Fear & Loathing At Comic-Con: The Sequel, Part I: I Hope You Choke On Your Potato Salad And Die
For the next 72 hours, I'm stuck riding a freight train cross country stocked with automatic weapons and plushy toy animals designed to conceal them. I'm surrounded by a group of heavily armed David Icke worshipping crust punks shitting and pissing into Gatorade bottles and frantically putting on their tin foil hats every time they think they spot a chem trail in the skyline.
But this story begins with Potato Salad.
Life is really just one giant Rube Goldberg machine, some guy launches a joke Kicksarter campaign and I end up in the ER with alcohol poisoning.
Some spoiled prat from Hollywood doesn't get laid so he takes out his misguided anger by murdering six strangers, and I get committed to a psychiatric ward.
It was always bound to happen though, all of it. I'm no stranger to it.
Two suburbanite shit heads shot up their high school in 1999 and I became a social pariah forced to attend mandatory counseling for wearing an Evil Dead shirt to class. A close friend was expelled for reading a strategy guide to the popular Nintendo game, Goldeneye at the cafeteria lunch table.
After a whole group of assholes hijacked two planes, having olive skin tone meant being randomly pulled aside and strip searched every time I boarded an airplane. I'll never be able to go to Disney World again without having some stranger in a uniform eyes' on my bare junk while some other prick rummages through every item in my carry on.
It doesn't help that I've been in and out of therapy for most my life. And during all of that time, I've consciously dodged any type of official diagnosis being paranoid and aware of the potential ramifications of being given one.
Every time I'm sitting in a session and a doctor starts throwing around words like manic depressive, bi-polar disorder, or Asperger's, I end up finding a new doctor.
It was some asshole in Virginia with bi polar disorder who decided to shoot a whole lot of people at his tech school.
It was some asshole with Aspergers in Connecticut who decided to kill a whole lot of children.
I'm short, hairy, balding, and socially awkward, the last thing I need is an additional label tagged to me that's associated with mass murdering sociopaths.
I used to ride the short bus to school. When I was three, the doctors told my mother I would never be able to read, they told her I would never be able to function independently in the world. They told her I was behaviorally and intellectually challenged. I wasn't mentally retarded. They didn't know what I was.
But they placed me in a classroom with other kids who'd sit in the corner wearing their football helmets, staring at the wall and drooling into their laps while they played with their own shit. I learned my alphabet with kids who'd compulsively hit themselves in the face with whatever they could find in arm's reach.
I knew I didn't belong there, but I didn't know how to say it. But then again, I didn't say much of anything, and that was the problem. At least, for the doctors it was.
By third grade I was reading at a ninth grade level. Suddenly, I wasn't riding the short bus anymore. Suddenly, the doctors weren't telling my mother that I was bound to just grow up as some type of Lenny. Suddenly, I wasn't an idiot, now I was an idiot savant.
Only, I never lived up to that label other.
Doctors, they can be wrong, and often are.
Autism wasn't a thing then, and even now, the parameters of what it means to be on that spectrum are constantly changing.
Professionally speaking, Aspergers doesn't exist anymore. But you'll still hear that word a whole hell of a lot whenever you hear about that asshole that shot those kids, or this other new asshole that hated women and went out looking for his retribution.
But I should go back to the Potato Salad.
Actually, I should go back to January when I lost my business, which lead to me losing my home, which lead to me living out of my car, only, I ended up losing that as well , which lead to me being back on my mother's couch.
I tried to fight the oncoming depression. I eventually found a menial job doing phone sales. Smile and dial. Smile and dial.
I gave myself artistic projects to keep me content and busy.
I had failed miserably in securing a publisher for my first novel and failed miserably again in running a crowd sourcing campaign to print it myself. So, I started a new novel and launched a new crowd sourcing campaign where I thought I had learned from the mistakes of the previous.
