Creativity, Corflu, & Business Systems Management
[Editor's Note: Since Corflu started in the Bay Area and is returning after 12 years, it seemed apropos to look back on our roots. The following article is a reprint from Irwin Hirsch's fanzine, LARRIKIN, circa 1984, about the organization of the first Corflu. There seem to be some familiar rings in our own organization.]
I've been doing temporary clerical work for something like ten months now, and initially found it quite a pleasant change from trying to make a living as I'd been used to doing. It was nice to make so much money--a good deal more than I'd ever drawn before from jobs that had been much more demanding of my concentration and coordination--and yet be able to sit down while working. In addition, clerical work (i.e., typing, filing, collating, stapling, stuffing and addressing envelopes, etc.) was in many ways very much like fanac, and this too had some appeal for me.
Soon, however, the charm of getting paid for doing non-fannish "fanac" wore thin. I developed what might best be termed a "bad attitude." I grew tired of having to correct the most atrocious grammar, spelling, and punctuation mistakes I'd seen since high school being made by middle managers, the lowest of whom took home three times the salary I was making. In addition, the environment of the offices where I've worked is uncomfortably conservative, almost stiflingly so. I'd held several jobs in the past which required me to wear some sort of uniform, but never have I had to purchase my own before, and certainly not at a cost of more than $100 or so. Working in an office in San Francisco (or any other city, I suppose) does not allow one the privilege of dressing for comfort--one must look "nice". I never used to have to wear a necktie except on those rare occasions when I'd attend some wedding or funeral, so the idea of wearing one every day to work lost its novelty very quickly. Besides, my wardrobe of "work clothes" was and still is extremely limited. Most of the people working in these offices tended to dress much "nicer" than I did. They also made more money.
Many conventions of the office atmosphere would have struck me as quite hilarious if they hadn't been so pathetic or so casually accepted as "normal." Take a stroll down to the end of the International Syndication's office of the Wells Fargo Bank and you can sniff enough expensive perfumes and colognes to make you want to open a window for a breath of fresh diesel exhaust. One operations manager moonlights in the daytime as the office Avon Lady and services this healthy market with her complete line of cosmetics and beauty aids. Another manager at the east end of the office plays a small clock-radio tuned almost all day long to San Francisco's highest rated muzak station. Perhaps because of her standing in the bank's hierarchy, or perhaps because the people sitting near her desk don't mind working in the environment of an elevator, no one voices any objection to the noise. Then again, perhaps it's because she turns up the volume every day at 11:00 a.m. to listen to the audio portion of All My Children a popular soap opera.
Each female employee's coffee cup is individually personalized, not merely with such suggestive ceramic slogans as "Too Hot to Handle," "Black Ambition" or their own names, but also by the red smears of lip impressions as distinctive in their hues as fingerprints. The male employees, for some reason, always end up using styrofoam cups. This is to say nothing of the wretched grind of coffee common to the office break room, of which the less said, the better.
Despite the enormous strides women have made in the business world in recent years, it still seems that only the male employees are allowed to wear pants to work. The boss has to be able to see those legs, you know. And while sexism doesn't exactly bare its ugly teeth with so many women in the office, it cannot help grinning lecherously at them on those occasions when they might have forgotten their role in this game. Although I, of course, paid little attention to it, two of our co-workers had for some time been a hot item of clerical pool gossip. One day, when answering the telephone took up more time than figuring the monthly payroll, a secretary sitting nearby put her caller on hold to consult with me. "Mr. Lehr left with Dora two hours ago and said he'd be out for the afternoon. Should I tell Saenger he's at a business luncheon?"
By far the most irritating facet of the office environment, however, was the tremendous waste of fannish resources I witnessed. Cases and cases of reams and reams of paper are tossed off daily by the Pacific Telephone Company, which demands that all documents be filed in triplicate; more over, any revision of Letter or report also requires three copies as well as the destruction of any previous versions. PacTel had initiated a small scale recycling program, but this was woefully inadequate in view of the volumes of paper destroyed each day It made me sick to my stomach. I envisioned whole swaths of California's majestic forests ravaged by the phone company, leaving acres and acres of barren, lifeless wasteland sacrificed to thoughtless inefficiency. I could not stand idle and watch this tragedy. I vowed that those trees would not have died in vain and it didn't take me long to size up the situation to determine how to turn it to my advantage.
