I went to the San Diego ComicFest on Saturday (March 7) for the first time. It has apparently been around for 8 years, but I don't think I'd ever heard of it before this year. The only reason I knew it existed this year is because I received an email from the new incarnation of the Mysterious Galaxy book store - which is now located in Mission Valley and will only ever see my shadow darken its doorway if they have a very special guest author stop by (I'm sure it's still a lovely store - it's just sooo far away now).
It cost me $25 to to gain entrance to the ComicFest exhibit hall (a smallish room with maybe 60 vendors on folding tables). None of the vendors had anything very current. The vendors all had a real swap meet feel. Loads of old books, comics, magazines, video, toys, lunch pails, cereal boxes, etc.
I didn't even get a lanyard and a cool pass for my $25 (as one does with the ComicCon). Just a cruddy wrist band.
Mysterious Galaxy did have a booth with at least three authors crammed behind a small folding table piled with paperbacks. Greg Bear was the only one of the three authors that I've read (I mentioned the final book in the War Dogs trilogy a while ago, which I was surprised to discover is his most recent novel). I should have brought my War Dogs novels with me for him to sign...but I didn't. Or maybe my tattered, but well-loved, Infinity Concerto paperback.
Another missed opportunity.
The real reason I went to the ComicFest wasn't to see Greg Bear, whose books I have admittedly enjoyed, because he wasn't signing a new book and I feel weird about asking an author to sign a bunch of old books without buying anything new from him.
The real reason was to see Mike Kunkel, the creator of the great Herobear and the Kid comics, The Land of SokMunster book my kids loved as young 'uns, and many other child-friendly delights (like a super-cool Shazaam). I came across Mike several times at the San Diego ComicCon, both in a booth for his company, The Astonish Factory, and just hanging out at the Con (before I swore off the overcrowded nightmare that the San Diego ComicCon has become for good). I've always thought Mike seemed like a super-cool guy, so I was looking forward to seeing him and buying anything he was selling.
A secondary objective was to locate copies of American Gods: The Moment of the Storm issues #8 and #9, which I have been unable to find ant any of the local comics shops I've been to.
Alas, 'twas not to be. Mike didn't come to the ComicFest, despite being on the talent roster of the ComicFest web site. It took over an hour to ascertain this information (not because there was that much to see - I was just convinced he was sitting behind one of the 100 or so tables arranged haphazardly around the hotel and I was somehow missing him).
After circling a few times, I finally looked him up on the ComicFest web site, found his assigned table location (which meant nothing to me) and asked one of the volunteers manning the Exhibit hall where the location actually was. Three stops later, we found someone who knew what the location code meant, but this person also knew that Mike hadn't arrived to claim his space and it had been given to someone else.
So that was disappointing, too.
Nor was there any sign of American Gods: The Moment of the Storm. All the comics for sale were either much older than this 2019 book or were in the superhero genre (Marvel/DC). There were a few interesting artists that I might have been inspired to open my wallet to, had I not been so bummed about missing out on my primary con-jectives, but I didn't bother.
I had to find something to make the entire experience somewhat worthwhile, though, so I bought Emeli some patches I found (her latest thing is acquiring iron-on patches to put on a denim jacket). Only two vendors were selling patches - one was the RatFink table, something you'd have to be pretty ancient to remember (sadly, I remember RatFink).
Emeli had no interest in RatFink (because she had no idea what RatFink was). I did find some random patches being sold by another of the more garage sale-ish vendors, so I showed a bunch to her and she chose three that she liked: a diamond, an Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom patch that looks like something that would be worn by a Disney cast member, and a Space Explorer girly-astronaut patch (the word "Space" looks more like "SpRce" on the patch, which I didn't noticed until Emeli pointed it out to me at home. Oops). Probably not a purchase worthy of the admission price, but at least it was something.
I also took some pictures of a few of the people who were dressed up - I saw a really impressive Mandalorian costume when I arrived, but he must have been on the way out (I arrived in the early afternoon) because I didn't see him again by the time I'd started snapping photos. There were a few Avengers that were easily recognized, a whole lot of random costumes I didn't recognize, and even a giant dude dressed as Thor. I wish I'd worn my Fat Thor costume, that would have been a funny contrast to giant Thor.
I think the most noteworthy aspect of this "convention" was the venue - I parked in the back (the first open space I found) and felt like I'd wandered on to one of the sets for The Walking Dead. It was a Sheraton hotel, but was very decrepit and creepy. It wasn't quite as bad inside the hotel, but still...not impressive. But I guess if it had been held in an impressive hotel, they probably wouldn't have been as keen about the hundreds of overweight, balding (male and female), smelly nerds that I saw wandering around. One of whom was me.
There's one last thing that I found noteworthy enough to take a picture of - these metal handmade sculptures that were for sale in the exhibit hall. They were pricey, so I didn't get one, but very cool. Star Trek, Star Wars, Disney characters, Samurai, dudes on motorcycles...they had it all.
So that's about all I have to say about the ComicFest. It was my first visit, and will likely be my last visit.
The Cubicle of Extreme geekishness, relocated
I've updated the comics on the wall of my new cubicle a couple of times since November. That's right, it's a fancy new cubicle...which is, admittedly, pretty much the same as the old cubicle. The only real difference is that I have a better view now - I'm not on the ground floor anymore, so I can now see much more of the parking lot outside (I didn't say it was a view of anything good, I just meant that the visibility of the great outdoors was more prevalent from the new digs). It's also making my fat old butt walk up and down stairs throughout the day, so that's probably a good thing.
I've added a few toys and rearranged some things, but it's pretty much the same mess as the old cubicle.
Here are the most recent comic sets I've had on my cubicle wall:
I had Alex Ross's Marvels series from 1994 on the wall a couple of months ago. The covers and interior art of these books is what sets them apart from just about any other comic book series, especially a vast, vast majority of those published by Marvel (or DC). If Norman Rockwell had painted sequential art and done a superhero book, this is the book he might have created. The period of the art is very Norman Rockwell-esque, and the art itself is perfect for the time period and really well done (as Alex Ross's art always is).
