randy_byers: (2009-05-10)
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Mom and Dad cut the cake in October 1951


So I went to Portland last Friday amidst rumors that the biggest storm since the Columbus Day storm of 1962 was about to hit the Pacific Northwest. I was worried that there might be mudslides on the train tracks, after several days of steady rain, but the train trip ended up being uneventful, and aside from some strong gusts of wind on Saturday and a fair amount of rain all weekend long, the storm ended up being kind of a bust, at least as far inland as Portland.

The reason for the trip was to celebrate my mom and dad's 65th anniversary. On Saturday, my sister-in-law, Terry, made an amazing dinner featuring salmon smothered in crab meat. We dug in, then did a round of toasts to Mom and Dad. Terry got up and put one of Dad's favorite songs on the stereo: Don Williams' "You're My Best Friend," which is a man's testimonial to his love for his wife. I looked over and saw Dad toasting Mom with a grand gesture, and I completely lost it. I can't describe what I was feeling, but I had to leave the table to blow my nose. Terry followed and said she was sorry, and I said, "No, I love the love." That's as close as I can get, I think. I was just overwhelmed by love and a feeling of complete connection with everyone at the table.

The next day was Kate Yule's funeral. Since I was in town anyway, I decided to go. (I had brought appropriate clothes just in case.) I had expected to see a lot of Seattle people there, and in fact I ran into [livejournal.com profile] kate_schaefer and Glenn right away, so I sat with them in the pews. I also spotted [livejournal.com profile] hal_obrien and [livejournal.com profile] akirlu, although I didn't get a chance to talk to them. Needless to say, this was also a very emotional experience for me, since Kate died of the same cancer that I've got. The booklet they handed out before the service included John M. Ford's sonnet "Against Entropy", which I'll just repost in its entirety, since it's such a moving piece of work:

The worm drives helically through the wood
And does not know the dust left in the bore
Once made the table integral and good;
And suddenly the crystal hits the floor.
Electrons find their paths in subtle ways,
A massless eddy in a trail of smoke;
The names of lovers, light of other days
Perhaps you will not miss them. That's the joke.
The universe winds down. That's how it's made.
But memory is everything to lose;
Although some of the colors have to fade,
Do not believe you'll get the chance to choose.
Regret, by definition, comes too late;
Say what you mean. Bear witness. Iterate.


Lots of people got up to tell stories about Kate, attesting to her intelligence, generosity, warmth, wit, and love of lists. Most moving to me were the two nieces who were clearly devastated by the loss of a beloved aunt. However, there was lots of humor too, and one of the men from the Gay and Lesbian Square Dancing group that Kate joined before she met her eventual husband, David Levine, got up and talked about how she hid her true identity at first, "but eventually she came out of the closet as a straight person!" My brother had kindly driven me to the ceremony and waited around until it was done, so I left immediately after it was over.

The next morning Mom and Dad and I had breakfast at the Dockside Saloon and Restaurant, just as we did on my last visit to Portland last month. On that visit, the waitress told us they served crab cake benedicts on the weekend but would be willing to make them for us whenever we wanted. So we settled IN at the same table as before, and the same waitress came up and said, "I remember you guys!" We were of course pleased, and we had crab cake benedicts, which were pretty damn fine. On the train to Seattle later I discovered that my niece was also on board. I knew she was coming to Seattle, and we had made a date to have lunch today, but I didn't know she'd be on the same train. So we sat together for a while talking about her willful, headstrong five-year-old daughter who apparently has already figured out that she needs to behave differently with her teachers than with her parents. Since my diagnosis, the surest way to make myself cry has been to think about how I won't be able to watch her grow up. "Perhaps you will not miss them. That's the joke."

So I'm back in Seattle feeling emotionally drained. Was it Joanna Russ who said that feeling clearly is just as difficult as thinking clearly? Boy, howdy.

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Mom and Dad in their condo on Sunday
randy_byers: (2009-05-10)
Portland-area fan Kate Yule died yesterday. She had the same kind of brain cancer as I do: astrocytoma, which is a form of glioblastoma multiforme. When I received my diagnosis, about a year after hers, she sent me an email with the subjectline, "Welcome to the Club". I appreciated the gallows humor, but the thing that really moved me about this message is that I knew it cost her real effort. She seemed to lose her ability to write after the surgery to remove the initial tumor, so she was fighting through that difficulty in order to send her commiseration. She was a sweet and thoughtful like that.

My other anecdote is much sillier. The 2006 Worldcon was held at the Anaheim Hilton, which is the same hotel where two other LACons I had attended (1984, 1996) were held. The hotel had schematic maps by the stairwells on every floor that were singularly unhelpful. They had nothing indicating "You Are Here" or any markings whatsoever to help you find the function space you were looking for on that floor. They were simply schematic maps without any text whatsoever that I can recall. At some point Kate and I were complaining about this in a hall party, as you do, and Kate exclaimed that the next time there was a Worldcon in that hotel, she was bringing a Sharpie to make annotations on the schematics. Unfortunately, LA seems to have given up running Worldcons, so we've never had the chance to follow through on this idea, but I still think it's an excellent example of DIY fannish thinking.

Some of you were much closer friends of hers than I was, but we all lost someone special in Kate.
randy_byers: (cap)
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David at the Hugo Losers Party at the Glasgow Worldcon in 2005


In the wake of his death a few days ago, I've already posted a few thoughts about David Hartwell on Facebook, but I wanted to expand on those here. Although I don't remember exactly when I met him (like Art Widner, David always seemed to be around on the science fiction convention scene when I arrived) I knew David for probably thirty years or more. I most likely met him at a Norwescon, the regional Seattle convention that I attended regularly starting in 1979. I have a clear memory of listening to him and Algis Budrys singing a sweet duet of "Teen Angel" in the wee hours of a party at what must have been a Norwescon. The presence of Budrys makes me wonder if it was the one where Bridge Publications threw a party for William Gibson. The Norwescon history page says Budrys was Toastmaster in 1983 (Art Widner was Fan Guest of Honor at that one), which sounds about right, although I would have sworn Gibson had published at least one book by this time, which doesn't match the chronology. Indeed, this all seems to have been completely wrong, and it seems that the party I'm thinking of may have been Arbor House's release party for Gibson's Count Zero and Burning Chrome, which would probably make it the 1987 Norwescon, where David was Toastmaster. David was working at Arbor House at the time and was apparently Gibson's editor there. The "Teen Angel" memory, on the other hand, could well be from 1983.

Whatever the case, David became a fixture of the science fiction community for me starting around that time. He used to come to Norwescon quite frequently, maybe Westercons too, and I'd also see him at the sporadic Worldcons I attended. He also taught at Clarion West workshops, so I'd see him whenever he came out for those. On top of that, he and Kathryn Cramer eventually became an item, and because she was from Seattle and her parents and sister still lived here, she and David would come to Seattle fairly frequently to visit. I even had dinner at the Cramer household a time or two during that period, but David would also include me in occasional dinners at conventions, usually on a publisher's tab, but what the hey. It made me feel as though I were vaguely part of the industry, and that was largely down to David's hospitality and inclusiveness.

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With David in later days, at the pirate party at the 2005 Worldcon


I was an aspiring science fiction writer in the earliest period of our friendship, but I never tried to leverage our relationship into any kind of help with my development as a writer. Partly it was because David was a book editor, while I was trying to write short stories, and partly it was because I hadn't a clue what I was doing, even when I did try to make use of my professional connections to get feedback on something I'd written. But one of the great things about David is that he was a fan as well as a pro, and he and I could mindmeld completely on the level of enthusiasts of the literature of science fiction. From my fanboy perspective, it was always a delight to be able to talk to him about favorite writers, such as Gwyneth Jones, whom he was working with directly as an editor. He was a font of stories about what was going on behind the scenes. He also had a keen knowledge of the history of science fiction, and as I've related elsewhere, we once got into a discussion about A.E. van Vogt in which he told me that van Vogt's four biggest acolytes were Charles Harness, Philip Dick, Phil Farmer, and Barrington Bayley Jr. All of those writers other than Farmer are huge favorites of mine, and David opened my eyes as to why in one fell swoop. Maybe I should read more Farmer one of these days too.

