Rob Jackson, Joyce Scrivner, Gary Farber and I arrived at the Suncon on Wednesday evening after a day on the road, and unloaded in front of a disapproving audience of functionaries. Rob entrusted his caseful of Mayas to an elderly porter who disappeared for some heavy lifting gear whilst we went off and registered. I had to pay a $100 deposit, which was a bit thick (after all, they were the ones who were bankrupt); Rob, however, pulled out a credit card and they smiled and tugged their forelocks, just like in the adverts. Flash bugger.
We went up to our rooms. Mine turned out to be a single -- the only one in the hotel, the porter claimed -- charmingly hidden among the broom cupboards at the end of a corridor. The room itself was alarming. I've never seen an abandoned Guatemalan opera house, but that's the sort of decor the Fontainebleau favoured -- jungle fin de siècle, only in plastic and plywood. The matching bed and dressing table were sickly enough, but the giant rococo TV set was almost beyond belief: the screen was menaced by gilded cherubs clutching grapes and to find the knobs you had to negotiate thickets of ormolu acanthus leaves and glittering vines.
I managed to turn it on nonetheless and eventually got a flickering picture in strange acid colours. Various unclad starlets shrieked across the screen before disappearing in a crackle of interference. It was a commercial for the allegedly pornographic films available to residents for a few dollars on the bill. 'In the privacy of your own room ...' said the announcer, lasciviously.
Gosh. I began to wonder what sort of place I'd booked into. I mean, porno movies and nineteen fifties rococo. Corruption and decadence already -- and the convention hadn't even started.
Rob and I met up again, went downstairs, and headed for the bar. We'd heard, of course, that American fans didn't use hotel bars, but we were sceptical and in any event, even if they didn't, we reckoned we could wreck that tradition fairly swiftly.
We came across Ted White and Dan Steffan on our way in -- they'd beaten us down from Washington, probably by ignoring Pedros and the lure of free grapefruits. We all went inside and found the bar in darkness. I thought at first it was closed, but my eyes adjusted gradually and I caught up with the others as they groped their way to a table. Apart from the sepulchral lighting, it seemed OK and we chatted quite happily for a while. Dan bought me a couple of drinks and, since they sold tobacco at the bar, I went over and asked if they had any cigarette papers. They didn't, but by this time I'd taken to smoking Camels and the question was becoming more of a ritual than a genuine enquiry.
Then came a sort of double-shock. First, with a flash of lights and a roll of drums, a cabaret started up in some unseen corner. Discouraged by the noise and the fact that Ted White disapproved of the music, we decided to leave and were presented with our bills. That's when Dan Steffan discovered he'd paid about £2.50 for the privilege of buying me two halves of lager.
Enough said. I told Dan I'd buy a return round if he ever visited Britain. In fact I offered him three or four rounds. Promises are cheap. And as for the Suncon, I resigned myself to American hotel tradition and subsisted on coffee, smuggled tins of beer, and room parties.
There seemed to be few fans in evidence elsewhere, so we went off together for some further exploration of the hotel. Somewhere in the basement, at the end of a corridor of locked shops, we found an opening to the outside, and decided to go for a walk on the beach. We threaded our way through gardens, fountains, terraces, and tennis courts. The place was deserted and there was only that strange humming silence and electric half-light that you get in city centres late at night. After some searching, we found ourselves effectively imprisoned. The Fontainebleau was that sort of hotel; it had locked up the Atlantic Ocean for the night.
Still, Ted found a coke machine in the tennis courts and that, as far as he was concerned, vindicated the entire expedition.
He'd set up some stereo equipment in his room and we spent the rest of the evening there. Rob and I knocked off fairly early to prepare for the first full day of the con.
The next morning, I explored the hotel in more detail. First impressions seemed about right. The architect had apparently conceived the place as a synthesis of bus station and barracks, but the decorator had eschewed such utilitarianism and had done the whole thing up like a backwoods brothel.
My favourite monstrosity was a chair outside the lifts near my room. It was massive, high-backed, covered in red plush, and winged with two elderly nymphs whose sharply-pointed breasts jutted out so far that they snagged the clothes of passers-by. I've never seen a chair with dangerous nipples before. I wouldn't have minded that as a souvenir.
