Below is the story of one mans struggle to find a room full of self expression. I enjoyed Christoph's story so much that I asked if I could include it here on the SPACE website. He agreed and here it is. You can find more of Christoph Meyer's writing in his zine, 28 Pages Lovely Bound with Twine. Send $2.00 (or the equivalent in stamps) to Chistoph Meyer POB 106 Danville OH 43014 for a sample copy of his zine..
A Trip to S.P.A.C.E., Some Crotchety Crocheters and a Deliciously Soggy Sandwich
I: Late Start
The original plan was to leave our house around 9 am, then Lisa would drop me off a little after 10. She’d do our “town shoppin’” and pick me up at 1:30 on the dot. After eating sophisticated vegan lunch in the big city, we’d be home by 4 at the latest. Of course it didn’t happen like that.
Around 8:30, as we were getting ready to go, I went down into the basement to fetch some dog food for Klee, our 140 lb. puppy, when a strange optical phenomenon stopped me halfway down the stairs: I could clearly see the window on the floor. The scene outside the floorwindow was perfectly visible- it was a gray day and I could see the cloudy sky behind the bare branches of the trees. But why was this window on my floor? The floorwindow was but a reflection of the wallwindow that I could see in the still water that covered our basement floor.
It had rained hard during the night, but in our year of living in this house it had rained hard before but the basement had never flooded. “Flooded” may be a hyperbole since about half of our basement was dry ground. But the water had found most the cardboard boxes full of this and that, that were sitting on the floor. So I spent the next hour and a half sweeping water into the sump pump and moving soggy bottomed boxes to dry places.
I had learned about S.P.A.C.E. from Larned Justin. Hey, that’s a funny sentence; Larned would be a learned man if he only had an “e”. Larned, as you may know, is the editor of a wonderful publication entitled Out of The Blue. He sent me some fliers about S.P.A.C.E. and was even nice enough to offer me an extra pass he had so I could get in free. I decided to attend S.P.A.C.E. for a few reasons. 1: It was in Columbus, which is close to home. 2.: I wanted to meet Larned, and Chris and Jill of Recluse Zine/Knucklehead Distro. 3.: I wanted to pass my fanzine around in person because it saves a lot of postage. 4.: I had never been to an Underground/Small Press gathering and I was eager to look upon my fellow zinesters in the flesh. Well, actually I was at one small press gathering but it was a long time ago…
The Underground Press vs. The Crossknit Crocheters (a digression)
Back around ’94 or ’95, when I was attending DePaul University, I took a summer job manning the front desk in a dormitory because it got me a free room. A dorm called University Hall was emptied of students for the summer and used like a hotel for several conferences that were using DePaul’s facilities to hold their get-togethers. On one fateful weekend two groups came: The Underground Small Press and The Crossknit Crocheters.
Some folks say that it’s wrong to classify and stereotype people from their looks, but lets face it, stereotypes exist because people act in stereotypical ways. You can usually peg people four out of five times if you’re observant enough but here I could do it with 100% accuracy. You could just look at the person and know for sure which group they were with. All males were with the Underground Press. Females with excessive piercings, crayola-colored hair, leather jackets and/or piles of paper products under their arms were Small Press. Every female who was over 40, with a fresh perm, wearing a handmade sweater and carrying an over the shoulder bag full of yarn was a Crocheter. It’s hard to imagine two more easily distinguishable groups
Both groups avoided each other like they had cooties and only looked at each other with suspicious sideways glances. Attendees of both conferences came up to me and asked, “Who are those other people?” When I told them they’d just shake their head knowingly- that other group was bad news.
No major scuffles occurred on the first day because the two groups hardly saw each other. The Crossknit Crocheters were up at the break of dawn looking for a “nice place to eat breakfast”, then they were off to spend the day learning new stitches and showing off their elaborately crocheted blankets and sweaters. All the crocheters were gone from the dorm by the time the Underground Press folks stumbled out of bed. Instead of inquiring about a “nice place to eat breakfast” they were asking me if I knew of any place that was “cheap” and/or “vegetarian”.
