Chapter 9: THREE DAYS IN MANHATTAN
My most vivid dreams come to me when I'm particularly tired, hot, and sleeping in a strange bed, so it was no surprise I started having them in New York. I dreamed Richard Bergeron was at a convention and everyone there was ignoring him, me included. I woke up then, staring at the ceiling of Stu Shiffman's Washington Heights apartment. Jesus! If I was dreaming about him now then this Bergeron business was really starting to get out of hand. Ah, if I'd only known!
Patrick Nielsen Hayden and Tom Weber called for me at 10am, and the three of us set off into that bright September morning to explore Manhattan. Over and above the sightseeing, I wanted to buy a cheap replacement for the camera I'd left on the plane (which I did at the first shop we came to) and to come up with something funny enough to make Teresa fall over. As a foreigner, I was worried that I might have a problem achieving this. Humour, after all, is very culture-dependent and I was in a country where men managed to keep a straight face while answering to a name like Randy and, for all I knew, Horny.
We started at Columbus Circle ("Guess who's statue is on top of the column?" -- Patrick) and from there walked up the Avenue of the Americas. Traversing Park Avenue, we went through the Pan Am building and down the escalators to Grand Central Station, with its impressive main hall. The ceiling features the constellations of the zodiac -- painted in mirror-image by mistake -- and skylights that were blacked out during World War II and have been that way ever since. Seems that it's not only in Britain that a 'temporary measure' can become pretty permanent. We moved out onto 42nd Street and what, according to my notes, was "the good end", whatever that means, and then across Madison Avenue to meet up with Stu Shiffman.
"I'm very comfortable in women's underwear," explained Stu, over lunch.
The four of were eating at a Japanese restaurant called Larmen Dasanko (which was part of a fast-food chain, apparently) where, having resisted all attempts to get me to try sushi -- raw fish is a disgusting concept -- I'd settled instead for a salad, noodles, and what my notes refer to as "strange dumplings". Stu had joined us on his lunch break, his striking statement being a comment on which part of New York's extensive garment industry he worked in, of course.
After the meal, Stu took us to see a rundown hotel that had been the first LIFE building, and then pointed out the "temple to Roscoe" opposite. This was a fur trade building with a lobby containing ornate Assyrian decoration and, honest to Roscoe, a gold lift door inlaid with the figures of beavers. Amazing. (And having encountered Grand Central Station and a fur trade building on a single day in New York, it was all I could do to stop myself naming this chapter MANHATTAN, TRAINS, FUR.)
With Stu's lunch hour over, Patrick, Tom and I re-entered the subway system at Penn Street and travelled to South Ferry, on the southernmost part of Manhattan Island, to catch the Staten Island Ferry. At twenty five cents a time a trip on the ferry was, according to Patrick, "the best tourist bargain in New York". And so it proved to be. It was a gloriously sunny day, but very windy, so while we stood on the deck for a fair part of both the journey out to Staten Island and the journey back, we also spent much of the time inside, sitting on the long rows of wooden benches that seat thousands of commuters every day. At one point I glanced up and saw a pigeon casually perched on the back of a bench. Patrick, as deeply erudite as ever, knew why.
"It's following its ancient migratory route between Manhattan and Staten Island," he explained.
I was disappointed with the Statue of Liberty, which was obscured by scaffolding (in revenge, no doubt, for the unconscionably long time Big Ben had been similarly sheathed), but the view of Manhattan was priceless. This was the view of the island's skyscrapers that we're all familiar with, the one of Manhattan sitting low on the water that's been seen in a thousand films and TV shows. Magnificent.
"New York is big on landfill," explained Patrick, gesturing expansively at Manhattan Island, "and the FDR Expressway is built on bombing rubble from London and Bristol that was shipped over as ballast in returning merchant ships during World War Two."
There was something deeply symbolic in this, but for the life of me I couldn't figure out what it was.
Late in the afternoon, we arrived at the New York branch of Forbidden Planet, which had more floor space than its London counterpart (then still located on Denmark Street) but not, so far as I could tell, a larger variety of stock. I felt a moment of nostalgia for L.A.CON II when I looked up and saw the now-familiar figure of an inflatable Terl the Psychlo hanging from the ceiling.
