Saturday: Pineapples, Perfect Gifts, News from the Tournament Desk, Engineers and Nineties Rock, When Gunnar Met Molly, Electric Conversations and the Great Awareness, Sadness between the Pizza and the Vomit


Gunnar Bio PicI wake up next to a pineapple.pineapple

My head’s not hurting as much as I thought it would. I check the time: one thirty in the afternoon. The signature Dragon Con parade is already over. Now that I think about it, I don’t think I’ve ever seen the parade. The Saturdays of Dragon Con past have all started in exactly the same way: waking up delirious, fighting some form of hangover, thirsty as all hell, and cursing the afternoon sun. The pineapple is a new one.

I fight the urge to roll over and go back to sleep, forcing myself to sit up. My eyes roll around the room. Talia is watching Dragon Con TV, currently showing a panel that includes the actor from Arrow. It’s hard for me to imagine this dreamy-eyed, chiseled-chinned man, throwing down and letting loose with the kinds of people I’ve encountered so far this Dragon Con, or at any Dragon Con. Instead, this young actor will finish his panel and snap a few photos with some wild-eyed teenagers, before a Dragon Con staff member, whose entire job is to shadow a single celebrity and ferry them through the hotels and away from the large crowds, will escort him to a limousine with a driver who always keeps the car running; they will head either towards the airport or to one of the posh bars downtown or, if he’s knowledgeable and has some free time to kill, they’ll head to Decatur, where hipsters, unable to recognize anyone from a show on the CW, will hand him incredible cocktails at exorbitant prices. I heard Karl Urban did this once.

I ask Talia about the pineapple, and she just laughs and keeps watching the TV. Pineapplegate will forever remain a mystery. I ask where everyone else is. She tells me that Roy and Donald are out scouting for weapons, and her sister is in the parade, dressed as a character from the Wheel of Time series (I don’t know which one, I’ve never read those books for the same reasons I’ve never read the dictionary). She’s not sure where everyone else is, but she’s pretty sure no one’s dead. That’s good enough for me. We’re talking about getting room service when Ally walks in. With the skill of a twenty-year performance-art veteran, she’s quickly back in civilian clothes. We order food and slowly recover. Rebecca comes back, a dog smuggled into her purse. It comes bounding out, a furious ball of padded paws and ferocious licking. I play lazy games with it while we all lounge around.

After food and recovery and digestion have all run their course, I call Lindsey, who’s hanging out at her hotel, some tiny joint just outside of the main Dragon Con area. I walk over and meet her in her room. To my surprise, she’s brought me presents! Plural!!! In a plastic bag festooned with colorful ribbons and tissue paper are the following:

1) a dinosaur shaped memo pad,

2) a sleek black journal, and

3) a slice of birthday cake.

Some of her roommates are there. They all sing a pleasant rendition of Happy Birthday before the conversation turns back to the original topic, which is drug deliveries. I lay back on one of the beds and relax. I don’t hear any of their conversations. All I can see, and hear, and appreciate is Lindsey. Her simple act of kindness, of love and consideration, combined with the vodka-bullshit that has somehow found its way into my hands, has left me utterly intoxicated. I affectionately watch her, loving her and her great, glowing heart. She tells me she’s going to meet some more of her friends at the Sheraton and asks me if I’d like to join. We take a few more shots of vodka and head out.

It’s around four o’ clock in the afternoon as we walk over to the Sheraton, and there’s a noticeable lull around the main hotels. I imagine the thousands of people in their rooms, napping and pregaming and putting on their costumes and making sweet, sweet nerd love to each other. A few distant clouds hang lazily in the pale blue sky. The vodka is doing its job. Everything feels like a warm dream.

