Challenger Logo by Alan White   A Science Fiction Fanzine   Winter 2004/5



Being an account faithfully rendered of the journeys

voluntary and otherwise



his kith and kin







THE EDGE OF destruction

August 28 - September 19, 2004 * GHLIII Press Publication #972


The morning after we toured D.C., and before we left for Boston, I went out onto my brother-in-law's dock and watched the day begin from aboard his boat.

He had a sailboat moored to the pier called Classical Jazz, but I was drawn to the huge, mastless hulk tied up beside it. Merritt had bought it in Miami and had it towed here, to this estuary of Chesapeake Bay, to repair and rebuild - and someday, he said, to sail around the world. Finding a new dock for this boat is what led him to the beautiful house behind me, where he, his wife Annie and my wife Rosy still slept. I stepped onto its unfinished deck, went to its prow, sat to rest my aching legs, and looked out upon the morning.

The moon was stark on my right shoulder. Before me the river rippled mysteriously in the quiet current, and I watched a single duck fly over, following its course. Moments later a ragged V of geese followed, higher, and I heard one honk. I liked the silence and the lack of silence out there in the early morning: that honking duck, the crickets on the shoreline, the distinct calls of the gulls, the plop of their target fish, feeding in the river. No human racket; no noise pollution. I liked that. I didn't like the sharp lines on the ugly oil patches near the pier, and the way those patches clung when they came up against the pilings. Sharp lines seemed a pollution of their own in the course of nature.

I thought about my father. He would have loved this moment. He always dreamed of owning a boat, and would have envied Merritt his ambition of fixing this one and taking it to the ocean, sailing it in retirement around the globe. He talked about boats incessantly - but never took action on his dream, and died without owning one. I missed Dad and his vague dream of boats.

For a timeless interval there was just the river and the fish and the birds, and then a jet came in from behind me, innocently blotting out the peacefulness. Its thunder brought back man's world of thought, and the ultimate human pollution, judgment. I wondered how I could express to my brother-in-law how much I respected his dream. You have to show respect for the important parts of a person, and the most important part of a man is the dream that moves him. I felt it important that Merritt should know that I understood that.

From somewhere came to slap of boards, a door closing, a distinctive sound of Man. The light had changed. The moon was dimmer. A feather floated by on the water, and I wondered if it was from the duck I'd seen earlier. The morning was past, it was time to go, and so off I went, to the dreams that move me.



Dreams indeed. For days before we left for Boston, and Noreascon 4, the 2004 World Science Fiction Convention, I dreamed about it.

I dreamed I was at a deserted motel desperately searching for another soul. Remember what I have often said, that there is no lonelier experience in fandom than wandering a worldcon without a companion, or troop. But why should I, with Rose-Marie by my side, fear this? I pooh-poohed away the dream.

I also dreamed that I was at a bustling, busy worldcon, with Rosy, viewing Hugos with odd and elaborate bases, riding elevators that plunged from unimaginable heights with soul-alarming speed. Freudian analogies aside, that was more like it. That was, in fact, close to precognition.

Finally, I dreamed a variation on that old standard about missing exams - but this time, I was late for panels, for ceremonies, for the dinner we'd set up with fan-editor pals at Legal Seafoods. Anxiety and anticipation over N4 dueled in my heart as our final days of mad preparation passed.

But this worldcon didn't involve the preparation of days. Try, weeks. Indeed, the whole of spring and summer, 2004, was devoted to Noreascon 4 in one way or another ... and to watching the skies. For literally above and beyond the concerns of fandom, the demands of nature given names were literally hanging over our heads. Charley ... Frances ... Ivan ... Norman?




The DUFF delegate's name was Norman Cates - suspiciously close to Norman Bates in spelling, but not in personality. The most pleasant of fellas, he was the first New Zealander to win the Down Under Fan Fund, and carried a special qualification: he had worked as a prosthetics and computer technician on The Lord of the Rings. Rosy and I rejoiced when the local media convention, CrescentCityCon, appeared on Norman's itinerary. So did CCC.

