Saturday 9 June 2012

The Third Scottish Invasion of Cross Plains - Day 2

Now the fun begins with a new day!

NOTE: Fully updated, hence I'll be putting a break in.

Because I was up talking all night, I decided to miss breakfast at the pavillion (though I'm sure it was lovely as always) to catch up on sleep, I'm going to need all I can get for Sunday. I got over at about 10:30 to have a wander about the museum: there I found the redoubtable Matthew Webb, and started talking about Clark Ashton Smith's influence on "The Hyborian Age" (more on that in "80 Years of Conan") before realising that the Glenn Lord tribute panel was on at 11:00. Luckily, the bus tour had just ended, and I got a lift from the very kindly Don Clark, who I hope to see in Scotland sometime soon.

Obviously there's a danger a tribute panel for a recently-departed friend may become maudlin very quickly, but Paul, Barbara and Rusty did a great job making things as good-spirited and considerate as they could. Having Mrs Lord there was also quite special, especially when she interjected with a comment. It's quite amazing to think how Glenn Lord, who worked at a paper mill, became the literary executor for one of the great icons of fantastic fiction, and the proprietor of the vast majority of existing documents.

After the panel Aurelia and I went to the Post Office for the Howard Days Cancellation... eventually. Through a veritable comedy of errors we ended up lost in the desert: Paul Sammon graciously offered us a lift, but we, in our youthful confidence, declined. A few hundred yards later, Mark Finn drove by, and we realised we were walking in precisely the wrong direction. Gadzooks. Mark kindly dropped us off, we got the postal cancellation thingummijig, and since Paul was also leaving, Aurelia left with him while I went with Mark.

So I got a ride from the punch-drunk bard himself, Chris Gruber. As with last night, he and I had a very frank and personal talk - something about him makes me feel I can open up - as we drove over to see Chuck Hoffman's panel.


We got there a bit late, but luckily the panel started a bit late too, so we didn't miss too much. It was most interesting, naturally being a discussion centred around his landmark essay "Conan the Existentialist." Since the Cimmerian's 80's birthday was on everyone's mind, of course, there were questions and comments from the audience, and they mostly dealt with the philosophical and existential side.

Afterwards, well, it was time for my debut at a Howard Days panel. Mark and Paul were very generous and accomodating to my crippling and no doubt extremely irritating humbleness (I think I opened with a variation of "I'm Al Harron, and I don't know what I'm doing here with these two") but that Catholic guilt is probably never going to leave me.  Anyone who's met me in person will tell you that I'm extremely uncomfortable with being called an expert, authority, or even a reference aide on Conan. I'd love to say it's false modesty or fishing for compliments, but I very frankly just have difficulty seeing myself as knowledgeable when I'm looking at all the things I don't know. In any case, I'm getting better, because I figured they wouldn't have asked me on the panel if they didn't think I knew what I was doing, so I just went along, hoping I didn't disappoint.

My primary mission in terms of the panel was to make sure I didn't bore anyone, but Mark and Paul did a great job making sure I didn't drone or babble or pause inordinately long - ain't their first rodeo, wot wot - and attendees came up later saying how much they enjoyed it. I was just glad nobody started looking at their watches! As with the other panels, you'll get a chance to see me when Ben Friberg posts his stuff on Youtube, and hopefully I don't make too many ridiculous errors. Luckily, everyone I've talked to did not claim to fall asleep, and conversation about Conan and his place in popular culture continued even after the panel ended.  I had great fun, with two great fellow panelists.  Barbara remarked that I was a natural at this, and that I should do it more often.  Well, when the Warrior Photographer posts the panel on Youtube, I'll post it here, and you can judge for yourselves.
EDIT: Here you go!
I went back to the hotel, along with Matthew, where we had a great talk about Clark Ashton Smith, and how he really deserves a Clark Ashton Smith Days or Festival like Howard and Lovecraft fans enjoy. Well, all it took to start Howard Days was a group of people who really liked REH all meeting up and making something of it.  All we need is a Project Pride for Auburn and we'd be all set.