We get to the Sheraton and meet her friends. There are four of them, two of whom I recognize immediately: Jonah and Mags, a couple of my favorite regulars from my days working the Nerd Bar. They’re surprised and happy to see me, and quickly inform me that they did some acid earlier in the afternoon and are still riding the gentle waves at the tail end of their trip. Mags, who claims she is freezing, is wrapped snugly under some blankets in the eighty degree room. Lindsey’s friend Paul, who I once met at a party (where he was dressed immaculately as the hunter from the first Jurassic Park movie), pours us some hunch punch that is mostly tequila. In record time, I’m comfortably drunk. My face feels incredibly flush. I start laughing and talking profusely, a volcano spewing jokes through the softly lit hotel room. Mags bursts into sweat and kicks the covers off. We all laugh. The room dips like the cabin of a storm-pounded ship every time I move my head.

parking cars

I suddenly remember that I’m supposed to meet my friend Edith today. Edith is the head of video game tournaments at Dragon Con. Because of my history running tournaments at the Nerd Bar, I worked closely with her the previous two years, making sure the tournaments ran smoothly and that nothing and no one was on fire. The tournament room is held in one of the smaller conference rooms at the Hilton. Within minutes of turning on the dozens of computers, consoles, and monitors required to run a successful and popular tournament, the room becomes unbearably hot, slowly cooking the volunteer staff who work inside. Strange smells start emanating from the hundreds of passing tournament players as they marinate inside the room. Anyone walking into this room is greeted with an olfactory assault. Edith is behind the front desk, coordinating the circus, alternating between her roles as “calm presenter” and “furious, effective hurricane.” Other volunteers are bustling around her, trying to answer questions and record tournament information. Large crowds of spectators shift behind competing players, eyes locked on one of a dozen flashing screens.

Edith catches me approaching and, without a word, walks around the desk and hugs me. She is such a wonderful, gregarious spirit, the kind of person one looks for when they want to get rowdy at a small sports bar. I tell her how impressed I am with the growth of the tournaments. “I know,” she answers with a mix of pride and exhaustion. She tells me that next year Dragon Con is moving their video game tournaments to a bigger location in a separate building. I congratulate her and we exchange another hug before I leave. I hold my breath as I escape the humid jungle that is her palace.

Downstairs, in the massive, open lobby below me, a mob of Deadpools is chanting “CHANGA!” I stare down at them, mesmerized. They are the distant rumbling of the oncoming storm.



A rhythmic mantra preparing me for tonight.


The pulsing heartbeat of the Dragon Con Monster.



The floor below me is rumbling. The windows around me are rattling. My head is throbbing in time with the chant.


I quickly purchase some whiskey.

It’s still early, around five in the afternoon. The collective hangover from Friday has disappeared, and con-goers of all shapes and sizes are milling about, refreshed and excited. Today is the day of real cosplay, and I am being treated at every turn by some awesome and bizarre spectacle: a ten-foot tall Gundam mech, a dedicated Oogie Boogie, the detectives Sam and Max. In a far corner of the courtyard, I spot the sexiest early-nineties version of Rogue I have ever seen in my life, a voluptuous goddess wearing a skin-tightest Lycra bodysuit and yellow leather boots that run halfway up her mile-long legs. Cloisters of themed cosplayers fresh from the parade are taking group photos.

Picture: the Justice League of America smiling like little children on one end of the Hilton Courtyard, a small group of female League of Legends characters posing for battle on the other end, and various anime characters punctuating the lines of semi-ordinary civilians, throwing peace signs and readying intricate weaponry.

The sea of humans is growing thicker and thicker by the minute, and I’m done with my drink before I make it back to the Hyatt, where Leo is dressed like Marty McFly. Rena, his on-again-off-again, is hanging onto his arm. Leo is no longer moving like Groucho from Duck Soup; now he is spinning in place like a dreidel, his arms waving furiously about as he cracks jokes and poses for pictures. We talk for a minute, and he implies he’s in the middle of some kind of trouble, possibly involving Kyle, my toilet-breaking cameraman friend. Leo is an excellent friend, but he has a tendency to be a bit melodramatic sometimes, especially when large groups of people are involved. I’ve resolved that I’m too drunk to really care about anything that doesn’t involve more drinking.

So Leo exits to put out whatever presumed fire is raging in his life, leaving Rena with me. I tell her that I’m friends with a nerd-rock band called Foot Pound Force, and I’m about to go see them play a show, if she’d like to join. She accepts my invitation.


