I am not at San Diego.
It's Thursday night, and I'm at home in Southend after having taken Niki and Lili out for a meal in nearby Canewdon. Canewdon's witch country, and I believe the local coven still dance naked in the wheat fields at Hallowe'en, the local police maintaining a perimeter presence to keep the tit-crazed sweaty adolescents out of the witches' way. We wandered out into the wheatfields after dinner, giving some space to sleepy ducks sitting by the pond at the field's fringe. Lili counted the colours in the sky: Essex has explosive sunsets in the summer, orange and purple and blue and pink and gold and bright silver.
At exactly the same time, my peers are inhaling the sweat of their two hundredth fan of the day. Aspirating their disease-laden breath and the airborne motes of their last meal. Watching a line of snot connecting their nostril and upper lip vibrate like a plucked string with every word they say, wondering if it'll fire into your face when it finally snaps free of one anchor or another (this perfect vision was visited upon me at a New Zealand convention last year). Sat next to an editor they probably despise. Being shouted at by a booth runner who wants to know why they weren't there at 10am like it said on the schedule. Having your eardrums ravaged by a thousand kids with sharp little teeth grabbing at everything but the short on your fucking back and shrieking "Is this free? Is this free?" Being harangued by a thyroid case in a rotting Spider-Man 2099 t-shirt three sizes too small about having killed a character who to you may just have been a handful of words and some pictures, but to him was the woman he loved, damnit --
Sun's gone down, now. Sitting here with a 21-year-old Scotch, a smoked trout fillet and a handmade unpasteurised cheddar from an organic farm. Warm, but not hot, you know? Comfortable. Phone's quiet, email's light. Everyone's in San Diego, you see.
I've done conventions with actresses. I remember vividly a post-convention drinking session where an actress on a popular sf TV show came in, downed one drink fairly fast, and then headed straight to her room to "wash them off me." She had been posing with fans for photos for approximately eight hours straight. TV SF fans. The hardcore kind. I was going to ask her how it made her feel, to pose for personal photos with people who probably masturbate over her at home. But I figured it was kindest not to. At times like this, senses of humour can fail. Here's where my sense of humour about conventions failed: when I found out Claudia Christian had been shot during one of those pose-with-the-fan sessions. Her manager, Damon, told me about this. (Damon, incidentally, is a diamond, and if you ever see him at a con, buy him a drink.) Some freak turned up to a con dressed as a Tribble - enormous shapeless furry thing - and wanted to have his pic taken with Claudia. Who did the usual, stood next to him, arm around him, big smile -
-- and a gun poked out of the side of the Tribble and fired into her side.
Blank round. Extensive bruising, bit of a mess, but she lived. And now she has a security presence at conventions. And she has a drink after them. Believe me.
Met another actress from one of these TV shows who basically travels the world on convention accounts and bleeds dry every fan of that TV show she meets, just sells them signed glossies and other crap until all their cash is sucked right out of them. She'll get convention organisers to drive her into the middle of nowhere if she smells fifty bucks in the pocket of a fan out there. And she'll get it. She's in business. Her job is to be Someone From That TV Show. The fans want to touch her, because she has the magic of that piece of shit on her. She makes them smile and feel connected to it. This is a big business. Damon set up a Women Of SF convention featuring Claudia and two actresses from Deep Space Nine, and Alice Krige (an accomplished actress who was in a Star Trek film), evidently got use of a Star Trek attraction in Las Vegas to host it, and explained that he was essentially going to make a shitload, and that Claudia was going to make a shitload. This vaguely bugs me, because Claudia, aside from being possibly the most likeable actress I've met (this doesn't include the ones I've had relationships with. No, hold on. Yes, it does.), can act. And now her job is to be Someone Who Was In A TV Show, flapping around conventions looking for blood to drink. A Star Trek producer told me that there's a guy who played a Borg kid in some episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation who now does every con on the face of the planet, billed as WAS FRED BORG IN STAR TREK. He was in the show once. That's his job now. Was Fred Borg, on the convention circuit.
One of the saddest things I ever saw was at San Diego. I was still on cigarettes, then, and was outside the convention center smoking the day's seventy-fifth when I noticed something odd. A very old man, very thin, slightly hunched, was working his way slowly down the crowds of smokers on the pavement outside the center. He'd stop by one group, say something. There'd be a strange short pause. And then nodding and smiles, and they'd all shake his hand, and he'd beam with joy for a moment, and then move down to the next group. So I waited for him to get to me.
One of the saddest things about this, by the way, is that I cannot for the life of me remember his name.
He got to me and said hello and introduced himself and said: "I was Adam West's dead partner in Robinson Crusoe On Mars."
And it dawned on me. This poor bastard had trekked from God knows where to come to the one place on Earth where someone might conceivably have heard of him. The San Diego Comics Convention.
And you know what I did? I said, "Oh, yeah, right!" and nodded and smiled and shook his hand and told him it was nice to meet him. Just like everyone else. And his face lit up, and he shook my hand, and then shuffled off down the sidewalk. To the next group.
Half past ten. Sun's gone down. Right now, it's the hottest part of the day in San Diego. There was forty five thousand attendees last year. All crammed into a giant plastic humane mouse trap with two airholes in, in the middle of summer.
I'm going to open up the conservatory, light some candles and some garden torches, pour Niki a drink, sit by the strawberries, the honeysuckle and the lavender, and enjoy the evening.
Bollocks to San Diego.
I can be contacted by email about this column at firstname.lastname@example.org. My voluptuous website, just updated with a new front-page essay, pretty new pictures and containing an online store (carrying most things listed in INSTRUCTIONS) and a 24-hour rolling news service, is http://www.warrenellis.com.
BAD WORLD, a series of occasional articles by myself, is at http://www.themestream.com/gspd_browse/browse/
INSTRUCTIONS: Read SEIZE THE TIME by Bobby Seale (1968, 1970), listen to The BLOOD IS RED EP by Gallon Drunk (FM Records, 1999) and hit The Mars Society at http://www.marssociety.com/ and The Planetary Society at http://planetary.org.
Today's recommended graphic novel is FORTUNE AND GLORY by Brian Michael Bendis (Oni Press, 2000).