Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Fight or Flight

During my most recent improv class, we did a warm-up exercise called "stretch and share." The premise: the group stands in a circle, stretching. Each person, in succession, begins a stretch and then shares a few personal facts about themselves.

While holding one's foot and stretching their quadriceps muscle: "I'm a violinist and I've ridden every roller coaster at Cedar Rapids ten times."

While touching one's toes: "I'm a black belt in Tae Kwan Do, I'm vegan, and my dad coaches football at Boise State."

Greeting the dawn, arms extended high to the ceiling: "I'm a priest." You get the idea.

The share comes to me, and I'm not sure what to say. Anyone who reads this blog, or hangs out with me, or is my therapist knows that I'm tiresomely inward-looking. I could have said any number of things about myself, things that a lot of people in my improv class would already have known. But for some reason, I was at a loss.

I played The Baker in Into the high school. No, simultaneously wanking and pitiful.

I play the ukulele. Careful, Joe, they might ask to hear you play one day. That never works out.

I can eat shrimp until someone else pukes. Gross. Gross and obscure.

"I'm the oldest of five kids," Good, excellent Joe, say something else nice and interesting, "and, and I've been to at least six sci-fi conventions."

Wait, what? You're given an opportunity to identify half of your being, and you choose sci-fi conventions? Why, yes, internal monologue. Sci-fi conventions are awesome. And the greatest of them all is Dragon*Con.

I'm sure you have your preconceptions about conventions. You think of them and you imagine glandular cases with Muppets t-shirts pulled over their Starfleet academy uniforms, squealing to pay $40 for an autograph from Gareth Thomas, star of Blake's 7. You imagine a group of people doing Renaissance dance to They Might Be Giants. And you imagine the smell, like a hundred sweatsocks and nine turkey sandwiches, cooked together inside of an X-Box. And you're partially right, but mostly wrong.

Dragon*Con is one of America's largest science fiction conventions. Every Labor Day weekend, upwards of 50,000 people descend on Atlanta to hang out, see celebrities, talk about cartoons, and compare costumes. And what costumes! Dragon*Con sits at a natural intersection of engineering and graphic design, and thus the costumes are triumphs of mechanics and beauty. We're talking fully-functional Gundam suits, complete with weaponry. Home-made Wolverine claws, that retract into a wristwatch.

Over half of any Dragon*Con attendee's time is spent taking pictures of these awesome costumes, drunk. And Jesus, do we drink. Dragon*Con is essentially a party for people who don't get invited to parties. And everyone there is someone a nerd will want to talk to, and it's socially acceptable to have a conversation about "Settlers of Catan!" And you can get laid! There are orgies at Dragon*Con. There are people who never leave their hotel room except to get ice to cool off their genitals.

Some of you will cringe at that image, but I only include it to illustrate the fact that Dragon*Con is awesome. I have met--and touched!--the famous, the semi-famous, and the not-famous. I've made friends. I've seen some of the most amazing works of human craftsmanship...ever. It's the only vacation I take, and I plan to go every year until I die (2042, beaten to death by members of the Glenn Beck Youth Brigade).

And yet, sometimes it's not fun. Getting fed at Dragon*Con can be an ordeal. If you go to the Peachtree Center Mall, close to the con hotels, you are essentially diving into a roiling pit of humanity, all in a rush to stuff themselves with Chik Fil A before the Patrick Stewart panel. If you bring your food, you have to carry it around, and that means you have less room for booze.

On Saturday (this is mid-con, we're basically just getting started at this point), my friends and I decide to walk up the street to go to McDonald's, to get away from the Peachtree Center Crowds. As soon as we get inside, we know something is wrong.

Oh, that's right! Atlanta is actually overscheduled on Labor Day weekend. So not only are there tens of thousands of my people in the middle of the city, there are Alabama and Clemson fans here for a football game at the Georgiadome. And it's Black Gay College Student Weekend (this is a real thing, but I don't know it's name).

We get in line, and all of the beautiful black gays and football rednecks are looking with me? No, it can't be. I'm not even in costume. And I'm only medium-sweaty, which for me means that the stains are only going halfway down my torso.

"I've seen some great ones. I saw a Vegeta today. He had the power reader, and the armor, and the blue boots. The only problem was that the guy in the costume was like six feet even, and Vegeta is supposed to be like, five-three."

