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About the time I started getting interested in pirates, so did everyone else. On a whim, I picked up a copy of the biography of Captain Kidd, a really interesting read. I was hooked. A few months later, Pirates of the Caribbean came out and suddenly you couldn't swing a cutlass without impaling some pirate-related media.
Now Pirates 2, Dead Man's Chest, is out after I've spent a year reading reams of books about pirates. You'd think I'd be sick of them by now, but Disney makes it fun all over again. You have to be able to suspend disbelief at almost every turn, but if so you'll probably enjoy this fantastical tale of Davey Jones and giant squid and voodoo and cannibals. This one buckles more swash than perhaps any film in history, including a fun swordfight on a rolling watermill wheel that is only hinted at in the commercials.
PERFECT drive in fare!
In other news, the latest Loaf effort is here:
LIVING IN A SHOTGUN SHACK
This episode may be a little geek-centric for many of you, but so be it. I've also heard from a few people that these tales are too long. Boo-fuckin'-hoo. SVA suggested serializing them as smaller bits with cliffhangars but that's not what I want to do, so I'm (not really) sorry if you actually have to sit and read a single story for 5 whole minutes…
B.L. and I were in New Orleans, celebrating my graduation from college, when he bought a jester’s hat. It was a bright yellow cone, sticking up like a dunce’s cap, with long, multi-colored, triangular arms arching out from around the bottom. Bells jingled from the tips of the thing and he looked utterly preposterous in it.
I was jealous, but I couldn’t afford one myself.
We hopped from bar to bar with him wearing the thing the entire time, playing up the idea that we were even more foolish than the rest of the drunken fools on Bourbon Street. The hat was a big hit, even at the strip clubs. B.L. would shake his head, causing the bells to jingle, whenever a girl would do a particularly impressive move on the stage. The dancers came over and chatted with us, even though we weren’t tipping.
A few months later we decided to attend World Con in Orlando, a sci-fi convention that takes place in a different city every year and attracts thousands of geeks, dweebs and spazzes from all over the globe. We’d both enjoyed similar conventions over the years, though more as a source of fun parties than collecting comics or playing Dungeons & Dragons all night.
Sure, we were geeks, but we were geeks who liked to get our freak on.
B.L. and I checked into our hotel and suited up. He wore a Mexican poncho, shorts, combat boots, and that ridiculous hat. I had shorts and combat boots as well, topping it off with an insanely ugly Hawaiian shirt and a jester hat of my own.
“We look ridiculous,” B.L. said, sounding doubtful.
“Yep!” I said, sounding maniacal, “Let’s go!”
We headed down to the main hotel and wandered through the lobby in search of entertainment. World Con had what you’d expect at any sci-fi con – people playing games all over the place, long lines to get the autograph of sci-fi authors and comic book artists, sci-fi movie screenings, a huge dealer’s room featuring books, games, comics, movies and toys, and a ton of folks dressed up as their favorite character from Star Trek, Star Wars, comic book, etc.
But World Con had a reputation as being a serious party as well.The attendees voted to determine what city would host the event a few years down the road, so various organizations threw lavish parties to try to influence the attendees’ votes.
Well, “lavish” in that they had free booze and cheesie poofs.
D.N. had attended World Con when it had been in Atlanta a few years before and had returned with tales of such debauchery that our eyes had grown wide and wistful. So with such visions of decadence dancing in our heads, B.L. and I went in search of hardcore parties.
And found none.
Sure, there were a few parties, but nothing like the tales D.N. had told.
Mostly we found aging geeks chatting about trends in Russian sci-fi, or younger nerds who couldn’t even get into the parties. We seemed to be the only 20-something weirdoes interested in stumbling room to room in a quest for pussy and booze.
From such disappointment came motivation. If a good time would not be provided by the parties or events themselves, we would force a good time upon them.
“Jesters coming through!” we’d yell as we walked into a party, pushing people aside to break in line at the bar and snatch up drinks. I had a bag full of novelty toys – horns and noisemakers and other obnoxious things – so we created a cacophony of racket as we marched down the halls, making some people laugh and others wince.
We attracted a few followers, other outsiders to this convention of outsiders, and pretty soon we were our own party, carrying drinks from one party to the next, finding it as dull as the last, grabbing another beverage and rambling on. At the end of each night we crashed in our room, giggling at the evening's festivities.
The jester routine was so much fun I repeated it over the years at other
conventions. D.N. joined in, creating his own ridiculous hat. B.L. would add to
our numbers whenever he was in town. We’d go to the presentations and organized
events at the con and heckle the participants, then tromp from party to party
making fools of ourselves. If there wasn’t an organized event or party that held
our attention, we’d create our own. We set up a Misinformation Booth in the
hotel lobby and gave people wrong answers to any question they asked. We set up
a table and sold insults at a quarter a pop.
We performed as the entire cast at a showing of Rocky Horror when nobody else
would do it. In fact, the less fun a convention provided the more fun we were
determined to have.
Which is what brings me to the sad, mad tale of Dragon*Con.
