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FIRST AND LAST TRIP TO A "CONVENTION-HEAD" VENUE
==================================================

        Some deadheads I've heard of are thinking of getting out of the
Deadshow race, settling down, working at conventional jobs, living in suburban
houses and driving BMWs; instead of working odd jobs, tie-dying, and following
the Dead around in their purple and green VWs.  Well, I've been to the other
side (for a short time, but that was more than enough), and here's my advice:
        DON'T DO IT!
        The experience was so traumatic that I'm only now reaching full
recovery, and I've blanked out both the date and the city (it was a few years
ago, but the incredible events of that day are still engraved in my mind). No
matter, it could have happened in any of three hundred identical city centers
across America, at any time during the past thirty years.  It could happen to
you!

        I was walking home from my part-time job stocking herbs and vegetables
at a natural foods store; seriously bummed out because my order to the Grateful
Dead Ticket Service had just bounced back.  Wrong zip code!  Well, yeah, I did
do some flowers and little psychedelic patterns on the envelope, so the 9 may
have looked more like an 8, but couldn't someone in the post office read the
"CA" in the address?  No!  They sent it to somewhere in Arizona.  So anyway, I
was on a downer about missing the tix, and not looking forward to explaining it
to all my housemates.  I'm always telling them that you have to be organized
and responsible about _some_ things, like ordering tickets on time - and now
this, right?
        Halfway home, I ran into Jenny, an old friend of mine from college, and
her husband Bill.  I hadn't seen her since she went off to get her MBA (I was
still studying Alternative Mysticisms at the time).  So now she was doing
market research for some company that makes fully automatic, microprocessor-
controlled 16-speed electric home orange squeezers.  Bill was in more or less
the same business.
        So, like, you know, they could see that my shakra was out of alignment,
and they wanted to cheer me up.  The next day, Jenny called and said that they
had gotten me a pass to some kind of business convention that was coming down
the next Thursday.  It sounded like a super-straight event for uptight
holdovers from the '50s, but Jenny said there would be free food, so I thought,
'Why not?  She's just trying to be nice, and anyway I'd probably just spend the
day working on Rita's transmission.'

        A few days later, there was a strange noise, and after hearing it three
or four times, I figured out it was the doorbell!  Nobody I know ever uses it;
they just walk on in.  The way I figure, you know, is everything should be
free - food, love, good karma - so we, like, share what we have (_when_ we have
anything, which isn't very often).  So, wow, it was Jenny and Bill, all dressed
in polyester, and I had totally spaced out that convention-head thing.  I
looked for some kind of suitable clothes, but the last non-tie-dye shirt had
been shredded up by China Cat, the stray that my roommate, Sunflower, brought
home.  So I wore one of my classiest dyes, and the only one that I had rinsed
out during the past two months - the one with skeletons raising a Dead flag,
and says "The Few, the Proud, the Deadheads" around the edge...  Then I put on
my Birkenstocks, and we left.
        Outside, I said, "Hey, man, like, you know, maybe I should take Rita
and follow you."  They looked blank, so I pointed out the purple microbus
parked with two wheels on the curb (and aging gracefully, I might add - the
rusted out rocker panels give her character and a sort of dignity).  "Like, I
might have to get back a little early... ...and, I want to check out the
tranny.  I filled it up with cold-pressed organic safflower oil, and that
_should_ fix it, but unless you just go to the show, you don't ever know."
        It seemed as if they were relieved by my suggestion - don't ask me why.
        On the way, I _really_ wanted to listen to some of Jerry's top-40 hits,
but the tapedeck had eaten one of my best bootlegs, and straggly brown strands
were hanging out of its mouth like fettucine.  Bummer!  And we were driving
on some totally alien freeway, right into the middle of Establishment City -
wow, heavy.
