The TransAtlantic Hearing Aid

Second Bit: Vaster than Empires and More Slow

Thursday 28 August 1980, continued

"Copley Plaza Hotel?" said the taxi driver.

"That's right."

"You sure you don't want the Copley Square?"

"No."

"I can wait around if you like, let you check you've got the right place."

"We're fine, thanks. Copley Plaza's the one. My notebook never lies."

The taxi swerved appallingly towards the wrong side of the road... no, of course, the right side of the road. "Here you are. Copley Plaza. Now you see over there, that's the Copley Square, and --" Gibbering, we thrust dollar bills at him and ran for the pavement, inspecting each other for the stigmata of Boston visitors who were inexorably marked down for Copley Square.

Our first reaction to the Copley Plaza was, indeed, to wonder ourselves whether we'd found the right place. "Gorblimey," I breathed as I surveyed the lofty halls dripping with gigantic chandeliers. "I have seen the nineteenth century and it works."

"Art nouveau," explained Hazel, who is an art nouveau fan. "Art nouveau carried to the point of, er, vomit." I deferred to her invariable good taste and kept my mouth shut. Thus, keeping close together, two shabby British fans moved furtively through the vaulted halls, casting sidelong glances at marble, mirrors and gilt; Hazel broke down altogether when confronted with furry, carpeted fire-doors which von Sacher-Masoch would have considered to be very much along the right lines.

Reaching our room somehow, we shut the door on America for a while and set about recuperating from the journey and the pattern of the upstairs carpets. But America came straight back in at the window as I peered at the most surreal hotel-room view I've seen. Why were there two skylines, one on top of the other? After much rubbing of eyes it turned out that next door was the John Hancock building -- hundreds of feet tall, prism-shaped and mirror-surfaced, with a convincing reflection of our hotel in the sheer side facing us. I waved at the reflection and looked long and fruitlessly for the image of a far-off Langford waving back. Was this a little-known side effect of being a British tourist -- not showing up in American mirrors? For a moment I wondered if we still cast shadows. It took a ridiculous time to work out that the Hancock's wall made a 45° angle with the hotel's, and that true to form I was searching for myself in entirely the wrong building.

This might explain my tiny vindictive grin when later informed that Hancock's Erection was gradually sinking in soggy Boston soil. In a way, that disconcerting moment was prophetic; I seemed to spend a good deal of Noreascon looking for fannishness in the wrong place, or maybe looking for the wrong sort of fannishness.

But our first visit to the Sheraton-Boston hotel and the con proper was more encouraging: we found a system of little corridors and lobbies rather than the vast echoing chambers I'd feared, and it was only moderately and selectively crowded, so where we'd dreaded teeming anonymous hordes we were instead besieged with many familiar, repulsive faces of British fandom. It was, of course, only the Thursday night. There was time only to say preliminary helloes and hideously insult Mike Glicksohn (as required by the Unalterable Law) before Graham England decided we needed food and efficiently led us to the toilets. My plane- and New York-shocked faculties still couldn't cope with more than whichever room or hall we actually happened to be in; it was like threading one's way through an ultra-modern Dungeons & Dragons scenario, encountering odd people and odd creatures at intervals through the random labyrinth. The feeling became overpowering when we were suddenly confronted by idiots in contemporary combat rig, carrying lethal-looking carbines. Very science-fictional. Graham did tree impersonations until the menace was out of sight; "The right to bear weapons is the right to be free," I intone, not without nostalgic memories of those unconvincing cardboard-and-tinsel rayguns at home cons. What fun it must be, to get up in the morning and look forward to a whole day of frightening nervous fans.

(I must mention -- before some wretch like Kev Smith does -- that I'm not guiltless in this area. At the second con I ever attended, I wore cheapo sunglasses adapted with LEDs to provide tiny red glowing lights at the centre of each lens. These I would suddenly switch on as I encountered fans in dim corridors; I'm still buying Bob Shaw whiskies to atone for the resulting shock to his nerves... As a means of causing alarm and despondency, this now seems relatively humane.)

Graham's chosen eating-place was The Ground Round, a title which I correctly guessed was another hamburger euphemism. Americans seem coy about referring directly to their supposed national dish; any particularly enigmatic-sounding item on the menu always turns out to be a hamburger variant. I can't remember much about the food (other than that I contrived to avoid the lurking burger, chiefly by ordering chicken), but I do recall the waitress being charmed by our cultured British accents.