And then the menial phone sales job started to wear me down, and I found it harder and harder to avoid the nightly happy hour specials every time I left my ten hours of smiling and dialing.
And my second attempt of raising the funds necessary to create my new comic/novel crashed and burned just as the previous one had.
And what I had expected to be a few weeks on my mother's couch turned into a few months.
And then, one day, I read about a Kickstarter campaign where a man raised over $50,000 to make potato salad.
It was a joke, I understood it. It was an Andy Kaufmanesque attempt to deconstruct the absurd nature of online crowd sourcing.
But it became a catalyst for the most devastating existential crisis I've experienced.
As I watched the numbers climb higher on higher on the contributions page, I also an angry letter from an angry ex sitting in my inbox. We hadn't spoken in months, and now, out of nowhere, she was writing me to tell me that I was a complete failure. That I was disillusioned with a false sense of self entitlement and that my art would never matter. I was a pathetic momma's boy. My friends weren't my friends; they only hung out with me out of pity. I was a novelty. She told me there are reasons why I keep hitting rock bottom and I'll continue to hit rock bottom until the day that I die alone.
When I made it home that night, even my mother railed against me for having fucked up priorities, that it was time to grow up and accept that I need to give up on the art and focus on a career. My father said that I should have just taken a township job straight out of high school and became a trash man; they can make over 60,000 a year. I'll be lucky if I ever break 35,000 again.
And then, there was that stupid fucking picture of a bowl of fucking potato salad that had earned fifty fucking thousand dollars.
It may seem odd that something so arbitrary and irrelevant would send me into a whiskey drenched tail spin into complete and utter self destruction, but it did.
Something inside of me broke.
Years of blood, sweat, and tears with absolutely zero success. Years of hitting rock bottom repeatedly, and being homeless again and again.
Weeks of begging and pleading with every soul I know for press and support on the new campaign only to receive next to none.
But Potato fucking Salad, it was the new big in -joke for a culture of cynically detached insincere hipsters.
I decided that I should just do what I'm paranoid that everyone expects me to do. I was going to recreate my own version of Leaving Las Vegas. But I'm the epitome of the lowly blogger whose crazy rants bounce off the walls of the echo chamber never reverberating with any tangible audience. There was no severance check to allow me one final binge in Sin City. I couldn't leave Philadelphia, and I mean that physically, not metaphorically.
The best that I could do was to funnel down two handles of Jim Bean in Rittenhouse Square, a popular center city park populated with burn outs, hippies, and crusties
It only took an hour and three quarters of the first handle before I woke up in an ER having my stomach pumped, cursing the doctors for not allowing me to choke on my own vomit.
It was two days and a life changing hang over later that I was referred to a new psychiatrist.
And that's where I learned a very important lesson.
If you supposedly have aspergers and own guns, the very last thing you ever want a psychiatrist to know is that you supposedly have aspergers and also own guns.
So when you're talking to your therapist or psychologist and she starts throwing around the "A" word and follows that up by asking you if you own any guns, there's only one appropriate response if you don't want to spend the next two weeks in a state mandated drug induced haze. You lie and say, "No."
For the first hour, she listened to all of my stories of self doubt, self loathing, and shit luck without so much of an affirming murmur.
But when she asked me about my love life, I never should have given her the venomous stream of expletives to describe my experiences of being rejected, shit on, and taken advantage of. I was riled up and I wanted to be heard after being ignored.
This bitch psychiatrist was acting like most of my bitch ex-girlfriends.
And that was definitely my mistake.
I shouldn't have told my psychiatrist that I was afraid that of dying alone.
She heard something else. She heard, "Elliot Rodger, retribution, aspergers, murderer."
So she only had one more question, "Greg, do you own any guns?"
And I was the idiot who said, "Sure, I own a lot of guns."
Thirty minutes later, I was greeted with the presence of two uniformed officers who escorted me out of the small apartment turned office.
They took me straight to the local psychiatric ward.
