Thursday, June 03, 2010

Phoenix Comicon Part 1: The Beginning

This weekend was Phoenix Comicon.

It was also, coincidentally, the best weekend of my life.

You have no idea how honest I’m being here.

It was an act of fate, I think, that I did end up going. I’d been going back and forth on it for months, not sure if I could go, based on my financial situation. Fortunately, tickets were only thirty bucks for the whole thing, and my cousin offered to pay for a hotel room for Friday night, for Wil Wheaton’s rock band thing, as a graduation gift. How could I refuse that? It’s not like I don’t own two of his books, two of his audiobooks, and all of his Radio Free Burrito podcasts...

I was also not sure if I could handle going, based on my mental health situation. Four years at a terrible school had shattered my self-esteem and confidence. The idea of spending time around a bunch of strangers, largely on my own, was terrifying. I’ve had shitty time enough making friends and not making a fool of myself everywhere I’ve gone -- class trip to Europe, college, work.... I expected it to all be same-old-same-old, and I had a panic attack a night or two before con started. My childhood friend Tanya, who was hitching a ride on my hotel ticket, told me not to worry, that I would bond with people over our mutual love of Wil Wheaton, of the Guild, and other things nerdy. I was still skeptical, but knew this was my chance, and so, I went for it.


Friday morning, Tanya and I drove the two hours to Phoenix. We parked, obtained badges fairly quickly, and the moment the exhibit hall opened at noon, I made my way through the bustling sea of Comic Book Guys and cosplayers to the farthest right side of the hall, where I knew Wil Wheaton’s table would be. I wasn’t sure I was ready to face him, yet, but I just wanted to see him, in person. Maybe walk past a few times to be absolutely sure I wouldn’t lose my shit when I finally did meet him.

I patted my red Build-A-Bear shoulderbag every five seconds, convinced gnomes were going to steal its contents, or bustling crowd movement would jar it and cause damage to the secrets within. I didn't want anything to happen to it. There was something very important in there for Wil. Something I knew he would like. Something that I knew I had to create the moment I came up with it. John Scalzi, who had gone through a similar creative process when he created the famed Velvet Wesley, described such a moment as an "epiphany," with the word emphasized by springing up onto the balls of his feet. This epiphany (springy-foot) had come from nowhere, as epiphanies tend to, and I went ahead and acted on it. And the result now hid in my bag, lying in wait, ready for its chance to be unleashed on poor, unsuspecting Wil Wheaton. But again, I was doubtful I was ready...

I rounded corners, weaving my way past forests of booths laden with stuff that just did not interest me one bit. I took my time, my geek jitters at such a frequency that I was sure the slightest fandom provocation would make my skin crack and shatter from the force of my fangirl squeal. I rounded one last corner, making my way down past a military line of tables, bare, gray, cold, and ruthless with the absence of any of the celebrities that should have accompanied them, according to the signs above. LeVar Burton. Jonathan Frakes. Aaron Davis. ...and Wil... Fucking...Wheaton....

...was not there. His table was empty, no sign of life, neither headshot nor book. My shoulders sagged, and a dejected yar left my throat. He wasn't there? But he had books to sell. He had fans to see. ...he had gifts to receive... I patted my red bag protectively, not sure what to do. Maybe return in a little bit? Wander the rest of the hall and see what else the con had to offer? He would be here soon... I knew it...

I looked away from his table, only to realize there was a small assembly of people not a yard away from his assigned place. Eyes travelled up. Recognition registered. A hand snapped to my mouth to silence the geek squeal and the subsequent skin-shattering that would have resulted... and to keep people from staring.

It was Felicia Day. In all her redheaded witty perfect geek queen glory. Right. There. Adjacent to Wil's spot.

I staggered around, reassuring the line patrol people that I was just observing a little and not trying to sneak into line, trying to contain the new explosion of jittery excitement in my veins. I sunk into the far corner, unable to believe my eyes. I'd never really met anyone famous before.... okay, Jeph Jacques is extraordinarily famous, but not recognizably so... but Felicia... after much consideration, I moved towards the line, only to be apprehended and pointed towards the nearby door. ...the line was already out the back door into the hot desert sun outside... I teetered on my heels, glancing around. What should I do? It would be a way to wait for Wil, but....

I glanced at Felicia, and then back towards Wil’s vacant spot.

My mouth fell open in total disbelief.

It was Wil Wheaton.

He'd just appeared in the empty space behind his table, out of nowhere, like he’d just Apparated straight from his hotel. I nearly cried out, I was so startled. I walked past, just to be sure. It definitely was him, setting down his backpack, wearing a Wootstock shirt, gripping the handle to a rolly cart full of books and other consumer goods for him to autograph.

I swallow hard. Felicia, or Wil? I mean, I had to do both -- I HAD to... but which one first?

