The week before WorldCon sort of sucked; somehow I contracted an inner ear infection, so one part of my brain would say one thing and the other, another. It wasn’t painful, but it gave me dizzy spells and it couldn’t really be medicated, so I spent the week staying still and losing all the good effects of July’s boot camp program. But I managed to get everyone packed and ready for Montreal, where I would be attending my first World Science Fiction Convention, Blake would be tagging along for free and Mason (who wasn’t that interested in sf or, as we came to call it, “convention-nerd-ing”) came along to keep us company and do some food tourism.
And I had no need to pack my most important asset: on the day Teija got married, I followed a dream about her wedding I had in June and dyed the front part of my hair blue. It’s been the most fun hair I’ve had in years, and it was the perfect no-stress accessory to take to my first WorldCon…if I wanted people to remember me. And I did.
We got into the car on Thursday. I had tried to get everything packed the night before, but there are always 7000 things to do at the last minute, including cleaning up the stacks of dirty dishes so that I don’t return to a toxic waste dump, packing the books and toys Blake will need on a 6 hour car-ride, and making sure that the adults are sufficiently caffeinated for the voyage. So we were a few hours late. Still, I’m proud of myself for getting out the door and only forgetting one thing (extra balls of yarn, which wasn’t a problem because I had a second project. Of course.)
We had lunch in Trenton, at The Blue Room, a restaurant we picked in tribute to my hair. It was a lucky lucky find: an old school diner with real milkshakes and jukeboxes at each booth. Blake tried to use our juke to call his dad, which would have been more effective if his dad were Conway Twitty. And when we got change for the box, we found that the numbers gave up random selections, and we got a huge kick out of hearing the single the juke would deign to pop up. No, you don’t really want to hear that, do you? Here’s this instead.
“Blakey don’t dial that number / It’s a jukebox, not a phone…”
– random FM radio meets our lunch time memories
We zipped into Montreal at great speed, thanks to the prescience of Google Maps and a happy soundtrack of Apostle of Hustle. I was thrilled to discover that the expensive hotel I’d booked at the last minute was a posh pagoda-clad Holiday Inn on the borders of Chinatown and kittycorner from the convention building. (I didn’t realize then that the Palais de Congrès is enormous, and I would spend most of my time in there walking from one end of it to the next and up and down floors in search of something vital: food, bathrooms, my child, an exit. Having an entrance close to the hotel was just a statistical likelihood, given its size. Still, it came in handy on the one night when I was alone.)
As soon as we got the car stowed and luggage hauled up, Blake & I went across the street to get registered. The first cool thing was the Voodoo Message Board system, which entranced the both of us. In brief: everyone who paid for a membership is listed alphabetically. When you check in, you circle your name. If someone has a message for you, they write it on the slips of paper provided, file it in a small box with eccentric alphabetic divisions, and put one of the red push pins next to your name. It’s great fun to walk by and scan for red pins; as much fun as I’ve had since we used General Delivery to get our mail in Wolfvegas. Blake wanted to add his name, so I did on the second day. On the third day, he got a pen long enough to re-write his own name, which pleased him enormously. I only really needed this system for a couple of days, as I was able to find Souzan that first night walking through the hallway to a bellydance costuming panel. Juuki left us a message on the second day that let us find her in a steampunk panel (that took itself far too seriously, by the way; they shushed Blake so aggressively whenever he whispered to me that I was ready to start a fistfight by the time we got out. One, it’s not church; two, if it were, people would treat him better. Argh.)
All of that being in the future, we left messages for both ladies and went to the desk to get checked in. Blake is only five years old, which means that he got in free and got his own “Kid in Tow” badge, which identified him both as belonging to the convention and entirely my responsibility; next year he will be theoretically able to roam free. Shudder. His biggest thrill came when they told him that he could pick his own name for his badge. He wanted “Winona” after the Rubbadubbers whale, but he was persuaded into an alternate: “The Batman.” This is actually a terrifically sensible idea, as his real name was hidden from any potential abductors and he was at least twice as excited about attending WorldCon as a superhero.