The four-issue series has plastic semi-transparent covers with the series title that overlays the unmarred book covers. And the books' covers are heavy card-stock - rare amongst the offerings of Marvel (or just about any comic publisher, really). Except for Marvels issue #0. It's a short origin story with several Alex Ross character pages and promo art following the story. No card stock or special cover.
Marvels includes just about the entire stable of Marvel superheroes (the Avengers, DareDevil, Spider-man, Fantastic Four, X-Men, etc) with a premise that's very similar the X-Men films of the 2000s - the unavoidable mistrust the public develops when super bad-guys arise and are only defeated by superheroes - and is presumably similar to the X-Men comics, but I've never read an X-Men comic, so I can't say for sure.
Marvels is also really similar to George RR Martin's WildCards novels that were published several years before Marvels (starting in 1987). WildCards is a darker - and more adult - look at people with mutant super-powers (originating from aliens, if I remember correctly) and people aren't especially enamored of the mutants in these stories, either.
So I guess I'm saying this is a tired trope that's been done over and over. But Alex Ross's art makes any sequential art story amazing. I have the first issue of the new Marvel comic that's only partially Alex Ross's work, but I haven't taken the time to read it yet, so I can't opine on that one.
I followed up Marvels with one of the many Star Wars comic book series from Dark Horse in my collection (before Marvel took back the license and started flooding the market with a million Star Wars titles). I don't have much to say about these issues other than the covers were pretty sweet - as one would expect with Alex Ross cover art. Yes, the same Alex Ross I just praised relentlessly did at least a few of these covers.
The story takes place sometime shortly after the events of A New Hope.
Dark Horse put out a ton of these "in-between" books that take place in the spaces between the films. I need to dig out the Star Wars Infinities comics one of these days - an awesome twist on Star Wars with "what if..." alternate storylines.
The current comics in my cubicle aren't actually comic books. They're sketchbooks I picked up over several years from the San Diego ComicCon: Laurie B's Pure Heroine (that's "Heroine" as in a female hero, not the drug). Most of these have an extra little sketch inside where Laurie signed them. The back covers are equally awesome
(or even more awesome, in this case) as the front. These are very awesome and treasured memories. Laurie's an amazing artist and a very nice person.
Sadly, my boycotting of ComicCon also meant not seeing the familiar faces I had come to know and looked forward to seeing each year. I don't even know if Laurie still makes the trip down from Canadia for ComicCon anymore.
Here are a couple of new doodles I've done: one of the first steam locomotives, The Rocket, Olaf the snowman, and a really not-great Belle sketch. My doodle skills are atrophying more and more each day as I fail to pick up a pencil and create anything interesting.
Emeli's skills, on the other hand, have surpassed mine even at their peak in the enthusiasm of my youth. Emeli is so skilled that she's been commissioned by several people to do sketches. But, unlike me, she's not limited to working in graphite/pencils. She also paints, can sketch flawlessly in pen, and can even etch out amazing creations with scratch boards. Here's one of her amazing sketches.
(Yeah, I know it was a while ago.)
And speaking of things that happened in December...Christmas! I didn't post anything festive in December at all. My suckage knows no bounds. But better late than never, right?
Anyway, Christmas was spent in the least Christmassy place on Earth: at home in San Diego. Our well-decorated Christmas tree was festively decorated from mid-November to early January (the best thing about a fake tree: it never dries out and decomposes in your living room) and we did eventually put up some exterior lights and decorations, but Christmas just isn't Christmas without being surrounded by extended family and having snow to play in. I'm hoping to have a real Christmas in the snow with gobs of family next year. That said, I did get some sweet Christmas loot: a clock that runs backwards (this from the office Christmas party white elephant gift exchange - now running in my cubicle next to my Math clock), a sweet wooden watch (the band and exterior of the case are wood - the rest is metal) with exposed gears (under glass, of course) that self-winds when worn (and dies quickly when not worn/manually wound), and some Clark's shoes that I'd long admired but never ponied up the dough to buy.
But enough about my Christmas loot...
I made my triumphant return to Harry Potterland a few months ago (the first visit since December 2016 - around 3 years later). I'd been jonesing for some Butterbeer and...well, just a visit to Hogsmeade1. Harry Potterland was not at all crowded on this visit. I walked right onto the Hogwarts ride and on to the Hagrid roller coaster without any wait. To be honest, this was a little disappointing in both cases because there's so much fun stuff to look at while you wait, but it feels weird to stop and soak it in when people are shuffling past you as you gawk at the scenery (not to mention my own family that was complaining about the frequent stops to soak in the scenery).
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We were also in time to catch the Beauxbaton and Durmstrang performers. Unsurprisingly, all the performers were different from those I saw in 2016 (I would often see the same performers in 2016 when we visited throughout the year). The Hogwarts Choir was singing when we arrived, but we only caught a little bit of their performance as we were wandering through Hogsmeade. We did hear a snippet of the Christmas songs they performed. Hogsmeade at Christmas is great.
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The Three Broomsticks, my favorite over-priced place to eat in Potterland, was equally uncrowded on this visit. We walked right up to the house elf taking orders and we were able to sit just about anywhere we liked. We decided to site in the back by the impressive antler collection. I tried the Holiday Feast (turkey, potatoes, stuffing, and a veggie - which was only available during the Christmas season) and found it delicious. Maybe not as delicious as the Bangers and Mash I'd had on the previous visit, but still very good. The Butterbeer was every bit as delicious as I remembered and I'm craving it as I sit here writing this.
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Before we left, we watched the Christmas light show on (actually "on") Hogwarts castle. It concluded with a fireworks show and was really impressive. I don't remember seeing anything like that in 2016.
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We also looked around at the British section of the European streets where The Walking Dead "ride" is nestled right in the middle of Baker Street. It's funny that The Walking Dead is located here, but I guess it had to go somewhere. I didn't see Sherlock's shadow this visit, but I could have just missed it. I was being rushed along by people who were less concerned about seeing what was there than getting to the next thing to not look at either. We did see a bunch of characters around the park entrance: Scooby Doo, Shaggy, Fred, Velma, Daphne, Lucille Ball, Dracula, and BettleJuice. I'm sure there were others, but those are the ones I remember.
