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.

Doctor Who vs Hydra

This was written in response to the online “furor” over Marvel’s decision to write Captain America as a secret member of Hydra. As with every other comic book controversy ever, these things seem increasingly petty after a few minutes/days/weeks/months of consideration. 


“Doctor’s Log, Stardate… Oh what is a ‘star date’ anyway?” the Doctor asked no one in particular as he flipped levers on the TARDIS console.

“Doctor,” Clara began, her dark eyebrows furrowed.

“Clara!” he said in a startle, as if he had forgotten she had been standing there. He grabbed her by the shoulders. “Clara. The place: Mutter’s Spiral, Earth, America. The year: 2016. The subject: Doom.”

“Oh boy, here we go,” she replied, still incredulous.

“Boy or no boy,” he said “my instruments detect a great cataclysm in 2016 caused by-” he dropped his hands and paused to glance at the console again, “-comic books!”

Clara cocked an eyebrow and pursed her lips. “Are you certain, Doctor?”

“Well,” he began “we all know that the collapse of the first great human empire began in 2016-”

“We don’t know that,” Clara interjected, matter-of-factly.

“And,” the Doctor continued, unimpeded, “all the periodicals at the time mention this ‘Captain America’ betraying his allegiance to the American people!”

“You know, Doctor,” Clara said as she started to pace. “I probably don’t keep up with American politics as much as I should but I’m pretty certain there is an important election going on in 2016-”

“Nonsense,” the Doctor said. “Look, this blog here, and blogs never lie, claims that, somehow, this comic book event caused a rift in the space-time continuum which traveled back to the time of the Captain’s inception, during the Second World War, and retroactively offended not only the people he initially defended, but modern day comic book fans, who will, in turn, destroy civilization as you know it!”

“I am completely lost,” said Clara.

“As am I,” said the Doctor, “but the answers to our questions lie in Poland. The year: 1944.”

“Oh no, Doctor,” Clara said, her wide eyes even wider. “You can’t.”

“Oh I can, Clara,” he said. “We’re already there.”

The Doctor strode over to the TARDIS console and adjusted the scanner’s viewscreen to face them. Clara could already see that they were in a prison yard.

“We can’t go out there, Doctor,” she said. “We’ll be killed.”

“Oh, Clara,” the Doctor said. He smiled. “I’ve enclosed the TARDIS in a static warp bubble. Everything outside it will be time locked. Hopefully, we’ve caught someone and we’ll pop out and ask them a question.”

“I should be used to this,” Clara said, “but this might be just about the worst thing you’ve ever done.”

The Doctor paid her no heed. He pointed at the screen. “There,” he said. “Right there. That confused looking fellow. He’s the one.”

Clara frowned. She stared at the screen. Her hair flew as she whipped her head up to face him. “Let’s go then. Let’s do this horrible thing so I can get to work on never forgiving you.”

“After you,” the Doctor said, deadpan, as he extended his right arm towards the opening TARDIS doors.

They marched outside.

There stood, not ten yards from the TARDIS door, more of a skeleton than a man. His head was shaved. He spoke.

“Am I dead?”

Clara and the Doctor stopped in front of him. Their voices were muffled by the warp shell, as if they were speaking under a thick blanket. They stood facing him. A single tear escaped Clara’s left eye. The Doctor spoke first.

“It depends,” he said. “Is your name Vladek?”

“Yes,” the man replied. “Now answer me.”

“Oh, you’re dead, but not in this time,” the Doctor said. “Not for decades.”

“Hrm.” Vladek stared. “This is not comforting. What is that thing?” He pointed at the TARDIS. “You don’t sound German.”

The Doctor ignored the first question. “Gallifreyan,” he said.

“He’s Scottish,” Clara said. She sniffed and wiped her face.

“I am dreaming then,” Vladek said. “So, what is your purpose?”

The Doctor reached inside his coat and pulled out a battered comic book. On the front, Vladek could see what looked like a man in a blue uniform punching Adolf Hitler in the face.

“Do you know what this is?” the Doctor asked.

“A pulp.” Vladek said. “A funny book. What of it?”