I had been 302'd. This is how America reacts to mental health reform.
Now I was going to lose my guns, my new job, and probably any chance at any legitimate future employment.
I probably shouldn't have called my therapist a cunt as the cops carried me out.
CHAPTER 2: ENJOY YOUR HIGH. TIME DOESN'T EXIST HERE.
When you're 302'd, you always spend your first seventy two hours on suicide watch,
regardless if you were suicidal when you went in.
If anything, you will be by the time that you're out.
And while you may go in with the expectation of being released in three days, no one ever is.
The doctors assure you that you'll see your friends and family again soon enough if you just do what you're told and behave.
But no one does what they're told, and no one behaves how they're expected to.
The problem is that you're never told what to do or how to behave. You're only told when you did what you weren't supposed to, when you misbehaved, and then an extra two days are added to your time.
It's a system set up with the sole intention of forcing everyone to fail.
The longer you stay, the more drugs will be shoveled down your throat, and the more money the hospital will get.
One day you're taking, olanzapine the next it's asenapine, the day after that it's citalopram. By the end of the first week it might be Amisulpride. When you leave two weeks later you're on sertaline.
But if there's one helpful thing that a mental institution will give you, it's time. Time to think.
That is, when you're clear headed enough to remember your own name.
It also gives you the time to grow a really gnarly lumber jack beard, since you're not allowed to shave when you're there, razors being an obvious liability and all.
But if you're able to sneak a pen and some loose leaf paper from the receptionist's table and are successful in hiding it from the orderlies, it also gives you the time to finish your new novel, and hatch a crazy new plan.
In my case, I wrote Dead Heroes, a super hero story for people who are sick and fucking tired of super hero stories. It's a story about a schizophrenic riot grrl battling an evil, racist superman born out of the Move bombing in Philadelphia.
I needed a purpose again. I needed hope. I needed my own potato fucking salad.
My new comic book influenced novel gave me purpose and I was going to attend Comic Con in San Diego at the end of July to try and sell it which gave me hope, probably a false hope, but that's the only thing I'm good at making.
So I bit my acidic tongue. I took my meds, and I wrote. I wrote and I wrote and I wrote. And every once and a while, I would sneak a wank into the toilet of the communal bathrooms whenever I was lucky enough to be alone in one. It's difficult to even take a shit without having some observer make sure that you're not secretly building a hydrogen bomb with the leftovers of your lunch.
And when I was finally released yesterday, I walked out of that giant brown box of a building with a new Mohammed beard and three hundred pages of pure incoherence scribbled down by hand with a cheap Bic pen that I hid up my asshole tucked under my arm.
I wonder if I sell my book and become famous if I'll be able to auction off that pen on Ebay for a month's rent.
And on the day of my release, I called my good friend, Colin, to let him know that I had been locked away without a key for the past sixteen days and needed a ride to the airport.
There was no time to waste; no reason to go back to the couch that I was on and recollect.
I was on my way to San Diego.
CHAPTER 3: IF TSA EVER ASKS YOU IF THERE'S A BOMB UP YOUR ASS, NEVER TELL THEM THAT IT'S GIVING YOU HEARTBURN.
Whenever you're confronted with having to tell a close friend that you've been committed, regardless of whom that good friend may be, the exchange will always be the same.
They will pretend that everything is OK, and that you're OK, but you both know that neither is true.
You will spend the next thirty minutes making light chit chat about all of the things that you missed on the outside while you were away.
You will talk about the World Cup even though neither of you care about soccer. You will talk about the Phillies getting slaughtered even though neither of you follow baseball. You will talk about how Iraq has become one huge cluster fuck, even though you don't fully understand why. You will start to talk about what's happening in Gaza but stop before saying what you really think because you're afraid that someone's listening in somewhere. So you will change the conversation to something lighter. You will talk about how the new X-Men movie was just all right and how the new Apes movie is better than it has any right to be.
