MEXICON 4 MARTIN SMITH 0Something would have to be done about Martin Smith, I decided, but what? I was thinking about my fellow Fanhattonite while sitting at a table in the lounge of the Cairn Hotel with a convivial group of fans, supping a tasty pint of bitter and gazing through the windows at the surprisingly charming town of Harrogate. We were indulging in that casual character assassination of absent friends that we all deplore yet enjoy so much, when committee person Abi Frost came dashing over. There was nothing remarkable in her doing this. Indeed, Abi dashed everywhere all weekend, a twitching streak of nervous energy propelled by adrenalin and fueled by prodigious cigarette consumption. Just watching her made you tired. She could have dashed for England. After a breathless greeting she showered us with copies of a flyer in support of her TAFF candidacy before zooming off again, crisp packets and flyers bowling along in her wake.
MEXICON 4 started on Friday, as conventions usually do, and after the opening ceremony we were launched straight into the play, the latest production from Geoff Ryman and his troupe. Having enjoyed earlier Ryman stage adaptations of Philip K. Dick's TRANSMIGRATION OF TIMOTHY ARCHER and of D. West's PERFORMANCE, I had high expectations of THE UNLIMITED SEX COMPANY, a totally original piece rather than an adaptation of an existing prose work. Unfortunately, it was incoherent and incomprehensible and, like many others, I left before the end. I did, however, stay long enough to see the bit where one of the players, Simon Ings, pranced around the stage wearing nothing but a black leather jock strap. The interest of the women in the audience picked up noticeably at this point particularly since, if the size of the bulge in the jock strap was to be believed, Ings was improbably well-endowed. There was much speculation in the bar afterwards as to just how much of this was him and just what he used for padding. I suggested a cucumber, one of the more sensible theories on offer. I'd started handing out copies of THEN #3, containing my history of 1960s British fandom, as soon as I arrived at the hotel. One of those who features prominently in its pages, Pete Weston, was delighted when I gave him his copy.
"What a fine fellow you are, Rob", he said, putting his arm around my shoulders and hugging me chummily. "Let me buy you a drink. Let me buy you two drinks."
He would buy me drinks all weekend. Even before he'd read it Peter Weston was impressed with THEN #3. Eileen Weston was impressed with Martin Smith. What impressed her about him was how French he looked. Martin's alleged Gallic qualities remained invisible to everyone else (though I suppose he does bear some resemblance to a crumpled Gaulois packet), but this didn't stop Eileen from pushing his jacket sleeves up to his elbows and ruffling his hair to emphasise his Frenchness. Personally, I didn't think this could be achieved by anything less than a complete body transplant.
I too was working on Martin's image. Over the previous twelve months Martin had achieved a rate of sexual success with women from different parts of the world and from different parts of the sexual spectrum that was the envy of lesser mortals such as myself and I thought that more people should know about this. Most fans knew Martin only as an amiable dope and butt of my jokes, but I was determined that from now on he would be known for what he truly was -- a superstud and butt of my jokes. That's what friends are for, after all.
One of the first people I told was John Harvey. We were at an item organised by Linda Krawecke that involved us standing around listening to taped music and drinking lots of punch at the time, sitting on the edge of the stage and feeling mellow. Earlier, at that same item, Eileen Weston had introduced Martin to a couple of teenage girls as a visitor from France who spoke no English and he had danced with them both, all the while responding to their attempts at conversation with a shrug and a feigned air of Gallic incomprehension. They were a little miffed when they discovered he was about as French as a bag of French fries only less tasty, but he still succeeded in luring them into the stalls. We could see them from the stage, and John whooped with laughter when I pointed out this doomed attempt at seduction. Just then Rochelle Dorey happened by and we told her what we found so amusing.
"I've got an idea", I said. "Why don't you go over to Martin, thump him on the shoulder, and shout: 'You bastard! You said you were coming straight back to bed!'."
John almost fell off the stage at this suggestion, particularly when Rochelle marched up to Martin and actually did it. I think I've only ever seen one other person's jaw drop as far as Martin's did then. (That had been a few weeks earlier, the jaw in question had belonged to a work colleague, and it had dropped thanks to my response to his simple greeting of "How are you?". "Well hung", I'd replied, with a straight face.)
Martin, possibly clued in by the laughter from the stage (John was going into meltdown beside me), soon figured out what was going on and gave me the finger. At which point Robert Stubbs wandered along, narrowly avoiding being knocked over by Abi as she dashed by, and wanted to know what was going on. We told him, and he asked if we wanted him to pull the same stunt as Rochelle had. We did, boy did we, but in the end he chickened out.
This anecdote went down well whenever I told it, which I did throughout the rest of the convention on the slightest pretext and, frequently, on none at all. Why, the very next morning it was appreciatively received by the group we were both sitting with in the bar. It was definitely more fun telling the story when Martin was present. As his mentor and fanfather I felt it was my duty to harden him against such mockery. Later he would thank me. Now, not realising that I had only his best interests at heart, he protested that:
"If you're my fanfather then this is child abuse!"
It was a stolen line, but it had the desired effect. The beer that everyone at the table was drinking except me was a Mexican lager called Corona. Allen Baum, a visiting Californian, was suitably dismissive, announcing that Corona was as burro piss compared to Dos Equis. I agree, but a remarkable quantity of the stuff was downed during the weekend nonetheless, most of it after a slice of lime had been twisted into the neck of the bottle. Slouching in the comfortable armchairs that filled the lounge, the Corona drinkers all tended to hold the bottles in their laps which, as someone at the table pointed out, looked remarkably phallic. This led inevitably to a discussion of the manly images often used to sell beer.
