facedown in the hoopla
the exoticon experience

This story details, in all its Hunter S. Thompson-esque glory, a road trip we took back in 1998 to an erotic art convention called Exoticon.

If you squint while looking at a map of Louisiana, you might notice a small town by the name of Alexandria. Unfortunately, fate decided that The Morpheus Company caravan to Exoticon needed to get damnedly near intimately familiar with this small oasis of rural life.

It all started with the clutch on alleged vehicle we were using to make our little trek through Swamplandia. Or, more appropriately, it all stopped because of the sudden, overwhelming lack of a clutch on said alleged transport. There is nothing like the sphincter-tightening terror that comes with losing fifth gear in the middle of nowhere. Earning her new title as "Mario Andretti of the Jewelers", Caroline managed to convince what was left of our juggernaut-come-monolith to eke out a few more miles that landed us in the outskirts of the aforementioned small town.

Now you might think that having your only means of long-distance motivation, which was loaded with everything needed to convert any small area into a jewelry store, miraculously transmogrifying itself into a 2000 pound donkey cart with square wheels might cause us to fret with regards to our plans of making it to New Orleans. I'd like to point out at this time, for blinding contrast, that the fearless crew of the Minnow were a bunch of pussies. They only had to deal with local flora and fauna. And they could eat the flora. We, on the other hand, were trapped stone cold dead at a Texaco full of things and natives we didn't even consider ingesting. After a brief attempt at communicating with the locals, we determined that Gilligan and company also had better conversational possibilities as well.

After a few minutes of realizing that we were in fact not, as the great philosopher William Smith once said, Jiggy with the state of things, I came to a conclusion.

My take on the situation was that it sucked.

With rousing agreement on part of my travelling companions, we set out to alter what was the current state of affairs. After realizing that face to face confrontation with the locals, who spent most of their idle time hanging from low tree branches looking unhealthy and strumming banjoes, was completely out of the question, one of our band of stranded castaways managed to materialize a cellular phone. It had to have been one of our group, the person who handed it over wasn't wearing overalls.

Several dozen frantic phone calls later tow trucks, replacement convoys, repair crews and a shark stick* from the local army-navy surplus were in route to our location. Shark sticks are always a good idea in swamp country, those natives that cannot be felled by one generally scurry away from the noise. Worst case, you can always kill a stray dog and hope the bigger member of the congregation decides to go for the easier meal. Mind you, it's a sorry demise for man's best friend, but we were in dire circumstances.

*Note for the mayhem impaired: A shark stick is a long pole with a shotgun shell attached to the in such a way that it can be detonated upon poking into a target. They are used to remind large man-eating, water-dwelling things that while we are tasty, humans generally aren't worth the aggravation.

When the tow truck arrived, we realized why this proverbial city in the swamp had been built.

Some things in life are like the chicken-and-the-egg argument; it ultimately doesn't matter, save for the fact that component A cannot exist without component B. Well, that and the fact that there is a tendency for component B to generally be more appreciated at breakfast time. In any case, it seems that somewhere near Alexandria, LA is the ground zero of nowhere. As our former vehicle was dragged into the heart of this thriving necropolis, we became aware that the sole purpose for the town of Alexandria was so that there was something near the middle of nowhere to be dragged to when your travel plans bite the dust. The tow-er (tow-ee? I can never keep those things straight, though I'm pretty sure it's not tow-ist) had never actually used his truck to transport a town local to the one vehicular repair emporium in this oasis. This guy built his entire career on a quirk of chaos theory: people's transmissions only chomp The Grande Uno on a road trip when they enter the precise center of nowhere. Alexandria, and our entrepreneurial wreck-puller, both roost exactly 15 miles from that event horizon.

To make an excruciatingly long story short, we rolled (were pulled, whatever) into Alexandria, and a brief five hours later were winging our way to New Orleans in a rented van. The van, which was instantly christened "The Love Machine 5000" (say it in your best Barry-White-needs-a-date voice, it's funny as hell...trust me.), was one of those bright red eight passenger vans that could be used equally for a cult, church, mobile orgy, marine assault or any combination of the previous. It served the purpose of Morpheus Company emergency transport nicely, except for one glaring omission.

We spent exactly 37 minutes looking for an ashtray before ultimately deciding that leaving a fine trail of ash in our wake was the best course of action. In a worst case scenario, or rather if things continued as they were proceeding, we could retrace our path if anything went awry. Apparently, some idiot felt it was in the best interests of the van-renting public to not put ashtrays of any sort, nor anything that might be confused with a ash-catching receptacle into this vehicle. Personal habits aside, I thought this was downright dangerous. After all there are only about three things you can do if you drop a lit cigarette on the floorboards at 130 mph:

  1. Go through a car wash with the windows down.

  2. Put on sunglasses, punch it up to 180, slam your Best of Queen album into the tape deck and see if anyone catches the obscure Gaiman/Pratchett reference before the damn thing burns to the ground.

  3. Wedge your beer bottle against the accelerator and ditch out the rear door.
    (This works best near large bodies of water.)

Sure, we were experienced road warriors, but what about the Girl Scout troop that next rented this bargain-basement death machine? When they lit up they might find themselves in for a nasty suprise, all because some health conscious eco-nut wanted to save 28.4 cents on a chunk of plastic. I say better to have to clean out a few ashtrays than try to remove the smell of burnt flesh, but then again I'm always getting accused of taking the easy way out.

We rolled "The Love Machine 5000" (this time, under our own power) into the parking lot of the hotel hosting Exoticon, checked our livestock, luggage and firearms at the concierge and headed elbow deep into the fray. Due to our bold excursion into the center of the universe (and the heart of nowhere), we had blown any real chances of conducting business during the first day of the convention. Our only recourse was to head for the private parties and drink until we could not remember the fact that we had left several thousand dollars worth of damaged automobile in the hands of people who would need both their fingers and toes to calculate our invoice.

