The New York City area is also center stage for this next visit to fandom past. Dave Kyle's latest article for us is bracketed around the 1930s, but takes us far and wide as he continues his personal journey through fandom's past days.
'Tales of Bheer and Raven's Cake' by Dave Kyle; title illo 
  by Kurt Erichsen
Food is as much a part of fantasy and science fiction as it is in he real world. Alice was urged to 'Eat Me!' and 'Drink Me!', and H.G. Wells told of The Food of the Gods. The most famous sf double entendre of all time is the story "To Serve Man." Ruth Kyle published her Fandom's Cookbook in 1959 for friends, and years later Anne McCaffrey wrote her sf cookbook for the world.

When I was young, in 1939 and three years into my personal fannish journey beyond the typewriter, future Nebula winner Dick Wilson and I stood up at the counter of Nedick's on 42nd Street, Manhattan, and slaked our hunger and thirst, each with a hot dog and root beer. Those two items were purchased for the price of one nickel. Five cents for his, five cents for mine! I would never have believed then, despite my extravagant sf visions of the future, that one day the few pennies would become many bucks. One day we would be prominent participants in fancy worldcon banquets. However, the exposition of such epicurean epics -- worldcon banquets, the food food and drink of organized fandom -- is not to be told here in this, my more personal view.

My first encounter with food and fandom was in 1936, when I went to New York City out of high school and entered the world of the infamous International Scientific Association (ISA) fan group, in which Don Wollheim, Fred Pohl, Dick Wilson, and Harry 'Dirk Wylie' Dockweiler became my close teenage friends. I had found the personal world of fandom beyond the typewriter and the reader's pages of the magazines. For the first time in my life, I was eating and drinking regularly away from home and my parents. I discovered the fast food places of the Depression Era: automats, cafeterias, and Nedick's counter service. And Dirk, the would-be Hemingway clone, introduced me to the hip flask and the insouciance of the wearing of the cigarette.

Don and his cohort Johnny Michal ate humble food like the rest of us, but Don didn't drink spirits, whereas Johnny (later in harness with Cyril Kornbluth) most certainly did at appropriate times. Come to think of it, Don was, in this and other ways, a sort of conservative(?!) east coast Forry Ackerman.

After an ISA meeting out there in the Borough of Queens, there was a ritual involving ice cream gluttony by the way of a concoction we called 'The Science Fiction Sundae'. I was initiated into the routine. Fred Pohl explains the phenomenon thusly: "You see, what we science fiction fans mostly wanted to do with each other's company was to talk about science fiction, and about the world. ... We formed the habit of The Meeting. After the Meeting. ... [We would] walk in a body to the nearest station of the El. On the way, we would stop off at a soda fountain .... It supplied us with ice cream sodas..."

Another favorite hangout for those Meetings After the Meeting or other socializing moments was the Horn and Hardart Automat on 42nd Street. We would linger for hours over a few cents worth of food. I'm not sure, but I think we occasionally had some tomato soup concocted from the free catsup and the hot water taps. I am sure, though, that I occasionally amused my companions by eating the flower in the vase on the table with some pretense at shaking a dash of salt and pepper on it while pretending that I relished it, to emphasize my low finances and acknowledge those days of The Great Depression.

In my experience-filled year in the Big City, to which I would return in other years, I had sampled the rudiments of fannish food and drink. The future held for me the wild -- well, not so wild -- parties of my convention days. The very first convention, in Philadelphia in 1936, was held in a bar that was closed for business. None of us from New York or Philadelphia had any thought of alcoholic beverages then. Times would change.

Some of my past Mimosa articles have mentioned food, like Arthur Clarke's cheese and wine bachelor party {{ed. note: "Golden Ages, Silver Screens" in M13 }}, and that 1940 trip to Chicago {{ ed. note: "Chicon Ho!" in M8 }} when we chose to buy a bag of groceries instead of a couple of tickets to the banquet -- which later prompted Californian Elmer Perdue to treat us to 'one decent meal' as our car limped back to New York.

Going out to restaurants or fast food places at conventions is obviously a necessity, and you often unexpectedly meet friends there. Isaac Asimov confessed that after he tricked Ruth Landis (my future spouse) away from me on the Saturday night at the 1955 Clevention, he "...and Randall Garrett and Forrest Ackerman ... kept squiring her here and there ... [eventually finding] an all-night diner [where they] sat up all night with Ruth ... talking all sorts of gibberish and loving it." Long talks into the night accompanied by food and drink have always been commonplace but don't often get mentioned in autobiographies.

Possibly the most propitious time for combining food and good fellowship at conventions is breakfast time (at least for my advanced years). Then, the wilder element is still abed recuperating from the all-night parties. The hangover crowd and sleep-deprived are almost non-existent in the dining room or breakfast cafe, but old-timers and the sedate seem to be leisurely fueling up for the day ahead. Some of my most pleasant encounters have been then. In New Orleans, at the 1988 Worldcon, if I hadn't wandered out to the waterfront for rolls and coffee, I would have missed George Price. And I would have missed his reminiscence of a forgotten time when we had our picture published in the New York Daily News just after the war. We were in uniform helping Jimmy Taurasi (who was wearing his FanVet cap) prepare packages of sf magazines "...for our boys, somewhere over there." I had forgotten that. Then there was my visit with Ray and Diane Harryhausen (who were eating undisturbed, except by me) to recall the old days. I remember the special meals for con guests before and after the main weekend. Most memorable, because it was so shocking, was the morning I met Ben Bova in the lobby and we breakfasted together. I told him it was my first chance in years to socialize with him. (I had introduced him to the science fiction world in 1956.) "Why so?" he asked. "Because you were always surrounded with people," I explained, "as the prominent editor of Omni and I didn't want to intrude."