"You've heard of that macho Israeli beer, of course?" I queried.
Taking their groans as my cue, I left the table and wandered over to the bar, still pondering over what to do about Martin Smith. As Abi Frost dashed by, Pete Weston strolled over.
"Let me buy you a drink, Rob", he said. Ever polite, I did.
We talked fanhistory, and Pete revealed that the company he owned had made the actual Hugo award trophies, though not the bases, for every Worldcon since 1984.
"I was over there in 1983, talking to Craig Miller, and he was complaining about how much it cost to get the Hugos made and how badly cast some of them were. Since L.A.CON II had a collection of old Hugos on loan as part of an exhibition they wanted to put on he was able to show me just how poor they were. I told him I could do a better job at half the price and when I got home I found I could, too."
Pete had made a mould from the 'spare' Hugo that had been left over after SEACON '79, a trophy that he said he had "wrestled Malcolm Edwards for". Images from Ken Russell films swam before my eyes, but for once the mind was quicker than the mouth and I said nothing.
These days Vince Clarke spends much of his time tending the temperamental electrostenciller that produces most of the estencils used by British fandom. After many months of this he badly needed a break. So he came to MEXICON and instead spent most of his time tending the temperamental electrostenciller that produced most of the e-stencils used for the convention newsletter. It was the same machine, too. In between trips to the committee room he, like me, got to meet Derek Pickles, who was attending his first convention in 37 years, a record for British fandom and pretty damned impressive in anyone's book. So going cold turkey can break you of the fannish habit, eh? Don't you believe it. Once a fan always a fan. If only the same were true of dancing....
The convention disco is an old and venerable tradition at British conventions, one at which old and venerable fans risk coronaries as they throw themselves around the dance floor with the same abandon as fans half their age and a third their weight. On this occasion the committee had arranged for the DJ to play records from the top 100 singles in the book by MEXICON guest Paul Williams. In the event things didn't quite work out that way but there was enough overlap to make it, in terms of the music at least, the best convention disco in years.
Usually I pace myself at these things, but there was enough good stuff that I let caution be bludgeoned into submission by the irresistible beat of that ol' debbil music and ended up dancing to three fast numbers in a row. This was not a good idea. At the end of the third track I was completely knackered. My heart was hammering furiously at my rib cage, Niagara Falls was gushing from my brow, my breathing sounded like a defective vacuum cleaner, and I was sure the pizza I'd eaten a few hours earlier was planning a comeback. I wanted to die. Pete Weston flopped down onto the chair next to mine, red-faced and drenched. He looked worse than I did.
"Rob", he gasped, "let me buy you a drink."
Pete is a good ten years older than me, so his condition was only to be expected, but I had let myself go. No longer a giant of the convention dance floor as in my glory days (sound of mournful violins), I was nonetheless confident that my place would be filled by the young lions of British fandom, those energetic fans coming through, hungry for recognition. True, Martin Smith shows little sign of being energetic, at last not while vertical, and all he ever seems hungry for is Kentucky Fried Chicken, but I remained confident. This confidence crumbled when L.Steve Hubbard, who is younger than Martin, collapsed onto the chair opposite Pete and me. I was shocked. L.Steve looked worse than either of us. The young lions are already grown mangy, it seems. Dismayed, I retired for the night, hopeful that things would look better on Sunday.
Perhaps being on a panel moderated by TAFF candidate Abi Frost while wearing a badge proclaiming my support for TAFF candidate Pam Wells wasn't the most tactful thing I've ever done. Then again, Pam's campaign manager, Martin Tudor was also on the panel. Was Abi just being a good sport, I wondered, or was the panel going to be an experience she wouldn't wish on any of her own supporters? I'd soon find out. Not that I'd ever intended appearing on any of the programme items at MEXICON 4 in the first place. No, Abi had come looking for a sucker to take the place of the suddenly unwell Lilian Edwards (who had come down with an acute attack of sanity) on a fanzine panel. She found me. Knowing that some in the audience would have come expecting to see Lilian Edwards, I decided that when Abi introduced me I'd say "I may not be as cute as Lilian, but I've got better legs". That should get a cheap laugh. However, no sooner had Abi announced me as Lil's replacement than Martin Tudor had leapt in with "He's got cuter legs", and stolen the cheap laugh for himself. I was amazed. Was this an example of telepathy or had Martin somehow got a look at my legs, which I seldom bare? I think we should be told. (I should, anyway.)
The panel was a mess. The editor of Back Brain Recluse, a small press SF fiction magazine, was one of the panelists and Abi kept trying to draw parallels between fanzines and small press magazines that just don't exist. The two are entirely different, with fanzines, to my mind, being the superior form. Some idiot in the audience tried to claim that fanzines had once been largely given over to amateur fiction. When I contemptuously demolished that argument he retorted by saying:
"But surely convention reports are just another form of fiction?"
This got an appreciative laugh and silenced my questioner, as I'd intended. Convention reports 'another form of fiction' indeed! In fact they are always rigourously accurate and unexaggerated accounts of the preceedings. Just like this one. Still, while up on the stage I'd at last decided what to do about Martin Smith. I found him and told him about the convention report I'd be writing as the first step in my plan for him.
"Martin", I told him, "I'm going to make you a fannish legend."
First appearance: LICKS #3 (August 1991) an apazine ed. Rob Hansen. Reprinted: PULP #19 (Summer 1991) – ed. Avedon Carol and FANTHOLOGY '91 (1995)