As long-time readers may know, being in public isn’t one of my favorite activities. Society just isn’t in my nature. Longer-time readers may remember that I used to go grocery shopping at 3am just so I could pretend I was the last survivor of some apocalypse, and that going to Costco used to be somewhat like willing myself to walk into a zombie horde. Another part of my nature is pushing against my nature, and I’ve been doing loads better and haven’t had anything severe happen in years and thought: why not press this society thing as far as it will go?
After all, in high school, I once enrolled in a male beauty pageant and won Best Talent by doing a strip-tease while solving a velocity problem. Didn’t that mean I could do anything, probably, if I just tried? Well, now I look like Al Borland had a kid with Shrek, so instead of stripping while doing math I went to Portland for the NoSleep Live Tour and volunteered to sell merchandise.
There were several preparations to make for this glorious event.
The first thing I did was to remove my cursed book from its circle of salt in my backyard shed that is painted to look like a Tardis, and moved it into a new curse-proof container. Since I’m not really religious but have seen the show Supernatural, this container was a Ziploc bag full of salt covered with the name of some of my favorite famous people. At approximately the same time I did this, it began to snow in Portland. Yeah, how’s that for spooky action-at-a-distance?
So, I gathered up my cursed book and everything else I would need for the six and a half hour drive to Portland, locked my door, and realized that somehow everything that I needed had not included my keys. I tried the back door just in case, but nope, I was locked out of my own house. I put the cursed book down as far away from me as I could and knocked on the door.
I woke up Amanda, who berated me for being a silly goose and several unrelated things, got my keys, and went to Starbucks for breakfast. At this point my brother called me and told me he had also forgotten his keys, but that he had forgotten them inside his locked car. Also, could I drive down to his college and help him get it opened? So, I did that for an hour.
On my drive to the college, I wondered very hard if I had put enough salt in the bag surrounding my cursed book. Then I reminded myself the curse thing was mostly a joke, and y’know science. Anyway, then I drove six and a half hours to Portland because of science or whatever.
Upon arriving, I discovered there is not a single place to park in Portland. At least, there aren’t any places to park that don’t have a bunch of weird cryptic logic-puzzle signs where you have to think for several hours about what they mean. “Park Thee in this Space for 15 Minutes Plus the Sum in Minutes of Chores Remembered if Thou Art a Diligent Man” and “The Diligent Man Having So Parked Here May Add the Sum of 7 to his Time Limit but must subtract thrice that number for every Cat which hath Cussed at Thee” and “If Thou Hast Killed the Moon, Park as Thou Wilt.” So I drove around for thirty minutes and cried while trying to find a place to park.
Jessica McEvoy saved me from this with a Facebook message, and I wound up behind the Aladdin theater two hours before the official start of the show. Standing there in the snow, waiting next to a big scary black van to meet a stranger from the internet, I reflected on my life choices and the probable disappointment of my grade school teachers. Which is when Jessica McEvoy appeared and put a knife to my throat.
“Whoa! This was as unexpected as it is a completely accurate account of events!” I gasped, as the cold steel of her blade pressed against my jugular vein.
“Was it worth it?” Jessica McEvoy hissed, her breath stinking of cheap rot-gut whiskey, the kind of liquor brewed from rotten cabbage in the sewers of prisons for the criminally insane.
I dared not breathe, knowing even the slightest movement of air out of my lungs might give that blade cause to cut open my throat.
“A dog! Is that what you think of me? Huh, Mr. Big Buffalo-Looking Writer Man? BARK! BARK! BARK! BOW WOW! How about you write your way out of this one? Huh, you dead-eyed Russian sea captain? Where are your words and your stupid jokes now?”
Somehow, I spoke and inhaled at the same time, “I’m sorry!”
The knife did not move.
I cried then, because at least now I wouldn’t have to hide anymore. No longer would I have to bear the dread of capture, because I’d already been caught. I felt relief that the punishment which I had so long awaited was finally at hand. I silently wished she would just kill me and end my torment.
“Is that all you have to say?” Jessica McEvoy hissed, her prison whiskey breath hitting my nostrils and making me gag.
“I puh-promise I’ll never again insert your name or luh-likeness into some stupid fictional suh-situation, where you do suh-socially untoward th-things out of cuh-character.”
“Yeah, I bet you won’t!” Jessica McEvoy said, lowering the knife from my throat but not before spitting in my face and throwing me to the ground.
