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.