Punkie, Pocky, and Ippongi
My Account of Katsucon 4

Well, Katsucon 4 started off with a bang... literally. Actually, it was more of a "fizzz-pop-smack... fizzle...," the sound of my main computer exploding. Walrus, my AMB K5/133, shorted out and the processor literally exploded, blowing the chip half off the mount, and frying the motherboard. This happened on Thursday, while I was getting my e-mail. On a day I would have rather been planning Katsucon registration, I was up to my armpits in circuitry and magic blue smoke. And as any computer guru will tell you, once the magic blue smoke leaks out of your computer, the computer won’t work anymore. Luckily, since my printer had died earlier in the month, I had already done most of my work at my job, so I wasn’t too badly screwed for the convention.

After a few backup plans didn’t work, I gave up, realized I needed at least a new motherboard and processor, I paged a friend of mine who sells these things, and packed for the coming night. At about 6pm, Christine and I had our last dinner together at Subways, expressed how much we’d miss each other over the weekend, and then we went to adoption class. After class, we drove to the Radisson Plaza in Alexandria, and at 11pm, I was dropped off at one of the hardest weekends I’d ever love.

I went straight to Ops, expecting the usual chaos that precedes a con. There was some chaos, but the organized kind. A computer had already been set up, and Barb was entering the last of the "under-the-door" pre-registered attendees into her laptop. We even had a printer, and Mark was furiously entering in the last minute programming for the pocket program schedule. "Which picture do you think goes best with the schedule," he asked me, "the slutty anime girl lounging in a spandex suit so tight it looks like it was painted on her, or the weird grouchy alligator thing posing with what looks like a cross between a kindergartner and a cat?" Okay, maybe he phrased it differently, but I went with the grouchy thing, which actually looked kind of cute. There were some last-minute printing runs to Kinko’s Copies, and although the quality was iffy (in my opinion), they could print large quantities in a hurry... in theory, at any rate. At least they were close and open late hours.

The hotel had double-booked us with Hollan Tours, a tour group of 400 some odd kids ranged 12-16 that split up the floors and made things inconvenient. But my main concern was an old memory of a Unicon Convention in the late 1980’s. Unicon was double-booked with a small Boy Scout gathering, and mixing pre-teen boys with fandom is a recipe for disaster. The con ended up getting shut down when the scouts destroyed a plate glass window leading to the pool. I had visions of this, while Mark, ever the optimist, made a sign that said, "Hollan Tours Special - $15 for the Day." Inviting the kids? Was he nuts? Well, maybe not because the sign never made it to the registration area. Little did I realize that the average age of the Katsucon attendees would not have been affected very much.

BangI read the program book, and Mark did a fantastic job on it. It was professional and smooth, not oversized and packed with a bazillion advertisements like some other cons’ books I have seen. I noticed Ippongi Bang was coming, a woman Rogue described to me as "cool" and "had to meet," as well as, "Grabs the boobs of total strangers!" For those of you who are not in the know, Ms. Bang is an Anime artist, singer, and a personality. I had to meet this person. There were also a slew of other guests, like Steven Bennett, and Robert DeJesus. Although I had heard about these people in Katsucon meetings, I guess it felt more real to me now that I was actually here. After a lot of last-minute planning and printing, the Ops room closed at 3:30am, and I slept on the floor until I was awoken at just before 8am with "rise and shine, we’re live in two hours!"

I had not planned on sleeping and eating well at this con, knowing full well the responsibilities of my job as head of registration. I had my own plans outlined based on experience, but when I started the to really get into the groove, I realized it had been a long time since I had been in my early 20’s, back in the days when I could do anything with minimal food and sleep. It was like a dip in a freezing lake. Thank God I was not left alone to the "wolves" (actually, the fen were nice, there just were sooo many of them). We had a line before we opened at 9:30, and the flow was steady for about four hours. I did pre-reg, while John and James helped me along with the registration. But less than two hours into the swarm, something awful happened that was to foreshadow the coming weekend:

We ran out of badge holders.

We had 170 of the "fold back, insert, pin on" kind (I call them "sepukku badges"), and those quickly ran out at about 11am. Mark had sent out for some more early in the morning, but the local office supply places either were out of them or had the wrong size. For hours, we had to say to people, "We’re out of badge holders, please use these binder clips until we get them." At first, it wasn’t so bad, but then things got ugly as more hours went by, and people kept coming back asking, "Do you have badge holders yet?" "No!" We kept getting updates on the hour with "Not yet… Keith has them…" It later turned out Keith thought Mark had them. Augh! We sent more people to more stores. The dwarf embraced the retiring, grouchy mountain climber near the controls of the space ship. Oops. Sorry, my backup computer has this word processor I am using called, "MS Creative Writer", and it has this "phrase generator" I was playing with. But I digress…

