The Clubhouse: ConFusion at 40, Part 2

Nancy Tucker

Nancy Tucker in costume at ConFusion in 1979.

I went to all the early ConFusions. The name change came about, I’m told, because Ro (who informs me her name was then still Nagey, the change to Lutz-Nagey not occurring till a few years later, with his first marriage and exit from Ann Arbor) got tired of typing A2 Relax Icon. In those days, before home computers, creating the superscript would have required rolling the typewriter platen a half line up and back by hand. To add to the confusion, he numbered the first one 13.

I was there for the Sunday-afternoon farewells that turned into a group grope in the hotel lobby, ultimately dubbed Fondlecon, which became a ConFusion tradition. I was there the year so many fans piled on a bed in a room party that the bed collapsed. And for the years when the January con was held in a hotel with unheated hallways, so there was an official convention Cuddle Squad designated to warm the fans up. Not to mention the blizzard that closed the highways on Sunday one year, giving us all an extra day to keep each other warm. (A lot of what went on at cons in the ’70s would, today, probably get half the attendees banned from Readercon.)

I belonged to my high-school sf club at the time. I recall that we published a fanzine, the Omekronicle, but I remember almost nothing else the club did and less than a handful of the other members. I could induce only one other member, the now long-gafiated Larry Downes, to take any interest in wider fandom or sf cons. The club president was Perry Beider, a math and music genius. I have no idea what became of him, although Google turns up an analyst for the Congressional Budget Office that might be he.

The other member I remember well was Judy Schneider, a shy, quiet, almost prim girl a couple of years older than me, the epitome of the “nice Jewish girls” my mother always wanted me to be friends with. When Judy graduated and went to Ann Arbor for college — where she intended to live in one of the University of Michigan’s few all-girls’ dorms — she asked me for an info about the sf club there. So I told her about the Stilyagi Air Corps and gave her Ro’s phone number.

The next time I ran into her, at the following ConFusion, she was living with Roger Gregory! As I said, Roger was a most compelling man. But I always hoped her parents never found out who sent her to Stilyagi. I don’t know what became of Judy after that.

Ultimately, it became my turn to head to Ann Arbor as a college freshman, where of course I joined the Stilyagi Air Corps and began working on ConFusion. For me, much of ConFusion was personified in Larry and Nancy Tucker. Larry, an avid and talented video buff at a time when video meant U-matic tape, chronicled most of the early cons, as well as making a variety of other fannish videos, notably “Big Bird Eats Moon,” which chronicled a Stilyagi lunar eclipse party as told by a cultural anthropologist; “The Thing That Ate Gorgonzola State University,” real-life interviews with students about the news that the earth was being eaten by a black hole; and the full-length feature “FAANs,” starring just about every well-known Midwestern fan of the period: the ultimate sf con as a parody of “Jaws.”

Larry was ConFusion’s biggest fan, gofer and all-purpose workhorse. He chaired a number of ConFusions and so did Nancy, his mother. Nancy was a great lady, and not at all what you’d expect of somebody’s mother. At the time, she was a Tibetan Buddhist, and she plunged wholeheartedly into fandom, as she did into everything she did, as soon as Larry found out about it. To give you an example, for E⁄c2 ConFusion in 1979, Nancy decided to attend the masquerade dance as one of the newly resurrected out of Philip Jose Farmer’s Riverworld Saga. So, for complete authenticity, she shaved her head.

Larry was at this year’s ConFusion, thanks to a kind fan named Katherine Becker, who brought him from the nursing home where he lives now. Shortly after the con two years ago, he suffered a devastating stroke, and now he’s confined to a wheelchair with limited ability to move on his own and can speak only with great difficulty. At Immortal ConFusion, he just smiled and didn’t try. We had not seen each other in years. He held my hand for a little while.

Larry had fallen on hard times in recent years, as so many of us have, and now it’s unknown what’s become of all his tapes, or if they’re salvageable if any can be found. If by any chance, you know of copies, please get in touch.

And now I’m a little too weepy to go on with this year’s con report. Next time, I promise.

To be continued.

Before launching her career as an award-winning journalist, Leah A. Zeldes first learned the craft of writing in the pages of twiltone fanzines. Today a freelance writer and professional blogger, she is for hire for writing and editing projects of all types.

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