It’s my first day back at work, and shit’s weird, yo.
First, I forgot my keyboard at home, so I’m SwiftKeying my hiney off. That’s shop talk, though, and most people don’t want to see the kitchen. They just want their dinner.
Supposedly because of the new customer shops (it’s a secret shopper, y’all, sorry about the corporate lingo), which begin this Friday, we have to have “clean” nametags and lanyards. After eleven years of bling, I’m going blingless. I’m not sure how a few less pins will save the company, which is in rough shape according to the founder and acting CEO (I’m paraphrasing, but you tell me what “We need to find a magic bullet… we can cut costs but we only can only sustain this for two years,” means), but I’m willing to do whatever it takes short of removing my Industrial Workers of the World pin. It’s still on there and no one has said anything, yet.
That said, I’m not about to declare war on this dying beast. I’ve set my sights a little higher. Socialist Gun Club has a ring to it, and this town needs an IWW chapter. Maybe we can combine efforts. Do the Wobblies have a militant wing?
On a personal note, I’ve been in the dumps for the past few days. I caught a terrible case of con blues before the con had even ended because the good times came at such an emotional cost. There’s a thing the people of Japan call “Paris Syndrome,” where they finally visit France and find out it’s not a weird quirky romantic wine-and-cheese noir-film heaven like they thought it would be. The first time they step in dog shit and get cursed by a French chainsmoker they have a breakdown and have to be rushed to the hospital. Substitute the Dallas FanExpo in there and you’ve got my general malaise pinned down.
If I can just make it through today without having a stroke (I have a raging headache, something that hasn’t happened since I’ve been off work, so I sense a correlation) or getting my ass chewed out by the boss, I’ll be back on my way to smooth sailing on Lake Lackadaisical.
Just keep swimming.
Gina and I hung our convention photos in our living room and hall yesterday. After two years of travel, the walls are getting full. I have my family, my memories, my trusty sidearm, and a hard-on for Fully Automated Luxury Gay Space Communism. Who could ask for anything more?
Yesterday after Bea and I fetched Cora from preschool, we headed over to Goodwill to see if they had any decent picture frames. This is a post-convention tradition for me, and I’ve come away with good finds in the past.
“Can we go to the playground by our house?” Cora asked.
“We can after this,” I said. “First we’re going to Goodwill.”
“Goodwill.” I said. “It’s the charity place where we drop off our stuff. You can buy things there too.”
“Ohh,” she said.
Bea played on her tablet. Cora spent most of the ride describing the things she’d seen at Disney World.
“Dad,” she said, “Have you been on the Tower of Terran?”
“It’s the Tower of Terror,” I said.
“I know what it is,” she said. “That’s how I like to call it.”
“Yeah,” I said. “I’ve been on the Tower of Terror. It makes me sick. Didn’t you think it was scary?”
“Yeah,” she said, “It dropped me lots of times.”
“Bea said she wanted to bring home some ‘ghosties’ from the Haunted Mansion,” I said.
“Yeah,” Cora said. “It was full of monsters. There was one in the cart.”
“Did you see the big fireball at Indiana Jones?” I asked.
“Yeah,” she said, “Bea hid under the seats. There was a big rock and they tried to squish him with booby traps.”
She also claimed she didn’t get to ride Pirates of the Caribbean, but she’s not always a reliable reporter. I’ll have to ask her mother.
As we pulled into the parking lot of the Goodwill building that used to be Books-A-Million (attached to a Planet Fitness and a Burlington Coat Factory that split the building where Kroger used to be, which was a Wal-Mart before that), Cora said, “Dad, can we go look at the stones your dad is buried under?”
“Sure,” I said. “Do you want to go after this?”
“Yes,” she said. “I want to see them and touch them.”
“Okay, but first we have to go get some frames.”
I hopped out of the van and opened the sliding door so I could release the girls from their car seats. While I undid their restraints, I told them they had to hold my hands before we started toward the building. When we’d made it across the parking lot and through the glass doors, I released the girls and paused to hang Gina’s aviators on the collar of my Doctor Who t-shirt (I have yet to find a pair of shades I like better), and they sprinted ahead of me.
I made my way along the left wall toward the back, where they keep their wall hangings, and the first thing I noticed was that someone at Goodwill had adjusted the prices up to weird totals. The frames used to be marked “$1.00” or “$2.00” and now the lowest one I could find was “$2.57” and it was trash. Just about everything else was three dollars and up, which was devastating to a guy who’d walked into Goodwill with seven dollars in his pocket and expected to make a haul.
The girls had found a kids’ exercise bike ten feet behind me. They’d been arguing over who was going to ride it first and Cora had won out. “Dad, can I buy this?” she asked as she pedaled.
“How can you buy it?” I replied. “You don’t have any money.”
“Aww, but I need it.”
“You have a real bike at home. We don’t need more junk. Let’s go to the stones. This stuff is garbage. I can get new ones for this much at Target.”
I walked back toward the exit and the girls started weaving in and out of the clothing.
“Hey,” I said. “Hey.”
Cora went into the jeans and they swung precariously on their hangers. Bea followed her lead and ducked inside.
“Hey, do you want to go to the park?”
“Yes,” she said.
“Then walk right.”
They plunged beneath the racks again.
“Okay, I guess we’re going home,” I said. A tank-topped gentleman on the other side of the fixture looked unimpressed.
“Noooooooo,” the girls moaned in concert.
“Okay, let’s go.”
Two customers on their way out held the doors open for us and we entered the parking lot.
“Thank you so much,” I said. “Thank you.”
At the edge of the sidewalk, Cora grabbed my right hand immediately. Bea prepared to spring across the asphalt.
“Bea, you have to hold my hand,” I said.
