Challenger Logo by Alan White   A Science Fiction Fanzine   Spring/Summer 2003

There’s no place like home ... there’s no place like home ... there’s no place like home ...




I miss Australia. Reminders of our adventure pop up everywhere. A neon map on a bar touts Foster’s (we never saw a can). Finding Nemo is set, in part, in magical, magnificent Sydney Harbour. On The Simpsons Lisa builds a sand castle shaped like the Opera House - and lordy, what an amazing building. On another episode, Bart calls Australia to find out if their toilets spiral “backwards” when flushed, and nearly starts a war. That was Parliament House where they wanted to give him The Boot. By the way, Aussie toilets are different - two buttons, one to dump half the tank, the other for the full load - but don’t seem to spiral at all. And that’s plenty of information on that topic, I’m sure.

We keep watching Aussie movies - Rabbit-Proof Fence, Heat Wave, Muriel’s Wedding, Sirens - smiling over places we’ve been, lamenting sites we missed. I wish I’d brought a tape recorder, because there are Australian sounds I miss: the soft rat-a-tat-tat of the walkway signals, believe it or not - the piercing tink of the bell birds in the Blue Mountains - the coo-la-loo of the unknown bird outside of our window at Cathy Cupitt’s house - even the “Row-row-row!” anthem from the footy game! Granted, there are some differences in Australian life that work to America’s benefit. Few people there have a dryer or a microwave, and television is downright shoddy. (My favorite program was a kid’s show called Bambaloo, but that was because the hostess was cute. Every Ozzie gull is cute! See the pages closing this issue.) But overall, America seems to reek of meanness and fear. I hate - I really hate - to think on what the difference was. All I can say is that the ills of American society never seemed more evident than now.

The grass may always
Whimper pleads the case - Artist: Craig Hiltonbe greener on the other side of the ocean, but contrasting one Pacific shore and the other, the comparison almost seems ludicrous - a garden vs. a desert; clean cities vs. slums; friendly, funny people vs. paranoid, aggressive ones. I’m fond of aphorisms, and here’s one I came up with during our journey: there are a million reasons for an Australian to visit America, but not one for him to move here.

Rose-Marie and I kept global politics to a minimum during DUFF. We were well aware of the frivolous fun fannishness of our mission, and we weren’t there to proselytize for anything except good will between American and Australian fandoms. Nevertheless, American and Australians are free people, and free people talk - and perhaps Americans nowadays have things to answer for to the other free peoples of the world.

My most political talks in Australia were with Craig Hilton in Melbourne, Tony Civelli in Canberra, and Nick Stathapoulos in Sydney, intelligent men with thoughtful concerns. Hilton expressed worry about the cultural and economic “footprint” the U.S. leaves wherever it walks; our nation’s friends have had such questions since the War of 1812. Tony asked about something which had been on his mind as the Iraqi invasion went on: the American character. What does the Iraqi War say about us,? Awesome short-term competence, surely - we went through Saddam’s formal resistance like it was made of paper. But also, it shows our eternal shortsightedness, our brutal concept of national strength, our slack-jawed gullibility, our talent for endless rationalization, our overwhelming arrogance. 9-11 showed us at our best. The Iraqi War - our revenge - shows us at our worst.

Nick mentioned film of the war we, in America, have been kept from seeing - terrified G.I.s, roadblock massacres, bloody mistakes. Our soldiers are fine young men and women - they could be my siblings - my children. I will never forgive this administration for dumping them into this horror, subjected to snipers and suicide bombers and nightmares we homebodies can never imagine. Our soldiers have endured a lot of suffering and given forth a lot of suffering bringing democracy and Halliburton to Iraq. Most pain has been to Iraqi civilians. Remember the ditch at My Lai? It runs through Baghdad, too. What about that ditch?

Surely we’re not like this. Surely America is about loving and supporting one’s family, about taking on worthy tasks and performing them well, about seeking justice and equality, and maintaining respect for human rights. Surely we’re not about confusing justice with conquest, and reassuring ourselves with comfortable lies; surely - please Christ - we’re not a country where what matters is what you can buy and who you can hurt.

I know America is not like that, at heart. When we got off the transPacific plane at LAX, and were greeted by smiling photos of W and Dick Cheney, the atmosphere was downright oppressive. But then, after we were through customs, my cousin Roger and his wife Sue met us, and took us to their home, in the high desert above Los Angeles. For our one day in California, they had arranged a party at their house in the high desert above Los Angeles. Only three of my grandparents’ grandchildren weren’t there - my brother, in New York, my cousin Doose, in Florida, and one of my male cousins who is angry at the family and stayed home. Everyone else showed up, to laugh at my chubbiness, to meet Rosy, to hear first hand about Australia, and to remind me that however ugly and idiotic this turf of ours can act sometimes, America is still Home. When I mentioned how lucky my generation was to have the folks who came before it, and my uncle grasped my hand, I knew that Home was still and forever the place I belonged.

And so Home again, to New Orleans, where John Guidry picked us up and drove us home, and we resumed our American lives. My seven hours in jail ten days later? A far less attractive story.



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