Challenger Logo by Alan White   A Science Fiction Fanzine   Winter 2008


(Part 2) Wake Up and Smell the Coffin! (Part 3)

a reminiscence of ConFederation and the bid for Nolacon II, 1986

The World Science Fiction Convention: Wednesday

A beautiful and most welcome sight awaited me at the train station: Sue Phillips. Also most welcome was an un-beautiful sight: Cliff Amos. Cliff had come straight from Louisville and hadn't yet seen the Marriott. Sue and I accompanied him there, and he rubbed his palms and got to work.

Cliff was marking a return to fandom as the suite manager for Nolacon II. The founder of Rivercon, the '79 Rebel winner, chair of NASFIC ... Suite 940 was in the best of hands. It was Wednesday, 8-27-86. The con would open the following day. But fans were already on hand, and we had to be ripe.

Yes ... fans were on hand, and let's start at the top. Forry Ackerman showed in the Hilton lobby. Recalling how his papa's death caused him to turn back from Nolacon, the only worldcon he'd ever missed, he pledged support for Nolacon II. Bald pate a'gleam, arm about a sexy twenty-year-old Georgia peach, enter Julie Schwartz. Talk about Great Men, here was perchance the Greatest I have ever known, the guiding hand of my boyhood enthusiasms, the patient publisher of my earliest fame. We would see much of Schwartz during ConFederation -- though I'd miss his slide show of early SFdom, damn it.

As I trotted hither and yon, finding places to stack Nolacon flyers, friends too long absent came to eye: Doreen Webbert, honchess to the Phoenix NASFIC, with tales of Jolt Cola (all the sugar, twice the caffeine); Deb Hammer-Johnson, with her Ben and Roger, hawking ConFederation tee shirts (I never bought one, for shame). Bobbi Armbruster walked by and I pointed the Woman Beyond Women out to Hammer-J, ever the student of myth and mystery. Dave Schlosser of LASFAPA appeared and, in Staff Registration, my old comrade from the Little Men, Tom Whitmore (who told me that alas, Fannish Mama Quinn Yarbro would not attend).

Oh God, no! Walsh! It's Walsh! Don Walsh at ConFederation! New Orleans’ demon gun magnate, now of Bangkok, Thailand, appeared like a portent at the door to Suite 940. Who was that with him? Why, t'was Meade Frierson, friend, President Emeritus of the Southern Fandom Confederation, legal mentor, guide to the girly shows of B'ham, too long in gafia. And who better to complete this unholy trio but the Patrick of Tulsa himself: R.A. Lafferty, Nolacon Saint (or Associate member), author of too much wonderful writing and too many gloried lies to mention. Finished now, he said; he’d quit writing when he reached 70. That brought a twinge: I could have All of Lafferty now, I realized, and there should never be an All to Lafferty...

Business. I picked up my reg packet and scanned Charlotte Proctor's beautiful program book. Would that I had bought a print of Doug Chaffee's masterful cover painting. Wade Gilbreath's interior portraits of the Guests of Honor were his best work, ever; I'm told the pro GoH asked to view the original. Most to my concern, Nolacon's ad – the Dany Frolich harlequin atop this article, with a grateful (if somewhat sloppy) text by me – was by far the most striking in the book. Ron Lindahn told me later that he'd been awed by Dany's skill. Was this a mothweight of optimism I felt fluttering by?

With reps of the other '88 bids, and several folks from '89's only contender, Boston, I joined Jeff Copeland and Liz Schwarzin in their room, deciding that which had to be decided about the actual taking of votes. How able and fair Jeff and Liz, in charge of not only the convention balloting but the Hugo voting, as well! How spiffy the adorable toddler Allie, who studied me with wide-eyed disbelief and solemnly freed me of Mardi Gras beads! (Allie graduated from college in 2007; I’m told she’s considering law school.) Once we'd done what had to be done, Jeff and Allie and I went to the train station to recover NOLa’s fearless leader Guidry, newly haircut, girded for battle.

While we waited, I did my best to educate Jeff’s child into the ways of the world. I pointed at the train. "Airplane!” I told the child. "Spaceship! Ocean liner!" You can never teach them too much too soon.

Back in 940 our party was setting up. Charlie and Cheryl DuVal had arrived with a dozen bags of Mardi Gras throw-cups, drawn by Frolich, collected by Dolbear, and a U-Haulful of Cokes, brews and booze. Ann Layman Chancellor appeared with decorations to complement my Julie Kahn Mardi Gras posters. She also brought our #l harlequin costume, which she had made by hand, worn so memorably by Michelle Watson at the '85 NASFIC. NOLa had no party Wednesday night, but we would not be invisible. We packed a local dish named Carol into the costume, loaded a flunkie down with beads, and sent them forth to bear the Word to the earlybirds.