I grabbed her right hand with my left and she pulled away hard. I tightened my grip.
“You’re hurting me,” she said.
“Stop pulling,” I said. “You have to hold my hand or you’re going to get hit by a car.” We started off across the parking lot.
We were halfway to the van and she still hadn’t let up. I could feel her little knuckle bones grinding on my palm.
“Bea. Bea. You’re going to get hit by a car and die,” I said.
If the statement meant anything to her, she didn’t acknowledge it. I picked her up with my left arm and carried her the last thirty feet.
I opened the van, they climbed in, and I crawled into the back and buckled them in. Cora knows how to fasten her own belts but she often won’t, and Bea has no idea.
After we were all secure and had set sail across town, Cora asked again if we were going to the stones. I said yes, we were, and after that we’d go to the playground. She asked again if we were going to get out so she could see them up close.
“Yes,” I said. “We’re getting out.”
“What if the gate is locked?” she asked.
“There is a gate,” I said, “but it’s open during the day.”
We turned left into the Jonesboro Memorial Park Cemetery and drove about a hundred yards to Dad’s plot. I pulled over to the side of the narrow, paved path, stopped, and got out to open the doors. I looked toward the office, which was about fifty more yards down the path. There were three vehicles parked in front, but we were otherwise alone.
I do not visit my father’s grave often. Sometimes years have passed between, but I always experience great anxiety, as if someone is going to ask me what I’m doing there. It’s a completely unfounded fear, but it’s horrifying to imagine someone bothering me at a vulnerable moment. I recalled the local controversy about people playing Pokémon Go out there and I told myself I wasn’t going to take my phone out of my pocket just in case someone thought I was gaming.
I freed the girls from their harnesses, and they sprang from the van and ran across the grass, which the recent frequent rain had made vibrant.
“Which one is it,” Cora asked.
“Right here,” I said. I pointed to a reddish-brown stone.
“What does it say?” she asked.
“‘Robert O,‘ which stands for Owen, ‘Talbot Sr,’ ” I said. “I’m Robert O. Talbot Jr.”
Cora had already noticed what looked like a pile of flowers between us and the red-bricked office building. “Dad,” she said, “I want to go see it.”
“Don’t go over there,” I said.
“That’s where they put the babies,” I said. “You don’t need to be running around in there.”
It had been a while since I’d looked at it, but the free plots the cemetery offers for infants looked a bit crowded. If I didn’t know better, I’d have thought it was a dump for misplaced fake flowers. On closer observation from my place up the hill, I could make out rows. The words “mass grave” popped up in my head, but something else in there told me not to be disrespectful. I wondered why it couldn’t be at least a bit larger, in rebuttal to myself.
Well, babies are small.
“Yeah,” I said. “We don’t need to be messing around in there or they’ll kick us out of here. Look,” I said, and pointed to two footstones next to Dad’s grave. “That’s his Mom and Dad.”
Cora returned to my side and looked down. “Ooh,” she said. Bea floated around behind her, shadowing her wanderings.
“What does that say?” I asked, and pointed to their last names.
“I don’t know,” she said.
“Yes you do,” I replied. She can read, and she knows how to write her last name, but sometimes she won’t go through the trouble of sounding things out. “Look, it’s T-A-L-B-O-T, Talbot.”
“Oh,” she said. “Can we go look at the other stones?”
“Well we’re not walking,” I said. “We can drive around and look at them from the van.”
“Okay!” she said, and walked toward the van with Bea in tow.
I turned and looked back at Dad’s headstone. “Welp,” I said. I clenched my teeth and popped a quick two-finger salute.
The girls were behind me and they’d started to touch the Forbis crypt. “Hey,” I said. “This isn’t a playground. Someone is buried there. Don’t play on it.”
“I’m not,” Cora said. “I just want to feel it.”
She ran her hands over the stone. Bea stood beside her, barely visible. I reached into my pocket, pulled out my S7, and fired off a quick series of photos before shoving my phone back into my pants in record time.
I looked around. No alarms went off. No one rappelled out of a black helicopter.
“Come on, guys,” I said. “Let’s get back in the van.”
We loaded up and I drove around the back side of the graveyard. Occasionally I let my eyes wander to the dates on the stones. Things got older at the the far end, although there were more recent burials dotted in, and at the rear there was a mausoleum, as well as a field of plots without headstones.
“There are a hundred million stones,” Cora said. “A hundred eighteen million.”
The pavement ended and a bulldozer sat beside a new dirt road. I wheeled the van around and headed back toward the exit.
“I want to see the babies,” Cora said.
“We’ll drive by them again on our way out.”
“I want to see their faces.”
“They’re buried, Cora, there’s nothing to see.”
“They’re dead, that’s why they’re out here.”
“How?” she asked.
“Sometimes babies get sick and sometimes they die.”
“I thought just old people died,” she said.
“No, anyone can die,” I said, “which is why I tell you guys not to run out into the street. That’s what I mean when I say something can kill you.”
“Oh, okay, like when Bea tries to run into the parking lot.”
“Yes,” I said, “exactly like that.”
“If you get hit by a car and die then they bury you!” she said.
“Let’s go to the playground,” she said.
“That’s where we’re going,” I said.
We headed down Fox Meadow Lane and turned right onto Caraway Road. There’s a wonderful playground right down the street from our house at Miracle League Park, which is connected to the Southside Softball Complex. A couple of happy families were already there playing, and the girls joined right in.
We swang, and swang, and swang, which is Bea’s favorite thing. She loves to go high, as she says, and I pushed her as hard as I could. Her swing hit bar level over and over. The line went slack and she jolted down.
“I’m flying!” she yelled. “I’m flying! I’m flying!”
