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I Met My Husband at a BSFS Meeting

by Jul Owings... Originally published 1996 by BSFS in the Balticon 33 BSFan

Science fiction fandom has been very good to me. First, it provided me with a social life after I broke up with my first husband in late 1979. The first Saturday after the big fight, I attended my first BSFS meeting. At that time, the club met in Levering Hall on the campus of Johns Hopkins University. By the end of that October meeting, I had made three friends (Elaine Mandell, who later married Steve Stiles; Bob Lovell and Scott Dennis); and the October party two weeks later brought me a half a dozen more. Particularly fond memories from that party are a discussion with Pat Kelly and Mark Allen of what Jimmy Carter should have been doing with our military hardware and personnel in the Middle East, and listening for the first time to a record of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, which I had just finished reading.

By the time I paid my first dues at the December meeting, I had over a dozen friends in this club of perhaps sixty people, 40 of whom attended any particular meeting. The sudden resignation of Balticon 14's chair, announced at the November meeting, had already gotten me to my first Balticon meeting, where I met Sue Wheeler and was inducted into the con's Berzerker Corps. The people I met at BSFS very quickly brightened my formerly sad life with well-informed discussions of social and political issues, in the midst of work on the con or food and drink at local pubs. Unlike most of the people I had previously known, they are culturally literate and pay attention to current events, each seems to be well informed in at least two subjects of passionate interest that dovetail into science fiction subgenres, and I have never had any trouble getting into an intellectually enjoyable conversation at a BSFS meeting.

By the meeting of January, 1980, I was caught up in the spirit of fun of Baltimore Fandom at that time. People were friendly without being overbearing or so socially adept as to intimidate an old hippie like me. Particularly pleasant to me was the positive response of many fans to my love of petting fur, hair, beards, anything fuzzy and soft. Many of them were similarly sensuous and gladly pet my fur coat and the cotton velvet shirts I wore a lot that year. In January, BSFS had the first vote important to me: a proposal by Kathy Sands to have a clubhouse in the upstairs part of her store, Tales from the White Hart, at 34th and Greenmount Avenue. Because this resolution passed, I met Mark Owings at the meeting of February, 1980, the first one held in our new clubhouse.

Instead of scattering who knows where after the meeting, a dozen people I had seen only at previous meetings hung around to eat and drink. Mark Owings was one of the people I met as I wandered the room sipping a Rolling Rock and holding out a bag of Doritos to anyone who wanted a munch. I stood for a moment, listening as he spoke to two other people whose names I didn't yet remember. He had a glorious strawberry blond beard and was talking about an old movie I'd never heard of but wished I had seen in childhood. He is the sort of person who knows all of the directors, producers, and stars of nearly every American movie except for the non-SF high-budget films which were most of my experience with movies. He ate a few of my Doritos as he talked.

In the dim light of that clubhouse, I noticed velvet lettering on his T-shirt and puzzled over it as I listened to their discussion, when there was a break, I introduced myself, got to pet the velvet letters and said, "Your shirt says, 'Baltimore is for SMOFS.' What's a SMOF?"

Then followed two hours of discussion as a half a dozen of the most experienced fans in the room elaborately defined for me the SECRET MASTER OF FANDOM, who seemed to be both an essential element and a bane of any well run SF con. I got descriptions ranging from the sort of person who works on a lot of cons and loves to talk about it to as many people as will listen, to an egotistic blowhard who pretends to have worked a lot more than reality will attest. Mark told me, "SMOFS are people who brag about being in the middle of a big crisis which they could have prevented had they been thinking about what they were doing. They're called SECRET because they're particularly adept at not telling their fellow committee members things everyone needs to know!"

With this discussion, Mark Owings became one of a dozen people I got to know better as I learned my way around SF fandom. I found that con-runners, literati, movie freaks, Trekkers, fanzine fans, costumers and filkers share a dialect that contains as many acronyms and special terms and special terms as the Federal bureaucracy. At Balticon 14, I entered the masquerade for the first and only time, and was amazed to win first prize in the fantasy division as Sauron the Great, the Dark Lord of Mordor. Yet I was happy and amused upon leaving the stage, to see Mark Owings in a green fake fur loincloth, carrying a primitively carved salad fork, as the Advanced Caveman. After I took off my mask was the first time I got to pet Mark's beard and was favored with his beautiful smile. I really didn't understand how his clever costume hadn't won a prize.

Over the next two years, SF fandom provided the background for a slowly deepening friendship between Mark Owings and me. We had a long and wonderful conversation about religion and social issues at Disclave 1980. We saw each other only at club meetings, cons and parties held by fans until Noreascon II in Boston over Labor Day weekend, 1880, when our friendship became even more close. By Thanksgiving, we spent every weekend together, even when there was no fanac.

Mark moved to Baltimore to live with me at the Yellow Submarine in November of 1981. After getting married at City Hall in Baltimore, we had our wedding reception at Capicon 60, the WSFA relaxacon held in February of 1982.

Many of the high points in nearly fifteen years of our happy marriage have taken place at BSFS, at Balticon or in SF fandom -- which has indeed been good to me.

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