We stared walking the halls; our first attempt to exit the conference hall with any sort of speed was frustrated, but at least we got to people-watch. A first day impression of WorldCon included surprise that there were so many nerds there. Hee. We met Souzan in a hallway, tried out the bellydancing panel, and then quickly went home to investigate our hotel room. In theory I could have ordered up a cot, but I decided to establish a one-off decision as a genuine family tradition: as the third person in a suite booked for two, Blake slept in a sleeping bag behind a chair, and thus Fort Sensible was re-established.
Fort Sensible! I honestly didn’t see this coming, although in retrospect it’s obvious. Technically it should have been Mason who slept in the Fort as the last person to join the expedition, but Blake genuinely enjoys the sleeping bag and this way Mason would be free to explore the city instead of spending the day trying to work the kinks out of his body from a night next to the air-conditioning unit. The second Fort was smaller than the first, and its occupant had to fall asleep without the benefit of toxic amounts of alcohol, but once again it did its job and Blake remained un-trod-upon the whole weekend.
On Friday Blake got up very very early, but I chalked that up to the novelty of the Fort and the delightfully unclose-able curtains. Besides, I planned to run him ragged: there was no way that the next day he’d have the energy to read aloud from Land of Nod: Rockabye Book at 5:45. I hoped. So we got dressed; him as a normal kid and myself as a girl who fully expected to meet Neil Gaiman at a signing that afternoon. (That meant that I wore my Scary Trousers shirt over a flowered skirt and makeup. I also wear the band shirt when going to the concert, and is that a problem for you?) To be up front: although there were many interesting and humbling writers attending WorldCon, when wrangling Blake all day I had energy for exactly one other thing: panels with Neil Gaiman on them. So if this account seems a little Neil-centric to you, well, so was my weekend. Imagine what it’s like to be Mason, who had to hear all these stories, plus panel highlights, every day for 4 days.
We wandered a few blocks into Vieux Montréal and found an open café where I was able to get a full meal for Blake and myself. Getting Blake to eat a whole piece of quiche was important to me; I wasn’t sure if we’d have the time or ability to get a good lunch, but I figured that if we had a solid breakfast and met Mason for a big dinner that we’d be in good shape for the evening. I was smug as we breezed past the long line of Tim Hortons postulants in line for their morning communion: I had eaten a proper Montréal breakfast in the Old part of the city, and I wouldn’t have to depend on the local fastfooderies later as my boyfriend was going to suss out the best/cheapest places for supper. Ah, the smugness. If only comeuppance wasn’t waiting in the wings.
Mason walked us to the signing ticket line before going off to experience the best of local breweries. The line was long. It was nowhere near the lengths I have navigated for a Gaiman autograph, but I’ve never done this with a small one in tow and I was anxious about getting a ticket. Fortunately, a signing lineup is an excellent place in which to meet people of similar temperament, and Blake immediately made friends with a woman behind us while I struck up a conversation with the mother-and-daughter in front.
(Blake’s ice-breaker was “why are you in that [wheel]chair?” and the rest of the conversation was based on a mutual love of Strongbad, who was spending the day with us. Sometimes he amazes me in his ability to inspire love from random strangers with nothing but pure energy and random child charm. On the other hand, when I put it that way, it’s hardly amazing at all.)
After we had successfully gained the magic ticket, we headed off to find what would become Blake’s favourite place in Montréal, let alone WorldCon: the Children’s Playspace. (He had difficulty understanding that if we ever came back to Montréal, this room would not be set up for him; that he was participating in a global gypsy caravan that had as much physical permanence as his own Fort Sensible.) I flopped down in a chair next to Andy, pulled out my baby sweater and thought about our next move. I stopped knitting to break up a scary fight between kids that threatened to erupt into fisticuffs between parents. (The solution? Take away the wooden train tracks. Without track the territory opens up and everyone can make up their own circles. I had to let kids use my legs as a train tunnel, but it was a small price to pay to keep the screaming and crying to a minimum.)
I also stopped knitting to herd Blake away from the toys and into the activities: he got his face painted as JetCat, and joined me in learning how to write our names in hieroglyphics. But mostly, I knit.