We were happy because Cates' trip meant we could show another foreign guest the glories of this wonderful, psychopathic city - in short, take him to dinner. That we could do so as fannish officials, North America's reigning DUFF delegates, was a special honor. We chose Sid-Mar's as the site for this reverie, a fine seafood establishment, wholly out of the tourist loop - a neighborhood joint for neighborhood folks, completely without pretense. Hard by one of Lake Pontchartrain's feeder canals and a fleet of picturesque fishing boats, it is New Orleans.

Our fan krewe joined us there - John Guidry and Donna Hamsher, Justin & Annie Winston, Dennis Dolbear and his friend Karyn, Rick Coleman (a Fats Domino expert) and a couple of his music pals. From the con, in addition to Norman, came the prolific (and sweet) fantasy author, Mercedes "Misty" Lackey. We made a righteous party. Norman endured our attentions and questions and Coleman's voluminous Lord of the Rings scrapbooks with patience and kindness belying his tender years. (A terrible realization hit me over Sid-Mar's humongous seafood platter: Cates is 32. I am 55. When I was 32, my father was 55. Yoiks.)

Anyway, CrescentCityCon also welcomed Norman, and with pitiable relief. Seems the concom had advertised no less a personage than David Carradine as their Guest of Honor, only to be forced to announce, on con's eve, that the star of Kung Fu wasn't coming. (No surprise: after Kill Bill vol. 2, Carradine is hotter than a medium-sized nuke, and had more lucrative opportunities than a little SF con.) Cates to the rescue. The maker of all of LotR's elf ears and some of its hobbit feet, he brought a terrific WETA slide show, and more than ably filled in.

Even without Carradine - my choice for Best Supporting Actor this year - CCC had a fine guest list, including Robert Asprin and Misty Lackey and many others. These worthies put on a panel about disastrous SF cons that really put fans into their place. Best anecdote was Asprin's epic tale of a criminally oversold Star Trek event in New York. The unscrupulous con promoter kept selling memberships far beyond the capacity of the hotel, and crammed 30,000 ravenous trekkies into space where a tenth of that number would suffer. They rioted. Nimoy and Co.'s rooms were trashed. The convention chairman fled with a suitcase stuffed with money, but Asprin and the other po' shmos on security detail barely escaped with their lives.

All of which underscored the fundamental discord between media cons and, well, our cons. A later panel bewailed the change in mediacons over the years. The panelists complained that the small events couldn't compete with big ticket items like Dragon*Con. Of course, I squawked, because who were their guests? Actors. People with no emotional commitment to science fiction beyond their paychecks. And why were they even coming to the convention? They were getting paid. Traditional con guests are creators who bring SF to the con out of their talent and vision, who care about science fiction and, in the best cases, anyway, its fandom. What's an actor got to compete with that closeness - besides a famous face?

Famous faces weren't what gave CCC its special sheen - familiar faces were. Or at least, faces that would've been familiar without the press of years, years, years - and the presence of some ridiculously old children. For instance, Norman Elfer, there with his 15-year-old daughter, and Dany Frolich, escorting his effervescent pre-teen. So CCC was a suCCCess - thanks to a new friend from New Zealand (Old Zealand was in the Netherlands, right?), and old friends, from right here.




Norman's visit wasn't the first harbinger of Noreascon for our household - far from it. The entire summer of 2004 was devoted to the worldcon.

The specific focus of our activity, of course, was the program/souvenir book. I was editor, Rosy was copy editor, and Geri Sullivan - up in Massachusetts - the designer. Assembling the book involved numberless moments of triumph, such as Jeff Potter turning to us at a New Orleans movie and volunteering artwork, and travail, such as getting past and over the past Noreascon chairman who refused to write about his own convention. But the last work we did, in July, is what stands out in memory.

