I had been hoping to go to Eclecticon, a fanzine convention in New Jersey, for years, but the airfare from Texas was just too much. When we moved in the summer of '96 to Pennsylvania, I figured this was my opportunity at last! My husband suggested that I leave Thursday evening to maximize my time at the convention, a suggestion which I eagerly accepted, and which came in handy when Kathy Agel, Eclecticon's organizer, asked me to work on the staff of the convention.
In preparation for this convention, my husband and I had figured out a way to cover all my classes, so I could leave early, and a way for me to take our car for the weekend. Owen volunteered to teach my Friday classes, and since we live within walking distance of the university there was no transportation problem there. I got Emrys, our ten-year-old, signed up to take the bus to school, and Owen planned to walk him to the bus stop, which is only a few blocks away. No problem, right? Well, having just moved from Texas, it didn't occur to either of us that there might be one little bitty problem: while I was enjoying the unseasonably balmy weather of New Jersey, Owen and Emrys were walking through the cold pouring rain all day long in Pennsylvania! They both bore it with such a cheerful good will that I was doubly grateful.
Thursday evening I arrived at the convention hotel and immediately found Kathy Agel. Although I had brought a sleeping bag, I learned I would not need it that evening. Kathy needed someone to sleep overnight in the dealers' room (a common practice at many conventions) and offered me a free cot if I would do so. Of course I agreed! The hotel's idea of a "cot" was a comfortable twin bed on wheels. I had my own key so I could lock up and sleep tight, and a handy bathroom just outside. Tired out by the long drive, I had no problem falling asleep, surrounded by boxes of fanzines.
The next morning I was able to store my gear and take a shower in Kathy's hotel room. It was so warm that day that I decided to wear my Rat Patrol costume with shorts--and to my horror, found that I had left my chukkas at home! It had taken me weeks last spring to find just the right pair of tan lace-up ankle boots, and now they were under my bed two hundred miles away.
Well, I had some time before Kathy needed me to work, so I got some vague directions to a general store and headed down the highway. I had no intention of leaving the main road--I did not want to get lost in Newark!--but as I drove along there was no sign of what I was looking for. Suddenly, about eight miles away from the hotel, I saw a very welcome sign. "Linden Military Surplus," it said, and in big letters on the side, "BOOTS." I eagerly went in and found a closeout clearance sale in progress on selected styles, including a tan ankle boot. They only had a few sizes left, but one of them was mine! For an even fifteen dollars (no tax on shoes in New Jersey!) I walked out hugging the missing portion of my costume, and hastened back to the hotel.
I also managed to spend some time that morning in the con suite, nominally helping out, but actually listening to Kathy's mom tell stories about her volunteer work and about Kathy's childhood (!). Her mom was truly amazing, and did a lot of work to get the con suite going.
Friday from noon to six I worked the orphan zine table, as well as the T-shirt table and Criterion Press. The convention T-shirts were blue, with a terrific multimedia design that I was able to admire upside-down from behind the table. There was a mysterious pile of T-shirts behind me, with an identical design, but pink; I had no instructions regarding them, so I ignored them. Since orphan zines was the first table you saw when you walked in the door, everybody came by there, so I got to meet lots of people as they came in. It was not terribly busy on Friday, so I also got to see who the other dealers were and what they had. One of the dealers had rare color transfers of the Rat Patrol for T-shirts, tote bags, and mousepads. Naturally I had to nab one! I had mine put on a T-shirt, which she was able to do right there with a heat press.
I also got the opportunity during the afternoon to take a break and get a bite to eat from the con suite. Kathy's con suite was truly amazing. There was a variety of food all weekend, including cold cuts at lunch and hot food at dinner, with all kinds of munchies, veggies, and home-baked goodies in between. Bravo!
Friday evening I was assigned to the con suite, both to work and to host a Rat Patrol marathon. I had to chase out an U.N.C.L.E. discussion group so we could set up, but they were remarkably nice when bribed with the Kahlua buttercream cookie cups I had brought (recipe follows the con report, since so many people asked for it). We started around seven o'clock, showing Jackie Edwards' excellent Garrison's Gorillas music videos as people filtered in, then showed six Rat Patrol episodes in a row. Jill Riley had brought a complete set of eps and was able to satisfy requests from the audience, including the ever-popular "Chains of Death Raid," as well as "Truce at Aburah," "Moment of Truce," "Double or Nothing," "Hourglass," and "Touch and Go." I had forgotten to get copies made of the M&M Game, so we didn't do that, but we watched in anything but reverent silence, munching M&M's at will. It was a pleasure to see my friend Jill again, to meet her dear friend Michele for the first time, and to visit with many other fans!
