Conventions are held the world over for any number of reasons; trade conventions, hobbies, pastimes, fads, obsessions (haven’t you heard about Star trek conventions?) or pop cultural fads of the moment. But it is in America that these events are taken to another level entirely. Americans love a good convention. In fact, you can find an annual gathering of almost any profession, hobby or pastime almost anywhere in the continental United States. For example, as popularized in the Australian film “Kenny” pumpers and cleaners hold a convention every year in Indianapolis, Indiana. Let us pause for a moment and marvel at the purpose of this gathering. These folk are getting together once a year for a few days at the beginning of March to talk about poo and poo products. I guess if anyone deserves a few days away from actual work in order to improve their industry it would be these characters. After all, as Kenny himself said, “If we don’t show up, grab the business and get out of there, they really are in the shit then, aren’t they?”
One regret I have from my time in America is that I never set aside a weekend to drive down to West Virginia for the annual Roadkill Cookoff in Marlinton. Although it is purported not to use actual meat left dead on the side of the road, the rules of the competition dictate that participants must use ingredients commonly found on the side of the road. Honestly, I am wondering how anyone actually checks that the meat was not collected from the front bumper of the chef’s truck (it’s not as if it has a USDA certified stamp it the meat, is it?) Armadillo, roadrunner and hitchhiker tacos anyone? Las Vegas is undoubtedly the home of the largest and often wackiest conventions. One of Sin City’s strangest must be the “Celebrity Impersonators’ Convention” held in February each year. If you can do a passable impression of Austin Powers, sing like Celine Dion, or curse like Frank Sinatra (man, did that guy hate the press in Australia!) this is the place for you. Apparently this convention comes complete with educational sessions to help improve your craft. Perhaps one of the session titles might be “Breaking into your celebrity’s home. A practical guide to stalking.”
The National Hobo convention is held every year around the second week of August in Britt, Iowa. Britt, Iowa is, if you are not aware, in the middle of nowhere. Not that this town needs a large convention center or transportation hub nearby, as most of the attendees hop right of the boxcars as they roll through town. Apparently during the celebration a Hobo 10 kilometer run is held. Now that is something I would pay to see; old bearded hobos running down the street with a competitor’s bib number pinned to their urine soaked, threadbare clothes. Perhaps they hold a flagon of whiskey off the back of a truck to get them to run the route.
And so, inevitably, we come to those conventions that we all snicker at; those gatherings that attract the fringe dwellers among us, in a vain search to find their place in this world. To seek those with similar obsessions just to say, “See, I’m not that weird, these guys like that same things I do!” Historicon is held every year in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania and surely draws many bespectacled, pasty men (as yes they are almost always men) whose mailing address is their mother’s basement. These “Titians of the Table, Reagents of the Rolling Dice and Marquis of Miniature Figures” spend up to four days hunched over dioramas, playing out great battles from history while mainlining no-doze and Red Bull and cursing each other silently (lest their anger boil over into real actual violence – just once I would love to see a guy lose it and launch himself at his opponent with his fifty side dice as a weapon). After some good-natured ribbing it would be only fair to acknowledge that these folk are certainly good people, passionate about their hobby and willing, at least, to gather together in public and share their passion with others of like-mindedness. Historicon organizers appeal to vendors by pointing out the non-union facility in which they hold the conventions, with its air-conditioning and plumbing. Perhaps in addition to role-playing the actual historical events in miniature, they insist that all associates conduct their personal ablutions in a historically correct manner. In keeping with their “in miniature” theme, are the pit toilets also really small?
The next on our list of fringe dwelling conventions occurs in the exotic locale of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Anyone noticing a trend here regarding the great Commonwealth of Pennsylvania? After briefly encountering the delights of Historicon, one could hop into a car and drive across the Quaker state for a good old-time at a convention dedicated to the celebration and “love of” anthropomorphic animals. Anthrocon is billed as the world’s largest “furry” convention. For readers who are unclear as to what a furry convention actually is, I will submit the following definition from Wikipedia: Furries are fans of “fictional anthropomorphic animal characters with human personalities and characteristics. Examples of anthropomorphic attributes include exhibiting human intelligence and facial expressions, the ability to speak, walk on two legs, and wear clothes.” Before dealing with obvious questions, it should be made clear that these conventions bring significant revenue to cities in which they occur and donate considerable funds to charity. Despite all of this good-natured effort at appearing “normal” these people still manage to come across as having, as my father would have said, “too many kangaroos loose in the top paddock.” The furry community contains a significant sexual subculture of people whose involvement in the scene is dictated by some level of sexual excitement around anthropomorphic animals. I’ve always liked it when Foghorn Leghorn says “Boy, I say, Boy” but I’ve never wanted to fuck him.
Lebowskifest celebrates its10th annual convention in July this year. This gathering has a simple goal, to get together and celebrate the movie “The Big Lebowski” with a restrained evening of bowling, drinking white Russians, and what have you. Next to Crawfishfest in Augusta, New Jersey this might be the greatest gathering of intelligent life on planet earth. And before those that disagree stand up and say, “Yeah, well, that’s just like… your opinion, man” let me quote the great Walter Sobchek himself. “Are we gonna split hairs here? Am I wrong? Am I wrong?” Ultimately I guess the message of this post is that whatever one’s inclination, there is a gathering of some sort designed to accommodate, to bring into the mainstream, to promote, and draw like-minded souls out of the woodwork. Some might consider some of these conventions strange and best kept behind closed doors but I disagree. Like all Commie Pinko leftists I think that our society is better served by those that measure our capacity to accept that which we would spend our pastime opposing. So bring it on miniature war-games aficionados! Show me your best impression of Pepé-Le-Pew you crazy furry lovers… just don’t ejaculate on my shoes.