Here's one last story about past New York City fandom, this time set in the early 1960s. Ted White's previous article for us, a few issues ago, was a remembrance of one incident in his continuing friendship with one of fandom's most colorful personalities, Harlan Ellison. Ted's new article (which also features Ellison) is once again about friendships, and the things fans do to remain friends.
'The Girl' by Ted White; title illo by Dan Steffan
Before I begin this story, I want to comment on the responses to my last story, "The Bet." {{ ed. note: in Mimosa 12 }} One reader said, "What was most disturbing was that for the price of a piece of cake White forgave Ellison. He should have called the police." Another reader said it was "a classic feud story," while yet another said, "I don't see the point of digging up an old grudge to take Harlan down a notch." And one reader asks, "How did Ted manage to remain friends with the guy after that?"

Others wondered if the story was exaggerated: "...if it was embellished truth, I don't want to know!" ... "...assuming Ted White's story is true, that's pretty amazing." ... "My first reaction upon finishing "The Bet" was, 'I don't believe this -- he couldn't have -- they didn't!' My brain is still sputtering."

Clearly, I have not successfully communicated with some of you. First, that story, like this one, is true to my memories of the events, although the actual dialogue was obviously recreated since no one tape-recorded it at the time. I have not exaggerated or embellished for effect, nor is that my style.

More important is the context of the time and my friendship with Harlan. The simple fact is that even when I was not happy with something Harlan had done, I looked up to him. I was in awe of him when I first met him, and it took many years for that to fully wear off. When Harlan moved back to New York City in 1960, our friendship became much stronger than it had been previously, simply because we were so much in each other's company. Harlan stayed in my apartment for a month or two before finding an apartment of his own only three doors down the street. We were often in and out of each other's apartments, we went places together (ranging from Hydra Club meetings to jazz clubs), and we had as well those quiet moments late at night or early in the day when our defenses were down and we could share intimate thoughts. We had a lot of fun together. To save 15¢ in subway fare, we jumped on the backs of trucks and rode them uptown. We spent one afternoon planning a final issue of Harlan's Dimensions -- drawing up a mock table of contents with every BNF on it, each assigned a piece with a provocative title (most of them Harlan's, of course -- ghod, he had a quick wit!). There is no doubt in my mind that I was basically Harlan's sidekick of the time: he led and I followed. But you must understand that I liked Harlan and I admired him intensely. The memory of him writing "Daniel White For The Greater Good" in the midst of a party in my living room is one I will always cherish, not only because Harlan could be such a macho, exhibitionistic writer, but because under such circumstances he could write such a good story.

He was like an older brother to me, with all the aspects implied by such a relationship. We were buddies, and we were rivals. We were friends. And that, of course, is why I accepted his peace offering and his apology. We were friends. Friends can get mad at each other; they just don't stay mad. "The Bet" was not written "to take Harlan down a notch," nor out of any grudge. Nor has there ever been a feud between us. We have disagreed about things over the years, but we have also agreed on many more things. I will always think of Harlan as a friend, no matter how distant we may become.

There was a time when our lives intertwined and there are some good stories from that time. One of them would take more space than this fanzine has in which to be told -- it covers a five-year span and climaxes with Harlan's Memos From Purgatory, the first edition of which he dedicated to me. The others are briefer, and easier to tell. Here is one such.

# # # #

When I moved to New York City in 1959, it was a dauntingly big place and I felt intimidated by it at first. So I looked for friends. Having friends takes the coldness out of new environs. As a fan, I knew a number of fans in New York City, but those I knew best -- the Ellingtons, Bill Donoho, Larry & Noreen Shaw -- were at the same time moving out of NYC. Bill and the Ellingtons moved west to the Bay area, then in the process of becoming a new fannish Mecca. The Shaws moved west to Staten Island -- technically still New York City, but a long ferry and train ride from Manhattan. So I turned to people like Larry Ivie, whom I first knew through EC comics fandom, and to the newer, younger group of fans, still in their mid-teens, like Les Gerber and Andy Reiss.

Les and Andy had made their first appearances as fans at the 1956 NyCon -- when they were only 12 or 13. I can't say I met them there exactly, but I did notice these two little kids who wore 'Sunday best' suits, carried briefcases, and wore nylon stockings over their heads, proclaiming to one and all in loud voices that they were agents of the Goon Defective Agency. Brats.

