Editorial note: Rob’s Corflu 50 trip report is generously shared between Chunga (Days one and two), Banana Wings (Days three and four), and BEAM (the arse end).
R O B H A N S E N
Up at 6am. I ate the cold sandwich from last night and decided it was time I tried to make a cup of tea from the fixings in the room. I examined the tea-bags provided with suspicion. There was decaf – which I dismissed out of hand – and fully leaded, which at least looked and smelled decent enough. With some misgivings, I decided to proceed. There was no kettle, only a coffee maker. Clearly you were supposed to use this for your hot water so I filled it with the requisite amount from the tap and placed my cup underneath. The device hissed and spluttered away, spitting hot water at the tea-bag until the cup was full. This was not a method I’d ever seen recommended for making even a semi-decent cup of tea, but the coup de grace was delivered when I realised no milk or cream had been provided, only powdered non-dairy creamer. Having no other alternatives I added this to the tea. The result was possibly the most disgusting cuppa I’ve ever tasted. After a single sip, I poured it down the toilet.
Up and out by by 8.30am, I nipped outside the hotel to take some exterior photos of it. Back in pre-digital days a roll of film would only take 36 shots and developing and printing was expensive so you tended to be both parsimonius and very selective in what you chose to photograph. Now that those costs no longer apply and a camera can hold 1000 shots you can snap away with total abandon, discarding any shots that are substandard when you come to review them later. The problem is that I have to keep reminding myself this is now the new paradigm when it comes to cameras and I still don’t take as many snaps as I could and should.
Returning to the lobby I found Ulrika O’Brien and Jerry Kaufman. Ulrika gave me a flash drive containing a TV show she’d recommended and I copied this to my laptop for later viewing. As I was doing so we were joined by Robert Lichtman and Carol Carr, followed by Bryan Barrett. Christina Lake and Doug Bell arrived next with some startling news.
“This hotel is a member of OMPA,” said Doug.
“Huh?” I replied.
“What’s OMPA?” asked someone.
“Britain’s first apa, now defunct,” I said. “They put on the second Eastercon to be held in Bristol. The first was called BRISCON. Moshe Feder did a spit-take when I told him.”
“I can see why,” chuckled Carol.
“Yeah, well, I don’t think anyone made the connection with a bris,” I said. “I mean I can’t see them intentionally naming our national convention for that year after a circumcision ceremony.”
“Never mind that,” said Bryan, “what’s this about the hotel being in OMPA?”
“It’s on the door as you come in,” said Doug.
I went over and checked the various signs and logo transfers on the glass panel next to the main door and sure enough there it was: OMPA – Oregon Media Production Association. Naturally, I took a photo. They have a website for those of you interested in finding out more. When you put ‘OMPA’ in your search engine do not be misled by links for the Orinda Moraga Pools Association and Oficina de Marques del Principat d’Andorra.
“We could hold OMPACON 2 here!” said Doug, getting carried away.
The conversation turned to convention reports and I outlined my conreport writing philosophy for them.
“D. West says they should be ‘the truth, the whole truth, and a few lies to make it interesting’. My reports are the truth,” I explained, “but enhanced. I give the truth a little nip & tuck, and maybe a nose job, but I never go as far as breast implants.”
The Buffet Brunch was at 11.15am so we all dutifully traipsed upstairs to the restaurant, where we milled around. This was when I realised I’d left my bag – containing my laptop – in the lobby. I rushed downstairs to retrieve it. When I got back everyone was seated and at first there didn’t appear to be spare places at any of the tables. Fortunately, I eventually found one next to Graham Charnock at the table occupied by Clan Charnox and others. Graham had set up his tablet to record us as we ate. Amazingly, according to viewing logs, there was actually someone online and watching the feed of us feeding. Somehow, I’d signed up for a reality TV show. Did Graham leave the feed on in their room while he and Pat were sleeping, I wondered? You might think no one would be interested in watching them slumber but in the days of the Big Brother TV show the cameras were on the housemates 24/7 and you could indeed watch them sleep if that was your thing. I don’t know who would want to watch Graham sleeping, his sonorous snoring broken by the occasional loud fart, but then it’s a funny old world.
