Steven Marc Harris
This year, I went to my second NecronomiCon and absolutely loved it. The last NecronomiCon that I attended (3rd edition, 1997) was a disappointment & I'd have to admit to having some doubts about going through the trouble of attending this year's.
What was different? I'd learned some lessons from the last Con that went a long way towards not repeating the same mistakes. The first lesson is to go to the Con with the conviction that the organization of the Con is poor at best. I certainly don't place the blame on anyone for this state of affairs. It is a small convention with a small staff, all of whom have their own busy lives to attend to. That being said, it would be a mistake for anyone attending the Con to arrive at a panel on "Lovecraft, Milton and the Many Faces of Satan" and expect a detailed discussion about Lovecraft's use of the Satan-attributed witchcraft trials of New England and how these trials were almost contemporaneous with John Milton's Paradise Lost. It just isn't going to happen. More than likely the first sentence of the panel will be, "Well, I'm So-and-So and I have to admit to not having read Milton for several years." With this in mind, you can see how not being aware of this state of affairs is going to lead to disappointment.
How can you avoid this problem and use lesson # 1 to your advantage? Simple, figure out who knows what and how that relates to the panel topic. For example, avoid going to a panel on "The Use of the Mythos in Modern Computer Gaming" if the panel is made up of Ganley, Joshi, Knox & Dziemianowicz. Great speakers and very intelligent men who happen to know next to nothing about the topic. If they list Hammann, Eckhardt, Whitworth & Petersen, and you are interested in the topic, get your ass over there. If nothing else, you'll hear something related to the quality of modern computer games, computer game art and the ins-and-outs of the business. This is lesson # 2, choose your panels carefully. Most of these people didn't know what panels they were going to be on a week before the Con started. (Except for those individuals that conducted solo panels. These are almost always the best ones. Christophe Thill, Daniel Harms, Dirk Mosig, Steven Trout, etc. are always the best things going. If you see a panel with one guy listed, you can be sure they are prepared and know what they are doing. Check them out! That's lesson # 3.)
Lesson # 4 -- Interact! Being the shy person that I am, and obviously a few other attendees as well share the malady, I'm always hesitant to jump into the whole active interaction thing. This year I made a conscious decision to not only meet people (though once again, as if the hand of God was involved, I didn't bump into Richard "that pin guy" Longcoat, damn my eyes), but to involve myself to some extent in the events. A few of the panels were interactive and I willed myself to speak up a few times. It helped make the Con seem less a Fans Meeting Their Heroes and more a Lovecraft Fandom Unites. Brings a tear to my eye. snif snif
Lesson # 5 -- Don't get stuck at the Convention! Sure, you paid for your admission with a substantial portion of your life savings and you are excited as hell to actually see people not roll their eyes when the topic of Lovecraft's fictional qualities come up, but if you go to NecronomiCon without taking a step into the city around you (or even taking the train to a nearby city for a day) you are going to kick yourself for the lost opportunity. You are in Lovecraft's city for goodness sake and you can be sure he never stayed at the Marriott.
Lesson # 6 -- Go with friends.
Lesson # 7 -- Go to the breakfast.
Lesson # 8 -- Go to the Dealer's Room early. Check out what you want. Buy the unique or low quantity items first. Save the large quantity items for Sunday.
Lesson # 9 -- If you want to meet Brian McNaughton, check out the bar.
Lesson # 10 -- Rely on yourself. The Con organizers have enough trouble keeping down jobs and making the guests of honor feel good. Yes, it will feel like you are a second-class citizen compared to The Writers and/or The Scholars that are being given their rare chance at acceptance by a group of peers. Don't be put off by it. Just remember that many of these people go home to rejection and disappointment and find it hard to readjust after a weekend of praise and love. I know a few of these people and the sobs they cry into their pillows at night after the Con is over is enough to curl your toes. (At least this is what you should keep telling yourself until you believe it. The sad fact is that many of the panelists went home and continued to have a good time. Especially Robert Capelletto whom, I was recently told, continues to feel really, really good after winning the Film Competition.)
