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Mordor with Mosquitos

by Berni Phillips

Hell is a little slice of Milwaukee. Flying in from San Francisco, my stalwart companion, Edith, fretted about the weather reports she’d been hearing about Milwaukee. It’ll be fine, I kept telling her. I was wrong. Walking out of the airport was like walking into an oven.

Quickly ferried by air-conditioned car to the Archbishop Cousins Catholic Center, we checked in and got our room keys then went back out again into that inferno to meet up with the other mythopoeic early birds for a German dinner at a restaurant downtown. When we left that restaurant much later, it was still stiflingly hot outside. Not a good sign.

Unable to sleep in the oppressively hot room that night, my husband and I elected to get a hotel room until the unusual weather had passed. This was not easy as there was an air show that weekend in Oshkosh, 80 miles away, which mysteriously was filling up the Milwaukee hotel rooms. We got what was apparently the last hotel room in Milwaukee. This proved to be wise as, to quote from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: “The temperature peaked at 99 in Milwaukee, but just after 1 p.m. a record high dew point of 82 created a heat index of 119, a level considered dangerous to human health.” Yes, we were in Mordor.

As bad as the Cousins facility was, Mythcon at least was confined to one building. If we had had to travel from building to building (sleeping rooms, program rooms, and cafeteria) in that heat, it probably would have been worse. Kudos to the committee for re-arranging the program at the last minute to fit all items into the few air-conditioned rooms. The food was not good, but we expect that at a Mythcon. It provides a bonding experience. Although I still suspect that they only make one cup of coffee and dilute it

to fill the whole large container. The three guests of honor, Gary and Sylvia Hunnewell and Doug Anderson, were lively and gave amusing and informative speeches. I can’t tell you how relieved I was to find that Sylvia had only put that belly-button-exposing Arwen in her art show to show how she had matured in her knowledge of Tolkien! And Gary’s and Doug’s speeches revealed them to be the types of teenagers we had all suspected they’d been. (Although I will confess to having been shocked at Neil Gaiman’s acceptance speech for the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award in which he admitted that he had stolen Tolkien’s books from the library!)

The programming and papers were good. Ted Nasmith treated us to another slide show of his art, showing earlier sketches and alternative designs of some of his beautiful work. The masquerade was of high quality featuring (among others), Marion Van Loo as Queen Agatha of Ham, David Bratman as Rupert Giles of Ham (Buffy the Vampire Slayer reference for you non-TV watchers), Mary Jo Kapsalis as a beautiful character whose name I’ve forgotten, Deborah Jones as a refugee from Arnor resplendent in her purple on-the-road chic, and many others.

Gary Hunnewell and Bruce Leonard have formed a much-needed new organization, the Tolkien Collectors Anonymous, a collect-all-the-steps program. They presented various testimonials from mythies who sorely needed it, and Carl Hostetter revealed the new experimental cure: the Patch. (This was a book cover of Unfinished Tales attached to his bicep.) Our founder, Glen GoodKnight, was not present at this Mythcon. Having seen his dwelling, I should have enrolled him in this program in absentia. (“I have a whole wall filled with the same book,” our hapless TCAers admitted.)

What Mythcon report is complete without a mention of the food sculpture at the banquet? (Or, what hath Sue Dawe wrought?) Food sculpture went on at two banquet tables this year. I worked on the minimalist “Leaf by Nibble,” a leaf of vegetative matter next to a pizza crust. (Yes, I had pizza for the banquet, said the vegetarian. It wasn’t our most elegant affair, I must admit. Although the Rauscher family appeared in enough elegance to compensate for the rest of us. They arrived fashionably late, Eric arrayed in a tuxedo, of all things, while his lovely wife, Bonnie, was elegant in a long black dress draped with a gold shawl, and 15-year-old Emily was a pre-Raphaelite beauty with her long blond curls falling over the exquisite blue taffeta and lace Jessica McClintock dress. But I digress.) At the somewhat rowdier table, a surprisingly restrained Lynn Maudlin was fashioning with keen intent a plate of what appeared to be garbage. She called it, “Beyond De-Bree.” One of her dining companions, dapper David Emerson, submitted “King of Ham,” a slice of ham crowned with a crescent of pineapple.

This year’s Not-Ready-for-Mythcon Players presented “Uppity Warrior Women of Middle-earth,” a series of vignettes penned by Galabrielle (Ellie Farrell). First was one about La Femme Yavanna (Mary Kay Kare), with a Carmen Miranda hat-wearing Yavanna protecting the trees with the fruits of her labor — in a literal sense. Next was the adventure of Luthy, the Vampire Slayer (yours truly), wielding her silmaril-stake, Hîr Aeg. Last and best were the exploits of Xenawyn, Rohan princess (Arden Smith), whose chakram proves to be the One Ring. Putting fake breasts on Arden is always popular for some reason.

Golfimbul started out on the soccer field outside the dorm. This year we were playing with a mosquito handicap. The local insect life was all too eager to chow down on imported Californians and Coloradons, etc. Still, the game must go on. Our medalists for batting for accuracy, those who bat the orc head closest to the fuzzy pink bunny, were Ellie Farrell (gold medal), Jeff Long (silver), and Eric Rauscher (bronze). The next event is whacking the orc’s head for distance. The gold went to Jeff Long, the silver to Bruce Leonard, and the bronze to Carl Hostetter. We then dashed inside (to escape the mosquitos: what do they eat when there is no conference going on?) for the final event, golfimbowling. Bruce Leonard located the perfect spot for this, the tornado shelter below the building: long, long sound proof concrete hallways. The winners for this event were Bruce Leonard (gold medal), Eric Rauscher (silver), and Jeff Long (bronze). A special “Golfimbul Linguist” award for worst performance went to Bonnie Rauscher, presented by last year’s winner, her own daughter, Emily.

Another great Mythcon tradition is just staying up late chatting in the hospitality suite. This is a cozy custom when people really let their hair down. Bonnie Callahan let her ankle-length hair down, brush out its full-length to the admiring glances of the rest of us. When asked how long she’d been growing her hair, she replied, “Since 1962.” “Your hair is older than I am!” blurted Carl Hostetter.

Still, not even mosquitos, bad food, and worse weather can make a bad Mythcon. This was overall a pretty good Mythcon, from my perspective. (I.e., I had fun.) And perhaps it helped prepare us for next year when we proceed to the Crack of Doom.

Reprinted from the September 1999 issue (36:9) of Mythprint.