"Say something else," she would plead, and we would duly elocute, choosing sentences which properly showed off our vowels (e.g. "How about if you brought the beer?"), and she would quiver as though Graham's vocal chords were plugged directly into her pleasure centres. My own cultured British tones were slightly less prized than his, possibly because they're tainted with a trace of the Welsh, look you, bach.

"I could listen to you all night," the waitress said lingeringly; it seemed by that time that she had.

Infatuated with this success, I went back to the Sheraton and tried my cultured mumble on Terry Hughes, who was more blasé about Brits and merely handed over a pile of TAFF dollars with the cheery comment that he'd been frightfully worried about being mugged whilst carrying this titanic three-figure sum, but now at last he could walk the streets without fear. "Gee, thanks, Terry," I said, mentally counting the streets between me and the Copley Plaza.

We said cultured but increasingly inaudible things to numberless fans, most of whom seemed to the fevered brain to be British. Our very own Paul Kincaid had even insinuated himself into the vast staff of con helpers, this being about as difficult as insinuating oneself off a log: "I wrote the Noreascon press release on British Fandom," he said with the sort of smile Nineteen Eighty-Four's Ministry of Truth hacks must have worn when they'd rewritten a particularly good bit of history. I tracked down a 'Noreascon Press Kit' later, an imposing folder slightly less thick than The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant; there was an interesting sheet about someone called Hugo Gersbach, not written by Paul, and one about me (possibly written by Paul, since it subtly told me I was going to write a TAFF report in no time at all, coff coff), and photos by Jay Kay Klein of the guests of honour Damon Knight, Kate Wilhelm and Bruce Pelz. I know they were by Jay Kay Klein because because they each had a rubber stamp saying so on the back: to discourage the Press from actually using these photos, they'd been stacked while the stamps were wet, giving each GoH an interesting tattoo on the forehead.... However, Paul's Britfandom release was missing and I suppose I'd never know what he wrote about us all. "Since 1975, all fannish activity in the British Isles and points east has been dominated by the colossal figure of Paul Kincaid..."

Some confused while later I was bending double in order to listen to Alyson Abramowitz (who is a member neither of Tall Fandom nor of Loud Fandom) telling me all the fanzines I'd failed to send her over the last several years, when the ground began to tremble. Fans in the crowded lobby gazed this way and that with a wild surmise; some dived under tables for cover as an Unidentified Female Object thundered towards us at transphotic velocity. The impact came, as described at rather too much greater length in Lucifer's Hammer; the resulting shockwave hurled fans to the floor and Alyson into close orbit. Painfully, I dragged my bruised body from the crater at ground zero. "Hello, Joyce," I said.

Joyce Scrivner -- for it was she -- proceeded to welcome us to America with all the vast enthusiasm at her disposal. When one has been welcomed to America by Joyce one feels one has never been welcomed properly to anywhere before, and that one may never survive being welcomed to anywhere again. The greeting hug of a grizzly bear is a feeble and pallid thing compared to Joyce's. Pausing only to introduce me to a bemused AnneLaurie Logan (with whom Joyce believes me to have some dire feud), she promised us the run of all Noreascon's most secret room-parties. The thought of parties this early in the con was, however, too much; exhausted but happy, we staggered off into the night.

July 1981

"Look. How long is this thing going to be?"

"Well... I'm halfway down my eighth page of notes. There are only 55 pages if you don't count the mysterious interleavings marked '26a' and 'Dunno where this fits'. The overall length isn't the problem (since I never wear overalls); it's a matter of Structure."

"If you're going to go on about 'Structuralism and Catastrophe Theory -- Its Relation To The Hugo Results', you can stop this imaginary dialogue right here."

"Fear not: my structural secret is that basically there isn't going to be any. The trouble is that the TAFF experience has changed so much from the old days. Once you could travel to a Worldcon and find it a cosy refuge from the vast tossing sea of mundanity -- a strange exotic island where fannish castaways had adventures as a close-knit band. The pattern of a trip report would emerge more or less naturally from such communal adventuring..."

"How do you know? You weren't there."

"No, but I saw the film. I mean, I read the fanzines. Now Noreascon wasn't exactly a refuge from the vast tossing sea of mundanity; it was a tossing sea in its own right. From time to time you could shout to other lifejacketed fans as they happened to drift nearby; these meetings seemed so random that I felt helpless and at the mercy of the waves. In short, to scrap the watery metaphors before they start gurgling out of the typewriter and across the floor, Noreascon was --"

"You're going to say it!"