We make our way to one of the smaller conference rooms in the Hyatt. Foot Pound Force are a three-piece from Alabama. Their music tends to wander the odd-but-cute regions that bands like Weezer and They Might Be Giants first pioneered. I interviewed Dave, their bassist, earlier in the year, and we agreed to meet up briefly after his show. They all look like engineers.

Rena and I walk into the room just as Foot Pound Force are finishing their first song. A smattering of people clap appreciatively in the small space, which is no bigger than a locker room. None of the few dozen attendees are dancing, or even standing up. There is no stage, and every light in the place is turned on. A picnic table in one corner of the room is proudly displaying Chips Ahoy cookies and grape juice. Nothing feels like a typical rock concert. It’s perfect. At its core, Dragon Con doesn’t try to aggregate cool points, and that’s part of what makes the experience so unique and fun.

Though the audience is small, everyone looks like they’re having genuine fun. At the end of the first song, every face is grinning, every hand clapping. For the members of Foot Pound Force, this is enough. Dave cracks jokes with an awkward, hurried cadence that only adds to the band’s geeky charm. They play for about half-an-hour, singing nineties-flavored ballads about space, superheroes, and their love of physics. Though the acoustics of the cramped room are abhorrent and the air-conditioning non-existent, everyone stays glued to their seats, completely satisfied. At the end of the set, the group announces that they are selling their songs on flash drives. Rena notes that it’s a fitting form of merch; I wholeheartedly agree. I briefly say hi to Dave and the rest of the band as they start breaking down their equipment, and then Rena and I leave. She thanks me for inviting her and tells me she had a wonderful time as we order drinks from a nearby cash bar.

Back to the smoking patio of the Hyatt, where Rena rejoins Leo, who has grown very excited about “something.” I can’t tell if he’s overjoyed or upset. I almost ask him what’s wrong, before the whiskey reminds me to leave it alone. He darts out of the crowd and down the steps leading to the Marriott without saying a word. Rena dutifully trails behind him and they’re gone. I slam the rest of my bourbon.

I turn around and I’m suddenly surrounded by Max and Steven and Lindsey, a powerful combination of good friends with bad habits. They’ve appeared around me as if out of nowhere, waiting for me to acknowledge them. I sit and let the whiskey soak into my soul, briefly numb and deaf to everything, everywhere, as we bathe in the orange farewell of the setting sun. I find myself falling once more into Nothing, sinking down and down again. Muffled noises play around me. Then the noises turn to voices, the voices turn to words, like the sounds of conversation outside of a pool as you swim to the surface…

“…hey… yeah, it’s true… Gunnar… what’s next, you okay?… Gunnar, would you…”

(I breach the surface of clarity)

“…want to go somewhere else? See what else is up?”

I turn to Max and Lindsey. Max is a fascinating person, twenty years my senior, an amazingly supportive friend who has calmly and constantly supported my every endeavor. His enthusiasm for my stories precedes almost anyone else.

Max is also one of the most easy-going people I’ve ever met. If the man were on fire, he’d simply ask for some water.

Right now I can barely put coherent thought together. Max and Steven are clearly satisfied with whatever the group decides.

Lindsey wants to go. She looks at me knowingly. It’s that time.

Time to pop my first molly. 

Steven wants in on the molly, but Lindsey only brought enough for the two of us, and I’m not about to ask her to try to find more. She and I head towards the Marriott expeditiously, leaving Max and Steven at the patio. They’re a good couple, I assure myself. They certainly don’t need me. They’ll get into a world of trouble if they really put their minds to it.

We head to #4111, now devoid of dogs and pineapples and raptor heads and everything else except for Talia sitting on a bed watching television and Big Bitch chilling casually in the corner. I fumble a hello to Talia and sit on the bed. Lindsey isn’t making any sudden moves. I think maybe she’s nervous about doing the molly in front of a stranger. I tell her “She’s okay,” slurring the words into one. I start to realize that maybe the liter’s worth of alcohol I’ve consumed wasn’t the greatest way to begin my very first ecstasy experience. I grab a dixie cup from the small stack next to the television and head to the bathroom. I hurriedly drink a gallon of water in small, eight ounce pours.