Also notable, there was a guest in an orange velour track suit who was posing with characters throughout the park, dancing with them, battling the transformers, etc. that we ran into several times throughout our visit. I wish I'd taken a picture of him on one of the many interactions. So weird.
And there were, as usual, the loud New Yorkers yelling back and forth to each other in the New York section of "main street."
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Speaking of The Walking Dead "ride", it was a little different from what I remember 3 years ago. The only definite difference was the removal of the crashed, smoldering helicopter (on the roof of the hospital). It seems like there were others, but there aren't any that I still remember specifically.
There wasn't a single person ahead of us or behind us.
Despite the complete lack of crowdedness, I still I took too many photos that didn't turn out. The Universal employees in the main line area room (just before the "ride" actually begins) shut me down and stopped me from taking more than a couple of photos in that room and the photos in the hospital hallway never trun out very well for some reason. It was weird to be alone in that room (other than the Universal employees). Just a little creepier than normal.
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In other non-Potter news, I also rode the new Jurassic Park ride for the first time. It's an amazing feat of engineering and special effects, but I missed the death and mayhem of the Jurassic Jungle Cruise (the previous version of the ride). The dinosaur-containing aquarium is great. It was a chilly day, so I'm glad I didn't get drenched (as I was warned by the Universal employees that I would - the end of the ride is a very tall log flume). I suspect that's a way to sell buttloads of rain ponchos, because there were a lot of people in ponchos. Admittedly, the guys at the front of the boat did get really wet,
There were also many other opportunities to get damp on a cool day throughout the ride - spitting, splashing dinosaurs aplenty. It would be a nice cool ride in the summer.
I almost tried the Transformers ride for the first time, but it was having mechanical problems. So after waiting in line (without moving) for about an hour, I bailed on that one. Maybe next time.
We also rode the ever-fun Studio tour. The tour guide was okay, but not as funny as some we've had in the past. And there was one big difference (I think there were actually a few changes, but this one was the best) - Norman Bates was hanging out at the Bates Motel (I think he was putting a body in the trunk of a car) and then came walking toward the tram as we stopped to take photos. As he drew nearer, we could see that he was holding something hidden at his side. And then he reached the car ahead of us and savagely attacked one of the passengers, stabbing her forty-seven times, sending plumes of blood and viscera over the other passengers in the car...
Just kidding. Norman Bates was there, but nobody was stabbed. He did have a big kitchen knife and chased after the tram for a while, though.
Before we left Universal Studios, I picked up a few tasty Hogsmeade treats from Honeydukes. I wanted to try a few things I hadn't gotten on previous visits, so I tried fudge flies and butterbeer fudge. The Fudge Flies were milk chocolate, so not especially great, but the chocolate was good quality and tasty, nonetheless. The Fudge was super rich and creamy and so delicious. I'm craving that now, too, but I'll probably try one of the other fudge flavors next time instead. I also bought a Ravenclaw house tie and a chocolate frog in the shops outside the gates (Universal's Downtown Disney). I bought the frog, with it's forgettable milk chocolate frog to get the wizard card. The chocolate frog is cheaper in Downtown Universal, but...also smaller and much less fancy than the wizard card you get in Honeydukes - so that was a disappointment (I only remembered there was a difference after the fact).
December Darling, Meg & Dia
In non-Universal-Studios-related Christmas news, I ordered the Meg & Dia Christmas Album, December Darling, from their web site. I bought the Dia Frampton Christmas album in-store (Target, as I recall) when it came out a year or two ago, but December Darling was nowhere to be seen anywhere but online. I guess that's the new order of things2.
There wasn't much of a CD liner, just the front cover fold-out with the lyrics inside and the 2 photos of Meg & Dia on the front and back. That was slightly disappointing. The photo-filled, insane rant-filled, or at least multi-page something-filled CD liner books are one of the main reasons I still prefer the physical media over the digital downloads.
The album is mostly just Meg and Dia (mostly Dia, I'd say) singing traditional Christmas songs. I love Dia's quirky voice, so this album was a treat for me. There are also some original Christmas songs on the album which were also nice.
Here's one of my favorites from the CD, Dia singing Let it Snow.
I was also going to blather about my extra nerdilicious cubicle, but I've lost interest.
Next time, possibly.
1 I often also miss New Orleans Square at Disneyland and maybe even Disneyland's Main Street the same way when I don't return for months or years at a time - and then I remember why I let my Disney annual pass lapse after too many overcrowded visits.
2 I am still getting all my music on physical media, tough. I'll be super bummed if my only option is digital music at some point in the dark and dreary future. I guess I'll have to resort to buying old CDs, the same way I'm buying old records these days. Speaking of old records, I just got a Pseudo Echo record that I bought on Discogs.com. Sadly, there were multiple versions of this record sold in 1987, and I received the wrong one, or at least not the record I thought I was ordering. No Funky Town for me!
As you can see, I have a pretty healthy stack of books I've read over the past year or so, but have failed to spend any time at all commenting on. I'm not quite delusional enough to think that my inane commentary is going to matter to anyone else, but I do know that I will likely come back a few years from now to see what I thought of books I'd read in years gone by. I really have done that several times, so I guess it's not all a complete waste of time.
I did take the time to collect some thoughts on one of the autobiographical books I've read in the past couple of months (I picked it up long ago, where it stagnated on my reading shelf while waiting for me to get to it), Sara Benincasa's Agorafabulous! *Dispatches from my bedroom. I heard about it on Neil Gaiman's Twitter feed, where he strongly recommended reading it. So I bought a hardcover copy and then proceeded to ignore it.
I try to mix up the genres of the books I read so I'm not reading the same types of books one after another (which is basically how I read throughout my 20s-30s). I've also read several other biographical-type books recently1, interspersed with other sci-fi, fantasy, thrillers, etc. But it was finally time to follow Neil's recommendation and get to know Sara Benincasa.
And get to know her, I did. Maybe too well.
