You can get a good whiff of the narrative of your life sometimes. You can feel new chapter headings in the air. I felt it at Brisbane airport, watching engineers in phlegm-green high visibility vests crawl around the inside of the plane like playground equipment, occasionally stopping to shrug at each other, or put their hands on their hips and shake their heads solemnly.
“Attention, passengers of the Jetstar Brisbane-to-Adelaide flight. Your plane is irreparable beyond servicing. A new one will be arriving at the next gate in approximately one hour.”
I saw one of the engineers kicking something delicate looking. It bounced in the chassis.
Sniffing out the genre of your life before it happens is more of an art than a science.
“This,” I thought, “is either going to end a comedy or a tragedy”.
My mistake was in the word ‘or’.
I got invited to panel down at Alicon in Adelaide and I wish I could say this was a pleasant, enjoyable experience. I wish I could say it was a pleasure to go to my first pony convention, meet actual flesh and blood people from the fandom, and enjoy being a tourist for a little bit in Adelaide.
God, I wish.
At least this makes for a much more entertaining story.
The next plane was turbulent as hell. I’m talking those huge drops and bumps where you’re like “I think we just kind of fell a hundred meters but the wings didn’t get ripped off so it’s okay”. I’m talking “Wow I didn’t know wings could bend that far without breaking neat”. I’m not an inexperienced flyer, I’ve been around the jet engine block a few times, but at some point you do start to worry that your plane’s gone more down than up over the last fifteen minutes.
Did you know there have been no commercial airliner crashes in two years now? This, I thought, was proof that we were overdue. And if it was going to happen to anyone, it’d probably happen to me.
Then I landed in Adelaide. And it was pretty cool! Found the bus stop, navigated the worst public transport ticket system I have yet experienced, and got on a bus. Once there, mission accomplished. All I had to do was to sit and wait until I got to into the city.
So I waited.
According to my GPS I was in the dead center of it.
Oh, no, no.
When you mention this to any of the locals they’ll say the same thing, in the same tone. They’ll laugh just a tiny bit and, with a copy-pasted rhythm, say; “Yeah, Adelaide’s just a big country town, isn’t it?”
I was going to be here most of four days, only two of which at the convention. So, I’d keep asking:
“Seriously, what’s the best thing to do in Adelaide?”
“Go to Melbourne.”
So I visited some relatives on my dad’s side of the family, the ones he never talked about. They took me out for Indian, and they were absolutely wonderful, kind, lovely people who put up with my only topics of conversation being… fairly grim and dense. I think I’ve broken my capacity to hold normal conversation over the last eighteen months, but if they weren’t interested, they were at least extremely polite about it, and for that they have my endless gratitude.
From them I found out some pretty awesome things.
It turns out my older female cousin is a meth-addicted schizophrenic murderer, who is trying to track down family members, and is in Brisbane right now. Fortunately she doesn’t know my last name! Yay.
My older male cousin is apparently an infrequently housebroken DJ, who’s trying to make it big in the Adelaide scene, and has a string of distressingly vegetarian girlfriends. His mother doesn’t approve.
My grandfather, though! Turns out he was a crooked cop heavily on the take. Free lobster dinners in town, a raging alcoholic, and every Christmas the laundry was filled floor to ceiling with alcohol. If you asked, he’d say it was ‘a gift’. He probably added the air quotes himself.
He died when he flipped his car without wearing a seatbelt, which was super unusual for him. What I didn’t know was that when he died he had a BAC of .3 and he went out through the passenger side window. Turns out the family is split on whether it was suicide or a murder.
Oh. And I have another aunt. A half aunt. Didn’t know that. And one time a politician tried to sue for custody of my dad when he was a child or something, because corrupt cop had a thing for illegitimate children, or… that got a little blurry and hard to follow.
From this I have discovered that no male on the patriarchal side of my family has ever successfully attempted monogamy, or even really put their back into trying. What I thought was deviancy on my part was just carrying on the family legacy of legendary rakes of ill repute. Score.
Also, turns out diabetes runs in both sides of my family! So that’s something I’m going to have to look out for. Nobody gets out of this shithole of a dynasty unscathed. I’m like the chosen one in a fantasy novel, only the prophecy just says I’ll die fat, footless, and surrounded by lovers.
The next day, however. That was the big day. That was what I’d been waiting for. The next day was the con.
Before I show up, I stop and get my haircut at a barber across from my hotel, thinking… well, I look a little bit scruffy.
