Thursday, August 29, 2013


Hey, is this movie about Hitler?”
Which movie is that?”
This one that has Hitler on the cover.”
Fernando peeks out the office at where his guest, a high school-aged young lady, points to one of his wares, Emperor, which features General Douglas MacArthur as portrayed by Tommy Lee Jones front and center on the cover. “...No. That is not Hitler.”
He looks like Hitler.”
In no way is that statement correct.”

Did The History Channel become so abject a failure in quasi-educational television so long ago already?

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Fernando's Fourth Quest

Breakfast at the hostel was a bleak affair compared to the wondrous glories of impeccable hash browns and scrambled eggs of days gone by. Fernando found some Raisin Bran and milk and some lukewarm yogurt. The coffee was too bitter to reasonably enjoy without diluting it through three or four cups of liquid creamer, thereby defeating the purpose behind it being coffee, and the orange juice was a watery pale mess.
Maybe Fernando was just cranky. He'd spent around six hours of the previous day around more people than he sees come through the Dominion in probably two months...and most of the people visiting the store are the same people Fernando had seen time and again previously. He missed his cave of introverted shame and safety already, but had no choice but to forge ahead.
The plan for this day was to get there bright and early for the convention's opening. The crew visited the front desk to ensure they reserved a spot on the shuttle for around 11 A.M., as the convention would open its doors at noon. When the shuttle arrived, a little late, the Company was saddened to see the man behind the wheel was not Cool Driver Jim, but a different man who spoke with some variety of Slavic accent.
Slav Driver Andy opted charisma as one of his dump stats. He did not engage his passengers and spent much of the time muttering under his breath in the mother tongue, presumably about the wretched traffic they were forced to navigate. He took an alternate path to the convention center, one which did not use of the freeway system but instead skulked through a labyrinth of traffic lights and pedestrians.
The roads' congestion grew larger as the bus crept closer to the convention center, and about a mile out traffic stopped completely. Cop Dudes in reflective vests stood at the intersection, two on opposite corners and one in the middle of the street. They gestured at the backed-up string of cars with white-gloved hands, letting one vehicle at a time merge or creep forward as soon as an opening appeared ahead.
Slav Driver Andy cursed and pounded his palms on the steering wheel, then addressed the passengers, “This is not good.”
Macombo, brave Macombo, told the man, “You know, you could drop us off here and we could walk the rest of the way. It's not that far.”
Slav Driver Andy pushed a button on his console and bus's folding doors whooshed open. “You are fine with this? Okay.”
Fernando and Co. exchanged a look, then as one clambered out and began their sojourn. Walking a mile is nothing to people who live in the middle of nowhere. Fernando needs to walk nearly that far just to reach the post office from his Dominion's front door. The other people from the hotel who had ridden along proved less courageous and stayed in Slav Driver Andy's company.
Even the foot traffic was monumental. People lugged along full-size, framed posters and improbable costumes and red wagons full of swag. The party pressed onward, moving swiftly around the knots of humanity who walked somewhat less than briskly. Well, Fernando and Ronaldo and Natasia did, at any rate. Teodor and Macombo ambled along like sloths.
Fifteen minutes later, they reached the convention center's front doors. Yellowshirts stood by to funnel people in the appropriate directions. People who needed to procure their tickets or wristbands were shunted in the direction which Fernando & Co. were yesterday. For those who had purchased weekend passes, they were directed to stand in a long long long line, a line which dwarfed the previous day's. For the Thursday line experience had just consisted of those men and women who wanted to enter the convention right at opening time.
This line consisted of all the people who'd swung by on Thursday for weekend passes.
Doctor Wily's hair, there were a lot of them.
The crew was escorted into another cattle chute delineated by duct tape on a cement floor. Fernando and Ronaldo, who were closest to each other, decided to make a game of things by counting the number of Harleys Quinn they spied. They made out three before the snaking crush of humanity blotted out vision of the room's entrance.
So the group waited for about twenty minutes. They had been at the end of the line, with perhaps five, six hundred people ahead of them. After the twenty minutes had elapsed, they stood in the front quarter of a line of thousands. And, remember, this is the line of people who had weekend passes, not the separate, unseen line of people who'd come in for just the day, and also not the line for people who'd shelled out an extra two hundred dollars for a VIP ticket and the promise of early entry.
As noon drew nearer, some jackass had the bright idea to put a dickhead on the building's intercom and drum up excitement. You know the sort, the obnoxious hybrid of a sportscaster and a morning radio jockey who indulges in things like, “Heeeeello Chicago Comic-Con! Are! You excited to be here today?” then tries goading the audience into shouting and cheering when he “can't hear you!”
Motherfucker, it's eighty-five degrees, there's no air circulation, and we're standing in a line surrounded by people with an average body temperature of ninety-six degrees. Everyone is sweaty and grouchy and above all a nerd. Nobody needs that shit, especially not when you're doing it at five after twelve in the afternoon and we just want to get inside the actual convention.
Though some of the 501st milled around looking awesome as shit, and that made things a little bit better, it was still twenty after noon by the time the portion of line in which the Company dwelled was broken away and guided by yellowshirts not up the escalators as yesterday, but into the downstairs showroom, where autographs and meet-n-greets were to be held in the future.