Moshe Feder, Lise Eisenberg, and Teresa Nielsen Hayden were joining us at Forbidden Planet, which they duly did, for a foray into the East Village, a part of Manhattan in many ways reminiscent of London's Camden Town. The plan was for more touristing, so with Moshe getting into the role of tour guide with great enthusiasm and demonstrating his encyclopedic knowledge of New York, we set off.
I was happily snapping away with my instamatic, capturing such delights as a moving van whose lettering revealed it as being operated by 'Van Gogh Movers' and the 'Think Big' shop whose stock consisted entirely of gigantic versions of everyday objects ("Holy elephantiasis, Batman!") when I somehow lost my grip and it fell to the sidewalk, popping open and ejecting the film. This was not my day it seemed, particularly as Teresa fell to the ground soon afterwards and I had nothing to do with it. We'd just turned onto Canal Street ("Formerly a canal!" -- M.Feder) when it happened. Teresa took one look at a shop called 'Three Roses' -- a shop with a neon sign outside that featured two roses -- and down she went. Poot.
Canal Street soon merged with Chinatown and it was near there, in the depressingly scuzzy Columbus Park, that we sat down to decide on what we were going to do for dinner. While Moshe and Lise got into their traditional heated argument with the Nielsen Haydens over where exactly we were going to eat, an inevitable ritual when eating out with New York fandom, I glanced around at the various crazies wandering around the park and either muttering to themselves or talking loudly to no-one in particular in a remarkable reenactment of a Worldcon Business Meeting. Parked just outside the park were a pair of blue and white buses which, according to the writing on their sides, belonged to the 'Department of Correction'. I was deeply impressed by this evidence of American open-mindedness. In Britain, the taste for 'correction' among Conservative politicians usually leads to them quitting in shame amid ribald comments from press and public. How much more enlightened they must be about such matters in the US, I thought; instead of persecuting such hard working public servants they'd set up a whole department to minister to their needs.
Having finished fighting naked in the mud, arm-wrestling, or in some other way solved their dispute while I was contemplating correction in America, the New York fans had finally decided that we should eat at a pizzeria near Andy Porter's apartment. Then, not only would I get to sample real New York pizza for the first time but, since Andy lived in Brooklyn, I'd also get to cross the Brooklyn Bridge. On foot. Which suited me just fine. Of course I had sore feet by the time we got to the other side (it's a big bridge), but I wouldn't have missed that view of Manhattan after dark for anything.
"For a flat stomach eat flatfish" advised the sign in a shop near Andy's apartment, a dubious piece of advice I had no intention of following. Andy was tall, stout, bespectacled and bearded and had no sooner ushered us into his apartment than he was showing us a detailed breakdown of the voting in the fan Hugos. Since Patrick & Teresa's IZZARD had been among those fanzines nominated they examined this with no little interest. IZZARD had placed behind the filking fanzine FILK FEE-NOM-ENON, and the figures revealed some surprising information.
"There were twenty people who voted for us in first place and FILK FEE-NOM-ENON in second," said Patrick, clearly appalled that such perverts were allowed out without supervision. "Who would do that?"
Who indeed? Patrick was still marvelling at this when we got back to their place a few hours later, and fretted about it as we all sat around talking and winding down. I had a feeling Patrick would lie awake trying to square this particular circle but me, I intended sleeping as soundly as I could.
Well, it wasn't that sound a sleep but I was refreshed enough the next morning to get into a long and involved discussion with Stu about the Jewish influence in comics (which, as those of you at all familiar with American comics will know, has been huge). We breakfasted at a nearby diner with Bill Wagner, a neighbour of Stu's and yet another member of the fannish enclave that then existed in northern Manhattan. Bill was large and droll and, though not active in fanzines, was probably the funniest person I met during my whole TAFF trip.
Like Friday, Saturday was given over to sightseeing, but the pace was much more leisurely and included Washington Heights itself. The area has now been taken over by drug dealers, but in 1984, though grubby and rundown, it still had a certain charm. It also had a pretty good little park, reached by way of a lift at the 190th Street station, that looked out over the Bronx on one side, and the Jersey Pallisades and Hudson River on the other. We spent a couple of hours here, a welcome change of pace, before joining up with the others and getting into some serious touristing downtown in the afternoon and early evening. But, really, as enjoyable as all this was, the best bit was back at Stu's apartment that evening when I finally achieved my burning ambition. All through the afternoon, Teresa had been falling over as Bill and Patrick made various wry remarks, but none of my own seemed to make it. During a conversation at Stu's she asked me what had happened in North America in 1812. I knew the answer.