"Certainly I'm going to say it."

"But everybody says it. It's already a cliché. Be different! Be orig--"

"Noreascon was too bloody big."

Friday 29 August 1980

One of the decadent joys of holidaying is going out for breakfast; this morning, at a place called Brigham's, Hazel took it upon herself to exert linguistic skills in the matter of fried eggs. "Sunny side up, basted," she said with quiet confidence -- only to be tolerantly informed that these are entirely different things. After the 15-minute lecture (with diagrams) from our helpful waitress, a chastened Hazel decided that her favourite eggs were scrambled ones. Meanwhile I scanned the restaurant for the mighty and famous but only found Barry Malzberg, who walked past moaning faintly and looking less connected with reality than his own characters.

Outside, we admired the US flags flying everywhere: how patriotic. I wondered if they were at half-mast because of the convention; it turned out that flags were flying thus throughout Massachusetts and were supposed to be staying that way until the hostages came back from Iran. (In Washington, I found later, they'd adopted still more brutal sanctions against the Ayatollah by not taking the decorations off the municipal Christmas tree.) A more homely note was struck when we re-entered the Sheraton lobby to learn from Greg Pickersgill that beer in the hotel bars cost five times as much as in shops outside. "I was in this liquor store place," said Greg, "saying 'God this is cheap -- that's bloody cheap,' and the guy at the counter was saying 'How do you live over there?' I wanted to give him my address -- maybe he'd have sent me food parcels..."

At Greg's recommendation I stocked up with something called Michelob, which differed from most US beers in almost having a taste. At $2.85 for six largish bottles, this nearly but not quite had me wailing "How do I live over there?" (The last straw was the revelation that this was no cheap and nasty thirst-quencher, but a 'premier beer' of some distinction... I was carried out in strong hysterics.) Stowing the bottles in my habitual vast shoulder-bag, I started pulling out fanzines to lighten the load. At once Roz Kaveney appeared, yet another Briton and practically the only one to have Done Something about the age-old question "Why aren't there enough women in UK fandom?": she grabbed Twll-Ddu 18 with the hyper-abstruse literary competition I'd included to annoy people, and proceeded to display repulsive intellectualism by looming over me and reeling off all the more obscure answers without even opening the fanzine.

The crowds were thickening as more people pressed in to register for Noreascon. "Why are we standing round here in lobbies?" I asked. "Where do the true fans hang out?" No answer came. I consulted the official map in the pocket programme: this resembled a cubist map of the Underground, and I still don't understand it. Indeed I never found the 'fan room', which by all account didn't much resemble convivial fan rooms at home, being instead devoted to continuous showings of Harry Andruschak Collates Fanzines. The cheap bar to which I was instinctively drawn, as a possible fannish gathering-place, turned out to be a fast-food counter with an exciting choice of two drinks, beer or large beer. It seemed that to meet fans one just had to stand around in lobbies.

One o'clock approached, and firm hands led me through new labyrinths to where a TAFF/DUFF panel was to be held ('Fans Across the Sea: Fanfund Politics') -- in a vast unfinished-looking hall called Lower Exhibit, containing partitioned-off hutches for minor programme items and, in the centre of the great bare floor, TAFF and DUFF sales tables which proved excellent places for meeting the two fans who happened to be manning them at the time. Let us not conceal the horrid truth: TAFF no longer arouses great interest at US Worldcons. I'd braced myself for the terrors of a scaled-up audience... let's see, about 50 out of 600 at a TAFF event at the 1980 British Eastercon, meaning that with 6000 at Noreascon we could expect 500, dear God, how will we ever squeeze them all in here?

The audience numbered twenty-two (22). We could have held the event in a lift.

(This isn't, by the way, a stricture on the Noreascon committee: though much derided, they were considerably more generous to fanfund delegates than demanded by any reflection of the enthusiasm of the membership at large. After that panel it was a relief to learn from ever-friendly Selina Lovett that hotel bills would indeed be covered by the convention, and to recall that a whole page had been devoted to each of TAFF and DUFF in the programme book.)

The panel itself woffled at great length -- unmemorably, until someone brought up the old notion of weighted fanfund voting. The sending country's votes should count more because those fans know more about the candidates; the receiving country's votes should count more because those fans will have to put up with the cretin who's actually elected... Nobody really wanted to make a decision on that one, and sure enough nobody did.

