Even though Confiction is easily the most
distant convention we've ever attended, there were lots of familiar faces there. One
of them was First Fandom member Dave Kyle, who it turns out has been to more Worldcons
than anybody except Forry Ackerman. Here is Dave's remembrance of some of people and
events from those conventions, including the origin of the phrase...
Here I am looking back at fannish history and remembering so many little events like scenes frozen by lightning flashes. Like the moment in the 1930's when I and Dirk Wylie (nee J. Harry Dockweiler, a.k.a. Martindale according to ancient fanzines) stole an elevator. It was one of those old, open cage, grillwork things with a back-and-forth lever one expects to find on the bridge of a ship. This way forward, up, this way backward, down. The occasion was a fan gathering in Philadelphia. New Yorkers (that's us) and Philadelphians and residents in between were having a weekend confab. "Confab," I say, because "convention" was not yet the accepted term for one of our traditional fannish meetings. "Weekend" is a misleading description, too, because in these glorious days those get-togethers were one-day affairs, making unnecessary such unaffordable items as hotel rooms and genuine meals in respectable sit-down restaurants.
I remember Dirk very well. We met in the autumn of 1936 after I was graduated from Monticello (N.Y.) High School and went to New York City to enter an art career school. As an active fan (Gernsback's letter columns and the SFL -- the historic Science Fiction League) I naturally fell in with the metropolitan fans who met under the banner of the ISA -- the legendary International Scientific Association -- an "experimental science" club dominated by science fiction fans.
Dirk became my favorite friend, much more glamorous than my other favorite friend, Dick Wilson, who was as close to me as a brother right up until his untimely death in 1987. Dirk thought he was a sort of teenage Ernest Hemingway in tastes, dress, and mannerisms. He favored a discreetly soiled trench coat, tightly belted, with huge epaulet tabs, plus the inevitable fedora which younger generations identify with Indiana Jones. His style was Humphrey Bogart's style. As for his name, Dirk considered J. Harry Dockweiler as unsuitable for his persona. Obviously "Dirk Wylie" was derived from "Dockweiler" nudged by a determination not to be called "Doc" (as he was) and thus have his "handle" diluted by another “Doc”, Robert W. "Doc" Lowndes (contemporary fan and future SF mag editor and writer).
Dirk was fascinated with guns, the big high-powered ones for elephants and other exotic game, which led him to join the National Guard at the earliest age. He was also fascinated with cigarettes and liquor. He carried a silver cigarette case and a silver hip flask. He affectedly wore a cigarette perpetually dangling from his lips, a cynical smile giving a certain lilt, a savior-faire, to his Clark Gable moustache. Dirk was one of a kind. I have missed him for nearly a half of a century. He died after World War II from some strange ailment which I believe was appropriately contracted when he was an MP (A spine-jarring bump and lurch in a speeding jeep?) My image of him is not of a wasted invalid in a hospital bed. My image is that of a vigorous glamorous figure I could have idolized who raided his mother's pantry and ice box to feed Dick and me when we were starving artists in NYC in 1940-41 -- the swashbuckler who purloined an elevator.
We did not fly the elevator to some remote spot, of course, and there abandon it. We clanged the foldaway steel gate, crawled up a floor, reversed course, reversed course again, and again, and ditched our craft where we had found it. Actually, I confess, it was Dirk who initiated the action and I was a rather timid follower. He was the romantic man of action and I was still very young (even if we were both about the same age). And I also must admit, guilt-ridden, I got off the vehicle at the first stop; then Dirk slammed the gate to block me from further mundane madness and fiddled some more movement down and up and down. The half-pint bottle of whiskey was in his hand and he pretended to guzzle it as I frantically clomped up and down the encircling open stairwell suggesting we both flee the scene. It was all very thrilling for us, even though no one saw our daring feat.
Alcohol was very much part of the scene in those days. The drinking only took place when an impression was to be made. I don't believe any of us really enjoyed it, but it was commonplace at early "cons". At first the drinking was minimal, and hardly abused. But by the fifties it had gotten out of hand and drunken fans often littered the hotel hallways. The zenith -- or nadir, as the case may be -- was reached at the SFCon of 1954 when the Sir Francis Drake Hotel was shutting down parties at night and screening non-residents from entering the lobby from the street. The situation was bad enough that a "vigilante" committee was formed by concerned fans to roam the halls and deal out warnings and firm measures ('Dave Kyle Says You Can't Drink Here' and more about that later).
So back in the late thirties and early forties, not many years away from the repeal of prohibition, young and usually immature fans were expressing their individuality by using the hard stuff. Dirk, representing a decided minority, was the personification of the Roaring Twenties carried into the thirties. His pretenses -- and most of all those other pretenses we young fans had at the time -- slowly evaporated with maturity. I can't recall a single instance of drinking -- even in moderation -- at the first Worldcon in 1939. Which brings me through the 1980s and into 1990 and the Confiction at The Hague in Holland. In a European culture where alcohol is widely used and not abused, Confiction was not 1939 again, but the event was nowhere near the beer bash so many conventions in recent memory had become, hijinks seemed non-existent, respectability (what with subsidization by the Dutch government) ruled.
