Cthulhu Coffee at Midwest Furfest 2002
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This is the most awaited convention report to date. I say this because I have never had so many people come up to me or mail me with, "I can't wait to see this report!" or, "Is it done yet?"

You see, I am not a furry fan. Most of my geek friends in my home state are not furry fans. However, the Cthulhu Coffee minions in Chicago are furries. As a matter of fact, Jim happened to take over convention chair duties for Midwest Furfest, Jen was running the Art Show, and Jason was recruited as computer lackey. Since the three of them had traveled to Minnesota to visit CONvergence this year, I was practically required to respond in kind by checking out their home convention.

I must admit, I had my doubts. Furry fandom is notorious for its bad press. It seems to be at the bottom of the pecking order of geekdom. Its fans and customs are not well understood by people outside its circles. Its more deviant features have been exploded out of proportion by major media outlets, including MTV, Vanity Fair, and Savage Love.

I knew that my furry friends and cohorts are pretty normal people, yet I was still a little wary about going to a whole convention dedicated to a very tight circle of fandom that I was not part of. I was walking into a convention where outsiders really aren't welcomed because of recent attacks by the media. I wanted badly to see what the media scandals were about, yet I also figured that what I had heard was far from the truth.

I know people waiting for this report were hoping for some kind of freak-show to appear on this page, but honestly, that's not what I found when I walked into MFF 2002.

What is furry fandom, then? As a non-fan, I'm probably not very qualified to say, but I'll do my best. Furry fandom is a fandom based on anthropomorphic cartoon characters. Think Bugs Bunny, Mickey Mouse, and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. This is a fandom based on the fascination of crossing humans with animals, with features and behaviors of each.

Most furries I ran into are simply into furry artwork, or just into the social aspect of the convention. Many of them had anthropomorphic alter-egos, where they thought of themselves as a half-panther, half-wolf, half-skunk, whatever. I watched as these folks drew themselves as these cartoon characters, or commissioned other artists to draw them. The Art Show was almost uniformly cartoon images of humanlike critters. The convention also featured an "Artist Alley" where furry artists convened, traded, and sketched for days. Literally, everyone at the convention seemed to have a sketchbook or some other form of original artwork on their person.

A smaller group of furries seem to be into costuming. They will actually dress up like their alter-egos, not unlike the folks who dress up in Starfleet uniforms at other conventions. The hallways were often clogged with people dressed up as hyenas, lions, wolves... and every single costume that I saw was nothing short of amazing. The talent, imagination, engineering, and work that went into these outfits ("fursuits") is just staggering. I'm sure the folks from Vogue thought that this was weird beyond belief, but to me, it was really cool. Even more interesting was the propensity for people to just wear animal tails on the backs of their jeans if they weren't in a full suit.

Now, according to Vanity Fair, MTV, and various internet searches, there is also a more "fanatic" side to furry fandom. I have heard tell of people who get off on having sex in fursuits, and people who want to modify their bodies to become their totem animals, and so on. Of course, these extremes are exactly what the media focuses on. I didn't find anyone like this at MFF. Yes, there was an adult-only section of the Art Show, but the items in there were no less disturbing than the things found in the adult sections of other conventions' art shows. I'm not saying that these facets of furry fandom don't exist, nor am I saying they weren't there at MFF. I'm just saying that I didn't think that it was any more prominent than any other kinks seen at different conventions. Hell, I'd say that CONvergence still takes the cake for the variety and amount of kinks present in the convention community.

So, what exactly did I find at MFF?

I found a convention that I'm actually very excited about.

MFF 2002 was only the third year running for this convention. Its attendance grew 30% over the previous year, to 675 people. It has pretty much all the usual features of other conventions: an Art Show, an art auction, panels (six tracks!), a consuite, a dealers' room, a masquerade, and a dance. In addition, it also had a couple of comedy hours, the aforementioned Artist Alley, and a strong presence by Animals for Awareness, a Chicago-based animal rescue service, whose representatives walked home with over $6,000 worth of donations from the fan community. The attendees were enthusiastic, fun, creative, and amazingly diverse.

It was really cool to see.

That said, here's the usual disclaimer. The following tale is merely my own personal experience of MFF. It is not meant to be a soap box for furries or non-furries or anything above, below, or in between. These are only my personal stories and opinions. I hope you find them interesting, or perhaps even useful, but they are not intended to be more than a record of an event.

So now, without further ado, is Melissa's tale of MFF.

11222002: I had prepared myself for this trip by buying myself a digital voice recorder. I was hoping to use it quite a bit, since it would probably be quicker to take verbal notes than written ones, and it would be invaluable in the car. Unfortunately, I soon learned that I didn't do well with taking verbal notes. I would just babble into the recorder and hope something useful came out.

At least it killed some time during the car ride to Chicago. Here are the more interesting bits of monologue that I transcribed from the recorder.

It's 10:22 on November 22nd, 2002. ... I finally hit the highway. I'm on Highway 394 heading towards Wisconsin, and it will be about seven hours or so before I hit Chicago, or perhaps five depending on how I drive and how many speeding tickets I accrue...

* click *

It's 10:48 in the morning, and I just crossed over into Wisconsin. It appears that the escape velocity for the city of St. Paul is around 85 miles per hour.