The last pages completed on the N4 program book were those devoted to a listing of the past Hugo winners. I'm an awards nut, have a particular affection for the Hugos, and an unbridled - great word, eh? - desire to win one myself. Naturally I paid closest attention to those pages in both of the worldcon program books I've edited. For Nolacon II I added photos of ceremonies and winners. What to do special for Noreascon 4?

How about book covers ... and autographs? With my collection of Hugo-winning novels and magazine fiction, many signed, and Rosy's collection of signatures from her lifetime in fandom, we had plenty of material for designer Sullivan. But there was a problem.

Take a look. Anne McCaffrey's autograph. Strong, assertive, intelligent, feminine ... and on a grey background. Before Rosy, and computer competence, came into my life, my solution for such a problem would have been to smear white-out over the nasty parts of the page and hope I didn't let a loose drop ooze over an important line. But Rosy was here, and she knew about things like Photo Shop.

Which allowed us to blow up the autographs to1200X and zap the unwanted pixels, one by one. Pow Pow Pow - a home video game! Of course, it inspired eyestrain, and took hours - no, days - but we did it. When McCaffrey's pristine signature appeared in the book, it ran beneath a shot of the Analog depicting "Weyr Search" on its cover. Three birds, one stone: best magazine, best artist (John Schoennherr), best novella (tie) 1968.

Geri was fantastic - I credit her for the ultimate quality of the program book. In late August she kept us up to date by e-mail from the printer, where she'd camped while the book was being published. She sent us a signature to show how well it was going. And it was going wonderfully.




How many trips have I taken to Knoxville, Tennessee? In days of old, many - Beth and I made the westward journey over the Blue Ridge from Greensboro so often that I began to recognize specific trees en route. But that all ended when I moved to Louisiana - and the dispersal of the maniacs who had made the city a fannish locus.

One still remained, and even though we hadn't set eyes on each other for nearly 20 years, our friendship remained stalwart. Charlie Williams had been a constant believer in and contributor to Challenger since its inception, and Noreascon was ape about his work for the program book. Months before our trip, anxious to see him and his again - and save hotel money - I'd asked Charlie if we could spend our first night on the road at his place. Generous soul: of course, he said.

We'd left early that Saturday morning, August 28, and driven a long, long way, three of us, including our yorkie, Jesse. She didn't help much with the driving but did an excellent job holding down the back seat. We arrived at Charlie's lovely hillside home just as evening came - an evening illuminated by the flash of distant lightning and the twinkle of drifting fireflies.

Charlie, alas, demonstrated some of the effects of the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics - his hair is entirely white! - but the years have been justly kind to my old friend. His wife (a fine portrait and landscape artist) remains lovely, his son is nobly strong, his daughter heartrendingly pretty. His home is handsome and his work is steady - though, I gathered, so uniform that my requests for Challenger contribs and program book art were welcome. I dratted forgetting to bring the loose signatures Geri had sent us - they included two of Charlie's wonderful portraits of the N4 guests. I resolved to send him a completed book as soon as I had one in hand.

We toured Charlie's pad, chowed down on pizza, caught up on old times. Knowing nothing of the frightful cancer growing on Charlie's drawing shoulder, the Williams' life seemed ideal to me. In fact, Charlie only mentioned one negative factor to his home on that hillside: the weather. Their deep cement-walled basement had come in handy more than once when a twister had roared through their neighborhood.

Twisters puh-schaw! Life in Tennessee seemed righteous to me, tornadoes or none. I resolved to renew my efforts to find public defender work in Tennessee. Can't live, after all, without fireflies ...

I wish I could report that Rosy and I spent a restful night, but the inflatable mattress we brought was a disaster. Twice we pumped the effing thing nice and plump and twice it deflated under my flab, leaving me sprawled on a sheet of plastic stretched across a hardwood floor. Ouch and phooey.




Ah ... new roads. There, in a phrase, is the whole attraction of travel. I-81 - at least as far as Bristol - and I-68 to D.C. were new to me. Pretty country along the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains, throughout the morning an enticing silhouette to our right. I had a small migraine to contend with, but it couldn't compete with the great humped hills, so ripe with firs - I do love the upper south.

