[APAK logo] Issue #78, May 8th, 1997

At Corflu Wave, after the events described in the first paragraph below, I told Seth Goldberg that I would definitely write an article of this title. Sorry you can't read it here, Seth, but you were the only person there who already knew it all anyway. So here, for the first time in print, is . . .

The True History of the Corflu Guest of Honor
by David Bratman

At the Saturday programming session at Corflu Wave, one of the items featured Ted White, Andy Hooper, and other greybeards and mavens discussing the Corflu traditions. They talked about the site selection tradition, of course, that being a currently hot topic; they talked about the banquet tradition, the limited-programming tradition, the selection of the past president of fwa, and other traditions. And they talked about the Guest of Honor: how Corflu 1 chose its GoH's name out of a hat, and how first impressions that this was rather silly gave way to deeper feelings that this was the right and proper way for Corflu to do this, kept on by all succeeding Corflus except number 5 in Seattle. ("And that's all right too!" they said. "One of Corflu's traditions is to break the traditions once in a while.") The theory is that, outside of the increasingly class-stratified world of major conventions, within fanzine fandom we are all equals, and we are all friends. Each of us is known to the others, and each of us is worthy to be Guest of Honor at Corflu. And this theory has been verified in practice. Every Corflu GoH has proved a worthy choice, most of them were at least reasonably well-known in our small world, and those few relatively little-known fans who found their names drawn from the hat -- Barnaby Rapoport, Jae Leslie Adams, Gary Hunnewell -- made their reputations on the spot with brilliant and effective speeches, bringing themselves the reputations they deserved. And that too verifies the theory, because good fan writers can, and always have, sprung up spontaneously. Of course we honor our fancestors and BNFs, and our neos have to learn our customs, but anyone who does learn and honor our customs is welcome here, anyone who wants to is likely to feel welcome, and once they do, they're on the same level as everybody else.

Thus, partly explicitly and partly by implication, the panel discussion. And that was fine as far as it went, and I agree with every word of it. But there was one important and less comforting point about the nature of the subject that was hardly touched on. And just as importantly to me, they didn't tell the full story of the first Corflu GoH. Apparently of the attendees only Seth and I remembered this particular footnote to history, so it's time to put it in print.

The received story, as colored by my memory of the actual event, but with the omission still left out, goes like this. It's Friday night in the con suite. The announcement is made: the name of the GoH is going to be pulled out of a hat containing slips of paper, each containing the name of a Corflu member, one slip for each registered member. Terry Carr stands in the front of the room, near the doorway. He pulls a name out of the hat: Mike Deckinger. "He's not here!" somebody calls out. "Is he going to be?" asks another. "I don't know," says someone else, perhaps a committee member. "He bought a membership, but he hasn't turned up yet." Well, if he isn't here yet he can't be that interested, and in any case we don't want to risk having an absentee GoH -- we remember the 1974 Westercon -- so Mike Deckinger's name goes back in the hat. Terry swirls his hand around in it and pulls out another slip of paper: it's Mike Deckinger again! Legend has it that he pulls Mike's name out a third time, though I don't remember that for sure; but eventually someone suggests that maybe Terry should just not put the slip back in. So he doesn't. Then he tries again. This time we get: Pascal Thomas. He's present, he's not going anywhere, so he gets to be Corflu GoH.

All this is true. But it leaves something out. Mike Deckinger's was not the first name that Terry Carr pulled out of Corflu 1's hat. It was the second name. (As well as the third, and possibly the fourth.) The first name was:

Michele Armstrong.

Who? Well, that's what Terry said at the time, and so did just about everybody else, which may be why they forgot. But Seth and I knew her -- we were probably the only people there who did -- and that must be why we alone remembered.

Michele didn't figure in the long memoir of Seth I wrote for Girabbit 7 (now in production), but that's not for unimportance. It's partly because no obvious place to bring her in presented itself, and partly because I'm writing about her here. Michele had been, not a proto-fan but perhaps what might better be described as a nascent fan, at the time that Seth, working for the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Laboratory in the early 80s, discovered her in the administration office doing the bookkeeping. She was an sf reader, an American who had lived for some years in Australia, where she'd gotten to known Bruce Gillespie under circumstances of total coincidence, completely apart from fandom. She was, and still is, a tall woman, rather shy, but quick and bright of speech and written word.

Under Seth's tutelage, she began some regular fanac. At first he alluded to her occasionally in conversation with me, then unexpectedly introduced us over pizza one lunchtime. I got to know her better in part because we shared an interest in classical music, which didn't mean so much to Seth. We also shared an interest in Seth himself, and would talk about him whether or not he was present. Later on, Michele joined a couple of apas at Seth's behest, and became a leading member, which pleased him greatly, but this hadn't happened yet, and at no time was she much of a social fan. It was Seth's idea to get her the membership in Corflu at all, and she certainly wasn't there on Friday night. Seth and I were on the other side of the room during the GoH selection, leaning against the windowsill and viewing it all detachedly. "What if they should pick Michele?" Seth mused during the preparations. "That would be pretty amusing. I wonder what would happen then." "That's a good question," I said, "but it's probably not going to happen."

