Forry Ackerman also makes an appearance in this next article, as seen through the
eyes of someone who was then relatively new to fandom. It's interesting to realize
that fandom is old enough now, that there are quite a few second-generation fans
(and even some third-generation fans), but yet still young enough that many of the
First Fandom, like Forry, are still very much active.
I suppose it was inevitable that one day I would write something like this. It's in the blood.
My parents both became involved in fandom shortly before I was born. My mother, Ginger Smith (now Ginger Borden) was mainly active in con-going and fan-being, while my father was mostly concerned with the activities of the newly-formed Society for Creative Anachronism.
In fact (the little girl, proud of her daddy, declared) my father was the first prince of Caid (Southern California) when it initially separated from the kingdom of the West. His SCA name was Christian of Orange, and I remember how proud and lucky I felt when the crown was placed on his head and he sat before his first court!
Other kids had fathers who were firemen or doctors or policemen, but I didn't know any other kid whose father was a prince!
# # # #
My parents separated (and eventually divorced) when I was quite young. As you might expect from the above, Mom got custody of fandom, and Dad got custody of the SCA.
What I got was the most wonderful, special, magical and memorable childhood a kid could ask for outside a book of fairy tales. Though, come to think of it, much of it did read like a fairy tale at that...
# # # #
A Night to Remember
The first story I remember falling in love with was Ray Bradbury's "The Fog Horn."
The first two 'grown-up' books I chose to own and read again and again were The October Country (basically an illustrated version of The Autumn People), and The Golden Apples of the Sun, also authored by Bradbury.
My first trip to Mars was with the family in "Dark They Were, And Golden Eyed."
And my first hero, the first idol of my childhood dreams, was Bradbury himself.
So it was only natural that when my mother came home one night and told me that Ray Bradbury had asked to meet me, I was certain I was hearing things. I'd been home with a fever for several days, and chalked it up to delirium.
Grinning at my obvious confusion, my mother sat down and explained to me how she had met Bradbury at a LASFS party or meeting earlier that very evening. Hoping to bring home an autograph and brighten the glum mood I had been in, mom mentioned to him that her daughter was a devoted fan of his. Bradbury galantly replied that she wasn't old enough to have a daughter that was a fan of his fiction. After whatever editorial response she may have had to his remark, mom went on to assure him that she did, indeed, have a ten-year-old daughter who had read everything of his she could get her little hands on. I suppose, at the time, it was somewhat rare to come across a child of my age who had such interests... and understood them.
For whatever reason, Bradbury announced that he had to meet me in person, at the earliest convenient opportunity. (Well, let me assure you, had I known about this conversation when it was actually taking place, I would've started hiking that very instant!) I don't think there was any other person in the world that I cared about meeting when I was ten.
Once I finally accepted the fact that my mother was not playing a part in one of my father's evil jokes, and that what she said was fact and not fiction, I couldn't imagine how life could ever get any better.
I closed my eyes and tried to picture what it would be like. In my minds eye, Bradbury was larger than life and surrounded by an enormous, glowing aura that warmed the entire room and seemed to reach out towards me...
As ill as I was, my mother let me make up my mind whether or not to go into L.A. that weekend and meet him at some college where he was doing a lecturer/guest speaker event. I remember the drive up to L.A., vividly, because I was throwing up out the car window the entire journey. But it would have taken hospital restraints and sedatives to keep me from leaping at the opportunity. After all, he might have changed his mind!
Now, wouldn't you think, with that kind of build-up, that I'd be able to give you a pretty detailed description of that encounter? You probably expect me be able to tell you what I wore, the color of his tie, and what furniture was in the room. But I can't. I don't remember a single, concrete detail about that moment other than the fact that my mother and Sandy Cohen were there. (Sandy's an ol' LASFS regular who could often be found capturing moments of various historical importance on film. The only reason I can tell you Sandy was there is because he took the photograph of me sitting on Bradbury's lap that remains one of the most cherished pictures in my collection.)
As soon as my mother and I walked through the door behind which Bradbury waited, all pain vanished. I remember the feeling with crystal clarity. I entered warily, paranoid at the last minute that this would all turn out to be some cruel joke. Then I looked down at the end of the room, a million miles away.
There he was.