As if reading my thoughts Graham turned the feed off, thus depriving our viewer of his entertainment. Good thing, too. He should have been using his computer to surf the web for porn like a normal person. Someone pointed out that Mount St.Helens was visible from the restaurant windows and looking magnificent, and so it was. What a backdrop to our brunch an eruption would have made. I told Dan he’d missed a trick, and he promised to try and arrange one the next time a con is held in the Red Lion.
The food was pretty good and afterwards we were treated to the GoH speech. Or rather the GoH performance. Lucy read out a pirate drama she’d composed in old Norse – no, really.
Ulrika O’Brien provided a ‘translation’, while Tami Vining and Jeanne Bowman played the parts of the pirates. Tami really got into this, whacking all around her with gusto, not just Jeanne but also those at nearby tables. It was just as well her sword was made of foam. Next came the awards. Bill Burns’ mighty ‘efanzines’ won in the Best Website category, while my own site came in fourth. Not bad considering the competition.
I’d asked Dan to call me to the podium so that I could thank those who contributed to the fund that brought me over to CORFLU XXX. He eventually remembered to do so and I found myself standing there, looking out over the assembled members of the convention. I began with a joke but was as stilted as I always am when speaking to an audience by myself and fumbled the whole thing, despite having notes in front of me, proving to myself yet again that this is an ability I just do not have. Put me on a panel and I’m fine, but I can’t fly solo. If I ever have to do so again I think I’ll record it beforehand, then when I go up to the podium I can just open my laptop, turn it towards the audience, and hit ‘play’. Still, while I may have fumbled things on the day, writing this trip report gives me a second chance to say what I should have then, so here goes:
“I’m not sure why those of you who contributed to the CORFLU 50 fund chose me to be its beneficiary this year, but I’m glad that you did. This is only my second time on the West Coast. My first was 29 years ago and I was 29 years old, so it’s been half my lifetime between visits. That first time was my TAFF trip, and I visited LA and San Francisco. I’d always intended to include Seattle and the Pacific Northwest as part of that trip but time and circumstances and my available vacation time conspired against me. So in many ways this feels like a coda to my TAFF trip, the bit I never got to take first time around especially since once again I find myself in the US thanks to the generosity of others. To all of those who contributed to the fund I say a heartfelt ‘thank you’. I’ve had a great time at the convention and I only hope you’ve enjoyed having me here half as much as I’ve enjoyed being here. Thank you one and all.”
This is what I should have said on the day. Please edit your memories of the event accordingly.
The Dead Dog Party began in the con suite shortly after the brunch concluded and it continued into the early hours of the morning with only a break for dinner. It was here, to much amusement, that Spike Parsons complained she’d lost her beaver.
“Was it furry?” asked Tami Vining, wagging a crooked finger, an action the other women listening to Spike all immediately copied.
“Yes,” said Ulrika.
“Ah then that explains it,” I said, “she lost it to a Brazilian.”
No one laughed. It wasn’t until we were in the corridor a little later that Ulrika finally let out a chuckle.
“You’re just too damn subtle,” she said.
I didn’t think it was that subtle, but whatever.
It seems like only minutes ago since we ate but by 6.30pm a sizeable contingent of those present are ready to head out for food. John & Eve Harvey say they don’t fancy going out into the sweltering heat and will eat in the restaurant instead. This sounded good to me, so soon afterward the Harveys, Nigel Rowe, and I headed upstairs. I ordered a turkey sandwich but barely touched it. I really was not very hungry. Oh well, that was tomorrow’s breakfast sorted. Again.
Nigel decided to take a photo of me with John and Eve to send to Avedon to let her know I was still alive, our plans to stay in touch having all come to naught.
“Caption it ‘Rob and two French people’,” I suggested.
Steve & Elaine Stiles joined us and ordered food. Steve got very agitated by the waitress not seeming to know what white bread was and the failure of his increasingly detailed descriptions of same to get through to her. She assured him that whatever it was he was describing was something the hotel didn’t carry. Shortly afterwards my sandwich was delivered – on white bread.
Nigel decided this was the perfect time to take a photo of me with Steve and Elaine to accompany the earlier one.
“Caption it ‘Rob with elderly Americans’,” I told him.
“Hey!” protested Elaine.
“OK, caption it ‘Rob with honored citizens’.”
