Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Gathering of American Gods



It was bound to be the best weekend ever, what with my favorite author (Neil Gaiman) hosting an event at my absolute favorite place in the world (House on the Rock, Wisconsin), on my favorite holiday weekend of the year and it lived up to my expectations and more.

The weekend started with our very scenic drive north and east. We'd dropped off the kids, we'd gassed up the car, we had our coffee in hand and we were ready to make it happen. The drive almost seemed a bit like a glimpse into the future. It was clear but chilly, the sky was a beautiful orange, and the conversation was light-hearted and excited. It was strange to see, this early in the fall, the leaves already off the trees (due to the high winds during the week), but strange was certainly on par with the House on the Rock.

When we finally wound our way up and down curvy hills and found ourselves at the House on the Rock Resort, even the resort had a tiny hint of the odd that the House itself is known for mostly because it was laid out in a line and even the fifth floor managed to be on the ground, somehow. Still haven't managed to figure that out... Meeting up with our contact (the wonderful Trevor Valle) and a couple of his (and now our new) friends, we had some breakfast and conversation. Somehow that conversation wandered to bacon lubricant... like conversations will if left untended for too long. At one point it is mentioned that "breakfast and blowjobs should be separate". Yep. They really should.

Trevor lets us know that Neil will be three doors down from us at the hotel. Once my geek moment passes, I am able to suggest that we go and register for our event passes. We drive the winding, climbing highway to the House.

Every time that we pull into the long driveway for the House on the Rock my heart pounds, already longing for the jangling, clashing music... Already feeling the vertigo I feel when at the furthest point of the Infinity Room... Already sighing in contentment that I am inside a work of art. This time was no different, except that nothing was the same.



To the left of the Welcome Center there is a giant party tent filled with chairs to seat 1000 people. The parking lot, for perhaps the first time in many years, is almost full. The air is practically crackling with the excitement buzzing around. Neil is going to be here. Neil is going to read to us. Neil is going to share this moment with all of us.

The staff inside the Welcome Center seemed to be crazed with the sudden influx of people and handling an event like no other they had witnessed before. Not that they haven't seen their fair share of people coming in and out of their doors, but I would be willing to wager that they hadn't had them in those numbers before, all at one time. Some seemed to be handling it better than others, one in particular (I want to say her name was Sarah) was exceptionally cool-headed. She had planned the scavenger hunt herself, and set up a lot of the events that would take place in regards to the book. She explained that things were hectic, but it was the most fun she had had in her life. After we were registered, it was time to wander through the house.

While it is true that Friday, October 29th, 2010 was my 16th visit to the House, I have always managed to discover something new each time I have gone. This time, a time of magic for me, proved to have secrets still hidden. Pictured here is a ten pound hunk of glass that I had not seen before. I don't have any idea why, but I needed a picture of it. That is the way it is sometimes at the House. You are compelled to take pictures of things that you might not see everyday... and that exists in abundance there. There's collections of things you wouldn't see in other places; ships, music machines that play themselves, dollhouses, coin banks, guns, carousel horses, santas... the list goes on. Oh, and speaking of coin banks, this one terrified me and I don't even have a fear of clowns.


After our tour of the house, it was time to meet up with my friend Krix, and get her stuff dropped off at the hotel and introduce her to our roomie. After searching and searching, trying to call, and generally having apoplexy that we weren't going to find her and that she was going to be homeless in the cold for the night she finally spots me and points to Neil standing across the room. Apparently Neil had taken a private tour of the house and Krix decided to join up with the tour and make herself as small as possible so as not to be thrown out. I don't think I have ever seen that much joy in her face. It was amazing to witness.
After getting set up back at the hotel, we decided to head down to the pub for a drink where Trevor introduces us to a hilarious dreadlocked man named Kurt. We had a few good laughs before he left the pub and headed for his own room and I was left thinking that he was just some awesome random guy I got to hang out with. While this is true, I then found out who I had been talking to that whole time. Kurt Larson, our hotel next door neighbor, is the lead singer for Information Society ("What's On Your Mind"), and also happens to be a very intelligent and funny man.

