by rich brown
I knew Bob Healey and Ben Lucas back before they were even neofen. In a way, you might say I was their recruiter, since I introduced them to fandom. I met Bob at a second hand book-store, buying up back issues of aSF and F&SF, and we got to talking about Science Fiction, and quite naturally in the course of events I broached the subject of fandom to him. At first he didn't seem too interested in active-fandom, but I thought I might at least get him to come down to the LASFS, so I took down his address and promised to come by some time and give him an outline of fandom.
What with one thing and another, it was about three weeks before I was able to get a day free to go visit him. I phoned before I left home, just to be sure he'd be there, and he asked if it would be okay if an interested friend of his were there. I said sure.
The friend was Ben Lucas. Whereas Bob seemed to be the sober, serious, slow but intellectual type, Ben proved to be the direct opposite; this is, witty, excitable quick, but not as bright. He wasn't dumb -- you certainly couldn't say that -- but he didn't have Bob's solid intelligence.
Anyway, I had brought along a few things to introduce them to the best side of fandom -- old prozines, good fanzines, and a case of bheer. You can probably guess what happened. Lucas immediately wanted to put out a monthly, 29-page, hecktoed fanzine, which would undoubtedly bring in enough profit to buy him a mimeograph, and once he got a mimeo, he would have the best fanzine in fandom. You know how it is. Of course, I'd heard the same story enough times to realize that he probably wouldn't make it, but Ben had real enthusiasm, and I could sympathize (though I couldn't tell him that's what it was) with him. I was a neofan once myself.
Bob, well, Bob wasn't quite as enthusiastic, but it was something new. As he put it, "The concept of putting my ideas down for open-minded people to read, and reading the ideas of other open-minded people, appeals to me." That was the way Bob was; I might have expected it.
* * *
That was all three years ago, but I can still see, in my mind's eye, Ben's enthusiastic face and Bob's unenthusiastic-but-interested response. It was quite a contrast to the two I saw just a few weeks ago -- Bob, with a haggard look about him, worried, jumpy, excitable; and Ben, worst of all Ben, with a typer on his knees, and tears streaming down his face....
Bob's monthly never really got off the ground. It was heckto, and pretty poor heckto at that, and even if it had been offset, the material wouldn't have been worth wasting a glance on. The second issue, which came out three months after the first, was just as bad. It folded with the second issue.
But Ben wrote letters. Ghod, though, did Ben write letters! I never liked his fiction or articles -- and in the two issues of Ben-Gay, his "monthly" fanzine, I'd seen enough of them to be able to tell -- but his letters were superb. He had a facility with words that he couldn't develop in the style-characterization-plot ridden forms such as articles or fiction, but in writing letters he held his own with the truly greats in fandom from the beginning. He was good. It surprised me when I saw his first letter in print, because in person he never said much, except when he was really enthusiastic. He had a lisp, and I once ventured the idea to a correspondent of mine that because of his lisp he never talked much, and most of his ideas had kept bottled up inside him until he came in contact with fandom, where, via his typewriter, he could talk and be understood, and not feel self-conscious. Once, when we were drunk, Ben told me his lisp had always bothered him, but that hadn't been all.
"I always get ahead of myself," he told me. "I just think faster than I can talk. By the time I get one idea spoken, I'm three or four ideas further ahead. Not only does my typer omit the lisp, it doesn't have to stop and start again when a trend of thought is lost." He lapsed into silence.
Ben's letters had a kind of sarcastic humor to them. As I said, he held his own in letter-writing. I remember Bill Bryant, who was one of the worst sercon fuggheads I ever hope to know, didn't like Ben's sarcasm about good old Science Fiction. Well, Ben was an SF fan right down to the core, and he said as much, adding, "but I'm a humorous writer." Bryant's reply was hot and angry. I don't even remember most of it, but it called Ben out for being "a traitor to Science Fiction," among other things, and added, "I am a serious writer." I'll never forget Ben's reply. "Well," he said, "maybe we're both wrong."
Whatever the reason might have been, Ben
wrote some mighty fine letters. And a good number
of them went for Zeus, Bob Healey's zine.
Bob took his time about coming into fandom.
At first, after he subbed to a few and let the subs run
out, I began to think he might not make it. Bob was
averse to making a fool of himself, as he noticed so
many neos doing. Instead, he often spent parts of
Saturday and Sunday afternoons talking to me about
fandom, asking questions and testing his opinions.