The banquet, of course, was lovely.  The Guest of Honor naturally kicked things off:

I didn't get any awards this year, but as was noted, the nomination system was tweaked so that even being nominated was an honour, so I'm absolutely just happy to be nominated.  I was thrilled that Jeff won the Venarium, and it was nice Glenn Lord's last periodical won too. After the banquet, I took a bit of time to wander over to Chuck and say something witty, urbane and erudite, only to start stuttering like a flapper meeting Valentino spluttering something like "I like your stuff."  And to my immense pride, he said kind things about my panel, particularly my thoughts on "The Tower of the Elephant," which was just... it was so neat, guys.

Then Fists at the Icehouse, the poetry throwdown, and talk at the pavillion.  But as I speak I'm starting to drowse, so I'll get back to it when I've slept. G'night all.

UPDATE: And so I'll see if I can recall all the goings-on...

I hitched a ride with Matthew only to realise that neither of us knew exactly where the old icehouse was. We started to get a bit concerned - even though Cross Plains is small, it's very flat, and it isn't as if you could go up a hill to get a view of the area like back home - but we eventually found it. Not that it was difficult to find, being a very red building with a very large taxidermy sign on the front (it's now a taxidermist's shop). It was starting to get a bit dark, but Jeff, Mark and Chris were all on hand to preach the good word of Howard's boxing stories. All three were very passionate about the subject, and presented a highly convincing case that boxing was one of the most important sources of inspiration for many of his stories - since Howard boxed himself, he had personal experience in the rough-and-tumble of pugilistics, which is why his tales are so convincing.

Excerpts from the tales were read, and by Sally Magnusson, if Mark Finn's made it his life's work to make me die of laughter, he made great headway with his reading of "Sluggers on the Beach":

     The minute I seen the man which was going to referee my fight with Slip Harper in the Amusement Palace Fight Club, Shanghai, I takes a vi'lent dislike to him. His name was Hoolihan, a fighting sailor, same as me, and he was a big red-headed gorilla with hands like hairy hams, and he carried hisself with a swagger which put my teeth on edge. He looked like he thought he was king of the waterfront, and that there is a title I aspires to myself.
     I detests these conceited jackasses. I'm glad that egotism ain't amongst my faults. Nobody'd ever know, from my conversation, that I was the bully of the toughest ship afloat, and the terror of bucko mates from Valparaiso to Singapore. I'm that modest I don't think I'm half as good as I really am.
     But Red Hoolihan got under my hide with his struttings and giving instructions in that fog-horn beller of his'n. And when he discovered that Slip Harper was a old shipmate of his'n, his actions growed unbearable. He made this discovery in the third round, whilst counting over Harper, who hadst stopped one of my man-killing left hooks with his chin.
     "Seven! Eight! Nine!" said Hoolihan, and then he stopped counting and said: "By golly, ain't you the Johnny Harper that used to be bos'n aboard the old Saigon?"
     "Yuh - yeah!" goggled Harper, groggily, getting his legs under him, whilst the crowd went hysterical.
     "What's eatin' you, Hoolihan?" I roared indignantly. "G'wan countin'!"
     He gives me a baleful glare.
     "I'm refereein' this mill," he said. "You tend to your part of it. By golly, Johnny, I ain't seen you since I broke jail in Calcutta - "
     But Johnny was up at last, and trying to keep me from taking him apart, which all that prevented me was the gong.
     Hoolihan helped Harper to his corner, and they kept up an animated conversation till the next round started - or rather Hoolihan did. Harper wasn't in much condition to enjoy conversation, having left three molars embedded in my right glove.
     Whilst we was whanging away at each other during the fourth, I was aware of Hoolihan's voice.
     "Stand up to him, Johnny," he said. "I'll see that you get a square deal. G'wan, sink in your left. That right to the guts didn't hurt us none. Pay no attention to them body blows. He's bound to weaken soon."
     Enraged beyond control, I turned on him and said, "Look here, you red-headed baboon, are you a referee or a second?"
     I dunno what retort he was fixing to make, because just then Harper takes advantage of my abstraction to slam me behind the ear with all he had. Maddened by this perfidy, I turned and sunk my left to the hilt in his midriff, whereupon he turned a beautiful pea-green.
     "Tie into him, Johnny," urged Hoolihan.
     "Shut up, Red," gurgled Harper, trying to clinch. "You're makin' him mad, and he's takin' it out on me!"
     "Well, we can take it," begun Hoolihan, but at that moment I tagged Harper on the ear with a meat-cleaver right, and he done a nose-dive, to Hoolihan's extreme disgust.
     "One!" he hollered, waving his arm like a jib-boom. "Two! Three! Get up, Johnny. This baboon can't fight."
     "Maybe he can't," said Johnny, dizzily, squinting up from the canvas, with his hair full of resin, "but if he hits me again like he just done, I'll be a candidate for a harp. And I hate music. You can count all night if you want to, Red, but as far as I'm concerned, the party's over!"
     Hoolihan give a snort of disgust, and grabbed my right arm and raised it and hollered:
     "Ladies and gents, it is with the deepest regret that I announce this bone-headed gorilla as the winner!"
     With a beller of wrath, I jerked my arm away from him and hung a clout on his proboscis that knocked him headfirst through the ropes. Before I couldst dive out on top of him, as was my firm intention, I was seized from behind by ten special policemen - rough-houses is so common in the Amusement Palace that the promoter is always prepared.
     Whilst I was being interfered with by these misguided idjits, Hoolihan riz from amongst the ruins of the benches and customers, and tried to crawl back into the ring, bellering like a bull and spurting blood all over everything. But a large number of people fell on him with piercing yells and dragged him back and set on him.
     Meanwhile forty or fifty friends of the promoter hadst come to the rescue of the ten cops, and eventually I found myself back in my dressingroom without having been able to glut my righteous wrath on Red Hoolihan's huge carcass. He'd been carried out through one door whilst
several dozen men was hauling me through another. It's a good thing for them that I'd left my white bulldog Mike aboard the Sea Girl.
     I was so blind mad I couldn't hardly get my clothes on, and by the time I hadst finished I was alone in the building. Gnashing my teeth slightly, I prepared to sally forth and find Red Hoolihan. Shanghai was too small for both of us.

