Friday: An Unexpected Visitor, #4111, the Time My Friend Broke a Toilet in Columbus, Enter the Great Nothing, the Wild Bunch Rides Again, Logistical Nightmares on the Way to the Next Big Thing, Lovely Notes in the Jaws of Dinosaurs

Gunnar Bio PicFRIDAY

I wake up around noon, smelling like sweat and Fireball, Rachel is fixing breakfast/lunch in the kitchen. I’m in minimal pain, save for my lungs, which are protesting last night’s cigarettes.

I head to the kitchen, cough like an eighty-year-old man, and then drain a few glasses of water feverishly. Rachel eyes me hungrily. Ben comes down and joins us.

“Rachel told me you were respectful last night. I really appreciate that.”

I’ve only been awake for five minutes. I think I’m still drunk. I have no idea how to respond to someone who’s thanking me for not sleeping with their wife, so I just mumble, “No problem.”

“She’s not always good, so I’m glad you could behave.”

“I wouldn’t have,” Rachel offers.

“I would have had to punish her, like last time,” Ben adds with a wink.

She rolls her eyes and he laughs. They’re sharing some memory together. I decide not to ask any questions.

I get the wireless password for the loft and send my poem about bonfires to my editor. Then I check my phone, where I notice that my sister, to my incredible surprise, will be joining me at Dragon Con today.

Asa and I have a very complicated relationship, to put it mildly.

In childhood, Asa and I waged heavy emotional wars on one another. Though our relationship eventually matured and mended, Asa and I still find it hard to communicate sometimes. Our love survived our history, but it couldn’t clear the scars. We rarely see each other anymore. We certainly never hang out of our own volition.

So I am very surprised when I get a phone call with a small, cheery voice on the other end saying: “Hey brudda. Can I come join you today?”

My sister is coming to see me! I can’t believe it! My smile is wider than a football field.

Rachel and Ben leave to attend various Dragon Con panels, so now I’m sitting alone in this beautiful loft. I make myself a sandwich and sit at the dining room table, staring at the blow-up mattress across the room with a mixture of excitement and shame. I’m never going to figure out this couple’s relationship, so I probably shouldn’t become a part of it. I start looking for news on the Falcons, who are going to need to make some serious decisions throughout the next week if they hope to beat the Eagles in the season opener. Bleacher Report is telling me that all hope is lost when my phone starts buzzing.

Asa is here.

I open the door. We hug. She laughs at how extremely happy I am to see her. I tell her I can’t wait to show her all the beautiful and wonderful things at Dragon Con this year. Our first stop will be Marriott #4111, my home for the next two nights. I tell her I should also probably shower once we get there. She takes a look at my shirt and agrees.

My sister doesn’t drink, but after some heavy persuasion I’ve finally convinced her to get a cheap bottle of some blended rose bullshit from a gas station on the corner of Edgewood. We call an Uber and, less than nine minutes later, I find myself back at the entrance to the Marriott. Excited faces float by the car windows. Everyone looks well-rested. The earnest drunks from the night before are still hiding in their hotel rooms, wrapped up in bed sheets and silently cursing the sun.

I stumble out of the Uber with my sister on my left and Big Bitch on my right, and together we stroll up to #4111. Ally lets us inside. I introduce my sister, put BB in the corner, and head to the shower.

In less than a minute, I am in the shower, directly underneath the nozzle. I look around dreamily as the steam builds around me, my reflection in the mirror slowly fading to a white nothingness. For a brief moment, the world makes sense: I am a writer, I am a brother, I am surrounded by geeks, I am a geek. Our love is a fucking art form.

I step out of the shower, pink and refreshed.

I can hear my sister cracking up to one of Ally’s stories in the other room. I step out of the shower and get dressed. I leave a thick cloud in the bathroom behind me. Ally is telling Asa something that is making them both grin wider than barn doors.

“It’s a shame you two obviously hate each other,” I observe. This is going to be a good day. Asa and I bid Ally farewell and leave. My sister leaves her bottle of wine behind, barely sipped, which is fine, because gas station rose tastes like perfumed horse shit.

I grab a bourbon from the bar downstairs, and then we pick up my sister’s day pass. She asks me what I’d like to do next. It’s five thirty in the afternoon. Time for breakfast.

