This article is a continuation from last week’s About Town. Read Part 1 here.
A man walks through the aisle with a cardboard box and plops it down on the front desk. He shifts through items in a box, auctioning them off to the highest bidder. The shift from a science fiction meeting to an auction of kick-knacks wakes up the sleepy audience and causes members to straighten their backs in their seats.
"Ladies and gentlemen, it's a bag, it's red, it says: 'heroin addict'? It says 'heroin addict.'"
The audience breaks into a bout of laughter.
"Ladies and gentlemen, who wants to be seen in public with a plastic bag that says 'heroin addict' in gothic font? This is for you."
Someone offers a quarter.
There are no other bids, and it’s sold to a man named David, who seemed to purchase the bag out of irony.
I’m not in the back alley of a broken down motel. The people in this room don’t need drugs; they're fueled off creative energy. I'm sitting in the back of the clubhouse owned by Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society (LASFS). It's Thursday night, and the weekly meeting started at 8 p.m. My science fiction resume is sparse: I've read all the Harry Potter books, and I can grasp almost any Star Wars reference (And a popular franchise movie was filmed at my alma mater). In my adult years, I've become engrossed with realistic fiction, or stories that pretend to be about made-up people and situations, but are usually based on the author's own personal experiences. Science fiction is for children, or so the public school system taught me. The books we were required to read (1984, Brave New World) involved some social commentary threaded into a good story. If it didn’t involve a dystopian America, it wasn’t required reading. But, after reading countless stories on broken relationships and rough childhoods, I wonder if my literature consumption needs to be reconsidered.
The LASFS (pronounced Lass-fass) clubhouse is a safe haven for fantasy. Members aren't particularly interested in the real world, and it's a pleasant change. A brief history: the society was created from a 1934 local group from the Science Fiction League that Wonder Stories editor Hugo Gernsback established for science fiction fans across America. After members of the league lost interest and it showed signs of disappearing, Los Angeles member Forrest J. Ackerman inspired local fans to attend meetings, and eventually formed a new group in 1940. Ray Bradbury and other notable writers joined LASFS, like Arthur C. Clarke and even pulp fiction author and Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard. In 1973, the society purchased a house on Ventura Boulevard in Studio City, but abandoned it in 1977 for the current clubhouse that they own in North Hollywood.
I page through the weekly publication, a collection of writing that features comments from the previous meeting. Len Moffatt, an avid science fiction fan and member of LASFS since 1946, is mentioned on a few of the pages of the journal. A passage by John Dechancie reads:
"Went to the Len Moffatt Memorial. Lots of fond remembrances, lots of food. I looked for Len, but he must not have heard of the event. Karl Lembke said he can tender his resignation from LASFS anytime if he shows up in person. Len, we’ll take your resignation anytime. Provided you rejoin immediately."
LASFS held a memorial service for Moffatt on Jan. 22. During the meeting, a few members talked about their memories of the late member and his impact on the society. It's clear that once you're a member, you have a second family. To become an official member involves attending more than three meetings. Once you've attended more than three, you’ll be asked to fill out an application and pay a small fee. As a guest, I can bid in an auction and make comments, but I can't check out books from the library or vote.
The auction, which included a Shrek 2 watch, jewelry, and old Joker comics, is over. A book by Nancy McPhee, The Complete Books of Insults, sold at $6. Most of the other items sold for less than one dollar. A young blonde woman enters the room with a man. They are accompanied by Michelle, the registrar. They appear slightly confused and begin filing out guest cards. They are introduced as siblings, drawn to the meeting after they read about the society online.
"We are your people!" President Arlene Satin says.
Apparently not. They leave after standing against the wall for 20 minutes.
The members have begun to talk again, giving reviews on pop culture. Finally, I hear a reference that is familiar; a man is talking about The King’s Speech. There is a collective "ooh" when he mentions the title. Though it is far from science fiction, the member recommends it.
"Geoffrey Rush did not go 'argh' or 'matey' at any point in the film," he says.
Another member, who formally had speech problems, joins the conversation. He talks about how it was easy to understand the character if you once stammered. Next, a member talks about the 2009 Sherlock Holmes film.
"The story wasn't as nearly as objectionable to a true follower of the canon as I thought it would be," he says.
"Anyone read a book?" Satin asks.
"I'm re-reading a book, a book from the 60s. When it came out in the 60s, it was a huge, big, hairy, deal. An Illustrated History of the Horror Film by Carlos Clarens," says a member.
Another member mentions a zombie apolocalyse book.
The meeting is coming to an end. A few members will go on to Coral Café in Burbank to have a late dinner and continue their laborious discussions. I walk through the front half of the clubhouse once again, examining the posters and notes hanging on the walls in the lounge area. A Geek Hierarchy chart and a Geek Dating Flowchart hang above the worn-in couch. A wall in the kitchen displays an intricate Integrated Space Plan. I don’t completely understand this world yet, but I still have two more chances to attend their meetings before I have to pay my dues.