With the bar out of bounds, the convention lacked a focal point. There was a large open lobby in front of the main con halls which served as a gathering area, though it was little better than a cherub-encrusted waiting-room. It looked like the sort of place you'd pass through on the way to somewhere interesting. Apart from this, there was really just the entrance lobby and the hotel lounge. This had a Liberace piano and a vast electrolier, surrounded by secretive clumps of high-backed chairs. Drapes and carpets deadened any noise, so that you felt compelled to lower your voice. Unwanted lackeys lurked in dim recesses, peering out from amongst the statues. Elderly residents, hidden deep within the furniture, whispered and coughed at each other. The whole thing looked like a cheap remake of Last Year at Marienbad.
After this quick tour round, I met Rob again for breakfast. I didn't investigate the hotel's restaurants -- with names like 'Boob's Steak Room', 'Club Gigi', and 'The Poodle Lounge', I wasn't much tempted -- but the coffee shop was the Fontainebleau's one excellence. It had a menu full of all sorts of interesting things; it wasn't expensive; the service was good; and it was open virtually all the time. I wouldn't have minded that as a souvenir as well.
We breakfasted with a couple of strange fantasy fans who invited us to their wedding, a costume affair that was to take place over the weekend and was actually down as a programme item. British conventions suddenly seemed staid and rather old-fashioned. They also complained about their eggs, which caused us a fit of embarrassment, though the waitress seemed to consider this perfectly reasonable. Which, of course, it is -- except in the UK, where it would create a scene equivalent to tap-dancing on the table whilst exposing yourself and shouting bad things about dogs.
After breakfast I bumped into Terry Hughes, fresh from Ordeal by Greyhound, who with all the composure of a fannish master held out to me no less a thing than a packet of cigarette papers.
What could I say? I whipped out my Old Holborn and immediately rolled a fag. When the moment came to lick the thing into completion, however, I discovered a certain unlooked-for problem -- the papers had no gum. The small, anxious audience of fans who'd gathered to witness this event seemed perplexed. Terry suggested that a sufficiency of saliva might weld the thing together. I slobbered delicately and lit up. There was a spluttering noise and the cigarette went out; the paper uncurled and deposited a neat pile of half-burnt tobacco on my lap.
I eventually mastered the technique by tying small knots in the cigarettes, though Joyce Scrivner later found me some giant gummed papers ('... in Strawberry, Wheat, and other gourmet flavors ...') that were big enough to blow your nose on and were presumably made for rolling substances other than tobacco.
Actually, this presented a genuine problem. Despite British adverts featuring sun-burnt cowboys rolling in their saddles, few if any Americans actually indulge in this habit. The sight of me flaunting my papers in public, therefore, often produced shocked silences and accusing stares. 'It's only tobacco,' I'd say guiltily; but nobody seemed convinced. One hotel security man actually came up to me and asked barefaced if I was rolling a joint. 'British!' I said desperately, waving my Old Holborn pouch like a passport. 'Rats,' said the security man. 'I thought you might sell me some stuff....'
After that unnerving incident I settled for the quiet life and carried on with the Camels for the rest of my time in America. So it goes.
Meanwhile, back at Thursday, I was discovering that the daytime sobriety of American fans was not a myth and that whole roomfuls of fans were capable of not clutching drinks for minutes -- even hours -- at a time.
Looking around the lobby I could only see one fan with a drink. And that, of course, was Pete Weston, veteran of previous US conventions, who'd thoughtfully provided himself with a small stock of daytime lager. I helped him diminish the stock and we both strolled round a bit, looking for action though nothing much seemed to be going on.
The con didn't officially start until the evening and, since we were both at a loose end, we decided to abandon the Fontainebleau and go and see Star Wars at a local cinema. In these latter days this may seem somewhat surprising: but the film hadn't opened then in Britain and neither of us knew our jawas from our droids -- in fact, we were missing out on the references and witticisms that were going around and were likely to be mystified by half the masquerade costumes. Besides, we thought we'd get one up on Rob Jackson...
Despite warnings about long queues and the need to book well in advance, we decided to chance our luck and try to get in anyway. In the event, the cinema was deserted -- almost literally. We found out why when we left -- it was raining and we'd missed the forecast.