Elaine was suitably mollified. Clearly, they hadn’t been offered the discount when eating out in Portland.
Rich Coad then joined us, as did Robert Lichtman & Carol Carr. They started reminiscing about Dick & Pat Lupoff and how they went from being clean-cut Republicans to dope-smoking bohemians.
“I remember being asleep on the floor at one of their parties,” said Steve, “and their dog walked over me and put one of his paws right in my mouth. There’s nothing quite like being woken with a dog’s foot in the back of your throat.”
For some reason this image totally cracked me up. I laughed when Steve told the story, I laughed when I told it to others, and I laughed typing it out just now.
Someone mentioned the YouTube video of me I had sent people a link to.
“On seeing it Ted White commented on how white my hair had gone except for the dark blob at the rear.”
Carol Carr hadn’t seen this so I dutifully turned my head so she could.
“It’s a real shame it doesn’t form an image of a guy with a beard,” I said, “because if it did people would proclaim it to be an image of Jesus and would come from miles around to see it. I’d then be able to say ‘no, it’s just a random brearded guy. For all we know it could be an image of Willie Nelson if it’s anyone. You’re just riddled with superstition’.
And the reply would come: ‘is that any way to speak to your mother?’”
Returning to the con suite, we didn’t have to wait long before almost everyone who had gone out for dinner also returned. I chatted to Ted and Dan about various writers and publishing. Around us people were already leaving, departing the convention. I leapt up to give Spike a goodbye hug, then Jerry and Suzle, and several others too until it was Ulrika’s turn. She was travelling back to Seattle with Randy Byers and Carl Juarez and I helped carry stuff down to their car.
I’d be seeing her there tomorrow, but we hugged anyway.
Back in the con suite Nigel had an app on his phone that let him take b&w photos and deliver them as a four-strip. Since the photobooth planned for the banquet brunch was a bust – it wouldn’t fit in the elevator – he insisted on taking photos of all of us. Lots of good conversation followed, none of which I recall of course. I do remember it was Jay Kinney I was talking with when I took a toilet break, saying I’d be right back, which I wasn’t. Sorry Jay, it’s nothing personal. In my room I used the toilet, realised just how tired I was, and crashed out. It was 11.15pm when I climbed into bed.
Then I started to itch. A lot.
Unable to sleep, I got up and discovered I was covered in hives. So I took an anti-histamine, got dressed, and headed back out. Better to be among others than in my room trying hard not to scratch. I had no idea what my body was reacting to this time but at least it was only hives and not also lips swelling up fit to burst and my eyes swelling shut – ‘the full elephant man’, as I tend to think of it.
I got talking to John D Berry, Hope Liebowitz, and Geri Sullivan. We discussed volcanos, earthquakes, hurricanes, and their experiences of same.
“It’s odd listening to how casually you talk about this stuff, particularly as it’s something I’ve never experienced and never will and…wait!” I said, realisation dawning, “I’m here now. I will be until wheels-up on Tuesday. There are still two days in which things could go pear-shaped on me.”
It was a sobering thought. Not that I needed sobering – just the opposite, in fact. A few beers might have helped take the edge off the hive itching.
By this point I was the last Brit in the room, and in fairly quick order the surviving Americans also departed. I shook hands with Ted, got a hug from Frank, and soon found myself alone with Dan and Lynn. While Lynn bustled around putting bottles and cans into plastic sacks, Dan quizzed me on the Sixth fandom fans I’d known.
“You were lucky enough to know them as friends,” he said, “so what were Arthur Thomson and Chuck Harris really like?”
“They were like a comedy double act,” I told him. “Funny individually, but funnier together. Great guys, both of them. I still miss them enormously.”
“Yeah, and for a self-taught artist ATom had an amazing imagination. I wonder who inspired him? Did you ever talk to him about such things?”
“I know that he was always very self effacing and humble in the letters I exchanged with him and disinclined to take my praise too seriously. Fandom was sure lucky to have him for as long as we did.”
We really were.
We chatted some more, but eventually, I told Dan & Lynn I needed to leave so that they could get to bed. I got hugs from both then headed for my room.
It was the first time I’d ever before been last man standing at a room party. I felt oddly proud of myself, and kinda humble.