        We finally got there, and I got my first hint of what was to come when
the parking attendant looked at me like 'You're going to park _that_ thing in
_here?_', and he wrote down my license number (see if I care - I borrowed the
plates off some abandoned pimpmobile down the street, anyway).
        We walked a few blocks to this huge building made of plastic and
aluminum stuck together with toxic glue made from some sort of non-renewable
resources.  The people (if you can _call_ them that)... well, there's no way I
can do justice to the scene with mere words.  Every body was washed, waxed, and
painted, and wearing these plastic uniforms - all the same.  Carrying identical
little briefcases, and sporting identical blank smiles.  And everyone had an
identical name tag (with different names, I _guess_).  I had to put one on,
too, on threat of expulsion, or perhaps worse, if I didn't.
        Since Jenny and Bill had been so thoughtful, I had been making the best
of it, so I wouldn't be a downer during their version of a good time.  Now I
could see that my worst fears were justified - and then some.
        The drab suits, the conformity - I thought this kind of blind devotion
to the gods of corporate profit had gone out with the '50s.  I remarked to my
friends how sad and constrained they all looked, and Bill turned to me and
said,
        "You're going to meet some of the most enthusiastic, hard-working
people around."
        "Far out." I thought sarcastically.  But I tried to ignore the obvious
and concentrate on having a good time.  After all, I was basically the mellow,
easy-going hippy type, and my friends were trying to do me a favor by getting
me away from my disappointed deadhead housemates for the day.
        Evidently the chief convention-heads had decreed, "Let there be Muzak
to fill the air", because it did - an oozing, saccharine travesty of honest,
legitimate music.  As we walked down a long, garishly-lit corridor, in the
midst of this herd of docile marionettes; I found myself in the vapor trail of
a plastic "woman" who walked with an awkward, stilted gait, in a narrow
synthetic skirt and high heels.  She had obviously had herself dry-cleaned no
more than an hour before the show, then to ensure that not a whiff of genuine
human scent got through, doused herself with a heavy, rank perfume.  The air
was so thick my eyes watered and there was a bitter, metallic taste in my
mouth.  A neurotoxin, no doubt.  No wonder those people were as they were!  I
began to have some sympathy for these superficial, insecure, unhappy non-souls.
        I maneuvered cross-current in search of oxygen, but found that a big
toadlike male convention-head in a shiny green suit was a few yards ahead,
puffing out clouds of noxious cigar smoke.  If any of the other monkey-suited
robots were bothered by the poisonous fumes, they were, of course, too meek and
polite to say so.  At first, I tried gentle persuasion:
        "Hey, man.  How 'bout saving that stinkweed for outside.  I'd share
anything with you, but not your cancer."
        The other c-heads glanced furtively at each other to see how they
should react to this unprecedented behavior, while Mr. Bullfrog ignored me.
        "You, slug-face, I'm talking to _you_.  Put out the goddamn cigar!"
        The man turned, blew a rancid grey cloud toward me, and said,
        "How did _that_ get in here?  I knew they should have left the cat door
closed."
        The sheep in the mob looked at each other, somehow decided what the
proper procedure was, and giggled decorously behind their hands at this
hilarious joke.
        We reached an open area, where the con-heads were engaged in a weird
ritual.  They milled around a set of tables, stuffed their faces with something
from a sort of mass feeding trough, and displayed their name tags to each other
for approval.
        The perfume and tobacco smoke mingled with trivial non-conversation and
fake smiles, topped off by the oppressive, repetitive Muzak, to produce an
unbearable ambience - enough to choke a dancing bear within seconds.
        Jenny urged me to join the mass refueling.  I looked at the aluminum
trays on the tables, and saw geometric arrays of some kind of sugar, lard, and
white flour concoctions, some with dabs of brightly-colored pseudo jam pasted
onto them. When I had heard "free food", I had imagined something I wouldn't
have to pay dearly for later.  Although I had had only a small bowl of brown
rice and tofu for breakfast, I said, "No, thanks, I'm not hungry yet." and
attempted a weak smile.
