6 Problems At Every Convention That Nobody Prepares You For
When you're a person with "nerdy" interests, it's easy to feel isolated. Trust me, I know. I've violently sobbed into a Hellboy trade paperback three times today already, and every person that's passed by my car window has looked more horrified than the last. Going to conventions, where you can immerse yourself in a fleshy swarm of people who were all conceived to the erotic strains of the '90s X-Men theme, seems like an easy fix.
And don't get me wrong. Hanging out at conventions can be a fun and enlightening way to learn what it's like when you mix event centers with a dangerously sincere interest in Street Fighter memes. But there are a few dark drawbacks to these gatherings. Every rose has its thorns. Every mutant team has its Jubilee.
Your Card Is Going To Get Declined
It's easy to lose track of how much money you're spending when you're at a convention. Your basic math skills and your knowledge of how they relate to your bank account is replaced by an overwhelming urge to own all of the Legend Of Zelda T-shirts and Fallout memorabilia that you never knew you needed before. Every tidbit that you've ever learned about budgeting is thrown out the window, because that booth is selling the kind of replica leather jackets that you'd wear if you were slowly whittling down a werewolf's health with fireballs, and holy shit, how cool would you look in a werewolf-burning outfit?
I've watched this happen quite a few times. Caught in the heat of the moment, someone would be told that the weight of buying every Japanese version of the first-generation Pokemon games was going to crush their debit card, and they would suffer what can only be called a sudden awareness of their mortality. At a horror convention, trying to balance a malicious spending habit with an income that fell between "No money" and "Canned ravioli is good if you steal your roommate's cheese to put on it," I tried to buy a replica Freddy Krueger glove.
As I totally overestimated how impressed the female population of my college would be to find a Nightmare On Elm Street prop mounted on my dresser, my debit card was declined so hard that the machine got a stress fracture. I slunk away and made sure to never walk in front of that particular vendor again, lest he remember my face, point to me, and exclaim, "Shame the broke dork!"
I was just glad that he didn't use it to cut my card.
But it's not just a lack of funds that will screw you over when you decide to purchase a mint Super Famicom that's still in the box. People weren't just yelling, "Excuse me, [bank of choice], but why do you hate me?" because they'd spent all their money on tickets and left none for trinkets. Their banks were just being suspicious that they were even at the event at all. You live in Florida, but you're suddenly four states away, trying to buy $300 worth of anime merchandise? Like the kids that returned from a Harry Potter movie with a sudden, unexplained interest in using the adjective "bloody" a lot, it's very fishy. There's no better way to say "I might be stealing this money" than by suddenly spending a month's worth of rent on a BioShock figurine in a different time zone.
You'll be the envy of everyone in line for the last bed
at the homeless shelter, though, so there's that.
At 1 a.m., Everything Becomes Miserable
By the end of the day, your phone is almost dead, you still have to catch an Uber back to the hotel, and you've spent the last 14 hours walking from a conference room to an escalator to a hall crammed with sleep-deprived, shuffling people, and back. You decide to shoot yourself in the head with one last caffeine bullet in a partially vain attempt to tell your body, "NO. THE MEGA MAN THEMES COVER BAND IS IMPORTANT, GODDAMMIT," and instead of pushing you forward, it simply meets the salty hotel snacks/food-truck morsels that you've been absorbing all day. It slams headlong into that mix of chicken tenders and Mountain Dew, and a gang fight breaks out in your large intestine, like the poop version of West Side Story.
The food that you're handed at conventions is 98 percent sodium and 2 percent fried bread. If you gave it to a Civil War soldier, that soldier would toss it and just stick with the dysentery. It contains such little nutritional value that you'd be better off eating your registration badge. At the most recent convention that I went to, chicken strips made up three of the blocks of the food pyramid, with the two remaining blocks being the coffee that I guzzled that morning in my hotel lobby.
It's the only known food pyramid where every single block is "use sparingly."
