I kid around about having grown up being referred to as a Mafia Princess. I’m not, of course, but there have been times when I have to wonder if there may be a bit of larceny in my blood.
Take that time years ago when I went to the Richmond Star Trek convention, with my nerdy Trekker friends. We all piled into my Chrysler Station Wagon Mom Car like a college fraternity trying to break the Guinness world record and drove there from southwest Virginia.
Upon arriving and registering for the convention, my friends outed me as a first timer, aka a Newbie. I learned that it was a standing tradition for Newbies to buy the drinks (aka adult beverages). The news of my humble status spread like proverbial wildfire, and I made a lot of new friends rather quickly. Thankfully, I had packed my credit card.
At the convention’s welcome party, my nerdy Trekker friends and I chatted over drinks (that I paid for) with the con’s very special guest Nichelle Nichols, Star Trek’s awesome Lieutenant Uhura. The woman was gorgeous. She looked every bit as stunning in person as she did on the TV screen.
After the scheduled presentations by convention guest authors and illustrators, we squandered most of our money on Trek memorabilia in the dealer room. We then returned to the ball room to hear Nichelle Nichols speak about what it was like on the set of Star Trek. She also told a brief anecdote about how when she met Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., he changed her mind about quitting the show. During the first season, she was disappointed in how minor her role was. Much of the time all she got to say was, “Hailing frequencies open.” Dr. King was surprised to hear that, and Nichelle was taken aback when he told her, “Don’t you know how important you are?” Dr. King explained that her role as Lieutenant Uhura was unique. Nichelle wasn’t playing a black maid, she was playing a bridge officer, a black woman in a position of authority. He appealed to her not to leave the show, and she bowed to his request. Nichelle ended her talk with an a cappella rendition of “Beyond Antares,” a song she sang in the Star Trek episode “Charlie X.” She received a standing ovation.
But I digress. My fond memories of that con distracted me from my original subject: larceny in my blood.
So like many science fiction conventions at that time, the organizers revealed to the attendees that due to circumstances beyond their control the con was in the red. All the guests, with the exception of Nichelle Nichols (who had already departed) had agreed to be auctioned off to the highest bidder for an hour of one-on-one quality time. One of the guests was the late Frank Kelly Freas, the dean of science fiction artists and illustrators. [His portraits of the Star Trek main characters are in the Smithsonian.] He offered to sketch a caricature of his winning bidder.
My nerdy Trekker friends and I couldn’t believe our ears. We were utterly disappointed. We were completely dismayed. We were totally bummed. We were also practically broke, you see, having spent nearly all our money in the dealer room. No auction bidding for us.
We sighed. We sulked. We wallowed in self-pity.
And then the light bulb flashed on over the head of the Mafia Princess.
ME: That’s it! I’ve got it! How much money do you all have left?
THEM: [In unison.] Why?
ME: Never mind why. Everybody count your money. Do it! Hurry!
There were seven of us. Lucky seven, I hoped. Everyone dug into their pockets and their wallets, counted their money, and reported back to me. Some had more than others. Fortunately, I had used my credit card to pay for the aforementioned drinks so I had a bit more cash left. Our total came to $120.00 or thereabouts.
ME: Great! Okay, people. Here’s the deal. We are going to bid on a guest. We’re pooling our cash and forming a syndicate. Now we should be able to outbid anyone else.
ONE OF THEM: Can we do that?
ME: No one said we couldn’t form a syndicate. Together we’ll blow away the competition.
ONE OF THEM: Are you The Godmother or something?
ME: Very funny. What do you say we bid on Kelly Freas? We’ll all get caricatures of ourselves done.
ONE OF THEM: But there are seven of us. What if he won’t sketch us all?
ME: [Without thinking.] We make him an offer he can’t refuse.
ONE OF THEM: Shoot. She is The Godmother or something.
To cut to the chase, we began bidding on Kelly Freas. When the bid went to $80.00, we decided to risk a jump bid to $120.00. That move stunned the competition and cut off the bidding. We got him! When we met him at the door of the ballroom, I informed him he had been bought by a syndicate and explained the details. He laughed and so did SF author Gordon R. Dickson who was standing beside him with his winning bidder.
Gordy suggested we all go to his room and that way all of us bidders would get two guests for the price of one. For more than twice the allotted one hour’s time, Gordy regaled us with several legendary tales of the golden age of science fiction while we drank his whiskey and Kelly sketched our caricatures, all thanks to the touch of larceny in my blood.
Alas, in spite of all my protestations, The Godmother label stuck. My nerdy Trekker friends thought it suited me.