Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Gerbils, towels and things you learn at a con

One can learn a great deal from science fiction conventions.  Plotting, characterization, common pitfalls and basic craft – a well-run con can always teach you something.  The trick, as Spock tells you in The Wrath of Khan, is to remember.

I did not.  My first mistake stemmed from lingering too long after a reading, gabbing away as they moved the chairs in the room from stadium style to circle.  The alarms went off in my head.  Run when they circle chairs.  Run.  I did not do this, either.  Two minutes later I found myself in the far corner of an improv lesson.  Yes.  A comedy improvisation workshop designed to God knows what at a sci fi con.   

The session made me laugh.  Everyone in the room had a quick wit and, by nature of the convention itself, a general understanding of the audience.  I sat, trembling at the thought of doing something and having it flop, or doing nothing and being one of those guys who doesn’t participate, who thinks himself above all this.  As a ‘starship captain’ and ‘Klingon’ searched the ‘mall’ for a ‘rouge gerbil’ I realize this is my moment.  I scampered across the floor, chirping “Oh no not again,” until stunned by a ‘phaser.’

For whatever reason, everyone laughed, the workshop soon ended and I got on to the business of science fiction business.  Midway through the next day, I decide to go for a swim.  The hotel pool is gorgeous and I had a lot of toxins to work out of my system.  Because the pool is nine floors down and through the lobby, I wear my street clothes and change in the changing room.  I do laps for 20 minutes, get out and . . . drip.  No towels.  No lifeguard, no humans, no towels. 

I can’t dash through the lobby and up the elevator sopping wet.  Nor can I put my clothes back on.  I take the only other options I see available.  I get naked, smack the big silver button on the hand-dryer, crouch down and slowly rotate like gyro meat on a spit.  I turn and turn squeegeeing myself for what feels like 30 minutes.

Then another guy walks in.  I stand up.  He looks at me.  Confused.  Then he tilts his head a bit and asks, “Aren’t you that gerbil?”

The sad thing is that anyone attending a science fiction convention must have read Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.  And anyone who as read that book – even just the first few pages – knows that, and I paraphrase: A towel, the Guide says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have.

Never forget what you learn at your next con.  Never forget your towel.  Oh, and don't panic.

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