Saturday, October 25, 2014

The End of the World

(NOTE: as this is a real, non-fictional story, it follows the common practice of keeping the identities of those involved in it hidden to ensure privacy. As such any person mentioned by name in this is not mentioned by their real name.)

So I get up this morning. Like I do every morning, more or less (sometimes it's in the afternoon). The big difference this morning is that it's at half-past 8, as opposed to, say, half-past 6 or 7 when I have 'varsity classes, or 11 or 12pm if I don't.

Because today is the Saturday of Labour Weekend, and I'm going to Armageddon.

So I get up. I put on the attire I'll be wearing to it. There's some dark jeans, a black shirt and a darkish suit-jacket. I like it. It's spiffy. It's dark, just like I am on the inside. Incidentally the shirt is the same one I wore to my year 13 prom, the only prom I will probably ever go to in my lifetime. But I digress. I go out and have breakfast, and get ready to leave. I make sure to bring a bag along, since I know from experience I'll inevitably end up with a whole bunch of stuff to carry around.

It's had a couple of bright points (like discovering two new songs I really, really, REALLY like), but overall the preceeding week has been somewhat grim. There's two big high-stress assignments left for university, but most importantly of all I keep feeling like I've done something wrong. A far few of my friends seem really upset, but I can't seem to do anything to cheer them up. I feel like a failure. I'm useless, for what good is someone when they can't even make the people they care about happy? I worry I'm drifting away from all my friends. On top of all that it looks like the Halloween thing for the librarything is cancelled. Again. So I could definitely use a fun day out.

It's just around 10, opening time, when I enter Greenlane, nearing the ASB Showgrounds on the tail end of a stream of other convention-goers in a whole bunch of different costumes, most of which I don't recognise. As I approach the place, I come across a man. He's dressed as the Hatter as depicted in the Time Burton Alice in Wonderland film. I'm dressed as The Hatter as depicted in my interpretation of the woodcut illustrations in the book Alice's Adventures In Wonderland.

"Nice hat sir!" He says, displaying a gesture of courtesy as I pass him.

"And you!" I reply, taking my hat off to him.

I continue on my way imagining his screaming agonised death. I am sure he's dreaming of slaughtering everyone I care about and burning down my home before my eyes. Hatters are territorial like that.

(Aside: actually this guy seemed pretty cool, and impressed me greatly with his good gentlemanly conduct. I held and hold nothing against him whatsoever, and I consider him to be exempt from my elimination of rival Hatters. He seemed like a really good person. My point still stands about Hatters being territorial though - that's one of the reasons why you never see crossovers between the different Alice in Wonderland renditions*)

I finally get there and the entry que is proceeding along at a steady pace. It moves quite fast, and I'm pleased not to have to wait in a line (yet). Unlike the last couple of years, where I've gone in through an entry into the convention building proper, this time I'm directed through an orning and then into the outside area, where the food stalls and ASB's mobile ATM machines are set up, alongside the main building.

When I enter it's just as I remember. Massive crowds everywhere, streams of foot-traffic just like the streams of air-traffic between giant city buildings in a Space Opera. In some places you can barely move as you shuffle along inch by inch. There's a throbbing in the air. There's countless little stands for hobby stores like a pop-culture merchandise bazaar. I trace a circuit along the perimeter of the main area, around the gaming section. I notice the Vagabond stall, but pass it over - I can always get things from their store in town. I come across a poster place, and scour their product gallery for a specific set of images. Before long I find what I'm looking for - the mysterious gothic artwork that always seems to turn up in these sorts of places. Some of it's by Victoria Frances, but others, while I recognise them, are by some other artist unknown to me. I take a note of them - one of my friends quite likes them, and she might not be able to make it to Armageddon this year, and if that's the case I want to get her something so that she at least has something from it, and a Victoria Frances poster would be just the thing, especially at their very reasonable price. I also spy another poster, containing a humorous list of rules for dating vampires. I make a note of that one too, it could make a good gift for another friend I have that's a very big vampire fan.

I do a second quick orbit around the gaming area, probing it's outer fringes. I notice a section for the xbone, and a demonstration in progress consisting of someone dancing along a floor, with a digital avatar mimicking their movements on a screen, super-imposed onto footage of a football game. During my travels I come across a young lady in an amazing costume of the American Mcgee Alice. She is very cute. I would rather like to get to know her better, especially given her apparent fondness for what is easily the most awesome, badass version of Alice in mainstream media. I decide against direct interaction though - I'm far too afraid she'll take after her persona and mercilessly tear me apart where I stand.

