The Kontest, Part II

The first part of The Kontest is here.


Bernard S. Bird, known as “Nards” to friend and foe alike, stood in the parking lot outside George’s Arcade surrounded by an antsy crowd of kids fresh out of school for the summer. He retrieved a crumpled piece of paper from his battered backpack and held it aloft as he slowly spread it apart with both hands.

“What is this?” he said to the girl who stood, arms crossed, in front of the entrance.

Diane barked a short laugh. “Can’t you read?”

“Yes,” he answered, undaunted. “It says ‘Mortal Kombat Champion Diane Blythe invites the students of Columbia Middle School to the Summer Exhibition Tournament at George’s Arcade.'”

“So, it can read,” said Diane.

“You aren’t the champion,” said Nards. He waved his hands around as he spoke. “The championship isn’t until the fall, and this isn’t an exhibition tournament. It’s the elimination tournament-”

“Hah!” Diane uncrossed her arms and put her hands on her hips. “Clearly a typo.”

“A typo.” Nards mocked. “A typo?” He turned his head both ways and looked at the crowd around him. They murmured in support. “You can’t just print a flyer announcing that you’re the champion-”

“You can’t play anyway, Nards,” Diane said. “We’ve already had this discussion. You aren’t even qualified-”

I am.” Nards said. “I have. The guys, we had a local tournament-”

“In your bedroom?” Diane’s smile looked like it might break her face. “I already told you, shitty Nintendo doesn’t count.”

“No, Diane.” Nards said. He pushed his glasses up his nose with one finger. “Karl’s Grocery has a machine in the lobby, we had a tournament, and I won.”

“Yeah,” said Diane, “and I just got elected President of the United States.”

Uneasy laughter filtered up from the still-gathering ranks of children.

Nards rifled through his backpack again. “Karl witnessed it himself,” he said, and produced another wrinkled sheet of paper. “He signed this. My mom even had it notarized at the bank!”

Diane’s face fell. “You sonofabitch.”

The crowd gasped.

“That’s right Diane,” Nards began, encouraged, “it’s the Summer Elimination Tournament. You can hang all the flyers you want but we all know that you aren’t the champion of jack shit.”

While the children laughed and clapped, there was a commotion towards the back of the crowd. A jingling. Something approached.

Diane stared at Nards. “You seem to have forgotten something,” she said.

Nards stopped smiling. “Oh no, Diane.”

“Oh yes!” she shouted. Her voice cracked. “It’s my arcade! MINE! You won’t even get in the door!”

“It’s not yours, Diane,” Nards said, “it’s your family’s. You can’t control who goes in the arcade.”

A shadow moved behind the glass. Nards could see the old man take a puff from his cigar. Some of the smoke filtered out through the battered aluminum door frame.

“You,” Nards started. “You-”

A thud startled Nards as an overloaded backpack landed next to his feet with a metallic jangle.

“Donnie,” Diane said. Her voice dripped with disgust.

The small boy approached Diane. His orange hair flew in the wind.

“Time to pway,” he said. “I’w be gweat again.”

Diane pursed her lips. “Hrm,” she said. “Okay Donnie, you’re in. You don’t mind a little exhibition do you?”

“No,” Nards said, “You can’t-”

The crowd around him shuffled.

“I can do whatever I want, Nards.” Diane said. “It’s my arcade, my game, and my fucking tournament.

The old man cracked the door and beckoned. Diane took Donnie by the shoulder and started towards the arcade. Some of the children in the crowd began to follow.

“Guys. Guys?” Nards looked around him. “Guys you can’t go in there. Who’s going to play? It’s just her, and, and,” he flapped his arms around his head, his hands still gripping the flyer and the notarized letter, “that little troll!”

The kids fell into a line while Nards continued to yell.

“She’ll just pull the plug again!” he shouted. “He doesn’t even know the moves!”

The students of Columbia Middle School filed into George’s Arcade, as they always had, and watched pixelated characters jump across the screen and decapitate each other for hours. Quarters were spent. Second hand smoke, inhaled.

Bernard S. Bird sat on the curb outside George’s Arcade until the summer sun began to disappear over the horizon. The first mosquito arrived and he slapped it away. He stood and pushed his glasses up his nose with one finger. At home waited Star Trek, and Mom.

