(note: Long post.. I had to break off the ending in the next post)
The past conventions the spirit had taken me to seemed to stretch on foror hours, so imagine my surprise when I awoke in my own familiar room and the clock said that barely an hour had elapsed since Teeny Tink first whacked me with her wand. I was in my own familiar living room, on my own familiar couch, with my own familiar test pattern on my own familiar
TV testifying to the lateness of the hour. My own familiar dog was there as well, to me in his own familiar way that people food ought not to be dog food by the odiferous flatulants he emitted while he slept..
The room should have been quite dark, even with the hypnotic test pattern on the television, but there was a strong light cascading into the darkened chamber from somewhere and I quickly saw that it was streaming past the crack in the barely opened door to my basement. It was a bright, yellow, glowing light and it radiated with a purposeful earnestness that was like water spilling over rapids on a rushing river. I opened the
door and was fairly knocked over by the strength of the light cascading up the stairs from what I took to be my wargame room. My basement below seemed a swirling sea of light and color and from below came a deep hearty voice calling out to me.
“Come in and know me better, man.”
Warily I descended the steps, placing each foot carefully as if I were walking on eggshells. It was not until I was full in the basement that I as able to discern the second spirit, who beckoned me with a huge haymaker wave, and a hearty
“Come in and know me better- man!” – and added on “Got time for a game?”
The basement was now NOT my own familiar basement, or at least it might have been were it not for the game charts and diagrams and orders of battle that seemed plastered choc-a-block on every wall, and between them were posters of past conventions, prints, pictures, paintings, and gayly colored banners and flags. The flags even dripped from the rafters and
the lights casting a cheery glow and blazing the usually drab cinder-block and stucco. It was a veritable riot of memorabilia in collage- as if a game shop had exploded!
The figure sat in the center of this on a huge mound of game materials, so stacked and piled – heaped and mounded so as to form a veritable throne with arm rests, leg rests and recliner seats! So many games, boards, boxes, maps, counters, minis, terrain pieces, houses, rulers,
measuring devices and bags and bags and boxes and boxes of miniatures of all types and style. There were game-masters screens and huge overflowing cornucopia of dice and likewise overflowing cups of concupiscence and cacophony. There were books, painting guides, rules,
and boxed games of all descriptions. Stuck between them as mortar on the bricks of a bulding were all the delicacies and delectables beloved by gamers : including steaming McBarfburgers in their shimmering silvery wraps, large slurpies, cans of Choka – Cola and Poopsi of all flavors and comvinations! There were containers of punch and fruit drinks, six packs, coolers of wine, bags of chips, salads, pig roasts, roast beef, and everything that one shovels down ones gullet at a game when the blood is up and the sugar down.
The spirit himself sat atop this throne was a large heavy set man of middling age yet unmistakable youthful countenance and presence, who beamed out at me with a broad smile from under gold rimmed glasses on his obviously Irish mug, set in the center of a virtual halo of hair indifferently combed but which gave to the face a comfortable and familiar hominess that bespoke that this was exactly the person one wished to sit down at a game table across from. He was clothed in old sneakers and a pair or ragged khaki shorts purchased long before middle age had outrun his youthful metabolic rate to burn off calories. He wore a XXL Sweat-shirt with some picture from the Spanish Civil War and a COLD WARS 2004 emblazoned on top. From his belt was a cell phone and out of his pocket depended the run-away tail of a tape measure, and the other pocket was likewise deformed by the obvious gaggle of dice of all shapes and sizes, with notes of game ideas in the other pocket similarly overstuffed and overflowing. The figure had in one hand a pair of chopsticks and in the other, a white cardboard container of some sort which he held out to me as he said
“Great Moo-Shu Pork– want some?”
I declined the offer. One should never accept candy from strangers or Chinese food from spirits one has just met. and not yet been properly introduced to.
Summoning up all my courage– which was now quite a great deal as my time with the spirit of Conventions Past had made me bold, I asked.
“I presume that I am in the presence of Conventions Present?”
“Right you Are– Old bean!” He responded, “Let’s rock-n-roll!”
“But spirit!” I said “There is no convention going on now!”
