Chapter 2: FIRST CONTACT
Glass and marble were everywhere. Fountains and cascades flowed in orderly
fashion over the centrepiece of a vast chamber fully fifty feet from floor to
ceiling, around which milled large numbers of stern-faced people in strange
attire. This being Los Angeles it would have been easy to believe we'd stumbled
onto the set of some strange new fantasy film, but this was in fact merely the
reception area for the main convention hotel of L.A.CON II, the 1984 Worldcon.
On checking in, I had my particulars entered on a computer, an imprint of my
credit card left on a dummy bill (despite all my protestations that I'd be
paying in cash), and an individual card key punched out for me -- the electronic
combination of the lock on my room's door being altered automatically as the key
was being made. It was all very impressive. As I left the desk, with my trusty
native-bearer, Lucy Huntzinger, struggling under the weight of the baggage I'd
smiled and assured the pretty receptionist we could manage on our own so she
needn't trouble herself with calling a porter, I reflected on how technological
accomplishments that would have been cause for wonderment to earlier generations
of SF fans were now commonplace. The future had arrived, I decided, and all that
was missing were the rocket back-packs. With appropriate synchronicity someone
dressed as the title character from Dave Stevens' ROCKETEER comic-book chose
that moment to walk by, dummy rocket-pack strapped firmly to his back. I sighed
contentedly and told Lucy to hurry up.
At the lifts (or elevators -- I had to get into the habit of speaking
American) we ran into a thin, dark-haired girl who looked about 17 years old but
turned out to be 26. Lucy introduced her as Stacy Scott, wife of Rich Coad, and
I was pleased to make her acquaintance, particularly as I'd be staying with her
and Rich when I visited San Francisco. Stacy explained that Rich would be
arriving the next day, and decided to help us with the luggage. Not that there
was any great urgency about this, as it turned out. We seemed to wait days for a
lift -- though it was probably no more than a few hours -- and such long waits
were to be one of the hallmarks of the weekend.
If you're one of those who feel that by flying from one coast to the other,
as I'd done, it's not possible to gain a true impression of the sheer size of
the US, then you are mistaken. Struggling down those endless hotel corridors
with a fully-overloaded suitcase and watching them vanish over the distant
horizon with my room still nowhere to be seen, I soon began to appreciate how
easy it is to be awed by the vastness of America without ever leaving the
confines of the Anaheim Hilton and Towers. On finally reaching the room. I
collapsed over my suitcase, blowing softly at the livid serrations on my fingers
and thanking the gods that I wouldn't have to carry the case all that way again
until I checked out. I was wrong. Sliding my wondrous card-key into the slot
above the door handle I was rewarded not by the green light the instructions on
the back of the card had led to expect, but by a red one. Three times the card
was re-inserted, and three times the red light came on. Puzzled, I hammered on
the door only to have an indignant female voice within demand to know what the
hell was going on.
"You're double-booked, Rob", said Lucy, infringing my copyright on
stating the totally obvious.
Dragging the baggage back to the lift, we returned to the reception desk,
received profuse apologies and a new key, travelled up to the plush 14th floor,
found the new room, inserted the new card-key ... and got a red light. Three
times. I was beginning to despair of ever getting a room when, on my fourth
attempt, the green light came on and the door opened. We were in! The first
thing I wanted to do was change out of my sweaty T-shirt, but no sooner had I
dropped my case and collapsed on the bed than the phone rang. It was Allyn
Cadogan, asking for Lucy and inviting us to a party in Marty Cantor's room.
"Hey, Luce," I yelled, "put your clothes back on and get over
The fully-clothed Ms. Huntzinger stuck her tongue out at me and got the
necessary directions from Allyn.
Up to this point everyone I'd encountered I'd either met before (Lucy) or
had little previous knowledge of (Ken Porter and Stacy) but now I'd be meeting a
bunch of people I'd never met before but whom I felt I knew well, having
exchanged letters and fanzines with them. Thus, I approached the party with a
certain amount of trepidation, though as it turned out it was a very enjoyable
In their room, Marty introduced me to wife Robbie, Larry Carmody, Alina Chu,
Lenny Bailes, Ted White and, surprisingly, Chris Atkinson who I'd last seen a
few days earlier and half a world away. With the exception of Chris, these
people had all previously been only words on paper to me, and I studied them
with interest. Ted White was large and bullish, with an incredibly deep voice
that Avedon's devastating impression had prepared me for, an infectious laugh,
and an engaging sense of humour. In short, he was everything I'd imagined he
would be and I took to him immediately. Larry Carmody was quieter than I'd
expected, Alina Chu sharper, and Marty Cantor ... well I don't know what I'd
expected of Marty Cantor, but whatever it was he came as a total surprise. In
print he comes across as somewhat tetchy and obstinate, but in person he's the
very model of courtesy and friendliness. For those of you who remember HILL
STREET BLUES on TV, Marty somewhat resembled, in both appearance and speech,
S.W.A.T. team leader Howard Hunter, only with shoulder-length black hair cut in
a page-boy style. Whenever I encountered him during the course of the weekend,
his teeth were clamped around the stem of an enormous pipe that looked like a
hollowed-out shillelagh, while a shoulder bag containing still more pipes was
never far from his side. It was Robbie Cantor, however, who saved my life. After
fifteen hours of travel I was in dire need of a drink and, noticing the dismay
with which I regarded the few cans of undrinkable American beer lost among the
sea of soft-drink provided for their guests, she produced a can of Canadian beer
for me. As the cold nectar caressed the sides of my parched throat I thought
that, truly, there could be no finer person in the world at that moment than
this veritable Florence Nightingale of fandom.
