I woke up late Saturday.
My friends went to Indonesia, and there I was stabbing a fish oil pill with a fork. Then the Metamucil. Then the coconut oil. Both soft and dry food, add water, mash it all up, and it still gets sniffed, like it might be a trick. It’s not even my dog. I get walked up and down the street, and then I’m allowed to go on with my day.
In the shower around 10am, I had my first alert thought, that I may as well go to Wondercon since I’ve got those free tickets they sent to the store.
I had no idea what I was looking for at the Con but I was hoping for something useful for the blog. The entire hour down the 5, from LA to Anaheim, I racked my brain for intelligent or at least clever questions that I could ask people who are probably smarter than me and definitely cooler. But cool in a world where it’s acceptable for a grown man to dress like a Japanese schoolgirl is hard to get a bead on. I was lost. And feeling lost before I got to Wondercon did not bode well.
Arrive late and with no plan at any convention on the back end of a Saturday noon, you’ll find that every g-d parking structure is full-up and every empty parking space in the City of Anaheim is sporting its own individual sign that says “We Will Tow Your Nerd Ass”. I parked a mile away. But no chance of not finding the Convention Center; just swim upstream, against the flow of plastic swords.
I turned and there it was: WonderCon. Not exactly ComicCon Jr., but Chicago to New York. If you’ve never been to one of these, it’s too much of everything colored, sharp and strange in one place. If you were in an eviscerating accident just around the corner, body shredded, missing an eye, and you managed to stumble into this crowd of intelligent, sociable people with a first aid station not 50 feet away, you would die. As your life slowly drained down the inside of what was left of your pant legs, and your vision narrowed and darkened, you would not hear offers of help, but only earnest compliments on your zombie cosplay and requests for photos.
Caroming down the pachinko row that led to the piazza, between all the food trucks and the crowd of fellow mutants – my senses were overwhelmed. Sight, sound, smell – I wasn’t touching anyone or licking anything, but 3 out of 5 senses on overload was plenty. I was told by Security that the Press Desk in Lobby A was inside and “over there”, plus a handwave in a direction. I stride briskly towards where I think he may have pointed, while I was on the horns of a dilemma about the guy behind him: Shrek or Hulk? Once inside, the chaos was the same, but with echo. I gave barely a head bob to a friend across the lobby – because “fog of war”, man – like leaving him behind in the zombie apocalypse, which I’ve done before. Then my way is blocked by an odd trinity. Hodor, Jack Sparrow and a Wolverine with yellow eyes. Hodor says – you know what he says – and shambles left, Mystique slinks right, and Jack Sparrow passes right out, falling on his back. There between them, thru the haze of rum-stench sits the Press Desk.
Badge in hand, and then around neck, like an agent at a crime scene, I turned and there stood – well, swayed – my pal Hunter g-d S g-d Thompson right in front of me. Dodging his fly swatter, I lay out the situation.
“Thompson, I’m here for the bookstore, for the blog. I have no idea where to start, but I need a story.”
“Damn right, you do. You’re not gonna get one standing in front of the Primp Desk, ya dumb bastard.” He leaned in and muttered so only I could hear, “Don’t call me Thompson. Call me Duke – I owe a whole lotta money to the Hilton next door. Or… maybe it’s the Marriott. It doesn’t matter. I’m laying low. You know, I thought you were dead, Larkin. Hm. Never mind; follow me.”
He fixed a fresh cigarette in his holder, and we drove onto the convention floor like a couple of Mad Max dune buggies.
First stop, Thompson’s platonic gal pal Kate – or “Mathis, Kate” as he calls her, like he’s her gym teacher. At the booth of Mathis, Kate we were presented with martinis. These were not watered down or served in plastic cups like you might normally find at any event with “Convention” in the title; these tasted the way a James Bond martini looks, mixed by Mathis, Kate’s 7 foot tall Russian attaché, with olives hand-pitted by Mathis, Kate’s own twin girls, who were standing right there, wearing berets and toy monocles. While Hunter shooed away the barbarians and bare-chested anime characters, I fronted a knowing attitude about the whole deal, dropping a few nuggets of false wisdom and pseudo-insights on the convention scene. Mathis, Kate didn’t seem to be buying it. Hunter removed all doubt, barging in,
“He’s on assignment, and he has no idea what he’s doing, Mathis, Kate. You gotta give him something to work with, an angle, anything.”
Being a former bank employee and mother of two, who wrote 5 full-length spy novels during short trips to McDonalds, Mathis knows a thing or two about working in an unfamiliar element and under pressure. What followed were a long string of how-tos and what-nots about getting value out of a Con, capped with this kicker that sharpened my sense of purpose: people were bleeding upstairs, voluntarily, into small plastic pouches for nurses. There was a blood drive. Mission + motivation.
Needless to say, Hunter’s blood is riddled with impurities. Mine, on the other hand, is crimson like snow. (Point of fact: I once received a bracing postcard from the Red Cross that read “Congratulations! You’ve donated two gallons of blood!”)
“Duke, that’s it. I have to give blood. Nobody gives a damn what I think about Harley Quinn or Doctor Who. But this blood thing, this means something.”
“Well, fine. I’ll make sure you get there. I swear it.” He pats the olive-pitting twins on their heads, takes a stack of Agent Melanie Ward bookmarks, “Safe ride back to Tucson, Mathis, Kate – and say Hi to your old man for me. Oh – I still have his Colt. I’ll drop it in the mail.”
My thank-you handshake is turned into a salute as he drags me by the collar out of reach and into the swarm of Thors and Sherlocks. Mathis, Kate just laughs, and touches her ear, like a Secret Service agent. I am sure I’ve missed something.
coming soon: FEAR & LOATHING AT WONDERCON ’15 – PART TWO