You know that camera effect they use in the movies, the one where something far away suddenly looms closer without either party moving? That's what it was like. The entire world, every last scrap of reality that lay beyond my line of sight, utterly vanished -- sucked into some nameless void so quickly that I swear I could hear a sharp 'crack' as air rushed in to fill the vacuum.
Regardless of what other people (or myself, for that matter) may think of Bradbury today, that timeless, magic moment is, without question, one of the most memorable moments in my entire life. I can't image that even meeting God would be more awesome, because to the 10-year-old who walked into that room -- he was God.
# # # #
"But You're Not Him!"
I was at IguanaCon in 1978 on my way from some silly thing to another silly thing, passing by the tent where Harlan Ellison was writing a story while the rest of the convention gazed on. I was with a newly-made friend, and we had just left the Harlan crowd behind us when I noticed a tall gentleman walking towards (and eventually past) us. I glanced at his name tag.
Step...Step. *Blink* Something, my brain said, is wrong with this picture.
Halting abruptly, I backpedaled til I caught up with the man in question and, without giving a thought to manners or politeness or any of that sort of thing, put my hand out to stop him. He stopped.
I hadn't backpedaled quite far enough, so it was necessary for me to push his shoulder around so that I could peer up at his name tag. He put up with the whole thing quite patiently, and quietly. I read the tag, looked up at his face, leaned closer and read the tag again.
'Forrest J Ackerman', it said.
I looked at the man again, this time stepping back to get a clearer view of him. He must have sensed some of what was going on in my head, because he just smiled and stood there waiting.
Finally, I shook my head and stated flatly, "You're not him!"
At this point, I noticed there were several people watching us, and more headed our way. Whether they were the people he had been on his way to meet -- or even traveling with in the first place (I hadn't noticed) -- or simply people coming to see what the strange child was doing bothering the convention guest, I don't know, but a crowd was gathering.
The man smiled, glanced down at his chest, twisted the badge in question upside down to read, then chuckled. "Yes, I am!"
"No!" I shook my head and spoke, perhaps, a bit too loudly. "You can't be Forry Ackerman!" Peripherally, I noticed a few chuckles amongst the onlookers, but my young, infallible ego ignored them all. My new friend stepped forward, then, and gently took me by the arm, suggesting we be on our way and leave the gentleman alone.
"No!" I pulled away from him, just in time to block the path of the fugitive in question who seemed to be trying to continue about his business. "You can't be Forry Ackerman!"
At this point, several do-gooders stepped forward to attest that, yes, he was in fact Forrest J. Ackerman... and did my parents know where I was?
Not being terminally dense, it began to occur to me that something was wrong with this picture. Obviously, this man wouldn't be wandering around a convention impersonating Forry Ackerman... and certainly not with so many handy witnesses to attest to his identity. So, for a few *long* moments, I just stood there trying to solve the puzzle.
For some reason, despite all the evidence before and around me, this face was rejected by my brain when associated with this name.
I thought, fumed, pondered....
The man, and the crowd, watched silently.
Eventually, I got it.
You see, one of the first of my mothers fannish possession that I laid claim to as a youth was her copy of the album Music for Robots by Forry Ackerman. It had a picture of him on the front, spliced into a Robby-the-Robot-ish figure. I loved that album, both the synthesized music and the wonderful 'journey' that Forry narrated on the flip-side. I used to play it almost daily, and, as a result, felt very 'familiar' with and 'protective' of its creator... which is why I reacted to strongly to this apparent impersonator.
You must understand, this was the only picture of Forry I had ever seen.
Now, I didn't think he was a robot, or even that he wandered around all the time in a robot outfit, but the photo on that album jacket had to be at least 20 years old. While the face I was so unquestionably familiar with was smooth and still youthful, the man before me was... well... gray haired and wrinkled.
*Ding!* Finally the light came on, and I realized that what was wrong was not his name tag but my extremely out-dated frame of reference. Snapping my fingers and shouting "Of course!" with a gleam in my eye, I loudly declared, "I get it! You're old now!"
My hand was already on its way to cover my mouth as soon as the words escaped, but it was too late. I didn't need to see the looks on the backpedaling faces to realize I had just committed a heinous crime.
"I mean," I tried to explain around my foot, "that is, you're not young now. No! I mean, you were young then..."
I (thankfully) don't recall all of the ways I managed to point out the fact that he was no longer the young man on that album cover, but I do know that I struggled fearfully for several minutes until eventually I just gave up and sank down to the lobby floor, hanging my head in shame.