As the Rats were winding down we were pleasantly surprised by an amazing opportunity. Tasha Richards, the listmom of Channel_D, a Man from U.N.C.L.E. Internet mailing list, came in waving a videocassette. She had just flown in from Nevada, where Babylon 5 is shown on Thursday. The tape contained the most recent episode, "Hour of the Wolf," which the rest of the congoers would see on the air on Saturday!
Many of our RP company were also Babylon 5 fans--and after six episodes that ran well over our 7-9 time slot, the rest of us weren't complaining--so we popped the tape in. Now, I'm afraid I couldn't fully appreciate the rare privilege of seeing this eagerly-awaited episode a day early, since I don't watch the program regularly, but I found it intriguing and suspenseful.
After we closed down the con suite I went up to the room I was sharing with Lisa Sachs, a fellow fan from U.N.C.L.E. Once again, I didn't get to use my sleeping bag; our third roommate was running late and didn't come in on Friday, so I got a bed to myself. I had gotten a spot in Lisa's room through a mutual acquaintance, and was pleased to find her a friendly and agreeable roommate.
I had felt very honored when Kathy asked me to be on the E-con staff, but until I got my schedule on Friday I didn't realize that "staff" meant "work all the time!" Still, I had some time Saturday morning before my duties began, so I went to the con suite where, I had heard rumored, there would be breakfast. Was there ever! Donuts, bagels, yogurt, fresh fruit, juice, milk, coffee, tea, all in abundance! While I was eating, Kathy came in and asked me to come down to the dealer's room for a minute. "Uh-oh," I thought, "am I supposed to be working now after all?" But no, she had called me down for a different reason: to give me a staff T-shirt! That's what the mystery pink shirts were. I was quite tickled.
I had time to attend one panel that morning at ten. Linda White and Gini Hefty did a panel on using foreign languages in fanzine stories. Linda had prepared a handout on Russian for use in Man from U.N.C.L.E. fanfic, giving the Cyrillic alphabet, customary rules of trasliteration, popular phrases and examples of how to work them smoothly into a story, notes on Russian culture, and more.
When I originally signed up for the con I had let Pat Ames, who ran programming, know what my interests were, and told her I'd be willing to serve on any panel that needed a warm body. I wound up on six panels, which is a lot, but I got released from working for each one! At eleven I was on my first panel, a Rat Patrol panel on Hans Dietrich with Kathy Agel. Kathy told me to start, so I brought up the idea that Dietrich was based on Rommel and mentioned some of the parallels in their personalities. The audience took that and ran with it, and we had a fascinating discussion of how Dietrich's career might have gone after North Africa, ranging from information on POW camps for Germans in the U.S. to details of Rommel's campaign in France and the conspiracy against Hitler.
My next panel was from 1-2; Lee Orlando and I led a discussion of the Wild Wild West. We invited the participants to share with us how they came to watch the series and what they liked about it. A surprising number had grown up watching the show with their dads. Lee observed that many of us, though we were girls, preferred the adventure and excitement of "boys' stories" to the domestic/romantic limitations of "girls' stories."
We discussed the Wild Wild West again at the next panel! The panel from 2-3 consisted of Kathy Agel and me again, and was a generic Rat Patrol panel. I had come prepared with several media zines to show people what kind of RP fan fiction was available in zines like Of Dreams and Schemes, Heroes' Plight, and of course Kathy's zine Remote Control. Both Of Dreams and Schemes and Remote Control are also good sources of Wild Wild West fanfic, so we spent some time discussing the similarities between the series. We observed that Christopher George (Troy on RP) bears more than a passing resemblance to Robert Conrad (West on WWW), and that each hero had a super-intelligent, multi-lingual sidekick (Jack Moffitt on RP, Artemus Gordon on WWW). Each program had a very catchy theme song and featured a nostalgic American form of transportation, be it a jeep or a steam train. Finally, and perhaps most important, each program featured a brilliant, charismatic recurring antagonist who develops a relationship of mutual respect with the hero, despite their continuing enmity. These "villains" have become very popular with fans: while Miguelito Loveless appeared in only ten of the Wild Wild West's 100+ episodes, he appears in a much higher percentage of the fan fiction; Hans Dietrich, who appeared in about half the Rat Patrol episodes, is featured in the vast majority of fan fiction.