Speaking of water, I had been warned multiple times from multiple people to stay hydrated as much as I could while the ecstasy worked through me. In fact, I had compiled a sort of mental list on how to conduct myself for my first experience, which went as followed:

– drink a ton of water

-wear loose-fitted clothing

– stay with someone who understands what you’re going through

– communicate what you’re feeling, especially if you’re having a bad time

– stay around people you can trust

– fucking party

I tell Lindsey about my adventures earlier in the day, the weather, and whatever else comes to mind as I nervously let the water rejuvenate my tattered clarity. Lindsey sits patiently with me, patiently listening to whatever bullshit observation tumbles out of my mind. Eventually, I run out of things to say, and then I’m ready. She brings out a Ziploc bag with two clear capsules and we each pop one. I chase it with the rest of the water in my dixie cup.

It is now too late to turn back. The most intense, incredible moments of Dragon Con are waiting for me on the horizon.

Stacy is blowing up my phone. After a full day of petitioning, pleading, and political maneuvering, she has found a way to sneak into Dragon Con for free. Now that she’s here, she’s losing her goddamn mind, texting me every five minutes with “Where u at?” “U at D Con?” “I’m here!!!”

I’ve been so preoccupied with sobering up and preparing myself for the rest of the night that I haven’t even considered checking my phone. By the time I get Stacy’s messages and call her back, she’s in a near frenzy.

“I’m here I’m at the Marriott, where are you?” she inquires breathlessly.

“I’m at the Marriott as well. I’m with a friend. We’re in a room about to head down. Wanna meet in front of the fountain?”

“Okay.” She immediately hangs up.

By the time Lindsey and I make it down to meet Stacy, it’s been almost thirty minutes since I took the molly, and nothing’s happened yet. Even without the ecstasy’s influence, my heart is pounding in anticipation. We go outside and rendezvous with Stacy, who’s with a friend I’ve never met before. We’ll call him “Gary.” Stacy is dressed like some kind of hell-spawned vampire and looks completely in touch with the Dragon Con scene. “Gary” is dressed in a button down shirt and stylish jeans. He’s looking frantically around him like he’s about to get robbed.

We make awkward introductions and step back inside the Marriott. I tell Stacy about my Grand Idea: now that I’ve popped molly, I’m going to go to the “Last Party on Alderaan,” a sci-fi themed, supposedly orgiastic dance party. We get near the major ballroom at the base of the Marriott. A zig-zagging line of pumped up geeks have formed near the entrance. The line stretches past me, past Lindsey and Stacy and “Gary,” and wraps around the central elevators. We trace the path of the line and find it stretches roughly a football field around the massive conglomerate of elevators, ending near the point at which it begins. The doors are scheduled to be open in five minutes, but it’s going to take at least half an hour before we can get inside. I wonder what mood I’ll be in by the time I get there.

Stacy asks if I want a swig from her Camel-Bak. I take a swig and it’s vodka with the slightest hint of grape flavor. Fuck.

I turn and notice Lindsey staring vacantly into the crowd. Her jaw is clamped shut. She looks pale. Is she grinding her teeth? I start to ask her what she —-

Oh my God.

Oh my GOD.


The first wave hits me while I’m trapped in this massive never ending line that wraps around like a colossal snake and it’s the most spectacularly dangerous I’ve felt since back in the day when I used to snort crystal meth and hang out with fat bikers and pee in fan blades I turn to Lindsey and she’s still staring straight ahead focused on absolutely nothing her eyes are pinpointed with the accuracy of a German sniper’s crosshairs into the endless void of life the irises gone is my heart racing I feel the deep shivers of something wonderful and awful trembling inside my skin and out of it hundreds of thousands of tiny droplets of warm salty alarm suddenly rupture Stacy is behind me with deep fangs chomping at the air her eyes as black as the nights of Russian painters I can’t stand still I can’t talk I can’t believe how many people there are around us.

The color in Lindsey is coming back “We might make out” she says regarding Stacy that is too much for me and my heart is vibrating violently and tiny fingers massage the nerves in my back.

