« Reminiscence »
e had a thick shock of hair as white as new-fallen snow, a jaw that Bob Kane would love to have drawn on the Batman (and frequently did), and a gravelly voice that sounded like a wire-haired terrier being combed against the grain.
He was my friend, the legendary Lou Tabakow, founder of First Fandom and God Emperor of CFG (Cincinnati Fantasy Group), and I'd like to tell you a little about him.
We knew him before we moved to Cincinnati back in 1976. You couldn't be in fandom and not know Lou, because he was just about the friendliest and most accessible fan in the world. He made sure that CFG always had a round-the-clock hospitality suite at Worldcons (a practice his successor, Bill Cavin, has continued), and sooner or later just about every member of the con would wander through the suite and run into Lou.
We moved because we had purchased a huge boarding and grooming kennel. It closed at one in the afternoon on Tuesdays, and Lou took it upon himself to make sure we became acquainted with our new town -- so every Tuesday at noon, he'd pull up in his station wagon and wait for us to close up shop so he could give us that day's tour. (After awhile he got tired of sitting in the lobby, and most Tuesdays ended with Lou feeding dogs and cleaning runs so we could leave at one sharp.)
Now, a tour with Lou wasn't like a tour with anyone else. First of all, Lou loved to eat, but he hated meals -- so we'd stop about every 60 to 90 minutes for coffee and maybe a piece of pie. Second, the word "upscale" was lost on Lou; his food of choice was whatever he could find at the nearest White Castle. Third, Lou had what at best be termed a quirky sense of direction.
How quirky? Well, I remember that once we were driving to Detroit for a convention, with Lou at the wheel. Detroit is four hours north of Cincinnati. Indianapolis is two hours west. Somehow, when we pulled into the Marriot five hours after we started, it was the Indianapolis Marriott.
Lou founded Octocon. Seems there was a funeral for a fan up north of Cincinnati, and everyone had such a good time at the funeral that Lou decided they should do it every year. So he found a hotel in Sandusky that had a swimming pool, a bowling alley, and exceptionally bad food -- three of his absolute musts for anyone living the Tabakow version of the Good Life -- and it became an annual event. Sandusky is a five-hour drive from Cincinnati. We didn't know that the first two years we went, because Lou drove us, and we mentioned to Margaret Keiffer that we had no idea Sandusky was eleven hours away. (Well, eight hours, plus five stops for coffee-and.) Margaret remarked that she did it in five without breaking any speed limits, but that someone else found a new route that could shave an hour off that time. So the third year I drove, and sure enough she was right.
I think CFG members went to more conventions when Lou was around. He wouldn't permit them not to. He loved conventions, and he loved company, and he would do whatever it took to get people to go.
Once, when a girl remarked that she wanted to go but couldn't afford a room, Lou made a proposition to her: a single room cost $32, and a double was $36. He was going regardless, so if she'd put up the $4 difference he'd order a double and give her a ride. (And no, if you're thinking this was a sexual come-on, you didn't know Lou; he was too busy partying to have time for sex at a convention.)
Another time, Carol and I were still showing collies, and we told Lou we couldn't go to a Marcon in Columbus because we were going to be in a dog show in the same town that day. So he badgered the hotel until they agreed to let us keep the collies in the room with us and give us a convention rate. Then, when the show was over and we arrived at the hotel, he hunted up Sid Altus and a bunch of other fans and had them walk our dogs every couple of hours so that we'd have time to party.
Lou loved banquets. Lord knows why, because all he ate was dessert and coffee, but he'd travel just about anywhere to attend a con that had a banquet. That's probably why Midwestcon's only official function is the banquet. In our 50 years of existence we've never had a Guest of Honor or a program -- but we always have a banquet.
He also loved gambling. I used to go crazy trying to get him to see the beauty that I saw in horse-racing. Never did. To me it was Seattle Slew versus Affirmed, locked in a classic head-and-head struggle, two superb athletes giving their all; to him it was the 2-horse and the 5-horse, and all he cared about was the odds.
He had a system for beating blackjack. He would deal out 10,000 hands, maybe 12,000, and when he knew he'd gotten all the bugs out of the system, he'd take a wad of cash to Las Vegas, prepared to break the bank.
I don't think he ever won. It was the damnedest system -- it only worked in his living room in Ohio. In any state that allowed gambling, it was a dud. He could never figure out why.
He did a lot better playing pinochle with his cronies at the local bowling alley, which was where you could find him any afternoon (unless he was at the track).
He lived for fandom. Every night he'd sit at his desk and get all his First Fandom business and CFG business up to date. Then, about one in the morning, he'd phone me -- I was the only other CFG member he knew would be awake, since I write far into the night -- and ask if I wanted to meet him for coffee. I'd finish the page I was writing, hop in the car, and meet him at one of the half-dozen all-night eateries that existed between our two houses. We'd talk for a couple of hours, load up on coffee (and Lou would have a piece of pie; I don't know why he never gained weight), and then go our separate ways.
One night he mentioned that he had a neat idea for a cute science fiction story. Ordinarily I wouldn't have taken much interest, but he was a friend, and more to the point, he'd sold some stories before.