And when you tell your friend to drop you off directly at the airport, they will do it because they can't say no. But you will see it on their face that they wished they had.
Maybe it was the drugs, but I was feeling more confident and optimistic than I ever had in my entire life.
I had three hundred pages of the greatest writing ever written while doped up on antipsychotic and ssri cocktails in a mental institution resting on my lap. And I was sure that I was going to somehow magically find a way to turn those three hundred pages into a stable lifestyle by hawking it to producers I had no clue how to connect with at one of the biggest media events in the world.
This was it. This was my meal ticket. This was my pay day.
Colin only nodded and told me how awesome it all sounded as I ranted and rambled about my new opus during the car ride.
He probably should have told me that I was nuts. He probably should have kept going when we approached the exit to the airport on 95 North.
But I had already ordered my plane tickets on my phone and there we were.
Would've, could've, should've. Those three words have encapsulated my entire life thus far.
But things wouldn't have been nearly as exciting if I actually adhered to any of it. How boring would life be if I listened to any internal voice of reason?
So I exchanged farewells with my good friend at the check in for the departing flights, registering the fear in his eyes that he might not see me again.
And then I learned that the only thing more worrisome to a flight attendant than a person with too much luggage is to check in someone with none.
My clothes hadn't been washed in weeks, my eyes glassy and pupils still dilated. I smiled with the type of overly friendly smile of someone who has something to hide; something like having just been discharged from a mental institution an hour earlier.
But I made it past the luggage check. I made it all the way to the security. It was there that I was finally stopped.
Then again, it was there that I've always been stopped ever since some brown people associated with gnarly beards decided to fly those airplanes into those towers.
"Sir, I'm sorry, but I have to ask you to step aside for a random search."
"The hell it is."
"The hell what is?"
"The hell that this is a random search. You know, the Chinese guy behind me is more likely to know how to engineer a bomb that can fit into a shoe than me. I can barely put an IKEA bookshelf together."
Just like with the psychiatrist, this was the wrong response. The TSA agent skipped the shoe removal and immediately walked me to a holding room where I was told to disrobe.
But this was not my first time.
That's the thing about being an asshole cynic. A lot of people would have you believe that you reap what you sew, but in my experiences, it makes no difference. Whether or not I decide to be a compliant brown noser, I still end up dropping my drawers every time I take a vacation or travel.
But this was the first time that a TSA agent decided that a full cavity search was necessary and I learned another important lesson. If someone with a name badge asks if you're hiding a bomb up your ass, never say that it's so far up that it's giving you heartburn.
But this wasn't the first time I've had the gloved fingers of some stranger exploring my asshole. I have a bad prostrate. I'm told I can expect cancer before I hit fifty. I've learned to deal with it, being probed by middle aged men.
So I bit my lip and tried my damnest to fart in his face but nothing came out.
But even after every orifice was searched for anything that could potentially be used as a weapon, I was kept in waiting for another three hours in the small windowless room.
It was during those three hours that I met Scott.
I had missed my flight and I already knew I wouldn't be given another. I already knew that I had been deemed a potential flight risk. I already knew that my psychiatrist took it upon herself to officially diagnose me and that it will come up as a red flag on file every time security runs my ID at the airport.
But I wasn't alone sitting on a plastic fold out chair with my pants folded on my lap while I waited for the inevitable.
There was another young male in the room, some crust punk dressed as Heath Ledger's Joker from The Dark Knight. I already knew that he was crazy, and I already knew that we were going to somehow band together because that's what crazies do, they find each other, and they travel together.
It took an hour before he finally made his way over to the seat next to mine and reached his hand out for me to shake.
He didn't bother to introduce himself, he only asked, "Asenapine?"
"What did they put you on?"
"I can't even remember anymore. I think it might be Citalopram."
"Ah.....Fun times. I lost an entire week on a marathon session of Skyrim on that."
"I'm not big on RPGs."
