Out of almost three years' activity in the Michigan Science-Fantasy Society, a trilogy of dimmed years, some things come forth as vividly as the day they first occurred. The members of the MSFS were not of unusual character, with one or two exceptions, nor were they so prosaic as not to lend themselves to the creation of fannish legend.
Clearly etched in my mind is one person: Benjamin Singer.
Almost single-handedly, that boy made Michigan history. His notoriety gave fandom a series of stories which are recounted whenever a Misfit finds himself amongst new fan groups. I know this is true, for when I migrated to San Francisco (Shangri-La's suburb) I regaled the GGFS with Singerania. Singer was a lone fan in Detroit until he branched out and started the foundation which later made the shaky basis of the statewide MSFS, and it is in this group, surrounded by other Misfits, that he made his indelible mark upon Michigan fan history.
Singer was an atheist. That is an outstanding fact, bulwarked by frequent tirades against established religions, and cynical blasting of the "gullible herd". His outer-state outbursts of AAAAism were first voiced (that is, the first time I heard them outside of MSFS meets) in SPACEWARP; where Singer, Ray Nelson and a pterodactyl mixed themselves into a zombie. This feud also gave Ray his first notices in fandom, and one would have thought him to be a regular contributor to "the cash registers of the priests", as Singer often said. Later developments, noticeably SEXOCRACY, make Nelson's defense of the pterodactyl very flimsy.
Simultaneously with his WARP missionary work, Singer also made his voice heard publicly and perennially on public vehicles, and in the company of fellow Misfits. For instance, Singer, Young and Gordon once boarded a Grand River bus and took seats. In front of Ben was a rather young boy. Singer commenced a loud harangue against "Cash-registers" in churches, supplemented by other remarks pertaining to the divinity of Christ, and the legitimacy of the claim of Mary to virginity, and the legal succession of Paul as the Vicar of Christ. Young and Gordon (or "Gore" as Singer fondly named Gerald Gordon) withstood it with tolerant disinterest until the lad in front of Singer started defending Christianity.
Braving a scowl of atheistic ferocity, the juvenile saint said in an awed lisp, "Don't you believe on God?"
Singer, so legend goes, firmly convinced this youthful Christian that a life of atheism or agnosticism was more virtuous than subservience to a begowned hierarchy and its antediluvian theosophy.
Another of Singer's Detroit Street Railway routines was this unique trick: he (with an audience of Misfits) would board a silent trolley. Then Singer would calmly face his target and say in a loud motherly voice:
"Aren't you ashamed of yourself? Here you are gallivanting around town with bums, living in poolhalls and gambling joints, while your poor mother scrubs floors to make enough to keep you in food, clothes, money and home!"
People would turn around with disapproving frowns on their faces, and direct a silent sentence of death upon the target. He, in turn, would seek aid from the other in the trio. But that worthy individual had suddenly become interested in the passing scenery, and would totally ignore Singer and his other friend. As often as not, he would get up and leave them both, as though he didn't know them.
I best remember Singer for his transborder episodes. He and George Young would come across from Detroit and meet me in Windsor where we'd take a bus to my place.
On Singer's first visit both to Canada and my place, we got on a Sandwich Loop bus. After I paid the fares, Singer plucked my arm urgently. His voice was hoarse, an Irishman's whisper: "Hadn't you better make sure he'll take us to King Street? I don't think he understands American."
The driver glared and the passengers looked at me as though I were a white-coated keeper of these maniacs. Singer nonchalantly strode to the rear of the bus while Young and I slunk after him.
The second is a Singer standard whenever he gets around a bunch of Canadians. He merely listens for a moment and then asks his friend "to say a few words in Canadian for us". This endeared Singer to me more than anything else, since he pulled it on me at the Torcon in 1948. He capped this feat by going into a restaurant with us, holding the menu upside down, asking me to interpret his order, and finally demonstrated avec ses mains, in dumb speech.
Other Torcon Singerana have been told widely; so the firecracker, water-gun, birthday suit, alum joke, and radio smuggling chapters need no retelling here.
Other Singerana: Closing the Detroit City parks to meetings of the MSFS by displaying copies of the FREETHINKER and discoursing on religion; asking new mwmbers to phone the Rocket Victory Society (a dark-town poker club which finally became so discouraged with the calls that they disbanded); crossing the American-Canadian border with a prominent display of a book emblazoned BANISH GODS FROM THE SKIES AND CAPITALISTS FROM THE EARTH at a time when the guards were on a Red witch hunt; mixing devilish concoctions, which he drank on being dared, or drank anyway; recording a record of a supposed stf program consisting of all the squeals, howls, roars, and screams possible. The list is endless.
