The Clubhouse: ConFusion at 40 (more or less)

The Michigan Union, where ConFusion — or something — began.
The Michigan Union, where ConFusion — or something — began.

This year was the 40th ConFusion. Or perhaps it will be next year. The numerology of this Michigan convention has always been somewhat doubtful, since its numbering started with 13, unless you count the initial convention the preceding year, when it wasn’t named ConFusion at all.

What’s certain is that in 1973, a bunch of more-or-less college-aged fans from Ann Arbor encountered each other for the first time at Torcon 2, the Worldcon in Toronto that year, and decided to form a club. They dubbed it the Stilyagi Air Corps, after the insurgents in ” The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress,” and immediately began planning to run a convention.

Starting new sf cons was a popular pastime among fans in the ’70s. Hard as it is to imagine now that you can choose from five or six conventions on any given weekend, cons were rare back then. Besides Worldcon, in the U.S., there were Westercon, Midwestcon, Octocon, Marcon, DeepSouthCon, Philcon, Lunacon and perhaps a handful of others. It was entirely possible to attend them all. Michigan had only the very small Michicon, started in the 1940s and held increasingly intermittently until the ’80s (no relation to the present-day gaming convention of the same name). But in the ’70s, the con scene began to explode.

The Stilyagis therefore planned their convention, which was to be called ConDom, a name that lasted right up until their fearless leader, Ro Lutz-Nagey (né and now Nagey), had to write his (now her) first business letter on behalf of the con, whereupon he summarily changed it to A2 Relax Icon. The convention was held in January 1974 on the University of Michigan campus. It was a memorable event.

It was my second convention and the first I went to by myself. (I had attended Torcon 2 with my mother, who had a much better time than I, decided fandom was safe enough for her young, teenaged daughter and permitted me to spend my first solo weekend away from home.) So the first fan I met on arriving at the Michigan Union was skinny, long-haired Roger Gregory, complete with signature “Math, Sex and LSD” t-shirt. (Roger had made up a collection of these in different colors and apparently never washed them but merely cycled through them. He also dropped more acid than Timothy Leary. Nerds were different in the ’70s.) Despite his habits, Roger was a most compelling man. He took me under his wing and explained what was going on.

The con featured a small but unforgettable masquerade. A Stilyagi member whom I know only as Stella went costumed as a bug-eyed monster. She had taken strips of fur, for eyebrows, and pasted one over each of her large, naked breasts.

That con also introduced me to the “Secret Masters of Fandom,” a foursome of assorted men, naked except for red bath towels around their waists and brown paper bags over their heads, each operating a paddle ball. Under the towels were Ro, Rusty Hevelin, Randy Bathurst and Mike Glicksohn.

Now I’ve spent so much space telling you about ConFusion’s origins, I’ll have to cover this year’s con next time.

To be continued.

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