"You will soon be involved in many parties."
Dick found that on a slip of paper inside a fortune cookie one evening in mid-February. Looking back, from some four months distance, we can now tell you that the fortune was right. In late February, we traveled to a far-off place, to a long, multi-day party with friends from far and near, to an event purportedly devoted to fanzine publishing but with plenty of emphasis on fan history as well. It was the 1992 Corflu fanzine fans' convention, and we want tell you about it...
It's been over a decade since we were last in Los Angeles. We missed the 1984 Worldcon, which fell right in the middle of our five-year bout with encroaching gafia. Since then, there hadn't been any reason to travel there. So, with the upcoming Corflu there, we were primed and ready.
The trip out to L.A. was pretty innocuous, but the contrast between our starting point and destination reminded us of a scene from The Wizard of Oz. Do you remember when Dorothy looks out onto colorful Munchkinland from the drab, black & white interior of her aunt's house? It was almost that dramatic, the difference between Washington, D.C. and Southern California. The mid-Atlantic coast of the U.S. isn't known for pleasant weather in late February; the morning we drove to Dulles International Airport, the weather was windy and rainy, and cold enough for a heavy jacket. When we arrived in L.A., it was sunny and very warm. While we were waiting for our luggage in the airport, we felt a little silly carrying jackets more suitable for Minnesota; nobody told us that when we boarded the DC-10 at Dulles that we'd be walking through the door into summer!
There was more to do in the Los Angeles area besides go to Corflu, of course. With that in mind, we arranged our travel to arrive in Los Angeles two days before the convention began. Elliott "Elst" Weinstein met us at our hotel soon after we arrived, and we spent that afternoon seeing parts of Los Angeles we'd missed in our previous trip. First stop was downtown L.A., for a quick science fictional tour of the city. We drove past City Hall, which doubled as the Daily Planet building in the old Superman TV series. (It loses some of its charm without the globe at the top, though.) Next was the Bradbury Building, whose interior was used in the movie Bladerunner and the "Demon With a Glass Hand" episode of The Outer Limits TV series. (We were somewhat let down to find out that it's actually home to a few ageneies of the California state government.) The building across the street from the Bradbury, which houses a large open-air food market, was festooned with all kinds of marvelous gargoyles and fantasy figures. Dick thought it all reminded him of stories by Harlan Ellison, "...only bigger!"
Big is what you get when you come to Los Angeles. You really need a car there. There's lots of places to see, but they're spread throughout the metro area. For instance, just west of downtown, next to the LaBrea Tar Pits, is the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, which has maybe the world's largest collection of Rodin sculptures, plus a nice collection of northern Renaissance paintings. Farther east, the old part of the city near Olivera Street is set up with Mexican merchants selling all sorts of things from Olde Mexico, at L.A. prices. In nearby Japantown, prices are much better, especially on the colorful ceramics that seem to be a specialty there. Every storefront in Japantown has a large white ceramic cat with its right paw raised in greeting. We saw a sign in one of the stores telling us about the cats: the white cat stands for good business, while the black cat represents good health. Raising the right paw stands for good service, and raising the left is for keeping diseases away. Nicki noticed one store that, instead of a cat, had a sign that read 'Cat Stolen'. Keeping in mind what we had just learned, we did not enter...
Nicki did wind up buying a pair of ceramic cats, which now reside next to our Rebel Award plaque on the mantle over our fireplace. But that wasn't even her prime purchasing objective on this trip. For the story on what was, it's time to change channels and segue to the continuing story of... Quest For T-Shirts.
At this point we're forced to admit we're both chronic collectors, though not as bad as we once were. When we moved from Tennessee to Maryland almost four years ago, we had to cut back considerably on belongings that made the trip with us. Consequently, lots of things found new owners, including Dick's collection of SF digest magazines that extended back to the 1940s, which he very sadly and very reluctantly decided to donate to the South Florida Science Fiction Society as a tax write-off. The things we seem to accumulate now are a little more esoteric. For instance, Dick now collects suspension bridges, state capitals, and U.S. counties. Nicki, on the other hand, likes to visit various college and university campuses to acquire new additions to her ever growing collection of college t-shirts.