Two targets were keyed for the jester (jestress?). One was a poolside party at the Downtowner, a'swarm with our people – the Southern crowd. JoAnn Montalbano was there, and Southern legend Hank Reinhardt, boycotting the con itself due to a weapons policy he considered idiotic. Charlie Williams was there – the ever-prettier female Charlie. So was the tawny Texan S,E. Woodard-Vladyka, draped across the knee of the immortal Bob Tucker. Beads flew.

We then turned our elegant, bead-wielding symbol towards the stronghold of the enemy – with a daring midnight raid!

St. Louis was hosting a wowser party in a magnificent 40th floor suite. (With an incredible view of Atlanta. Our suite overlooked my Travelodge and a jumble of highway construction.) Though we regarded the Arch City as the least dangerous of NOLa’s rivals, it was also the nicest, with a cute symbol (a dragon dressed as Indiana Jones) and the loveliest campaigner in the ’88 race, Michelle Tenney (now Zellich). Never one to miss the chance to goose the opposition, or to push my face in front of a beautiful lady, I brought the Nawlins harlequin up into nosebleed country and turned her loose.

It was a mark of the class of the entire St. Louis bid, particularly Michelle, and the genuine friendliness with which the ’88 campaign was run, that Tenney/Zellich & Co. greeted our good-natured umbrage with good-natured laughter. Michelle even wore her beads. Then, now, forever: class act.


With Thursday morning’s first blush of sunrise the 44th World Science Fiction Convention officially opened – as did on-site balloting for the 1988 site. The voting booth – or “vooting boath,” as Guidry, with his infinite capacity for malapropism, called it – was located on the hotel’s convention level. It was staffed by the four bids, a system that sucks. Collecting ballots and fees, checking the ’86 roster and writing receipts should have been ConFederation’s responsibility, not ours, but at least I got the chance to sit by Michelle. Bravely she asserted that “one or the other of us” would trample the other bids. I admired her “Never say die” spunk. I was frantic with worry, of course.

Madness! For two hours the votes poured upon us, the first wave in a record flood. Joe and Mary Gay Haldeman voted. David Brin voted. Forry voted, for an inadvertent second time, and guess who drew the joyous chore of telling him we couldn’t accept his ballot. I finally got Guidry to vote, and even coerced a ballot out of Walsh. (He bought a pre-supporting membership in 940. His number? 007, of course!) Relieved at noon-thirty or so, I staggered up to 940, napped, awoke, lurched to the bathroom, entered unbuckled … and found a gorgeous blonde nymph at the mirror drawing a moustache above her eminently kissable lips!

Non-plussed? Me? It is to laugh. “Who the BLUE HELL are YOU?!?” I screamed.

She was Sarah Fensterer, a pretty and petite lady with waist length yaller locks, a voice like silver bells and a sweetness to match, and it was cat makeup she was applying. I thought her naught but a teenager, but some people defy their years: Sarah was thirty. Romantic me – I shoved beads into her hands and begged her to go forth and campaign for Nolacon. Later she did an unforgettable stint as our harlequin.

More old friends appeared. Gay Miller came up the escalator as I went down. "Hi Guy!" "Hey Gay!" Nolacon Board member Craig Miller, no relation, was more preoccupied with L.A.'s troubled 1990 race against Holland than with ours. Rival Kees van Toorn – met at last; strong handshake – has the same advantage we had: his site is closer to the voting. England's in the Hague's backyard. Craig's lady Genny Dazzo was also there, thanked profusely for her nice ABA write-up. Lafferty expert Bob Whitaker and his redheaded frau Giovanna Sirignano, a.k.a. Giani Siri, came by and brightened life; bracelets and necklaces jangled with Giani’s every movement, and they were movements both several and interesting. (She was annoyed because Somtow Sucharitkul had abandoned his plans for an Hawaiian-shirt wedding at the con, and she'd brought two, to make a sarong.)

Up on the 10th level a "Meet the Pros" party was in progress, so I trotted up the convenient spiral staircase and met a few. Pros – Pournelle, Clement, Williamson (Lafferty shouted to Jack’s escorts, "Take care of him! If he dies, I'm the oldest!"), the impossibly teasable Frank Robinson with Paul King. Silverberg burst onto a crystal 'vator, rode two floors, burst right out. No sign of Gordon Dickson or Poul Anderson ... Was that Fred Pohl over there?