I was told that Free Food was available to everyone in some magical land called the ConSuite, and all I had to do was walk three measly blocks to the Delta to claim my free lunch. Despite Heinlein’s sensible approbation, our free lunch was pretty good: bread and coldcuts, with some excellently sour pickles and acres of stale sheet cake from the previous night’s birthday celebrations. I felt ridiculously ahead of the game by the time we wandered back to the convention. Nothing like free food to bolster one’s morale.
We got back in time for me to settle Blake on the floor at the back of the room for a panel called “The New Media.” There I was able to hear several delightful people including Neil Gaiman (who composes his books using “joined-up writing”), Cory Doctorow (who figured out a way to track changes in ever-malleable manuscripts and managed to drop the Six-String Nation Guitar into the debate, which made me feel like I was back in a folk festival), and Melissa Auf der Maur (who fetishizes vinyl as much as Mason & I seem to, a sentiment that made me break the listening silence with a whoop of appreciation.) Blake did the absolute best thing he could: he read Nod to himself until he fell asleep, and I was able to drag him to an empty chair near Souzan about ¾ of the way through the panel. The panel ended while he was still sleeping, and I was able to use Souzan as temporary babysitting so that I could go to the front and introduce myself to Cory Doctorow.
I read his book Little Brother this year for a library program at Bat Masterson (somehow I always end up reading the sf-fantasy book; last year it was Ysobel by GGK) and was absurdly charmed when I finished the book, looked him up and found out that he orbits the earth in a hot-air balloon in goggles and a red cape. (Or, you know, not.) He was pretty thrilled with the how and why of knowing him through the library program. And yet, “people keep giving me goggles and capes,” he confessed to me. “I have six of them now.” “Your daughter will enjoy them,” I assured.
I went back to the seats, where Blake was just waking up somewhat disappointed to still be in a grey conference room. This is what apple juice is for, so I gave him some, and then we went back to the Children’s Room so that Blake could learn to be a Jedi. This, of course, is geek double-speak for “a bunch of boys will try to whack eachother’s heads off with paper weapons,” which I should have anticipated. Nevertheless, Blake did have a lot of fun even though Mommy had to speak to a boy about his salty language and keep the same boy from blinding Blake with a paper sword. Ah, childhood.
At two we headed down to get in line for the Gaiman signing. Later I was glad that we got this out of the way on our first full day, as two hours of watching me inch around a linesnake while making grownup friends was just barely doable. He does find ways to amuse himself, though: first he read more of the Rockabye Book (Godsend. That book was a godsend. Dav gave it to me for my birthday exactly 10 years ago, declaring that it would change my life. Instead it SAVED my life; I could never have made it through the weekend without it. I owe you 1000 thank you’s, Dav.).
Then he lay on the ground on the red carpet in the vendor hall. Then he made friends with other little people whose parents were helping to co-ordinate the line. So by the time I was at the front of the line, he was deeply involved in cleaning up by carrying plastic stanchions to the corner. But I insisted that he come over to meet Neil, as he always wanted to and never has. This will most likely be his only opportunity until he’s old enough to have a personal distracting device; it’s clearly nonsensical to expect a five-year-old to stand with me in line and I could only pull it off without bloodshed once in a lifetime, and only by stretching the definitions of “standing” and “in line” to the point of meaninglessness. But meet him Blake did; and I was proud of his manners.
Also: I got Neil to sign my copy of Vanity Fair, as I have often felt the need to redeem Todd McFarlane’s 12 year old signature on the back of it. (This is also known as the “you’re not Marilyn Manson, but you’ll do” autograph.) This makes me happy.
Next! Dinner & staggering drunkenness! Angry silences! And using the con to balm my spirits. Read it all and more in tomorrow’s installment: “Fifteen Samples?? As in, One Five?”
Remember the part when I was smugly counting on my epicurious boyfriend to suss out a cool dinner spot? The part when I almost felt sorry for my friends who had rented a hotel room with a kitchen, because they weren’t as free to sample the beautiful bounty of Montréal cuisine? You must have realized that there was a smackdown in the wings. I didn’t, and thus was totally surprised when Blake & I got back to the hotel to find Mason the worse from a day of beer tasting. He did not have any idea of where to go to dinner, but he did want to tell me about the hibiscus beer he sampled. He wanted to tell me about it many many times.