Which rapidly became the "lower north" as the day wore on and we drove on. Our road atlas took a severe beating from eye tracks as we curved about the Washington bypass to find the proper feeder road to the capital - the one which would lead us to paydirt. Of course, we got lost - seldom did we drive anywhere on this journey without blundering down a wrong road. This time, as the night came on, we blundered down the right road - and found the home of Merritt and Annie Green.

The little sign above the doorbell declared this to be the abode of a sailor and his mate - and indeed, within the nautical obsession of Rosy's brother became clear. Ship paintings, models and figurines abounded. Like Charlie's house, it was a cool abode - small from the front, but triple-decked, with plenty of room, with a wide yard leading down to the river - where Merritt's sailboat and retirement project were docked. That night we could see little of them as Merritt and Annie, a lovely, lively redhead, fed us a succulent fish dinner on their screened-in back porch. Rosy and her brother chatted about the meteorological events menacing their parents in Florida ... Charley, of a week or two past, and Frances, the hurricane in progress. Ivan, at the moment, was just a rumor, lost in the Atlantic, somewhere east of the Sargasso Sea.




My only concern as Merritt drove us into D.C. the next morning was, will we have time to see Rusty Burke? Long, tall, red-bearded Rusty was a corner of the aforementioned Knoxville triumvirate, that revolutionized Southern fandom in the early '80s. Vern Clark had disappeared, I'd just visited Charlie Williams - and Nicki Lynch, bless her, had alerted Rusty to my Washington plans. E-mails had crossed.

Alas, there was a logistical problem. Whereas the last time I had seen Rusty, he had lived in Maryland and worked on Capitol Hill (across the street from the Supreme Court), now he worked in Maryland and lived on Capitol Hill. We'd be touristing near there all day - but he wouldn't be home until late evening, and by then we'd be long gone.

Evening was a long way off as we began our day in American history. Our first stop took us only seventy years into the past, to one of Merritt's favorite places in the capital - the Franklin Roosevelt memorial. It's one of the newest of Washington's monuments and we found it one of the most creative and attractive. Divided into a series of open-air "rooms," corresponding to eras in FDR's presidency, it conveyed a dramatic clout, in that it told a story. The silly brouhaha over depicting Roosevelt in his wheelchair is already mostly forgotten, and generations to come will give it no thought. The Depression - the War - those they'll understand. Afterwards Rosy and I continued around the Tidal Basin to one of my favorite places in D.C., the Jefferson Memorial, with its stunning statue and magnificent inscription - I HAVE SWORN UPON THE ALTAR OF GOD ETERNAL HOSTILITY TO EVERY FORM OF TYRANNY OVER THE MIND OF MAN. Wow.

Walking back along the Basin, Rosy and I met an elderly gentleman sitting on a bench. He wore a Boy Scout type cap with the name of a military unit stitched into it. To my delight I found that the old soldier came from California.

We returned to the Mall, passing the giant bronze Einstein statue at the National Institute of Science. Nicki Lynch had warned me that the Vietnam Wall was undergoing renovation, but still I seethed in frustration. I'd wanted to show James King's name to my wife, and tell her his story. Instead I found the half of the memorial with his name covered in plywood. We crossed to the Lincoln - etched on opposing walls, his Second Inaugural faces the Gettysburg Address across the monument; "Great words," observed Klaatu - and then wandered down to the new memorial to the Korean War, statues of an American platoon on patrol. It didn't move me the way it did Merritt, who saw increasing stress and misery in the faces of the soldiers. (Merritt told us about the new Korean war, the violence leveled against any non-Korean who tried to set up a souvenir stand.) But it was much more effective than the World War II monument, sprawling, pointless, tacky, ugly and uninspired, designed without wit and unworthy of WWII's veterans. Bleah! Perhaps my displeasure came from the fact that we had to walk half the length of the Mall to see it, and we were already foot- and legsore. In envy, I watched the locals soak their feet in its fountain. We were delighted when Merritt picked us up to take us Smithsonian-hopping.