“Well, since you’re dreaming, dream this: in the future, this character,” the Doctor tapped the cover with the long, thin fingers of his right hand “isn’t punching Hitler anymore. He’s a bad guy.”

“I see,” Vladek said. “Even asleep, I am too hungry to care about this. Let us dream about food.”

“He’s right, Doctor,” Clara said. “Even you can’t be cruel enough to deny him a meal.”

The Doctor frowned. “A meal will kill him.” He stuck the comic under his arm, reached into his coat again, and pulled out a Hershey bar. He extended this offering towards Vladek. “You’d do well to save half of that for later.”

Vladek shuffled forward and took the chocolate. “I think I know what is well to do,” he said. Still, he snapped the bar in half before he began to unwrap it.

The Doctor stood, silently, and watched him consume it. Clara turned away and stared at the white sign on the TARDIS door. She repeatedly ran her eyes over the message.

Advice & Assistance
Obtainable Immediately

Assistance

“Damn it all,” she whispered.

Vladek put the last piece in his mouth and chewed. He sucked a bit of chocolate from his thumb.

“Now,” he said, “I am not so sure I am dreaming. Perhaps I’ve gone mad.”

Clara turned to face him. “No,” she said. She jerked her fist toward the Doctor, thumb extended. “He’s the mad one.”

“Nevertheless,” the Doctor said, “we still don’t have an answer to our question. So, what is it, Vladdy? If this cartoon decides, someday, that he doesn’t want to punch old Mr. Mustache, what then?”

“How is this a concern?” Vladek said, already more animated from the rush of sugar. “These are things for children. Where is my family? Where is my wife?”

“She will be safe, eventually. In most respects,” he replied.

“You are a devil,” Vladek said, “to bring me treats and taunt me with this,” he flapped both hands towards the Doctor, “this!”

“You’re not wrong,” Clara said.

The Doctor cut his eyes at Clara and back to Vladek. “If this character is a hero to some people like you, someday, aren’t you offended-”

“Everything is offensive!” Vladek shouted. He started to pace. “The Germans are offensive. This place is offensive. Life is offensive. You are offensive.”

“Doctor,” Clara began. She put her hand on his shoulder and stepped towards Vladek. “Vladek. Do you think that people should be able to write what they want?”

He sighed, long and hard. “This life,” he said out loud, but to himself. He ran his hands over the stubble on his scalp. “Yes,” he said. “The people who censor, we know what they do.”

“Yes, but,” she said, “if someone wishes to be offended, even over something as silly as a comic book, they may write that too?”

Vladek laughed, short and hoarse. “Yes, if that’s how they want to waste their time.” He smiled with his mouth only. His eyes glared and remained hard. “Maybe I will write a comic book about how stupid they are.”

“No, that’s your son,” the Doctor said.

“What?” Vladek said. “I have no son.”

“Not yet,” the Doctor said. “Not yet.”

Clara inhaled slowly and deeply. “Doctor, we read that at Coal Hill. Art-”

“I think we’re done here, Clara,” the Doctor said. He wheeled around, his coat flaring, and started towards the TARDIS doors.

“But, what about-” she started, her hands extended towards Vladek.

He stopped inside the threshold and turned around. “He’ll remember, but he won’t say anything. He’s a smart guy.”

Vladek stared at the Doctor. “You play with us, devil. You play with our misfortune. I will tell people that.”

“And you may,” the Doctor said, “for that is the sad truth.”

He disappeared inside the TARDIS, which began wheezing and moaning seemingly faster than the Doctor could have reached the console from the door.

Clara stepped quickly towards the door and paused just inside. She gripped the door facing and turned her head towards Vladek. “It gets better,” she said, her voice raised over the din.

“The devil’s escort,” he said, smiling for real now. He raised his hand, still gripping half of the Hershey bar. “No, you are an angel. Goodbye, angel. Tell God he has some explaining to do.”

She looked at him, silently, for as long as she dare during the liftoff sequence, and slowly shut the door.

“Oh, I would,” she said quietly, to herself and the back of the door. “I would.”

“Talking to yourself again, Clara?” the Doctor said without looking up from the console.

She approached him quickly, her feet hitting the deck fast and hard. She stopped, her face inches from his. “I’m a teacher, you know. Next time you need a historical opinion so you can win a Facebook argument, you could ask me instead of traumatizing everyone involved.”

