Thursday: God’s Wrath, Renfree vs. Yates, Anything But Clothes, The Poseidon Adventure, an Army of Bunnies, Swinging at Edgewood

Gunnar Bio PicTHURSDAY

I wake up hungover to the sound of rain. It’s almost noon and I should already be on the road to Dragon Con, but in truth I haven’t even started packing yet. I fall out of bed and wince as the bourbon in my gut does a somersault. Not how I imagined this morning.

I’m racing down I-75 to school, rushing to turn in a history paper at my school, when the clouds start to break open. By the time I’ve parked the car, I’m in a real mother of a storm. I sprint to the administrative building and arrive wearing a giant puddle. A chilling blast of air-conditioning hits me as I walk inside. I look like a drowned rat and feel like a deflated balloon. I can’t find my teacher’s mailbox, so a receptionist takes my soggy essay and shoves it under the door to my teacher’s office. God’s Wrath is falling on the schoolyard outside. There’s no way I’m going to make it back to my car in that mess. Defeated, I sit in a chair, shivering. I stare out through the windows, into the gray Nothing. I haven’t eaten, so my hangover is creating a kingdom in my skull. The clock in front of me is too loud.

It’s my birthday today.

Luckily, the storm only lasts an hour. As soon as it dissipates, I’m on the road again, flying back home to pack. Atlanta’s last preseason game is against the Ravens tonight, and the radio’s telling me that if Renfree does a good job, he’ll take the back-up QB spot and Yates might find himself practicing at Flowery Branch for the last time. The Falcons are cutting over twenty players in the next two days. They will have worse problems than the rain.

By the time I get home, cook some food, and shower, I’m exhausted again. The meal, the silvery skies outside, the remnants of my headache… I’m asleep before I know what’s happening. I wake up and now it’s six in the fucking evening and I still haven’t started packing. Cursing, I tear around the house, a foul-mouthed whirlwind throwing clothes in the general vicinity of a giant, wheeled suitcase I affectionately call “Big Bitch.”

I toss Big Bitch into my car and pull a Fred Flintstone into the driver’s seat. I speed out of my neighborhood and immediately end up in traffic, which is especially bad these days. Atlanta is getting filthy rich becoming “New Hollywood” and has decided to use that money to tear up the roads and replace them with roads. The orange depression of construction is everywhere.

I make my way past the 575-75 South connector and the roads finally open. The football game has started and the radio’s telling me that Renfree is looking pretty solid (bad news for Yates). I head downtown. My GPS informs me that I’ve arrived at my destination, a fancy two-story loft filled with beautiful furniture and overpriced neo-pop art, but I don’t see any fancy lofts around me, so I park my car on Jackson and Edgewood and call Ben.

Rachel and Ben are a married couple that also happen to be into BDSM and swinging. Rachel has had a crush on me for a while and insisted I stay with them my first night, offering me a place at the loft, an air mattress, a fully-stocked refrigerator, and some interesting company, all at a very reasonable price.

Ben answers the phone and tells me he’s never been to the loft so he’s not sure what it’s supposed to look like either. I tell him not to worry, I’ll figure something out. I glance up and down Edgewood, The First Land of Hipsters. Skinny white guys on bicycles zip around skinnier black guys in stained cargo pants. Dive bars covered in vulgar graffiti are busy selling thirteen dollar cocktails. The economic disparity of the Edgewood/Moreland area is alive and well.

I make my way on foot towards midtown, passing through some of Atlanta’s sketchier stretches of road.  It’s nine o’ clock at night. In an hour, the Greenbriar Room of the Hyatt will be closed and I won’t be able to pick up my press badge until tomorrow, which is no good, since the parties start tonight. I make my way through underpasses littered with broken glass, turn a few corners, and walk into Visitor’s Midtown, the Corporate Heart of Atlanta, home of CNN, the World of Coke, and Dragon Con. I scurry past the dazzling lights, past Meehan’s, past Hooter’s (where a television on the patio tells me Atlanta’s winning), past The Hard Rock Café, and bounce into the Hyatt.

