A Ditto 9 Report by David Bratman

I do like many really small things, though, and at the end of October I was privileged to attend what may have been the smallest non-invitational sf con ever held: Ditto 9, in El Paso TX. I was disappointed when I heard what a wonderful Westercon I’d missed there last summer - 400 people! That’s less than 20% of the size of a typical Westercon these days, and it sounded divine. So I was determined not to miss Ditto, which is the relaxicon of fanzine fan conventions and usually draws maybe 60-75. I was doubly determined once I got the first progress report and saw how few people had joined. I decided it was my fannish obligation to show up to provide at least somebody to keep hosts Richard Brandt and Michelle Lyons company.

There turned out to be 13 of us. “The Few - The Proud - The Ditto!” It was wonderful. It was the first convention I’ve ever attended where I already knew all but two of the attendees. It was the first convention I’ve ever attended where I got a chance to talk to literally everybody who was there. It was the first convention I've ever attended where there were no other Davids. It was the first convention I’ve attended where the entire convention adjourned for an expedition to another country. On Sunday we all climbed on the shuttle bus to downtown Ciudad Juarez, where we had lunch at a restaurant which was an unabashed tourist trap with nevertheless good food (the fried cheese with cilantro on top was wonderful) and then meandered about the city market, also a tourist trap, but what the heck, we were tourists. I avoided the giant bottles with a lifetime supply of vanilla extract, and bought Berni a gold lion pendant on a beautiful chain. Karen Cooper took some of us into a bookstore across the street where I bought a Mexican world atlas and a Spanish translation of The King of Elfland’s Daughter (destined for the shelf of one of the Dunsany collectors of my acquaintance), while Karen translated the titles of various Mexican new-age books for our amusement. Richard and I found a little grocery store which was selling exotic Halloween candy for 9 pesos the bag (about $1.20). I brought back two and we gave the contents to the neighborhood kids. The pinapple-flavored lollipops turned out to be very good, but the jalapeño jawbreakers were, in more than one sense, something else. Given the iron-curtain style border rhetoric you hear these days, I was astonished at how easy it was to get back. The customs officer called, “Are you all U.S. citizens?”, we yelled back “Yes” (Nigel Rowe, who lives in Chicago but comes from New Zealand, just kept quiet), and that was it. This was my first trip to Mexico in 27 years, and it was illuminating. I see what is meant by the border zone being a country of its own. Not only does traffic move freely across the bridges (well, foot traffic does: the cars are always in a jam), but the US side is full of clothing and appliance stores with signs in Spanish, and the Mexican side is full of pharmacies and opticians with signs in English.

Mostly we sat around the con suite, noshing on Michelle’s munchies, thinking up dinner expeditions, watching Dick and Leah Smith demonstrate hectograph printing from scratch, gelatin and all, and smoffing about the upcoming DUFF race. There was even a Hugo administrators’ meeting: George Flynn and I huddled in a corner with Nina Siros, who is doing the job for San Antonio this year, passing on tips and lore. I found that most of my best lines (“I promised the concom that I would not make any of the mistakes of past years that they were so worried about: I would make only new and original mistakes, and I did”) had been thought up by George first. The number of times Harry Andruschak told us about Post Office employee vacation policies exceeded the number of attendees at the convention. I know it always seems like that when Harry is around, but this time it was literally true. Let’s see, I’ve mentioned everybody who was there except Neil and Cris Kaden, and Hope Leibowitz, so that’s everybody.

Perhaps one reason Ditto was so small is because El Paso is perceived as so far away from anywhere else, but it’s quite accessible by plane. I caught the usual hour shuttle to LAX, changed planes, and 90 minutes later I was in Texas, a state of which my previous experience has been almost as minimal as my experience of Mexico.

David Bratman
(It's the most famous white tower in the West)

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