All the children were immediately Cora’s “friends” even though she’d never met them before, and she had no problem telling their parents what to do. “Help me up here,” she’d say to one if I wasn’t within arms reach. I spent my time pushing, swinging, or climbing. The playground is a great place to exercise, so I got some in while the girls got theirs.
Bea pulled herself through a rolling-bar conveyor contraption and counted each rung overhead out loud on the way through. “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven,” she said with a grunt between each number.
There was a hammock-like swing at the back side of the playground and it was vacant, so I went over and reclined in it. All I could see was the sky and the candy red bar overhead. I put my boots up on the chains. The first quarter moon was up to my right, its white half glowing against bright blue. The wind occasionally gusted, which swung me a bit, and I could hear the soft, high-pitched squeak of hinges, the low rumble of the breeze, and children playing.
“It would be a nice day to fly a kite,” I said to no one in particular.
Fluffy light and dark cumulus clouds raced across the sky, and I considered them through my borrowed shades. I pulled my phone out of my jeans pocket and snapped a photo, then I zoomed in on the moon. It was pixelated and blurry. I clicked it off, lifted my butt, and shoved my phone back into my pocket.
“Nope,” I said to no one, again. “Can’t take a picture of that.”
Yesterday morning I was all fired up to do a week-series of calumnious missives about how the folks who run the Dallas FanExpo should go stand in the street in front of the Book Depository. This morning, however, I spent an hour attempting to get a detailed receipt from the Omni Hotel, and that has a way of withering one’s wiener. The valet parking was pretty affordable, but it’s not so cheap that I’d like to pay it twice.
If you yearn for vituperation, check out every post on FanExpo’s Facebook page (like, heart, angry face) and revel in the horror stories. While Gina, Willie, and I occasionally had a bad time, a lot of folks had their hopes and dreams crushed. I can’t say I’m one of them. I’m experiencing the same level of glass-is-half-empty dysthymic angst I did before, but now I’m a little deeper in debt and I have a few more star-chasing stories to tell. I’m going to call it a draw.
It’s weird to get back into the world and see everyone else grinding away about politics. There’s always this shock, like we’ve arrived back from another planet, but at least someone didn’t die this time. In 2016 it was David Bowie and Prince while we were at Wizard World in New Orleans and WhoFest in Irving, Texas, respectively, but now that I think of it, one of the founders of WhoFest died last year at the con, in his hotel room.
There was no general announcement, although I’m sure most of the core convention group was aware. I’d volunteered to help clean up that Sunday afternoon, and in hindsight I can tell who didn’t get the news. There were guys marching around in a fugue like, well, like one of their friends had just died, and there was a guy making stupid jokes about how certain pieces of equipment looked like a prop from Fourth Doctor episode “The Pirate Planet.”
I know everyone grieves differently, and I didn’t know anything at the time, but when no one laughed or even spoke in reply to this dude’s spur-of-the-moment comedy routine, I looked at him and said, “Dude, I think maybe the time for jokes is over.”
The cloud was so obvious that some part of my subconscious picked up on it, but I still didn’t get it. When I was invited upstairs to the pizza party afterward, I walked into a small hotel room full of forty or fifty volunteers packed in, butts on every surface. Peter Pixie, the master of ceremonies, practically sat on the lap of Frazer Hines, and they were in intense, quiet conversation. Everyone spoke in hushed murmurs, and I said to the guy nearest me, “Yeah, we just got done unloading the truck in Richardson.”
He nodded and said nothing. I left the room roughly 45 seconds after I’d entered and went downstairs to apologize to my wife for bailing on her during her nap in an attempt to get some celebrity face time. It went okay.
We left Texas the next morning and reminisced about Wendy Padbury and Richard Franklin the entire way home. I ranted about how much Prince had reportedly given to charity over the years. “He was a weird dude but wasn’t he some kind of superhero?” I did mention the strange atmosphere to Gina, but we chalked it up to Whovians being Whovians. It wasn’t until we got home that she found the obituary online while searching to see if WhoFest had anything planned for 2017.
Not to be indelicate, but Doctor Who actors have a sort of history of dying at or around conventions. Patrick Troughton, the Second Doctor, died at the Magnum Opus Con II science fiction convention in Columbus, Georgia, on Saturday, March 27, 1987 (source: Wikipedia), after his doctors told him not to leave the UK because of his heart condition. At 7:25 am, he died of a massive heart attack just after ordering breakfast. He had celebrated his 67th birthday two days prior, and the convention goers had planned a party that night in his honor.
Jon Pertwee died in Connecticut on May 20, 1996 at age 76. He was often on the convention circuit, and while the kiddies always talk about Tom, Jon was the Doctor who brought the show into the modern era. His first episode was filmed in color, and he threw a bit of James Bond into the space wizard mixture (they name-dropped Bond at least three times I can remember during Pertwee’s run). He was flamboyant, fun, and loved attention like all great folks do. He also appreciated the hell out of his fans, and if he’s not the reason, he’s at least in the top five reasons the show had, and has, such a big following.
After all this, Tom Baker said he wasn’t going to America anymore because it was killing Doctors (source: my ass), and it must have been effective. He’s still kicking at age 83, and if you want to meet him, you’re going to have to do the flying.
I won’t pull out that old “dying doing something you love” turkey. Most folks don’t want to die no matter what they’re doing. There’s no last meal equivalent of a treat that can silver-lining getting your thinker snapped off. Had fun yesterday plus dead today equals nil. Nada. Zilch.
Still, while there aren’t better ways to go, there are definitely worse ones (source: The Bob Talbot Experience), so maybe there’s something to looking forward to a nice Saturday and hey what-
Sometimes you don’t even get a last breakfast, and I can’t even say it would help. I haven’t done it myself and when I do, you won’t get a trip report. Last time I checked, Harry Houdini hasn’t called back, either.