PacTel had leased Xerox 8200 photoduplicators for each floor of the building and due to the redundant nature of company policy, they were constantly in use. Needless to say, this resulted in some extreme wear and tear on the machines. I once saw a frustrated manager slam down the cover of one of them as though it were some `65 Plymouth Valiant rather than a delicate state-of-the-art instrument costing as much as a new car. Treatment of this sort was not at all unusual; I saw them kicked and abused beyond any reasonable limit and wasn't the least bit surprised at their frequent breakdowns. "After all," the office manager explained to me, that's what maintenance contracts are for."
I knew, though, that they would be nice to me if I were nice to them. I learned how to treat them gently, how to load paper correctly ("curl up" so as to avoid jams in the mechanism), how to clear jams when they do occur, and how to keep my copies from emerging damaged or illegible. Eventually, I was designated as one of two Key Operators for the machine on my floor. Given the ability to get into the guts of the device, it wasn't unusual for me to spend quite a bit of time among paper and duplicator whenever my services were required.
I took shameless advantage of this unsupervised access to the xerox room, duping anything I felt could be of use to me. My APAzines showed a marked improvement in visual flair and I ran off a stack of personalized stationary the likes of which few of my correspondents had seen before. With his permission, I made extra copies of a fanzine Phil Paine had written so I could send some to friends of mine who weren't on his mailing list. I made copies of Berke Breathed comic strips and ran off dozens of Austin in `85 NASFiC flyers. And when the CORFLU committee ran out of copies of The Twiltone Zone, our fanzine/progress report, I made more, courtesy of the phone company.
When the dwindling budget of the committee dictated a streamlined print run for TZ#2 and forced us to limit distribution to paid CORFLU members only, I once again ran off some "pseudo- twiltone" Zones and sent them out to fans who I thought might be interested in coming to our convention, or at least supporting it. I gave little thought to the possibility of offending the ultrafaannish by sending them xeroxed twiltone, assuming that, under the circumstances, they ought to feel damned lucky to get the zine at all. Fortunately, none of them complained. Then again, very few of them bothered to respond in any fashion.
We'd discovered with TZ#1 that all the good vibes generated by news of CORFLU didn't necessarily mean that people were going to fall all over themselves to join. Our initial print run of 250 soon swelled to 800 after we tossed copies to everyone and his/her dog at WesterCon and franked it through five or six APAs including APA-50, A Woman's APA, FAPA, and Ghu only knows what others. All that paper and postage, however, generated scarcely thirty-five memberships, eight of which were the committee members themselves.
How did CORFLU get started, anyway? The official story, as I heard it, credits an excessive number of margaritas consumed one night last spring at Carlo's & Pancho's on Geary Street. Elisheva Barsabe, Allyn Cadogan, and Lucy Huntzinger did the consuming. Shay and Allyn had for some months been tossing around the idea of organizing a fanzine convention, but had given it no serious thought. Since I wasn't present at this pivotal meeting, I can only speculate how the conversation turned to this topic, but Lucy was later quoted as having slurred something like, "Somebody'd havta be crazy to wanna throw a convention." Were that the only requisite for running a con, these three seemed over-qualified, and thus did the notion solidify into a vague plan of action.
The idea wasn't anything new-fans in Detroit used to hold similar cons called Autoclaves in the mid-7Os and the Britfans had already announced their own Mexicon--but what with the present sad state of conventions, a new one completely divorced from media influence (and even the SF mainstream) ought to be welcomed with enthusiasm. The focus would be on fanzines and fanhistory; the "programming" would be kept loose and informal, coordinated ideally by the attendees themselves. The intended result would be, we hoped, a regular gathering of fanzine publishers, writers, artists and readers in a relaxed environment, and if the notion caught on, we'd never have to run it again.
From the outset, it was resolved that CORFLU would be ultrafannish--so fannish in fact, that the GoH would be chosen by a random drawing among the membership; so fannish that any fan who didn't request a specific badge number would be assigned 42; so fannish that we calculated our membership rate down to the penny ($24.31) to break even with an estimated attendance of 200; so fannish that the members would have to collate their own program books. As delightful as this might sound, being fannish to such an extent had drawbacks as well. We all displayed a tendency to slack off on occasion (that's faaaannish), but that was only to be expected because of all the energy that was needed to get the con off the ground.
