Chapter 14: HANGING WITH THE PONG BOYS
Early on Sunday afternoon, we drove over to Falls Church to link up with Dan
and Lynn Steffan. They were in the process of moving the last of their
belongings out of 1010 N. Tuckahoe, the house next door to Ted White's place and
their home for the past few years. To readers of the focal point fanzine of
early-1980s transatlantic fandom, the two houses had a collective identity that
Dan's departure was now ending forever. Being the fan that he is, Dan
appreciated the significance of the occasion.
"You realise," he intoned, "that you're among the last to see
World PONG Headquarters as it was?"
Indeed we did, and we observed a moment's silence at its passing as a mark
Dan & Lynn Steffan ("Who the hell were
those people? Jesus, I don't think I was ever that thin."
- Dan, 2013.
"Those were my boy band years." - Lynn, 2013.)
Dan and Lynn had moved to the Adams-Morgan district of DC proper, which is
not one of the more salubrious areas of the city. However, when we
followed them over to it, their new apartment proved to be surprisingly
pleasant. Reached by steep stairs, it was the upper floor of a converted
two-storey Victorian house. The high-ceilings added to the feeling of
spaciousness while Dan and Lynn's, ah, eclectic taste in decor gave it a quirky
feel. Dan handed me a copy of The Washington Weekly, the
magazine he was then art editor of, and chuckled as he demonstrated his
battery-powered toy chainsaw. It truly is a wonderful country that would make
such a thing. Meanwhile, Lynn had put on a record album by Captain Kirk himself,
William Shatner, so that we could all marvel at his unique interpretation of
'Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds', which he delivered in a style that can best be
described as over-emoted declamation.
"God, that was awful!" I said with great feeling when it
"Sure is," laughed Lynn, "but I intend to sell it to a rich
Trekkie eventually and to retire on the proceeds."
Dan & Lynn later treated us to dinner at an Ethiopian restaurant called
'The Red Sea'. This was the first time I'd encountered this particular cuisine
and I needed directions from the Steffans before I could figure out how you're
supposed to eat it. Basically, you're each given a plate of small, bready
pancakes and you use these to pick up mouthfuls of the various dishes provided
on a large tray in the middle of the table. The food was delicious, though since
it bore little resemblance to any other cuisine I knew, I can't really describe
it to you. To my delight, the restaurant carried imported British beers, and it
was with immense pleasure that I drank my bottle of Theakston's Old Peculier. It
was inevitable we'd discuss the Bergeron Affair at some point, and it proved to
be the main topic of conversation during our meal. Fortunately, that was the
only time it was mentioned all day.
Back at the new apartment we watched TV and I got to see an episode of
'Monty Python' for the first time in a decade, the BBC having never re-run it in
that time. I also got to see my first ever televangelist, and was fascinated by
him. The Reverand Ike was a wiry, fast-talking, black man, and while not as
glitzy as others of his ilk was no less a salesman. I watched in fascination as
snippets from the Bible were interspersed with exhortations to send money, phone
numbers flashing as a host of operators readied themselves to fleece the
gullible in what was obviously a well-practiced operation. Reverand Ike was less
subtle in his appeals for money than more celebrated televangelists, but he was
slick enough to pull in the rubes.
"Send money for the 'Secret of Good Luck' package," urged the Rev,
"straight from the Bible. You'll learn how you can get what you want --
success, good luck, and more money!"
The Bible must've changed considerably in the years since I was given
religious instruction in school as I don't recall material success and the
secret of making more money being a big part of Jesus' teachings. But then, I
never understood what the world's last great absolute monarch, the Pope ("Vicar
of Christ, Successor of the Apostles, Pontifex Maximus of the Universal Church,
Patriarch of the West, Primate of Italy, Archbishop and Metropolitan of the
Province of Rome, State Sovereign of the Vatican City"), with all his pomp
and splendour, has to do with them either, so what do I know? For entirely non-
religious reasons, Dan was a big fan of the Reverand Ike and regularly sent off
a couple of bucks for the various religious artefacts the Rev plugged on his
show. Dan thought these things were hilarious, and when he showed me some of
them I could see why. They included cheap plastic crosses, 'holy' oil (in a
bottle the size of a thumb-tip), prayer rope (a four-inch piece of string), a
'holy' shower cap (indistinguishable from those supplied for free in hotel
rooms), a 'holy' prayer mat (being a material sample swatch), and a prayer fish
(which was one of those cellophane fishes that curl up when laid on your palm).
"Holy shit!!" I laughed, shaking my head at this junk.
"Not yet," said Dan, "but I'm sure they'll offer that soon."
Avedon and I had greatly enjoyed our day with Dan and Lynn, and left them
that night feeling pretty good. Alas, this mood was rudely disrupted the next
morning when we received a bumper crop of mail from Bergeron, Locke, and Mayer,
which depressed the hell out of Avedon. In the hope of finding something to
cheer her up I turned on the TV ... right in the middle of a news report from
the Vietnam Memorial I'd visited a few days earlier, about a Vietnam veteran
who'd committed suicide in front of it during the night. It looked like it was
going to be one of those days, and so it proved to be.
In the afternoon, Avedon and I drove to her bank to deposit $180 of TAFF
money I had on me but was unlikely to need in the few days remaining of my trip.
Though she'd been banking there for 15 years, the bank staff were unable to find
her account. In the aeons that passed while they searched for it, I ambled
across the road to the small local track rail station, a wooden building all
cream and brown, bearing the legend 'KENSINGTON, 1891, B&O'. I suspect this
would've meant more to me had I been any sort of railway enthusiast, my
appreciation of the building being purely aesthetic. When, finally, the bank had
located Avedon's account and the money had been deposited, we drove up to
Barbarian Books which, of course, was shut.
However, the day picked up considerably that evening when Ted White treated
us to dinner at a Mexican restaurant. I tucked in to beans, rice, and chile
rochas -- washed down with liberal amounts of Dos Equis beer -- and felt
considerably mellower afterwards. Later, back at 1014 N. Tuckahoe -- the other
part of World PONG HQ -- we sat around drinking cola, calling Dave Locke names,
and generally chewing the fat. I played Ted the tape of the Kettle interview and
also the three Astral Leauge tapes I'd brought over with me. Ted was greatly
taken with these, and offered to release them on vinyl.
"Since when are you a record executive?" I asked, skeptically.
"You can put out short-run vinyl recordings quite cheaply these days,"
he replied, taking a couple of record singles off a shelf, "and here are
some we've already put out."
Ted gave me one of these, by a band called 'The Young Prof
whose sleeve notes listed its Executive Producer as Ted's buddy Matthew Moore.
Inevitably, Matthew arrived at 1014 just as I was reading them. I told Ted he'd
have to contact Graham Charnock about the Astral Leauge tapes. Whether or not he
ever took this any further I don't know but, sadly, no Astral Leauge albums ever
We phoned Patrick Nielsen Hayden on a three-way line shortly after 11pm to
get the latest report on the Bergeron Affair and, as usual, he had a few choice
tidbits to impart. Looking back, I can see that even at this early point we were
beginning to get obsessed by the affair. In his autobiography, Isaac Asimov --
as big a Nixon-hater as Avedon's father -- talked of needing his regular "Watergate-fix".
As much as we deplored the snowballing feud that Richard Bergeron had set in
motion, the horrible fascination it had for us meant that we, too, needed our