It was a godsend, not only providing the long-awaited opportunity to try fashioning my life in my own way, but also promising a revival of my sex life which -- due to an almost total lack of someplace private -- had become rather dormant. Fashion my new life I did; it took quite a different tack then, more different in some ways but much more satisfying in others. As for the promise of a sex revival, well, it didn't work out quite as easily as I had hoped it would.
This young man I moved in with was a bit of a slob. I hate to admit it, but I soon turned into one myself, probably in reaction to the years of unrelenting home discipline. Neither of us would lift a finger in the interest of tidiness, and the place soon turned to seed. It acquired a uniform grey coating of fine dust, deep and velvet-like in appearance. The smooth surface was broken only by the narrow footpaths leading from the apartment door to the beds and connecting the beds with the kitchen, bathrooms and toilet.
Quite a few girls, oh, all right, all girls were a bit put off by the ambience. Luckily in those days we were both attractive enough in body and character to make some girls overcome the aversion and/or dust allergy. Having successfully passed that first hurdle, such hardy types would then be confronted with real challenges.
Branko, my apartment mate, and I were both bearded but kept our beards short. The trimming was done over the washbasin in the bathroom and, as we never washed the basin itself, a sediment of short, curly snippets accumulated there, adhering to the sticky surface, until the washbasin resembled a hairy ape hanging out from the wall fixtures. It would scare the bejasus out of girl visitors trying the bathroom for the first time. One of them reported it growled at her when she'd tried the hot water tap. Not that we believed her, of course, but still, it was kind of reassuring that the thing was firmly bolted to the wall. Good old-fashioned pre-war engineering, not the modern cardboard-stucco-and-parcel-string housing project crap.
As Sigourney Weaver has shown us so ably, an adaptable girl can learn to live with a hairy ape, and some of our girls did. You beat your chest with clenched fists once in a while and you're OK, apparently. (Wonder what Dolly Parton would make of that?)
Branko's aunt Ettie, however, was a much more serious threat. Her actual name was Erszebet (Hungarian for Elizabeth) and she was as bad as her name sounded. Over the spring, summer, and fall she lived in a seaside house on the Adriatic coast, but over the winter she'd simply move in with us and take over the kitchen. She didn't cook for us -- Branko, who knew her well, wouldn't touch her cooking and I prudently took his hint -- no, she lived in the kitchen. There were some other rooms in the apartment, but they were filled with clutter to such an extent that they were uninhabitable. The fans familiar with Harry Warner's story of "The House on Summit Avenue" will know what I mean. So, the kitchen it was.
The problem with such an arrangement was that we often needed the stuff from the kitchen. Our fridge was there, for one thing, taking good care of the staples: beer, cheese, frankfurters, and Dr. Oettker's Chocolate-and-Vanilla Pudding. That's what we lived off in those days. With Erzsebet in the kitchen, a trip to the fridge was not a thing we looked forward to.
Old Ettie was a... er, a lady who had spent all her allotted lifespan of three score and ten years learning the art of the disapproving stare. Her normal life over and her skill honed to perfection, she then lived for another half-dozen years on borrowed time, putting what she'd learned into practice.
Ah, the sheer expressive range that that woman's stare had! If you can imagine the late Sir Ralph Richardson in drag, boiling inside with resentment, yes, that would be the close approximation of Branko's remarkable aunt.
By day, we took turns for the forays into the kitchen, and by night, we tried to do without. The wisdom of such policy was amply proved one chilly evening when a girl I was rather piqued at (she had come as my guest but immediately took a liking for Branko, and started emitting various coded and not-so-very-much-coded signals at him) expressed a desire for some of our Beaujolais, to get warmed up inside. (At this stage in our narrative, I trust it will not surprise you that the wine was not actually Beaujolais. The bottles and labels were genuine enough but the wine was God knows what; the point was that it worked.)