The two groups didn’t even see each other in the evening because by early evening most the Crocheters had turned in and were presumably either reading the latest Danielle Steele masterpiece or watching a little Murder She Wrote before going to sleep early so they could be well-rested for their big day tomorrow. I heard that the Underground Press People came stumbling in at all hours, anywhere from early evening to the next morning. And a few were – gasp! - inebriated!
Although they didn’t speak to each other, I overheard both groups making fun of the others behind their backs. Actually, the Underground Press did most of the joking about the old ladies, while the old ladies just lamented on the sad state of the youth today.
But the next day was the big culture clash. During the first day both groups attended their workshops and listened to their speakers and successfully avoided each other except when passing by in the dorm’s lobby. But on this day, the Underground Press set up their tables and booths in the quad, right outside University hall. Certain writers and artists enjoyed putting their scandalous publications into the hands of the unsuspecting Crocheters. And soon they started coming to me with complaints about the dirty books being sold. They would thrust a fanzine in my face and say, “Read this! Do you know what kind of smut is being sold out there! Read this, and you’ll see. You should tell someone so they know.”
One lady made me look through a book of comic-book style drawings of naked hermaphrodites with absurdly well-developed muscles, breasts and penises. She held the book in front of me, flipping through the pages saying, “Look at this one and look at this one!” Then there was one picture of a man/woman with an erection that sent her into a serious fit. She demanded that I tell the authorities about this horrible stuff that was being sold.
The Underground Press folks would prod me for stories about the uptight Crocheters. Once they learned of the Crocheters indignation they made it a point to get the most scandalous publications into their hands. One Crocheter complained to me that a dirty book had been slid under her door.
But the thing that got all the old ladies riled up into a mob was some poet. There was a stage set up outsidefor people to read from their work. In the late afternoon, when the Crocheters were all done for the day, a big group of them were walking through the fair on the way to the way to their rooms and some poet was reading some poetry that had them coming to my desk in droves. They said that that wasn’t art, it was pornography and they demanded that I call the “school authorities” to tell them about what was going on out there because if “they” knew “they” would put a stop to it.
However, I wasn’t going to be the idiot that called around the university, trying to put a stop to the smut. I told them that there wasn’t anything I could do and that was that. I heard there was an incident after I left where a Crocheter and an Underground Press Person got into a shouting match about freedom of speech but I didn’t get to see it.
Coincidentally, I had discovered the world of fanzines just prior to this when I had bought a copy of Factsheet 5. So, when I got off from my shift at the dorm, I went out and bought some smut. The only publication I can recall was entitled Mom and consisted entirely of letters and postcards that this guy’s quirky Mom sent him and it had a color picture of a dead fish on the cover. After the Underground Press Fair I quit reading fanzines until the end of 2001 when I finally published my own. But through all those years I remembered this fair and the few fanzines that I had read and the idea of making my own never left me.
Back to S.P.A.C.E.
So, back to S.P.A.C.E. This article is about S.P.A.C.E. after all.
Larned had sent me these fliers that had maps of how to get there and of course I left them at home. But I was sure it was at the Convention Center on High Street. So Lisa dropped me off and asked if she could just park for a minute while I ran in and confirmed that it was indeed there. I told her to go on and not to bother. I was sure it was there. And so she drove off. It was a quarter ‘til 11 and she’d pick me up outside the convention center at 1:30 sharp.
I walked into the Convention Center and there was a booth with the word INFORMATION handing over it. I walked up to the lady in the booth and asked, “Where is S.P.A.C.E.?”
“Where is the S.P.A.C.E. expo?”
“What is that?”
“The Small Press And Comics Expo.”
“Oh, I think that’s at the fairgrounds.”
“Yeah, I think it’s at the Rhodes building.”
“The Rhodes building?”
“Yeah. I think so.”
“Thank you ma’am.”
“Actually, you’re the second person whose asked me that this morning.”
It’s reassuring to know that there was one other lost fool out there- it makes me feel less lonely. Luckily, I’m familiar with Columbus (I lived there for almost 4 years) so I knew how to get to the fairgrounds. It was about 4 miles away so I started walking. The weather was cool and the walk was pleasant.
I Ain’t in Millwood No More…or am I?