That evening I worked the con suite again, helping to prepare delicious hot food homemade by Kathy. The Due South crowd had brought some episodes to show in the con suite, so I got to see them too. One was "Flashback," the delightful final episode shown only in Canada. Another was a seriocomic adventure involving dognappers. Afterwards I volunteered some miscellaneous music videos that I had brought along. My friend Graeme Cree's video commemorating the security guards of Classic Trek to the tune of "Another One Bites the Dust" was a big hit, as was the Sesame Street celebrity version of "Put Down the Duckie." I'd forgotten the latter was on the tape and was about to fast-forward when I noticed several people singing along! Then we were treated by Judith Chien to a tape of her excellent music videos, including a Batman/Catwoman piece using Tom Lehrer's "The Masochism Tango."
Saturday night our other roommate showed up, so I finally got to use my sleeping bag! Sunday morning, after another delicious con suite breakfast, I was on the Lord Peter Wimsey panel with Marina Frants and Sue Bredon-Smith. Sue quizzed the assembled group on whether they had begun their acquaintance with LPW with the television series or the novels; virtually everyone had begun with the books. We discussed the differences between the two TV series and how they reflected the differences in the books they adapted and the differences in the approaches to adaptation employed by Masterpiece Theatre, which did the earlier series, and Mystery!, which did the later.
Next was the U.N.C.L.E. panel, where, although nominally a panelist, I listened with delight like the rest of the audience to some fascinating behind-the-scenes memos and other documents that co-panelist Cindy Walker had obtained as part of her graduate research into the Man from U.N.C.L.E. There was also a spirited discussion of Girl from U.N.C.L.E. and the roles generally accorded to women in both U.N.C.L.E. series. Next, I checked badges from noon to one; I was very grateful to a gofer who spelled me for a few minutes so that I could grab a sandwich, chips, veggies, and soda from the con suite's lavish lunch buffet. At one o'clock I was on my last panel, this one on Blakes 7, with Alicia Ann Fox and Judith Proctor. We focused on the less-used characters, starting with Dayna and Soolin and moving back to Gan and Zen. Judith shared with us her fascinating theory about the origin of Zen and the creation of its personality.
After that panel was over, the con was pretty much winding down. I helped clean up the con suite and discovered one of the major advantages to this task: I was deluged with leftovers to "please take home!" Finally, when everything was stowed I joined Kathy, Pat, and some others for a "Dead Dog" dinner in the hotel restaurant. This was the first time since breakfast Friday morning that I had to spend money for food--the con suite had kept me well-fed all weekend! Dinner was fun and relaxing, a nice way to wind down. Afterwards it was time to go, and in less than four hours I was back in my own little home.
Kahlua Buttercream-Filled Cookie Cups (from Pillsbury, with notes from me)
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/8 tsp. almond extract
1 egg yolk
1 cup flour
a dash of salt
Grease 24 miniature muffin cups, or put little paper cups in the tins. In a small bowl, beat sugar and butter until light and fluffy. Add vanilla, almond extract, and egg yolk; blend well. Lightly spoon flour into measure cup; level off. Stir in flour and salt; mix well. Chill dough for one hour for easier handling. (Note: I don't like almond flavor, so I leave that out and increase the vanilla accordingly.)
Place about 2 teaspoons dough into each muffin cup; press dough into bottom and up sides to form shells. (Note: spread the dough pretty thin; it puffs up a lot in baking. Also, it helps to flour your hands.) Bake at 350 degrees for ten to fifteen minutes or until light golden brown. Remove from tins carefully; cool.
2 tbsp. (that's one ounce) unsweetened cocoa
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup powdered sugar
2 tbsp. (one ounce) Kahlua
In small bowl, beat cocoa and 1/2 cup butter until light and fluffy. Add powdered sugar and liqueur; blend well. Spoon filling into pastry bag with desired decorating tip; pipe filling into cookie cups. (This part of the recipe intimidated me, but it looked so yummy I just had to try it, so I went out and bought a pastry bag at the grocery store. It was very cheap and easy to use, and it looks quite elegant.) Store in refrigerator. Makes two dozen. (It really does, too.)
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