Ever find Happiness Living
in Birmingham, Alabama?
By Hank Reinhardt
My first encounter with the city of Birmingham, Alabama, was an experience both painful and pleasurable. Painful: just look at the city. Pleasurable, it was the first Deep South Con I ever attended. In fact, the whole experience is worth telling alone, but I’ll shorten it slightly.
I had never attended a DSC, but that year Jerry Page had nagged convinced me that I should go. He had promised that the con committee would have an altar raised for me, that there would be plenty of bheer, and above all, card games. He had even, he said, imported a special FISH for me, by the name of Lon Atkins. (Little did I realize that this same Lon Atkins would someday be OE of SFPA).
We left for Atlanta early in the morning, full of excitement and adventure, for the Deep South Con was only 170 miles away!
Now Page is an odd sort, and never having attended a convention with him, I was unprepared for his “Convention Attending Preparatory Exercises”. They rather startled me at first, all the screaming and yelling, but I got used to them quickly. The funny thing was that Jerry started them just as we reached the highway and I started picking up speed. The exercises were a little curious, too. He would scream, stop his feet, and cover his eyes, and then repeat the whole procedure!
I can honestly say that never have I seen a man as impatient to arrive at a convention as Jerry was. All during the trip he kept screaming and asking me, “God, will I ever get to Birmingham?” I kept assuring him that we would arrive and that I was hurrying as fast as I could. This invariably brought forth low moans and self-condemnation as he bewailed his lack of intelligence and his birth out of wedlock. He kept muttering, “Stupid Bastard, Stupid Bastard.” Oh well, Jerry is a lot of fun, but don’t drive him to a convention.
The trip was rather uneventful. Only one thing of any interest happened. Right after we crossed the Alabama line, a car with a light on top started following us and trying to make us stop. It wasn’t a cop car, as all cop cars in Georgia are white with red lights. Finally, it dawned on me that these were robbers, trying to steal my collection of PLANET STORIES! This made me a little angry, and I wanted to get out and fight. Indeed, I had already buckled on my shield and drawn my sword with gusto when Jerry started screaming again about not getting to Birmingham. Rather than put up with all the yelling, I decided to just lose them. It wasn’t hard. A few four wheel drifts around some tractor trailer rigs, and the bandits were lost to sight.
We were cruising along right well. Jerry had passed thru Part I of his exercises and was into Part II, which consisted of deep wracking sobs and breaking into a cold sweat, when we beheld Birmingham! Birmingham is called the Magic City, and my first glimpse of it told me why. We were heading toward a huge bank of smog at a speed in the low three-digit figures. Then suddenly, like an evil phantasm of a tortured brain, the fog lifted, and there, like an evil phantasm of a more tortured brain, sat Birmingham, resplendent in a mantle of dark gray soot!
Jerry and I located the Downtown Motel without any trouble, and pulled into the lot and started unloading. Page then went thru Part III of his exercises, falling to the ground and kissing the earth repeatedly. (Each to his own, but I can think of better ways to get prepared for a con)
The people there must have never seen a full fledged Atlantian before, as they kept looking at me in open-eyed, open-mouth admiration as I carried in my weapons: four swords, one pole-axe, one halberd, two helmets, (my mail I had on) and my shield.
The Deep South Con was delightful. I met many new fans, and never had I known how odd most fans are till I met this bunch. The only one there that appeared normal was Ron Bounds, and he only had a bayonet! The rest, Would You Believe It, were, now get this, UNARMED! Talk about weird!
But I didn’t hold it against them. Live and let live, I always say. The fan roster was impressive. There was Two Can Billy Pettit, drunk as usual, the Late, Great lee Jacobs, the California sponge, drunk as usual, a whale of a fellow, our revered OE of SFPA Lon (Bigfish) Atkins, drunk as usual. (It was at this con that I first played poker with Lon and formed a long and lasting friendship – one that has been quite profitable, too), Ned Brooks, drunk as usual was also there, plus the evil genius of Southern Fandom, Al Andrews. Oddly enough Al wasn’t drunk, but he was heading that way with all the speed he could muster.
I was shocked that fandom knew so little about how poker is played. Not a one of my opponents was armed with anything larger than a penknife. More than once my pair of kings with battle axe won out over three aces with nothing.
I am a modest individual, not given to praise of self, but I feel that I should mention that it was here that I won my first Miniature Catapult shooters Association Championship, beating Ron Bounds easily and winning $673.00 from him at the same time.
There was a panel discussion, which I also won, my mace coming in very handy, some hearts games, which I won, using a knife technique, and a beaureaux, which I lost. (Teach me to leave my sword in my room)
But in all silver clouds there is a little sand. (Figure that one out.) As a result of the Deep South Con, I saw the city of Birmingham – dirty, dingy, with thick foggy air, dirty old buildings, Greasy spoon restaurants, and two bookstores, which specialized in Lust in the Desert and Lust in the Attic type stuff.
The con broke up Sunday afternoon. Jerry hated for it to end, so much so that it took four of us to get him into the car. The trip back was uneventful. Jerry went thru some more exercises, basically the same, even to kissing the ground when he got out at his house. But, nothing else worth mentioning came off.