In the Greenbriar Room I run into Dan, the head of Media Relations and a good friend of mine. If Dragon Con is the giant amorphous face of Oz, Dan is the guy in the booth pulling the switches. Thousands of geeks, maybe hundreds of thousands of geeks, are indebted to his talents. He’s talking to a few of the Dragon Con staff, going over the latest minor dilemma. He looks and sounds like he just ran a marathon. The room is otherwise empty. All the responsible journalists are in their rooms, calling their editors while they wait for room service. I say hi to Dan, give him a quick, sincere hug, and make my way back through the Hyatt, headed towards the Anything But Clothes Party.

Luckily, I don’t have to go very far. Unlike previous years, this year’s ABC Party is going to be mobile; its participants will meet at the Hyatt hotel bar, soak themselves in various liquors, and then dance their way to the Pulse Bar at the Marriott. I jog up a couple flights of stairs to the bar and immediately spot Charles, a founding member of the Party. He’s the MC of this party. We exchange a quick “hello!” A waiter approaches and asks me for a drink order.

By the time Sunday rolls around, the Hyatt bar will be so exhausted from the relentless onslaught of thirsty nerds that only the bartenders will remain, all of them on the verge of tears and nervous breakdowns. I savor this opportunity to be served and order a double bourbon.

At an ABC Party, the only official rule is that you can’t wear anything traditionally used as an article of clothing (the unofficial rule is that you must be drinking and dancing at some point). Right now there is an ever-increasing gaggle of people wearing trash bags, blankets, Dunkin Donut boxes, gift wrapping paper, broken beer cases, duct tape, towels, and bedsheet togas. They meet and smile and take pictures and pass around various kinds of booze while one of Charles’s friends tells me a story about someone they know who allegedly jacks off to kiddie cartoons.

I’m writing the first of my notes when I hear Charles through the microphone: “We have a very special birthday tonight…”

I look around for the victim’s face and then realize the victim is me. Over a hundred complete strangers in bags, boxes, and bedsheets start singing me “Happy Birthday.” A massive cheer echoes through the hotel lobby at its conclusion. A thousand smiling faces shine upon me. This is Dragon Con. 

An hour passes by, and Charles is ready to gather the troops and shepherd them to the Marriott. I pay my tab for the bourbon (twenty-two dollars!), take a massive swig from a bottle of Jack Daniels that has somehow floated into orbit around me, and follow the procession of toga-clad mayhem from one hotel to the next.

My buddy Steven meets up with me just as I’m arriving at the Marriott. He and I have been friends for a very long time, nearly our entire lives. Our friendship has weathered many strange and brutal moments. We have yelled at each other in seedy pubs, whipped around the mountains of Tennessee through violent rainstorms, and sung Rancid songs at the top of our lungs. We have started and ended addictions together. His life and my life will forever be intertwined, two conjoined threads in the giant Blanket of Existence.

However, lately we have found ourselves drifting apart. Our interests have grown increasingly separate. I usually prefer a small group of intimate friends. I don’t mind sitting at home reading a book. School and work have dominated my attention and availability. Steven has no job at the moment, loves large crowds and loud music, and regards being home alone as a form of punishing abstention. He is never “done”; he will chase night into morning like a madman. I have seen the fear that creeps beneath his eyes when the sounds of last call echo through the bars. He is always bouncing around the city of Atlanta, searching for the Next Big Thing, drinking at cougar bars and Buckhead clubs.

For the next three days, Dragon Con will act as the center of all the Next Big Things, and it is for this reason I run into him now. His eyes are glued to his cell phone as we laugh and hug and stumble our way through people dressed in spectacular costumes, making our way to the Pulse Loft, where the Superhero Underwear Partyunderwear is supposed to take place.

Weaving through the crowd and up the stairs to the loft, Steven is telling me something about his Instagram. I don’t have Instagram. I’m awful at taking pictures, and I have no desire to see anyone’s type-written poems, rehashed “when bae…” memes, or sunsets. Steven has an acute awareness for pop culture, and in the last few weeks his account has really taken off.

“…over eight hundred new followers since Monday…”

Weird. I don’t see any superheroes in their underwear. This party should have started a half-hour ago. Where is everyone?