I press on to the second section. It's largely more of the same, immense foot-traffic and long streams of stalls for various hobby merchandise. I stumble upon the celebrity area. This is normally the centrepiece for me, as the celebrity guests are the main thing I go to Armageddon for. I've met a fair few very famous people there - Michael Bein, Mark Sheppard, Ben Bowder and even the legendary Summer Glau herself. This year has an impressive lineup including The Doctor's latest comapnion. But none of the personalities are quite critically important enough to me personally to warrent an autograph. As I'm heading back to the main area, I happen upon the Arkham Comics stand. A good friend of mine, Lucy, works there, and I wonder if she's at the stand here. Sure enough she is, and I wave out at her. She instantly recognises me, exclaims "It's you!", then rushes over and hugs me. I feel warm and welcomed, and like I'm actually wanted here. It's like a blanket and hot cocoa on a long, cold night, a candle in a very dark room or the first few rays of morning. She is truly one of the best kinds of friends to have. She tells me that a renowned comic book artist, one who had a key role in the creation of my favourite comic series Transmetropolitain, She will get my copy of it's first volume signed by him and then return it to me. There's a short exchange, and then she returns to work and I continue on my way. It's getting close to 12, so I decide to look into getting some lunch.

I exit the main building back into the sun. The fresh air is cool and is utter bliss after the suffocating heat of the building's interior - it's surprising just how quickly a few thousand people in a confined space can raise the ambient temperature to enormous levels. Before setting out for food, I make my way along the steps of the ASB building, a popular place to sit down and convene. I quite often run into friends here, so I want to give it a good sweep just in case any are there. It turns out there aren't, so I proceed through the outdoor area browsing the different food vendors. A few are intriguing, but in the end I settle for the basics: chips. I have $4 in cash budgeted for food and drink. It should cover me, I reason that a serve of chips and a can or small bottle of cola can't be more than $2 each. I look at the menu. $4 for chips and $4 for drink. Damn, twice as expensive as I was anticipating. Still, I press on. I need the sustenance, and I have my credit card to fall back on - an extra $4 won't break the bank.

It is a special kind of torment to wait in a sizeable, slow-moving que for food in the middle of the blazing springtime heat, while wearing all black, including a heavy suit-jacket, and a top hat. The sun burns on and on and on, and I quickly begin to feel as though I'm boiling alive. I'm a couple of steps out of alignment with the rest of the que, and I fear I might be accused of cutting in, but thankfully no-one presses such a claim. It is at this time, now that I am finally standing still for a notable amount of time, that I begin to feel the stress and weariness of my feet, my soles radiating intense aching pain. At long last I arrive at the merciful shade of the vendor's orning, and then at the vendor itself. I order my chips, and wait a short while before hurrying away into some more shade to feast upon them. I fear they may have been unsalted, but they turn out to be salty enough. I dispose of the empty cup and go forth in search of something to wash them down with,

There are numerous vendors selling drinks outside, but after my experience waiting in line for food I limit my choices to those inside the building rather than face another stretch under the relentless sun. After a quick search it appears my choices in beverage are limited - regular or diet coke, sprite, a couple of sorts of juices or water. I elect to go with a regular coke. The line in the cafe area is even longer than the one at the food vendor, but is at least out of the sun. To make matters worse I end up behind what appears to be a couple. As a sad lonely person, the only thing worse than waiting in a long line with sore feet is waiting in a long line with sore feet and a happy couple in front of you. I attempt to strike up a conversation with them, since the line isn't moving any quicker otherwise, but quickly abandon the project. After further contact it strikes me they could just be very good friends instead, which is considerably more bearable.