Anyway, the girl wanted wine and I wanted to get even. Without stopping to think, I told her to go help herself from the fridge. "Yeah, why don't you bring a bottle for us all?" chipped in Branko's girlfriend with a malevolent gleam in her eyes. Obviously, I wasn't the only one who saw the signs flashing. Branko looked somewhat alarmed but said nothing. The words were still hanging in the air when I felt the first twinge of conscience, but by then it was too late. The poor girl went into the hall and opened the kitchen door. We had neglected to tell her to knock.
There was a double scream, and in a split second we were all there to witness a curious spectacle: Erzsebet the Terrible, wearing an ancient lacy peignoir, was in the middle of the kitchen, standing ankle-deep in a shallow tin tub full of hot water. Steam was curling around her bony legs like the dry ice smoke at a rock concert, while she waved her hands around in impotent fury, a big hair brush in one hand and an elaborate wig in the other. Without her head covering she looked as bald as Kojak and twice as dangerous. The rest of the night does not bear describing.
The one and only useful thing in life that that woman did was getting rid of the kitchen growth. Her arrival at the beginning of winter sounded the death knell to the refrigerator fungus. Or was it mold? Lichen? Can't be sure; botanics has never been my strong suit. Whatever it was, she attacked it with a potent-smelling cleaning liquid and a Brillo pad, and wiped it out in a single afternoon. Throughout the winter, the fridge gleamed antiseptically.
Even after Erzsebet was gone the fungus was reluctant to return. The white fluffy down didn't spread over the Mozzarella before May, and we were well into June when the first thin strands of green appeared in the salad drawer. Branko and I watched it grow with mixed feelings. The plant was a household fixture we had come to know well, and its reappearance signaled a return of normalcy into our lives. On the other hand, before aunt Ettie razed it to the ground, it had grown to unmanageable proportions. It was good to get rid of it for a while.
We debated the need to control it for most of the summer while it grew and developed and asserted itself over larger and larger portions of the refrigerator. In August we finally gave up. After all, it seemed to be pretty harmless and much less scary than the apelike washbasin. It didn't growl and it never actually bit anyone.
Branko did comment once that we were curiously free of insects, bar a few spiders and house flies. He had the idea that the fridge flora might have been responsible, but I doubted it. From what I could remember of my high school biology classes, the carnivorous plants liked it hot while our box of green tricks was still close to zero, dutifully cooling the beer and murmuring to itself occasionally.
Branko's theory was soon put to test and disproved in a dramatic fashion. A curious and very unpleasant smell was beginning to be felt in the kitchen in those days. Over a couple of weeks, it gradually increased in intensity, finally reaching epic proportions, a true acme of household fetidity. At about that time the bugs started to appear, isolated at first, then in twos and threes, and finally in droves. Very unpleasant. It had all started to interfere with our sex lives again, just as we repaired the damage aunt Ettie had wrought. The girls simply refused to enter the reeking, bug-infested place.
Branko had put his hope in our fungus, but the plant failed him utterly. Instead of whooping ferociously at its prey and wreaking havoc among the insect hordes, it just stood there and watched noncommittally from the butter and cheese compartment. In the end, we had to do something ourselves. A thorough search of the kitchen nooks and crannies turned up an opened cup of (what used to be) Dr. Oettker's Chocolate-and-Vanilla Pudding with whipped cream, well hidden in the cupboard. Branko sheepishly admitted hiding it a few weeks previously and forgetting about it. He'd been loath to leave it in the fridge, afraid that the fungus would get at it.
By then the cupboard resembled a bug Worldcon. Dr. Oettker would have been proud of his product, as every insect known to inhabit Central and Southern Europe seemed to have gathered there, milling about purposefully. It was an illusion, naturally; the huge swarms feeding on vanilla were composed of perhaps four or five orders of Tracheata altogether. The invaders' strength lay in numbers, not diversity.