While the building where the event took place was massive, they had not constructed it with a thousand hungry people in mind, who had all heard the rumor about there being chicken strips at once. If I had to make an educated guess, I'd say that they imagined that 10 people would hear about the chicken strips and the other 990 would dissolve into thin air. People waited for an hour to get a tiny cup with three chicken strips shoved into it. I don't know the name of the dystopian novel that I lived in that weekend, but it most certainly ended with me finding out that chicken strips were people.
And the fries were how they recycled our skin.
When you combine all of these factors, you don't get a bunch of people gradually falling down their own personal slopes into the mires of irritability. There is one big slope, and everyone falls down it at once. Some of them may be able to withstand their digestive system's pleas for mercy better than others, but they soon go down too, their nerves cracking like glass with every bump and shout. And how often do I shout when I'm cranky, exhausted, and malnourished? Well, just know that every time I groaned, "Why do we do this to ourselves?" what I really meant was, "I don't dislike any of you personally, but I just want to go back to my hotel and watch Furious 7 on HBO until I pass out. Be aware, however, that I am willing to murder every last one of you for that goal."
Your Niche Hobbies Become Even More Niche
When you have a niche interest that you like a lot, you sometimes gain a kind of "me against the world" mentality. The Earth doesn't like you or your Charizard hoodie, so you spend your life swinging your fists in the direction of anyone who might even whisper an acknowledgment that sports exist. I did. And on my way to a recent convention, I assumed that others would share in my fervor. And they totally did. But in ways that I didn't initially expect.
"Charizard hoodie guy, no one chooses you!"
I'm into professional wrestling. I understand that there are a ton of people ready and eager to tell me about why I'm a fool for enjoying nicknamed bodybuilders and their intricate punch ballets, but I've already listened to those same people's long-winded explanations of their agnosticism in college, so I've learned to tune them out. Some people shared in my enthusiasm. When you can have a two-hour conversation about Shinsuke Nakamura, a genetic experiment meant to blend the best of Prince with the best of kicks, you're doing something that transcends personality differences. But there were far more people that seemed to approach it from a negative standpoint. You could ask who their favorite of all time was, and they'd spend an hour criticizing everyone else before they spit out, "Jake 'The Snake' Roberts was pretty cool. Really cool. It all just sucks though. Sucks so bad. I love wrestling."
"Everybody looks the same. It's so boring. Why can't anyone be weird and entertaining anymore?"
There's nothing inherently wrong with this, though. I also like the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies, and I don't think that I've written a single totally positive thing about them, aside from the first third of this sentence. I just enjoy making fun of them and analyzing them. These people reacted to wrestling in the same way. Until they said, "You have nice things to say about a subject? I don't know if you know this, idiot, but saying nice things is for idiots," I had no reason to care about our disagreements. We were passionate in totally opposite ways, but I couldn't misconstrue their passion as hate, because they didn't share my blind, John Cena-headband optimism.
Plus, it was such a relief to talk to people who knew Cena
as anything other than the "Loud Meme Guy."
You Learn That Most People Don't Take Care Of Their Things
I've had a lot of friends over the years complain to me about their video games not working correctly. Or we'd go to watch a DVD they own and it skips so much that you'd swear the player was filled with tiny goblins dry-humping the disc. And for years, I would wonder why all of their electronics rebelled whenever we wanted to enjoy them. Then I started watching how these friends treated their stuff.
Video game conventions feature this abuse of Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft products, multiplied by a hundred. The only thing that drowned out the sea of yelling about broken equipment was the ceaseless roar of controllers being slammed down, discs being pushed in, and cords being ripped out and thrust into ports where they didn't belong. Everyone had broken out their finest Mr. Magoo cosplays and together they were convinced that video games work best when you handle them like you would a medieval torture victim.
"Are you going to cough up another achievement, or am I breaking out
the hot coals again, Mr. Controller?"
This obviously doesn't apply to everyone. And if it's not electronics, it certainly doesn't apply to me. Anytime someone asks me about a stain on my shirt, I have to explain the rules of slap bag to them. I'm really good at taking nice things and making sure that their intended purpose is never reached again. Electronics are just things that, if I'd gotten into them in high school, I'd say that I was "totally OCD about. OMG, lol, etc."