My only complaint about Agorafabulous!: there are no photos. None. Which is weird for any biographical-type book. It was otherwise a great book and made me laugh out loud embarrassingly often (my apologies in advance - this is going to be a very quote-heavy commentary. And some of these quotes are pretty lengthy). Not exactly a complaint, but a comment: Sara doesn't have a filter. There is profanity galore in this memoir (much of which begins with the sixth letter of the alphabet). And plenty of grown-up talk about things like sex. So be warned - this book, and the excerpts I've shared, are not intended for consumption by young'uns
I've read three or four books since I finished Agorafabulous! *Dispatches from my bedroom, so I may have forgotten or misremembered a few of the more interesting tidbits I wanted to share, but here goes...
Agorafabulous!, Sara Benincasa
I'm always impressed by anyone's ability to describe a memory with richly descriptive details because my brain can barely recall what happened yesterday in any kind of detail. Sara's descriptiveness is unrivaled as she rattles off story after story. Early on, she preps the reader with a little background on her fears and various sources of anxiety. The excerpt below beings with a story about a woman who had the world's longest fingernails.
According to the SLC police, Redmond was ejected from the vehicle and sustained serious but not life-threatening injuries. She survived, but her nails did not. Each one broke off near the finger.
When I heard about Lee Redmond's accident, my first thought was not "Jesus, how the fuck do you insert a tampon with two-foot - long fingernails?" (That was my second thought.) My first thought was, "Why on Earth would anyone chooseo be a freak?" To my mind, freaks generally come in two categories: those whose freakishness was visited upon them and those who devote considerable time and effort to creating and maintaining their freak status. I am one of the former, and I have never been able to understand the latter.
When I was a child, I began to experience panic attacks that increased in frequency and intensity over several years. This condition eventually led me to develop a fear of leaving my small studio apartment, and finally of leaving my bed - even to go to the bathroom. The ensuing complications were, well, pungent.
By the time I was twenty-one, I was a full-on obsessive, cowering, trembling agoraphobe. How serious was it? Well, because I was too frightened to go to the hair salon, I let my roots grow out - which, gentle reader, is truly a sign of desperation in a born-and-bred daughter of New jersey.
The word agoraphobia comes from the Greek phobia, or fear, and agora, or marketplace. In simplest terms and most convenient definitions, my psychiatric diagnosis is that I'm afraid of the mall.
Which, I can assure you, is untrue. New Jersey claims to be a state, but it is actually a gigantic slab of cement upon which malls sprout like blisters and corns on the stubby, scrubby feet of overworked, chain-smoking strippers. These malls are interconnected by a complex, ill-conceived system of congested roads. You are not allowed to take a left turn anywhere in the entire state. If you try, the rest of us will run you over on our way to the Macy's white sale.
If you opened up my chest and examined my heart, I'm fairly certain you would find stamped therein a precise map explaining how to get from the Bridgewater Commons Mall to the low-rent Qualterbridge Mall, to the high-endiest of high-end malls, the Alpha and the Omega, the Mall at Short Hills (valet parking! Neiman Marcus! Sit - down restaurants!). I feel at home in these temples to materialism. They have many bathrooms, and if you get anxious you can always find pain-numbing food or a soothing, well-chlorinated fountain.
In fact, my own life is so entwined with mall lore and magic that everything-must-go closing sales at mall shops fill me with an unbearable sense of despair. There is nothing I despise more than a once-great mall gone to ruin, the victim of a poor economy or a competing mall in the neighboring town. These are ghost malls, and they haunt my dreams. Their stores - empty husks of commerce - are tragic reminders of our own mortality. I can't handle the recent spate of recession-era store closings. I'm still not over Structure, and that old warhorse died over a decade ago.
I believe that there should exist an end-of-year memorial montage for all the mall stores we've lost. You know, like they have at the Academy Awards ceremony each year. And I believe this montage should be set to Sarah McLachIan's "In the Arms of the Angels." A solemn voice - mine, perhaps - should intone the names of the deceased as images of their gone-but-not-forgotten merchandise flash across the screen. "Circuit City," I'll whisper. "Tower Records. Virgin Megastore." Viewers will weep. It'll be fucking beautiful.
To sum up: my diagnosis notwithstanding, I'm not really afraid of the marketplace. Quite the opposite, in fact. But I have been afraid of many other things. Here are some of them, in a handy chart form that will get you up to speed:
Things of Which I Have Been Afraid (Abridged)
Degree of Fear
Am I Over It?
Leaving my home
Prozac; Xanax; Klonopin; cognitive behavioral therapy; bringing a stuffed giraffe named Mary with me wherever I go.
Having a wet head
Avoiding the shower; using a high-power hair dryer with a diffuser for less frizz and extra curls.
Being a passenger
Insisting on driving.
New York City
Realizing that most people here are even crazier than I am. It's rather comforting, really. I'm among my own.
Moving to Manhattan so I wouldn't need to use the tunnel to visit, as I am already here.
See Lincoln Tunnel.
See Leaving my home.
Taking the bus
Not taking the bus, except when it is absolutely unavoidable.
Taking the subway
Taking cabs unless I'm in the mood for interaction in close quarters, in which case I take the subway and enjoy it. But I'm rarely in the mood for interaction in close quarters that does not involve consensual sex with another adult person.
Realizing that it can excuse you from leaving your house. Also, the feeling of relief that ensues afterward is the closest thing to a natural Xanax I've ever experienced.
Fucking people and enjoying it.
Fucking men and enjoying it while using prophylactics. Alternatively, fucking women.
Having an abortion
See Being pregnant.
Consorting with atheists and other hell-bound types, like comedians.
Source:Personal storage bank of memories, 1982 - present. (I don't really remember anything before that. l'm sure I was afraid of many things, including but not limited to light, shadow, and babysitters.)
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For the most part, Sara's story follows a chronological timeline. One of Sara's early phobia/anxiety-ridden memories took place on a school trip to Italy (Sicily, actually, which is somehow not Italy, I guess).
"Perhaps the charming locals will show us a bit of their famous hospitality rather than stab us on sight."
Thus did I end up in Sicily, the Alabama of Italy. It is a fact that my grandmother, whose people were from southern Italy but not Sicily, used to refer to my grandfather's Sicilian-American mistress as "that black bitch." There is also a charming saying that ancient racists of mainland Italian descent enjoy repeating: "Sicily ain't southern Italy. It's northern Africa!" This is generally followed either by a knowing cackle or a disgusted wave of the hand. It is a unique pleasure to come to understand as a child that your elderly relative is not using the Italian word for eggplant in a complimentary fashion when describing citizens of Sicily or. more often, Harlem.