We eat and, according to my notes, experience “the conversational version of hungry hungry hippos.” Afterwards, we walk around aimlessly, digesting our food and the scene, before strolling back to the Hyatt. Asa sees a sign for the Art Show and asks me if I think she’d enjoy that. To my own astonishment, I realize I have never seen the Art Show. Every year, it seems my preoccupation with friends, partying, and the occasional panel has led me away from this convention staple. At double time, we scamper through the Art Show entrance.

My first thought of the Art Show is this seems a little small. All in all, there seem to be around twenty booths in total, in a room the size of a Starbucks. I turn a corner, point at some Fleischer-style cartoon exhibit, turn another corner, where my sister notices an adorable old couple manning a booth filled with art from the seventies, walk around another exhibit, and then…

Oh wow. Fuck.

Another area of booths as big as the first entire room is situated on my left. Beyond that is a walkway filled with prints by various artists. Directly in front of me, stretching for what seems an impossible length, is the silent auction. It feels like you could land a plane in here.

For at least an hour, Asa and I marvel at this city of original works. The art appears in almost every size and medium, from postcard-sized doodles to colorful explosions the size of queen beds. There is a section filled with metalwork, and a few steps later a collection of ornate puppets. Can you imagine the total amount of hours spent dedicated to creating every piece of art in this room? The cumulative effort of every single artist added together? The mind reels. 

As I am struggling to appreciate the awesome spectacle before me, another thought appears: I am having a wonderful time with Asa, sharing my thoughts with her, asking her opinions, telling stories, making observations, engaging with her. I stop walking, and we look at each other a moment, in the middle of this gigantic room. Then I give her the biggest hug I can manage without looking like I’m trying to kill her.

“I love you,” I whisper into her shoulder.

“I love you too,” she answers.

And then we are back to perusing the artwork. Though we are very impressed by multiple pieces, she is broke and I am irresponsible, so we decide to leave the show, amazed yet empty-handed.

Two of my good friends, Kyle and Leo, are weaving through the crowds, jovially disturbing strangers. Leo is using his diminutive size to his advantage, weaving gracefully through the crowds, spouting witty observations like Groucho Marx and leaving behind a trail of shocked smiles. Kyle is fucking drunk, just giggling. He’s careening into people left and right, bumping into them and patting them on the back and giggling right into their faces as they try to frown at him.

I introduce my sister to this duo. Asa semi-smiles, eyeing them warily. I tell Kyle this is the second drunkest I’ve ever seen him and then tell my sister the first:

It was years ago. I’m writing an article on this giant metal and hardcore festival in Columbus, Georgia. I have hired Kyle as my “photographer,” really just an excuse to have a friend tag along and pay for some of the beer and share this Great Time with me. Armed with a case of Miller Lite and some youthful idiocy, Kyle and I drive one hundred miles an hour through amber waves of boredom and settle into the dirt-brown city of Columbus, where some of my old college friends still reside.

We reach our destination, a tiny house belonging to an old friend: Bump, a goofy man with the face of a teddy bear and the body of a Sherman tank. He lets us in and, before the sun has set, we are tearing into vicious games of beer pong and smoking pot from a joint the size of a Christmas tree. I let Bump know I’m at my limit when the room starts wobbling and everything goes a thin shade of green, but Kyle, physically unable to refuse anything passed in front of him, helps Bump finish off the massive plant in record time. Then he goes and gets another beer. I lay down on the couch and fall asleep to the rhythm of Kyle’s incessant giggling.

I wake up around ten in the morning, just as the festival’s supposed to begin. Hurling curses at the city, the time, the festival, my liver, and God, I stumble off the couch and shake Kyle awake. He rises from his slumber like Han Solo after the carbonite. We speed to the festival; I’m throwing my preliminary notes together and calling for my credentials when I look over and notice the unmistakable look of Spiritual Death floating behind the emptiness of Kyle’s eyes. I ask him if he’s okay and he turns to look at me as if he’s just witnessed a murder.