"The US invaded Canada," I replied.
Laughing, Teresa collapsed in a heap on the carpet. At last I had succeeded. The only thing is, I still don't know what was so funny.
The following morning, Stu, Bill, and I set off for my final day's sightseeing in New York soon after 11am, and I manfully resisted the urge to sing 'Feelin' Groovy' as we drove under the 59th St Bridge. We stopped off in Chinatown for a dim sum breakfast at the Nom Wah Bakery before continuing, by way of a stop off at the South St Seaport -- another area oddly reminiscent of London's Covent Garden -- on our journey to Manhattan's southernmost tip. I shouted for Bill to stop the car when we got near the base of the World Trade Center, leaping out, whipping my glasses off, and craning my neck to get a good photo of the twin towers. We drove for another block after this before I realised that I'd left my glasses on the roof. Amazingly, when Bill slowly brought the car to a halt they were still there. This was an enormous relief. As wonderful as I was finding America, I doubt I'd have appreciated spending the rest of my trip seeing it as if it was underwater.
"You needn't have worried", said Stu, airily, "my cousin the optometrist would've only charged you a couple of fortunes for a new pair."
Having allowed ourselves to be seduced by the charms of Barnes & Noble ("World's Largest Bookstore") we were late meeting Patrick at the Empire State Building, not that he seemed to mind. Despite it no longer being the tallest building in New York there was never any doubt in my mind that it was the Empire State Building I wanted to gaze across New York from and not some newer pretender such as the World Trade Center. There's something mythic about the Empire State Building, something somehow a whole lot more real. The view from the observation deck was terrific, a 360 degree panorama that took in the five boroughs of New York and, closer to home, the Pan Am Building, Central Park, Liberty Island, Macy's, the art deco splendour of the Chrysler Building, and a billboard that read: "BP -- America's Newest Gas". Hey, hang on a minute....
On the way back to Stu's we drove along the road that ran alongside Central Park, leading Stu to wax lyrical about the park.
"It's a wonderful place", he enthused, "really neat. Inside, you can't hear the traffic."
"Only the screams of the mugged", agreed Bill.
"That's an exaggeration!" Stu protested.
"True", said Bill, "but I swear the first time a guy came up to me there and said 'loose joints?' I thought he was talking about his medical condition."
That evening, my final one in New York, I went out for dinner at the Dyckman House Restaurant with Stu, Bill, the Nielsen Haydens, Stu's fannish neighbours, Sue-Rae Rosenfeld and Frank Balazs, and a guy whose name I didn't catch. It was probably Horny. We ate, we drank, we talked, and I'm sure we all had a good time, but on this my notes are silent. New York had been fascinating and overwhelming. I'd seen more of it than of anywhere else in America I'd so far been, but I'd barely tasted what it had to offer. At once ugly and beautiful, grubby and exhilarating, New York was somewhere I promised myself I'd visit again one day. Until then there was still tomorrow to look forward to, and my journey to the nation's capital -- Washington DC.
Chapter 10: THROBBIN' 'HOOD
Monday 10th September 1984, and having dreamed I'd had to interrupt my TAFF trip with a quick visit back to Britain I woke in a panic, wondering how I was going to explain my trip expenses including two round trip flights to the US. It took a while before the adrenal rush subsided and I was able to shake my head and chuckle at this. I was particularly happy, anyway, because today was the day I finally got to see my sweetie again. The anticipation was delicious.
Stu Shiffman had already left for work by the time I awoke, so I finished packing, closed his apartment behind me, and took the A-train down to 34th Street and Penn Station. My camera had siezed up yesterday so I planned to drop off my baggage and find the shop where I'd bought it a few days earlier. However, while Penn Station turned out to have row after row and rank upon rank of lockers in its main hall, every last one of them seemed to be in use. I did try walking the streets but, what with the lunchtime crowds and the amount of luggage I was carrying, this proved futile. So it was that I boarded my Amtrak train -- one of those great silver streaks so familiar from TV and movies -- and, at 1.30pm, we pulled out of New York and headed for Washington DC.