By the time I was asked to get involved in all this, they'd already tracked down the only hotel in the Bay Area that had facilities open on a weekend in the next five years. Unfortunately, it was not the sort of low-class dive one would choose for a small relaxacon. Like any convention hotel, the Claremont Resort had several features which particularly suited it to our needs (not the least of which was the fact that it was available) and unlike many convention hotels, it was physically attractive, even beautiful. But like all convention hotels, it posed some problems as well.
In its favor, the Claremont was located in nearby Berkeley, greatly simplifying things for a committee that lived in San Francisco. The staff was experienced with science fiction conventions, having hosted several in the glorious past including the 1968 WorldCon and the 1981 Nebula Awards. Granted that Corflu wasn't going to be anything like those, this at least gave us confidence that they wouldn't be too perplexed by anything we might try.
On the other hand, the Claremont is expensive. It's a luxury hotel; the carhops wear tuxedos and the doormen are dressed like generals. Although the convention space rental wasn't that much more than the hotels I'd dealt with in Texas as liaison for ArniadilloCon, the single room rate, even with the convention discount, was $76/night--prohibitive for a fan on a budget and out of the question for anyone traveling a great distance.
Despite Corflu's structure as a relaxacon, we let the hotel persuade us into arranging the obligatory banquet. Depending on the con, a food function can be either a blessing or a curse, but because they're so financially lucrative for the hotel, the sales director will almost always bend over backwards to get a committee to schedule one (some hotels even require it in the contract). A food function can be advantageous to a con when the hotel is willing to give a break on the room rental, and the Claremont offered us their Horizon Room on Sunday of the con at no charge under the condition, of course, that we sold at least one hundred twenty-five $11.5O/plate chicken crepe dinners, the cheapest item on the menu. By including the banquet price in our membership fee, we'd save money on our function space and be able to present our OGhu fanzine "achievement" awards in an appropriately preposterous setting. This would work out fine provided that (a) we could get 125 fanzine fans to come to Berkeley and (b) the price on the dinners would remain stable. The banquet, you see, was considered by the hotel as a separate function, and was under the jurisdiction of the catering department rather than convention sales; therefore, the price was a verbal quotation not stated in the contract and was, furthermore, subject to change. Guess what the catering department did to us three months before the con.
At the time this came down on us, we had generated all of 55 full memberships and three supporting. For any other con, that many pre-paid members would almost guarantee success (the first ArmadilloCon that broke even began with a mere 18 pre-paid badges), but CORFLU was to be no ordinary con. We had by now revised our budget to reflect an estimated attendance of 125, rather than the earlier 200.
Other factors were working against us as well. The last weekend in January was also the date of ConFusion, a well-established fannish con in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Normally, this wouldn't bother us much since we're so far away, but ConFusion is a fannish con frequently attended by fanzine fans, the same folks we wanted to come to CORFLU, and East Coast fans would be far more likely to travel to Michigan for a con rather than all the way to the West Coast. Bound by the hotel contract to that weekend, though, there was very little to be done about this problem. It had been pointed out to me that no one on the committee had published anything more than APAzines and letter substitutes in more than three years. Perhaps that's why so much effort went into The Twiltone Zone. There was some debate about how "balanced" TZ should be between a fanzine and a con PR, but this was pretty much settled by the postage rates, which allowed us ten pages per issue. Once space for the essential Progress Report information had been designated, the remaining pages were left for fannish nonsense and LoCs. The task of creating a genuine fanzine that would also serve as a convention progress report was just what we all needed to throw ourselves back into fan- pubbing. Between TZ#1 and #4 (the program book) Allyn published another issue of Genre Plat, the first one fandom had seen in three years; Allyn, Shay and Brian Earl Brown published The Whole Fanzine Catalogue and Lucy published The Newefangoled Epicritic and Rude Bitch (with Avedon Carol). For a bunch of fans who hadn't exactly been what one could call "active" for a while, CORFLU seemed to give all of us severe cases of fanpubbing fever.