He laughed a great booming laugh and his whole form jiggled with mirth and he said
“Ah– my lad! There’s always a convention going on – SOMEWHERE!– Large, small, game days, minis, board games, role playing, serious, comical, long, short, somewhere in the world at any moment there is a convention going on and if it is I’ll be there!”
“Really!?” I gasped. “I had no idea there were so many and you must have racked up abundant frequent flier miles in attending them!”
“Not at all my friend, for every game is a convention even if attended only by one- yes even a solo game- anywhere where the spirit of fun and friendship, camaraderie and good fellowship prevail with a game nearby there I will be. Eager anticipation is my calling card and pleasant memories my thank you notes, and while I linger I bring a magical time where you get to live for yourself and yourself alone- to enjoy existence for itself- you live not for your wife or kids or family or job or boss or country, or even God, you live for yourself. I bring the freedom of the mind and the imagination. I bring the now!”
“My goodness, Spirit” I replied “That is remarkable! I had never considered it in that manner!”
The spirit beamed and said “You like it? I borrowed a few ad writers from Santa Claus. They did a bang-up!.”
With an obviously affected air of absent-mindedness he turned and said. “Now let me see– where did my assistants go to!”
Suddenly there was a great squeal and a high pitched scream, but not one of horror but of pure joy and two small urchins leaped from the pile- no– it is more correct to say that they magically metamorphized from the pile– from the games themselves. One of them carried a vast volume, at least as large as he was, and he lugged it over, practically falling flat on his face with it but nevertheless his face beamed with delight and the burden did not seem heavy to him at all. He was a small boy but with bright red hair in a bowl cut and he seemed hyper active and super-animated as if he just could not contain humself. He giggled and
laughed as he struggled with the tome. The taller blonde haired girl stood silently next to the spirit and she was one of the sweetest little urchins you ever did see. She had big green round eyes and they looked at everything. She was quite demure and reserved otherwise and all I heard her say at one point was an almost whispered “Oh Wow! Neat!”
“Spirit–“ I asked– “I take it these are your offspring?”
The spirit smiled and said “They are– these are my assistants, my valkyries, my ravens, my messengers, my familiars, my agent-provocateurs.. The girl is “Sense of Wonder”– that in us which stirs our hearts at a fabulous table top or grand and beautiful components of a game, and the boy is “Spirit of Play” that joy in life, that willing abandonment of common sense and propriety to throw ones self wholly and whole-heatedly into the pleasure of make-believe, yes even as you each of you found it as a child. These are my bodyguards and my evangelists, my henchmen. Where they are, I am.and there are all those good things we know in the game.”
“But tell me Spirit, ” – again I asked for as I said my time with the spirit of Conventions past, and obvious geniality of this one had made a bit presumptuous– “But what is that monstrous compendium that the boy carries?”
“It is the PEL!” He beamed.
“And it is out on time! –Magic!!” I said whistfully!
“My goodness, with such a table of events you are a busy spirit.” I ventured further.
“I’m number two I have to try harder. and I can fly with the speed of the wind, the swiftness of light, I can be here, there, and everywhere at once!”
“My goodness what an extraordinary ability! Pray how can you do this?”
“Oh it’s this neat new cell-phone and raspberry I got, let’s you receive calls, make reservations, broadcast pictures, do Blogs , and interfaces with everything from your television to your coffee maker.”
“Amazing!– still it is a busy job and a large task. But tell me spirit are not all games such? Do not all games have these two children as their first participants?”
“No, Ben – sadly.– there are many who are not . Some gamers lose the way and become enmeshed in the cares and pomposities and pretensions of this world and lose the influence of these children and turn into something quite unpleasant. They lose the joy of the game and the good fellowship and sportsmanship of playing with their friends and instead they war with their enemies.”
”Are there many like that?
“All too many~” the spirit said with a sense of foreboding menace.
The spirit waved his hand and the brilliantly lit and decorated room shimmered and slowly vanished, then the light came up again and we were standing by the vestibule to a large convention hall. The spirit worked his way past the crowded tables, and every now and then would dash out with his container of Moo-Shoo Pork and from its open maw would fly a
sprinkle of irridescent stars to land on the participants. Instantly there was a brightening of the mood, and when he came up to two of them, who were having an argument on the rules, the spirit again extended his arm and the sprinkle of powder flew out and they both smiled and one said “Ah why argue, let’s just dice on it! “ The other said- “Naah- you’re right probably, let’s do it your way!” And they left off their wrangling and commenced to game. At another table the spirit did the same, and two players who had sat there listless and morose seemed brighten and start to smile and have fun.
