Sunday: Rare and Exotic Craft Beers, Producers and Saboteurs, Hair Wants to Kill a Man, the Case of Chris and Chloe, Learning to Say No, My Head Detaches from My Body and Floats Away


Gunnar Bio PicIt’s ten in the morning. I’m not dead yet.

I wake up slowly to the sound of my phone vibrating across the nightstand. One bleary eye strains into the screen; it is a text message from Lindsey. She wants to know if I am attending this morning’s beer swap. She’s already headed there.

My joints are screaming. Existence burns. I ponder getting up, but then I close my eyes, and the world is a sea of calm waves, and my conscience bobs along it, a tennis ball in the middle of the ocean. I lose myself to the rhythm of the waves.

It’s noon. I breach the surface of waking life. An awareness wracks my body, familiar to anyone who has gone too hard for too long: I am late.

Not too late, thank God. The beer swap will still be happening for at least another hour. I spend the next few minutes silently fighting reality, then shuffle into my clothes and head to the tenth floor of the Marriott.


At twelve thirty in the afternoon, most of the participants of the beer swap are pretty well buzzed.

A half dozen tables are tucked cozily into a small segment of the Marriott, virtually invisible from any other floor. This has not impeded the swap’s popularity. Small groups of beer connoisseurs cluster around the tables, slowly sauntering from one drink station to the next, studiously observing the bottles, pouring a little, and taking hearty swigs.

I teeter, half-alive, into this scene. Lindsey is there, as is my friend Drew, the ringleader of this boozy circus. He’s currently deep in conversation with a gentleman, debating the origins of a certain Alpine ale. I am very happy to see Lindsey. We exchange an exhausted hug. She’s just as tired as I am. She wants to know if I’d like to meet up with her in a couple hours, and I tell her I would. I turn my gaze to the vast collection of beer bottles, many of them half- or near-empty, strewn across the tops of five or six small, circular tables. Rare and exotic gems, all of them. Beers that are brewed in limited supply at high altitudes by Trappist monks and small-town geniuses hailing from Birmingham to Bavaria. My liver trembles. I turn to say something clever to Lindsey, but she is gone.

Drew is still talking with his newest friend. They are now discussing home brews. Phrases like “concentrated malt extract” and “stimulated fermentation” are shared between them. I walk over to them with a zombie-like shamble. I grab a beer of something shiny and promising, some fifty dollar bottle I know nothing about, and clumsily splash into their bubble. Drew notices me approaching and remains incredibly kind.

“Hey man, what’s up?” he asks with genuine concern.

“Not much,” I grumble. “Just got here. This is great, man.”


“Anything in particular I should try?”

“It’s all good.” He holds up some bottle whose name I instantly forget. “I really like this one.”

“Great, I’ll have to try it. Glad to see this is so popular, even this early.”


A pause.

Me: “Well, I’m gonna go try some of the beers, I’ll see you around.”

“Okay, man,” he answers, brow furrowed.

I stagger off.

End scene.

I call Lindsey. She has something to take care of at the apartment. It’s clear she’s a little stressed. After the hurricane that passed through our souls last night, I’d be amazed if she weren’t a little shaken. I ask her if everything is okay. She tells me her friends are having bad trips this Con. I tell her I’m having a great time, and that I had an amazing night hanging out with her. She says she had fun too.

A couple years ago, my buddy Keaton and I started a web series on YouTube. The conversations always centered on some nerdy topic (the properties of magic, superhero movies, the Star Wars canon) and involved heavy amounts of on- and off-camera drinking. During filming of our later episodes, we managed to employ a small group of friends to help us with filming, lighting, and drinking. As far as companions go, few were as helpful and resourceful as our buddy Fischer. A life-long nerd and current heavyweight in the Google circles, Fischer accrued a considerable amount of capital working the search engine circuit, a wealth that he decided to use to build his own nerd bar in his basement. With fully functioning tap-handles, endless ponies of beer, and enough rum to kill a ship full of pirates, this bar soon became the shooting locale for our episodes. At least once I had to make myself puke in his basement toilet.