The train passed through Newark and into the wilds of New Jersey proper, stopping at Trenton for some time before continuing south. Beyond the window vistas of suburban and rural America unfolded before my eyes, surprising me only by being so unsurprising. There was an occasional house whose architecture was uniquely American, particularly those with wooden slat facades, but most everything else -- particularly the industrial buildings -- seemed pretty much indistinguishable from what you'd see on a train journey between London and Newcastle. This was not true of the railroad carriage itself, however. On InterCity trains in Britain, pairs of seats face each other across a table; in America, train seats are not dissimilar to airline seats, but with more leg room and a leg flap. Like airline seats, they had reclining backs and individual tables that folded down from the back of the seat in front.
Our only stop in Pennsylvania was the 30th Street Station, then it was on to Wilmington (the train passes through the tip of Delaware -- blink and you'd miss it). Beyond the town of Perryville we crossed the Susquehanna River, just above the point where it flowed into Chesapeake Bay, the bridge the train crossed running parallel to twin lines of pylons, jutting from the water like rows of tombstones. Once, they had supported a bridge of their own but all they now supported was seagull nests. Below us, flotillas of yachts were sailing out into the river from brightly coloured marinas.
As we pulled through the outskirts of Baltimore, I noticed for the first time that the roofs of American houses have shallower slopes than in Britain, where they don't just slope front-to-back only, that is. I wonder why? The final stop before mine was BWI (Baltimore-Washington International) Airport.
Having racked up ten hours of sleep, my first reasonable night's sleep since arriving in the US, I was feeling alert again, much more so than I had at any time during my stay in New York, when it seemed as if the late nights and the travelling all finally caught up with me and I was less than scintillating. For much of the time I felt as if my brain was wrapped in cotton wool, and I apologise to New York fandom for not being my usual sparkling self. A measure of how much more alert I now was is that the notes I took were complete enough that, apart from a little editing, everything preceeding this sentence in this chapter is mostly as I wrote it down in my notebook on that train journey back in 1984.
It was early evening when I finally alighted at New Carrollton, staggering off the train with my baggage and taking the escalator down from the platform. Waiting for me at the bottom was the familar figure of Avedon Carol, my sweetie. I dropped my bags and we hugged and kissed. Avedon had stayed with me in London for two months in the spring and I was delighted to see her again. This was early in our romance and it had been eight weeks since we'd last seen each other. Stowing my stuff in the trunk of her Datsun 210, we took off for her parents' house, where I'd be staying the remainder of my trip.
We took the Beltway, a highway that circles Washington DC much as the M25 does London, and were barrelling along when Avedon suddenly started zig-zagging all over the road. Calmly, I enquired why she was driving in this fashion.
"What the fuck are you doing!" I bellowed.
"Making it difficult for snipers."
"A few months ago," she explained, rather nonchalantly, "someone was taking pot shots at drivers along this very stretch."
(Avedon later claimed she was just having fun with me by playing on the belief all foreigners have that America is a violent and lawless place. A likely story!)
A few miles further on, as the road swooped down under a bridge adorned with painted-out graffiti, a hideously tacky structure sprang into view among the trees beyond, appearing to be underlined by the bridge. It was white with five, gold-flecked, conical spires, and what appeared to be an enormous, Christmas tree fairy atop the tallest spire.
"Actually, it's the angel Maroni," said Avedon, "and that's the world's largest Mormon temple. The graffiti on the bridge has been painted out by them, restored, and painted out again. Guess what it said?"
I had no idea.
"It said: SURRENDER DOROTHY!" she laughed, "Isn't that great?"
It certainly was. What a shame the Mormons hadn't seen the joke.
Avedon's parents, Gary and Queenie Avedikian, lived in Kensington, Maryland, in the house on Woodfield Road where she'd been raised, and this turned out to be a beautiful, leafy district of clean streets and manicured lawns that was American surburbia as I'd always pictured it. The house was detached, as all the houses in the area were, and appeared to be a bungalow, but it actually had a second floor, a full-scale basement. However, it wasn't the house which caught my attention when we got out of the car; it was the cicadas. The trees must have been packed with these cricket-like insects, and the sheer noise they made was incredible. The very air itself seemed to be throbbing, and the cicadas kept this up day and night. It was like being in a film of a Tennessee Williams play. Only later, when Avedon revealed that the cicadas show up at seven-year intervals, did I realise how lucky I'd been to catch them.