Then it did happen: Terry pulled out the slip and read the name. Seth and I stared at each other, agape and amused. Terry and others were nonplused at this unfamiliar name. "Is she here? Does anybody know her?" "She's not here," said Seth, adding, "She wouldn't want to be Guest of Honor anyway." Seth did not have a loud voice and we were back against the window; it took a while for this message to get through.

So Terry put Michele's name back in the hat, shuffled through the slips again, and pulled out Mike Deckinger, and here the true history of the first Corflu Guest of Honor rejoins the main track of the remembered history.

Michele actually did come to the convention for the day on Saturday, but did not make a spectacle of herself. Seth was himself both too shy and too considerate to go around introducing Michele to all and sundry as the almost-GoH, but he did introduce her to a few people, and he would certainly have talked incessantly about doing so.

As for Michele, she began her quiet apa career, submerged though it became by a growing family. She remained a friend and one of the most important people in Seth's life, and even proud of her momentary position as the first, ever, Corflu Guest of Honor.

Especially because she never had to get up before a crowd of fanzine fans who didn't even know her, after dining on Scope a la mode, and give a speech. So let's consider that dreaded Corflu GoH speech for a bit, then. This duty has become so feared, so pulverizing, that all most GoHs can think of after their selection is, "Oh God, what am I going to say, and when am I going to have a chance to write it?" One recent Corflu even offered its members the opportunity, by paying an extra dollar in membership, to have their names removed from the hat, though I don't know how many took up the offer. That aside, though, it's become the ironclad rule that every attending member (that is, everyone with an attending membership who isn't known not to be coming), except for past GoHs, has to have that name in the hat, whether they're in the consuite on Friday night or not. Consequently almost everyone shows up, to get the bad news quickly.

Is this a fake reluctance, like the show of hesitation made by new Speakers of the British House of Commons, who have to be dragged to the chair? I'm not sure, and perhaps not even the past GoHs could answer honestly, since their service is over now and they don't have to dread it any more. But can you imagine -- say this in the same tone of incredulity that you would say "Can you imagine printing your fanzines by hecto again?" (unless you're Dick and Leah Smith, in which case you probably would) -- returning to the unwritten rules of Corflu 1, by which people not in the room could be turned down as GoH, even though they weren't known not to be coming?

Or who could turn the honor down in absentia? If a person could avoid becoming GoH now just by not being in the con suite at the time of the drawing, the place would be deserted -- or at least people talk as if it would be.

But being GoH is supposed to be an honor; that's what the H stands for. So what happened?

Well, what happened to the fan funds, for that matter? Winning a fan fund used to be about the honor of going on the trip; now it seems to be all about hawking fanzines and keeping accounts, and writing (or not writing) a trip report. Something at once similar and quite different seems to have happened to the Guest of Honorship at Corflu. The first two GoHs, quiet unassuming fellows both, gave such rousing and delightfully funny speeches that everyone is now expected to do the same, and to do it as well as they did. That's a much more agreeable change in expectations than what's happened to TAFF, but it does make the job more intimidating. (The ritual initiation that the third GoH was put through may have scared people off as well, but since it was not repeated perhaps it did not.)

Fortunately, virtually everybody likely to wander in to fanzine fandom and stay long enough to attend a Corflu has the mental wherewithal to deliver a good Guest of Honor speech, as the names in the box below demonstrate. They have all been fine choices, fellow fen: we should be proud of our acumen in choosing them, whatever the method we happened to use. And that includes the ones who didn't get on the list. So next to Mike Deckinger on the historical footnote, let's not forget the name of Michele Armstrong.

The Corflu Guests of Honor
1984 1 Berkeley CA Pascal Thomas
1985 2 Napa CA Allen Baum
1986 3 Tyson's Corner VA Teresa Nielsen Hayden
1987 4 Cincinnati OH Joel Zakem
1988 5 Seattle WA Gary Farber
1989 6 Minneapolis MN Stu Shiffman
1990 7 New York NY Barnaby Rapoport
1991 8 El Paso TX Dick Smith
1992 9 Los Angeles CA Linda Bushyager
1993 10 Madison WI Jae Leslie Adams
1994 11 Arlington VA John Bartelt
1995 12 Las Vegas NV Gary Hubbard
1996 13 Nashville TN Gary Hunnewell
1997 14 Walnut Creek CA Victor M. Gonzalez
1998 15 Leeds UK ?

"I was going down the car park ramp when I hit a giant plastic mouse."

[APAK logo] Issue #78, May 8th, 1997

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Next article: Serendipitous in Seattle, by David Levine.