Not every reader may understand the term 'rain' when applied to Miami Beach in August. A couple of months' worth of good Devon drizzle fell out of the sky in as many minutes. The road and much of the pavement was under water; no one was attempting to walk through it, and most of the traffic was at a standstill. A couple of pointless dashes to nearby shelters got us both thoroughly soaked -- it was like leaping into a river. My cigarette didn't even have time to splutter before it disintegrated into a dripping mess of sodden tobacco. I was impressed by the whole business, even if we didn't look like getting back to the hotel.
Eventually a taxi cruised by and docked on the other side of the street. We waded across to it and started back. It was more like riding in a boat than a cab: the road was awash and invisible; rain thundered on the roof; the driver peered through the downpour, gripping the wheel like some old sea dog. We two sat in the back, keeping an eye open for sharks. 'This is OK,' growled the cabman. 'I've seen worse.'
We got back OK, though, and dried out at the official opening party. And after that I don't rightly recall what happened, unless this was the night of the Dirty Film.
I'd met Frank Lunney at some stage -- a large and amiable bloke with Harry Bell eyes and a marvellously slow crazed-hippie sort of drawl. He's actually a successful businessman and invited me out to his dude ranch in the outback of Pennsylvania. Anyway, I met up with Frank, Dan Steffan, Ted White, and some others on their way to see the reportedly lustful Cinderella 2000. We sat down and listened to feminist heckling and male chauvinist jeering before the film began.
It wasn't too good. Either there are two films with the same name or we saw the Bible Belt version. Whenever something decadent and pornographic seemed on the verge of occurring and Ted White leaned over and said, 'This is it ...' the actors began to sing -- forgetting in the meantime whatever it was they'd almost planned to do. We stared slack-mouthed at this fiasco for some considerable time, unwilling to believe that any film could be quite so bad. It wasn't until the orgy scene, when Cinderella and co inexplicably and at the last moment donned pink rabbit suits and started dancing, that we left.
I don't remember doing anything much on Friday morning, so I probably spent the time looking for fun, action and excitement -- the usual quests at cons. Though the Fontainebleau was full of fans, the hotel's layout meant that most of them remained hidden for much of the time. I seemed to spend hours at the Suncon wandering around, trying to find out where everyone had got to. You know how paranoid you can get on those occasions: when you start suspecting that people are Having Fun somewhere else -- only you don't know where. Occasionally as I shuffled around peering into rooms and dimly lit corridors, I'd make a fantastic discovery, like an explorer finding a legendary lost world. It was thus, working only on rumours and native folklore, that I discovered the Hucksters' Room (a vast subterranean cavern filled with strange life of its own) after two days at the con. The entrance was hidden in a cupboard under the stairs, heavily overgrown with ormolu cherubs.
Other discoveries included the Fan Room, interestingly situated in an alternative universe somewhere upstairs whose gateway shifted constantly. At times it was only approachable through a secret balcony behind the Liberace piano and thence through an oddly-shaped room where elderly tourists played silent card games.
It turned out that I was on a panel that afternoon in the Fan Room. In fact I was on four panels throughout the con, though no one had mentioned this until I arrived. That, I believe, is called Last Minute Programming. Anyway, the first one was on fannish writing and a few hardy souls spurned the main events and made their way up to the fan room to listen. Terry Hughes and part-time British fan Tom Perry were on the panel, as well as Dave Emerson who looks like a Minneapolis version of Tom Jones (the singer, that is) and was then editor of the fanzine Rune.
We were doubtless wise, articulate, and fannish on the panel, but I don't remember a thing, except that there was another panel in one of the main halls immediately after and I was supposed to be on that too. I rushed downstairs and eventually located the event, just about to start in the East Ballroom. It was on International Fandom and so I joined Jan Howard Finder, who was already up and speaking to the half dozen or so people who'd thus far come in; he'd managed to find a couple of Italians, one a monoglot, and had persuaded them to get up on the platform too. I sat down and waited for the other five panellists and the audience. The East Ballroom seats 2000 and is big. Jan kept on talking. I exchanged pleasantries with Roy Tackett in the front row, and we all sat and waited. That, in essence, was the International Fan Panel.