The hairdresser is a thick-armed Eastern European woman, who’s more of a butcher than a barber. I smile after she ruins my head even harder, I thank her, I pay my $20, and then I thank Sinatra’s ghost that I brought some stylish hats down with me. Now at least I have an excuse to not feel guilty about wearing them indoors.
Then I show up to the venue, and any worries just evaporate.
I realize I didn’t have to worry about my hair being a little bit scruffy. I think the last time I’d had a haircut would have been the last time most of these people had theirs washed. Good God, I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a dense concentration of mullets in my life.
I couldn’t talk about socialism with these people: An American would come in and democratize them for their oil.
I mill about the crowd, and realize I don’t know anybody. It’s like being invited to a total stranger’s house party. You don’t really know why you’re there, but you assume it’s for a good reason. My panel was the first one they were going to run for the con, and I was pretty anxious. I didn’t know anyone there, I hadn’t talked to my cohosts before this, I was going in completely blind.
Then Viva motherfucking Reverie went up to me, parting through the crowd with a soft smile, softer her and the softest plushie of his character I’d ever seen, and he was way cooler than I was, and I made an idiot of myself, and he assured me everything was going to be fine. I vowed, nay, swore to make a better impression afterwards. Later.
Put a pin in that.
I get up to do the panel, and I feel better the second I sit down at the table. .
Yeah, this was fine. I’ve done stand up before, I actually have confidence in my writing material, this is easy enough. The Armored Brony is the MC, to my right is TheSlorg and to the left is Milo Chalks. Milo, at least, was lovely. He and the MC were obviously nervous as hell.
The panel starts.
Originally, I wanted to link the video here and move on. It would have been the nice thing to do. But when I tried to look for it, I found that, and I’m directly quoting:
[quote]Due to some technical difficulties, unfortunately the panel was not recorded, but that’s okay! [/quote]
So. Fuck it, I guess? Yes. Fuck it, I guess.
Look. I was going to at least try to be kind or positive for this section. For real. I was. But the kind of sucked for me, majorly.
Now, Milo? Milo was lovely. The Slorg? The Slorg, uh, exists. But that’s on the panelist’ side. On the audience side, it was painfully obvious most of the people there weren’t on the fiction side of things, let alone knew who any of us were.
Armored Brony gets my name; “I’m Ross James. I’m MrNumbers on the site but, yeah, Ross James.” He will exclusively refer to me by my fandom name for all of this, despite trying to be… you know, a normal professional writer person.
He reads the straight, milquetoast questions for us from a cue card, obviously uncomfortable as hell, and doesn’t really encourage any discussion or collaboration. It’s just straight walking down the table. After a few very flat personal questions which are only relevant when you give a toss about the people up there, and me feeling like that’s bombing, I kind of lean over and joke at him;
“Can we talk about writing, yeah? You’re asking too many questions about me, and that’s my least favourite subject.”
And with the most forced stage laughter I have ever heard he corrects me; “Oh, don’t get so impatient. We need to do this… By the Numbers. Eh? Eh?”
We’re doing this, aren’t we.
Most of the understanding demonstrated by my cohosts seemed… basic and surface level. If this wasn’t the case, then it’s a shame that the format of the interview and the direction imposed on us by the MC didn’t allow us to show it. I certainly sympathize with that.
I don’t want to come across as too bitter or mean spirited here, which is why this part’s so hard to write. If I saw the footage back again, it’s very likely that I’d be far less harsh about the experience. Some good stuff was said, and I got to say some good stuff about people who deserved to have those things said about them.
Still, I had to wince when the Question and Answer part of the panel came up. Armored Brony asks the audience if there’s any questions.
No one raises their hand. There’s that obligatory dry cough someone always gets during awkward silences.
“Ha, ha.” Armored says. He’s not laughing. “I guess it’s just because you guys did such a good job explaining things, there’s no questions?”
A few people take pity on him, before the whole thing’s cut short when it’s realized we’re twenty minutes cut out of our hour long panel because of those early technical difficulties, and are unceremoniously booted off stage for the panel that people were actually waiting for.
Overall, no, not an enjoyable experience. Which is disappointing, because this panel was my main reason for flying down to Adelaide, the single most boring fucking city in Australia.
A huge percent of the population can be described as people who professionally watch grass grow. Our idea of tourist attractions is just making really big fibreglass versions of things. Our national instrument is a hollow log.
