Chapter 10: THROBBIN' 'HOOD

Monday 10th September 1984, and having dreamed I'd had to interrupt my TAFF trip with a quick visit back to Britain I woke in a panic, wondering how I was going to explain my trip expenses including two round trip flights to the US. It took a while before the adrenal rush subsided and I was able to shake my head and chuckle at this. I was particularly happy, anyway, because today was the day I finally got to see my sweetie again. The anticipation was delicious.

Stu Shiffman had already left for work by the time I awoke, so I finished packing, closed his apartment behind me, and took the A-train down to 34th Street and Penn Station. My camera had siezed up yesterday so I planned to drop off my baggage and find the shop where I'd bought it a few days earlier. However, while Penn Station turned out to have row after row and rank upon rank of lockers in its main hall, every last one of them seemed to be in use. I did try walking the streets but, what with the lunchtime crowds and the amount of luggage I was carrying, this proved futile. So it was that I boarded my Amtrak train -- one of those great silver streaks so familiar from TV and movies -- and, at 1.30pm, we pulled out of New York and headed for Washington DC.

The train passed through Newark and into the wilds of New Jersey proper, stopping at Trenton for some time before continuing south. Beyond the window vistas of suburban and rural America unfolded before my eyes, surprising me only by being so unsurprising. There was an occasional house whose architecture was uniquely American, particularly those with wooden slat facades, but most everything else -- particularly the industrial buildings -- seemed pretty much indistinguishable from what you'd see on a train journey between London and Newcastle. This was not true of the railroad carriage itself, however. On InterCity trains in Britain, pairs of seats face each other across a table; in America, train seats are not dissimilar to airline seats, but with more leg room and a leg flap. Like airline seats, they had reclining backs and individual tables that folded down from the back of the seat in front.

Our only stop in Pennsylvania was the 30th Street Station, then it was on to Wilmington (the train passes through the tip of Delaware -- blink and you'd miss it). Beyond the town of Perryville we crossed the Susquehanna River, just above the point where it flowed into Chesapeake Bay, the bridge the train crossed running parallel to twin lines of pylons, jutting from the water like rows of tombstones. Once, they had supported a bridge of their own but all they now supported was seagull nests. Below us, flotillas of yachts were sailing out into the river from brightly coloured marinas.

As we pulled through the outskirts of Baltimore, I noticed for the first time that the roofs of American houses have shallower slopes than in Britain, where they don't just slope front-to-back only, that is. I wonder why? The final stop before mine was BWI (Baltimore-Washington International) Airport.

Having racked up ten hours of sleep, my first reasonable night's sleep since arriving in the US, I was feeling alert again, much more so than I had at any time during my stay in New York, when it seemed as if the late nights and the travelling all finally caught up with me and I was less than scintillating. For much of the time I felt as if my brain was wrapped in cotton wool, and I apologise to New York fandom for not being my usual sparkling self. A measure of how much more alert I now was is that the notes I took were complete enough that, apart from a little editing, everything preceeding this sentence in this chapter is mostly as I wrote it down in my notebook on that train journey back in 1984.

It was early evening when I finally alighted at New Carrollton, staggering off the train with my baggage and taking the escalator down from the platform. Waiting for me at the bottom was the familar figure of Avedon Carol, my sweetie. I dropped my bags and we hugged and kissed. Avedon had stayed with me in London for two months in the spring and I was delighted to see her again. This was early in our romance and it had been eight weeks since we'd last seen each other. Stowing my stuff in the trunk of her Datsun 210, we took off for her parents' house, where I'd be staying the remainder of my trip.

We took the Beltway, a highway that circles Washington DC much as the M25 does London, and were barrelling along when Avedon suddenly started zig-zagging all over the road. Calmly, I enquired why she was driving in this fashion.

"What the fuck are you doing!" I bellowed.

"Making it difficult for snipers."


"A few months ago," she explained, rather nonchalantly, "someone was taking pot shots at drivers along this very stretch."

(Avedon later claimed she was just having fun with me by playing on the belief all foreigners have that America is a violent and lawless place. A likely story!)