Three or four years later, one of them -- Andy Reiss -- had become taller and very skinny, while the other remained somewhat shorter and chubbier. The latter, Les Gerber, was the more active and energetic of the two, but they were still troublemakers of sorts. They broke up a Central Park meeting of the Metrofen (a short-lived club made up largely of fans their age) by starting a pitched battle with dirt clods, for example. Both were interested in fanzines, although they had yet to produce anything of significance. Les was in the apa SAPS, doing a SAPSzine. Andy was an artist and did cartoons for Les.

They were at first just acquaintances, but in the course of the next year they became my friends, often dropping in on me at my Village apartment when they were in the area. Inevitably, I started using Andy's cartoons in my fanzine, Void. He first illustrated a piece I'd written, "A Day With Calvin Thomas Beck," which itself became much talked-about. Subsequently, Andy showed me a series of surrealistic cartoons he was doing, which he called, collectively, "Dig." I was impressed. Conceptually, these cartoons were not just tossed-off 'fanart'. They had a seriously surreal quality, a very sophisticated approach to the whole idea of humor. Not bad for a 16-year-old.

Of course, Andy was not your typical 16-year-old, even for a native of New York City. His family were Jewish liberals, in the artistic wing. Andy had uncles whose works hung in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art. His mother had, before marrying, been a dancer in Harlem. His father, a printer, was a card-carrying member of the CPUSA -- a real Communist. Andy grew up in Brooklyn, and was the first person I ever met who smoked marijuana (he never offered me any, and I'd not try it myself until almost ten years after meeting him).

(Les Gerber, who does not figure in this story, had a somewhat different background. Although his family was also Jewish, and into the arts -- the family had its own string quartet, and famed cellist Janos Starker was Les's cousin -- they were more conventional, more conservative; Les's father was a vice-principal at a high school.)

Andy had a girl friend, whom he'd met in high school. Her name was Donna. She was incredibly petite. She stood less than five feet tall, and was very well proportioned. Her face was pretty, and in overall summation most people would call her 'cute' or even 'very cute'. There was just one thing about her appearance that was a little odd (but less so in that era, during which Eisenhower was still president and cars still had big tailfins, and women wore all manner of figure-enhancing or figure-concealing items of apparel)... her butt was one single curve, lacking any indication of cleavage.

In a moment of requisite privacy, I asked her about that. As an ass-man, I had of course noticed this unusual feature of her apparent anatomy, and I had correctly guessed that she was wearing some sort of heavy-duty girdle. Since she was so tiny, and without any obvious need for the confinement of a girdle, I wondered why she wore it. She told me that a few years earlier, she had been "horribly fat," and had begun wearing a girdle then. Now, although she hardly needed it, she had grown used to it, and felt more comfortable wearing one. I thought then that this did not bode well for Andy. When a young woman wears what amounts to armor over that part of her body, it might well indicate a protective attitude, one which would fend off certain advances. It also didn't say much for her maturity -- she was 15 or 16 when I met her -- in any relationship she might have with Andy.

It was inevitable that sooner or later Donna would meet Harlan. By then Harlan had his own apartment just down the block from mine, and with both Harlan and Andy popping in and out of my apartment at all hours, they'd met early on. And one day, when Andy had brought Donna with him for a visit, Harlan dropped in and met her.

At this point, I was (as, in fact, I still am) five years older than Andy, and about five years younger than Harlan. So Harlan was in his mid-twenties, and about ten years older than Donna. The gap was not great, although one might have said, in the terminology of the times, that while Harlan was a man, Donna was still a girl -- a schoolgirl, in fact.

But Harlan had a different perspective. He has argued the point (in print) with Asimov -- as to whether he is 5'2" or 5'4" -- but no one denies that Harlan is, relatively, short. Most of the women with whom Harlan had been involved -- including his first wife, whom he had divorced only shortly before this -- were taller than Harlan. I doubt this was a matter of great concern to Harlan, but surely it must have delighted him to encounter such an attractive young woman who was in scale with him, so to speak. Harlan and Donna made a very good-looking couple standing next to each other, a fact which certainly was not lost on him.

illo by Dan Steffan And thus it was that the summer of 1960 saw the breakup of Andy and Donna, and the getting together of Harlan and Donna. I don't know how serious Harlan was about Donna, but I suspect that he wasn't very much so. Perhaps it was her age and immaturity that stood in the way of a real relationship between them; I think Harlan mostly just liked going places with her and being seen with her. But this is conjecture on my part; Harlan was never one to kiss and tell, and consequently I have no idea if in fact he ever did kiss her.