Sometime later there was a Meet the Pros party in the depths of the hotel lounge. Since I'd discovered that the con committee weren't about to fete a mere TAFF delegate, I thought I'd go along and see if I could at least get a free drink out of them by pretending to be a pro. I don't think it worked, but Ginjer Buchanan was kind enough to give me a ticket and a special professional hat anyway. I like Ginjer Buchanan.
The special professional hat was a garish orange bowler, which was fine by me. There were plenty of other fake professional there, lured by the free drink. Naturally enough this included Mike Glicksohn who's just come from the Mooncon -- a pre-Worldcon get-together in the Florida Keys (I'd been hoping I could've got down there, but you can't have everything). Mike was wearing a strange outfit, reminiscent of nothing much at all, except perhaps a Hawaiian sheep-shearer. Much of it was obscured by hair, anyway. I only found out what Mike Glicksohn really looks like a few weeks later when Jerry Jacks showed me a photo of a smooth-skinned and rather podgy kid. Gosh.
Whilst Mike and I can probably wear orange bowlers without looking a great deal stranger than we already do, the headgear certainly gave Pete Weston and the rather remote figure of Andy Porter a particularly daft air, rather like carnival bouncers. The three of us, still behatted, had a meal together; I rather think the others had forgotten about the bowlers. Anyway, our professional status wasn't impressing anyone, since the rest of the clientele were all chatting in Spanish. Andy ate several things that made Pete sick.
A Britain in Seventy-Nine bidding party was planned for later that evening, Suncon being the place where the winning bid was to be chosen. During the day, in fact, I'd helped man the voting desk along with a representative from the New Orleans opposition. Several of the visiting British fans lent a hand and between us we had a bunch of publicity -- badges, T-shirts, and so on -- since that seemed the thing to do. The bona fide New Orleans fans were actively helping us, leaving the 1979 bidders a little at a loss. They were certainly out on the fringe -- one of the blokes standing next to me struck up a conversation by asking, 'What is this "fandom" thing, anyway?'
Thanks to Gary Farber, we had a committee room for the party, which wasn't too bad even though the Fontainebleau had thoughtfully provided free cockroaches in the bathroom (I was quite pleased about that -- first time in my life I'd ever seen a cockroach). Rob, Pete, Tom Perry and others had clinked in guiltily with several cases of drinks, much of it soft as a concession to our electorate, and we'd got a few items planned -- just so's the party-goers would remember why they were there. We had some slides to show; Vera Johnson was going to sing the Seacon song; and we'd arranged a knurdling contest, with the help of several beer tins and Bill Burns (Champion Knurdler of 1971). Pete was also anxious to stage the mystical Hum & Sway, but it turned out that nobody had ever witnessed the event. He finally decided to bluff his way through with the aid of much alcohol.
Anyway, the party seemed to go off pretty well. A startling number of people packed their way in, sang lustily, competed at knurdling, drank all the fizzy pop, and generally had a good time. We awarded the Champion Knurdler a bottle of whisky (which I generously helped finish) and, since Pete turned off the lights, the mysteries of the Hum & Sway remained mysteries.
By the end of the party (and the whisky) I was no longer in a state of clear-minded sobriety. I think I may have been enticed away by wicked hippies and forced, entirely against my will, to indulge in certain substances; at any rate I can only vaguely recall talking to someone at a party and suddenly, in the middle of the conversation, accusing him of being well over seven feet tall. Actually he agreed with me and was only surprised I hadn't noticed earlier. I have my doubts about that incident.
There was a policeman, though. I don't think I made him up. He was shorter than me and was trying to quieten down a room party I was at, or near, or about to go to.
There was also Jon Singer, an ebullient, long-haired bloke with his own personal fan club and more knowledge about moose than most people have ever needed. I met him in a corridor and we had a long conversation before I found out it wasn't him.
I think I wisely decided to go to bed at this point. Jon told me the next day that there was someone at Suncon who looked exactly like him, but I think he was just trying to comfort me. Anyway, I enjoyed myself and didn't piss on anyone's shoes.
The weather brightened on Saturday, though it was still so humid that whenever I left the hotel my glasses steamed up. Not finding anything better to do, I rather nervously changed into a pair of shorts (orange, of course) and attempted to act nonchalantly as I made my way downstairs and out into the sun. Nobody, I hope, recognised me.
