From the Awkward vault: Live-blogging 47 minutes at a Wizard of Oz convention
Plus, Ryan and Jim Ruland discuss the cave-heavy Episode 9 of ‘The Outsider’
The San Diego CityBeat archives are in shambles. I had hoped that the new owners would get their shit together and fix them, but I now think nobody over there knows what they’re doing. So many good stories have been lost, misattributed or just formatted like an M.C. Escher drawing. This sucks because I was proud of a lot of things I had written for them, and now when I have to prove that I wrote for CityBeat I have to take an overexposed pic of me holding one of the few physical copies I have next to my face like hostages do. It’s a weird way to apply for jobs!!
So, I’ve decided that every once in awhile, I’ll repost something that has been lost to the ether. Here’s a piece that was originally published August 25, 2014, and it’s about how I spent a grueling 47 minutes at Winkie Con, a Wizard of Oz convention at the Town & Country (RIP).
Hope you enjoy. Or, “enjoy.”
Saturday, Aug. 9, 3.45 p.m.: I pass the entrance to the Town & Country Resort in Mission Valley twice because the marquee says "Welcome National Catholic Singles Convention." I pull over to check the confirmation email on my phone: Yes, Winkie Con—the annual convention dedicated to L. Frank Baum and The Wizard of Oz —is being held here. I don't fault Town & Country for not wanting "Winkie Con" on its marquee.
3:55 p.m.: I park nearly a quarter of a mile away in an empty lot. My bank account has $2 in it. I can't even afford to pay for parking at Town & Country. You'd think I'd use this moment—walking along Hotel Circle North, broke and on my way to something called Winkie Con—as a moment of reflection, but nope. In my mind, "National Catholic Singles Convention" has somehow become "Hot Christian Singles Convention," and I keep repeating that over in my head.
4:05 p.m.: Despite having driven by hundreds of times, this is the first time I've stepped foot in the Town & Country, and I'm overcome with the post-apocalyptic shittiness of it. It's an oasis of rot, monitored by pseudo tycoons who rove through on electric golf carts. Faded maps direct me through the compound like it's a dying theme park. However, this feels oddly appropriate for a Wizard of Oz convention, and a twinge of sour excitement enters my gut, a feeling similar to riding the ridge of a dream before it becomes a nightmare.
4:10 p.m.: I arrive at the registration office and two con workers greet me. I tell them I'm "press," which immediately sounds self-important and snobby at Winkie Con. "From CityBeat," I clarify, to which they respond with a jovial, "Ahh, welcome!" This immediately makes me uncomfortable because it brings me no pleasure hating on good people's niche interests, but I already know that I'm going to hate Winkie Con.
4:10:27 p.m.: "Ryan Craig Bradford? Yes, I laminated your pass myself this morning." He hands me my pass, beaming. Great.
4:10:35 p.m.: I ask how the con's been going so far. "Great!" he responds and then tells me about a horror-author appearance that he's helping to organize in October. "She was writing about vampires way before Anne Rice," he says. I don't know how we've gotten on this topic so fast, but I nod in agreement.
4:10:45 p.m.: Yeah, fuck Anne Rice, I think.
4:11 p.m.: The man hands me a yellow lanyard. "Yellow is the favored color of the Winkies, residents of the Western quadrant of Oz," he says. I find it strange and a little endearing that so much thought was put into the flimsy piece of fabric between my fingers, but also feel that "Yellow for the yellow brick road," would be a far more efficient explanation.
4:11:37 p.m.: "And our Ozpitality suite is right across from the pool, where you'll find sodas, coffee and munchies."
4:11:38 p.m.: I create a right angle with my arm and jab my elbow down in a celebratory fist pump.
4:12 p.m.: I walk toward the "Ozpitality" suite. Sodas? Munchies? Hell yes, I think. Maybe I won't hate Winkie Con after all.
4:13 p.m.: I hate Winkie Con.
4:13:01 p.m.: Shiny plastic covers the carpet of the Ozpitality suite, protecting it against blood, vomit or any other Ozian secretions. The room is dark. There are balloons; they are anything but festive. Styrofoam bowls of Nerds candy litter all surfaces. A tired man in a green suit and top hat sitting in the corner informs me that sodas are in the "tub."
