A World Worth Saving
“You might want to give that to me,” Elf says.
My eighth grader gestures to the blue cardboard TARDIS I’m carrying – Doctor Who’s time-traveling spaceship.
“You want to put it on?”
“No,” she says. “Everyone’s looking at you like you’re a 50 year old guy that still lives in his mother’s basement.”
It’s 8 a.m. on a Saturday. Elf and I are standing in the ticket line for Tampa Bay Comic Con with her friend Elli, dressed like one of Doctor Who’s traveling companions.
Then you were among the normal people still sleeping that morning.
But while you were snoozing, the 10,000 diehard geeks around me traversed a deep and murky wood (Interstate 275) to enter the Realm of Geek, where traditional notions of cool are disguised as a manga character no jock or cheerleader can name.
We’re standing in line immediately behind two rebel soldiers from Hoth, who have fashioned their ring helmets out of a shiny swimming pool float. One nods appreciatively. “Props on that awesome TARDIS.”
The twenty-something holds up his camera.
“Sure,” Elf says. She tucks into her blue London police box costume and I take a photo of the Hothian mugging beside her.
Officially kicking off the cosplaying.
As in Costume Playing.
Which entails people who are too old to trick-or-treat dressing up as characters from comic books, TV shows and movies with cult followings. Then they trade compliments, take each other’s photos and attend events and convention panels like [vulgarity] Foam Sword Fighting; Orion Slave Girl Dancers; Building My First Lightsabre; Geek Dating Tips; Star Wars Cosplay Belly Dance Show; Freestyle Dungeons and Dragons; the Manly Man Facial Hair Contest; and Pallet 2 Plateau: A Pokemon Hip-Hop Experience.
Oh and two actual, real weddings between cosplay fanatics.
I strike up a conversation with the guy behind me. He’s missing half of his face. I gesture to his disfigurement. “Did you have to get up extra early to do that?”
He oozes the pained social awkwardness of a high school dweeb. “I got up at five in the morning.”
“You gorified yourself?”
He gains confidence. “You simply take red Jell-O and mix it with gylcerine. That’s a laxative,” he adds. “Then you apply it. It’s gets all rubbery and dries in an hour.”
The high schooler with a face full of cherry laxative is holding a very real looking crossbow. Comic Con’s security has locked the weapon’s trigger with a plastic tie. “Wow! Is that a real crossbow?” I say.
“It shoots suction cups.”
Unsure where our conversation might organically go from there, I offer an impressed nod and look around.
Bain from Batman is in the next line over. A 5-year-old Rey from The Force Awakens is holding hands with BB-8. There’s a Mad Hatter, a murderous video-game robot, a Steampunk Mary Poppins, and a woman wearing a hockey mask over her burka.
Which may be a character I don’t know or just a woman wearing a hockey mask over her burka.
Some child’s grandmother is dressed as Catwoman. Another person is hiding inside a 7-foot tall Pikachu made of bedsheets while across the hall a guy in his forties is dressed like a Pokeball. Two lines over, Spongebob is standing in front of a Lord of the Rings elf.
Scores of Walking Dead characters mingle with dozens of Harley Quinns (a provocatively dressed female vigilante).
Including five separate guys who cross-dressed as Harley Quinn. Which would have been witty and clever had one of them done it, but now they’re just pulling at their bunching fishnet stockings and looking sheepishly at each other.
Then Santa Claus walks by.
“Well, that’s just weird,” the girl wearing a cardboard time-traveling police box says.
We enter the convention center hall with all the Comic Con vendors.
It’s a football field full of comic books, figurines, T-shirts touting obscure dweeb humor, nerd jewelry, and geek wall art, which we can buy after paying $42.50 per person just to get in.
A boy Elf’s age comes up. “Awesome TARDIS!” He tries to high five her but she has no arms.
The boy trots out a recurring Doctor Who line about the TARDIS. “Is it bigger on the inside?”
“I’ve got Matt Smith in here with me.”
The 20-something actor who played the Tenth Doctor.
I suddenly feel very uncomfortable.
The boy laughs hysterically and walks off.
“I made him laugh!” Elf says to Elli. “Did you see him? He was soooo cute!”
Still feeling uncomfortable.
“I would have gotten his number,” says Elf. “But I couldn’t move my hands.”
Fifty photos later a dad gestures to his young son, standing far off and too embarrassed to talk. “He loves Doctor Who. Can we grab a pic?”
The boy actually quivers with happiness when Elf nods.
They pose. Click.
“I’ve never seen a TARDIS smile so big!” the dad laughs.
Then it clicks for me.
Back in high school, who didn’t seize a hairbrush, singing into the bedroom mirror, daydreaming of stardom?
At least until our little sister threw open the door and mocked us.
Then, somehow, life happened. We walled off our fantasies. We learned to spend our days playing at being lawyers and teachers, doctors and accountants.
All around me, lawyers in Captain America T-shirts enthusiastically drag their kids to another vendor. Accountants are leading roving bands of zombie killers.
Everyone surrounding me is happy.
And I realize I’m smiling back at this gargantuan room filled with meganerds, people who have spent so much of their lives being judged that they refuse to judge each other.
Well, except for Santa Claus.
And in that fleeting moment, I drop an additional $32 on Ms. Marvel comic books for my smiling TARDIS.
Because the world is wonderful place worth saving.
By Chris Barrett, Publisher