As of this writing: it’s all you, in 45 minutes. Good luck, bro.
(Ew. Count that as the first and only time I will ever say “bro”. Out of everything in mansplanation culture, that is the word/expression that I detest the most. I’m not your brother. We don’t have the same parents, the same lineage, nor have you ever paid any of my bills or least of all walked in my shoes. We are not brothers by any stretch of the imagination. That is what runs through my mind when I am addressed as “bro”.)
Last night, I turned a new leaf.
That sounds a bit dramatic. But the word choice works for me because I did turn over a new leaf. It was such a long time coming that when it happened last night, the moment was in fact not very dramatic. It unfolded organically, as natural as breathing, or crossing the street.
I got dressed up in my casual best: a sport jacket, jeans, a nice t-shirt. The “nice t-shirt” was my Filipino Heritage Night shirt with your name. I wore it at Comic Con last year and someone actually took a picture of me. No one takes a picture of you at Comic Con unless you are a famous celebrity or a nobody who is suddenly a somebody because you are wearing a cool costume. I was just a guy in a Filipino Heritage Night shirt.
For the record, the guy who saw my shirt was himself Filipino and from the Bay Area. And not bad looking. He was with a girl, though. It’s only been recently that I’ve badly wanted to meet other gay Filipino-American guys. I’ve never been interested in dating other Filipinos because it always felt well, quite frankly, like I was dating family. But there are some attractive ones. And they usually like baseball a lot.
What had been a long time coming was my arrival into the land of adulthood. This is not o say that I have solved all of the problems that often make me feel like less of an adult. But what happened last night was firm confirmation that I’ve entered a phase of my life where the thing I’m most ambitious about is stability.
In fact, my whole life, I’ve thought like a wife husband — except without a husband. I joke with my friends, and they joke back in agreeing return, that I was born an old man. This notion broke only in my twenties when I went with the flow of youth: late nights, memories made, stories to tell. But that has never really been me.
The reason why I was all dressed up last night was because, in fact, I had somewhere to go. A birthday dinner. The original plan was that I would get picked up at my place at 6:30, so I was ready at 6:30. At 6:31, I got a text message saying that there was a change of plan. No dinner. Drinks instead. Could we all meet at Ray’s house at 8:15? I was annoyed but I re-committed to the new time. I texted back: “Sure.”
I showed up at Ray’s. No one was home. My phone buzzed with a new message — and new instructions. “Let’s get ice cream at 8:50. Joe, I’ll get you around 8:30.”
But I’m already here, I thought irritably.
I was already primed for a night out, Linc. I was dressed. I had even withdrawn money from my laughable checking account. I took out 40 bucks, enough for something cheap for me to nibble on — I ate at home — and contribute to whatever the birthday girl was having. Turns out there was still two bucks in my wallet, also laughable.
Then I stuffed the two twenties into the wallet and thought suddenly: 42.
I ended up calling the birthday girl myself. A text message would have been too impersonal.
"The plans just keep getting later and later," I apologized. "Let’s grab dinner some other time. OK, hon?"
As I said this, I made a mental note to either re-deposit the 40 bucks or to not touch it until whenever it was in the coming week that we’d make the dinner date.
The birthday girl sounded disappointed but she acquiesced.
"We must definitely get together for dinner,” she exclaimed. I heard chatter in the background and possibly glasses clanging. She was already out.
I have become a person — maybe have always been this person — who operates only on firm commitments. Reservation for 7 at 7 at Yoshi’s? Yes, count me in. I’m the person whose idea of relaxing is to watch my Frontline each Tuesday at 10 before I go to bed. This is who I am now. I am not complaining that I am now “old”, but I certainly feel my age, and I feel it for what it is.
When I came back to my apartment, it turned out that the neighbors had lit up the fire pit in the backyard. Someone offered me a Tecate and complimented my outfit. I shrugged at the timing of it all, and then I cracked the beer open and took a seat, explained where I had intended to go, and why I was now here.
"Oh honey, you’re not old," someone replied. "You’re just tired."
Then we started scrolling through someone’s iPhone, which was connected to a portable speaker that was delivering music at an impressive volume for its size.
