Thompson’s head is on a swivel, not just left and right, but high and low. I have no idea what he’s chasing or running from. “There’s a TV writer panel I gotta get to – probably a buncha hacks, but I gotta do something to get outta this gonzo-grind.”
“Fine, but I’m giving blood if it’s the last thing I do.”
He gets up right in my grill at that, “It might be, Larkin. I mean, are you sure they’re really nurses? This is a comic book convention. But it’s a free country, and I won’t stand in the way of a good time. Especially if it might save someone’s life.”
We somehow survive a gauntlet of Deadpools – fat, skinny, male, female, child, bodypaint, steampunk, etc.. It really freaks Thompson out; he thinks he’s hallucinating. I have to drag him through Artists Alley, thru a block of toy vendors and just past the games, before he snaps out of it.
“You know they wanna make a Duke game? It’s a little suitcase, filled with controlled substances. Terrible idea.”
We pause at a row of autographers who used to rule the planet. They are so utterly normal-looking. But then… there’s Ferrigno. The entire convention circuit would collapse without Lou Ferrigno. He’s the Ninja Schwarzenegger, the Quiet Professional. He doesn’t need to primp or pump. He babysits dopamine-high cosplayers on bad trips, hands out fitness advice to the elderly C-Level celebs at the neighboring booths, secure in his ironclad identity as the O.G. Hulk. We pay our respects. He is gracious, as always. He even lets us leave a few Agent Melanie Ward bookmarks on his table. Of course, he knows Mathis, Kate.
We turn the corner, and Thompson gasps as he notices a row of armory booths.
“Sweet Natasha, Mother of Weaponry….” But in the same instant, he freezes then ducks into a costume stall. Two Troopers are posted right in the middle of an intersection, and Thompson seems to think there is no way past them unseen. After a few failed Jedi sound-throwing tricks, he panics. He’s a terrible Jedi; he could never get past the chaos/harmony dichotomy. Still, this is not his usual MO when faced with authority figures, but Stormtroopers – whoa. He starts trying on crazy hats, looking for a disguise. He already has a hat on, but if you want to blend into the Wondercon crowd, you need a wizard hat or a helmet or something. Luckily, a couple of young cosplayers step in and distract the Troopers. I don’t know if it was for us they did it or they just wanted a photo with that shiny, white Imperial armour, but the effect was the same. The Troopers are wholly distracted. We walk right past them. One thing you can say about white Imperial armour – it’s predictable.
“I need a damn cheese steak,” he mumbles, refreshing his cig holder.
“I am going to the blood drive.”
“You can’t give blood on an empty stomach, you dumb bastard.” He was right. “Cheesesteak. TV Writer’s panel. Blood drive – in that order. Plenty of time.”
Back out on the piazza, where the fountain was being used as the backdrop for every conceivable clash of intellectual property you could imagine, it’s Halo Spartans vs Hobbits and Klingons vs Pokemon. It’s about the only place in America where Thompson’s behaviour doesn’t attract attention. He dodges through the menagerie fantastique pausing for half a second,
“That’s our escape plan.” He’s pointing at Alice and the Mad Hatter having tea on a blanket, right in the middle of the chaos. “Straight down the Rabbit Hole.” I have no idea what he’s talking about.
30 minutes, $20 and 2 cheesesteaks later, we’re standing on the edge of a planter, surveying the – often literal, if paper maché – melee. Thompson had spritzed his sammy with some kinda oil he said was from central Peru but swore up and down was not related to mescaline.
“Duke. Why are we standing on the edge of this planter?”
“The substance which is not mescaline to take effect. Or Marriott security, whichever comes first. This is where we’ll make our stand.”
“Well, this is not my hill to die on. You should go buy a wizard hat and sleep it off in one of the anime screenings. I will now go save a stranger’s life by bleeding into a plastic baggy.”
“Oh my god – that’s what I was trying to remember – the television writer’s panel!”
He bolted off the planter, sprawled on the pavement. From the sound of it, he sprained his wrist, but he clawed into an upright position and careened across the quad into the building. I followed.