I must point out that it was not totally his fault. He went to a brew pub that, after 5 samples, ordered him to go to a different brewery because it was “so much better.” At the second pub, when he wanted to stop drinking, they egged him into “finishing all the testers.” So I blame the brewers, filthy sots that they are. Regardless, my dinner was effectively ruined, so I dragged both boys out to a local plaza where we ate a functional but unimpressive cafeteria-style supper and then returned Mason to the hotel to sleep it off.
I took Blake back to the con so that he could build a pig puppet in honour of Wolves in the Walls, and so that I could sulk in peace. Thanks to his nap, he was still in great spirits and not particularly tired. So we crafted, and he played, and we watched a bit of Yellow Submarine while I improvised another geektopus out of free convention yarn.
I had put him in his pj’s before we left the hotel, as they were showing Coraline in the auditorium and I thought it would be a good place to pretend that we were in a drive-in theatre. Unfortunately, problems with the Blue Ray system delayed the movie for at least a half hour; this plus the long introduction to the movie by Neil himself meant that by 10, the Blake’s head was in my lap and the movie still hadn’t started. So we left. I had been able to ask a question about the Coraline Boxes during the Q & A period which made me happy; I didn’t think it was worth sticking around so Blake could fall asleep five minutes into the movie. It’s not like we’ll never watch Coraline again.
Next!! A late morning! Photographs both flattering and not! A summer-weight cape! Noodles in the park! Losing underwear for the novice con-goer! A regularly scheduled Neil Gaiman naptime! Crazy Hair and the promise of glory! All this and more revealed in tomorrow’s installment: “The Littlest Nerd Has His Day.”
The next morning was our first late rising of the vacation, but no one felt rested. Blake & I ate a couple of snacks, then headed into the con building to scrounge up breakfast. Our first stop after finding Blake a smoothie and checking the voodoo boards (oddly addictive) was Kyle Cassidy‘s set-up in the hallway. Kyle is the principle photographer of Who Killed Amanda Palmer?, which features pics of dead Amandas and text by Neil Gaiman, and he was taking pictures of convention-nerds. I love a good picture, so I decided to get in on this. Unfortunately, wrestling with Blake, who was (as usual) fixated on my breasts, didn’t leave me a lot of attention left over for presenting myself in a flattering light, and my half of the portrait is not attractive. Also, he refused to give up the empty smoothie cup, which adds another random unflattering element. So that wasn’t the sop to my vanity I had craved. But the next moment made up for it.
As I was slinging our possessions about my body, I realized that K82 & Andy were coming by for their picture. Blake immediately grabbed K82’s hand and refused to let go, talking a mile a minute. So when she went to her mark, he came with her, and they made the picture of the previous entry, which may just stop your heart with cuteness. What the hell, here it is again:
Once that was done, we all went back to the children’s room to see if Blake could get in on some kamikaze koztuming. But we were late to the party, and all the black cloth and adult helpers were spoken for. I spent some time trying to figure out how to piece together two black jean legs before giving up in disgust, finding a short length of cosmic-printed cloth, and tying it around Blake’s neck.
“It’s sort of short,” Mason commented at lunch.
“That’s all the material they had,” I replied. “So I figure it’s his summer-weight cape.” It was more durable than the facepaint of the day before, which transformed from Jet Cat to raccoon to chimney sweep before I washed it off entirely before dinner. And unlike a dramatic, sweeping cape it wasn’t a danger to its wearer. Take that, kamikaze koztuming.
We met Mason at the registration desk for a picnic. One thing that Montréal definitely has over Toronto is the proliferation of small parks with fountains. After one and a half days walking the labyrinth of the convention, I was desperately in need of some time outdoors, with the soundtrack of water and birds instead of people. We got endlessly-customizable noodles from a restaurant in the convention, and went across the street to the first park we could find. Of course, Blake was about 10 spoonfuls into his soup before he announced his need of the bathroom. So Mason took him – where else? – back to the convention to find a bathroom, as I couldn’t handle going back in that building so soon after leaving it.