Just days before she was to leave for ConStellation, Lucy forfeited a ticket to a Grateful Dead concert to stay up all night with me typing pages for TZ#2 so we could take copies to the WorldCon. When we finally stopped around 10:00 a.m. the next morning, we'd assembled all but the last two pages. There was yet a week before I was to leave for Baltimore, so it was decided that I'd deliver the pages to Allyn & Shay for mimeoing with instructions on how the final pages were to be laid out.
But the night before my own departure, all we managed to get printed were fifty CORFLU buttons and a one-page flyer for the fanzine room's freebie table. After all the energy spent on that zine, I thought again about what Lucy had said concerning fans who run cons. I began even to question my own motivations for being a fan.
Fandom had come along at a time in my life when it was needed most. I can't imagine what my life today might have been like if I hadn't discovered fanzines while in high school. When I first started getting zines in the mail, began corresponding with strangers who lived in exotic places, and started seeing my LoCs printed, it was all so much fun that I didn't think too much about my reasons for doing it. I was making friends with personalities rather than people and fans seemed so much more interesting than the friends I knew in the town where I grew up. Those others were all so (*gag*) mundane.
I yearned to meet these fascinating people and made the most of every con I could attend. I envied the fans in the Midwest who seemed able to drive to at least one con a month in their region, sometimes more. At that time, I'd attended only a few conventions, and knew most fans only through the mailbox. The concept of seeing other fans on a regular basis was alien and exciting, so when I moved to Austin, Texas to go to college, I sank easily into the local fandom. As the years have slipped past, I've watched fandom grow and change. I've discovered multitudes of regional fandoms, sub-fandoms and fringe fandoms but, the more I learned about fans, the less fascinating they became. I'd worked on a bidding committee for a major con and witnessed how petty and small-minded fans could be when operating in a businesslike (i.e. mundane) environment rather than a faannish one. In many respects, fans were not a whole lot different than other people. In the course of normal events, I'd met fans whom I didn't particularly like. Will Rogers was an Okie, of course, not a Texan.
When I moved to San Francisco, I didn't know anyone except the local fans. Once here, fandom developed into so much a part of everyday existence that I took it for granted.
Throughout all this, my own fanzine fanac has fluctuated from apahacking to FAFIA, but not much more. What business, I wondered, did I have being on the CORFLU committee?
My minuscule budget got me to Baltimore by way of a Greyhound bus, but the trip had so many highs and lows for me that I felt I'd ridden on the back of a frog. Thanks to Melbourne's sweeping victory for the `85 WorldCon, Austin won its bid for the corresponding NASFiC, a project for which I was in part to blame. While there, Lucy and I slapped together a zine for WOOF which we called The Twiltone Zone #1.98 (silly numbers had by now become our standard procedure), but lacking any copies of TZ#2 to show off, WorldCon netted CORFLU only two memberships, though we did sell more than 35 buttons. While a number of members were bubbly with enthusiasm for CORFLU, the response from fandom at large was a tremendous disappointment to me, but how much of this was due to my own shortcomings as a "publicity coordinator" and how much was mere apathy on the part of fanzine fandom as a whole, I can't honestly say. I tried as hard as I could.
After I said good-bye to Lucy in Baltimore, I didn't see her again for several months. Like me, she had traveled across the continent more on good looks than cash, but didn't have enough of either left after ConStellation to get back to San Francisco. She made it as far as Falls Church, Virginia, crashed at Ted White's World Pong Headquarters, and found herself a job doing--of all things--temporary clerical work to make enough money to return home. During her stay in Virginia, she continued to work for CORFLU as our ambassador to the East Coast (and England, and Canada, and any other place not on our mailing list). In her absence, her official post as publications coordinator was filled by L. Jim Khennedy who while living among fans had, like me, drifted away from fanzine fandom since pubbing his last ish years ago.
Each week as CORFLU edged closer, memberships trickled into the Haight Street P.O. Box like raindrops through an old tin roof--just enough to give you cold feet, but nothing like the flood we needed. Interest and inquiries would have to pick up very rapidly for us to realistically expect 125 fans to join our con. We kept in touch with the Claremont, which would periodically illuminate our knowledge of hotel policy by clarifying certain conditions not spelled out explicitly in the contract--like how the banquet price we'd been quoted (yes, even after the increase) did not include the state sales tax or the 17% gratuity they were going to charge. So the banquet, which we'd originally budgeted as $11.50 of the $24.31 membership fee, was now going to cost us more than $15 for each plate.
