Challenger Logo by Alan White   A Science Fiction Fanzine   Summer 2005


Our attempts to get used to this area continue. Yesterday, for instance, we puttputted fifty miles south of here to the site of a minor Civil War fracas, the battle of Mansfield, to check out the nicely-preserved battlefield, talk to the friendly ranger about science fiction, and learn something more about the Federals' ill-fated Red River campaign, which ended on that spot. It was great fun - and not just because our boys, under the inspired command of General Richard (son of Zachary) Taylor, trashed General N.P. Banks' blue-coated invaders. The Confederate hero of the battle was General Alfred Mouton, who died on the site; I know a lawyer named Mouton; I wonder if he's a descendant. There are several such sites within an hour or so of here; as summer goes on, we'll check'em all out.

Rosy carried with her one of two books we had purchased the night before. Our plan was to hold off reading until a Baton Rouge seminar I'm scheduled to attend at the end of July, but of course we couldn't resist. I started my book, James Lee Burke's Crusader's Cross, as soon as I got home, and she has hers, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, open before we left Barnes & Noble.

Shreveport's debut party for the sixth Harry Potter novel was duplicated, I understand, some 700 times across the country. Indeed, I imagine our event was much the same as all the others. By far most of the customers who thronged the aisles were teenagers, something of a surprise - but it shouldn't have been. After all, their generation has grown up with Hogwarts and Dumbledore and He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named. The increasingly mature - and increasingly dark - novels have marched alongside their own maturing feelings; J.K. Rowling's saga is, in a way, the ongoing saga of their youth. I envied them that youth - the girls were cuter than cute ought to be - and I envy them having such a wise guide.

Okay, that's that; this issue is history. I hope everyone checks out Challenger #23, available in print for a fiver, available for free (with extras) at the website,  I should have a new zineful of fanzine reviews, The Zine Dump #9, on there by this deadline, but it's also available in print or by e-mail. And I hope to have Ion Trails available for perusal in some form or another Real Soon Now. Not I you kid; it's a gem.

Lastly, those of you who make it to Interaction, enjoy the worldcon - weep for my poor fanzine as it loses yet another Hugo - and keep those e-mails flying. Help us po' stuck-at-homes stay in the loop, okay?

Last Words


Recently I set eyes on George W. Bush.

He came to Shreveport as part of his Social Security tour, promoting private accounts. They held one of his "town meetings" in the Gold Dome at Centenary College, and through the local Congressman, I wangled a few tickets. Not a bad event, even for a Berkeley boy. The security wasn't intrusive or obnoxious, the band played lively martial music (asking former GIs to stand when their anthem was played; Rosy rose for "Semper Paratus"), and W, when he appeared, wore neither horns nor halo. I ignored his pitch, watched his hands as he shuffled his notes, and wondered if he really did glimpse me in the stands, conspicuously not applauding, and for an instant, drop his smile. I'll always think so. Afterwards, my 8th president safely seen (my chief public defender has seen ten), I walked over to the well-scrubbed collegiate war protesters - kept a long block away - just to soak in the comforting vibes. They were surprised I agreed with them. "You know," they explained, "the suit." Kids, clothes don't make the man. His attitude on Guantanamo does.

Speaking of politics, I had intended to close this Challenger with a long liberal diatribe, but another time, another place. Instead I'll recall a moment when I really did have to think about last words - because I really did think I'd spoken mine. To a porn star.

It was nineteen years ago - May of 1986. I was a law student, attending Loyola at night, working at the unemployment office during the day, unmarried, unattached - and really susceptible to a newspaper ad for a local strip joint. Ordinarily I paid no attention to such things - once you've been to Platinum Plus in Memphis, why bother with anyplace else? - but this ad featured Hyapatia Lee.

I'm not sure what grabbed me about Hyapatia's picture. I'd never seen any of the video movies they listed, Let's Get Physical, Sweet Young Foxes, The Red Garter. But the picture did grab me, in a vise as old as the lizard brain, so I hitched my trenchcoat collar over my face and left for the Downs Lounge (which New Orleans fandom called, of course, the Downs Syndrome).

My rustbucket auto was making a strange crunching, grinding noise when I made sharp turns, like a tin can had been caught underneath and was gradually being shredded. Having no hint of mechanical aptitude, I kept driving - hoping, perhaps, that the racket would somehow stop. Anyway, my car made it to the Downs and I made it inside.