It was hard to believe that just a week ago, I was wrapping up Comic Con. That Sunday morning, I had decided to check out a panel that had been on my radar for the last few years: an annul discussion by the Christian Comic Arts Society on the state of Christian comics. I don’t know what, exactly, I had been expecting to find. But I wasn’t surprised at some of the talk — which wasn’t combative, actually, but you could tell where they stood on gay marriage. Ultimately, I was there because they are part of the family. We don’t agree on values, but I still think they have useful things to say, even when — or maybe especially — when what they have to say, I won’t lie to you, is infuriating.
These various worlds I’ve floated between are fascinating in all of their seeming disparities. Later that day, while I was still in San Diego (we didn’t leave until Monday), the sermon at my church was about gay marriage. I’m sad to have missed it. But I was in a good place, too.
It’s the ninth grade. The first year of high school has been rough. At last, spring is here: no, I’m not yet a baseball fan. That won’t happen for many years, a lifetime. What I’m looking forward to is going to my first Star Trek convention.
This was back when they were all over the place. As the years go on, they will fade in number, disappearing almost completely until reappearing as consolidated events run by just a handful of conglomerates. But to a ninth grade kid still living at home, they remain something within reach, something to which I can look forward as effortlessly as a trip to the mall.
Novacon isn’t like Comic Con. For one thing, even if it isn’t as expensive, expense isn’t something that I have to worry about. Pop and Ma are happy to indulge me in my geeky hobby. I am a first generation Filipino in America, which means Pop and Ma are immigrants, by way of Pop being in the U.S. Navy. One tenet of the immigrant Filipino philosophy: whatever keeps the kid out of trouble is a good thing, especially when you only have one kid. Pop and Ma lavished me with video games and computers, investments which were meant to occupy my time and also fill me with what they hoped was forward-thinking — and money-making — knowledge. Somehow, Novacon fit into all of this.
Unlike Comic Con, Novacon fits into one hotel, and inside of it, the lobby, some meeting rooms, and one ballroom for the big-ticket events. No Hall H here. (Mention Hall H to anyone who has ever been to Comic Con, and watch them shudder.) To tell you the truth, I don’t remember how I became aware of Novacon. There were no other Trekkies at school, or at least none who were as vocal about their fandom as I was, so word of mouth couldn’t have been the reason. I was already an internet veteran by then, so maybe I heard about it online.
I would have gone alone if it weren’t for Marguerite Orozco. She was my best friend at the time, although it would only last for a year. Even though we bonded on shared geeky interests, sometimes I picked up signs that Margie didn’t want to be obvious about them. Toward the end, she had begun to look away self-consciously whenever I dared to introduce a Star Trek reference into conversation, and at least one time she stiffened when I sauntered up to her while walking to class. But she never had time to totally cast me off, because by the end of ninth grade, her dad, who was also in the military, accepted a transfer to Germany.
In the meantime, Margie made bliss out of a tough transition from middle to high school. While everyone else was already thinking ahead and thinking of themselves as grown up, I still thought of myself as a boy. Margie would giggle — sincerely, not out of embarrassment — when I’d greet her with the Vulcan salute. Playfully, she’d slap the side of my arm when I’d ask her if we could experience Pon’Farr together. (I already knew I was gay, anyway.)
Convention lines are not the dominion of Comic Con. To this day, I can still remember standing with Margie while the sun beat on us outside the hotel, where we stood in line just to get inside. But I can’t remember if this was the registration line, or the line to get into the ballroom.
To pass the time away, we doodled, as ninth graders standing in line do. (This was before smart phones and texting.) Somewhere, there is a piece of paper on which I scrawled, “TRIVIA: What does IDIC mean?” I kept that piece of paper for a long time, even taped it inside of a scrapbook. I don’t know what became of the scrapbook, or that piece of paper. Anyway, at the time, Margie didn’t write her answer on the paper. She just smirked at me, which I took as an answer even if she didn’t exactly answer the question.
It’s weird how I can still remember that piece of paper. Many years before Novacon, when I was still in elementary school, I remember protesting to Pop about how I didn’t like brushing my teeth. In retaliation, he regaled me with a story about when he was a boy growing up in Bicol, he was lucky if he could find a twig. Otherwise, he said, he just took soap to his finger and brushed. I remember that he laughed while he told this story, which I took for a reprimand but to him, I now see, was a happy memory.
Looking back at Novacon makes me think of Pop looking back at his youth brushing his teeth with his finger — relevant mainly to him, trying to make it relevant for me. Now I’m the one doing the looking back. I’m not a kid anymore, but I’m not yet quite Pop, either. I’m somewhere in between. On my way to adulthood, I’ve gotten lost.