That collection has grown considerably in the last few years; it started about 15 years ago when Dick, returning from a business trip and looking for a last-minute gift to bring back, glommed onto a University of Michigan t-shirt in the gift shop of an Ann Arbor motel. The rest, as they say, is history. We haven't counted them lately, but the ever growing number of t-shirts Nicki has completely fills one dresser and is threatening various other clothes storage space.
For our Los Angeles trip, the Hit List included the University of Southern California and Loyola Marymount University, both reasonably near the Corflu hotel. (UCLA was already in the bag from a previous trip, many years earlier.) The USC campus turned out to be your typical congested big-city university, with little to make it very memorable. Marymount, on the other hand, was spectacularly located on a highland southwest of downtown, with a sweeping, panoramic view of the city center. The next time on the evening news you see a journalist giving a story with downtown Los Angeles as his backdrop, he might be using the view from Loyola Marymount. Besides the nice view of the city, there were other sights at Marymount that caught Dick's eye as well. The exceptionally warm weather brought out plenty of string bikinis on coed sunbathers that last day of February. He was still pondering the incongruity of it all as Nicki led him by the hand back to the rental car.
Even with two full days sightseeing, we didn't get to everything we had planned. No Hollywood Boulevard this trip; there just wasn't time. No Los Angeles Kings hockey game either, even though The Great Western Forum was only a couple miles from our hotel -- their two home games during our trip were on nights we had other activities planned. Even the statues of Rocky and Bullwinkle on Sunset Boulevard would have to wait for another opportunity.
One thing that didn't have to wait, though, was a Thursday night visit to LASFS, the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society. When in Los Angeles, it seems almost obligatory for science fiction fans to visit LASFS. Apparently, the same thought occurred to other fans in from out of town as well; besides us at that meeting were Art Widner, Bill Bowers, Dick and Leah Smith, Len Bailes, and George Flynn -- previous Corflu veterans all. It turns out that LASFS is now only about two years from its three thousandth meeting (all consecutive, every Thursday night). Dick noted this to LASFSian Mike Glyer by asking him, "LASFS started the Loscon convention to commemorate its 2,000th meeting. What's going to happen on its 3,000th?" Mike replied, "Gee, I don't know, maybe we'll stop it." Just one more indication that great fannish minds run in circles...
Finally, it was time for Corflu. The convention committee had publicized that vintage 1950s-era fanzine fans would be encouraged to attend this year's convention, and we weren't disappointed. It was an opportunity to rediscover some of fandom's past glories, to find out things that happened a long time ago that made us what we are. Ted White was there, of course, but he goes to every Corflu. Dick had hoped to meet Noreen Shaw, Charles Burbee, Redd Boggs, Andy Young, and Gregg Calkins, after reading about them in A Wealth of Fable, but unfortunately, they didn't show (Burb was in the hospital with a broken hip). No matter, there were still quite a few earlier-era fanzine fans there: Robert Lichtman, Forrest J Ackerman, Bill Rotsler, Dave Rike, Roy Lavender, Bruce Pelz, and Dean Grennell. In particular, Dick had looked forward to meeting Dean Grennell. Back in the 1950s and 1960s, Dean was one of fandom's best photographers, both in quantity and quality, but he was even better known for his fanzine Grue, which was one of the best fan publications of the 1950s. It turned out that he'd brought two old fanzines with him for Dick; one of them was an issue of Grue, and the other was the front half of maybe the most famous single issue of any fanzine ever published, Joel Nydahl's Vega annish from 1953.