I circulated, chatting to most of those present before getting into a
lengthy conversation with Ted White who, on learning that I had a new issue of
EPSILON with me, insisted that we go to his room there and then to exchange
fanzines. I'd intended handing EPSILON out the next day, but who was I to argue
with such unexpected enthusiasm? On the way we picked up Malcolm Edwards and,
once in his room, Ted showed us a thick folder containing his correspondence
with Richard Bergeron over the latter's allegations concerning the TAFF race I'd
won. Since Bergeron had become something of a figure of fun in British fandom by
this point, both Malcolm and I gave the letters no more than a cursory glance.
D.West had written me a rather amusing letter about this affair shortly before I
left, so I showed a copy to Ted. It read, in part:
"I don't know what you're making of all this folderol of Bergeron's,
but I gather it's setting the American fans in something of a turmoil. Anyway,
as Official TAFF Loser my position is that I have absolutely no complaints about
either the result or any part of the administration, and that I am in no way
responsible for statements, claims, or allegations made by anyone else. In other
words, Bergeron is out there on his own.
Nobody around here seems to be taking it very seriously -- the consensus
being that R.B. is completely bananas -- but I shouldn't think either you or I
can ignore it entirely, since some of the US fans probably will give it
the heavy treatment. Anyway, feel free to point out that I myself (as chief
victim of Avedon's searing attack on dominoes etc., etc.) don't see what all the
fuss is about. (Though I shall expect to see a more favourable verdict on the
game after her victory at MEXICON.)
Must admit, though, I'm curious to see Ted White's response. Snappy
rejoinders, here we come. (I figure not less than six pages. Or is that too
Ted laughed, and handed me a copy of EGOSCAN containing his response.
"Actually, it was eight pages," he chuckled, and I laughed
too. Ah, if only we'd known how matters would develop from there in the months
to come! 'All fandom plunged into war!', as they used to say. Still, all that
lay in the future and in the meantime there was much to enjoy on that
late-August night in Ted's room....
Some years ago, Greg Pickersgill commented on the way fans seem to be drawn
towards certain BNFs no matter where they chose to hang out in a convention
hotel, and as if to prove his contention people began arriving at Ted's room
within minutes of us reaching it. The first to join us was Bob Lichtman. He was
soon followed by Gary Farber, Steve and Elaine Stiles, Jerry Kaufman, Alan
Bostick and, eventually, by Lucy, Stacy, and Allyn. In no time at all, and
totally without planning, we had a pretty damn good room party going. Not
surprisingly, most of the conversation centred on the Bergeron affair but at one
point, or so my notes assure me, I overheard Lucy say of the diminutive Mr
"It's huge and it's pink!"
Gary Farber, Stu Shiffman
Tearing myself away from such merry banter, I left briefly to get copies of
EPSILON ... and made a horrifying discovery in the lift lobby. As I rounded the
corner, I was stopped dead in my tracks by the sight that greeted me. There, in
front of the lift doors, stood a tall, dishevelled, and overweight figure with
untidy hair and greying stubble, whose shirt-tails hung over sagging trousers
and who radiated an air of shambolic seediness. For a moment, reality took on
the shifting and unreal quality it has in a Philip K.Dick novel, and I staggered
back in shock before this vision of unlovliness. I couldn't believe it! What the
hell was Brian Burgess doing in Los Angeles!?!
Back at the room party, I told everyone about my encounter. Most were no
more than mildly amused by the story, but Farber and Kaufman got very excited
indeed and tried to talk me into finding Burgess again and bringing him back to
the room for them.
"The guy's a legend", they explained. "We've been reading
about this mysterious figure for years in reports of conventions and of evenings
at the One Tun, and now ... to have the chance to actually meet him!"
Their faces took on a beatific glow as they savoured the prospect of -- dare
I say it -- touching the shirt-tails of the Blessed Brian while I, faced
with such clear evidence of mental imbalance, took out my notebook and wondered
whether I ought to write "loonies" to remind me of the incident. I
decided instead to jot down a few brief impressions of Farber and Kaufman....
Gary Farber is a short neat person with a short neat beard and Jerry Kaufman
isn't. In fact, Jerry didn't even look like the guy in the photos people had
shown me immediately prior to saying:
"This is Jerry Kaufman."
No, that Jerry Kaufman had had a rakish moustache that gave him a
distinctly devil-may-care appearance, while this one not only didn't have a
moustache but, or so he claimed, had also dyed his hair black.
(Later, when I reached New York, I reported this transformation to a
mortified Patrick Nielsen Hayden.
"Oh no", he said, "he didn't ... he can't have! how
could he have let you see him without a moustache!?! This is terrible! Jerry has
the sort of face that demands a moustache! On behalf of American fandom,
I apologise to you."
I accepted his apology on behalf of British fandom and told him to make sure
it didn't happen again.)
Jerry Kaufman, Suzle
With the time fast aproaching midnight, I was still surprisingly alert and
feeling pretty good, buoyed up on the elation I felt at being in L.A., but
common sense told me that I really had to go to bed if I didn't want to feel
lousy for the rest of the convention. I checked my watch, saw that I'd been
awake 24 hours, and decided to call it a day. (I'd always called 24 hours "a
day" and saw no reason to change the habit of a lifetime.) Back home in
Britain, it was 8am and most of those I worked with would be on their way to
their jobs and another hard day at the office. It was a nice thought to fall
asleep on, a reassuringly familiar note on which to bring to close my first
night in this strange new land....