Electrician, New England, Fall 2013

A few years ago, I got a job as a laborer on a four-man carpentry crew. It was my first time working in the construction field and so the way in which projects come together was new to me. Most construction crews do not handle all aspects of a project, and usually contract out the various trade-specific aspects (plumbing, electrical work, etc.) to people they know and trust.

I met the interviewee on a job where both she and my crew were contracted for specific kinds of work. My boss had also worked with her on a number of his own projects. Thus our paths crossed somewhat frequently, and she and I would talk over lunch. I was stunned to learn that she was relatively new to the profession – I had always assumed that anybody skilled in trade had been doing it in some form or another since they were a kid – and she explained that her foray into electrical work was the successful result of a mid-life career change.

This knowledge explained the beatific look of pleasure as she went about her work. Honing in on what you really want, even if it takes you a while to find it, inspires a deeply personal relationship with your profession; she had found her calling and was thrilled to be doing it. Her projects were assessed and undertaken with a meticulous attention to detail that bespoke curiosity and respect, punctuated as her corner of the jobsite was by the occasional outburst of swears in response to the difficulties of her line of work. But as she explains, those frustrations, as dangerous as they are, are part of the reason why the job is so appealing – only you are responsible for figuring out the problem, and in a profession fraught with a million of these challenges, it’s incredible to be able to trust yourself.

How did you get into this profession in the first place? What led you to seek out a career change?

I had no idea that I would ever end up as an electrician. It never crossed my mind. I taught high school English for three years and then I went to grad school in New York City. My degree was going to be in medieval lit. I was pretty much on the road to be an academic, a college professor of English. But over the years I realized I was not fully satisfied with what I was doing.

But I was plodding away at my PHD – at ten years in (laughs) I passed my orals and was facing my dissertation. At the rate I was going, it was going to take me the rest of my life. In the mean time I was teaching freshman college English, but I stopped that and worked as a secretary at a law firm. It was just a job to earn money and I finally realized that I needed to drop out of grad school and figure out what I really wanted to do. I knew that even if I finished my dissertation I was facing a lifetime of this kind of academic work, which I would just procrastinate doing and then cram and then procrastinate again. My problem with literature – even though I loved it – was that it was so intangible, so amorphous, so open to interpretation and you didn’t ever really see (or it took a long time for you to see) concrete results to your work. I liked teaching, I really liked teaching the high school age group, but the problem I had with teaching was that I felt like I wasn’t creating anything. I was helping others create. I wanted to do something where I could see the result of what I did in a tangible form at the end of the day.

I thought I wanted to do some more tech stuff. I tried web design and some computer programming, but I didn’t like the idea of sitting in front of a screen all the time. I didn’t want to be sitting down. I was looking through the help wanted ads, and I realized I wanted to do something more physical. I was thinking about carpentry so I was looking through all these help wanted ads for a period of time, and there was this one ad for electrical apprentices. It planted a seed, and about a year later I decided to try it. And I really liked it. And it’s actually the most enjoyable work I’ve done my whole life.

I hope to continue working at this as long as I am physically able — at least 10 or 15 more years.  However, it would be great if I can arrange my work schedule so that my work hours are not so long and intense, and so that I can take some more time off every year.

Do you think the job is suited to your demeanor or the way your mind works specifically and that’s why you enjoy it so much? You said you were interested things like that in the past – did you do anything like it growing up?

A little bit, for my dad. My dad was an academic and an intellectual but he also liked farming and building, and he did a lot of stuff on his own. So I liked helping him with that kind of thing. But suited to my demeanor? I really like this physical part. I like being able to haul stuff around and crawling through spaces and climbing up high in attics and stuff like that. It’s also a mental challenge. If it was only physical, I don’t think it would satisfy me. I like that I have to figure things out and do calculations. It’s like a puzzle.

Was there an a-ha moment when you realized you made the right choice, when it all clicked?

It was an after-the-fact thing. I had no idea if I would really like it, and I never do things that way. Usually I’m the kind of person that pre-plans everything. I guess because I was willing to try it that…

Was there an element of desperation?

No, not desperation. It was sort of like I was wondering…I’d spent so many years doing things I really didn’t like and it was coming to a point where I needed to find something or else I’d be really unfulfilled. And then when I started becoming an electrician, it was clear that I really liked it.

I started this at 42, and I’m 54 now. So it’s been almost twelve years. And that’s very late in life to start a trade like this. But I wasn’t scared. I felt like it was something I needed to do and I was going to do it. I didn’t have many choices. I wasn’t going to do anything else because it was clear I didn’t like anything else that I had tried. So I was willing to try. The only thing I really didn’t want to do was go back to school. But I did have to go back to school [trade school] but I could keep working during the day and get paid for it. That’s why I like the idea of apprenticeships. I think it’s a great structure because you get to do the work even though you have to do some school at night. You don’t have to wait until you’re finished and have a degree to do the work.

In fact, I was very frustrated with the instruction I received as part of my electrical training.  I often found that the instructors were not well qualified to teach the subject, and weren’t able to answer some of my questions or explain things fully, in detail and in depth.  I had to seek out other sources for learning what I needed to know — extra books, other licensed electricians.  I like to understand something as completely as I can — and maybe men who grow up tinkering with this stuff have some sort of intuitive understanding of it and don’t need it explained — but most of the time it seemed as if very few students or instructors cared about really understanding.  I had one instructor who read to us from the textbook — that was how he ran the class!

What do you think you best at? Where could you improve?

I’m constantly learning. That’s one of the things I like about what I do. I always have to get a better understanding of how certain things work. Or there are certain kinds of electrical components that I don’t know and I have to learn about them. I really like working in old houses, which many people don’t. I love old houses and I have a pretty good understanding of the building structure and what the walls are made of and what to look for when I have to I dig into a wall.

Everything, I could improve. I was pretty slow in the beginning. I wanted to make sure I did everything really, really well. And I still do, but that [fastidiousness] slowed me down. And I have been able to speed up a little more, but I probably could be faster. I do things more carefully than most, but then I know when it’s done right. And I never rush. Because you start rushing and then you’re stapling into your wire… To me, it’s just worth it to do it slower than to not know if you tore something or nicked a wire or something like that.

Has entering this profession changed how you see or carry yourself?

Definitely, definitely. Confidence is a big thing. Confidence is something I did not have much of when I started. It’s something I’m still struggling with. I was very confident before I started this. I felt confident as an intellectual and with literature and that I could teach, but when I started this, it was completely new for me. I didn’t know if I was doing things right. There was so much to learn and understand and so I was always unsure if I was doing something right or not. But that has changed. It used to be that I would never try to do something unless I knew exactly how to do it right off. There are so many things I needed to do at home that I would have never even tried – carpentry projects, painting – and doing this work has given me the confidence to try to do something even if I don’t how to do it.  I now realize that even if I don’t know how something should be done, I can probably figure it out. “Figuring out on my own” is something I had no concept of until after I started doing electrical work.

What’s a typically good and typically nightmarish day in the profession?

A good day is when I am able to figure out why something isn’t working. And when I do it pretty efficiently, without having to open every box. A bad day is when I’m working and I have to add something to an existing circuit and the device boxes are just crammed full. It’s really hard to work on top of someone else’s work when it’s really poorly done. Basically, I have to undo everything and redo it and try to cram things into a box where they won’t fit. And that’s painstaking. It’s just painstaking. A lot of hobbyist electricians will do really dangerous things that I have to work around.

I call these non-licensed tinkerers “Joe Homeowner.”  One of the most dangerous things that I have found that these average Joe Homeowner-types do is to put oversized breakers on circuits with small gauge wire — this mainly occurs where a circuit keeps tripping, so the uninformed person thinks that they can solve the problem simply by putting in a bigger breaker (a 30 amp breaker instead of a 15 amp breaker). The real problem is that there is too big a load on that one circuit.  Putting a bigger breaker on small gauge wire is a real fire hazard because if the circuit is overloaded, it will heat up the wire, but the larger breaker won’t trip to protect the wire because it is set to handle bigger amperage.