When you start delving into all of David's accomplishments in the field, it starts to seem bottomless. He was, of course, a major book editor for several decades, publishing many important writers and novels over the years. He was also a major anthologists, who, along with an annual best-of collection, put together a number of very influential genre or subgenre anthologies, including for horror and hard SF and space opera. His Age of Wonders is one of the best general introductions to science fiction ever written and once again displays his fannish cred by including a correctly attributed epigraph citing Pete Graham's fanzine quip, "The golden age of science fiction is twelve." His small press, Dragon Press, was also extremely influential, especially with the Gregg Press imprint of hardback reprints of the best of classical science fiction from the beginning up through the late '60s or early '70s, and also through the publication of The New York Review of Science Fiction -- a monthly magazine of reviews and criticism that published several of my own reviews once upon a time. The World Fantasy Convention, which he helped to found, is a bit more controversial in its accomplishments, particularly for those of us who prefer the old fan-oriented model of conventions, but it's safe to say that it has had an enormous impact on the field as well, if nothing else through the awards it hands out. (And hey, the one World Fantasy Convention I attended, which I mostly didn't enjoy very much, saw John Shirley introduce me to Howard Kaylan -- of the Turtles and Frank Zappa fame -- which reduced me to the worst kind of fanboy spluttering about, "What was it like to work with Zappa?! Gibber, tweet!")

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Lennart Uhlin with David at the 2014 Worldcon in London


Because he was such an important figure in the field, he seemed to know all the writers, artists, editors, and publishers, but as I say he was equally friendly with mere fans. He seemed to genuinely enjoy people, and he could remember details about everyone. Most recently I was struck at the 2014 Worldcon in London when David joined me at a table in the village green where I was sitting with the Swedish fan, Lennart Uhlin. I asked them if they new each other, and they both said, "Of course," and David proceeded to talk about Lennart's bookshop in Stockholm, which he had apparently visited at some point. The fannish connection does remind me, however, that I wasn't completely above trying to get David interested in my writing. Or textual amalgamations, as the case may be. I'm pretty sure that, based on our shared enthusiasm for van Vogt, I mailed him a copy of the cut-up van Vogt chapbook I produced called Promethean Wakes, using sentences from van Vogt's novel The Weapon Makers. He never said anything about it, so I have no idea whether he even read it. However, I also sent him a copy of Travels with the Wild Child -- a long piece I wrote in 1996 about my friendship with Tamara Vining, who was also a good friend of David's. David seemed to really like that one, and he offered to trade me a Gregg Press book (Zelazny's Damnation Alley) for several more copies, which he asked both Tami and me to sign and which he said he'd be offering for sale at conventions. I wonder whether he actually ever sold them. More recently I invited him to contribute to the Joanna Russ tribute in the fanzine I publish with Andy Hooper and carl juarez, Chunga, since David had long been an advocate of hers and had dreamed aloud more than once in my company about publishing a collection of her SF reviews and criticism. He told me he hoped he could send us something, but he ended up not doing so. A year or so later I saw him at a convention, and he apologized for failing to come up with anything. He seemed genuinely crestfallen that he hadn't been able to participate, but I just assumed he was a busy man with a lot of other things on his plate.

There are so many other memories, but I'll try not to ramble too much. Another favorite one was finding him at the Hugo Losers Party in LA in 2006, which I'd been avoiding despite the fact that Chunga was nominated that year until Ulrika, whom I'd sent as my avatar, came and dragged my ass to it, where I promptly found David celebrating his first Hugo win and was able to happily add my heartfelt congratulations. He consoled me for Chunga's loss, assuring me it was a fine fanzine. We had added him to our mailing list by then. As I've also mentioned elsewhere, the last meal I had with David was at the London Worldcon, where he treated me, Rachel Holmen, and his two youngest children, Peter and Elizabeth, to dinner after a mad dash through a publishers party where the creme de la creme of British science fiction writers were having fun at the top of their lungs while drinking comped margaritas. One of the big topics of conversation at the London Worldcon were criticisms from younger writers and fans that the science fiction establishment (both pro and fan) was too white, male, straight, and old. David had been hit with some of that criticism and was frustrated, because he felt he had been on the side of the angels when it came to the demographic changes in the field. Still, he took the criticisms seriously and was more than willing to discuss them at length. We also talked about the amicable state of his ongoing divorce settlement with Kathryn, and it was good to hear that things were going as well as possible on that front. I'll always remember that at the end of that meal, as David put the bill on Tor's tab, he gave me a huge smile and said, "Now *that* was a true Worldcon conversation!"

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David with Charlie Stross, who had just won his first Hugo, at the 2005 Worldcon


A year later, at the Worldcon in Spokane, he came to the TAFF reception for Nina Horvath in the evening fanzine lounge, where I was one of the putative hosts, although Ulrika, Liz Copeland, and Scott K. were doing all the actual work. He talked about how proud he was to have been one of Nina's nominators and how proud he was of her win and of her star-making role at the convention, particularly at the Hugo Awards, where the conversation had turned from lack of diversity in the field to the Puppy complaints that political correctness was destroying the good old-fashioned values of science fiction. That David was keyed into something like the Trans-Atlantic Fan Fund once again demonstrates his fannish cred. At the end of Sasquan, I saw him for what would end up being the last time ever, and he told me about how he'd been up until 2am dancing at George R.R. Martin's anti-Puppy post-Hugo party. David said he hadn't known he still had it in him to party like that. He had looked and sounded increasingly frail over the past few years, but he was still rocking the awful shirts and clashing suits and ties. His fashion sense was legendary and otherwordly. He basically embraced conflict and the garish on that front. The fashion atrocities clashed, in turn, with his slightly patrician mid-Atlantic accent and genteel air.

He was really quite an amazing and fascinating man all around. I can't say I was deeply close to him, but having seen him so much over so many years, even in dribs and drabs, leaves a feeling of perhaps unearned intimacy. As with Art Widner, whose memorial party at Sasquan David regretted missing because I failed to publicize the event, it's hard to imagine what fandom will be like now that he's gone. He died trying to carry part of a book case upstairs from the basement, when he took a fall and hit his head, causing a massive brain hemorrhage. It's a horrible loss, but in a very fannish pursuit. A man who loved books like they were breath, killing himself wrangling a bookcase. I feel bad about losing the future pleasure of his company, but I feel worse for Kathryn, Peter, Elizabeth, and David's older son, Geoff, whom I first met at the 1993 Worldcon in San Francisco and who became a buddy for a few years after that. My condolences to the family (I've never met the older daughter, Alison) and to the entire world of science fiction, which lost a singular figure and friend in David. Long may his crass ties fly, if only in memory.

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David and Sharee Carton at the pirate party at the 2005 Worldcon
randy_byers: (shiffman)
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At The Narrow Boat pub in Skipton with Debbi Kerr, D. West, Victor Gonzalez, and Hazel Ashworth in 2003
(Photo by Ian Sorensen)


There's a memorial gathering for D. West in Skipton in West Yorkshire today. I can't be there, but I'll be drinking a pint in Don's memory later today.
randy_byers: (shiffman)
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Photo by his son, Mick, from 1983


Last Saturday word arrived that D. West had died of cancer on Friday. I hadn't known about the cancer, so the news was completely unexpected. It was only a few month ago, probably in May, that I received a letter from him talking about the struggles he was having with the piece we'd asked him to write for Chunga, but there was no hint of ill health. A little over a month ago I received a cryptic message from his partner, Hazel Ashworth, saying that he was "out of action at present and unable fulfill any Chunga functions anytime soon." I had no idea what that was about, but in retrospect I now realize this must have been after he'd received the cancer diagnosis.

I only met Don West once, on my TAFF trip in 2003. I'd certainly heard of him before that and had seen his artwork and cartoons in fanzines, and thanks to Victor Gonzalez, who practically worshiped the man, I had read some of his fan-writing, including the brilliant conreport "Performance," which delivers the metaphor of participation in fandom as performance at epic length. Victor introduced me to the man himself in 2003, when he joined my in Keighley, outside of Leeds, and took me to a pub to meet Don and Hazel. I spent a couple of days in the area talking to Don and Hazel and a couple of the other members of the old Leeds Group, which had mostly disintegrated by that point. I was intimidated by Don, largely because of his KTF reputation, but for the most part I found him very congenial. Still, he wasted no time telling me how much and why he hated Chunga's layout and how he couldn't understand the praise it garnered. He offered to write us a piece, but only if we dropped our standard layout for those pages. (I believe the pitch was that it would be about an old bus route he used to ride, perhaps to fannish destinations, and the title would be "Route 666".) I turned him down with a smile, and that seemed to be okay by him. He offered us a pair of covers instead, and I accepted.