He put on his backpack, straightened his shoulders, and set off through the orange-blue twilight.

Junk

It was around 6 pm Saturday at the Dallas FanExpo, and things were winding down. Gina and I stood in line with only a dozen other people to get our photo signed by Arthur Darvill. Peter Capaldi had just gone, and I stared over at his empty table. Gina said something to me along the lines of “I hope our children are Doctor Who fans.”

I said, “Yeah, or all this shit is going to end up in a box.”

My garage is roughly one quarter full of my father’s belongings. I could consolidate it more effectively but it would still be a pile. My siblings and I sold what could be sold years ago. We’ve used the furniture that we can, hung the photos that matter most, and still there’s this heap of things too dear to throw out but not important enough to display. Consider it the Robbie Talbot Museum Archives.

Sometimes while the kids are in the bath and I’m standing in my office, I’ll pull one of his books off the shelf and flip through it. He has a copy of the Arkansas Duck Hunter’s Almanac, which I am familiar with already because customers are constantly requesting it at work (we can’t get it, people. Amazon.), signed by Rollie Remmel. I have one of his “Rollie sticks” leaning by my back door. That guy was a huge deal to conservationists. He has a big museum exhibit at the Arkansas Game & Fish building in downtown Little Rock. I only met him twice, in the 1990s, and he reminded me a bit of Burgess Meredith’s character in Grumpy Old Men.

Was this Dad’s Doctor Who? He’d probably laugh at that and say he doesn’t know. In his younger years, he may have declared this an idiotic notion. My father, like Mr. Remmel, worked for the change he wanted. Each have monuments with plaques bearing their name. Post-hospitalization Dad, a much more insightful fellow, might have said maybe. He probably would have been too kind to point out that I’m hanging out with actors instead of creating protected areas for wildlife.

I try not to think much about what’s going to happen to my giant pile of detritus when I’m gone. What is valuable will be sold, what is sentimental will be kept (if anything is sentimental) and much will be tossed. Sometimes the sentimental is sold, or tossed. Sometimes people burn everything.

My name is Bobbymandias, geek of geeks:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!

In tough situations I find myself staring at my wall of photos and thinking of better times, or asking Tom what the hell I’m supposed to do, much the same way that I look at Dad or Paw Paw in the upstairs hall where I’ve hung a collection of my ancestors’ images. As a child, I thought it was strange when Doc Brown picked up his photo of Edison and yelled at it. Not so much, anymore.

I could go on Palahniukian rants about belongings. I could punch myself in the face and burn all my shit. Sometimes that feels like it would be cleansing, but if we all became therapeutic arsonists the world would be a cinder six or seven billion years earlier than its scheduled incineration.

I don’t know if I’m building anything. I don’t reckon my name will ever be on a monument other that the one that ends up over my body. I don’t know that any artist ever saved my life, really, but they’ve kept me occupied while I saved my own.

Thank you for being the soundtrack to the fight.

Fan Expo Roundup, Day Two

We awoke and prepared our bodies as I treated Gina to my rendition of “The End” by the Doors. The hotel, for all its faults, has amazing acoustics.

Downstairs, an overworked French lad served us breakfast through a small hole. While we waited, a gentleman showed us photos of a leather Captain America helmet he’d made by hand. It was impressive.

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We crossed the street and entered the fray once more. The numbers were increased from the previous day, as was the heat. We shuffled through the aisles, and I snapped the occasional photo.

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We entered the arena to view a Q&A session with the Doctor, Mr. Peter Capaldi, who, by the way, properly refers to playing Doctor Who by saying “Doctor Who.” I’m looking at you, David Tennant.

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The audience was enthralled as the sexy beast lectured us about trying hard and being nice to our mothers. I hope I can work for the BBC when I grow up. They seem like such fine chaps.

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I was already beginning to experience existential angst when we had our first scheduled photo op of the day. These things are always clusterfucks at FanExpo. They fail, time and again, to learn anything from anyone in the industry and what remains is a cow chute stampede mess of a slaughterhouse shitshow that would make Temple Grandin retreat to the hugbox.