“…check this out, I made it yesterday…”

I nod and suggest we head to the bar.

“…this is the main guy on Instagram, he liked my post…”

I order a whiskey and a beer. I try to stake out the place, but it’s awkward because there’s hardly anywhere to stand and comfortably lose control. I’m already growing a little bored. Steven has gone silent, scrolling through memes.

I tell him we should head to the smoker’s area outside. I drain the whiskey and we head out a door to an awning adjacent to the Marriott. During the height of the Dragon Con frenzy, hundreds of smokers will congregate here, excitedly swapping war-stories, bumming out cigarettes, and passing around flasks. For now, the place is relatively quiet. There’s a group laughing near the doors, right at the top of the stairs that descend to the Marriott fountain. It’s Ally, David, and Eva, my friends from Marietta. David is dressed as Marvel’s The Phoenix. Eva smiles politely and then turns her back towards me. Ally, who has enough artistic enthusiasm and talent to make Calliope jealous, looks absolutely radiant tonight. Her birthday is tomorrow, and this year she will be spending it with some of her closest friends on the forty-first floor of a building that happens to be housing one of the single-largest celebrations of unbridled geekdom in the entire world. This is clearly her moment of moments. Her sheer excitement and energy is so powerful it seems to dance from within her like rays of sun. Ours is a chain-smoking group of moths attracted to that brilliant light. I’m chain-smoking with them.

(I haven’t smoked in almost a year. Whoops. When at Dragon Con…)

Ally hugs me and wishes me a Happy Birthday. Ben does the same. Eva smiles politely again. We all exchange basic pleasantries: How is the room? Have you enjoyed Con so far? What panels are you going to? May I bum another cigarette? Steven continues exploring his phone, a restless leg twitching. I ask Ally if I may drop my camera off in her room; I hate how it feels wrapped around my shoulder, gently reminding me that I have a job to do. We head up to her room, dumping it in #4111 of the Marriott. Ben and Eva are chatting up a storm while the light of Steven’s phone paints his face a pale blue. Ally is staring out the window at the orange firebugs of midtown streets and buildings.

“This is Peachtree, and this is 75…” she observes. We spend a moment appreciating the dazzle of it all.

“Is this your first Con?” I ask Eva.

She says it is.

“Are you having fun?”

She smiles politely.

Steven and I leave the room and wander over to the Bunny Hutch, a bunny-themed costume contest/jazz-inspired dance party. A diminutive man who looks like the white lovechild of Gomez Addams and Sammie Davis Jr. is busy calling the winners up to the front stage: “Best Group Bunnies,” “Best Horror Bunny,” etc. I recognize this man, with his zoot suit inspired wardrobe, stormtrooperperfectly manicured facial hair, and big band panache. Around me stand Robocop Bunny, Jurassic Park Raptor Bunny, Daft Punk Bunny, The Complete Cast of the Wizard of Oz Bunnies, Ernie from Sesame Street Bunny… the intricacies of the costumes and the ingenuity in their creation is impressive. I grab a beer from somewhere and watch in amazement as the winners are announced. Steven is talking to Wolverine Bunny, complete with carrot-stick claws.

Steven rejoins me. Again, he’s ready to leave. Noting the uncomfortable dance circle that’s begun to form near the front of the stage, I readily agree.

It’s one in the morning, and Steven and I are on the party prowl. We slowly make our way back to the smoking patio of the Marriott, where small crowds of inebriated geeks are passing around flasks and bubbling with excitement. My beer has somehow turned into another bourbon. I’m not complaining.

We run into Fred and Rena, a really fun couple I fondly remember from my days working at the Nerd Bar in Marietta. I ask them what they’ve been up to these days.

“We’re on the Playboy Channel,” says Fred.

“There’s a swinger’s reality series that we were a part of. We basically got to fuck on camera in front of everyone,” says Rena.

“It’s a little scripted, but it was really wild!” says Fred.

They ask me what I’ve been up to recently. After sharing their shenanigans, I struggle to sound even remotely interested.

