Chico-Con is going off, like for real. Out back, behind the Veteran’s Hall where it’s being held, it’s walk-off time at the Cos-Play fashion contest, the pinnacle of the afternoon’s events. Between two long rows of foldout chairs, a veritable Nerd Pride Parade of bad-ass-looking Freaks and Geeks are strutting their sexy selves down the runway, then striking a hip-thrusted pose and shooting their laser-blasters or slicing the air with their danger-sensing daggers or casting a spell with their staffs, often punctuated by a cracked-voice battle cry—and then the roars and the whistles and the applause of the audience, who are fucking pumped.

There’s a barefooted Bilbo Baggins who looks like he might actually be part Hobbit, there are Gandalfs and Merlins, buff Batmen and little Bat-Babies, Furries (who are sick as shit of explaining that what they do is not a kink, I can tell you), an Inspector Gadget with a propeller go-go-gadgeting out of his fedora, a cleavagey Elvira, IMG_0771a little kid with white angel wings (who I don’t think was dressed as a Victoria Secret Angel, but, if he was, he’s pretty much the coolest kid ever), a Green Lantern rolling in a wheelchair like a boss, IMG_0808a towering trans Wonder Woman, every conceivable Star Wars persona (obviously), esoteric anime characters I don’t recognize, a whole bunch of Dr. Whos (ask them “yes, who? That’s what I’m asking” and they will mean-mug the shit out of you), and, at the end of the runway, a gaggle of Clark Kents—that is, nerdy journalists from every conceivable local media outfit, out on Puff Piece Patrol, myself included—snapping away with our SLRs at the ridiculously photogenic scene.IMG_0815

As everybody-who’s-anybody knows, dressing up is super fun and these people came to party. Basically what they do is wander around looking awesome and complimenting each other, basking in all the love. It’s rad.

I DON’T STICK AROUND TO SEE WHO WINS because I have to piss. Inside, by the bathrooms, I run IMG_0714into Sub-Zero and Scorpion from the video game Mortal Kombat, who are leaned up on a giant American Flag in the hall. The gamers have been together for seven years and are clearly muy in love.

“Nothing like this has ever come to Chico,” Sub-Zero says, almost quivering with happiness.

Scorpion explains that they would dress up all the time except it’s not “socially acceptable.”

“But here,” Sub-Zero cuts in, “there’s no one pointing at you or laughing at you; there’s no worries.”

Yes, exactly, I think. These people have a dream, too: that one day little ninja kids and young make believe mutants and adolescent Furries will be judged, not by the design of their costumes (except during costume contests), but by the content of their character. Can’t we learn, as a society, to accept these people as the made up characters that they aren’t?

IMG_0718PAST VARIOUS BOOTHS WITH COMIC BOOK ARTISTS signing their work, I meet 31-year-old Jason and 26-year-old Donovan, a pair of chubby dudes dressed in all black who are playing this complicated board game called Warhammer 40K. The futuristic war game takes place on an intricate landscape of hand-painted hills and tundra, and involves various little fighters being controlled by rolls of dice, and a tape-measurer and weird rules dictating how they move around.

“It’s a very involved hobby,” Jason explains, as he rolls a handful of red dice.

“See, this is my Dreadnought. It’s basically a giant walking tank that runs around and stomps people.”

IMG_0749“Oh, that’s not good,” Donovan says, as the dice controlling Jason’s Dreadnought tumble to a stop.

“I just shot four guys,” Jason says, pointing to Donovan’s little hand-painted figurines, who are, it must be said, taking it pretty stoically. “Now I have to roll for damage.”

“Oh no,” Donovan says, breathily, in disbelief, when he reads the dice. “No. No! That’s terrible,” he intones, resigning himself.

“Victory!” Jason cries out. “Victory!”

Then Jason, who works, by day, a desk job for Merit Medi-Trans, grows circumspect. “This is my hobby,” he says. “This is what I do. People go fishing. People go hunting. I play Warhammer.”

IMG_0759THE WALLS OF THE VETERAN’S HALL in which Chico-Con is taking place are covered in framed and yellowing tributes to American veterans, like the heroes of WWII, etc. Next to them are posters, affixed with scotch tape, of superheroes; flying, posing, flexing.

I wander out into the day, which is blue and endless now, the clouds from earlier having broken open. Storm Troopers and Furries are taking a selfie together, their white plastic and pink fur arms intertwined. The air smells like make-up and wet fall leaves and polyurethane adhesive. There’s a breeze.

What does it mean to be yourself when there’s no such thing?

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About Emiliano Garcia-Sarnoff

View all posts by Emiliano Garcia-Sarnoff
Former busboy, sauerkraut-mixer, and Japanese hair model, Emiliano Garcia-Sarnoff is a writer and father of two, living in Chico. After quitting a job as an Erin Brockovich-like legal investigator, then hitting rock bottom in a scene that involved roommates, tears, nudity and police officers, the UC Berkeley graduate decided to go for broke (and he’s accomplished his goal!) in the exciting world of small town weekly newspaper writing.