For those of you who haven't heard of the Vega annish, it's famous for its contents, but even more so for what happened to Nydahl afterwards. That issue of Vega was intended to celebrate its first anniversary of publication, and as a result ran to over 100 pages. Nydahl went all-out to get good material for the issue, and succeeded; the table of contents reads like a who's who of 1950s fandom: Walt Willis, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Harlan Ellison, Fred Chappell, Terry Carr, Lynn Hickman, Charles Wells, Juanita Wellons (now Coulson), Bob Tucker, Dean Grennell, Bob Silverberg, Redd Boggs, Bob Bloch, and more. The cover is three-color mimeo with tight registration. It's a truly impressive fan publication, even if we only have the first half of it. As for Nydahl, he spent so much time and money on the issue, he completely burned out and dropped out of sight, never to return. The affliction became known as Nydahl's Disease, otherwise known as annishia gafiatus.
Besides Vega, many other old fanzines made appearances at this year's Corflu. In fact, Corflu is an ideal place to acquire fanzines, both new and old. The TAFF/DUFF auction saw quite a few of them change hands. Dick came away with a copy of Science Fiction Fifty-Yearly, a fanzine published by Bob Tucker and Bob Bloch in 1957, to mark their combined 50 years of fan activity. A copy of a 1944 postcard-zine, Fan Newsletter, brought a sales price of seventeen dollars, maybe an all-time record for a fanzine purchase price when figured on a per-square-inch basis. The Fanthology `88 fanzine also made its appearance at Corflu, to mixed reviews.
The hotel chosen for Corflu, the Cockatoo Inn, was an older hotel a few miles from the Los Angeles International airport that seemed to be desperately trying to hang on to its dignity in the face of new highrise hotels that now surround the airport. It must have been one of the better places to stay back in the 1950s, from some of the old autographed photos of celebrities hanging on the walls of the restaurant. Now, forty years later, it wasn't exactly run down, but we suspected that many years had passed since the last time any celebrity had stayed there. The hotel's layout was a bit different in that many of the sleeping rooms were in a separate building, across the street from the hotel lobby and restaurant. The unique aspect of this arrangement was that the hotel buildings and parking garage completely surrounded one lone house. Apparently the house's owner, back in the 1950s, had decided not to sell his land to the Cockatoo, and the hotel went in anyway, right around him.
The Cockatoo was chosen for the site of Corflu, we found out, because of another fan convention, the Friends of the English Regency, that was being held concurrently (notables who attended that convention included Frank Kelly Freas and Larry Niven). The English character of the hotel's architecture, as well as the afternoon 'tea and crumpets' advertised by hotel publicity, seemed appropriate for English Regency. The two conventions held only one common event, the banquet Sunday afternoon, which was memorable due to Bill Rotsler drawing cartoons on most of the dinnerware. Quite a bit of it didn't find its way back to the hotel cupboards (as you might expect), which led someone to remark, "Bill Rotsler: the dishwasher's friend."
Apart from the banquet, few fans ate at the hotel restaurant, except for the free continental breakfasts. We found that out pretty early on, after a breakfast we shared with Linda and Ron Bushyager, and George Flynn. It took well over an hour, much of which was spent trying to get the attention of the waiters. This led George to say on the way out of the restaurant, "It wasn't the best breakfast I've ever had, but it was the longest!"
After that, we took advantage of every opportunity to organize dinner and lunch expeditions away from the hotel. One of them introduced us to Peruvian food, which turned out to be not too bad (if you pick a dish not too heavy with cilantro). To our surprise, that dinner came complete with a five-member Peruvian folk music group; to our dismay, they set up their amplifiers about 10 feet in front of our table. Words are really inadequate to describe the ordinarily gentle sound of the panpipes flute boosted to the amplitude of a jet engine. Dick Smith, who was sitting across from Nicki, remarked that we'd better eat fast, because the plates were starting to vibrate right off the table. On the way back to the hotel, we found out that the food must have been more filling than we thought. We had turned in our rental car by then, but were able to squeeze into the back seat of a two-door mini-compact someone else had rented. We didn't have any trouble getting out at the restaurant, but on the return trip Dick got his shoulder and knee wedged into some crevasses in the car while trying to climb out, and couldn't. It took Nicki shoving from behind and Ben Yalow pulling from the outside to get him loose. It was definitely not one of Dick's finer moments...