No dwarf, no spaceship controls. I did manage to get a break for a few hours, but for the most part, I worked most of the opening hours. I had been passed over for the breakfast food run, and so I purchased a whopping $4 cinnamon bun from the "L’Expensive Carte D’Merde" food cart. At these prices, I would not last the weekend with only $35 in my pocket (I started with $50, but $15 was already paid that morning for my staff rate). Two times people went for staff runs, and twice I managed to miss the calls for food. I was really starting to get hungry. The Ops room had donuts, but I know how I get when my belly is empty, and I stuff sugar into it: I go mental. I took a nap in the middle of the day, and was there by the 4pm rush. Then, Mark finally got about 500 badge holders, but we ran out of those in about two hours. Then we started to run low on three-day badges. We were also running low on program books. I began to feel like Alaska during the gold rush. But James worked tirelessly as Tom entered in a few non-pre reg names into the database. Tom was an interesting boy. He wears dresses. He looks surprisingly good in them. There was this one guy that most people saw at the convention who did not look good in a dress. Yes, that was the one dressed as Sailor Mercury, wandering around lonely and spooky looking. That was not Tom. Tom entertained everyone at the Registration Table with his music, database work, and good cheer. We also had a few other volunteers, who also worked like crazed badgers trying to get all the anime fen their passes to get into the convention. At times, the lines were long, but for the most part, they kept it pretty short. I did get a lot of, "Hey, you’re Punk Walrus!" It’s nice to be known J.

I was getting hungry. I had been so busy, that before I knew it, it was dinner, and I was getting dizzy. My blood pressure medicine should never be taken on an empty stomach, and that’s why I had the bun earlier. Bun now, I was beginning to have trouble walking in straight lines without concentrating a little. I was riding on pure adrenaline. But despite the fact that I was starving and weak, I actually felt okay. I got to talk to a lot of people. There were two things I had not planned for: hotel maps and fanboys. The first one was a no-brainer. In the rush to get registration right, I had completely neglected studying where everything was. I was going to be so busy, I was not going to attend things, right? And anyway, I am still new to anime, so what would I know about what’s going to be popular or not? Bad plan. I forgot the registration table was the open front line to all entrants. "Where’s the merchant’s room? Where’s video room three?" were two of the commonly most asked questions. My witty response was "Duh...?"

Click Fanboy to hear what it was like listening to many anime fen (298K .wav file)

The second problem I had was where people would ask something that to my American ears, sounded like a bunch of gibberish. "Are you showing the Hakadu Cycle? I know that Gobatron was last left with the Princess Hakinekku upon the Isle of Slorn, where the sons of Gozer ruled for a thousand millenium. I have a second generation copy, and I was wondering if I could show my Cheeble Mix in the music video contest."

"Uhh... my name is Punkie, and I am 29 years old..." I said to one. Seeing their confused look, I added, "I like Totoro a lot!" That didn’t help.

Finally, Barb, after stopping by my table a handful of times, asking "Have you eaten yet?" and getting an exhausted, "No…", rushed into Ops and announced rather aggressively that I hadn’t eaten all day, and someone had better get me food before I fall down. A friend of mine who came to visit me said I looked terrible, and more than one fan asked, "Have you been here all DAY?" Well, not all day, but most of it. I was trying my best not to over-react, not taking the fact I couldn’t get food personally, but I was really, really hungry. Once Barb had made a fuss, suddenly I got a lot of food. Too much, actually, so I saved some for the next morning. Thank you everyone that got me food. By the time the night was over, it was 10pm. I was way too tired to close up, but Mark helped out big time by closing for me at around 9pm. I was completely zoned, and all day I had been trying to call my wife, but no one answered at home. So now, high on sleep dep, I wandered around for a while, and then finally got to bed. This time, Mark had a staff suite, and I crashed into a very confy hideaway bed. Half an hour into my sleep, my wife paged me. She wasn’t killed in some car wreck, but she was out with someone, took my son to a movie ("Sphere," which scared the pants off of both of them), and then our answering machine had been dead, so she didn’t know I had been calling her. That was a relief. When I finally went to bed at about 1:30, I must have snored loudly, because I kept waking up myself with it. I feel sorry for the people who came in later, but I got some badly-needed rest.

I woke up around 7am, took a badly needed shower, and sauntered on down to the hotel lobby to get some breakfast. $12.95 for a plate of scrambled eggs? Count me out! I’ll get the next breakfast run. I ate a muffin and some more pocky I saved from the binge last night, and made my way to Ops to see when the next food run was. Oh, I missed it. Bummer. Then someone said, "Have you seen the line that's forming?"