I once responded to a service call for a light fixture that kept tripping the breaker.  What I found when I got there was that someone had put a penny in the bottom of the light socket which kept shorting between the base of the socket (“hot”) and the screw shell (“neutral”) part of the socket.  I can’t imagine why someone would even think of doing that — except perhaps if the bulb wasn’t screwing all the way down into the socket and they thought they needed to put something in there to bridge the gap.  Thank goodness the breaker was doing its job by tripping!

Several times I’ve come upon old wires whose insulation had dried up and flaked off — so there was several feet of bare wire visible!  Those situations were pretty scary. Another thing I have seen a lot of is what I call “flying splices.”  Those are splices made between wires without using a box to enclose the splice.  One might see wires hanging across a ceiling with a splice made in mid-air.  Sometimes these might be hidden in walls so one doesn’t even know they exist and cannot gain access to them.  A splice is potentially one of the weak points in an electrical circuit, and if there is not a good connection made between the wires, there can be arcing and sparking.  Enclosing splices in boxes is a safety measure that can contain some arcing if it occurs.  And if the splices are buried inside walls, there is no way of knowing that a potential problem exists.  I once saw a metal box completely blackened from a poorly made splice — luckily that box saved that house from burning down. It’s amazing how more places haven’t burned down with some of the issues I’ve come across.

I’ve gotten shocked a few times, nothing terrible, thank goodness. The couple of times I got pretty bad shocks occurred when someone had left uncapped live wires exposed.  One time occurred when I put my hand up into a ceiling to try to grab something but didn’t check carefully what else was up there, and I hit an exposed wire with my hand.  My arm hurt for a while, but that was it.  I was lucky that was all it was.

I’ve been in really spider-webby basements and attics, but I don’t mind spiders. But I haven’t encountered anything really weird. I have come across some hazardous substances. I hate when people use mouse poison because I have to crawl in it and it gets into my clothes. And it’s such a cruel method for killing rodents. I’m sure I’ve inhaled a lot of really bad stuff. Especially PVC glue. And I’ve been in some asbestos, so we’ll see.

One of the pleasantest perks of my work occurs when homeowners have pets and farm animals around.  I always enjoy seeing and talking with animals on the job.  I’ve had curious cows hover around me while I was working on the outside of a house.  They were really funny.  They tried to pull out tools from my tool belt with their mouths.  There were also some llamas in a barn that wouldn’t let me pet them, but as soon as I stopped paying attention to them and focused on my work, they would sneak up behind me and nibble on my clothes.  I’ve met lots of great cats and dogs who were great fun to be around.

Is it bad form to talk about on the job injuries? (Is it considered bad luck? If not, are there things specific to the job that are said to carry some mystical weight?)

No, it’s not. Most electricians swap horror stories. Mostly about things that have blown up. (Laughs) People talk about what electrical installations used to be like. “He’s an old-timer, he knows it from experience.” I respect the old timers, and many times people talk about them testing wires with their fingers and having such deep, thick calluses that they couldn’t feel the shocks.

Electricity is mystical to begin with. Electricians have a healthy respect for its unpredictability. But nobody talks about mystical stuff, at least not that I can recall. The only time I can think of is when I myself made a joke about it – use this Sharpie marker to identify wires and stuff like that, and it smudges if you don’t let it dry. So I blow on it to dry it. Somebody asked me why I blow on it, and I said I was warding off a spell. (Laughs)

What percentage of customers has an interest in what you are doing? Or have so much interest that it’s annoying, like they check your work or examine your credentials?

Nobody’s really examined my credentials. Maybe fifteen percent are curious or interested and I like those customers because I love to talk about what I do, show what I know. So I don’t mind if people are watching over my shoulder, if they’re interested. Maybe five percent hover around me, and that’s a pain but it’s not very frequent.

Do people who hover around generally know what they are talking about?

No. (Laughs) But I should say that sometimes a customer has a good question or good idea, and sometimes it comes from someone who is hovering over me and doubting. Sometimes they say good things. I’m probably more tolerant than most [when it comes to be open to people watching or offering suggestions].

Does being a woman in a traditionally male dominated field factor into customers’ perceptions and expectations? Does it factor into yours? Do you find that people are happy to give a woman business? Are you sick of thinking about what it means to be a woman in this field and would prefer just to be left alone to do your work?

People are interested in my story, but I’m getting kind of tired of telling it. There’s not that much to tell.

Me being a woman does factor into peoples’ expectations. I’ve generally had a very positive experience. Other electricians, other tradespeople on jobs have mostly been very accepting. And I’m very grateful for that. When I go into a new job, I’m always nervous. I think I have to prove myself, not make a mistake. But it’s getting easier. I think people are aware that it’s a little unexpected – they don’t always say something but they’re probably wondering. A couple of customers have tested me out, trying to see if I know what I’m talking about.

I just take it in stride and see if there was anything I couldn’t have done better or known better, and I try to use that for next time. I just try to gain more knowledge and experience as I go. And most of the time now I can walk into a place with confidence, know I that I don’t have all the answers but know enough to do a pretty good job. It hasn’t changed the way I approach things; it just won’t discourage me. It just makes me want to get better.

Every once in a while someone, especially a female client, will say, “Hey I think it’s great you are a woman!” That makes me feel good. I’m not sick of that yet. But what I really want to do is just be able to do the work. And for the most part I do. This other stuff doesn’t get in the way at all; it’s a miniscule part of what I do. It might be because of the part of the country we’re in. If I had to deal with hostility and harassment, I don’t know what I’d do.

One of the things I’m really interested in is why there aren’t more women in the trade. There actually have been several pushes by educational institutions, schools, and government programs that encourage women to go into the trades. There have been quite a few training programs over the past four or five decades, especially since the 70s. So there have been more women coming to these programs, but they just don’t stay. They just don’t build up enough numbers to stay. I’m trying to figure out why that is, because I really miss having more women around. I’d love to see more women working in the trades.

I guess I just feel more comfortable around women.  And I get tired of hearing talk only about sports and hunting.  There are also other limitations to some men — they’re not flexible enough, or open enough to certain things, or comfortable with certain things.  I just can’t be fully myself around them.  Don’t get me wrong — I like most men, and enjoy joking around with them.  I should probably clarify that it’s not just any women I’d like to have around.  I’d like to be around strong women who are serious about their work and like to work hard.  That would be the best scenario.

I came up with my own theory that [the lack of women in the trade] is partly because there isn’t much of support system, and it’s really hard to stick it out in a predominantly male environment unless you really, really love the work. I came from a place where I did enough work I didn’t like that I was going to keep at [electrical work]. It’s hard to come into that environment on your own, so it’s good to have a critical mass, but how do you build that up? Women have a lot of different obligations that make it hard to work in the trades – if you have kids, if you are taking care of somebody, married. I think that with men, there are those situations too. Men have life obstacles that get in the way and they have to drop out, but there are enough men that keep coming into the trade that you don’t notice the turnover as much. The problem is that women come into the trade but don’t stay. There’s a really good program in Vermont called Vermont Works for Women. They train adults but also focus on high school girls, to get them involved in the trades from an early age. I think that’s the way to do it.

Do you feel like people censor themselves in front of you? Or do they not care? Or do they become more aggressive?

It’s mostly in what a lot of my male coworkers talk about. If they talked about other things besides sports and hunting, it would be better. I don’t think they become more outlandishly masculine. A lot of times they apologize for using foul language, which doesn’t bother me at all. They probably do censor themselves a little, but it’s mostly only a few topics of discussion that interest people anyway. If someone brings up something different, you’d be an odd person out. You have to have a pretty strong personality to talk about stuff that isn’t commonly accepted [conversation topics]. Being a woman gives me a little bit of an advantage: as a woman, I’m the odd one to begin with, so it gives me license to say certain things or bring up certain subjects. I think it would be a lot harder for a gay man. I’ve been very open about being a lesbian. Interestingly, all the men I’ve worked with, even the most conservative, are totally fine with it, but they would not be fine with it if I were a gay man. And that’s very hard to think about. It’s been interesting for me in the sense that most of the tradespeople I work with are very conservative politically. I still don’t understand why they think the way they do. And it’s weird because I like them. They think completely differently from me but I like them. They’re nice people; they’re good people. They know what they’re doing and they look out for each other and for me. That’s the hardest part – how can they be nice people and think that way?

