Aye and Tomorrow
Meeting Eemelli and Merja, Jukka and Sari, grabbing the train down to Turku, staying with Ben overnight, then gathering for the ferry, more fans and more. And boarding; we hit the bar right off for Olcon -- little con, mini con -- and, yes, they have Guinness, and one of the first chaps I chat to he's wearing a Lady Churchill's t-shirt, matches the one I've got on under my top -- snap!
And came down in Mariehamm.
A bawdy troop of con-goers, descending on a little hotel in an off-season tourist town on an island in the autonomous archipelago of Åland, land of pirates and bunnies and pirate bunnies. Finns and Swedes and Norwegians and Danes and one Ålander and one Scot -- me -- so let's see who can drink who under the table, mark of national pride and all that, eh? So we gather on the terrace, shifting chairs and tables, maybe twenty, maybe thirty of us, maybe more, all kicking back and relaxing, getting the party started with bare minimum of ceremony. And it's that night, I think, that night I head out with Hanna and Toni to find something to eat, wandering the streets, deserted like a zombie movie or a Lovecraft story, and is there any fucking place still open we start to wonder cause, fuck, it's a public holiday, but we find this high-class hotel restaurant with cuisine both haute and hot, and Hanna's real nice to the waitress who's real nice to the chef who says, sure, OK, we're closing but we'll fit you in. Peachy! Steak and potatoes, baby, steak and potatoes! Then it's back to the hotel where we hear tell of other traveller's tale, walking out in Zombiehamm, looking at the architecture that inspired New England, passing the weird steel statue, kind of misshapen, kind of *eerie*, and they look up at the window of a house just as the local pulls the shutters closed -- snap! -- like it *is* a fuckin Lovecraft story. Fuck, man, maybe we should be waiting for the fog to start rolling in and those zombie pirates to come looking to do some hooking -- Arrrrrrrr! Shit, what's a fan supposed to do but drink grog and wave a pirate flag and hope they think you're one of them, legless with being on land rather than with being on Guinness, stumbling upstairs to my room to drink into the night with Hanna and Toni and Johan, and hey-ho and yeah hup, hell, we're going to do this every night, and there'll be more friends like Ninni and and Tero and Karo and Pasi and I'm fucked if I can remember everyone's names, I'm sorry, dudes, I'm sorry, cause I'm fucking loving it, fucking loving everyone I meet, but there's too many and I'm too drunk, goddamn it, too drunk to -
Shit! You mean I gotta make a speech? Guest of Honour and all that jazz? And, double-shit, I've done my interview with Merja to a full room (and only one guy snoring, heh!), told all my best tales, blown my wad. What's a Desperate Dan to do? What to do? What to say? So, hey, let's just do a little reading to entertain the peeps the way I know best, and then, fingers crossed that they'll dig this shit, I hit them with the "Why Do I Infernokrush?" rant, little bit of slipstream cant and rowdy rhetoric, all the car crash of my adolescence and the impact crater of creation. Babies, if I can't give you coherence and I can give you passion. And compassion, compadres. What it is to be queer, a fucking freak, a freaky fucker, like a frelk, you might say, like a fan. So we have fun. That's what it's all about, amigos. People die. People die and that is why I worship Dionysus, pour libations to him down my throat. Come and dance with him, dance in delirium.
The days spin, and the nights are Alcon, not Ålcon, up in my hotel room, where I sing songs from my queer punk Orpheus musical, fucking all of them, through the night, keeping poor Jukka and Sari up in the next room, poor bastards, oops! And it's nine in the morning now, and we're heading down to breakfast, leaving Toni curled up and asleep on my bed, or maybe it's the other morning and he's with us, staggering down to the restaurant where tomorrow night we'll do a repeat performance of my musical mayhem, Hanna and Johan drumming the DUM dara dum dum DUM dar dum dum beat as I belt out Tango For the Dead, singing "If you can face / his cold dark embrace / theres no other love as true / as when death walks with you!", singing in the restaurant, in the restaurant where all the non-con norms now are just up, straight as an arrow, and us bumping into chairs and -- hey, that table tried to attack us, jumped right out at us! -- and we're snorking giggles and hissing, *act normal!*, *act normal!*, but we're outside on the terrace again, beer cans in hand, and we can't stop laughing.