Afterwards I found the book-dealer's room, the size of two football pitches -- the word, of course, wasn't 'book-dealer' but the sleazier-sounding 'huckster', and sure enough the few books on show were entirely lost in wads of Star Wars t-shirts, fantasy games, unicorn jewellery, Spock badges, plastic spaceships, Gandalf candles, stuffed tribbles, balsa-wood dragons, cuddly Alien dolls for the kiddies: all the things which (unlike books) make big money these days. After fighting past an endless Asimov signing queue which looped and coiled everywhere like the Midgard serpent, I managed to find several books hidden away in one corner, and duly bought some James Branch Cabell first editions as mementoes of the fading past. Here, too, Alexei Panshin sobbed at my feet, pitifully wailing "Cory needs a new pair of shoes," until I condescended to accept a copy of SF In Dimension for a trifling sum.

At last we found Avedon Carol, a Momentous Experience. She glanced into Twll-Ddu, instantly located her letter and screamed "Oh God! You printed my snide remarks about Taral! Oh God! I'll have to apologize!! He's a really great artist, you know, it's just that he's all fucked up..." She leapt about alarmingly in an impressive, histrionic outburst of guilt, and subsequently apologized to Taral several times before he saw TD himself.

Hazel thought Avedon was really triffic; when she found Avedon was also Armenian, she wanted to take her home with us. I asked, but she said no.

Possibly as a result of Avedon's difficulty in hearing me and vice-versa, the notes became confused at this point. Moshe Feder explained that he only has to sniff to tell Coke from Pepsi, as misreported in DNQ; Gary Farber said "Jacqueline Lichtenberg has been a pain over here for years"; Jim Barker's Captive slideshow (the connexion is with The Prisoner, emphatically not The Capture) was performed to great hilarity though little attendance owing to the Sheraton's refusal to allow the event's existence to be announced on the internal PA; Paul Kincaid reappeared wearing a pretty badge from 'Cranberry World', which he swore was a museum of cranberries in Plymouth, Mass. (visions of eighteenth-dynasty mummified cranberries in individual sarcophagi); and under the inarguable leadership of Joyce, we were marched off for an evening meal.

The Bulkie was, astonishing, named after its version of the great American burger, which looked remarkably like all the other versions. Dim and crowded, The Bulkie had been overwhelmed by pillaging hordes from the con across the road, and gave us the opportunity for hour on hour of scintillant conversation, thus:--

Moshe: "What did you order?"

Hazel and me: "Mumble mumble."

Moshe: "Oh, that's probably safe. You mustn't ever order bagels in Boston, they're not authentic here."

(An hour passes.)

Rochelle Reynolds: "I CAN'T STAND IT ANY LONGER!" (She walks out.)

Lise Eisenberg: "AAAAARGH!" (She walks out.)

Me (after another interglacial period or so with no food in sight): "Suppose we protest by going on hunger strike."

(Lise returns with a cheeseburger from elsewhere, and pointedly eats it. Rochelle returns with a couple of peculiar orange lumps.)

Rochelle Reynolds: "These are knishes! You've got to try them!"

Moshe: "No they're not, they're the wrong colour."

Rochelle: "Why do you have to make everything a drag...?"

Moshe: "But you're misrepresenting the knish to our guests!"

(Even longer pause. Entropy tends to a maximum; the universe cools; the stars begin to go out. Suddenly, in a flurry of motion, the food comes and we eat it and the bill comes out and Moshe is poring over piles of change to settle up...)

Rochelle: "Our American equivalent of Kevin Smith."

Moshe looked hurt by that cruel blow, as well he might; British fans might think him more of an American equivalent of our Gerald 'Boris' Lawrence (it's the beard that does it). [1] I nearly called him Boris once or twice, but pity stayed my hand.

Back at the Sheraton, Candice Massey (little knowing she would shortly be added to the improbably large list of Martin Hoare's claimed conquests at this con) explained that though American to the core, she couldn't get a US passport. I asked if she'd overthrown the government recently: "Worse than that! My parents were too cheap to buy me a birth certificate!" With awe we realized that we stood in the presence of a lady who, however precocious, was legally unborn.