****

A little bit about certifications, as quoted from the State of New Hampshire Electrician’s Board website:

“The Electrician’s Board licenses or registers those who are performing electrical installations…for heat, light and power purposes regardless of the voltage. Therefore, it is not the voltage of the circuit that determines the requirements of licensure, it is the type of circuit. For example, no license is currently required for fire alarm installations as these are signaling circuits. Signaling circuits by definition are not considered circuits for heat, light or power purposes.

The categories for licensing are Master, Journeyman and High/Medium Voltage electricians. The Electricians’ Board registers apprentice electricians and high/medium voltage trainees.”

As the interviewee works on the border of two small states, she often works in both. But like the licenses and certifications of many other professions, an electrician’s credentials do not apply nationally.

“The Electrical Safety Section currently has active reciprocal agreements for the master and journeyman license with the States of Maine, and Vermont and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. These are long standing agreements that recognize the master and journeyman licenses of these areas as being substantially equal to those of New Hampshire.

New Hampshire Electricians wishing to reciprocate their license with any of these states or the Commonwealth should contact the reciprocating agency directly for the necessary application and fees. A certified letter can be obtained from the Electrical Safety Section which will be necessary at the time of application as verification of licensure and the applicant is in good standing with the State of New Hampshire.

Applicants applying to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for a reciprocal master license will be required to reciprocate their journeyman license as well as the masters. If have you let your journeyman license lapse due licensure as a master electrician, it can be reinstated for reciprocity purposes by filing the proper application and paying the normal fee for licensure.

In the Fall of 2005 the State of New Hampshire became a member of the Multi-State Reciprocal Licensing Group, now known as National Electrical Reciprocal Alliance (NERA) and therefore has reciprocal licensing agreements, for the journeyman license only, with the States of: Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho, Maine, North Dakota, Utah and Wyoming.

New Hampshire electricians wishing to apply for a reciprocal license with a participating state under the NERA agreement must contact that state for the specific requirements, applications and fees.  Applicants applying for a reciprocal license with a participating state must:

  1. Hold a current journeyman license from the State of New Hampshire for at least one year.
  2. Be active and in good standing with the State of New Hampshire.
  3. Have passed the New Hampshire journeyman examination with a minimum grade of 70%.
  4. Have successfully completed a minimum of 8000 hours of practical experience in an apprenticeship program or equivalent.

Applicants holding “grandfather” licenses or who have not passed the New Hampshire journeyman examination are not eligible for reciprocity under the NERA agreement.

Once the application is submitted the reciprocating state with all applicable forms and fees, the reciprocating state will contact the State of New Hampshire electronically for verification of Items 1 – 4 above. Once the verification process has taken place, the reciprocating state should issue the journeyman license…”

Along the River

Along the RiverThis is a drawing I did in 2007(?). I’m scanning and cleaning up a bunch of stuff I’ve drawn, and this is one of my favorites.

2014 Cryptid Convention poster

2014 Cryptid Convention

Today is Tomorrow: 24 Hours of Groundhog Day

That’s right, woodchuck-chuckers! It’s GROUNDHOG DAY!”

Groundhog Day posterIt is a genius meta-challenge: do you have what it takes to subject yourself to twenty-four hours of a movie in which the protagonist is himself subjected to a horrifying twenty-four hour loop? Are you willing to sit in a theater all day and merge your horometrical angst with that of Bill Murray? These are questions posed every February 2nd by the Gateway Film Center, when they host their annual Groundhog Day viewing party/endurance marathon. The movie in question is of course Groundhog Day, and they challenge you to watch it twelve times in a row.  Completing the marathon yields a year’s worth of movie tickets, a very coveted prize considering the tragicomic tickets prices of the average theater. A ticket to the event is only fifteen bucks, and fifteen bucks for twenty-four free movie tickets is certainly a gamble worth taking, to say nothing of the priceless fun and singular weirdness of being allowed to stay in a movie theater all night with three hundred other tranced-out revelers.

7660 days have passed since Groundhog Day was released on February 12th, 1993. The movie chronicles the surreal hell of Bill Murray, an arrogant weatherman who learns some important life lessons after finding himself reliving Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney, PA over and over and over again. Andie MacDowell plays the sweetheart TV producer who inspires him to be a better man and Chris Elliot plays the unnerving odd guy Chris Elliot is known for. Initially Bill Murray is excited at this surreal turn of events, as he realizes he can steal money and perfect his wooing techniques, but he quickly grows despondent when it doesn’t seem like the loop will ever end. The way out seems to be to win Andie’s heart by becoming a better person, and some genuinely warm n’ fuzzy moments makes up the last chunk of the movie. But it takes him a long time to get to this point, and the movie becomes a bit darker when you realize the enormity of what his character is actually facing. It is estimated that he relives Groundhog Day for at least forty years. Stephen Tobolowsky, the guy who plays Ned the Insurance Salesman, said that one of the writers “felt something like 23 days were represented in the movie, [but they lasted] over 10,000 years.”

Not that my friends and I were worried that watching a movie twelve times in a row would be equally as maddening, but the prospect of such an undertaking was kind of daunting: an entire day in one place, in the same seats, with hundreds of other people eating and farting and snoring and talking, all experiencing the difficulties inherent in doing the same weird thing over and over again. My good chum Pat and I were both new to the contest, but our friends Tess, Afton, and Kevin were old hands and explained that the viewings break down like this:

1-4: You sleep through most of them.
5: “This is a good movie.”
6: “This is the best movie ever made.”
7: “…”
8-10: “I can’t comprehend anything that is happening in this movie.”
11-12: Fun because everyone is going crazy, but also excruciating because you’re almost done.

I figured my point of no return would be 16 hours – I had to stay if I made it that far, and Pat assured me that he would convince me to stay. I legitimately didn’t know what to expect.

Dylan and Pat in the building

Dylan and Pat in the building

****

The rules are as follows:

1)      You must be present in the theater for every screening of Groundhog Day in its entirety.
2)      Cell phones may be carried into the theater, but must be powered down during the screenings.
3)      No laptops, tablets, or other devices are permitted in the theater.
4)      Your lanyard must be in your possession at all times during the marathon.
5)      Every time Phil says “Ned”, you must say “Bing!”

“I want them to fucking crack down. I want them to make it a challenge,” Pat said. “I think it would be funny if they wouldn’t let you socialize, like they make you watch it.” I expect that he would fare well even if it one of those sinister experiments where you are strapped to a chair and your eyes pried open are you are bombarded endlessly with all kinds of horrible sights and sounds. He is up to stuff like that. He firmly considers the people stretched out on sleeping bags in the front of the theater to be cheating. How hard can it be when you are essentially allowed to camp in the theater?

A valid point, but I don’t think the theater has psychological trauma in mind when they host the event. The marathon isn’t intended to toughen you up mentally; it’s supposed to be ridiculous fun, and it is. Attendees are encouraged if not expected to join in chanting lines, which range from quotable insults to a collective horrified “UGH!!” when poor Andie MacDowell makes a woodchuck face at Bill Murray. It’s much more Carnivalesque than cruel. The experience inspires exuberant narration, and attendees yell whatever they want from the anonymity of the theater. A lot of the commentary is genuinely hilarious, but this anonymity also lends itself to some cringe-worthy unfunniness, attempts at humor that make you feel bad for the person who said them. But no worries, you can try again soon – the open invite for audience participation gives everyone a second chance to shine, and indeed, there is nothing quite as affirming as cracking up the rows around you.