“Duh-do you still wuh-want me to sell muh-merchandise?” I stuttered from the gutter, covered in snow and -I was surprised to find- my own urine.
“Of course we do. You agreed to it, and you are bound to my will. Now get your disproportionately large head and Disney baby body up from that gutter and give me that cursed book.”
Still crying, like an emotionally weak and half-formed adult human being who has never confronted all of his unresolved issues with his parents or realized his own complicity in the problems of his life, I retrieved my cursed book with shaking hands and held it aloft for the great demon’s inspection.
Jessica McEvoy reached down with two clawed hands and shoved the book into her fanged mouth, blue fire flashing in her throat as she swallowed it whole.
“Ah, the taste of evil!” Jessica McEvoy roared, “It sates me for now, manling, but now rise and attend my power! In the name of the Moon and the Stars in the Sky, and John Michael Montgomery’s other Greatest Hits, swear to me that you will never again message me on Facebook for permission to use my name in a stupid story that is not funny to anyone but thee!”
“I swear!” I blubbered, knowing I did not have the internal fortitude to keep any promise, even to myself, because of an inherent lack of discipline and an overpowering sense of whimsy that has been my downfall since childhood.
“Rise then, for you are sworn body and soul to my glory!” Jessica McEvoy roared, and a great cold circle of air swirled all around us as I felt her dark, eldritch power settle into my skin.
Then we went inside, Jessica was kind enough to take my coat to the green room, and I got to watch the whole NoSleep crew go through sound checks. I realized how very hard these people work to make sure everyone has a good time. There’s so much work you don’t see for a few hours of entertainment.
I shook the hand of David Cummings and swore I would never wash that hand again, which was an easy promise to keep because I have not washed David Cummings’ hand even once, and could not imagine what odd set of circumstances would have to arise for me to ever be asked or required to do such a thing. Also, it seems like it is kinder not to wash someone else’s hands and to instead believe they can wash their own hands and claim that power over their own life.
As the memories of Jessica McEvoy‘s evil powers faded from my mind, I was charmed by the voice of Erika Sanderson who I originally thought must have been like five people standing next to one another because that’s how different all of her voices sounded. I decided internally that she had actually been assembled from many different people and had all of their memories, and was actually their emergent shared consciousness in the same way that we are the emergent consciousness of trillions of neural connections, but did not say this to her as that would be a really weird and off-putting thing to say to someone you’ve just met.
I shook the hand of David Ault and saw in his eyes the insane and tormented merriment of another poor soul who has had to teach physics to undergraduates, and he was in all ways delightful. I also knew that anything he would ever be asked to say aloud would have a regal and authoritative aura, like from a wise and happy king, even if it was a transcript of Jerry Spring episode about killing someone for $11 in arcade tokens because they took off with your favorite pet goat.
Nichole Goodnight? The kindest eyes and biggest heart of any person I have ever met in Portland, and also her evil child voice is the most evil voice I could ever imagine hearing if I was alone in the dark. I mean, while I could tell Nichole Goodnight was a good person and that she was kind and compassionate, probably even by standards outside of Portland, I also knew that if I heard her evil child voice in the pitch black that exists in the depths of the Earth where the sun has not shone for billions of years that I would probably assume she was some kind of horrible supernatural atavistic being that had no concept of human morality.
In Brandon Boone I saw the shrewd eyes and cunning hands of a warrior poet musician captain doctor prince king (of a different place than where he’s a prince) reverend imam monk prehensile-tailed podiatrist salsa-instructor who knows the most powerful weapon/word/sound/appendage is music. Seriously, I liked him a lot and I could tell he had the same “Never Stop Growing, Never Be Satisfied” approach to art that I take. You should buy his music.
What did I have to say to such great and charming people? The same kind of things said in first grade that put me in Chapter One, the special education class, for two weeks when they thought I had autism, but then took me out of because even if I had a little bit of autism I’m still pretty good at math. I think I talked about Alex Jones and Joe Rogan and Inter-Dimensional Child Molesters, and made some really awkward off-color jokes because I was just sort of in a fugue at that point. But everyone was very kind and treated me like I had said normal things in a normal way like a normal person. Brandon Boone even gave me one of the best compliments of my life and said I looked like a “standard man.”
As the show approached, David Cummings literally gave me a big box full of hundreds of dollars and told me all the passwords to his personal finances, which I still remember, and showed me how to sell merchandise on a tablet. Then I sat down behind the merchandise table with a box full of hundreds of dollars and I was like: “Uh… are you sure about this?” and David Cummings looked at me in the most Canadian way like he didn’t even understand what I was talking aboot and was oot of my mind to even think he would have cause to distrust a stranger.