But if Harlan's attitude toward Donna was, basically, casual, Andy's was not. Andy was devastated as only a 16-year-old boy can be. Andy looked up to and admired Harlan, and he was at the least infatuated with Donna, so he couldn't really get mad at either one of them. So he took his hurt and frustration and despair out on himself; he became seriously depressed.

His mother called me up. "Ted, Andy hasn't been home for half a week. He won't eat and he won't sleep, and he just insists on hanging out on the street. If he shows up at your place, could you try to help him?"

I said I would. I liked Andy's mom, and I admired her for having the courage and the plain sensibleness to understand the situation and to call me as she had. Most moms would not have handled it so well, and probably made it much worse -- perhaps by reporting their son to the authorities.

Andy did turn up at the end of a week of fasting and sleeplessness. He was skinny as a rail. I have only once seen anyone up close (not on TV) who was that thin and emaciated (and she died a few months later of anorexia). When he took off his tee-shirt and turned his back to me, I could see the skin clinging to the back of his ribcage, his shoulder bones, and his spine, with horrible concavities between them.

He wandered into my kitchen and picked up a large kitchen knife. Fingering it, he began to talk about killing himself. "I've done everything else," he mumbled. "I've destroyed my paintings." (Indeed, all but one of his youthful paintings -- which I still possess to this day -- were slashed and destroyed during that week.)

"Hey," I told him. "You can't kill yourself with that knife."

"Why not?" he asked, a little sullenly.

"Because it would make a terrible mess, blood everywhere. You know I can't stand the sight of blood, and I'll be damned if I'll have to clean it up after you. So, if you want to kill yourself, you'll have to be more considerate and do it more neatly. Okay?"

"Got any suggestions?" he asked, too depressed to be really sarcastic.

"Sure," I said, thinking quickly. "Drugs. Take an overdose of drugs."

"Oh, sure," Andy said. "Like what kind of drugs?"

As it happened, my wife Sylvia had been working as a receptionist for a Park Avenue doctor, and in the course of her job had been dealing with representatives of various pharmaceutical companies who dropped in frequently to leave free samples of their latest drugs, most of them mood-altering drugs like tranquilizers (then still less than five years on the market), amphetamines, psychic energizers, and the like. They came with full literature, listing the indications and contraindications, side-effects, etc., of each drug. I was in those days (my friends may snicker) a puritan about drugs, and I had little interest in any of those Sylvia had, but I had a pretty good idea (I'd read the literature) about what she had -- and I figured that if I picked the right drug and could get Andy to take it, I could get him out of this deep funk.

But of course I couldn't tell him that. He would resist it.

So I told him, "You remember all those stories about aspirin and Coke -- how if you take them together supposedly it'd kill you?"

"Aww, that's not true," Andy said. "You know that."

"Sure, I know that. But the idea was, the combination of caffeine from the Coke and the drug in aspirin would be too much for you, right? So my idea is, we give you some of Sylvia's speed and we mix it with Pepsi and it kills you. Wanna try it?"

"Okay," Andy shrugged. "Sure. Why not?"

So I went in the bedroom and dug the box out from under the bed, and found an appropriate pill. I no longer recall what it was, but it wasn't speed -- an amphetamine. It was probably an anti-depressant of some sort, and I handed it to Andy with a glass of Pepsi. (I don't drink Coke.) Andy gave me a slightly quizzical look, and took the pill, washing it down with the Pepsi.

"I know that's not gonna kill me," he told me. "I know you, Ted White." But he went along with it anyway, and within minutes he'd crashed. He sprawled on our living room couch and slept for the next eighteen hours. Modest noises and our small cat playing around and on him did not awaken him before his time. I called his mother and told her he was all right and sleeping it off. She was glad to hear it.

Andy awoke the following evening. He sat up, told me he felt much better, and said he was ravenously hungry. And at that point, Harlan showed up.

