Let me tell you about the Ipsy-Wipsy Institute, which is the name that Fletcher and Inga Pratt gave to their enormous old house in Highlands, on the New Jersey shore. The house had something over thirty rooms. The ground floor, which was embraced by a wide, 360-degree veranda, comprised a kitchen, a billiard room, a dining room capable of seating 20 or more, a room I would call a sitting room, another, slightly larger, which I would call a living room but think should be given a more elegant name.
On the second floor were six or seven bedrooms, a couple of them with private baths and little sitting rooms of their own. And on the third floor there were another half dozen or so bedrooms, with a couple more baths.
Do not make the mistake of supposing these third-floor rooms were servants’ quarters. They all were for guests. There was plenty of room for the guests’ servants, but they were to be accommodated in another wing of the house entirely, essentially a six- or seven-room home attached to the main residence. It had its own kitchen and bath, the only connection between it and the residence being through the two kitchens.
Since the Pratts employed no full-time servants, they rented this attached house to Esther Carlson, a young woman who was beginning to appear regularly in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and her handyman husband, Bob Bolster. They didn’t stay the course, though, and when they left — and when George O. Smith at last succeeded in divorcing his first wife and Dona Campbell did the same for her husband, John W. — the newlywed George and Dona Smiths took over the conjoined space until they bought a home of their own a few miles down the shoreline in Rumson.
The Ipsy-Wipsy Institute was set on something over half a dozen acres of lawn, descending about a hundred vertical feet from the roadway to the ocean. There was a little beach there for swimming and a pier for boating — or for fishing, though about all anyone ever caught was eels. A lot of quite tasty eels, though.
Fletcher Pratt was a dear man who had a few eccentricities. One of these was his inclination to run the Ipay-Wipsy Institute as a sort of road-show version of an English country home. Weekend guests were expected to arrive early enough on the Friday evening for a few drinks and a modest dinner, generally prepared by Grace the Cook and followed by a drink or two and conversations in the billiard room, until the guests began retreating to their rooms. (There was, by the way, no billiard table in the billiard room, only the report that once there had been.)
Saturday began with a Grace-made breakfast buffet whenever anyone came down for it, after which Fletcher would set up his typewriter in the billiard room, and sometimes I would set mine up as well. For both of us, the procedure was that we would type a few words, or a few lines, as they occurred to us, then chat a bit with whoever else was there, then maybe another line or so of copy. When there was no one else to talk to Fletcher might divert himself by tossing playing cards into a hat and I by getting myself a cup of coffee and glancing at the morning papers.
Others might sit in the sunny porch and read, or play cards or an African board game called K’bu that the Pratts fancied, or explore the neighborhood, or make the trek down to the water’s edge for a swim. At some point, Grace would set out the materials for a pick-up lunch, to be eaten, probably in small groups, in one of the first-floor rooms or on the porch. Then more of the same until five.
Then the more structured part of the weekend began.
Someone — preferably someone who could play, or at least get some sort of a sound from, a bugle — was given the bugle and a homemade flag bearing a drawing of a martini glass and instructed to march around the porch, tooting the bugle and waving the flag, in order to notify the guests, and a few of the neighbors as well, that the cocktail hour had arrived.
I should say, right about here, that although there was a lot of drinking at the Ipsy-Wip, I almost never saw anyone really drunk. (With one exception that I’ll tell you about later.) But the drinking was steady, from the beginning of the cocktail hour at five until dinner was served at seven. With the dinner there was wine for those who wanted it, of course, and then, when Grace had picked up the plates, Fletcher brought out the bottle of port.
The thing about the port was that it always had to be passed clockwise around the table. Fletcher, sitting at twelve o’clock at the head of the table, would start the service by giving the bottle to (say) Essie Bolster, at the one o’clock position to his left. Who would help herself to as much as she wanted of it and then pass the bottle to, say, Fritz Leiber to her left at two o’clock, and so on, always passing to the left, until the bottle finally made it back to Fletcher, at the head of the table, who at last was allowed to help himself to the port.
To be continued.