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Illo for my TAFF report published in Chunga 5, August 2003


It almost felt like a rite of passage of sorts, or a trial by fire. He threw some punches, I shrugged them off, and then he proceeded to give us some of his incredible artwork. I can't claim to have known the man well enough to fully understand his character, and I've certainly seen that trial by fire approach turn into an antagonistic relationship with other people. But to me it seemed like he was basically taking the piss and then judging me by how I reacted. It probably helped that I thought his criticisms of our layout were really funny, in the over the top, exaggerated way that a lot of British invective has (cf Monty Python), and I halfway suspected he was halfway pulling my leg. If he had really thought Chunga was such an awful-looking piece of shit, he wouldn't have given us any of his work at all, or at least that's how I interpreted it. I also felt that there was something of the Tall Poppy Syndrome going on. Chunga was currently all the rage in some sectors of fanzine fandom, and he wanted to bring us down a notch. Considering how easy it was for me to think we really were the hottest shit ever, it was probably a good thing for someone of stature to fire a couple of shots across my bow.

He never stopped criticizing our layout or letting us know if we had fucked something up in his eyes, but he pretty much always had a reasoned argument for his perspective. We printed those first two covers of his on dark-toned paper, and he let us have it with both barrels. The dark colors destroyed the contrast with the black ink of the artwork, he said. Looking at the printed covers (two masterworks of pointillism), I had to agree with him, and since then we've only used pastel or astrobright colors for our coverstock.

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This early work is from a set of illustrations of Tolkien self-published in 1971


I didn't always agree with his stances, however, and not just when it came to Chunga's layout. When he refused the Rotsler Award in 2011, he blasted Rotsler for dashing off a lot of thoughtless, substandard work rather than putting his all into everything he did. This was similar to his take on fanzines as a whole. He felt fanzines were an art form and that if you didn't put your best work into it you were traducing the art form. He had no time for people who just do fanzines for fun or for the social and communal aspect of it. He was very painstaking in his own contributions to the field, and he seemed to have no respect for anyone who was less painstaking than himself. This is too harsh an approach, in my view, and I think he was completely wrong about Rotsler in particular. Rotsler represents a kind of open, fecund, spontaneous approach that I think was simply alien or antithetical to Don's mindset.

He told me a fair amount about his life in our conversations in Keighley and Skipton. I remember he said that his parents moved to Yorkshire when he was a baby, and since he hadn't been born there the locals considered him an outsider. The perfect fannish origin story, I thought: we're all outsiders of some stripe or another. He also told me that he came to science fiction fandom relatively late in life, and I'm guessing he meant convention and fanzine fandom, because from what I'm reading on Facebook (there's a public group called 'Don West Memorial - artist & fanzine cartoonist') he discovered the British Science Fiction Association sometime in the '60s. It appears he got into fanzine fandom around 1975, when he would have been 30 and where he immediately connected with Ratfandom and began writing his infamous KTF (Kill the Fuckers) fanzine reviews for Roy Kettle's True Rat. I actually only know those KTF reviews by reputation. For the most part the only things I've read by him are in the giant collection Deliverance (he gave me Mal Ashworth's old copy on my visit) and what I was able to read of the other giant collection, Fanzines in Theory and Practice, one afternoon sitting in Hazel's living room on my visit. By the time I got into fanzines in the late-'90s he wasn't really writing anymore, but he was still drawing and cartooning, just as brilliantly as ever.

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Cover for Attitude 12 from 1997


Because I was the one of the Chunga triumvirate who had met him, I was the one who communicated with him to solicit contributions. As with so much else, he was too old-fashioned to do email, so our correspondence was letters sent by post. He gave me little tidbits of his life with Hazel (they got together after Hazel's husband, Mal, died -- the three of them were long time friends) and the action movies he was watching, but he didn't get much into his personal life. I vaguely knew he had at least one child from his own past marriage, but I had no idea until this week that he had four children and six grandchildren, or indeed that his children were known to the fans who first met him in the '70s, and vice versa. A year or two ago I was looking at a book about Romantic painting that was focused on Casper David Friedrich and immediately wondered if Don been influenced by the Romantics. So I wrote to ask, and he seemed charmed by the question. He wrote an enormous letter about his artistic influences and the knotty question of influence in general. It was completely fascinating, and I asked if we could print it as an article in Chunga. He counter-proposed that he would write something fresh about art -- he wasn't quite sure what -- but only if we agreed that 1) we wouldn't run any of our linos (which he had always detested) on those pages, and 2) we would only illustrate it with his own artwork (he also detested unrelated artwork or cartoons being used in an article). At least he wasn't asking us to drop our layout entirely this time! We readily agreed, and that was what he wrote to me to say he was struggling with back in May. He said that writing had become difficult for him, and art was always easier. Would we like any more covers? He had done three pairs of back and front covers for us by then, all of them amongst the best covers we've published.

Now we will never get any more covers, or anything else. It's difficult to express the sense of loss I feel at his death. It isn't that we were personally close, although we were colleagues and friends of a sort. I always hoped to get the chance to see him again sometime, and I certainly do mourn the loss of that possibility. But above all it is the loss of his creativity and peculiar genius that leaves me feeling unexpectedly forlorn. He was one of the true giants of the fanzine field, to my mind. There are other fan artists that I admire as much as him, but there are none I admire more. When you add the quality and nature of what I've read of his fan-writing, well, he was simply unique and irreplaceable. He was a tall poppy in his own right, and I'm sure he was perfectly aware of the irony of his discomfort with other tall poppies. His own fanzine was called DAISNAID, after all. I always thought it was a Welsh word or something like that, but in fact it stood for Do As I Say Not As I Do. As his son Graham said on Facebook last week, "He was an angry young man, an angry middle-aged man, and a grumpy old man, but always with a twinkle in his eye."

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Cover for Lagoon 7, which would have been in the mid-'90s sometime

QOTD

May. 4th, 2015 08:53 am
randy_byers: (machine man)
“It was so heavy it kept listing to the left, I swear they had to nail that thing to my head! It was gorgeous Max Factor hair. It cost a lot of money and somebody stole it. I still have visions of that damn wig turning up. I go down to Skid Row for my recovery program – I’m clean and sober now – and I keep expecting to find some bag lady or drag queen wearing it!” (Grace Lee Whitney quoted on file770.com. RIP, yeoman.)

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randy_byers: (cap)
I probably met Art Widner sometime in the '80s. I'm not sure exactly when. It quickly came to seem he'd always been there, but if he retired from teaching at 65, that would have been in 1982, so my best guess is that it would've been sometime after that, although it appears that he started getting active in fandom again (after 30 years away) in 1979, which is when I went to my first convention, so maybe he really was always there. I don't think I ever asked him why he came to so many Pacific Northwest conventions, but I saw him at Norwescons (when I still went to those), Orycons, Westercons, Potlatches, Corflus, and I don't know what else up here. Maybe V-Con too, although I myself only went to a couple of those. He was always around, always ready to chat over a cigarette and a drink. I'm pretty sure that when I first met him I wasn't aware that he'd been a Big Name Fan in the '40s, and for example had been at the very first Worldcon in 1939. I wasn't much interested in fanhistory in those days, so Art's fannish past was not something that came up a lot with me. I liked hanging out with him because he was fun to talk to and because he enjoyed having a good time.

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Photo by Lucy Huntzinger, who thinks it might be from the 1986 Norwescon:

Art, me, John D. Berry, Katherine Howes, Tamara Vining



So what I remember from the earliest days of hanging out with Art at conventions was drinking and smoking with him. One of my favorite moments came at what I think was an Orycon in the '90s sometime, although it honestly could have been any of the larger conventions I saw him at, when he sneaked out the side door of the hotel to have a cigarette with me and Tami. His doctor had advised him to stop smoking, and I believe he'd quit smoking in his day-to-day life but still liked to have one or two when he was drinking at a convention. So he bummed a cigarette off one of us, and we were smoking and yakking away when suddenly the door flew open. There stood Art's girlfriend of the time, whose name I think was Sheila. When she saw what he was doing, she put her hands on her hips and glared at him. "Busted!" Tami and I cried, as Art looked chagrined. Then Sheila busted out laughing, and so did Art. How can you be mad at a naughty boy who's 80 years old?

Art was always a great story teller, and as I say he didn't talk to me much about his early days in fandom. What I remember were stories about his trip to Russia with a group that included the science fiction writer Joe Haldeman (although I've always remembered it as Roger Zelazny, for some reason), and I especially remember him telling me that the Russians could drink you under the table if you didn't watch out, so when they got into a heavy drinking session he'd dump his vodka into the nearest planter when no one was looking. He also talked about his trips to Australia, where I believe he'd traveled even before he won the Down Under Fan Fund in 1991. I'm pretty sure he'd gone to the 1985 Worldcon in Australia. There were other travel tales too, because he loved to travel. This was long before I learned that he had been known as a travelin' jiant in his younger years, when he used to hitch hike to visit far off fans or when he drove the Skylark of WooWoo (a 1928 Dodge) to the Chicago Worldcon in 1940 and the FooFoo Special to Denver in 1941.