Since many humans have never actually heard of Sicily, it is perhaps instructive to do a quick tour through this large island's colorful history. It doesn't sound like the sort of place where one would willingly send one's buxom virgin1 eighteen-year-old daughter on an "educational trip" (at least not a trip from which one hoped she would return), but the real Sicily actually has more to it than pasta and automatic weapons.
In terms of conquest, Sicily is the geographic equivalent of the drum-circle bong - everyone's hit it at least once. The Phoenicians and Carthaginians had it, as did the Greeks and Romans (who brought Jewish slaves). Then came the Vandals and Goths (not to be confused with the influential punk band and sad-eyed Hot Topic kids), followed by the Byzantines. After that, the Arab Muslims showed up. A few more Jews arrived and behaved without bothering anybody, which has generally been an unsuccessful course of action for them throughout their history. Then the Normans staked their claim. Through marriage, Sicily passed to the Swabians, who are noted for having the goofiest-sounding name in history. Then the French took over- - which didn't turn out so well.
On Easter Monday in 1282, the Sicilians (whatever the hell that meant by then) decided to kill all the new French residents. The island was independent for, oh, six seconds, at which point the Kingdom of Aragon (not Aragorn, the foxiest dude in The Lord of the Rings) kindly stepped in. Aragon and Spain joined forces, and Sicily became Spanish property. In the fourteenth century, the Black Death made its legendary European debut in Sicily. The plague killed a bunch of people, which made the Spaniards feel competitive. Bloodthirsty, mass-murdering Queen Isabella and her kill-happy hubby Ferdinand implemented their own extermination method, loosely titled "Get Out of Here, You Fucking Jew (Or I'll Stab You)."
After a couple centuries of earthquakes and pirates, Sicily went to the Austrians (or, presumably, the Austrians went to it). Then the Spanish showed up again, but there were no Jews left to banish or kill, so their heart wasn't in it. Sicily was independent for another brief moment, after which the mainland Italians popped in and took over. The economy collapsed. the Mafia rose to prominence, a fuck-ton of immigrants bounced and went to the United States, and you probably know the rest from your favorite Francis Ford Coppola educational filmstrips.
In short, Sicily is no stranger to illness, drama, or evil female overlords. My own trip would incorporate all three.
Surprisingly, my journey to Sicily was not a punishment but a reward. I'd actually asked for the trip as a pre-graduation present. My school was cosponsoring a journey to the Regions Autonoma Siciliana with an outside tour company...
1 Unless you count oral sex. Which, being Catholic, I did not.
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While in Sicily, Sara had a pretty overwhelming panic attack (belated spoiler alert!!) that derailed the field trip's long-awaited trip to the beaches of Sicily and brought the tour bus to a Sicilian hospital instead. Sara may have filled in some of these details with a little imagination, but for all I know this is exactly what happened...
Even in my hazy daze, I felt like a fraud. I was going to die, sure, but they shouldn't waste the wheels on me. They could just lay me out someplace. Maybe they could hook me up with a blanket and a stuffed animal and just let me expire quietly.
They did lay me out soon enough on an examining table in a room with spotless steel cabinets and bright overhead lights. A circle of faces peered down at me - Mr. D'Angelo, Mr. Brixton, and no fewer than three suspiciously attractive nurses, each of whom wore bigger hair and more makeup than I'd ever seen on a nurse back home in New jersey (no small feat, incidentally). Someone took my pulse. Someone else shined a small flashlight in my eyes. A third someone looked at my tongue. I should have told one of them that I was on prescription medication, but my remaining shred of vanity stilled my voice. Besides, I was about to die. That secret could die with me.
"I suppose we ought to give her some space," Mr. Brixton whispered to Mr. D'Angelo.
"You're gonna be fine, kiddo," Mr. D'Angelo said. He patted my hand. "Don't worry." The sudden fatherly gesture of caring made a lump swiftly rise in my throat. I felt tears prick the back of my eyes, and had the vague realization that the body to which I was loosely attached was going to begin crying.
I stared up at the lights, blinking. The faces moved away, and the nurses spoke to one another in lovely-sounding syllables that l could not decipher. Soon, I could barely hear them anymore. My ears were shutting down. I was relieved to realize that my body was giving up.
Maybe I could just fall asleep here and not wake up ever.
Then came a sudden whoosh of cold air and a great crashing sound as the examining room door burst open. The energy around me changed suddenly, became electrified. I saw, without seeing, that Mr. Brixton and Mr. D'Angelo stood up straighter. Slowly, I turned my head to the side and gazed for the first time upon Dr. Sophia Loren.
That wasn't her actual name, of course. I don't think I ever got her real name. What I got was the same eyeful Mr. Brixton and Mr. D'Angelo were getting: a stunning, deeply tanned olive-skinned woman with huge, luscious clouds of shining brown hair, giant, heavily made-up eyes, pouty lips, and va-va-va-voom cleavage that owed its perkiness to nature, a well-constructed push-up bra, or a talented surgeon. She wore a tight purple V-neck shirt and a black miniskirt beneath an open white lab coat. I dimly noted her large gold hoop earrings and three-inch-high black stilettos.
Then she whipped out a pair of black-rimmed glasses that looked more like a prop than a necessity, and it dawned on me that I had unwittingly wandered onto the set of a porno movie. There was nothing about the scenario that didn't scream adult film, down to the bevy of hot chicks in nurse costumes. Out of deep-seated Catholic guilt and terror, I had long resisted my occasional feelings of sexual attraction toward women. But in my weakened state, I found myself vaguely turned on.
Then Mr. D'Angelo opened his mouth and promptly took the wind out of my Sapphic sails.
"HELLO. ARE YOU THE DOCTOR?" he asked in the loud, slow voice that Americans reserve for non-English speakers (as if screaming in a foreigner's face is going to increase his or her comprehension of our mongrel tongue).
Dr. Sophia cast the most dismissive glance at him that I have ever seen a woman give a man, and I'm including women who roll their eyes at cat-callers on the street...
