As I mentioned in an earlier post, the boys and I had the opportunity to visit the San Diego Comic Con. Having just returned with oodles and oodles of pictures of cosplayers, figures, and convention halls, I’m a little behind with my post about the con itself. Luckily, while I organize myself and the details of the trip in my head, I wanted to post this little vignette from one of our afternoons at the con. Rodney, Shannon, Kevin and I had just spent six hours in the convention center and eager for sustenance (as Thor would say), we left to grab a sandwich and a beer. En route, Rodney relayed a brief story about a rather awkward party he had attended years ago. Considering myself a seasoned dabbler in the storytelling trade myself, I could not stop myself from criticizing . . . a little:
“And that’s the end of the story? You just left?” I asked, juggling my backpack from one shoulder to the other. “Lame.”
We trekked through a throng of spandexed aliens, homicidal clowns, cardboard robots, and coquettish assassins while shouldering our swollen packs of comic merchandise. I had already filled mine about an hour after walking onto the exhibition floor with graphic novels and Tolkien t-shirts. My neck and shoulder muscles had begun to ache, but we had parked the rental car five or six blocks from the convention center. A hike to the parking lot to unload would not be well-received. Besides, in my pack half-empty can of Planters clattered nosily like cooking pans latched onto the packs of gold miners. If I could quickly consume the last few peanuts, I’d gain several additional square inches for another graphic novel or three.
“That’s what happened,” Rodney said, his pack sagging on his arms like a collapsed lung. “I can’t tell the truth any other way.”
“Really?” I exclaimed incredulously. “Cause I can think of dozens of ways to tell the truth in a far more interesting way.”
Hunger has a way of making me argumentative. In addition, the spirit of Comic Con was upon me, and I felt creative, inspired, a sensation which prompted me to improve upon Rodney ten-second tale, a story that ended I had noted before it even began.
“How can you tell the truth differently? There’s only one truth. It doesn’t change,” Rodney countered outside an Irish restaurant. The blonde maitre de smiled at us, four panel-weary travelers, and led us to our table. She wore jeans and a tight Hulk t-shirt that barely covered her mid-drift. When she asked for our drink orders, reciting the specials in a deep Celtic brogue, we were done. She could have asked for our wallets, car, or social security numbers, and we would have gladly handed them over, all the while grinning from ear to ear.
“Not at all. The truth is pliable, and thus roughly changes all the time!” I explained once she — Molly we called her — left. “Depending on perspective, time period, sex, race, economic position, and relative level of interest, the details can differ drastically . . .”
“Nice alliteration,” Shannon noted, licking a Guinness mustache from his lips.
“Thank you,” I mumbled, trying to regain my rhythm. “Unless you’re spinning a detective story, some Hercule Poirot who-donnit, modern audiences care little whether a party began at nine in the morning or midnight. The only truly important aspect of any truth is whether it interests the audience.”
“That’s stupid,” Kevin interjected, while Rodney considered my point. “If I go tell someone that salad dressing can cure some horrible disease like . . . uh, cancer or ebola, then someone’s gonna notice.”
“Absolutely!” I shouted excitedly. “But you’re relaying information, not telling a story. Totally different. Stories at their heart are means of entertainment, which is why the majority of the details can be exaggerated or simply untrue. If Dr. Oz pronounces he can mend bones with a wave of his finger and a carefully chosen latin phrase, the world would denounce him as a quack. J.K. Rowlings does the same, and she rakes in another billion.”
Molly arrived to take our order, effectively silencing our debate. She passed out two different menus, explaining that the pub shared a kitchen with a Korean take-out, which was willing to service the pub’s customers in exchange for alcohol. I was in midst of mentioning the similarity of this exchange to the symbiotic relationships found between clown fish and sea anemone, but a scathing look from Shannon told me to shut it. He ordered a Guinness and some chicken curry, and then proceeded to quiz Molly on life in Ireland, life in San Diego, and life in a foreign country. The flirting continued for several minutes until it became obvious, and Molly left to deposit our orders at the Korean kitchen, smiling.
“So how would you tell my story?” Rodney asked doubtfully once Molly was out of earshot. “Cause I can only tell the story how it happened.”
“Okay,” I began. “So the beginning doesn’t change much. You’re at this party for a friend of a friend, Marlyse, right? An obligatory visit because she’s retiring from . . . some lame government job . . . uh, the post office, but in truth after a full day of installing water heaters and screaming at contractors, you’re exhausted. Upon arrival you notice that most of the partygoers are women, which is little concern for a healthy heterosexual male. Okay so far?”