4:13:02 p.m.: "The tub?" I ask.
4:13:03 p.m.: "Yeah, the bathtub in the bathroom," he says. Tub, my mind repeats. Not a cooler, not an ice bucket, but a tub.
4:13:03-4:13:06 p.m.: Approximately three seconds of shuddering.
4:14 p.m.: Indeed, sodas rest in an iced tub; a blue tarp flows over the sides and reminds me of every movie involving organ harvesting. The toilet next to the tub has tape securing the lid. Someone has also used the green tape to spell out "No Wiz" on the toilet seat. I choose Cherry Pepsi.
4:20 p.m.: I roam the vendor floor, where artists hock Ozian comic-book fan fiction and book collectors sell original L. Frank Baum books for upwards of $300. It's at this point that I realize that I've probably seen The Wizard of Oz, in its entirety, only three or four times in my life. I imagine the harassment that would come from approaching someone at Winkie Con and asking, "So, what's up with 'The Wizard of Oz'?" I deem the chastisement not worth it. Surprisingly, this is the first time today where I assess the trajectory, success and overall quality of my decisions.
4:23 p.m.: I see a large Cowardly Lion sitting in a corner with a scarily detailed costume. He's eating gas-station nachos. [present Ryan note: Six years later, I can still picture this lion dipping the nachos. Like, he’s really fishing in that cheese sauce.]
4:25 p.m.: I retreat to a courtyard. A lone cameraman from KUSI interviews people about their Winkie Con experience. I pretend to text so he won't talk to me. He stops a man in a black suit and top hat leading a Toto dog on a leash. The man picks the dog up and asks: "Do you know where the wicked witch is? Do you know where the witch is?" The dog does nothing. "He usually barks," he says to the KUSI cameraman.
4:31 p.m.: I look for a receptacle for my Cherry Pepsi can. I head back to the vendor floor and see someone wiping nacho cheese off the Cowardly Lion's mask—like, dab-dabbing it. Another shudder passes through me.
4:32 p.m.: I'm out of here. There's no place like home, I think. I repeat: There's no place like home. There's no place like Hot Christian Singles.
INSIDE THE OUTSIDER
Inside The Outsider is a conversation between punk-rock literary hero, Jim Ruland and me about HBO’s show The Outsider and the Stephen King novel on which it’s based. Go subscribe to Jim’s newsletter Message from the Underground to follow along.
[Jerry Seinfeld voice]: What's the deal with shows digressing as they near the end?
That's what entered my head in the middle of watching the penultimate episode of The Outsider in which we were treated to the backstory of… a cave.
In flashbacks, we see two boys sneaking into a cave. Shit goes bad, the kids get lost, and the cave collapses on the search party looking for them.
This raises a lot of questions: What does a show accomplish by stepping back from the main action to present new information? Does it prolong tension? Does it give viewers a deeper appreciation of the conclusion? Or is it just a writer flexing their muscles? I've seen this technique a few times before—most notably in LOST and the second season of Stranger Things.
Back in the present day, the gang—who've bunkered down in Claude's brother Seale's house—learns of the cave's backstory, determines it's where the outsider is currently chilling, and sets out to find it. But Seale fucks up and tells Claude about the plan, which alerts the outsider of the plan (they share a telepathic bond, I guess?). The outsider sends its slave Bad Cop Jack to stop them, and this leads to an unforgettable, thrilling ending
All right, let's get to it.
Jim Ruland: Man that whole cave in backstory was bullshit. That’s the second Lehane episode that was slow AF.
Ryan Bradford: Yeah, that was mostly pretty boring. I probably didn’t hate it as much as you, but it definitely killed the momentum from Episode 8. I’m confused by why they even showed us that cave backstory at all. What was the point, besides the opportunity to use a slightly warmer color tint? Even in the book it was maybe a two-page description.
Can you think of anything that the flashback accomplishes?
JR: It did a couple of things. It helped establish why the outsider ran away from the caves after his failed abduction at Cavestock, but this show doesn't lean too heavily into procedural aspects of the investigation. Seale's knowledge of the story, as well his personal connection to it, buys him some good will from the team, which he then immediately squanders. Both minor points IMO.