Day Six: Monday 6th May 2013
After only two and a half hours sleep I woke up. I tried staying in bed, but it was no good so I got up and wrote up my notes on the previous day, tucking into last night’s left over turkey sandwich as I did so. By 8.30 am I was done, so I packed away all my stuff ready to check out. It wouldn’t be until I reached Seattle that I’d realise I’d left my computer power cable in the room. I needed some more batteries for my camera so headed out to find a 7-11, meeting Linda Deneroff and Elinor Busby coming the other way, taking their morning constitutionals. When I was a young fan you’d be lucky to encounter many of your contemporaries before lunch, but age seems to make early risers of us all.
At the hotel I met the Mearas coming down in the lift and we checked out together. I hadn’t really got to talk to either of them during the con so this was a chance to snatch a conversation, however brief. Having checked out it was then just a matter of waiting in the lobby for Andy and Carrie to appear. We’d agreed a departure time last night so I didn’t get to chat too long with people before they showed up. After saying our goodbyes to those in the lobby we stowed our bags in their car and took off.
I explained how little sleep I’d managed to get and warned them I’d almost certainly nod off, which I did. Unfortunately it was not very restful.
A few miles out from Portland we pulled off the highway and stopped in the small town of Centralia. Andy and Carrie wanted to look up a Mexican restaurant called La Tarasca that had been recommended to them, which was fine by me. It was now late morning and blisteringly hot outside so the cool interior of the restaurant was much appreciated.
The woman who took our orders was, I think, the owner. Certainly when Andy told her all the good things he’d heard about the place she kept saying: “The Lord has been good to us.” I was a bit disconcerted by this since that level of open invoking of a deity isn’t something I’m used to. I didn’t say anything of course, because to do so under the circumstances would have made me a dick. This really wasn’t one of those times when – in that famous, eye-watering phrase – it was appropriate to peel back the foreskin of superstition and apply the wire brush of reason.
The food was superb, but I couldn’t finish mine – a delicious pork and bean dish called ‘carnitas’ – due to feeling out of sorts. Fortunately what I left was put in a carton for me. It would make a fine breakfast tomorrow. Yeah, I know – yet again.
When we got back in the car, Carrie suggested I stretch out across the back seats. I did so gratefully and kept my eyes closed, semi-dozing, until we were about 20 miles from Seattle.
At the house, I tried grabbing some more zzz’s while Andy and Carrie headed out to find food for the evening’s barbecue. The first to arrive for this, some hours later, was Ulrika, who helped Carrie prepare the food.
Tables and chairs were set up out on the deck and Andy fired up the barbecue, tossing chicken portions and beefburgers onto the grill to sizzle and sear away as people started to show up. According to my notes the eventual roster included me, our hosts, Hal & Ulrika O’Brien, Leroy Kettle & Cath Mitchell, Victor & Tamara Gonzalez, Jerry & Suzle, Glenn Hackney & Kate Schaefer, Doug Bell & Christina Lake, Randy Byers, and John D. Berry.
I found myself sitting at a table with Ulrika and Tamara Gonzalez. Tamara had been at CORFLU but we hadn’t talked. Dan had made a comment about her being in ‘oil futures’ and I was about to ask her what this entailed when there was a sudden commotion behind me as John D. Berry’s chair collapsed beneath him, leaving him sprawling on the deck.
Fortunately he wasn’t hurt.
It soon got dark enough and cool enough that we moved inside and split naturally into two groups. One group stood around down in the kitchen/dining area, while the other sat up in the TV/lounge area. Perhaps unwisely given how prone I’d been to nodding off all day, I was in the latter group. We talked music and Doug revealed he has similar tastes in music to the rest of us even though we’re all a good ten to fifteen years older than him.
“It was going through my parents’ record collection when I was a kid that did it,” he explained (of course it was). “We had this thing at school where you had to bring in three tracks to play to the rest of the class. My three were the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, Meatloaf, and Bananarama.”
“That could well be the only time in human history those three have ever been played together,” I said.
For some reason the talk turned to fanart and I told them about something surprising I learned I could do.
“I’m out of practice now, of course,” I explained, “but back in the day I could draw the human form starting from any part of it you could name.”
“The spleen,” said John D. Berry.
“You said you could draw it starting from any part,” said Doug Bell.
