Saturday, August 02, 2014

Stranger in a Strange Land

There are two things that are relevant to this tale that I do not care for. One is crowds, and the other is comic books. I've never liked crowds, but the older and more reclusive I get, the less I like them. As for comic books, I don't have anything against them, I've just never gotten into them. So today seemed especially counter-intuitive as I accompanied my wife and toddler to the Tampa Bay Comic Con. Now let me preface this with saying that this was not my idea. My wife asked if I would like to go, and since she is big into comics, and doesn't get to do much of a social nature, I agreed. To be honest I'd been wanting to get to a convention for a while now, as I've only been to a handful in the past, and the last was somewhere in the vicinity of 1995ish, and given that the granddaddy of them all, the San Diego Comic Con has become far more than just a gathering for comic aficionados, I figured I'd enjoy this.

I've also been wanting to try my hand at cosplaying, and it seemed meet that we do something as a family. It was suggested that going as air benders, ala The Legend of Korra, might work:
Alas, with but a week and a half before the con, and many a moth in the bank account, this was not to be. (see the 'fast/good/cheap' triangle for further explanations) So, instead, we just went as a family of nerds.

The first hurdle that I feared was parking. Looking online you could book guaranteed parking, for $21! Given that this was a significant percentage of what it would cost just for tickets we decided to take our chances on public parking. As we approached the off-ramp it was remarkably free of the usual traffic jam, and I dared to hope. No only was there no traffic build-up, but we found a spot in the nearest parking garage that would cost us less than half of the above quote. So far so good.

We followed the flow of costumed younglings (and a few old farts like myself) to the convention center. We passed a man in a Jedi outfit with a rather beat up R2-D2, and Sharon asked to touch 'Deetoo'. He graciously accommodated her request, though she was too shy to touch the droid:
We then ran the gauntlet of radio station promotion tents and corner preachers to the con entrance. Again, much to my surprise, we stood in line for maybe five minutes and we had our tix, wristbands, and were in the con. Mrs. Marius wanted to attend some panels, but as the place was already pretty crowded at 10:40 she decided it wasn't going to happen, so we just wandered the floor. Here was my first indication that this might not be the best con for me. The Tampa Bay Comic Con is quite definitely a comic book convention. There were a few Star Wars themed booths

 but the overwhelming number of vendors were selling...wait for it...comics and comic related paraphernalia. So I resigned myself to just enjoying the cosplayers, and wrangling Sharon. And there were lots of interesting cosplayers:

Sharon was, for the most part, very well behaved. There were a few times when she wanted to interact with cosplayers, like when she wanted to 'touch Tinkerbell':

Or when she wanted to meet K9:
but for the most part it was a lot of, "Daddy, what's that?", with me trying as best I could to answer her. There was one almost awkward moment when a young man with, I'm guessing, severe cerebral palsy in a motorized wheelchair and dressed as Robin came near, and Sharon piped up from atop my shoulders, "A baby!" (she's never seen an adult in what looks to her like a stroller) I said, "No, honey, that's Robin." I couldn't tell if the young man heard her or not, so I don't know if any offense was taken. There were two pairs of cosplayers that stood out enough to me that I tracked them down to get pics. First there were a couple of Spaceballs:

And then there were these two princesses, who got cheers wherever they went:

I would like to suggest that there be a moratorium on Deadpool cosplay. There were at least 20 Deadpools there. There were also lots of Doctors Who, X-Men and Women, monsters, princesses, all kinds of Imperial troops, a few Jedi, Links, and Batman villains. I would have liked to take more pictures, but my diminutive charge made such things difficult, but there was a lot of hard work in most of the costumes. Oh, and if you are a guy, and you need someone of the female persuasion to paint your face for your cosplay, might I suggest that the entrance to an already crowded men's room isn't the best place to do so. Just sayin.
As the afternoon wore on the place got more and more packed. I ran into my friend Dave and his daughter for approximately two minutes, but things were too noisy and crowded for much more than a 'hi, how ya doin?' I tried to get into the flow of the place, but between the near absence of TV/Movie SciFi stuff (although there was a booth that had some stunningly gorgeous spaceship models) and the huge lines at both the food vendors and the bathrooms I was growing more tired and cranky than Sharon. So around 3:00 we decided to call it a day. This is when things went to shit. First we had trouble finding the parking garage, then it took us nearly an hour of sweating, searching, and finally getting the security guys to drive us around to find our car. (both the Mrs. and I were sure we were on the second level, or at the highest the third. Turned out it was the fifth) Then, all of us sweaty and needing to pee, and with an increasingly cranky toddler in the back seat, getting out of the garage was the opposite of getting in. But, to cut a long story short, we made it home safely and without further incident. All in all it was a good day. Mrs. Marius had a good time, and so did Sharon. I can't say I had a great time, but I wasn't miserable, and I'd very much like to get some serious cosplay going for next year( I'd really like to make Scotty's outfit from Star Trek IV)...and maybe try to find a more SciFi inclusive con as well.

I'll leave y'all with this pic. Sharon's face pretty much sums up her day:

Marius out! :-)

Thursday, February 27, 2014

What I Did, and Didn't Do

Hi, Folks,
 So it's a little dusty around the Corner, and there are sheets on all the furniture (I didn't put them there, but I think they spontaneously appear in any place that's abandoned for more than a few months) but the fridge still works, and the beer is cold and drinkable. So pull up a packing crate, or a bit of Voyager Commemorative Shuttle Debris™, have a seat, and let me unfold a tale of a journey, and a hard decision.

