Yet Another Journal

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» Saturday, April 12, 2008
The Tale of the Third Book
(as referenced in previous post)

My mother went with me to my first science fiction convention, in February of 1978 (Presidents Day weekend), in New York City. Just before we left I discovered the fanzine sales room and purchased a fanzine called "The Vaslovik Archives," devoted to Gene Roddenberry's The Questor Tapes. I loved this second issue (and ended up writing a story for the third) and sent the editor, Mary Bloemker, a letter of appreciation. Mary lived in Boston, and very soon I was invited to visit her apartment and make acquaintance of some of her friends.

The next February, instead of going to the convention with Mom, I went with Mary and four other friends; we all shared a room. We had a grand time—went to various panels (one of the guests was James Doohan ["Scotty"]), wedged our way into a taxi and went down to Jerry Ohlinger's Movie Material Store in Greenwich Village, ate at the ubiquitous Chinatown Express, talked Trek and other fandoms. Our roomies were Gail Paradis, who was only several miles away from me at that time, in Johnston, RI; Rosie Badgett from Covington, KY; and Ann Hester and Alice Newsom from Warner Robins, GA. (It was through Ann and Alice that I eventually ended up in Georgia.)

The convention was held at what then was the Statler Hilton. It had started life as the Hotel Pennsylvania, across from Penn Station on Seventh Avenue and made famous by the Glenn Miller song "Pennsylvania 6-5000" (still its phone number). Several years after my first trip there it became the New York Statler, then the Penta Hotel, and is now back to being the Hotel Pennsylvania once more and has been strikingly modernized, according to the pics I saw online not long ago. Back in 1979, though, it was comfortably down on its heels, with wallpaper curling at the corners, a typical 1970s lobby, and the occasional silverfish in the bathroom. The rooms were shabby and often had little connecting rooms that had once been used as...I dunno. Nurseries? Maybe dressing rooms? Our own room this time had a little room off the side that was a little larger than the bathroom and totally empty.

Conventions now start on Fridays and go through Sundays unless it is a holiday weekend; back then they started on Saturdays, usually on holiday weekends, running through the Monday. So on Sunday night we went to bed totally prepared to spend our last morning at the convention next day and then Ann, Alice and Rosie taking the subway to the airport, Gail and I boarding the train to Providence, and Mary heading back to Boston via bus at the Port Authority Bus Terminal uptown late that afternoon.

We were awakened about eight a.m. by a phone call from Holly, whose last name I don't remember, telling us to look out the window.

It had snowed during the night. Boy, had it snowed! Not just "some snow," but a full-fledged blizzard-clone, with the cars in the streets already blanketed into anonymous piles. There was eighteen inches of snow on the ground already and it was still snowing hard. Ann got on the phone to the airport and found out all planes were grounded and their flight had been cancelled, as had been Rosie's. We later went across the street to the train station and found out the trains were delayed by at least six hours, some more. Gail's and my train, which I think was supposed to leave about four, had been indefinitely pushed back. We were welcome to sit around the train station all day and wait for the next one. Mary figured the bus probably wasn't going anywhere fast, either.

At this point, the Statler notified the convention guests that, because of the storm, anyone who wanted to stay another night was welcome to do so at the convention rate. My dad was incredulous when I called him to tell him I couldn't get home due to the snow because all they had had in Rhode Island was a light dusting.

Well, we said, what can we do? We eventually did what many people did: we had a room party. Under the Statler were not only entrances to Penn Station and the subway, but a whole warren of little shops. We bought some chips, sodas, and cups, and that night people wandered the corridors going from room party to room party. We even made "Snowcon" badges which Mary drew and then we had copied in the copy shop downstairs. (We had "Snowcon" reunions at that particular February convention for several years afterwards, but the snow never obliged us by showing up again. <g>)

(Oh, yeah, and we went for ice cream in the storm. My mom used to tell me stories about how she and her best friend Dora used to go out in snowstorms and get ice cream, then walk home eating it to the shaking of heads by their neighbors. I was determined to have ice cream in the snow, too, so we went across the street to a little ice cream stand that was right on the Seventh Avenue side of Penn Station back then, "Peppermint Place"—or something like that; it was "Peppermint," anyway.)

Gail and Rosie actually weren't present for the party; Mark Gonzaga had invited them out to dinner. Eventually Ann got a bad headache and Mary wanted to work on some artwork, and our room was just too crowded. Holly offered them her room, a few doors down and across the hall, and Alice and I were left until we both looked at our watches and realized it was almost time for the miniseries we were both following to come on. So we went down to Holly's room and watched it there, leaving the door open to keep tabs on who came and went to our room. (Yes, you heard that right. We were giving a room party and none of us were there. LOL.) Alice and I both vividly remember loud chattering crowds coming by and calling out to them "Shhhh! Have some respect--Maggie's dying!" and hearing the message passed to the people in the hall and voices dropping.

All this, of course, was running through my mind Friday when I picked up that "third book" I mentioned, Lillian Rogers Parks' memoir My Thirty Years Backstairs at the White House, basis for the miniseries Alice and I were watching, Backstairs at the White House. Parks' mother, Margaret "Maggie" Rogers, was one of the first African-Americans chosen to be a servant in the White House along with the butler, John Mays, back in the days of the Taft Presidency. Lillian, handicapped by polio, wore a brace, and sometimes accompanied her mother to the White House when Maggie could not find a caretaker for her, and her first encounter with a President was with William Howard Taft, who found her sitting in his bedroom while Maggie was out getting clean sheets for the bed. She made him promise not to tell anyone that he saw her there, and Taft never revealed the confidence. Later Lillian, who became an accomplished seamstress, came to work at the White House in that capacity during the FDR administration, retiring at the end of the Eisenhower years and writing this book soon afterward, which covered her mother's stories about the Taft through Hoover years as well as her own years of service.

Incidentally, when we all got back to our room we found out James Doohan had come to our party! He and his escorts had had been wandering from room party to room party and came in to talk to the people who were there.

Eventually, that little room came in use, too. Mary's friend Rich Kolker, who was one of the founded of the "August Party" convention down in Maryland, and two of his buddies, Malcolm and another fellow whose name I have forgotten, stopped by the hotel on their way home from Boskone, which was also the same weekend. They got trapped by the blizzard as well and slept on the floor, supplanted by whatever extra blankets and padding we had, in that tiny back room.

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