The lady danced under the riotous lights in a g-string and golden pasties - New Orleans forces its strippers to wear such "suits of armor." Considering her field of endeavor, I thought her a little pudgy, but oh, what a pretty face, what gorgeous long black hair (Hyapatia is part Cherokee) flowing like oil in the lights, and a really good dancer. She did a twirl to "Rock Me Amadeus" that I remember yet.

Her set over, she put on a filmy robe and picked up a microphone. Any questions about "the industry"? A few hesitant inquiries, nothing sexy or challenging - if there's a place for dialogue on the morality of adult movies, the Downs Syndrome wasn't it. Hyapatia could've handled them, though - I felt abashed; she was intelligent.

She adjourned to the lobby. There she posed for Polaroid photos on the laps of various fans, five bucks a pop. Her husband took the shots, a cheerful, bearded guy named Bud Lee, just then moving from performing in sex films to directing them. Him I spoke to for quite some time, chatting about people I'd known from "the industry" - a comic writer, a fan artist. Bud spoke excitedly about shots he planned for their next epic. Her? Well, I didn't know what to say to Hyapatia Lee. She talked tenderly to the other ugly oafs who approached her, but ... what do you say?

Hyapatia left to prep for her next show, and I asked Bud what I really wanted to ask. Did they know Shauna Grant? Some background: Shauna Grant, Colleen Marie Applegate to her parents, was a pretty blonde who had made a name for herself in "the industry." I'd seen clips and one movie start-to-finish, Virginia. As such epics go, it wasn't bad - and the star certainly had a mystique. She also had a problem. It had caused her, two years before, to stick her coke dealer boyfriend's .22 into her eye and pull the trigger.

It turned out that the Lees knew her well - she'd been in one of Hyapatia's movies, The Young Like it Hot. I was glad I'd waited until the lady was gone before asking, because Bud Lee told me an ugly story. She was messed up mightily before she even got into "the industry." Her parents were stoic, stolid squareheads from Minnesota who gave her nothing but contempt; on a documentary I saw later, her vile mother dismissed her daughter's emotional anguish as "just trying to get attention." Whatever, Bud told me her collapse was due to something different - a matter of falling into the wrong crowd in the wrong crowd. He mentioned one name: Francis Ford Coppola. Apparently he and some of his friends drew Shauna in and convinced the pathetic little lady that she was going to Do It, traverse the gulf, move over from her despised genre to straight, mainstream movies. Moving over is the classic dream of such performers. It was considered a joke. (And still is ... has anyone but Traci Lords done it, and is she anything more than a "former porn star"?) It finally dawned on Shauna Grant that the arty crowd was using her in the same way the porno crowd was - and, so, 20 going on 200, propelled by self-loathing and the white sustenance, down went Shauna Grant, taking Colleen Marie Applegate with her.

"Too bad," Bud said, shaking his head. "Nice house, no furniture."

I left. Outside, in the parking lot, I worked on my noisy front tire with a lug wrench. As I labored, Bud and Hyapatia walked by - the lady now fully dressed. "What are you doing?" Bud asked.

"Actually, I'm tightening my lug nuts," I replied. "The Downs Lounge makes my nuts loose."

Hyapatia laughed. I admired the star confidence - arrogance if you wish - in her walk. Intelligent and professional she may be, but this was still a beautiful woman who made her living selling fantasy to lonely guys. At least I'd made her laugh - with words that came close to being my last.

I left. On the Interstate the grinding noise in my tire ceased with a pop. The car lurched. I touched the brake pedal experimentally, and it squished all the way to the mat. That noise had been my brakes.

I will never know how I made it home, but I did, creeping at 5 m.p.h. through darkest New Orleans, my nerves fizzing like a sparkler. The entire brake assemblage was shot; it cost me four bills to set things right. I felt like the idiot I was for not checking it out sooner. But there was something else ...

My last words to another person might well have been a silly joke to a porn princess. Perhaps there are worse venues for one's closing thoughts. But I found I didn't want that. I wanted my last words to be spoken to someone I loved, and who loved me back. Without fantasy. Some dream, huh? Believe me, you could do worse.

Rosy and I will see you next issue.

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