by William Tenn (Phil Klass)
Adapted from Progress Report 2, August 2002

Francois Villon wondered, "Where are the snows of yesteryear?" You can tell him from me that they have damn well melted, and so have the science fiction conventions of years gone by — but, unlike the snows, those wonderful conventions are still solid, in my memory at least. The pranks, the drunken uproars, the sexual hoohah!

The first one I attended, the 1948 Philcon, was comparatively quiet sexually. Except of course for the nymph who wandered in from the hotel lobby, asked everyone "What in the world is this science fiction you keep talking about?" and proceeded to make it with everyone who answered her question, from the major figures in the field on down. (With everyone? Yes, the conventions were overwhelmingly male in those days, just before Judy Merrill arrived on the scene with her publication of "That Only a Mother.") The nymph emerged from a crowded hotel room on the last day of the con, shopworn and a bit bruised, but withal quite happy.

My second story, "Child's Play," had been published about a year and half before (ASF Feb. 1947) and had been well received. Fan after fan came up to me at the con and told me that while they liked the story, they knew it had to have been done by a well-known professional and not a newcomer. Right to my face they told me I was no more than another pen name for Henry Kuttner.

Well, now you can tell them — retroactively, of course — that the piece has just been optioned for the movies. A Henry Kuttner nom de plume — hah! (Damn it, after fifty-four years, it still burns.)

And pranks? It was almost as much as your life was worth just to walk to the elevator. A group of new young writers (Chandler Davis, for one, before he tangled with HUAC, the House Un-American Activities Committee) and well-established fans (Jay Kay Klein, Milt Rothman, etc.) got their hands on several boxes of firecrackers, lit strings of them, and kept dropping them everywhere, but mostly down the elevator shaft and airshaft of the hotel building until the fire department arrived. The firemen confiscated the firecrackers, but, according to legend, went off to another part of the building to set them off themselves.

My seventeen-year-old brother, drunk to the gills, encountered John W. Campbell in an elevator and shook his hand and announced, "You've never heard of me, but I'm Morton Klass and I'm going to be the best damn writer you've ever published in your magazine. Put it there, Johnnie!" Campbell, even drunker to the gills, put it there, sobbing, "No one in this whole, whole convention really, really understands me."

Yes, I tell you there were giants in those days.

They were still larger than life at the 1950 Metrocon, a joint production of the Hydra Club professionals and local New York fan clubs. Not only did seven separate and distinct famous pro marriages break up at that con — no, I will not name names, some of those people are still alive and litigious — but there exists a great photo of the con (taken, I believe, by the aforementioned Jay Kay Klein) in which you can see a) a number of individuals peering about in an attempt to locate their spouses, and b) those same mislaid spouses cavorting uproariously on camera with other people's spouses. Nymphs? They were underfoot, underbelly, everywhere.

That photo! Not only can you see me at the speakers' table, to the right of Willy and Olga Ley, under an enormous mop of hair (I had been flat broke and financially unable to have it cut for four full months), but also a superb shot of Isaac Asimov seeming to be lolling backward in his chair.

Ike was so thoroughly potted that he couldn't sit without sliding forward out of the chair. He whooped each time he did this, warning the photographer not to click the shutter just yet. After a number of such slides and such whoops, the photographer drafted a young fan to sit on the floor under the table at the Good Doctor's feet and push against his knees until the picture was taken.

This meant, of course, that the young fan was not in the final photograph. A great shame, because the picture later appeared as a double-page spread in Life magazine, with Ike gurgling as he leaned backward and slid forward, but the young fan nowhere to be seen.

By the 1956 Worldcon in New York City, science fiction had become almost respectable and the people who were involved with it were getting older. It was a somewhat quieter affair. No nymphs, no firecrackers, no loopy drunkenness — just one important pro marriage breaking up during the proceedings. (No, I still won't name the name — please see me in private if you must know.)

Still, that one breakup was a pretty good one: it almost cost us yet another person who had nothing at all to do with the breakup. The female half of the separating couple was carrying a very well-filled leather handbag by its long leather strap. At a given point, exasperated by her conversation with the male half (the argument had been going on for three loud hours), she apparently decided to use the purse as a weapon in a kind of Trial by Combat.

She swung the purse by the leather strap in a wide arc through the crowded convention floor, aiming it at the face of her spouse. Several dozen people ducked frantically, all except Aurea Keyes, who had her back to the argument and was talking quietly to her husband, Dan Keyes.

Fortunately, Aurea suffered only a very slight concussion and a minor scalp wound. But Dan Keyes did not get over seeing his wife slugged until well after the end of the con.

The last Worldcon I attended — the Millennium Philcon, 2001 — was intellectually stimulating, but essentially a pallid affair. To the best of my knowledge (and I inquired most, most carefully) no important marriages broke up, no drunken editors were accosted by drunken, importunate fans — and the general sexual hijinks were at an absolute minimum. The only nymphs I saw were people actually constumed as such.

Well, a man can dream. A man even must dream. Surely, before I die, there will be at least one more great big splashy, gory, colorful, head-blasting, marriage-sundering science fiction convention! And please — Jehovah, Vishnu, Zeus, Ahura Mazda, Quetzlcoatl, Great Cosmic Mind, Whatever or Whoever — please, may I be there.