In Mimosa 22, we were privileged to publish Walt Willis' very last original
fanzine article. With Chicon 2000 coming up later this year, it seems appropriate
to close this issue with some classic Willis -- a narrative from his visit to the
1952 Chicon, reprinted (slightly abridged) from The Harp Stateside and the
7th issue (Winter 1952-3) of Slant. We will very much miss him -- he was a
link to fandom's Golden Age; he was our friend.
As the night wore on, the party stayed very close to our ideal -- not too many people and all of them conscious. The only noise seemed to come from the pros round the bar, where for a while I got caught up in a crowd which seemed to consist mainly of Mack Reynolds, though one caught glimpses of Tony Boucher, Poul Anderson, and Jerry Bixby roaming around his outskirts. I scored an almost fatal success with a couple of limericks they hadn't heard before. "This Willis is a well," announced Mack reverently. "A well, that's what he is!" It wasn't that I didn't enjoy the present company, but I wanted to get back to Max Keasler and Lee Hoffman; god knew when us three would ever meet again. But Mack would have none of it. "Willis is a well," he insisted to the crowd at the bar. "We can't let our well get away," he pleaded, pressing another drink on me to make sure I didn't run dry. Finally, I promised to mail him a complete list of all the limericks I knew and escaped, followed by resentful rumblings of "I tell you the man was a well! A positive well!"
I went back to the window ledge where I'd been sitting between Lee and Max. We spent the rest of the night there, holding court with various people who dropped by. Mack Reynolds made occasional sorties out of the bar to beg for more limericks. I would dredge the resources of my memory and he would retire again, shaking his head and muttering to no one in particular, "A well!" Poul Anderson came along wanting to be taught some Irish drinking songs. I sang him as much as I could remember of "The Cruiskeen Lawn" and promised to mail him the rest. Max was dispensing No-Doze tablets to everyone. He had been living on them himself for days and was beginning to feel very odd indeed.
Time went by and things got quieter and quieter until we seemed to be the only ones who were fully awake. As the dawn broke, the three of us were quietly very happy and talked about how wonderful it had all been, and how much we were going to miss each other and how we must meet again some time. As for me, I was as happy as I'd ever been in my life. I had now been just seven days in America without even having had time to think about it, but now a feeling of utter exaltation swept over me to realize that here I was sitting between Lee Hoffman and Max Keasler at the top of a Chicago skyscraper, watching the sun rise over Lake Michigan. Life can be wonderful. It was one of those moments that has to be broken while it's still perfect, and when the sun was fully up we went down to have breakfast.
# # # #
I came home from my U.S. trip to find that half of you good people didn't know I'd been away, and the rest had written anyway. I'm sorry I haven't replied to your letter or appeared in answer to your writ, or whatever it was, but for the last six months I've either been getting ready to go over America, been over in America, or been getting over America. And believe me it's a hard place to get over. People keep asking me what I thought of it. Well, that's a good question; I wish someone would hurry up and tell me a good answer. There were some things I liked a lot. Malted milk, the Okefenokee Swamp, orange juice, the Gulf of Mexico, hamburgers, the Rocky Mountains, pastrami, the Grand Canyon, fried chicken, the New York skyline -- subtle nuances like that in the American scene which the less perceptive tourist might pass unnoticed. What really did impress me was the American small town, which seemed to me the nearest thing to the ideal place to live in that has appeared so far on this planet. Pleasant houses, tree-lined streets, young people in summer clothes, and warm evenings filled with the crepitation of crickets and of neon signs -- symbolically indistinguishable in sound.
Title illustration by Diana Harlan Stein