We were greeted by Avedon's mother, who I'd met in London when she'd passed through town a few weeks earlier, dropped off my bags, and then drove over to her brother's house to pick up her father. Avedon's brother, Rick, is a carpenter, and their father was helping him build a new workshop. This was the first time I'd ever met either. Gary came over first and shook my hand. Tall and thin with shaggy white hair and beard, an ear-to-ear smile, and piercing eyes, Gary was then 70 years old and is without doubt one of the most striking looking people I've ever met. Where his dad's hair and beard were snowy white, Rick's were jet black giving him a strongly middle-eastern appearance. He was also the possessor of the deepest voice I've ever encountered. When he spoke, I could feel my sternum vibrate. We shook hands, agreed to get better acquainted over the next few days, and then Avedon and I whisked Gary back to Woodfield Road for the meal Queenie had cooked for us all.
We'd arranged to drive over to Ted White's place that evening, but discovered the lights on Avedon's Datsun weren't working, so Ted drove over to Kensington instead. He arrived at the same time as Gary and Queenie got back from an early evening social engagement, so I hopped in his car and we headed for Falls Church with Avedon following in her parents' car so that she could drive us back later.
Ted's house at 1014 N. Tuckahoe Street, Falls Church, Virginia, is one of the most famous addresses in fandom and many fine fanzines had been produced there over the years, such as PONG and, most recently, Ted's small personalzine, EGOSCAN ('The Fanzine That Talks About Fans'). Waiting for us at 1014 were rich brown and Linda Blanchard, then in the throes of a short-lived romance; Matthew Moore, a non-fan friend and business associate of Ted; and the man I was beginning to think of as my shadow, Jack Herman. This would be absolutely, positively the last time I would encounter him on my TAFF trip. Linda and rich left after about ten minutes but were replaced a little later by Ted's recent neighbours, Dan and Lynn Steffan. I'd been particularly looking forward to meeting Dan, Ted's co-editor on PONG and one of my favourite fanartists, and he did not disappoint me. Large, tall, bespectacled and sparsely bearded, Dan proved to be as funny and entertaining as I'd been told he was. (Though I thought the mauve shirt with the monogrammed pocket was a bit much, Dan.) As usual, conversation centred on Richard Bergeron and the feud that was building. Few of us could have guessed that it would develop into the biggest and most damaging to fandom in twenty years. The particular topic on this occasion was a fanzine called TEDSCAN ('The Fanzine That Talks About Ted White') from Eric Mayer, a fan based in Rochester, New York State. Eric had his own beef with Ted but, on the principle that "my enemy's enemy is my friend" he would soon be co-opted by Bergeron, who was happy for any ally he could find. We shook our heads and chuckled at TEDSCAN, still not fully appreciating the scale of the storm that was brewing.
Avedon and I said our farewells after watching the David Letterman Show. Thus ended my first day in Washington.
Chapter 11: I SEE DC
We're near the nation's capital, but we're not stuck up-at-all;
So take a stand and shake the hand of every crab in Maryland.
We touch four states, and several bays, the highways mostly run two ways;
We hope you come and say hello and maybe stop and spend some dough.
I didn't care whether he spent any dough or not, but I certainly hoped M. Anders 'Andy' Beekan was going to drop by Kensington, Maryland, and say hello sometime soon. Apart from a short trip to 'Barbarian Books' in nearby Wheaton to pick up some comics, we'd been waiting all day for Andy to come over and fix the lights on Avedon's car so that she could use it to get to her evening class.
Andy eventually turned up at 5.30 pm and had the lights fixed in no time. I was impressed. So was Avedon, who leapt right into the car when he was done and took off for her class, leaving Andy and me to our own devices. Andy was about my height, though stockier, had thinning blond hair and spoke with a slow, soft drawl. He'd been a friend of Avedon's since the days of her misspent pre-fannish youth. We decided to get acquainted over a few games of pinball.