I enter the festival grounds with the vomit-timebomb that used to be my friend Kyle slumped in the fetal position next to me. I end up leaving him this way in my car with a couple bottles of water and the air conditioning blasting. I ask him if he wants to share a beer before I go. He kind of mumbles and gurgles simultaneously.

Kyle eventually sobers up and gets out of the car… nine hours later. By the time he’s ready to take any pictures it’s dark and the festival’s practically over, but Kyle still has the gall to use his press pass (which I brought to him) to sneak backstage and drink some of the free beer. By the time I meet up with him, he’s draining his second beer, looking for a third.

Columbus is a city filled with people that wish they were someplace else, and because of this, Columbus runs on alcohol. A city like Columbus will kill someone like Kyle in less than a week. We had to go.

We coast back to Marietta. I am exhausted from a full day of hustling for interviews in the Georgia summer heat. Kyle is relaxed and sleepy, finally relieved of his monstrous hangover. I’m thinking “well at least nothing bad really happened.” My phone chirps. A text from Bump.

“Your friend puked so hard he broke the toilet. Don’t come back here again.”

I asked Kyle if he remembers breaking the toilet, but Kyle doesn’t even remember the house.

I tell this story between swigs of Jack out of Kyle’s CamelBak.

“Hunh,” says my sister.

“Gross,” says Leo.

“HA!” says Kyle.

Then one of Leo’s friends shows up and I drink from their massive flask of Fireball, because I’m a fucking idiot.

For the next hour, my sister is laughing at the lunacy of my friends and their stories of her wayward brother. Meanwhile, I am recognized and greeted by my old friend Jerrod, the calmest punk rocker. It has been almost ten years since we last saw each other, but we pick up our friendship as easily as one picks up a paperclip. Jerrod and I met when I was going to school in Columbus, at a small punk show, in the days when I used to wear tight jeans and jackets with patches that angrily shouted “The Cramps” and “Unity” and “Meat Is Dinner.” At nineteen, we’d stay up through the cool Columbus nights, sitting on the third floor of the parking deck next to our dorms, smoking cigarettes and figuring out the world.

Now we are older, and the only thing that has really changed is our clothes. I tell him what I’ve been up to: an article on the “real Dragon Con experience.” He tells me he met a girl, and that things are going well and getting pretty serious. An engagement is on the horizon.

Jerrod and I agree that people at Dragon Con get to enjoy, for four brief days, a level of acceptance that would leave Portland stunned. If everyone in the world, every jock, every religious fanatic, every politician, every Klan member, woke up one day with half the tolerance found here at the convention, then the world would be an infinitely better place. As we talk, it felt as if both ten years and less than a day has passed between us.

Smoking Cartoon

After an hour, I notice my phone persistently buzzing. It’s Steven, wondering where I am. I tell him I’m with my sister and Leo and Kyle smoking cigarettes at the Hyatt, and within five minutes Steven has joined us, smiling as he greets everyone and sharing the occasional one-liner with Leo between interactions on his phone. Then he asks me what the plan is.

Always on to the Next Big Thing with this guy.

It just so happens there is something coming up soon: the Pool Pin Ups Party.

At this point the sun has fallen and I have a solid buzz going. Steven is trying his damnedest to catch up with me. He’s taking massive slugs of vodka out of a cheap plastic water bottle. One of his favorite lines is “I only chase vodka with high fives.” Right now there’s no time even for the high-fives.

I don’t remember what hotel we’re in anymore. Everything’s starting to blur together, and my face is numb. I can barely feel myself smiling like a lunatic as we make our way to the entrance of the hotel pool, leaning gently into my sister as she directs me, while Steven stays a few feet back, chugging what I assume is Russian Standard. I turn and say something to him, my words sloshing into one another. He looks beyond me and his eyes go wide. I follow his gaze to the pool entrance, where a man with a hotel uniform is turning away people who are trying to carry drinks into the party.

“Hold on,” says Steven. He whips around and quickly makes his way to a nearby table dressed in a long cloth that flows onto the floor. Swiveling his head like a meerkat, Steven bends down, lifts the table cloth, and conceals his water bottle behind the table cloth. Abandoning the vodka, the three of us stroll in, cool as cucumbers, though I’m a little more than pickled at this point.

