Somewhere in Time
The true confessions of a 13th-level magic-user (with a spell of binding) at the MidsouthCon.
By Chris Davis
APRIL 3, 2000: The Holiday Inn Select at the corner of Airways and Democrat Road is a building utterly devoid of personality, neither particularly modern nor graced with the least bit of old-world charm. It's like a beige strip-mall, which, having been exposed to radiation, has grown to colossal proportions. A large group of employees were coming on duty concurrent with my arrival. Their faces were blank; their expressions flat and unreadable as they trudged like mute zombies up the steep asphalt incline toward the hotel's entrance. Suddenly, a thunderous roar split the sky in two. It startled me, and I looked up to see a large passenger jet. It was flying so low it seemed as if I could jump up and touch one of its wings. No sooner had it passed than a pair of much smaller planes zipped by, buzzing like angry horseflies in the wake of the first lumbering behemoth. I began to hum the theme to Star Wars. After all, I was about to enter a world of spaceships and sorcery, a world not only of sight and sound, but of mind. I was on my way to MidsouthCon, Memphis' annual gathering of science fiction enthusiasts. Do not attempt to adjust your newspaper, I am in control.
Walking into the lobby I'm filled with icy determination. I recall a colleague asking me what the devil I expected to find at MidsouthCon, his face all but hidden in the shadows of a perpetually dark office. "There's nothing out there but a bunch of geeks playing Star Trek," he said softly, methodically, the faintest wisp of smoke curling up around his face.
"Are you here with the science fiction convention?" I ask a Japanese man sitting at the bar. "No," he answers in a thick accent. "Those big geeks all downstairs."
4 p.m.: Downstairs
The elevator doors lurch open, and I am confronted with a monstrous butt-crack. A young man of extraordinary heft is tying his shoe. I ask him where the registration desk is, and without standing up, he points me in the right direction.
At the registration desk I am introduced to Jeffrey Bango, one of the event's primary organizers. He is a kindly, soft-spoken man who, with his bald head, shoulder-length hair, and Fu Manchu-style mustache, reminds me of the comedian Gallagher.
Bango explains that MidsouthCon is a gathering place where about 20 different groups come together to do their own thing. "We've got people who are into fantasy gaming," he says, "live action role-playing, demonstrations by the Society for Creative Anachronism. ... " The list goes on and on.
Around the room, there are a number of big-bellied men with thick glasses and T-shirts bearing their favorite Star Trek characters. They speak in nasal drones and laugh in loud snorts. "Things don't start picking up until 5 or so," Bango says. "Why don't you go down to the hospitality suite? There's food and beer."
Truth always lurks near food and beer.
4:30 p.m.: The Hospitality Suite
Here stands a neatly dressed man of indeterminate middle age. His hair is sandy, too long to be considered short but too short to be considered long. He is wearing a gray suit with a narrow floral-print tie. I tell him that I am a journalist trying to discover the truth about science fiction fans. The man explains that he too is a writer of sorts. He writes technical manuals and occasionally does obits for science fiction magazines. He turns to the woman sitting next to him. "This is my mother," he says. "She comes to the convention with me every year." I excuse myself. Too many clichés are coming to life before my very eyes.
5 p.m.: The Animé room
Having grown up on heavy doses of Speed Racer, Japanese animation has always interested me. Still, I have almost no experience with an increasingly popular adult form called Animé, and figured that I should take notes. I remove my special reporter's pen, which with a twist of the cap focuses a narrow beam of light down onto my writing surface. A man I can barely see leans over and asks, "Could you please turn your pen off, please? It's disturbing me." I oblige, take out my micro-cassette recorder, and begin whispering observations into it. Another man I can barely see says, "Shh!" On the big-screen TV a cartoon panda is speaking Japanese. The subtitles show that the bear is contemplating the value of killing a human or two. I am one with the bear.
5:30 p.m.: The movie room
I sit quietly, alone in a room that smells inexplicably of rotten feet. On the screen Kurt Russell is playing some kind of genetically engineered ass-kicking machine. Outside in the hall I hear people talking about vampires, and about how they wish they were vampires.
8 p.m.: The opening ceremony
The grand ballroom is filled with big-bellied men and women of every shape and size. At least one man sports a Band-Aid on his nose. There are several people here in medieval garb, members of the Society for Creative Anachronism I am told. They perform a comic skit that I can't understand (something about a trade-agreement between two kingdoms) and introduce all of the special guests. I can't decide if this convention is about the distant past or the distant future. There are far more swords than laser guns and not an alien to be found.
9 p.m.: A big party
In the hospitality suite the homemade mead is flowing freely, and my cup is filled again and again by a man who looks and dresses like Rasputin. The thick brew tastes like Southern Comfort and kicks like a mule. In the background I hear a woman say, "Sure there are 30 of them, but there are seven of us, and we have an Antediluvian. One of us will use our skills to dominate them -- I have up to a five in domination." People are hugging, kissing, and shaking hands. Monty Python skits are being re-enacted and songs from Rocky Horror are being sung.
10 p.m.: Outside
Loaded on mead, I look up at the spinning stars and wonder what it's all about. My mission is a total failure. It appears that all of the science fiction and fantasy fans are indeed big geeks: big, happy, fun-loving geeks who know how to party their big, happy fun-loving butt-cracks off.
I press the indiglow button on my watch, see that it is getting late, and start to hum a half-remembered song from Rocky Horror. A mini-van pulls up and parks. The driver gets out to go inside. I begin to call after him, to tell him that his lights are still on. The van lets out a terrible shriek. The lights flash and go off, then the van locks itself automatically. A low-flying jet passes.
"Don't dream it," I sing quietly. "Be it."
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