Coleoptera were out in force, of course, with the various Staphylinidae, Silphidae, and Bruchidae frantically busy over the last dregs of cream and chocolate. A few hundred Blattaria were the only representatives of Dictyoptera and all were of the mundane Periplaneta orientalis variety, a.k.a. the brown cockroach. Nothing remotely exotic, apart from sheer quantity.
The only surprise was the presence of several dozen Forficula auricularia, proudly crawling under Dermaptera banner. What they wanted was anyone's guess; they usually feed on rotten fruit, not pudding. Perhaps they were simply attracted by the commotion, the way crowds will gather at the site of a traffic accident.
Diptera made up the remainder of the insect forces. Borboridae (their cheese-loving Piophila casei in particular) found their natural habitat there, wallowing in the cream curdles with merry abandon, while their cousins Muscidae, homely flies, so drab among the shiny and scaly intruders, seemed much more reticent. They preferred to hover around, occasionally poking their hairy heads into the busy cupboard and quickly pulling back, as if resenting the whole business. Poor old Fannia canicularis, our regular tenant, looked downright annoyed by the bustle. So were we, baby, so were we.
Since the killer fungus proved to be a dud we contemplated chemical warfare for a while, Geneva convention or not, but it turned out to be unnecessary. Once the food source had been removed (with the proverbial ten-foot pole) the arthropodic ranks slowly dispersed and our normal fly and spider population went back to life as usual.
If our spiders looked relieved after the bug tide had ebbed, you can imagine our sentiments about it. Not to mention the girls'. Understandably shaken by the sexual ostracism the invasion of vanilla snatchers had brought upon us, we introduced strict apartheid and the crawlies were firmly kept in their place thereafter. Even so, several weeks of intense persuasion were to pass before the girls returned, nervously casting their glances around and sniffing the air with suspicion.
Ah, the complications of bachelorhood! Well, at least we were safe from burglars. Anyone unlucky enough to break into our apartment would certainly rue the day. How would you feel if somebody sicced Erzsebet or a hairy washbasin at you in the middle of the night?
- - - - - - - - - -Bruno's article brought out a lot of apartment misadventure stories from our readers, of rodents and insects and cooking and disgusting stuff growing on things. (We're glad those days are long behind us!) There were also comments about the general excellence of Bruno's writing, including one from Vincent Clarke, who paid this compliment: "Bruno Ogorelec reminded me very much of the English John Berry's stuff in Hyphen, Orion, and other zines -- some absurd facet of life parlayed by a vivid imagination into fannish art. Well, I suppose that holds for all humour, but it's peculiarly gratifying to read such stuff produced under such awful conditions."
At any rate, the first half of 1992 was a busy time for us. We were both involved in reevaluating our professional careers, which eventually resulted in Nicki going back to college for her Masters Degree while Rich had the first of his many job-related trips to Eastern Europe. But there were many fan events as well which also took us out of town, the longest of which was to the 1992 Corflu fanzine fans' convention in Los Angeles. It was epic and fun convention, as reported in our "Corflu Odyssey" opening comments to the issue, and left us in a good mood for the remainder of the year. It also perhaps inspired us to put together what might have been our best issue to date, with a remembrance of Isaac Asimov by Dave Kyle, a remembrance of the fannish year of 1954 by Walt Willis, a remembrance of the Vietnam War by David Thayer, plus articles by Richard Brandt, Sharon Farber, Vincent Clarke & Chuck Harris, Roger Sims, Ted White, and the following one by Terry Jeeves.
The theme of the issue was 'Past Influences', about how events from our past have influenced the way we are today. One of the biggest of these, of course, is the 'sense of wonder', characteristic of well-written science fiction, that made us readers of the stuff in the first place. From there, it was just a short step to attend a convention in hopes of meeting a favorite author, and before we could stop to catch our breath we were publishing a fanzine. But in other places and in much earlier times, such as pre-war Great Britain, fandom wasn't yet wide-spread enough to be easily discovered, but that original 'sense of wonder' influence still existed:
Mimosa 12 cover by Stu Shiffman
All other illustrations by Alan Hutchinson