        "Have some coffee, then." Bill offered.
        "And help make people starve in the Third World?  No way."
        The convention-heads were getting themselves revved up on gallons of
the foul, corrosive fluid, while black women in little white aprons wheeled out
more huge tanks of it.  Along one side of the room, there were tables where
people with fixed grins, vacant stares, and continually nodding heads (probably
some kind of palsy induced by the empty diet and intake of toxic chemicals)
doled out souvenirs.  There were brochures, flags, and commercialistic buttons
in every clashing color combination known to humankind.  I learned from my
friends that these people, whom I would call "Holiday Inn people", supported
their spiritually impoverished existence by travelling from convention to
convention, pushing those items on other c-heads, and sometimes doing mini-
shows of some sort.  A woman in a square suit jacket with huge shoulder pads
that made her look as if she was hoping for a football scholarship, and an
ostentatious hairdo that must have been epoxied in place, offered me a large
button that said "Rypumoff Corp - when we say business, we mean business".
        "Boy, that would go great on my best T-shirt," I said with a smile,
"but I'm saving room for even more attractive paraphenalia."
        Next, we were herded into what was called a Grand Ballroom, but was
in fact a small but pretentious concert hall.  The stage wasn't big enough to
hold the Dead, and the sound system I won't even bother to describe, but hoping
against hope, I thought, "Finally - I may get to do some jamming."
        Dream on!  After we found our seats, which, oddly enough, didn't appear
to be reserved, we sat down.  Everyone sat down; you wouldn't have believed it!
How conformist.  The seats were cushy and in good condition, and the air was
cool and as fresh as it could be after being filtered through layers of
asbestos.  Then, as the c-heads began to fill up the arena, there was again a
miasma of conflicting perfumes and deodorants, and the usual polished mannequin
faces in every direction.  After noticing that there were no light racks, and
no sound mixing board, set up; I began to understand that we were going to hear
little, if any, music.
     The proceedings finally began after what seemed to be hours of waiting.
The introductory speeches were pompous and vapid, but at first not unpleasant,
being short.  During one "keynote address", an obnoxious, nervous man carrying
an enormous tripod and festooned with cameras, frantically ran around the
venue.  Obviously strung out on caffeine, he popped his flash in everyone's
faces, including the stuffed shirt behind the podium.  Incredibly rude!  When I
asked why the crowd didn't object, I was informed that convention heads
tolerate such behavior because they covet pictures of their favorite shows, as
well as transcripts of the tiresome speeches, and even trade bootleg photos by
mail.  I would have been happy to donate money to buy the freaked-out
photographer a cup of chamomile tea and let him go mellow out under a bush
somewhere.
     As the speeches progressed I began to get tired of the seemingly endless
length of them.  Themes were redundantly reiterated again and again to the
point of fatigue.  It was becomming difficult to distinguish one speech from
another and I frequently found myself longing for the short blessings of relief
that came in between.  Soon I was concentrating on everything but the music;
the curtains, the seat in front of me, the clock, my smoke- and perfume-induced
headache, the Ramada Inn-people, and the wonderful idea to exit early -
but I remained so as not to insult my friends because they had so much wanted
me to have a good time (a decision I would come to utterly regret later).
        The speakers droned on, dumping a brain-deadening stream of cliches
about "meeting the challenges of a changing market environment" and
"interfacing with the dynamic forces of society" onto the audience of entranced
c-heads, who clapped enthusiastically on cue at the end of each speech.
        Then we went out and were herded into smaller rooms, where cynical
executives gave lectures on how to con people into parting with their
hard-earned cash in exchange for useless, gimmicky gee-gaws that a year or two
later will end up in a landfill where they will last until long after humans
have driven themselves to extinction.  The "heads" were enthralled by catchy
videos and product displays.  I thought I'd seen the most depressing and
depraved side of humanity by now, but there was even worse to come.