I get my drink, and begin consuming it. It's nothing special, just a good old humble cola. As I am now armed with a means of keeping cool even in total sunlight, I decide now is the time to strike and venture back out into the outdoors area. On my initial inspection of the various sellers of food and drink I stumbled upon a truly marvellous discovery, an authentic Danish ice-cream seller. I have no idea how authentic it really was, but the ice-cream treats people were carrying away from it looked delicious, so I had to try one for myself. The wait in line is again arduous, but drinking my cola helps pass the time. I reach the line's end, and the kindly lady selling these wondrous looking ice-creams asks what flavour I want. The options are Dutch chocolate, Danish strawberry or vanilla. I ask for two scoops, one Dutch chocolate and one vanilla. I saw the cream and chocolate sauce toppings on the ones being carried away, so I like the idea of dark and white. Perhaps such a preference is also in part a result of my tortured inner nature bleeding into my choices. Then again, perhaps not. The kindly lady appears to mishear and ends up giving me just one scoop of Dutch chocolate, but I don't mind. Dutch chocolate sounds delicious enough on it's own. She asks for payment and I prepare my credit card, but she informs me they only take cash. It's a setback, but I can manage. I have a spare $20 note I had reserved as a merchandise budget, and use that to pay for my cool sugary prize. I reason I can compensate by using the credit card for merchandise purchasing. I walk away with what is easily the most delicious looking ice-cream I have thus far seen in memory, more an ice-cream sundae in a waffle cone than what one would normally imagine an ice-cream to be like. I begin eating it, and it is every bit as fantastic as it looks. It is like Delain and Within Temptation performing on my tastebuds. It tastes amazing, and leaves me longing for more. It is pure sweet ice-creamy paradise.

As I return from devouring the ice-cream, I finally begin running into people I know. First I come across a girl from university. She's extremely friendly to me, which I find pleasantly surprising since most of the people there usually seem to barely tolerate me at the best of times. We have a brief exchange, before she departs to seek food with what I presume is her boyfriend. The next person I run into is another good friend, Anabelle. Again, the dialogue is brief, since we're going different ways and I notice she's with her friend. I don't want to bother them too much. I proceed to a Real Brownie stall. I noticed a number of them on my initial survey of the showgrounds, and am intrigued enough to try one. It is fantastic, rivalling the Danish ice-cream in it's splendour. After this I encounter the brother of Eva, my closest friend. I initially have a lot of difficulty recognising him in his costume, but after that share a few words. He seems confused by my exclamation that I am full of sugar, a most astute statement at this point, and we part ways.

The girl from University informed me of a most troubling development. As it transpired, the eftpos system on the showgrounds had ceased to function, rendering any credit or debit cards useless. This is a textbook scenario of why I like to use cash and analogue methods whenever possible, but this time the news was most unwelcome, as I had been banking on being able to use my credit card when purchasing things, and my current level of on-hand cash funds was woefully insufficient for the task. She had mentioned there being one ATM machine in the entire site, and so I set out to find it, as I would need some extra physical currency if I was to get everything I wanted. After some searching, I eventually found that it had been starring me in the face the whole time. On my way out for food I had noticed an enormous que leading seemingly to nowhere, and it turned out this was the cue for the ATM. By now my soles were burning, and the wait was excruciating. Eventually someone passing by the line geve news of two other ATM machines somewhere outside, that hardly anyone was using. I promptly left the vast line in search of these mythical ATMs. It occurred to me that the situation was somewhat reminiscent of a post-apocalyptic zombie story; "Hey, guys! I heard rumour of a cache of supplies and survivor enclave somewhere yonder! Shelter and supplies for everyone!".

The hunt initially proves futile, these mysterious ATM machines appear nowhere to be found. As they were said to be outside, I journey along the outside of the showgrounds, my search eventually taking me through the exit. I am sure to get my hand stamped so that I am not impeded on my re-entry. As I wander around the outside of the convention, I feel like I'm in space carefully walking along the outer surface of an orbiting station. This outer paramble allowed me to access the fourth area of the convention, which thus far has been barred from me by way of me being on the wrong side of a metal fence barricade. It turns out to be largely devoted to gaming and gaming related functions, with some Fantasy-related stalls as well. On my way out I notice a stall for a game called Ascent. I find this hilarious, because I remember a popular game series called Descent. I take a closer look, and it turns out to be about constructing a space station to save the population of the Earth, with the challenge of managing money for building the station, providing enough power for it's systems, adding enough room to hold a sizable portion of the human population and making sure there's enough food stockpiled that they can survive for a good long while (exactly why they couldn't just build hydroponic garden chambers and grow a near-unlimited supply of food I do not know). I liked it, it seemed like an excellent way to kill a few minutes waiting for something, or procrastinating during an assignment, and so I covertly stole away a card with information on it and made a note to look into it further.