We head back to the House again for the reading and Q&A with Neil. The line in front of us was maybe fifty people (according to HotR staff, those in line ahead of us had showed up at 5:00 pm. Doors were set to open at 7 pm and Neil was scheduled to read at 8:30pm) and the line behind us stretched farther than I could see by the time the doors were finally opened. When Neil took to the dais, the air sparked with a magic you could almost touch. When he began to read, the crowd (in awed silence) was taken to another world. (Photo credit belongs to Andrea Thorson. I am in the center of the photo with the aubirn hair and no hat.)


Neil read the House on the Rock chapter from American Gods. My fiance had never heard Neil read aloud before, and if he wasn't a believer before he definitely was now. Neil had a voice for each character. He knew what they sounded like, the inflections in their voices and their own specific dialects, and he used them to shape each character in our minds. As he approached the end of the section, there was a sadness there. It was almost over... and when he was done, the crowd sat in silence, yearning for there to be just one more sentence. Then we erupted in applause. Neil answered some questions, my favorite of which pertained to his visibility online. He had said that "Twitter is to crack as the blog is to fine red wine," explaining why he uses Twitter so much more than his blog. (He currently has over 1.5 million followers on Twitter.) After the Q&A he read a poem in the spirit of Hallowe'en entitled "My Last Landlady", and another true short story about saints. When it all ended, there were mixed emotions bubbling inside me; the reading had ended but there was another day in front of us.

The first signing took almost three hours. The guests were given a time slot for their signings (limited to one item per guest) and had to wait for their turn in a line that ran a serpentine throughout the Welcome Center. Because we rode with Trevor (who runs security for the signings and Neil in general) we had to wait until the last fan had walked out the doors before leaving... now was my chance to say hello to Neil, whom I have spoken to very recently but not seen in ten years since he began writing American Gods. I wanted to make sure he saw the tattoo in person, and needed to find out if he had information to reach Sherilyn VanVaulkenberg (the artist for which the piece is based on) so that I might send her a picture of it myself. At first, Neil couldn't remember who I was and I was a bit disappointed, then I realized why he couldn't; he hasn't seen my actual face in ten years, and my Twitter picture is me in the cat suit. Uh, yeah... lightbulb. Once he had a memory jog he gave me a great big hug and told me he was so happy that I could make it... then admired my tattoo for a few moments. Then hugged me again. It was a good night. I said hello to Lorraine (Neil's assistant) whom I also had not seen in ten years but have spoken to on Twitter, met for the first time Cat who works selling merchandise for Neil (and has some great tattoos), and met for the first time Jouni Koponen (an artist who has worked with Neil on "The Day the Saucers Came"). Jouni, the most talkative of the three that night, is from Finland and looks like Skwisgaar Skwigelf from Metalocalypse (even though he has no idea who that is, and neither did I but I heard it told to him several times that weekend). As the line of the V.I.P.s make the winding, climbing, dipping journey back to the Resort for the night, we all say goodnight.

Morning dawns and it is time to go on a scavenger hunt. The clues all correlate to the book or events in it, and all lead to the businesses of the sponsors to this amazing event. We started at Culver's, stopped at places like Timber Growers and The Bat Cave, and even saw a wonderful carving of the World Tree along the way. We dropped off our completed scavenger hunt forms, each stamped with Hallowe'en themed skulls, bats, and pumpkins and received a small Buddha as a prize for getting all of our stamps. Time for a signing.

When we finally make our way to the front of the line, I mentioned to Neil that since we can only have one item signed, I am going to have something for my daughter signed (for whom the Delirium tattoo is dedicated to) since she doesn't have any. Neil says, "I'll sign them both, since it's you." and my inner geek squeals. I ask whether it would be easier to sign something carefully and send it to me via the U.S. Post. He decides to use a post-it as measurement and gives me a couple of options to add to the tattoo in the back of my book. I introduced Neil to my fiance (Dustin) and he got a signing as well. Before saying "goodbye for now," I said that I would like to get a picture with Neil in my catsuit, if at all possible.


Now for our seventeenth tour through the House on the Rock before getting ready for the costume contest.