“I’m, uh… I’m writing for Dragon Con… no, not FOR Dragon Con, ABOUT Dragon Con… I’m writing about the parties…”

“That’s awesome!” squeals Rena with genuine enthusiasm. I tell them it’s my birthday and they offer me a celebratory swig of Jameson. Rena taps the shoulder of the lady next to her.

“It’s his birthday,” she announces.

The lady shows me her boobs and then tells me she doesn’t want to talk to me. Then Fred tells me that there is a party in the parking lot just a block away from the Marriott. Steven hears the word “party” and his head briefly lifts up from his phone.

“We should go there,” he observes.

After more hugs and some congratulations from me on what could be the start of a promising porn career for the couple, Steven and I make our way to the parking lot.

This party is small, but fierce. A lone smart car is parked in the middle of the lot, blaring Outkast to the wild delight of about fifty attendees. They switch between various states of savage flailing, inebriated head-bobbing, and relaxed shuffling. I realize I am doing the same. For a moment, everything seems natural. Nobody thinks anything peculiar of the young man dressed up as Poseidon, leaning from within the open trunk of the smart car, leading his maniacal minions like a drunken, mythical version of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice. As the last chorus of “Hey Ya” fades away, I look around and notice Sally. 

Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful Sally.

I’ve never known Sally very well, and it has been years since I last saw her. She was always quiet, reserved, and gorgeous. I tend to be attracted to the rowdiest women, the true devils of the night, so a kind, silent young lady like Sally never interested me.

Now, that timidity is gone. She gyrates provocatively amongst the other dancers, oozing sexuality. She commands the rhythm, demanding acknowledgement. I’ve seen women dance like this before, in Spain. They wear long floral sundresses and move with a practiced awareness that comes from some secret fountain of love in their soul that is utterly intoxicating.

I try to talk to her, but her looks and my bourbon are causing the words to break apart before they can leave my mouth. We exchange stumbled pleasantries. She produces a water bottle filled with Fireball and offers some of it to me. Normally I would refrain, because I’m not a sorority girl or at a bachelorette party, but this weekend I’m in no mood to deny anything. I lean the bottle back to take a massive gulp, but the plastic guard is still on, so cinnamon alcohol spills like a waterfall down the front of my shirt.

She giggles in response, a smile graced by perfect dimples. The bourbon is coursing through my veins. My shirt is sticking to my chest as my heart races. I have to get out of here.

Steven and I stumble back to the Marriott. The adrenaline is wearing off, and I’m suddenly very tired. As we sit in front of the fountain near the Marriott’s entrance, I swing my gaze left and suddenly I’m gawking at a childhood friend I haven’t seen in ages:


Colin is King of the Nerds, as far as I’m concerned. An oddly endearing mixture of Mouth Devereaux and Eric Cartman, Colin hails from the same small Marietta neighborhood as me. As a kid, I remember walking over to his house and watching him play video games late into the night, until finally we would fall asleep, surrounded by Twizzlers and game controllers, the purples of dawn breaking through the windows. Colin’s childhood home was a jungle of cat hair, cigarette smoke, and antique knick-knacks, products of his lovably eccentric single mother. While Teenage Life sent me careening through a world of drugs and music, Colin stayed fastened to his various gaming chairs, playing RPGs and analyzing the dark corners of the internet. Though we grew distant after high school, I still manage to find him every year at Dragon Con.

Colin is wearing his signature outfit: black backwards cap, black shirt, black overshirt, black pants, and black boots. An interesting sense of newfound maturity seems to hang from him. He smiles and hugs me and offers me whiskey and cigarettes. I ask him how his Dragon Con is going. His answer is impressive:

Colin has a gay friend, let’s call him “Dan.” “Dan” got rip-roaringly drunk earlier in the night at some Dragon Con kick-off party, where he happened to meet a beautiful woman. To Colin’s surprise and evil delight, “Dan” makes out with her and invites her back to his room to finish. She has to tell her friends, so they agree to meet at the hotel room fifteen minutes later. But “Dan,” who is blackout drunk at this point, promptly forgets this encounter after she leaves, and is surprised an hour later when he heads back to his room and finds the woman standing outside his door, confused and a little pissed. She’s upset she’s had to wait, but happy that “Dan” has finally made it; that is, until “Dan” suddenly remembers that he’s gay, and has no idea who this woman is or why she’s in front of his hotel.