Next came the great Meet the BNFs party, held in a foyer barely large enough to contain the names, let alone the fans. Here I and DUFF winner Keith Curtis combed the crowds in search of really famous fans as promised; we couldn't even find Bruce Pelz. Slowly the hideous realization crept over us: "We have met the BNF," I declared, "and he is us!" Keith and I swapped notes on fanfundery, and he incautiously revealed that -- Australian delegate or no -- his passport address is Cromer, Norfolk, UK. Suspicious, I call it. Mike Glicksohn appeared (as is his unfortunate habit) and we demanded his homage. "BNFs should wear funny hats," he grumbled. "I don't recognize any here."

"There you are," said a lady called Doris, grabbing Mike accusingly. "You left me saying you'd be right back."

"Well um," Mr. Glicksohn explained. "Here's Hazel Langford, she doesn't like Americans, ask her why."

"Another fine mess you've got me into," said the light of my life.

Famous Moshe ascended the stage -- and through a small megaphone explained that BNF status was fleeting ("I don't like that," whispered a worried Keith) and that, possibly to make sure of this, all BNFs would now have gold stars attached to some portion of their anatomy. "And the garble BNFs I can see," said the megaphone, "are Dave Garble the TAFF grackle and Keith Crackle garble winner." Suddenly Keith and I were up on chairs to make a joint speech which we instantly agreed to forget and which nobody else had any chance to remember, the megaphone's batteries plainly not having been changed since its former use by Paul Revere. Nevertheless our sheer force of personality caused someone in the audience to see the light and contribute all his worldly goods to the grackle fund. After shrewd TAFF/DUFF bargaining, the administrators pocketed 50¢ apiece and went looking for the beer, which had run out.

It certainly is a wonderful thing to be a fleeting BNF. Better not to reveal, in a family publication, where Moshe attached my coveted gold star.

With Friday evening's parties, Noreascon took on the semblance of a real convention. There were good points: the SFWA suite, object of popular hatred at Seacon '79, had been merged with the programme participants' watering-hole and was happily free of security fetishists checking credentials and fingerprints. There were not-so-good things, like the way this and most parties were on the 22nd floor or thereabouts of one of the hotel's two towers: since the towers weren't linked above the fifth floor (improbable location of a swimming pool), and since the average TAFF emissary of 1980 had great difficulty remembering which tower he was supposed to be going up, this resulted in a great deal of extra travelling time. And there were bizarre scenes which stirred my British sense of wonder, like all those ice-filled bathtubs from which wild partygoers would snatch inexhaustible supplies of canned Coke, whilst a solitary six-pack of beer was denied fulfilment until some transatlantic sot arrived.

Party memories are mercifully few. Again I failed to communicate with Tom Disch. Me: (feeble joke). Disch: (baffled noises). Me: (louder feeble joke). Disch: (wary frown). Me: (very loud embarrassed rendition of feeble joke). Disch: (sudden distaste; turns away quickly to ask Roz about The Operation).

Then Chris Atkinson (of Malcolm Edwards fame) and Malcolm Edwards (of Chris Atkinson fame) united to tell me the one about Harlan. This was largely a monologue from Chris, to be treasured since her usual conversational approach involves cryptic remarks varied with alarming silences. "We met Harlan at the airport, and I was thinking, Gee, my Hero, and he was a tit. He was very rude and I told him not to be. We were staying with Charles Platt in New York and he had a lot of cockroaches. Now Charles wanted to pretend the car we'd hired was his own when we picked up Harlan, but first he went back to the wrong car at the airport, and halfway home I said the wrong thing about our car, and Harlan said 'This isn't your car then, Charles?'

"So that," she concluded obscurely, "deflated Harlan Ellison."

After I'd thought about this story, and carefully jotted it down, and thought about it some more, I began to worry that my brain was not working as well as it should. It seemed a good time to wander off to bed, after an evening (and a few hours of morning) which had been good fannish fun -- as proven by the extreme illegibility of all my notes.

As I left, a few SFWA stalwarts (Diane Duane is a name which vaguely springs to mind) were standing at the door of the suite, feebly calling "Closing in five minutes! Closing in five minutes!" This proved anew that SF authors are indeed lousy prophets: the same weak chant had been audible when I wandered in, two hours before.

July 1981

"That's it? You're stopping the chapter here, without getting further than Friday night?"

"Early Saturday morning. You don't read these immortal words carefully enough. This is Structure, this is. It's what we hacks call a natural break."

"Very suspenseful. Fandom waits agog to find out whether you were mugged as you tottered through the dark streets to the Copley Plaza..."

"Well, as a matter of fact -- no, no, let's not destroy the drama and tension."