Light in the Bushel No. 2 - Autumn, 1986
Brad FosterA little Light in the Bushel escapes every great once in a while from Richard Brandt, still here at 4740 N. Mesa #111, El Paso, TX 79912. This is the second issue, for the autumn of 1986... which makes it a little too late to be the first annish, doesn't it? While the delay is inexcusable, I hope it is, in terms of what follows, explicable. By the way, LITB is available for the usual, so keep those cards and letters coming in, folks. I also accept dead presidents. Copies Of #1 are still available for a sufficient show of interest, although a little something to defray postage would be nice.
"He thought, briefly, of going to Austin, but he couldn't quite face it."
--- Chad Oliver,
Shadows in the Sun

All right for Chad, but not my story at all, as we shall see. In fact, last time we were talking, things were looking up: I was on my way to Austin to run the Press Relations department at the NASFiC. Originally, my ex was to serve as co-department head, and we weren't going to let a little thing like our divorce stand in our way; but Monica finally decided to cancel out on the trip, and since I'd been doing all the work anyway, there was one name stricken from the letterhead. As the time grew near, I rounded up a contingent of El Paso volunteers to run the department, and kept burning the phone lines with calls to the Lone Star Con HQ (which calls were answered more and more frequently by Pat Mueller).

There's nothing to start off a vacation on the right foot like losing your truck in the desert, in the dark of night, four days before you're scheduled to leave. A long and embarrassing story, but it took four days to find my pickup again, and another to have a wrecker extricate it from the sand. And I was ready to go: Driving nonstop to Austin in the company of a refugee from the Monkey House, who regaled me with salacious gossip about old Austin fandom in between fits of coughing. (All seven of us from El Paso returned from Austin with raging bronchitis. In my case, it took until October to incubate, but I'll get back to that later.)

Work in Austin consisted mainly of handing out press credentials (I was out of the room when the reporter from the National Review showed up), or actually, sitting in the empty press room for 1ong spells between visitors. There were compensations, such as having the De Camps drop in for an hour-long chat between panels. Or joan hanke-woods, who I'd said three or four words to outside a party the previous night, showing up to drag me off for a thoroughly enjoyable brunch in the company of Steve Smith and Curtis Clemmer.

I had farmed out to one of my committee, Ben Passmore, what we all thought would be a pretty easy job: our liaison with Masquerade. This was before we knew that the move from the Palmer Auditorium to the Sheraton meant there were no provisions for flash photography; and yes, they told us, all the surrounding function rooms really would be in use during and after the event.

Ben, and the indispensable Christopher M. Barkley, did at least manage to switch the positions originally allocated for handicapped seating (dead center) and press photopgraphers' seating (off to one side of the stage). Ben, who in the course of sitting in on Masquerade meetings got drafted as a Masquerade gopher, was worked like a dog as a result of taking this job for me, and deserves oodles of due credit.

It was at Lone Star Con, of course, that we received the news of last year's Hugo winners, which brought lots of good arguments for dumping the Australian ballot system. In the Fan Artist category, Brad Poster took the most first-place votes, followed closely by Joan hanke-woods, and Alexis Gilliland in third. They held those positions when second-place votes were factored in. And third-place votes. Then, when people's fourth-place picks were counted, Gilliland came up to second place. And finally, the race going on the the fifth ballot, Gilliland picked up enough fifth-place votes to pull ahead of Brad and take the award.

Now, think about this. No disrespect to Alexis, who deserves the occasional Hugo, but he won the award because more people thought he was the least of the five top nominees than they did Brad Faster. Something wrong with a system like that, folks?

I would point out that two winners I favored also failed to get the most firstplace votes--Fan Writer Dave Langford (Leigh Edmonds won the first go-round), and Jack Williamson's excellent nonfiction book Wonder's Child. Just to show I can be dispassionate about this as a matter of principle and all that.

I have really gone on far too long about this ancient history, but every convention should provide a usable anecdote, so here's mine: I was riding up in one of the Hilton's elevators, and one of the yuppies taking his date up to the top-floor restaurant instigated the standard congoer-to-mundane conversation, asking what kind of event all these oddballs were partaking in. When I explained, he said, "Oh, I have an uncle who writes some science fiction. He's a professor at the University."

"Chad Oliver?"

"Oh, you've heard of him."

"Back in El Paso my life would be worthless...."

