Saturday, April 2, 2011

Worst Convention Story at Geektress

Earlier this week I posted my "Worst Convention Experience" story. I've since recorded and sent it to the fine women of Geektress, who included it in their rundown of conventions-gone-wrong stories. The podcast includes tales of inept security, late staff, tornadoes, and of course one fat kid stalking a perfectly nice Maryland couple. You can listen to my oppressive male voice defiling their otherwise feminine utopia by clicking here.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Bathroom Monologue: The Real Sword of Damocles

So there was this Greek suck-up named Damocles who got a free lunch at Dionysius the 2nd’s barbecue. Damocles saw all the food, cooks, concubines and other assorted suck-ups, and praised Dionysius’s job. Who wouldn’t want this?

Thinking to show Damocles and the court that it’s hard on the streets for a pimp, Dionysius offered to switch places. He’d be the professional hustler suck-up for a day, and Damocles would rule.

As he stepped down from the throne, he told the guards to leave a sword hanging around to remind Damocles of the responsibilities of office. It was going to be a metaphor or something.

But the second the new ruler Damocles stepped up, he told the courters to cut that crap down. When they got the sword down, he ordered one of them to follow Dionysius around with it. He ordered them to behead the bastard if they could catch him, since that way he could keep these sweet digs. And if they didn’t, well Damocles would get the heck out of Greece. If Dionysius was psychotic enough to leave swords floating over the seat he’d just offered, it wasn’t safe around here.

So the armed courtier stalked Dionysius around his own palace until sunset. He’s hiding behind vases and under the skirts of third-rate hookers, forced to realize if anybody replaces him they could be madmen and the whole territory will go rotten. Look how little time it took Damocles to go bloodthirsty? Playwrights hammed this stuff up something fierce as the great example of politicians fearing that their replacements are going to be incompetent, malicious or worse. I think it’s Cicero that said, "Does not Dionysius seem to have made it sufficiently clear that there can be nothing happy for the person over whom some fear always looms?"

So the sun sets. Damocles is off the throne and already at the docks with the biggest boat he could “commandeer” as temporary ruler, loaded with gold and ladies. He sets sail before comeuppance can come up. Dionysius resumes the throne and his whole regime goes mad tyrannical, to make sure that only his competent self ever rules this poor world.

That’s how I heard it.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Bathroom Monologue: Happiest Man in the World

He exists above zen and above sea level. Like every cynic suggested, the happiest man in the world exists alone, with no contact to disturb him from the way that works. Some will say, and I’ll swear to it, that he’s so tranquil his heart hasn’t beat in the nine years anyone’s known him. He is simply the happiest face you can see.

You want to meet him? He’s up that mountain. No, the one behind it. The very tallest one that still has trees at the apex. You go up its winding path. You disobey the signs and climb seventy feet of sheer rock. There you’ll find a few beer cans and weeds conquering the last successful campsite up there. That’s when you know you’re on your way.

Go through the brush, through the poison ivy. Beware the bear traps hidden beneath years of pine needles – I believe a few are still unsprung. He did not plant these problems, but they’re the closest thing to a trail you’ll find. He’s left no candy wrappers or fire wood. No tent. In the nine years anyone’s known him, he hasn’t even owned a scrap of underwear.

If you wander enough without getting split open or covered in hives, you’ll find an outcropping. A slender tree has split the rocks and is growing right towards the heavens. What you’ll want to do is take a firm hold on this tree and circle around, careful of your footing. If it’s like it was last time I visited you’ll barely have room for your toes. Now you circle on around, sliding your hands up the trunk. You slide them up so you can see the carving.

There it should be. A circle, with two equidistant dots near the top, and a crescent swooping down near the bottom. That’s the smiley face of the happiest man in the world. Hasn’t changed his expression in nine years. Like every cynic suggested, the happiest man in the world isn’t real. He sure is consistent, though.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Bathroom Monologue: Fire!

Later the officer conceded, “I wish I hadn’t arrested him. If I’d paid more attention, I could have helped evacuate. But the law is the law. You can’t yell ‘Fire’ in a crowded theatre.”

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Bathroom Monologue: He Who Tests

When did humanity go wrong? With the first monarch. With the first election. When buildings got so tall that if you dropped your hat off the side you'd never see it again. Take your pick.

This is all much easier than you think. Do I miss Him? Yes, yet I am still in the service. I am He Who Tests. I invent nothing. I invite. They seduce themselves to me, every useless, unworthy one of them. I get them by the millions, and every day they do more of my work for me, and think it their own. When they fall? I punish. An eternity of suffering, of torture and knowing that they were wrong. An eternity of knowing I was right. An eternity of suffering and knowing this in the service. I disobeyed once. All this fire and fury is at His command. I will earn my way out of the flames and back into the warmth of the sun, trading a world's souls and climbing its writhing bodies. They earned it by proving me right.

Monday, March 28, 2011

True Stories of John 8: Worst Convention Experience

After struggling with severe health problems for my entire teens, I was eager to go to a convention by myself. Independence, teen angst, nerdery – all those stupid reasons. So I got a train ticket, arranged a hotel room and set off for Otakon in Baltimore.