“Well, they weren’t all women there . . .” Rodney said. “But yeah, so far so good.”
“Good. No one would notice unless they were there. Anyway, after an hour or two of polite talk and introductions, you extricate yourself from the chattering women, wandering over to the desert table. Now, the spread is incredible: plates overflowing with chocolate chip cookies, punch bowls filled with vanilla pudding and crumbled Oreos, cupcakes with edible sugary ball-bearings, confectionary that would seduce any man from the sensual calls of the most seductive woman . . . ”
“Wow,” Kevin whispered. “He’s selling this party pretty well.”
“The point is,” I continued, “you are totally distracted by this gorgeous cornucopia that you’re taken off guard by the sudden appearance of a stripper at the party. Now . . . normally, strippers would give little concern, except that this is a well-endowed male-stripper, a well-oiled Adonis slowly extricating himself from a brown UPS uniform to the squeals of the female party-goers. All it takes is a few cliched remarks about the stripper’s ‘package’ to cause your stomach’s contents to revolt.”
“And this is the part of the story where I leave,” Rodney added just as his salad arrives. He proffers a sheepish grin to Molly before continuing. “End of tale. Home, shower, an hour of HBO to cleanse my memories, and then bed.”
“Cleanse his memories?” Kevin began. “Shan, what does . . ? Oh! Game of Thrones? Or True Blood?”
“Incest and dragons? Or vampire sex?” Shannon smiled. It’s not porn; it’s HBO.
“Whatever!” I shouted, waving away the interruptions like a buzzing fly. “You’re missing the point: here’s the opportunity of improving the story. You’re ready to go, leave an uncomfortable situation. Midway through your cupcake, you excuse yourself from the host and Marlyse, who instead of understanding your discomfort instead insists that you stay. She needs a ride home. Everyone else lives in the area, you are the sole unintoxicated party member with a working vehicle. You must stay. Burdened by guilt, you hide yourself away in the corner, far far away from the screaming women and their new party-favor. As the night wears on you fall asleep on a couch, troubled by unpleasant dreams of Patrick Swazee and Chris Farley.
“Suddenly you wake to find a bulging jockstrap quavering in your face. During the night, the women had asked to the stripper, who we’ll call . . . Buck Nekkid, for the sake of simplicity, to tease you a little. Being a respectable exhibitionist, Buck initially refused but after a few twenties had found their way into his loincloth, the faux deliveryman had relented. Money is money after all. Startled and horrified, you scream and in a moment of panic, swat the jostling member from your face as if it were a spider or wasp. Buck too screams in pain, dropping to all fours. The groans of agony are so heartfelt that you might have felt sorry for the man had not disgust and nausea overwhelmed your senses. Your mind recalls the image for one horrible second; your stomach responds a second later. Projectile vomit erupts from your mouth and bathes Buck in a steaming mess of pre-digested cupcake batter.”
“Ew,” the boys groaned together.
“But instead of apologizing for their joke, the women swarm to the poor injured stripper with wet towels, concerned faces, and ice packs eager to be applied. Maternal eyes rich with anger stare at your from across the room, and Marlyse silently escorts you out of the room. You’re left in the hallway, sick, wounded and deep within your breast relieved to be heading home. The End. So what do you think?”
“It’s certainly . . . creative,” Rodney agreed.
“And far more interesting than your subplot, I might add. More gravitas,” I agree. “Not only do we make the tale more interesting and hilarious, but there’s a sub-current of injustice as well, which people love.”
Molly soon arrived with our food , giving Shannon another chance to ask her about Ireland and her family. Our grandparents have relatives living in County Clare so it gave his flirtations some foundation. She was born in Dublin, a city I had visited long ago. I made some comments about the Book of Kells; Shannon asked about her favorite beers. A good time was had by both geek guys and hot Irish girl.
A group of Power Rangers entered the bar and before she made to leave, Shannon presented both stories to the young lady with the challenge: which story was better?
“Well,” she said holding onto the ‘l’s’ like a church bell. “The second one is more interesting. It sounds like a movie, you know? A Will Ferrel or . . . That guy from the museum movies? ”
“That’s him. But I like the first one best. ”
“Why?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” Molly said staring slightly at Shannon. “If I were telling a story to a girl, I’d want to let her know that I slapped a another man’s . . . doohilly if you catch what I’m meaning. No judgements but the idea is little disturbin’, even for this crowd and I’ve served grown men dressed as giant talking poo.”
And face blushed she deposited our check and turned to the Green Ranger flushed and sweating in his gold and green bodysuit.
Shannon refused to talk to me for the remainder of the weekend.