"That's good, that's what the reptilians want."
Any time anyone mentions the reptilians to you without with an air of sarcasm, you should probably run. But I didn't. I was stuck waiting on that cheap plastic fold out chair with my pants folded in my lap.
So I said, "I'm Greg. "
And he responded, "Scott."
Scott looked at me wryly and accurately assumed, "Going to Comic Con?"
"How'd you know?"
"I can smell it on you. Let me guess. You're a writer, maybe an artist, and you're hoping to sell your next big project."
"That's one hell of a fucking guess."
"We're all trying to sell something."
"What are you selling?"
I was hoping he'd say, "Soap." Instead, he told me, "Freedom. But for you, a chance to get to where it is that you want to go. Neither of us are getting on any planes from here, my friend. "
"Well, then I'm afraid we're both fucked. I can't think of any other way for us to get to California quick or cheaply enough to make it in time for Comic Con."
"Never heard of a train before?"
"Sure, you'd be looking at three transfers at a minimum, and about four or five days travel time."
"And what if I told you I've got a line on an express cargo freight train headed that way. We can board it down town five hours from now and be in San Diego in 72."
"Train hopping? That's a pretty decent way to end up in jail in some bumble fuck Midwest sinkhole getting ass raped by man with two first names. And that's assuming you're lucky enough to not get pumped full of buckshot by some trigger happy yard guard."
"Maybe I know a guy who knows the guy who owns the train car we'll be riding in. And maybe he owns a substantial amount of stock in the shipping company that's transporting his goods coast to coast. Maybe he can put a phone call in to make sure we're left alone. And maybe I've already started arranging all of this the moment after Wendy with TSA started fondling my balls hoping to find a detonator."
"That's a lot of maybes, Scott. I've lost too many bets on maybes."
"So take out all of the maybes from what I just said. They were rhetorical anyway, and you know it."
"And what do I have to get in on this?"
"Announce your allegiance with me against the Reptilian overlord nation."
CHAPTER 4: EVERYTHING I KNOW ABOUT REPTELLIANS I LEARNED FROM A CRUST PUNK WHILE TRIPPING ON PYSCHEDELIC MUSHROOMS ON A FREIGHT TRAIN TO CALIFORNIA
Beyond being crazy, the first thing that I learned about Scott is that he has a lot of cash, like a whole ton of cash.
He looks and smells like a homeless person and it was impossible to gage his age. He could be twenty five, or he called be forty five. He has jaundiced eyes with more rings around them than a San Francisco Redwood trunk. He's missing a lot of teeth and has random bald spots on his head. The hair that he does have has been pulled back into a pony tail.
Both of his arms are inked with prison style sleeves and he's wearing a tattered denim vest adorned with dozens of political patches and punk band buttons. I wond where his dog is. These guys always traveled with some malnourished dog, their only chance of scoring any pity and cash when pan handling.
And of course, he has a camping bag the size of a Scion strapped to his back.
But he has a charisma, a youthful energy full of confidence. He's like an eloquent combination of Chop Top from Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 or Bill Mosley's other similar character from Devil's Rejects crossed with Henry Rollins, and any generic crust punk you'd normally find lazily begging for change.
It came as a surprise to see him pull out a thick wad of crispy new Benjamin's when he hailed down a cab after we were finally released from the Airport detention being denied another flight.
It came as a surprise when Scott handed the cabbie two of those crisp new one hundred bills and told him, "Schukyll river trail by Spruce Street in center city."
Did Scott rob a bank? Did he kill someone? Or was it both? Maybe it was even something worse.
But the taxi took us exactly where Scott had told him to.
Once there, we walked a few blocks to the nearest Wawa which is a type of 711 styled convenience store that us Philadelphians are obessed with. We stocked up on supplies and chain smoked cigarettes until the train we were waiting for finally made its way down the tracks laid along the east river drive just south of our famous art museum where Rocky made his iconic run.