They were gone for such a long time that I began to worry. What if Blake ran off? Or they got mowed down by an aggressive driver and no one knows that I’m over here? This is the thing about being in a strange city with your son glued to your hip: you crave a break from constant vigilance, but a break makes you all the more paranoid. They came back eventually, of course, a victim of Blake’s tendency to take off half his clothes and relax whenever he spends time in the bathroom. He sees no need to rush himself; we wait by the sinks, bored, for him to emerge in his own sweet time. Later we would wish that we’d paid more attention.
At two we went back to the convention for a Gaiman reading (me) and a nap (Blake). The nap was not without its cost: before falling asleep Blake had to be shushed from reading his comic book out loud, then we had a whispered fight about using up my notebook to draw pictures. Finally, worn out by my infuriating attitude, he passed out. Thank heaven. It freed me up to listen to the reading, and it made everyone smile and sigh over his sleeping body when the reading ended and they all filed out. This time I had him in my lap, having learned the hard way the day before that he would be kicked and tripped over if he wasn’t protected. There are, um, a few mobility issues at that convention, let’s say. And people aren’t always sorry when they boot your baby across the room. So in the interests of avoiding a punching match, I kept him safe. Everyone wins.
When he woke up, we went (where else?) back to the children’s room for some playtime. By this point I was getting seriously buggy with the children’s room, a windowless warren of 4 rooms where kids 6 and up seemed to be abandoned, free to form nasty cabals and wage war on other factions. So we tried some time in the dealers’ room, but that was a bit of a no-go as there were too many collectables to be handled while my attention was distracted with nerdy t-shirt slogans.
Eventually we gave up and headed back to the Children’s Room, where we could both be satisfied by a reading and re-enactment for 5-12 year olds of Crazy Hair, Neil Gaiman’s semi-autobiographical poem of tonsorial confusion. Neil himself was to be there to read, answer questions, and set us up to create our own crazy hair collage. Needless to say, I was pretty excited about this, so when I was immediately challenged as to my qualifications, I got a little pissed off. “I’m with him,” I pointed to my son, and muttered “just because I have blue hair doesn’t mean I can’t read the signs.” After all that time in that windowless quad breaking up fights between kids and their parents, not to mention lolling around bored in the chairs, it was a little much to have someone get in my face about my right to be there. Fortunately, this anecdote, as with all my WorldCon anecdotes, did not end in a brawl.
(Apparently I have issues.)
Neil introduced himself as the writer of Coraline, and asked if anyone there had seen it. Hands shot up. Then he asked who had been scared. Blake immediately volunteered his experience, and at Neil’s urging, showed how much he had been scared. Already weakened from the Kyle Cassidy photo, I was dying from the cuteness.
Neil read the story, then left with a cloud of interviewers so that we could create the collage. I worked feverishly for an hour: knitting tiny things with q-tips, gluing a sock onto the centre, drawing the Tick’s floating hypnotized head, and encouraging Blake to draw and glue at top speed. The sock was a particularly divine inspiration; it drew so many comments that I was forced to pretend modesty. Blake & I also collaborated on a tableau that dramatized my own entrapment in the hair, and his diligent rescue attempt. By the time Neil came back, we were exhausted. I was, however, thrilled to overhear Neil & the woman who had challenged me in conversation about my crappy art.
Woman: what is that?
Neil: (insert charming English accent) It looks like the Tick.
He knew it was the Tick! This pleases me more than I can say.
While he was making his way around the table and talking to a few of the kids, a woman approached me from the cloud of interviewers. She introduced herself as from the NY Times, and flattered me all to hell by saying that she’d noticed my interesting question the night before and how I kept popping up at the events. I took a second at this point to send Blake over to Neil with his copy of Coraline. And really, I should have been taking pictures of Neil & Blake, but I was too dazzled by the idea of being in the Times to pay attention to my child meeting my favourite author for the second time in two days. Clearly, I need to rearrange my priorities.
Next!! Unusual shepherd’s pie! Handicapping Neil’s dinner! And the Accident that ended the Night to the Relief of All! All this and more revealed in tomorrow’s installment: “Fireworks Should be Heard and Not Seen.”
When the Crazy Hair excitement had subsided and I was able to remember my responsibilities, Blake & I packed up our stuff and went across to the hotel to meet Mason for supper. Abandoning completely the idea that dinner decisions would be made for me thus sweeping me into the fabled heaven of Montréal cuisine, I picked up a con-generated restaurant guide and used it to narrow down our choices. Restaurant Vallier looked interesting, and it would allow us to make another foray into Vieux Montreal, so that’s where we went.