After the panel, I managed to meet up with someone from Brisbane who lives just a few minutes from me — DanDan, the stoic hero of this adventure — and we’d been talking for about five years online. We hadn’t met in person before now, thousands of kilometers from home. Things are weird like that.
I hung out with him and the girlfriend of another author I know. She was cool, we hung out, I mostly was an endless font of politics and history at them, and they were very lovely and patient with me.
We note there isn’t really much to do here. There’s, like, a popcorn machine. The other panels are more miss than hit on the first day, unless you’re really excited to see some old school Pony Music Videos set to generic anime scores for a few hours. There’s also a vendor’s hall to check out, but there’s only 12 tables in it total, one of which holds the con’s really poorly thought out scavenger hunt.
It was probably for children to do with their parents, but I wouldn’t trust any children within a hundred meters of this place, and I wouldn’t trust any of these people to be parents.
So, the group of Brisbanites I’ve gathered around myself ask why I’m here, then.
“I’m really just here to get with a Pinkie Pie cosplayer,” I admit.
“Well, because a Twilight Sparkle cosplayer would be too good for me, you see,” I cheerfully explain, “and a Rarity or a Rainbow Dash cosplayer would just laugh me out of the room. They’re right out. Applejack cosplayers would just stare me down until I felt ashamed for even thinking about it and shuffled off. No, it’s gotta be a Pinkie. I could probably make a Fluttershy work, though, but that’s a worst case scenario.”
They were forced to agree my logic was infallible. The girlfriend admitted that, as much as she was straight, did it count if it was Rarity? We all agreed; No, no matter who you are, everyone’s a little Raritysexual.
We hit up the merchandise tables, and there’s this dude with a broken arm in full plaster cast who’s selling laser etched pony cutie mark glasses. I am all over this-
“Sorry, I’m all out of Twilight and Pinkie Pie-”
“-drinking glasses, but I do have a Pinkie Pie teacup.”
I have a Twilight glass at home already, family got it for me for Christmas. Now? Now I could have shippable glassware. This is, of course, crucially important to me as a person. If you can’t encourage romantic relationships between your fluid containers, then I feel like you’re missing something fundamental to the human experience.
I slam that money on the table.
“Would you like it bubble wrapped?”
He’s so nice. You know how some people just have a voice that makes you want to message them fluffy puppy photos? Dude made me want to open a pet store stock image company just for him.
“Yeah,” I say, “Flying back to Brisbane after this, might be a problem in my luggage.”
So he smiles at me and gets some bubble wrap out and… wraps it with his broken arm.
“Ah, do you need some help?”
“No, don’t worry about it, I got it.” He smiles reassuringly, like it’s really no problem.
He don’t got it. It’s a problem.
Am I… am I taking advantage of him by making him do this for me? Or is it condescending to just ask to help or take it off him? Oh, shit, he’s starting again, throwing that sheet of bubblewrap away because it fucked up too many times-
“Do you want some help?”
“Really,” he smiles, “It’s no trouble at all,” he says as the tape doesn’t catch again.
I’m seriously hoping nobody who walks past thinks I’m making them do this. I must look like such a monster. He’s looking at me and smiling reassuringly again! Oh, God, let this be over-
Apologetic smile. “Actually, if you could just-”
“Yeah, sure, sure, no problem.” I try not to look too relieved as I take the tape off him.
The boyfriend came in around 4pm with pizza, and we had just enough time to eat two slices before being kicked out so they could plan the convention hall for the afterparty. Overall, this is one of the few truly positive experiences I had over the weekend.
The author and the girlfriend I’d been hanging out with turned out to be rooming with the Slorg. Small world. DanDan and I walked to their room to kill an hour before heading back for the afterparty.
“This will separate the boys from the men,” I tell to him as we leave, “The ones just here to show up, and the ones who genuinely want to be here.”
“We’ve come all this way. We can’t really not do this, even though…” He tips his hand back and forth.
“Exactly,” I agree. “It’s just that extra minimum barrier of effort and socialization that’ll thin the herd.”
And it did! When we got there, the crowd was small enough that when I sat down, Viva motherfucking Reverie sits beside me.
A very sad-seeming man came up to me at this point, and said he liked the panel, and very quietly started talking about the difficulties he had writing stories, which was nice. Then he mentioned his troubles extended to his NSFW account, and I quietly started screaming a little.
“Well it’s about vore-”
“It’s a monster called a [MEMORY REPRESSED], you see.”