****

The first American reference to Groundhog Day comes from a diary entry from 1841, where it is explained that if the groundhog emerges from its burrow and sees its shadow, winter will last another six weeks. Appropriately, the diary is that of guy from Pennsylvania. The world’s most popular rodent arbiter resides in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, where the movie takes place and where real life Groundhog Day crowds have numbered up to 40,000. The tradition seems to come from a mix of ancient

Just watched the Following; drawing kind of reminds me of those creepy Poe masks

Just watched the Following; drawing kind of reminds me of those creepy Poe masks

weather lore involving prognosticating animals and contrasting calendrical systems. The pagan festival Imbolc celebrated the seasonal turning point on February 1st, but other traditions held that spring did not begin until the Vernal Equinox, about seven weeks after Groundhog Day, the traditional first day of spring for us in the US. A groundhog or hedgehog was used as a way to settle the disparities between the two calendars, and either choice he makes corresponds to one of the calendars’ first day of spring. Groundhog Day organizers say that the Punxsutawney Phil’s forecasts are accurate 75% to 90% of the time. 33% accuracy could be expected by chance, and a Canadian study unfortunately shows that weather pattern predictions made on Groundhog Day are right only 37% of the time. Buzzkill scientists from the National Climatic Data Center have described the forecasts as “on average, inaccurate,” saying that “The groundhog has shown no talent for predicting the arrival of spring, especially in recent years.” Punxsutawney Phil predicts in the movie that winter will last another six weeks.

Our night started off not in Punxsutawney but in a restaurant next to the theater called Mad Mex. tremendous plates of nachos were deemed necessary to carry us through at least the next couple of hours, and after 10:00pm everything is half-off. The waiter noted that the new margarita flavor was good because “nobody has sent it back yet,” and it was thus ordered and consumed. Not too long into our meal, a guy sits down next to the hostess’s stand, right across from our table, and promptly breaks down in tears. “I hate boys,” he says, explaining that his boyfriend puts everyone else before him.

Patrons of Mad Mex soon began getting up and leaving. It was clear where they were going. They were carrying sleeping bags and backpacks and were dressed in sweats and pajamas, and some people even had laundry baskets full of enough food and games for twenty-four hours. We too left in order to claim the perfect spot. The sad guy from inside was now in an impassioned argument with his presumptive boyfriend on the sidewalk, and they too would likely enter a time warp of their own, arguing in endless circles as they try to sort out the complications of love.

****

The Marathon Begins…

Back row clique
Back row clique!

12:00 – We quickly realized that the Undertaking wouldn’t be as big a deal as we thought – we sat in the middle of the topmost row, with nobody on either side of us for at least three seats. We were able to put up armrests and stretch out and sleep as freely as we wanted to. Sitting in the back row seemed crucial to our success since nobody could hang their stinky over our heads and we weren’t in danger (or as much danger, at least) of something like the hurricane-level of puke that annihilated the area behind some seats in the middle of the theater. But I did begin to understand why it might yet be pretty difficult. Stills from the movie that precede each showing and tell you how many times you’ve seen the movie and how many you have left. These stills are supplemented by key soundtrack music played on a loop, so not only did you hear the same songs multiple times in the movie but you’re stuck listening to them over and over again before the movie even starts. Sonny and Cher’s “I Got You Babe” was followed by a ridiculous number called “the Pennsylvania Polka.” The tradition of clapping along with the latter started as soon as it began playing over the still, and we caught on to that fun aspect of the event.

Welcomes were given by the staff and the rules were read. The concession stand would be open the entire twenty-four hours and alcohol sales would stop at 2:30am but would begin again at 6am. The first viewing felt more like a normal night out at the theater than the beginning of a ridiculous challenge. I hadn’t seen this movie since 2010 (I remember this specifically because a guy I was housesitting for had it in his collection) but pretty quickly fell asleep. I woke up in time to see a surprisingly amazing truck explosion. It became a scene I greatly looked forward to each time. The truck drives off a cliff and smashes below; its intense bang into rocks is satisfying and incredible. The resulting explosion is great too – big, full, multi-layered, good expansion, deep oranges and reds – as is the way the gate bursts open when he drives through it. Note that the grill of the truck breaks when this happens.

2:00am – I am wide awake as the movie begins again. The atmosphere now feels completely like a giant slumber party. On top of the quoted lines and random quips, nonstop talking and settling occur for the first fifteen to twenty minutes of this and every subsequent showing.

Pat is laying on the floor resting, he overhears the scene where the local yokel shows Bill Murray a half-full or half-empty glass and says Billy Murray looks like a half-empty kind of guy. “That’s the whole message of the film!” Pat realizes. He tells me with the sureness of an inebriated philosopher that Groundhog Day is a metaphor for our search for happiness – you could look at it like glorious spring is just six weeks away, or that winter will brutally oppress us for six more. In other words, look on the bright side! Life is what you make it! He imparts this wisdom to me and falls back asleep.

4:00am – I am tired and kind of grouchy. I worry that perishable food I brought will go bad before I have a chance to eat it but I am too full to keep eating. Nachos are raffled off. I notice that the stunt double used when Bill Murray jumps off the tower looks like Ben Stiller, and that the bath water he sits in to electrocute himself is probably ice cold, judging from the movie’s earlier cold shower sequence. I also appreciate the attention to time-related details, like taking into account how doing thing

Groundhog Day factoid

Groundhog Day factoid

A for a few seconds longer the second time means that subsequent thing B would be a little different the second time around as well. But sometimes the movie isn’t as accurate as I’d like in this regard (events take place in the same way regardless of how long Bill Murray takes to do the thing that precedes them), but I realize that I will have ten more viewings to obsess over these disparities and so it would be better if I put them out of my mind. It’s just a movie, anyway, right?

6:00am – I realize I haven’t even seen the movie all the way through yet. There are scenes that I don’t remember seeing the first two times around, and there are scenes I saw between naps that I’m not sure where/why/how they fit in the narrative. An announcement is made that the concession stand is now serving breakfast burritos. The paper towel dispenser in the men’s bathroom was jammed, but the front has been pried open by attendees desperate to dry their hands.

8:00am – “Now it gets difficult,” a veteran tells me, “Most of the sleeping you’ll do has been done.” I am increasingly annoyed by the peppy song that accompanies the opening credits. The song is called “Weatherman” and was co-written by the film’s director, Harold Ramis. Heard nowadays, the song is totally anachronistic – it is one of those catchy, distinctly American-sounding rock songs that play during the opening credits of comedies from the 80s and 90s. (Which are themselves a very distinct and sorely missed breed.) But I soldier on. I get an encouraging text from a friend at 8:50: “You can do it!” My parents also cheered me on when the night got started.

10:00am – Somebody starts a story that begins with “I didn’t work at PetCo but…” but unfortunately I don’t hear the rest. After five viewings, I still haven’t seen the movie all the way through. The ten o’clock showing is different. The next stage of collective excitement is reached with this viewing. There is markedly more shouting, clapping, and merrymaking, and it increases with every viewing. I see the movie pretty much in its entirety every time from now until the end.

Unfortunately this increase in volume also applies to our neighbors and their wellspring of criminally unfunny comments. It’s kind of awkward because other unfunny comments fade into the darkness but you are hyper-aware of failed humor when the perpetrators are only a few seats away from you. There is a scene where Bill Murray says he is going to go back to his room and read Hustler; our neighbors yell “Go read Hustler – everyone likes to see naked ladies!”

12:00pm – I find that I always look up at the screen when Andie MacDowell’s name is listed in the opening credits. (The opening sequence of clouds rolling backwards is simple but really cool, and somewhat haunting.) I have also been able to study her distinct mouth, as her twenty-foot visage is on the screen pretty frequently. People in the audience continue chanting at choice moments: each scene with Needle-Nose Ned the Head is repeated word for word every time. The diss Chris Elliot delivers about the Home Shopping Network is always awarded with a tremendous “OOOOOOoooohhhhh!” Everyone claps in time with the slaps of the slap sequence and everyone claps sarcastically when the waiter drops his tray. Brian Doyle-Murray’s speech as the mayor is also a beloved moment in the film, as attendees love to help him call Punxsutawney Phil the “Seer of Seers, Prognosticator of Prognosticators.” The increasing dollar amounts are chanted when Bill Murray get auctioned off as a desirable bachelor.