Colin is cackling by the end of this retelling. Even my friend Steven is chuckling at the story as he swipes through new Instagram pictures.

I thank him for the story and the cigarettes, take one last gulp of whiskey, and head into the Marriott proper, where the hotel staff are already looking exhausted and hostile.

Dance-party patrons are slumped on chairs and leaning against walls. I take it as a sign that the night is over. I’m thinking about how to get home when suddenly Rachel and Ben are there. I’m not sure how they found me; the alcohol is really kicking in at this point, and all my notes say at this point is:

“Mobile dance ain’t mobile. Drinking apple pie MOONSHINE!”

Somehow the four of us make our way over to an all-night diner, which at three in the morning is packed with other drunken Con attendees gorging themselves on fried foods swimming in grease. People dressed as Pokemon, Slender Men, and various Avengers are shrieking at each other, their bloodshot eyes rolling around insanely in their costumed heads. Jesus, I think to myself, scanning the chaos around me. It’s only Thursday!

We get our food, then Steven and I launch into one of the most insane conversation I’ve ever had in my life. I think Steven is trying to make some profoundly complicated existential point on solipsism and meta-modernism, but he’s drunk and I’m drunk so instead we sound like two absolute idiots trying to reenact a scene from Waiting for Godot, to the absolute delight of Rachel and Ben.

An excerpt:

Me: “Was JFK…?”

Steven: “That’s too specific.”

Me: “Hold on, hold on, I haven’t asked anything… Was JFK President of the United States ever?”

Steven: “Possibly.” 

Me: “Okay, now explain your reason behind the answer, ‘possibly.’”

Steven: “I don’t have a reason.”

Me: “Well, you were giving me some reasoning…”

Steven: “Well I wasn’t there.”

Me: “No, just a second ago.”

Steven: “This is my reasoning.”

A regular Socrates and Aristotle, Steven and I.

The night has been over for hours, yet here I am, still in it. The four of us are inside the loft now, which is absolutely stunning. Through the gracious hospitality of my hosts, I have a giant blow-up mattress to sleep on, adorned with pillows and blankets. We are all laughing in the kitchen, filled to the top with booze. We are all struggling to choke down one last beer/cider/shot. Ben heads upstairs to pass out, and the throbbing in my temples tells me I’m ready to do the same. I announce my retirement for the night and Rachel is suddenly next to me wearing bedroom eyes.

“Ben says it’s okay if I cuddle with you,” she cooes.

I don’t know, I really just want to sleep, I’m not sure yet if I’m comfortable with the boundaries you guys have set, something might happen…

“Sure,” I say.

We lay down on the blow-up mattress. Steven is over in the corner of the loft, his body splayed on the floor like a murder victim. Some guy I’ve never met is asleep on a couch in another corner, snoring loudly.

Rachel and I snuggle under the covers, where the snuggling quickly turns to heavy petting. I ask her if her husband told her she could do anything besides snuggle, and reluctantly she replies that he didn’t. Ben is a really, really nice man, and I don’t want to cross any boundaries with him, so I tell her we can’t do anything without his permission, but before I know it we’re getting ourselves off next to each other under the covers. We’re not touching each other at all; we’ve found some ridiculous loophole, and I feel like a child trying to exploit it, but at least I’m following the rules. We climax together and I’m suddenly very awake and very sober. She quickly falls asleep. So ends my night with the married bondage enthusiast.

I get up and write a poem about bonfires on my computer. As I’m completing the finishing touches, Steven gets up and sits on a chair next to me. He stares at me through one bloodshot eye for a few minutes. He’s been asleep for maybe an hour.

“I have to go take a drug test today for the paramedic job,” he announces.


“In a couple hours.”

“Where is your car?”

“I dunno.”

I want to help him find his Jeep, but I’m drunk and half-delirious. I ask him to text me when he gets to his car. He says he will and leaves. I read my poem one last time and then check my phone. The Falcons won. Renfree looked great.

As the birds outside start to welcome the morning, I head to bed, feeling sorry for Yates, for Ben, for myself, and for the whole world.