My Personal Wake for
Robert Lynn Asprin
This is for me. This is for Bob. I’m not likely to be there for his French Quarter funeral procession, or anything else more formal.
Robert Lynn Asprin (June 28, 1946 – May 22, 2008) was my friend for more than a quarter of a century. I met Bob in 1979 at a little, now defunct science fiction convention in Virginia Beach, called Sci-Con. My friend, Dinah, and I were standing in line, waiting for a programming room to open.Back then, World Con was the biggest science fiction convention around and Sci-Con was a friendly little convention that was a lot of fun.
There was a really obnoxious guy standing in line behind us, talking loudly with a younger guy who was asking him the words to an Irish folk tune. The obnoxious man stumbled on the words, and then frakked them all up as he smugly sang them back to his line companion. I don’t know what possessed me to turn around and engage them.I was not particularly outgoing in those days…though I wouldn’t say shy. Maybe it was because we were standing in line for so long…maybe I was bored. Maybe he was just getting on my nerves! I interrupted their conversation, loudly sang the correct words in the correct order back at both of them and turned around. Needless to say, the obnoxious guy was Bob Asprin. He tapped me on the shoulder and, irritated, asked me more or less who the hell I was… And that was the beginning of a 29-year friendship.
This was before his halcyon writing days, his semi-famous near-legendary rise to fame with Lynn Abbey and the Thieves World series. It was after the days of Yang the Nauseating in the SCA. He was a medium-sized fish in a smallish pond. “Fingers” Asprin dragged me into my 29-year love-hate affair with filking as well. Dorsai style versions of “ay yi, yi yi, your mother swims after troop ships” and too many others to recount. Add Bob Zentz and Robin Welch to the mix with Bob, and our melodious (cough cough) horizons haphazardly expanded and ebbed, depending on the time of night and the quantity of spirits.
Even then, Bob held court in hotel bars. When the local convention committee asked two of us to get Bob to the airport after a convention was over, we thought they were exaggerating about it being a difficult task that required dedicated people assigned to it. Not so. A group of young men sat figuratively (and some literally) at his feet, drinking in the stories and jokes with which Bob regaled them, raptly traveling with him up the vaudevillian scale to the absurd and hovering there…traveling down into the shanachie depths, and back up a bardic path…a disorienting ride of a routine. Neither audience nor narrator was willing to move back down into the mundane and go home. We had to physically drag him away from his audience and race to the airport. It should go without saying that he missed his plane and had to wait for the next in the airport bar, where he happened to run into a few departing fans. (ba-dah-boom, cymbals crash) We left him there, and apparently he eventually departed the airport.
Then came Thieves World. The Myth Adventures series became wildly popular. Bob’s fan base grew exponentially and became more adoring. To know him was to love him or hate him. There weren’t many in the middle realm, and some occupied both territories at different times. I was writing a lot of music, performing a bit more than routine filking, and through a series of coincidences and an offer of underwriting by a new convention committee chairman, my Thieves World original filks morphed into a slightly more propped “Our Town” style musical, based on the first three Thieves World books. Permissions weren’t hard to get, and if I recall correctly, our material simply claimed copyright to anything not covered by all the many and various Thieves World copyrights.
Bob Asprin was our narrator, Hakiem, and we opened at the historic (antiquated) Chamberlin Hotel at Old Point Comfort. The Chamberlin had a real stage and terrible electrical problems. When we had to use the spotlight, it blew the breakers every minute or so and plunged the entire theater into darkness. Still, the production was good and bad in semi-equal parts, and fraught with all the usual amateur theatre difficulties.
Seeing Bob perform my script as Hakiem, and adding his own additional material seamlessly into the narrative, is happily etched into my brain. I fully intend to bore my grandkids with that tale if I am around long enough to do so.
As Writer/Director, I wound up portraying Illyra, because no one else in our community could reach the notes of her song. I nearly missed my own cue as I was running around backstage. I belatedly discovered that Lynn Abbey had a lovely singing voice, and had I approached her, might have considered doing Illyra (thanks, Bob old friend! I still owe you for that one!). Nevertheless, Lynn was gracious about the production. In fact, was there ever anyone as publicly gracious about her exasperating husband? I can’t think of anyone.
Like some others, mirror friend or foe, I have many more Bob stories. I’m not ready to share them yet…and some probably don’t need to be committed to the cyber world. It wasn’t always easy being one of Bob’s friends, but it was never boring. He was capable of great kindness to others. Certainly he was always that way to my kids and me (though not always so to my prospective beaus…he was like a proverbial Dutch uncle). Yet he was a notorious womanizer as well. I recall a close male friend of his delicately referring to Bob’s many companions as “decorations”. Bob was not always kind to them, carelessly dismissing them at the drop of a hat, or the sound of a “one string Japanese guitar” and off-key voices. I know he often regretted that behavior, and in later years avoided it.
Over the last 29 years, we commiserated over failed marriages, disastrous relationships, and the various exigencies of life in general. Sometimes we didn’t see each other for a couple of years, with only sporadic contact of any sort. But it was one of those friendships where it took only a few minutes to be pals again. He had that gift. Perhaps it was because we could be brutally honest with each other. I recall one such conversation. Me: “I’m not surprised. If I’d been her, I would have kicked your ass out a long time ago. I’m amazed she put up with your crap as long as she did.” His woundedness lasted all of a couple of minutes, and then we had a mock argument wherein I parried his every excuse with an incident worthy of his expulsion from the relationship. We even had a discussion about marriage (as in the two of us) that ended in mutual hilarity. Then we had a toast, “Up the long ladder and down the short rope, to hell with King Billy…”
Rascal, rapscallion, master storyteller, sad sack full of fecal material, you were always my friend. I will miss you, Bob. Damn you for leaving without saying goodbye…isn’t that just like you?
(Shiny1 is sometimes known as Patricia deVarennes, and was known as Patricia Ross in the olde times of this narrative)