In those heady days of drinking and proselytizing, we became true friends.

Now Fischer is in front of me, drinking something covered in German writing. He asks me how my Dragon Con is going, and I tell him that I think I have a fantastic, surreal, miserable story.

He laughs and hands me a beer, something he highly recommends. I take a generous swig. The beer is heavy and hoppy, with notes of sour citrus, weed funk, and wooden chips. Less than six hours after last night’s revelry, I am drinking again.

The world around me is quiet. Everyone at Dragon Con recovers together. Families are eating lunch silently at hundreds of tables, while lonely professionals like me are sipping themselves back into a weird reality.

The beer revitalizes my body, I’m suddenly starving. I realize I haven’t eaten since yesterday afternoon. I text Lindsey, and we agree to meet at Hooter’s for take-out. I slam a little bourbon at the Marriott bar and head out of the hotel, suffering abdominal pains and tunnel vision.

Hooter’s is a madhouse, but the servers, dressed in colorful costumes that leave little to the imagination, are relishing the experience. Hooter’s, more than any other single establishment that lies beyond the immediate realms of the Dragon Con hotels, reaps the benefits, emotional and fiscal, of Dragon Con’s debauchery. Unlike Hard Rock, which relies on a patron’s desire for obscure rock memorabilia, or Meehan’s, which relies on a patron’s desire for America’s Ireland, Hooter’s relies on a patron’s desire to have animalistic sex with their server while eating a greasy burger. Most of Dragon Con seem to enjoy Hooter’s viewpoint the most. Hordes of geeks mingle with the regular crowd. The regulars tend to play it cool while they watch the preseason games (poor Yates, he’s done); the geeks find themselves cheerily unrestrained. Guys and girls sneak respective glances at their servers as they saunter away.

Lindsey meets me there. We marvel at Hooter’s impressive display of memorabilia while we sip on sweet teas, waiting for our food. Our server very graciously admits that it will be nearly an hour for our food to appear, but Lindsey and I don’t care. We are lost in each other’s company, and in the mugs that say “Save the Hooters,” “Show Your Hooters,” and, very simply, “Nice Hooters.” These same basic tenants are written on key chains, bottle openers, t shirts, and footballs. Before us stands a giant shrine to the female breast. The food comes out forty-five minutes into our worship.

We scurry back to Lindsey’s hotel room and devour wings and potato skins with extreme prejudice. In less than thirty minutes we have eaten a platoon’s worth of bar food, and we are motionless on her bed, bloated and content. Someone else is there, chattering away while Lindsey nods patiently, but in my haze of early morning tripels and greasy chicken wings, I struggle to remember her. We are watching the 2005 remake of The Producers. I slip into a hard-earned food coma while Uma Thurman sings of sex.

Less than an hour later, Lenore, a wonderful woman I have known for many years, has materialized inside our sanctum and is offering us “really, really strong pot cookies.”

They taste great, and as the next hour rolls by, I start to discover a fuzziness in my vision and fierce warmth in the muscles of my face. I realize I am comfortably stoned. Lindsey and I are washing everything down with apple pie moonshine. Another movie comes on, some cable television veteran like Red October or Ransom, but we’re all too fucked up at this point to really notice. We’re laughing at the absences of sound, full of empty thoughts and appreciating the lack of anything vital. I ask Lindsey where her friends are: Tia broke up with her boyfriend, Denise and Ando are MIA after a nasty fight.

“Dragon Con isn’t for everyone,” I tell her. “At least we’re having fun.”

What an understatement! My heart is straining in its smiles. A few of Lindsey’s friends stop by and join us in this wonderful moment. A liter of moonshine disappears. The rest of the cookies vanish. As the sun descends behind the skyscrapers, our collective heads are in the collective stratosphere. Soon we’re ready to head back to the convention itself.

Gathering our things, Lenore, Lindsey, and the rest of us head towards the Marriott. We’re all scouting for Future Experiences, but it’s only around six in the evening, and the place is still pretty calm, filled mostly with hardcore cosplayers and the avid fans of panels. We head downstairs, to the basement gameroom, where thousands have congregated to play their favorite card and tabletop games. We greet the smells of cardboard and sweat. My party weaves amongst the tables, a meandering vein of intoxication.