2:00pm – There are two young kids in attendance with their dad. One of the two becomes a sort of celebrity for the occasion, as he is the first to lead claps and cheers and even yells a bunch of comments of his own, at the screen and in response to other people who are yelling stuff too. Between showings, everyone around him observes that not only is he having a FaceTime chat with his Grandma but that it is in another language. Everyone who sees this looks at each other knowingly, nodding at how hard this kid rules. As the day wears on, the two kids and the dad change seats from time to time, leading one person in the audience to ask “Hey! Where’d that kid go?!” in fear that the family would miss part of the action, or, worst case scenario, that they had left, which would not only be a bummer for the kids but worrisome to the rest of the crowd, for what would it mean for their endurance if their totemic spirit decided he had finally had enough? Not to worry – they simply moved seats and his commentary resumed quickly enough.

Pat notes that the scene in which Bill Murray steals the truck/varmint-naps the groundhog occurs almost exactly one hour into the film. The rest of the showings take this into consideration, almost like a breather that the movie is two-thirds of the way over. The coffee served by the movie theater is surprisingly good, and refills are free. Pat notes that Bill Murray gives the finger to the camera – during the second newscast he does on the first day, the 3-2-1 countdown ends with 1 being his middle finger. A lot of these kinds of details are noticed, including the unsettling layer of reverb/creepy frequency placed over top the ‘Pennsylvania Polka’ when Bill Murray gets freaked out.

"Ohhhhhhh...SIX!!!!"

“Ohhhhhhh…SIX!!!!”

4:00pm – This is the wildest showing yet. The hootin’ and hollerin’ reaches a hilarious, exuberant pitch. The audience has taken to yelling “SIX!!!” every time Bill Murray’s alarm clock goes off at 6:00am. A wag in the audience also yells “3:02!!” when that time is shown on a clock. One of my favorite shots is the giant alarm clock face switching from 5:59 to 6:00.

I find myself yelling along with everyone without even intending to. Our genius neighbors get told for the second time to put away their electronic devices during the showing of the movie. They take huge offense to this despite the prohibition of devices being clearly listed in the rules, and it is a topic they discuss with the utmost derision every twenty minutes for the rest of the contest. “We’llgive her an anti-bitch coupon if she’ll let us use our phones,” they snicker. The also take to calling her a “device Nazi.”

The audience’s sense of humor reflects the fact that we’ve been here for sixteen hours. “That’s Shia LaBeouf’s stepdad!” someone yells when Production Assistant Alecia LaRue rolls by in the credits.

6:00pm – I’m now starting to get kind of antsy. My stomach is weighted down with food. I wonder if I could sneak into a different movie. I’m not too bothered by the possible ethical dilemma of not seeing every single showing, for sometimes self-preservation trumps morality. But just getting up and walking around is good too:

Pressure ulcers, also known as decubitus ulcers or bedsores, are localized injuries to the skin and/or underlying tissue that usually occur over a bony prominence as a result of pressure, or pressure in combination with shear and/or friction. The most common sites are the sacrum, coccyx, heels or the hips, but other sites such as the elbows, buttocks, knees, ankles or the back of the cranium can be affected.

Pressure ulcers occur due to pressure applied to soft tissue resulting in completely or partially obstructed blood flow to the soft tissue and resulting reperfusion injury when blood re-enters tissue. Shear is also a cause, as it can pull on blood vessels that feed the skin. A simple example of a mild pressure sore may be experienced by healthy individuals while sitting in the same position for extended periods of time: the dull ache experienced is indicative of impeded blood flow to affected areas. Within two hours, this shortage of blood supply, called ischemia, may lead to tissue damage and cell death. The sore will initially start as a red, painful area. The other process of pressure ulcer development is seen when pressure is high enough to damage the cell membrane of muscle cells. The muscle cells die as a result and skin fed through blood vessels coming through the muscle die. This is the deep tissue injury form of pressure ulcers and begins as purple intact skin…”

A ‘SIX!’ yell starts off a ‘7! 8! 9!’ succession. Someone yells “You can count!”, to which the initial yeller replies “I’m a math major!” The funny thing is that it’s true – the proud math major was observed doing math homework between each showing.

Our neighbors’ choice comment from this showing addressed the motivations of the “creepy” psychiatrist Bill Murray sees: “Mommy touched me when I was little so now I’m going to help people.”

In 2012, Bill Murray embarked on this nationwide party tour in which he would come to your house and hang out provided you call him Keyser Söze and have a banner out front that says “Bill Murray can crash here!” There was some speculation/hope that he (or anyone from the movie, for that matter) would make a surprise appearance, especially since he reportedly has a house in horrible Dublin, Ohio. He has not shown up, but that’s ok.

(Bill Murray was also said to have this trick where he’d walk up to you and steal your hat [and not return it] just so you could tell your friends that Bill Murray stole your hat. Yes, it would be funny, but I would also be pissed if he stole my lucky hat. It did not seem that this was in danger of happening either.)

8:00pm – I get up and walk around for the last forty-five minutes of this showing. I meet Max Vokhgelt in the lobby and he tells me that he and his friends have been keeping count: “I’ve Got You, Babe” plays ten times in the movie, as does the “Pennsylvania Polka.” I add this to my list of tallies: Bill Murray is slapped ten times, once because he asks to be slapped, once in the bedroom, and eight times during the sequence showing his repeated failure to woo Andie MacDowell. Fifteen snowballs are thrown during the snowball fight sequence, the last being a particularly (some may say unnecessarily) forceful throw at a kid. There is an uncomfortable scene when Bill Murray tries to get Andie MacDowell to stay with him – she offers ten refusals to his fifteen inducements to stay. He hits himself in the face three times in the psychiatrist’s office. “Strrrriiiiiiike!!” is yelled by the audience when the guy gets a strike at the bowling alley. Someone points out that come the final showing of the movie, the guy will have bowled twelve strikes, a perfect game. Candice at the concession stand says that everyone was cheery and optimistic when the day started but now everyone is red-eyed and defeated looking. Alcohol sales are steady. The staff is commendable for the quality of the bathrooms – I was admittedly worried about potential hygienic disaster but it has all been managed perfectly. The movie theater itself does not take on the offensive odor one might expect from three hundred people sitting around and eating all day, so that’s a relief too. This is the penultimate showing and people seem to be gearing up for an explosive final viewing.

9:00pm – someone in the first row is clearly using a tablet. It’s a dark theater, so any source of light is completely noticeable from anywhere in the room. A few people start booing and a few people start yelling warnings at the dude to put it away. Then the movie actually stops and the lights turn on – a staff member walks up to the guy and tells him he committed his final error. My neighbors renewed their colorful invectives against the fascist theater staff, as they were beside themselves that such an affront was actually taking place. Not that I encourage submitting to some arbitrary authority, but the rules for the marathon were very clear, not to mention the offending party had been warned repeatedly that devices are verboten any time the movie is playing.

10:00pm – the last showing is great and worth the twenty-two previous hours. Everyone immediately starts yelling and cheering as soon as the movie starts, and everything that was yelled is repeated again, but much louder and enthusiastically, if that’s even possible. People get up and dance to the aforementioned opening credit music and the music used to transition between scenes. The warnings for Bill Murray to watch out for a shovel that’s about to hit him reach a fevered pitch, with the awesome kid in the audience noting sadly that “he never heeds our warnings” after Bill Murray gets clocked. Someone yells ‘HOGROUND DAY!’ and for some reason this is utterly hilarious. The scene where Gobbler’s Knob is named for the first time is an audience favorite as well: “Wait for it….wait for it…. [‘Gobbler’s Knob’] YEAH!!!!!” (“Why is that funny?” someone asks. Uh, what? The place is called Gobbler’s Knob for crying out loud; how isn’t that funny?) The last viewing definitely feels like the shortest. I wanted the movie to progress not so I could go home but to hear new commentary to our favorite parts of the film. But before you knew it, it was over. People gathered their belongings and shuffled out of the theater as easily as if they were leaving a normal night at the movies. It was as if the challenge was not. The movie originally ended with Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell waking on February the 3rd to find that Andie is trapped in her own time loop, and I’m sure that there would be more than enough people willing to stay for another twenty-four hours. I’m sure Pat would have been up to it.