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At the 2000 Potlatch with Tamara Vining, Art, and myself (Unknown photographer)


Eventually I got sucked into fanzine fandom myself, and thereby received more education in fanhistory, including Art's history. He and I shared a room at the 2006 Worldcon in LA, and every night when we came back to the room in the wee hours, Art would pour us both a shot of Aberlour and tell me stories about the old days. What I particularly remember from those chats was his stories about F. Towner Laney, who was a pugnacious Insurgent fan writer in the '40s and more than a bit of a homophobe. Art told me that Laney was insecure in his own sexuality, which did not come as any surprise at all, considering the strong link between homophobia and sexual insecurity. I can't remember now whether it was in those sessions or a later one when Art came up for one of his many visits to the Art Car Blowout at the Fremont Street Fair that he told me about a period in the '40s after he and his family had moved to LA when he was still trying to hang out with Burbee, Laney, Perdue and the other LA Insurgents. As I recall, Art said he'd go over to Burbee's house to play poker, but it didn't sit well with his wife. Did he tell me that he was essentially sneaking out behind her back? Perhaps Art was a naughty boy even then.

If he told me much about his wife, I don't remember it. Another powerful memory I have of Art was at the Potlatch in Eugene when he told a table of us about one of his sons who had disappeared from his life years ago. If I recall correctly, he had two sons, and one of them had already died by that time. Art cried as he told us about the missing son. Eventually he learned that that son had died as well, but I don't remember if there was any contact between them before then. Did he have a daughter too? Maybe so, but he outlived all his kids. I met two of his grand daughters, both of whom lived in this area for a while, although one eventually moved to Sydney with her husband. Art visited them there fairly frequently, and for all his sadness about his children, he at least had the two loving grand children and the great grand children they bore.

I remember at that 2006 Worldcon Art would sleep in our room almost all day long, and I worried a little bit that he would die in his sleep. He would've been 89 at that point, and he lived another eight years. He was still driving up until at least a couple of years ago, when I last saw him at the Portland Corflu in 2013. Typical of the way Corflus work, I didn't really get a chance to talk to him at that one. The last long conversation I had with him was probably at the 2011 Corflu in Sunnyvale, where I helped Kim Huett distribute the collection of Art's old travel fanwriting that Kim had put together. Art was terribly pleased by that collection, and he had some ideas about other collections of his writing, although I confess I suggested Kim was a better man for the projection than I. We sat at the little bar in the Sunnyvale hotel drinking Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, and Art told me story after story about the past.

He was a man of many stories who was always surprising me with new ones, such as the fact that he had invented the first science fiction board game, which was called Interplanetary. (Mike Glyer, in his fine obituary at file770.com, says that LASFS still has a giant Interplanetary board.) It may have been at the 2006 Worldcon (or the 1996 one, also in LA) where Art chewed my ear off about his love of the Frankenstein story in all its incarnations. I believe he was thinking about writing a book about it or something. He also loved to tell tales of his experiences during World War II, when he was a guinea pig at the Climatic Research Lab, where they tested various equipment in conditions of extreme heat or extreme cold. Art thought it was pretty funny that his wartime experience consisted of freezing his ass off in a laboratory.

Well, my memories of Art are pretty much endless. There was the time at the Thai restaurant in Portland when he rubbed his eye after touching a red pepper. There was the time at a sushi restaurant in Anaheim (this was the 1996 Worldcon) when I stayed behind after the rest of our group had left because Art wanted to try the green tea ice cream. There was the time he pitched for his team at the Corflu softball game in 2000, when he would have been 82 years old. He could still run the bases, although, okay, he couldn't run very fast. He was always around, always ready with a friendly smile and a silly old joke. He always had that Santa Claus twinkle in his eye. Or was it a devilish twinkle? There was a little bit of the devil in Art, especially after he'd had a wee bit o' the creature. He was an amazing human being. He lived a good, long life and was active up until almost the end. I feel grateful to have known him and to have shared some time with him on this lonely planet of ours. He has always been the very model of who I want to be when I grow up.

2007 Himself at ArtCon (by Luke McGuff).jpg
Art at Artcon in 2007 on his 90th birthday (Photo by Luke McGuff)
randy_byers: (shiffman)
Yesterday was the memorial gathering for Stu Shiffman. It was held at the Lake City Community Center, not far from where his wife, Andi Shechter, now lives. At some point Carrie Root counted forty people in attendance. I knew most of the people, but there were a few who were new to me, including a friend of Andi's who has known her since fifth grade. There was a massive display of Stu's art and old fanzines, a smaller display of T-shirts he'd done the artwork for (along with some stuffed animals that he'd given Andi over the years), and there was also a table with T-shirts, ties, and CDs that had belonged to Stu and were being given away to anyone who wanted them. Some of Stu's favorite music was playing on a sound system.

Memorial Display
Some of Stu's artwork


I spent the first hour looking at the displays, nibbling some of the food people had brought, and chatting with folks -- plans for future fanzines, sudden incursions of teenagers into households, reasons for not retiring. Life as we are living it. We talked about Stu, of course, about how his artwork changed over time (there was a remarkable cover for A Woman's APA, I think it was, from 1977 that looked nothing like anything else I've seen of his), and about how good he was at pastiche, whether of Walt Kelly or the Fleischer Brothers or Carl Barks. Around 1pm we all sat down in rows of folding chairs, and Luke McGuff got the program going by reading something that John Purcell had written about Stu in his fanzine Askance. John's piece related a memory of a Minicon where Stu and Ken Fletcher sat around drawing cartoons as fast as they could and handing them out to avid fanzine publishers. Luke then opened the floor to whoever wanted to say something, and Jerry got up and passed along what he remembered of an email message the Swedish fan Anders Bellis had sent about how Stu had welcomed him on his first visit to the US and introduced him to American fandom. Jerry then launched into his own memories of Stu, and it became a group conversation about our old friend.

The portrait of Stu that emerged would have been familiar to anyone who knew the man: the kindness, the sweetness, the wit, the fascination with history and trivia and toys, the shyness, the warmth, the humor, and the love for Andi. Kate Schaefer mentioned how oblivious he was to the amorous intentions of the women around him, and Andi talked about how she broke through that. Jokes were told about his infamous NYC apartment kitchen, with dirty dishes sealed in boxes. Jokes were told about his idiosyncratic driving. Andy Hooper talked about hiring Stu to work for the Collecting Channel in that brief time when good money flowed to fans who wrote about toys and other collectible items. Andi said it was the best job Stu ever had, being paid for his writing.

Sharing Memories
Andi shares stories


Andi told us a lot of stories. There were so many great ones, but she also told us the devastatingly sad story of the fall which ultimately took his life. What's devastating about it is that Stu had recovered from his stroke to the point that they were about to let him go home to live with Andi in the new apartment in Lake City. He had just test-driven a mobile chair for the first time, and the ability to use one of those was the final step in the process of going home. He was sitting on his bed, firmly planted with both feet on the ground and his right hand grasping the rail on his bed and the left hand propped on the mattress. The therapist who was with him looked away for a moment, and he fell off the bed. Andi stressed that he fell to his left, which was the side that hadn't been weakened by the stroke. The theory is that something must have happened to him -- a seizure or perhaps another small stroke. Something that momentarily incapacitated him. The therapist, needless to say, was utterly horrified, as of course was everybody else.

It's heartbreaking. Andi's love for Stu came through loud and clear, and she talked about how after they got together she used to ask him, "Why didn't we find each other earlier? Where were you when I was 25 and making stupid choices?" The depth of her loss is immeasurable, but at one point as Andi was telling us stories of all the sweet things Stu did for her, Jane Hawkins said, "I envy you." It seemed a contrary thing to say to someone who has lost her beloved, but Andi knew exactly what Jane was saying: Andi had the good fortune to live with her soulmate for a time. They seemed perfectly matched in so many ways, and they clearly delighted in their time together.

Andi told us that Valentine's Day was a big day for them, and every year Stu would give her a heart made out of different material -- shell, metal, plastic, wood. She said that the first Valentine's Day after his stroke, she told him that she wanted an old-fashioned red enamel heart. "That's trite," Stu replied. That's how she knew that Stu was still the Stu she knew and loved.

Good memories. It was a good event, and I was glad to share in it. I believe further memorial events are planned for Sasquan later this year.
randy_byers: (colma 1987)
1998-10-31 Jay's costume for Ghoulbooty


Today it has been a year since my friend, Jay Salmon, died unexpectedly of heart failure at age 49. I still vividly remember the shock and disbelief and the sense of unreality I felt at the news. But here it is, a year later, and it's still real.