“So right now, chapter three, it’s climbed into Fluttershy’s stomach.”
“I think the next chapter is where it gets really erotic though.”
“So, if you’re having trouble because you’re getting stuck with ideas-”
“Because it starts climbing into other places.”
The whole time I am painfully aware that Viva motherfucking Reverie is sitting beside me, close enough I could tap him on the shoulder without bending over.
Later, a friend of mine sent me Viva motherfucking Reverie’s contact details. He hasn’t answered my friend request.
We get in the party and the other guy’s girlfriend basically has a total breakdown. Sudden unexpected huge toothache, she doesn’t have the money to fix it, PTSD issues come up, it’s a terrifying big party where we don’t know anybody, clusterfuck all around.
So I start taking her to a quiet corner, talking it out. Mental health issues are, unfortunately, my jam. This just… tends to happen wherever I go.
Except, here’s what shits me off. Here she is, crying her eyes out, and for the next two hours or so of dealing with this, the boyfriend keeps coming out, sees me trying to get his girlfriend to calm down, smiles to himself that it’s handled, and going back in to the party.
What the fuck. Dude. What the fuck. I’ve known you both for less than a day. I’m not leaving her in the lurch but this is totally not an okay situation to just leave me in.
I’m also here to try to have a good time. Believe me, I’m trying!
Two hours later, the girl’s calmed down, I go in and hang out with DanDan some more, flirt a little with a very excitable Pinkie Pie cosplayer who teaches me the true meaning of the words ‘heaving bosom’, the night is going… well. The night is going, I’ll say that much.
I’m still the worst dancer in all of human history. Two people in full fursuits are getting frisky on the dance floor just behind me, and for some reason I’m in a room full of people trying to rock out to “Beep Beep I’m a Sheep”, because the headliners for this event are… appropriate for the audience. I’ll say that much. But still! It’s-
Other dude’s girlfriend is tugging my arm again. She really just wants to go back to the room and doesn’t feel safe to go on her own. Can I walk her back?
I’m tired and this event is special so while I’m having fun, yeah, no, fine, I can walk her back. Get the key from the boyfriend and meet her out the front.
Mention this to the boyfriend, he comes out to talk to her, emphasizes how he really wants to see the next appointment and she’s being silly and I cut in – no, no, this really isn’t a problem for me. Honest.
I don’t think he gets that I was trying to reassure her, not him. Whatever. Get the key, he goes back in to the party, I walk his girlfriend back to the room.
The walk goes… poorly. She clings to my arm like a vice grip most of the time, and it’s freezing cold.
I ask her; “Is it okay to leave you alone right now?”
“I don’t know…”
Okay that’s a no, let’s go through basic meditation training and shit fine good, sure, I’ll keep you company until either the boyfriend or Slorg get back to the room. Poor girl needs someone to be here. I guess that someone has to be the dude she met, like, four hours ago. That’s a responsible thing to do, leaving me with her. Very adult.
She falls asleep before anybody can come. She falls asleep at 11:30pm. Two hours later. Half an hour after the performer the boyfriend stayed behind for finished.
God fucking damn it.
I’m starving. Public transport has stopped running. This was not how I wanted to spend my evening.
I take a taxi all the way back to my hotel, and my wonderful taxi driver tells me a lot about coming from India, and the various exchange rates between countries he considered. It’s a great conversation, I learned a lot about North India, it’s 1am now as I’m back in my hotel room and down another $40 I really didn’t want to spend.
I go in. The restaurant’s closed. The bar’s still open though. “Do you even have, like, just biscuits you can offer?”
“Isn’t that just the same thing?”
“I was being optimistic.”
“Well, there’s your mistake.”
“There is a Hungry Jack’s across the road, it’s 24 hours.”
I’m in the middle of nowhere, Adelaide, but across from me is the most blessed Australian fast food chain in existence.
1:15am, I hit Hungry Jack’s and…
[DINING ROOM CLOSES AT 11PM]
… it’s 24 hours drive thru only. I could cry.
I go around and consider running through on foot. Nope, it’s sensor activated, I’m not heavy enough. I could probably cram myself full of enough fast food, but that’s like needing the crowbar to open the crate. I try to bribe people to append my order to theirs, no dice. I try to find a webpage to order from…
A waitress comes out the front to bring a bag of burgers to a waiting car. I fall on my knees, begging her, “Please, just plug in a large Whopper meal for me, I’ve had two slices of pizza to eat since six am, I am at the point of exhaustion, you would be my personal saviour.”