A few miles further on, as the road swooped down under a bridge adorned with painted-out graffiti, a hideously tacky structure sprang into view among the trees beyond, appearing to be underlined by the bridge. It was white with five, gold-flecked, conical spires, and what appeared to be an enormous, Christmas tree fairy atop the tallest spire.

"Actually, it's the angel Maroni," said Avedon, "and that's the world's largest Mormon temple. The graffiti on the bridge has been painted out by them, restored, and painted out again. Guess what it said?"

I had no idea.

"It said: SURRENDER DOROTHY!" she laughed, "Isn't that great?"

It certainly was. What a shame the Mormons hadn't seen the joke.

Avedon's parents, Gary and Queenie Avedikian, lived in Kensington, Maryland, in the house on Woodfield Road where she'd been raised, and this turned out to be a beautiful, leafy district of clean streets and manicured lawns that was American surburbia as I'd always pictured it. The house was detached, as all the houses in the area were, and appeared to be a bungalow, but it actually had a second floor, a full-scale basement. However, it wasn't the house which caught my attention when we got out of the car; it was the cicadas. The trees must have been packed with these cricket-like insects, and the sheer noise they made was incredible. The very air itself seemed to be throbbing, and the cicadas kept this up day and night. It was like being in a film of a Tennessee Williams play. Only later, when Avedon revealed that the cicadas show up at seven-year intervals, did I realise how lucky I'd been to catch them.

We were greeted by Avedon's mother, who I'd met in London when she'd passed through town a few weeks earlier, dropped off my bags, and then drove over to her brother's house to pick up her father. Avedon's brother, Rick, is a carpenter, and their father was helping him build a new workshop. This was the first time I'd ever met either. Gary came over first and shook my hand. Tall and thin with shaggy white hair and beard, an ear-to-ear smile, and piercing eyes, Gary was then 70 years old and is without doubt one of the most striking looking people I've ever met. Where his dad's hair and beard were snowy white, Rick's were jet black giving him a strongly middle-eastern appearance. He was also the possessor of the deepest voice I've ever encountered. When he spoke, I could feel my sternum vibrate. We shook hands, agreed to get better acquainted over the next few days, and then Avedon and I whisked Gary back to Woodfield Road for the meal Queenie had cooked for us all.

We'd arranged to drive over to Ted White's place that evening, but discovered the lights on Avedon's Datsun weren't working, so Ted drove over to Kensington instead. He arrived at the same time as Gary and Queenie got back from an early evening social engagement, so I hopped in his car and we headed for Falls Church with Avedon following in her parents' car so that she could drive us back later.

Ted White's house

Ted's house at 1014 N. Tuckahoe Street, Falls Church, Virginia, is one of the most famous addresses in fandom and many fine fanzines had been produced there over the years, such as PONG and, most recently, Ted's small personalzine, EGOSCAN ('The Fanzine That Talks About Fans'). Waiting for us at 1014 were rich brown and Linda Blanchard, then in the throes of a short-lived romance; Matthew Moore, a non-fan friend and business associate of Ted; and the man I was beginning to think of as my shadow, Jack Herman. This would be absolutely, positively the last time I would encounter him on my TAFF trip. Linda and rich left after about ten minutes but were replaced a little later by Ted's recent neighbours, Dan and Lynn Steffan. I'd been particularly looking forward to meeting Dan, Ted's co-editor on PONG and one of my favourite fanartists, and he did not disappoint me. Large, tall, bespectacled and sparsely bearded, Dan proved to be as funny and entertaining as I'd been told he was. (Though I thought the mauve shirt with the monogrammed pocket was a bit much, Dan.) As usual, conversation centred on Richard Bergeron and the feud that was building. Few of us could have guessed that it would develop into the biggest and most damaging to fandom in twenty years. The particular topic on this occasion was a fanzine called TEDSCAN ('The Fanzine That Talks About Ted White') from Eric Mayer, a fan based in Rochester, New York State. Eric had his own beef with Ted but, on the principle that "my enemy's enemy is my friend" he would soon be co-opted by Bergeron, who was happy for any ally he could find. We shook our heads and chuckled at TEDSCAN, still not fully appreciating the scale of the storm that was brewing.

Avedon, Ted, and Ted's record collection

Avedon and I said our farewells after watching the David Letterman Show. Thus ended my first day in Washington.