Switching from Singer, I remember Martin Alger, and he no doubt remembers me. For months after the Torcon I owed him $5 for gas shares, which I finally paid off. Anyway, at one of my first meets, I naturally asked questions. About such terms as stf, BEMS, zwilniks, and other stefnal jargon. When bem came up for discussion, Singer and Young proudly presented Martin as "the guy who created the term BEM". Martin was the transportation facility of the MSFS, and in his eight-seater Packard we made the state highways perilous for non-fans from Royal Oak to Saginaw.
Saginaw! Mecca away from Mecca! 2120 Bay Street.
Arthur H. Rapp and his sprawling house, with rooms devoted to the necessities of life: stf magazines, sofa, stove, elimination depot, beer and pop cache, stencil niche, one bed in one room, another by his collection. In the stf room, hid typer sat atop a small table, while boards laid between crates held up saggingly under the weight of pulps. Rejection slips from every fantasy-stf-weird publication were stapled on one wall, while original covers from SPACEWARP and MUTANT balanced its other half.
Here, at least once a month, the slans from Michigan gathered for sneak previews of forthcoming WARPS, to criticise some Rappian manuscript which Art was polishing for pro submission, or to talk about various subjects as fans are wont to do, and drink beer, pop, consume beans, dogs, chips, or eclairs. Saginaw was our only stf house; it was the Misfit Slan Shack or Tendril Towers.
In the summer of 1949, the gang went to Saggy for a meet devoted to preparing Bill James' DARK WISDOM AND OTHER TALES. After the regular Sunday meet was over, and the gang departed for outstate points, Arnim Seilstad and I stayed behind to help Art. We slaved over the HIAISM mimeograph (altho in those days the term hadn't been coined). Out of this came the first and only volume of MUTANT MIMEO, an organization made up of MSFS fans and dedicated to publishing fanzines between the interims of the MUTANT itself.
Talking of MUTIE brings to mind how I became editor. I was abruptly drafted, since Bill Groover was leaving for work on the Great Lakes. Singer merely asked for an editor, looked at me, and there I was -- editor. They heaped me with back issues of MUTIE, to familiarise me with the slant and policy, and calmly demanded an issue as soon as possible. Its career from then on was hectic to say the least, since I received manuscripts in Canada, George received the subscriptions in Farmington, and Art published it in Saginaw. By 1949 the system broke down altogether. I failed to adhere to a strict schedule. Ray Nelson suspended UNIVERSE, and merged it with WARP; Art doing the editing, Ray the publishing. For the first time in over two years a monthly WARP failed to hit the mails. Art and the duo responsible for MUTANT decided to merge all three mags, and the stencils and subscription lists were mailed from outstate to Detroit. They failed to arrive, got lost, and Art finally blitzkrieged an issue of WARP and worked like a Trojan getting it back on schedule. MUTANT put out another issue under the old regime, and then shifted about, finally ending up under Bill James' editorship and Arnim Seielstad's publishing. That fanzine was the only international publication that I know of, and perhaps the distances departing editor and publisher accounted for some of the difficulty.
((Laney interrupts: In 1944 through 1946, EEEvans stencilled and published a mag for Rosenblum of England; Laney and Rothman and later Dunkelberger and Rothman collaborated on mags prepared in France; Laney published a magazine cut by Englishman Sam Youd on German stencils liberated in Italy and (I think) cut in France; and of course there was the MAHOPE prepared by Mike Fern in Hawaii and published by Laney in Los Angeles -- the arrangements for which were concluded by amateur shortwave radio. The first liar hasn't got a chance, has he Stewart?))
Meetings were held twice a month; one in Detroit, and the other alternated between Windsor and Saginaw. Unashamedly, I state that the Canadian meets were looked forward to, because Mom would go all out in preparing food for the fans. Young, Singer, Kuss, Alger, and Shapiro can all testify to the vast amount of sandwiches, cakes and pop that vanished during the eating sessions at the house on King Street. Similarly, our first gathering at Arnim's in Crosse Pointe was marked by a lavish spread of pie, cake, ice cream, and beer which was the peak of hospitality. When the meets were held at Ed Kuss' house, the fans prowled through his collection of stf zines, Coronets, art magazines, photos, paintings and knicknacks. Ed was an artist and illustrator of no mean ability, but no amount of coaxing could make him submit artwork to MUTANT. In his cellar, Alger showed us films, the hit being "Buck Cheeser Goes to the Moon", a color cartoon a la Disney. Ed also gave his slides several runs, and the color and composition of the subjects (matural beauty, still life) was superb. He also collected woodcuts.