And that's that. Now to the trip itself:
Wednesday, August 18th, 1999
The trip begins. The plans are simple. Leave Columbus, Ohio. Journey northward towards Buffalo, NY and stop off at the infamous Daniel Harms residence. The trip itself was, as would be expected and hoped for, outwardly boring and trivial. Driving a straight line for hundreds of miles can only be described as playing poker (or Mythos to keep things on topic) and getting the exact same set of cards each and every time. However, thanks to the fact that I once commuted to my graduate studies an hour and 45 minutes twice a day, I can easily slip into a form of highway hypnosis where my body drives, my mind thinks, and my emotions take a holiday. A state of affairs my wife quipped during the trip was a Millionaire's Holiday. To which I replied, "Did you ever realize the contradiction inherent in the song 'Cupid'? The lines say, 'Cupid, draw back your bow, and let your arrow flow / Straight to my lover's heart for me.' And yet the point of the song is that the girl is completely unaware of the singer's feelings for her. So the obvious result of this daft idiot's prayer is to have Cupid either remain impotent (a bad thing for a lover) or hunt down a former lover and have her return full of passion." Which lead into a discussion of the Wish Master movies, the interesting observation that choreographed dancing as part of a music concert has become almost solely the property of teen-targeted bands while Hanson seems to do well without it, the Hegelian notion of Reason and the State as applied to the evolution of Lovecraftian studies and the Mythos in general, whether or not L. Sprague de Camp was nearsighted or farsighted, and the 70s show Good Times.
Eventually, the conversation in the car died down and remained on the topic of Ass Pain for most of the last third of the trip. The only other interesting thing on the trip before Buffalo was a stop at a McDonald's that was so busy they actually made you take a number! I don't know what it was about this that was so amazing. I suppose it was just the amazing fact that people were willing to take a number in order to eat a Big Mac! Times on the road are indeed rough. Another highlight of that stop was to hear some visitor from the British Isles say the phrase, "I think I'll order a Crispy Chicken sandwich and then Super Size my order of fries." For a moment I felt as if I was in a James Joyce novel.
We arrived at Daniel Harms' abode at a much later hour than expected. (Much of it being my own fault and thus not appropriate to admit to.) We all know Daniel Harms from his books and his postings on usenet, but you don't really know the man until you step into his chambre du horror. Books line the walls. Various Necronomicons lay spilled upon tables and floors as if with a life of their own seeking, with slow and measured pace, a victim for their hunger. Olmec sculptured heads peek out from behind vast notebooks of photocopied materials. A stuffed hippo (believe it or not, Mr. Ripley!) stands guard over his entrance way, as a stuffed Wombat sneaks lifelike amid the piles of paper and CD-ROM's atop his computer desk. A Tibetan sacrificial knife rests uneasily within his dark curtained bedroom, as an illuminated clock with what resembles alien technology surveys the room from the night table. It would all be intimidating for someone not used to such atmosphere or to a wayward thief that decided to break into his ground floor apartment, but I'd met Daniel Harms in the flesh before and knew how his tastes went.
Luckily for my wife and me, Daniel Harms is not a crazed lunatic. A carefully self-controlled and crafty lunatic, perhaps, but certainly not crazed. We settled in, went to Daniel's significant other's house (Monika's) and prepared for a late dinner out on the town. I had the pleasure of watching Daniel play severe, and one can only guess damaging, mind games with George the cat. I secretly spoke a Hail Mary or two under my breath with the hope that I would not awaken that night with Daniel Harms wizzing a cat toy above my bed. I still shudder at the thought. We went to a little Mexican restaurant where Daniel and I tried to speak of dark and dangerous things over the loud boisterous voices of our women folk. We didn't succeed.
We went back to Monika's for a little tea and cake afterwards (yes, we really did. Sad, yet quaint, isn't it?).
Later, once we left Monika's place and returned to Daniel's shunned and shuttered apartment, my wife went to bed at a reasonable hour and Mr. Harms and I stayed up late into the night talking about the history and contents of the dreaded Pnakotic Manuscripts, the boxed board game Arkham Horror and some warm moments looking over the gifts I had brought him dealing with the Mythosian connections of the Templar Knights and the irreligious Brotherhood of the Knot that actually claimed that Arkham, Mass was a confederacy of the mind if not an actual location.
Eventually, I went to bed and wished Daniel a good night. (Which he didn't have. While I found myself struggling for air amid the folds of his mattress's taco-like design, Daniel found himself unable to sleep due to George the cat's vengeful placing of allergic hair in Daniel's sheets. I refrained from asking too many questions on the matter considering I wasn't ready for the answers.)