In that year, two more friends have died -- two more people I considered "my age". I guess I've entered the stage of my life when death in my cohort will be more common. It's a sobering thought, and a reality, like Jay's death, that I'm trying to learn how to accept.

Jay's death was much harder for me to take than Velma or Stu's, partly because I was closer to him and partly because it was so abrupt and out of the blue. There was no warning and no time to prepare. My own morbid imagination has often wondered over the years, "What if I suddenly died right this instant?" Such fantasies always seem to end in the same place: there's nothing you can do to prepare for that, so why worry about it? But the memory of losing Jay keeps me coming back to it. I feel I shirk the thought of my own death because I'm not ready for it and I still can't accept the inevitability.

Well, I'm sure this confused wrestling match will continue. Meanwhile, I remember Jay and the many fun and strange and warm times we had together, many of them on Halloween. I remember going to the Halloween show at Union Station in 1988 with him and several other friends to see the Butthole Surfers and thereby seeing an opening act called Nirvana as well. I remember the Halloween when he dressed as in the picture above, and he and Elonna and I went to Ghoulbooty at the Elysian and danced our asses off. I remember the Halloween when he recommended we watch a double feature of The Bride of Frankenstein and Planet of the Vampires, thus introducing me to two of my very favorite movies. I remember the Halloween when we were hanging out in my house and he called his daughter to wish her good night and to tell her he loved her. He was an excellent human being with a thing for Halloween. He had a rubber skeleton toy that he called Mr. Bendy. Endless memories. I wish we were still making new ones together.

With Sophia and Jay
With Sophia and Jay
randy_byers: (shiffman)
Well, it's a sad day when I use this userpic, which was drawn by Stu Shiffman, to head a memorial post about Stu. As most of my friends in science fiction fandom will have already heard, Stu died last week. He had suffered a massive stroke two years ago, but had made a far greater recovery than I ever expected before he fell and reinjured himself a couple of months ago. He never recovered from that fall.

I didn't know Stu well in a personal sense, but when he and Andi moved to Seattle in 1990 they became a part of the Vanguardian scene. He was a regular part of the fannish social life around here, at parties, conventions, and outings to Chinese restaurants -- always a friendly presence who was quick with a joke or an erudite pop culture reference. When Andy and carl and I started publishing Chunga, he was the first person we asked for a cover. (Look for the first issue at our page at eFanzines.) We also recruited him to write celluloid fantasias, in which he spun alternate world films, such as the Marx Brothers spoof on the Zorro story and the complicated cinematic history of Jack Williamson's Legion of Space, including the 1948 Technicolor movie with Lana Turner, Gene Kellly, Van Heflin, and Gig Young. (See issue #4 at the link above.) Stu's celluloid fantasias were in many ways the epitome of what we were trying to do in Chunga. They were full of knowledgeable and downright obscure references, but they were also whimsical and funny, not to mention well illustrated.

Stu's celluloid fantasias also led to one of my great faux pas as an editor. For issue #9 he submitted a piece about various cinematic versions of "The Call of Cthulhu," and I took on the task of editing it. I sent him my suggested revisions, and I'll never forget his barbed reply: "Don't change the words of H.P. Lovecraft." Stu had quoted from Lovecraft's story, and I thought he was making it up and suggested some changes. I guess that was an unintentional tribute to his skill at invention, since I was fooled. I tried to make it up to him by incorporating his fantasia version of a James Whale directed Cthulhu into my own review of Fritz Lang's (real) The Woman in the Moon. Andy edited Stu's work after that episode.

Stu and I shared an interest in old movies and old science fiction, although he knew more on both topics than I ever will. I came pretty late to old science fiction, but when he learned of my new enthusiasm we bonded over it. He showed me reference books he'd picked up and enthused about old stories I'd heard of but never read. When Geri Sullivan and I were putting together Science-Fiction Five-Yearly #12 and asked Rich Coad to write about an imaginary science fiction convention of (I think it was) 1911, Stu was the obvious person to illustrate it. (See Geri's beautiful tribute for some of Stu's artwork, including one of the illos for Rich's piece.)

I knew Stu mostly on a social and editorial level and don't have much in the way of personal anecdotes. I do remember once sitting outside the hotel at a Potlatch waiting for some people to show up for a dinner engagement. Stu and Andi were waiting for a taxi, and something had happened that really upset Andi. She was in tears, and Stu was right there by her side, comforting her in every way he knew how. It was so sweet, so loving, so human. It makes me remember, too, stopping by their basement apartment on some errand and sharing jokes and chatter with them as Andi watched the Olympics on TV and Stu puttered around their book-filled living room. I am filled with great sadness that Andi has lost a pillar of support, but I'm also glad that they got to get pledge their eternal love for each other in marriage before he died.

He was a sweetheart of a guy, and his popularity led to his winning TAFF in 1981. He was also a very talented artist who won the Fan Artist Hugo in 1990. He was smart and funny and always pleasant to be around. Reading all the stories people are telling about him in the wake of his death makes me feel that in some ways I know him better now than I did when he was alive. No doubt I'll learn more in the days and years ahead. He left that kind of lasting imprint on the world.

2009-08-15 Stu Shiffman
Stu on August 15, 2009 (Photo by Hal O'Brien)


Mike Glyer has written an excellent obituary at file770.com.
randy_byers: (2009-05-10)
I was very sorry to hear the news yesterday of Velma Bowen's death, even though recent reports had indicated this news would come sooner than later. When she announced in July that she had cancer, it very quickly became clear that the prognosis was not good. Only a few days ago it was announced that she had three weeks left at the most. It turned out she had far less than that.

I didn't know Vijay well, but I'd heard of her before I met her. She came to Vanguard parties at least a couple of times back when they were held in the house where Jane still lived with Vonda. On at least one occasion she showed pictures from some kind of cabaret or burlesque show she'd done in NYC, where she lived at the time. She was that relatively rare nerd who was also a sexual exhibitionist. I was a bit in awe of her.

I'm pretty sure it was after those Vanguard visits that she won TAFF in 1999. Her name continued to be relatively high profile within fannish circles, and I probably saw her online in those days, including eventually here on LiveJournal. When she and Soren moved to Seattle a few years later, I saw her more often and learned more about her interest in singing at piano bars, of which there were none in Seattle. We shared a taste for good beer (I still have a growler she left at last year's TAFF party), and she and Soren and I once met at the Big Time for a lovely afternoon of beer and geeky chat. Amongst other things, she told me she was related to another TAFF winner (and another New Yorker), Elliott Shorter, which I hadn't known before.

She'd had other serious health problems over the years. She also took care of Soren after his stroke a few years back. She missed New York, but she knew how important it was for Soren to be close to his family in his disabled state. She has died far too young, and I'm so sorry for Soren and for all who loved her. I did not know her well personally, but she was a key figure in our community. I hope she finds that piano bar in the afterlife that she could never find in Seattle.
randy_byers: (cap)
I'm back from my trip, and I'll probably write about it later. In the meantime I'm posting pictures of the memorial plaques that Seattle Vanguardians sponsored for the benches at Loncon 3. Due to a logistical cock-up typical of conventions, especially an enormously complicated one like Loncon, these plaques weren't deployed until Sunday, but it was still an immensely moving experience to finally sit on the bench and remember old friends. I'm not sure how many other benches there were, but there were a lot more familiar names on the rest.

I apologize for the poor quality of the pictures, but the plaques are currently in possession of Jerry and Suzle, who will be bringing them back to Seattle for all to see. The current idea is that we'll permanently attach them to a new bench that will live at Andy and Carrie's house, since they host so many fannish parties these days. However, this is a matter that's still up for discussion.

In case it's too hard to read, the names on these memorial plaques are: Anita Rowland, Anna Vargo, F.M. 'Buz' Busby, Chris Bates, Dave Clements, Heather Wright, Joanna Russ, Michael Scanlon, Octavia S. Butler, Sharon Baker, Scott Scidmore, Sharma Oliver, and Bob Doyle.

Many thanks to Farah Mendlesohn for organizing the sponsored benches for the convention.