Let's never do that again,” Fernando said, and no one disagreed with him.
The party split off again, with Teodor just outright vanishing while Macombo and Natasia headed off to do their own thing. Fernando and Ronaldo wandered the lower level's vendors. They found someone who sold fedoras with built-in sparkly LEDs and considered, however briefly, procuring one for Teodor, who is well-known to favor that style of headgear (Fernando is more partial to the Derby bowler). But twenty-five dollars was too much money to spend on a novelty that would make Teodor look like a buffoon, so the idea was scrapped.
Fernando did take a picture of Ronaldo next to a TARDIS. Ronaldo was overjoyed.
The autograph area was mostly barren. Lou Ferrigno was there, surprisingly, for he had been advertised to attend a panel the previous day on real-life superheroes. That was a great big disappointment, for not only did The Hulk not show up, but the superheroes up on stage did things which did not, in fact, require dressing up and maintaining a secret identity. Secret identities are needed to prevent retributive acts against yourself or your loved ones by allies of the villains you thwart, not because you go to a soup kitchen and volunteer or hand out condoms. Unless, of course, you do such things for pomp and attention, in which case your deeds might be noble but your intents fly in the face of everything which might be considered altruistic.
The whole thing was rather a bit of a farce, and not at all unlike the Stephen Lynch composition “If I Could Be a Superhero.”
Anyhow, Ronaldo tried to sneak a picture of Mr. Ferrigno but one of the yellowshirts waved him down and pointed to a “no pictures within the designated area” sign which was affixed, rather ironically, behind a line of tape delineating said designated area, in which Ronaldo and Fernando undeniably did not stand.
Ronaldo shrugged and took a grainy long-distance picture anyway when the yellowshirt's attention was distracted by some other convention-goer. No way was he going to pay fifteen dollars. Word to the wise: if you market your body and self as a commodity and product, you surrender privacy when in a venue specifically meant to market that product, as long as the photographer isn't being a dickhead and putting you or other people in some sort of harm. If you value your privacy, think ahead and maybe don't become famous.
The rest of the day proved rather humdrum. Ronaldo and Fernando split up as soon as the first Doctor Who panel reared its head, so the Keeper did his own thing. The high point for Fernando was attending a Q&A panel featuring the affable and endearing Wil Wheaton, who actually gave a little talk on exactly the sort of privacy concerns Fernando described above, and who reached roughly the same conclusion as he did: When you're wearing your public/business pants, you give up the right to bitch and a be standoffish dickhead, as long as people are not a jerk about things. Without them, you wouldn't be anybody.
Michael Shannon could do well to learn this lesson. He was to give an hour-long fireside chat. Fernando and Ronaldo both looked forward to it because the man is an impressive actor who brings a lot of gravitas to his roles, and Ronaldo much enjoyed his character in Man of Steel. A pity he's a shithead of a human being who clearly did not want to be there and whose Q&A (such as it was...he answered two or three audience questions before he scampered off) was cut down to about twenty minutes because he can't schedule his life worth half a damn and overlapped other obligations with the time at which he was to attend the convention.
The following Zachary Quinto panel was much better. Mr. Quinto cared and was affable and joked with the moderator and the people asking questions. He even requested that a one girl not cry when it was clear she was a nervous wreck just talking to him from fifty feet away over a microphone. Kudos, Mr. Quinto.
After the convention ended, Cool Driver Jim again arrived to pick up the crew and deliver them swiftly to their destination at the hotel, where discussion over foodstuffs took place. Consensus was reached: Natasia and Macombo were to head to a bar/eatery near the hotel while Fernando, Teodor, and Ronaldo would cross four lanes of street to a Burger King, as the bar/eatery looked a mite skeevy to Ronaldo's eyes.
While at Burger King, Teodor's food was stolen by another man because he did not stand right by the counter to pick it up. Good old thieves. Oh, and everyone was pretty sure they had seen someone pick up a prostitute in the drive-thru. The lady was wearing a slinky reddish dress, had her hair artfully curled and coiled, and milled around on the sidewalk near the burger joint. Once someone pulled into the drive through, she sashayed over and leaned down to solicit him, which seemed to go well enough, though when she climbed into the passenger side of the vehicle her face was dead and without expression.
So congrats to Anonymous John, I guess. Truly you are a master of the seductive arts.
Upon return to the hotel, Macombo and Natasia dropped by the room to have a few beers. Macombo played another game of Munchkin with the crew while Natasia sat nearby, blessing everyone not with a ruthless playstyle, but with honeyed words and sparkling personality. The crew also haggled out their schedule for the next day. The convention would begin at 10 in the morning, and they did not plan to be there for that time. No way would they deal with line bullshit, not on the day which promised to be the biggest of the weekend. This was the day on which all the Walking Dead panels, especially that of Mr. Norman Reedus, would take place, and the crowds would be, as the expression goes, “off the hook.” No, they would schedule their arrival at around 10.30, hopefully after all the torturous herding had come to an end and they could just walk through the doors, flash their wristbands to Shouty Black Lady, and go about their business.
It promised to be a fine day, indeed.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Fernando's Third Quest

