Tuesday, January 20, 2009

New Year's in Times Square

Happy New Year, Readers!

Sorry to take so much time off for the Christmas holidays, but I had to struggle with
dental surgery, some tax-related stuff that needed to be done by year’s end, and a major
research project picking a replacement Medicare Part D drug plan provider which will
(hopefully) save some money on drug costs. Once upon a time, being in one’s 60s only
required one to pick out a comfortable rocking chair. Now, one is required to be
something of a tax accountant and a health plan gourmet.

FANOGRAPH is supposed to be a blog about science fiction fandom, so it is about
time I said something more about my fannish experiences. This New Year’s Eve just past
gives me a good excuse to say something about my experiences in New York fandom
between 1967 and 1970, for it was through the influence of a fannish friend that I got to
spend New Year’s Eve in Times Square in warmth and comfort looking out through a
thick plate glass window as the calendar flipped over to a new year.

As I tell this story, I am going to mention the names of a lot of current and former
fans and others. I’m not doing this just to be a name dropper, but because it sets this event
in time and place. The last I heard, Ted White was living in Virginia. If you weren’t
around when Ted White was influential in New York fannish circles, besides editing both
AMAZING and FANTASTIC and writing a few SF novels, at least you should be aware
that this was happening in this time period I am talking about. (Oh, and Ted, I still think
By Furies Possessed is deserving of a fairer critical reading than it received at the time.)

While I was taking grad courses in technical writing and communications at R.P.I. in
Troy, NY, I met Tom Bulmer from Patterson, NJ, and from him I picked up something
of an impression of the organization of New York fandom. I got a Master’s and a few
courses towards a Ph.D. at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, far, far from New York City.
I finally moved to New York in the spring of 1967 looking for work and got to attend
some Lunarians meetings and some gatherings of FISTFA and Fanoclasts. So I soon got
to meet Frank Dietz, Elliott Shorter, Ted White, and Charles N. Brown, who had only
recently started publishing LOCUS. In fact, I attended one collating party and helped
assemble an issue. (I once had a nice collection of early issues, to, which I donated to the
Philadelphia Science Fiction Society to auction off to help pay for their Worldcon
bidding parties.) At first I hung around a lot with the Columbia University fans, who at
that included Eli Cohen, John Singer, Rick Kagan and his soon-to-be wife, Janet, and
others. Fred Lerner had recently graduated from Columbia, but I managed to meet him
as well. I was never close to Ted White and the FANOCLASTS (Arnie Katz and others),
as I wasn’t important enough in fandom to circulate in those circles. No Secret Master of
Fandom, I. But in 1973 or ’74 I DID sell my only professional story, “Local Control” to
one of the magazines Ted was editing, which delighted me.

As time went on, I grew closer to the FISTFA crowd, most of whom would gather at
Mike McInerney’s apartment on West 17th Street on Friday evenings until the dawn.
Besides Mike, I met there Dan Goodman, and Barbara Dodge(? – I’m unsure of her last
name), Earl Evers, Jan Slavin, and the artist Mike Hinge (with whom I remained close
friends with until his death a few years ago) and many others.

Mike’s apartment was a block or two west of Barney’s men’s store at 7th Avenue and
17th Street – and a world away from it. The building was in a Puerto Rican neighborhood
that made me, as a upstate college boy, very nervous. But the locals, sitting around in
their undershirts playing dominos and listening to loud Puerto Rican music, were used to
fans passing through their neighborhood and ignored us, as we were clearly no threat.
They probably would have laughed if they had known how uneasy I felt scooting up that
sidewalk to Mike’s place.

The apartment was a fourth or fifth floor walkup that must have been built in
Victorian times. The one bathroom on each floor was in the hall! I feared to use it – the
floor boards seemed weak to me and the other families on the floor that Mike shared the
bathroom with weren’t very clean compared to the way my mother maintained our
bathroom at home. The bathtub was in the kitchen next to the sink!! The plaster and
lathing of the walls had years ago sprung apart from the floorboards and roaches could –
and did! – easily scramble from one floor or apartment to another. Mike could have steam
cleaned his apartment once an hour and the roaches still would have been in evidence. I
never told my parents about the conditions my friends lived under; they would have had a
stroke! But it was a great lesson in tolerance for me; the fact that nice people who were
students/bookstore clerks/well-educated but in low-level, poor-paying jobs sort of people
had to live under conditions like that in Manhattan and endure them until they could
afford something better was a given I had never thought about.

I had never SEEN a roach until I moved to New York, although I HAD met one huge “palmetto bug” in my motel room in Cocoa Beach the night before I had my interview before getting a summer job with GE’s Apollo Support Division. Man, did I lift all my covers and blankets up on that bed!! Three New York roaches could have ridden on the back of that thing. I HATE
FLORIDA! ( Well, my first little apartment in Queens had no roaches, but the room in the house I later rented certainly did! And I learned to tolerate them by then .)

Speaking of nice people, Mike did something nice at one late-December get together.
He invited us all down to Bookmaster’s on New Year’s Eve. I had never spent New
Year’s Eve in Times Square. This was years before Times Square was cleaned up and
Disneyized. It was pretty seamy then for a green upstate college boy. I once saw a movie
in one of those low-level movie houses just west of Times Square and was too nervous to
really enjoy the tacky adventure film I saw. Had I seen “Midnight Cowboy” first, I
wouldn’t have gone at all! But seeing it all from the safety of a bookstore – well, who
could turn that down?

We all turned up at the store about 10:30 or 11:00 PM, if I remember correctly, and
the sidewalks were getting crowded already. There were other customers in the store, but
there were also several fans I already knew circulating around, plus friends of the other
bookstore clerks besides Mike. I must have looked at some of the books, but I remember
not buying anything. That was logical, because I was pretty nearly broke.
I left New York for Philadelphia for in February of 1970 for a new job and I was out
of work over the Christmas holidays of 1969, so I felt really down that night. I had not
landed the job in Philadelphia yet, so I had made no plans for New Year’s. I seem to
remember looking out through the window, feeling lonesome, watching the crowd spill
over into the street and the crowd swell until there was almost no room to move on the
sidewalk in front of Bookmaster’s.

Finally, Mike and the other clerks called out that the store was closing. We fans and
friends sort of helped the clerks politely sweep the potential customers out into the crowd
and then we watched the clerks lock us in. Abruptly, the crowd on the sidewalk froze in
place; there was no longer room to move around. The new year was coming!

We must have all cheered when the clock struck midnight! And then the clerks
unlocked the door, we all streamed out to various places or parties, and I went back to my
little furnished apartment in Queens, too depressed to talk my way into someone else’s
after-midnight party. But better times were coming. And that is another blog post!

1 comment:

ivan.richards said...

Hi Sandy I'd like to hear more about the times you spent with Mike Hinge. Have you any photos of you together? I'm a Mike Hige fan from England. All the best.