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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A Certain Lamentable Splendor (complete collector's edition)

or, Clan of The Cave Geeks

“Man, that place is sad,” responded a friend when I sent him a photo from the convention room floor at GAME con—and sad it was.

And yet, as always, because of some indelible devil’s advocate DNA in me, I found myself respecting the geeks of geekdom anew. OK, not the ones wearing the fuzzy fox tails, and maybe not the Damsels of Dorkington, and, well, maybe respect is not the operative feeling here, but some kind of appreciation feebly rose up...

...appreciation for a sort of social bravery that says it is okay to exist without an iota of cool. Bravery that could indeed be disqualified as such by the likelihood that hormonal deficiencies or degrees of autism have established in these folks either A) total lack of self-awareness, or B) sociopathic behavior that is not anti-social, but quacky-social, drawn to dwell in only the most impractical, imagined realities.

Today this bravery walked up to my Artist Alley table embodied by this earnestly, politely, home-schooled-ly harmless proto-woman dressed up in boy clothes and near-total sexlessness. For the minute she was there, I was merely bemused. Later, I sort of felt this retroactive affection for her—the same feeling I have for Sue Heck on “The Middle.” What a superb dork girl, in her outdated suit-jacket, jokey buttons, and modest androgyny. Was this one of her normal outfits? For all I know, she was in costume as an alternate-universe Dr. Who. She bought my choose-your-own-adventure comic book for a dollar and seemed pleased with it. I soon re-read said comic with her in mind, hoping that its crude comedy wouldn’t corrupt or disgust her.

Most of the day passed uneventfully. The “con” was scarcely attended. The lovable nerd girl had been one of maybe five people wearing a tag indicating that she was a paying attendee as opposed to a merchant, artist, or other “guest.” Mid-day passed. I bought a barbecue sandwich from a dim meat-scented alcove and ate it in the Media Room, where two other slobby gents were watching Tron. The twelve or so minutes of Tron I watched were pretty good, maybe because my sandwich was so dang savory. I kind of regretted spending two bucks on water when pop was also two bucks, but maybe I did the right thing in forsaking pop.

I was falling asleep around 3:00 when my friend Cody arrived with Mrs. Cody, AKA Sam. They provided me a vivarin-esque boost of conversation. Cody got annoyed when the audio-video tech guy zeroed in on me and said, “Do you have the movie we’re showing at 9?” I indicated Cody, and the AV Guy sort of scolded Cody in advance, saying, “You’ll give it to me on time, right? Because the movie I was supposed to show last night at 9, the guy JUST gave it to me.” Cody told him he’d have it on schedule. The AV Guy retreated but seemed unsatisfied.

Cody would be on two panels later, as well as providing the one must-see film on the movie schedule. In the meantime, he was going to see the first panel, with screenwriter, teacher, novelist, etc, Diana Botsford. I had no idea who she was, but decided to go check it out. I found out that she is like an all-around bad-ass who stealthily exists in our meager locale. She’s worked on several Hollywood movies, several TV series, and she’s shipping out to Antarctica in a few weeks to research her next Stargate spin-off novel. Who knew? Around that time, I’m sure to be fixing toilets and raking leaves, so I was wondering why she was giving us the time of day, but she treated even the kid holding the light-bulb-capped wizard’s staff with total respect.

After that, my old landlord and cartoonist-about-town Phil Morrissey showed up. I was quickly being surrounded by characters from my past. The show was being run by Scott Villareal, an all-around nice guy I went to art school with. He’s very dramatic, and half-hugged me in public, which is always a little more than I bargain for....

Part 2: OK, I'm a Bastard

I was trying to figure out how to break the ice with Phil, because I hadn’t seen him in a long time, and as usual, he was “holding court” with a certain segment of geekdom (above photo). He is, as far as I know, the local king of the Anthropomorphics, or Furries—people who like art and role-playing about humanoid animals, but of a certain fantastical seriousness. Think Avatar rather than Bugs Bunny, because the characters tend to have the proportions and the secondary sex characteristics of humans. Phil draws these, and some people collect this art exclusively, as well as sometimes dressing up in mammalian costumes. I don’t think Phil does the dressing up, though I’ve noticed that he and his art comrades have formed an Anachronistic Hats Society of sorts, for reasons unknown. I would eventually give him one of my new comics once a window opened in his fandom popularity—he was in big demand here, so it took a while to reach him without interrupting.