After a careful scrutiny of our budget, it was revised once again and we began to discuss how much money each of us could afford to lose on this crazy venture. In a worst case scenario, we'd each end up having to shell out $175. This would be hard on all of us, especially since everyone had rent due on February 1, three days after CORFLU.
Obviously, we were suffering from a severe lack of fanpower. Although we'd each adopted some sort of official title, responsibilities overlapped to such an extent that any given task fell to whomever could make time for it in their schedule. Everyone did damned near everything. In this respect, CORFLU was no different than any other con in which I'd gotten my hands dirty. There were a handful of local fans who saved our collective ass by contributing their time and talents as uncredited "shadow" members of the committee, but there was always much more work to be done than there were people to do it.
The core of the committee also had lives of their own to lead. Soon after I returned from Baltimore, Chairperson Allyn Cadogan and Secretary-Treasurer Karl Mosgofian quit their jobs at Computerland, married each other, and started their own company, Asta Computer Services. I myself, had taken on another short term job in addition to my temporary clerical work, which left me with little enough time for sleep, much less keeping pace with CORFLU. This isn't really as foolish as it sounds, since the second job was an assistant editor position on a low budget feature film--exactly the kind of work I'd been seeking before I started temping--but that's another story altogether.
Once the business was off the ground, CORFLU meetings were moved to the Asta offices so the committee could stay warm. 368 Second Avenue, where most of the committee lived, had two mimeographs and an electrostenciller, but no central heating. Asta, on the other hand, had word processing equipment, photoduplicators, and everything else the technologically sophisticated fan might need for pubbing an ish, as well as a fireplace and a beautiful view of the Bridge Theater across the street (which was at that time showing the re-release of Alfred Hitchcock's VERTIGO.
Upon Lucy's triumphant return to San Francisco in December, after having conquered the East Coast, Canada, and Britain with her vibrant personality, she moved into the vacant room at the rear of my flat on Folsom Street. During her hiatus, she'd proven to be far more effective at drumming up interest in CORFLU than I had and, thanks to her efforts, a number of fans from the frozen Coast, including Ted White and Stu Shiffman, had joined the con and were planning to come to Berkeley.
By this time, things had begun to look better for us; we now had about seventy-five paid memberships and maybe twenty more people who had promised to show up at the door. Fans were coming from all over the place to attend CORFLU--Canada, France, Washington, Massachusetts, and Texas would each be represented if all of our paid and promised members showed up. We weren't likely to fill our 30-room hotel block, which would have saved us about $300, but there was always a slim chance that the Cavalry would come through at the last minute.
Day by day as CORFLU drew nearer, it commanded more and more of my attention. A week before the con, we painstakingly started production work on the 50-page program book, Twiltone Zone #4. One by one, we snapped membership buttons together with Shay's Badge-a- minute machine. Lucy Huntzinger, Jim Khennedy, Dan Kresh and myself made our connection and scored the main ingredient for our magic CORFLU Guest of Honor brownies.
But would fanzine fans turn out in droves for the faannish event of the year? Would the committee end up washing dishes in the Claremont's kitchen to meet our debt on the 0Ghu Awards banquet? Would the Claremont confiscate our mimeo in the event CORFLU couldn't pay its bill? Would the fledgling Asta Computer Services have any better chance for success than CORFLU? Would Shay, Jim, Karl and Allyn be evicted from the house that had for several years served as a base of operations for the Norfolk Peoples' Cooperative small Press? Would Terry and Lucy be thrown out of their home as well?
Since Irwin Hirsh wanted this article by January 25, two days before CORFLU none of these questions can yet be answered. Since that deadline is now only days away (sorry, Irwin; mea culpa), by the time this reaches Australia CORFLU will have already slipped into the faannish past. So whether it will have been worth all the trouble, whether any of us survive the ordeal, or whether there will ever be a CORFLU II, all remain to be see. Stay tuned.
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