 I have a very dear friend with whom I worked back in the swamps of Louisiana that I shall call RL. RL is one of the most talented teachers/directors/actors I know, and when we parted company at the end of my time in the bayou (although, to be fair, there are no bayous in Central LA) it was a sad ending of a very rewarding three years. Fast forward to last year. RL is a tenured professor at a university in Alabama, and I'm the Technical Director at Eckerd College. Ironically I had just had a conversation with my wife about maybe considering leaving Florida eventually, but not so long as my dad was still alive since I want my baby to know her grandfather. Lo, not many nights after that talk RL informed me that they got the approval to add a Technical Director to the faculty. I told her that I wasn't really looking to go anywhere, but she slowly, gently began to work her magic on me. (she's very persuasive) It's a full faculty position (I'm 'only' staff here). The cost of living is much lower there. They're almost certainly/probably/hopefully going to be getting a new theatre sometime real soon. But, as I had just passed the five year mark at Eckerd, which a record for me, I gently refused.

 Then, in October, RL and I attended the nuptials of a former student of ours in Orlando. There was one question I purposely omitted, and at the reception I finally asked the salary. It's not a king's ransom, but it is considerably more than I'm making now. My resolve was melting faster than an ice chip in Satan's butt-cleavage. I asked the Mrs. and she agreed that I should at least apply. So after five years of being out of the job hunt I dug out the portfolio, updated the resume, and then hit emotional speed bump number 1...asked my colleagues for letters of recommendation. Now, I work with some amazing people, and of course they all said yes, but I was nervous enough to chew through neutronium before they all said yes, and how happy they were for me, and 'yes, you absolutely have to go for it.'

 Next came the online application. Work history, references, resume, evaluations, and any other documents. What on Earth could that mean. I asked and was told student testimonials. So I contacted some of my former students from as many different schools as I could find and asked them to write me up a letter of recommendation. And by the Flying Spaghetti Monster they came through in an embarrassingly effusive manner. It took a few hours over a couple of days to track down all the addresses and phone numbers that were pertinent to the past two decades of my life, but eventually all the data was input, and the waiting began. I began gathering photos for my portfolio which hadn't been touched in five years, save to move it from one bookshelf to another. Then came the phone interview. K was to call me and we'd chat for half an hour or so. I'd met K at the South Eastern Theatre Conference last year, so while it was a little bit awkward, it melted into a nice banter in no time. I got the impression that I did well on that part. After the phone interview came a lot of nothing. Then two weeks ago I get the call. The want to fly me up for some face time. So I book the flight, and begin to frantically get my shit together. One strange thing they asked for was a list of shows I've done. That was a tricky compilation, and it took emails to several old friends and students, but it ended up being about 111 shows, and I'm sure there are a few that slipped through the cracks of time. Seems like it should be more, but that's still a lot of theatre.

 So the time arrived, and on the 20th I departed Saint Petersburg. It would seem that the 7am flight to Birmingham isn't overly popular, and I had my whole row to myself. It was an uneventful flight until the landing, when the impatient hand of God swatted us out of the air and onto the tarmac. The landing gear did not, to my surprise, collapse and then all was well. K collected me and showed me around a bit of the lovely countryside. Then we arrived at my hotel room for as much time as it took to check in and drop off my bags. The next 36 hours or so went by in a heartbeat. Tours, meetings, lunches, more meetings, chats, talks, dinner, sleep, meetings, classes, and then almost before I knew it I was back at the airport, exhausted but confident that I had done my level best. I'll say this for the folks up there, I wouldn't want to play poker with them. I had no idea which way the wind was blowing in their minds since such a job interview is as much a sales pitch to the candidate as it is an appraisal of their value to the school. But inscrutability aside they are a lovely, warm, talented group of women and men, and anyone would be proud to work there.


  The one fly in the ointment came when I spoke with their HR people. The health insurance package is very similar to what I have now, with one very important exception. Prescription medicines must be paid for out-of-pocket, and then reimbursed later. As we have a teenager with Asperger's Syndrome we have a rather large number of copays each month, and a quick calculation meant that we'd be paying over $1600 a month, and getting back around 80% of it 'later'. This gave me great pause, but I put it on the back burner until I could speak to my wife.

 So I came home, and I thought...and I thought...and I thought. There were some nagging doubts, both about the gig, and about my own abilities. It's natural to doubt yourself in such a situation, and ultimately I know I could do the job, but I kept swinging from 'how could they not hire me?' to 'what on Earth would make them want me?' Other things preyed on my mind as well. This job would require much more of my time than my current gig, and with the baby, and our teen I'm not sure how well that would work out. Plus our teen is finally in a school where they understand her needs, and her grades are starting to reflect that for the first time ever. Not to mention how upset she got when we told her that we might be moving again. Also my wife, who handles our finances, confirmed that the prescription situation would be virtually impossible. So it was with a very heavy heart that I contacted RL and withdrew from consideration. It was a painful choice, made all the more so because she told me they were going to offer me the job, but I had to do what is best for all of us, and not just for me. And though it saddened me to have to say no, I don't feel it was wasted time, since it would have hung over me as a 'if only I had...' forever had I not given it a shot.

So RL, if you're reading this, I am truly sorry I couldn't take the job, and I am so humbled and honored that such an amazingly talented group of people feel that I am worthy of joining their ranks. Your students are top notch, and I wish all of you the very best in your future endeavors. And if any of my current students are reading this, I look forward to completing your get back to work!!! ;-)