We’re late, but there is plenty of seating in the back, as he tells me who we’re looking at on stage,
“Parnell, Alexander, Melching, Stanton, Grillo-Marxuach, Narducci, Holland, Watson…” And a bunch of other important TV writers I’ve never heard of. “Hacks, all of’em. Egg-laying dinosaurs. Monkeys with rolled-up newspapers banging on laptops at the Coffee Bean for eternity.”
“Then why are we here?”
“Ravenous envy. Those people are treated like unstable gods. Besides, the polyester banality of TV talk is a nice counterpoint to the mescaline oil I did not just ingest. It just kinda thins out the crazy.”
The blood drive is just a few doors down, so I have time. The “banal dinosaurs” were unexpectedly engaging, and I started taking notes. The writer’s room is “competitive group therapy” or a D&D game, where each person has a unique and essential talent, and the “show runner” is the DM. Just as I was on the dangerous verge of having something useful for the blog, the seeds of trouble germinated. The 3 people in front of us started talking to each other, one guy in particular. He had long, fake rocker hair – probably real, but it felt dishonest. It became hard to hear the panelists, with the incessant back and forth of these three. Yappity yap, giggle, mumblemutter yap yap, guffaw. This went on for some time. I was annoyed to the point that I was about to say something. Then I heard Thompson. He muttered. Oh, no. He had been sitting quietly, and I assumed he was far, far away in a glittering cave, cavorting with the rebellious, lesbian daughters of Tricky Dick Milhous. Nope. He was quite present. You know that smell, when your brakes are failing, and the little twist of smoke? I get about 6 Our Fathers out before he snaps. A battle cry, the fire extinguisher on the wall practically leaps into his hands and before I know what’s happening, Thompson is straddling the talker, cupping the flanged nozzle squarely over the helpless yapper’s face, like a small dog cone, put on the wrong way.
“If you don’t want to listen to these fine professionals exposit on the niceties of their craft, then why not step out into the hallway, where you can blab your g-d head off. And take your little monkey friends with you.” He says this very loudly, but focused right between the eyes of the man, like a Bond villain laser.
The other 300 humans in the room all notice what is happening in our tiny sliver of reality, which had just rapidly expanded to include them and their 597 eyes. (I counted 3 Nick Furys.) I have no idea what to do, but I am wearing my Last Bookstore t-shirt, so I have to represent. Naturally, I stand up and say whatever pops into my head,
“This is my friend Duke. Unfortunately, he had a mescaline cheese steak for lunch, and he is allergic to cheese. I apologize for his behavior, but these people here were talking. Also, Duke is extremely high.” I grip him firmly across the shoulders, pull him off his victim, and forcibly march him out of the room. Security has formed a cordon around the stage, to protect the talent. As soon as we are out in the hall, I lay down the law.
“Get your shit together, Thompson: you’re gonna get us kicked out of Wondercon. How the hell does that make sense, getting kicked out of a place where we’re the only people who are not armed?”
“Speak for yourself,” he says.
“The fantasy was that I end up at a urinal next to Stan Lee and he’s up for a quick interview. Well, I don’t think Stan is even here -”
“Did you check the bathrooms?”
“Shut up! My day is largely a wash. So, I need to do something that makes it worth driving down the damn 5 freeway. I am going to save someone’s damn life. I am giving blood right now, and you are not going to screw that up.”
“Of course not! What do you think I am? Okay – you go. I’ll try to buy you some time.”
He turns, yanking the pin on the extinguisher and runs back into the room, launching himself through the air, spraying chemicals at the 597 innocent TV writer groupies’ naked eyes. Naked except for the steampunkists, who at last have a use for their goggles. As I walk briskly away, all I hear are screams, spraying sounds and “get back you bastards!” over and over. The brisk walk turns into a jog. I ask directions, and end up at Room 207 – The Blood Drive. Which is over.
watch for the exciting anti-climax: FEAR & LOATHING AT WONDERCON ’15 – PART THREE