It turned out to be an excellent choice. Their specialty is retro food with gourmet twists; I had the duck comfit shepherds pie, Mason had the lamb burger and Blake had the mac n’ cheese n’ bacon. (Halfway through, Blake asked when he’d be getting a cookie. “This isn’t the kind of mac n’ cheese that comes with a colouring menu and a cookie,” I warned.) Dinner went a long way toward calming us all down. The rift caused by the beer tasting day was starting to close, and the strain of caring for Blake all day in an unfamiliar environment was easing in the presence of another adult I could trust. I was cautiously optimistic that we would make it to the Masquerade that night.
I hadn’t counted on Blake’s tendency to underestimate how much clothing he needs to remove when using the facilities. He emerged from the stall soaked, and I decided to take him home to change before dragging him back across the street to see the costumes. It was at this moment, when we were figuring out the cheque and getting our stuff ready to go that Neil Gaiman walked in with his group and sat down at the table next to us. I was starting to feel creepy; the reporter had noticed me at “every” event, and would she think that I was discreetly following them at a distance? It was even weirder to realize that I could successfully guess what he would be eating, based on his widely-publicized love of sushi and my memories of the menu. Sure enough, I overheard him ordering the salmon tartare. It was time to go.
Blake started acting weird, though, and we tried to figure out what was up. Did he want to go say hi to Neil? Kind of but no. He decided that he wanted to wave from outside the window, which was self-defeating because the window was set just above his head. He did manage to attract the attention of the party, who waved back, and I saw the reporter whispering to the person next to her. Dammit, I was not stalking him! We were there first!
I had a moment of clarity back in the hotel room when I changed Blake. I never let him stay up past 7 when we’re at home; now I was thinking of dragging him out to a 2-hour even that started at 8? This was when I discovered that – cue dramatic music – he wasn’t wearing underwear, and he couldn’t tell us why. Or where. Or – anything useful, really. I gave up on the night then, and concentrated on getting Blake into the bath instead, wondering if it would be worth it to bother the Palais staff trying to find a lost pair of Curious George underpants.
The three of us fell asleep to the noise of a fireworks competition, which lucky convention-nerds could watch from a balcony. I felt luckier to be sleeping.
The alarm went off surprisingly early the next morning. Unlike most days at WorldCon, today we had something to do that couldn’t be missed: morning mass in Notre Dame Basilica. We’d been using the Basilica as a navigation point all weekend, counting down the days until we could experience it as it was meant to be: ringing with French, scented with incense. It was a charming ceremony and pretty straightforward. When I couldn’t understand for blocks of time, there was more than enough to look at. I even respected the traditions of the building and didn’t accept communion. (The last time I was in a Catholic church I deliberately flouted the wishes of the hard-line Sri Lankan priest and took a wafer into my un-shriven, un-penitent mouth. If Agamemnon can’t make me behave, what chance did that bozo have?)
When mass was over, we took a short tour through the church and lit a few candles. That was most likely Blake’s favourite part, little firebug that he is. My favourite part was the stained glass depictions of life in New France and the life-size wooden statues of the prophets. I’m not sure if Mason had a favourite part; he was born into Catholicism and visits to these churches are both deeply satisfying and unsettling.
We walked back to the hotel for our car so that we could drive to an authentic wood-oven bagel breakfast. This was our first chance to eat proper bagels as we’d been walking everywhere and the good bagel places are far from Old Montréal. I have to say: it was worth it. If you’re going to be a tourist in Montréal, you might as well stack up your church visits and your bagel sampling as close as possible so as not to lose the buzz.
We got back to the convention for our regularly scheduled Neil Gaiman panel, a conversation with Gary Wolfe. (You think this is repetitive to read? Try looking back on your weekend with dismay, knowing that you’re never going to find a fresh way of introducing attendance to yet another Gaiman event and that’s pretty much all you did. Oh well. At least this was the last day.) I’m trying to remember: was this the one where we had seats? Yeah, it was. For a change, Blake & I got to sit in metal seats instead of putting our legs to sleep on the floor. So that was good.