“Sorry, protocol says you have to be in a car. You could go through the drive thru in a taxi, though? Some people do that.”
I have no way to get a taxi back here without a valid mobile number. I don’t have one here.
The wait staff are out here, talking to me, physically bringing burgers out. But unless I’m sitting on four wheels when I ask her, I’m not getting anything.
I express my frustration in my server, and — bless their heart — they think I’m asking for help rather than just throwing a tantrum and resort to eating my laptop in frustration. They manage, somehow, to find a hidden Subway in a petrol station for me.
I go there. This time, I don’t need to be in a car.
Thank God. (All the Subway meats and cookies are imported from Brisbane, did you know?)
I finally managed to collapse into bed at 3am with a little taste of home, and sleep through the entire second day of the convention, and fuck up my sleep cycle.
I ask the bartender what there is to do in Adelaide.
“Go to Melbourne?”
“God, I hate this fucking city.”
I visit my relatives again and try to teach my uncle lockpicking. All the while, I remember that Pinkie Pie cosplayer. She could have been the love of my life.
Also, holy shit, the tits on her.
There’s a feeling I have about this trip where, even though it was a lot of money I didn’t have for an experience I didn’t like, I know if I hadn’t done it I would have held the ideal of what it could have been in my head, and forever regret the missed opportunity. So, for that reason, I don’t have buyer’s remorse. I’m glad I went there..
It was still like being invited to a stranger’s house party. The kind where, once you’re there, you go “Oh, hey. I forgot I hate this.”
I get back to my hotel. My sleep schedule’s fucked, so I don’t manage to keep my eyes shut until 5am. I’m kicked out out 10am, starving and absolutely knackered. Their restaurant doesn’t open until 1pm. I ask the receptionist as I leave:
“Seriously, I have eight hours until my flight. What’s the best thing to do in Adelaide? Please? Anything?”
“I’ve already been to Melbourne. I thought maybe Adelaide would be something new or different.”
“Adelaide hasn’t had anything new or different in nearly eighty years.”
“If you ever owned a firearm you would kill yourself within thirty seconds, huh?”
“It’s the dark side to Australia’s gun laws they don’t talk about.”
So you know what I do? I listen. Fuck it. I have eight hours left in Adelaide, and I spend it in the airport. Because the only thing you can do in this fucking city is to leave.
Actually, as bad as the public transport is, I do get to use my student card. Ultimately, the bus drivers are so amused to see “University of Queensland” on the plastic they don’t think to check the expiration date.
Security doesn’t play as nice on this side of the country. I set off the X-Ray, meaning my bag gets totally upended and rifled through three times looking for the offending object; A blunt letter opener, sharp as a teaspoon, ends up being the culprit. My lockpicks and padlocks? All fine. Legal if you don’t have criminal intent. But the ornate, decorative, bloody useless letter opener I forgot was tossed in the backpack as a D&D prop sometime?
Humiliating experience. I hate having my stuff touched at the best of times, hate it, but this was just a brutal and dehumanizing experience of a lack of communication while the line was held up and my stuff was publicly inspected.
The “””knife””” had made it through Brisbane. Not through here, though. This is where Adelaide draws the line. Too much excitement.
I mostly bring this up because I had an epiphany. If I hadn’t ever seen it again, I wouldn’t have missed it enough to really be upset about it. I’d forgotten it in my bag for a reason. However, the act of having it taken from me? That upset me a lot.
But to keep it I’d have had to buy about $20 of postage, gone back out through security and walked to the end of the airport to find the mailbox, walked back, gone through the line again, gone through security again…
And, look, I like that knife? But I would gnaw my foot off before stepping back into Adelaide.
Instead, I just chose to accept I’d “lost” the knife to something stupid. Like, say, the city of Adelaide.
Fucking Christ they were not kidding.
There’s a maxim; Time you enjoy wasting is not time wasted. I’m going to have to add a corollary to that; You always regret the things you don’t do more than the things you do.
If I hadn’t gone, I’d still have an idealized vision of Adelaide in my head, and of how the con could have gone, and that’d have been worse.
As much as everything went wrong — my hair’s still growing back — I’m not left with the lingering doubt in my mind on what could have been.
And you know it to be true because, at the end of the day, the only thing I truly regret about all of this is not getting with that Pinkie Pie cosplayer.