Marty Robbins

But life does, anyway, go on. I guess I had been hoping that a divorce would put the coup de grace to our relationship, but in fact it was a matter of time before my ex suddenly decided it was time to bury the damned thing. In fact, it took fifteen months. In effect, my personal life went into a strange kind of stasis in the meantime. (Ya know, I always figured this divorce thing could work, if she'd just give it half a chance.) During the time Monica and I were avoiding each other, I was dividing my attentions between two equally unresponsive partners. There was Patricia, a rether unperceptive sort with a five-year-old son, a brute of an ex-husband, and apparently no curiosity at all about why I was spending so much time around her. At one point, Patricia suggested we move into an apartment together, but I could never see my way clear to that, and fortunately she found someone who was interested in a less platonic arrangement. (As, frankly, was I.) Then there was Gaby, from whom I learned primarily that it isn't such great fun trying to keep pace with an alcoholic. I reached that decision one right in a Juarez bar, after a waiter Gaby had tossed a cigarette at (accurately) decided to do a little dance on my face.

By an odd coincidence, it was just days later that I decided, for reasons that still elude me, to hang up the job I'd had for five years, really a pretty good job at one of the local television stations. After this master stroke, 1 found myself spending pretty much all of my time cowering inside I my apartment, going outside every once in a while when I'd landed some miserable part-time job or the other (usually involving telephone soliciting for some outrageously fly-by-night sleazeball). I even took up watching television again, a habit I haven't re-broken myself of quite yet.

Eventually, I took to heart some advice of Monica's, whose mother once told her that anyone who types can always get a job, and applied as an office temp. Yes, now I am a Kelly girl. I've been working since May at the El Paso Natural Gas Company, where, in view of the current oil market, they're all hoping you'll freeze your collective ass off this winter. It's not a bad job, in that it doesn't overly tax my burnt-out creativity, and gives me enough self-respect to venture out of the house every once in a while.

Brad Foster I said I was going to get back to that bout of bronchitis...well, one night, as I was standing naked in the bathroom, I had one of my periodic coughing spells...at the end of which, my lungs suddenly locked up in spasm, and I could not suck in a breath for what seemed like a couple of minutes (actually, it seemed like a small eternity). All manner of thoughts flashed through my head, such as how I had no telephone (as if I could speak while slowly suffocating), and how I didn't know any of my neighbors, or whether any of them were in (or if I really wanted to drop in on them while choking to death in the nude). But mostly, I realized I had joined that class of men who are discovered dead in their apartments after they fail to report for work three days running.

Happily, I seem to be recovering. At the very least, I am getting out of my room a bit, out to where life ought to be lived.

"That was how bad things had gotten, in 1986. Nobody believed anybody anymore, because there was so much lying going on."

Kurt Vonnegut, Galapagos

The sorry state of my finances meant I had to give up (in addition to the splashy fanzine I was planning on my return to Austin) a couple of cons I was hoping to attend, including the World Fantasy Con (I sold off my precious attending membership), and Aggiecon, where I hoped to renew a pleasant acquaintance from Austin (I had gone so far as to charge the plane ticket on one of my credit cards, acquired in happier days). I had to make do with El Paso's local convention. Oh, joy.

Plans for Amigocon (a perfectly godawful name that was rammed through in hopes of toadying up to the local Chamber of Commerce and its "Amigo Man" theme) ... as I was saying, plans for Amigocon started off fairly well. We confirmed Patricia McKillip and Bob Vardeman as guests. We had a hard-nosed chairperson who was determined to see everyone got their jobs done. And I accepted the role of Treasurer; having been associated with a previous El Paso con, which ended up with friendships torn apart, the con's bank account being closed out the day the con opened, and two hundred bucks I had lent the committee disappearing down a hole somewhere, I was hoping to have some measure of financial control. Hah.

We set up a con bank account, with signatures from me, the con chairperson, and our designated chief of fundraising. Two out of three signatures were sufficient to withdraw funds from the account. Unfortunately, two of them did.

It seems a spat broke out between the chairperson and our hotel liaison, who we discovered had failed to talk to the hotel people at all for several months. The situation peaked when hotel liaison allegedly threatened chairperson at the local club's Halloween party, and chairperson declared she would quit unless the offending party was banished from the club. Since neither party showed up to present their case at the next meeting, and our leadership didn't want to start a tradition of excluding anyone, the matter was let drop.

After a few months of no action on the con-planning front we finally determined that our chairperson had resigned without bothering to tell any of us. Further surprises were in store on my next visit to the bank, where I discovered that our chairperson and two committee members had taken it upon themselves to withdraw two-thirds of the con's account. As one of them graciously explained to me, they had decided to leave us enough to pay off our debts and cancel.

Rather foolhardily, I thought, we decided to pick a replacement chair (not me, thank God) and go ahead. We did, after all, have commitments already made to our guests and the hotel.