I’m desperate to show my sister something wild, and the Pool Pin Ups Party does not disappoint. Jazz swings out of the speakers while people scuttle around with various mixed drinks, falling in and out of the shadows. Eyes rheumy from whiskey and vodka gleam playfully under a web of dim lights. Some of the women are dressed in Betty Paige-inspired outfits, while some of the men are channeling their best Sinatras. Others have simply decided to throw their clothes off and are jumping into the pool with child-like laughs.

I make my way to the bar. On my way there, I see two silhouettes sitting in a corner, a guy and a girl. The guy has his hand down the girl’s shorts. She’s arching her back lightly. I ignore it and get lost in this Gatsby-esque playground.

I get to the bar and order a whiskey and a Corona. Corona is awful beer, the kind of shit jocks and middle-aged fathers drink at Tex-Mex joints because they think it’s “part of the atmosphere.” People originally put a lime in the beer to keep the flies away, then discovered that the lime helps hide the taste of their shitty pale lager, so the garnish stuck.

Here’s a good rule if you’re an aspiring drinker: try to stay away from any beer that usually comes with a wedge of fruit, because it usually means the beer’s not very good by itself. To those of us who seriously drink, you look like an amateur.

I drain the Corona and chase it with a large sip of whiskey, which sends shivers through me as it snakes down my gullet. I have finally left tipsy and crossed into the realm of blissful drunkenness. For reasons beyond me, I laugh a little, the whiskey dripping from my beard. Steven and Asa appear next to me. I turn to them, my eyes wide and rolling.

“This is it. This is the spot. This is where the magic is,” I inform them mystically.

ladies dancing

Asa nods. Steven checks his phone. I dart off towards the largest swell of people I can find, where the same zoot-suited MC from the Bunny Hutch the night before is now booming lewd flirtations into the mic. Women of all shapes and sizes, dressed like Playboy cover girls from the fifties, stroll around him, hugging him and whispering seductively with each other. Among them is my friend Diana. Usually Diana hides her beauty in baggy jeans and loose t shirts, but tonight she looks absolutely stunning in a polka dot swimsuit and white facepaint. She sees me and saunters over, her hips swaying with the heart of the jazz. She wraps her arms around me and kisses me on the cheek.

“Hello, love,” she whispers.

We swap pleasantries. I tell her I’m writing an article. Her face lights up and she flashes me a smile that pairs well with her snake-like movements. Hypnotized by her outfit and ambience, I let her drag me by the arm, where she places me in front of the MC.

“This is Tony,” she says.

We make our introductions. I tell him with complete sincerity that I am absolutely enthralled by the atmosphere of this place. He smiles and says thank you. Tony is apparently a big deal to these girls. He’s heard a thousand complements tonight, from voices attached to tits that are way better than mine. It’s not long before he loses interest in me and starts talking to somebody else, so I leave to soak in the various sights and sounds. I run into an acquaintance, Sierra, one of those friend-of-a-friend deals; she’s walking around just as sexually charged as Diana, floating along with an air of classic beauty, every movement a practiced performance alternating between control and desire. We say hi, and I slur into her neck that I’m having a lot of fun. She looks at me with a gaze that could take the clothes off a preacher.

What is going on? I think to myself. This place is getting to me. I order another whiskey at the bar.

I make my way to the pool, teetering awkwardly near the edge of the deep end. I consider draining my glass and falling in. I smile as I imagine the brisk smack of the water hitting my face, the cold fingers wrapping around me, guiding me lower… the water massaging my limp and lifeless body as I slowly sink to the floor of the pool, taking one last, massive, chlorinated breath… the numbness in my face and fingers, slowly spreading… lost beneath the jazz and the love… the music fading, the lights on the surface of the water above me slowly dancing away… I’m lost… so lost in this Nothing…

“All right everyone, it’s that TIME, time for our mermaid’s to RACE, fella’s are you EXCITED YET?!” Tony croons. Everyone exits the pool, including an old customer of mine from the Nerd Bar days, Walt, who is wearing nothing but his underwear and an impish smile. He looks as gone as I feel. He is standing just a few feet away from me, drenched.

“How’s it going, buddy?” I raise my drink to him.