“What is that bit of concoction you have there?” I asked.
“It is the joy of being among friends, of being with other people like you. It adds zest to the barest games and makes the pleasant ones better– for when you are a geek among geeks you are no longer a geek.”
“Really!One could no doubt make a bundle if one could bottle it!”
“Perhaps” the spirit said “but there are those upon whom all of it would be wasted– and besides” he continued, “the government would tax it to hell and then the Chinese would make a cheap knockoff of it and it would have about the potency of a mix of sawdust and dandruff.”
We had arrived at a corner of the hall where two gamers standing there talking. One of them I knew very well, a noted author of a semi-popular set of rules. He gazed out at the assembled throng of the convention over his long straight nose perfect for looking down at you with and said–.
“I am always overwhelmed at these conventions by one overriding phenomenon!”
“And what is that?” his companion, another gamer so popular that he has coteries of friends to trash his enemies and cast carping comments about everything on various web lists.
“The smell of arm-pit!” The first one said. The two guffawed at the persons comment.
His friend who littered the e-waves with his comments said
“Can’t they have a cattle-washing stand for them to pass through on the way in.”
Again a pair of titters and smirks.
They went on- “Well another convention at The Host, “ one said taken up by yet a third who joined him who added “The Roach Motel of the East!” The man was another famous figure known to me.
“Why spirit isn’t that the publisher of …”
The spirit cut me off with his own terse comment– “Pewter Porn!” The two took up their refrain.
“This is the only hotel that would have this bunch of overfed hogs with their putty mugs and atrocious table manners!”
Said Mr. L and Mr. I took up
“Yes and the food! I wouldn’t feed it to a dog. It’s dripping in cholesterol and is probably the worst I’ve ever seen! And to watch these guys eating!”
The third nodded agreement making various terse comments upon the mental deficiency of the gamers and their taste in clothing which he was of the opinion was acquired at Salvation Army discard bins. Of course it is to be noted that he made just as much fun of those who were neatly and nattily dressed.! I shuddered to hear their real opinions!
“You always were easily duped Ben” the spirit said. “They are, however, to be pitied rather than despised for they have placed self before self enjoyment, their sense of wonder is only of themselves, and their spirit of play is of the order as those people who get their jollies by torturing small animals.”
“Is there no reformation or hope for these then spirit?
The spirit thought a minute. I saw his head incline slightly as if he was studying the future and the possible outcomes thereof, sifting the sands of time for a few kernels of hope, for a bright outcome to the murky time to come, a light at the end of the tunnel that was not an oncoming freight train.
At long last his countenance brightened and his smile returned
“Naah– not a bit– Ahhh F**k em!”
He said and he called to the boy spirit of play and whispered something in his ear. The boys eyes went wide and he squealed a wild squeal of delight such as had never been squealed before. I saw the boy run off and returned with, in each hand a large piece of aluminum foil such as wrap the burgers much despised by the two peevish commentators. In the center of eacht were the scraps of a few half-consumed burgers and over it all was a superabundance of lettuce, cheese pickles, onions, catsup, mayonnaise special sauce, and in short anything that will stain. The boy gingerly placed the concoction upon the chairs just behind the standing carpers. The spirit then gestured with his chopsticks towards them and the one gamer was instantly seized by fatigue in his legs and an irresistible urge to sit down, which he did. It was not a mere touch and jump, or a squish and schooch, but a full hearty squat down directly into it that flattened the piled semi-liquid mass into the weave and fabric of his immaculate ecru slacks. It took a full moment for him to yell out a few choice words and jump up. His cynical friend felt the urge to sit too, but warily leaned against the
table that was near at hand. He smiled at his friends misfortune. The now stained bottom rules publisher cursed and swept off the goo which was starting to set up, with a napkin nearby but that only increased the mess.
“You are letting the other guy off??? that’s not really fair, is it?”