I have a theory that Dennis Lehane was brought into the project after it had been blocked out as an eight-episode series, and he helped pad it out to ten. I know this isn't how shows generally operate, but how else to explain why Lehane is credited on the two dullest episodes in the series? Maybe HBO wanted a longer series. I just know that after the greatness of Episode 8, I was worried that Episode 9 would slow things down again when I saw Lehane's name attached as the writer.
RB: Yeah, I was deciding if there was some point for developing the cave backstory so much, especially focusing on the kids. I mean, I kind of see how it’s analogous to the outsider’s present-day actions—that it’s a terrible thing that happened to kids and ends up tearing a community apart. That kind of parallel/mirror stuff is catnip for serious writers who want to show off. But it’s probably just padding, like you said.
Or maybe it’s trying to legitimize the existence of the caves. In the book, it seems a little random/convenient that the showdown is in a cave, so having all this set-up settles viewers into accepting the idea that the caves are fine and not at all silly. I don’t know. This has been Cavetalk with Ryan Bradford.
JR: How long did it take for you to realize it was a flashback? I didn't realize it until they organized the search parties. I thought, I haven't seen this many dudes in suspenders since The Waltons.
RB: I realized that it was a flashback as soon as the kids saw the 25-cent sign on the cave souvenir shop. But I liked the search party’s suspenders. I was like, yes, now that’s a spelunking outfit.
JR: It felt like such a cheat, like we were supposed to think they were a snack for the outsider. Even before I realized it was a flashback, I wanted to fast-forward to present day Cecil.
RB: But there were aspects of this episode I really liked. I thought the ending was thrilling, and enjoyed how it cut to black two seconds after a lesser show would’ve cut before the gunshots. I also liked Seale. What an asshole, but a good character. Anything you liked?
JR: There was quite a bit I enjoyed. I especially liked the scene where they interview the folks from Cavestock. That line about how after the big dude ripped off the mask "He still looked like he was staring at me from inside of a mask." That was great.
After so much action from the outsider last week, were you disappointed by how they pretty much put him on the shelf in this episode?
RB: Oh, for sure. I did, however, like that little scene where Seale tells Claude about the plan, and it cuts to the cave where the outsider is also getting this information. It then telecasts a command and Jack springs into action. I really dug that. It gave me a headache to imagine how much info-processing the outsider must be doing at all times.
JR: I agree, but maybe they should have showed us this a month ago? The dynamics between the outsider and his slaves have been one of the more mysterious aspects of the show. I feel like this is something that all vampire movies do fairly quickly and efficiently: demonstrate how the vampire infects or controls others. The Outsider has mostly punted the question until now.
RB: I also liked thinking about Jack and the outsider just hanging out in the caves. What do they do when the camera’s not on them? Just sit in silence?
JR: They're probably thinking about all that fried chicken that Claude bought and didn't eat.
RB: Dude, I'm thinking about that fried chicken.
So you’ve brought this up in texts but I think this is a good time to talk about the remarkable ordinariness of the characters in this show. You said they look like real people who have real bodies (as opposed to celebrity attractiveness). That popped back in my head the morning after watching this episode when Eddie Gallagher was in the news. I can’t help thinking Jack is kind of an Eddie Gallagher stand in, right?
JR: No, Jack is a washout who couldn't pass the psychological evaluation to level up his military career. Gallagher is a Navy SEAL, one the elite members of the Navy Special Warfare Command and a bona fide war criminal. His behavior was so abhorrent, his own shipmates sabotaged his gear to make him less dangerous. Gallagher was such a psychopath that members of his own team testified against him. Jack is no Eddie Gallagher. Is he a violent alcoholic with a troubled past? Yes, but essentially he's a victim like everyone else the outsider infiltrates.
RB: What I meant is just that I thought there was a slight physical resemblance between Gallagher and Jack.
JR: There's a slight resemblance between what you're saying and a cogent analysis. Down goes Bradford!
RB: It also doesn't hurt that they're both snipers and psychologically disturbed, but my point is that a lot of these characters look like people we know: schlubby, tired, ordinary. As a counterpoint, I recently watched Netflix's adaptation of Locke & Key and it just felt too shiny with characters that were too attractive. It ended up being distracting, especially after being in The Outsider for eight weeks.
