Challenger Logo by Alan White   A Science Fiction Fanzine   Winter 2008

 

(part 4) Wake Up and Smell the Coffin! (Part 5)

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

The door opened.

Copeland carne out, bearing a single sheet of flapping paper. He walked past. "It's going badly," he said.

What? What?!? What did he mean? Badly how? Impossible! I followed him into the convention HQ. He stood at the copier running the sheet through. I remember thinking he could tell me nothing. I just stared. “Badly”? He returned to the Chablis. I sat back down. A moment passed.

The door swung open. Guidry stormed out. He grasped the edge of the door and slammed it shut. He shouted a dirty word. And ran off. I stood. What? What? The Chablis Room disgorged people. Rich Zellich, the St. Louis chairman, ran off with a mate, laughing, leaping. Finally, Liz, Jeff ... and Justin, strolling, hands in pockets, rue on his face.

“What's the matter with John?"

"We gave it a good shot, man," said Winston. "Seven votes."

I was rocked. The St. Louis people bounded off towards the elevators, talking of champagne. St. Louis? But – but the Boat was the dangerous ... Liz and Jeff stood with an angry, flustered John in the hallway. I overheard Liz say how we could always bid for 2000 – and by then *rueful chuckle* Allie would be old enough to be a harlequin! Aaaaaahhhhhhh ....

We went to 940. The journey up escalator and elevator took mere weeks. I tried to cry. But I couldn't. People don't cry in shock. Three thousand of my own dollars. The shards of my credit. But much more than that – the work. The hope. "Do you think we could ride the elevators all night?" Justin asked, wanly. "That's going to be one hell of a business meeting!" Guidry muttered.

(My pals. The ratfinks.)

We crowded into the bedroom adjacent to 940. John and Justin pulled Amos and Sinclair into the bathroom and slammed the door. Duval stood behind me, eyes wide, baffled.

"What?!" I heard Sinclair shout in dismay, "What did you guys do in the last 3 weeks –?"

It is not true – as John and Justin claimed, in their Mimosa piece on this incident – that I sank to my knees, whimpering. As a matter of fact, I’m certain I gave Charlie a look of doubt as we stood (n.b.) with our ears to the door. Nevertheless, when the quartet came forth, we simply stared at them. Tableaux.

"Good news and bad news," said Michael. Winston's hand strayed to a bag of doubloons; I noted the fact, but not its significance.

I was too weak to say naught but "What?"

"The bad news is, it was closer than we thought it would be. The good news …you're going to have to put on a worldcon, boy!”

VICTORY!

Justin beaned me with doubloons. We shrieked as one.

VICTORY!

The tally sheet came forth. 7 votes, indeed – 7 votes more than 50%! First ballot win.

VICTORY!

We filled our mitts with doubloons. The door to the party was bashed aside. In we charged, doubloons flying like shrapnel to the ceiling, incoherent whoops of joy telling the tale for all to know. Victory! VICTORY! Nolacon II was REAL.

Cheers! Hugs! Handshakes! My head felt full to bursting! I plumb forgot to hate Guidry and Winston. Through the crowd we plunged, cheering, hugging, handshaking. Don't be arrogant, now, we'd been warned. Mustn't gloat. But gloat shmoat! LET ME HOWL!

I went to 10. Plenty of fans on 10. Have a doubloon. New Orleans has won! Squeals of delight – Judy Sutton, Mary Ann van Hartesveldt, Barb Mott – even a few worthless guys – hugs and handshakes – Thanks – thanks –

Before me appeared a familiar bearded face, Neal Rest. We both nearly wept. His Boat Bid had come in second, with nearly a quarter of the votes. An hour before I'd feared the Boat Bid like I fear flying. Now, I escorted Neal – wearing his "Off Duty" tee shirt, saved for this moment – down to 940, where no one celebrated as happily as he. (Relief is a wonderful thing.)

Ken Keller came by. He knew my job with Nolacon II – editing progress reports and the program book. He knew also that I'd been at his MidAmeriCon, and seen the late Tom Reamy's masterful hardback. Grasping my shoulder, Ken said, "Guy, I put onto you the charge of Tom Reamy: do it better.” (I couldn’t – who could? – but it was fun to try.)

I went about the hotel, and told. I wasn't supposed to, but I had to. Specifically, I had to keep a promise and tap on a door on the 22nd floor, and tell the sleepy exquisite within that we had won. Rosy was very pleased.

The elevators were impossible so I used the stairwell to climb towards the St. Louis floor. I wanted to thank them – Michelle, obviously – for a good, clean race. But then as now I was out of shape; the 18 floors winded me and I gave up. What a fantasy that brought on: to die alone in a concrete stairwell, doubloons a'scatter about my corpse, on the night we’d won the worldcon. Not an altogether unpleasant thought.