All this time I have been somewhat fearful that I might run into people that I'm not on very good terms with, and that such an incident might have dire repercussions. As a countermeasure I have been playing A Day For Ghosts by Delain in my head for most of my time here, and it proved a successful deterrent, as not once did I come across any such people. Symphonic metal songs frequently blast through my head, providing a worthy soundtrack for any of my adventures.

I'm nearly ready to give up, finding these fabled ATM machines seems impossible. A cute girl catches my eye as I move along the indoor hallway outside the main area, and I flash her a smile. She smiles back. I make my way back to her and ask her if she's seen a pair of ATM machines somewhere outside. She points them out to me, and once again it turns out they've been hidden from me in plain sight all along - I had seen the trailer they were contained in when I first arrived, but at that time it was still closed up in it's transport position, so I had not seen the ATMs held inside. Alas, by this time others had caught word of them, and so there was a sizeable que in front of these ones too, but it was still a fraction of the size of the endless line of people at the inside one. Waiting in line outside for the third time allowed me to identify that the middle part of the que was the worst. Both ends of the ques at the outside vendors close to the ASB building were in shade, but the middle was fully exposed to the fury of the sun. Eventually I reached an ATM and withdrew $20. The pain from my feet was almost unbearable, so I went back to where the helpful cute girl was, looking to sit down next to her and maybe strike up a conversation. Perhaps I would make a new friend. When I got there though she was busy on her phone. I gave my feet a brief respite of a minute or so before getting up and moving on. I suppose it was for the best, she had probably had enough of being bothered by some strange man wearing a top hat.

Now I had the means to get what I wanted to get. My first stop was back at the poster place, where I picked out a Victoria Frances poster and bought it for my friend - even if she did go to Armageddon later on it would still make a fine Christmas gift. I was going to get the vampire dating one for the other friend too, but decided against it, reasoning that it was likely she already had one. My next goal was to find something to get a third friend of mine that was again unable to make it to the convention. My initial plan was to get her a plush sea creature, as I knew she liked the ocean, but when I went to get one the only ones still available were out of my price range. I desperately scoured the entire convention for something to get her, something special, something that could only come from there, but everywhere I looked all the items on offer were too expensive. At last I happened upon a small boutique stand selling small pieces of jewellery. One was something called a cameo, and was emblazoned with a character from a cartoon series I know she liked. It's price was $20, exactly how much I still had budgeted for gifts. I knew it had to be that, and bought it after a brief consideration. Purchasing it also put me into a raffle prize draw, and I laughed hysterically when I received my ticket. The ticket number? 042. How delightfully improbable.

With my friends seen to, now was the time to treat myself. Unfortunately I was once again critically short on funds, and so I had to endure another trek to an ATM. The line for the indoors one was much shorter now, so I decided to take my chances with that one again. While waiting in line a mother introduced her child to the idea of the Hatter and Alice in Wonderland after said child noticed me. When I reached the ATM however, I found it had all been in vain, for this one had a minimum withdrawal amount of $100, far in excess of what I wanted to take out. So I left the ATM behind and went back to the outdoor ones. They were miraculously deserted, and so I quickly took out another $20 with which to indulge myself.

My first target was the United Sweets stand, and the wealth of exotic Armuracean sugar products. I struggled up to the display and hunted down a packet of Pop-Tarts. I had wanted to try some ever since buying a couple of packets for a friend's birthday gift. I had originally planned to only get this for myself, but as I was completing one last, final sweep of the main area to make sure I hadn't missed anything, I happened upon a hobby vendor selling something entirely captivating - dice. There were two bowls of assorted dice, but what caught my attention was the small boxes of D6s next to them. It struck me that one of these D6 sets would make a fine memento from this Armageddon; they were special enough in that they came from a supplier that would otherwise be unavailable to me directly, and at the same time had a real practical use for me as a tabletop wargamer, after all a tabletop wargamer can never have too many D6s. After some short pondering I decided to get a set, but there was a problem. The D6 sets came in three different colours: black, red and white, and I couldn't decide between them. My first thought had been red, since they would complement the green D6s that I already owned and a number of rulesets I had had mentioned using red dice for certain in-game effects and actions, But then as I thought more about it the black ones looked like they would go equally well with the green ones, and fit with the handful of black D6s that I also owned. Even the white ones began to appeal to me. Eventually I settled on the only proper solution to such a conundrum: determine the right choice with a dice roll! I sifted through one of the bowls of dice to find a D6 that wasn't red, black or white - I wanted to make sure it would be totally impartial - found one, and rolled it, deciding that a 1 or 2 would mean a white set, a 3 or 4 a red set, and a 5 or 6 a black set. It landed on a 3, a red set it was. I then went and gave the last remaining gold coin I had on me to the anti-cancer charity that the 501st Stormtrooper legion was running. I wanted to give it to R2-D2 or Vader or even the Rebel pilot, but by the time I went to do it there was only one Stormtrooper left still fully in costume and actually holding a charity bucket, so I donated it to them instead.