* * *
Coincidentally, today is Nana Visitor’s birthday. I don’t memorize the birth dates of my favorite Star Trek actors. I was in the middle of writing this never-to-be-sent when I took a break and wandered over to Facebook, where the Star Trek page announced her birthday. The day that I pick to reminisce about Novacon happens to be her birthday. It’s strange how things line up.
In fact, Novacon was where I met Nana Visitor. On a lark, I even went to Google and, to my astonishment, found evidence that Novacon actually happened. Unlike Pop’s twig story, there is evidence to support my nostalgia. This is exactly how Nana Visitor looked when I saw her. I may have taken my own picture, but like the IDIC paper, it is also now lost to time.
I scampered away from Nana. I was a ninth grader meeting a Star Trek celebrity for the first time. It is not much of a surprise that I quivered with giggles, my face went hot, and then I started to back away from the signing table until I was fleeing. Margie cracked, “Where are you going?” But Nana was the most vocal, scolding after me in what I still remember was her authoritative Kira Nerys voice: "Hey, come back here!"
I looked back for a split second and saw her and Margie locking glances, laughing at my expense, furthering my embarrassment. The escaped puppy. I can’t remember if I went back to the signing table.
* * *
Life and death are wearing me out.
I try to keep these never-to-be-sents original, to the point where I don’t usually quote a Nobel-winning author. I don’t write these never-to-be-sents for publication. I’ve certainly thought about it but then it seems too complicated. And what if your people come after me because I’ve made no bones that the intended recipient is you?
The sentiment is appropriate. This summer has made me very tired. I feel divided: half of me feels like the last few weeks have been of the How-I-Spent-My-Summer-Vacation variety. Europe and Comic Con: these are what summer memories are made of. Transformative.
The other half is what keeps me awake at night. I try to read to make my insomniac self fall asleep but then my mind wanders, even when I am reading a very geeky but very good novel that I would eagerly describe as World War Z in the Star Trek universe. I can’t tuck myself away into another world the way I used to. I have so much more on my mind. Sometimes I wish I could still be the ninth grader whose biggest worry was meeting Nana Visitor.
While I was at Comic Con, I read on Facebook that one of my great-aunts passed. We were not especially close, but I met her a few times. Because she is the sister of the grandmother with whom I’m closest, I got to know her well enough to know that she has the same personality as my grandmother. Which made her passing that much more meaningful, and sad.
This was also part of a tragic precedent. A few years ago, also during Comic Con, I got the news that my grandfather had died. He was the husband of the grandmother to whom I’m closest, though I didn’t know him that well. He was very old school machismo. When I was about four or five, Lolo was smoking a cigar as he demanded to know when I was going to get married. My face went hot and i just stood there until Ma, giggling, rescued me by picking me up and saying something to Lolo that was partly scolding, partly loving.
I am not happy with the new job into which I leaped. Yesterday, I went to my boss and told her so. She seemed rushed, which seems typical of the culture at this new job, but a little sympathetic. She told me to give it another week, and then afterward, we’d see. I guess it was nice of her to squeeze in giving me another shot.
The thing is, I kind of knew that this job had a certain culture, but I still went for it anyway. I had high hopes, and my hopes were wrong. I feel like a failure. My therapist says that I should look at it as a learning experience. I know how trite that sounds, but the conversation we had was actually much more enlightening than a platitude. Brene Brown might agree. Have you ever read any of her books?
I’ve been looking. I can’t go back to the bookstore. Without going into too much detail about why I can’t, the simplest answer is that my time there is over. But I still crave bookselling. I am good at many jobs and I have deep interests in many kinds of work but my passion is bookselling. How I miss long, lingering conversations with customers! How I miss the patience of keeping up the appearance of a selling floor full of books without the overt pressure to make our sales goal! The world of retail is fraught with existential questions about its relevance, about how, exactly, making sure a particular shirt is correctly folded contributes to the world or how selling off another iPad matters to the future of humanity. Bookselling, to me, is different. Because there are books involved, there is by extension a specific connection to the world unique in all of capitalism. Books mean something. This is why I think that the bookstore will outlive all of retail.