"How ya feeling, Andy?" Harlan asked. "Anything I can do for you, get for you?" Harlan had heard about the consequences of Donna's breakup with Andy. In fact, he'd dropped in earlier, while Andy was still sleeping, and had been brought up to date on the situation. He was in a conscious-stricken mood, and, consequently, eager to make things up to Andy if he could (without giving up Donna).

"Hi, Harlan," Andy said. "I'm really hungry."

"Sure," Harlan said. "I'll take you out for dinner. Where you want to go?"

Andy named a restaurant on Flatbush Avenue, in Brooklyn -- one that stayed open late. Harlan agreed.

"And, Harlan?"

"What, Andy?"

"Can we go in your car? With the top down?"

illo by Dan Steffan "Sure, Andy. We'll go in my car, with the top down." Harlan had an Austin-Healy, a spirited sports car he'd gotten from Bill Hamling in Chicago. In fact, he'd used it to pull a small U-Haul trailer from Chicago to New York, a disastrous decision that led to the trailer fishtailing on one of the toll roads and flipping the car over -- the trailer, loaded, weighed a lot more than the tiny sports car. One of Harlan's first tasks upon getting to New York City was to use my phone to threaten legal action if U-Haul didn't pay for all the damage -- not only to the car, but to Harlan's possessions in the trailer. It took chutspah to pull that one off -- to convince U-Haul that it was their responsibility and that they should never have rented the trailer or hooked it up to Harlan's little car (in the face of Harlan's demand, at the time, that they rent him the trailer and hook it up) -- but Harlan did pull it off, and had had the car fixed.

So Harlan, Sylvia, Andy, and I all crowded into his two-seater, Andy riding in back, sitting up on the lowered top, virtually on the top of the trunk of the car, like a celebrity in a ticker-tape parade. And thus we drove over the Brooklyn Bridge and up Flatbush Avenue to the restaurant. There Harlan treated Andy to a fine meal, and Andy downed an enormous amount of food. His stomach may have shrunk, but he ate as if to make up for that week of starvation in one sitting. He took full advantage of Harlan's generosity.

And there it pretty much ended. Harlan didn't see as much of Donna (it was about then that he met Jim Warren's assistant, who subsequently would become the second Mrs. Ellison), but Donna didn't get back together with Andy, either. Andy pretty well picked up the pieces of his life and went on with it. (The last I heard, he was an instructor at the Brooklyn Museum, and his talent as an artist was still developing. I have on the wall of my dining room a portrait he did of me in 1964; a ten-minute sketch in oils for a more detailed portrait he intended to do later but never got around to.)

I ran into Donna once, many years later. It was late in the seventies, at a Balticon. She was there with Norman Spinrad. She was no longer a girl, and no longer wore that silly girdle. Her name was Dona (only one 'n', and pronounced with a long 'o'), and she was a television producer; she rattled off an impressive list of credits which for some reason I had trouble believing. She was delighted to see me again and made her delight explicit in an invitation to join her in her room. But I chickened out; Norman and I had been getting along reasonably well by then and I saw no reason to introduce a fresh cause for strife. Besides, she scared me a little...

# # # #

Postscript:
After I had written the above story, I showed it to my friend, co-editor, and illustrator, Dan Steffan. After he'd read it, I asked him what he thought of it.

"Oh, I liked it," he said, "but I wondered why you didn't say anything about her death."

"'Her death'?" I echoed. "She died? I hadn't heard that. When did it happen? And how?"

"I'm not sure," Dan said. "I heard about it from Harlan Ellison, I think. Or maybe Norman. I met her at that same con you saw her at, and I think I heard about her death just a couple of years later."

"How did it happen?" I asked.

"Cancer, I think. Something horrible. I really don't know."

"Wow," I said. "That changes everything. I wonder if I should rewrite the piece, or at least the ending. I mean, it's kinda cold, now that I look at it."

"Why do that?" Dan asked. "You wrote it the way you felt it. Leave it alone."

"I'll have to write something, though," I said. "I mean, now that you've told me she's dead..."

"This Postscript ought to do it," he said, and I decided he was right.


{{ ed. note (2005): But wait, there's more... Please also read Ted White's post-postscript to this article, in the Letters Column of Mimosa 16. }}

All illustrations by Dan Steffan

back to previous article forward to next article go to contents page