 “That...that's a lot of people,” Teodor murmured once the party had taken full stock of what lay before it: a snaking queue of people numbering in the hundreds wrapped around the convention center's exterior, tended by about a dozen yellow-shirted volunteers who maintained order. There was no wiggle room; as soon as Fernando and Company stepped away from the curb, they were hustled to the end of the line. As they walked, they could see through the many pairs of glass double doors that dozens, hundreds more people milled about the interior lobby in even more clusters and rows accompanied by the yellowshirts, with no end in sight to this endless tessellation of humanity.
Thanks to the captive audience so helpfully provided by the yellowshirts, buskers of all sorts wandered up and down the line, unimpeded by the volunteers. They plied their wares upon Fernando and Company: copies of The Onion, pamphlets about militant veganism cloaked in rhetoric implying that any non-vegan tacitly approves of widespread animal cruelty, and fliers advertising random clubs, each with its own upcoming Walking Dead theme night.
Fernando has this to say about the yellowshirts: they did their jobs with Germanic efficiency. The lines moves swiftly and it took perhaps fifteen minutes before the Company and a few random and unimportant henchmen stood at the head of the line, to be pinched off and led through the convention hall's doors by a pair of yellowshirt escorts.
From the outside it seemed as though people were standing around the foyer, a huge and glossy tiled marvel larger than the entire Dominion, willy-nilly, but there proved to be order within this chaos. Truly a microcosm of our own universe, for its slow slide towards final entropy is halted only by chance and only in miniscule portions of quasi-organization which dot vast nothingness. The clusters were reformed into lines by other yellowshirts and the lines were funneled through a set of doors which led to a concrete-floored gymnasium-type area even larger than the entry foyer.
Strips of blue tape had been put down. Humans stood between these strips in a queue which numbered in the thousands, waiting their turn to approach one of about a dozen windows at which entrance to the convention might be gained—this was the line for people who had registered early, rather than the poor saps who decided against doing such a thing. Fernando and Company were shunted to the end of the serpent and stood around for another twenty minutes, surrounded by nerds of all kinds.
Finally, the group reached the head of the line and from there was guided by a yellowshirt to an open ticket window, where they received their bright orange wristbands, which they could under no circumstances remove for the convention's duration. This task completed, they were escorted by a yellowshirt around the sprawling mess of people, back out another set of doors to the entry foyer, and bid to ascend an escalator into the convention proper. There was no other option available, as the tide of people, focused by the yellowshirts, required that Fernando and Company go with the flow, like cattle being herded down a chute which would render them into cuts of meat and offal.
Redundant checkpoints had been set up, one at the bottom of the escalator, one at its top, and one more at the entrance to the showroom floor. A black rent-a-cop woman demanded at the top of her lungs every ten seconds, “Wristbands up!” Her black rent-a-cop man companion stood by in silence, looking almost apologetic.
They entered the showroom floor. The first thing Fernando noticed was that it was big. Bigger than any of the rooms he'd visited earlier. It was jam-packed with vendor stalls, a bazaar of nerdish delight. Men hawked comic buy-sell-trade. Booth babes and their gravity-defying tits flanked stands whose goal was shameless advertising. Dealers in collectibles and antiquities displayed overpriced posters and knick-knacks for weak-willed souls to purchase.
Navigating this labyrinth of booths and stalls required navigating people, a directionless mess of everyone going every way without care or foresight, and the fellowship was quickly divided. Fernando and Ronaldo, and to a lesser degree Teodor, managed to stay fairly near each other as they browsed. Ronaldo spent a good amount of time investigating dealers of knives and swords, but found their wares lacking in craftsmanship. Fernando had his eyes peeled for a seller of roleplaying materials, for he still held out hope of picking up the near-mint first printing of Tomb of Horrors autographed by Mr. Gygax himself for around eight dollars.
A man can dream.
The sales floor proved itself fruitless in the end, for nothing of value was gained. The only available Dungeons & Dragons-related items were those for Fourth Edition or for Pathfinder, neither of which particularly appealed to Fernando. The crew reunited in a cluster of inflatable chairs and bean bags on which young whippersnappers lounged to decide the next courses of action.
Panels, for some. As stated previously, Doctor Who figured quite prominently in the convention's itinerary, and both Macombo and Natasia had plans attend every panel dedicated to the show which they could. Teodor had wandered off on his own, but Teodor is also a big boy. Ronaldo and Fernando would continue wandering this building, mapping it for the party's future benefit.
They found the games room, in a side chamber affixed to Moria itself—vaulted ceilings, chandeliers the size of a minivan, no life. The games room, in stark contrast to that at OddCon, was inhabited by people not playing games, but instead amusing themselves on their smartphones. No Chess Kids or Sirs Dicks-a-Lot here, nosirree. When Fernando peeked in on this sad state of affairs, a young woman at the far end of this room, roughly the size of the front half of the Dominion, beckoned him. “Come in, come in!”
Fernando is not often beckoned by women, and he had mild curiosity as to the games loadout here, so he did as bade. Two metal racks, each about five feet tall, were filled with boxes belonging to various board and card games.
Hi!” she said, looking away from the laptop computer on the table before her.
Looking for a game to play?”
Maybe. Just browsing, mostly.”
Well, we have all kinds here. I'm sure you'll find what you're looking for.”
I'm sure.” Fernando decides at this moment to veer to the side of extroversion. “You wouldn't happen to know of any dealers here who have any old D&D stuff, would you?”
Old stuff?”
Yeah, like First or Second Edition, or BECMI.”
Ummm...not offhand. Let me—wait, there's my boss, we can ask him!”
Fernando turns and sees a middle-aged man shuffle into the games room with a steaming styrofoam cup in one hand. “Ask me what?”
This man would like to know if you know anywhere here that has older D&D stuff.”
1E, 2E, BECMI, stuff like that,” Fernando supplies.
Hmm...well, I have some reprints back at the store.” Recently Wizards of the Coast had reprinted some of the core rulebooks for older editions, in a feeble attempt to show they still cared about people who played outdated editions of the game. The only problem is, of course, that Fernando owns copies (in some cases multiple copies—he has no fewer than 3 1E Monster Manuals and 3 1E Dungeon Masters' Guides kicking around) of these reprints.
I was looking more for used books and modules.”
No, sorry. All I've got are the reprints, down at the store, but that's all the way in St. Louis.”
A little far afield for me, I'm afraid.”
I figured as much.”
Well, thanks anyway,” Fernando says, then exits the games room.
The convention closed its doors fairly early on this first day, so by seven the party had reunited and waited for Cool Driver Jim to collect them. He was a little bit late, and he apologized. It weren't no thang. They had to squeeze in with some gentlemen who'd driven twelve hours nonstop to the convention from out on the East Coast. One seat was left empty.
The purpose behind this grew clear when Cool Driver Jim diverted to the airport and pulled up to one of the drop-off locations. As he clambered out of the car, Fernando heard a woman shouting quite loudly in Spanish. Cool Driver Jim's responses carried a polite tone, at first, but the Spanish lady's tongue-lashing continued as he loaded her luggage into the place Ronaldo had called his seat earlier that afternoon. He grew frustrated and terminated the conversation with a clipped, “No podía hacer nada.”
Martha, the crabby Spanish lady, sat next to Fernando in the van. It was awkward. Her presence tainted the jovial atmosphere, and so the return to the hotel was in complete silence.
The party split then, for Macombo and Natasia wanted head back to their room and change so as to check out the swimming pool before it closed for the evening, and it would have been uncouth, indeed, for Fernando & Co. to follow them and begin amateur voyeur hour. Instead, they retired to their leased bedchamber and discussed meal possibilities. Rocky Rococo pizza was listed as serving the area, but this was to be a new adventure, not a rehash of old times! Instead, Ronaldo suggested utilizing a pizza dealer in an agreement with the hotel. This was done, and forty minutes later a pair of steaming pies, one “Zesty Italian” and the other “Zesty Supreme,” sat upon one of the beds. They pizzas came with dippin' sauce and a lack of napkins.
It was delicious.
A bit more Munchkin was had between the Original Three and Macombo. Natasia sat out, because obviously she hates the world and everything fun in it. They finally turned in at around 11.30. The day tomorrow would begin brighter and earlier than it had today, so everyone needed rejuvenation before tackling the up-fuckeries to come.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Fernando's Second Quest