He regretted my reluctance, then came the shock: "When I left Omni, they left me," he said. Fair weather friends, sad to say, are to be found in science fiction circles, prevalent among 'professionals'. That didn't seem to be so in the good old days, when most (if not all) pros were genuine fans, unsegregated and not aloof.

Free snacks and some drinks appeared with the advent of hospitality set-ups for the early conventions. As con-goers became more affluent, food and drink refreshments began to spread with the increase in hotel room bookings, leading to small gatherings of friends and private parties. At my Newyorcon (the 1956 Worldcon), I arranged a welcome party subsidized by the publishers, at which everyone got at least two free alcoholic drinks.

illo by Kurt Erichsen This leads to a discussion of drinking at conventions. The patron saint of science fiction, St. Fantony, brought forth the 'waters for the trufen' in merrie olde Englande and this century's British fans concocted 'blog', that legendary fannish drink. It was as potent as could be devised for 'The Test' to determine such trufen. Fandom's Cookbook, Ruth's booklet, has three recipes for blog, as submitted by Bill Donoho.

Alcoholic spirits flowed generously on both sides of the Atlantic. The youth and affability of those drawn to the early years of cons created an atmosphere very much like something to be found on college campuses. Drinking hard liquor became the smart thing to do, and drunkenness was all too common. I think the drinking problem developed postwar when more money was around and booze flowed freely. No bidding party or hospitality room was worth attention if whiskey and beer weren't available.

The best drinking party I ever enjoyed took place at the Detention, the 1959 Detroit Worldcon. The invitation read: '10pm Cass Room, Bheer Party. Bring your Bheer Credits. Meet your favorite authors. Light Bheer, Dark Bheer, Rhoot Bheer. The Detention Committee is host -- if you can still read this, go find a party.' After the masquerade -- which unlike today's affairs was simple, brief, and over with before eleven o'clock -- pitchers of beer were placed on tables. Ruthbegan a bridge game with Detention co-chairmen Roger Sims and Fred Prophet, and (probably) Carolyn Hickman while I kibitzed. About eleven o'clock, a panel began in the next room, which may well have been the longest-running worldcon panel of all time. It went on hour after hour into the night... and so did the card game. Various persons would wander in from the panel and report its progress to the bheer drinking players, then wander back. The panel members were in a perpetual state of flux. Several times I rotated in and out as a panel member or spectator, catching Ruth's score and trying to slake my unquenchable thirst. The pitchers of beer seemed unending. It was the best dark beer -- dark bheer, that is -- I have ever drunk (and I speak as a veteran resident of England). That night is memorable -- ask anyone who was there!

In addition to convention-sponsored hospitality, fans have always had the knack of finding free food and drinks at gatherings where other events have been simultaneously held in the con hotel. Private, non-sf room parties have often been crashed. In 1952, at Chicon II, a wedding reception upstairs from the worldcon area seemed fair game to some fans. Lloyd Arthur Eshbach (Fantasy Press) and I (Gnome Press) looked in, but Lloyd was intimidated by the scene and left. However, two other fan/pros, Bill Hamling (Amazing Stories) and Mel Korshak (Shasta Publishers), also sub-committee chairmen for Chicon, amazed and embarrassed me with their chutzpah. When their presence was challenged, they brazened it out, lingering to sample the food and drink, while I silently slipped away. Bill, in fact, acted self-righteously belligerent and Mel later "...had several delightful waltzes with the bride." (Lloyd has reported this incident in greater detail in his fascinating book, Over My Shoulder.)

My strongest, most dramatic memories of all about food and drink, however, were of my days as a struggling artist when starvation seemed to hover over us. 'Us' was Dick Wilson and me, when in 1939-40, we lived in a tiny apartment on the upper east side of New York that was called Ravens' Roost. We often subsisted on the kindness of families, friends, and fans. Dirk Wylie regularly raided his mother's larder in the wilds of Queen's Village, far from the end of the subway line. My mother would send us packages of food along with concerned notes from my old home town of Monticello a hundred miles away. Mrs. Wilson would occasionally send us some home-cooked supplies, and Jack Gillespie would show up frequently with cartons of chocolate-covered Goobers "...which had fallen off the back of the truck..." that his father drove. We bought oatmeal and potatoes -- plenty of potatoes. For weeks we would have a varied menu of fried potatoes... or boiled potatoes... or mashed potatoes... or baked potatoes, with oatmeal every third time to break the monotony.

We also had our cake -- our emergency ration. We had made it one day out of flour and slightly sour milk, with some melted red and green candies for sweetening. We baked it for a long time in a deep pan. When the top was a dark golden crust, we pried it out of the pan with great effort. It was as solid as a rock, and the chips of red and green crystals studding its surface gave it a jewel-like quality.

It was impossible to cut. It was impossible to break. We attacked it with a dull knife and a hammer, and when the thing stubbornly refused to surrender, we altered our thinking. It became our permanent protection against starvation while serving as a very effective, heavy door stop. This unusual cake was a marvel which, for its beauty and practicality, was admired by all. Other Ravens came to replace me and Dick, and they became its guardian. I don't know whatever finally happened to our fabulous possibly-edible door stop. Damon Knight, struggling at the Roost toward his future success, should have known, but he has never told me.

Maybe he ate it...
illo by Kurt Erichsen

All illustrations by Kurt Erichsen

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