Just when I decided to throw in the towel, nearing 5:00, I was finally recognized by Joe-Man, seen above in his wheelchair (right side of photo). He’d passed me a few times and even said Hi once, but it had been 17 years since I’d been, for one semester of a poetry workshop, his wingman—getting his tape recorder out of his bag, relocating his beverage cup, removing obstacles from his path. He’d finally worked out who I was. He pulled up and began a 45-minute awkwardfest of reminiscence, starting with, “So Chad, have you written any more perfect haikus lately?”

I call Joe “Joe-Man” because he used to call me “Chad-Man” in class. He talks as if he’s been building me up as legendary in his mind, saying lots of grandiose things about my poems, even quoting lines that I’m pretty sure I never wrote. I keep saying thanks to statements like, “I felt as if I was sitting next to the next Poet Laureate of the United States.” A few times I said things like, “I think you might be overestimating me, Joe, but thanks.” Later I wondered why, if he thought my work was so great, why did he seem completely uninterested in all the new work I had on the table?

It is easy to be haunted by Joe-Man, who is near to being his own ghost—the wheelchair-bound specter of whatever functional man he might have been had he not been born into a tragically damaged body. He told me, after a metaphysical preamble, that “in the fourth year of his parents’ marriage,” he was born premature, and his father, a drinker and womanizer, was unprepared for such a child, and took out his anger and disgust on his family. He said he had given up his bitterness and had, in ways inspired by my “perfectly balanced poetry,” achieved a more Zen outlook.

How does one respond to this? Joe-Man is a being of pure tragedy. The sheer obscenity of what he’s had to endure, coupled with his overblown notions and his obvious need for social interaction make him the perfect foil for any positive outlook. If each of us must build a ship of conscience and practicality to stay afloat in this world, Joe-Man is something like a torpedo designed to sink whole fleets. I know because, after that semester with him, it was clear that his presence was simply catastrophic to any able-bodied group, disruptive and destructive to all discourse and progress. You begin with the best of liberal intentions and end with guilty resentment and existential terror. Joe is the eternally suffering child in the classic story “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas.”

The thing about Joe-Man in this context is, he’s the only one in the room with an obvious, physiological explanation for being a delirious, fantasy-addicted fuck-up. On the other hand, I never saw him involved in any sort of gaming throughout the day. He obviously watches and reads science fiction/fantasy, but just like 17 years ago, he’s still addicted to inflicting himself on others. He parked in front of some tables and dominated their attention, sometimes for hours on end. Several times during the day, he rolled up very close to question the M.C. WHILE THE GUY WAS ANNOUNCING SCHEDULE INFO ON THE LOUDSPEAKER, so the M.C. had to stop in mid-sentence and cover the mic. At one point late in the morning, he motored his chair across the 40’ Pac-Man maze and got a wheel stuck on one of the “power pellets.” I think it was obviously not to be tracked across; I think Joe just wanted to get attention and maybe a chance to complain. I might not jump to this conclusion, but in his long haunt of (S)MSU, he was often seen ramming his chair into counters and library check-out desks, complaining about handicapped discrimination. Actually, it just wasn’t his turn yet. Whatever his major at the time, Joe minored in martyrdom.

It turned out that my wife once encountered Joe, recognizing him in my photo. Possibly not long after my semester with him, she sold him some perfume at a department store, for his “girlfriend,” whom he’d never met. They’d been corresponding by email, and Joe would help her escape an abusive boyfriend. Joe, I say the world is ripe enough with torment, without you sowing it Johnny Appleseed-style.

I finally packed it in. The biggest disappointment of the day was that the giant Pac-Man board was never officially used. But at least two children and some home-styled Ghostbusters got a little use out of it.

I broke even, around the $30 mark.

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