        After the first round of mini-shows ended, we were channeled into what
was dubbed the Banquet Room, to have lunch (so-called).  We sat at round tables
piled high with frilly knicknacks and plastic flowers.  Under multiple strata
of cellophane, there were small identical portions of food.  I was informed
that the spongy, stuffed object on my plastic plate was a "croissant", and in
fact it did resemble one in its general outlines.  Next to me was a
pasty-looking couple who had flown all the way from Iowa.  They had already
consumed half of their allotted repasts, and seemed to be eyeing mine.
        "Good lunch," the woman was saying, "but not quite as good as the one
we had last August in Cleveland.  Remember, honey, on the second day?"  This
was something I was noticing more and more.  The hard core con-heads were
incessantly comparing the trivial details of the numerous shows they had been
to; arguing over seminar lists; complaining if they had to hear the same
speaker twice in the same convention...
        I was getting hungry, and figured that the stuff wouldn't kill me in a
small dose, so I took a deep breath and bit into the "croissant".  I nearly
gagged on the powerful petroleum derivatives, and my teeth seemed to be glued
together.  I opened the little sandwich, and there, in all its International
Distress Orange glory, was - you guessed it - a rubbery slab of
imitation-pasteurized-process-American-cheese-food-product-spread.  Restraining
the impulse to get it out of my hand immediately, even if that meant throwing
it across the room, I calmly laid it back down and looked for something to
flush out my mouth. Just at that time, Bill offered to fill my glass with
punch.  It was a benign-looking yellow concoction, and I was grateful for
anything cold and wet.  The punch tasted almost like real orange juice, and I
quickly downed several glasses of it.  Jenny smiled at me approvingly.  There
were more speeches and "slide presentations"; more inane and boring than the
first set, if that's possible.
        I was beginning to have a warm feeling, although the room seemed to be
humming, pulsing, and tilting around me.  I started to talk randomly, and the
gaudily painted woman at the next table began to look almost attractive.  Jenny
said,
        "Good to see you smiling.  I thought that punch would loosen you up."
        "What do you mean?" I demanded, "What's it spiked with?"
        "Oh, probably vodka."
        Alcohol!  My so-called friends had dosed me without my knowledge, and
the other c-heads had sat by and watched.  I was instantly filled with rage to
think someone would be so crude as to inflict the deadly chemical on me. A
small argument ensued and I was accused of being naive about punch at
conventions.  I asked how long I could expect this to last and was told that I
could have a hangover as much as 12 hours later.  I had never taken a central
nervous system depressant but I knew enough to know that a person having a bad
time would have A REALLY BAD time if they imbibed it.  It could lead to
violence and serious injury, as well as brain and liver damage.  This only
compounded an already unendurable situation.  I never have and never will
forgive the person who so irresponsibly gave me the drug.
        The remainder of the convention was strange and at times scary.  I
spent a lot of time gazing at the ceiling in a stupor.  The Holiday
Inn-people's idiosyncracies that disgusted me before now seemed to be magnified
several-fold and nearly horrified me.  I wanted to leave.  Now!  Immediately!
I couldn't stand it any longer.  I would have given anything if a giant pumpkin
had landed and Ken Kesey would have escorted me out of that deplorable place.
     After the lunch, I went outside to try to find Rita, probably the only
reminder of real, down-to-earth life in that entire desolated region.  I
realized I was too drunk to drive, but would have been happy to just lie down
on the ragged futon in back and let my head spin.
        Outside, there was no way to tell direction in the uniform landscape of
billboards and fast food franchises.  After walking for several blocks, I
realized that I could walk all day and still be in the same place.  I passed
several U-park-em lots, but couldn't find poor Rita.  Finally I realized I was
lost, and had no alternative but to go back to the convention-head venue.  But
where was it?
