Dr. Fandom Investigates
by Ted White
The Story Behind The Headlines:
In APAK #79, a headline reads, "Disclave S&M Massacree?" Andy gives a brief précis of the events, as they were made known On The Net immediately thereafter the 1997 Disclave. But so much is missing . . . .
I myself put in only about twenty minutes at that Disclave. I was making the rounds that Saturday. At about 3 p.m. I was in Fairfax City, attending the (delayed by almost a year) wedding reception of my former band's bassist, Data Dave Chandler. Dave is a huge bear of a man with a full black beard and twinkling eyes. At his day gig he's a computer specialist. His mom's back yard was full of people, only a few of whom I knew, but I spent an hour there before moving on.
I arrived at the Disclave hotel (a Ramada Inn in New Carollton, Maryland) a little before 5 p.m. This hotel has hosted many Disclaves over the past couple of decades, and has changed ownership several times during that period. Time has not been kind to the never-too-well designed facilities. "Run-down" is a common description of the place.
I was there to find and pick up rich brown, who had told me the previous Saturday that he expected to go to Disclave for at least a look around. We play cards every Saturday night (with Ben Zuhl -- we need a fourth!) and I anticipated finding rich, going out for dinner some place with him, and arriving back at my house at about 8, for cards. So I prowled Disclave. The bar was empty -- not a single fan in it! A bad sign. I stuck my head in the program rooms, but rich wasn't in any of the audiences. I circumnavigated the pool area (ringed by poolside rooms, once, years ago, afternoon party hangouts for various fans). Finally I crossed the driveway and descended into the "DisCave," a basement space under the parking garage, divided into "the con suite" & registration area, and the huckster room. I ran into Bob Madle there, sitting behind a table crammed with old sf books and magazines (unlike the jewelry and crafts at most of the other tables). I greeted the 1957 TAFF winner and asked him if he'd seen rich.
"Gee, no," Bob said, musingly. "Doesn't he live in California?"
"Not for a while now," I said.
At that point I found a pay phone and tried rich's home number. He answered promptly.
"What are you doing there?" I asked accusingly.
"I told you I wasn't going," rich replied. I sighed.
And then I left, mildly annoyed about the waste of time and regretful about the missed dinner out (rich had already eaten, anyway), and went home. So much for my Disclave.
Tuesday, back at work after Memorial Day, I started getting e-mail about The Flood at Disclave. I paid little attention to it until Wednesday night, at my writers' group, The Vicious Circle, when Lelia Loban brought it up. She had the straight scoop, having been rousted from bed some time before dawn to evacuate the hotel.
In his brief news report Andy refers to "an impromptu S&M dungeon;" Lelia referred to the trouble-makers as "Goths," one of whom she knew slightly.
What has happened is that a separate group of people (on the outer fringes of fandom, if they're even that closely connected) has attached itself, parasitically, to Disclave. They are known as the Alt.sex.bondage people, and they dress in studded leather. To some extent they blend in with the hall-costumers, but their presence and visibility has steadily grown over the past ten or twelve years until they now constitute a sort of sub-convention of their own.
Two years ago they took over the better part of one of the Disclave hotel's floors. (This was a different hotel, in downtown D.C. Disclave was asked not to return the following year.) You had to sign a disclaimer sheet before entering the hallway to their section. They had more than a half-dozen rooms in this section, doors all open. In two adjoining rooms naked people with their backs to the doors were placed with their wrists tied to a high cord, and subjected to (when I was there) a half-hearted "whipping" that seemed to cause no real pain. The Ms were physically unattractive. In another room an obese woman lay face down on a bed, while two people listlessly slapped her buttocks -- a sprawling mass of jello, between which they sometimes groped for inexplicable reasons. I did not linger on that tour.
Last year, if they were present they were far less visible. There was a growing concern about their presence at Disclaves among those putting the convention on that year.
This year they Went Too Far. Fortunately for Disclave, the person (apparently a New York City cop!) in whose room the flooding occurred was not a registered member of Disclave. This improved Disclave's position with the hotel considerably. Apparently when they looked for attachments in the room to which to tie their Ms, they used a ceiling fire sprinkler head. The resultant flooding -- which began on the fourth floor -- caused significant damage, not only to the rooms directly beneath, but to elevators and Disclave's "green room." (But not the "con suite," which was located under the parking garage. It suffered its own leaks during a Sunday afternoon thunderstorm . . . .) Hotel guests were evacuated to the parking lot, and some guests had to be relocated to dry rooms subsequently. Lelia told us that since the elevators were out, once she could return to her room she had to use the stairs.
The real question is whether this will end the "Goths"' parasitic relationship with Disclave. There has been a lot of discussion among Disclave people about the feasibility of this separation: how do you stop someone from showing up at your con hotel the weekend of the con and holding their own, separate, events? What legal recourse is there? What tactical recourse is there?
Only time will tell.
Feeling that I had not exhaustively covered the above topic yet, I went to the WSFA meeting of June 6th and asked questions. Here's what I found out:
The a.s.b people had blocked off the entire fourth floor, with Disclave's cooperation. But the room in which the flooding occurred was not a "public" room in which displays were being conducted for viewing and/or participation. It was a "private" room to which two people had gone for a private session, during which the sprinkler head was broken.
The "Goths" (in studded leather) are a somewhat separate group from the a.s.b people (who apparently aren't into costuming) although there may be some overlap.
A sampling of opinion at WSFA (host to the Disclave) revealed no real hostility toward the a.s.b people, but more of a live and let live attitude; the a.s.b parasitic convention, piggybacked to Disclave, is not generally viewed as A Problem, although a past Disclave chairman did see it that way. There was more concern over WSFA's legal position concerning the flooding, since this caused Significant Damage. WSFA's current president, John Pomeranz, is an attorney however, and he spoke with guarded optimism.
The incident was the talk of WSFA, but more because many had been rousted to the hotel parking lot soon after going to bed, than because of the specific cause -- although there was some snickering about the woman seen running, naked, from the flooded room, still trailing a string of beads from a portion of her anatomy.
Your Reporter has No Personal Opinions about this incident, having personally experienced none of it.
So this is the Final Issue. I was surprised by the suddenness of the announcement, but there is hardly any other way to end a successful run of a good fanzine than suddenly.
I'm on the other side of the fence now, and now I know how it must have felt to others when Dan and I folded PONG (with, interestingly, issue #40 -- half the number this fanzine has seen). We knew about it several months in advance, having planned it, but kept it to ourselves. It's better to end a fanzine decisively than to let it trail off into limbo, further issues still planned but never published -- especially a small, frequent, life-line kind of fanzine.
I've come to expect and depend on this fanzine, and I've welcomed every issue since the first. But fandom is Just a Ghoddamned Hobby, and we can't expect small, frequent, life-line-type fanzines to go on forever . . . unfortunately.
So, a tip o' the hat to Andy, Victor & carl. They done good.
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