In the basement of the Avedikian house is a full-size, arcade-standard pinball machine on which was then taped a note proclaiming a record score of 1,251,250 by "The Fabulous Avedon Carol". I sniffed dismissively, knowing this was exactly the same score that had been there four years earlier when Dave Langford visited, as recorded in THE TRANSATLANTIC HEARING AID. Clearly, Avedon hadn't improved in the meantime. I'd've been less dismissive if I'd had any idea of how hard it is to get scores that high.
Andy wiped me out. In the very first game he scored 707,000 -- with 354,000 of that from one ball (as an indication of how impressive this is, I should tell you that it would be another ten years before I equalled this feat on that machine). Only once did he score less than 400,000, and only then did I beat him. Andy insisted this was all a fluke but I know when I'm being hustled.
Avedon finally returned at 9.15 pm, about half an hour after Andy left, and we took off for pizza at a place called Ledo's which, quite simply, serves the best pizza I've ever tasted. Every trip I've made to DC since then has included at least one visit to Ledo's. Stocking up on enough pizza to provide breakfast as well, we then set off for the house of Bob Weiler and Applesusan (aka Susan Applegate), a lapsed-fannish friend of Avedon. Bob is a lecturer and they had a visiting professor from Europe staying with them. The prof, a guy of uncertain age and nationality (uncertain because my notes record neither), was delighted to meet someone else from Europe (or 'Yurp', as Americans call it) and decided to tell an appropriate joke.
"What's the difference between heaven and hell?"
None of us knew the correct answer.
"Heaven is where they have they have Italian cooks, German bureaucrats, and British policemen. Hell is where they have British cooks, Italian bureaucrats, and German policemen."
The faith foreigners have in our police force is really quite touching. I wish I could share it.
Something surprising that came up during conversation is that the state song, 'Maryland, My Maryland', is sung to the tune of 'The Red Flag'. Dating back to the Civil War, it was written originally to encourage Maryland to secede from the Union. It includes such splendid lines as:
The despot's heel is on thy shore, his torch is at thy temple door,
Avenge the patriotic gore, that flecked the streets of Baltimore.
The 'despot' referred to is generally assumed to be Abraham Lincoln and the song further asks Maryland to "spurn the Northern scum". Anyway, Maryland Delegate Howard A. Dennis had recently suggested it was about time the song's anti-Union sentiment was eliminated, and this had been picked up by Public Radio's Larry Massett, who came up with new lyrics of his own. Here's another of his verses (copyright Larry Massett c 1983):
I have a dog whose name is Jack, I threw a stick, he brought it back
My sister had a cat, I think, my mother had a kitchen sink.
My father was a decent man and we all lived in Maryland,
Oh Maryland, my Maryland; oh Maryland, my Maryland.
The next day, Wednesday 12th September, we were up and showered early so that Avedon could fulful a medical appointment and I could meet up with Dolly and Alexis Gilliland, who were going to take me around the tourist sights of Washington.
Dolly provided most of the commentary, with Alexis contributing the occasional laconic observation, drawled in that improbable accent of his. Our first stop was the statue of Albert Einstein outside the National Academy of Sciences. I dutifully took a snapshot of Dolly and Alexis in front of this while Alexis explained that the star-map cast in its base was originally going to be set at Einstein's date of birth but was ultimately set at the date of the statue's erection since it was felt the former smacked of astrology. Quite right, too.
I hadn't known what to expect of the Vietnam Memorial and at first sight it wasn't very impressive, sunk as it is into a gash in Constitution Gardens, near the Lincoln Memorial. But as you slowly walk along its polished black granite walls, eyes taking in only some of the more than 58,000 names of fallen servicemen and women inscribed on them, it becomes powerfully affecting by virtue of its stark simplicity. The Vietnam War was not my war, and in common with many of my generation I thought it was a stupid and unnecessary war, but those who gave their lives in its execution were not responsible for the actions of their government, and it's right that their sacrifice should be remembered. The judges of the competition were unanimous in choosing Maya Ying Lin's from the 1,421 designs for the memorial that were submitted. They chose well.