We'd already run through Air & Space ... literally. Except for a new room devoted to the Wright Brothers - can anyone name the other siblings besides Wilbur and Orville? - it was all super-familiar, and none of us got much of a jolt from it. Our target now was the Museum of Natural History, and perhaps its tiniest - yet most valuable - exhibit.




There's much to see in the American Museum of Natural History, but the object I wanted to show to Rosy was among its smallest exhibits. Her engagement ring. Well, the diamond for it.

Getting into the Museum involved negotiating the barriers imposed by Homeland Security, which we had seen everywhere on the streets. While I recognize the need for security, especially when people might forget that they are supposed to be frightened out of their wits, I still have a tendency to draw lines about myself, so while I was dumping out my forty-five cents in change and peeling off my figa and my metal-buckled belt, I took umbrage at being commanded to take off my watch - while the guard prodded my wrist with a stick. I mean, certainly it's important to give retards jobs with the federal government - the Florida Secretary of State thought so - but some of us nigger-loving hippies still believe in personal dignity. I told the clod to back off.

Instead of being arrested, somewhat to my surprise, I got sent through, and soon Rosy and I were upstairs in the Gem Room, where marvelous minerals were on display - including a perfectly transparent foot-wide crystal ball. But all paled before the Hope.

The postcard tells me it has 45.52 carats, but I forget how that translates into comprehensible size. It's large, but not the biggest diamond I've ever seen; that distinction belongs to the Tiffany, which looked like a glowing golfball the last time I saw it. But where the Tiffany diamond is canary yellow in color, the Hope is blue - deep, Indian Ocean blue. It seemed to float in its display case - a frighteningly beautiful gem among gems. And allegedly bad, bad luck for its owners throughout its history; frightening again, because now it belongs to the people of the United States of America.

I could afford no such doodads for Rosy, alas, so instead, as a souvenir, I bought her a sterling silver letter opener. The sunburst on its handle is apparently a symbol of the Smithsonian - and you'll find it on my cover.




Before we'd gone into the Museum, our attention had been drawn by the building across the street. Its central rotunda is kept dark. Lighted display cabinets around its wall hold material for the viewer to examine and learn by. Three special vaults, flanked by guards, occupy the central location.

The parchment within the three cabinets could barely be read, a terrifying metaphor for the way in which they are regarded by some these days - including the men currently sworn to uphold and protect them. You could barely read the words ... but some of us, anyway, know them by heart. We all should, of course; those six sheets of paper are records of ideas. And some ideas.

All men are created equal ... Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech ... In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury ... and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense.

How has the current administration described these ideas - these sentiments? "Pre-9/11"? "Quaint"? Is that the way we'll be looking at those six sheets of paper - the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and most importantly, the Bill of Rights - in the brave new world of government by impulse and unlimited detentions of "enemy combatants"? As the way we were, or wanted to be, once upon a "quaint" time?

I know the way I feel about that.




My sole worry on entering D.C. became my sole regret when we left: we hadn't been able to see Burke. A phone chat would have to do. Curses - we each wanted to show off our wives.

We headed north. On the Jersey turnpike we stopped so I could reward myself with the most delectable delectability ever caught between buns - a Nathan's hot dog. Rosy, who doesn't eat meat, looked on askance as I crammed the glorious tube steak into my enraptured chops. How long have I been enamored of Nathan's? No, no, wrong, wrong, my adoration of the dawg didn't begin with my year in New York. It began before that, at Berkeley, and what if my hippy locks have fallen away, and my scalp stands bald? In my taste buds the revolution lives on!

A primary purpose of the journey north satisfied, on we went. North, north ... mush you huskies ... and the buildings grew around us ...until suddenly in the distance ahead there loomed a ridiculously tall edifice, its tower rickling the zenith - and naw, it couldn't be the building we wanted it to be, could it? And then we glanced to the right, to the widening water opening there, and we saw the white back of the Lady in the midst of the water - and we knew where we were.

