Yesterday I spent three hours in traffic to see a man burn himself at the stake. In my world this is called a ‘Saturday’.
It seemed like a perfectly reasonable idea too: round up the posse, drive to Salem, meet artist and escapist Sean Von Gorman at a comic book shop, then retreat moderately unscathed. But apparently it wasn’t as my posse called last minute to cancel and I failed to factor in the logistical nightmare that is October in Salem.
Halloween in Salem, MA is a bit insane. The entire month of October the town has events and on top of that, just because it’s Salem, people come from all over the world to wander the streets and loiter in full costume, blocking traffic and being generally annoying. This is silly when you consider that it’s not unusual for people to wander the streets dressed as cartoon witches any other day of the year, including Christmas. Why should October be special? It’s overkill! Plus – what the hell is with all the witches? You’re in Salem people! Not only has it been done, but you’re in the town that perfected the concept. (Now, going to see a man possibly immolate himself, that’s never overdone. Pun intended.)
I was disappointed in my posse but I wasn’t too upset. I still had a ride (license still flagged), and wouldn’t be totally alone on my journey. It did take pulling teeth to get people out of doors and into cars but I was on my way. No big whoop. Until we hit insane traffic and a twenty minute drive became a three hour crawl. By the time I arrived in Salem proper it was about four and Von Gorman was expected to combust around 3:30 ish. Yeah. I was definitely sure I’d missed it. (And while I’m sure that using the power of my mind to push the traffic forward helped considerably, it still didn’t help enough.)
We got within blocks of the comic shop when we realized that all the streets in the area had been cordoned off. So I was forcibly ejected and sent in the general direction of the place. I was fairly familiar with the area, but I had never been to this particular branch of the comic chain, and didn’t know exactly where it was. I just wandered about, through the throngs of masked and made-up loiterers, many of whom were staring into the sky and taking pictures. At first I thought it was tourists taking photos of the ornamental facades of the historical buildings. But so many people were doing it, that I became concerned that we were experiencing an alien invasion. Finally I asked one woman what everyone was on about, and she told me – acting like I was completely stupid – that they were looking at ‘the four rainbows’. I couldn’t see them as I was on the wrong end of the road. So I crossed over and sure enough, there were four rainbows: two arcs next to each other, with two more inverted arcs beneath them. It was strangely beautiful. I moved to take a photo myself, when the vertigo came on like a severe blow to the head.
For those unfortunately afflicted with vertigo, it can be hard to just stay upright, let alone walk straight or maneuver through a crowd. In the worst possible scenarios you can fall down or even collapse. My particular variety of vertigo alternates between being on the Tilt-a-Whirl and being on the Pirate Ship. Understandably, this is why I like to travel with a posse. I began to become anxious about getting lost and staggering down the road like a fat drunk. Oh – and did I mention that I do not have a cell phone? Yeah, I’m winning on all ends here. So I was also seeing what businesses were open along the road in case I needed to find a place to stop and phone my ride to come rescue me. How I miss payphones…
I saw a large crowd up ahead of me, and as I closed in I realized that I was at the comic book shop and that I had not missed the performance after all. I guess everyone was running late. I am not super tall and I was way in the back, so I didn’t really get to see much. Essentially, as well as being a fabulous illustrator, Mr. Von Gorman (how great is that name by the way?) is an escape artist. I’ve seen him before (and you can too, on the interwebs) escape from a straightjacket and leg shackles. Today he was apparently tied to a burning stake as well. Or steak. I didn’t really get a good look. I was trying to focus on a point on the building, which is a trick that can help when the vertigo isn’t too bad – sort of like finding the horizon when you’re in a ship – when some of the crowd behind and beside me started asking what was going on. Surprised, as they were in the crowd, I told them and they pressed closer to get a better look, essentially squishing around me like sardines. Someone asked me if he did it yet, and I replied that I didn’t think so, as I couldn’t smell roast pork. A big guy next to me (I’m huge so if I say someone is big, you can believe they are impressive), was shouting to more people to join the fray – “Hey, this guy is lighting himself on fire!” and so more loiterers pressed in.
At this point I really needed to get out of there. Wiggy and dizzy – not a fun combination. But there was hearty applause and the crowd began to disperse, which helped. (Plus, no burning meat smell.) I turned to the girl who was pressed up against my left and asked her if I could make a quick call on her phone and she clutched her purse to her chest and said in a panicky voice “I’m just waiting for my mom!” (she had to be at least 16), to which I replied “O thank God.” Then I asked the large gentleman on my right, who not only let me use his phone, he made the call for me as it was a tricky touch-screen that jumped around if you looked at it wrong. Kudos large guy.