We got our photo but it wasn’t magical. Then again, I don’t expect that. I expect that the trick gets turned, but this wasn’t even a back alley hand job. We wandered the floor, wondering what we had done with our lives, and I found myself staring at Rob Schneider. A man in my periphery made a joke about him being “the guy from every Adam Sandler movie.” I suddenly felt the need to tell Mr. Schneider something. This would be my absolution.

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I shelled out the $40 and we approached the man. I shook his hand and said “Some of my greatest memories with my Dad are when he let us stay up late and watch Saturday Night Live with you. It was beautiful. Thank you.”

He thanked me and we stepped up for a photo. As we were leaving he leaned out the side of the booth and looked at me. “Hey, thank you for sharing that story,” he said, “that was important.”

Jesus.

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We took a short break so we could rest and I could compose myself. Gina had noticed that Jack Gleeson was mostly unoccupied. We had our only cash-free interaction of the entire con when Gina approached him to say hello. He was a nice fellow. No, he doesn’t watch the show anymore. In my experience with actors this isn’t surprising.

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Somewhat encouraged but still low, I dragged myself back in line to see Arthur Darvill. I set my expectations at zero. They were exceeded.

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Gina suggested we have the photos signed and that, really, was the kicker that saved the day. We had a chance to chat a bit with Michelle Gomez and Arthur Darvill, and we gawked at Jenna Coleman and Peter Capaldi while we waited. After Peter left I wondered aloud if it would be possible to retrieve his leftover RC Cola, perhaps bag, tag, and freeze it. I launched into a speech worthy of the Mr. Belvedere Fan Club. Gina gave me the look. I acquiesced that yes, it would be best not to travel down that dark path.

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Beaten physically and emotionally but still alive, we dragged ourselves out of the convention hall and into the sweltering Dallas streets. We found food, as we do, and Gina ate steak while we listened to some vendors from A-Kon swear and talk nonsense. We checked Google to see if they were important. Important. What the fuck does that even mean?

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We returned to our hotel with its one working elevator and declared the day a success. I’d stared into the face of despair and captured something meaningful. To old cynics like me, this might be about as common as heartfelt connections at the strip club, but I’m sure that happens too.

I keep saying I’m going to limit myself to drinking in hotels with old British actors who fired fake guns at Daleks in quarries and leave this large convention business to the younglings, but something always drags me back.

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FanExpo, that big ugly sonofabitch where I told Deuce Bigalow about my father. We’ll figure it out, someday.

Fan Expo Roundup, Day One

This morning I put on my best chimney-sweep attire, then Gina and I left our trendy hotel (complete with headboard scratches, no ice, and no hot water), crossed a Confederate graveyard, and had our photograph taken with William Fucking Shatner.

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It was a short enough affair and Bill wasn’t feeling his best. Apparently he was getting over a cold. He’s also dealing with being an octogenarian. Still, I’m glad I can say that I once stood next to the James Tiberius Kirk.

We walked over those poor misguided dead people again and went back into the city in search of lunch. We stopped at a wonderful little mom and pop diner called the Purple Onion and had the lunch special, fried catfish. The atmosphere was delightful.

At this point it was time for some well needed rest. Gina is, of course, growing a human inside her, so we retreated to the hotel for a couple of hours. Revived, we arose and suited up. It was time for Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart and Dr. Elizabeth Shaw to meet the newest incarnation of the Doctor.

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When we entered the curtain he was animated, smiling, chatting and posing with everyone. In my experience this isn’t common with these photo ops. The people running the show seemed tense. He was holding up the line.

When we approached, he shook my gloved hand (I’m never getting rid of those now) and said “Brig!”

I pointed at Gina and said “she’s Liz Shaw.” He’s a lifelong Whovian so I knew he would appreciate this. He leaned in to read her nametag.

“I love your outfits!” he said. “Vintage stuff!”

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We wandered around for a couple more hours. We stared at celebrities and “celebrities” in the autograph area. I got saluted over a dozen times. A few really cool Whovians recognized Gina. Lots of folks took our photo. This is why I love cosplaying the Brigadier. Not everyone recognizes me but when they do, they’re pretty excited.

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We traversed the cemetery once more and headed into the city again, this time for burgers. I’m pretty sure someone was ODing on the sidewalk while a woman who was not in much better condition stroked his face.