(In fact, he won the 1955 Hugo for the "best unpublished story" of 1954. The story was "Sven", which made the cover of Other Worlds but was bumped when Isaac Asimov walked into Bea Mahaffey's office and offered to write a story while she waited. The magazine soon died, and "Sven" was never published. The "Hugo" was an Oldsmobile hood ornament.)
Anyway, the story had a cute gimmick, but I couldn't see any way to get more than a thousand words out of it without padding -- and then it occurred to me that we could do a lot of stories like that if we got a continuing character, something like Ferdinand Feghoot but without puns. I suggested the name "Isaac Intrepid", Lou wrote a letter to Isaac Asimov requesting permission (Lou was one of the last people to still call him "Ike"), Isaac consented, and we sat down and ground out nine 600-worders in the next week or two, all based on science fiction premises. (Like, for instance, what happens if you travel into the past and shoot your father before you were born? Nothing -- if your mother was unfaithful. That kind of thing.)
We started sending them to Stan Schmidt one at a time, and he bought four of them for Analog and Lou was back in print after a quarter of a century. (After his death, I sold all nine -- four reprints plus the five Stan hadn't wanted -- to another magazine, and surprised the hell out of Lou's granddaughter by sending her a check for half the money.)
Carol made a number of Worldcon masquerade costumes for us in the 1970s, and Lou, who was soon spending almost as much time at our house as his own, caught the costuming bug. So Joan Bledig, who was practically a member of our family, drove out from Chicago to visit, and decided to collaborate with Lou on a costume for the 1977 Worldcon. It was a very funny, very faanish costume (as befitted Lou) entitled "TAFF and DUFF, Two Visitors From the Planet FIAWOL", and it won awards for Best Presentation and Best Alien. Lou bragged about that for the next couple of years. He also realized he might lose the next time he wore a costume, so he decided to retire undefeated.
Besides, costumes were just a sidelight. Lou loved fans, and he spent his conventions in three locations: an easy chair in the hotel lobby, where he could spot every friend who entered; a chair in the CFG suite, where he could party all night; and a booth in whatever coffee shop was handy.
I still have so many memories of him. For example:
The Christmas Day he couldn't find any fans who were willing to leave their families to visit with him. He wound up treating Carol and me to dinner and taking us bowling in the middle of a blizzard.
We had a three-acre pond behind our house. A deep pond. When Carol didn't want to be bothered by the kennel staff (which at one point numbered 21 young women who could swear like sailors) she would take a rowboat and go into the middle of the pond where no one could bother her. One day I took Lou out in the rowboat. He remarked he hadn't been swimming for a couple of months, and he missed it. Next thing I knew he'd jumped overboard and, surrounded by ducks and geese and a turtle or two, field-tested the swim-worthiness of the pond for us.
The night that a nice, mindless summer entertainment called Star Wars opened, Lou somehow got free passes for every member of CFG, then did it again for Alien.
I remember that Lou practically owned the coffee shop at the Fontainbleu Hotel, home of the 1977 Worldcon. I kept count on one day, a Saturday: he had coffee and pie with 15 different groups of friends.
I can still recall every detail of a meal Carol and I had with Lou at the 1978 Worldcon. Lou had heard of this very nice rooftop restaurant. (We assumed he meant "penthouse"; nope, he meant "rooftop".) We got there, took an elevator to the roof, and stepped out into the rays of the late afternoon sun, which was more than hot enough to turn the tar on the roof into wet black goo. Lou and I immediately took off our jackets and ties. By the time the salads arrived, Lou had unbuttoned his shirt; it was gone before we hit the main course. Then, as the sun continued to beat down on us while we waited for dessert, stately, dignified, white-haired Legendary Lou looked around, saw that all the other diners except Carol were males, announced that Carol was officially a Tabakow and hence beyond embarrassment at what came next, and proceeded to remove his pants, finishing the meal in his shorts. He was unquestionably the most comfortable diner there.
And I remember the day he got his death sentence. He'd been slurring his speech a bit and had developed a slight limp. It looked like a tiny stroke, and he went in to find out what could be done about it. After a series of tests, they laid it on him -- he had ALS. Lou Gehrig's Disease.
No one ever took it better. He knew he only had perhaps a year to function (and possibly a lot longer to live, which is the absolute horror of ALS, for the mind remains clear as a bell while the body loses all power), so he increased his fannish activities. He went to more cons, more parties, and I began getting an invitation to coffee at one o'clock just about every night. When he was no longer capable of driving, I'd pick him up and take him out to one of his favorite all-night restaurants.
His last con was the 1980 Worldcon, in Boston. He'd finally given in to the inevitable and started using a cane that Ray Beam had brought for him. He was given the First Fandom Hall of Fame Award, and he partied later into each night than usual, as if he knew this was his last hurrah.
And then, with striking suddenness, he was gone. First to the general hospital for a tracheotomy to help him breathe, then another surgery that inserted a feeding tube when he could no longer eat, then off to a home where he spent his final days growing more and more feeble physically while remaining mentally alert as ever, and then, mercifully, it was over.
I still miss him. Not a day goes by that Carol and I don't think of him.
I tell people -- and it's true -- that if he had been alive these past 18 years, dragging me away from the keyboard for coffee four and five nights a week, I'd probably have produced a dozen less books.
You want to know something?
I'd rather have had Lou than the books.