We returned to the playroom in high spirits, still full of bagels and rest. In fact, we were so full of bagels that Blake & I were able to share a single order of noodles for lunch. Blake wanted to know when Neil would be in the Children’s Area; he had explained his shyness at dinner the night before by explaining that “[Neil] would be in the playroom tomorrow anyway.” We smiled at his naïveté. Then we read that there would be a young person Q&A with Neil on Sunday, and we had to apologize to Blake for doubting him. But when that was cancelled, it was back to the regular business of the playroom: forming tribes, squabbling over train tracks and denying the need for bathroom breaks. I was glad to get out of there again at 2, for the “Private Passions” the Many Interests of Neil Gaiman” panel.
(“Is this going to be about how much he loves having sex with his girlfriend?” Mason cracked, when I mentioned it the night before. “I hope not,” I said. “The cutie love notes on Twitter are more than enough for me.” Oh Amanda, you’ll never love him like we do, i.e. too starstruck to speak, in 30-second bursts, 2 years apart. It’s a forbidden love affair, or rather a non-existent one.)
I was counting on Blake having his usual 2 pm nap at the back of the auditorium, but with K82 holding his hand he was considerably more worked up. First they decided that they wanted to sit on the front, leaving Andy & I scrambling to catch up. Then they decided to leave. Andy offered to take them back to the children’s room, leaving me with a blessed free hour. I slunk back to the front of the room and sat, knitting and listening, until my hour was up. It was glorious. But the effect on Blake was not as good: without his nap he became more and more difficult until I was ready to leave him at one of the public fountains. He would have amused himself: he was forever ignoring my orders and sticking his hands into the dirty water, then his mouth. In a city with as many public fountains as Montréal, this is a real problem.
Next!! Visits to hotel rooms! A birthday dinner w/excellent soundtrack! The Hugos! A girl who suffers fools, if not gladly! The dismantling of Fort Sensible! Our final day in la belle province (cue the smoked meat)! All to be detailed in the ultimate edition: “Those fountains are finally good for something.”
I thought I could do some more time in the children’s room, but I when we got back after the panel, I was pretty much done with the place. Also, I was hungry and there were car trip snacks in our hotel room, so I convinced Souzan to bring K82 to see our room. This turned into a lot of jumping on the bed and screaming, so we walked a few more blocks to Souzan’s suite, which was bigger and could muffle their raucous play. I was really having trouble shaking my headache, and greatly looking forward to dinner.
We used the guide to find a highly recommended Polish prix-fixé restaurant in Old Montréal, which was exactly what I wanted for my birthday dinner. I don’t often crave Eastern European food, but there is Russian and Ukrainian in my mongrel past and there are days when pierogi is exactly what my peasant heart demands. The atmosphere was also pretty spectacular: the first person to greet you was a pianist who spent the evening cranking out a variety of schmaltzy standards and unexpected pop songs (Björk? Really?) with plenty of sentimental flourishes. We were seated at a table for six, on big wooden benches that allowed Blake to squirm around to his heart’s content. He and I split some of everything, which turned out to be just the right amount of food for both of us (in my admittedly limited experience with prix-fixé, I’ve never seen so much food in three courses. It was just this side of overwhelming.) We also split my almondy-licious birthday cake, which arrived with a candle and a piano song but without the lockstep dead-eyed waitstaff to make me feel self-conscious. Trust me, if you’re going to be publicly feted, have it done at a piano bar. It’s so much classier.
Mason agreed to take Blake back to the hotel for the night so that I could watch the Hugo presentations. (We had agreed on a big birthday present when we got home, but this was easy and free.) So I trotted back to the convention, entirely Blake-free for the only time that weekend. There was one seat next to Andy & Souzan, so I was able to totally relax in my folding chair: take my shoes off, knit on something screamingly orange, and make occasional witty remarks to Andy. (As in when Frank Wu was nominated for the Fan Artist Hugo. “Are they saying whoo or wu?” Andy shrugged. But when he won, we could say both at the same time.)