I had a bit of a panic because the usual makeup that I use for my makeup was very nearly gone so I had to make a last minute switch to an oil-based creme. It was a mess to put on (and later proved to be even more of a mess to remove) but I managed to get the makeup so look most of the way like it usually does. The line to compete in the costume contest wasn't as long as the one for the reading but it took longer because everyone had to stop at the door and give the character they were meant to be and what work of Neil's that it referenced. I was number 200, and had to wait in line in front of another fifty some costumed people. I had this gut feeling right from the start that I wouldn't win. I rushed past Neil (who was judging) and the crowd in front of me so fast they almost didn't see me. (I do this a lot when I am nervous, but that's for another post this month) I didn't place. While I was a little disappointed, I am almost glad. As we left the competition area and made our way to the carousel to watch the winners, we took the opportunity to take some pictures of me in the catsuit in the House on the Rock, as Dustin and I have talked about for years. One of my favorites was a picture of me on the wolf.

The interesting thing about the wolf, well... a few actually, was that when Neil wrote the book, the was no wolf on the carousel. He added it to fit with what Wednesday would have ridden. The House on the Rock created this wolf just for Neil and this event and placed it where people could sit on it and take pictures and it would appear that they were riding the carousel. Also, the wolf's tongue was rubbery... that was odd.

So I am hanging out on Neil's wolf, watching costumed winners riding on the World's Largest Carousel, and Neil walks up wondering if I was ready for that picture. If I hadn't been wearing makeup, you'd have seen how furiously I was blushing.... That he remembered and came back for it as he said he would. Then he says, "Dustin, go over by that wall where it will look like she is riding the carousel." It didn't occur to me until later that he remembered Dustin's name though they had just met that morning. Anyone who says that Neil is not humble is just flat out wrong. He stayed and chatted with me for a good five to ten minutes ("How often do I get to take a picture with a lovely cat lady?") letting Dustin and other random people snap away their own photos of the two of us, then made his way into the crowd for his own carousel ride. To see a video (posted on youtube.com by a guy standing next to me on the landing. Watch for Neil taking a pic of us.) He is riding Shadow's mount from the book, the eagle-tiger. Neil yells out, "it's just as much fun as it looks like it would be!!" I stood there waiting for the lights to go out.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uTr9fz_f9hE



Dustin, Krix and I wander through the House on the Rock. It's after hours and filled with people. There's a band in the Organ Room. I know that for people who have never been to the House, that statement will mean nothing, but for those who have it's an impossibility. I head down to Inspiration Point where a buffet style Christmas dinner is waiting, provided at no cost to event go-ers. I ate my dinner outside in the dark night, just thinking about where I am, that I am, that I am almost relieved that I didn't ride the carousel. After so many visits to the House, I will always be able to go back and wonder what it would be like and appreciate it for what it is, and just that it is. That may sound like some sort of rationalization by someone who didn't win, but honestly, the weekend was so full of win that I didn't need to.... and after serious deep thought, I really am glad that I didn't get to ride.

When the evening started to come to a close, I realized that I was going to have to go back to reality now... and it made me sad. I made sure to get all of my good-byes in, to Neil, to Trevor, to Jouni, Kurt, all the people that made my experience the best that it could be. Neil said, "I am glad that I got to see you in the cat suit. I always wondered how this worked." I got big hugs, and even left a little cat hair on him to remember me by. Best. weekend. ever.

I would like to thank the following people for making this the best weekend of my life;

Neil- Without you, none of this would be possible. You made the House on the Rock a different place and made it possible for me to go backstage.

Staff at the House on the Rock- I will eventually have names to send the Thank You cards to. And there will be many... One is owed to Al Lien ("I'm an alien!") for just being awesome.

Dustin- our seventeenth visit was more magical than the first, and with you the visits always will be.

Trevor- You know what you did. You know that there will be favors. You know that I love you always.

Krix- For driving the scavenger hunt, for your childish glee ("Oh my god!"), for your beauty and awesomeness always.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

When I was eight I broke my arm. (Random? Probably.) What a shitty way to start a story! Let's do this properly.

I was eight years old, just a small stitch of a thing, really. Underweight, short, pretty much all knees and elbows. I was headstrong, and wanted everything my way. In fact, I would see to it that things were my way, regardless of the consequences.

