Unlike Isaac, I’ve only worked a couple of conventions. Small boutique cons that were more like four day LARPs and then BIGcon. No, that isn’t the real name, but BIGcon is, as the pseudonym suggests, one of the larger conventions. With a rich history, robust multi-track format, a proud name, a gigantic budget and at least thirty thousand attendees every year, BIGcon is about as fun and often as wild as a geek convention gets. This is the story of the night that it got even more wild than that.
There is a certain rhythm to a convention. It starts off slow on Thursday, is fairly laid back Friday morning, picks up speed Friday evening and night, really gets rolling Saturday and then everybody rolls out of bed on Sunday with either a real or de facto hangover, packs and heads home. It’s a lot like Vegas, without legal prostitution or any chance of getting any of your money back.
This particular year, I was assigned to the costume track. Now that might seem like a cool gig for those of you who haven’t staffed. I thought it was going to be, but it turns out that there are a lot of logistics involved. You have to make sure people are signed up, that you understand exactly what they are dressed as (and the differences range from subtle to stupid. Trust me, you don’t want to get movie Ghostbusters and cartoon Ghostbusters mixed up), make sure they are where they need to be when they need to be there, get them to hold still for pictures and generally corral a large crowd of cosplay enthusiasts, some of whom are either naturally goofy, chemically imbalanced, high, drunk or a combination of all of the above.
And then there is duct tape patrol. To my amusement, I was handed a large roll of silver duct tape, a pair of safety scissors (apparently in case I had to run with them) and given the following mantra: ‘No nipples, no crack, no cooch, no sack.’ And armed with that holy chant, I went forth. And used a surprising amount of duct tape.
The responses from people I asked to cover up offending bits ranged from an embarrassed ‘oops’ to a ‘God, what do you have against sex?!’ I fought hard not to reply that the only thing I had against sex was that her parents had presumably engaged in it. But with a smile on my face and my monologues carefully kept interior, I got through the con relatively sane and happy until Saturday night.
It was very late on Saturday. The costume contests were over and the crowds had either migrated to the hotel and local bars, the dance going on in one of the ballrooms or their beds (or someone else’s bed) depending on the age, energy levels and how many people they had stuffed into one room. I was sitting at the ‘patio’ bar in the primary hotel’s huge atrium, listening to the roar of the crowds, even this late and half paying attention to one of fellow staffers, Stan, talking about an incident over in the open gaming room.
“So they basically both knocked over the table and started beating the crap out of each other!”
Stan is an accountant in real life and his usual idea of violence is when somebody pours coffee over a box of receipts by accident. As pale as the moon and just about as round, with a sweet personality and an excitable character. His voice was high and enthusiastic at telling the tale. As he was buying, I was listening.
“Uh huh. What was the fight about?” I sipped my cranberry and vodka and did a little crowd watching.
“Oh, they were playing a D20 game and one of the guys apparently dissed the other one. Xcrawl really does bring out the gangsta flava.”
I stopped with the drink halfway to my lips and just stared for a long moment.
Stan’s expression was sheepish and thoughtful. “No?”
Before the moment became any more embarrassing, my walkie-talkie blurted my name and I answered, sighing and eyeing that half-finished drink. It was one of the hotel liaison people letting me know that Buddy, the chief security guard for the hotel, wanted to talk to somebody in Costume about a disturbance. And because everybody higher up on the food chain was in bed, that would be me. I gave Stan my apologies and headed across the hotel double time.
Buddy was a grizzled veteran of the local police department who had taken a post as special events security with the hotel as a retirement job. Nearing sixty, graying, a little overweight, built like an aging bulldog and with one of those 80s mustaches that only cops and gay porn stars can get away with, he’d been the primary point of contact between staff troubleshooters and hotel security (and the local police when things went that far) for a few years now. I liked him and I can only assume he considered me the lesser of most of the geeky evils he encountered.
Finding the problem wasn’t hard. Even this late at night, the lines for the elevators can be twenty or thirty minutes deep and congestion doesn’t help the problem. When the congestion is in the form of an impromptu costume contest and revue, things get even more surreal and taxing for people who just want to get up to their beds.
It was, in a way, a kind of geeky U.N. There were Star Wars characters next to Star Trek characters next to Babylon 5 characters next to superheroes next to anime characters and someone dressed up as a guy from GWAR. Actually, on second glance, it was one of the guys from GWAR. They were trying to organize a straight line that cut right through the elevator area and both Buddy and a young, skinny and nervous looking guard I’ll call Glen were trying to break up the party.
