What I appreciate about ICFA most, of course, are the people, people whom I would otherwise never have met, people whom I had heard of, whose work I had read and whose careers I admired, people with whom I have become good friends, people whose scholarship, fiction, correspondence, and company I look forward to eagerly.
But what I remember most vividly are all the boneheaded, dimwitted, harebrained stupidities we have committed and contemplated since I have been associated with the annual conference. I have worked with Don Morse, Chip Sullivan, Bob Collins, Bill and Trish Dorn, and others for over ten years, and we have gotten quite good at organizing ICFAs. However. The list of the wacky and just plain dumb grows annually.
For instance, when Marshall Tymn was President, we spent an inordinate amount of time trying to figure out how to make the writers stand out. Fluorescent badges, special hats, medallions, scepters — we thought up some of the goofiest (and in retrospect, most annoying) methods of making people feel like total idiots. One year we hit upon what seemed a good idea: to give each writer a rose to carry or wear about. Roses, as we all know, don’t last long when pressed, hugged, tugged, spindled, folded, or mutilated, and absent a pocket of water in which to keep one, our expensive one-day wonders were no different.
Personally, those years for me were marked by my complete inexperience and occasional Candide-like naïvete (which others might bluntly label stupidity to the third power). The first year that the conference returned to Ft. Lauderdale, Don Morse was off living in one of those places he seems so fond of, where the phones and toilets work only on the birthdays of important dictators and their mistresses and where most basic food groups are used in the production of some alcoholic swill. I don’t think Marsh had any idea how big the Hilton was and perhaps expected the conference attendees to fill it, so he sent me down to make demands. Among other land-mines, one was that the entire first and second floors be cleared for us for a week (i.e., before anyone actually arrived) and that others have to use other entrances and exits; another was for the hotel to hang IAFA banners all over the lobby. The hotel management was forcefully incredulous and basically shredded me like overcooked beef so that at times when I think back to that hour before the Inquisition and the subsequent phone calls — even at twelve years’ distance — I become so embarrassed my sphincter ratchets right up.
Upside down and backwards t-shirt designs, coffee mugs that we had in storage for years, books we bought and had to ship back within three days, the proposed cruise to the Bahamas, the time we left half of Brian Aldiss’ sessions out of the program, some of our creative spellings and university affiliations, our ignorant promise to rent a certain kind of projector (that would have cost thousands of dollars) and other massive audio-visual miscalculations — some of our fiascos approach Congressional levels of imbecility. We never get the amount of or kinds of liquor and beer right. Add the usual scheduling problems and misunderstandings, the changes in plans we didn’t foresee, an early error that snowballs, and every March Providence smugly proffers even more ways to screw up, opportunities we barge into gleefully and often stagger back out of sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.
The Imp of the Perverse, Finagle’s Law, is another perennial nemesis who aids us in practicing absurditas. Several years ago, when Rob Holdstock was the special guest, several of us went down to Miami’s airport to pick him up. To make a long story short, when we went Upstairs looking for him, he went Downstairs looking for us; when we went Downstairs, he went Upstairs. Similarly, in 1998 I called the airline to check on Peter Straub’s arrival time, only to find his plane had landed over half an hour early. So Chip Sullivan and I raced down to the airport and ran about cursing — a language in which we are both fluent — and mistakenly looking for someone whom David Hartwell had told us was over 6’8″ tall. The much less than NBA-sized Peter, at the time, however, was already comfortably in his room, wondering where the waterfall he expected was and where the (by now foul-mouthed) knuckleheads who were to have met him had gotten their confused selves to.
The wonder of it all is that few people ever notice any of it. Year in and year out, on Sunday morning the majority of attendees tell us how smoothly the conference has run and how well organized it is. Don, Chip, and I often stand in polite befuddlement and occasional disbelief. Over the years, we have developed a sense through working together so that often we don’t need to speak to know what the others are thinking and how they will react, what not to do to set us all laughing like the younger, dumber brothers of the village idiot.
And so it comes back, as I began, to the people.