When I reached the fairgrounds I slipped in through a gate that wasn’t locked tight enough. The fairgrounds is a big place and I had already wasted too much time so I asked the first person I saw where S.P.A.C.E. was. The first person I saw was sitting in a parking kiosk, feet kicked up, sleeping. Maybe it was mean to wake him up but I needed to find the expo and he looked like he needed to earn his paycheck by helping out a poor lost guy.
“Excuse me, sir. Excuse me.” He opened his eyes, startled. “Do you where the S.P.A.C.E. expo is?”
“No, man, I don’t know.”
“It’s the Small Press And Comics Expo.”
He shut his eyes again.
“Excuse me, sir. I think it’s in the Rhodes Building. Do you know where that is?”
“No” he said and immediately shut his eyes again.
“Sorry to bother you sir.”
So I walked over to the first building I saw and when I got near I could hear mooing coming from within. The smell of manure was in the air. This obviously wasn’t the place but for some dumb reason I stuck my head in anyway, just in case. The building was not filled with artists and writers; it was filled with cattle and people wearing hats and boots made out of cattle. So I walked on.
Every building I came to was full of livestock and none of the people walking around looked like small press types. Here I was in the big city and I felt like I was back home in my little rural town of Millwood. I walked about befuddled. I was so desperate that I even looked in a building that I heard rooster crows coming from that had a sign hanging outside that said “POULTRY SHOW”. That’s desperate.
Everywhere I turned there was nothing but livestock, boots, piles of manure and cowboy hats. Where were my people- the writers and artists? I couldn’t even find someone who looked like a fairgrounds worker to ask.
From Livestock to Housepets to S.P.A.C.E.
Finally I saw some people who didn’t look like ranchers or farmers. They were wearing suits and dresses so they didn’t look like creative small press geniuses but at least they didn’t have any livestock…or did they? I noticed that half of them were walking dogs and they were all headed into the same building. I stepped inside this building and there was a dog show in full swing. Have you ever seen the movie Best in Show? What a weird subculture. These dog-show folks are creepy. They make the zinesters look downright wholesome.
Then I saw a parking lot attendant. My savior!
“Do you know where the S.P.A.C.E. show is?”
“Is that comic books or trains?”
“Right over there in that building on the other side of that road.”
“Thank you, sir.”
Oh Thankyouthankyouthankyou mister! Sure enough, outside the building were people reading little chapbooks and smoking. And one of them had hair dyed red! These were my people. They all looked so disenchanted! I had found S.P.A.C.E.
A Real Zinester, Flesh and Blood
I paid my $4 and looked around. There were maybe 60 or 70 tables and a couple hundred people. I was looking for either Larned Justin (Out of the Blue) or Chris and Jill (Recluse Zine) and I soon stumbled upon Larned.
It was nice to look a fellow zinester in the eye and talk. Mail is fun and I would never be one to speak poorly of the corresponding via the U.S.P.S. but mail is no substitute for real live conversation. I grabbed a bunch of stuff off of Larned’s table (I had never read any of his comics before) but when I went for my wallet he stopped me and just let me have them. Thanks.
My Fanzine has a Fan!
After chatting with Larned, I started to explore the expo. After visiting a couple of tables a man came up and introduced himself as Jerry Smith. He said he was really glad to meet me because he loves 28 Pages Lovingly Bound with Twine. Wow, a fan!
I’m glad Jerry introduced himself because I really wanted someone to talk to. Chris & Jill of Recluse Zine and Knucklehead Distro were supposed to be there but they must not have come. (I found out later that they got there after I left) So if Jerry wouldn’t have introduced himself, I wouldn’t have had anyone else to talk to. All around me people were greeting each other like old friends. Maybe that’ll be me in 5 years but now I felt like I was back in high school, hoping that I wouldn’t have to eat lunch by myself, standing in the corner, hoping someone would come talk to me.
Jerry was even hoping that I had brought #2 of my fanzine along because he had only read #1 & #3. Wow, someone was asking for my writing. My usual method of distribution is to thrust it in someone’s face even though they never asked for nor even heard of it. Of course I brought #2. I was wearing a backpack full of copies that I was hoping to pass around.