So here I am with a 1990 perspective thinking about how the memories of some fannish occurrences have faded away to dim shadows or have vanished completely. And how some events, lightning flashes in the night, have become legendary and have been scorched permanently into fannish history or gently woven into the fabric of fandom. What I have specifically in mind is what Mimosa reader Mark Manning said in issue number 8 dated last August 1990: "Since entering fandom in a big way a couple of years ago, I haven't seen him [Dave Kyle] write an account of the Worldcon (Nycon II, wasn't it?) where the immortal phrase, 'Dave Kyle says you can't sit here' came into the microcosm. Perhaps in an upcoming Mimosa..." Dick Lynch noted that "the hint [is] passed along."
Coincidentally, I was at the time doing that very thing for the Program Book for Noreascon Three (1990), which had a chronological account by various writers of all the Worldcons to date. Has Mark read it in the Worldcon program book? Is the story worth repeating for Mimosa? Is that infamous phrase still being bandied about? Does anyone but Mark Manning and me really care?
So what happened at The Hague? There were a half-dozen unsolicited uses of the phrase in one form or another, such as 'Dave Kyle says you can't stand here' (in the doorway, blocking passage). I think such references are done only when I'm known to be within earshot. Most amusing of all was the use in the auditorium for the Hugo ceremony. But first --
Go back with me to Confederation in Atlanta on Thursday, August 28, 1986 at 10:30 in the morning. The first person I met when I walked into the Hilton was Steve Whitmore of Delaware who greeted me with, "Dave, you have four front row seats to everything." Steve was House Manager. "Great!" says I, "But how come?" He explained that this was to atone for his oversight when he was House Manager at ConStellation in Baltimore in 1983 when I was Fan Guest of Honor. Ruth and I came into the hall for the Hugo Awards Ceremonies -- and had no seats reserved among the BNFs and BNPs. Ruth not being with me that morning in Atlanta, I suggested that, well, a seat or two would be enough. So at the Hugo Ceremonies, dragging along my friend Paul Cordsmeyer of Florida, I found two seats in the front row with signs labeled 'Dave Kyle Says You Can't Sit Here' (or did they read 'Dave Kyle Can Sit Here' or some such variation on the theme?).
How did that ultimatum come about? I'll briefly paraphrase what I wrote for the Noreascon book: The Newyorcon (Nycon II, to many) banquet was the traditional time for awarding the Hugos. As was customary, those who didn't pay to eat could come into the room to hear the speeches at the proper time. That 1956 banquet was set up in the Grand Ballroom of the Biltmore, which had a three-sided balcony. I was Chairman and at the head table. One of the gofers told me the Fire Marshal was complaining that the stairs to the balcony were blocked by those non-eaters sitting there, waiting to take positions for the after-dinner ceremonies. "What do we do?" "Tell them," I said, "that they can't sit there." So he did. "Dave Kyle," not the Fire Marshal, became the grouch who issued the command.
With history on my mind at Confiction, I asked Rusty Hevelin, veteran of those balcony stairs, for his recollection. We were amidst a mob waiting to enter the auditorium for the Hugo event -- award banquets have long since disappeared under the population explosion. Remember the fuss in 1956, Rusty? Yup, he said, the inimitable Bob Tucker mostly beat the anguished drums -- and Lee Hoffman helped. The fannish sniping, at first indignant and bad-humored, evolved over the years into some kind of pointless comical witticism, a legendary expression of a forgotten incident.
(Come to think about it, it was at Atlanta that I promised Dick Lynch to "do something" for his fanzine. Four of us were having dinner that first evening -- Dick and Nicki Lynch and, to give this story a perfect proportion, Bob Tucker, of all people.)
Innumerable instances of 'Dave Kyle Says You Can't Sit Here', sometimes written, sometimes voiced, fill the years. Often the verb changed to express a thought that 'Dave Kyle You Can't [fill in the blank] Here'. Once in a while, letter-sized sheets, reproduced with the message, have appeared for some special purpose. The variations have been legion. One particular one I'll always remember: at a con some dozen years ago, I went into a Mens Room; when I closed the cubicle door and sat down, I was startled, really startled, to read, inches from my eyes, 'Dave Kyle Says You Can't Sit Here'. No vulgar variation in the wording, tempting as it might have been. No suggestion of a snigger. So straightforward, so matter of fact, that I burst out laughing. I wish I knew who did it.
Thereafter, minutes later in that Hague convention center, in that big, luxurious auditorium, I was thrilled to see the huge -- 10 x 6 feet? 12 x 8? -- banner of white block letters on a navy blue field spelling out WORLD SCIENCE FICTION SOCIETY dominating the right side of the proscenium arch. The banner was the same I had caused to be made in 1956 and used as the backdrop of that banquet for the 14th Worldcon, Newyorcon ("Wow!"). It had been missing for many years until exhumed by Howard DeVore and returned to service. How appropriate that that "immortal phrase" should now appear again. In the third row center, I had a seat, fourth from the aisle. The first three seats were reserved "For the editor of Bantam Books and his guests", I was told. I suggested that the "reserved" signs taped to the upfolded cushions needed revision. The cardboards were flipped and two signs became 'Dave Kyle Says You Can't Sit Here'. The third seat sign was more personal: 'Dave Kyle Says Lou Aronica CAN Sit Here'.
(Had I known David Brin would be "a guest", he would have had equal recognition.) Lou sat next to me. (Bantam Books was the publisher of my three Lensman books.) The signs bewildered him. He hadn't come up out of the hardcore fannish ranks, and he didn't know the legend. I told him I'd write about it and, with his interest in fannish folklore, I would send him a copy. This is it. He'll get a copy. And Mark Manning will know, too.
All illustrations by Kurt Erichsen