Nicki: It's been nine months since the fire, and our townhouse is now rapidly being repaired. In fact, there is a flurry of activity going on at the job site -- the neighbor's townhouse (that was burned down) is now being rebuilt, too. The work finally started in late June.
Richard: We had signed with a rebuilding contractor even before the fire was even out, one recommended by our insurance agent. The fire had attracted quite a gathering of onlookers, including our insurance agent, who had been alerted by his office manager; it turned out that her boyfriend lived in the same townhouse subdivision that we did, and his home was near enough to the fire that there was smoke damage.
The contractor had originally told us that the job could be completed in about three months, but that was before the extent of the damage was determined. Boy, were they wrong!
Nicki: The day after the fire, an army of people descended on our home to pack up all our worldly belongings, which (we were told) would be cleaned and boxed away in storage until we were ready to move back in again. The clothes went with one subcontractor, and everything else went with another. It took several days, but finally all that was left was what the subcontractors felt could not be salvaged.
At that point, we spent a couple of very discouraging days picking through the remaining debris listing items we found for the insurance company. Among our losses were dozens of books, including several signed small press editions that will be hard to replace. They weren't damaged by the fire, but had been soaked completely through by the water or layered with wet wood char and plaster from what had formerly been ceilings and walls.
Richard: Our losses from just what we could find totalled several thousand dollars, and that's not counting the hide-a-bed couch that we'll get reimbursement for later. But while we were sifting through all the debris, we found some very saveable things the packing subcontractors missed. One was the hand-carved matruska set of nested wooden dolls I had bought on my trip to Russia last year. There were also quilting magazines (that Nicki wouldn't have been able to replace), notebooks containing our yearly financial records (that I wouldn't have been able to replace), various art prints (which still smell faintly of smoke), and assorted tools and components for both the computer and Nicki's Bernina sewing machine. And, at the bottom of a pile of debris, there was something really worth preserving -- a $100 savings bond we'd received earlier that same week.
Nicki: Once everything was out, our contractor began the task of renovating the place, starting with tearing out all the wall and floor coverings. They then removed what was left of the drywall and plaster, right down to the wood frame. Both the roof and floor timbers had caught fire by the time the fire fighters had arrived. In fact, the roof had been burned almost completely away and, outside, the deck was also a total loss. Upstairs, the second bedroom was badly damaged and needed to be rebuilt. And the entire wall that connected with the other townhouse needed to be replaced; this common firewall formed part of the second bedroom, computer room, living room, and the basement area where I had my quilting studio.
Richard: This is where our contractor's original three month estimate broke down. In order for the rebuilding of our home to proceed, reconstruction of the other townhouse had to get underway, because the common wall between the two houses was the firewall, which needed replacement. This would require the willing cooperation of the other building contractor. The problem was, there wasn't any other building contractor -- it took the owner until the end of June to sign with one.
Nicki: So, once a week we would drop by this sorry place where you could walk in the front door and see all the way up to the emergency roof that was slapped on the day after the fire. And we would look through a crack in the boarded up area next door, where only a black hole was where a townhouse used to be. Then we would go away, even a bit more discouraged than before. Things continued like this, with no visible progress, for weeks that stretched into months. At the end of June, work on the missing townhouse finally started, and so work on ours did too.
Richard: Meanwhile, all our household belongings were in storage, somewhere. Nicki had gotten her sewing machine back by the end of January (though some of the attachments are still missing), and was able to resume quilting. The computer, however, was a much different story. Although it looked undamaged after the fire, it seemed pretty likely that all the smoke had caused some problems with it.
The first place we took it to, for cleaning, decided that the monitor, modem, keyboard, and the 16 megabytes of internal memory were completely cooked, and took it upon themselves to replace them all. But when we got the machine back again, not only was the system not cleaned properly (you could still smell wood smoke), the parts that were replaced had been changed out for inferior components. The $100 keyboard got changed out for a cheap one one worth only about $35; the high resolution color monitor was replaced by a cheaper one that had much lower resolution. The modem they wanted to give us was a cheap no-name knockoff, instead of an honest-to-goodness Hayes. The 16 megabytes of internal memory was replaced with only four megabytes. Parts that did need replacement -- the power supply, hard disk, and system motherboard -- had been left alone. I had to take the system back to where we'd originally bought it to get things done right. The insurance company had agreed to make sure we were satisfied, and I feel badly they are out a lot of money they paid for the first set of 'repairs'. But at least now, it *worked* again.
Nicki: There were also other problems to contend with. Our clothing restoration subcontractor has been excellent and our clothes and linens seem to have come out of this ordeal OK, but I found out that the miniature quilts I make didn't fare so well. I had all my finished ones stacked on shelves in the basement, and the works-in-progress on several tables as well as upstairs in my sewing basket. The day after the fire, I collected my workbasket (well, it's a big cloth bag) and all the works-in-progress that I could find, and brought them back to the hotel room where we had moved to. The rest of my quilting materials were packed by the subcontractor.