Another bookstore to which I applied gave me some bad news the other day. They liked me but they went with someone else. Coincidentally, I had recently read an article about how getting rejected is equivalent to taking a punch. Trying to show some initiative, I had gone to the store myself to ask about my application, and after I got the bad news, I went for a long walk. That was catharsis: indeed, I was disappointed about not getting that bookstore job, but suddenly the whole eventful summer was catching up to me. The microclimates in the neighborhoods that I dazed through, comatose, were nice that day: sunny all throughout Bernal Heights, Noe Valley, and the Castro. It was a very long walk.
Linc, I have been in shell shock. I have been in shell shock this week, last week, partly through Comic Con, and even back to when I came back from Europe. I feel sorry for myself. I get invited to weddings, and sometimes invited to be in the wedding, but I am nowhere close to having one of my own. And then there’s the question of my career choices: did Pop and Ma really sink so many of their hopes and dreams into my life so I could become a career bookseller? Yet that’s all I want to be, Linc — yes, I’m as sure of this as I’m sure that I want to have a boy and a girl and name them after important civil rights leaders.
I feel savage thinking about myself like this shortly after the passing of my great-aunt. Also this summer — at the very start, actually — a very nice guy at church was diagnosed with cancer. I think I may have already mentioned this, as well as how his prognosis is actually now looking good. But still. How can I think my problems are so bad when there are so many ways they could be worse? Even during the long walk that I took after going to that bookstore, I kept trying to fend off the self-pity by lecturing myself with brazenly optimistic platitudes: Look how sunny it is! Live in memory of your great-aunt! Life is short! And how many people, exactly, have died in the Congo?
* * *
Have you been sleepless, too? I hate to say it, but I assume that you at least have company.
The sports columnists are buzzing about where you’ll be in a few days. Four years of never-to-be-sents could be completely upended. Wow, imaginary boyfriend. Wow, Tim Lincecum. Wow.
Despite trying to stay out of the fray and simply keeping his family taken care of, the rumor mill tried to paint him and the other OLTL transplants as greedy interlopers. The rumormongers were even worse on Easton, saying the actor pulled a kind of Susan Lucci (ex-Erica, AMC) on TPTB, supposedly on a diva high.
I never heard any bad word of mouth about him. I am really glad that I miss a lot of rumors — soaps, baseball, or otherwise. I’ve never met Susan Lucci, but I did meet Michael Easton for a good ten minutes at Comic Con. He didn’t strike me as much of a diva. He seemed pretty down-to-earth. I’d like to think I’m right, as someone who is friends with a lot of dudes, and sometimes lusts after them…
Neil deGrasse Tyson, the most popular scientist to hit the pop culture scene since Carl Sagan and Stephen Hawking, is married to a PhD holder. Would you marry someone in sports, Linc? That’s an unfair question. I don’t know you. Maybe you read as voraciously as I do, and you would like to meet a lady who admires Jane Austen as much as you do. (Wishful thinking, I know. But you see my point.)
We are on our way home. I’m writing this on my laptop in the backseat of the rental that Ray got. I feel so fancy and vaguely 21st century-ish! For school, a few months ago I got myself one of those mobile hotspot gadgets since I carry my laptop everywhere and do homework just about anywhere, not knowing whether or not there will be WiFi around. It’s not cheap, but it’s an investment. It’s a reality. I might not have been able to get much homework done without it.
Comic Con ended yesterday. We’re already setting our sights on Comic Con 2014 but no person can envision what’s going to happen over the course of a year, when the high we’re riding will be inevitably tempered by the vagaries of real life.
But each year, for the last five years that I’ve been going, my story has been the same: usually, I will hesitate about going, and grouse about all the money it takes to go there, and all the time that is sucked up when you are actually there — and then, in the end, I will end up going anyway.
I never regret it, especially this year, which is probably the best year I’ve had at Comic Con yet. My budget is pretty tight this year (not that it isn’t tight every year), but I’ve never been big on buying all the swag that the other 124,999 people who go all seem to want. The kind of swag that I’m into are the panels: the big ones, which are for movies and TV shows, and the smaller ones, which are for self-development. For the big panels, I prefer the TV shows because, as someone standing in line near me said, “Movies are the pits. Television is where it’s at.” For the smaller panels, I like going to the ones with names like How To Write A Superhero Novel and Negotiating Religious Presence In Comics.