We ate our sandwiches and heart attack fries in a small shop lit by police and ambulance lights from the street. Men dressed in traditional African garb protested something across the street. “When the darkness falls, Lord, we will wipe them out!” is all I could discern.

The city won’t let us forget that we’re mortal. We returned to the hotel for chilly showers and rest. Tomorrow will be long and sweaty, and full of adventures.

In the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center, old Rob Schneider waits, dreaming.

January 2015

January 1st

does it get old
body checking your way out of the restroom
after I say excuse me
in your real tree camo
practically invisible
backwoods predator
the hills have eyes
I’m gonna Facebook it
while I take a shit
and you lope on back to Imboden
to catch the end of the Klan meeting

January 3rd

someone ran a scam
so now we scratch the silver tab
it probably wasn’t that much
still, we scratch the silver tab
paying with a gift card?
great. let’s scratch that silver tab
underneath my thumbnail
as I scratch the silver tab
we can’t keep loose change up here
just to scratch the silver tab
that’s another LP issue
fucking scratch that silver tab

the new instructions clearly state
to enter pin with every swipe
but nowhere is there mention of
the task that hangs before us
unspoken
the assumed gap between law and action

swipe gift card
???
enter pin

circumnavigate the globe
climb Everest
complete Apollo Program
scratch the silver tab

the horror of the mundane
while I scratch the silver tab
tension headache throbbing
and i scratch the silver tab
pencaps keys and fingers thrust
TO SCRATCH THE SILVER TAB
it’s not that hard I hate you
fucking scratch this silver tab

January 4th

GMC Sierra
fuck up every lane of traffic
20 in a 40
fuck up every lane of traffic
stretch across infinity
to fuck up lanes of traffic
from Everest to the Autobahn
fucking up the lanes of traffic
the Sherpas’ glares match German stares
at fucked up lanes of traffic
asteroid mining off Arcturus
stopped by fucked up lanes of traffic
Sierra aneurysm
jammed into my lanes of traffic
th hrngng fhrgt hllg
buried in this lane of traffic

January 15th

Hey hey
guys guys
rock and roll, it never dies
it’s better to Cobain
than to Stevie Nicks
hey hey
guys guys

January 17th

hey kids
I know it’s cool now to say vinyl
(it’s a fucking record)
but it’s never, ever “vinyls”
you’re welcome

January 18th

hey guys it’s Sunday
time for some Hozier
to take us to church
fucking over and over

like a giggle at a funeral
like a tickle on a tuber
like a nipple on a goober
like a ginger on a junior

TAKE ME TO LUNCH
TAG ME TO HURCH
TAMMANY BIRCH
TERRY VON LURCH

shaking it off
shaking it off
I’m so happy
to be shaking it off

January 24th

HEY NINETIES KIDS
WHO REMEMBERS “DRIVING”
AND SKATEBOARDS
OH MAN THE TELEVISION
THERE WAS A PHONE
JUST ONE
THE LINE WAS SO LONG!
TROLLEYS?
WE GOT ‘EM.
TWO WORDS:
SHOES AND SOCKS
THAT’S THREE BUT WE DON’T CARE

January 29th

someone thinks they’re Gone Girl
the truth is, they’re a Yawn Girl
the object in her meaty mitts
that she’s mistaken for a scalpel
or Chris Kyle’s sniper rifle
is a sledgehammer
an atom bomb fired point blank
laying waste to all
men, women, children held hostage
in the glow of stupid radiation
the dumbest fucking radiation
the hantavirusebolaAIDS
that she wishes was a laser
tear down the walls
I shot the Archduke
and she murdered Europe

January 30th

America
Shall I compare thee
to literary dystopias
or fascist clowns of yesterday
elicit laughs and shaking heads
dismissal of the slow crush
from people who know better
after all, it ain’t that bad
America
Empire seat of the world
poor Southern men weep
as that guy from The Hangover
puts children to sleep
and dirty hands
with fat farmer tans
echo “savage”
crocodile tears and the raising of beers
to our modern Achilles
the Man With Two First Names
who slew the dusky hordes in New Orleans
(or so he said)
dented Ventura’s dimpled chin
(or so he said)
And, Justified, did work for us
(or so he said)
’til chaos or your God, etc.
sent the Marines to Rough Creek
to put down a rabid dog
America
there are heroes, still