        I walked into the first door I could find - some sort of uptight
insurance agency.  A stiff prig of a man looked me over, wrinkled his nose, and
seemed disappointed when he saw that I wasn't barefoot, so couldn't
legitimately be thrown out.  "Can I help you?"
        "Yeah, man, like how can I get to the convention-head building?"
        "The what?"
        "You know, there's like this big flat ugly building with an
ostentatious fountain out in front - where all the convention-heads hang out."
        "Oh, you mean the DeWitt Memorial Pavilion.  If you want people to know
what you mean, you should _say_ what you mean."
        "Yeah, right, that's it; the Dimwitt Pavilion."

        So I managed to get back.  Take a right after the third Burger King,
across from the Hot-Tubs-R-Us, then go just on the other side of the downtown
Hilton...
        There were more mini-shows, too excruciating to bear description.  I
wandered into other parts of the vast venue, but encountered even more
terrifying scenes:  a boat show that redefined the phrase "flashy status
symbol", and even a gun convention, complete with automatic rifles and nasty,
stupid dudes decked out in camouflage - I backed out of that one in a hurry,
glad to get back to the relative safety of the home widgets section.

        Finally the convention finished and I rose, clapped and cheered because
of the warm feeling I had that it was over. I said rapid goodbyes after getting
directions from Jenny, and hurried to my little bus. I was not unable to drive
as I must have had a subacute dose of ethanol.  Unfortunately, the line of
traffic was enormous and I was stuck near the end of a row so Rita sat idling
for a long time.  While I waited, a group of clean-pressed, rabid Republicans
was sitting on a Cadillac and looking at my VW.  I could hear them ridiculing
me for some reason.  Finally, a young woman came up to my window, looked me
straight in the eyes with a glare of anger and said with sarcasm,
        "What kind of man would bring a Volkswagen to a convention-head show?"
        I spoke to her with a smile and tried to calm her down, but it was to
no avail.  She began to utter obscenities and I rolled up the window.  This
antagonized her and the clique of idiots she was with.  Several began sticking
leaflets saying 'Jail all the queers' and 'Nuke Moscow Now' under my windshield
wipers, and one of them plastered on a bumper sticker that read "I'd Rather be
Killing Commies in Central America".  They rocked Rita back and forth while
spewing out a stream of insults.  I sat inside helpless and sickened by this
pinnnacle event to a thoroughly rotton day.
     A few blocks later, when the light turned green, Rita got stalled as I
nervously tried to cross the intersection.  Some dude in a Porsche got stuck
behind me as the light turned red, and leaned incessantly on his horn.  Yeah,
okay, Rita does pop out of first now and then, so blow an artery over it...
He must have been a convention-head who failed to meet his quota of electric
toenail buffers, he was so irritable.
        At the next light, the Porsche pulled up next to me, honked
obnoxiously, and a dude in a starched shirt screamed obscenities at me.  At
least I assume that's what they were.  I shrugged, smiled, and gave him a peace
sign, but that seemed to enrage him further.  He tried to roll his window down
so that I could hear better, but it was stuck shut by some kind of brown sticky
liquid, probably coffee, that had been poured all over it.
        As he screeched away, leaving a cloud of burnt rubber, I noticed that
there were dirty barefoot prints all over the hood and rear section of the
otherwise gleaming Porsche.  Why a guy would put $40k into a car like that
that's primarily designed to impress people, then let it get all dirty, I'll
never know.  You figure it!
        Finally, I got home, parked poor Rita, and began peeling off the
offensive bumper stickers and fliers.  I hung my clothes out in the back yard
to try to air out the stale tobacco smoke that clung to them.

        As of this day, the words "Convention-Head" bring back visions of those
vapid, moronic pieces of human plastic violating my trusty campmobile.  The
majority of scum I came in contact that day were an insult to the image of
caring, mellow, environmentally and spiritually conscious people everywhere.
Quite the opposite of the visions of responsible, independent-thinking, dynamic
people we hear attend these conventions.