Most people left or went into the building. Mr. VG was still outside doffing his straightjacket. I snapped a picture (so crooked, by the way) and asked when he planned to sign his book. He said in a while, but I had to leave so I told him it was nice to meet him but I had to split. I was dizzy and wiggy! He stopped what he was doing (interviews, no less) and took me inside to get me a book. Seriously. He signed my book, identified me as a possible cyber stalker, and we talked. Right now I feel should apologize. Firstly I was using the wall of binned comics behind him as a focal point so I could stay upright. So that alone probably came off as nut bar. On top of that I was either swaying slightly or I was using my vampire powers to stay abnormally still (a power I call upon in situations such as these). Either way – unnerving behaviour. Plus there’s my overall fabulous general appearance; that’s off putting. Then I was all wound up which means I was talking too much and hopefully it was making sense and not some scary gibberish. I don’t always remember everything I say when I get a case of nervous word vomit. For example: my undergrad oral midterm presentation was ‘off the cuff’ which to me means I didn’t know what to talk about and I knew that if I’d prepared anything I’d forget it if I didn’t read it off cards (and thus seem all the more unprepared). All I know about that speech was that it got lots of laughs from the board and the crowd, and when I sat back down my Cyborg told me that I mentioned the TARDIS several times and David Tennant at least once. Then this strange guy sitting behind me tapped me on the shoulder, told me ‘that was awesome’ and showed me his sonic screwdriver. Not a euphemism.
I know I talked about when I was a violinist, how I was an artist, how now I’m studying to be a physicist. About Neil Gaiman and my book. About what I tried to do when I was a professional street teamer. I really hope I didn’t bring up my insane IQ which I sometimes do at times like these, though not to show off but to somehow prove I’m really not crazy. (Because my synapses are firing at levels even I have no control over!) He told me he was looking around for the bunny (my twitter icon) and I said “Look all you want but she’s dead!” What else. Huh. I don’t even know. I was really worried that I was keeping him from signing books for other fans. I spoke with a publisher for Alterna comics (the publishing house of Von Gorman’s book The Secret Adventures of Houdini) and a nice woman called Alexandria the Great who is also an escape artist. She told me to stalk her online too, and I told her to go visit the Museum of Public Health in Tewksbury, MA where they have some impressive historical straightjackets (along with other scary vintage forms of restraint). I may even have mentioned the Generalissimo to someone (O Dear Glob no). Then I guess I left, feeling like a complete idiot and probable asshole, as I do whenever I come down with word vomit.
Heading back to the road to find my ride, I realized I had at some point broken out in a cold sweat, and when I wiped my forehead I could feel that the psoriasis had migrated down the side of my face and was itching like a motherfrakker. (Now am paranoid that I may have been scratching my face like a meth addict the whole time). Adding the vertigo and my freezing hands to that list means that what I was experiencing was a side effect of my blood disorder, and not in fact a psychotic break (which could happen, with my luck you never know). This would have been pointed out to me had I not been alone, and I wouldn’t have been so anxious. Plus someone would have monitored my verbal output so I would have sounded reasonably normal, yet still brilliant. See why posses are important?
On the street I found myself surrounded by a group of people whose Hallowe’en costume was rather high concept: they were pretending to be a group of lost French tourists. But they didn’t speak French and I knew it. So they kept asking me things in French-ish gibberish until I answered back in my terrible – but basically accurate – high school French. I pretended to be excited that they spoke French, introduced myself, asked them about themselves and gave them simple directions back to the festivities downtown. They looked stupefied and one uttered a red faced ‘thanks’ as I hopped back into my chauffeured vehicle and headed away. Other than that, I did see some interesting costumes that day. There was a very popular ‘Wilfred’ on a leash being led by a flabbergasted Elijah Wood lookalike. There was also a kid decked out in Moonrise Kingdom gear (although that may not be what he was going for, it was awesomely accurate nonetheless). In the car BB noted all the naughty witches he saw as he drove around looking for me, and I lamented how most of the costumes (especially in the comic shop) were zombie in nature. I’m sorry but I’m SO sick of zombies. It has gotten to a point where it’s just unoriginal. It’s the Disney Princess of teenage and adult costumes.
The ride home was this bizarre three way conversation that covered cops, the guy I saw arguing with his wife about where to find a head (not toilet but appendage), traffic, bizarre motorcycles (we saw a few doozies on the way up), French Provencal cooking, alpacas (“their heads come out of their chests!”), photography, comic books, and how I should provide services via Twitter for people new to the New England area so that they can get around more easily. It was also mentioned that calling Mass. Ave ‘Massachusetts Avenue’, while entirely accurate, would easily get you a punch in the face. We drove home ‘the long way’ through the state park and I snapped a few crooked pictures before moving along. We got home and worked the kinks out of one of BB’s new songs while re-stringing three of the guitars. I opened the bag to show him the graphic novel and was surprised to see that they had tossed some extra stuff in there, which was rather awesome. How nice is that? (Or maybe… how badly did they want to get rid of me?)
Overall surreal, I’d say my day was successful. I didn’t get to see the fire, but he survived, so I guess that’s alright. (The event was like an old Life cereal commercial: The humanist in me was glad everyone survived; while the pyro in me missed the FIRE FIRE!) I made an ass out of myself in public, proved why I should never reveal myself in real life to my cyber friends, and had a bad blood day by myself (also in public). Well done me!
This is the book, The Secret Adventures of Houdini. It’s fairly awesome historical fiction, everyone should check it out. You can find out more about it here, at the official website. Or pre-order it at Amazon.com. And keep an eye out for Sean Von Gorman live in person (at comic cons and book signings) and on the interwebs. He is ridonculously nice to weirdos who accost him on the street.
NOTE: When I got online today to post about the burnin’ I found my Twitter account had been hacked. The poor morons who did so used my Twitter account to spam people about my miraculous new weight loss cure. Oh irony, you’re so ironic.
PLUS: My blood is indeed bad, people. I am apparently lucky I didn’t pass out. Another well done to me!