 After that I had a short wander, where I discovered that there was in fact an area for the Auckland Library. There were a few books around, but at this point my main focus was on the comfy seats there, as my feet were now excruciating. I had a quick rest before continuing on my way. I also ran into another friend, Katherine. We briefly swapped stories of loot, foot pains and inflated prices before parting company.

I then had one very genuinely last look around, before performing my final activity for the day, indulging my inner child and having a round at the Nerf shooting gallery. I mused while waiting in line about how colour-marketing for girls seemed to have moved away from pink to purple. I suppose it's marginally less stigmatised, but still contrasts sharply with the oranges used in the other Nerf products, and still looks feminine, and how it's a sign of rampant commercialism and hegemonic domination forcing children to conform to stereotypes. University messes you up like that. When I was let into the shooting area, the lovely young lady picked up on my adopted persona of The Hatter, and we had a quick conversation about souvenirs that could be gotten at Armageddon. I had never handled a modern Nerf gun before, so this was exciting new territory for me. I was initially drawn to the new assault rifle model they had put out, but decided to have a go at the bow too. My archery proved as terrible as it was in Year 7, utterly failing to hit anything - I am indeed glad that none of my Elven warriors were around to witness my abysmal performance, otherwise I would have never heard the end of it. I proved more successful with the assault rifle however, I ended up proving to be a poor shooter, missing any of the targets set out (not that I was really putting much effort into aiming anyway, my plan from the start was to revel in the Nerf gun's automatic fire capability and wildly spray nerf darts about while bellowing out "DAKKA DAKKA DAKKA DAKKA" at the top of my lungs), but turned out to be a capable artilleryman, squarely hitting a Nerf logo with the grenade launcher function. After emptying the magazine, I handed the Nerf gun back, left the shooting gallery, and made my way out of Armageddon.

The walk home was made gruelling by the immense pain of my feet, but aside from that was pleasant enough. Shortly after beginning it the thought crossed my mind that the young lady at the Nerf shooting gallery might have been attempting to court me. I quickly dismissed the notion as utterly insane, as such an occurrence has been long since ruled as fundamentally impossible. Much more likely she simply made friendly conversation with all the people waiting to shoot foam darts. The path home was as adventurous as I remembered it, taking me from bustling upper Royal Oak to familiar Onehunga to the windswept Old Bridge. On the way I ran into Rebecca, the last friend I would encounter in my outing. She was having a meal with a couple of family members, so I left her be after a quick greeting in passing. It was the first time in quite a while that I have communicated with her. I miss seeing and hearing from her. She's one of the few friends I can talk to about a lot of things, and was part of my new dream of one day having a circle of friends to call my own. I sometimes worry that she might be upset about something, but if so I can't seem to do anything about it. I wish I see or hear from her again soon.

By the time I got home, my soles were pure agony. Even hours later it still hurt to walk. I took off my hat and coat, put on one of the two new songs I had come to adore - The Call of the Mountains by Eluveitie - and gave my feet a well-deserved rest. It will take some time for them to recover, but all in all I'd say it was well worthwhile.


*The other reason of course being that if the American Mcgee Alice rendition was to ever be included then it would proceed to brutally massacre all the others without any remorse. Seriously, the American Mcgee Alice is hardcore.

Ace Of Clubs

Hi Welcome to the blog of the Mangere Bridge Teen Book Club. We call ourselves Ace of Clubs. We meet once a month, normally on the third Thursday 4.30pm @ Mangere Bridge Library. We talk about books, hang out and have random fun. This blog will tell you what we have been up to, what is coming up and of course lots of stuff about books. All teens are welcome so if you are around come along and join us.