The crew headed swiftly forth, leaving the lands of Saladolsa and its Dominion of Movies far behind them. They passed through Zail-Kanzin, which is about the limits of Fernando's usual travels in a southerly direction, and continued onwards to Bobsdaughter, the municipality which Macombo and Natasia called home.
Fernando had never met these two individuals, but Ronaldo staked his life and reputation on the qualities of their characters and so Fernando was predisposed to treat them as members of his posse. Macombo, it turns out, filled a vital hole in the party's composition, for he is quite the extroverted man and would serve well as the party's face during interactions with strange peoples in strange lands. Natasia, meanwhile, gravitated immediately to Fernando's style and tone of speech, for she possessed a similar outlook on life and sense of humor.
The newly met comrades' equipment was stowed in the Tahoe's trunk, next to the large cooler well-stocked with ginger ale and other sodeys, and Ronaldo guided the vehicle back onto the highway. The journey had now officially-officially begun.
Time passed swiftly. The group made a quick pit stop at a gas station at the border to stock up on Gas Station Hot Chocolate and breakfasts. While the sausage and egg biscuits which had been procured were quite acceptable fare, the ones containing Canadian bacon were foul bastardizations of a meal that no one in the vehicle could choke down, for the shitty and waxy cheese overpowered the sandwich. To Fernando, who finds most varieties of cheese—especially mass-produced and oily ones—reprehensible, it was like trying to eat a spoonful of earwax.
During the drive, Macombo extroverted himself into the group by sharing many tales of debauchery and sorrow at his workplace over the previous weeks, stories in which characters such as Dragon Lady, Chicken Wing, Entitlement Mike, and Guinness Guy figured heavily. It is not Fernando's place to share these with the world; Macombo deserves this honor and privilege, for they are tales on par with the finest of Chronicles.
And, speaking of Chronicles, Ronaldo mentioned their existence, and Natasia begged Fernando to provide dramatic readings therefrom. Our hero, whose ego knows no bounds, did precisely this for over two hours, sharing some of the choicest anecdotes he could recall. By the end of his filibuster, Fernando's voice was shot, but they found themselves at the outskirts of Milwaukee, where they stopped at another gas station to stretch the limbs and relieve the bladders.
Now, however, began the twisting navigation of on- and off-ramps and their associate tollbooths which snaked out from the Chicagoite nexus. Gertrude, who had until this point remained silent, spoke up as the group approached the first of the tolls: “Bear left on I-94.”
Ronaldo, dear naïve and trusting Ronaldo, did as Gertrude bade, for Goo-Gol's words of wisdom in no way countermanded her.
This resulted in the van being shunted into the express toll lane, where vehicles with toll stickers may pass through without slowing, rather than turning over coinage to yellow-vested attendants in tiny cubicles. As was written in the books of the heavens, traffic fused into a solid brick around the Tahoe as though it were a foreign body besieged by lymphocytes, rendering it unable to cross the lanes into the coin-tolls on the right, and they whizzed through without paying the required $2.80.
That fucking bitch.
Fortunately, the State of Illinois is not a complete cocknibble, in that it allows a grace period of seven days from the date of infraction to square away unpaid tolls by paying through a website. This thing would be done promptly upon the group's return home, for at the moment they lacked an appropriate top-of-lap computer on which to complete such tasks.
Gertrude was placed into the Box of Shameful Solitude and all the group's attention and love was showered upon Goo-Gol's directions, which did not steer them wrong with regard to tolls, though it did encourage them to take a wrong turn in their quest to reach their place of lodging. Gertrude was reactivated with resignation, and she recalculated the path they must forge. Perhaps to make up for her earlier misdeeds, she did not lead them astray, nor bone them on any more tolls.
Their hotel lay quite near Chicago O'Hare International Airport, in quite the industrial district. Natasia noted that the premiere landmarks in the vicinity were gigantic twin piles of shattered concrete and gravel, respectively, and these mounds were used to orient the party during their later explorations.
They arrived at the hotel just before eleven in the morning. Unfortunately, they could not check into their rooms for another two hours, so time needed to be killed. Ronaldo suggested fanning out from this new base of operations and to acquaint themselves with the vicinity, so this was done. Unfortunately, little was immediately accessible to the party, especially since they journeyed on foot, not wanting to waste gas wrangling with midday Chicago traffic. The sidewalks, in defiance of everything Fernando thought he knew about the world, were in worse shape than those in Saladolsa, and in some places they were absent entirely, so the party had to trudge along narrow trails tramped into the grasses parallel to the four-lane road, sidestepping a wide assortment of litter up to and including orange traffic cones.
They stopped at a nearby Subway, the only easily accessible eatery that was not also a porn shop, for lunch, and they overheard a conversation between the cashier jockey and either a coworker or a manager about money which had gone missing from the till. It sounded to Fernando like it was amateur hour at the Thieves' Guild. Business matters and chastisement therefrom should not be discussed before a group of five strangers. It reeks of callous disregard for simple courtesy among individuals in the same trade.
Were Fernando Master of that particular Sandwich Lair, and had he come upon one of his minions acting in such a manner to another wage slave, he would have shitcanned the unprofessional bastard on the spot.
After the group had left the awkward Subway behind them, they walked around the block. Blocks in Chicago seem much larger than blocks in Saladolsa, or Inuitland. They made a circumlocution around a single-building business park which sprawled over about a square kilometer of land. Fernando walked next to Natasia during this, for the young lady was the only one to keep up with the Keeper's quick pace, and they discussed names, and why Fernando gives others pseudonyms. While they walked, an olive-skinned man in a car appeared around one corner. He slowed up as he passed the group, then rolled down the window, pointed two fingers at the party, and mimed a gunshot.
Random encounters. What in actual fuck.
The group returned to the hotel and still had much time to kill, over an hour. Fortunately, a picnic table outside the front gates to this castle was unoccupied, so Fernando broke out his set of Cthulhu Dice and inaugurated Macombo and Natasia in its eldritch workings. Natasia proved quite the talented and fortuitous thrower of jinkies, and she won by far the greatest number of bouts out of the many that were played as they waited.
Finally, the hour of one in the afternoon dawned. Ronaldo and Macombo could secure their respective rooms! And they did, and it was glorious to behold, for the bedchamber Ronaldo has leased contained a full-size refrigerator in which sodeys could be stashed and kept cool! As an added bonus, the remote was right there on the nightstand, so Fernando did not have to experience nihilism given physical form as he did on his last journey.
To make things even better, the hotel provided free shuttle services to and from the convention center. No wrangling with overpasses and traffic lights and law enforcement, not for this saucy crew of adventurers! But, the convention was not to begin for another two hours, and no one had any desire to stand in lines for that duration, so a quick round of Munchkin was begun. Macombo acquitted himself quite admirably to it, but the game proved not entirely to Natasia's liking, as she politely declined participation in subsequent bouts.
'S alright, Natasia. I still think you're cool.
When the hour struck three, the group gathered what belongings they felt they would need and struck out for the convention center. Here they met for the first time a splendid, competent, genial Hispanic gentleman whom the party named Cool Driver Jim, and he was their link to sanity and safety over those next three chaotic days. They also encountered a group of fellow convention-goers who hailed from the faraway state of Ohio. Fernando struck up conversations with them, though he misremembers their names and he is certain they misremember his.
The shuttle proved overencumbered, as Cool Driver Jim had to drop off a pair of young adults at the airport before bringing a mob of seven sweaty, smelly nerds (and Natasia) to the convention, so Ronaldo was a good guy and hunkered himself into the space behind the back seat, keeping low to avoid the prying eyes of Cop Dudes who might otherwise detain the shuttle. Once the O'Hare dropoff was completed, Ronaldo was able to return to the lands of men from his self-imposed exile, and all was well.

