I had come to the end of my rope.
Sitting alone in that shabby little room on Skid Row, I stared at my haggard, bloated face in the mirror.
Was this really me? If so, what had become of the charming youngster who had laughed and sung and danced her way through life? What had become of the golden friends of the golden years?
I sighed and reached for the bottle with trembling hands. Carefully I tilted it forward, then sprang up with a curse.
The bottle was empty.
The last bottle was empty!
I held it upside down, shaking it in despair, but I knew the truth then.
There wasn't a drop of mimeograph ink left.
Now I would never get my fanzine out. I, Ellen Harlison, was finished. There would never be another issue of Pretensions.
The room reeled before my eyes and I fell back upon a pile of correspondence. Aimlessly I opened 15 or 20 of today's fan letters, but I found myself too nervous even to read the enclosed quote cards. I reached for a prozine, spat upon its cover, then dragged myself to the typer to compose a letter of helpful critical advice to the editor.
Dear Sir, I typed, Your last issue stinks.
Then I found I could not go on. I could no longer escape the truth. My eyes inevitably strayed to the corner where I had piled the unfinished portion of Pretensions already run off. A mere 1000 copies each of the first 234 pages. I, who had boasted an edition of 10,000; of a full 500-page fanzine with justified edges and unjustified interlineations! The mere sight of those looming piles was too much. Trembling, I picked up the phone and dialed a number before my courage failed me.
"Hello," I quavered, "This is Ellen Harlison. I need help, quick"
The voice on the other end of the wire was calm, cheerful. "Fanzine trouble?" it inquired
"Yes. It's my piles. I look at them and I can't sit still. Oh, the itching, burning torture --"
"Be right over."
The voice clicked off and I staggered across the room, frantic with the realization that I had completely lost my grip. My grip, already packed for the next Convention, and containing everything I had planned to huckster off in the lobby -- the placards reading YNGVI IS A GOOD MAN, and DEAN A GRENNELL IS A LOUSE, the Eney for TAFF buttons, the original Ivar Jorgenson manuscript, and all the rest.
It was gone. Everything was gone. Voices mocked me from the corners of the darkened room.
"You sawed Courtney's boat! Fake-faaaan! You have no sense of wonder. Why don't you go on into FAPA and die?"
"No!" I screamed.
But the voices continued: dreadful booming voices that sounded like Moskowitz with his head in a barrel, or a bunch of Canadians holding a party in their room. I ought to know, because I could remember when I was the party being held.
"Go away!" I shouted, tossing a handful of half-completed stencils at the mirror. The tracings of Rotsler drawings fell on the floor and I stepped on them. I'd always heard about how some men have the ambition to walk on acres of those things, but it didn't give me a thrill. I just got blue ink all over my feet
My feet were cold. Suddenly I sneezed.
"Gestetner!" said a polite voice behind me. I wheeled and confronted the intruder.
"Who are you?" I whimpered.
"You called a while ago?" The stranger was calm. "I'm from the organization."
"Yes," I faltered. "I remember now. But it's no use. I don't think you can help me. It's too late."
"Sit down, my child," said the stranger, taking my hand in his. His fatherly manner reminded me of Tucker. "It's never too late. Just tell me how it happened."
Before I knew it, I was pouring out my heart to this quiet, understanding man.
I told it how it had all begun, years ago, when my friends lured me into a magazine store and urged me to buy my first copy of MAD comics. How, slowly but imperceptibly, I worked my way up to POGO -- reading, at first, only in spare moments or public washrooms. Then came my introduction to science-fiction, a logical step forward. Before I realized it I was off on a GALAXY kick, then switched to ASTOUNDING. Within a year I was reading two magazines a week -- sometimes mixing MoF&SF with AMAZING just to give me an extra thrill. From there, there was no turning back. Somewhere along the line, unbeknownst even to myself, I crossed over into fandom. Starting with the "harmless" MAD Comics, I had graduated imperceptibly to HYPHEN, GRUE, OOPSLA!, A BAS and even worse. Inevitably I began to "correspond" with other addicts -- people like Chuch Harris, Charles Harris, Vernon McCain; rabid fans like Redd Boggs and his partner, the notorious Henry Thoreau.
"I thought I had it under control," I confessed. "But the fanzines started rolling in and I found myself reading two and three a day, cover to cover, without stopping. I began to mail out quote-cards and enter into hoaxes. I went to Conventions and bid at the auctions. It got so I didn't care about my reputation any more -- I once had a hotel-room on the same floor as Damon Knight."