I had attended the first Dragon*Con. It began as a small gaming convention, a geeky gathering even by sci-fi convention standards – rooms full of people bent over tables covered in tiny lead figures and 20-sided dice. Year by year it expanded, both in attendees and themes. As the fetish fashion movement garnered mainstream notice the convention grew. Ann Rice’s vampire novels drove thousands of people in search of the darker side of night life. Dragon*Con became the largest convention of its kind anywhere.
The hotel wasn’t big enough to hold the events, much less all the attendees, so it expanded into two, then three huge downtown hotels. Thousands of people dressed as storm troopers from Star Wars would clog the lobby at one hotel while thousands others rambled up the street in search of games and events at the other hotels.
But the bigger it got the less fun it became. The organizers had to make sure they could return the following year so anything that had a remote chance of upsetting the hotel staff or worrying a concerned parent had to be shut down.
Sometime in the early 90’s, D.N. and I wandered into Dragon*Con in search of fun. Instead, we found cell phone salesmen in the dealer’s room. The con had it’s own MasterCard. The first page in the program was a list of extensive rules that were enforced by headset-wearing dorks who were on a one-weekend power-trip in exchange for free admittance. Worst of all, there were almost no room parties to be found. The thing had become a watered-down, corporate version of itself.
“This sucks,” I grumbled.
We tried the jester routine, but were ejected for heckling the Rocky Horror Picture Show screening. The irony was not lost on us.
We returned to my apartment where we thumbed through the official program and decided it would be easy to satirize the thing. We fired up the computer and a couple of hours later we were at the Kinko’s making copies of the Drag*On Con bogus program. We returned to the con the next day and tried selling them for pocket change with shouts of, “Get your unofficial program! You can ’t enjoy the official program without the bogus one! Get it right here!”
We sold a handful of copies. We snuck a few into a stack of official programs at registration. We left a few in the hospitality suite. I think we ’d only handed out a dozen before word had gotten out. People came up to us and whispered, “Are you the guys that made the Drag On thing?”
“Sure, want one? Only a dollar!”
“Yeah. C’mon, it cost us a fuckin’ dollar to make a copy!”
Geeks spend all the hard-earned money their parents earn on comics and games, so a spare dollar is as hard to get out of them as an admission that they’re wasting their lives. But by the end of we weekend we had unloaded most of the satirical programs one way or another.
At the next convention we went to, Magnum Opus Con, we found a shoddy imitation satirical program for MOC, obviously a counterattack resulting from our (comparatively brilliant) effort. This new flyer even had a photo of me in my jester hat with the caption, “What the hell is this thing on my head?” I took it as a compliment. We’d obviously scored a damaging attack on someone’s ego.
Later that year a bunch of us went to Dragon*Con. The live action role playing game Vampire was at the height of its popularity. For the uninformed, live action role playing games involve the players dressing up and acting out a role, sort of like theater for geeks. Someone is in charge of the story and there are various rules to handle combat and other situations. Vampire attracted the sullen goth types who fantasized a life like those shown in the movie The Lost Boys, “party all night, sleep all day, live forever.” But somehow they missed out on the “party” part. The Vampires were given free reign at Dragon*Con. They ran around and fired fake guns at each other like a bunch of black-clad 6 year olds playing cowboys and Indians, yet they took themselves VERY seriously. What’s the point of a game in which nobody ever smiles (except to show off their fake vampire teeth)? And the idea that someone would WANT to be a bloodsucking drain on all society annoyed the hell out of many of my happy-go-lucky, or manic-go-crazy, friends.
R.V.I. spotted some guy walking past with his arms crossed over his chest and asked us what the guy was up to.
"It means they’re invisible," someone said, explaining the Vampire game.
R.V.I. rolled his eyes, then held his arms out in a mock crucifixion and said, in a flat, emotionless tone, "Help, I’m apathetic."
Everyone died laughing.
R.V.I. came up with the idea for a fake “game” that would let us get away with all sorts of insanity - walk around behind the gamers doing goofy Monty Python Silly Walks or heckling official events in Groucho Marx style just see how many people we could make laugh with our commentary on Vampire and the convention as a whole – and if hassled by security we could claim it was all part of a live action role playing game and they’d have to leave us alone.
Or so we thought.
We drove to my apartment and banged out the game on the computer. R.V.I. provided a few illustrations while D.N. and I came up with the rules and some silly story background fluff. A few hours later we’re at Kinkos making copies of HeckleVamp, the Live Action Joke Playing Game.
Back at the hotel, we set up a table and sold copies of the game. We had badges printed for players and drafted anyone we could into the bogus game.
Most people took the materials and just wandered off, but a few thought the idea was funny enough to get involved. Pretty soon people were bringing back the score cards and reporting on some of the fun they’d had cracking jokes and making fools of themselves.
As the evening wore on, we headed out in search of parties.
“Jesters coming through, look out!” we yelled, using the same routine that had worked for years, being important merely by pretending to be important.
Some of the people “playing” HeckleVamp came along and it became obvious we were having such a good time, even at the lamest of parties, that we attracted other followers. Soon we were a roving party unto ourselves, far bigger than the one B.L. and I had created at World Con.