And then, just when I thought my ego couldn’t get any bigger, a guy comes up and asks, “Do you have any more copies of 28 Pages?”
“Sure I do.” I started fishing out a copy and he hands me $2. Cha-ching! Money! I give him #2 and he says “Natural Gas Joe is the Bomb.” A person I had given my fanzine to had showed it to him and he like it enough to search me out so I also gave him a copy of #3- the one featuring Natural Gas Joe.
My ego-inflated head was now bobbing contentedly on an ocean of pride. Luckily no one else asked to buy a copy, and I met no one else who had heard about me. There would have been no limits to my ego had I found a third person who liked my writing.
Jerry was nice enough to show me to a couple of the tables that he thought worth pointing out (i.e. Ian Shires and Tim Corrigan). It was nice of him to take the time and I really appreciated it. I was feeling awkward approaching some of the tables and he helped me break the ice.
IX: A is not for “Alternative” nor “And” but “& Alternative”
After introducing me to a couple of people, Jerry and I parted ways and I moseyed about looking for Chris and Jill and stopping at random tables to browse through their offerings. While I was at a table, buying and/or trading for comics, two people came up and took my picture for their websites. I guess I’m funny enough looking with my big, unwashed, uncombed hair and my bushy, untrimmed beard that folks can laugh at my image. But I don’t recall what websites these are on and I don’t have internet access anyhow so I guess I’ll never see them.
While visiting the tables I did notice something about the literature for sale: it was 95% comic books. I had thought S.P.A.C.E. stood for Small Press And Comics Expo but it really stood for Small Press & Alternative Comics Expo. That didn’t mean that there would be “Small Press” there along with “Alternative Comics” too. It meant that there would be two kinds of publications represented: “Small Press Comics” and “Alternative Comics” which both amount to the same thing. I was expecting to see some fanzines but this was comics through and through. Oh well, I haven’t read many comics, be they Small Press or Alternative, and it never hurts to be exposed to new things. Unless of course, those new things are falling anvils, high levels of radiation, explosions, chemical fires &c. But comics never hurt no one.
So I went from table to table and looked at their stuff. It all looked the same at just a glance and I couldn’t tell what would be good and what wouldn’t. So I’d just ask if they were willing to trade their stuff for my fanzine and usually they would. If they wouldn’t trade I’d usually buy something anyway and sometimes I’d buy something extra even if they traded.
I felt compelled to buy something and/or trade at every single table that I visited. It didn’t matter how good or bad their comics looked. When you’re standing there looking at the artist/writer person right in the eyes and there in no one else at their table, you know they are looking for someone, anyone, who is interested in the work of art they wrote/drew for you with their own metaphorical blood. It’s hard, nay, impossible to just walk away. I know if I was sitting behind a table laden with copies of 28PLBwT I’d stare up at each potential customer with the sad puppy-dog eyes of an underappreciated artist, silently saying, “I’m good, I’m so creative and talented. Buy a copy. Please buy a copy and take it home with you. Please show me that I’m good.”
But like I said, I couldn’t tell what was good or bad at first glance so I just traded and bought copies until the $35 I came in with had diminished to a couple bucks and I had passed out half of the 60 or 70 zines in my back pack. Then I thought to ask someone the time: 1:26. Damndamndamndamndamndamn. I was supposed to meet Lisa outside the distant convention center at 1:30 “on the dot.” Lisa is often early.
XI: I’m Coming Lisa!
I walked outside and noticed that the temperature had risen 10 or 20 degrees while I was inside. I’m not sure if it was 85 or 95 or what but the sky was clear, the sun was out and it felt hot to me. As I started on my walk, I noticed how dry my throat was. I thought about turning around and getting a drink before I started on my way but I didn’t. The convention center was 4 miles away and I was supposed to be there now.
I hadn’t drunk anything since I had left home that morning. Instead of doing the smart thing, that is, going back for a much- needed drink of water, I did a dumb thing: I started running. I’m an okay runner. I even ran a marathon once. But starting a 4-mile run, in the heat, wearing long sleeves and a full backpack when you’re already very thirsty isn’t smart. But I ran anyway.