And we're wandering round the streets to buy beer for the night, and we're driving up out of the town to see some sights, the vista from a tower in the forest, fucking awesome, spectacular, and we're walking round the nautical museum with the sweetest little Goth boy on the door, looking at a genuine bona fide pirate flag, skull and crossbones from centuries ago, cannons too, all that we need, and we're out on the ship that's moored by the museum, planning to hijack the bastard and sail out as Pirates of the Baltic -- Arrrrrrr! -- but wait! it's Årrrrr! now, babies, in the cunning game of Hangman that Jukka organises, with titles like "STÅR WÅRS" (everything with Swedish O, yeah, *oh*, you sneaky bastards), up on the whiteboard where Ninni's drawing the whole con, Åcon, with its pirates and bunnies zombies and zombie pirate bunnies.
And I'm thinking just how much I love this, love the sense of community, making new friends, real friends, real close friends, telling them things you only tell to real close friends, cause that's what it's all about, us freaks and geeks together. It's just a pity that it can't go on, we have to go, grab the ferry back to Helsinki, catch the crazy pub singers and camp cabaret acts on board, a portly man and a swishing woman singing pop opera, easy classical, as dancers flounce around them, all this followed by a band so cheesy you can't help but relish it. But it can't go on forever, babies, it can't go on forever, even in my cabin, singing sea shanties. Sooner or later we got to go to bed so we can get up when we dock.
And came down in Helsinki.
Wandering with Hanna, lunch with Eemeli, and it's that goodbye, that post-con goodbye. It's always that post-con goodbye that gets you. Sooner or later you have to get on that plane and go up.
And came down in Warsaw.
Meeting Greg at the airport, my interpretor, my mate from my last visit. Man, I've missed you. How's it going? And he's getting married! Sweet! Next week? Fucking congratulations, man. And so... and so... here's how it goes:
dropped off at the hotel for the con, a few thousand people all in -
heading up the wrong elevator, wandering, trying to find my room -
down to the con HQ, getting a gopher guide and, ah, so here we are -
down to the bar, maybe, or out to a restaurant with Greg and Andrzej and, um, wait, maybe it's the bar, after all and -
drinking with Tad Williams and others -
downing a shot of Żubrowska -
up to a room party to drink more vodka -
leaving it, I'm told, to drink with a famous Polish author for a while -
returning like I never left.
And the days spin and the nights whirl, and I'm back at the Paradox Club, meeting again the cats I met last time, having a blast, like I never left, and we're outside smoking on the picnic tables, and Tad Williams is a dude there and on the panel that I share with him on worlds, on fantasy, a panel which is a damn sight easier than my thing on Sumerian mythology where I realise -- shit! -- there's no moderator here, no questions to bat around, just me and Greg and a whole room of people expecting some sort of lecture. Oh, fuck! So I'm running up to my room to get my laptop, fire it up and do a little reading from Vellum just to show where I'm coming from with Inanna, then I blether on for a bit on what I've just read, what it is about the myths I like, think is important, and how I want to do Gilgamesh next, and why, why it matters, cause it's about humanity, the civilised and the primitive, the knowledge of our own mortality. People die. Any questions?
It's a whirlwind trip this time, just these few panels, a brief afternoon of interviews, an afternoon chatting with Marvanos, only a few nights, amigos, but, hey, one of them is Greg's stag night, round at his friend's apartment, Jacek's apartment (it is Jacek, right?) with pizza and beer and playstation and Polish music, this CD of awesome guitar stuff that I can't describe but get to take home as a gift because the Poles know how to do hospitality, oh, yes!
But it's a whirlwind trip this time, and it feels like I'm no sooner there than I'm on the plane again, and I go up.
And came down in Nottingham.
It's Fantasycon, September. You don't think all this is happening in the same few weeks, do you? Hell, no. I'm talking about the existence that is beyond time and beyond space, moments, little moments scattered like jewels in cities across the world, jewels of people, real gems, fucking diamond geezers. This is the pataphysical perfection of the con community I'm talking, where all the cons form one great glorious mosaic of experience.
