Warning: this post is kinda long.
Despite having social phobia and not much money, I really wanted to go to a convention sometime this year. I thought I could approach it like exposure therapy and the rewards would include cool junk, photos, autographs, and the assurance that I could even enter the convention centre without having a heart attack. I almost went to Niagara Falls Comic Con in June because I wanted to meet Tracey Gold, with whom I am bizarrely obsessed. I chickened out, but Fan Expo Canada in Toronto (28-31 August) seemed less daunting because there was a much shorter commute back home if I had a meltdown. After some hemming and hawing I bought the four day pass that came with an ugly t-shirt and a wristband you’re not supposed to take off all weekend. I went alone.
Day One, Thursday
I didn’t even make it to day one, because I’m a loser. I had an episode and spent the day on the couch eating cookies and crying. It wasn’t so bad though; there wasn’t anything I really wanted to see and I love cookies.
Day Two, Friday
I got my shit together and actually left the house on Friday because I had already paid for a photo-op with Ted Raimi, and only Satan himself could stop me from getting close to Ted Motherfucking Raimi. I got to the Metro Toronto Convention Centre around 11 am, with the intention of seeing a panel with the women who played the Grady twins in the Shining. It’s my most watched movie of all time, so seeing Lisa and Louise Burns would be kind of like seeing a holy relic. There was quite a bit of time to kill before then (even with the amount of time it takes to get from one MTCC building to the other), so I wandered for a bit. Upon seeing almost no lines in front of some celebrities I wanted to meet, I decided Ray Wise would take my convention celebrity virginity.
I asked some dudes standing around the area if they were waiting for Mr. Wise, hoping that they were so I’d have a chance to observe him from afar and gather some courage. Of course they weren’t waiting and before I had the chance to pretend I was taking a phone call or some shit, Wise and his celebrity-handler-person-who-takes-the-money saw me and waved me over. He looked very Hollywood, with piercing blue eyes, tanned skin and big white teeth. As intimidating as he might be to Twin Peaks fans like myself, he was so warm and friendly that within seconds I was calm. Unfortunately I can’t really remember what was said other than “You’re my first celebrity” and “I loved you on Twin Peaks.” Wasn’t that clever? He’ll never forget my wit and charm.
Ray Wise gave me the testicles I needed to approach the Burns twins, aka the Grady Twins. I sauntered up to their table all confident-like, but then felt my butthole clench in terror when some journalist and his camera person started setting up to interview them. I tried to stay calm while paying for the autographs, but anxiety tends to be about waiting for catastrophe and before long my hands started to shake. That’s when I took this blurry photo of them.
Once again, there was no reason for me to be so frightened. They seemed like average petite British women, not two of the former creepiest children in cinematic history. They asked about the origin of my name, and told me that the guy in the following photo taught them how to play chess. I’ll probably think of how adorable their giggles were every time I watch the film.
I attended the Shining panel then sat down to eat an overpriced bagel [Pro tip: pack a lunch if you go to this sort of thing]. I went to another panel, a preview of a documentary called Why Horror? It was cool and piqued my interest, but the Expo organizers didn’t think to have a volunteer to turn the lights down at the back of the room when they were screening clips, so some guy in the audience had to get up and do it. God, I don’t understand why Canadian things always have to be so damn shoddy.
Anyway, I had more time to kill so I looked at what the vendors have to offer, bought some stuff, and then decided to embarrass myself and get even more autographs. While I was waiting for Sherilyn Fenn, Ray Wise spotted me again and winked. That wink simultaneously vaporized my panties and made me want to run away screaming. Such is the awesome power of an electrifying actor. Fenn greeted me with “Hey big lady” (I’m only 5 ft. tall). For the first time, I was actually star struck. After just staring at her for what felt like an eternity, all I could think to say was “Oh my God, you’re so pretty!” Can you believe that shit? Security should have dragged my creepy ass out onto the street, but there was hardly any visible security because Fan Expo is either super sneaky or super cheap. Thankfully, Fenn reciprocated with “You’re so pretty!” She asked how I was and I asked how she was, and she told me about her back injury. I said “Well, at least you’re sitting,” which prompted her to playfully bitch about some TV crew that made her stand for an interview. I spat out the usual “loved you in Twin Peaks” and she said “Bless your heart” with a sincerity you’d only expect from someone who’s not used to compliments. I wish I could sit around and kiki with her.
I wanted Sheryl Lee’s autograph next, but she was chatting with her celebrity-handler so I waited for a break in the convo to approach them politely. To my horror (and delight), Fenn yelled at her “Sheryl! Someone is waiting for you!” Ms. Lee is gorgeous, but it’s weird to have the face of Laura Palmer right in front of you. Gushing ensued with “I was just telling Sherilyn how beautiful she still is…” “Isn’t she?” “…And you are too!” Lee seemed genuinely flattered, and asked me about the origin of my name. I noticed she had a cast on her hand and asked about it. I think she said she’d broken some of her fingers. Man, the Twin Peaks cast doesn’t fuck around when it comes to calling in sick. I wonder if all of Lynch and Frost’s actors are so cool.