I answered the questions, argued the opinions I
thought unsound, and tried to give him an insight to
things fannish. I had thought then that he would
probably rather be fannish in the serious sense
(discussing seriously everything under the sun)
than in the humorous sense, and I was eventually
Zeus came out mimeoed on 40 half-sized pages. Twenty-five of them had been taken up in an editorial discussing everything from religion to box-top bargains. There was a satire by Leman about an advertising executive who couldn't find a mattress, a fannish poem by Geo. Stevens, and fanzine reviews by Leslie Gerber. It was quite good, in fact, for a first issue.
Now Bob, unlike Ben, could express himself easily, but the way he phrased things sometimes confused people. Sometimes, but not often, he would forget to put in some connective thought in his arguments or opinions and his readers would blink twice, wondering, "Now, what in hell does he mean by that?" Like this one time I remember him writing a great article on the works of Edgar Allen Poe. It was a great article, and while I was reading it, in that issue of Zeus, I kept thinking that it was possibly the most interesting thing Bob had ever written. The article had given a detailed history of Poe and his writings and added several profound observations on what had made Poe the way he was. The article had been edifying, interesting, and totally logical, except for the offending last sentence -- "Poe enveloped himself within a world of fantasy, within a world of his own creation, and lived in fear and dread of reality." There had been no build-up towards this ending; and it had been entirely useless.
Bob had other writing faults as well, but even so he did quite well. He managed to attract attention to himself and his fanzine, and it wasn't long until Zeus had a paid circulation of 55 and was heading towards becoming a Focal Point. Although it had been listed as "irregular" all through its first year, Zeus saw seven issues. After two monthly issues in January and February it officially went monthly. It had by this time, dropped the half-size sheets and was running about 30 pages a month, dittoed. And at least five of
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these pages were letters from Ben Lucas.
I never talked to Ben about his opinions of Zeus, but it was pretty obvious, even from the first, that he liked the zine. A friend of a friend later told me that Ben had once said that Zeus was the fanzine he'd always wanted to publish, but didn't have the time, money, or ability to do so. In a way, Zeus was partly Ben's fanzine -- he was more regular than anyone else in writing for it, (no doubt the fact that he lived so close to Bob helped) and a lot of his ideas were incorporated, as well as opinions adhered to. But don't get the idea that Ben was a master puppeteer, pulling all the strings behind the scenes; Bob and Ben often had differences of opinion, sometimes getting heatedly angry with one another. It was to be expected, though, that their personalities would clash occasionally. And their arguments were always interesting, even to those uninterested in the topic. Ben, using his wit and fine letter-writing against Bob's sometimes cold, always intellectual replies -- as I said, living close together probably helped them a lot. They never misunderstood what the other was saying, or his object in saying it. They were really a fine pair.
Zeus lasted 31 issues. The last four were possibly the worst of them all -- they were beginning to show signs of the speed with which Bob had to put them out (there was once a rumor that Ben helped type the stencils for many issues of Zeus; this was completely unfounded. Ben was one of the world's worst typo fiends, as witness his own Ben-Gay), and the number of pages per issue was dropping off. And there were no letters from Ben Lucas.
About the time of the last four issues I had been, first, attending the NyCon III, and when LA won the next year's bid, I had been put on the con committee. Busy was hardly the word for it, and when I finally got around to writing Bob, noting in my letter the decline of Zeus #28 through 31 and the two week lateness of #32, it was too late. He wrote me a postcard saying that there would be no Zeus #32, and that he was losing interest in fandom.
I was driving out in his direction, some weeks later, and I decided to stop by and see how things were. Now I wish I hadn't. I wish to Ghod I hadn't.
I rang the bell and a voice inside said, "Come in," and I came in. In the center of the room was a table and a lamp, which cast a feeble yellow glow on the typewriter beside it. Next to the tab;le, on the floor, were a few letters and a pile of seven or eight fanzines, several used envelopes and a few unused ones, a small stack of typing eight or ten paper clips. Bob was reclining on the divan, long-uncut hair strayed about his head. Even from half- way across the room I could see his eyes. They seemed grotesquely out of proportion to the rest of him -- large, bloodshot eyes, with heavy dark bags hanging under them. I could see this even in the dim light. He seemed thinner, too.