Then they all left me alone near an exit with a big box full of money and I kept worrying what might happen if I lost some of it, or if it was stolen, and then people would be like “Hey, what the f^ck!” but maybe it would be a quiet “Hey, what the f^ck!” where they didn’t even tell me some of it was missing, which would be the worst kind of “Hey, what the f^ck!” imaginable. So I decided I wouldn’t take a free merchandise thing or anything in case it threw off counts, and promised myself that I would lay down my life before any harm came to that box of money. It was easily the most harrowing Canadian financial experience of my entire life, out of both of them.
Before the doors opened, I made sure I knew where every size of t-shirt was located except for a large (which only appeared randomly during unknowable quantum fluctuations inside the merchandise tub) and then the first person who came in wanting a shirt asked for a large and also the tablet thing for processing transactions was not connected to the internet. Then, like a man who is almost thirty-three and has been to several years of therapy for exactly this kind of anxiety stuff and has a tattoo of a bear that fought in WWII on his arm to remind him that you just have to believe in yourself and you can do anything, I quickly went backstage and got David Cummings to fix the tablet thing and kept digging in the tub until I finally found where the large t-shirts were located.
How’s that for customer service?
Then at one point I accidentally opened the box of cash the wrong way and some of the money got in the wrong part, and I couldn’t remember what had been where and a bunch of people were still in line so I just made sure all the cash was still in the box and pretended this did not bother me.
At one point someone asked who I was and why I was there, and I admitted I had written a couple stories for the podcast. I hadn’t really wanted to “announce” myself or anything because they’re not really there for me and it felt like it would be kind of insufferable like when a kid dances in front of the television, but then someone asked what I had written. I said “The Pancake Family” and about four people gasped and looked at me differently.
It was odd, as that hasn’t happened since the very first time I became internet famous in college for telling funny stories about my family and would walk around the quad with people pointing at me or asking me to sign something. It felt like what I would imagine it feels like to go to one of the high school reunions I’ve been avoiding, and there’s this old little bit of yourself that you thought was long dead suddenly stirs awake and it still has all the memories of who you were back in that other time and place.
It made also me feel like I’d just had some very good ice cream, which is a good thing to eat every once in a while, but something I know which I must never, ever allow myself to have every day. I like myself better without the attention, and it’s important to like yourself. But after so long, I decide it was okay to have a spoonful of ice cream because that’s what it means to be in control, and this isn’t as overwhelming as it was to have stories about my entire life known to strangers focused solely on me, and smiled back.
I took a picture with a lovely family who apparently like to get together and listen to stories of people being crushed while still horribly, terribly alive. I signed an something for one of the younger members of the family and went back to being a diligent bearded man and selling things to people. They made my entire night and it was fantastic to meet them.
The show? Ya’ll need to see the show, and I say that as a writer who can unashamedly contract ya and all into one word that has the same number of characters as the words it’s ostensibly contracting. In fact, all ya’ll need to see this show, and I say THAT as an American whose parents met when his father married his mother’s cousin and as a man who knows three people with no teeth who claim to have been molested by ghosts.
I have a dirty secret to tell you: I don’t really listen to horror or the podcast very much. God, I’m sorry! I feel like shit about it! I do! But I am by nature morbid and pessimistic and it just doesn’t go well if I amplify those tendencies. One time I was staring off into space and frowning and Amanda asked what I was thinking about, so I told her and it made her cry, and then she made me promise not to imagine such terrible things anymore. Another time, at summer camp many years ago when I was but a child, I made one of my cabin-mates throw up when he asked me the most terrible thing I could imagine. That’s a wolf (or a pig) that shouldn’t be fed.
But these stories were great and I think you’ll goddamn love them. Everyone should be scared shit-less once in a while. It’s important to let yourself be transported to other worlds through the magic of words. It’s something ancient in us, going back to cavemen and campfires. Go to the live show because it’s an itch you need to scratch. You need to hear the NoSleep crew tell you about the terrors outside the light of the fire. Also, it’s a good feeling to look at someone speaking and think “No, that’s not their voice” except to know that it is, in fact, their voice.
I fully intend on going next year, if I’m still welcome.
Also, here is a picture of me and Jessica McEvoy where my head is volumetrically at least five times the size of her head and I smile like I’m in great pain.