To end the day I lined up to wait for a Ted Raimi photo-op. I waited 30-40 minutes. Someone in front of me had a bitchin Seaquest costume and I spotted at least one Joxer. Finally, the moment arrived.
“Hi, what’s your name?” [I tell him]
“That’s a beautiful name.”
“Thanks! I like your suit.”
“Thanks!” He poses with his hand on my shoulder and it feels like cherubs gently resting their nutsacks there. We are soul mates.
I float home on a cloud.
Day Three, Saturday
Saturday is the busiest day, so I wasn’t there long. I got to the Centre about an hour before the Twin Peaks panel and the line in the hallway was crazy long. One girl was wearing a log lady costume, but I was too chicken to ask for a photo. When they let us in the room, it wasn’t even full! If you frequently volunteer at conventions, can you explain to me why the audience can’t be slowly permitted to enter a room well before the panel starts? It’s still first come – first served if you don’t let people leave after early entrance and you don’t have the borderline fire hazard issue of people crowding up the hallways. Whatevs. The panel was cool.
I went to another (much smaller) panel with renowned horror movie poster artists including Ghoulish Gary Pullin, whose work I didn’t realize I already had at home. I planned to stay for longer, but the body odor stench was overwhelming. I’ve battled my own B.O., but have you noticed some people smell like smoked meat when they sweat?
Day Four, Sunday
By this day, a normal person might have felt like a seasoned veteran, but the crowds were still making me nervous. My mission was to get to Sir Patrick Stewart and have him sign an autograph for my sister, a belated birthday present. I’d been on the fence about it because he was one of the most expensive people and I knew the queue would be like people waiting for the second coming of Jesus. Ultimately, there just weren’t enough hours in the day to wait for Jean Luc Picard.
I headed to Bruce Campbell’s signing area, where a long line of deadites was already forming. I’d paid for a photo-op with him later, so I asked a volunteer where Ted Raimi’s line was. He led me to a line consisting of two people. That was so depressing. Another gal joined the line behind me and it looked like she was into Xena. I asked her, and we had a nice little conversation about it. Ted (“light of my life, fire of my loins”) was very kind. I handed over a Xena DVD and he asked if I was a fan. I admitted I wanted to bring a Skinner DVD but couldn’t find one. He chuckled and told me it’s probably out of print, but the transfer was awful anyway. I honestly can’t remember much of what he said because I was trying not to jump him.
The Campbell photo-op started at noon, and I joined the line around 11:30. He and Ray Wise must have had the same acting teacher, because he called me “darling” and I lost another pair of panties. It was very quick, but I got to enjoy a warm, meaty handshake. It was exactly how I always thought Elvis would feel. I got out around 12:45 and went straight to his signing area.
Bruce Campbell’s milkshake brought so many people to the yard that the organizers handed out numbered tickets and we would have to wait until our number was called to get in the actual line. You could write your name on the ticket if you wanted a dedicated autograph. This was one of few sensible crowd control methods I saw that weekend. I bought my ticket, went and did some other shit, then came back to the pre-waiting area, where I stayed for about 2.5 hours (one of those hours he went to lunch or something). I read a Rue Morgue and watched people be jerks. Campbell’s assistant, Mike Estes was helping with organization and asking people what they were having signed. I guess he’s sort of a hype man like Flavor Flav. It was then that I realized I was the only dork with a book, 2005’s “Make Love the Bruce Campbell Way.” I met a girl wearing a homemade Evil Dead chainsaw.
When my time came, I handed over the ticket with my name on it. He said “You’re gonna have to tell me how to pronounce this one.” He joked that I’d made a good choice of reading material. Then I unleashed some real talk on him; “Make Love” was one of the books I kept in my high school backpack to bring some laughter to my awkward, depressed state. I told him the book helped me through a rough time and I wanted to say thanks. He’s a quick wit, so I thought he’d poke fun at me, but he got kind of serious and said he was glad it helped. He humbly said it’s an entertainer’s job to distract people when life gets tough. I said he should write another novel and he said there would be a sequel to his memoir because it’s been more than 10 years since the first one. All along I had treated the wait like a horror fan pilgrimage, but it turned out to be a much more emotionally satisfying moment than I ever anticipated.
If you’re socially anxious and wondering if this kind of convention thing is worth attending, seriously consider it. You’ll need to prepare yourself of course; don’t go from being housebound to being in a room with tens of thousands of people. And there will be assholes, like the myriad people I heard negatively judging other people’s costumes and fandoms as if they themselves hadn’t been waiting an hour for the guy who played fucking Brisco County Jr. The key is probably that there’s a lot of stuff to distract you and take you out of your own head. If you have the money (admittedly a lot of money) and you’re passionate about whatever entertainment genre is being highlighted, the whole thing might push you to do things you didn’t believe were possible. I wasn’t making friends and shit, and I still couldn’t bring myself to eat in the food court, but I spoke to people, including people I idolize. I ventured out as a lone po-faced black girl in a sea of tall confident white folks and actually had a good time. I’m not sure I’d go to something as big and costly as Fan Expo again, but almost a month later I still feel lucky, and I feel proud of myself.