“What? Oh my God HEY MAN!” he bellows, and he gives me a high five, water exploding at impact. “How’ve you been? How’s the writing?”

“It’s great,” I tell him. “Doing it now, actually.”

“For this?”

“Yeah, man.”

“Oh man, that’s just… that is just so cool… wow, it’s cold…”

Then he trails off, looking at the water, shivering from the cold and his own excitement, a big, goofy grin staining his face. His hands are covering his mouth in a state of bliss. We silently watch the mermaids race each other across the pool. Like everyone else at this party, we are exactly where we need to be. We have discovered the high tide Thompson recalled as he stared at a Selectric in his depraved Vegas hotel room. I take a picture of Walt as he marinates in this moment, then I search for Asa and Steven.

I find Asa moments later. She is on the outskirts of the celebration, quiet and obviously feeling a bit out of place. I wrap my arm around her. She seems to find some comfort in this, and we spend the next few minutes admiring the festivities from our little corner of the world. Steven strolls over. He’s ready to go somewhere else. I imagine he is missing his little Russian friend.

We walk out of the… maybe it was the Sheraton… and into the warm summer night. Leo, my short and hilarious friend, is with us, and I suddenly think maybe he’s been with us for a while. My brain feels like it’s sloshing inside my head. Stepping has become a kind of mental exercise. I’m sweating. The fumes emanating off my body are borderline flammable.

Food time, we all agree.

We make it to a small gyro stand, mostly deserted. We order our gyros. Leo is flirting with a very attractive woman who is dressed like a werewolf. He bombs it with her as we sit down and eat our meals. Steven and Leo careen into a passionate argument about politics and comic books. As they bicker, I spend more time connecting with my sister, who insists that she is still having a wonderful time.

I start to sober up. Asa asks me what’s next on my list of events. I have to think about it for a minute, then I remember that tonight is Ally’s birthday. My sobriety will be short-lived.

On the way to #4111, we run into Kyle, who is somehow more fucked up than last time. He is sitting, wobbling in the corner, struggling to maintain his balance, and breathing laboriously. He offers us weed cookies, then goes back to puffing like a steam engine. Leo latches himself onto some stranger, wildly shooting witty insults as he fades into the crowd. Once again, it’s just Steven, Asa, and myself.

I’m trying to sober up as much as I can before we meet up with Ally. The night air is helping. I take giant gulps of it before we head into the Marriott and up towards the room. The place is now invaded with colorful streamers and infested with dozens of balloons. A horde of friends from Marietta have arrived, filling the place with songs and drinks and laughs and opinions. I introduce Asa to the rest of the Marietta crew: Jacob and Nancy and Ally’s sister Talia and her boyfriend Roy and Donald and some new girl, a friend of Ally’s named Rebecca. She’s really cute, and I consider getting to know her better until I find out later that Ally wants to get her and Donald to hook up over their shared interest in the Wheel of Time series.

Roy makes me a wonderful drink, a Sazerac, if I remember correctly. I sip on it slowly, absorbing the conversation around me.

My friends in this room include a poet who moonlights as the lead member of a hardcore band, a cocktailer who is also an extremely talented singer/guitarist/mandolin player, an army veteran who loves fantasy novels and shooting arrows in his backyard, and Ally, the sun in our artistic solar system, shining brighter than ever this evening as we celebrate her birthday. Everyone is musical and progressive and thoughtful and opinionated and passionate and talented and expressive and original.

Asa is talking to Nancy, who’s experiencing her first Dragon Con. Nancy is that weirdly optimistic person who still smiles when she hears a bird sing in the morning. Dragon Con is absolutely blowing her mind at the moment. Asa and I are both getting a kick out of Nancy’s unbridled joy. Her hands are on her face in an act of disbelief as she exclaims, “I just can’t believe it, everything is just so wonderful, I just simply can’t believe it…”

As I slowly finish my drink (by the way, kudos to you, Roy, I may not remember what you made me, but I sure do remember it was good enough to have a few more), my friend Lindsey buzzes my phone. She’s just arrived and is wondering where I am. I tell her I’m about to leave the Marriott with a group of friends. Our first order of business is to get a smoke near the hotel’s fountain. We agree to meet there.

drink and badge

Armed with a fresh round of alcohol, the party makes it way out of the room and down the elevator at a dizzying pace. To my astonishment, I’m already drunk again, which really doesn’t help when we step outside, and everything starts to fall apart.