Oh. Oh god. The attractive black gays and the football rednecks were looking at the group of horror nerds standing directly in front of me. These guys were the kind of nerds that give nerds a bad name. They argued over the minutiae of their fiction. They probably only read comics that double as pornography. They weren't even smart. There was a lanky kid, a fat kid in a silk shirt with a ninja printed on it, and a goblinesque man with acne scars. They had been playing tabletop RPGs for the entire con. I could tell because 1) they smelled like they hadn't moved or changed clothes for several days and 2) Goblin Boy was regaling his companions with tales of his mad biznezz skillz.

"So, cheeseburgers here are like a dollar. So I bought ten cheeseburgers and took them down to the game room and sold them for TWO dollars a piece. Made ten bucks!"

"I-I-I-I dunno about that. Seems like a lot of work." Ninja Shirt was skeptical, and inarticulate.

"No, you can ask around! Ask anybody!"

"That's crazy! Do you think that's possible?" Lanks was addressing me.

My fight or flight instincts were activated. I could not get into a conversation with these guys. I would have to shake their grimy hands. I'd have to quarantine myself for the rest of the con. My friends were in the other line, laughing at me with a group of attractive black gays. I decided to route all auxiliary power to my shields.

"I...don't know." I put on my most impassive face. Lanks went back to his conversation. Success!

Goblin Boy ordered a chicken sandwich and a large sweet tea. It took him a minute to order. His order came first, so he stood drinking his sweet tea while Fat Shirt and Lanks waited for their food.

Sip. "Huh. This don't seem sweet enough. Does this seem sweet enough to you?" He handed his tea to Lanks.

Louder this time: "Man, this tea just isn't sweet enough!"

Was he really passive aggressively complaining about his tea? I stepped up to place my order.

"I'll have a Quarter Pounder meal with a--"

"Sorry." He stepped in front of me. My fist clenched. Shields up to like, a billion percent.

"This tea really isn't sweet enough. Do you have another, sweeter batch?"

The cashier looked at him, her jaw set.

"This is the only batch we have made right now."

"Well could you make another?"

The cashier looked at Goblin Boy as if to say "This isn't your mother's house. Also, you have acne scars."

"No, sorry, but I can put some sugar into your tea."


I had to wait to order my damn Quarter Pounder meal with a Diet Coke so this poor cashier could put sugar in a retard's iced tea. She finally got around to taking my order.

"That'll be $5.62."

I wanted to give her a tip, to tell her to "keep the change, and here's a dollar for your trouble with my fellow nerd." But I knew it would only humiliate her more. I hope she got a raise later that day, or that an attractive black gay bought her a drink at the bar across the street.

I got my food, and brushed past the goblin crew so quickly that I accidentally brushed Fat Shirt, getting some of his sweat on my elbow. I didn't say "excuse me."

We walked back to the con, back to relative normalcy, relative good smells, and a bottle of Maker's Mark. Later that weekend, I touched the hand of Jewel Staite, the most beautiful woman in the 'Verse. I was drunk, and her touch irradiated Fat Shirt's diseased sweat and Goblin Boy's diseased memory.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Stop Putting Your Laundry in Me

by an IKEA Bag

Okay, I get it. I'm convenient. You don't want to lug a hamper around, and you have me, just taking up space. I have handles. I'm big. It's almost as though the Swede who designed me thought "Oh, after this thing gets done carrying a "BILLY" bookshelf home, you can put your laundry in it! I am so clever! I deserve a treat. Lingonberries!"

But just because something is convenient doesn't mean it's right.

Say a race of aliens game to Earth. And they had laundry that would somehow fit conveniently into the body cavity of a living adult human. And willy-nilly, they start snatching up people and stuffing them full of alien thongs, alien shirts, and alien scarves. You'd immediately decry the aliens, say what they were doing was inhuman and wrong. Hell, you'd probably start a non-profit based around the misuse of human bodies!

I'm sorry, that example was...over the top. I'm just so tired of having laundry inside of me all the time.

I'm not saying don't use me. I was made to be used. The happiest day of my life was when you took home a modular storage unit in me. I felt...complete. And I don't expect you to take me back to IKEA, to use me again. That place is horrible. It's like a college dorm that's been retrofitted to be a dildo factory. So don't put furniture in me.

Put puppies in me.

Put an old set of encyclopedias in me.

Put a baby in me, because you can't afford the "HENSVIK" crib that you want until you get paid in a week. I promise I'll be gentle, with your baby.

