Joe Haldeman and Joe Lansdale told a few good stories ot the Campfire Stories panel, which took place on Saturday night in a darkened room. The four panelists were seated around a beautiful fake campfire. Joe Lansdale had entertained us Austin fans with his storytelling before at Nebula awards. The point of his Toastmaster's speech was how Texas is so weird it can't help but churn out great numbers of science fiction writers. He illustrated it with a story about the time an epileptic woman visited his house. It can be found in my article on Nebula wards ceremony. He recalled it here at the Campfire panel, as well as other incidents from his life. He shed some light on his family background, which kind of explained how he acquired all that colorful life experience. :-) Joe Haldeman was not to be outdone. I'll post only one of his stories here, as the other might contain a bit too many controversial details. ;-)
One day Joe Haldeman was riding his bicycle home from a grocery store in his neighborhood in Florida. (I did not quite understand whether his neighborhood was in a "good" or "bad" part of town.) In these most mundane of circumstances (oh, and yay Joe for using a non-polluting form of transportation!) he got shot by a man in a passing car. The car sped away. The shot wounded him in the butt, but the wound wasn't very serious. He managed to bike home, then had his wife take him to the emergency room. The X-ray showed constellations of old schrapnel wounds. The X-ray technicians asked Haldeman: dude, which one is new? They couldn't tell, and neither could he. Thinking the wound wasn't serious, he declined surgery. He was afraid of surgeons more than of getting shot. The ER professionals replied: "dude, you don't know where that bullet is now! It went into your butt, by this time it can be in your brain!"
Once they figured out which of the multiple wounds showing up on the X-ray was the new one -- it looked round from several different angles -- the surgeon agreed it was better not to operate, since he would have to cut so deep into the flesh it would cause more harm than good. "But if you leave the bullet alone..." he gestured to the X-ray: "what's one more spot to a leopard?"
Joe Lansdale's first experience with violence happened when he was 5. He had a little dog with who he bonded very deeply; they were like brothers, going everywhere together, and eating out of each other's dishes. A neighbor once saw Joe's dog digging in his flower bed, so he whacked the dog in the head with a pipe, grabbed him by hind legs and tossed him in a ditch -- all that while Joe was watching. Devastated, the boy went home and told his mother, who then went out, found a phone (they didn't have one at home) and called Joe's father. The father came home and headed straight to the neighbor's house. When the neighbor answered a knock on the door, Joe's father said nothing, just hit the guy really hard in the face. When the guy collapsed, the father took him by the ankles and swung him across the flower bed until the flower bed was completely flat. Then he tossed the guy in the ditch. His method of revenge was ironic, Joe said, because Joe had not told him that this was exactly what the guy did to the dog.
Surprisingly, the dog survived and lived until Joe was 17 years old. The neighbor survived too, but moved shortly afterwards. Back then people weren't so eager to sue as they are now, Joe said -- in fact, the neighbor would have been mortified to let the public know he had the hell beaten out of him. So he moved.
Joe Lansdale talked at length about his father, adding details that puts this story in context. His father was a carnival wrestler and boxer. He could bend coins with his bare hands. He could squeeze an apple with his hand to a pulp. People who tried to take advantage of him did not try to do it twice. One time, when he worked as an automechanic, a guy tried to take his car back without paying for the work; Joe's father knocked the guy out so badly, the guy forgot he had a car to begin with. Joe told of a few more episodes of his father solving conflicts with his fists, scaring poor Joe to death, and making even the local cops fear him. The only person he was scared of was Joe's mother.
After Haldeman and Lansdale spun their yarn, there was a moment of silence, until Bill Crider said: "I once stepped on a gum." He and Scott Cupp seemed a little embarrassed they did not have anything to top Haldeman's and Lansdale's tall tales.