What I do know is that I’m going to enjoy the good times I had last weekend with Gina and Willie, and for that matter, John, Alex, Billy, Catherine, Katee, and all the Whovians and science fiction fans we chatted with all weekend. We made some connections in those mashed, sweltering crowds, and we got so much love from so many people who just wanted our photograph.
If you’re looking for any more Dallas FanExpo opprobrium, it’s going to have to wait until October when Matt Smith, who they’ve booked for the second time (he didn’t show in 2015), inevitably cancels after we’ve risked life, limb, and bank account on our third attempt to meet him (he also cancelled on us in New Orleans).
As we prepared to walk out of our hotel room yesterday morning, I fumbled with the door handle with my left hand. I had three bags in my right, and the rolling suitcase was propped against my left leg. Gina was behind me with Willie, his stroller, and two more bags.
“That’s life, Willie,” I said, “It’s a bunch of bullshit but you’ll find there are a few diamonds-”
“Bob,” Gina said, “did you remember to check out?”
“Oh shit,” I said. “Heh, yeah, I’d better do that.”
I sat down my pile, walked around it, picked up the room phone, and dialed “*-3-4.” It was finished.
Today I’ll do a few of the things I’ve been putting off. I’ll also check my email obsessively until the Omni gets back to me about my room charges.
Until that’s through, I’ll think about adventures past and future, and I’ll look to here, now, for what’s important.
As far as the FanExpo goes, any convention you live through can’t be that bad, can it?
Friday morning we loaded up and headed to Dallas. We had a date with Alex Kingston, and we weren’t about to miss it.
Willie weathered eight hours in a car as well as a five-month-old possibly could, which is to say he was amazing. It’s not spoiling anything to tell you he was rad through the entire weekend, teething pains and all. They say to show not tell, so I’m supposed to intersperse him being the coolest baby ever all throughout this narrative so you come to the conclusion on your own that he’s amazing without me telling you he’s amazing, but fuck that. Hear me now and believe me later, he was amazing.
We checked into the Omni and were greeted with champagne, which was a new experience. I’m an easy lay so the Omni totally had me at hello with that bullshit maneuver. They could have tossed a Bud Ice at me after that drive and I’d have been ready to pull out the credit card for all those incidentals, baby.
We threw our shit into the room and hoofed it down to the FanExpo, which was a five minute walk down a hall and a twenty minute wait in another line just to get a wristband for a ticket I’d already purchased online. This is the harbinger part. I’m breaking all the rules tonight, baby.
We finally gained access and wandered around the floor for a bit before our photo op. If you’ve never done one, they’re always rushed affairs, and there’s no real face time involved. I’ve seen people get online and throw fits over this and let me tell you guys and gals, if you go into this expecting anything more than wham, bam, thank you ma’am, you’ve entered the land of expectations.
We did stop by Alex Kingston’s autograph table afterward to get her signature on the photo, and that’s where the magic actually happened. She cooed at Willie and said, “Hello, gorgeous!” She showed him her big-ass ring, which looked like a rose with diamonds set into it, and said, “You’re going to have to buy your girlfriend a ring like this in, oh, sixteen years.”
I fucking hope not.
She was absolutely stellar, though, and we thanked her and went on our way over to John Barrowman’s domain.
John got it into his head that he wanted this kid to give him pink belly. I shit you not, he pulled up his shirt and this little boy slapped him while a FanExpo employee down the table gave the most epic side eye that went on for so long I was able to point it out to multiple people.
“Oh wow, she doesn’t get it at all. Look at that side eye! Holy shit she’s still doing it!”
When we got to the table, John spent at least a minute rubbing Willie’s head.
“I love rubbing baby heads,” he said. “They’re so soft. I love to kiss them.”
Unfortunately he didn’t kiss him, but it would have been okay, although it might have prompted more side eye.
He then proceeded to take Gina’s camera and crank out a few selfies. He’s an expert at this, so they all turned out amazing.
On our way out we noticed Billy West, the voice of Fry from Futurama among others (you might know him as Doug Funny or Bugs Bunny from Space Jam or Ren AND Stimpy) had shown up. He’d been running late and they sent his line away, but he was there now and man we were aching to say hi after seeing him last year in Richardson, Texas.
When we got to the table we expressed our love for his podcast, which is fucking excellent by the way. I performed a short rendition of the Stingray theme song and we talked about zany marionette shows for a couple of minutes. We introduced Willie, and Billy decided to come around the table for a photo.
“Welcome to Earth, kid,” he said. “You took a wrong turn.”
Completely satisfied with all our life decisions up to that point, we returned to the room for some rest after the best day ever. As I drifted off, I told Gina, “Wow, that was the most amazing day. It was so perfect. Oh my God, I forgot my army shirt.”
Like Buckaroo Banzai said, revelations always come in the three B’s: the bed, the bath, and the bus. I’d checked and rechecked the luggage, and I’d forgotten something as simple as my goddamned shirt. Oh well. I groaned and gnashed my teeth while Gina Googled a solution. There was an army surplus store about eight miles away. I would have to make a run in the morning.
I woke up at 7 am, unable to take it anymore, and fired up the shitty hotel Keurig for some diarrhea water. I threw that down my throat, left the fam at the hotel, and went down to the valet to get the car. I had a mission.
Dallas highways are a spaghetti pile of drunken engineering. The GPS yelled at me and I thanked Odin I’d suffered through the twitch game parts of Grand Theft Auto. I hate that Dance Dance Revolution bullshit but if I hadn’t become begrudgingly adept I never would have made it to the surplus store where an old dude awaited to try to sell me $20 Dickey shirts.
“Where’s the surplus, man. I can rip the patches off, I don’t care.”