JR: Seriously, we both agree the acting has been phenomenal and some of that has to do with the fact that they are middle-aged, soft around the gut, and sad as fuck. These people have been through shit and look the part. It's really refreshing that none of the characters look like they're starving themselves so they can squeeze into tight fitting clothes and look 10, 15, 20 years younger. They're not presented to the audience as eye candy.
RB: And major points to whoever decided on Ralph's wardrobe. His shitty, ill-fitting polo shirts are quintessentially "grown-up man who has given up."
JR: One question that's been bugging me the more time we spend around Claude: why didn't Terry Maitland demonstrate any of these symptoms in the days before the outsider implicated him?
RB: Yeah, that Terry/Claude thing bugs me too. I could speculate that this is the first time the outsider has been on the defense during transformation, and hence his powers are weaker and not as clandestine with Claude, but it also could just be a convenient method of building tension this late in the game.
Let's pour one out for Alec. What was your favorite Alec scene in the series?
JR: Readers of the novel knew his days were numbered but it was still sad to see him go. The irony of an Iraq war veteran being taken out for a former serviceman really resonates. I don't have a favorite scene, I just loved the way he respected Holly's work and was never shy about backing her up, even if what she was saying was outside his worldview. He has a code. Unfortunately, that code led to his demise.
RB: I liked Alec for those reasons, too. He was just such a no-bullshit character who put all his faith in Holly, even when he perhaps didn't fully believe her. "Little bites." That's a good motto to have, I think. Also RIP his mustache.
For some reason, the temporal progress of this show is a little disorienting for me. I know it's only been, what, four or five episodes since we saw that fresh-faced AD, but it took me a moment to remember who he was. It seemed like forever since we saw him.
JR: It also took me a while to realize where and when we were in the story. I'm not really sure what purpose it serves this late in the game to basically drop a body into the story with no other clues. It also seems a little unfair to show so many graphic photos of a brutally murdered child. I'm not squeamish, and I wasn't offended, but it's such a departure from both the style and the story that I'm bothered by it for aesthetic reasons. But, I'm with Glory Maitland. I wish she'd talked to the DA to find out what he knows.
RB: I'm also torn on the show creating a new victim. What are we going to learn about that boy? Did the outsider attack him after its failed attempt at Cavestock? We now know that the DA knows he was wrong about Terry, but did we really need that realization? Especially at the expense of killing another child?
JR: Also, I know I gave you shit last week for calling the outsider's fox mask a deer when the title of the episode was "Foxhead," but what do the tigers in "Tigers and Bears" refer to?
RB: That's gotta be a shout-out to the Wizard of Oz, right? In that movie, Dorothy, Scarecrow and the Tin Man spooking themselves about the woods, singing a chant about the monsters that could do them harm: Lions and tigers and bears (oh my). Well, they find the Lion, who turns out to be a benevolent coward, but never the Tiger or Bear. I think this episode is a reference to the creatures in the woods that we don't know about. The things that do us harm.
JR: That crossed my mind but it seems pretty weak. I would have gone with "Labyrinth" or "Little Bites" or "If You Thought This Was Slow, You Should Watch Dennis Lehane Eat a Sandwich."
RB: Ah, "Little Bites" is good.
JR: I'm jonesing for some fried chicken!
RB: Are… are you high?
THE ONLY CONCERT CALENDAR THAT MATTERS™
Wednesday, Mar. 4
OPTION 1: Maria Bamford @ American Comedy Company. Did the primary results bum you out? Are you being sad on social media? Why not do yourself a favor and have a few chuckles tonight? Maria Bamford is the perennial queen of awkward humor, so you know she’s A+ in my book.
Thursday, Mar. 5
OPTION 1: Light Asylum, Deaf Dance, Void Lus @ SPACE. This is a good week for dark synth-goth. Light Asylum’s music is like when your weird cousin keeps wanting to show you his music, and you finally relent and go in expecting EDM or something, but then they don a wizard hat, turn off the lights and fire up a Tesla coil and you’re like, holy shit.
OPTION 2: Pigtails, Drew Pelisek, Neutral Shirt, Jordan Krimston @ Acid Vault (downstairs of Amplified Ale Works East Village). Here’s a night of earnest, vulnerable, smart indie rock. I saw Neutral Shirt for the first time about a month back and it was a very moving experience.