Then, they arrived at the convention center, clambered out of Cool Driver Jim's pimping ride, and had their notions of “standing in line” changed forever on that day.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Fernando's Quest

Long long ago, in the frigid month of February, Ronaldo approached Fernando one evening, and described to him a notion which has wriggled from his subconscious into his working brain. This notion spread like a virus to Fernando, and he found himself infected and enamored of its honeyed promises.
Rather than go to the convention we attended last year,” Ronaldo whispered into the Keeper's ticklish ear, “Let us up the ante. Let us attend Comic Con.”
You mean the ginormous one in San Diego?”
No. Don't be silly. None of us are prepared for that. I mean the one in Chicago, in early August.”
Appealing, but why would we rather go there than to OddCon as last year?”
For one, this year's OddCon looks like it will suck. For two, Norman Reedus will be there.”
As in the actor who portrays fan favorite Daryl on the hit television series The Walking Dead?”
The selfsame.”
Well count me the fuck in.”
Invitations were extended to all of Fernando's usual running crew, and most of them could not fit a weekend of debauchery in the Windy City into their schedules. Alfonso and Cortez were both barred from attending, each due to his respective time and money constraints. Damien never spends money if he can avoid it, so his presence was ruled right out. Javier had plans to relocate his residence upon the expiration of his lease, which of course coincided timewise with the convention's scheduled dates. Katriona, who would be clutching a brand-new postgraduate degree in her fist, was abjectly broke and possessed a desire to seek some means of employment rather more prestigious than fry cook.
This left Teodor, who did agree to embark with the pair on this adventure, and the posse grew fifty percent in size on that day.
Ronaldo extended invitations to others at his place of employment, for some of his coworkers were self-described nerdish types and would, perhaps, leap at the opportunity to attend the convention. More practically, the more people which attended, the cheaper the excursion would be for all involved. Hemming and hawing occurred among some of these invited guests, and in the end only one of them committed to attending: Macombo, along with his life-partner Natasia, who shamelessly maintained one of the largest “girl-boners” for Mr. Reedus on this or any other planet.
Fernando was quite overjoyed by the timing of this convention, for it promised to be around the same time as the annual music festival which murdered customer flow, and so he would not lose as much material wealth as normal by choosing to shut down the store over that weekend. Alas, the fates conspired against him, and the dreaded festival was scheduled for the weekend immediately before the sojourn. But, it rained over that weekend, so people who would prefer not to squat in mud and beer vomit passed by the store in large numbers. Mother Nature had provided the Keeper a small boon to balance Fate's injustice.
Let us return to Wednesday night. Ronaldo and Cortez visit the store in the late afternoon. Ronaldo cavorts like a spider monkey the whole time, for he is an ardent Doctor Who aficionado and many panels and players upon this venerable program promised to be in attendance at the convention. Cortez is excited because of the nefarious plot which was to unfold for the running crew this night: the plan was to do burgers, and no one can deny the giddy lure of burgers.
At eight P.M., Fernando locks up the store and stands outside looking at the sign he had posted on the interior glass of his front door ten or so days back: “The Dominion of Movies will be closed August 8th through the 12th. Anything rented on the 7th won't have to be back until Monday the 13th. If I won't be here to run the store, I don't expect the movies to have to be here either! Be sure to stock up!” This advertising scheme worked, and Fernando earned “sick bank.” A pity Wednesday is a rent-one-get-one-free day, or the profits would have been even larger. As an added bonus, nobody had asked Fernando why he was closing up, so he did not have to provide any snarky answers or inane explanations to these questions.
As Fernando rounds the corner of the store, Ronaldo says to him, “You're on vacation.”
Fernando cannot help but to grin. “Indeed I am. It's a good feeling. It has been too too long.”
The burgers are had, and they are indeed delicious and fill the belly with warm, comforting meats. The crew that evening, which consisted of Teodor and Damien in addition to the aforementioned three, square off at billiards once the food is settled. Fernando's prowess at the game proves quite unexpected, but his skill is a mere shadow of his brother Alfonso's, and that of his father, who claims many first-place pool league trophies in his name.
At four in the morning the next day, Fernando is freshly-showered and has gathered all his supplies. Clothing, telephone, toiletries, a selection of D&D books on the chance that bones should want to be rolled, three sets of Munchkin cards, and Steve Jackson's Cthulhu Dice. These would tide over Fernando and Company in the hotel room, during those times when they were not attending the convention and had a desire to do something other than view hotel television.
They would depart early, hoping to arrive at their reserved lodging place before the metropolis's noonday rush of traffic. The plan was to use Teodor's father's Tahoe as their means of transport rather than a smaller vehicle, to ensure maximal comfort for all five party members. Ronaldo would drive, and Fernando would once again serve as his primary navigator, assisted by maps provided through the sagely Goo-Gol. The dissembling Gertrude Pauline Samson would serve as backup to the backup.
Once there, they would scout their environs and determine the feasibility of assorted means by which they could reach the convention center. Goo-Gol helpfully pointed out that the center lay but a twenty-minute walk from their the crow flies. Men do not fly, not unless they are assisted by one or more wizards of at least the fifth level. An alternate means of reaching the center needed consideration, but this was a conclusion that could only be reached once they had gotten the an inkling of the lay of the land.