Somehow, I learned that the line out the door was there for both of them. You could go see Felicia, and then go see Wil. So I charged out the door and to the line awaiting me outside. Some people called it long, turning around with a huff back to the air conditioning of the convention center, but after San Diego, I knew it was nothing. Honestly, I’d seen longer lines to get food at my old high school. (Okay, maybe not...)

I waited... and waited... I don't know if I ever got bored. I most likely preoccupied myself on my droid phone, listening in on conversations, enjoying the fact that we were on the north side of the building so we got shade from the harsh Phoenix elements. Beside me stood the parents of some entertaining kids playing before us. The two of them held copies of Just a Geek and Dancing Barefoot... I glared jealously at the latter. I still glare even now. I don't have that book yet... and it’s such an old book that Wil doesn’t bring any with him to cons anymore.

I turn my attention away, the line slowly edging forward. I ponder my present, reaching into my bag to make sure it’s still there. Will he like it? What will his reaction be? Is it perfect? Should I maybe shoot a short video of it, because I added onto it since I took the last one? (The answer here? YES! FUCKING YES! WHY DIDN'T YOU, NITWIT?! Sorry, that was current me being angry at former me. This will happen frequently.) I think about the video I took the night before, while creating it. Should I maybe take a video of it when I give it to him? ….oh my god, that would be so rad… would that be okay with him? …but how to? I only have so many hands… and my cell phone camera isn’t the best and…

It dawns on me. Oh no. I don’t have a very good camera for taking pictures. Pictures of me! With my idols! With the geeky icons of icons!!

But Tanya did.

I realize with horror at just how short the line has suddenly gotten for me, turning to the phone that was probably already in my hands, and desperately send a stream of messages to my longtime friend, who I knew was in a panel. I check the clock, I fidget with nerves and concern. Another group of three go back into the hall, moving us closer to the front.

It was going to happen, wasn’t it? It would totally figure that I would reach Felicia before Tanya gets there, that I wont get to have a picture taken… and what to get her to sign?! Ugh! I didn’t have Dr. Horrible with me! Why didn’t I think this through?!

The amazing thing? The bad luck that has lingered in my life for years, destroying computers and causing many problems and regrets, left me alone. The line control guy finally waved for a group of four to come in, and just as I enter, and twist my ankles in the direction of Felicia’s pale but smilingly beautiful face, my phone rings in my hand. I manage to explain to Tanya how to reach me as the line control guy gets visibly irritated as he tries to direct me. I make my stand as a member of the Felicia Day line.

When Tanya reaches me, only one person stood in line between me and the brains behind The Guild. Those familiar nerves jerked into brilliant life beneath my skin again… oh god, it was going to happen. I was going to geek out, wasn’t I? Forget to talk, lose my cool… I would. I just knew it. I mean, how do you even greet someone as awesome as Felicia Day??

Turns out, you say “Hi,” and she says “What’s up?!” and then you respond “Oh, you know, not much. Just hanging out at con, meeting my idols.” Then she’ll compliment your shirt, and you will thank her while secretly wondering why she would compliment the Yoda t-shirt you’d gotten from Hot Topic six years ago. But you’ll feel relieved, your wobbly geek nerves completely silenced. Turns out… she was just normal. A geek, like everyone else in that room. Someone like your theater major roommate. Someone with an idea that worked out. Not really any better than the rest of us, just someone who worked hard and had it pay off.

For me, the rest of the encounter is a bit of a blur. I know I said she was awesome. I know I bought The Guild Season 3 and asked her to sign it, and pointed out that I could get Wil’s autograph on it, too, since it was the season he’d been in.

“Oh yeah!” she laughed as she pulled the cover from its plastic casing, uncapping a silver sharpie. “That’s right, Wil’s here!” Yes he was, and I was going to him next.

I took a picture with her, sincerely thanked her with everything I could for her awesomeness, told her how excited I was for season 4, and stepped away, into the line for Wil. I immediately shoved my phone into Tanya’s hands, begging her to please record me and Wil, quickly explaining to her how to operate my phone and praying she didn’t screw it up. I dip my hand into my bag, feeling for my gift. Its silky plastic is hard to mistake against the grooves of my fingerprints, and I carefully pull it out and into my arms, hiding it as stealthily as I could behind my copy of Just a Geek and The Guild Season 03. Didn’t want to ruin the surprise….

I’d rehearsed it over and over in my head… I knew how I would present my gift to him. I knew what I would say, how I would move. But his reaction, I didn’t know…. Would he laugh? Would he be completely flabbergasted? Would he love it? Or would he just be all like “WTF?”

Turns out, it was all of the above.

First was “WTF?” when we asked if it was okay for us to record the encounter. He seemed very unsure, probably wary that we would try and pull some kind of douchey shenanigans that would end up on youtube, but we reassured him that it was totally worth it. He gave the okay, Tanya rolled the digital equivalent of tape, and I sprang into action.