"Pretty soon I was trying to get into FAPA. I knew it was certain death, but I didn't care. I put out the first issue of Pretensions - a mere 200 pages -- and started to assemble the second 500 page issue. Then something happened to me. I found that I was falling farther and farther behind. Now the mailing is ready and to my horror I realize I've been delaying for two months. What's a girl to do?"
The stranger patted my hand consolingly. "You can give it up if you really want to," he said.
"I can't. I've gone too far. You know what I am," I whispered.
"Of course," he sighed. "But let me tell you a little story." He cleared his throat and continued.
"You may not believe it, my dear, but I was once a fugghead just like you. Perhaps even worse than you, because I was a serious constructive fugghead. I contributed to the TAFF and even attended the Business Meetings at conventions. I joined a fan club in my home town, and one year we even put in a convention bid -- though Ghod was good to us and we lost by 20 votes and two fifths of Jack Daniels."
"I thought I could take it or leave it alone, but you know what happened. I began to neglect my work, my friends, my very drinking, in favor of fanning. Then one day I found myself at a Midwescon, playing poker with Tucker. Suddenly a wave of realization swept over me. "What am I doing here?" I asked myself. "How low can a man sink?" Throwing down my cards -- and scooping up the pot -- I rushed out into the night and wandered down a lonely Ohio road."
"A car pulled up alongside me and a kindly voice bid me enter. I did so and found myself in the hands of the State Police. It seems Tucker had issued a complaint, claiming I had stolen his ten of clubs from the game. (The one with the earmuffs.)"
"My trial was a hollow mockery, but I was so deeply immersed in misery that I paid no heed. I accepted my sentence of a year in the penitentiary without a murmur. Soon I was occupying a cell. And it was there that I found my salvation."
"My cell-mate was a kindly old rapist from the East. Discussion of his exploits inevitably reminded me of conventions. I began to talk about them, and to my surprise found that he himself was a former BNF. In fact, he had once been a member of the Hydra Club ---"
"And yet this man -- whose name I'm sure you'd recognize -- was to all intents and purposes completely cured. He did not receive a single letter from a fan during all the time I spent with him, nor did he send out as much as a scurrilous poctsarcd to Willis. He never read a fanzine or prozine, although many of those containing Nancy Share illustrations were being smuggled throughout the prison."
"What impressed me even more, he was capable of discussing fandom without the slightest hesitation. I'll never forget one remark he made to me after I'd been in prison about six months."
"'Fandom', he said, 'is just a goddam hobby.'"
"I began to think about that. And when I came to realize the truth of this statement, the turning-point arrived. I asked my cell-mate for the secret of how to free myself from the habit. And it was he who put me in touch with Fuggheads Anonymous."
"Upon my release from prison I immediately sought out the local chapter of the organization. I worked with them for another year. Oh, it wasn't easy, I assure you, and there were many times when I was tempted to backslide into the mire. But I found my solution in helping others, such as yourself."
I nodded. "Do you think you can help me?"
He smiled. "I can try. The first thing to do is get rid of this mess." He pointed to the stack of paper standing next to my mimeograph.
We set to with a will.
From then on, mine is a history of painful but persistent progress. Once I got rid of my piles, I was able to sell the mimeograph. The whiskey bought with the proceeds enabled me to win the friendship and the confidence of the local Fuggheads Anonymous chapter in my community.
I learned that I was not alone in my terrifying battle against the ravages of acute fandomania. A man from California, who had once been a member of the notorious LASFS. A Minnesota resident, and a Florida fan who had actually met Walter A Willis. A former Missourian, now in the Navy; even a girl about my age who stabilized herself by buying a horse.
Our weekly meetings are held in a little hall downtown, and every member is required to attend. Generally, we devote a certain amount of time to discussing each other's past fuggheadedness, and give testimony of our thanks at escaping from the clutches of organized fandom.
Sometimes we have a little program with speakers, and we often invite fuggheads from other parts of the country to be our guests. You see, we have a great number of correspondents here and abroad, and many of us now print up little Fuggheads Anonymous magazines for general distribution. Our membership is limited to seventy five at the present, but we have about forty two on our waiting list. Perhaps next year we'll hold a sort of get-together, or Convention.
So you see, I have found it easy to forget fandom.
Fuggheads Anonymous has given me a new outlook. And I'm writing to that rapist in prison too. When he gets out he has promised to start a new life with me.
But one of these days you can read it all. I intend to write it up in my own magazine - a little 750-page effort which I call Dissensions. Goshwowoboyoboy, wait until you see this issue! You'll blow the propeller right off your beanie ---
Data entry by Judy Bemis
Hard copy provided by Geri Sullivan
Data entry by Judy Bemis
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