The spirit smiled and said “No I’m not, The table he’s lining on is really dry and cracked and splintered, and infested with wood eating mites. He won’t notice the mites for twenty minutes but a dozen of them are working their way into his pants and will be in his underwear and he’ll go through the rest of the day with them lightly jabbing and scratching his ass and balls every time he moves. Then everyone will be saying in a few days “Hey I saw that great windbag Mr. I scratching his ass at the convention.”
“Hmmm… I thought you fat people were supposed to be jolly!”
“We are, Lad, Jolly– but mean – Jolly and mean. “
We moved on to another “convention” a small game day half the way across the country. It was a large table with more than half a dozen people around it. It looked very impressive and well done, and I saw off to the side the little girl “Sense of wonder” looking at it with eyes the size of saucers. Even I who was no stranger to such things and had done many handsome set ups myself was impressed. The other boy, “Spirit of Play” was nowhere to be seen though.
“Where is your other companion.” I asked.
The spirit said “He knows what is to come.”
But I saw another diminutive form. His eyes were almost as wide as the girls and he moved swiftly, excitedly around the table, He said no word to us but I could see the glee of the assembled pageantry in front of him, the anxiety lest he be left out, and the eager anticipation that he would be allowed to play.
“Mister — Mister – “ he pleaded “Are you full? Do you have a position left I can play in?”
The game master had just finished telling someone the game was set for 12 and he had six open slots, but as he looked at the boy his face darkened and his eyes got small and mean.
“Ummm.. Are you fully conversant with DPW edition 23, with the tournament version..”
The small boy was a bit taken aback and cast his eyes downward – hesitantly– he answered .”No…”
“Harumph..” the man said “Well have you read James McGoogoo’s history of the 1862 Chimichanga war?– and especially the battle of Chalupa?” The small boy’s face fell a little more “No…” But he was so darling and so eager.
“Sprit..” I began to inquire
” Be silent and observe” the spirit said…
“But I want to PLAY!” the boy insisted.
The GM rolled his eyes and said “Well OK, you can sit here and have these troops”,
pointing to a few ratty moth-eaten units on the side of the field, put there because no one else wanted them.” But listen to your wing commander.”
The wing commander himself was about as happy as being given the boy as a subordinate as to hear a report from his doctor that he had good news and bad news, the good news being that he was going to die in two weeks, and the bad news being the doctor forgot to phone
him 14 days ago.
“Suddenly in a rush I recognized the boy!” Why it’s Dondi! IT’s Dondi Draino” Why look at the boy! How big he’s grown.”
I watched as the now lovely son of Ginger Vitus was up at the table, his face full of eagerness and glee at being included in the game. But I also watched as the game unfolded and turn by turn he was told to wait, stay put, not move, be quiet, and only allowed to roll die, with other gamers only paying attention to him to yell at him, or make fun of him, or take
advantage of him because he didn’t know the rules. They moved his troops, made his decisions, and eventually rolled his dice, reserving for him only the blame for what misfortunes came his way. I saw the eagerness slowly depart from his face, the excitement drain from his heart and his eyes go still, leaden and get that vacant stare known to people who have undergone the barrage once too often. I realized that I was seeing the crushing of the spirit of play and I realized why that little minion of the spirit was nowhere to be seen. I
suddenly had a terrible premonition of the future, that I was watching he death of a gamer’s desire.
“Spirit” I asked– “Will Dondi Draino be back next year? “
“I see an empty chair at the table, and at home, a roaring fireplace with a trail of scattered cardboard counters leading up to it. “
I hung my head and stifled a sob.
There are besides .– empty shelves, and a box of half used paints on the bargain table at the Salvation Army. and a dealer in the dealer area packing up half a dozen games that would otherwise have been bought.
“Spirit – you do not mean– it is– death!??”
“No, – Survivor Philadelphia.”
I shook my head to fight back a tear.
“Can nothing be done?”
“Only if you don’t vote yourself off the island..”
“The Island??” I asked.
“Yes the Island– The most dreaded place in all the gaming universe, the black hole of spirit, the veritable slaughterhouse of excitement– the dark realm where all these grim shades are concocted and from which they receive their orders and inspiration.”
“You Don’t mean – “The Lair of the dark Coterie!?”
“Yes, but do not speak of it here, it is part of knowledge man was not meant to know. It is our next stop.”
“Spirit–“ my boldness now having deserted me–“Is there no way we can avoid this place for I fear it more than all things. “
“No – sorry champ– it’s part of the tour- you signed up for the whole weekend and the whole weekend you will see!”