Men do, however, cruise. The terrible trio of Fernando, Ronaldo, and Teodor are on their way to collect Macombo and Natasia right on schedule, as the sun just barely peeks over the horizon and its rays burn the early morning fog off the twisting black highway which stretches before them.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Bless Me

One day Fernando rests upon his throne and looks out his viewing portal at the great wide world surrounding the Dominion. Across the street, a backhoe which has sat half-buried in a hole for the last two weeks continues sitting. Traffic passes, trucks and semis and sedans. A young man walks along the sidewalk.
Wait, a man walking along the sidewalk? That doesn't happen in Saladolsa, not ever. Or in America, for that matter. And he....Fernando leans forward in his seat and squints to get a better view. The young man wears a checkered, button-up shirt. A navy blue satchel is slung over his shoulder. And his hair....
Fernando leans back in his chair, eyes wide, and looks around his office in shock. The Aryan!
He immediately changes the subject in a conversation he has with his e-companion, Lucretia. “The godmongers are in town! One of them's across the street. What should I do if it comes in? I need a character.”
The Aryan has by this point stopped before the insurance place across the street from the Dominion. He peers through the business's window, then turns the doorknob and lets himself in. Fernando hastily appends to his chat, “Oh yes, he's entering businesses. Just slithered into the insurance place across the street.”
Lucretia answers, “Oh boy. Break out the Russian mobster guy.”
Mobster guy...? Nicolai! There's a name and a face that Fernando does not consider too often. His memories of that man are still...quite fuzzy. Break him out, though? Of where, jail? Was he in some kind of legal trouble? Fernando much prefers not to engage in felonious conduct, if he can at all avoid it.
He also posits his question to others present in the internet world. Cortez responds with a vote for Vinny. Vinny is an asshole. He shit Lorenzo's bed and needs to get his ass kicked. Vinny's pad, though, is a sprawling and chaotic deathtrap. The last time Lorenzo and his posse visited, they would up trapped on another plane of existence entirely.
Vinny is a dick, and Nicolai had tallied more votes by the end of election season. There may have been some stuffing of the ballot box, but that's democracy for you.
As Fernando prepared the tools needed to break out this character from his long absence, the chimes over his door tinkle. A young lady enters, with mousy brown hair and slightly crooked front teeth. She wears a sensible blue cardigan over a white button shirt with a plaid skirt. She bears a satchel identical to The Aryan's, from which publications and papers and pamphlets protrude. “Hi!” she chirps.
Hello,” Fernando says. His voice is a strange half-gargle, like he is trying to do a bad Slavic accent. This was not as it was meant to be! The Aryan was to have paid Fernando a visit for Round Two! Now he has to converse with a woman? Madness!
Fernando plays it cool and clears his throat. “How can I help you?” he asks, smiling.
My name is Elizabeth, and I'm visiting everyone here in town to ask if they would like to donate any money to a missionary nurse program.” She rifles through her satchel and withdraws a stack of five books. She does not extend any of them Fernando's way, nor make an immediate sales play. “It's so strange that you own a video store here, in a town this small. How many people are there here again?”
Hmm. Either she was lucky in her guess, or she had been briefed at some juncture on Fernando's existence and credentials. Rather than being a contrary fucker as with The Aryan or Mad Cultist in earlier years, Fernando opted to treat this visitor like a customer. He's never done that with the godmongers.“Oh, around four hundred,” he says, tilting his gaze upwards and to the side. A sizable Guardian Spider lingers in a corner of the office. “Maybe a few dozen more if you count the suburbs.”
Elizabeth laughs. It sounds almost, but not quite, genuine. “So I have a question for you.”
I may have an answer.”
Now she fishes out one of her tomes, a spiral-bound cheap piece of shit that purports to be a cookbook, the same title which The Aryan bore last year. It made claims of “hearty homecooked meals in minutes.” She places it in Fernando's hands. He opens it to the table of contents, as he had given up on his oxygenarian lifestyle shortly after taking it up last year. He has no willpower.
And, mmm, what a collection of culinary masterpieces. Macaroni and cheese. And meatloaf. Oh, blueberry pie and breaded pork chops. Truly Jacques Pépin would be hard-pressed to match this caliber of comestibles.
Would you consider yourself to be more the cook or more the eater?” she asks Fernando as he browses the cookbook.
The Keeper arches an eyebrow. “I am of the belief that you can't be one without also being the other.”
Elizabeth laughs again. “Surely you must favor one over the other.”
Fernando shrugs. “I switch it up. Keeps things from getting too stale.” He places the book face-down upon his counter.