The MSFS made en masse visits to fantasy films showing about Detroit and vicinity, and also took in such things as HENRY V and HAMLET. HAMLET leads into an anecdote.
I obtained tickets through the Students Club to a reserved performance at a local Windsor theater, and invited Young to come along. At the showing, the adolescent students comprising the audience went into fits of glee at the slightly risque lines of the play and made appropriate juvenile comments at such points. In retaliation against such disturbing action, I wrote a rather sarchastic and belittling letter to the newspaper and drew parallels between the adolescent mind and idiocy. This of course made the remainder of my school term slightly strained, but it was worth it. The MSFS had a good laugh out of my first evidence of "seriousness" (lately alluded to by one Ray Nelson.)
We journeyed about the state quite a bit, and even went to such far points as London (Canada) and Milwaukee via Chicago. At the Loncon (where the MSFS had an "organized delegation" and to which quote our host, Sam McCoy, replied: "Organized delegation, hell! The ONLY delegation!) we almost starved to death in the wee hours of Sunday morning, because sleepy London refused to open restaurants at 6:00 am. Sam was surprised by the Misfits at an early hour demanding food.
In Chicago, the group invaded the Ziff-Davis offices, were conducted about by Palmer, met Berkley Livingston, and came home to Detroit with illustrations from both AMAZING and FANTASTIC ADVENTURES, as well as others from Z-D western and detective pulps. The MSFS treasury developed a surplus of $30 after the illos were auctioned off.
Other personalities in the group included two likeable fans. Norm Kossuth was a rocket fanatic, and a devotee of Richard S. Shaver. He went to Illinois to visit the guy, and returned convinced that Richard should be listened to. However, his Shaverism was non-demonstrative, and we got along fine with Norm and his recorder, of which more later. Of the whole group, Hal Shapiro made hits with fan-parents most often. Dad dubbed him "Epstein", and traded Yiddish dialog with him, oblivious to the other fans. Shapiro also collected hand-painted neckties, among which was the most horrible thing I had ever seen. Against a blue background, a dangling naked corpse hung from a skeleton tree, with gore dripping all over, and the severed head of the carcass lay on the ground, grinning. In the body itself, a long-bladed knife was buried to the hilt in its back, the bloody point emerging slightly from the chest. This gruesome cravat graced Hal's throat at every social outing of the MSFS.
Kossuth's recorder was used to preserve several meetings, and he and Singer also embarked on the production of scienti-funny records. The first was the quasi-sciencefiction program prevoiusly mentioned. Another was "You Must Believe", a direct adaptation of a story by Al Weinstein in Joe Kennedy's VAMPIRE. (Al wrote it as a satire on the then current Shaver Mystery ruckus, and in it blatantly razzed Shaver and his theories. The climax was the hero's shouting to the crowd below him on the square: "I REMEMBER LEMURIA!") Later on, perhaps a week or so afterwards, Singer and Kossuth produced a parody on this record. It became one of our prised possessions, and was played wherever a recorder could be found. In this one, the action was all very hammy, with the hero focussing his attention on a little black beast named Gnitzy, and wondering what to say to the milling crowd outside. He decides, rushes out to the balcony, misses and oops! falls to the pavement where with his dying breath he utters hoarsely: "I REMEMBER EARTH!" All very corny, you say, but the various voice changes and distortions, the ebbing background music, and the oratorical delivery of the lines combined to make a true comic epic. I'd give a million ASTOUNDINGS just to hear these records again.
All these memories come forth as I cast my mind's eye over the years I spent among the Misfits. To end this reminiscence, I'll give the derrivation of the term Misfit, as applied to NSFSers. Shapiro coined the word, or adapted it rather, from the initials MSFS which he claimed were incorporated in the word "misfit", and stood for "Michigan Instigators for Science-Fantasy and Intellectual Thinking Society".
Written from exile, San Mateo, California, 1950.
Fandom is a way of life
Where each boy is like a wife
And they think it odd of me
That I won't sponsor sodomy.
(Reprinted by the popular demand of the author, Chas. Burbee)
Text versions and page scans Judy Bemis
Data entry by Judy Bemis
Updated June 19, 2015. If you have a comment about these web pages please send a note to the Fanac Webmaster. Thank you.