So this is it? Two years of work and hassle, and this is what you get. The thrill of victory. The best of convention joys? Short of a Hugo, I guess so. And it is just fine, ain't it?

Victory. Not a smug word. A proud one.

 

Sunday

I went back to 940 the next morning. The suite was a nuclear waste. In the midst of ruin, the mad trio Amos, Walsh and Lafferty sat beaming, exulting in the golden morning-after glory. “We whupped’em!” they shouted. “Yankee factory trash!” they jeered. ''Pasty-faced mechanics and shopkeepers!" they hooted.

I took Rosy to breakfast – regaling her with the atrocity visited upon me the night before. Traitorous wench, she laughed. We got Guidry to the baffling business meeting to announce our Guests of Honor – one of whom,. Roger Sims, I'd just met the night before. John insisted on going down accompanied by not one but two harlequins, New Orleans beauties Nancy and Jan Mayberry. T'was worth a lot to see him waltzing with both outside the meeting room door. He had waited a very long time for the pleasure.

Charlie DuVal set up a membership table at the erstwhile vooting boath (notice that I didn't put "s around the words anymore) and the conquered lined up to convert. In a wonderful, wicked way it was like collecting ritual tribute from the partisans of vanquished foes. Had I been more conscious I'd've loved it. We moved the receipt book and cashbox to 940 later, as the sudden but slowly-realized meta-morphosis bid to con continued.

Rumors attendant to worldcon politics began to fly. The ripest nonsense was the account I overheard of the "gentlemen's agreement" between New Orleans and St. Louis, that we’d insured a clean contest by promising to pay some of St. Louis' debts. Since it was a "gentlemen's agreement" I guessed blackguards like John, Justin, Dennis, Charlie, Mike and me weren't allowed in on it. On a better plane, I kept overhearing folks saying, "We won!" I'd never seen most of them before.

 

The day came alive as evening fell. Eschewing the masquerade (which looked stunning on the intra-hotel video hookup), I found Rosy and we hit the parties. Up at the edge of the sky, suite 4014, we attacked a hot and incense-reeking Tor Books bash. Photographic honcho Jay Kay Klein could take neither eye nor lens off la Rose-Marie, and who can blame him?

We went to the Hilton and the SFWA party there. Only got in because John Ford – the author of The Dragon Waiting and How Much for Just the Planet?, not the comparatively insignificant movie director – knew Joe Green. It turned into one of finest moments of ConFederation. John Varley came by in a Hawaiian jacket with a beautiful lady friend, likewise appareled. How funny is fate: years later, Ricia Mainhardt and I became friends. Diane Hughes recounted the death of Theodore Sturgeon; she was in the room, and Lady Jane was on the phone with Robert Heinlein, when Sturgeon’s boundless heart gave way. Patrice Green and I talked about the Challenger. She had seen them, seen them rise and fall ... Tell me about her, I wanted to stammer – tell me what she said and how she looked – but this was not the place. And, I think I already knew.

Finally, Rosy and I returned to 940, where the celebration continued. Every day of the con, Dennis Dolbear and Bill Bowlus had driven across Atlanta to fetch a grand’s worth of booze – and it was not going to go to waste. Guidry came up, upbraiding me for leaving – the party needed workers. “I understand that,” I said, “but you see, I got kidnapped.” And indicated Rosy.

“Well,” said John, “I always say that if you’re going to get kidnapped, you might as well go first class!”

So smooth. I was lost in admiration. If Guidry had gone into politics, he could’ve been mayor.

 

Monday

When I walked into 940 for the last morning of ConFederation, Rosy and Patti were there. They waited for Joe to finish a panel so they could head back to Florida, and had dropped by to say farewell. I was dragging it out as long as possible when Mary Wismer rousted me from contemplation of la belle Rose. A panel in the Hilton demanded the presence of a Nawlins rep, and I was the only one available.

"Goodbye," Rosy whispered, and was gone.

I went to the Hilton and destroyed Nolacon in advance. Forget Wollheim and Sims, I told the folks assembled. Our real guests of honor would be Jimmy Connors and Vanna White. After all, though they say Professional Guest of Honor, they don't say Professional what, and as for Vanna, well, Wheel of Fortune precedes Star Trek on L.A. TV, and she sometimes leaves the set on after checking herself for cellulite. That qualifies her for Fan GoH at a worldcon, doesn't it?

Actually, I had little specific info for the crowd, and so winged it. My usual riposte was "I don't know." But I warmed to the task when someone asked about the area surrounded our hotels. Mon dieu! The specifics of dealers’ tables and suchlike will be resolved in good time. But nuzzing will change zee Franch Quartair! Laisez les bons temps roulez!