It must be said, hopping up onto a moving train car, no matter how slowly it's moving, is one of the most exhilarating experiences life can afford a person.
Scott had waited a few minutes, counting the almost infinite number of cargo units until he gave me the order to follow him.
He knew exactly what he was doing.
The door to the train car was already open with two other young men waiting for us as it passed.
As I climbed aboard praying to the god that doesn't exist that I wouldn't loose my legs to a simple slip, I met my fellow anti Reptilian militia members, Chimp and Fingers, two more crust punks who've spent far too much time watching Loose Change and following conspiracy theory Reddit threads online.
And so, that's where I am now.
Chimp's nick name came from the fact that the bottom half of his face drooped downwards just like a chimp as a result from partial paralysis. I should mention that the paralysis came as a result from smoking cigarettes laced with mercury. Chimp was from somewhere south, he never specified where. When he was 16, he and three friends discovered an abandoned factory outside of their home town that had once produced mercury. Once there, they also discovered countless vats still full of the toxic shit.
They would get high by dipping their Newports into the mercury and smoke them. One of Chimp's friends later died, the other two developed numerous forms of cancer and mostly became breathing vegetables. Chimp was the luckiest of the bunch, as far as he knew, the only consequence he suffered was a mildly deformed face.
He later packaged and sold the mercury he had found online through the Silk Road. He sold it to a nameless, underground arms dealer who specialized in creating products that would creatively conceal numerous weapons. This guy's company made large teddy bears designed to fit anything from a 9mm Glock to an M-16. The insides of these child like dolls are lined with a material that was impervious to X-ray detectors. He had initially created the dolls to sell to women so they could board planes without TSA agents spotting their vibrators. He later learned there was a hell of a lot more money in hiding guns rather than sex toys. Lord knows what the hell he could possibly want with 200 gallons of Mercury. But it made Chimp rich, or at least, as rich as some southern hick who used to smoke Newports laced with Mercury could ever possibly be. And it was this previous business partner who now owns the train car that I'm now riding to San Diego.
Fingers' nick name comes from the three missing fingers on his left hand. He tells me it happened during a child hood accident playing with fireworks. I fear it's a result from a mishap making envelope sized bombs that were intended to be mailed out to local congressmen and senators.
For my first eight hours, the three men spew out all of their own diatribes on Reptilians, chem trails, and Jewish conspiracies.
They tell me that the Reptilians control the media and that they plan on bringing an end to that at Comic Con.
I realize that I've already written a parody for Twitch about a similar group for Sundance two years ago.
My life is now imitating my own art, and I feel the walls of the reality around me folding in on itself.
I've been here before, only, it was in my own imagination. I fear that this may not be happening at all, that I may still be lying in bed in a drug induced coma at the psychiatric ward.
But the sharp sting I feel from holding my piss in for the last two hours tells me otherwise.
Scott hands me a Xeroxed copy of an article from the Los Angeles Times dated January 29th, 1934. The article details Warren Shufelt's discovery of the Lizard people's catacomb city buried underneath the streets of Los Angeles. Shufelt was a geophysical mining engineer who provided the genesis of the entire Reptilian conspiracy.
Scott also hands me hundreds of pages of David Icke's numerous manifestos and rantings on the Reptilians' influence and dominance on the world as we know it.
I don't know how I'm going to survive the next sixty some hours listening to this bull shit. I don't know how I can ignore the numerous duffle bags packed with automatic weapons that Chimp and Fingers keep showcasing to me. I don't know where I'm going to stay once I get to San Diego. I don't know how I'm going to even get into Comic Con.
I don't know what I'm doing. And I'm scared of where I'm going.
When Scott offers me a handful of psychedelic mushrooms in order to open my mind to what he has to show me, I figure there's worse ways to kill some time when riding a freight train with a bunch of loonies carrying guns.
I don't want to be here, and if I can get away only in mind and perspective, then so be it.
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