The Wild Bunch heads to the elevators. Friday is the first full night of the “real” Dragon Con. Most of the out-of-towners who flew in Thursday have already had a full night to shake off the jet lag, while the in-towners have ended their day jobs for the week and are ready to forget the reality of the world. A buzzing sense of adventure pervades the entirety of the Marriott. Everyone is dancing to the music in their heads.

Everyone, that is, except for Asa. The wild sights and blaring sounds of Dragon Con are clearly starting to rust her joyful shell. She’s anxiously looking around her, flashing a grin that says “I understand we are supposed to be happy right now.” I quietly, in my heart, reach out to her.

I text Lindsey as we arrive on the lobby floor. I tell her I’m with a group of friends in the lobby; she tells me she’s right outside, near the fountain, and will come in to join us. I tell her that sounds perfect, and prepare to wait excitedly for her in the lobby near the elevators until I notice that the Wild Bunch are gravitating towards the side doors, ready to burst outside into the night air and fill it with various kinds of smoke.

Lost in the festivities, I follow them outside, just as Lindsey presumably makes her way into the Marriott lobby.

I’m smoking outside, darting between various separate conversations: the best route to the Marriott from Marietta, the next Song of Ice and Fire novel, a good name for a drink that is at least one part brandy and served in an absinthe-rinsed coup.

Asa has deteriorated greatly. She’s still smiling, but she’s physically removed herself from the small rings of conversation around her. She looks as if a shadow hugged her. I ask her if she’s okay. She tells me she’s fine, but the inflection in her voice falls at the end of her sentence, so it sounds more like “I’m fine?” I nod, unconvinced.

Lindsey calls me, but I’m entangled in a vicious conversation about the Superman vs. Batman movie, and I miss it. Then she texts me; I get her text and try to call her back. As the phone is ringing, Asa comes up to me, telling me she needs to leave, her face painted in anxiety and panic. I immediately leave the conversation I am in, following her to the fountain. Her phone is dying, so I use mine to call Uber, and that’s when I see that Lindsey called. I call Uber for my sister, then call Lindsey, telling her how sorry I am that I left her stranded in the hotel lobby, and that I’ll be in the smoking area, back with my friends, shortly. We agree to meet there in ten minutes and I hang up the phone. The Uber is running late, which is understandable considering the monstrous traffic strangling the streets of midtown thanks to the convention. Asa is hugging me as we sit and wait near the Marriott fountain for the Uber, and in this instant I love her more than anything else in the world. I am proud of her courage, happy that I was able to introduce her to some of my closest friends, and satisfied that we have just spent a wonderful evening together, blissful in each other’s company. Asa, relieved to be away from the growing crowds, smiles next to me. Time seeps into the night. By the time the Uber arrives, Asa and I have spent almost thirty minutes peacefully silent next to each other. She leaves, and I realize suddenly that I have left Lindsey stranded up in the smoking pavilion. I race up there and find her impatiently idling near the Wild Bunch. She looks gorgeous, if not a little pissed. I hug her and apologize profusely for leaving her stranded a second time. She accepts the apologies tepidly. I hurriedly introduce her to the Wild Bunch, and while they all introduce themselves I find myself embroiled in another heated debate of no significance. Eventually Lindsey interrupts and tells me that she’s leaving to meet other friends, and I realize I’ve fucked things up with her for the night. I apologize again for the situation and offer to walk with her, but as I extend this offer Ally informs the group that it is time for all of us to start dancing our way back to #4111. Forced to recant my offer with Lindsey in order to stay with the Wild Bunch, I tell her I’ll call her tomorrow. She looks a little less than thrilled, but she agrees to hang out with me later.

Sorry again, Lindsey.

The Wild Bunch are dancing back to #4111, led by our fearless leader, Ally, who has donned the head of a velociraptor. Strangers are constantly approaching her as she salsas her way to the elevators. They are oddly intrigued by the woman whirling through the crowds, dressed in a flowing sundress, wearing the head of a vicious dinosaur. A lot of weird pictures are taken.