 

Weeks before, aware of how rough an event like this can be on one's emotional guard, I'd written Diane Hughes and asked her to save me a lunchtime at convention's end. None of the tragedies I'd anticipated – romantic rejection, political disaster –had developed. In fact the exact opposite had been the case. Charlie Williams (the beautiful lady) once told me that my whole trouble was that I always thought things worse than they were. Maybe so: at Confederation I'd had my work and my worth confirmed and reconfirmed, had been astounded, re-astounded, and astounded again. Nevertheless, for a jumble of neuroses like myself, victory can be as confounding as defeat. I needed to talk.

We found a table at the Hilton coffee shop and did just that. We talked about attractiveness, a big issue with me, and men and women, a big issue with almost everyone, and some particular men and women (Diane’s opinions were enlightening). We talked about the events of this convention and what they told us about our lives. Diane – who looked just like Jim Rockford's lawyer girl friend – has enjoyed quite a passage through life, which resulted in a woman compassionate and funny and courageous and bright. She recalled to me the joyous contradiction of Christa McAuliffe, that superb people are everywhere.

ConFederation would have been complete then and there. But one or two more encounters deserve note. In the 940 party that night, Nolacon II had some special visitors who didn't have to pay the $15.00 conversion fee: Donald and Elsie Wollheim. Charmers! We ensconced them in the guest room and allowed a favored few to come in and pay court to Nolacon's Guest of Honor and his lovely lady.

Among the few was a new writer whom we thought might be able to talk Wollheim into a sale. Fred Pole or Poll or something was his name, and with pluck and hard work he might just make a name for himself in science fiction. I got the two titans talking about the early days by mentioning Julie Schwartz' slide show of the first worldcon. "Oh?" said Pohl. "What was it like inside?" I got the impression that Don and Sam Moscowitz still didn't exchange cards on Buddha's birthday. I told the tale of my ridiculous Saturday evening, and they too considered John and Justin’s joke a howl.

(Fiercest among those enjoying my anguish was Linda Krawecke, whose then-husband was that year’s TAFF delegate. I was delighted to hear that Guidry had signed her on as Nolacon's European represent-ative – a Metairie girl gone Brit.)

A long talk with Dealer Extraordinaire Dick Spelman sent me on my way. We'd begun the transition indeed, from bid to con, from Dream to Duty. Paula Lieberman kept greeting me with a cheery "Hello, sucker!" I got that a lot.

Two final images to ConFederation. That evening I walked with Samanda Jeude as she drove her motorized cart to convention HQ. She was already planning for Nolacon II. A long ramp led down to the headquarters level from the lobby. She pointed her cart straight down that slope and let’er rip. "SMALL JAPANESE TREE!" she shouted.

And – this is true – as I lurched out of the Marquis on Monday night, ready for bed, train, return to real life, I peered into the shallow pool beneath the hotel elevators. Coins dappled the bottom. One was large. Silverish. It shone like a promise.

Doubloon.

 

The artwork in this article was all done for the Nolacon bid, by Dany Frolich, Brad Foster, Joan Hanke-Woods, Ned Dameron, and our beloved Ann Layman Chancellor (that’s her doubloon design above). We miss her now – as we miss so many other wonderful friends mentioned here. Bill Bowlus – Meade Frierson – Ray Lafferty – Bruce Pelz – John Ford – Lan – Jack Williamson – the Wollheims – Karl Edward Wagner – Bob Shaw – Julie Schwartz – Hank Reinhardt. We shall not see their like again.

John and Justin did indeed write up their version of the balloting joke for Mimosa. I have never gotten over the gag. Well, it was brilliant: everyone in that room had to extemporize his/her part on the spot, and all did so impeccably (“You can bid for 2000!” indeed!) All the conspirators are marked for terrible vengeance. It has been told.

As I needn’t tell you, Nolacon II was much more fun to bid for than put on. Everyone attending the 1988 worldcon loved our city, most had fun, we introduced Sfdom to Morgus the Magnificent and Novalyne Price Ellis, and I’m proud of our program book, but let’s face it: organizationally, we sucked the cheese. Nevertheless, bidding for Nolacon II remained and remains one of the great pleasures and privileges fandom has brought me, and will forever rank as the greatest success our city’s fandom ever attained. I don’t regret a minute of it.

Will New Orleans ever bid again for a worldcon? Before we were personally gutted by our forced move to Shreveport – and before Katrina reduced the Crescent City to ruin and fable – Rosy and I were giving the idea some thought. Now?

 

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