It was interesting to see who showed up to claim their Hugo. Pixar and Joss Wheedon both won awards, and both sent proxies; I have to wonder if they take ComicCon more seriously than WorldCon. The Hugo itself is drop-dead gorgeous this year, and the aforementioned Frank Wu did exactly what I would have done with it: run around the stage with his Hugo in the air, making rocket noises. Zoom!
I had left my camera in the hotel room before dinner, so my birthday dinner and the Hugos were the only events at WorldCon that I couldn’t directly record. This paradoxically made the awards better: after the ceremonies, all of the winners and presenters get up on stage and the fans get a solid five minutes to take pictures of the group. In lieu of a camera, I just stood around with a goofy grin on my face, sneaking looks at the trophy up close and enjoying the good spirits. It was exactly like the moments that follow a wedding ceremony: with the important part over, everyone milled about smiling, taking pictures and feeling good. With my own camera in hand, I may have missed that moment.
I sort of wanted to go to one of the convention parties that I had missed all weekend, but I thought that would be poor return to a boy who was patiently watching my son so that I could enjoy myself on my birthday. ‘Sides, that was the whole point of dragging him along to Montréal: to be together on my birthday. So I pointed myself toward the hotel, and was crossing the courtyard when I heard my name. I had been so focused on being responsible that I’d completely missed Mike & Juuki, who were standing in their steampunk gear and waiting for a ride. I started to tell them about my Polish birthday dinner when Juuki’s…um…corset…reeled in a passing man as if by magnetism. He spent the next twenty minutes telling us about his life, his alcoholism, his desire for a family, and what he had been told by a palm reader. “Why can’t I have a family? I’m a good lover.”
“I was a good wife and my husband still left me,” I replied, my hand creeping into Juuki’s.
I’m not sure if we had a conversation, or if we just contributed comments to his monologue. He was also greatly impressed by my 100% fake palm reading. And why is it that I have so much trouble making eye contact with people I like, but when I’m on the streets at night I’m able to look directly at the rambling addicts without pause? Maybe it’s a dominance thing. Maybe I just feel safer paying full attention to someone unpredictable. Maybe I’m just contrary.
When he finally wandered away, Juuki started laughing and kissing me on the cheek. “You. Are an Angel.”
“Remind me to tell you about the cracked out prostitute who put an earring on me,” I said shakily.
Monday was our packing up day, our “oh my God, look at the hotel bill” day, our “what do we need to do before we leave this city?” day. I had been planning to do a couple of non-Neil Gaiman panels and some shopping before we left, but I really had no energy for panels at this point, so we went shopping. I had hoped that they would let Mason into the Dealer’s Room without a badge, but that was a no-go; instead we did the Taster Membership thing so that he could experience the con for $20. Granted, there wasn’t all that much to experience, but we bought some cool t-shirts and Mason got to see the children’s room with our collaborative Crazy Hair banner. Also, I was able to show him the bi-lingual sign that proved I had married Neil Gaiman, and that he had taken my name. (Suddenly French is my favourite language.) Mason seems cautiously interested in con life, so I may have a male friend the next time I dip back into the oldest of my fascinations. That was very worth $20.
After we did that, we tried very hard to see a museum that Mason had visited the previous day, but it was closed when we got there. Of course, this was also the hottest day ever, so we had the fun of struggling through broiling Vieux Montreal with an angry and hungry kid, only to tell him that we couldn’t deliver on the spooky crypt as promised. So we had ice cream instead, and Blake got so messy that I – drumroll – had to rinse him off in the fountain. I knew those damn things were useful for something.
We took the car to the Main, my little slice of Montréal heaven, where we introduced Blake to proper smoked meat and the most delicious pickles in the world (sorry Toorshi). Whenever I go to or through Montréal, I need to stop at the Main and it’s usually on the last day so that I don’t want to eat there every single day. (That’s my Canso Lion’s Club Fish n’ Chips Protocol, there.) And with our smoked meat quota met, we wandered out of town in the most inefficient way possible, on the highway home.
“Goodbye Fort Sensible.”
“Blake, that corner isn’t where Fort Sensible lives. Do you know where Fort Sensible will always be?”
“Yes.” (he points at the sleeping bag.
“No! In your heart. In all our hearts.”
“Uh huh.” The ‘whatever’ is implied.