We viewed the Lincoln Memorial from below (it was a blazingly hot day and none of us fancied climbing all those steps) before turning and casting our eyes up past the reflecting pool and the soaring obelisk of the Washington Memorial, ("Our national penis" -- Avedon) and along The Mall to where the Capitol Building perched on the hill beyond. It was as impressive as all get out and, as in London, all of the most famous sights proved to be within easy walking distance of each other. However, this being America we drove to the White House, Alexis pointing out that, like Buckingham Palace, the face of the White House the public is most familar with is actually the rear. When we drove round to the front we came across an anti-nuclear protest, one that took the form of large numbers of banners planted in the grass directly across from the White House. I'd been on a couple of anti-nuclear demonstrations in London in recent months and, if I hadn't been unsure of the politics of my hosts, I would've cheered.
We drove on down Pennsylvania Avenue towards Congress, passing between the FBI building on the left and the Justice Department on the right, on past the National Archive Building ("Where the government keeps its fanzine collection" -- Alexis), and on to our destination: the National Air and Space Museum. This is directly across the road from the NASA building and, according to Alexis, is often referred to as "NASA's attic". The reason for this became obvious as soon as we entered the museum.
The V-1 and V-2, the Skylab you could walk through, and the huge variety of aircraft in the museum were impressive enough, but it was the stuff in the lobby as you first enter that really got to me. Hanging from the ceiling was the Spirit of St.Louis, the Wright brothers' flyer, the X-1 craft with which Chuck Yeager was the first man to break the sound barrier, and the X-15, the last in the famed series that, if not for the political urgencies of the space race, might well have continued and eventually provided craft capable of getting us into space more efficiently than anything we've come up with since. On the floor of the lobby was the Gemini capsule from which Ed White made the first US spacewalk, and the Apollo-11 command module. As a science fiction fan I was in heaven, yet the item in that lobby that moved me more than anything was a piece of moonrock, mounted so that the public could touch it. On that long-ago night in 1969, when I'd stayed up into the early hours with my father and brother to watch the grainy live transmission of Neil Armstrong's first steps on the moon, I'd felt a sense of wonder at the magnitude of the event I was witnessing such as only a fourteen year-old could feel. Fifteen years later, in 1984, I touched a piece of the moon, something I never imagined I would ever do. In that moment I was fourteen years-old again.
Feeling hungry, we ate at a Cuban restaurant called 'La Cantinata', where Dolly and I had Rapa Vieja ("old rags"), which was shredded beef in tomato and wine sauce with all the black beans and rice we could eat -- a considerable amount in my case. Immediately prior to this we'd made our final visit of the day, to the National Gallery of Art. It was here, in the west building, that I got to see my first ever Dali original. It was 'The Last Supper' and it was huge. I asked Alexis if he'd ever tried to do anything as big.
"I did once," he admitted, "but they took my spray can away from me."
We spent some time back at Dolly and Alexis' home, where I chatted to Alexis in his study and admired his Hugo Awards (he only had three at the time) while trying to avoid the attentions of their grumpy cat, before I was driven back to Kensington, Maryland. We got there before 10pm but not before Avedon, who turned up later. It had been a good day.
Our nights are dark, our days are fair, we're right next door to Delaware
Our song before was full of gore but we heard the Union won the war.
We're sorry if it made you mad, it was the only song we had,
Oh Maryland, my Maryland; oh Maryland, my Maryland.
Chapter 12: FEUDS, FOODS, & CERTITUDES
Yesterday, a letter had arrived in the post from Dave Locke. Locke, a Cincinnatti fan, had decided to leap into the fray of the fast developing feud (that I thought of as 'the Bergeron Affair', and American fans then referred to as 'Topic A', but which would ultimately be labelled 'the Taff Wars') through the interesting gambit of a letter professing impartiality while clearly supporting Richard Bergeron, a ploy that fooled no-one. This had arrived while Avedon and I were out so we didn't get to see it until we got back, late that evening. We had plenty of time to brood about it during the night, however, and neither of us slept too well. I awoke after a fitful night's sleep, worrying about the effect all this was going to have on TAFF, only to find Avedon already up and storming around, invoking Locke's name in connection with all manner of inventive if anatomically improbable procedures.
"Grab your jacket," said Avedon, abruptly, "we're going to Safeways."
"It's over ninety out there," I protested, "what the hell do I need my jacket for?"
"You'll soon find out."
