My Dinners With Art

by Kate Schaefer

We're at Norwescon, twelve or thirteen years ago, and Janet Kramer says, Let's go to Java House and eat rijstaffel. Great idea, says Tom Whitmore, and soon a sizable group has gathered. I am dubious about this proposition; I have never heard of this rijstaffel before, and I don't know about eating a meal made entirely of rice. No, no, no, says Art Widner. There are lots of foods besides rice. It's just that rice is the basis of the meal, and then they bring you other dishes that you eat with the rice, a banquet, a feast, but you don't eat much of any one thing. I haven't had rijstaffel since I was in Indonesia, years ago, says Art, and he tells me an anecdote about the south seas. I am persuaded to go, as are a number of others, and soon we are milling around the hotel lobby trying to divide fans by cars. Let me go get my jacket, says Art, and he goes, and Donya White goes to get her jacket, and Ole Kvern goes to get his jacket, and people come and go, and the group is twelve, no twenty, no fourteen, and someone says, We're leaving now.

The food was wonderful. I think Art ate there the following night, with a smaller, more focused group, and he told me it was like the rijstaffel he'd eaten in its native land. Maybe I felt a little guilty about having left without him, maybe I felt a little envious of his opportunity to enjoy that marvelous food without trying to talk to 15 other people at once. Maybe I missed the stories about the south seas. Art always takes full advantage of such situations; whether a group is large or small, he wants to join in, and enjoy those 15-way conversations about travel and houses and economics and politics and food, good lord, lots about food, and fanzines and occasionally sf, though not very often . . . .

But I could say that about any fan, and I want to say something particular to Art. He wears that t-shirt that says, Jophan Says Pub Your Ish, and I think, Art's Jophan, you know, as much as any fan ever was. I've enjoyed lots of dinners with him since then, and it's a bit perverse that I should choose to focus on one meal that he managed to miss? But then I think of all those fans in the fifties, sixties and seventies who never had the chance to share even one meal with Art, and I know how lucky we've been. This weekend, someone go up and get his jacket for him &emdash; you don't want to miss even one of those stories.