11 down, 1 to go!

11 down, 1 to go!

****

As is the case with any fun event, once it is over you can’t believe all of the anticipation and antics have finally come to an end. It is weird experiencing something unusual with hundreds of other people and then leaving as if nothing had happened. It was kind of a bummer to bid goodbye to all these intimate strangers.

Walking home was truly kind of strange because my sense of time was genuinely kind of skewed. Not that I am by any means whatsoever comparing myself to people who have actually experienced some kind of fucked up real life imprisonment, but I had the briefest glimpse into what confinement-induced time disorientation must be like. It felt like ages ago that Pat and I walked from my apartment to the movie theater, but it also felt like no time had passed at all. Fortunately I was already wearing sweatpants and comfortable tennis shoes – the discomfort of my compressed ass could be addressed by running a few laps around the block.

Would I do it again? Possibly, as the last couple of viewings are definitely worth experiencing again. Will I do it again? I’m not sure, for right now the idea of seeing a movie in a theater sometime even in the next month is pretty unappealing. But I do have a year’s worth of free tickets, so a night at the movies might be in order to simply to celebrate my dubious accomplishment. For right now it’s like a home away from home. (Apparently there is a musical adaptation of Groundhog Day in the works, which I will absolutely not be seeing once, let alone twelve times. A musical marathon would be tantamount to torture, even if it is based on a story I have come to know intimately.)

Rebuffed and Disappointed at the Threshold of Sexapalooza 2014

“Sex is like snow – you never know how many inches you’re going to get or how long it’s going to last.”
“Sex without love is mating; love without sex is philosophy.”

Fortunately it is not often that this author experiences significant disappointment. Cancelled dinner plans, rescheduled hangouts, the heater of one’s car not working on a long drive in the middle of winter are all part of being human, and these mild inconveniences can usually be dealt with and forgotten with little difficulty. But a run of relatively painless living made the collapse of a recently scheduled meeting with Liz Lewis all the more of a letdown. Lewis is the proprietrix of Black Kat productions, and she was in town to oversee Columbus’ third annual Sexapalooza, an adult expo offering a “diverse collection of exhibitors, entertainment, educators and non-profit community groups that represent each city’s sexual community.”

I wanted to speak with Liz Lewis for a book I’m working on about the ins-and-outs of a variety of occupations and hobbies: What is done differently do make Sexapalooza a more female-oriented show? What kind of international rigmarole do you have to go through to plan things from afar? What kind of sponsors jump at the chance to partner with such an event, aside from the obvious? Was it possible to work in this field without being, ahem, pleasantly distracted all the time?

I initially made a phone call to the marketing and graphic design department of Black Kat productions, the assumption being that the marketing behind a kink convention would be substantially different than that of something a little less edgy. The woman responsible for this department said she was too new to give a comprehensive overview of working for Black Kat, and she said that Liz Lewis, the president and founder, would be the person to talk to since Sexapalooza is her brainchild. She offered to try to set up a meeting with Lewis on Sunday at noon, as early Sunday is the calmest time of the event and there would likely be plenty of time to talk. I got confirmation the next day that the meeting was set up, and I immediately got to work researching the event.

Lewis was originally in the magazine business, publishing Touch, a magazine for the swinger community, and then Whiplash, a magazine for the BDSM community. As the internet made print BDSM community-building increasingly obsolescent, Lewis ended her run as a print publisher and started Black Kat Enterprises, a company that distributes adult toys and novelties. This side of the business led her to exhibiting at the Western Canada Taboo shows and various other sexpos, which in turn led her to start her own adult consumer show. Thus Sexapalooza was founded in 2007. Sexapalooza is now an international affair, with events held yearly in Canada and the US. According to Men’s Health magazine, Columbus has the honor of being the third most sexually active city in the country. And because of its statistical averageness, it is also a city known as a reliable test market for various new products and foods. The city’s refreshing openness yet familiar values make Columbus the ideal place for an upscale adult expo.

Unfortunately, the questions I wanted to ask remain largely unanswered. The parking lot monitors were typically unpleasant (seriously, try to talk to them) and their gnarliness as I pulled in augured nothing good for the interview. The $7 parking fee didn’t help, and neither did getting yelled at by the same people for trying the wrong door. Lewis was located by the staff and we were introduced, but I was told immediately that she wasn’t going to be available. Her time was very valuable, as was made clear by repeated mid-conversation bids for me to Hold on just a minute! while the concerns of whoever was on the other end of her earpiece were curtly addressed. (Although it should be noted that the stress inherent in running a major adult expo can be assumed, and it is absolutely understandable that my ideal, hours-long, conversation couldn’t realistically take place.)

Nevertheless, the annoyance of answering yet another phone call or having to listen to the wheedling of a cheapskate customer does not warrant the look of disappointment that greeted this author when he was initially introduced to the interviewee. The lack of major press credentials was clearly a letdown –

“Who are you with?”
“Uh…myself?”
*Sigh*

and so all further interactions involved trying to impress someone who doesn’t respect you professionally in the least. I was told to come back in half an hour.

****

Sexapalooza 2014 was held January 17th-19th at the Vets Memorial building in downtown Columbus, a building worth noting for its historical status/impending implosion and for the larger than life statue of Arnold Schwarzenegger that flexes out front. (Arnold and Columbus go way back – a promoter named Jim Lorimer set up the first Arnold Sports Festival in 1989 and it has been a mainstay in the city ever since.) The building’s foyer is stripped of all accoutrements; the interior is a strange light blue and the color is punctuated almost exclusively by homemade signs that direct people to the main hall or parking payment machines. Maybe the paucity of décor is deliberate in order to accommodate the maximum variety of events, but the near total lack of signage can also be confusing and troublesome, as was the case when a mom walked in with her two children. People collectively held their breath as she strode in confidently and looked for the ticket booth. Was she actually trying to bring them in to the show? There is a wall of dildos right inside – you can see it from here! Regardless of the intensity of one’s sexual proclivities, everyone else in the foyer looked ready to break out in protest had the lady tried to argue that her kids should be admitted. But it was an honest mistake – it turned out she was looking for the AAA Great Vacations Travel Expo, which was to be held at the same place the following weekend. They promptly left, and it was unclear if the mom even registered what she and her kids accidentally almost walked into.

That scene of confusion was witnessed while waiting next to the drinking fountains for the rescheduled interview with Mrs. Lewis. The incident had just finished when Mrs. Lewis came striding back across the room to talk to a paunchy middle-aged guy who was asking for a refund, since he had only stayed for a couple of minutes and didn’t think he should have to pay full price for only a few minutes’ worth of admission. He had time to buy a few things, judging from the heft of the bag he was carrying, but wanted his money back since he didn’t have time to check out any of the product demonstrations or hang around until the Intro to Burlesque seminar started at 1:30. (There was a ‘second-generation professional magician’ scheduled to perform as well.)

Lewis listened to the guy’s request politely but with the look of someone who is utterly repulsed by not only the tackiness of such a request but that a person would even think to ask such a lowly thing in the first place. True, it was odd and tacky, and the patron was promptly humbled and denied a refund. She then spotted me and rushed over to see what this interview was all about.