Eight dollars and sixty-one cents later, I was the owner of a brand new slightly used Marine Corps khaki shirt.
I raced back to the Omni, threw a couple more bucks at the valet (they say not to tip when you drop off but you know you’re paying for them to not fuck your car up, right?) and headed up to the room to get into cosplay. It was TIME.
We headed down the hall past the Roberta Flack quote emblazoned on the wall, which always makes me start hollering “Killing Me Softly,” and stood in line thirty minutes to get armbands for tickets we’d already purchased online. Then, we entered Pandemonium.
It was bodies wall-to-wall, straight up worse-than-Disney foot traffic. I’ve ranted about this situation many times before but the Dallas FanExpo keeps growing and their floor engineering remains a libertarian mess of “Oh yeah I guess this can go over here.” The autograph lines are about one foot wide taped off. The photo op lines are hemmed in by booths and convenience stands. People started behaving like cattle then like water. I’ve read before that when you’re in a crowd like that, it’s best to get the fuck out or risk death. If there’d been any reason to spook us, it would have been a global-news-making disaster.
I’ve been to Wizard World. They stanchion that shit off and everything takes place in an orderly fashion. We were caught, hot, in the middle of a crowd of people to see Catherine Tate, who maybe had a hundred tickets sold, but because the con workers didn’t line up the adjacent ticket holders properly, we were trapped in a scrum for 45 minutes while foot traffic from the vendors and autograph lines tried to squeeze through two feet of walkway. It was a nightmare.
I had ample time to let loose one of my epic tweetstorms at Dallas FanExpo. They actually replied and said they’d get right on it, but I didn’t witness anything you’d call a response.
We got our Catherine Tate photo, wheeled back around to get into Barrowman’s line, and waited another hour. My feet were on fire. and Gina breastfed Willie in line like the hero she is.
We had some time to burn before we could get the photos signed, so we caught Katee Sackhoff at her booth. I wasn’t aware she was a Whovian until I checked out her Twitter and saw that her profile pic is her face pasted on the Fourth Doctor. She was bonkers over Willie. She called him the best thing she’d seen since the woman at Dragon Con with the painted belly who was due to drop her baby any second and the doctor only let her attend because the con was closer to the hospital than her house. We got three selfies with her and I have my eyes shut in two of them. In the third one, her head is down. If anyone wants to Photoshop my open eyes onto one of the good ones hit me up. I’ll get you a $5 Starbucks (pun intended) card or give you a handy.
I need to reiterate how great Willie was during all this. He kept doing his baby things, you know, slobbering, puking, occasionally crying, but he weathered it all like a champ and we kept getting stopped for photos every five minutes. I lost count of how many people got our pics but our classic Doctor Who cosplay was obviously off the chain.
We got through Catherine Tate autograph line first and she laughed when I told my terrible Michael Scott joke, which goes, “Gina says I’m her Jim but I’m definitely more of a Michael Scott.” I also thanked her for being so real in Doctor Who. She really was the most human companion, and that’s the companion’s job. You can’t identify with a fucking space wizard. The people around him are supposed to be YOU.
We wrapped it up waiting an hour for John Barrowman to make his final appearance. In the meantime, Mark Hamill’s handlers had whisked him away and he still had thirty people in line. The fans proceeded to mutiny and wouldn’t stop threatening the staff with lawsuits until they went and dragged him back. It actually worked, which was one of the few fan victories this weekend. Norman Reedus and Jeffrey Dean Morgan ended up showing for only a couple of hours because of some scheduling mishap. There were hundreds of people who had to be issued refunds and they are pissed. Just check the Facebook page.
Our third meetup with John Barrowman was worth the wait. He said hello to Willie again, and he complimented our costumes. He actually apologized for misidentifying Gina’s outfit earlier at the photo op, and he and I compared watches. He’s a class act.
I keep saying I’m not coming back to Fan Expo. They are notorious for booking people who cancel at the last minute, overbooking celebrities who cannot possibly work through the number of tickets sold, and bad line management. I love small hotel cons where you actually get face time with people and make real connections. Everyone knows large cons are Disneyland but FanExpo can’t even get that shit straight. They aren’t Six Flags. They’re a carnival full of meth heads and rusty Tilt-A-Whirls with diesel smoke belching out the top and they’re in way over their heads.
This is the fifth annual event they’ve held and the third I’ve attended. The crowd management issues have increased exponentially and I’m not sure what it would take to get me back, except maybe Matt Smith, who they’re having at their secondary event, Fan Days, in October. You motherfuckers. I wish I could quit you.
In any case, we’ll be doing Friday and going home Saturday. This one was hell, and it was worth it, but I can’t endanger my child and exhaust my wife battling overcapacity crowds and unmanageable lines. Get your shit together, Dallas FanExpo.
We’ll be headed to WhoFest 4 in May and we’ll spend a weekend with Peter Davision and a few dozen other hardcore Whovians. Well also swing by Texas Frightmare to meet Malcolm McDowell. Small cons like those are where the magic happens, and that’s where I keep saying I’m going to spend my time, but this goddamned FanExpo keeps dragging me back for more punishment.
I’ll skip the angry email this year. They obviously didn’t read mine last year when I described the stunning innovations of roped-off areas and better space management. Maybe they’ve outgrown the Kay Bailey Hutchinson Convention Center but I’m not sure where they could go from there. If this is all the fourth biggest city in the United States can offer, well, maybe it’s all we deserve.
I’ll see you bastards again in October when Matt Smith inevitably cancels at the last minute like he’s done on us two times before. I’m starting to believe they’d never booked him in the first place and it was a charade meant to sell more tickets. I mean, The Crown is a great show, but Matt can’t really be up to all that much, can he?