We stumble across a small group of young people playing Saboteurs. I suddenly realize that I know everyone at this table; they are friends from an acting gig I did last year. I tell Lindsey I’ll join with her later and pull up a seat at the table. As my former group fades into the jovial mist, this new group attempts to explain the backstabbing lunacy of Saboteurs. Smiles break wildly across their faces as they share blood-curdling threats! I find myself at peace. At some point I head to the nearest bar, snag a couple whiskeys, and drain them where I stand. I weave around the room, between games of Magic and Epidemic and Warhammer…

…at this point, admittedly, the world went fuzzy. My notes don’t make any kind of sense: at one point, I write ‘I hed up to… where?’ No idea if I meant an escalator, a self-realized Heaven, or maybe something in between. I remember feeling suddenly disinterested with everything around me. The world goes a washed out grey, the clamor and the upset of the various contests all bleed together into a destructive cancellation, and time begins to lag, lurching somewhere behind me like a passive stalker. At slow intervals, the pot sinks deeper into my nervous system. A slow, steady creep. The molly last night was an overwhelming wrecking ball; the pot and the booze are a jacket of delirium. I scribble “Hard to write”; the next few hours are an unregistered blur of foggy nothingness.

…my friend Anna is with me, we are standing just upstairs from the game room, and she’s completely tilted; when I ask her what she’s taken, she responds “I dunno it’s the stuff that gets you high!” with the frantic report of a machine-gun. I nod my head, a slow and deliberate gesture. We leave each other with wordless goodbyes. I float to the nearest bar, order a beer and a bourbon, continue to drift in the direction of sound, and land in the sweaty front row of nerd karaoke. I am amazed at this new scene: ten hundred nerds whose minds have rolled into their hearts and then out of their mouths. They are chanting every word to Weezer’s “Say It Ain’t So” like an army of soccer hooligans, a mass of strained faces and sweaty fists.

I shift back to the sidelines, grateful to be alone. There is a hypnotic catharsis to this scenery. A kind of warm empathy pervaded the air. In front of me, a hundred of society’s most entrenched outcasts, dressed in jeans and dresses and battle armor and spandex, are collectively experiencing the power of ultimate vindication.

I believe the stereotypical idea of nerds as ‘loners’ is inherently flawed. Nerds are not natural isolationists; they are a culture of passionate people who have decided to let their interests and ideals become a part of their everyday lives. In this sense, they are not very different from celebrity voyeurs, fantasy footballers, and political activists. Each and every demographic is an example of a kind of nerd: the football nerd, the political nerd, the sci-fi nerd, the fantasy nerd, the pop-culture nerd. It takes a lot of intelligence to fully realize an interest, and to remember the different personnel, statistics, and lore that constitute your passion. This is why nerds of all shapes and sizes tend to have such intellectual strength.

On this Sunday, in this heated moment below the Hyatt lobby, leaning precariously against a wall, a plastic cup of bourbon in one hand and my phone, recording, in the other, nothing really matters at all, and it is perfect.

At some point I must have left, because now I am wandering outside of the Sheraton, or maybe it’s the Marriott, stumbling with great purpose, floating just above the darkness of Nowhere. The air outside feels empty, as if most of the weather has taken the night off. There is no wind, no humidity, nothing but a dull, dry heat. It makes me feel a boredom that quickly translates into restlessness.

My buddy Chris spots me. He is with his wife, Chloe, and they are laughing like they’re in a clothing commercial as they make their way towards me. The last time I saw Chris was last Dragon Con, when he was stumbling, bleary-eyed, up and down the escalators of the Marriott in a slow, purposeful circle, mumbling drunkenly that he had lost his wife, and that he was a dead man. He had said this with a giant, goofy grin, as if his death was the butt of some cosmic joke. I forget what I told him, “Everything will work out in the end” or “You are the master of your own destiny” or some such fortune-cookie logic, and, like the terrible friend I am, I had left him still orbiting the escalators in a complete blackout, up and down and up and down.