Now that the locks were off, it was possible to reach the Atlantic by way of a tunnel and a viewing screen into the depths of a swimming pool infested by Cuban kids. In fact, there were a lot of people about; the hotel had a small section of beach surrounded by huts that, taken together, was rather grandly termed the Cabana Club. Club members paid $2,000 per year for the privilege of using the facilities, so there were plenty of people about, all eager to get their money's worth and to be seen doing so. Cliques of fat businessman jogged up and down the beach whilst scantily clad young women toasted in rows beneath their feet. The ocean itself was pretty quiet and didn't look much like the Atlantic as seen from Cornwall. A plane went by with a streamer advertising somebody's 'deli'. I parked myself down and waited for the sharks to eat the swimmers. There didn't seem to be any other fans on the beach; maybe the hucksters' room was giving away free wookies, or something.
Using the back corridors, I crept back in before lunch and changed into something more civilised. I must have met up with Tom & Alix Perry because a bunch of us, including Pete Weston, Terry Hughes, and Lee Hoffman (a charming and ladylike figure with the sort of half-moon glasses that always give people a quizzically humorous look), packed by Tom's car and went off in search of somewhere cheap to eat. In fact, we went cruising for burgers. I've always wanted to go cruising for burgers since Frank Zappa waved to me once in Liverpool. Anyway, we eventually found a McDonalds opposite a derelict striptease palace. It was the first time I'd encountered a McDonalds and, God willing, it'll also be the last.
There wasn't much choice, but I ordered french fries, which came in a cardboard funnel, apple pie, which came in a cardboard tube, and a milk-shake, which probably also came in cardboard, though I don't remember how. The others gathered together their packages and we all sat down, looking for all the world as if we'd just come out of Father Christmas's bargain grotto. Everyone seemed quite content, tearing along dotted lines and pulling flaps to get at the food. Even Lee Hoffman seemed quite happy, though she looked magnificently out of place.
I unpacked my chips and found that they were actually potato sticks of the kind served up at parties. Moreover, some miserable bugger had covered them in salt -- a substance I'm not greatly fond of. I moved on to the apple pie tube and extracted something resembling a sausage, or worse, in batter. Biting tentatively into this I unwittingly released a scalding cataract of green slime which dribbled down my chin and burnt holes in my T-shirt. I gave the milk-shake to Tom Perry -- I know when I'm beaten.
Despite the food, it was an enjoyable outing. I left hungrier, but wiser.
Saturday evening was quieter than I anticipated. The Masquerade was on in the main hall and included several pretty costumes and a wookie. It was during this event that I was accosted by a local journalist who was impressed out of his mind at actually being inside the Fontainebleau. 'Isn't this something?' he kept saying, gazing around like a schoolboy in a toy shop. I told him there were more cherubs in the hotel than in the whole of Cornwall and he wrote that down in his notebook and looked quite pleased with the comment. I then told him that Cornwall was an independent nation on the western border of England, and he wrote that down too. I wished I'd found out what paper he was writing for.
Anyway, there were parties later on -- I had a whole matchbox covered with room numbers -- and I started off with the best of intentions of doing the rounds. As luck would have it, however, the very first one I went into was the wicked hippie party of the evening, even if it was full of eminently respectable fans and authors. I sat down to chat for awhile before realising that I was now part of a chain of mysteriously smouldering objects. Fully half of these were so mysterious that, with all my decadent wisdom, I couldn't for the life of me figure out quite what one was supposed to do with them. Several had bells on, so help me.
Whilst trying to strike a balance between sociability and sobriety, I miscalculated by several miles -- as usual -- and swiftly ended up with a faraway look in my eyes and no conversational ability beyond an abstracted nod. Part of the gathering got up to investigate the Gay Lib party, so I stumbled after them and decided to take a detour to my room to plunge my head in cold water and generally recover.
Five hours later, when I awoke, I felt considerably more lively. So it goes. Anyway, I continued on to the party which, amazingly, still contained some half dozen or so fans -- though whether they were organisers, committed radicals, or just late-night wanderers, I never found out. We decided to have a meal downstairs, but found the coffee shop shut. We were just about to go away when the manager bounced out, apologised for the inconvenience, and said he'd be open again in a few minutes' time.