“I brought some sour cream for your burrito,” I announce, whipping my hand around and setting a sour cream container in front of him, heavily decorated with blue permanent marker.

There was a moment of perplexity, a delay as his brain connected the dots. When all the dots had connected to create the big picture, he burst into laughter, loud and boisterous, as hard and full as any I’d emitted while listening to his podcasts and audiobooks.

“That is awesome!” he declares, picking up the container - one I had lifted without permission from my mother’s tupperware cabinet. The “Shamrock Farms” branding, an Arizona company, was crossed out and altered every place I could think of. The cow logos bore a Starfleet uniform (“Poorly drawn Starfleet bovine uniform” I wrote apologetically beside it), a kilt (“I wonder what’s under THIS kilt.” (answer: udders)), and a cow spotted with binary code and nerd glasses. Two cows holding tacos looked unhappy with their entrees, and demanded to know “Where’s My Burrito?”, a Simpson’s quote that had inspired the title for both Wil’s original blog and his subsequent podcast, Radio Free Burrito.

Radio Free Burrito is a sporadically-updated podcast that he does for fun on his own time. He reads excerpts from his books, relates stories of recent adventures in his life, shares fun music and hilarious old commercial spots, and at the end of every show, he takes a moment to thank all of those who have donated to the continuation of the podcast, an action referred to as “feeding the burrito.”

In one of his more recent episodes, he’d mentioned that someone had fed the burrito in person. That had implanted itself in my head, and as a result, this sour cream container was now in his hand.

Very little of the surface of the plastic was left untouched, a whole mosaic of words and phrases that directly relates to him, his writing, his podcasts, the things he has shared with me and the rest of the world. Wil rolls the container around gingerly in his hands, his expression shifting with each nerdy reference, each permanently written or drawn item, reading them aloud as he went. “Shameless Fangirliness... Scottish...? Fawkes!” he shouted happily, pointing to one of the “Farms” in “Shamrock Farms” that had been crossed out and changed, like proofread homework. He shook his head incredulously as he read more things. “ ‘Great for Podcasts’… ‘generous helping for great burritos’ This is great!” I tell him to check the bottom. He turns it over. “ ‘WiL’s SouR CReAm’ ” he reads from the childlike handwriting. His eyes light up and his pace quickens as he realizes what’s coming, falling back in his seat in amazement as he quotes his own childhood words, this time on the underside of a sour cream container rather than his old toy land speeder. “ ‘KePp YoU HaNs oF It o ELS!!’ You’re AWESOME!!! “

Now, pause a moment here, and realize what is just going down. Here is Wil Fucking Wheaton, someone who has inspired me and profoundly influenced me over the last five months, completely freaking out over what is essentially just a plastic sour cream container that I had laboriously and not-entirely-thoughtfully decorated with permanent marker. And he hadn’t even gotten to the best part, yet.

I tell him to open it, and he obliged swiftly, pulling the cover off in one quick movement. He notices little folded-up pieces of paper inside – “Dude!” he gasps, shoulders hunched like a kid a Christmas, sticking his fingers in. “Look at it- it’s little presents! It’s—oh my god, look, it’s PI!” His voice cracks a little as he holds out the first little package out for his assistant to see, his eyes still twinkling like a child as he points out the pie I had drawn on it, with the symbol for pi on it, with a piece missing. He opens it up as I explain to him that all of the presents inside are “Geeky denominations of money” - in this case, $3.14.

“It’s all folded up and everything!” he squeals. “Thi-this is great.” His head shakes in further disbelief as he carefully refolds the paper back around the bundle of money.

“Check out the ‘Less than Three’,” I advise him, grinning broadly, proudly.

“There’s a less than three?!” He pulls out the next one, turns to find the message and make sure he has the right one, and exhales incredulously at the way the envelope is folded. “Dude, how do you remember how to do all these awesome envelope folds?”

“Google,” I admit honestly.

“You did these in school, though, right? I mean, we always did the folding, um, the, you know, who you’re gonna date things….” He makes kind of a pinching-then-stretching motion with his hands, which I immediately and warmly recognize that as the fortune teller/cootie catcher hand motion, sans the paper apparatus. I tell him I know what he means, as he hungrily unfolds the envelope. I pause for his reaction, grinning mischievously, knowing what’s to come.

“Oh, get OUT!” he gasps as he pulls out an intricate heart created from a dollar with a quarter in the middle (the heart, for those of you not savvy enough, is what <3 src="file:///Users/Megan/Library/Caches/TemporaryItems/moz-screenshot.png" alt="">

1 comment:

Erin said...

You? Are a Badass. For reals :)

How can you call this a terrible blog?? It's awesome! :)