Now they are hugging me as I greet them in the bland night, telling me how good it is to see me between fits of laughter. They invite me back to their hotel room and I accept. We get to their room, and they tell me to help myself to their cooler.

Chris is a professional drinker, and what he lacks in quality he always makes up for in quantity. Every surface area in the room is decorated with half-empty bottles, shot glasses, and dixie cups. Near the front door to the room lies a cooler brimming with cheap beer. I snag a PBR from this city of bottles and cans. Ten minutes later, it’s time to head out.

As we are about to cross the street, making our way back to the Marriott, someone next to me says my name. I turn towards the voice and it’s Rachel, looking ecstatic to see me. Next to her is Ben, looking happy to be noticed. I introduce them: “friends, friends, friends, friends,” gesturing wildly and leaving the rest of the particulars up to them. They exchange a few polite words, sharing their excitement over the band Crux Shadows, who are playing tonight. Then Rachel and Ben scurry off to their next adventure. I plan to text them later.

Chris and Chloe seem to be enjoying me well enough, but as we continue our march towards the Marriott I can’t help but feel like a bumbling third wheel. I decide to leave them. I ask them what they are doing later. They tell me they are going to see Crux Shadows at the Hyatt, and that I should join them there. I tell them I will, convinced I will never see them again. Then they leave, smiling like children in a Rockwell painting, into the shuffling crowd ahead of me.

I lean myself against the side of the nearest building, and that’s when the booze really hits.

From my notes, presumably spanning the next few hours:

“Sheraton pool


right hallway

Pirate Flag


With nothing to do, I head back to the Marriott, climbing the steps to the right of the entrance. Here in the smokers’ pavilion, a scene is always threatening to materialize, so it seems like the best/worst place for an intoxicated, amateur journalist to try to mingle. I spot my buddy T.S. and make my way over to him.

T.S. is six and a half feet tall, with a commanding presence that seems to make him grow even taller as you get to know him. His body is decorated from head to toe in tattoos that speak of angry nights and unpleasant mornings. He is passing around a bottle of Jameson. Next to him are his girlfriend, a beautiful woman with a pleasant smile and playful eyes, and one of his buddies, a tall man with long, East Atlanta Rock Hair. The girlfriend looks like a very convincing “Sexy Deadpool.” The tall man with the long hair looks like a very convincing alcoholic.

T.S. is busy telling Hair about something wild that happened at a dive bar the other day. Without pausing, he extends one massive, inky arm, swipes me into their small circle, and shoves the Jameson in my direction. I take a massive swallow and pass the bottle to Hair as T.S. finishes his story. Then he turns to me with a wicked smile: “Hey buddy.”

He bear-hugs me, and for a second I wonder if he might suddenly pick me up and hurl me over the side of the pavilion and into the crowd and the concrete below. T.S. has that dangerous vibe about him sometimes.

“What are you up to?” he asks me.

I tell him that I’m a professional now, that I’m writing a story for Undercurrent Atlanta about the parties at Dragon Con, and that I’m professionally obligated to keep drinking. The bottle comes back to me quick enough.

T.S. is really into everything I’m saying. He turns to Hair and introduces me, telling him what I’m doing, “He’s writing about the parties… isn’t that fucking RAD, MAN?” but Hair doesn’t care. He’s spotted something in the distance, something that’s turned him completely disgusted. I follow his gaze across the pavilion to a woman, ten yards away, staggering towards us. It’s Hair’s girlfriend.

She’s cute, very cute, but years of hard living have stolen from her the chance to be truly gorgeous. She’s tiny, barely five feet tall; in her eyes you can see that her stature has never kept her out of a fight, and that she wins more than she loses. She looks like the kind of person who was raised in the absence of love and has learned to hate the world. She’s drunk beyond the point of coherent human interaction as she settles between myself and Sexy Deadpool, glaring at Hair, silently daring him to say something. For a moment there are no words between the five of us, and then Hair unleashes, barking heavy words at her while he strangles the neck of the Jameson. A hint of pain crosses her face as some of his words find their target.