“Yeah, but I was thinking of things like a foot, or a shoulder, or maybe even a buttock, not an internal organ. I mean, come on! Most people don’t know what a spleen looks like, or what it does, or even that they have one. Shit, there are probably people out there who think The Spleen are an alien race who fought Captain Kirk.”
“The Spleen could also be the name of a Sixties pop-group,” mused John.
I could see this. They would have been the opening act for The Who during their early Mod days.
“Cool word, ‘spleen’,” said Doug. “I really like the sound of it.”
“Who doesn’t love ‘spleen’?” I agreed. Ulrika wandered over.
“What’re you guys talking about?”, she asked.
“Spleens,” said John.
“Spleens,” I confirmed.
I had now said ‘spleen’ more in five minutes than I usually do in five years.
As the evening wound down so people started to leave in their ones and twos and I got to say my final goodbyes to them. This was it. CORFLU really was over now. When the last of them had gone I immediately crashed out and was soon asleep. I have no memory of the last thing to pass through my mind as I drifted away. It was probably ‘spleen’.
Day Seven: Tuesday 7th May 2013
As had now become my routine, I breakfasted on left-overs from the day before, and as expected my carnitas made a fine start to the day. What also made a fine start to the day was the walk I took through the neighbourhood with Andy.
We climbed a hill on the opposite side of the valley that gave a good view across the whole area, talking all the way about its development. It was a pleasant, soothing way to pass the time after a full-on weekend with lots of people.
My flight back to the UK was at 6.55pm, which meant I had to be at the airport by around 4pm. Carrie had to work but the plan for the day for Andy and me was that Glenn Hackney and Kate Schaefer would pick us up around 11.30am and that we would then visit Stu Shiffman in the facility where he was being treated for the stroke he suffered last year. This would be followed by a visit to Linda Deneroff’s office for the views, before I was driven to the airport. It was a good plan, and several Brits had already done both visits prior to CORFLU. Unfortunately, Glenn’s longer than expected wait at a doctor’s appointment combined with a broken swing-bridge meant they were already running an hour late when they finally arrived at the house.
Something would have to go. Sadly, it was the visit to Linda’s office.
According to a sign on the wall, the hospital where Stu was being treated was wholly owned by its staff, an alien concept to someone who has spent his life in the bosom of the National Health Service. Stu shared his room with another patient, the two separated by a curtain. When we arrived his partner Andi Schecter was already there. Despite being wheelchair-bound herself, Andi visits Stu every day and has been his rock. Stu had a tube connected to his throat helping him breathe. This prevented normal speech but he could, with great effort, get a word or two out via the tube. When he couldn’t do this he was reduced to gurning. That’s when I discovered he has surprisingly expressive eyebrows, but I can only imagine how frustrating it must be when you want to communicate something but can’t.
Stu’s main neurological impairment was on his right side. Where his left arm was as strong as ever – as confirmed with a handshake when we were leaving – his right was enfeebled with no fine motor control. Since Stu is right-handed he was understandably worried that he might never draw again. The others with me hadn’t seen Stu in a few months and expressed surprise and satisfaction at how much he had improved in that time, while Andi said the doctors had assured her that Stu would eventually walk out of there. All very encouraging and I hope it comes to pass.
Andy Hooper thanked me for giving up a morning I could’ve spent sight-seeing in order to visit Stu, but he needn’t have. It really wasn’t any sort of sacrifice on my part. I like seeing a place when I find myself there, but that’s never my primary reason for visiting somewhere – people are. London and Paris are only 214 miles apart, closer than DC and New York, yet despite the great travel links and having lived in London for a third of a century I’ve never visited Paris and may never do so. Since I know no one there I’ve never had any reason to visit. I’ve seen Paris often enough in films and on TV; I don’t need to see it with my own eyes. This is how I feel about most places.
Yes, I would like to have gone up the Space Needle if I’d had more time, but I didn’t so c’est la vie.
Later, Glenn and Kate drove me to the airport, taking a route that enabled Andy to leap out of the car when we were in reasonable reach of his home. My last sight of Andy was of him jogging across the traffic lane adjacent to ours then scrambling over a low concrete barrier to get to the sidewalk.
At the airport I met up with my Gallic friends John and Eve Harvey, and we stayed in the departure lounge, quietly drinking until it was time to board our plane.