Loncon Plaque 1

Loncon Plaque 2
randy_byers: (colma 1987)
I was by no means a close friend of Lucius Shepard, who died Tuesday night. I got to know him when he lived in Seattle in the '90s. One of my first memories of him was when he, along with his pal, Tony Daniels, got 86ed from Vanguard parties for bad behavior, the details of which I no longer remember. I seem to recall that he was already on the shitlist of some of my friends for what was considered mistreatment of a former girlfriend, but again I haven't retained the details. He was certainly capable of insensitive behavior, but by that point we had connected because we smoked and drank and liked rock music. My memory is that he moved to Seattle because of the music scene of that era, but that may be a simplified version of the real story. He had some good friends here because of his connection to the Clarion West writers workshop, too, including Bob Kruger and Les Howle, as well as Tony.

I read and enjoyed his first novel, Green Eyes, and I believe I read his first story collection, The Jaguar Hunter, as well. However, that's about all I read, other than a comic book mini-series called Vermillion that he did for Vertigo. His writing was powerful but not really my cup of tea, partly because it almost always straddled a border with horror, which is a genre I often have problems with. He was always a great guy to smoke and drink and talk music (and books and movies) with, however, and what little time I spent with him was spent doing just that. He was a natural-born raconteur, and he'd been all over the world having great adventures, so it was a pleasure to listen to him spin tales about his life. (For an example of what he could do in conversation, check out his LJ post, "10 Christmases".)

One of the legendary moments of his time in Seattle came at a party at Les Howle's house in West Seattle, when he and Tami Vining started thumb-wrestling on the front porch. I can't remember how it all went down exactly, but it got very intense, because they're both very competitive personalities. They shifted around each other, trying to gain advantage, and suddenly Lucius lost his footing and fell off the front porch, which was a pretty long drop. He was a very large man, and I remember feeling the impact of his body hitting the ground -- or maybe it was just that the sound of it was so vivid. Surprisingly, he got up and was able to walk. We'd been drinking quite a bit, so that probably helped. As I recall, he later said he had trouble moving for days afterward. At the time, however, he laughed it off and accused Tami of trying to kill him.

More along the lines of his bad boy persona, there was a time when a bunch of us went to a party at a Norwescon to find something to drink. We didn't know anybody there, so we stood in a circle in the middle of the room drinking whatever there was to drink. Lucius lit a cigarette, which was expressly forbidden at that party. For a while nobody was willing to confront him, because it was Lucius Fucking Shepard, famous and award-winning writer. Eventually one of the hosts came up behind him and tapped him on the shoulder. Lucius used his big body to block the person and looked over his other shoulder, pretending he couldn't see who was trying to get his attention. The guy moved over and tapped his other shoulder, and Lucius shifted his body to block him and looked the other way. I'll always remember the innocent, baffled look on Lucius' face as he pretended that he couldn't figure out where the tap was coming from. A beautiful physical performance, although eventually he gave in and put out the cigarette.

Lucius was a former musician, and there was a strong thread of music to our conversations. Sometime after the 1993 Worldcon the still-teenaged Geoff Hartwell was in town, probably with his father, and he wanted to see a live show. He told me that Lucius had suggested an all-ages show that Built to Spill was playing at the OK Hotel. They had just released their first album, and a buzz was building, so Geoff and I went to check them out. I was blown away by their show, picked up the album, and became a big fan, catching a number of live shows over the next few years. Years later, because I'd bought him a bunch of drinks at the 2001 Westercon (about which more later), he mailed me a CD by a Swiss band called the Young Gods. I'd never heard of them and have never run across any discussion of them, but it's a good album that I've returned to periodically over the years. When I finally connected with Lucius on LiveJournal, I told him at one point that I was getting into Spanish-language pop music and mentioned Concha Buika. Knowing his affinity for Spanish-language culture I asked him for recommendations, and he pointed me to Cesária Évora and an album called Afro-Peruvian Classics: Soul of Black Peru. He was a font of knowledge about obscure artists who made great music, and I sometimes wondered how he had the time to listen to all this stuff. Life of a writer, I guess.

Probably the longest conversation I ever had with him was at that 2001 Westercon in Portland. He had moved to Vancouver, Washington from Seattle a few years before that, so I didn't see him as often anymore. I was sitting at the bar at the convention hotel with my friends Ron and AP when Lucius came in and sat down next to me. I proceeded to buy him drinks, and we spent pretty much the whole day there. Perhaps the next day too, I can't really remember. Occasionally other people, such as Gardner Dozois, would come in and sit and talk with Lucius for a while, but in between he and I shot the shit about everything in the world. He told tales of hair-raising adventures in Central America, and I particularly remembered one about a ramshackle flight to a Honduran island named Roatan that I visited years later with my family. He threatened to break the legs of one of my favorite writers, and I told him I'd fuck him up if he did so. This became the running theme of the conversation. Somewhere along the line a Best of Journey album started to play, and I wailed about how terrible Journey was. He wouldn't have any of it. He thought Steve Perry was a fine singer, and the band was good. That was the first inkling I got that my teenage hatred of Journey was out of step with elite opinion. We argued all day, with a lot of laughter, about writers, bands, and movies. He was a man of strong opinions, skillfully expressed, and he loved the push and jostle of an argument. The other thing I remember distinctly from that long day in the bar was when he pulled out a human skull that had been ornamented in what he said was a Tibetan style. He was giving it to a woman he knew, maybe a girlfriend or ex-girlfriend. I never followed up on it later, but I was awe-struck at the time. Is owning a human skull even legal? It was such a perfectly Lucius item -- an exotic, macabre, gorgeous memento mori.

Was that the last time I ever saw him? Probably not, but it was years ago that I last saw him anyway. At some point he started posting on LiveJournal, and I started interacting with him there. By then he had befriended that favorite writer of mine whose legs he'd once threatened to break, and that was heartening to see. We argued about movies on LiveJournal, and he pointed me to obscure ones that he got to see as a judge at obscure film festivals in Europe. Eventually he shifted to Facebook, but while I followed him there I rarely commented, because the threads were always humungous and thus hard to participate in without a lot more reading than I was willing to commit to them. We did chitchat about Roatan in one of those threads at some point, and he remembered the decrepit little resort called Fantasy Island where I'd stayed with my family. When he fell silent on Facebook last year, it was months before I learned that he'd had a stroke, and it was only after his death this week that I learned his kidneys had failed a couple of years before that. In the pictures I'd seen of him in those last few years, he looked a wan shadow of his rowdy former self.

He had an air of perpetual disappointment with the many failings of humanity, but he clearly had a lot of affection for his friends. A larger-than-life character was Lucius Shepard. I only saw the barest tip of the iceberg, but even that much left an imprint. Because of the lifestyle he had lived for so many years and because of his recent health problems, it wasn't really a surprise when I heard the news of his death, but I still felt a pang of loss. It feels a little presumptuous, really, considering the fact that I didn't know him all that well, but there it is. I had to say goodbye, and this is the only way I know how.

1999 Lucius Shepard at a Clarion West party for Gwyneth Jones
Here's my one snapshot of Lucius (on the left), taken at a Clarion West party in 1999
randy_byers: (2009-05-10)
Yesterday was the life celebration for my friend, Jay Salmon, who died unexpectedly almost three weeks ago at age 48. It was held at the U District cooperative school that Jay's daughter, Sophia, attended.

There was a great turnout of Jay's family and many friends from the diverse areas of his life and history. The woman who officiated over the ceremony was a friend of Jay's wife, Elonna, and I believe she does this professionally. She called herself a "funeral celebrant," which is quite a phrase. She was very good, even though she was just getting over a bad case of laryngitis. I spoke with her a bit before things got started, and she told me she'd be reading parts of the LiveJournal post I wrote after Jay died (which Elonna had pointed her to), except slightly edited for profanity and other non-family-friendly bits.

There were many sections to the ceremony. Two of Jay's brothers read poems that Elonna had selected. Susie (the officiant) wove together bits from both my tribute and the wonderful obituary that was written by Elonna's friend Tifany (with massive input from Elonna). In many ways the most difficult part of the ceremony for me was the friendship circle with Sophia and a bunch of her friends. I feel that I have been robbed of twenty to thirty more years of Jay's friendship, but when I think about what Sophia has lost, it's almost unbearable. At least I had 25 years with Jay. She got just short of 12, and she will never get to know her father as a grown woman. It breaks my heart.

There was a slideshow that (after some technical difficulties that made Denys quip sotto voce, "It's like a meeting at work!") included many photos I'd never seen, as well as quite a few that I contributed myself. In many ways the best part of the ceremony was when people got up and shared stories about Jay. That's when it became evident what a range of people were there, from childhood friends to the people he had just moved in with in October. (From them I learned that theirs is an intentional household, which Jay hadn't mentioned to me. They said they found him such a great fit that they decided his gender -- he was the first man in the household -- was not a problem.) I was perhaps most struck by a couple of guys who had gotten to know Jay when he lived in the previous place, over on Magnolia. They were young guys who had clearly found something like a father figure or mentor in Jay. They both spoke with great emotion about how much his advice and example (one of them was also the father of a young daughter) had meant to them. The final story was from a young girl -- a friend of Sophia's -- who talked about a time when she and Sophia dressed up like pirates and Jay chased them and tickled her till she bent over so hard that her pirate sword hit her in the stomach. Utterly perfect; perfectly Jay.