Tomorrow Gina, William, and I are heading south. This is my first extended time off work since Willie was unceremoniously ripped from Gina’s body, and I’m ready.
In the past I’ve made the mistake of opening my mouth around celebrities. Gina is the charming one, so it’s usually best if I hang onto her arm and let her work her magic. Just about all the happy memories I have of real connections with folks I admire are thanks to her. All the cringefestival trainwreck gutpunch nightmares that have me waking up in cold sweats at 3 am are thanks to my terrible overly-planned notions of what I thought would be funny.
“See, you push a robot in like, every episode. Well, every one with a robot.”
“Well,” said Frazer Hines, “I did push a Quark once.”
“No man it’s like all of them. Every time, and I was like, ‘Hey it’s time for Robot Tippin’ with Jamie McCrimmon.’ You should have t-shirts made, man.” I flailed around mimicking shoves to an invisible robot.
“Uh,” he said, “I need to go talk to someone over here.”
This was after I asked him what a drink ticket was. This motherfucker owns racehorses and some hayseed just asked him, “What you do with this ticket?” at a mixer that said hayseed paid for in advance knowing there would be drinks involved. I went to get a beer.
By the time I got back, Frazer Hines was chatting up my wife and I had it all figured out. Well, I had two things figured out. Frazer would much rather talk to the ladies, and I’d do better to let Gina sparkle and just observe and report instead of trying to perform around performers.
We ended up spending most of our time that night with Richard Franklin and Wendy Padbury. Richard brought up politics, which amazingly did not go badly, and he ended up being the de facto host of the whole shindig. We talked about work, and from that point on he knew us as “Gina and Bob, the booksellers.” Gina made the real connections there, though, especially with Wendy, and it was wonderful how they palled around all weekend.
Andrew Cartmel caught me on my way out and expressed dismay at not getting the opportunity to spend more time with me. Me, BABY. We talked about bookselling for a couple of minutes and he invited me to stop by and see him the next day. I didn’t take him up on that because I was afraid I’d have to buy his $40 paperback. When I got back to work, I ended up tweeting to him about another new release of his, The Vinyl Detective: Written in Dead Wax. He replied, sparks flew, and we’ll be getting married in the spring.
So my charms do work, but only on a relatively small demographic.
I have a new plan that will surely widen my audience: I’m going to strap Willie to my chest. Yes, I became a father just so I could use a super cute kid as celebrity bait. Nothing can go wrong with this strategy.
I’ll have on my brand new, getting-much-closer-to-screen-accurate Brigadier costume, and Willie is going to be Baby Benton from the Third Doctor story, The Time Monster. “We” (meaning “Gina”) took some artistic liberty and made him a baby UNIT outfit since Sergeant Benton just wears a diaper in the episode and that’s not a costume, that’s neglect. I even have a UNIT button on the front of his carrier. It’s going to be amazing.
Gina spent the last couple of months making Sarah Jane Smith’s Andy Pandy outfit from scratch while wrestling with a growing infant. That’s right up there with summiting Everest in my book. I also realize this jumble of names and words probably means nothing to 95 percent of the population, but believe me, this shit is important to Whovians.
This is a large convention, so I don’t expect anything as intimate as what I’ve just described to occur. We’re going to WhoFest 4 next month, which will be a small weekend hotel hangout, but FanExpo is more like riding Space Mountain. You spend hundreds of dollars and stand in line for hours for mere seconds of thrill, but some of those memories last a lifetime, which is what keeps us going back. There are also weird moments, like the time I poured my heart out to Rob Schneider about watching SNL with Dad and he seemed to really get it. Then, Rob and Gina eloped.
This brings up an important point, though. I am easily cropped out of every photo we’ve ever taken with a celebrity. Gina looks like she belongs there. It usually looks like the actor showed up for a photo with her.
Willie is my secret weapon. I’m going to be all up in that photo op now. I don’t care if Alex Kingston and Catherine Tate are going goo goo ga ga over him, he’s strapped to me. We’re Master Blaster. Quaid, start the reactor. We’re a team, baby, and I’m going to get me some love.
If all else fails, I’ll ditch the fam and run away with John Barrowman. No one can resist a man in uniform.
I’m working on something. Until then, I don’t want the last thing you see to be my shitty political opinions, so here you go. A placeholder until I’m through or I give up in a fit of self loathing. I hate even talking about it because it always jinxes me.
In any case, I won’t be announcing this because that also fucks me up. I’ll just leave this here. Maybe read some of my old stuff you never read. Give me a yell if you miss me. I hope you do. That’s kinda why I do this in the first place.
Everyone who ever created something did it to get out of Hell.
It was hard not to nanny nanny boo boo the Republican failure deliver the coup de grace to Obamacare yesterday. I had fun for a bit, but it’s time to get back to work lest we let frowny Paul Ryan become the new six months of punched Richard Spencer.
Before I’m labeled a buzzkill, have your high. Drink in the delicious failure. Savor it for a moment but not too long.
Now that the Ewok celebration has ended, the remnants of the Death Star will plummet into the atmosphere and lay waste to the forest moon, but wait! That doesn’t work at all. Vader is alive and golfing, and they’re still going to build that Star. If we’re talking Star Wars analogies, I’d put us in Empire, on Bespin.
The situation isn’t even that optimistic, though. It’s more like you’re in a pit in Buffalo Bill’s basement and he’s yelling, “It puts the lotion on its skin or else it gets the hose again!” You haven’t even grabbed his dog yet, but even this analogy is flawed. We all know Agent Starling will show up and save the day (even though she hooks up with Lecter and attends a brain-chow dinner two films later, which is pretty apt if she’s the Democrat), and we don’t have that luxury.