"Hi," he said sluggishly, half-heartedly waving his hand up from where it lay listlessly beside him, and then he added with more fervor, "you goddamn fan." I was even
more stunned. To see Bob like this was one thing, but
to hear him say that was totally unexpected. He was
the soft-spokenest, un-cussingest fan I had ever known,
and I had often wished I could have been more like him
in this way.
We exchanged a few more words; somehow, though
I'll never be able to remember how, I managed to find out
what had happened. He'd lost his job, for one thing. "I
called the foreman a fuggheaded rosebud," he told me, "and
he was. That son-of-a-bitch was a slob stuck to a 21 inch
universe, and when I told him so he got mad and fired me."
He told me he was quitting fandom; "I'm through," he said.
"Fandom is too much for me. I let everything go just to put
out a goddamned fanzine. There was even a time when I
didn't eat, just so I'd have the money to buy more stencils.
They tasted terrible," he added with a laugh. Then he was
very serious. "Now I don't want to see another fan or read
another letter or fanzine or prozine. Ever. I've been burning everything today -- what you see on the floor is all that's left. You can have the fanzines and prozines if you like, if not, I'll burn them anyway. Then I'll see if I can get my job back ... and maybe get stuck in a 21 inch universe myself. Now, you represent fandom. If you want any of these zines, help yourself. If not, goodbye. Goodbye to you and goodbye to fandom!" I left.
A few weeks later I was going by Ben's. I knew hw hadn't written a letter in some months -- they weren't appearing anywhere. I hoped that things weren't as bad for him as they had been for Bob, but my hopes were in vain.
I knocked, and Ben came to the door. Hid demeanor was strained, too. In fact, he looked like hell. "You," he said bitterly. I said hello. "Come in," he said, "Come in. I just wanted to show you what in the hell you've done to me." I followed him in, hesitantly.
"No doubt," he said, "no doubt you're wondering why I'm not writing letters any more. Come here, and I'll show you why the hell I'm not writing letters any more." He went to his desk and I followed him. He snatched a piece of paper from the wastebasket, thrust it at me, and sat on the edge of the desk as I looked up at him blankly. "Read that," he said. I read:
Got Zeus #31 today. I liked it. Your editorial was
interesting. Liked Warner's piece too. Bellemay's had
quite a humorous twist to it. I liked it. Tate has an interesting
article, but he doesn't say much. I don't agree with him that
Hubbard's characters are bad. Gerber's fan reviews are as
good as ever. Letter column is getting more interesting.
I looked up. "Yeah," he said, "that's why. I've been writing that way for months. I've been blaming you for letting me in for this, I don't know why. It's not your fault, Ghod knows. I'm sorry I went off half-cocked. I'll be okay pretty soon. I've lost touch, but I'll catch on to it again pretty soon. Real soon, because I've got a lot to say. Just wait and see -- yes, I'll be back on the road -- just wait." He turned and sat down at the desk, in front of the typer. He seemed to be ignoring me. He got two sheets of paper, rolled them in, and started writing. For five minutes I stood, horrified, rooted in the spot, watching him type each letter of each word slowly and painfully, remembering all the while how he used to complain about the slowness of the typewriter, because it couldn't keep up with the fast stream of thoughts that poured out of his head. While I hadn't been watching, he suddenly grabbed up the fanzine he had been commenting on and hurled it across the room. He put a hand to his head and moaned. Then he smashed one big fist into the typer, choked, and leaned forward, resting his forehead on the carriage and sobbed silently to himself.
* * *
It was four or five months later that I walked into the second-hand book-store where I first met Bob Healy. I was down to pick up a batch of Planets the owner had been saving especially for me, and I noticed this fellow perusing the copy of Imagination. I started talking to him, thinking only of passing the time of day.
"SF fan, eh?" I said.
"Yeah," he said. We started talking; just about this, that, and the other. "I don't usually read this type of mag," he said. "aSF is more my speed.
"I'll be picking up the ones I missed, since it's gone down so much since it became Analog. But I've been noticing this column by Robert Bkoch, talking about these 'fanzines' and stuff. I wonder, at times, what it's all about."
I studied him for a few seconds. "Sometimes I wonder, too," I replied. "But I'll be damned if I know anything about it," I said as I walked out the door.
[Reprinted from Cry of the Nameless #146, January 1961]
Data entry by Judy Bemis
Hard copy provided by Geri Sullivan
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