Just outside of the gaping entrance to the Holland Tunnel, I took over driving chores. We examined a map. Our plan was simple. Just on the other end of the tunnel, Manhattan thronged that week with bloodsucking Republicans. Security for them and their chief vampire would preclude a quick cut across the center of the island, so I planned a literal end run, curling south, around the Battery, drilling north along the FDR to I-95 East. We took a deep breath. We plunged through the Holland into New York. We were lost at once.

I know I took the right roads, but somehow, once we got into Manhattan, we ended up at a dead end. And what a dead end. For what faced us at the end of our road but a vast square pit: Ground Zero.

The last time we were there was Christmas, 200. Never will we forget glimpsing those huge scraps of facade, and those terrible, terrible cranes. We were at the most tragic place in America ... but it was all different. Time has robbed the site of its drama: pedestrians wandering past paid it not the slightest attention. Good grief, New Yorkers - the suits swarming around the RNC uptown are trashing those six sheets of paper we'd seen the day before, all because of what happened here - you could at least look at the place!

We found a cop - no problem during such a high-security event - and got our noses pointed in the right direction. We dipped into a tunnel to take us around the Battery, and emerged on F. D. Roosevelt Drive, the quick and delightful fast lane up the east side of Manhattan.

We drove beneath the Brooklyn Bridge, exquisite stone masterpiece of its century, past the riverside mall where, in 2001, we'd lunched with Rick Spanier before walking across. We drove beneath the Manhattan Bridge with its fancy towers. The Williamsburg Bridge we passed - and the United Nations Building, looking funny and narrow from the edge. I thought of my stoner girlfriend Patti and how she picked one of the U.N.'s perfect tulips in 1974. I wondered if I could still go to jail for that. The Empire State and Chrysler Buildings were glorious pylons to our left. More bridges, the Queensboro and the Triboro. The prison on Riker's Island - cue theme from Law and Order. Across the river, the walls of Yankee Stadium, evoking bittersweet memories of immortal New York people. Julie Schwartz saw Ruth and Gehrig play baseball there. And then we were approaching the exit we sought, to I-95 East ... and the exit appeared - I-95 ... West.

West? West?! I careened past. Rosy tore at the road atlas trying to find the proper exit. I-95 West would send us back into New Jersey. Panic! Panic! We careened off the FDR, now the East River Drive, and found ourselves in, of all places, Harlem. Oh brother.

Harlem is not really a scary place - at least not nowadays, and not in broad daylight. Families and regular folks filled the sidewalks going about their daily business. But we were thoroughly lost, and the road atlas' map of Manhattan, being microscopic, gave us little aid. Finally I spotted a sign pointing the way to Yankee Stadium, and lurched in that direction. Yankee Stadium, I knew, was outside of Manhattan, and to its east. So was Boston. One step at a time.

Of course, leaving Manhattan around Harlem and going due east puts you in the south Bronx, which is scary, in daylight, at night, or during eclipses - but at least we were able to find an interstate. That interstate led us to another. Which led us to another. Which led us to I-95 ... East. We didn't look back until we were in Connecticut.




As dusk fell we made an unexpected stop - Mystic Seaport, Connecticut. Rosy had always wanted to visit it, and naturally we arrived at the attractive, touristy stretch of ships and shops - which she describes as "a nautical world of another era, captured in time" - just as everything closed. We peered through windows at groovy tourist shoppes, and over fences at magnificent frigates and schooners. I'd rather gargle with Clorox than disappoint Rosy, so I promised that someday, we'd be back.

It still takes only 45 minutes to traverse Rhode Island. One puzzlement as we did so was not seeing the RI state capitol, which I swear Justin Winston and I drove right by in 1980. Short trip or not, I know it seemed like eternity until we crossed into the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, reached I-495 and began the loopy circumnavigation which would take us to our home for the next two days, in Framingham. Journeys reach their highest pitch of exhausting-ability when you are closest to finished. I don't know how we did it, in our blitzed state of mindlessness, but somehow, we found the proper road, and Motel 6.