I departed from the Stamford Train Station in Connecticut. I got there early and descended onto the platforms early. This is a bad idea if you’ve never ridden a rail alone and don’t know which side your train’s arriving on. As one came up, I stopped a passenger and asked, “Is this headed to Maryland?”

In retrospect, the smile and nod he gave me were distinctly the “I don’t speak English” variety. I was too excited to lug my stuff on board, though. Half an hour later the ticket taker informed me that, no, this was not headed to Maryland. It was a Metro North train headed only to New York City. I’d have to get off at Harlem.

Hell no this sheltered, underaged white boy was not getting off at Harlem. I told the car my situation in the hopes to borrow a cell phone and calling home for advice. I even offered to pay cash for the time I’d use. They responded by not making eye contact. I went down some cars and found a phone that would not take coins, but only credit card information you had to speak into it. I still don’t understand how that was supposed to work. Seeing how inept I was, a couple of girls lent me a cell and advice that I actually would need to get off at Grand Central and go across town to Penn Station. I confirmed it with my relatives in Maryland via the phone while hiding from the conductor.

A few firsts ensued. First cab ride alone. First time realizing I’d overpacked. First time in three years my back began to crack, and I realized it might go out on me lugging far too many bags around Grand Central Station. Oh, and first time navigating Grand Central Station. Only getting lost in a city-sized subterranean transit system will teach you just how many pairs of pants you don’t need for a weekend.

It took me at least an hour to find the Amtrak station. I waited in the terminal until my train came up as "BOARDING." On the way down, I confirmed with three strangers and two conductors that this was definitely headed south. I spent the ride trying to keep pressure off my back, one of the spots my syndrome used to flare up the most. My grandmother actually met me at Baltimore’s Penn Station and was very sorry to hear about my incompetence.

We got to the door of my hotel room and Grandma couldn’t figure out the keycard. I put down my bags and swiped it for her. I bent, picked my bags up, arched my back, and something popped. Even she flinched at the sound.

I could not bend anymore. I had to drop my luggage without inspection on the floor and ducked in the bathroom for fifteen minutes. My back had either gone out or this was a wave of spasms; either way, bad. I had to hide this because I was convinced she would make me give up the convention. Priorities, you see.

Suspicious, she insisted we go to dinner. I spent another hour pretending my posture was always this good and no, nothing was wrong, I was just tired.

She spent another hour informing me about the grizzly murders in this city. Baltimore of Maryland, it seemed, was the murder capital of the United States. She begged me not to stay out after dark and not to talk to anyone. I had to stay in groups at all times. Between how addled my brain was from the train trip and the back injury, her ranting pierced my psyche. After she left, I slumped face-first onto my bed.

The next thing I knew, it was after six. I hustled outside and to pick up my attendee badge. With my back the way it was, I walked like I was trying to co-opt The Twist.

The line wrapped around the convention center. Twice. It was only overcast when I got there, and only began pouring and thundering after I waited for half an hour. We got soaked. Then we went inside where it was far too air-conditioned, and got the pleasure of being both wet and too cold. Every time I shivered, my back would spasm again. The people in line shied away from me like I was deranged.

I emerged with my badge and barely able to move. I was actually shuffling like a penguin when I realized it was pitch black out. I saw a single guy sleeping on a bench and was instantly convinced this city was out to kill me. I waited for the first couple to walk in the direction of my hotel and followed behind them.

I stayed close enough to ward off invisible muggers, while not too close as to seem annoying. They sped up.

I groaned in pain and kept pace. The couple huddled closer together and went even faster.

I couldn’t believe this. I was going to die out here.

Then the girl of the couple looked back at me. Her eyes were wide with abject terror.

That’s when I realized: I was disheveled from the day, grimacing from my back and effectively chasing this cute little couple. They thought I was a murderer.

I let them get away. When I got back to my hotel room, I laughed until my back popped a second time. I didn’t sleep that night. It hurt too badly, and there was a rave next door. I was half-delirious for most of that convention and could not tell you what I did for most of the weekend. Grandma says I was very happy when she picked me up Sunday afternoon. I went back for several years.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Bathroom Monologue: How the World Really Is

To listen to today's flash either click the triangle on the left to begin streaming audio or click this text to download the MP3.

You maintain at least two extracurriculars a year until you break your leg at Track And Field. You start having heartbreaks as soon as you hit puberty, and you’ve got an afterschool job to start saving for cars by fifteen.

Early Acceptances and Deans’ Lists are goals. Settling and limits are lessons. The pregnancy scare, the Recession from nowhere, and not having a family house to return to are simply facts.

The man who sticks in your life is complicated, yet somehow your relationship is simple. Your pregnancy is smooth (so the doctor says).

Getting up every night to feed the baby is mandatory. So is getting into the Diner by seven. You budget Christmas presents on tips. You draft resumes and calculate mortgage rates on the backs of napkins. You watch social barriers crumble while your tires sink.

You re-learn trigonometry and European history to help him with his homework. These winters are harsher, these summers are hotter, and he won’t wear the same clothes for more than three months in a row. You postpone your OB/GYN to afford his iPhone. You risk you getting axed four times to drive him to the colleges he wants to see.

You do all this so that some Spring Break you can cook his macaroni and cheese while he tells you how the world really is.
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