The actual anecdote is a simple oneliner, and a good one. Willis was sitting by an open
window at the 1952 Chicago convention and flicking ashes from his cigarette out the window. Someone
said to him, "Walt, do you need an ashtray?" Willis answered, "No, thanks, I haven't filled
up this one yet."
(And I would swear, by the way, that I've seen just that piece of business in a recent movie,
or a recent viewing of an old movie. Art caught imitating life once again, I guess.)
And then there's the story about the story. For this I'll quote at length from "Twice Upon a
Time," Walt's account of his 1962 trip with Madeleine to that year's Chicago convention
(as reprinted in WARHOON #28, pp.352-3):
"Terry Carr mentioned a joke about an ashtray I dimly remembered to have made in Chicago in
1952. I asked him how he'd heard of it and he said it was part of the folklore of American
fandom but he'd read it in 'The Harp Stateside.' I was awed at the first but denied the second.
Not only had I first, second and thirddrafted the Harp Stateside, stencilled it, run it off
and collated it, but I had actually _read_ it just before leaving Ireland again. (I thought
it wasn't bad, if you're interested.) So I knew what was in it. But nothing could convince Terry.
'I'll bet you ...I'll bet you $1,784.66,' he said.
"'Done,' I said, so Terry borrowed Dick [Lupoff]'s copy of THS and retired from the conversation.
Later he emerged, admitting he owed $1.784.66. 'Good news for Axe readers,' I called to Larry [Shaw].
'Refunds after all.'
"But Terry confessed he didn't happen to have that much money, so I magnanimously said I would take
it out in subs to Lighthouse, keeping him publishing till Halley's Comet. But Terry had the last word.
'Make a note,' he told Peter Graham. 'Next issue, another check square on the back cover. "You are
Walt Willis and the price of this copy is $1,784.66.'"