* click *

Okay. You know when you're driving down the road on a road trip, and you really really really want to go about fifteen, twenty miles an hour over the speed limit, but there are two cars right in front of you, one in each lane, and they're going the exact same speed, and you can't pass either of them? There should be a term for that. There are terms for everything else. There are terms for those little knobby things on the ends of your shoelaces. There are terms for those little marshmallow bits that you get in children's breakfast cereals. I've contracted at General Mills for several years, and do you know what those little marshmallow bits are called? They're called marbits. That is the actual industry term for 'little marshmallow bits in your cereal.' So, why isn't there a word for two cars driving the exact same speed in front of you and not letting you pass? There's a word for that. I know there is.

* click *

12:50, Black River Crossing, WI. Animals sighted thus far on this road trip: one bald eagle, a flock of sheep, and one neon-orange moose.

* click *

Wow...! I just saw a bumper sticker that said, 'Mountain men eat more beaver!'

* click *

It's 3:11. Welcome to Illinois!

* click *

Okay, it's 4:08, and I'm within sight of the hotel. I am so happy! And um... did you ever realize Duran Duran's lyrics really make no sense?

* click *

I mean, really, no sense whatsoever! I just listened to the entirety of Seven and the Ragged Tiger. I haven't done that since I was a kid, and... I think I just got off on the wrong exit...

* click *

I eventually made it into the hotel's parking lot at 4:17 PM. The nine-minute delay between seeing the hotel and actually getting there was due to there being a very large mall in the way.

Once parked, I grabbed my cell phone and called Jason to let him know that I had arrived in one piece. Unfortunately, he wasn't answering his phone, so I was on my own. I wasn't quite sure where to go, or who to seek out where, but I figured that if I just started nosing around the hotel, I'd figure things out.

I got out of the car and walked in one of the side doors. Sure enough, I hadn't walked ten feet before Jen found me and handed me a hotel key. I wrote the room number on my hand, thanked her, and ran back out to the car to unpack the loads of stuff I brought with me.

My first trip to the room was something of an adventure. Not only was I loaded down with a suitcase, a camera, a G4 laptop, and various other items of high-tech geekery and survival, but I was also getting my first glimpse at the convention. Basically, it looked like just about every other convention that I'd been to, except that there was the occasional person in an animal costume. I wound up standing in the elevator with a guy dressed in a wolf suit. I noticed that the folks in the costumes did a lot of silent gesturing, like you see actors in mascot suits do.

I finally got onto the top floor of the hotel and wandered around until I found the distant corner where my room was. Ironically, the room itself was only about 75 feet away from my car, even though I had to traverse the length of the hotel twice and ascend five floors to get to the room.

Once I dumped my high-tech geekery in a corner, I looked around the room. Jason had arranged for two rooms, in which eight people would crash. This would make for a cheap weekend, but it would also mean that I would be sleeping on the floor (which is okay -- I volunteered). Thankfully, the room was nice and quite spacious, with a king bed and a rollaway cot already in place for my roommates, whoever they wound up being.

I then walked out of the room to go get the rest of the stuff out of my car. I noticed that the stairway was right next to the room's door. I thought I might try a shortcut. Instead of traversing the length of the hotel, using the elevator, then walking though the hotel again, I might be able to tromp down the stairs and come out a door right by my car! What a concept!

Well, it sounded like a good idea at the time. Unfortunately, the stairway went down to the ground floor, but ended within steam tunnels with doors that were either locked or labeled with the legend, "ALARM WILL SOUND".

So, I wound up walking back up to second floor, walking across the hotel to the elevator, going back to ground floor, and then back across the hotel floor to my car. Foiled!

I eventually got the crate o' games and the crate o' booze up to the room. I had little intention to imbibe much that weekend (the smiting at Omegacon was still fresh in my mind and stomach), but I knew that Jason, Jen, and Jim would be providing a small bar, and I thought it might be nice to contribute.

I then decided to get to business. I walked downstairs, found registration, and picked up my badge. It was actually pretty quick, painless, and professional, but there was one really odd thing. Before you could have your badge, you had to sign a piece of paper that said that you had read and understood the convention rules. The rules were listed on this giant placard in front of the registration desk.

I read through them all before signing. Most of the stuff was common sense things like "don't touch anyone who doesn't want to be touched" and the ever-present "peace-tie your weapons." In fact, there was only one thing that really caught me off guard.

"The press is not welcome here."


I was quite familiar with the awful publicity that hit MFF last year -- for some reason, Vanity Fair had decided to show up and spin the whole thing as a freak show. Yeah, I'd probably be pretty sensitive and reactionary if that happened to my favorite convention, too. I guess I really wasn't that surprised.

However, it did send me into a little introspection. Was I the press? I report on conventions for Cthulhu Coffee. It's not like I'm part of the Associated Press or anything, nor am I a professional journalist, but I was going to be writing this convention up in a public forum.

I signed anyway and picked up my badge. I figured that if I was invited by the convention chair, with him fully aware that I was going to do a convention report, that I was probably safe. Besides, I was pretty sure that I would look on this convention far more evenhandedly than Vanity Fair would.

As I walked off with my badge, I ran into B-bert, the fellow who took photos of my body painting events at ICON 2001 and ICON 2002. I had no clue that he was going to be there. Small world! Apparently, he was running a booth in the Dealers' Room. He invited me to stop by and say hello later in the weekend.