We also attracted the attention of Dragon Con security somewhere along the way. Perhaps one of our gamers crossed the line and did something to piss someone off, or perhaps it was obvious we were having too much fun at something the convention hadn’t organized and wasn’t making money from. Next thing we knew we had some headset-wearing security dork following us as we wandered into a party.
We didn’t like being tailed by someone that wasn’t participating in the creation of fun so we skipped out of that party and on to the next in an effort ditch him. But we weren’t exactly the stealthiest people in the hotel - jester hats, noisemakers, yelling “Joker joker joker!” like the old Joker’s Wild game show, half a dozen people following us room to room.
The dour presence of our shadow dogging our every step soon wore on me. I found a friend who was on staff at the event, “Hey, any idea why we’ve got our own personal bodyguard?”
“Well…” she said, hesitating. It was obvious she didn’t want to betray her Drag*On superiors by spelling out the details to the indicted.
“Come on, what?”
“You’ve been accused of setting off the fire extinguishers on the 7th floor.”
“And busting out all the lights in the hall on the 10th floor.”
“Yeah, that’s what I come to these things to do, vandalize the hotel,” I said sarcastically.
“And someone threatened Tom Clancy.”
Tom Clancy was at the convention as a guest. We had made some flippant comment about him in passing. Apparently it had been overheard just after someone else had made some kind of threatening phone call or something. Security had connected the dots – it must’ve been one of us, obviously, since we had said “Tom Clancy” out loud. (I have to wonder how many of these guys now work for Homeland Security.)
The list of crimes went on. I tried to convince my friend it was absurd but she wasn’t in charge so my pleas were pointless. Back to the parties we went, now determined to ditch security, if for no other reason than the entertainment value it provided. Our “game” had taken on a new challenge.
We tried to wait him out, lingering quietly at a single party, hoping he’d get bored and leave, but instead the bastard stood in the hall, staring through the open door with his arms crossed while we stood in line for drinks at the bar. We’d get a drink, only to get right back into the line again. People wandered in and asked us what we had done.
“We’re having fun,” I’d answer, flatly, as if that in itself were a crime.
Big Brother’s patience outlasted mine. There weren’t many parties but we hopped from one to the next in a frenzy. Security called for backup and we ended up with two of them assigned to us. They called each other on their headsets, reporting on our every move.
We knew they were too lazy to take the stairs, so we snuck into the stairwell and stopped to consult our list of parties.
“Let’s see, there’s one on 12 that has free booze, the one on 10 ran out of food last time I was there, but there’s still a good party on 5…” I was saying to our gang of fools when the door opened behind me.
“You need to move on,” said the guy, just another con attendee as far as I could tell.
I shot him a look.
“You need to move on, you’re blocking the stairwell.”
I moved to get out of his way to let him pass, but he just stood there. I reached over and flipped his badge over to discover he was another member of security. He had stashed his walkie-talkie and gone under cover.
“Ah hell,” I said and turned to give my friends a look that said “Let’s ditch this asshole.”
We heard him radioing ahead for support as we hopped down the stairs as fast as we could. When we got to the fifth floor I opened the door only to find it blocked by a girl in a headset.
“Oh, pardon me,” I said innocently, trying to step past her as if I wasn’t who she thought I was despite the jingling jester hat and the dozen or so others dressed equally ridiculously right behind me.
She moved to block my path.
There was a moment of awkward silence, an unspoken, “OK, so now what?”
She spoke hurriedly into her headset, “Jesters on five, jesters on five, what do I do with the jesters?”
The awkward silence turned into hysterical laughter, echoing up the stairwell.
I quipped, “They’ve got a running gag down here, I need a joke diffusal unit, stat!”
Other heckles came from the group and pretty soon we were laughing so loud she couldn’t hear the response from HQ over her earpiece.
I gave her a look that said, “Are we done here?”
Flustered, she stepped aside. We filed past her, each laughing in her face.
At the next stop we decided enough was enough. The parties were dying and there was only one way to lose the bastards. Just like in the cowboy movies, we decided to split up and cover our tracks. We planned our rendezvous and went into the hall and scattered. The panicked expression on the security guy’s face was priceless. He looked at one person, then the next, back and forth as we headed our separate ways. I found a party and lingered to see if I was being tailed. Later I found others had done the same, or slipped through the crowded lobby.
One by one we regrouped in the only place still hopping, one of the bars in the hotel lobby.
“You’re those guys I’ve been hearing about,” said some woman as we gathered at the bar.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I said, looking at her with a grin. The lady wasn’t even an attendee of Drag*On. Apparently we’d been the topic of conversation in the bar for hours. People bought us drinks and told us the versions of the story they’d heard, exaggerated tales that made our harmless antics seem tame. We laughed and joked for an hour or more before I realized security had found us again. The same bastard that had tracked us all night was standing outside the bar looking at us through the window, arms crossed, expressionless.
We exaggeratedly tip-toed over to the window and slowly lowered down behind the wall as if we were hiding to crawl away, then cackled with laughter and popped up again.
Eventually someone went out and talked to the guy. It turned out he thought the whole thing was as ridiculous as we did. He had to follow us around all night but didn’t get to participate in any of the fun.
The poor bastard.
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