Can I name all the names of those I was chatting with in Nottingham? Al and Rachel (who turned out to be taught by my dad at her old school in Greenock) and Mark and Alain and Stephane and Paul and Sarah and George and -- no, I can't possibly. I do remember blathering about Modernism (as per fucking usual), ranting about Wallace Stevens. And it kinda seems appropriate:
Throw away the lights, the definitions, and say of what you see in the dark that it is this or that it is that, but do not use the rotted names.
It's the fucking mosaic that's the thing, you dig?
But let me tell you about the fight that nearly kicked off outside where I'm smoking, chatting with a chap (fuck, man, what *was* his name, rotted from my rotten memory?) and we're standing at the side of this group where Rachel is chatting to a hotel guest not at the con, a woman whose boyfriend suddenly comes storming out, a real fat bastard, grabbing her arm and nearly wrenching it out of the socket, shouting in her face, YOU! INSIDE! NOW! The fucking tool! I mean, he's right up in her face, screaming like a child about how she's been out for a whole 25 minutes, she's not paid him any attention all night. But, man, Rachel's not gonna let him get away with that shit. You can't speak to her that way. She's not your property. She's just outside having a cigarette and chatting with me, and that's her choice. And, man, this tool is all bluster and self-righteousness, but Rachel's not backing down, and, shit, it still looks like this blowhard is ready to smack his girlfriend, so Rachel's Irish man is asking me quietly if I'm any good in a fight. And what can I say? Um, no, not really, but I guess... if it comes to it...
But the situation calms, because the tool is slowly, gradually realising that he's being a tool. Is he going to take on Rachel, bully a woman that's not a sucker for him? No, it seems; he has at least the sense to step away from that. Still, it's not the only shouting match I hear that weekend. There's another on the streets outside my hotel room on the last night. Actually it's the night *after* the last night, cause on the last night I manage to come down with some almighty stomach bug. I won't go into details. Man, you are not innarested in my condition, to paraphrase old Bill Burroughs. All I'll say is that on Sunday I'm in no fricking condition to travel and there's heroes around me like Sarah bringing me pills to calm the beast in my belly, heroes like Neil bringing me water and booking a room for another night. Although there's also Ian Whates being a damned scurrilous rogue, insinuating that it's a hangover as I lie there on the sofa in the hotel bar. How you doing, Hal? You OK? No, I say, I'm really rather not OK. Too much the night before? Are we finally seeing the great Hal Drunken felled by -- say it's not true -- too much?! Nay, I say, nay, and thrice nay! But all I can blame it on is a dodgy pint that tasted kind of... earthy (wasn't going to stop me drinking it, natch). And I can't exactly prove it with a hair of the dog. Goddamn it. This won't do. I have a fucking reputation to uphold!
But that nasty in my stomach isn't going to spoil my con. Hell, the con was all but over when it kicked in. All it could make me do was stay another night. Hah! Fuck you, nasty! OK, so I'm not exactly at my most chipper and I don't do much mingling up on my death bed moaning and whining in self-pity on the phone to the Boy Kitten ("Well, that's what you get for going to Nottingham and *leaving me alone*!" Oh, the empathy of love!), but at least I got the best of the con. And you know what? I get to realise once again how good a mate I've got in Mister Williamson, booker of hotel rooms, nursemaid of the Pale Duncan, companion of the long long train ride back home.
Only a handful of goodbyes in Nottingham. Which is worse, I ask myself, the pain of the peeling away, the one-by-one departures, the loss of each leaving acknowledged with a hug, made all too real? Or to go without that promise of next year, next year in Åland, next year in Poland, next year in Nottingham? To just, with a friend but without the farewells from those other friends, go up?
And come down in New York!
With the Boy Kitten in tow, I land in Newark. It's his first time out of Britain, first time on a plane, first time filling out a visa waiver (which I fuck up as I'm demonstrating), first time dealing with Homeland Security (though I'm the one who forgets to take his fricking belt off for the scanners), first time on that train into Penn Station, first time on a subway, first time in fricking fucking freaky fantastic Manhattan. Man, oh, man... Manhattan! We're staying in a hotel down in Tribeca, Grand by name and grand by nature. Costs a bomb but it's worth every fucking cent. There's a little worry with the credit card for the hotel room cause the payment to cover the flights hasn't cleared the balance yet, but it turns out OK cause -- whew -- there's enough to cover the room itself (although... but, no... we'll come to that).