Oxygen deprivation, aching diaphram, a veritable fit of the giggles, truly no jury in the country would fail to find Mark Finn particularly guilty of seven counts of aggravated hilarity. I think that must be the reason I haven't read them all: I'm just not built to endure that kind of belligerent farcical joviality for long, so I tend to only read them one at a time. But it wasn't all conviviality: Chris also talked about the stone-cold sober "The Iron Man," reading an excerpt, while Jeff was on hand to add some remarks on historical boxers and whatnot. Afterwards was a Q&A, and while I resisted querying why Mark & Chris didn't just have an exhibition with Jeff the Ref, I think it came up all the same. Maybe next year, eh chaps?

Following that we drove to the Pavillion, to prepare for the informal Poetry Throwdown. Normally Indy starts proceedings with a reading of "Cimmeria," but he was late this year, and requested that Barbara take over: however, Barbara asked if I would like to do so, what with me doing "80 Years of Conan" and all. I was absolutely delighted and honoured, and I may have gotten a bit carried away towards the end with my raised voice, but I had a great time. Chris Gruber requested that I recite "The Rover" (for obvious reasons, given that the poem is about a Scottish Highlander), and I happily obliged. Barbara, as ever, recited "The Ride of Falume" (one of my favourites, too), Tim Arney once again regaled us with "A Hairy Chested Idealist Sings," while Derek, Aurelia, Chris, Rusty and Chuck also contributed.

Then we moseyed back to the Pavillion itself, and we chatted again into the wee hours of the morning - but not too far, because we still had another day to go.


  1. Hero of the Federation9 June 2012 at 10:15

    See you on the bounce......

  2. Thanks for these posts, Al. Great reading for those of us who couldn't be there. Did you take any pictures?

    1. Thanks, J/R! I did take pictures, which I'll put up when I've recovered from the return home. Hopefully less than a week!

  3. Al, you and I are pals now. I've got your back.