“I sorry– that’s our conmvention SOP!”
Resignedly– my shoulders slumped and I trembled a little. “Lead on spirit.” I said.
The spirit was silent for a moment and said “Ummm- wrong-oh. Actually I’m not going, cause you see I’ve been there and there’s only one to a customer and I’m forbidden by union rules from doing anything there, and it’s not in our policy book, and besides —“ he said, waving a bright chartreuse badge that hung from his neck
“I’m staff and don’t have to follow the rules that everyone else does, so I don’t have to go. Besides I forgot — I gotta get to a game I’m signed up for! Love to talk more but I gotta do this.”
“But spirit! what about!”
“Don’t worry it’s all taken care of, you’ll be meeting a rep from a consulting firm we magical creatures use to space ourselves out– don’t worry you’re in good hands– the rabbit knows what to do!” And with a poof and a final spray of Moo-Shoo stars he was gone!
“White Rabbit, I mused, this is curious, yes things are getting curioser and curiouser!”
And it was then that I felt a very large presence nearby and I turned to see a great hulking white Rabbit behind me. He was dressed in a waistcoat and had a long fob with a watch on the end of it, and he introduced himself.
“Hi, I’m Harvey Flish and I’m with the firm of Through the Looking Glass Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Uansapponatime Industries, a division of Whanuwisha Ponnastar communications, in partnership with The Magic Kingdom LTD., A corporate outlet for Engulf & Devour.”
I shook his paw, a little non-plussed.
”Oh my goodness, I feel so giddy, so light headed, as if I was falling…”
“You are- we haven’t got the elevators working quite right yet- remember to jump just before you crash.” the rabbit said, not very helpfully! I was completely at sea to know when this moment was, but the rabbit was most helpfull for he suddenly began to sing. “Little Bunny Hop, Hop, Hop…” and on the third time we hit the ground and I was luckily off the floor and the whole elevator shattered into smithereens, along with the elevator shaft, giving a panoramic view of a pleasant English countryside. The only thing that reminded me of the the late fate worse than a fate worse than death that I had just escaped was a cloud in the sky which had a running crawl banner come across it saying:
“Warning! Performed by fantasy creatures in a fairy-tale environment in a closed course under controlled conditions. Do not try this trick in your own home or reality. Serious injury and death could occurr and any survivors will tell your wife and family what an idiot you were and they will live with that till your dying day.”
The rabbit then abruptly turned on his heel and trotted off on a small path, humming a martial air–
“Here comes Peter Cottontail
Hopping down the bunny trail…”
We came to a table set up under a tree, in front of the house, which is what the cafeteria area had on its walls as an excuse for wallpaper, in the side room off the back where the membership meetings were usually held, walled off and in secret so no one would even know it existed. At the table were the Ratsass and the Bad Hatter who were having tea.. For those of you who have never had occasion to meet these singular creates, the Ratsass had the appearance of a large Rat with typical rat-like features and a long nose weaseling out from under his glasses, and around his middle was a large brace of miseracordia, stillettoes, and
innunedo’s was hung.
He was drunk as a Lord.
The Hatter was unremarkable from the usually representative of the breed, save this one had a vast profusion of hats stuck on his head, one after the other, and they could be discerned to be, for they were stuck in profusion in a huge unwieldy pile, a perfect cacophony of functions and tasks, from a Presidential stove-pipe to a secretarial green eye-shade,
from a chapeau of a treasurer to a crown of the field marshal of the world. He was indeed a major and imposing figure, and had huge epaulettes each with golden oak leaves all over them..
The Sphinx was fairly unremarkable save that he seemed to speak even less than the one they keep in Egypt and did not even grace us with a smile. The Sphinx was sitting between them silent and unmoving and the other two were using it as a cushion, and a footstool, a nosewipe, and an ash tray, and rested their elbows on it, and using it to wipe the icky stuff off the bottom of their shoes that they had acquired on the trek through the executive session. The table was a large one, but the three were all crowded together at one corner of it. “No Room! No Room!” They cried when they saw the Rabbit and I approaching.