After a minute, T.S. manages to calm his friend down, and the two go back to talking about their own adventures. The Tiny Girl is silent, trembling. Hair hands me the bottle of Jameson, and I take a long swill, struggling not to feel awkward.

Though I’ve just met Hair, I’m familiar with his kind, enough to know the toy lightsaber hanging from his hip is a bad idea. Dragon Con casts a powerful light, but it also stretches shadows. Right now I am currently in full blown Shadow Territory. As I navigate this intriguing space of fantasy and creativity, it wouldn’t be surprising to encounter horror action figures lurking in the shadows, adding an unexpected twist to the convention experience.

The tension ebbs and flows from the circle. T.S. has his arms around his lady, sharing kisses. They are a cute couple, teasing each other. She is a very tall, very strong woman, someone who refuses to take anyone’s shit for more than a patient minute. A good match for T.S., who is kissing her neck as her hands wander all over him. For a brief moment it seems as if they might decide to start fucking right there, in front of God and Everyone. I hope I can get the bottle of Jameson from them first.

Hair has spotted someone walking over who also has a lightsaber. Wordlessly he walks over to the stranger and assumes a battle stance. The Stranger accepts this challenge, and in an instant the two are trading halfhearted blows.

T.S. eggs his friend on: “You gonna take that, man? This dude’s showing you up!” Hair starts to swing faster at the Stranger, delivering a smart smack across the man’s left calf.

The Stranger is surprised. He doesn’t know what to do. Hair stands silently with the lightsaber raised menacingly above him, a disturbed, drunken Jedi waiting for the Stranger to make the next move. Hesitantly, the other guy resumes the swordplay. I look over at T.S., whose face has turned from joy to fearful concentration.

Within seconds, Hair delivers another blow, somewhere around the other man’s sternum. The Stranger immediately drops his lightsaber and starts yelling. This is all the provocation that Hair needs. He explodes into an army of fists. Three of the Stranger’s buddies appear. Hair looks like he has no qualms taking on all of them; in fact, they all seem terrified of Hair. Everyone is relieved when T.S. pulls his friend away. T.S. is looking right into his friend’s bloodshot eyes and gravely yelling, “Do you really wanna get fucking arrested here, motherfucker?!” It’s all very impressive. Hair’s girlfriend is in the corner, sobbing uncontrollably, while Sexy Deadpool tries to comfort her. I notice that our whole side of the patio has gone quiet. A bunch of bad signs.

T.S. voices our collective thoughts: “We need to go.”

Immediately, we dart down the nearest flight of stairs, away from the scowling Stranger and his irritated friends. At the bottom of the steps I turn and notice a couple of policeman running to the scene, ready to deliver justice, but there are thousands of people around us, and before the policemen can spot us, we blend effortlessly into the crowd.

I know it’s only a matter of time before this group finds more trouble, so I leave them.

Weird thoughts float by, not just from the whiskey. I realize the comedown from last night’s ecstasy has begun. A sense of loss and melancholia settles deep inside me, as if all of last night’s answers are colorful balloons, now bursting. I was warned this Sadness might happen. Instead of some soul-sickening form of depression, I find myself confused, hopeless, and otherwise numb.

Diseased thoughts flicker through my conscience. I think of my friends, scattered around the world. I think of my father, and his face, laughing and frowning. I think of seasons changing. I think of the long walk I took after my twenty-fifth birthday, from my ex-girlfriend’s house on Ninth Street up to the mosque on Ponce. I had stared at the building for a while, trying to figure out the Meaning, and instead burped up the smell of chicken wings and Soco. I had been wearing a wife-beater with little holes in it, feeling the night air move through me. In the end, I discovered nothing, and woke up in bed, alone.

Now I’m half a block from the Marriott, sitting on the massive steps that line the sidewalk. I’m surrounded by a hundred other geeks: geeks that are tired, geeks that are drunk, geeks that are lost, geeks that are lazy, geeks that have found God, and geeks that have lost God. I bum a cigarette from a kind passerby and quietly brood.