So what is New York?
Top-notch cocktails and cuisine in the hotel restaurant.
Watching "The Golden Girls" on the TV in our luxury room to chill.
Breakfast of french toast with maple syrup and orange butter.
Wandering up to the Lower East Side, walking the hawker's gauntlet of the bargain district, finding a hole in the ground where the fashion store we're looking for was pulled down five years ago.
Taking the subway uptown to Madison Avenue and the Dior Homme store because the Boy Kitten has managed to fucking convert me to the truth that Hedi Slimane is a frickin GOD and, well, fuck it, it's New York, and I'm blowing money on the fancy hotel so let's blow some more on some fancy duds.
Running around town trying to find somewhere I can buy dollars with a Maestro card cause no American shop takes that debit card shit and the money we want to blow on clothes is more than I can lift in all the days we'll be in NYC.
Going into the Apple Store through its glass cube of an entrance, and using Google Maps on a display MacBook to find a Royal Bank of Scotland branch.
Finding out the RBS "branch" is a fucking business office on the tenth floor of a skyscraper because RBS don't do fucking retail banking in the US.
Phoning Scotland from the tenth floor of a skyscraper because the people at that office are fucking nice enough to help this doofus try and free up the cash.
Going from Penn Station to Macy's to Chase Manhatten to a Travellex which would let me buy dollars with my Maestro though they'd charge me 12 percent and my own bank would charge me 12 percent, and actually it doesn't matter anyway because the Travellex has no money, actually none of the Travellexes in NYC have money and none of them *will* have any money for the next two days. Which is to say, for as long as we'll be in NYC.
Finally saying, fuck it, and using the Boy Kitten's credit card even though he's broke. Well, hell, I can pay him back when we get home.
Martinis, margaritas and munchies in a Mexican Restaurant near St Mark's Place, all chosen from the special Day of the Dead menu.
Walking in Central Park.
Looking in the eye of a horse that's waiting for a tourist to step up into its carriage, and thinking that it looks kind of sad.
Lunch in a bistro just off Madison Avenue.
Partying with the Aussie writers and their guests at the Australian Consulate, smack-dab across the road from the Chrysler Building.
The exquisite taste of the veal sweetmeats in Momofuku down in the East Village, sweetmeats cooked in a batter so light, so delicate, it's just... an excruciating delight.
Bumping into Jon Berlyne of SFRevu in the UK, bumping into him on the street just outside my fucking hotel as I was out at 8.30 in the fucking morning, looking to buy some tobacco, and he was out at 8.30 in the fucking morning, just taking a stroll to take in some of the city.
Walking into Manhattan over the Brooklyn Bridge.
Eating a hot dog in the park outside City Hall.
Taking the Staten Island Ferry out past Ellis Island and Lady Liberty.
Taking a phone call in my hotel room from the wonderful, incredible Colleen Lindsay, whose email I've lost and who I wanted so much to hook up with.
Dinner with Gary Wassner, Chris Billet and others in an Argentian restaurant, eating, drinking and shooting the breeze so long we missed the whole fricking Halloween Parade (but hey, next year, I hope, next year).
Trying to phone Colleen, leaving a voicemail, praying she was still up and about so we could grab some beers in the chaos of post-parade Halloween, but failing and feeling fucking bummed about missing her (but hey, next year, I *swear*, next year).
And then it was over and we were taking a taxi to La Guardia, and I was seeing the Boy Kitten off on his flight to Montreal to visit a friend doing a study year abroad there, and, me, I was getting on my little propeller plane bound for Albany, with only two other passengers on board like it was our private fucking jet. I was hoping the Boy Kitten would be cool with the flights, him not being too keen on flying, and I was hoping his mad connection in Philadelphia would be smooth and he'd arrive safe and sound in Montreal. I was hoping that as we went up.