“Oh Clara,” the Doctor said. “What do I need a time and space machine for if I’m just going to stand around and talk to you all day?”

“What, indeed,” she said. “Take me back to Coal Hill. I have a good idea for a lesson on free speech.”

“Do you have any conclusions, Miss Oswald?” the Doctor asked. He smiled in that mischievous way she simultaneously loved and hated.

“Other than the fact that you probably are a devil, no,” she said. “I’ll present all facts and allow the students to decide.”

“Well!” the Doctor said. He had already pulled out his smartphone and situated it close enough to his face for his breath to fog the screen. “That isn’t going to help me compose this blasted tweet!”

YOUR TEENAGER IS A BETTER WRITER THAN YOU

I’m not sure what’s worse than working in a bookstore full of books by celebrities who didn’t achieve their initial notoriety through wordsmithery. Perhaps it’s working in a bookstore full of books by people with YouTube channels, or selling books full of what seems to be Eighth Grade Level poetry right out of the lining of someone’s Trapper Keeper. We actually sell the fuck out of all of these, which is great, on one hand, because I get to keep paying my mortgage. On the other hand, people actually attend universities to do this shit and I’m not sure why anymore when all you need to do is either a) be Gwyneth Paltrow or b) a quirky teenager on YouTube. So start doing those and you’re set. Go get ’em, Gwyn.

I’m not gearing up to launch into a defense of why publishers used to be gatekeepers of content because look: the Internet is fantastic, and I’m totally a fan of this new Socialism Media Network we have going here where the masses have taken control of the means of production…

Oh wait, they haven’t. Everything is still owned by the same fat dudes with monocles and top hats. The thing that has changed is the submission form to fame, which used to include lots of writing on actual paper and mailing of large manuscripts to the correct people at the proper times, and now consists of farting something out into the digital ether and hoping that it tickles someone’s fancy.

Don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of traditional pathways to getting noticed, but there are also a growing number of ways to produce little Brain Doritos and ship them all over the earth. Fifty Shades of Grey has been translated into 52 languages. Some guy or gal working on their doctorate in English is slicing their wrists open right now and one of our best sellers is Twilight fan fiction with the names changed.

So, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. I’m going to start a series loosely based on Doctor Who about a time travelling dude in a box that shows up in women’s rooms at night and stares at them until they inexplicably have sex which won’t be a crime because he will be an extremely attractive vampire billionaire time-travelling space wizard.

I’ll remember you all when I’m hanging out with Jennifer Lawrence. “I wonder what the poor people with college degrees are doing right now?” I’ll wonder out loud, and she’ll do that giggle-snort she does and reply, “Making my fucking coffee.”

Bob Talbot vs The Daleks

So, if you thought this wasn’t the universe where you can get drunk with actors that you adore in hotels relatively near you then you are wrong, because it is that universe, and it is amazing

I also think I have figured out why I love Doctor Who conventions: I am one of the more socially adept people there (hang with me here) so the celebrities don’t see me as a threat until I take this opportunity to prove my previous statement wrong by putting my foot in my mouth (picture Frazer Hines suddenly having somewhere else to be as I attempt to explain my weird inside joke of “Robot Tippin’ with Jamie McCrimmon” while he backs away muttering “yes, yes I did push a Quark…”). I have now learned to stand silently with my arm around Gina while she looks pretty and charming and says wonderful things and draws them in like the bio-luminescent hangy-bobber in my deep sea fish maw, mwuahahahahahaha.

I did not plan this. It happened. Anyone would take advantage.

Since I have no talent of my own and remain a life leech, if you will, an incubus, I must ride other people’s coattails to glory and whose better to ride than my own beautiful wife, Gina?

All in all my latest trip was amazing and fantastic and exceeded my wildest expectations. Any gathering of old actors in a hotel is fucking HOT TIMES for debauchery. I may be done going to the larger conventions, where they crank you through the lines like Space Mountain, two hours in line for thirty seconds of screaming featuring the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Aerosmith. No, I want face time. Wine time. I want to talk European Politics with old guys who fired fake rifles at Daleks in quarries. Goddammit, I want to live.