It was August 31, and September - and our Boston adventure - would begin with the dawn. My last note in my diary, on that long day of driving, was a plea to Hurricane Frances to leave my in-laws in Florida alone.




Rosy's sister-in-law had described a sweet, funny picture of our yorkie, Jesse. We'd left her at their house during our D.C. expedition. When Annie came home, and every time she walked into the room, Jesse would jump up expectantly, eyes wide, then sink back, disappointed, when she saw it wasn't la belle. It felt crummy to leave our critter in motel room after motel room, but our destinations for the day had no facilities for yorkie terriers.

We were armed with a cute little tourist map purchased at a highway rest stop. Already our vacation had been marked by confused directions and wasted driving hours. Surely the map, which folded down to two-inches-by-three, would keep us on track in Beantown.

And so it seemed as we found the entrance to the Massachusetts Turnpike, a short ride from the motel, and toodled into Boston. Here was the Prudential Center, and here the exit we would take to Noreascon 4. Today our destination lay on t'other side of the city, but I anticipated no problems. All we had to do was follow I-93 in its curve through the north end and the west end and pass beneath the Charles River and voila, there we'd be.

Many hours later ...

All I can say is when we surfaced from the tunnel, we weren't even on our little map. In fact, studying it now, I can't even tell you where we were, or how we got off of it. All I remember is stopping, completely lost, at a street corner gas station somewhere in northeast America and asking directions. The man said ... something.

I've been in Boston twice, know plenty of Boston fans, even voted for a man from Boston for President this year. Them I can understand. Him I could not. And they make fun of Southern accents!

Somehow we followed his directions through the back streets and alleys and cowpaths and alligator channels ... and somehow, the masts of the U.S.S. Constitution rose before us.




My affection for Old Ironsides began with a Revell model my folks bought me in the mid-fifties. I remember my father and I slaving over the complicated rigging. When I hit 50, I gave myself a special birthday present, and set foot on its decks. No way I'd let a trip to Boston pass without doing so again - and besides, I wanted Rosy, a sailor, to see the niftiest ship afloat.

First, we had to rearrange the rest of our day. We had tickets for 1PM for a special exhibit at Boston's Museum of Science, and as it was pushing 11, Rosy got on the cellphone and gave us an extra three hours. It was a wise move - because now we could appreciate the Constitution at our leisure.

Brass shining, wood polished to a gleam, hemp and nylon taut, Old Ironsides glistens, the pride of the American Navy, the oldest commissioned warship afloat. Our guide, a black sailor from Meridian, Mississippi, properly boasted about its history. Never defeated in battle, no enemy has ever crossed its decks except as a prisoner of war. (He also claimed that his present post was the second best in the Navy, after the Presidential Color Guard - but I think he's got that backwards.)

Grand old ship! Mostly black in color, now, it has been painted all sorts of hues in its 207 years of service - including, once, white. Astonishingly, it weighs more (we were told) than some modern destroyers. And while like the 300-year-old hammer, on its sixth handle and third head, the only original part of the vessel lies in its keel, its identity remains constant. Just ask the crew. All the sailors on board spoke of the Constitution as a living thing that they were all part of. While it was impossible to imagine that splendid vessel embroiled in battle, awash in smoke and explosions, their loyalty and devotion to duty were impressive. The two sailors fishing globs of matted seaweed from beneath the ship's stern earned hearty expressions of patriotic thanks from this grateful citizen.

Rosy and I toured the adjacent museum, which features some tremendous models - we said hello to the same model-maker who worked there five years ago - and huge diagrams of Old Ironsides' various victories. (Over HMS Cyane, Levant, Guerriere. Eat lead, King George!) I gave one of the demonstration hammocks a try. No, not the life for me. But considering the six sheets of paper the men on that ship were sworn to protect, and which they did a fair job protecting ... well, I'm damn glad the ship was there, the men were there, and the victories were there. I bought Rose-Marie a charm for her bracelet. You can see it on my cover.