Good place, America. After McDonalds, my confidence had needed a little restoring. But here we were at 5.15 am, sitting comfortably in the coffee shop, and ordering a disgusting mixture of breakfast, supper, and snacks without anyone turning a hair. The only order that dismayed the waitress was mine -- cold beetroot soup with sour cream. 'But that's Jewish,' she kept saying, looking worried. I'm still not sure what she meant by that.
On Sunday morning, Brighton officially won the 1979 bid and Rob Jackson, our Official Worrier, was at last able to relax and enjoy himself. We decided to go down to the beach with Pete Weston. This may not be everyone's idea of a treat, but it was a nice day and the sun was shining.
We sat on the beach. 'Isn't it good just to sit down and not work on the bid,' said Rob, luxuriating. Pete and I nodded guiltily, as if we'd never dreamt of leaving the registration desk before now. I tried to hide my sunburnt legs in some convenient sand. Seacon seemed a long way off.
Anyway, I got the rare chance of seeing Rob floundering in the waves and the even rarer chance of seeing Pete Weston doing the doggie-paddle (a feat of which he's inordinately proud).
Come the afternoon and I was on a newszine editors' panel, where I met the rotund and affable Charlie Brown for the first time. We talked about whatever newszine editors talk about. Looking at the programme sheet, I now see that's why I missed the Amber Style Wedding. Pity about that -- I imagine it was pretty strange.
Not finding much to do after the panel, I allowed myself (for the third, final and most foolish time) to be lured away by the ever-present wicked hippies. As usual, I ended up pleasantly happy but almost totally speechless and, since I'd agreed to make some sort of tape-recording for an archivist at six o'clock, I decided to have a quiet period of recovery in my room. When I awoke it was 7.30 pm exactly -- the time the banquet was due to start. That's what I call lucky timing. I've heard of other TAFF delegates getting nerves and wishing they could miss the banquet; but I've never heard of a TAFF delegate who slept blissfully through the entire proceedings.
Anyway, I changed into my day-glo orange suit, tailor-made for the occasion, and got downstairs in fairly good time. One way and another, I felt pretty ill-at-ease: I'd given myself a fright by waking at the eleventh hour, I still hadn't woken up properly and felt pretty dopey, and it suddenly occurred to me that I might be asked to say something. It was a trembling and befuddled Roberts, therefore, who sat down at the table in between Messrs Weston & Jackson.
The banquet was a bit of a mess, as banquets usually are. John Millard, Seacon's Canadian agent and a solid old-time fan, had individually invited the three of us onto his table at the beginning of the con and we'd accepted. Now that we were sitting there we were feeling a bit conspicuous -- British fans sticking together, and all that. Apart from John and Jan Howard Finder (who supplied most of the conversation), we didn't know the rest of the people at the table, though I recognised one as the monoglot Italian I'd seen earlier. Poor old Pete had a couple of mutes sitting on his left and a less than sparkling Roberts on his left. It was a bit grim.
I was just toying with my main course, which consisted -- without a word of a lie -- of eight carrots and a spoonful of beans (have you ever tried eating eight carrots?) served long after everyone else had had theirs, when someone squeezed past me clutching a pile of books, and knelt beside Roger Zelazny's chair immediately behind me, demanding autographs -- which he got, too. In the middle of a banquet. Gosh. It's all go being an author.
The meal over, Bob Silverberg got up and started toast-mastering -- a thing he does very well. He called upon the first speaker -- a visiting fan from England....
It still makes me nervous just to think about it. I enjoy public speaking, but not on formal occasions when I'm given an introduction and have to start talking on cue. It induces a crescendo of nerves that makes me physically speechless for 30 seconds or so -- and 30 seconds is a long time to stand silently in front of a microphone.
Fortunately our table was some way off, so my nervousness (and consequent silence) peaked and ebbed whilst I was clambering shakily up the steps onto the platform. It looked worse from up there -- a sea of after-dinner faces and flash guns. I was only intending to say a few words of thanks (I'd rather leave speeches to those who are good at them), but I thought I'd start off with a quip about needing special filters to get a photo of my suit.
