Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Report from MaxFunCon 2010

We were told to park the trailer at the tennis courts, but we weren’t sure, so we kept driving up into the complex (the complex being the UCLA Lake Arrowhead Conference Center). 

We were sure that there would be a place to turn our truck-and-trailer train around at the check-in parking lot. There isn’t. And it’s a busy day. Cars, delivery trucks, garbage trucks. And in the middle, a pick-up and trailer straddling the road with not enough room to turn around. And sweat. Quite a bit of sweat.  How stuck were we? Stuck enough to require unhitching the truck, turning it around, and rehitching it, facing out.  And sweat. More sweat.
And so MaxFunCon begins. 
The first meet-and-greet is awkward. Loud and crowded with returning campers from last year meeting old friends. We sat at a corner table and were glad when someone took pity on us and sat down at our table, or just got tired of standing and sat down.
The room became more crowded and hot until I had to escape outside, where I, oddly and uncharacteristically, took a seat by Maria Bamford, told Marc Maron I was a big fan since Morning Sedition, and told Neal Pollack that I was looking forward to taking a yoga class from him in the morning. (Huh? A minute ago I wasn’t able to talk to my fellow Maxfunsters. Who am I?)
John Hodgman’s benediction was perfectly Hodgmanesque, although blurry because (a) we were sitting in the very back row, and (b) I had temporarily misplaced my glasses. A swig from a bottle of Jeppson's Malort Liqueur is required of all campers. Malort is everything the label says it is. ("Jeppson's Malort Liquoer has the aroma and full-bodied flavor of an unusual botanical. Its bitter taste is favored by two-fisted drinkers." Really.) I shared a swig with Al Madrigal. He seemed nice.

Dinner was slightly less awkward with just a few strangers to deal with. Neal Pollack noticed our plates piled with beef and jokingly (we hoped) banned us from yoga in the morning if we ate all that meat.
After dinner there was sketch comedy by Elephant Larry. Silly, fun, and cookie intensive. And bat. There was some bat eating.

Then San Francisco-based sketch group Kasper Hauser kicked the crap out of us with their seminar on awesomeness. If you get a chance to see them, don’t even fuck around. Just go.
Pretty Amazing Photo of Kasper Hauser by Noe Montes
The awkwardness melted away for a moment as we, as a group of nerds, sang “Skullcrusher Mountain” with Jonathan Coulton. I didn't know that I knew the words. (You Tube it, people.) Then we sat back as a newly love-bonded group and allowed Coulton’s “Fancy Pants” song to knock the shoes right off our collective feet.

Jonathon Coulton. Photo by Noe Montes
The evening ended at the pretend frontierland at the top of the hill with s’mores, beer, and sitting cross legged in a fake prairie schooner, chatting with people whom I hoped would wear their name tags again tomorrow.

Photo by Noe Montes

Day 2 - Saturday

The problem with a breakfast buffet is that there is a pile of bacon. When bacon comes in a pile, there is nothing that you can do but try to eat your way down to the bottom of the steam tray. 
We met nice people at breakfast. I would tell you all about them, but I spent all of my attention on failing to keep the conversation going. They were nice, though, because everybody is nice here. It’s what MaxFunCon is known for.
Full of even more meat, we headed up the hill to the “Zen Deck.” On our yoga mats, we listened to Neal Pollack read parts of his new book (August 2010) about his journey to yogihood and then we did some basic yoga poses. The weather was warm and sunny. The view was spectacular, down the wooded hill to Lake Arrowhead and beyond. Neal Pollack was both sincere and funny about his practice, still curious and eager to learn more, as all good yogis should be. There were no meat-related digestive mishaps. As far as Pollack knows.
Neal Pollack and me. Yoga nerds on the Zen Deck.

Back down the hill for Andrew W.K. Perfectly rambling, twitchy and sincere.
From You Look Nice Today, we learned what “doing a number three” is. Um, and a new meaning for the nickname "Lonely Sandwich." From Jordan, Jesse, Go! we learned that Spiderman costumes can be quite comfy, and we got a look at Chompers 2. A fine pig.
After lunch, Jad Abumrad from WNYC's Radiolab gave a presentation on his use of music and sounds to help make the stories on the show more accessible and fun to listen to. As so many humans are, he is the perfect person to be doing what he is doing.
After Jad’s presentation, we moseyed over to get our asses kicked in pub trivia. The trivia game was lead by John Hodgman and the questions (and subject matter) were picked by the members of the sketch group Elephant Larry. The subjects could not have been further from our areas of expertise, to borrow a Hodgmanian phrase: Disneyland, comic books, the New York Yankees, and apples. Really, Elephant Larry? Those are the things that turn you on? Really? I’m afraid none of them can be my friends. We lost so hard, we won dirt. No, really. Dirt.
THE John Hodgman. I don't think he liked us. We were losers.

At dinner (taco night!) we met more awesome people, including Dr. Cocktail, who worked as hard or harder this weekend than anyone. This may be a fun and positive group, but they are a hard drinking crew. Hard. Drinking.
After dinner, it was time for shit to get real. I’m talking Jimmy Pardo. Killed. I’m talking Al Madrigal. Charmed us all. I’m talking Maria Bamford. So good. And Then. Marc Maron brought it. And then he dropped it on us. Saturday’s entertainment was worth the entire price of the weekend. 

I would have happily climbed our little hill to our condolet and crawled into bed, but for many, that’s when the real partying started. It was time for the Country Estate party. 

Maxfunsters had been alternately buzzing and harrumphing about dressing up in their best (or most recently scavenged) tweeds and tattersals to wear to the Country Estate party for weeks, but in the end, most seemed to enjoy the challenge. And it would have been an awesome idea in a room twice as big with twice as many bartenders. As it was, it was too much for my ADD/social anxiety-addled brain, even with a heavy dose of Xanax on board. I sat outside in my consignment-shop tweed riding cape and drank my drink, then Drew’s, then we got cold and went back to our condolet. This was not a failure of MaxFunCon, but my own intense inability to mingle in loud, crowded, party-like settings. I am aware of this and try not to beat myself up about failing to act like a more social human.

My tweed riding cape. And my name tag.
We were in bed by 11:30 or midnight maybe. Others partied past 3:00 a.m. We are too old for that. Or we know that it’s not worth whatever fun you think you are having in the wee hours. Because whatever fun it is will reveal itself to be less fun in the morning.
Day 3 - Sunday

Sunday morning. Due to our relatively early night last night (but no thanks to a nose that has just HAD it with the juniper pollen and went on strike for the duration of the night), we made it down to breakfast in time. And who sat down with us but the wonder that is Maria Bamford. We talked about Drew being a firefighter and Captain America, and my bear paintings, which we all agreed I should put on Etsy. I’m going to have to get on that. I swear.
Jimmy Pardo, Matt Bellknap and Pat Francis of Never Not Funny introduced us to a new way to terrorize our spouses (“SMELL THE GARBAGE!”), and Pat Francis helped us to understand E-Bay correspondence.
And then we ate lunch, met even more people at the very final meal, packed up and left. 

Jesse Thorn, founder of MaxFunCon and Benevolent Colonel of the Nerd Plantation (as dubbed by Marc Maron).
Photo by Noe Montes

Did I say that we had breakfast with Maria Bamford?

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