My flight to the US had been delight. My return flight was anything but.
Firstly, I had the middle seat between a married couple. They’d obviously figured that since middle seats are the least popular they might end up with that seat to spread into. This is a reasonable assumption so long as the plane isn’t full. So they struck out, and when they wanted to communicate with each other they had to do so across me. It also turned out the guy was left-handed. I’m right-handed. Had we been sitting on the opposite side of the plane this would not have been a problem but as it was our arms were touching when we ate. This made meal-time… interesting.
Then there was the guy in front of me. No sooner were were airborne than he put his seat in maximum recline, thus stealing a chunk of my limited space and making it impossible to use my laptop. The recline option is there to help when you want to sleep; you’re not supposed to leave it in that position the entire flight. This was about naked theft of space, of putting his comfort above any consideration of mine. I’m a pretty easy-going person, but I wanted to punch him in the head. I sat there fuming and radiating hatred at him, all to no effect. If there’s one change I’d make to planes it would be to disable the recline control, which I’ve come to hate with a passion over the years.
I was beginning to get the sniffles before we boarded. By the time were were over the Atlantic it was full-blown coughing and sneezing. Tough luck married couple. I’m not sure whether it was the plane’s a/c or if it was down to me developing a fever but I also started to get very hot. I kicked off my shoes and loosened my shirt but this barely helped. My breathing got very shallow, the effort required for more vigorous respiration now beyond me.
Everything ends eventually, even a flight as hellish as this had been, and after what seemed an eternity we finally touched down at Heathrow. As we were deplaning I saw John & Eve.
“Bonjour, Frenchies!” I said, never one to leave a joke be when I could hammer it into the ground. We talked for a couple of minutes on our way to Arrivals, then they peeled off to seek out their connection to Paris. I made my way to the Underground and spent the ninety minutes or so to Upton Park in a semi-comatose stupor. A nutter started fiddling with my bag on the final leg of the journey but I was too out of it to care.
With great effort I climbed the stairs at Upton Park tube station and trudged across to the rolling acres of Plashet Grove, and on to Gross Manor. The temperature was a bit of a shock to the system. It had been in the 80s in Portland, the 70s in Seattle, but was barely 60 in London.
When I got in Avedon came over and gave me a big hug.
“I missed you,” she said, “but not as much as I thought I would.”
“With you gone I was able to get the kitchen just the way I wanted it.”
It’s an article of faith with both of us that all the clutter and untidiness in our house is entirely the fault of the other. I am correct in this assessment.
Avedon is delusional.
I checked out the kitchen and it was indeed tidier than usual, but her deception did not fool me. This was a Potemkin kitchen, one gussied up to score points and not a real reflection of how it would look in my absence.
Hugging done, I told Avedon I needed to fall into bed Right Now. The combination of jetlag and hacking, bone-rattling cough meant I was feeling wretched. Given the circumstances, climbing into my own bed felt almost orgasmically wonderful.
Within five minutes of getting home I was asleep.
What I didn’t appreciate then was that the feeling wretched would last for over a week.
I suppose the only good thing about the situation was it meant I got the length of my trip exactly right. If I’d still been in the US then I’d have been moping around pathetically at the home of whoever I’d arranged to stay with at that point. This would not have been fun for any of us. Instead I got to mope around pathetically in my own home, to shiver away in my own bed, and to be ignored by my own wife, (I love Avedon dearly, but she has all the bedside manner of a Dalek.) My most fervent desire during this period, the little ray of hope that made me smile and helped me get through it, was that I might have given this to the bastard who sat in front of me on my return flight.
So that’s my trip report. Yes, events have been nipped and tucked a little here and there, some may even have been given a nose job, but I leave it to those of you who were there to decide whether I went as far as adding breast implants.
I think I have on the whole been mostly truthful, but all writing is a performance.
Looking back on my week in Portland and Seattle I can’t help but feel I’ve closed a circle. During my TAFF trip in 1984 it had always been my intention to include a visit to the region, but it didn’t come to pass. In a very real sense then, this was like the part of my TAFF trip I never got to take. Finally, I had made it to the beautiful Pacific Northwest.
And I loved it.
BEDSIDE MANNER IDENTIFICATION CHART