I Meet the Great and the Near Great

by Mel Gilden

I admire many writers, and when I go to science fiction conventions I often get a chance to meet some of them. Others I have interviewed on the radio, and a few have even become personal friends. You know him! I think to myself. Amazing.

I like to think of myself as polite, perhaps on occasion, even charming. I try not to give offense. Even so, I sometimes found myself doing things I later regretted.

At my very first convention — I believe it was called FunCon, and it happened in 1968 — I knew very few of the other members. But that was all right because I was busy buying pointed ears in the dealer's room, and going to panels where people I had actually heard of were speaking.

Poul AndersonOne afternoon of this three-day event I was sitting alone in the lobby rummaging through the program book and deciding how I would spend the rest of the day when Poul Anderson walked through. I had never actually met the man, but I had read and enjoyed many of his books, and had seen him in action that morning. To my enormous surprise, he walked over to me. He was getting together a party for lunch, and he wanted to know whether I would care to join it.

My brain locked up, and for a moment I was speechless. OMG! Who knew who a guy like Poul Anderson was having lunch with?

But my naïve, unfortunate, and overbearing honesty kicked in, and a moment later I gave him an answer I have I have been sorry for ever since. I thanked him and told him that I had already had lunch. He accepted that and walked away, in search of other companions.

Coincidentally, another story that does not show me in a very bright light also had to do with Mr. Anderson. Some years ago I was co-host of a radio program called Hour-25. Mike Hodel and I interviewed the great and the near great among writers, artists, and movie makers in the speculative-fiction world. One night our guest was Poul Anderson. We finished the program at midnight as usual. And as usual I was ready to go home where I would sleep late the next morning. But Mr. Anderson needed a ride back to his hotel, which was way south of the radio station. I volunteered. This was Poul Anderson, after all.

So we piled into my Chevy and were off. We'd been on the road only a few minutes when Anderson asked if I knew a place where we could get a drink. I knew that he had a reputation as a drinker, but at that period of my life I did not drink alcohol at all. I could have told him that I did not know where we could get a drink, but instead I vamped until it occurred to me that we could get one at TGI Fridays, a place where I had eaten a meal once or twice. And it was actually on the way!

MermaidsSo I took him to TGI Fridays where we sat at a tiny table with our knees nearly touching. He ordered something while I scanned the menu looking for a drink I thought I might be able to get down. I think his drink was some Viking brew that was delivered in the horn of an animal. Imagine my embarrassment when my drink arrived in a tall narrow glass decorated with a parasol and a plastic mermaid.

We both stared at the drink for a moment. But Mr. Anderson was nothing if not a gentleman, and he made no comment about it. I also made no comment. We finished our drinks and I took him to his hotel.

(Next week, more of my adventures with the great and the near great.