I then made my way to the Art Show, since I knew this was where most of my friends were going to be. I figured right -- pretty much everyone I knew at MFF was there:

  • Jason, my friend of over 12 years, was running Ethernet cable across the floor and trying to beat a Sun Sparc into submission.
  • Jen, Art Show Goddess and the Con Chair's Significant Other, was running around in a fret trying to get everything running smoothly.
  • Jim, MFF's Fearless Leader, was wandering in and out of the room, doing on-the-spot problem solving where necessary.
  • Bren, a fellow who I met through the above folks a few years ago, was diligently trying to troubleshoot his Visual Basic Art Show database.
  • Kes, Bren's partner in crime, was helping Jen get paperwork done.

Almost as soon as I walked in, I was introduced to Frysco, a charming fellow with a British accent, and Poe, a bundle of energy who also traveled great distances (from West Virginia) to visit MFF.

"I've been waiting for years to introduce you two," Jason said as he introduced me to Poe.

For the next couple of hours, I just hung around in the Art Show. I watched Jason and Bren swear a lot at their computers. I guessed at how many pieces of candy were stuffed into a 5-gallon jug on Jen's desk (the closest guesser would win the jug of candy). I snacked on the bagels that were lingering around near Bren's computer. I did my best Ms. Bitters impression -- "Doom doom doom doom..." -- much to the chagrin of the gents working on the glitchy workstations.

The most interesting bit, though, was when I toured the Art Show with Jason and Poe. I'd seen furry art before, and it always ranged from the painfully amateur to alright. MFF's Art Show was a little bit of a revelation. Some of these artists are really talented. Some of the art was really demented.

In any case, seeing the MFF Art Show was refreshing. I've seen dozens of convention art shows this year, and generally, you see the same artists and prints over and over again. Even though furry art isn't my thing, it was nice to see a whole show's worth of something different.

I was especially impressed with the work of Rog Minotaur. The paintings were very adept. There was even one piece, a framed image of a half-bull toreador, that I might have bid on if I wasn't seriously low on cash and wall space.

Arphalia's work was also very eye-catching. Rich, dark shadows with an eye for composition. Neat stuff.

On a more trivia-related note, I stumbled upon the work of Derek Dasenbrock. Derek was one of the founders of CONvergence, who left after the inaugural year. Just before attending the MFF, I had discovered that I already owned some of Dasenbrock's work, on an old Minicon 33 t-shirt. I'm not thrilled with his work -- it's too much part of the bulging pecs/basketball tits school of cartooning. However, I thought the coincidences were interesting. He was apparently there that weekend, but I never did run into him.

The most interesting part of the Art Show, though, was the adult section, which was appropriately well-guarded to keep the underage folks out. I've seen adult sections pop up in other art shows, but this one was by far the most unusual. I really lack the words to describe it. Imagine fairly graphic porn that features people that are half-animal.

Then there was the clock. I really can't describe the clock.

I don't dig porn in general. I'm not against it by any means, nor am I particularly offended by it, but it's usually not my thing.

This reeeeealy wasn't my thing. Not in the offensive way. Just in the "Wow, I really don't understand this phenomenon" sort of way.

After the tour, I basically just hung around the room until Jason kicked all of the non-staff people out at 7:00 PM. Since I was apparently staff, I helped close up the room and push a trundle bed against one of the doors. (Jen had made plans for someone to sleep in the room and guard the art at night.)

That done, we all gathered in the hall and made dinner plans. Soon, I was being introduced to a couple more new people: a rather nice guy who went by the moniker of "Captain" (one of those friend-of-friends that I had heard about for years, but was only meeting now), and 2.


Yes, 2. 2 the Ranting Gryphon. Jason had introduced me to his rants a few years ago, and I don't care whether you're a furry fan or not, but I find the guy pretty funny. Try to imagine a fan-circuit version cross between Dennis Miller and Denis Leary, with the fashion tastes of Neil Gaiman. I've always gotten a good laugh out of his work, and now, suddenly, we were all going out to dinner with him. Cool!

After a brief period of coat-fetching and planning, we wound up with a caravan of three cars and twelve people, all headed towards BD's Mongolian Barbecue. I wound up in a car with Jim, Jen, and Frysco, while Jason, 2, Captain, Poe, Bren, Kes, and two guys named Koz and Neowolf went in the two other cars.

Dinner was delightful. BD's has fantastic food, a fun atmosphere, and great waitrons and cooks. Bren briefly started telling tales of his years doing veteranary medicine. 2 and I found out that we are both allergic to caffeine. Frysco grabbed some helium balloons off our table and tied them to a fork until the whole assembly became neutrally buoyant. Since we did some sort of group dinner deal, we even got free glass mugs from the waitress.

I vowed to return the next time I haunted Chicago.

Stuffed full of noodles and meat, the twelve of us made the long haul back to the convention. (BD's was about 45 minutes away from the convention hotel, but worth the trip.) I was nodding off in the car on the way back. The food coma was setting in.

After getting back to the convention, I learned that 2 was performing stand-up comedy for MFF in about 20 minutes. I desperately wanted to see him perform live, but the food coma was attacking full force.

So, I went back to the hotel room with Jen, napped for 10 minutes, woke up, and dutifully went to 2's show. Jen didn't join me; she had seen 2 perform at Anthrocon earlier that year, and running the Art Show had sapped all of her energy for the day.