It’s more like this: You’re on death row, and it’s time to walk the green mile. There’s no stay of execution, no reprieve, and you’re strapped to the chair. It’s time to light up ‘ol sparky, but something happens. The folks in charge can’t decide on whether they should give you enough juice to just kill you or pump so much current across your sautéed skull that your grey matter cooks out your eyesockets, so they decide to take five and figure it out. You’ll still ride the lightning after they burn through a few Parliaments (nine out of ten machine gunners agree, Tobacco tastes best when the filter’s recessed).
So, yes, while avoiding the certainty of now, like the next-to-last surface suck of a drowning swimmer, may seem like a thing to fist pump over, remember everyone loses the race to the bottom of expectations. This is the land of “Dubya was great, Mitt would have been fine, we’d take two more terms of Obama having civilians murdered and destabilizing nations,” you know, those sorts of things.
Today I witnessed a miracle. I do not throw this word around lightly, and I’m not referring to the right’s gun-to-your-temple misfiring yesterday. Two long time conservative acquaintances of mine wondered out loud, “Why can’t we just have free health care?” Why, indeed.
Don’t vote for politicians who tell you single payer will never happen (not with that attitude). Don’t believe corrupt leaders who say the people can’t be reached. Something stinks, and even the dookie connoisseurs are beginning to smell it.
Don’t give up on what you know is right just because it seems a million miles away (or even 238,900). If you’d expected to be on the moon by now but you’re face down in the mud, it’s not time to suck in and embrace life as a salamander.
Everybody’s doing that thing where they post a list of things no one reads, which only serves to spark more viral list-writing. I always get in on the tail end of these so allow me to jump on this lifeboat before our sinking culture plummets into the briny deep. I’d hate to be the guy who hits the propeller.
Films from years in which I was alive on Earth (this time, anyway, no reincarnations):
1978 – Attack of the Killer Tomatoes
1979 – Kramer vs Kramer
1980 – Приключения Электроника
1981 – Через тернии к звёздам
1982 – E.T. the Extra Terrestrial
1983 – Падал прошлогодний снег
1984 – The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension
1985 – National Lampoon’s European Vacation
1986 – Peggy Sue Got Married
1987 – Cherry 2000
1988 – Killer Klowns from Outer Space
1989 – Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure
1993 – Remains of the Day
1994 – Little Women
1995 – Sense and Sensibility
1996 – Emma
1997 – Home Alone 3
1998 – The Parent Trap
1999 – Inspector Gadget
2000 – Hollow Man
2001 – Pearl Harbor
2002 – Reign of Fire
2003 – Freaky Friday
2004 – Mean Girls
2005 – Herbie: Fully Loaded
2006 – Just My Luck
2007 – I Know Who Killed Me
2008 – Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the I can’t do this why god
2009 – Labor Pains
2010 – The Social Network
2011 – In Time
2012 – John Carter of Mars
2013 – The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
2014 – American Sniper
2015 – Trumbo
2016 – Sausage Party
2017 – The Dark Tower
2018 – S.C.O.O.B.
2019 – Why We Fight
2020 – 放下你的武器
2021 – 美国狗
2022 – 节俭的生活
“Forty times in a raging storm,” I said to myself in disbelief. I held up the newest edition of Memes Weekly, which had been speedily delivered by the failing socialist U.S. Postal Service. The cover story was a photo of Fred Rogers with white text over it. It was an incantation.
Thunder rolled. The hiss and pound of rain against my roof crescendoed into a roar. My feet carried me into my front yard before I had time to consider whether or not I’d been the first. I’d find out soon enough.
“Fred Rogers,” I said. “Fred Rogers.”
“FRED ROGERS! FRED ROGERS! FRED ROGERS FRED ROGERS FRED ROGERS FRED ROGERS FRED ROGERS FRED ROGERS FRED ROGERS FRED ROGERS FRED ROGERS FRED ROGERS FRED ROGERS FRED ROGERS FRED ROGERS FRED ROGERS FRED ROGERS FRED ROGERS!
I didn’t have time to contemplate its effectiveness. The clouds folded and rolled away ahead of something the size and color of a Eurocraft 44 Explorer. The wind howled against its flat bottom.
I hadn’t noticed that another Postal Service truck had stopped on the street in front of my modest home. I’m not sure how I heard him through the roar above me, but the awfully familiar man in the left-side seat turned slowly and met my eyes with his yellow-tinted reading specs, which painfully burned into my retinas like two welding arcs, and spoke with a voice that seemed to originate from the center of my skull: “I am the herald of Mister Rogers, delivered speedily to you this night. To you, the quickest of all, I bequeath the behemoth, the reckoner, which you and only you command.”
What now was clearly a foot clad in a blue canvas shoe howled down above the spot where the truck was parked. As its shadow loomed over the man in rare Postal Service dress garb, he said, now with his own voice, “I never thought I’d miss the smell of dandelions.” He had just begun to reach towards my bushy unmown spring lawn when the shoe landed on his truck and slammed it into the ground with such force I was lifted off my feet and thrown into the neglected bushes that surround my house.
Stars. The sky, roiling. I was vaguely aware of the scratches on my back, and I’d just started to claw my way back to my feet when another boom shook the earth. The decorative cover fell off the front porch light and shattered on the concrete below. I was thrown between the bushes and the red-pink bricks of my domicile. I tasted dirt and blood. I was face down, and I opened my left eye. An ant crawled across the gravel.
“HELLO NEIGHBOR,” said a voice from above. I heard a window break. A car alarm started going off at the apartment complex the next street over.
I lifted myself up and leaned against the wall. It stood, now, in the street. The soles of its comfy shoes were sunken, crushed into the pavement. Small flames licked up around its right foot, where the postman had been.
“Uh, hello,” I said.
“I LIKE YOU JUST THE WAY YOU ARE.”