And came down in Albany, with other con-goers, on a bus that'd drop us off in Saratoga Springs for the amazing, the wonderful, the fantastic World Fantasy Convention.
Found my motel (real honest-to-God motel) straight across the road from the parking lot where the bus stopped, met up with Joseph McDermitt, new writer and first time WFC attendee ("Man, you're in for a hell of a time"), and we strolled down to the con. And what can I say that hasn't been said already, that *I* haven't said already? Do I quote Chris Roberson about it being the highlight of his social year, the best con of them all? Do I mention the name of every person I drank with, rolling off the list of old friends and new? Do I talk about my second fanboy moment with Tim Powers, getting him to sign my book in the dealer's room and turning into a blethering moron even though I chatted to him last year at Austin? Or how about the cookies they gave out with the goody bag at registration which clearly had crack cocaine in them and which, I realised on the Friday night, were all I had to eat the first two days? Hugging Elisabeth Bear when I walked into the bar for the first time and there she was with Sarah Monette and Amanda Downum among others? Seeing Jeff Ford and his wife Lynn again? Sitting with them and their son Derek, all dolled up in our finery at the Morhaim Family Dinner? How about the group reading for the Paper Cities anthology where I got to hear some of the other contributors for the first time? Not managing to find Ben Peek again after picking up his Twenty Six Lies / One Truth and wanting him to deface it? Ranting to John Joseph Adams about Alasdair Gray's Lanark? A dinner conversation with Bill Shunn, Daniel Abraham and Steven Erikson? The room parties with the red stuff and the blue stuff? Being poured into taxis and poured out of them at my motel room door by folks with much more sense than me? Talking with Scott Bakker about nihilism, consciousness and fuck knows what else, talking so long and having so much fun I missed the entire fucking awards ceremony like the schmuck I am? Smoking with Steven Erikson? Sitting at the signing session with John Picacio? Jumping on Jeremy Lassen out in the street? Asking Jon Berlyne and Al Robertson and Joseph McDermitt how they were enjoying their first WFC and joining them in that moment of exultant gushing at just HOW FUCKING GOOD IT IS?
I don't know. There comes a point when you can't describe it, you can't detail it. It's not just a mosaic. It's a fucking multi-dimensional mobile mosaic of moments in eternal motion. Memory is refracted, shattered like light. Names and faces de-attach. You try to pin down one moment and another swirls into remembrance, twirls and birls away again.
I do remember this though:
Hugging Jim Minz goodbye. Hugging Chris Roberson goodbye. Hugging Alison Baker goodbye. Hugging every motherfucking crystal beauty of a friend I could find in my utterly smashed state on the Sunday night, croaking my goodbyes with a throat scoured by days and nights of tobacco and talk. Because I fucking love WFC and it's the fucking people that I love about it most of all. This was only my third time, but already I'm fucking hooked, man. I can't wait for next year to see these friends again. It's a fucking fraternity, man, this world of Science Fiction and Fantasy. It's a fucking family of fans and fictioneers, united by this bond of us all being just a little crazy in our love of a certain form, and in not fucking giving a shit if we look like freaks -- like total frelks or total fucking spacers, you might say.
So do I end on a downer? Does it all end on a downer, on that scene of Hal Drunken hugging everyone in sight before staggering out into the night for a taxi back to his motel, to pack stumblingly, all the time thinking to himself, next year... next year... ? Is there a brief respite in the airport, in bumping into Gary Wolfe outside, or bumping into the Youngs inside, going for a last beer and food, laughing and shooting the breeze, before -- ah, crap -- seeing them off at the gate, saying another fucking goodbye? Shit, man, does it have to end there, with that last goodbye and all the melancholy that goes with it, the yearning for next year to come sooner, just a little sooner, because you've had such a fucking good time the fact that it has to end is almost unbearable?
Fuck that shit.
I say the con is beyond time, beyond space. I say it's not just next year but next month and next week, aye, and tomorrow. It's all one big fucking convention, one big fucking party, in whatever town or city, in whatever country, with whatever name. It ends like this, with next year here and now, because it *is* fucking *FANTASY* after all, goddamn it, and we can make it that way if we fucking want to. Fuck the melancholy, amigos. It ends like this:
And came down in Calgary.