I made my way to the large room where 2 was slated to go onstage. By the time I got there, the place was packed, and his opening act was already onstage. I found Jason, Captain, and Jim in the back of the room, standing along one wall because there weren't any chairs left. I joined them.

I didn't get much of a chance to get into the opening comedian's act. He seemed to be about the caliber of most open mike acts at comedy clubs, but I only caught the last couple minutes of his bit.

Then 2 came on.

2 was absolutely hysterical.

His stand-up act is less rant than storytelling. Aside from one bit where he argued that furries aren't any more dangerous, obsessed with sex, or freaky than the average Joe on the street, his act had nothing to do with fandom. In fact, about half of it was a fantastic, somewhat self-depreciating tale about going camping that had me laughing so hard that I was in tears.

2 was onstage for about two hours. He closed with a story that happened at last year's MFF, when he had to get up in the middle of the night to pee. He managed to turn this simple (and ultimately embarassing) tale into great entertainment.

As 2 concluded his show, Jason ran up and presented 2 with a gift: an original piece of art by Kes, depicting a panther luring a gryphon into a trap with a can of Guinness. The panther was Jason, the gryphon was 2, and the Guinness was the actual bribe that got 2 to attend MFF in 2001. It was a really cool gift.

After that, 2 was swamped with admirers, and the rest of us dashed up to Bren and Kes's room to drink and wind down. By this time, it was about midnight, so it was time for the staffers to relax a bit.

Somehow, we managed to squeeze about 20 people into that room. 2 came up to visit us, and brought five or six other folks with him, including a guy in a zoot suit who could mix a killer martini, and the guy that was 2's opening act. For the most part, I just enjoyed sitting around with Jim, Jason, Kes, Bren, and Poe. I wound up spending most of my time chatting and challenging Poe to Bloody Roar on the Playstation.

I learned that I still suck at video games.

My big success of the evening was when 2 walked into the room and immediately spotted the bottle of Scotch that I contributed to the bar. "Who brought this?!?" he exclaimed as he grabbed the bottle lovingly.

The impromptu party died down fairly quickly, since everyone was wiped out from working or traveling. Finally, around 1:30 AM, Kes declared that it was bedtime, so we few stragglers wandered back to our rooms. It wound up that my roommates were to be Jim, Jen, and Poe, and that I indeed was to be the one sleeping on the floor.

11232002: Defying all reason, I woke up at 8:00 AM. Sharp.

I made myself stay curled up in my sleeping bag until about 9:00 AM, when Jen awoke and hopped in the shower. As it turns out, the Hyatt's floors are abnormally comfortable, especially when supplemented by a ThermaRest.

I spent the hour between 8 and 9 AM looking over the convention publications and the programming schedule. I was very impressed with the publications. They were understandably top-notch, since the furry community is mostly based on visual arts and cartooning. The convention booklet had a full-color cover and was packed with info, including a local restaurant guide. Lots of artwork. And the pocket program was actually pocket-sized! Wow! That's something I have never seen in all my convention days.

I was vastly amused by the programming schedule. There was a charity auction, some performances (in addition to 2's show, a gent named Kage was doing storytelling on Saturday night), and a "fursuit parade". There were panels about exotic pets, publishing comics, surviving criticism, puppet making, and fursuit building. There was even a panel named "Werewolf Construction". Six tracks of programming, featuring panels on everything from animal rescues to costuming. For coming to a convention for a fandom that I wasn't part of, I actually found a few panels that I was interested in.

After circling a couple of panel names, I got up and out of the sleeping bag. Poe and Jim were awake, too, so we chatted for a bit.

After Jen came out of the shower, I gathered my toiletries and went into the bathroom for my turn. Once in there, I noted the arsenal of little complimentary hotel soaps and shampoos.

"Does anyone mind if I steal the complimentary toiletries? I have a thing about stealing them."

"No, go ahead," came the reply from the other room. Just then, Poe was walking past the door.

"What's there?" he asked.

"Well, it looks like shampoo, conditioner, lotion... and a mending kit! COOL! A mending kit!"

"OH COOL! Maybe I can get the mending kit from the room downstairs!"

"Or maybe if I take this one, the maid will give us another one!"

Jim poked his head around the corner. "You guys scare me."

"You introduced us!" I reminded him, and Poe and I continued to gush over the mending kit. He soon dashed off to Bren and Kes's hotel room to steal their complimentary toiletries.

After I showered and dressed, I decided to find Consuite.

Consuite was stowed away under some sort of subterranean tunnel system beneath the hotel. Well, actually, it was tucked into a strange sub-ground floor that was centered around a central courtyard that was sneakily tucked within the walls of the hotel. Strange hotel layout. Yet the huge suite was perfect for a Consuite.

When I walked in, I knew I could love this Consuite. I was greeted with a large table full of fruits, veggies, instant oatmeal, and bagels. No stale chips! The veggies were fresh! The bar next to the table was constantly manned by one of the very attentive Consuite staff, who diligently metered out canned sodas, coffee, and hot water to the thirsty masses.

When I walked up to the bar and looked behind the counter, I saw they stocked caffeine-free Diet Coke. For a weight-conscious chick who is allergic to caffeine, the availability of a soda that is both free of calories and caffeine is the frickin' gold standard. I don't get this sort of service at fancy restaurants, man.

This was seriously the best "dry" Consuite I had ever had the pleasure of haunting.