All men being 12 years old, I recommend the Constitution to all who visit Boston. It is, after all, a living connection with the dawn of our nation's energy and power and pride. But more to the point, after watching the shuttle launch and climbing Hanging Rock, visiting it is just about the coolest damned thing I've ever done.

Its flag reads, Don't Tread on Me.




For once, we got superb directions, from the Information Desk at the Constitution Museum. The Museum of Science was but a turn or two away. We were there in a nonce. On the building's facade, a giant portrait of the cast of Lord of the Rings. Within ...


This exhibit of LotR props, costumes, and special effects had been touted for months on the Noreascon listservs, and we'd decided to get it seen before the convention began. Detail - but detail with thought and conception behind it, and a respect and awareness of the cultures of the story ... The autumnal colors of the later Elvish costumes, to symbolize the lateness of their time, their metaphorical year, in Middle-Earth. Horse emblems reprised time and again in guise upon guise for the riders of Rohan. The white tree, consistent symbol of Gondor. No, there was no Hitchcockian suggestion of detail and nuance in Lord of the Rings; the depth of Middle-Earth wasn't left to the viewer to create in his mind. All details, and glorious depth, were there on the screen, and every detail showed thought and care - intelligence and talent and devotion.

Rosy and I sampled the film's simplest and most effective special effect, a split bench showing the distortion of perspective. Remember the opening scenes of Fellowship? See us on my cover? We also planted our mugs in a machine which converted our facial images to statuesque stone; I wished they sold prints of those shots. Donning coats covered with dots, we posed and strutted before a computer screen, demonstrating Gollum-like digital imaging. We were allowed to heft a genuine sword of Gondor, and don armor from Rohan.

Short films by the dozen on every aspect imaginable of putting a masterwork together, one golden moment of imagination at a time. We watched each and every. Lifelike figures of orcs and trolls and elves and hobbits, and even a barrel or two of Norman Cates' used halfling feet and elf ears. Props and costumes - the exquisitely-turned armor, the perfectly-designed clothing, distinctive as to race and time. Rosy commented on the quality of the needlework, and I stood before the incandescent gown of Galadriel and silently begged forgiveness and understanding from the lady of the wood for all my transgressions against her gender. Alone, floating in a liquid tube, the One Ring, shining - reminiscent of the Hope Diamond, just as beautiful, just as rare, every bit as deadly and many more times cursed.

Three hours we lingered, wandering the exhibits in studious awe, examining each closely, amazed, delighted. It was, in sum, awesome. Up-close proof that Peter Jackson's trilogy is perhaps the most artfully wrought project in the century of cinema, and one of the most wondrous exhibitions either of us had ever seen.

My girl glowed.

While we tarried before the armor exhibit, a voice called my name and a sweet presence came up to us: Nicki Lynch. Rich joined her. We were among The People. Noreascon 4 had begun.




We'd hoped to stop by the N4 hotel and join the staff-only reception for the worldcon Guest of Honor. Indeed we found our way to the Sheraton's front door. But exhaustion, the sweat of the day, the fact that we had neither badges nor a parking spot, and a Red Sox game gumming the already congested streets made the idea ridiculous. We also had Jesse waiting to be fed and freed back in Framingham.

Framingham? Where was Framingham? Returning to the Turnpike was a problem. The natives we asked had Boston's convoluted streets engraved in their DNA, but their elongated A's could convey nothing of sense to visitors from the civilized South. Ah swear. Only the old Italian guy loafing in front of his garage understood plain non-yankeefied English. By the time we got back to the motel, and our grateful yorkie, we had been gone 12 full hours - full hours indeed. An unforgettable ship - an unsurpassable fantasy world. We slept deeply. On the next morning we would plunge into fandom, and I remembered the third of my dreams. Didn't want to be late.


Continued ...    (Part II) NOREASCON 4: THE FIRST DAY


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