Convention Season

Dearest Rachel –

Well, I’ve gone and done it. I’ve booked a room at the Marriott Coralville for the AnimeIowa weekend. Without your help. All by myself.

Yeah… all by myself.

All… by… myself.

I remember you watching the feed on Twitch last year when AnimeCentral did its virtual convention. You were sobbing as you watched Samurai Dan and Jillian greet their unseen audience. This wasn’t right; this wasn’t what a convention was supposed to be like. We were supposed to be in the middle of a crowd of people, laughing at the jokes, and occasionally raising a hand to ask a question directly, rather than just doing so in some sort of sidebar chatroom feature.

To you, the whole point of a convention was rubbing elbows with every other fan that showed up. If you couldn’t do that, what was the point? It felt like we would never have another chance to see these people again.

I tried to reassure you that things would get back to normal eventually. We just had to wait it out, and the pandemic would eventually burn itself out, or a cure would be found or something.

Turned out, we were both right. Here, I’m registering for the first convention in nearly two years, but yeah, you’re not going to be seeing any old or new friends there this time. Or ever.

AnimeIowa very nearly serves as a bookend to the isolation of the pandemic. To be sure, it wasn’t the last convention we attended before the curtains fell – there was Ponyville Ciderfest that you and Daniel and Erin went to in October 2019; there was Chicago Tardis in November (our/your first Doctor Who convention!), where you went eye-to-eye with Sylvester McCoy and thanked him for his role in saving Sophie Aldred (Ace); and of course, there was the cruise with the SeaBronies in December – but of the two anime conventions that we attended regularly as an annual pilgrimage, it was our last. It seems appropriate that it should be our… well, my… first one back.

We were recommended to it by my sempai from college (and my best man at our wedding), Dave. He’d been a part of the first AnimeIowa in 1997, but after having signed up with the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) program, he left for what would be an otaku’s dream job and never looked back. He’s still over there in Yonezawa; you might remember the Zoom call we had in early December, where he and my other sempais chatted with us about how life was going for them in the midst of the pandemic. To be honest, at the time we seemed to be doing much better than any of them.

In any event, we enjoyed the cozy intimacy of the small convention that AI was as a tonic to the large crowds of AnimeCentral (although at this point – at least, as of 2019, anyway – it had grown to the size of the inaugural AnimeCentral crowd from 1998), although we also made a point of never missing it when ACen was in town, either. Look, there were these two great big social events for anime fans going on, and this one was virtually in our back yard – why on earth would we ever miss it? We even wound up on stage at – I believe – the 20th anniversary convention, pulling badge after badge from our respective lanyards to prove we had attended every single ACen. The staff actually comped up our next year’s membership costs – which we were more than happy to accept.

By contrast, we’ve been paying extra for our AI memberships since 2004, when a fellow fanfic writer pointed out the extra benefits the convention offered to those who paid to ‘sponsor’ the convention. We particularly took advantage of the ‘recharge room,’ which was a place to just hang out with other sponsors (and occasionally guests), watch anime, and eat – which was particularly nice once most conventions stopped doing the open-to-all-comers ‘con suite.’ AnimeIowa, in particular, never forgot the adage that, like an army, “a con travels on its stomach,” to quote a staffer from a long time previous. Back in the days of the con suite, you and I used to assemble vast quantities of batter – and you would chop vegetables most of the length of the trip – so that we could work Saturdays in the con suite preparing a fairly crude form of okonomiyaki for the attendees that showed up. Indeed, we got mildly famous, to the point that I was offered a position as a fan judge at the cosplay.

I wish now I had more of a record of what you did during that time I was working with the other judges that night.

You’ll notice I put a link on that time I served as a judge. Back in the early days of the conventions, I kept detailed notes of what happened the entire weekend. And while I’m grateful to have those records – I forget a lot of what happened at later conventions – it was an awful chore to write everything down, and I probably missed a lot of what was happening because I was busy doing that, as well. It’s hard to let go and enjoy yourself when your nose is in your notebook.

No innocent man buys a gun, and no happy man writes his memoirs

Quoted by Garrison Keillor in “Lake Wobegon Days” – he suggests it was a known saying, but offers no reference

This, of course, explains why I haven’t written a whole lot over the course of the last nearly twenty years… and why I’ve been writing so much since the accident.

With all of the rush to make sure the room is reserved at the Marriott Coralville for the weekend of the convention (I don’t know how things will go, clouded as things are with the ever-present threat of Covid, but in past years, it’s been like trying to call in at a radio station to get a room at the host hotel), it seems appropriate that, while working through the dining room, Jan should come up with the swag bag from our sponsorship of the 2019 AnimeIowa:

And wouldn’t you know it, it has a biohazard symbol on it, too. How frighteningly prescient, no?
We each received a box like this, wrapped in caution tape
And full of all sorts of artwork and knick-knacks…
…and edibles of all sorts.

We could never figure out what to do with the food that we would get as part of our sponsorship package. After all, we usually packed plenty to eat as at was, and had plenty of money (although admittedly, not always enough time in the schedule) to eat with – what were we to do with this, since we had no plans to consume these right there and then at the con? In a way, these were souvenirs as much as the rest of the package, and it seemed a shame to just… eat them.

Indeed, this was a mentality we carried over to way too many of our travels. We’d pick up some comestible or another, enjoy it, and get another one… and never eat it, because we would be afraid of never being able to have it again.

In this case, that seems particularly silly, since of course we can find Top Ramen anywhere, should we so choose to (although you and Daniel seemed more likely to stock up on the instant cup noodle variety, rather than this stuff requiring an actual vessel to prepare it in). But that vial of sour powder? Don’t know where that came from, or if we’d be able to find it if we wanted more of it – best not consume it at all, then.

It’s how so much from the kitchen, the pantry and yes, on the floor in the dining room, wound up in one dumpster load or another. We just couldn’t part with, or even use, stuff we’d had and might want another time.

And now it’s all gone but the memories. Just like you.

I don’t know what the convention is going to be like without you. You were the one who truly enjoyed these things. You weren’t over the moon about anime (although you had your favorites), and eventually, neither was I. You just enjoyed being there, meeting people – friends both old and new – in a way that I could only dream of.

Let’s hope those dreams come true, darling. I’ll keep you posted when the time comes.

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I am Rachel's husband. Was. I'm still trying to deal with it. I probably always will be.

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