Lewis is slightly taller than average, 40s, with long blond hair. She has a small overbite and was clad in an all-black pants suit. The author’s spiel about getting a “comprehensive understanding of what she does and how she does it” didn’t do much to change the low esteem in which he was already held, and his attempted investigations may have furthered her annoyance that she had not only agreed to speak with someone but that that someone was poised to ask multiple pages’ worth of questions.  A tacit glance at the stack of papers held aloft made her eyes narrow; she suggested email instead. A hesitant email agreement was struck, and a further attempt to politely stress that the project was all about thoroughness resulted only in the comment that she would be answering the questions with one sentence replies only.

There was one last plea to be made: would it be possible to talk about just a few key things, since both author and interviewee are both present? Yes, she sighs, fine, and powerwalks over to a set of stairs in the foyer, where the following conversation occurred.  The exchange lasted exactly five minutes and ten seconds:

Did you make a conscious choice to work in the adult industry?

No, I just kind of fell into it because I met somebody and started selling advertising for a magazine. Then I started my own fetish magazine and distributing a line of products and started exhibiting at consumer shows and then I started my own consumer show.

Are the rules that govern this event markedly different than any other event?

The only difference is the by-laws, whatever the local by-laws are regarding nudity. Because I’m in a number of different cities, I have to make sure that were not breaking any of the local by-laws.

Are there any venues for advertising that balk at advertising Sexapalooza?

Oh sure, not in Canada but definitely in the States. The first year we were here, they wouldn’t do billboards. There were a few radio stations that turned me down, some of the entertainment weeklies put me in the back with the prostitutes and escorts and the strip clubs and whatnot. This is the third year now and we’re in the front [of the weeklies]. All of the radio stations want my ads and we’re on billboards and digital boards.

And this event is intended to be a little classier and female-oriented than your average adult trade show?

Definitely. It’s not a porn show. There are other consumer shows that are similar to this that bring all the porn stars in; we don’t. We are more the burlesque, pole dancing, belly dancing, product demonstrations, seminars. There’s more education here, I think.

Taking that into consideration, do you have to turn down certain advertisers that want to take part in Sexapalooza?

Not at all, but we don’t really go after the porn stars or porn producers, so that hasn’t really been a problem. They haven’t come to me, so no.

I understand that you are a devoted Rotarian. How does Sexapalooza and Rotarianism overlap?

I just try to run my business following the beliefs of being a Rotarian, which is being honest, trusting people, trying to be fair, and I try to make sure that when I do business with somebody it’s beneficial to both of us.

Is there any consternation on their part about what you do?

Nope. When I joined the club in Peterborough, everybody knew what I did for a living. There are two clubs in Peterborough – I did join the younger club because I thought they would be more accepting, and there was no problem.

Why a fetish magazine in particular? [She published the BDSM magazine ‘Whiplash’ from 1999-2003]

I enjoyed the people, I like the fashion, I like the parties. They were cerebral, they were artsy.

Is there still a misunderstanding about what this event is about, or are people starting to understand it a little bit better?

I think it takes a few years. This is our third year here in Columbus and definitely people know what to expect now. Other cities where I’ve been for six, seven, eight years, yeah, no problem. In Ottawa, for instance, that was my first show, everybody considers it a fun night out, they’re gonna go out and buy some toys and have a good time.

Is the publicity that these events receive fairly accurate in representing what it is supposed to be about?

No, I think the media is pretty fair with me.

Is there an “average” attendee?

No, not at all. It runs everywhere from whatever the age limit is to get in – back in Ontario it’s 19, in Quebec it’s 18, here it’s 21 – right up to people in their 70s. I started a Sexy Senior discount program a few years ago and we get a lot of seniors coming to the show now.

Is it distracting to work with subject matter like this?

All in all, it’s a business like any other. I get up, I go the office, I get on my computer. I think it’s more fun than selling, I don’t know, office supplies or something boring. It’s more fun because of the subject matter and the people I get to interact with.

Do you see yourself doing this for the foreseeable future?

Probably ‘til I retire, yeah.

****

The debate about whether or not to pay twenty dollars to walk around inside for a little while didn’t last very long. (And I certainly didn’t want to commit the same error the refund-attempting guy did.) Sexapalooza ultimately was not attended despite the promise of a bondage bed demo and a G-Spot and Female Ejaculation how-to video. The Vets Memorial employees who had helped track down Liz Lewis gave me a card that waived my parking fee, as they had looked on sympathetically as I was rebuffed and dismissed. It’s ok though; I’ve never organized a major expo of any kind and so the amount of running around required shouldn’t be underestimated. If nothing else, the brief insight I had into Sexapalooza demonstrated that despite the sexiness of an event, the logistical necessities that govern it are the same as those which goes into organizing the Dilbertian insurance company expo that takes place every year at a hotel conference center where I used to work.

For more information, please check out:

Sexapalooza – official website
Adventures in Sexuality – local BDSM group/underwriter of the Columbus expo

Also, please check out the event’s information packet for potential sponsors/partners. The financial values assigned to the various types of advertising at Sexapalooza are awesome (“Verbal Promotion from Our Main Stage – [worth] $1500,” etc.):

Sexapalooza 2014 Sponsorship Packet

And finally, Sexapalooza quantified, according to packet above:

 

15,000,000

people reached

250,000

square feet

120,000

VIP tickets

100,000

2 for 1 tickets

50,000

show guides

1,000′s

giveaways

725

exhibitors
265

seminars

150

performances

75

interviews

18

days

6

MC’s

5

cities

2

countries

1

amazing show

Things Left Behind

THINGS LEFT BEHIND BY THE GUY WHOSE LEASE I JUST TOOK OVER

In celebration of my new apartment (which I actually really like), here is a list of the things I found when I moved in not too long ago:

  • a black futon mattress, on the ground, folded into quarters
  • a porn DVD: “Video Magazine Nineteen, vol. 13: College Girls” (under the futon)
  • a miniature grill with two full cans of lighter fluid
  • a J°S. A. Banks tie still wrapped in tissue paper, with a $79.95 price tag
  • a drawer full of loose plastic utensils and a stack of paper plates
  • a double-boiler
  • corduroy pants and a blue button-up shirt
  • a pair of underwear and scattered socks
  • an almost untouched, still mostly shrink-wrapped, package of peanut candy (which is, ahem, pretty good)
  • a small box of rice
  • a Harry Potter beer stein, which is about a foot tall, has a heavy silver lid, and features the full-color insignias of all six houses; on the bottom is a price sticker reading $40
  • a suit hanging in the closet in one of those suit bags you take when you’re traveling
  • various plastic lids and tops to appliances
  • a huge pack of paper towels
  • a wobbly black desk with three white trash bags taped across the top like plastic sheeting, covered in crumbs and featuring one small chemical symbol drawn in pen
  • to top it all off, in the closet was a plastic double-edged skull axe (like the kind you get at the grocery store around Halloween)

(This was nothing compared to one roommate experience I had. I arrived in Valencia, Spain for the year without arranging anywhere to live or stay beforehand. Through a Craigslist-type message board, I found an apartment for rent and was able to see it that afternoon. I liked the apartment and was eager to stop paying to stay at a hostel, so I was able to work out a deal that I could move in ASAP with the understanding that the remaining two rooms were to be filled as quickly as possible, either with people I’d found myself or people that answered a For Rent ad the realtor posted online.

A day or two later we got a call from the realtor saying that she had found someone for us. We could come and meet him as soon as we wanted, because he was in the realtor’s office around the corner at that moment, waiting to move into the apartment. We walked over to meet him. We were introduced to his aunt and then to him, with a subtle look then exchanged between my roommate and I because the prospective roommate that the realtor was trying really hard to pretend was a great choice was sitting in the corner of the room, breathing heavily, sweating heavily, and looking at us in a way that can only be described as distraught leering. He was a big, solid guy and his hair was soaked through and sticking up crazily. His aunt had actually found the apartment for him and co-signed his lease, as she was looking after him while he was in town.

He seemed nervous and exhausted and his aunt explained that had been on a bus all day, traveling from the northwestern-most corner of Spain all the way across the country to Valencia. We talked with him and tried to give him the benefit of the doubt, as maybe his deranged appearance would lessen in severity after a shower and a good night’s sleep. He told us that he liked to cook, and we decided that a good way to get to know each other was to make a meal the next evening, after he finished moving in. My roommate and I shrugged as we walked back, trying to empathize with his journey and the stress of meeting new people.