There are plenty of people at conventions that essentially serve as soothsayers for menu screens. We're grateful for their services, and all we can hope is that the ratio between them and the people that fix their hardware like they're trying to get cast in the opening act of 2001: A Space Odyssey isn't completely lopsided.
Have you tried turning it on and off again, preferably not by hitting the power button with a bone?
Drinking Becomes Special Again
After playing Mario Kart with a few strangers, one lingered to tell me that he was now going to go find his friends. It was sweet. He seemed like a cool guy, and I generally hope that cool people don't leave conversations with me to crawl back into the ocean where they'll continue to live a cold, companion-less existence. He then restated his plans, but added that he and his friends were going to be drinking beer. And not just any kind of beer. The kind of beer that's the emphasis of a sentence. The kind of "my parents aren't here and I'm surrounded by my friends and WOO" beer that a lot of people stop drinking when they graduate high school and discover that it's going to be harder to not drink beer than it is to acquire it.
"Turns out, those drunken frat-boy assholes had a point after all!"
This is how alcohol is treated at conventions. Having it implies that you're in a social status that's above people who want to remain sober. It's the same "I want to be cool" cure-all elixir that it was when you were in ninth grade and learning that other people are making out and that if you don't start doing it soon, you might never do it. It marks the passage into adulthood.
It's not because having cartoon souvenirs within your arm span at all times somehow makes you a child again, and if you ever see me say otherwise, find me, because my clone is currently trying to flirt with you. I don't know what it is, and that's probably why I started doing it, too. As it turns out, I don't judge the less hip from a castle shaped like a Vampire Weekend vinyl. If enough people talk about how cool it is to carry a hip flask, I will toast to that. Behind the building in a secluded spot. Because I really don't want someone to catch me. Call me old-fashioned, but if I'm going to be drunk for an event, people will find out when they ask me why I walked into a door.
You Realize That Fandom Doesn't Belong To You
As I wrote earlier, we all enjoy things in different ways. The show that I'm watching right now is currently being watched by someone who has their dick out. But there's always the pressure to become King Nerd. You never want to be told that you don't know as much, or that you aren't as enthusiastic about a subject, as someone else is.
Attempting to crown yourself King Nerd is a natural response to suddenly being thrown into a giant group after spending a long time entrenched in the solitude of your interests. We have a desire to make ourselves stand out from others. We want to either possess the most knowledge or have the funniest insights or create some kind of lasting impression that people will think about on their drive back home. "I met a lot of people who dug One Punch Man over the weekend, but that Daniel, he was the One Punch Maniest."
And after a few rounds of WOO beer, I was the One Punch-Drunk Man.
But the fandom doesn't really belong to you. It doesn't belong to the people who bought more expensive passes than you, and it doesn't belong to the guests that people line up to see. Technically, it belongs to the people who own the copyright, but I'm not going to end this thing with a death by natural causes. The fandom doesn't belong to anyone. And I think that's what helps you to kind of forget that you're going to be ingesting chicken strips until your poop starts to resemble them, and that you're accidentally knocking into people with every third step. It's a shared thing.
Conventions are overly commercialized to the point that San Diego Comic-Con would benefit with a name change to "AMC'S THE WALKING DEADSTRAVAGANZA (And Whatever New Batman Thing Too, We Guess.)" But there's still something intangible that keeps people going there, and to things like it. For me, it was hearing the applause after John Carpenter, director of Escape From New York and The Thing, answered a question at a panel a few years ago. I don't remember the question or the reply, but I do remember clapping with everyone else and thinking to myself, "Oh thank god. It's not just me."
Both because he's John Fucking Carpenter and because he had nothing to do with goddamn zombies.
Talk to Daniel about wrestling and Batman on his dumb Twitter.
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See why even the spookiest conventions can have sane members in 5 Things I Learned Infiltrating A Paranormal Convention, and check out the conventions that put Star Trek to shame in PathetiCon: 8 Geek Conventions God Never Intended.
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