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Even when Sara is telling the story of how mentally unbalanced she became in college, she manages to make you laugh. A lot. But you still feel slightly uncomfortable being amused by the terrible things she was experiencing. And she certainly doesn't worry about being Politically Correct, which I love. Any comedic writer/performer who worries about that stuff should find another line of work - maybe teaching school (which Sara did until she found her true calling).
It won't be that bad. Memories of terrible things are almost always easier than the things themselves.
When I was twenty-one, I got into the habit of voiding my bladder into chamber pots of my own invention. I was afraid to use the bathroom, because I'd had one too many panic attacks there. I wasn't a religious person, but I was into the kind of hippie spirituality sold in the New Age section at mainstream bookstores. Therefore, I diagnosed my bathroom with a case of seriously bad vibes, and devised a far more soulónurturing habit of pissing in my bedroom, in dinnerware. They were actually a very nice set of plain white bowls from the Le Creuset outlet back home in Flemington, New Jetsey, where I grew up. My mother had bought them for me as a housewarming gift when I moved into that apartment, a twelve-by-ten-foot room with a sink, a hot plate, a mini-fridge, a slim closet, a twin-size mattress on a rolling cot, and a small window with a view of a smoke-choked alley. The bathroom, a feat of space maximization, was the size of an airplane lavatory with a very slender shower stall tacked on. The medicine cabinet had room for a toothbrush, some toothpaste, and a bottle of the pills I still took every morning without fail. When I sat down to pee - back when I still used toilet - my knees bumped the door. It was impossible to have sex in that shower, a fact I confirmed more than once through trial and error.
Bathrooms, regardless of size, had always been my place of refuge from the fits of terror that stalked me throughout late childhood and adolescence. I developed rituals to stave off the attacks. I sang the same old church hymn, "Be Not Afraid," under my breath, over and over again. I rocked back and forth, holding myself. I hit myself in the face to shake my brain loose. (Not hard - I used a totally normal level of force, like you do.)
When things got really bad, I'd lean my head on the wall, or even on the roll of toilet paper itself, and cry. No one bothers you in the bathroom, because only pervs try to engage with other people in bathrooms.
My friend James Urbaniak, who voices Dr. Venture on the cult Adult Swim hit Venture Bros, once played a toilet freak on an episode of Law & Order:: SVU. (That's the rapey one, not the courtroomy one or that other one.) His character installed a secret camera in a bathroom so that he could watch ladies go to the toilet. After the inevitable lurid sexual assault that occurs on every episode of SVU, the cops find the camera and trace it to James's character. They burst into his apartment. where h.s sister, played by the wonderful Amy Sedaris, is trying to hide him. Anyway, turns out the toilet freak isn't the one who committed the violent sex crime. But we don't find this out before Christopher Meloni hauls him downtown and slams his no-good pervy ass up against the bars. (James told me that Meloni pushed him so hard that the bars, which are made of plywood, actually bent and had to be replaced.)
I remember watching this episode back in 2004, a few years after l'd had my own fit of freaky toilet behavior, and feeling a strange sort of kinship with the voyeur character. I didn't get a sexual thrill from watching other people use the bathroom, but I did share his view of the restroom as a special place, set apart from less exciting rooms like the living room or the dining room. These rooms were prosaic and uninspired places where one was expected to make small talk with any number of irritating companions. But in the bathroom, even if another person sat not six inches from you in a neighboring stall, you were blessedly alone.
So you can imagine my irritation when I discovered I wasn't alone in my tiny bathroom in that cramped studio apartment in Boston. I'd moved into the place in May, and as the months passed I gradually became aware that something was following me wherever I went, sitting on my shoulder or atop my head. I didn't know what the something was. but it was definitely a bad something, the sort of something you don't want perching on your body. It would say things, unintelligible things that I could feel but not understand. And sometimes it would get rather loud.
My solution was to keep my life noisy, filled with chatter and bustle. I had just finished my sophomore year at Emerson College, a school for writers and actors and assorted other deviants. It was a colorful, loud, silly place. In the hall between classes, one tiny gay boy or another was always imitating a character from Rent or Hedwig and the Angry Inch. And when that wee flamboyant lad warbled a few bars of the show tune that had gotten him through locker-room beatings in high school, he would inevitably be joined in his crooning by a chubby girl from across the hall. Thus did countless blessed fag/hag unions form in the precious space and time between Page to Stage 206 and Mid-Century Chicana Queer Poetry 307.
I knew I couldn't sing, and I was pretty sure I couldn't act (not that I'd ever tried), but I could write reasonably well, so I did that. I had long, curly brown hair and big boobs and a belly I was still convinced was terribly pudgy, three years after Amber Luciano had made a crack about my weight on that ill-fated trip to Sicily. I made out with boys, and got As and Bs, and found a bunch of friends who were infinitely better-looking and more glamorous than me. They did cocaine and wore really tight Diesel jeans and dabbled in the kind of stand-up comedy where you made a joke about a children's TV show people remembered from the eighties and then the audience laughed and then you looked at the audience like you hated them and then you made fun of a band you secretly liked and then you rolled your eyes...
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One of the terrible things that Sara goes through is a weird fear of eating. She recounts a conversation with her therapist about her recovery from this super-unhealthy issue with a pretty funny gag. And discovers something about herself in the process.
I learned that you could spread ripe avocado on that same toast, then top it off with a (local organic heirloom) tomato, and the whole thing was pretty delicious. Every day brought a tasty new discovery, or a happy rediscovery. My efforts were tentative, but promising. Because I took tiny bites and chewed so cautiously, I savored my food in a way I never had time to do before
"Food is actually pretty fucking awesome," I told Dr. Morrison.
"Most people seem to enjoy it," he replied. "The Prozac is helping, then?"
I leaned forward. "Totally. Sometimes I put it in my smoothie. It adds this really interesting texture. Peanut butter, milk, bananas, and emotional well-being."
"I'm just fucking with you," I said.
He actually laughed at that one. I really liked the way it sounded. His laughter was near-tangible proof that I'd said and done something right in that moment. For a moment, I felt all warm and glowy inside. I decided I could get used to that kind of feeling.
