Diving In, Pt. 1
I’ve been going to horror conventions for fourteen years. Rock and Shock in Worcester, Massachusetts is my home base, and in that time I’ve gone from fan to volunteer to volunteer coordinator to volunteer and vendor coordinator. It’s been an incredible ride that began with love of the genre and continued through love of the show and into love for the owner, my coworkers and volunteers. I have learned a great deal about myself as well as others, I have made and lost friends, and I’ve seen the good and bad of dealing with celebrities, fans, vendors and more. What follows over this series of entries will be stories from shows, be they Rock and Shock or others, both from my days as fan and as worker.
Like the film says, perhaps we’d better start at the beginning. I was very dumb at my first convention. Okay, my first few, and even now on occasion. I’m a pretty shy person, and other than work I’m probably not going to talk to someone if they don’t talk to me first. With that said, how the hell was I going to meet celebrities? It definitely took some time to figure that out, and my stink of naïveté peeled off layer by layer like an onion. At my first convention, Wizard World Boston 2005 (not a horror convention, and yet), I met Kane Hodder, told him he wasn’t advertised to be there (as if he didn’t know), and promptly left my autograph behind at his table. I then met Ed Neal, not knowing how few conventions he does, and rather than be enthralled with the many tales of Texas Chainsaw Massacre history he told, reveling in this rare opportunity to meet him, I thought him a potentially crazy time vampire (which, at conventions, are usually fans) and extricated myself from the conversation. I would feel bad about that for years, so much so that I jumped at the chance to recruit and book him, the first and only guest I’ve ever booked, for Rock and Shock 2019. But back then, I left that show feeling like a fool, and that was the practice show for Rock and Shock the next weekend. I told myself I had to do better. Some of my favorite actors would be there and I couldn’t mess it up. I had to at least act like I knew what I was doing. And of course it only got worse.
I started out okay. I examined the show website and made a game plan for my time. I had my printed Mapquest directions (no Google Maps back then—hell, my internet access was WebTV and that’s been forgotten for over a decade). I actually pushed through my fear of new things and new places, got out the door at 8am to arrive at 9 for an 11am show so I could get a good spot in line, and packed water and Snickers bars for post-show nourishment. I am nothing if not a planner, though I still forgot a major convention need, which would lead to my greatest failure of the day (let’s put a pin in that).
While nowadays people show up to mid-size conventions a couple hours early, in 2005 they were not the pop culture phenomenon they are now. But, despite the rain (the first day of a record breaking storm that lasted an entire week and caused major flooding all through the state) and the fact that I might have to stand in it for two hours with merely a windbreaker for protection, I made my way from the parking lot to the DCU Center. To my luck, the doors were open! I entered the dark, silent lobby, realizing I was the first person there and instantly thinking all the other fans were lightweights. There were two older gentlemen at a podium, their bright green blazers living up to their name in the dimly lit lobby, and they looked at me as if I’d just landed my spacecraft on their lawn. Looking somewhat frightening and not wanting to stand outside, I was exceptionally polite when I told them I was there for Rock and Shock and asked if I could wait inside if I stayed out of the way. They agreed and I went over to a corner, taking off my wet windbreaker and tying it around my waist like an elementary school kid.
After fifteen minutes another person arrived. I mentally applauded his planning skills, but then he was directed to the third floor, and that’s how I found out why the doors were unlocked. There was a firefighters function, and while I was quite the opposite of aflame on that rainy morning, I certainly was thankful to them for rescuing me from an unpleasant situation. Then, just before 9:30 a young woman arrived, made herself comfortable on the floor and took out a book. I was happy another early bird was there, though still shocked more hadn’t arrived. It was only the second year for the show, but with the recent explosion of horror in pop culture I really thought more nervous ultra planners would’ve arrived. As it turned out, they just knew what they were doing and I did not.
With an hour to go before the show fans started showing up regularly. The lobby filled, with the more knowledgeable fans starting a line by the entry door. I was furious. Didn’t they know I was there first? Why didn’t the green blazer men tell me where to line up? I was already being attacked by a time vampire with horrid breath and his B.O. girlfriend, and now I had this insult to my early arrival to deal with? I got over to the line as quickly as I could, and I was still in the top ten, yet I was still hot over the credit I wanted that didn’t matter. Then, for the second time that day, fortune smiled upon me. My game plan was to meet Sid Haig and Bill Moseley first, then Ashley Laurence, then George Romero, and then I was going to spend the day in the film room watching movies I’d already seen (that’s right, my first horror convention was largely spent watching movies in a meeting room that I could’ve watched at home). However, I was behind three gents that knew what they were doing. Their plan was to get in, get to the celebrity area and get in Romero’s line because his would be the longest by far. I hadn’t thought of things that way, and decided to follow their lead.