It was also perhaps the most educational. As I guzzled carbonated caramel coloring, I listened to a guy in a skunk suit talk about special commercial sprays that are used to get body odors out of fursuits. Hunh. I never thought of that. I suppose you can't really clean the suits, and you get quite warm in there. I guess there's a niche for every product.

I also noted that the bar had a full stock of really long bendy-straws, so people in fursuits could drink their sodas without taking their masks off... another thing I would never have thought of.

I made sure that my stomach was well-fed with instant oatmeal, veggies, and glorious drinkable soda. Then I decided to try a panel. "Exotic Pets" sounded good. For six years in my youth, I had worked in the pet industry, so I figured that this would at least be interesting.

And interesting it was! The panel was run by the Animals for Awareness group, a local animal rescue organization. Two women, Kimberly and Vicki, were there with some of their various rescued critters. They told stories (both sad and uplifting), dispensed advice, and showed off their animal cohorts (a ringtail cat, a lynx, a fennec, and a couple of ferrets). There was quite a bit of talk about animal control laws and policy making and legal issues.

It was a fascinating and fun panel, though it was easy to both pity and envy these women. I envy people who seem to have a purpose in life, but I was floored by how much work and blood and sweat they had to pour into their mission. If I lived in Chicago, I would have volunteered to help.

Around noon, the AfA women took a break, so I went back to the room. I called Christopher in Minneapolis, then took a nap. I figured I was entitled to one.

Around 1:30 PM, I woke up and wandered down to the Art Show to say hi to everyone. The whole crew was hanging around, keeping busy with various Art Show duties. I figured I would probably be of most help if I stayed out of the way. I wandered around the show again, chatted with Poe, and ate a bagel. I grabbed Poe's "How to Draw Anime" books and leafed through them for a while.

Then a person in an amazing magpie costume walked in. I mean, it was an unbelievably cool costume. I had seen some pretty phenomenal feats of costume wizardry already that weekend, but I always felt too awkward to ask for a photo. This outfit was just too cool to pass up.

I asked him if I could get some photos of him in his outfit. It was only when he answered yes in a British accent that I discovered that I was talking to Frysco.

We decided to go outside and get some nice natural light shots. Luckily, the office building next-door to the hotel had a nice green space that served us well, and the sun was nice and bright, even though the air was a little chilly and windy.

After that, I was feeling peckish again, so I walked back down to the Consuite of the Gods. I found the World's Most Addictive Cheese Balls there.

As I was munching greedily on cheese puffs, a rather friendly fellow introduced himself to me out of the blue. I would have thought he was hitting on me if he wasn't as gay as a tree full of parakeets (which is a confirmed fact that came out in conversation, not an assumption on my part).

I had a perfectly delightful chat with this fellow, which started with me admitting that I was a horror fan more than anything else, and his immediate reply of, "So, who's your favorite killer?" Our chatter moved from horror films to action flicks to Pokemon. Eventually, he whipped out his sketchbook (I swear, everyone at this convention had a sketchbook) and showed me some of his more recent work, which involved a lot of furry male beefcake.

He then realized that it was almost 2 PM and that "the DDR [Dance Dance Revolution] tournament is going to start!" He hastened a goodbye and dashed off.

About that time, Jim wandered in, looking amazingly sane for a convention chair. I wound up talking shop with him and another MFF concom member. For as well as I know several people on the MFF staff, I knew very little about the history and inner workings of the convention.

I learned that the convention was only three years old. I knew it was young, but not that young. For a convention that new, it was running very smoothly, and enduring a 30% growth rate from year to year. That impresses the hell out of me.

There was some further talk about how Consuite was popular enough that it was already running out of supplies. From just looking at their constantly shifting and rotating spread of food, I would never have known.

After that, I left Jim to his convention duties and wandered back into the Art Show. The Charity Auction items were already gathering on a line of tables near the entrance. I spent some time looking at the booty. Lots of stuffed animals. Lots of them.

I then went to the Dealers' Room to see what would pop up in a furry convention Dealers' Room. As it turns out, there were a lot of tables for individual artists, who were all doing commissions and selling prints. There were a few vendors for stuffed animals and toys. There were a couple of jewelry vendors. It was a pretty small array -- about fifteen vendors, I would guess -- but there was more variety than I expected.

I ran into B-bert at his booth, where he was selling action figures and stuffed toys. If I had money to waste, I would have bought the large plush Pinky doll (from Pinky and the Brain). However, I did indeed lack cash, so I just chatted with B-bert for a while. Mostly, we talked about our mutual friend, cartoonist Mike Cole.

After that, I went back to the hotel room. I took another nap, just because I could.

Around 3:30, I got up and changed clothes. You see, part of the reason my Chicago buddies wanted me at MFF was so I could be a runner for their Charity Auction. One of the boys -- I think it was Jason -- specifically requested that I bring the Infamous Black Vinyl Dress along for this task.

So, there I was, in the middle of the afternoon, clad in tall leather boots, a vinyl dress, and matching opera-length gloves. I felt a little funny about that, so I put my coat on over the dress and walked out of the room. No sense in showing off before I need to.

I went to the Art Show, where Jen sent me next door to the Auction room. I then sat down and watched folks set up the auction items and observed who I would be working with.

First of all, 2 was there, and he was apparently going to be one of the other runners. Oh yeah, this was going to be fun.

There were two other runners, a man and a woman. I never did catch either of their names, but the four of us made a fine team.

