Two Tales From a Table

It’s been two weeks since I’ve posted. I am adding a link to my long overview of FogCon here, but the joy and intrigue of conventions (or any trip) really, is in the “marginalia;” what happens at the edges, in the space between the panels, the exhibitions, the planned events.

Overheard at FOGCon:  “Mommy, are there people on the ceiling?” (We were in the hotel’s second basement, and this was a three-year-old’s question.)

Two Tales From a Table: Cardboard Nazis

Friday, before things got into full swing, I had lunch in A’Trio, the hotel restaurant. The restaurant has a number of tables for two, one seat a banquette and the other a chair, in a line. The table to my immediate right was empty and beyond that, at the corner table, sat a man and a woman, probably in their early forties, both white, both wearing FOGCon lanyards.

The man was talking. He wasn’t yelling  but he wasn’t talking quietly either, and I am a shameless eavesdropper (which is another description of a writer). And, I had my notebook with me.

He was talking about the dust-up with J.K. Rowling and her “North American Magic,” pieces on Pottermore, where she had globalized a Navajo word to mean all indigenous shape-shifters. Yes, the “skinwalker” controversy. There was a lot of discussion in the Twitterverse about it, and this man was indignant.

“As a writer and a worldbuilder,” he said, “I think she plotted the sensible course.”

The woman said, “I can see their point, though.”

“And there are people saying ‘It’s not her story to tell.’ Well, maybe it is. Maybe it is her story to tell.”

“I can see their point, though,” the woman said.

Apparently he couldn’t. I ate my clam chowder, pondered “skinwalker” as a general term for shapeshifters on the North American continent, and came to the personal conclusion that it was a bad choice. I’m not qualified to discuss the cultural appropriation aspect. As a “writer and a worldbuilder” myself, I can say it looks sloppy to me. It shows a lack of research, the way those bad Movies of the Week back in the 1970s shamelessly conflated Wiccan magic with “Satanism” without caring at all that it was complete soup, and you’d get lines like, “Cernunnos, it’s another name for the Devil.”

I tuned back in a few minutes later. He was still indignant on behalf of the richest writer in the English language. “It’d be like me… I’m of German extraction, It’d be like me saying that as a person of German descent I get tired of watching depictions of cardboard Nazis.”

Cardboard Nazis?

Not “cardboard Germans.” He wasn’t protesting that the German people are portrayed badly or two-dimensionally in the films and TV shows of the fifties and sixties. He’s worried about how the Nazis are portrayed.

Perhaps he was joking.

Two Tales from a table: Mothers and Sons

Sunday morning  I went down to the restaurant and ordered breakfast. I sat next to the table formerly occupied by the worldbuilder who disliked cardboard Nazis. The table was occupied, this morning, by a Black woman, probably mid-forties.  The rest of the dining room was taken up by young men in baseball uniforms, from the University of Utah, here to play. They were cleaning out the breakfast buffet, checking their phones, texting, and so on; cheerful, polite, and when did they start letting thirteen year olds into college? That’s what I want to know.

As I was finishing up it started to rain, and there is a skylight over the restaurant, so we could hear it drumming. I turned to the woman at the corner table. “I thought I was hearing rain in my room — I’m on the third floor,” I said, “but it was really the elevator.”

“The rain took me by surprise,” she said.

I asked if she were traveling for work or vacation, a family visit? She shook her head. “I’m here visiting my son,” she said, “He’s in the hospital.”

I hesitated. “Which hospital?” That sounds like a strange question, but if she said, “UC Med” or “Children’s Hospital,” that would tell me something. She didn’t. She named a local Walnut Creek hospital.

“He was in a coma,” she said. “But he’s getting better.”

“I’m sorry,” I said. “Was he in an accident?”

She shook her head again. “He was beaten.”

I couldn’t think of anything to say.

“He’s getting better. He recognizes us, he blinks when he sees me. I read him the Bible. And I play him music. He has feeling in his feet and hands. They think he’ll recover.”

I asked her what happened.

They are from Florida, but he was a freshman in college here. He had 3.8 GPA. He’d gone to a party. He stepped outside to call his girlfriend. While he was talking to her on his phone, she heard voices in the background.

“Hey, where you from?”

“Florida,” he said.

“Well, you’d better get back there.”

He said to his girlfriend, “I’ll call you back.”

Witnesses said the three other young men jumped him before he could put away his cell phone. He hit his head almost immediately and was probably unconscious the whole time. The mother said that the his heart had stopped and he was probably without oxygen to his brain for about two minutes– the police detectives told her they had arrested the attackers, who had been questioned many other times for assaults. “Known to law enforcement” is the term. He had had no contact with them before they jumped him.

She and her husband were taking turns coming out from Florida, one week at a time, to spend time with him.

I tried to imagine that; your son in a coma, your life upended and the added disruption of having to fly clear across the continent every other week. And you can’t turn to your partner for comfort, because they are doing the same thing.

I tried to imagine being a young man, a good student, clear across the country from home, and having your life shredded in one night, at a party, when you had done nothing.

I told her I was glad that she had her faith, and her son had her. She talked a bit more, teary-eyed, but it was all good. He really was getting better.

I wished her, and him, the best. I think — I want to believe — that he will made a full recovery, or at least a good recovery, that he’ll go back to school, and that he’ll succeed; that the strength he develops to overcome this will serve him the rest of his life.

And I decided her story made cardboard Nazis seem a lot less important.


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