I’m in this pensive melancholy when Chris and Chloe reappear. Chris is completely blitzed; he’s chuckling at the world while his wife leads him along, step by careful step. She spots me and smiles, unable to wave for fear of losing Chris to the forces of gravity. I ask her if they’re going to Crux Shadows tonight and she tells me they’re gonna try. Chris thinks this is hilarious! I tell them I’ll try to meet them there and watch the couple leave, Chloe careful and calm, Chris bowlegged, and both of them laughing at the whispered jokes of the world.

After some easy coordination, I meet up with Rachel and Ben. Rachel looks more annoyed than earlier. She immediately leaves him and entangles herself around my arm. Ben looks drunker, but he’s smiling, thoroughly enjoying himself. Can he not tell how upset she is? I wonder. Perhaps he doesn’t care. Perhaps he enjoys it.

Or perhaps he silently mourns it, drinking away the pain while he lies alone on hard beds, consumed with rage while his wife lays on blow up mattresses with strange people, wondering if he should go downstairs and take a look.

Or maybe I’m just looking way too much into it, and projecting my own insecurities and messy regrets onto this young couple and their unique lifestyle.

Ben offers me some vodka, and I stop trying to figure them out.

A couple shots later, we’re headed to Crux Shadows. As we near the entryway to the ballroom, I hear a pounding and cheering from inside that tells me the show has already begun. We glide by the painfully tired and disheveled volunteer staff watching the door. For days, they have helped direct inebriated geeks who can’t remember what hotel they’re staying in, experienced every technical difficulty imaginable, endured the impatience of nerds who don’t understand why you can’t just let me in goddammit, and witnessed debauchery on an ungodly level. They have done all of this for a single volunteer pass, and with the knowledge that without them, this whole world of carefully crafted chaos would come tumbling and crumbling to the ground.

My heart goes out to them all.

We walk inside. Lights flash and twirl around us, creeping up the walls and splashing across the ceiling. The Cruxshadows are a goth-inspired synthpop band, a product of the eighties and nineties, currently surviving on Gen X nostalgia. They wear eyeliner. They have spiked hair that still manages to fall across their faces. They put on black lipstick and dance moodily in leather corsets. Their songs sound like Marilyn Manson grew up in Studio 54. The audience worships them. No one cares that they are dancing to music that died, along with pogs and VHS, in the eyes of Mainstream Society. This is why The Cruxshadows are invited back to Dragon Con every year: they accurately represent the angst and rebelliousness of the convention which has always been, and always will be, counter-culture.

I lead us into the heart of the crowd just as the lead singer of The Cruxshadows (named ‘Rogue’) sits on top of a twenty foot ladder placed precariously in the middle of the audience. He is moving his hands around mystically, crafting imaginary spells over the enchanted audience.

Ben is asking me what I want to drink. I tell him that I was planning on getting a drink at the bar in a minute, and he tells me there’s no need for the bar, he has everything we need. I tell him I’ll have whatever he’s having. He unzips the backpack. Inside it lies an army of mason jars filled with every major alcohol: vodka, rum, bourbon, gin, moonshine… Enough booze to get a squadron of Gunnars tipsy. He produces a jar half-full of a green-tinted liquid, tells me its tequila, takes a massive gulp, and hands it to me. I down a healthy quaff and pass it back. We do this for a while, as the world dances around us.

At one point Ben staggers away, presumably for the bathroom, and Rachel takes this moment to lean in casually and tell me: “Ben says it’s okay if we do stuff. He likes you.”

I turn to her and match her gaze. Her face is a harmony of innocence and devilishness, playfulness and pain, control and submission. Her lips are curled into a smile that begs to be kissed, and her eyes are great ponds telling me that I could, at this moment, take her and kiss her, fueled by her husband’s liquid gifts, and get away with it.

I almost accept this invitation.

But then I think of Lindsey, of my birthday gift, of standing outside and looking at the mosque, of Renfree and Yates, of buffalo wings and afternoon television, and the maw of the giant Nothing, and I start to understand the destructive reality of this moment. I am about to cross into some very dangerous waters. So I tell her, “I can’t, I’m sorry. Not tonight. Maybe another day.”