“There’s plenty of room!” said I as I sat down in a large arm-chair at one end of the table.( My time with the spirits had made me VERY bold, and I realized it had something to do
with the fact that I had been literally doused with the contents of the Moo-Shoo Pork barrel of the last spirit.)
“Have some Scotch!” The Ratsass said, his wobbling and tipsy hand offering a large bottle which he made to pour into my cup, but he upended it fully and not a drop came out!
“I don’t see any Scotch!” I said.
“There isn’t any!” said the Ratsass, and as he fixed my gaze with one of his beady little red eyes I saw him slip a stiletto out of its sheath and try and work it around my back. But he was too blitzed to follow through and the blade clattered to the floor.
“Then it wasn’t very civil of you to offer it!” I said angrily.
“Then it wasn’t very civil of you to sit down without being invited!” said the Ratsass
“I didn’t know it was YOUR table,” I said- “It’s been laid out for a great many more than three.”
At this the Ratsass jumped up and said, very agitated and almost screaming– “You’ve no right to say that– I’ve been coming to every membership meeting since the Walwrus’ basement, in fact I built the Walwrus’ basement– me and Al Gore!!!…”
The Hatter replied, taking out a huge pile of papers, motions, codicils, points of order, proposals, mission statements, proposals, and application forms. “Yes it is!” We had a motion, – Okay?!– it wasn’t my motion of course, it was someone else’s – Okay, Okay ?!– , and everyone agreed that we would be elected to the table and appoint whom we wished to fill the other seats – Okay! Okay!?– and we are at present deciding who shall fill these seats. Okay, Okay, Okay???!!!” He spoke in a low boring monotone, with a verve and lilt to his voice that reminded one of a person masticating half a mouth of oatmeal.
I shook my head in wonder. The Ratsass had tossed the empty bottle of scotch over his shoulder after squeegeeing out the inside with his tongue, and pulled out a six-pack from under the table. He began to chug a lug them. “Want a beer!?” He asked.
“Don’t mind if I do!” I asked.
“Ooops– all gone! You should have asked sooner!?” He said.
The Hatter shuffled through the piles and said “Balance sheet, Profit Statement, business Plan! What is the balance, what is the balance?” And he seemed to fasten on one, scrying it eagerly. The Ratsass produced a little plastic spinner and whacked the needle.
“$232,401,119- give or take a few hundred thousand!”
“Wrong!” The Hatter pronounced defiantly! “I should have never let you cook the books!” he said. “What happened!”
“I used butter and bourbon!”
‘Well it doesn’t work!” The Hatter said. Try again!
The Ratass gave it another spin- ‘A buck three-eighty!” he announced in triumph!
“Still Wrong!” called the Hatter.
“But it was the very Best Butter and Bourbon!” The Ratsass said.
“That’s bullshit!” I quipped.
“We didn’t think of using that” the Ratsass said.
“Why are so many tea-things put out here?” I asked.
The Hatter replied with a sigh! ”It’s always tea-time and we’ve no time to wash the things between whiles!”
“Then you keep moving round, I suppose?” I asked.
“Exactly so,” said the Hatter, “as the things get used up.”
“But when you come to the beginning again?” I asked.
“Then they’re be a reckoning!”
“That’s the trick, to never begin at the beginning, but just work to the end?”
“And if that fails?”
“Resign, give a new version of the “Old Soldiers never die” speech and fade, fade fade away like the Chesire cat.”
“Suppose we change the subject?” The Ratsass interrupted, trying to gut me with a misericordia below the table!”I vote that we resolve to extend the meeting to seven hours.”
“I second the motion” the Hatter said, “and I’m prepared to draft a memo as preliminary to a formal proposal to design a working group to form a subcommittee to frame the guidelines for the tentative drafting of a format for an SOP for that eventuality!”
In all of this the Sphinx sat motionless, only its eyes flickering back and forth testified that it was yet among the waking and the living..
“Please excuse me, but what does the Sphinx do?”
“He’s in charge of entertaining visiting Japanese Admirals at our convention.”
At this the Ratsass and the Hatter began to punch and kick the Sphinx who remained quite impassive.
“See here!” I said “That’s rather savage– leave off there! Why are you doing this.”
“He’s a life Member we can abuse him however we wish! He’ll never get a free hotel room from us!”
Suddenly the Hatter stopped and said in his Oatmeal-inflected nasal tone