Elizabeth smiles and looks Fernando in the eyes. Fernando smiles back. After around five seconds, his visitor tells him, “You seem like you're really intelligent.”
Well, that depends on how we define intelligence. It takes all sorts and styles of knowledge to truly be considered all-knowing.”
Are you a Christian, by chance?”
Afraid not.”
Catholic?” Weird. Fernando had always assumed the latter to be a subset of the former.
Sorry, no.”
Elizabeth's smile grows wider, and her voice pitches up a quarter-octave and takes on a guttural undertone, as though her throat did not want to allow the following word to pass her chords unobstructed. “Atheist?”
Atheism is too strong a position for me to take.”
Her body relaxes a little. “Agnostic?”
No, I believe that there exists some all-encompassing purpose behind things.”
Her lip quirks. “Skeptic?”
That's a new one. “About most things, yes. Proof ought to be had before conclusions are made, on any topic.”
Elizabeth gives a little sigh and shakes her head from side to side. “I give up. What are you then? Buddhist?”
All of the above. I live by my own set strictures and rules and don't believe it is ethical for me to use them to unduly impact the lives of others.”
Oh, it seems like you're a very moral person who seems to put a lot of stock into logic and thought,” she murmurs, withdrawing another book. “This is a book of philosophy and aphorisms, and the history of all kinds of moral and religious movements. It will change the way you look at the world, I promise.”
No doubt, since the book's subtitle makes note of freedom having been under attack through the ages.
Fernando takes the book from her, then immediately sets it down. “Ah, there's the rub. I also believe in quid pro quo in my moral dealings with others.”
Elizabeth smiles at Fernando. “'There's the rub,' that's from Hamlet. Did you quote Shakespeare on purpose to me?”
I hadn't planned on it, but great minds sometimes do think alike.”
Here Elizabeth begins to quote that particular soliloquy at Fernando. Sling, arrows, misfortune, dying and sleep, the rub, all of it up until the shuffling off from the mortal coil. It's certainly more Hamlet than Fernando had ever bothered to memorize. “Well done!” he says, and genuinely.
Do you do a lot of reading?” she asks after giving a small curtsy.
Fernando has fielded this question previously and has a canned response on hand: “Indeed so. Roughly equal parts fantasy and nonfiction.”
She withdraws a third book. This one has a placid scene of some tropical paradise emblazoned on the cover, a stereotyped palm tree-at-sunset, waves-washing-on-the-beach image. “Here is another book. It has a number of stories, both real ones and fiction. They're great for relieving all the stress in your life. Surely you must have a lot of it, running your own business.” She flips it over and puts it in Fernando's hands, then slides her finger across the cover to the barcode and price on the back. “As you can see, it is normally priced at nearly thirty dollars, but really anything you can give would be appreciated so very much. Most people give somewhere between twenty and twenty-five dollars for this.”
Well, truth be told, I'm feeling pretty good about my life right now,” Fernando says, adding this third book to the growing pyramid. And this is true, for later that selfsame week Fernando would embark on an excursion to magical, faraway lands, one which had been planned into his life-schedule since February.
Everyone runs through rough patches.”
This is true. But, I feel adequately equipped to parse them through on my own should they arise, or perhaps with the help of my friends.”
Elizabeth's smile falters now, and Fernando sees the merest hint of desperation in her eyes. She hands over one of the two remaining pamphlets in her hands. “Would you like a prayer book? Really, any donation at all is appreciated.”
I'm sorry. I don't have my wallet on hand here, and I can't take anything from the till. You understand.” Fernando makes an internal promise to provide a burnt sacrifice of amendment to Gord the Lawgiver as penance for his lie. Though, in Fernando's defense, his wallet was not immediately on hand; it rested in his back room, upon his comfy futon.
Now she hands over the last item in her grasp, a feeble postcard with a generic Christian blessing/greeting writ upon its front. The postage is not even paid. “A postcard, then? Even a dollar in loose change could help me with my program.”
No, I'm sorry.” Fernando uses the postcard as the capstone of the architectural masterpiece of glossy, pulped wood.
Elizabeth shovels the stack back into her arms, holding it against her chest. “In that case, thank you for your time. May God bless you.” She makes the sign of the cross in midair with her free hand, then sweeps that arm wide. “Jesus will return soon, in His Second Coming! I don't know exactly when it will be, but all of the signs are here!” Her rapture swells, as does the volume of her voice, as she passes her edict down upon Fernando. “I will pray for you, that you will find the path to salvation before it is too late.” Then she turns and leaves.
Fernando stands behind his counter for a moment or two after she departs, then returns to his seat. That went much better than expected. Nicolai didn't even need to make an appearance.