She looks at me, and she keeps her smile, but her eyes are now pools of sadness. Rogue’s spell-binding gestures cast small shadows across her face.

I smile and turn back towards the band, trying to lose myself in the music while the tequila sinks deeper.

The tequila sinks deeper.

Standing has become an adventure.

Ben is back.

Rachel is silent.

I am taking pictures deliriously, flashing my phone around myself like a madman, trying desperately to capture the Spirit of Everything.

My shirt clings to me like an old lover, held by sweat and spilled liquor.

Leo and Rachel are making out behind me.

I am a stuttering syllable, a soft shadow, a gelatinous creature oozing out of the crowd.

I’m moving through a field of faces, out the doors, into the hall, riding steady through blasts of air conditioning.

My body floats along the streets.

Pushing past the lines, I spill into another ballroom.

Another crowd, another friend, another drink.

The music is wonderful.

I dance and turn and spot a group of former coworkers from the nerd bar huddled in a corner, observing the festivities.

They look so different, all of them, from the people I remember, the smiling friendly faces that now belong to a clique, a gang, a family from which I have grown forever distant, a society from which I am eternally removed.

I will not hear from them, they will not call me on my birthday, they will not toast me on my wedding night, they will not buy my poems or drink my cocktails, and for a moment I am saddened.

Only a few true friends will read every chapter of your life’s story.

This makes me very sad, but at least, at the very least, I am still dancing.

In this moment of poignant loneliness, I search for a friend and find myself thinking of Lindsey.

I want to go to bed with her, and tell her stupid secrets, and see her face in Light and feel her body in Darkness.

I call her, I think.

I breeze away from the ballroom, out into the night air, and a summer hot enough to boil blood.

Tequila and beer and whiskey and vodka celebrate inside me.

My head swells suddenly, filled with booze and reverie, then detaches from my body and floats away.

A head like a giant gourd, light as a feather, sailing away from my earthbound person, above the people and passing cars, above the orange streetlights, and cresting the hotels themselves.

I see myself years younger, passed out on a couch on the seventeenth floor of the Marriott.

I see myself on a balcony, fooling around with a beautiful woman, our bodies silhouetted by the lights of the party inside.

I see myself in a room, surrounded by new friends, using the leftovers of their outfits to design my first Dragon Con costume.

As my weightless head drifts slowly by, I see a dozen different versions of myself, a restless boy making mistakes and friendships over the many wonderful years.

My body, tethered to the ground, wanders blindly behind, guided only by a vague awareness of my head-balloon’s location and direction.

Eventually the air deflates out of my head and it descends, settling back to its original location upon my shoulders.

I am passing the large windows of a vacant building.

  I turn and see a reflection of my present self, an angry, glaring, struggling entirety.

Melancholy seizes me.

I make my way to Lindsey’s hotel.

I discover I somehow have a card to her room.

I am drunk, and she is asleep.

Her friend is also asleep in the room, in the other bed.

Big Bitch is sitting against the nearest wall, silently judging me.

I step into the bathroom, a realm of harsh lighting and scalding water.

I slip into some clean clothes and stare through the steam at red eyes in a pink face.

I crawl under the covers next to Lindsey, watching the curves of her body rise and fall.

I close my eyes, briefly wonder if I might fall asleep, and then complete and total darkness overtakes me.   

The Dragon Con Miracle, A Falcon Player Loses, End of the Next Big Thing


Lindsey wakes me up a few hours later. It’s 10:30 am. Time to go.

I quickly gather my things and head out of the room. Everything is a merciless obstacle right now. Light is a villain. Elevators are devils. The physics of the world conspire against me. I am still too drunk to be hungover.

I am making my way out of the hotel as fast as I can, struggling to call an Uber, dragging Big Bitch behind me, feeling her wheel and bang into legs, tables, chairs, and everything else. I am a modern day Sisyphus. Lindsey wishes me well. She’s rested after a long night’s sleep, and radiant. I am spiritually emaciated, a tired ghoul of a man. I try to wish her a safe trip home and fumble over the words.

I make it back to my car, full of curses and foul sweat. My organs loathe me; I loathe them back. Fueled on pure hatred, I start the long drive back home.