Fan buddies there were. Walt Baric strode the floor in perfect riverboat gambler gear; he'd sport his outstanding male harlequin costume often throughout the con, breaking feminine hearts and winning their votes. Janice Gelb brought her curly head into the proceedings. Bill Warren, filmic expert of LASFAPA, told me all about Lock Martin, "the guy in the Gort suit."

Booming with friendly bluster, Karl Edward Wagner rolled in, claiming that after the disaster of Nutriacon II, Nawlins owed him a membership. I heard rumors of a new Kane novel all week, but none from Karl's own bushy mouth. Alas for their heartsick pals, we could no longer speak of "Karl and Barbara" – but when Barb Mott burst forth from a clot of lesser humanity to throw her sweet arms about me and donate a happy squeeze, I could tell that all was well with her.

I spotted Nicki Lynch, the elfin charmer, in a group with Tucker. (Bob got all the women.) I rushed up to greet her, and only then noticed who else she accompanied, the focus of the crowd, the nexus of the convention, a great white shaggy bear of a man – Ray Bradbury. A kid asking for his autograph accepted it with shaking hands. I knew how he felt.

It was my one moment of proximity all con long to ConFederation's Pro Guest of Honor, and I handled it about as well as the quivering boy before me. I recall a firm hand about mine as I babbled thanks for his help with my article about Julie in Amazing World of DC Comics. I had much more to thank him for – don't we all? – but poof, he was gone.


Along with dragons to slay (remember St. Louis's symbol!) I had maidens to rescue. The damsel in distress was Suzi Stefl, a stunning Michigan buh-Ion-duh SAPS member who'd entranced me at the ’85 NASFIC with her “permanent teardrop” mole and staggering smile. Now the entire woman was staggering. “Hypoglycemia!” she cried. “Food! Orange juice! Help!”

I hurried Suzi to 940, where Bill Bowlus, in armor behind the bar, ignored the clamor of the multitudes before it and passed Suzi a jolt of Vitamin C. The immediate crisis passed, we made our way down and out into the unseasonal chill ... to the most popular place in all Atlanta that weekend: the Dunk'n'Dine, a greasy spoon fortuitously placed a block from both Hilton and Marquis. It was packed to capacity 24 hours a day – we saw Marty Cantor and Hal Clement elbow-to-elbow at the counter. Suzi and I found seats and eats within its oily walls, saving Ms. Stefl from the throes of hypoglycemia and winning me some fascinating company. We talked about fandom and Heinlein and writing and children (hers) and dreams (our each). It was an island of personal peace in the tumult; I miss Suzi in today’s fandom.

In the Marquis' Grand Ballroom Baen Books hosted a raucous dance. I dropped by for a while, first to observe, then to do. Linda Riley's fault. Linda was from Bumminham, Alabam', with beautiful red hair and jus' thuh suh-weet-est l'il ol' accent ... Could any Rebel buck with red gore in his veins resist trying to ring such a Southern belle? I dragged Linda into the music's center and held her squirming yet helpless in my grinding grip. Soon she stabbed me in the eye with a fingernail and made her escape. Heaving with hormones I limped back to 940. Justin Winston and Annie Hebert had come in; good. But better than good: Rosy was there.

I’d first known her as Rose-Marie Green. Now she was Rose-Marie Donovan, but in the 8 years since last I’d set eyes upon her, little else had changed. Still dark & curly in hair, sculpted and upturned in proboscis, huge and expressive in eye, slim yet bountiful in figure – still Rosy, that is: model-beautiful, model-cool, model-poised. In 1977 she'd made wonderful the Birmingham DeepSouthCon and the Miami worldcon. In 1978 she'd dumped me like a load of garbage, and by 1986, I thought I’d sighed the last sigh with her name on it. But when I walked into 940, and sitting there next to Walsh, she met my eye … ahh-WHOOF! who took away the floor?

What do you say? You gotta be cautious. Eight years is a long time in the real world, but as my yammering heart and sparking brain told me, they were as instants in the inner life. Eggshells were underfoot: an awkward word, a bitter tone could spin feelings into chaotic gyres of grief. But you must move despite your caution, GHLIII – other ardent swains of your generation swarm about: Walsh, Joe Celko, John Ellis. Say something, stupid!

"Hi. Rosy."

We hugged. And life changed forever.

I remember little about the rest of the evening. I rented my personal room in the chintzy Travelodge down the block. From my window I could see our suite, wherein lights blazed far into the night.


[ HOME ]     [ Current Issue ]     [ Archives ]

Challenger is (c) 2003-2008 by Guy H. Lillian III.
All rights revert to contributors upon initial print and website publication.