Thursday, August 19th, 1999
My wife wakes up refreshed and ready for the day. Daniel Harms and I wake up bemoaning the fact that we could not manage to construct a working gate to Providence, R.I. We went to pick up Monika, stopped at the bank, and then hit Route 90 for the longest nine hours of our lives. I actually don't remember much of the trip itself apart from a few little incidents. I suppose the lack of sleep didn't help matters. Everyone took naps. Even I was able to catch a few minutes of sleep while I drove the car. Luckily the cruise control and the straightness of the lane allowed me to catch a good twenty minutes of sleep before the tires started bouncing up and down with protest as the rumble strips in the berm announced their presence. We played a few travel games, ate some cookies that Monika had baked, and had a Mythos trivia game using the Encyclopedia Cthulhiana and the Cthulhu Mythos Bibliography. You can guess who won that game. We drove through the area which inspired Dunwich for Lovecraft, but aside from a quick creepy view of a stagnant river with overgrown vegetation and a slight mist over the water, there wasn't much to see at 70 mph. It was also during this time that we popped in a tape of Combustible Edison which, with its Scooby-Doo/Munsters sound, immediately became the official music of the trip.
We arrived in Providence about seven o'clock tired, haggard and with only three attempted murders during the ride. After checking in at the Motel (which was relatively empty, cheap, decent and as a result will remain nameless until the NecronomiCon decides to remove themselves from Providence), we decided to check out the night life in Providence. I would like to make one observation about Providence. There seems to be an unexpected number of adult book shops in town. I'm sure that Providence doesn't have any more than any other place, but the difference seems to be that the adult book shops in Providence are fancy and out in the open. So if you are into that literary/graphic form of entertainment, make sure that visiting the city is high in your priorities on your NecronomiCon trip. 'Cause you ain't gonna find that in the dealer's room!
Our journey into the city took us towards Federal Hill where expensive Italian restaurants shared their corner with tattoo parlors. Very cosmopolitan. I was glad to see that the parking was difficult, since such things are a true indication of how popular an area is. However, for some reason unknown to ourselves, we decided to skip Federal Hill and head further into the city. A mistake really. After a few ill-advised turns, we found ourselves going deep into the construction area of the new Providence Place mall's parking garage. This in itself was not too bad until we suddenly noticed a rather large number of police about and the realization that the car I was following behind, rather too closely I admit, was the former Massachusetts Senate Majority Leader. (Though to be honest, we at first assumed it to be the US senate, which lead to many Bob Dole jokes during the weekend which we considerately kept to ourselves.) Before we knew it, we found ourselves stopped by a police officer as the former Massachusetts Senate Majority Leader ducked into a restricted area to our left. There was only one thing to do, play the dumb tourist.
"Can I help you folks?"
"Yes, I'm Donovan Loucks from Phoenix, Arizona and these are my friends. We are looking for Brown University, but seem to have taken a wrong turn."
At which point the officer kindly gave us directions to Brown and off we took. I secretly hoped that the policeman would glance at the license plate, notice it was from Ohio and assume that Donovan Loucks from Phoenix must have stolen the car. So we went to Brown University, noticed that the area was dead with entertainment. What the heck do people do at Brown? Study?
So back to Federal Hill we went. After a good 45 minutes of once more being lost and clueless, thanks to the closed roads and construction, we eventually found Federal Hill again. We parked the car and went for a walk to see where to eat. At this point I feel I should explain that Monika and my wife are vegetarian. Monika goes for fruit, while my wife is more of the mushroom/grain variety. Looking for a restaurant under such a restriction is difficult at best. But we did find one and it was actually rather nice. We were accosted outside of the restaurant by a patron who told us to "Come on in and eat something." Being the good followers we are, we took the advice and went in. The restaurant was obviously an automat at some time in its history. The seats were at long tables which you sat down at with other people a mere chair or two away. The menu was plastered upon a supporting pillar which everyone could see and use. Combined with free bread and a little model train that circled the room upon a track attached to the walls above our heads, it was good atmosphere. The portions were a bit small, but this is obviously because it was more a hangout than a sit down restaurant. I was also pleased to see that the place had existed as far back as 1924 and was reasonable to assume that Lovecraft would have either eaten there or gagged at the smells as he walked by outside. There was a little bar that was part of the establishment, but a quick look informed me that Brian McNaughton wasn't there. Of course, it was a long shot since the Marriott had its own bar.
Exhausted, we returned to the motel and fell asleep.
Created: December 5, 1999; Updated: August 9, 2004