I approached the whole event with a sense of morbid apprehension, and on opening day, the con seemed to be living up to my expectations. The first signs of trouble sprang up, aplenty, around the gaming room. Seems the hotel had double-booked that function room to an Herbalife meeting. Seems also the hotel had informed our chairman, who had decided, well, it was okay, really. So we had an increasingly surly mob of gamers threatening to bodily evict the Herbalife folks, who likewise threatened to leave even when it turned out their booking was only good through noon. We finally got the gamers in, but it also developed that the person our chairperson had continually told us would be running the gaming would in fact be doing no such thing, having agreed to run the chairman's table in the dealer's room.

The hotel had other surprises in store for us, having booked the poolside area (just outside the con suite) for a junior high prom. While rock music played at deafening sound levels, our guests speculated on anthropological displays among pubescent Hispanic females and such like. Fortunately, we had the pool to ourselves for our innovative poolside Masquerade. A really nifty, idea, except that the Masquerade had been put on the schedule without anyone ever saying they were going to coordinate and run the damned thing, so the entrants sweltered in their costumes while committee members dithered for an hour about who was going to take responsibility for the event. (Don't look for me, I had a movie to set up.) At least no one realized the hotel staff had cleared all the chairs out of the dealers room to provide seating for the prom.

The amazing thing is that the attendees mostly enjoyed themselves, our GoHs decreed we did a reasonable job for a first-out committee, especially in light of our dismal treatment by the hotel, and with 132 paid attendees, we came out ahead moneywise, which pretty much guarantees there will be a follow-up con next year. I hope the first one proved to be a learning experience. If not, I have a few educational remarks in mind.

After all this, a worldcon could only be an anticlimactic experience, and in fact I had to give serious thought to skipping Atlanta altogether. Not just because of finances (I still hadn't hit the limit on my plastic), but because I no longer had a week or two of paid vacation looking me in the face, but the three days of Labor Day weekend, without pay (which meant driving was out...) But, you see, it was the tenth anniversary of my first con, so I finally decided I just couldn't pass it up. And I'm glad I went, even if I really didn't get that much out of my three days there. (My old friend from Mobile, David, had a much better con than I did; Harlan Ellison called him a bastard to his face.) I remember the Fannish Legends panel, and Teresa Nielsen-Hayden remarking how likely one was to devote one's life to fandom, and suddenly realize you're 30 and have missed out on an education and a career. I recall the last-day panel on "Are Fannish Fanzines Relevant Today?", with a ragtag collection of panelists, most of whom had never seen a fannish fanzine; it evolved quickly into a debate between a ST zine editor, and everybody else. I recall cringing as I watched an insensitive fan badger a bleary-eyed Terry Carr into autographing every book in the guy's shopping bag. I remember sitting with glee through the Hugo ceremonies, which consisted largely of Bob Shaw relating anecdotes about himself (towards the end of the evening some party-poopers were actually hissing--you'd think they came to see who got the awards). Ah yes, more Hugo fun. Lester del Rey sent a spokesman with a letter refusing Judy-Lynn del Rey's posthumous Hugo, for very proper reasons (odd Judy was only the second book editor ever to win, and had never been nominated while she was alive). However, the committee was rightly pissed that Lester didn't take his opportunity to refuse the nomination, Mike Rogers vehemently denying rumors that Lester had made such a request and not had it honored.

I made my traditional pilgrimage to the TAFF/DUFF auction, where one pays $5 for an inscribed copy of Shatterday, then shells out $30 for an obscure Ace paperback. Of course, The Improbable Irish by Walter Bryan is a bargain at that or any other price.

It must be humbling for a winner of the Best Fanzine Hugo to know he ran second to No Award until the fifth ballot. I think we can discount the part played in these results by a campaign conducted by certain individuals who do not put their ballots where their mouth (and money) is, because the same damned thing happened in the Best Fanwriter category. In light of all this, and last year's results, it's cheering to see joan hanke-woods finally win her Hugo, starting on top in the first ballot and carrying it straight through. (Too bad about Tiptree, though.)

Now, having sat back and balanced my checkbook, I was planning on sitting around town, scrimping and saving to put out the occasional fanzine and make extravagant plans for Brighton. But then I got this invitation from Duncanville ... Pat Mueller was my titular boss in Austin, and although I don't think I finally ran into her until Monday of the con, her regard for my performance gave an immeasurable boost to my always fragile sense of self-worth. So this issue is, in part, your wedding present, Pat and Dennis: my best to you always.

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