Then there was Kage, the auctioneer.

I'd heard about Uncle Kage for a while. Kage is one of those fans whose reputation spreads far and wide in front of them. He's the chair of Anthrocon (the big US furry convention). He's a doctor of... organic chemistry, I think. He's gained some renown as a storyteller. Recently, he's been doing a lot of auctions.

As it turns out, Kage was indeed a force of personality. Obviously quite intelligent, quick thinking, and blessed with a sense of humor, he also seemed to own an ego as big as the sky. Not that that's necessarily a bad thing. This combination of features seemed to make him quite an effective auctioneer.

So, there's Kage with his mug full of milk. At least, he was proclaiming loudly and often that it was milk.

4:00 PM sharp, the auction got underway. Jim went up to the mike and made a couple announcements. The first was a reminder that the collected money was going to the Animals for Awareness group. He then introduced Vicki and Kimberly, who were sitting to the left of the stage with the fennec. The second announcement was that MFF would meet all of the money raised up to $3,000. Most excellent!

After that, Kage took the stage, and I took off my jacket. The three runners and I set up a sort of rotation so we would all trade off who was running each auction item around the audience so they could see what they were bidding on. It worked pretty well. There were a couple hundred things to auction off, so we all felt like we were doing something worthwhile.

It seems like the audience liked my dress. Kage had to establish early on that I was not up for auction.

The first item that I got to present was a small fox toy that was donated by Jen. It wasn't particularly remarkable, just cute in that stuffed animal sort of way. However, somehow Kage and I managed to get the bids up over $80.

When the bidding closed and I dropped the fox off with Kes, who was logging the bids into the system, I heard Vicki lean over to Jim and say, "Can she present all of the stuffed animals?"

So, we were off to an excellent start.

The auction went on for a couple of hours. We managed to sell off one of Kes's blankets for $180. A pair of stuffed rabbits went for over $100. I got to model some tails and a Wizard of Space and Time costume. Kage and 2 traded off auctioneer duties every once in a while. Bren won the chance to hold the fennec for a couple of hours. Kage drank a lot of milk.

Finally, we were down to the last item: a giant silk-screened banner from the Brooklyn Zoo that was apparently liberated from an advertising campaign in New York City. The thing, which featured a huge cheetah on the front, was about ten feet tall and very heavy. 2 and I had to team up to heft the thing around the auditorium.

The bidding war was fierce, between one of the guys on the auction's video crew and a gent in the audience. It was actually quite funny, because the guy working on the video crew wasn't even there -- he was in the production van, and was delivering bids via headset to one of the camera men. The price crept up to $340 until the guy in the audience admitted defeat.

The auction was finally over. Cash raised: $3,044, which was doubled to $6,088 by MFF.

After that, I wasn't quite sure what to do with myself, so I wandered around on the stage amid the people who wanted to chat with Kage, 2, and Jim. One of the guys from the audience tried to chat me up, but it was just... sad. I decided to try to leave.

Just before I stepped off the stage, Kage suddenly thrust the microphone in my hand. "Hold this!" he commanded, as he poured himself more "milk" from a cobalt blue bottle.

"That is not milk," I said, forgetting that the mike was on.

I watched with horror as Kage put the bottle of sake back into a bucket of ice. Okay, even good sake tastes like swamp water, and that's when it's served properly warmed. Cold sake just makes me cringe.

"Milk does your body good!" he quipped, and downed another mug full of, ugh, chilled sake.

I finally managed to get rid of the microphone and headed next door to the Art Show. 7:00 PM was nearing, and they were going to need help bouncing people out of there and getting things closed down for the night.

Pretty much, all of my friends were congregated there already, and we stationed ourselves around the room. Jason made five minute announcements until 7:00 PM, and then we snapped into action. I discovered that herding fans out of an Art Show is a little bit like herding cats.

Yet, finally, only we staffers were left in the room. Jason, Jen, Bren, and Kes all started working on getting the bids entered. Or, at least, they tried -- the computers just weren't cooperating with their wishes. There was much cursing.

Poe and I felt a little fifth-wheelish, so we decided to help out by figuring out who won the 5-gallon jar of candy. This involved ripping open the vote box, getting the real number of candy bits from Jen, and then sorting through about 75 squares of paper to find the closest vote. My guess was off by about 600. The winner was off by five.

After that, the computer cursing was continuing, so Poe and I decided to just stay out of the way. We entertained ourselves by surfing around the room on a wheeled cart.

Finally, I'd had enough of wearing the vinyl dress. I went back to the hotel room and changed back into pants and a t-shirt. I also grabbed my deck of Chez Geek cards, just in case Poe and I needed to kill more time until our other friends were done swearing at Visual Basic.

On my way back to the Art Show room, I swung by Consuite. More caffeine-free diet soda! Yes!

Back in the Art Show, I was actually put to work. I spent a good 45 minutes taking art off the walls, removing hooks and alligator clips, and doing other such things.

Then, Poe and I were back to being bored, and our buddies were still cursing. I taught Poe the rules to Chez Geek. We played about ten games of it while Kage ranted on in the room next door (his storytelling hour had begun next door). Then the dance started in the room on the other side of the Art Show, and Poe and I were still riveted to Chez Geek. A little while later, there was some sort of drama about a couple of ravers who wanted to turn the oldies dance into a rave, and they pouted by sitting outside in the hallway with their boombox turned up to full. Poe and I kept playing cards.