I nod it’s all I can do I am locked in place acutely aware of everything around me every breath every heartbeat the thwomping of the music as we shuffle closer to the doors It’s like I fell into that pool that Nothing down beneath the darkness and suddenly into spectacular light far beyond the sight and sense of the rest of the world I am submerged in every sense hyperaware as I float amongst the laughs and cries and business of the world around me drowning but with no danger of being drowned. 

This lasts for about ten minutes. The line is moving swiftly, so we’re already halfway to the entrance. I’m drenched in sweat. Stacy is leaning heavily against my glistening right shoulder, fuming vodka from every pore. She is beautiful, absolutely gorgeous. She’s also a mutated vampire, and I’m also very fucked up. Part of me is claustrophobically terrified whenever she touches me, and part of me wants to tear the costume off her body and have my way with her in front of ten thousand other geeks.

Just as I’m beginning to gain some self-control, the second wave hits, stronger than the first.


The pool of laughter and motion and colors enters my nose and mouth and lungs and pushes straight through my nervous system and volleys the brain I’m so dizzy sososo fucking dizzy where the hell is all of this sweat coming from why is everyone so loud I need to get it together I need to sit down I need to get out from under the weight and the amplitude and the sex and the responsibility and the heat of the conversation I am under hundreds of beds under the princess suffocating absolutely fucking suffocating where is Lindsey she doesn’t look good we fucked up we’re going to die in this line the last thing I will see lights of the ambulances looks of the paramedics (going to miss Steven) struggling to keep me alive calmly saying “look at me sir stay with me he’s fading” as convulsions wrackwrackwrack my body and twist my organs inside out I’m not the guy for drugs I gave this up years ago and here I am doomed dying a few days after my birthday in front of two friends in a sea of strangers it’s too fucking hot way too fucking hot and loud and much way way way too much

Still stepping with the nervous focus of a veteran drug-abuser

The line is moving Gunnar focus on that Gunnar the line is moving you don’t have to be still

You can’t be still

Focus on the line, the entrance, that black maw speckled with distant lights

You have your badge, show them your badge

Smile, calm, nice and calm, to the guy at the door

You’re in

The music

The lights

You did it

It’s not over yet…

The second wave finally releases me as I step inside. A new form of concentration overwhelms me. The hyperawareness is back. I am clutched in the grasp of a Super-Reality. Every detail is vivid. Clusters of information explode around me.

I tell Lindsey everything. Literally everything that crosses my mind is fed immediately to her. I can’t stop talking. I am helpless in our conversation.

I tell her I’m okay, but that I felt like I was going to faint back there. She says she felt the same, that what we took was the strongest she’s ever taken. Stacy is drunk and completely enamored with every living thing on the dance floor. In seconds she is gone, poor “Gary” trailing anxiously behind her.

Lindsey and I have a wonderful history of dancing. It’s how we first met, two Dragon Cons ago; she was Miley Cyrus and I was Robin Thicke. We followed a dance party through three different hotels and developed a solid friendship based on loose footwork and shared sweat (especially during “Blurred Lines” and a certain night on a certain couch).

Right now I am struggling to put one foot in front of the other. Dancing is an enigma.

After an embarrassing five minutes, in which I look less like a dance-savvy party animal and more like someone getting tazed in slow motion, I turn to Lindsey and announce, very loudly and full of purpose:


Nailed it.

I walk over to the water cooler at the back of the ballroom with the dutiful swagger of a reservoir dog. It is the greatest idea a human has ever had. The first thing I do is drain five cups of water in under a minute. I immediately feel better. My body slowly transitions from a critical state of feverish dehydration into something less alarming and more reasonable. I notice the massive, industrial air vents above me. They are breathing cold air onto me. My body begins to regulate itself. I feel euphoric.

I marinate in the incredible feeling produced by the gentle exhalations of the air conditioning while the cold water soothes the rage of my nerves. I appreciate fully the dark, empty space around me. I cannot tell you what songs are being played right now, but they are all perfect as well. A thousand vibrant bodies capture the scene. I am a captain, keenly studying the behaviors of a beautifully raging ocean. Nothing escapes my awareness. I am Columbus discovering the New World.