Well, I started off in a sort of high-pitched mumble which had all the clarity of an Albanian liturgical chant. Bob Silverberg, smirking evially, was playing with the switch controlling the movement of the mike and lectern. It wasn't a good speech, or even really an adequate one. But I survived, and that seemed the important thing at the time.
Still, the advantage of going first is that you can sit down and relax for the rest of the speeches. This, of course, is when an amazing number of witty and worthwhile things you might have said suddenly occur to you. Meanwhile, Bob Silverberg was going well and several of the Hugo winners were comforting me by sounding possibly more foolish, maudlin or nervous than I might have been. And then the wookie was on stage again and I suddenly felt a lot brighter, and ready for the Seacon celebration party.
Pete was particularly looking forward to this since he'd found a professional belly-dancer to give an authentic British flavour to the party. 'Noice girl,' he told me confidentially.
Anyway, she turned up at the party, as did several hundred other people, and I reckon we enjoyed ourselves. I probably went to bed after. I certainly should have done, even if I didn't. Let's say I did and move onto Monday.
Monday was notable for several things. Firstly, there was a panel in the morning at which a handful of wide-awake Americans were treated to the sight of several bedraggled and hung-over British fans who were ludicrously expected to discourse learnedly and wittily on the subject of British fandom. Few of the panellists could remember anything at all about British fandom. Most of us couldn't remember each other's names. Several thought they were still in bed.
After this nonsense, I stayed on to hear one of the few programme items I managed to catch at Suncon -- a panel, or more nearly a dialogue, on fandom in the sixties with Terry Carr and Ted White. Joined later by Lee Hoffman, the panel strayed into the fifties as well and produced a fund of entertaining anecdotes and little-known facts. Though some of the American fans seemed dismayed at the outburst, my favourite moment came when, during an explanation of the arguments between fannish and sercon elements in the fifties, Ed Wood (who looks like a large American, and is) suddenly bellowed out a defence of the hardline sercon stance and incited Ted White into a fannish counter-attack. The result was a spontaneous re-enactment of fannish history -- a dramatic interlude illustrating an ancient feud, with full audience participation. (Ed Wood: I used to trash every issue of Hyphen unread and unopened! Audience: anguish, smiting of foreheads, general uproar!)
This seemed to be virtually the last hurrah of the Suncon programme, and it was evident that the con was coming to an end. From early morning, evil-tempered congregations of black southern Baptists had been gathering for some vast evangelical conference. Though they addressed each other (always as 'Sister' or 'Reverend Doctor') in splendidly rich and friendly Southern Baptist accents, they addressed the hotel staff otherwise, since the Fontainebleau had gone in for a bonanza of double-booking and general incompetence.
The hotel in fact was casting its greedy eyes on Suncon rooms -- mine included. I was paged and curtly told to get out. This was pushing their luck, since I'd kept their original chit confirming my booking; I clung onto it tightly and eventually convinced them of my right to stay. Others weren't so lucky; Gordon Dickson told me he went up to his room to find a couple of particularly elderly black Baptists sitting bewildered on his bed, staring at his collection of SF and alcohol. He'd had a long and curious conversation with them, whilst the hotel tried to unscramble matters.
At some stage I went swimming and met with Terry Hughes, Hank & Lesleigh Luttrell, and a couple of other Madison fans. There isn't a great deal to do when swimming, but inasmuch as we were doing anything we were body-surfing. This is a rather tame pursuit, especially to someone brought up on Jan & Dean and the delights of Surf City, USA. However, one of the unknown fans was big enough to generate his own excitement, as waves thundered and crashed against him, mistaking his massive girth for a barrier reef. He looked quite impressive, battling against the tides in a passive sort of way, so I decided to be more active and plunged headlong into each incoming wave, scattering spray all over the place just like a tingling fresh toothpaste advert. It was a sort of reverse surfing -- guaranteed wipe-out every time.
Tiring of this unusual burst of activity, I took to swimming about a bit. The others had left, except for Terry who was paddling about somewhere.