We don't mean this essay to degenerate into an anthology of eating stories, but there was another dinner expedition later on that was even more memorable. It started out innocuously enough, with three carfuls of fans heading out to the Pelican Restaurant in Manhattan Beach for seafood. Mike Glyer had earlier headed off with one carful, while we, Moshe Feder, and Elst Weinstein would follow in Elst's car, leading Art Widner and Dave Rike in Art's two-seater pickup truck. Elst was to lead, since he's an L.A. native, but he wasn't totally familiar with this section of town. So he decided to use the directions and hand-drawn map provided in the convention's restaurant guide.
Elst wasn't too thrilled with the map, because it had been prepared by Rick Foss, a fan and friend of Elst's who was also a travel agent -- Elst knew Rick and that he often oversimplified things like this. However, the restaurant was located on one of the major streets, Highland Avenue, which was on Foss's map. All we had to do was follow El Segundo to Highland, turn down Highland for a few blocks, and we'd be there. What could go wrong? So we started out, with Elst explaining some of the area's history as he was driving, and Art trying to keep up with us. The street we were on, El Segundo, takes its name from a nearby oil refinery (supposedly the second one built in the area). We saw it before too long -- it was like a fairy castle, with thousands of little lights vaguely defining its shape. But just then El Segundo dead-ended instead of intersecting with Highland, and the only street available took a sharp turn to the right -- exactly opposite the direction we needed to go. This led into a warehouse district, deserted at eight o'clock on a Saturday night. We had to traverse a bunch of narrow little streets with stop signs at the end of every block to find our way back to a main thoroughfare.
Elst was getting annoyed, since it was pretty certain we now wouldn't get to the restaurant until well past our reservation time. His car was a fairly high-powered Acura, and just about every block on the way out he would roar up to a stop sign and utter some epithet about Foss, then take off again. It went like this:
Vroooom! Screech! "Foss is going to have a lot of explaining to do about this!" Vroooom! Screech! "Death to Foss!" Vroooom! Screech! "I'll kill him!"
The mythical corner of Highland and El Segundo may go down into fannish lore as the Rick Foss Memorial Intersection. It was all very entertaining to Art and Dave, desperately trying to keep up with us, who had figured out early on that we'd gotten lost.
After we finally arrived at the restaurant, a different dilemma presented itself -- where to park? Nothing was available on streets near the restaurant, and the parking lot across the street was full. We must have coasted up and down streets for five minutes before Elst, in desperation, was able to find us a parking place in a way we still don't believe. It happened like this:
Those of you who know Elst are probably aware that he has been involved with more than his share of fan hoax happenings through the years. One of them is/was APA-H, the late and unlamented hoax/humor apa; another is the Church of Herbangelism. The church's chief deity, Herbie, is the same character who had his own comic book in the 1960s and whose trademark lollipops possessed phenomenal powers as tools and weapons. Anyway, just as we were starting to lose hope of finding a parking place anywhere in the area code, Elst said that, although it shouldn't be done too often, once in a while if you invoke Herbie's name, a parking spot will free up for you. Within five seconds a car pulled out from the curb, leaving an open spot right in front of the restaurant, and we were in it. It was unbelievable; it was almost enough to make converts of us...
The restaurant, it turned out, wasn't nearly full that night, and we had no trouble getting seated. The whole back area of the restaurant became sort of a mini-convention, because there must have been 25 fans there that night. Festivities went on for a couple of hours. As we were leaving, some of us decided that, since it was a beautiful moonlit night, we'd walk down the hill to the Pacific Ocean which was just a short distance away.
When the street leveled off', it dead-ended at a small parking lot containing one lonely booted car. At the entrance to the lot, a sign attracted our attention -- a whale inside a red circle with a diagonal red slash running through the circle. We surmised this must mean 'No Harpooning'. (Another sign declared that cars were not allowed to park overnight, which seemed to contradict the booted car.) We carefully made our way on the sand down to where impressive-size waves (to we East Coasters, at least) were rolling in.