When we talked to them later, we got a list of all the packed boxes and their contents. One box in the listing was marked as 'Wet Fabric', which could have been quilts. Upon seeing that, I got a sinking feeling, so I called them and asked what had been done with that box. I couldn't get a straight answer, so I went to our main contractor and complained that their subcontractor was not cooperating. This got some action. But when the box was finally delivered to me, I discovered what happened to the 'Wet Fabric' contents -- nothing, absolutely nothing. All my finished quilts had been packed wet and left for over a month. They were all ruined by mildew, *EVERY* single one of them. If they'd been given over to the clothing restoration subcontractor at the outset, they all could have been saved. An insurance settlement is in the works, but it's not the same as having my quilts back.
Richard: It wasn't until the middle of August that we were finally able to find where all our belongings were being stored. It turned out that the warehouse was not conveniently located for us; it took about an hour's drive to get there. And we had to do it twice. The first time, about a month earlier, we'd made that long drive only to discover that the warehouse crew didn't have the key to the section where our things were stored. Our second trip there, just four days before our trip to Scotland for the worldcon, was more successful.
Nicki: After the long drive to the warehouse, it took us a while to find where the crew working on our belongings was. There were over 100 boxes in the listing, but many of them had generic descriptions, such as 'Items From Office'. I figured it was going to be a long shot to find things I really wanted, like some of my quilting supplies and sewing machine feet, and I was right -- the boxes were stacked five or six high, almost completely filling the small room they were in. It was hopeless. There was no way we were going to locate anything in there. But, as it happened, not all the boxes were in that small room. There were a few sitting opened in the work area; when we got there, the warehouse crew was busily taking things out of these boxes and wiping them down. The items they were cleaning were...fanzines!
Richard: By the wildest of coincidences, we had arrived just as the warehouse crew was starting to clean up our back issues inventory of Mimosa. We made their job easier, and gathered up all the issues we could find. It was only because of this lone piece of luck that we were able to bring fanzines with us to Glasgow. It might just as easily have been kitchenware!
In all, we were able to lay claim to three boxes of Mimosa back issues, about half of our pre-fire inventory. When we got them home, we saw that many of them had suffered varying degrees of smoke damage. The smoke from the fire had been so dense that it had forced its way into any exposed cover stock. There were dark patterns on some of the covers, where protruding corners and edges had been exposed to the smoke, but the rest had been shielded by other fanzines stacked on top. We took a number of these with us to Intersection for the fanzine sales table, and were surprised to see that most of them sold. Apparently, the smoke markings added a degree of uniqueness to the issues affected.
Nicki: We did attend Worldcon, despite our feeling back in January that would we be unable because of all the disruption. We had originally planned to make it a major trip, to see the British Isles as well as the convention, but wound up cutting it back to the bare week that Intersection was being held. We had a good time, but it was much too short to see all we would have liked. We want to "do it right" some time in the future when we're settled again, when I'm out of grad school and have a job again.
Richard: Actually, it wasn't until early August that I knew I'd be able to go to Scotland at all; until then, there was a business trip scheduled that very same week, but it fell through. This as much as anything contributed to the short duration of our stay; there was just no way to plan anything more than a trip to the convention. Besides the week in Glasgow, we did manage to visit Edinburgh for most of a day. It's a city rich in history and tradition, with a spectacular castle. We'll have to go there again one day.
Nicki: The convention itself was interesting. We didn't win the Fanzine Hugo this year; that honor went to Dave Langford (for both Best Fanzine and Best Fan Writer). We did enjoy the international feel and flavor that only a European Worldcon has.
Richard: There didn't seem to be many program items that took advantage of all the different nationalities present, but the after-hours partying certainly did. Three of the best parties were thrown by Australians, Norwegians, and Russians. There were also many fans there from Eastern Europe, including large contingents from Romania and Poland.
Nicki: We partied with some of the Polish fans on the next-to-last night of the convention. It was a party-within-a-party, actually; Baltimore and the other worldcon bidders were throwing a huge combined 'get rid of the remaining party supplies' fest in the ballroom of one of the convention hotels, and the Polish fans had a smaller party going on in a corner of the room. They had a bottle of wonderful 'goldwasser' vodka and were doing shots. So I sat with them, talking about Poland and fandom. They had to leave at 1:30am, since the YMCA where they were staying closed its doors at 2:00am, but they left us the bottle to finish.
Their English was actually pretty good. One fan said he learned English in school and watched the BBC for several years to prepare for this worldcon. But when he got to Scotland, he found they didn't speak the English he had learned! I told him not to worry; they weren't speaking the English *I* knew, either!
Richard: It's now nearly the beginning of Autumn, and Intersection is rapidly disappearing into the past. We're still living in the two bedroom apartment we moved into back in mid January, but we're hoping to have all this disruption behind us soon. Our contractor is now moving rapidly to complete the repairs; new kitchen cabinets have recently gone in, the wallpaper is going up, and carpeting and new lighting fixtures will soon be installed. It won't be long before the place is habitable again.
Meanwhile, we still don't have access to our mimeograph, so this will be our first issue that's been totally commercially printed. (I have to admit, I won't miss the week of hard work at the mimeo and all the ink stains on my hands.) The new look might be a little different, but we hope you'll find the contents just as entertaining to read as our previous issues. Write and let us know!
Title illustration by Sheryl Birkhead