Now, I'm hardly an ace swimmer. The last time I'd gone into the sea before Miami was some fifteen years earlier when I was a kid, so I was sort of breast-stroking and splashing about at around shoulder depth. Rapidly tiring of this unaccustomed exercise, I put in a couple of fairly powerful strokes to reach the end of a wooden breakwater where I could rest for a bit. The couple of strokes, however, didn't advance me at all, so I gave up and decided to wade there. That's when I found my feet weren't touching the bottom. Panic.
Terry was paddling about contentedly. I looked wildly over to him. He waved and I gave a confident and nonchalant wave back and promptly sank. By now, I was feeling more than apprehensive. The ability (at age twelve) to swim two lengths of a five foot deep pool wasn't proving much of an advantage in this situation. In any event, I'd already swum that much without gaining an inch and my arms were giving out. More panic.
Then I noticed the end of the breakwater was now three foot away and I was actually drifting out to sea. Huge panic.
My life didn't unwind before me: I just sort of saw headlines -- 'TAFF delegate drowned at Suncon!' -- and felt more embarrassed than anything else. The people on the beach were all sunning themselves. Kids were splashing around in the shallows. Terry was paddling about quietly. I couldn't bring myself to shout out, 'Help!' to save my life. Typical British reserve, I suppose. Meanwhile, the breaststroke had become an intermittent floundering and I was gulping down huge quantities of Atlantic Ocean whilst moving hopelessly backwards. It all seemed so bloody silly.
I spent some time, both above and below water, trying to think of something both witty and urgent to say to Terry, but couldn't concentrate well enough. I eventually settled for something like, 'Can you give me a hand, boss? I think I'm drowning.'
This had a marked effect on Terry, especially since I was by now disappearing under the water at uncomfortably frequent intervals. I've rarely seen anyone so dismayed. He began edging crablike towards me. It occurred to me he couldn't swim either. Two at once -- it might even make the front page of Locus.
But you can all ease back into your chairs now, since an attack of common sense came over me and I realised that if Terry was as far out as I was, yet still only shoulder-deep, I must be in some kind of well or trough. Accordingly I told the bravely advancing Mr Hughes to hold still, swam sideways, and touched bottom.
I felt quite elated actually. For a few moments back there I really thought I'd done myself in. Terry was still looking somewhat wan, but I felt great. Nothing like escaping death for cheering yourself up -- not that I fancied making a habit of it.
Meanwhile, back at the Suncon, hucksters were still selling pulps as if nothing had happened. The evening came on and with it some final parties. I met up with Charlie Brown, who in turn met up with some affluent-looking people who seemed inclined to hold a party somewhere. We all went up to the penthouse suite -- the only place in the whole hotel decorated with any taste or restraint -- and, with our own private bar, began to hold a party.
Apart from Charlie, the only other person I recognised was Poul Anderson and, as introductions were made, it slowly dawned on me that this must be a secret pro party, full of publishers, agents, and Hollywood sci-fi people. Goshwow.
They started talking about Star Wars. The publishers seemed rather earnest and nodded their heads a lot, in between mouthfuls of peanuts. After a while it wasn't too fascinating. Charlie drew me a comprehensive map of American fandom on the back of a matchbox and also gave me an official Fanzine Control Number on a serviette. Our cosmic minds weren't paying too much attention to the characterisation and cultural significance of wookies.
I was thinking that at least I could casually impress Rob Jackson & Pete Weston, when the two of them walked in, together with a lot of other riff-raff. The party livened up considerably and in fact turned out to be very pleasant, especially since the penthouse suite had a balcony with a fine panoramic view of Miami at night. Whilst gazing out, I chatted to someone about the virtues of growing Swiss chard and other vegetables. Swiss chard is less often discussed than Star Wars and also tastes better.
I must have wandered around a bit. I remember getting even higher by going out onto the roof where there was a really spectacular view, even if the lead was soft underfoot -- a weird sensation. Terry was up there too -- I suspect he was glad I didn't fall off the parapet or sink out of my depth in lead.
I finally ended up down on the beach again, circumventing the Fontainebleau's locks and bolts by going through a neighbouring hotel. I chatted on the shore with Tim Marion, a nice bloke with amazingly long hair and an equally amazing Southern accent. I'm easily amazed by Southern accents.
And so to bed. The next day I visited Disneyworld, but we'll leave that for the next chapter....