Long story short, the meal was surprisingly good and the awkwardness was more or less only the natural amount that occurs when you have to spend time with someone new. A few days go by and it’s fine, though I do start to wonder what I’m going to do when my girlfriend comes to stay for four months, because I definitely wouldn’t feel safe leaving her alone with the new guy when I was at work; he hadn’t yet stopped breathing heavily and interjecting strange exhortations into our conversations and so I wasn’t sure if he was as socially adept as one might hope, a notion I was being mentally polite in pretending was my only worry about him.

One night I go out with a bunch of people and end up staying on someone’s couch across town. My original roommate was going to have some people over, and I was told that there would probably be people crashing on our couch. Cool, the bohemian lifestyle. Fine by me. But I get a phone call at about ten thirty the next morning from roommate A. He isn’t home, he says, because he almost got in a fight with the new guy. Why? Because earlier that morning, a girl that was staying on our couch woke up to find the new guy giggling and taking photos of her sleeping with his cellphone.

She got up and shut herself in the bathroom. She called my roommate, who came out into the living room and asked what was going on. The new guy immediately got super-defensive and says that it’s his house and he can do whatever he wants. The conversation got heated and so roommate A and all his friends leave the apartment. A little while later the new guy’s aunt calls roommate A and asks him why he threatened to punch her nephew. Roommate A is gobsmacked and really wants to ask her how she could possibly think he would be the one to be afraid of in this situation. (And he might have actually said this to her.)

Shit. I go home and try to talk to the guy. He is wildly pacing around the apartment and continues to chain smoke. He snaps at me when I suggest he stop smoking because it’s against the lease to smoke inside. Finally we talk for a little while and he seems to acknowledge that he did something really sketchy, but it’s one of those situations where the shame of it makes him not contrite but want to lash out in the embarrassment he can’t handle. (Roommate A says that the aunt told him that he made the new guy cry when he threatened him.) He calms down a little but then flares up again when roommate A’s name comes up and pushes his way out of the apartment after calling me a ‘fucking American scum’(!)

What are we going to do, roommate A and I ask each other later. We met at a bar to discuss the situation. ‘We can’t go back there when he’s there. I won’t go back there when he’s there,’ he said. Agreed, I agreed. I had a backpack with all of my valuables in it and we both had floors to sleep on that night. We would do it tomorrow. But do we confront him alone? What if he won’t leave? What if he gets violent?

But not too long after we got to the bar, I get a call from the guy’s aunt asking me to meet her. I go to the apartment to talk with her, hoping that this will somehow be resolved but not looking forward to how. We agree we’ll let each other tell our respective sides of the story, and I’m trying all the while to come up with the most tactful way to explain that her nephew is and was being super creepy to people while they are sleeping. She was actually a really nice, genuinely understanding person, and fortunately for us it turned out that the guy was already on an overnight bus back to where he came from, and she just wanted to clear everything up and suss out what might have really happened.

We went home that night and looked into his room. We stood in the doorway for a second feeling a bit of trepidation about actually walking in, like the guy was in there waiting for us or that his essence was adrift waiting to be breathed in. We walked in and looked around the room aimlessly, trying process the totally weird couple of days we’d just experience. It kind of did. Then for some reason we started opening the drawers to see if he’d left anything behind. Right after nervously laughing about the initial discomfort we felt about having him in the house, we discovered that he had stashed a long kitchen knife in the drawer of the table right next to his bed.

****

Despite this debacle, the landlord still thought she had the ability to select sane roommates and her search continued. (She also insinuated as long as we lived there that we were somehow at fault for running the guy out.) Unfortunately anyone we might know who needed a house had found one at this point, and so the next two people that lived in the house were people found somehow by the realtor.

Roommate A and I had a few days to ourselves before we were introduced to the next guy one afternoon by way of meeting him as he was unpacking in our spare room. He was decent enough. He was kind of happy go lucky, a moderate soccer fan, and was studying economics. He was from Portugal. He liked to sing loudly and would belt out tone deaf renditions of 90s US pop songs, but only the choruses or a line or two from a verse repeated over and over. This happened a lot but wasn’t that big of a deal and kind of endearing, in fact. The weirdest thing that happened with him was a result of my girlfriend and I agreeing to go out with him and his friend. We went to the bar down the street. We hung out and talked on the sidewalk about nothing in particular. (This bar always had this incredible deal on these tiny bottles of beer and so every table around us was piled with literally dozens of beer bottles.) Anyway, the friend was nice enough but we were kind of distracted by the act of talking to him, since his face was engineered in such a way that his mouth was always open really, really wide and would blast out seemingly pressurized puffs of air into your face every time he used certain syllables. An hour or so later we end up in a bar that was blasting the ‘Friends’ theme song when we walked in, a cut much enjoyed by the patrons, almost all of who were all jumping up and down and clapping with the claps in the song. He had been really flirty with my girlfriend all night to the point where I was wondering if I should say something to him about it. (And I’m not a needlessly upset guy). But just like that his attention shifted to me, and he started dancing high up on my thigh, with his eyes closed and head shaking in time with the music. Then he licked my neck and kissed me a couple of times before acting like nothing had happened. Thus the flirtation balance was restored and we continued on into the night.

****

Roommate A moved out a little while later (supposedly because he wanted to be closer to the center of town) and was replaced with a fresh-faced eighteen year-old kid from Morocco who had never lived outside his parents’ house, let alone his entire country. (Or continent, for that matter.) I learned that he could usually be found in his room laughing at top volume with his friends on Skype or watching soccer games. Sometimes he would leave to go to the Halal market around the corner, but that was about the only place he went aside from going school, which was down the street from our apartment, on the same block. His most perplexing behavior was his bathroom behavior. He would shut himself in there for at least a half an hour a time, and when he finally left literally every surface of the bathroom was as soaking wet as if he’d sprayed the entire room with the shower. The toilet seat had drops of water all over it, the towels were damp, the walls were dripping. This never changed and I never learned what he did; I would only hope that I got to the bathroom before him.

One day I walked in the kitchen as he was microwaving the collapsed remains of a rotisserie chicken, but not on a plate. It was just sitting on the rotating microwave tray. His dad came to visit for a week. His dad was always neatly dressed in a suit and tie. We didn’t speak any mutual languages so he just smiled at me or shook my hand profusely every time we passed. One evening I met them in the kitchen. They were preparing dinner by microwaving a box full of popcorn shrimp, again without a plate, just sitting on the rotating tray. The shrimp had a breading that in the oven would have been crispy and nice but in the microwave completely melted and turned into a gross glop that covered even a wider section of the microwave plate. I finally asked him why he did this. Not out of anger or disgust, just genuine curiosity about what was going on. He said that he didn’t use a plate because he didn’t know you could microwave them. But what about the soup you regularly microwave in a bowl? I asked. It’s the exact same principle. I saw him consider this and agree, and we continued to live together contentedly enough.

****

The last problem I experienced in this apartment happened in August, when I was moving out as almost the entire city of Valencia goes on vacation. I left a pair of shoes and sandals and a sweatshirt and some magazines there to get later but when I came back to get them, I found that the other two guys had already gone home, the realtor’s office was closed until September, and the guy who actually owned the place was far away on vacation as well. The apartment consumed a handful of my belongings.)

the International Cryptid Convention 2014

the International Cryptid Convention 2014

I am thrilled to announce that I am doing the poster art for next year’s International Cryptid Convention! Past luminaries and guest speakers have included everyone from a neanderthal to a gang of Chupacabras. This year promises to be equally as exciting, with confirmed appearances from Dingonek, the Pope Lick Monster, and a Grey Alien! More TBA!

Other activities will include white noise demonstrations and even a deep-sea phone call from the Bloop Monster!

Stay tuned! It will certainly be an amazing time!

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