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.
- - - - - - - - - -Fred Smith complimented us on our choice of classic Willis: "I consider The Harp Stateside the finest thing [Walt] ever wrote and one of the finest sustained pieces of fan writing that there has ever been." Catherine Mintz agreed, and commented that "Willis is like one of those Chinese artists who take up a brush, make a two or three strokes on a piece of paper and suddenly have a rabbit, complete with a bit of grass in its mouth and ready to go on the wall."
We would not be done with remembrance articles any time soon -- M25 contained Joe Mayhew's final fanzine article and original fan art, though we didn't know it at the time. Nicki also had an article in M25, but this one was a remembrance of a still-living friend and one of the happy times we've shared with him:
Title illustration by Diana Harlan Stein