The reason that I always end up going is two-fold: first, of course, is good-natured peer pressure. First it starts with Ray, and then Wolfie gets into the act, and suddenly I’m on board as quickly as I began to doubt the whole endeavor. (The thing you should know about Wolfie is that he tries to pass himself off as Too Cool for Comic Con. He makes jokes about body odor and social inability, jokes that do have a little bit of merit to them, but the man will not shut up once he starts talking about Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead. In between all his grousing about the spending habits of the Angels lurks a nerd just waiting for the right invitation.)
The second reason is myself. I’m up-front with my friends when they find out that I am going to Comic Con and immediately start asking me if I could get them this toy or that exclusive. I’m up front about the time consuming event that it is. If someone really wants something, even a good friend like Spencer, who has never been but will sometimes remark about an exclusive she’d like to have, then I gently tell them that they should make the effort to get there. I do. So do Ray, Wolfie, and the other 125,997 people.
Comic Con is insane, Linc. I have only been going for five years, so I’m a relative newcomer, especially compared to whole lot of old-schoolers who still go and still remember when it was just an intimate yearly get-together of comic book traders and not the so-called “Hollywood south” bonanza it has become today. But even when I first started going, it was already in the midst of its pop culture explosion. Comic Con isn’t just a pop culture phenomenon; it just may very well be the Phenomenon. I can understand why the old-schoolers would be a little heartbroken to see their baby not only fly the nest, at least looking like its parents yet acting nothing like them.
I go to Comic Con not only because I am a nerd but to reawaken the old creative soul who must necessarily take a step back the other 358 days of the year in deference to reality. Without Comic Con, I might entirely forget that I have always been a writer.
Every so often, Mary reminds me about TV Guide — not, not the actual magazine (which is a big Comic Con player), but how I used to make Ma buy composition books when I was a kid, not for school, but so I could write my own issues of it. As a kid, I didn’t only use TV Guide to figure out when my favorite shows were gonna be on — and, later, to obtain the VCR Plus codes (remember VCR Plus?!) — but I loved the articles. (Shut up. This is not the same as the old joke about reading Playboy just for the articles.)
So, I wrote my own articles. I spun my own news stories about my own hopes and dreams for my favorite TV shows. Was Picket Fences in danger of cancellation? No! Because in my world, it was a runaway hit. (Only in Joe World would a dramedy about a small town with a series of deranged mayors and other eccentric townsfolk be a ratings blockbuster. This is the same World, of course, where we’re married.)
Considering that I met Mary in high school, long after I abandoned that elementary school habit of creating my own TV Guide articles, it’s impressive that she treats it like a shared memory. Sometimes when I am down on myself about my writing, or about life in general, she will remind of those old notebooks, now lost to time. Being at Comic Con helps to, I guess, open those notebooks again, to remind me of that part of who I am, not just by being around the industry and all the celebrities and other pros who actually realized their dreams instead of just dreaming them, but also because of the more seemingly minor pleasures like connecting with other fans, other Trekkies, other nerds. The kindred.
Even though I am still a relative newcomer, in the real world, five years is a long time. Each passing year has brought a different, older version of myself to the new year’s Comic Con. This year, I couldn’t escape reality. I was thinking about stuff that I left behind in my own life and even my ears seemed specifically attuned to the conversations of others when they were talking about their lives outside of Comic Con. “Procurement still hasn’t signed the papers,” said one gal behind whom I stood in line. “I should dial into the call while we wait.” She didn’t look that much older than me.
It made me sad to think about life outside of Comic Con. Just as with going into The Ballpark, not only do I enjoy the escape, I savor the immersion of the escape. By the same token, this is also commentary on the rest of my life, from which I wonder what could be so bad that I need Comic Con, and baseball, so badly.
I am not saying that my life is bad. But there are deficiencies that I struggle to correct and hurdles that often feel insurmountable. To hear someone in line talking about dialing into a conference call on her vacation made me glum, not necessarily for her, but for the necessity of the real life that one must endure to get here.
And please: INCLUDE A VALID EMAIL IN YOUR ENTRY. We can’t let you know you’ve won otherwise!
Epic contest fail.:c
Apparently I am one of the winners! But I’ve been burying myself knee-deep in Comic Con panels, and with the combination of my poor cell service, I hadn’t been paying close attention to my e-mail. The aforementioned meetup is happening right now — and I’ve no plans to sprint from my hotel room, where I’m currently digging into a super burrito and generally vegging out until a little bit later when I go back to the fun and games. I’ve won maybe once or twice (maybe three times?) in my life, but never a cool contest like this. C’est la vie.