The years wore on. I continued my profitable relationship with Lon Atkins and the rest of fandom. In short, life was rather pleasant. But, always, in the back of my mind loomed a horrible, forbidding specter: BIRMINGHAM.
In the fall of ’66 evil struck. Things had really been looking up in the early part of the year. Georgia Tech was undefeated, and so was Georgia. Both ranked in the top ten. Poker had been going well. And, I had just purchased some old weapons. Nice, that’s what it was.
I cruised into the office one fateful day; got in about ten a.m., read the paper, and prepared to play some cards before going to work. Then the boss, the BIG one, called me into his office.
“Reinhardt, we’re transferring you to Birmingham.”
The scream that ripped out came from my soul. A red haze swam before my eyes. Killcrazy with fear and pain, I moved for the boss – a blur that would have shamed a striking snake!
My boss screamed, “Wait, wait, it means more MONEY.”
I pulled him back in from the window, sat him on his feet, and we discussed it like two civilized gentlemen. (A role I have difficulty playing)
The year ended in disaster! Georgia beat hell out of Tech. I lost a hearts game. And, in December we moved to Birmingham.
That was nigh on to three years ago! Now as I sit in my (cell) room I ponder, can I, will I ever return to Atlanta, that fair and gracious city, a city that has kindness, warmth, love and FANS!
Here I should pinpoint the shortcomings of Birmingham, but I find that I’m reluctant to do so. Not that I’ve changed my mind about the city, instead I find that my feelings are too strong. This is, after all, a family type zine (-What-Kent?!-), and there are still laws regarding obscenity.
Birmingham is a dirty, dreary city, with no fanac at all. But, I can get by without fanac; I did in Atlanta for several years. It’s just that the whole city is different. Culture is almost unknown. They do have a fairly good museum, but as to be expected, some of the armor is incorrectly labeled. There’s one night club in town, the drinking laws are weird, and Birmingham has an inferiority complex that is as tremendous as it is well deserved. The papers here constantly hit you with vital and highly interesting tidbits designed to make the average person think he is living in a city that is the hub of the universe: RICHARD NIXON’S FIFTH COUSIN SPENT TWO WEEKS IN BIRMINGHAM 8 YEARS GO! HAIRDRESSER IN THE SHARON TATE MURDER ONCE LIVED IN BIRMINGHAM FOR SIX MONTHS . . . . BIRMINGHAM 97th IN NATION FOR AMOUNT OF MONEY SPENT ON BLUE CONTACT LENSES.
No kidding, things like this appear all the time, and not as little fillers in the back, but in large type on the first couple of pages!
But, don’t get the idea that we get bored here. We don’t. Every Saturday Janet and I go down to the A&P and watch them sack groceries, and sometimes we go downtown and count the cars . . . All sorts of exciting things to do here . . .
Now for three years I have suffered . . . three years locked away in Birmingham. Oh I have tried to stimulate fanac around here. Tried ‘til tears rolled down my cheeks, tried ‘til blood spurted in a blue torrent from my ripped and torn hands . . . but I’m still unsuccessful! There’s still no thriving fan group, no chance for sparkling wit and clever remarks. . . Oh, there is a fan here besides myself: Al Andrews. And, during the summer, George Inzer sneaks into town. But what can two fans offer me? Hell, I can’t support a thriving weapons collection on just playing cards with two guys! I need fresh blood, another few fish to make life worthwhile! True, Decatur Alabama has a small fan group, but they’re all in school, and don’t have much money. . .don’t even play poker!
Oh, to be back in Atlanta with Joe Celko, Glen Brock, and Jerry Page; I could grow rich.
But now the cold gray mists of age gather round me; my bones feel old and heavy and brittle. I look back on my youth, and it is as a dim painting in which certain things stand out sharp and clear. . .dashing to the bank to deposit a check of someone’s, counting my winnings from poker and hearts games. . .having to hire a CPA to keep track of my winnings. . .
And as I grow old and that Final Edition comes closer, I look forward to that Great Fan Gathering in the Sky. Oh, I’ll get there; I’ve been as good a fan as any. I’ve had my times, drank beer by the kegful, read PLANET STORIES . . . and I’ve suffered for Fandom. I’ve listened to Jerry Page talk for hours. I’ve listed to Fred Lerner talk for hours . . .I’ve been a good trufan, and when I go, I know what will be waiting for me: Mint editions of PLANET STORIES, portfolios of Finley, and autographed editions of CONAN, bound in human skin dyed a blood red . . .
But, what bothers me is will I ever get the hell out of Birmingham and get back to all of the above in Atlanta.
Note: The first mailing of my second stint in SFPA, I commented on a piece Hank had written on armor, asking if it had been a term paper, and saying that I thought running a term paper through the apa wasn’t quite “cricket.” Oh, Hank had a field day with my word-choice. He went of on this long surreal spiel about crickets and armor that cracked me up. I got started writing back and forth with him, and he ended up sending me this, which I was delighted to print in Outre’ 6 for SFPA Mailing 34 in Fall of 1969, I think. Cover by Dany Frolich.