The doors opened and I followed my advisors like a lost puppy. We weaved through the vendor section and had to wait again at the entrance to the celebrity area, and it was there that I saw into a whole new world. George Romero was there talking with Adrienne Barbeau and I felt like I was watching something private. I was amazed and I was scared at the same time. How the hell could I speak to these amazing people? Then we were let in, and I was fifth in line. George Romero was way too close. At Wizard World, Kane was a surprise and I had underestimated Ed Neal so my nerves weren’t on fire. But this was a new level. It was George Romero right in front of me! I tried to listen to the instructions from the people working his booth, choose and pay for a photo and get my head around what was about to happen. I wasn’t doing well, but soon I had no choice. I took my turn and said it was nice to meet him, just trying to follow his lead. We shook hands and I gave him my photo to sign, my mind devoid of questions, barely maintaining. He looked at the picture, a shot of him directing from his latest film, Land of the Dead, then asked the rhetorical question of where people get those photos. I was instantly confused, and told him I got it from his table. He told me what he meant, that he didn’t know who took the behind the scenes photo, and I immediately felt like an idiot.
Nerves 1, Mike 0.
I planned to go back to my plan and go to the Devil’s Rejects duo next, but as I passed Ashley Laurence’s booth she was alone. It was a no-brainer to stop, which was good because at that time I had no brain. We exchanged a hello and she saw the Pinhead tattoo on my forearm. She took hold of my wrist and began rubbing the Hell Priest, a somewhat arousing and somewhat frightening gesture. She asked where we had met before. I said we never had. She insisted we had and even though her passionate voice and deep gaze were so alluring my discomfort was rising. I told her this was my first horror convention. She asked my nationality and I told her Scottish/Irish. She said that must be it and that she related well to my heritage, and spoke of vikings. I thought of fleeing yet I was equally attracted. I looked at her table and saw she had the usual photos and DVDs but also excellent artwork. I bought a photo and an art print and told her I was excited to see her new movie, Lightning Bug, playing later that day.
Nerves 1.5, Puppy Love 0.5, Mike 0
Remember that pin we used earlier about my greatest failure of the day? I made my way over to Sid Haig and Bill Moseley. Both had small lines, so I chose Sid first. Devil’s Rejects had blown me away, a tattoo worthy film that I saw five times in the theater. I was absolutely thrilled to meet these two gents, nerves or not, and as I stepped up to Sid I was trying my best to be cool. I asked him how he was and he said fine except for the cold he had. I noticed we had the same Devil’s Rejects shirt so I mentioned it. He turned to his girlfriend and told her I had gotten the shirt memo. I chose a photo and finally had the confidence to ask my first celebrity question of the day, which was about a DVD release for Spider Baby. He said something and I thought he said he didn’t hear me (wrong). I asked again and he said, agitated and louder, that it was already out. I felt quite stupid, but it was about to get worse.
As prepared as I thought I was, as much planning as I had done, I came to the show equipped with one plastic grocery bag to carry my wares. It was fine for the 8x10s but the 11x17 art print would not fit, and as we know it was raining. Plus, it would not hold much if I decided to check out the vendors. Luckily, as Sid was signing my photo I noticed he had Devil’s Rejects messenger bags. I asked to buy one and as he went to sign it he placed the plastic wrapper on a multi-level House of 1,000 Corpses lunchbox display. He gave me the newly autographed bag and I thanked him. I moved to the side so the next person could step up, then, not wanting to disrespect Sid by leaving my trash behind, I picked up the plastic wrapper to throw out. Little did I know there was tape on the bag, which was now attached to the top row of lunchboxes. I pulled the bag and heard metal scrape metal, saw lunchboxes begin to move, foresaw them all over the ground, felt panic set in, and then, miraculously, they did not fall. I fixed the rows, carefully took the plastic, looked over to see Sid glaring at me, and I can tell you that is NOT a face you want to see. I apologized quickly and moved away, my wares haphazardly in my hands like a john running with his clothes from a whorehouse during a raid.
Nerves 25, Puppy Love 0.5, Mike -13
I hit a massive low. I wondered why I had even attempted to do this. I was far too awkward to talk to most strangers, let alone celebrities I admired. Maybe the convention scene wasn’t for me. So, since I’m still going to and working for conventions all these years later, what turned things around? Stay tuned for part two!
You can find more of his musings at his blog, Fitting My Skin.