Well, lots of tears through all this, which I'm sure surprises no one. There was also a ceremony that involved everyone taking a river rock from a basket and infusing it with prayers or blessings or memories. The stones will be used in a fountain in the backyard of the house next door to ours, where Elonna and Sophia live. It's comforting to know that I'll be able to visit it in the future and listen to the fountain speak and think of Jay.

It was comforting to take part in the ceremony, and to spend some time with the large community of people who loved Jay. Over all, however, the ceremony -- and the anticipation of the ceremony in the days before -- left me feeling completely raw and overpowered. The grieving has come in waves, but it receded pretty far last week until I got to Friday. I've been listening to a lot of gospel and soul music since then. It helps, but it also intensifies the feelings of loss. Well, these tears have got to fall. I'm sure they will continue to do so.
randy_byers: (colma 1987)
1998-10-31 Jay's costume for Ghoulbooty


I've been trying to remember when I met Edward Jay Salmon Jr, who was known to all as Jay. It was through high school friends of his, whom I'd met at a party at Jack and Pauline Palmer's house in Bellingham that may have been in early 1986. I'm pretty sure I first met him when he and a bunch of those Bellingham kids moved to a big house on Capitol Hill in Seattle and threw a house-warming party. It must have been in late 1986 or early 1987, because Robyn came to the party with me, so I'd met her by then. I think it would've been before July 1987, because that's when Victor and I drove to the Oakland Westercon, and I'm pretty sure that Victor had moved into the Quack House with Jay by then.

That's when I really got to know Jay, when he lived at the Quack House and I came over frequently to hang out with Victor. Those were crazy days, and not all of it in a fun way. I could Tell Some Stories, but this is almost definitely not the place for them. But there were definitely fun times too, and I remember one night when things were jumping and Jay and I went out in the front yard to spraypaint his scooter with a camo stencil. Jay was in the group on Halloween in 1988, along with Victor and Robyn and a couple of others, when we went to see the Butthole Surfers at the Union Station and caught an opening act called Nirvana that sounded pretty damned good.

1992ish Jay
Circa 1992, listening to music in my room


I went to a lot of shows with Jay over the years. Too many to list the best ones, although those Butthole Surfer shows were pretty epic, and later we saw a number of great Spearhead shows as well. There were other milestones along the way. I remember when he brought his new girlfriend, Elonna, to a party at our house. I can't remember what year it was when he and Elonna moved into the house next door. That house had seen a number of people come and go in my years living with Denys in this house, and it was always awkward to negotiate the bills for the shared water/sewer mains with the new inhabitants. Finally we had good friends there, and it felt more like we were one big family sharing two houses.

Eventually Jay and Elonna got married at a memorably mad and boisterous ceremony up in Bellingham. Jay's mom died, and I met his dad a few times when he came down to stay. He was a Navy veteran of WWII with an ancient leopard head tattoo on his arm that had turned into a black blotch over time. I'd known Jay's brother Rolf since way back, when he and Jay shared an apartment near the poster factory where they worked up north, before Rolf moved to Portland and became a baker. Jay's dad died, but I'm not sure if that was before or after Jay and Elonna's daughter, Sophia, was born. Elonna wanted a home birth, and I remember running down to PCC to buy a sack of sea salt when she started to go into labor, only to return to find that she'd gone to the hospital after all.

1993-09-11 With Tami, Elonna, and Jay at CRR housewarming
At the 1993 housewarming party for my parents' place at Crooked River, with Tami, Elonna, Jay, and me


My friendship with Jay changed after Sophia was born. He had to become more responsible and was totally dedicated to his daughter, while I remained a pot-smoking bohemian slacker. We didn't go out to shows so much any more. Still, the new socializing was back porch barbecues at their house, where Jay played the Patio Daddyo, grilling flesh and mixing martinis in a cocktail shaker that I gave him for his birthday. We listened to lounge music under the chili pepper lights as the late summer evenings stretched on for eternity, and life was mighty fine.

A few years ago Jay and Elonna separated. They were both scrupulous about not pulling their mutual friends into whatever conflict it was that had grown between them. Elonna stayed in the house with Sophia, and Jay went on a bit of a walkabout, first living in a friend's house in Ballard, then moving into a group house on Magnolia, where he became more or less the household coordinator, looking for new renters when there was a room open. Most recently he had moved into another group house up in Northgate with a bunch of single mothers. I hadn't yet visited the new place, but I ran into him at Northgate Mall almost immediately after he found it and was happy to hear that he'd landed in such a promising new home, where Sophia would be more than welcome.

2013 Jay and Sophia
Jay and Sophia in September 2013


When I was diagnosed as pre-diabetic, Jay started to invite me to go for long walks. He'd been struggling with an autoimmune muscle disease for a few years, so exercise was something he needed more of as well. I think it was about a year ago after one of our walks, as we sat drinking a beer at Fremont Brewing, when Jay told me that he felt that the past couple of years had been a frozen emotional wasteland for him and that he was finally coming back to life. He was dating other women (and had much more patience with the complexities and setbacks of dating life than I have ever had) and was pursuing a number of activities to try to make contact with others and to energize himself: ecstatic dancing, some kind of group singing exercise, some kind of vaguely spiritual-sounding group self-realization thing.

What struck me as he told me about these various adventures and experiences over the past year is that he was becoming much more open and articulate about his feelings. I was probably as close to Jay as I am to anyone, but the closeness was never based on talking about what was on our minds or in our hearts. He wasn't someone I went to if I needed to talk about my trials and tribulations. He didn't really seem to know how (and I'm not exactly brilliant at it myself), but lately he was really opening up. He was really starting to flower as a human being, and it was fascinating and heart-warming to watch.

1999-08 - With Jay
With Jay on the back porch next door in the summer of 1999


The last few times Jay came over to the house to watch a Seahawks game with me, I cooked something. This was a new development in our friendship too, and I felt that I was making up a little for all the meals he'd cooked for me over the years (often with Elonna, to whom I'm also deeply in debt on the meal front). Last Sunday I cooked a lentil and sausage stew. When I texted that it would be on the menu, he texted back, "Wow. Awesome." He was always very appreciative when I cooked for him. It felt good to be feeding my friend, and to be sharing another meal with him. Healthy food, made with love. We sat on the couch together, watching the Seahawks lose a close game to the 49ers. He fell silent in the last half of the game, which I attributed to the fact that it was a grinding, difficult contest. Was it more than that? When he left, he seemed fine. See you later, gator.

What I've been given to understand about the cause of death is that in January he had been diagnosed with a-fib, which Wikipedia tells me is short for atrial fibrillation, a form of cardiac arrhythmia. Apparently it was the conjunction of this condition with his autoimmune muscle disorder that caused his heart to fail. It's still not clear to me whether he knew he was in danger of sudden heart failure. He hadn't told anyone about the a-fib, although he'd told Elonna in January that he was having his heart checked out. His housemates heard him get up and take a shower Tuesday morning. It was only when he failed to pick up Sophia after school that day that alarms were raised. Elonna and Sophia found him dead in his bedroom that evening when they went to see why he wasn't answering his phone.

1998-10-31 Brian Makes Up Jay
Brian applies make up to Jay for his awesome Halloween get-up (see above) in 1998


How do you encapsulate a person? The first thing I think of when I think of Jay is his weird, silly, playful sense of humor. Cheese-slapper, he used to call me. "Chili cheesedog!" was a favorite epithet. One time, Denys, Elonna, Jay and I went to the outdoor cinema in Fremont. They gave everyone a name tag at the gate, and Jay's read Peaweasel. To this day I have no idea where the name came from or what it means, but it certainly struck me as the perfect name for an old cheese-slapper like Jay. Whenever the time was ripe I'd call him Peaweasel, and it was always good for a laugh.

He loved to dance. He loved funk music, and we spent many an hour in my basement room or in the front room of his house listening to funk and, in earlier years, shaking our booties. In the acid jazz era we sought out the clubs where DJs were mixing it, and another unforgettable live show was seeing Bootsy Collins at Rkcndy and getting a sweat-drenched hug from Bootsy himself after the show. Jay had started going out dancing again in the past year and was disappointed that I was no longer game.