Geri Sullivan, who was with our group, seemed excited by the spectacle of it all; we don't imagine she sees very many breakers that big up in Minnesota. Dick, on the other hand, was urging caution at getting too close to the water's edge -- these waves were a lot more powerful than what we'd seen from the Atlantic at last year's Ditto convention in Virginia Beach. Dick said later he had a momentary vision of Geri getting carried out to sea by the undertow, and having to send out her convention report in a series of postcards from Easter Island. It turned out that the Pacific was trickier than the Atlantic, too -- Moshe Feder slipped and got his pants leg wet when he didn't scramble away quite fast enough. A big wave had snuck up on him when he turned his back to the ocean.
By that time, it was getting pretty late, and we'd had enough excitement, if not entertainment, for one day. But on the way back to the hotel, we experienced a 'California Moment', one of those times you realize you can be nowhere else but in Los Angeles.
Elst had wisely decided to take an alternate route back, one that didn't depend on following Foss's map, but that did put us on a wide street with a long series of traffic lights. As we were stopped at one of them, a car in the lane next to us honked at another car in front of it, and both drivers rolled down their windows. Now, we don't know what happens where you live, but where we've lived, we've seen people start fighting when this sort of thing happens. However, this was Southern California:
"Hey, Dave, your car phone isn't on!" the guy in the rear car yelled.
'Dave' looked in his car for a moment then yelled back, "Yes, it is!"
"I've been trying to call you, and all I get is a busy signal!" Evidently, 'Dave' had his name and what looked like a telephone number posted in his back window, and the driver of the second car, who also had a cellular phone, had noticed it.
"What number are you trying?" said 'Dave'. And the guy behind him shouted a string of numbers. The light was still red.
"You've got the wrong number!" 'Dave' yelled, and recited the correct one. The signal turned green.
Meanwhile, we'd all been laughing hysterically at this. Then Elst said, "Let's call Dave!"
Elst's idea was to call 'Dave' before the other driver could, so the guy would still get a busy signal. It took him several traffic signals to convince us this was indeed a good idea, and we finally gave in. "OK, what was the number?"
By that time, no one remembered, but just then we reached another red light, and 'Dave' was still in the lane next to us. So Elst powered down the passenger-side window of his car, and yelled, "Hey, Dave! What was that number again?"
'Dave', at long last, suddenly noticed us, and gave us an embarrassed half-wave and smile as we tried to keep from dissolving completely into laughter. When the signal turned green, 'Dave' turned right and disappeared into the night. We managed to make it back to the hotel without further incident.
As the convention started to wind down, we had a chance to think back over the weekend, to consider just why we look forward so much each year to this particular get-together. Perhaps the strength of the convention is the people, from many different fan eras, who come from near and far to be there. As we said earlier, it's the people who attend that provide a great opportunity to rediscover things that happened in different times (and different places) that made us what we are today. This year, Arnie and Joyce Katz from Las Vegas finally made it to a Corflu. They brought along several fans who seem genuinely interested in this form of fan activity, and we look forward to receiving fanzines from them. There were only two non-North American fans present -- Eric Lindsay from Australia and Nigel Rowe from New Zealand, England, and probably places in-between. There were also people there that we seem to see at almost every Corflu -- Don Fitch, Andy Hooper, Pat Virzi, Richard Brandt, Suzle Tompkins, and Jerry Kaufman among them. They didn't find their way into other parts of this convention report, but we appreciated their company during the weekend just as much.
The last night of the Corflu always seems to be the best. The convention had ended, and there were about twenty hangers-on in the con suite, trying to use up the last of the drinks and munchies. Nobody seemed to want it to end. As the hours wore on, more and more people said their good-byes, wanting to get some sleep before early airplane flights the next day. Every time the group got smaller, the energy level seemed to pick up slightly, as if everybody was trying to make up for the loss. Things were still going strong when we left, but on the way out, everyone came up to us and wished us well. The last person we saw on the way out was Geri Sullivan, who grabbed our hands for just a second as she said, "It's been fun, hasn't it?"
And we said, "Yes, it has. Let's do it all over again next year."
All illustrations by Sheryl Birkhead