I have seen many incredible things at Dragon Con.

I have seen a young man, a reluctant outsider, crawl from behind layers of bandwidth and depression, put on a costume, and rediscover himself.

I have seen a friend kneel before the love of his life and ask for her hand in marriage at the same location in which they first found one another.

I have seen a three-year-old Captain America hug an Iron Man. A transgender My Little Pony laugh with a large group of her friends. A handicapped Thor crowdsurf. A hardcore Christian take a red pill and find a different God.

I have done many incredible things at Dragon Con.

I have ridden luggage carts down the stairs at the Marriott, jumped into its fountain, and played with long-lost weirdos in the water.

I have danced for hours, shimmering with sweat, in the company of new friends who have now become old friends.

I have made love in costume. Poured twenty-four cups of Apple Pie at once. Gone to third base in a stairwell. Walked hand in hand with the sunset and the sunrise.

Now it is 10:45 am, Monday morning; I am on I-75 north, headed to the relative sanctity of home, and I am once again experiencing a Dragon Con miracle.

I have not yet shit my pants.

My gut is rotting entirely. At every slight bump in the road, my stomach, a whirlwind of bubbles and pain, protests the bounds of my abdomen. I am a container of muck and regret that threatens to release itself from captivity at the slightest upset. I am gliding between vehicles on this lazy, hateful morning, feeling the harsh judgment of the sun as it peers from behind a titanic cloud and splashes into my vision. Every car, every mile, every second feels like a punishment. Big Bitch jostles angrily in the backseat of the Altima. The radio informs me that the Falcons have let go of poor TJ Yates. Apparently I am not alone in Misery.

Just across the street from my neighborhood is a generic Chinese restaurant with a generic Chinese-restaurant name and (very good) generic Chinese food. I arrive there and storm wordlessly into their bathroom. Moments later I am starving.

I order a ridiculous amount of food and head home, shaking with fatigue. I eat until I feel somewhat comfortable, retreat under my blankets, and begin a long hibernation of digestion and decompression.

The Adventure is over.

When I wake up again, it is dark outside.

I peek from beneath the covers. Nothing but merciful silence and the smell of Chinese food. I will myself out of bed and sit myself in front of the computer. I shove aside the husks of to-go boxes and set up my phone and my notepad. The only light in my room comes from the soft glow of the screen.

What is Dragon Con? A realization of a movement? An escape from normalcy? A haven for misfits? An excuse for adventure? A place for celebrities to peddle their legacies? A corporate behemoth capitalizing on the fantasies of social outcasts?

Perhaps it is all of these things, in different ways, to different people. Perhaps the spirit of Dragon Con comes from the amalgamation of a thousand different kinds of people: the timid introvert, the wild extrovert, the focused panel hawk, the unfettered hotel crasher, the casual anime fan, the serious cosplayer, the science nerd, the fantasy nerd, the sci-fi-fantasy nerd, the young Star Wars fan, the old Star Wars fan. Perhaps such an extraordinary collaboration of personalities defies the shackles of definition.

I write for the next few hours, close my laptop, eat some cold Chinese food, and head to bed.

JANUARY 23RD, 2016

I am inside a renovated barn, sitting next to a propane heater, watching my friend paint. A flickering candle next to the easel fills the room with the smell of Cinnamon Toast Crunch. A small speaker in the corner of the room is infecting this beautiful moment with awful dub step.

Winter has finally found us. The past few days have been a cold, gray blur. I brought fireworks, but there’s no way I’m braving the frigid hatred that lies beyond the dusty wooden shell of this barn.

I never really did discover the “meaning of Dragon Con,” as I once proposed it to my kind, patient editor. Those five days of excess, regret, passion, promise, adventure, and recovery remain as thematically elusive now as they did in those hot September nights. No grand purpose will be mined from the wastelands of the Next Big Thing. I walked away from the experience with crooked notes, blurred photos, plenty of memories, and little else.

And maybe that’s the point.

My friend smears reds and oranges and yellows across the canvass, a fiery protest to the dreary weather outside.