Finally, after a particularly giggly and nookie-heavy game of Chez Geek (during which I ran out of pennies to tally up all the nookie points that Poe and I had racked up), our friends stopped cursing. It turns out that either Bren or Jason found the glitch in the computer program: VB didn't want to play nice with a text-only field. They switched it to a variable character field and POOF! Everything worked like a dream.

It was now midnight. Jason decreed that it was time to drink heavily.

We all adjourned to Bren and Kes' room, where Poe and I made some sort of attempt to make something drinkable out of rum and caffeine-free Diet Coke. Everyone else was too tired to really talk much, so most of the time spent in the room was spent listening to Poe tell crazy stories about his job in a haunted house. Since I had just spent a lot of time going through several Halloween haunts in Minnesota, this was actually a lot of fun for me.

Around 1:00 AM, Kes decided that she needed to crash, so Poe and I wandered back downstairs to keep talking shop on haunts and hayrides. We wound up sitting in the hallway outside of the dance, doing a lot of people watching while we half-shouted over the music at each other. He was apparently supposed to meet someone at the dance earlier that evening, so he was trying to keep an eye out for her.

While we waited, we kept chatting, and it was a great time. We moved on from haunt talk to the zombie commercials I did that summer, then to CONvergence. I think I have him convinced that he should come to Minnesota in July, even though it might be tricky to get him there from West Virginia on no budget.

Around 2:00 AM, Poe wandered into the dance to look for his friend. I hung out in the hallway and watched a woman chat up a guy in cheetah body paint. "How far do those stripes go?" she asked as she peeked under the hem of his running shorts...

I found Poe again a few minutes later. He still hadn't found his buddy, so we walked into the lobby for another game of Chez Geek. We got about halfway through the game when his buddy was located and he had to vacate.

I then decided that this was a good time to vacate the convention and go crash on the floor.

11242002: I woke up. It was still dark outside. No fair.

I woke up again around 9:00 AM. There. That's much better.

I hopped into the shower. Usually, I love hotel showers because they're scalding hot. Unfortunately, this particular shower was not up to my standards. Hotel showers should not be allowed to be cold or lukewarm. That should be against the laws of the universe.

Around 10:00 AM, I had recovered enough from the shower that I was somewhat sentient. I went to the Art Show to locate my cohorts.

As I exited the elevators on the main floor of the hotel, I was greeted by a hallway full of Christmas trees, lighted twig reindeer, and packing material. Hotel employees were buzzing around, placing faux Christmas gifts in clouds of fluffy fake snow. It was... surreal. There were people in fursuits wandering one side of the hall, and hotel people loaded to the teeth with ornaments on the other side. It wasn't even Thanksgiving yet, but the Hyatt was determined to celebrate Christmas.

I finally got to the Art Show room, after my shock had abated somewhat. I found most of the crew there, trying to sort out which bidder got what piece of art. Jim, Poe, and I found ourselves hungry and a little useless, so we left and went to find food instead.

We walked into Consuite and were greeted by a mountain of bagels and five-pound slabs of cream cheese. I love this Consuite!

There was some convention shop talk as the three of us nourished ourselves on bagels and oatmeal. Eventually, I wound up asking if there were any lunch plans.

"No," Jim said., "but there's a Schlotsky's Deli across the street. I bet if you went back up to the Art Show and took orders, you would be a hero."

I thought that was an excellent idea. Poe and I hatched a plan.

First order of business was to get some stuff arranged between the two hotel rooms. Second was to hit the Art Show room and get orders. The third was to fetch food.

So, we first went up to Bren and Kes' room on fourth floor. Poe had a key and I didn't, so I figured this would be a good time to retrieve my bottles of alcohol out of the room.

We then took the booze up to fifth floor, where my room was. I dropped off the box, then scraped up a CONvergence PR report out of my luggage and handed it to Poe. I think he was getting more and more into the idea of visiting Minnesota in July.

I also grabbed my ATM card and my coat, then we left the room and headed towards the elevators.

On our way down the hall, we saw one of the maid's carts sitting in front of one of the rooms. We glanced at each other and knew what had to be done.

Silently and casually, we crept up to the cart and grabbed a few handfulls of complimentary soaps, shampoos, and conditioners. I didn't find any mending kits, but my pockets were full anyway.

We then stealthily walked away. We were cool, casual. Like nothing ever happened.

Then, about 20 feet down the hall, we started snorting with giggles. By the time we reached the elevator, we couldn't stop laughing.

"That was like the Thomas Crown Affair!" Poe gasped between guffaws. "BWAAHAHAHAHA! We were so smoooooth... BWAHAHAHA!"

We had the giggles for several minutes. I tried to think of people who might want some quality milled soap.

We took the elevator back to the main floor, hit the ATM, went back to the Art Show, took everyone's sandwich requests, gathered cash, and then set out for Schlotzky's.

I thought it was kind of odd that it was the two out-of-towners that wound up going out to find the restaurant, but thankfully, everything worked out fine. Schlotzky's was only a block or two away from the hotel. We just walked there, carefully avoiding the copious goose crap on the sidewalk. (It was just the season for that sort of thing to show up on sidewalks.)

We had some time for good chatting while we walked to and from the restaurant. We discussed various large cities in the U.S., Ultimate Fighting, and, of course, the petty theft of complimentary toiletries.