And I did, too. American supermarkets are equipped with the same vicious air-conditioning as their airliners, and even with my jacket on I actually started shivering in Safeways. In Britain we keep food fresh by means of freezer cabinets; in America they refuse to have any truck with such effete half- measures and freeze the whole store instead. We eventually emerged with supplies for tomorrow night's party, momentarily stunned by thermal shock as we stepped out of the arctic conditions of Safeways into the blistering heat.
That evening, two old friends of Queenie's, Avedon's brother Rick, and Rick's wife, Maryanne Murillo, came over and the eight of us ate a superb meal of ethnic Armenian food. Avedon had always boasted about her mother's cooking, and it lived up its billing. Afterwards, with Rick on guitar, he and Avedon sang songs from the late-1960s and early-1970s. Since they (and their sister, Sally) had been professional musicians earlier in their lives this was no simple family singalong but a pretty high-quality performance. Rick called for requests, so I suggested Led Zeppelin's 'Communication Breakdown'.
"Oh, sure!" he laughed, while Avedon gave me a black look.
Rick and Maryanne had brought along their dog, Coda (so called because he has a tail), a large and very friendly beast who decided I was going to play with him and wouldn't take 'no' for an answer. Oh well, at least he didn't want sex with my leg.
My sleep cycle still skewed, I didn't wake 'til 11am the next morning. This left me just enough time to shower and dress before we had to climb in the car and shoot over to Ledo's, where we were meeting an old pal of Avedon's for lunch.
Jane Noll, described by Avedon as "my radical feminist friend" turned out to be a tall, thin, heavy-smoker, with a high-pitched voice. Though blonde and less manic, she reminded me strangely of Abi Frost. She ate sparingly, settling for a toasted cheese sandwich while Avedon and I got stuck into another huge tray of that delicious Ledo's pizza. Jane belonged to a group called WOW (Women On Walls) which spray-painted political slogans on walls. One of their recent actions had involved painting 'FEED THE POOR, NOT THE PENTAGON!' in three foot high letters opposite that august institution.
"It'll last for a coupla days until some general orders its removal,"said Jane, "and since they take almost all our tax money they don't have to worry about the expense."
But then the Pentagon, like the Mormon Church, is not an institution known for its sense of humour. Back in the 1960s, the Yippies announced that the Pentagon, having five sides, was obviously Satanic and that they were going to exorcise the evil by levitating it. And since they loved twitting the authorities, they applied for formal permission to do this. The authorities duly announced that "permission to levitate the Pentagon is denied".
Despite Jane not being a fan, she and Avedon also got into an argument over how modern day fans should respond to the homophobia in the writings of Francis Towner Laney, something that raised a laugh when I related the tale at the party of sorts we threw that evening in Avedon's folks' basement.
The people at the party were a mix of fans and non-fans, but they got on together pretty well. The former consisted of rich brown, Linda Blanchard, Dave Bischoff, Ted White, Steve & Elaine Stiles and us, while the latter included Bob and Applesusan, and their friends Wayne and Walter. As usual, Topic A dominated the fannish conversation and, in a moment of inspiration, I suggested a new fan fund.
"It would be called BiFFF -- the Big Fist Fan Fund," I enthused, "and would send a fan to Puerto Rico to punch Bergeron on the nose." All laughed at this, particularly Ted.
"It would never work, though," he said, "because there'd be too many people wanting to stand."
"Certainly would," I chuckled, "in fact we'd better not mention BiFFF in print, even in jest, or people will start sending us money."
In more serious vein, we also talked about setting up a special fund to bring D West to the US, an idea that got lost in the turmoil of the following months, unfortunately.
During a brief interlude when we weren't discussing the Bergeron Affair, Ted reminisced about meeting Doctor Daniel D. Light at the 1974 DISCON.
"He was the guy who wrote out all Lenny Bruce's false prescriptions," Ted explained, "and while we were talking he rolled a perfect joint one-handed, one that looked as if it had been machine-rolled!"
There was awe in Ted's voice as he related this anecdote, and wonder in his eyes. Forget your football stars and your olympic athletes, this was the feat of supreme physical achievement that had made the deepest impression on him. In fact it wouldn't surprise me if, purely from a desire to attain the same level of manual dexterity, Ted was practicing that very skill right now.