Wednesday, August 01, 2007

My Joe Haldeman Story

Phoenix, Arizona, 1978. Harlan Ellison was the GoH, but staying in an RV, so as not to spend any money in a state that wouldn't ratify the ERA. I got a writing assignment from a bald fat man who came and sat down next to me as I was talking to J.F. (Jesse) Bone. Later I did an autographing next to Ginny Heinlein, subbing for her husband Bob, who was having surgery.

Ginny had a rubber stamp -- By Authority of Robert A. Heinlein -- that she used and then signed her name over. We chatted at length. She was nice lady. I had met her husband a year earlier, and we had exchanged a couple of letters. He was having, as I recall, and endarterectomy, to have his carotids cleaned out, so as to get more blood to his brain. I had some medical background, so I could nod in the right places.

It was 110 F. during the day, and the con was divided up into a couple venues. It was amusing to watch people walk out of the nice air conditioned hotel, get halfway across the street, and then pass out ...

One night, the staff shut the hotel up tight because of an approaching dust storm, and I wandered into the SFWA suite, where it was late and there were a few other writers sitting around, having drinks. I didn't know anybody, so I picked a quiet spot and eavesdropped on the conversations.

Mack Reynolds, one of my favorite action-adventure writers, was telling a war story to writer Joe Haldeman. Reynolds had apparently fought in Europe during WWII. Haldeman was a Vietnam vet who had been wounded in action. I thought at the time that Reynolds had maybe had a few drinks. Maybe a few more than a few.

Reynolds story went on and on and on and on ... a shaggy beast the size of a mammoth, never ending, all about how awful it was, how they suffered, did without food and water and were dirty and tired and generally the most miserable men ever to live on the planet.

Haldeman didn't interrupt, but listened, smoking a pipe.

I was shaking my head, but since I was not part of the conversation, only lurking, I kept quiet, too.

Finally, after what seemed like twelve or fifteen years, Reynolds ran out of steam. And he said, "So, Joe, how was it for you in combat? Pretty bad?"

And Haldeman, through a cloud of fragrant smoke, nodded. "Oh, yeah." A long, slow beat, then: "I ran out of pipe cleaners once." Deadpan. And that was all he said.

I though I was going to blow an artery from holding the laugh in ...

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