He dearly loved his daughter and had dedicated his life to her. He dearly loved his friends. He was always smiling and laughing, always quick with a silly joke. I always felt utterly at ease with him, always felt at home with him. He was like a brother to me. I never said any of this to him. I gave him plenty of hugs though, and I think they said what needed to be said. Somewhere, if only in memory, those hugs and laughs and that easy, loving brother-feeling is never going to end. Bless your good, grinning soul, Peaweasel. I am an incomprehensibly lucky man to have been your friend.

1996ish Jay Closeup
randy_byers: (2009-05-10)
Yesterday after work I went to the Elysian for the memorial for Nap Cantwell. I didn't really know Nap, but I know his father, Dick, whom I first met when he was the brewer at the Big Time, before he went on to co-found the ever-growing Elysian empire with two partners. I met Nap as youngster a couple of times in the early days of the Elysian over a decade ago when Dick would bring him and his sister around, and once at a party at Dick's house in the hills north of Ballard. Nap was eighteen when he hit a van on his bicycle a couple of weeks ago, surviving for a week in the hospital before he finally succumbed to the injuries. He would have been nineteen yesterday.

The Elysian was already crowded by the time I got there. I talked to Nathaniel, who is a Big Time regular and fixture of the Ave as one of the former co-owners of the Allegro coffee shop. I've gotten to know him better since he started pulling espresso at Bull Dog News in the past year. We were soon joined by Hazel, whom I first met when she was a barback and then bartender at the Big Time starting in 1991. She tended bar at the Elysian for five years as well, and we've became good friends over the years. Then Oliver showed up. Hadn't seen him for ten years or more. Like me he was a regular at both the Big Time and the Elysian. Later, I gave a hug to Dawn, who was another bartender at the Big Time in the early days and who was the one who had told me about the memorial when I ran into her on the street in Fremont late last week.

Eventually I was standing by myself beginning to feel a bit out of place because I really didn't know many people in the jostling throng, and a woman I didn't know asked me what I was drinking. "It looks like lemonade," she said. I told her it was a wit -- a Belgian style wheat beer -- and gave her a taste. "Ooh, it tastes like shandy!" she said.

She asked me how I knew Nap. It turned out she was there because her son was a friend of Nap's. She had been to the earlier memorial service in the Olympic Sculpture Park, and she told me it had been a very powerful, tearful event, with eulogies by Nap's uncle, mother, and father, and a song written by a friend while Nap was still in the hospital.

"From everything I've heard," I said, "it sounds like he was a sweet kid."

"Yes, he was a sweet kid. He had his issues, as does my son."

"What teenager doesn't?" I said.

"Especially boys," she agreed. "Have you ever read Shakespeare? I think it's Henry IV? A prince -- is his name Hal? -- runs with a bad crowd, people like Falstaff. That was Nap. He ran with a crowd that was kind of ... ghetto."

She laughed, and I laughed too, out of surprise. She didn't elaborate on her word choice.

"Yes, he was a sweet kid," she said again when the conversation lapsed. "The kids had a party at my house, and even though my son was 21 I couldn't serve them alcohol. I made mulled cider, and Nap kept coming into the house and telling me how much he loved it."

Eventually she said she wanted to go look at the flower arrangements that I had mentioned were at down on the lower level.

"My name's Randi," she said.

"What?!" I said.

"My name's Randi," she repeated.

"My name's Randy too," I laughed.

"With a Y?"

"Yes."

"Mine's with an I." And we smiled and shook hands, and off she went.

I talked to Nathaniel a bit more after that and then he went off to talk to somebody else. I finished my beer -- the one beer I was allowing myself. I had run out of people to talk to.

Nathaniel had remarked earlier that he was surprised he didn't remember me from the old days at the Big Time.

"I can be invisible," I said. "It's one of my superpowers."

Sensing that I had become invisible, I slipped away and started the long walk home, hoping to walk the beer off, thinking about the friend of Nathaniel's who had just died from the effects of diabetes, thinking about my friend Stu in the hospital after a stroke. I'm sorry Nap didn't get a lot more years on the planet, and a lot more birthdays. Thy life's a miracle, as Edgar tells Gloucester in King Lear, and it's the truth in the form of a lie, like all the best stories.
randy_byers: (2009-05-10)
I feel I should write something about my Aunt Merlyn, who died a week and a half ago at age 86. She was my mom's eldest sibling. I was never very close to her, and I can't even remember staying at her house, as I did with all my other aunts and uncles on my mom's side. Her three boys, my cousins, were all much older than I was, so they were closer to my sister and brother than to me. She was a devout Mennonite to the very end. She outlasted her husband, Paul, who died a few years ago.

I don't think I even talked with her very much over the years, although certainly we chit-chatted now and then. Perhaps it says something that one of my clearest memories of her is of one time in my college days walking into a Denny's or VIP in Eugene with a friend, high as a kite on LSD or some such, and running into Merlyn and Paul. We talked briefly about my folks and their kids and the weather. I have no idea whether they could see the pinwheels spinning in my eyes -- as Mennonites they didn't even drink, so what did they know of unsober people? -- but they certainly didn't let on. They were as pleasant as ever, and we only chatted briefly.

Kind of a dumb memory, but there it is. Life as she is lived. I remember family gatherings at their old farm house, which was eventually taken over by my cousin Dennis, who also took over the farm. I remember a couple of family gatherings at their new place after that, which had a small private park associated with it. Merlyn was always pretty quiet and reserved, at least compared to her lippy younger sisters, and she got quieter as she got older. The eulogy her grandchildren gave (which my sister forwarded to me) talks about a grandmother who made a quilt for each of them when they got married, just like her mother had done for her own grandchildren. (I got two quilts from grandma even though I never got married. Go figure. Grandma used to tell me I should get married so that I had someone other than the government to blame all my problems on.)

Merlyn had a hip replacement in later years that was executed badly and caused her a lot of pain. She started having serious heart problems last September, which also caused a lot of pain. She went on morphine, and the easing of the pain seemed to improve her overall health. She lasted months longer than anyone thought she would.

I didn't know her well. She was a quiet presence at many family gatherings, perhaps hard to notice amidst the more raucous members of the crew. The last time I saw her was at the family reunion in Corvallis last summer. She had a walker, and she looked worn down. Remote. Did I even say hello to her? She sat next to me and my aunt Myrna listening to us talk -- or listening to her own thoughts, I don't know. Staring off into the distance. She didn't say a word until she was ready to go and asked my cousin Marvin to help her. I'm pretty sure I said goodbye, but in case I didn't I'll say it now.

Goodbye, Aunt Merlyn. My memories are poor things at best, but you are in them.
randy_byers: (Default)


Jean Giraud (1938-2012)
randy_byers: (2009-05-10)
Friends of Mark Bourne might appreciate the tribute from DVD Savant that's currently on his front page. I didn't know Mark myself, but I've been deeply moved by the tributes from the many people who loved him. He has left quite an impression on the world.
randy_byers: (colma 1987)

Pauline, Jack, and Tilda Palmer in 1985 or 1986


Many of you will have heard this news and/or seen this picture elsewhere, but some of you who have heard the news won't have seen the picture (which I've only posted on Facebook otherwise) and it's possible some of you won't have heard the news, which is that Jack Palmer, a.k.a. Rudi Rubberoid, died last month at age 84. The Bellingham Herald ran an obituary, and the same obituary was also posted by the funeral home with additional photos.

When I first moved to Seattle in the mid-'80s the Palmers were a fixture of my fannish social circle, even though they lived in Bellingham. (Seattle and Bellingham fandom have always had pretty strong ties, I think.) They threw a party at their house in what must have been early days after my move that had a profound impact on me, partly because it introduced me to some of Jack's daughter Tilda's high school friends, who were the coolest kids I had ever met and became friends and inspirations. The picture above was taken at a party that Denys and I threw after that, either in September 1985 or March 1986. (We used to throw parties both in the month of our birthdays, September, and six months later, the Unbirthday Party.) Jack had a great sense of humor, very playful, and this pose is typical of my image of him. I lost touch with the Palmers sometime in the '90s, but I've always remembered them fondly. The picture also shows Pauline, Jack's wife, and their daughter Tilda, who I believe would still have been a teenager at this point. It's very strange to look at the artwork on the wall behind them, because I don't remember any of it!

Update: And maybe that's because the picture wasn't taken at our house! I forwarded this to Steve Bieler, and he writes, "This is how I always think of them, no matter what year this is. But wasn’t this photo taken at their house? I recognize the furniture and the artwork. The print that’s second from the right is still on their wall." So it's quite possible that this picture was actually taken at the party at their house that I mentioned.

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