When we arrived back at the Art Show with bags of real food, we were worshipped as gods. Okay, no, we weren't, but everyone was very thankful.

Poe and I sat down on the bed in the corner (which was still wedged against that door) and ate our sandwiches. "I think my body was going into a state of benign ketosis," he said, mostly to his sandwich. "My brain was probably next."

After vaporizing my sandwich, I headed to Consuite for something to drink. While there, I picked up a Dr. Pepper for Bren and a caffeine-free Diet Coke for myself. The woman behind the counter at the bar handed me two of the Diet Cokes and told me that one was for the road.

I loved this Consuite! Hell, even if I didn't have any friends at this convention, I might still attend just to renew my faith in Consuites everywhere.

On my way back to the Art Show, I ran into Jim, who immediately turned to his live radio and said, "I found her. She's out in the hall."

Okay, when they're radioing for me, something's up. I looked at Jim blankly.

"Poe's looking for you," he said. "I think he's still in the Art Show."

A little bewildered and alarmed, I hoofed it to the Art Show. I barely made it in the door when Poe cried, "YOU HAVE TO SEE THIS! AND YOU NEED YOUR CAMERA!" I don't think the sodas had time to hit the tabletop before I was pulled back out of the room.

Poe and I ran to a tall cardboard box in the hall, apparently left behind from all the Christmas materials. Perched on the box was an empty bottle.

I didn't understand until I read the label, which read: Diet Air.


I thought it might be a joke until I noticed that no, this is an honest to god Snapple product. I grabbed it and inspected the bottle. Yup, ingredients list, nutrient information, the whole thing. Apparently Diet Air contains 10 calories.

After I was done giggling at it, Poe said, "Is it empty? Or full?"

This was just too funny. We snapped tons of photos of this silly thing. I wonder what Diet Air tastes like? Have I been gaining weight just because I've been using normal, Non-Diet Air? How many calories does Regular Air have?

After that, we left the bottle where it was and went back to the Art Show. The Art Auction had just finished, so Jason, Bren, Kes, and Jen were swamped by customers who wanted to buy their art, and by artists who wanted to check out. Poe and I sprang into action after a brief lesson in using the VB program that Bren and Jason were cursing the night before.

The line to check out was about 30 people deep by the time I got there, so we quickly figured out a system. I would take the buyer's badge number and punch it into the computer. The computer would make two printouts of what they had bought. Poe would take the printouts and check them against what the person had in their hands. Then he'd give one receipt to them, and the other to Kes. Kes would log the receipts, and Jason would take the buyer's cash.

It worked beautifully. We demolished the backlog in a few minutes, then worked at a stead pace for the next hour or so.

When almost all of the art had been picked up, we relaxed a little bit. Poe and I hung around the desk and yakked about Lovecraft and Hellboy comics for another hour.

At one point during the conversation, though, he put his hands in his pockets and realized the complimentary soaps were still in there. He smelled his hands.

"My hands... smell like petty larceny! They smell like GUILT!"

We started that uncontrollable giggling again. All our other friends looked at us quizzically, probably wondering why they had originally thought it was a good idea to introduce the two of us to each other.

Finally, 3:00 PM rolled around, and it was time for me to start driving back toward Minneapolis. I figured that 8:00 PM was late enough for me to get back into town, and if a winter storm hit on the way (like it usually does -- welcome to the Midwest), I would at least have some extra driving time.

I announced that I would be heading out, and everyone came up and hugged me and said goodbye. Jen even radioed Jim so he could say goodbye, too. It was very sweet of everyone. I was very sad to be leaving before they were done, because it would be later that night that they could leave their staff badges behind and unwind. I briefly contemplated calling in sick to work on Monday from Chicago, but I'm sadly the responsible type. I was sad to go.

Poe was very sweet and offered to help me haul my junk to the car, for which I am extremely grateful. All the stuff that took me three trips to haul in took only one trip to haul back out.

As we stuffed my things back into the trunk of my car, it began to snow. Crap. I didn't want to drive the next six to eight hours in a snow storm. Yet Poe looked at the flakes landing on his black sweatshirt and said, "Look at this!"

I looked. It was cold enough outside that it was snowing really hard little ice crystals instead of fluffy snow, so each ice crystal was a perfect and identical six-pointed asterisk shape. Strange!

Hearkening back to our previous Lovecraft discussion, he exclaimed, "Perfect snowflakes! Is this the Yellow Sign?!?"

"No, that's just Ikea," I said, glancing at the Ikea store just across the parking lot.

We said farewell, and I told him again that he should go to CONvergence next year. Hopefully, we'll see him there with Jen, Jason, Jim, Bren, and Kes.

I hit the road and drove out of Chicago as fast as I could, hoping to cover as much ground as possible before the winter storm hit. I managed to get to the Wisconsin border before I-90 turned into the Midwest's largest parking lot. Thankfully, the blizzard only lasted for about an hour. I finally got to Minneapolis at around 9:30 that night.

I returned to town with the knowledge that I had a damn fine weekend, and that I really enjoyed this excursion into a different type of fandom. MFF is a convention that I'm excited about; I might attend next year if my schedule allows it.

I'd like to thank Jen and Jim and Jason and Brendan and Kes for their kindness, hospitality, and generosity. I'd also like to thank Poe for hanging out with me all weekend and being a partner in crime.

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