“Um, well,” I said. “That’s fortunate.”
“WHAT DO YOU DO WITH THE MAD THAT YOU FEEL WHEN YOU FEEL SO MAD YOU COULD BITE? WHEN THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD SEEMS OH SO WRONG AND NOTHING YOU DO SEEMS VERY RIGHT?”
There wasn’t a window left intact in the neighborhood. The single car alarm in the distance had become a gaggle of angry honkers. The air sizzled, and the hairs on my arms stood straight up. A bright blue bolt hummed down from the mist and reverberated like a Tesla coil as it ripped into the asphalt behind me. My home stood between me and the explosions that rocked through the complex beyond, but I felt almost unbearable heat wrap itself around my face. The beam snapped off, and while my ears rang like they had for hours, once, after an Ozzy Osbourne concert, I didn’t hear any more horns.
“IT’S GREAT TO BE ABLE TO STOP WHEN YOU’VE PLANNED A THING THAT’S WRONG, AND BE ABLE TO DO SOMETHING ELSE INSTEAD AND THINK THIS SONG.”
“What am I supposed to stop?” I asked. “This? I haven’t done anything except summon you.”
“I CAN STOP WHEN I WANT TO,” he said. A bolt tore down from the sky and ripped into a house three doors down that’s been abandoned since the financial crisis in 2007. A small cloud mushroomed up above the ball of flame as a gas main caught and belched another sphere of hot death into the air. The house next to it caved in on itself with a groan and a clatter. The weeping willow in the front yard melted and sizzled before its skin popped off like a frank carelessly dropped in a Fourth of July barbecue pit.
“I can’t breathe,” I shouted.
“I CAN STOP WHEN I WISH,” he said. The ringing in my ears doubled and increased until I realized it wasn’t coming from me. A Learjet had clipped him on its approach to the Jonesboro Municipal Airport. It seemed to drift sideways as it careened over the end of the street and slid out of view. CAROOM. Another tremor rocked me to my knees. The burs between the Bermuda grass bit into my right knee through the hole in my worn-out Dad jeans.
I crawled out of the flower bed and turned my face to the sky. He was obscured by smoke past the mid-calf, but I knew he was up there with that wise face and that perfectly parted silver hair, so comforting. Did he smile? I couldn’t see, but I knew he must have.
“I CAN STOP, STOP, STOP ANY TIME,” he said.
“Please stop,” I yelled up at him. “Please stop now!” I coughed repeatedly and spit, which landed, black, on the brick lining the sidewalk.
“AND WHAT A GOOD FEELING TO FEEL LIKE THIS,” he replied, “AND KNOW THAT THE FEELING IS REALLY MINE.”
I tensed my shoulders and neck. My teeth squeaked against each other. Seconds ticked into a minute. Was it over?
“Mister,” I started, “Mister Rogers. Fred. Fred.”
Silence, except for the low rumble of combustion all around me.
“Did you stop because I told you to?”
“KNOW THAT THERE’S SOMETHING DEEP INSIDE THAT HELPS US BECOME WHAT WE CAN FOR A GIRL CAN BE SOMEDAY A WOMAN AND A BOY CAN BE SOMEDAY A MAN.”
I heard sirens in the distance. They’d be here soon, and I didn’t want to waste any more time. Fred had said all I’d needed to hear, and I only had one request.
“Fred, yesterday I read they probably aren’t going to, well, you know,” I said. “You must know. Fred, we have to do it.”
A police car hurtled down Caraway Road and passed the street. A fire engine behind it slowed and began to turn in. Within seconds, another patrol car arrived behind it and its driver slammed the breaks and steered to the side through the corner yard to avoid a collision. Its tires tossed up clods of earth as it plowed to a halt.
The air crackled, and I knew we’d see the end of Jonesboro before we got on to other things. A blue bolt raced down from above, rattled through the soil, and tore the cruiser in half with a hiss and a pop.
“I bet there are some funny descriptions in there.”
“The kids at school won’t even know what it is.”
“They’d probably identify it as a Metallica song more than anything else.”
“It’s like a squid or an octopus, right?”
“Well, son, it could be described as a lot of things. A squid. An octopus. Michelle Obama,” the man said. He chuckled.
My back was to them. I froze.
“Terrifying things like that. Pretty scary stuff,” the man said. He spoke for my benefit now. I couldn’t see him, but I could feel him talk to the back of my head.
I continued scanning.
After a few minutes, they’d wandered off. In the meantime I’d identified a couple of clearance books about succeeding at comedy. I’d ordered them years ago for a dude who seemed like a bit of a douche. At the time, I wanted to tell him you couldn’t learn that stuff from a book, but what the fuck do I know? I get paid to grit my teeth and listen to people say idiotic shit.
(Don’t get me wrong. I don’t have much love left for the Obamas, but I know why the man said what he said. It’s the principle of the thing.)
I flipped open a book about acting. Jack Nicholson had written the introduction, and he sounded fucking crazy. I skipped forward. There was an interesting passage about some popular actress, who they only referred to as “E.J,” getting yelled at and practically hazed by the acting coach. I skimmed over it quickly. It read like hot hippie bullshit.
I’d considered writing about bad poetry today, so I grabbed a few of the dumber-looking titles and glanced through them. They were all too boring or too sexy or occasionally too brilliant. “Why am I doing this?” I said to myself. I placed them back on the shelves.
I walked to the service desk to get some clearance stickers. Manager X was there telling J.D. about how she’d cured the common cold with essential oils.
“I have to be honest,” he said. “That is some straight-up witchcraft.”
I waited until she walked away to tell J.D. he was a better man than I for listening to her nonsense.
“Dude,” he said.
“I can’t take that shit, man,” I said. “It sets my fucking brain on fire.”