To our road rattled and alcohol addled brains, Exoticon was nirvana. Upon entering we knew that everything up until now had been a challenge to see if we were worthy, a rite of passage to insure the purity and veracity of our debauchery. We had passed the challenges; The Morpheus Company road team was of the chosen people. We were forcibly handed mugs of some glowing blue ichor and told to drink it and ask no questions. Tribal music surrounded us; it's thumping beat etching into our brains.

Well, either the music was etching in, or the blue stuff was acting like battery acid on our neurons. It didn't really matter; it was still one hellacious party. I wish I could remember more of the events of that first evening. All I know for certain is that we awoke the next morning in our hotel room feeling no pain and fearing no evil. When we began the business portion of our second day, we found that everyone involved with Exoticon was incredibly hospitable towards us.

Either Exoticon is one of the most professionally run conventions I have ever encountered, or that Friday evening we were initiated into some bizarre cult. Whichever the case, our newfound status as "The Golden Ones" made it much easier to break laws, commandments and feast on other metaphorical sacred cows as the weekend progressed. The possibility that Caroline may have lived up to her reputation of being a homicidally violent drunk had occurred to me, but I decided to let the matter slide as we were now in, as they say, the groove.

While the rest of the Morpheus Flotilla could blend into the crowd, the local authorities had been notified of my presence as "guest artist", and therefore quite wisely posted 24 hour surveillance on me with orders to shoot to disfigure. Being that I could not, due to my current whereabouts being constantly monitored, be my usual misanthropic self, I decided to don my "day three" attire early and check out the scene.

Everyone should have what I call a "day three" suit. It's that over-starched, all black suit that makes you look respectable no matter how rumpled the wearer might be after a three-day bender. Between the suit and a pair of sunglasses opaque enough to stare safely at nuclear testing runs without squinting, I felt armored enough to risk a run-in with the rest of humanity. My swat team entourage also seemed relieved, I'd assume they hypothesized that I wouldn't risk dirtying my slacks by setting plastic explosives in the crawlspaces of the hotel.

My first dry run through Exoticon was uneventful, so I stopped by the hotel pub to see if making a wet one would improve the experience. After Norma, the finest woman ever to take all my money and leave me drunk in a bar, served the assault squad and I a few rounds, I bumped into fellow Dallasite and master of the gonzonian way Paul T. Riddell. Paul was a literary guest at this freak festival, and therefore was an even wordier son-of-a-Savannah-Monitor than usual. He introduced me to Richard Flanagan, a writer of "Contemporary Gothic Fiction with a Decidedly Dark Demeanor", and Exoticon's token home-town-boy-makes-good. Rich possesses all the good qualities of Ted Bundy, he looks so normal and kind on the outside that you would never conceive of the dark, Lovecraftian horrors that crawl around in his brain. It was obvious why Paul and Rich hit it off so well, they could plot the overthrow of governments together and Mr. Flanagan's charm and veneer of innocence would provide them with the perfect alibi.

Rich, Caroline and I ended up making a strategic run through the French Quarter later that weekend, aided by the talents of another Naw'leens local, Lily. Lily's combined talents of knowing EVERY humanoid worth knowing in the Quarter, intimate understanding of the local Goth scene and ability to look cute while holding an automatic weapon made her a priceless commodity in the City of Sin. Were it not for the fact that Lily and Rich are both essential components of what makes Naw'leens worthwhile, they would have been shoved in the back of "The Love Machine 5000" and taken home to make Dallas a cooler town.

As I strategically spent hours of schmoozing, boozing, cutting deals under the table and hosting panel discussions, Caroline was hawking our wares in the main exhibition hall. To those with concerns about The Morpheus Company's financial well being, don't worry; Caroline's ability to sell sandpaper to lepers insured that we returned to the big D with far less wearable art inventory than when we left. Proof that her shopping abilities were as honed as her selling skills, she had also managed to finagle a trade with one of the other major artist-guests at the show. The Morpheus Company private gallery now contains two paintings by Marrus, a woman who is exactly like her paintings; beautiful and twisted in all the right ways.

As a result of our troubles in the oasis of fun that is Alexandria, we ended up leaving Naw'leens two action-packed days later than planned. Even with the extra 2880 minutes our attempting to remake Deliverance provided us, our crew still didn't manage to accomplish everything we set out to do. Of course it wasn't entirely a bad thing, I didn't have enough plastic explosives left over from the hotel to use on Anne Rice's house anyway. The only real sore point was missing a chance to carefully reroute a church tour group so they ended up at The Dungeon. If you haven't heard of The Dungeon, you probably aren't old enough to be reading this; it has a similar reputation to the one Dallas' Starck club had during the eighties, except the sex is more impressive, the violence tends to be better choreographed and the fashion is more leather-bound. I figured a group of old ladies late for a traditional Catholic mass might find it amusing. Again, I may get accused of extremism on this idea, but I looked at it as a cultural meshing opportunity.

Unfortunately we didn't get a chance to help the left hand fondle the extreme right as The Dungeon chose Monday as their one night a week to close, if only to hose off the floors and flip the couch cushions. While I appreciate the hygienic gesture, they will never know the glory they missed. And the church ladies, as usual, have no idea how lucky they really are.

Tired, hung over and full of fond memories that, like the negatives, we could never share, we followed the still lingering waft of smoke back to the land of big hair. Upon arriving in Dallas, The Morpheus Company road crew collapsed at the studio, and we sorted luggage, armaments and skull-trophies when we parted company the following day.

That's our story of what happened out on the road, and we're sticking to it.

06 / 05 / 2009