted White already! Why don't you take him to see the amphitheatre, or something interesting like that?"
"He doesn't want to see something interesting; he wants to see Ted White."
Soon after midday, I finished packing, said my farewells to Queenie and Gary, loaded my baggage in the trunk of Avedon's car, and we headed over to Falls Church. By the time we got there we were feeling hungry so, at Avedon's suggestion, she, Ted, and I ate at the local International House of Pancakes. Taking full advantage of my last chance to indulge in American excess, I ordered chocolate chip pancakes with whipped cream and sugar. The others watched me eat this with looks of horror on their faces, but I didn't care.
"I have a high tolerance level for overly sweet and gloppy food," I explained.
"Then America's where you ought to live," said Ted. "It seems unfair that you live three thousand miles away because I enjoy hanging out with you."
The feeling was certainly mutual but, much as I'd enjoyed my visit to the US, I found it difficult to imagine living somewhere that doesn't have universal health care but does allow anyone to own a gun.
Back at Ted's house, we showed him the letters we'd written to Dave Locke. He agreed that mine was the more tactically useful, so that was the one that got sent. We talked some more after that, but all too soon it was time to set out for National Airport. Ted drove, and we made good time, but even with Avedon's invalid plates (she's arthritic) we couldn't find anywhere to park. Never one for long goodbyes in any case, Ted decided to drop us off at the entrance, saying he'd be back for Avedon in 45 minutes.
My bags checked, Avedon and I said our farewells, a long process with much hugging and kissing. With a final wave, I headed for the departure lounge and sank into a chair for the long wait before my flight. I was sitting there, thinking of all that had happened on my TAFF trip, the three most memorable weeks of my life, and wondering when I'd get to see Avedon again, when a female voice said: "Hi, Rob." It was Avedon. Using her considerable powers of persuasion she'd talked the aiport staff into letting her into the departure lounge. It seemed our farewells were going to be even more protracted, which was fine by me.
My plane was late in boarding and take-off, but none of this really mattered to me. I'd enjoyed myself immensely over the past three weeks and I was deeply reluctant to have my trip end. Nevertheless, take-off was a joy (I love flying) and the view of the Pentagon out of my window was spectacular. As we banked away onto our correct heading, I got my first aerial view of the DC area and realised why Washington is sometimes called the city of trees. At ground level you can hardly fail to noticed how well-endowed with trees Washington is, but only from the air do you grasp their extent. Apart from the downtown area, the city seems to be built in a wood. From the low, flat angle I viewed much of the suburbs were invisible beneath the tree cover and you could be forgiven for assuming most of it was still virgin forest.
It was a late afternoon in late summer and there was only haze, no clouds, above which the curvature of the Earth became obvious. Below, Washington thinned out and the outlying districts became clear. Was that Falls Church? Or Kensington? I had no way of telling. Before I knew it, we were over Baltimore, with no perceptible break between it and Washington. Suddenly the concept of a future BaltiWash Metroplex became even more real and I chuckled as I recalled Ted and Avedon joking about Baltimore. By 6.10pm we were flying over New York; half-hidden by the haze, but unmistakeable. Down there the Brooklyn Bridge, over there the twin towers of the World Trade Center. That Manhattan truly was an island could be clearly seen from this height, and for the first time I noticed the strange spits of land that are part and parcel of the Long Island coastline. (A later check of the map reveals these to be Long Beach, Ocean Parkway, and Fire Island.) By the time we reached Boston, 25 minutes later, the haze had thickened into cloud that looked like dense fog from our altitude, but as we dropped through it Boston came into focus. We swung low (very low) over the bay, crossing narrow spits of land encrusted with brightly painted wooden houses. And then we were down and it was 6.49pm and we were 16 minutes late.
This was my first ever visit to Boston's Logan airport but the hassle and aggravation were depressingly familiar. After being assured that my luggage would be transferred automatically (there was some confusion on this point) I got my seat allocation and boarded the 747. It took off at 8.10pm a half-hour late -- and my great adventure, at last, was over. I'd made new friends, put faces to others I'd known only through print, and expanded my horizons in ways that might seem obvious but which only became so in retrospect. In the course of three weeks my love for America and her people had only deepened, and there was one thing I was sure of above all else: I would return.
And I did, too.
Chapter 17: TAFFMAN'S RETURN
When I took off from Washington DC it was a hot summer's day, but by the time I reached Gatwick winter had arrived. It was a good twenty degrees colder than it had been in DC, and whereas DC had been sunny and pleasant, London was experiencing torrential rain and was thoroughly miserable. What made it even more miserable was that it was 7am in the morning, I'd had no sleep, and -- thanks to using all but half a day of my annual vacation time on my TAFF trip -- I had only two hours to get to work. I made it, though not without dropping my Donald Duck hat in a puddle, and spent the next few hours concentrating on fairly mindless tasks such as filing (just about all I could manage). When I left work, shortly after 1pm, the rain hadn't let up at all and neither had the general unpleasantness the day was subjecting me to. As I struggled over Blackfriars Bridge, pulling my suitcase along on its trolley with one hand and holding my umbrella into the wind with the other, I failed to notice when the flat document bag wedged between the suitcase and the trolley straps slipped out. When I did notice I retraced my steps, getting thoroughly soaked in the process (wringing the water out of my socks when I got home was a real barrel of laughs), but there was no sign of it. Fortunately my trip notes (the one wholly irreplaceable item on me) were in my jacket pocket, as were my house keys, which I'd removed from the bag shortly before leaving the office and without which I'd've been in real trouble. However, there were things in there I was pissed off at having lost, things like my Friends In Space badge, fanzines, photos given to me by Avedon, various high-priced comics, and like that. Back home I fell asleep at 4pm, woke 3am, had a lie-in 'til 4am, bathed, wrote a letter, had breakfast, and set off for work at 8.20am.
Actually, I was unwise in the way I handled jet-lag on my return, and I suffered for it. That same evening, a Friday, I hit the sack at 11pm and woke at 1.25pm. I woke exactly the same time the next day -- having retired at midnight -- and that 27 hours sleep in two nights totally messed me up for the rest of the week.
I had a pleasant surprise the Wednesday after my return when I received a call from the local police station. My lost bag had been handed in and they wanted me to call round and collect it. I whooped with joy, collected the bag, and was surprised at how many items I hadn't even realised I was missing. These included my L.A.CON II Programme Book, postcards of San Francisco, two copies of a 'Journal of Do-It-Yourself Mental Health', a copy of the invitation Rich Coad and Stacy Scott printed up for the party they threw for me in San Francisco, and a weirdly wonderful postcard given to me by Stu Shiffman that showed the Brooklyn Bridge as it is now and as it looked while being built a century ago, depending which angle you looked at it. Getting all this stuff back cheered me up no end and by that point I needed cheering up having come down with a bug then doing the rounds whose symptoms included diarrhoea and strange pains in the stomach and groin. And no sooner had I shaken this off than I came down with a real bastard of a cold that led to me having a few days off work that were spent in no more productive activity than lying in bed feeling ill. Then of course there were the horrors of the TAFF Wars (see Appendix for an account of that particular nightmare), which I got embroiled in immediately my trip was over and which were to occupy my full attention for the rest of the year and beyond.
In May 1985, Avedon moved to the UK and we were married. A number of those I'd met on my TAFF trip were there too, including Rick & Maryanne, Dolly and Alexis Gilliland, and Ted White. Avedon and I have been back to the US many times since then, and if we could afford to we'd visit it even more often.
My love affair with American fanzine fandom continues.