I have seen smaller Soviet bread lines. Dear God, what a lot of people! I opened Registration early, and soon, the lines got even longer, wrapping around the balcony and continuing down the back. At full speed, we had three people taking registration while I stuffed the pre-registration packets as fast and furiously as I could. Hours went by, and finally the line was getting smaller, but we were running out of one day Saturday badges! Argh! Mark went to yet another emergency Kinko's run, and I had to hand-cut all the badges just as people were getting them. Huge clots of children ages 12-16 were also getting badges, and I'm not talking about the Hollan Tours kids, these were families. Never in my life have I seen so much family participation at a convention before. By the time we got it down to manageable levels, it was past lunchtime.

I took some time off to see Ippongi's panel, but it was kind of boring. Not that Ippongi was boring, but it was hard to hear her interpreter, and the stories were not that well translated. Some of her stories involved the Japanese artist lifestyle, jokes about assistants, and how some male artists are obsessed with male genitalia and young boys. I left the panel early to chat it up with my friend Rogue before I had to go back to registration.

I was hungry again, and learning my lesson from last night, I made sure to let everyone I could know this. I took a longer break of a few hours in the afternoon, but I still kept missing food runs. There was this sushi food run I missed out on, too. At first, I was really mad about that, because I love sushi. But then, the delivery guy got the order wrong, and then redelivered the correct order a few hours later. Then some unknown force ate some people's order. It was in the ops room, and then it wasn't. Two people got stiffed on an order, and they were understandably pissed. Sushi ain't cheap, and paying for it and then not getting it is enough to raise fur on even the most forgiving of anime fen. So who ate the sushi? We may never know… I snacked on some donuts and drank some ice tea and Sprite, but I was starving! I wished I had been the sushi thief at this point, because at least I wouldn't have been so hungry! I tried to watch a movie to relax, but it was this real sad movie about this girl who was in love with this loner, and the loner was in love with this girl he had known since he was a kid, and how they seemed to be in love, but you never knew how he felt, and then he got obsessive over his childhood girlfriend, and now that girl was a supermodel, and how the girl we wanted to get the loner guy was all torn up, and bullied by other snobbish school girls… I nearly cried, it was so moving. I had to leave before I made a scene. Maybe it was because I was tired and hungry.

Finally, at about 6pm, someone running out for some tech pedal got me an order at Wendy's. During this time, I was offered Chinese food, which I declined, mad that I had taken the first food offered to me and now I wouldn't get Chinese food. I thought about ordering some anyway, and saving it for tomorrow, but we had no refrigeration to keep it from becoming salmonella breeding grounds, and no microwave to reheat it. Sigh… at least the Wendy's meal was good. For the next few hours, though, everyone kept asking, "Has Punkie ate yet?" Finally, with no one coming to the registration table, Mark gave me the go-ahead to close down at 8pm. Now I could have fun.

My Neighbor, TotoroI made a lot of observations while I was at the con. I am a "anime neophyte," meaning I don’t know much about Japanese Animation, but I have liked what I saw. I got hooked at CastleCon 2 with the film, "Akira," and have since seen, "My Neighbor Totoro," "Starship Yamato," "Sailor Moon," assorted "Lupin III" movies (I love those), some movie about a Space Pirate fighting an evil alien girl who had chlorophyll for blood, another film about some secret robot that was designed for the inventor's ungrateful son, and how that robot has to prevent the destruction of the world, and assorted shorts, including one series called, "What's Michael," where a man and his cat live an odd life together. I have seen some crap, too, but for the most part, I decided last year to investigate this anime (called "Manga" by the Japanese) in more detail. For years, some of my friends kept saying, "You have to go to Katsucon, it is sooooo cool!" But it was also soooo far away, in Virginia Beach. This year, it was to be local, and I met Mark at CastleCon 10. He was the new Katsucon chair, and said he needed help. What perfect timing on my part! Little did I know I would be running registration.

Anime fen are different than a lot of fen I am used to in subtle ways. First of all, they are younger. A LOT of people less than 18 years of age attend these things. This is kind of strange, because some of the outfits that they wear are… well, less fabric than one would expect the average 15 year old to wear. I must admit, I am a prude. I blush if some scantily dressed teen bounces her way past me. But I do not condemn the teen that wishes to show off her legs up to her hip-bone, and wear a top that has less surface area than a postage stamp. That's her (on in some cases, his) choice, but there are some males that follow these hallway nymphs that… well… it's like a bizarre sci-fi version of Fort Lauderdale during Spring Break. I guess I just have to relax. Maybe I am getting old, but my first thought is, "But you're just a kid!" and "Does your mommy know you dress like this? Your mommy made the costume? That's your mommy right over there in a slightly smaller costume? Never mind…" Not the convention is full of these people, they are a minority, but boy, do they stand out. That may say something more about me, however, than anime fandom J .