Then he asked, "So how is the driving coming along?"
"Driving?" I repeated. "Oh, I don't think so."
"You sound like you're doing pretty well. Have you thought about just practicing driving around your neighborhood?"
On to the next adventure.
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Sara was raised Catholic, but was also attracted to weirder non-conventional religions. And like most college-aged kids, she was drawn toward saving animals, saving the planet, communing with nature, etc. Here's an excerpt wherein Sara talks about her "foray into the crunchier realm"...
While I was learning to eat solid foods and shit in a toilet and drive a car again, I read a lot of Zentastic, organic, free-range, fair-trade, sustainable, sage-scented self-help books, most of which were designed for postmenopausal ex-hippies with a fondness for moon worship and natural-fiber clothing. I wasn't rich enough to follow my dream of living among noble brown stereotypes, which is why this book isn't called Eat, Pray, Love. I just read books that similarly co-opted other people's cultural traditions and repackaged them with a neat, lily-white bow on top. I called this "spirituality."
My foray into the crunchier realm was not entirely without precedent. Flemington is about twenty minutes away from a lovely little riverside gay enclave called New Hope, across the Delaware River in Pennsylvania. When l was in junior high, I began spending free Saturdays and evenings there, taking in poetry readings and organic, locally sourced, artisanal snacks with equal reverence. After my mom dropped me off, secure in the knowledge that no adult male in that town had any designs on a young teen of the girl persuasion, I could get homemade rose petal ice cream at Gerenser's (it tasted like perfume, but it sure was more interesting than a cone from the Carvel back home) and walk right down the street to the two competing witch-supply stores. One was called Gypsy Heaven and was run by an actual witch with a shock of wild blond Stevie Nicks hair. The other was called the New Hope Magick Shoppe and offered tarot readings by an elderly, chain-smoking devout Catholic named Irene who taught catechism when she wasn't unspooling the mysteries of the Major Arcana.
Fresh from my Confirmation as a Roman Catholic adult, l saw no contradiction between what l learned in church and what l learned from the woman with the cards. Catholicism is steeped in mysticism, magic, and ritual anyway. And there was nothing in the cards to discourage my belief in the Ten Commandments, the Beatitudes, and the inherent evil of putting it in the butt. I figured Irene and I were safe from hellfire.
When I was thirteen, l loved nothing more than to scarf down my ice cream cone inside or just outside one of the witch stores (Irene didn't care if you brought your food inside, but Stevie Nicks wouldn't have it) and breathe in that mystical smell of Nag Champa incense, patchouli oil, and body odor. These stores stocked spell books, tarot cards, mini-gargoyles (to keep the bad vibes away), gemstones that could heal your physical and psychic illnesses, white sage smudge sticks to purify your home, and handmade candles that came with instructions for making wishes and visualizing one's ideal future. Stevie Nicks made her own magic(k)al herb blends that you could burn to attract love, calm an unruly pet, invite prosperity, and ease menstrual cramps. There was also a Wild Womyn Mooncycle Journal designed to help the fertile human goddess chart her sacred ovum's monthly journey.
Pantheistic earth hippies are obsessed with menstruation. A few years ago, my big gay bear friend Alan told me about some queer spring musical jamboree/fuckfest he attended on an organic farm in the hills of Tennessee to celebrate Beltane, May first. Before they could erect their giant maypole, there was a preparation ceremony. Alan, who was tripping on acid, can't remember exactly what the rationale behind all this was. Mostly he just remembers the intense, all-consuming fear that enveloped him when some of the organizers dug a hole for the pole. As he watched in horror, a couple of floppy-titted women took turns squatting over it and menstruating. After that, dudes were invited to jerk off into it. This happened during a sacred drum circle, of course. Only after the various effluvia had settled into the hole were the hippies ready to plant the giant ribbon pole in the ground. Everyone wondered why Alan stayed in his tent for the next two days.
Sadly, I've yet to attain that particular level of enlightenment. But when I was in junior high, I sometimes knelt and prayed in front of a little altar in my room, burning a blue candle (for masculine energy) and a pink candle (for feminine energy) while envisioning straight As and a really awesome date to the next dance.
When I entered Emerson College, I found myself with a pagan roommate. She told me ooky-spooky stories about passing an invisible ball of energy around with her friends, which I would later discover was a common beginner's level improv comedy game. This makes perfect sense, because Wicca and improv comedy are both packed with dorks who like to play pretend when they really ought to be learning a trade. Anyway, she was really nice and she encouraged me to read up on astrology...
click here to show the full quoted excerpt
As I very briefly mention above, Sara tried her hand at teaching. And discovered, as I'm sure most teachers do, that kids are pretty much mostly unruly animals and it's a wonder so many live to see adulthood. But that's not to say Sara didn't get any good stories from her time in the trenches. This story (which isn't the story, it's just a preview of the story) is more about how ill-equipped Sara felt as a teacher. And also possibly why Neil Gaiman recommended her story - he and his wife, Amanada Palmer, are mentioned in this excerpt.
I'm pretty sure we weren't supposed to teach in a classroom without a licensed teacher watching over us. But that's what happened. every single day. And the results were predictably a mix of great success and great disaster. Which brings me back to Billy's boner.
I didn't actually notice it myself (I mean, it wasn't that big). What I noticed was the tittering and giggling that arose as soon as I entered my classroom that afternoon.
I looked around suspiciously. My initial thought was that they must be laughing at me. I knew my dyed-red hair looked a little odd with bright pink streaks, but it had been that way for weeks and they ought to have been accustomed to it by now. Was it my thrift-store skirt? My dangly plastic earrings? The other gaudy accoutrements that marked me as a stereotypically wacky. unconventional, artsy-fartsy teacher? Or had the sad joke of my complete and utter incompetence as an educator (and human being) finally dawned on them?