My shirt was quickly soaked with sweat. As my shirt got wetter, my throat got drier. I tried to swallow to help moisten my poor throat but it hurt to swallow. On I ran, past a grocery store, past a gas station, past a fast food place, past a carry out. All these places had refreshing beverages for sale and I had a couple bucks in my pocket but I didn’t stop. The thought of Lisa circling and circling, futily looking for me inspired me to press on.
About a mile away from our rendezvous point, I stopped running. My head ached, my throat burned and I was soaked with sweat. I kept walking at a steady clip, keeping my eyes open for our Ford Escort Station Wagon. Finally, I reached a bench, next to the crosswalk we had agreed to meet at. I tried to relax but all I could think about was water water water water.
After five minutes or so I see Lisa walking up the street carrying our son and I walk over to meet them. She, of course, wanted to know why I was so late so I told her the whole sordid story. Even though she had a good opportunity to say, “I told you so.” (remember, she wanted me to go inside and check before she drove off) she didn’t. Instead she told me about a couple of beverages that she had purchased while at the grocery store. I decided on a bottle of Organic Limeade and thoughts of it occupied me entirely while we walked back to the car.
When we reached the car, I drank and drank. Ahhhhh, sweet limey ambrosia of the gods.
Dehydration and Dragonfly
Before heading home, we decided to get some lunch at Dragonfly, an all vegan, all organic restaurant in Columbus. The food there is delicious, though expensive- main dishes and appetizers cost around $7-$12 at lunch. It’s the most expensive restaurant that Lisa and I go to but it’s the only one that I’ve heard of that’s all organic and the only one that’s all vegan, besides a place in Cleveland called Soul Vegetarian. The food tends towards the experimental/gourmet, which isn’t at all what we’re used to, but as vegans who believe in organic agriculture, we feel that it is our duty to support them. It doesn’t hurt that food is yummy.
We sit down and the waiter rattles off the specials and every other word is either in French or Gourmet cant. Lisa and I only vaguely understand the dishes but we nod and act like we understand. Even when I think I know what I’m getting, I’m usually surprised. As an example, once I ordered a meal which consisted of Country-fried Tofu, greens and corn pudding. Bein’ a southern boy, that sounded like mighty fine eatin’. I could easily imagine this meal: the plate would be divided into three sections, the larger one for the tofu and the two smaller ones for the side dishes. But the waiter brought me a huge plate with a little tower of food stacked in the middle with gravy. No matter what you order, there’s a good chance it’ll be arranged with love and care and some sort of sauce will be artistically drizzled about. Whatever. Other people may “eat first with their eyes” but I like to use my mouth. And the layered tower of tofu, greens and corn puddin’ tasted great so if it makes the chef happy, let him arrange it however he pleases.
I had drank my quart bottle of Limeade before we went in Dragonfly. Once seated inside, the waiter kept refilling my water glass because I was swallowing liquid like a madman. After a while, I went to the bathroom but even after drinking well over half a gallon of water and limeade, I could only pee a meager trickle of dark urine. I’m glad I didn’t feel sick because I had obviously dehydrated myself.
Incidentally, I ordered a “French Dip” at this meal. It’s a seitan sandwich with some sorta potato based stuff smeared inside and with raw, chopped mustard greens instead of lettuce. Both the bread and seitan at Dragonfly are incredible and I’m guessing they make both of them fresh there. The seitan comes in big slabs with grill marks across it and has a smoky-charred flavor. Mmmmmmm. But the best part of the french dip is the dipping sauce. I like my sandwiches wet. Sauces are essential to a good sandwich. But this dipping stuff is liquid. I dip my sandwich in it and it gets soaked! It’s amazing! It brings a whole new level of wetness to sandwiches- sogginess! Absolutely delicious.
Over our vegan repast I told Lisa about my big day at the expo, lingering on the fact that Jerry Smith liked my fanzine and another guy gave me two real dollars for it. We ate our food, fed bits to Herbie and then headed home. Soon we were back in rural Knox county where there’s more livestock than people, lots of Amish folks, plenty of deer and turkey and no underground publications at all except for a little fanzine that no one has heard of called 28 Pages Lovingly Bound with Twine.