Friday, Mar. 6
OPTION 1: Clan of Xymox, The Bellwether Syndicate, Curse Mackey, Twin Tribes @ Music Box. Here’s your other night of dark synth. Even though Clan of Xymox sounds like something your Dungeon Master would throw at you, they actually play a sinister mix of Italo-disco with traces of Seventeen Seconds-era Cure thrown in. Don’t know if The Music Box sells mascara at the bar, but they should for this.
OPTION 2: The Growlers @ Soma. I guess it’s starting to feel like spring (yes, even in San Diego we know about different seasons), so it’s a good time to start listening to hazy, summer jams. The Growlers play laidback psych rock, which doesn’t necessarily break the mold, but it’s a nice soundtrack to getting sunburned on the beach.
Saturday, Mar. 7
ONLY OPTION: Awkward Movie Night @ Digital Gym Cinema. The only concert you should care about tonight—Dillinger Four at Soda Bar—is sold out, so you’re stuck with me, suckas! Digital Gym Cinema is giving me the chance to show Tammy and the T-Rex as the inaugural entry into my new film series, Awkward Movie Night. Tammy is about a mad scientist who puts a teen’s brain into an animatronic dinosaur, who then goes on a murder spree in search of his girlfriend. It’s amazing, gory and fucking bonkers. There’s a scene where the dinosaur cries while watching the burial of his human body. Mmhmm. Movie starts at 9 p.m. Get yer tix here.
Sunday, Mar. 8
OPTION 1: Michael Bolton @ Harrah’s SoCal. When I was little, my mom loved Michael Bolton, and she’ll probably hate that I’m telling this story, but one time we were at the mall, and some Contempo-esque store was having a giveaway where you could win Michael Bolton’s pants...? I can’t remember if they were like a limited line of designer jeans with his signature stitched onto the back pockets, or if they were his actual, sweaty show pants. Either way—still weird! I remember my mom being very excited to enter that contest. Anyway, Michael Bolton rules.
OPTION 2: Drug Hunt, Deep Sea Thunder Beast, Nebula Drag @ Pour House (Oceanside). Head north to see a bunch of local bruisers. Even separately, each band on this bill would qualify for my coveted Aspirin Show™ designitation, so maybe bring the entire bottle.
Monday, Mar. 9
OPTION 1: Young Guv, Spiritual Cramp, Spirited Away, The Fazes @ Che Café Collective. I’m very excited for Spiritual Cramp, who plays an urgent blend of post-punk and Talking Heads-esque art rock. If there could ever be a modern replacement for The Clash, Spiritual Cramp is it.
OPTION 2: Tame Impala, Clairo @ Pechanga Arena. I’ve never understood the popularity of Tame Impala, but that’s not to say I don’t like it. It’s just kind of like gentler MGMT, right? Or chillwave for grownups?
Tuesday, Mar. 10
OPTION 1: Blackwater Holylight, Warish, Drug Hunt @ Soda Bar. Blackwater Holy light is a five-piece stoner/desert rock group that destroys. These ladies don’t fuck around when it comes to heaviness. This show is going to rule.
OPTION 2: tulengua, Kass Rose Gold, Kamrie, DJ Bakunawa @ The Casbah. A few weeks back, I went on a Border Angels water drop organized by Alan Lilienthal, one of the members of San Diego hip-hop group tulengua. It was a heartening experience to meet someone who’s so adamant about migrant and social justice, and who’s using his artistic platform to make real change in the world.
TICKETS ON SALE FOR AWKWARD MOVIE NIGHT
Come watch a movie with me. Please?
Awkward Movie Nights is a new series I’m doing at Digital Gym that strives to celebrate films that exist beyond classification and good taste.
For the first entry, we’re going to watch Tammy and the T-Rex, about a man who—after being killed by wild big cats in the local animal park—has his brain implanted into an animatronic dinosaur by a mad scientist. Can he convince his girlfriend Tammy that it’s him buried under that mess of wiring and latex? And how many people does he have to kill to prove his devotion?
Tix on sale now. There are limited seats, so get them while they’re hot!
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