After what feels like anywhere between a half hour and seven days, Lindsey approaches me. She is happy, and in her happiness she is gorgeous. She asks me if I’m okay, and I tell her how in love I am with the view in front of me. She smiles knowingly and asks if I want to step outside. I do.

The cool air outside of the Marriott helps me hit perfection. My friends Krissy and Anya approach me, dressed as Team Rocket. They are gorgeous as well. I know too many beautiful souls. They are asking me for something, but my brain is too busy studying the tongue’s caress of every syllable to understand what they are saying. It is like examining a single brushstroke in an attempt to comprehend an entire painting. I tell them I love them and that I’m not in the right mind for heavy thinking. They look into my eyes, pupils as wide as dinner plates, and hug me. Then they are gone.

Lindsey and I sit near the fountain. She offers me some gum, which proves to be the greatest thing in the history of everything. I chew it maniacally. She and I talk furiously, ping-ponging between issues at sonic speeds. She profusely exclaims her love for my enthusiasm, my hard work, and my dedication to my craft. I abundantly detail my love of her supportive personality, her charisma, and her artistic vision. We are lovers on speed, madly proclaiming our deep, unwavering desire for each other’s soul.

Steven and Max meet us in this state of erratic love. An air of mischievous adventure surround them. I had predicted correctly: they have clearly been on their own adventures.

In times of extreme emotion, Max acts like a big brother to me. Incredibly perceptive, he is often times the earth that keeps my electric conceptions grounded. So it’s only natural that the first thing I do when I see him, shivering with excitement, my eyes dominated by a dreamy blackness, is tell him:

“Dude, I just took molly for the first time, and I am seriously fucked up right now.”

He laughs. I drift up, from the depths of sensorial insanity to the surface of human reason, and join him.

Then suddenly my mind is a feather drifting between memories:

I am now headed towards another dance party, located again in the Marriott. It is a nihilistic, post-apocalyptic insanity known as Valhalla.

I am now inside, in front of a stage occupied by people dressed in Mad Max attire.

I am now greeting Roy and Donald and Rebecca, near the front of the crowd, gliding effortlessly among them, radiating mellow euphoria.

I am now walking Lindsey and a friend of hers back to the car, full of absolute wonder, like a child who has reached the realms of Pan. I have an opinion on everything, from the meaning of life to the color of editor’s ink.

I make my way back to the Marriott, outside of the ballroom that’s hosting Valhalla. It’s five in the morning, and the scene is starting to die down. Most of the costumed geeks are heading to exits rather than entrances. Six rows of chairs stand before the entrances to Valhalla. Only three people occupy the chairs: a couple who are trying to get their shit together, and some fat man in robes who has succumbed to the ideas of sleep.

I sit in one of the chairs, suddenly very alert of my surroundings. A puddle of pink vomit congeals to the left of me, near an empty pizza box; in my easy-going, trance-like state, I accept the pile of sickness as an inevitable conclusion.

Steven texts me, wondering where I am. I tell him I’m in front of Valhalla and in moments he is here. He appears tired and worn. Since he was a child, Steven has tried to be a mischievous wrench in the powerful cogs of humanity. Marks of wear line his eyes, his brow, and his spirit. On his face is written a familiar defeat. He comes and sits next to me, opposite the puke.

I ask him how he’s doing.

“Nobody loves me,” is his response. “I want to have fun, I go out to have fun, and people don’t get it. I don’t feel like anybody cares.”

I am in a state of utter peace. I understand without any empathy.

“What makes you feel this way?” I ask him from a distance.

“I hit people up, I try to talk to them, but they don’t want to talk to me,” he answers despondently.

“Is it you or is it them?” I inquire.

“I don’t know,” he responds.

“What do you want?” I ask.

“I want people to like me,” he almost whispers into the crowds of cosplayers that do not hear him.

“I understand,” I tell him, settling into my chair. We sit for an hour, oblivious to the world. He leaves, and it is just me and the pizza and the puke. The crowds dissipate as the effects of the ecstasy release their feverish clutches. I watch the sun slowly rise to the east of the room.