Also, the average fan is a lot less… nerdier, for lack of a better word. And there are also a lot more females than other conventions I have gone to. This makes a lot of sense, since anime features girls as main characters as well as boys. Sailor Moon, for a popular example. Also, this convention was treated a lot more like an exposition. A lot of people expected to get goodie baggies, and see people in suits. I had a lot of people ask if everything on the flyer table was free. Do people pay for flyers elsewhere? I think a lot of the people with the Saturday One-Day badges expected this to be like the Auto Show or Health Expo or something. Everyone wanted to know where the dealer's room was. And the dealer's room was PACKED! Some tables were so crowded, I couldn't even see what they were selling at first. Not that I even knew most of what they were selling. I recognized Totoro and Sailor Moon, but that was about it.

After Registration closed, I went to see the end of "Cosplay," the anime version of "Costume Call." The room was so packed that I couldn't even get to the doorway. People didn't move out of the way because they COULDN'T, it was like that old Star Trek episode where the planet was overpopulated. Everyone was jammed shoulder to shoulder, and a thick flow of air was drifting out of the heated ballroom smelling of sweat, lighting gels, felt costuming, and failing roll-on deodorant. I hung around Ops for a while, and then in came the judges. There was a small assembly of them, including Ippongi and her assistants, Kuni, some guy dressed like a frog (Reijiro Kato, I think was his name), Steve Bennett, Telf, and some other people I don't know the names of. They were talking back and forth, and the task of keeping the room off limits and quiet was assigned to Colette and myself. The actual meeting seemed uneventful, but afterwards, two of the judges started arguing about language standards and attitudes expected. The argument became heated, and I was all alone with them, trying hard to pretend I wasn't there and even if I was, I didn't notice anything abnormal. It was pretty hard. Then one of them said something that REALLY made the other mad, and at that exact moment some other people came in, and the words, "Let's take this outside!" came flying through the air like a tense rubber band. Then they left, leaving the people that came in to go, "What was that?" I didn't know. I only heard half of it, but it seemed to me that one was upset at the other's attitude for the whole convention. I still don't know.

After that, I hung around Ops while a disagreement about when to close the ballroom for the dance was wafting about. Cosplay had ended late, and Ippongi's concert was even later, reducing the four-hour dance to one hour and forty-five minutes. The hotel insisted we end things at 2am exactly, despite last year's dance going all the way to 4:30. Fen were not happy. I went to bed and was asleep before I found out what happened at 2.

I woke up late. I scrambled out of bed, and took a quick shower. I noticed a large bruise had formed on my left arm, and it became so big, people asked, "What happened?" I honestly didn't know, I think it started when I was fixing my computer and I banged my arm on the keyboard tray of my desk. This morning, it started to look ugly, and went from the size of a dime to the size of a coaster. It was also changing colors. It didn't hurt, but all day people asked me, "What happened?" Grrr…

Reg opened at 10am, and we only got about 20 people until Mark suggested we close at noon, which I did. I tried to get breakfast runs, but after a few misses, I just gave up. I ate some more Pocky, had some donut leftovers, and drank some more ice tea in those neat thermos bottles (I saved one for using at home, but someone stole it). I helped Rogue shut down the ballroom tech, and then Christine arrived to take me home to clean and get ready for a home visit by a social worker for a potential adoption on Tuesday. She was happy to see me, and was very happy I brought her Pocky.

All in all, I had a good time. Yeah, I didn't get fed much, but I can plan around that for next time. Most of the reason I didn't get offered for food runs (I had the money, honest!) was a communications SNAFU of some kind, so I didn't take it personally. Everyone was SO supportive towards me (and others), which was impressive from a newcomer's point of view. I really want to thank EVERYONE, sincerely, who helped me out during those four busy days. Barb, thanks for being mom. Colette, thanks for being there when I really needed your help. John, thanks for your pre-boarding guidance. James, I couldn't have done registration without you. Tom, thanks for your help and music (and go with the purple dress, it looks best on you). Mark, thanks for keeping your cool under pressure. Rogue, thanks for emotional support. And thanks to everyone who was in Ops, especially to that guy with the black hair an mustache who ran it a lot, and I have completely flaked on your name. And blessed are those who eventually got me food. And Pocky? Thanks for the Pocky.

I also gained networking contacts with new people, so I can expand my fan base once again. I have been away from the Balticon/Disclave scene too long, and now that I have a better financial position, I can travel those paths once again in the fandom community. I also got an offer from the person in charge of the Anime Film Room at Bucconeer (Worldcon in Baltimore later this year) to help run it. I am seriously thinking about it.

Expect to see this walrus at Katsucon 5.

Now… where'd I put that Pocky?

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