Mother and I were at a picnic for this group that we were involved in that bridged the gap between teachers and families called, F.A.S.T. (Families and Schools Together) F.A.S.T. was a program that tried to reach out to those kids (these days described as "Emotionally Disturbed") that just didn't seem to care about school. Whether that meant that they just missed a lot, or they were bored out of their skulls with the curriculum didn't matter. It taught the teachers to be better teachers, and the parents to be better parents. I digress.

Mother and I had fought that morning. She laid out a flowery dress for me and told me that this was what I was to wear to the picnic that day. I grimaced. I groaned. I threw myself on the bed, crumpling the dress in my hands and throwing a pretty good tantrum. I hated dresses. With a fiery passion. I insisted that there would be a separate outfit set aside in the car for me to change into after we reached the party and she showed me off to the few people she felt needed impressing. No mother, there would not be photographic evidence that this took place.

After we reached the party and mother showed me off like some show animal, I started to itch. Tights. Why would someone invent something as terrible as tights? Don't they know that summers are meant for scraping knees, and getting muddy? The bow in my hair was already crooked, and the curls she had painstakingly put into my hair were coming loose in the humidity. I fidgeted, waiting for mother to finish her conversation so that I could remove the hated outfit immediately. There were children playing in the water, and they were not wearing tights. I looked at my shoes and imagined them fat, shiny beetles on my feet. The beetles made their way away from mother and the tall people she stood with to our tan Chevelle. Mother never locked the doors.

Finally free of the tights, the hairs on my legs stood on end. I quickly dressed myself in the clothes I brought when the car door opened. It was my stepfather. He was little more than a boy, when I think about it now. Twenty three, he was. Just a boy. He asked what I was doing and I explained to him that the beetles needed to come off my feet. I think he understood because he just laughed and followed me back to the picnic. Back to the smell of the lake and the sand and the grass.

There was a woman there with our group that had a Mo-ped. It was like a bike with a motor on it, and a seat that was meant for one person. This woman took the kids one at a time on it like a carnival ride. I had never ridden one myself, and was more than curious about it. There was a line.

Mother was with her friends and the coordinators, talking. Mother was always talking to someone. It was a trait I later inherited from her, but at the time it served the purpose it need to; a distraction. All the other children asked their parents before they took a ride on the Mo-ped with the woman. Not one child's parent had said "no", and I just assumed my mother would share their consent. I waited in line for my ride.

When it was finally my turn, the woman lifted me onto her lap. She showed me where the gas was, and how to twist it forward to make the vehicle go. I twisted lightly and the Mo-ped lurched forward and went at close to a walking pace in the grass. The woman, with her hand over mine, twisted the gas throttle all the way so that we would gain speed. It stuck. She panicked.

I can remember the feel of her hand over mine. The feel of the wind through my hair, the curls now gone for good. I remember the lake on the right side of us as we headed straight from the parking lot. I remember the tensing in her hand as she squeezed the brake. The brake was to the front tire.

I remember feeling like the world tilted and threw me into the air like the paddle on a pinball machine. The landing hurt, as I recall. I was awake for that portion, feeling like I may never be able to draw air into my lungs again. It wasn't but a second later that her body landed on top of mine, stealing the consciousness from me.

Mother looked up at the sound of the crash, thinking how unfortunate it was for the people involved. She ran to a pay phone to help the unfortunates out.

I woke to blinding pain. There was a man there with sandals in his hands, trying to lash them to my arm. They were sandy. The pain exploded and shut my brain down once more.

When mother arrived at the scene, my stepfather was already there, pushing the man with the sandals away from my limp body. The woman had been dragged from on top of me and was sitting and crying, sure she had killed me when she landed on me. Mother was beside herself and could barely maintain composure when the ambulance arrived to take me to the hospital.

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To this day I have a fear of two-wheeled vehicles, which is unfortunate for me, from what I have been told. I have this friend who tonight told me a story about his adventures on motorcycles and it brought this story to mind, so I thought I would share it with you. I will try not to ignore this place for so long next time. My love to you all.