Imagine having one of those dreams that fictional characters always talk about, where you find yourself walking down the hallway naked in middle school. Everybody you know, including Pat, the kid you've had a crush on ever since that gerbil thing when you were nine, laughs hysterically and points as you try, in vain, to cover yourself with a tiny translucent paper napkin stolen from the cafeteria.
Then imagine that you're testifying before Congress about something that will surely bring about world peace if only you can articulate your point. You're standing up there at the podium, right-haired and wearing your best black bra under a quality suit, waxing eloquent about percentages and acronyms and other important stuff when suddenly there's a short circuit in your brain and everything you try to say comes out as the lyrics to "Baby Got Back" by Sir Mixalot.
Now imagine the embarrassment of these two experiences put together. Know it; feel it. Internalize it until your face gets warm and you want to dig a hole in the ground and gently collapse under the earth, never to be seen among humankind again.
My first five minutes at Fest weren't anywhere near as embarrassing as that.
Oh sure, I got a little red in the face when I walked into a big room full of people I didn't know and Autumn blew her whistle and everyone on the planet turned around and shouted. But I'm one of those unfortunately-complexioned people who gets red in the face all the freakin' time. Especially at an event like Fest, which is not about personal dignity but is, to a certain extent, about liquor.
"Why did all those people shout at poor Pteropod?" you wonder. I will tell you: I was a FEST VIRGIN at the Holy Gathering of the OBSSE'd in the Land of 10,000 Bait Shops, and what all those people shouted when Autumn blew her whistle was, in fact, "FEST VIRGIN." In case it's not as obvious as a salad fork to the cornea, the Y2K FEST VIRGINs were those nuns fortunate enough to attend Fest 00 but not fortunate enough to have attended Fest 99 or Fest 98.
"What was it like to be a FEST VIRGIN?" you wonder, filled with curiosity. Well, for me, the most important thing it meant that I hadn't met a single one of the sibliren at the time I filled out the registration form and sent my check to Autumn. Not one. Zero. Perhaps understandably, I was a little concerned about the prospect of flying to another state and driving into the wilderness for two hours to attend an event potentially populated by a) psychokillers, b) aliens posing on the internet as witty and charming people, or c) witty and charming people who might not like me.
Well, they weren't psychokillers. That much I can say for sure, since I'm sitting here writing this article. And they disguised it admirably if they were aliens, so for the sake of positive thinking let's just say that I ended up putting names to faces for one hundred and one of the most fantastic people I've ever had the pleasure of meeting. And it's even possible that they liked me, if all the hugging on Saturday night is any indication.
The Medical Hut, unlike all the other cabins , was home to a MEDICAL DOCTOR. Neener. We were able to rest easily at night (or rather, if we'd rested, we could've done so easily) knowing that sister sandy was ready to save our lives at a moment's notice. She'd even brought along her first aid kit, just in case. (She almost brought her suture kit, but decided that would've been going too far. I must humbly disagree. Going too far is not a known concept among the OBSSE'd -- you can bet your underpants on that.) As it was, she could've eased the pain of a headache! She could've given someone a Band-Aid! She could've done whatever it is that gets done with gauze! She could've performed an emergency tracheotomy! At least, I think she could've. We kept asking her about all the procedures she could perform if the need arose, and I'm pretty sure tracheotomy came up. Then again, I have only the haziest idea what a tracheotomy is, and even less of an idea what kind of situation might necessitate one. (Note that I am doing my best to suppress my memories of Agua Mala, so y'all don't need to write and tell me I should watch it again.)
At any rate, sandy's first aid kit and medical knowledge came in pretty damn handy over the course of the weekend. Or at least her first aid kit did. On Friday I almost lost my camera, and decided that I should label it to prevent further mishaps. A piece of white medical tape made a good, no, an ideal label, and sandy ripped the little piece off the roll just like the pro she is.
Well guess what. She's every bit as scary in person as she is online. It's even possible that she's more scary in person. She never laughs and she has not an ounce of schmoop in her body. I did not see her hug a single person and she certainly never gave me Tic Tacs or anything else. I saw her perform troutslap after undeserved troutslap and revel in giving out the Hooter of the Day awards. On Saturday night, she kicked people off the island and meant it every time. Let there be no mistake: Autumn is fierce.
To everyone at Fest 00: you are my 101 in five billion. To the OBSSE'd who didn't make it this year, for the luvva Scully give some serious thought to picking up the registration form and making it happen in '01. Even if you're new or shy or still not convinced we aren't all aliens in disguise, I swear to you that Fest is way more fun than a tower of office furniture. You won't regret it.
Besides, if I could shape-shift, don't you think I'd look a little more like Scully?
Sister Beer is nothing if not generous. Say you'd like her to bring a little cheese to taste, she'll bring kilos of the stuff. Ask her for a beer, she'll probably give you a keg. Then it wasn't that surprizing to see her park her truck at Camp Scully with a canoe strapped on. Yes, you got it, someone mentioned a lake, so our Beer decided she'd haul her canoe from Raleigh NC to Isle MN, via Chicago to let the assorted riff-raff play. All at the risk of being whisked off the highway at any time, so much did the boat act as a sail on top of the vehicle. Sister Beer indeed does it all for us.
Anyhow, the water was calm, the weather warm and sunny and we did need to make sure there was in fact a lake beyond the marsh and trees before Camp Scully. A few of us gathered and helped Beer unload the canoe -- although as I recall, once the thing was off its rack, she mostly did the rest herself, like dragging it towards the water as I was feeling inad...er, providing moral support.
We set it to water and, wearing Sonya's Captain's hat (she was sweet to lend it to me considering I'm only a noromo with minor shipper tendencies) I sat in front -where you don't have to steer or do much -- as Beer took the stern. As we were leaving, Glasses formally christened the canoe "The Piper Maru" by pouring beer (what else) on the bow and splashing this passenger in the process. Under the cheers of the crowd, we paddled off at a relaxing pace to the lake and back. After I had my turn, other canoeing adventures happened over the course of Fest, involving wet feet, Preggers!Scooby, asses below the waterline, EvilBetty, more of Beer and possibly others. My only regret -- aside from the fact that in retrospect I should have canoed more -- is that I should have given Beer the Captain's hat. She is as competent a canoeist as she is a cheesemonger.