I nodded to Buddy, he nodded back and I went looking for the ring leader. There’s always a ring leader. In this case it was a Boba Fett and his girlfriend, a Slave Girl Leia who was so skinny that I was afraid her brass bits were going to fall off like ill-fitted hubcabs on a street full of potholes. We talked for a minute, but it was obvious that they were both a little drunk and the phrases, ‘We ain’t hurtin, nobody’ and ‘We paid for our tickets like everybody else’ came up more than once.
Not making any headway, I waved Buddy and Glen over, hoping the weight of authority and the specter of getting exiled from the Con would help. Sensing their leader needed backup, we were soon surrounded by a cadre of Klingons and a pair of remarkably short Wookies. Or particularly militant Cousin Its. Given the context, I went with Wookie. We all wrangled back and forth. Buddy didn’t want to drop the ‘banned from the hotel’ bomb and neither did I. Stories of events like that have a way of spreading a bad reputation about a con, the hotels that host it and the staff. And BIGcon has always been careful about its image.
Boba and Leia finally gave up, but the Klingons and Wookies were still fighting for their right to party when one of them actually said something useful and suggested moving things out to the pool area. As it was officially closed and empty this time of night, it would make an ideal overflow area for an intergalactic pose off. The idea seemed to please everybody. Except Glen. The younger security guard pointed out, at length, that pool closed at 10pm. And that it was a safety hazard. And there might be noise. And besides, rules were rules.
Buddy listened to the objections and before the cosplayers or I could argue a counterpoint, the older man just shook his head and intoned in that beautiful Southern accent of his, “Son, let the Wookies win.”
It was so deadpan and so unexpected that I just about died laughing. As did most of the crowd. Glen didn’t get it at first but then, when it dawned on him, he actually cracked his first smile of the evening. As long as everybody agreed to keep the noise down and nobody went into the water, the hotel would overlook the trespass, the halls would be clear and the spice would flow. It was a good plan. Thanking Buddy, I rounded up the remaining cosplayers, about thirty people, mostly Star Trek fans at this point, and herded them out to the pool area.
Now there is a certain magic power manifested by any crowd, anywhere in the world, next to a small body of water. Somehow beer will always appear. And thus it was in this case, though I wasn’t sure where the coolers came from. Maybe somebody beamed them down. In any case, the night air was warm and balmy in the late summer, the underwater lights of the pool lent the deck a beautiful, fairyland sapphire glow and noise restriction and alcohol led to small groups and couples forming, speaking intimately and relaxing in good company.
At some point, there started to be more couples (and a lone, ambitious threesome that I was fairly sure wouldn’t have been allowed under the Khitomer Accord) and quiet conversation in a couple of places had turned to gentle nuzzling and cuddling. Sipping a beer meditatively, I considered that a sign that people would be headed to their rooms momentarily. People started removing artificial teeth and foreheads that made it hard to snog and several replica weapons were put aside as ancient, if fictional, enemies decided to give peace a chance.
Which is about when the timer on the pool lights clicked them off, leaving us in the dim orange shadow that is ubiquitous to any major city after dark, though somewhat obscured by the bulk of the hotel behind us and the tall hedges and fence surrounding the deck. There was a ripple of nervous laughter and a few moments of slightly louder conversation, but few of my de facto charges seemed ready to pack it in.
I was perched on the edge of a table, nervously eyeing a particularly Wagnerian battle maiden who was eyeing me not unlike the last plate of Gagh in the Imperial buffet line when I noticed a difference in the background noises. Several people had left but there were still several couples clustered here or there in the darkness. There was less chatting and laughing and more sighing and low giggles. And a lot of shifting around. Costumes were being shed. Latex was coming off and latex was going on as more than one couple tried to find Sto’Vo’Kor by the dashboard lights.
About that time, I realized that my presence wasn’t required and got out of there so fast that I pulled a Picard Maneuver, briefly appearing to occupy two places at once in my haste to exit the theater of battle.
Once back inside, I shook my head and moved the ‘Pool Closed’ sign in front of the doors to the deck. From this little alcove of the hotel lobby, the deck was dark and quiet with no signs that some folks were celebrating an impromptu ‘Life Day’ outside. Deciding my duty was done, I left incident notes for the next shift and headed for my own bed, virtuously, alas, alone.
My notes read, in full: Fostered intergalactic peace. Also interspecies relations. Never working this track again. Love, Curt.