Of course, Forry laughed. Somehow, he managed to get the gist of what I was saying. He was delighted that someone was still getting use out of Music for Robots, especially someone of a generation other than the one it was aimed at.
By the time we went our separate ways, we had sat and talked for nearly an hour and he had invited me to come see the Ackermansion if I ever got the chance. He even gave me a key chain to commemorate our meeting.
Three years later, while trying to decide whether or not to get in line to see the masquerade at a 'Dougie' con at the L.A. Airport Marriott, I noticed Forry (and others with him) up near the front of the line. I thought of waving, then decided against it -- even if he did remember me (which I figured was unlikely -- after all, how many hundreds, if not thousands, of other people had he met in the three years since IguanaCon) I wasn't so sure I wanted him to remember me. Especially not if it meant that I had to remind him by way of retelling my 'episode' to his friends.
I wasn't to get off so easily, though.
Forry saw me! And he waved. Twice. A hello wave, followed by a 'come here a second' wave. Eager to please, I rushed over.
When I got to where they were standing, Forry put a firm but kind arm around my shoulder and turned to his group saying, "This is the little girl I told you about at IguanaCon!"
The sound of the blood rushing to my face prevented me from hearing what else he had to say for the next several minutes. "God," I mumbled, "I was hoping you'd forget."
"Forget?" he cried cheerfully. "Why, I've only been insulted that well once before in my life, and that was over 30 years ago -- long before you were born!"
Great, I thought, my distinguished place in Forry's memories is as one of two -- count them, *two* -- people to have ever insulted him to his face like that. What a way to be remembered! Sheesh.
On the up side, however, Forry and I did strike up a pretty good friendship, which has gone through its active and inactive periods as fannish friendships are wont to do.
# # # #
How Wrong Can a Kid Be?
My 'first' con was when I was 10 years old; it was a WorldCon -- the 1976 MidAmeriCon, to be precise. My mother, who did not go, packed me into an already overstuffed car with three strange adults and one other 10-year-old. When I say strange, here, I don't just mean fannish strange. To me, these people were all strangers -- even though one of them, Lewis Grey (a LASFS member from way back when), was a friend of my mother and the uncle of my friend and fellow mischief-maker, Melinda (the aforementioned other 10-year-old).
Actually, I had been to countless other cons before this one, but this was the first convention I attended without the company of my mother or father, hence my thinking of it as my 'first' con. I don't remember much of that convention, except that I had a rousing a good time and, more specifically, a certain pizza parlor I and my friends will probably never be welcome at during this or any subsequent lifetimes. (I'm not proud of it, but have come to accept the fact that I was/could be an uncontrollable monster when I was a snot-nosed brat.)
I do remember Kelly Freas paying/bribing the kids at the con to go around selling his 'Gremlins Do Not Exist' buttons. And I remember that we wore hospital-type wrist bands instead of name tags by way of convention identification. I found them harder to lose than clip or pin on badges, but apparently they were easy to pass-around (as if pin-ons aren't?) and share one membership between several people.
My most distinct memory of MidAmeriCon also happens to be one of the times I was about as wrong about something as you can get. Lewis Grey was trying to control Melinda and I (as I recall, we were hiding under a covered table at the top of the escalators, then pouncing out upon any fan-looking ankles that passed our way), and had been suggesting we go listen to a presentation some guy was giving about a movie he was trying to make. Well, when we accidentally pounced on a policeman's leg, we decided to let Lewis drag us away.
We sat in the back of the room and watched as this typically nerdy-looking fan-type (glasses, pocket protector, acne, et al.) showed us drawings (storyboards) of characters and tried to explain -- sans microphone -- about this movie he was trying to make. Melinda and I fidgeted for a bit, and tried to feign interest... but, I mean, to a 10-year old, this guy was, well, dorky. His character names were dorky, the bells and whistles of the film all had dorky names, and the movie title itself was the dorkiest of them all. After about 15 or 20 minutes, our juvenile little brains passed sentence and we snuck out the back door.
"That's one movie that'll never get made!" we laughed as we scooted down the hall.
"Or, if it does, no one will ever go see it!"
Of course, the 'dork' was George Lucas, and the movie was Star Wars.
All illustrations by Kurt Erichsen