One thing, though: isn't Find the Path a druidic spell? Methinks somebody is flirting a little too closely with paganism!

Sunday, August 4, 2013


A strange man enters the store one bright afternoon. It is a Wednesday, and quite possibly he visits Saladolsa to attend the music festival which is slated to begin the following evening. “Hey, what's a good movie?”
Fernando provides the exact same sequence of words he always does when someone asks him that question without greater specificity. “Depends what you're looking for. Action, comedy, horror...?”
When Fernando trails off, it is meant as a rhetorical tool to encourage the listener to continue mulling through film genres and styles internally, to perhaps come to a conclusion which can then be shared with Fernando so that the Keeper can try to do his job by using his expertise to guide his customer to an appropriate title. When the man pauses the conversation, Fernando assumes he is mulling over things of that nature.
Instead, when he speaks again half a minute later, his tone is somewhat confrontational, dare Fernando say offended. “Is that seriously all that you got?”
Fernando had not planned on being a pedant and holding the man's intellectual hand any longer than necessary, but it seems he has no choice. Enter the snark. “No, I also have other genres available. Musicals, dramas, westerns, kids and--”
The man interjects, “Okay, I get it.”
--family films, sci-fi, war, oh, okay, good.” Fernando stows away his staff of snide words and retrieves his carrot. “Good is incredibly subjective. I don't want to recommend, say, Last Exorcism 2 if you think exorcism flicks are a waste of your time and money. If I did that, you would be less likely to take to heart anything I suggest later, because I'd been wrong before. So, what do you like to watch, and we'll go from there.”
The man mentions Taken and Taken 2 as movies he'd recently seen which he really enjoys, so Fernando points out the existence of Snitch with Dwayne “No Longer The Rock” Johnson. The man reads the back of the case and it seems good enough, for he selects the tag and brings it to the counter.

He doesn't even throw a conniption over setting up the account, and the movie is in the drop box when Fernando arrives at the store the following morning.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Today, A Concidence

August 1st, huh. That only marks five years since I set sail out upon the great ocean of entrepreneurship because it was the best of all options that had been available to me. Five years of sitting in the same chair (No, really. This chair has been in service at the Dominion for at least eight years) and doing the same routine on roughly three hundred-sixty days out of the three-sixty-five of each year.
I feel that I should be more accomplished than I am. Maybe it's because I sit in this chair most every day and don't have customers milling through the store on a nonstop conveyor belt, so there's plenty of time to goof off on the internet, reading Fark or watching Youtube or browsing Wikipedia. When it's slow I fire up The Binding of Isaac or Dungeons of Dredmor or FTL and pass no small amount of time doing that. Christ, I've got over 500 hours in Isaac since I picked up the game. Unfettered access to all the tools of procrastination and absence of a boss to chastise me? A most delicious recipe for distraction!
Oh, I've accomplished a few things, don't get me wrong. There are my attempts at self-improvement, my arbitrarily-chosen self-taught languages and nuggets of popular science, but these are of minimal practical value. My April forays into ScriptFrenzy (RIP, but I'm still dedicating every April to the cause), participation in NaNoWriMo each November. These projects are begun, some wind up finished, but none ever reach a level of quality which I feel is worth sharing with the world.
This weblog, you say, is it not writing which I share with the world? Yes, but it is different in a respect only other writers can really grasp. The various Chronicle entries are, for the most part, declarative and possess their own ontology. Yes, Fernando puts his twist upon the scenarios which are described, but they are all external to him (me?) and, therefore, safe. Even the rare opinion pieces are crafted as a response to some stimulus, an irksome pique or some lame and abrasive counter-commentary on whatever has the world in a tizzy at that moment.
The Chronicles are not artistry. They are not shining examples of the craft of writing (perhaps of the techniques of writing, but that I leave for people other than myself to determine). They are kitsch word-vomit. They have no literary merit. They don't seek to explore any of the deep and penetrating questions and concerns which plague the human psyche. They are only in the broadest sense a window into my own psyche, in that they show I am a person who does not brook inadequacies or failures or hypocrisies.
And yet I maintain them. I have my reasons. They are all selfish reasons.
The Chronicles are a psychological catharsis; they allow me to rant and rave about the abjectly stupid things I encounter, to get them out of my system so they are not a poison building up inside until some harmful, critical level is reached, mercury for the soul (Now there's an unsalable idea for a series of self-help books!). They entertain those people who do visit and read what pithy word-offerings I throw together. They give me an excuse, nay, a deadline which goads me to put words to paper (a schedule which, I will allow myself to admit, I have kept to quite rigorously).
I am the Keeper of the Dominion of Movies. Not many people my age can claim to be their own boss and to own a business, not without having had ample financial assistance or meaningful connections to smooth the path on which entrepreneurship directly lay. To paraphrase the immortal words of Li'l Brudder, I made it on my own. I do not regret my decision. I do not dislike my decision even in the slightest. After all, who else has a boss that permits a day on the job to be barely more onerous than an extended coffee break, who allows the employee's friends to camp the supply room and spend the day playing Dungeons and Dragons or Munchkin, who could care less that the day's take in the till doesn't go directly into the money bag for safekeeping and deposit if it has been independently determined that it would be better-kept in the wallet for use on burgers-and-beer night?

Yet, I still feel I should be more accomplished than I am.