We were reading Romeo and Juliet, because that's what I had learned in ninth grade and I figured it was their turn to be tormented by it. I found Shakespeare's language just as boring as they did. but when I'd taken this job I had agreed to play the role of an Adult, and Adults make Children do boring things for their own good. I'd wanted to liven it up by assigning the kids Sandman by Neil Gaiman, but had gotten called up in front of the principal when ex-homeschooler Miguel Sanchez's evangelical Christian father had complained about a panel depicting a nearly nude woman. ("Technically, she's a goddess, so it's not even human nudity," I had protested when the school director scolded me.) Years later, I would interview Gaiman and his rock-star girlfriend, Amanda Palmer, in a bathtub at the Maritime Hotel in Manhattan's Chelsea neighborhood. Neil wore a business suit, and Amanda was completely naked. I wore a short skirt, a push-up bra, and a T-shirt that read, THIS IS WHAT A FEMINIST LOOKS LIKE. During a break in taping, I found my mind wandering back to Miguel's father. This was probably exactly how he had imagined I spent my free time.
Being a teacher was difficult because of all the lying that was required of me on a daily basis. I had to pretend I actually cared if my students came into the room smelling of pot smoke, or if they cursed aloud in class. Mostly, I just wanted them to have a good time, learn how to write a complete sentence, and avoid shooting heroin between their toes while inside my classroom. I had an idealistic streak when I started. I wanted to show them the poetry and novels and art and music that inspired me, in the hope that it would inspire them. But a lot of times it seemed the stuff that inspired me wasn't considered appropriate for the classroom. And then I got in trouble for using Sandman. Thus, Romeo and Juliet.
On the day that Billy's boner hijacked my classroom, we were supposed to talk about Mercutio. We were supposed to talk about his friendship with Romeo, and what it means to be a good friend, and whether your friends are always obligated to take your side in arguments. I had a lesson plan. I had designed it to conform with Texas State Board of Education standards and benchmarks. I had a short, interactive lecture. I had a quiz game. I had small-group assignments. I had discussion questions. On paper, it looked like the perfect lesson. If you'd read it, you would almost think I had actually graduated from college. You might even think I was a real teacher with some actual training, maybe a license. You might believe I had the right to stand in that classroom and wield authority. When I strode into that classroom that day, even I believed it.
And then Billy's boner proved me Wrong.
Terribly, terribly wrong.
click here to show the full quoted excerpt
The final excerpt I'm sharing has Sara still on a path to become a fully-functional, licensed teacher. And involves a moment of jealousy when she discovers that Mr Wrong from a few years earlier has moved on. Without her permission.
For the first time in my life, I was too busy to worry about anything unrelated to lesson plans, adolescent social development. and the New York City Board of Education's benchmarks and statistics for success in English, grades seven through twelve.
One night in September, I went out to a pub near Columbia with some new friends. During the dinner, Tom called me and promptly apologized for everything he'd ever done wrong in our relationship. He was almost certainly drunk, but I enjoyed the moment nevertheless - at first.
"Oh, we both made mistakes," I said magnanimously, out on the street where I wouldn't interrupt my friends' heated debate about charter school funding. "And you really did me a lovely favor by breaking up with me. Now we've both moved on to better things. I'm living in the world's greatest metropolis and making a difference each day in the lives of little children, and you - what exactly are you doing, Tom?"
"Just working, you know," he said. "Seeing a nice girl. Playing touch football with my buddies. Man, I'm happy to hear you're doing so well, Sara."
"Good to hear," I said faintly. "I have to go now, and do significant things. Good-bye, Tom." I hung up the phone and leaned against the building.
SEEING A NICE GIRL? Who the FUCK had given him permission to "see" a nice girl? It had only been four months since we'd broken up! Did he have no sense of propriety? Was he an emotionless death robot sent from another planet to destroy my entire existence with a single phone call? What kind of a cold, evil bastard moved on from the greatest love of all time within four fucking months? I wanted to throw up. I wanted to punch a fist through a storefront window. I wanted to find the girl he was fucking and kick her repeatedly in the teeth, and then push him into a bubbling vat of something terrible and oozey.
Aside from a brief rebound dalliance in Texas with a twenty-year-old hippie who believed he'd been abducted by aliens as a child, I hadn't gotten back into the world of opposite-sex relations. I certainly hadn't been on any dates or "seen" anyone "nice." This meant that even though I was doing some interesting things in a cool city, Tom was winning. I-Ie was winning. And this was one thing I could not abide.
I needed to have sex with someone. Probably a series of someones. Or have a series of sexual encounters with a single someone who would then become a non-single someone because he would be my only someone and I would be his. The only problem was that I didn't know any straight young men in New York.
Well. that's not entirely true. There were two straight young guys in my program at Teachers College, but one of them only dated jewish girls and the other one was caught up in a not-so-secret secret affair with a classmate, who reported to a friend of a friend that the gentleman in question had an enormous penis. I've never been a fan of big dicks, so this piece of information did not engender any lustful thoughts in my heart. I possess a vaginal model that takes a while to adapt to the shape and size of a particular phallus. It is made of a substance not unlike memory foam. When my equipment hasn't been used in a while, it returns to its factory setting. The lack of flexibility may be pleasing to my partners, but I often find it uncomfortable. I am told that upon having children, it will become as accommodating as a wind tunnel, but I'm no closer to that event now than I was at twenty-four. I preferred that my reintroduction to the world of cocks come in the form of an interaction with a medium-to-small member of the species.
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I'm totally leaving you hanging because I'm not going to tell you what happens to Sara that leads to her presently completely sane-ish life path. You'll just have to read the book yourself.
My talented Emeli's artwork
Here are a paltry few of the amazing things Emeli has created recently. She also has a Jaws scratchboard that's in progress that will be shared later. Emeli puts my sad little pencil doodles to shame. It's almost enough to make me wish I'd taken more art-related classes in College, just for fun.
You can get your own Emeli art if you hurry. She's selling a few of them on Mercari (I'd never heard of it, either).
I was going to make this another marathon, multi-topic post, but I've decided to end here and blather on about Potterland, Christmas, and my new digs at work later...or maybe never. We'll see.
1 Most recently, I've read All You can Worry About is Tomorrow, R.D. Hubbard; Tony Gwynn, He Left His Heart in San Diego, Rich Wolfe; Code Talker, Chester Nez; Almost Interesting, David Spade; and You're Never Weird on the Internet (almost), Felicia Day. I hope to give each the commentary they deserve, because they were each interesting, funny, or educational in their own ways.