Do you know how much of your body hair sticks to your clothes when you take them off? A lot, that's how much. There are times when I feel like there's a pube jungle inside of me. Sometimes your clothes have...fluids...on them. Do you know how it feels? To hold someone else's fluids? I hope not, for your sake.

Please stop debasi--NNF. URRN. HURK!

Great. A jock strap.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


Before I lived in New York, I thought everyone on the subway was beautiful. Many of the people I rode with were conventionally beautiful: models, actors, Greek guys with good hair. And the people who weren't conventionally beautiful were interesting looking. I could see their journeys on their faces--they were like less-famous Frank McCourts and S. Epatha Murchersaii.

I loved them. I thought, "God, I can't wait to live in this city, to be around these amazing looking people every day."

I don't know where those people have gone.

Since I've moved here, every trip has been like spending 30 minutes in a Bruegel painting. People on the subway bleed and cry, and shout at each other. And they don't have stories, they're just insane and dumb. Today I saw a woman set her Capri Sun on the floor of the N train. As the train moved, the container fell over, the juice spilled slowly out. She righted the container. It fell over again, more juice. She folded the corners of the bottle over, as though that would do something. It fell over one fucking more time, and I jumped out at the next stop. The next train I got onto had a woman slowly eating yogurt out of one of those big jugs. But instead of bringing the spoon to her face, she held the spoon, full of yogurt, down near her knees, and slowly licked the yogurt off of it. Her husband was on his cell phone, shouting at a friend.

New York, as the cliche-meisters will tell you, is a tough town. I don't have a job, I don't have an easily-accessed social network, I don't even have a bed. I have a mattress, on the floor. And riding the subway can compound these indignities into one oily hate-ball.

A few weeks ago, I was riding to an improv class. I was tired, I'd just shamefully deposited a loan check from my parents, and my feet hurt from not working all day.

This train had eclipsed Bruegel and had descended straight into Bosch. Not only was there an odd ranch dressing smell wafting in from somewhere, but someone was playing grating Czech pop music very loudly on their headphones. And the train was running slowly.

At Queensboro Plaza a man and a woman got on the train and stood near me. She was very pretty, and seemed really nice. He was wearing the stupidest shirt I had ever seen, and I have three (3!) Venture Bros. t-shirts. I have a friend who only wears t-shirts with jokes like "Beware of the monster behind my zipper" on them. I know from stupid shirts. And yet, this one was the Platonic ideal of stupid shirts. It was tight and apple green, and had three strips of denim hot-glued to it. I'm sure it cost him $79. Because I'm a bigot, I assumed he was gay.

Wrong, bigot! He was touching that very pretty girl on the ass, and they were discussing their weekend plans. He wasn't touching in a sexual way, just that boring, non-squeezing possessive way that people in committed relationships settle for. They had been together for months! My closest female companion is my roommate's Yorkie.

The unlikely couple got off the train. They were replaced by a young man reading a book of Cervantes works. He had sad eyes.

"Kudos to you, young man." I thought. "I couldn't handle Cervantes, ever."

Then I saw his head. He had the strangest male-pattern baldness ever. It was thinning irregularly all over the top of his head. The front was thin, but the back was...less thin. And the sections of hair weren't delineated straight across the head. His hair was thinning diagonally. He had scars on the top of his head. He had had surgery. He had had brain surgery to make him intelligent enough to read Cervantes. Was he some sort of government experiment? Would government experiments wear JNCOs?

"Stop looking at me, young man." I thought. "And, um, get off the train so I don't have to look at your head. Also please don't explode my brain using your new Firestarter powers."

I had to avert my eyes. That guy genuinely scared me. I realized that I was on a train ride to Hell. I started to have a panic attack. I knew that if that train didn't get ot 34th Street in the next two minutes, someone was going die (probably me). And then, I looked at the floor...

And saw a toenail. A human toenail. Someone had been clipping their toes on the subway. Or somehow, they had come in trailing human detritus and had decided to leave some on the train. Was I sitting on a pube? Was I sitting in a puddle of blood? Did I have Hepatitis? Would it matter, or was the brain-prober across the car going to pop my skull like a grape before I could even get tested? Would my hep-blood infect the other passengers?

Then the door opened and I walked onto the subway platform. It still smelled like ranch dressing but I knew I wouldn't live anywhere else in the world.

Than on that subway platform.