In the midst of this revelry, the immediate effects of the smoking and binge-drinking begin to appear. My lungs are screaming at me. My heart begins to rattle against my sternum, while my kidneys feel like they’re pruning as they sour inside my body. My stomach starts to cramp incessantly. Despite the illness in my body, my soul, and the rest of the Wild Bunch, arrive to #4111 in good spirits.

Roy is wearing his Starlord mask, complete with voice modulator. He is singing minor hits from the late eighties. The modulator makes him sound like Cher, and I can’t stop laughing. Jacob, who is so deliriously drunk he doesn’t remember ever leaving the hotel, joins Roy in song, dancing awkwardly between the hotel beds. They are creating a scene of utter lunacy within the hotel room, two creatures completely overwhelmed by the spirit of the convention, and I am helplessly mesmerized by them.

Steven, eyes fixated on his phone, tells me he’s ready to continue his pursuit of the Next Big Thing. I reluctantly say my goodbyes and follow him out of the Marriott, heading towards the Hyatt. We bump into Leo and Kyle. Leo is comfortably numb, his fevered pace finally soothed by the effects of many, many beverages. Kyle is blitzed, bumping his sweaty shoulders against the doorframes, the people, and the night sky. Words spill out of his mouth. A jumble of consonants and vowels lie mangled and murdered around him. He wheels and whirls his way past us, barely aware of his own presence, and before any of us can really process the situation, he is gone.

As Leo, Steven, and I regroup, Rachel meets us, a bundle of flirtatious smiles and suggestive shrugs. Together, the four of us assess our situation. Steven informs us of some vodka stashed in his Jeep, a couple blocks away. He suggests we make a “pitstop” for the vodka. We all head out.

Four blocks later, we are still shy of Steven’s Jeep. I am seething with impatience. The camaraderie and fierce adventure are fading memories as we weave our way through the cold, empty roads of midtown. After almost thirty minutes of uncomfortable marauding, we reach our destination.

Steven procures from the passenger side of his car a crumpled water bottle half-filled with warm vodka. We all complete our thirty-minute traverse with an uncomfortable swallow of the stuff. I feel like I’ve been duped. Leo, Rebecca, and I are ready to head back. Steven shoves the bottle of vodka into a pocket. We trudge back, exhausted. I am grateful to end the Pitstop Adventure.

Time is arriving to me in fragments. The drinking and the walking have caught up with me, and I feel as if I’m moving against an invisible current as we make our way back towards the Marriott. My spirit is almost underwater by the time we reach the hotel. It is almost two in the morning. Leo is scanning the mounds of people shuffling around us, Rachel is sharing her hungry eyes with the world, and Steven is nosed into his phone, patiently waiting for someone else to discover another Next Big Thing.

Everyone is ready for another experience, but I am tired, bitterly remembering my failure with Lindsey, and ready for sleep and the promises of tomorrow. I mumble a “good night” to them all and head up the elevator to #4111.

I bought my share of the hotel room late, and I’m expecting to find a cold corner of floor in the room to sleep on, but when I walk in the lights are still on, everyone is settled in, reading, and there’s a piece of bed that’s been cleared for me. On it lies the raptor head that Ally was wearing earlier, with a note in its jaws that reads:

“4 Gunnar because we love you.”

It’s weird, that moment that suddenly overwhelms you, unrelated to any birthday or holiday or specific memorial, when the act of Kindness is given genuinely and naturally, delivered to you when you are tired and worn and least suspecting, when the shadows of the world have grown long, when the hollows of your heart begin to rot and remind you of their existence. As the days creep painfully past, as the monotony of existence shares its drink with you, that unexpected arrow of emotion finds its target, and suddenly you are confronted with something powerful, a respectful acknowledgement, and it places inside you a justification, a small fire, just strong enough to thaw the icy boundaries of your conscience. A gift, a letter, a love. That rare instance of genuine appreciation is given to you, to be held forever, until the entire framework of your physical being vanishes into the spinning reels of time.

Luckily, I’m too out of sorts to process the moment seriously, so instead I merely dive into the waves of hotel sheets, laugh at some unheard joke, and fall asleep.