Ice-Scrapers and Lightsabers: A True Story


ERIC is sitting in a warm chair, dressed in black, watching YouTube.  His shoes are off.  He is comfortable.  Hearing someone fiddling with the door, he looks up from his laptop.  

Enter SCOTTY.  He has just come in from the snow.  The hem of his pants is damp.  He is panting for breath and carrying a winter coat, a scarf, a Cairn sweatshirt, a diabetic briefcase, and a plastic lightsaber.  He is only wearing a gray t-shirt. His eyes are wild, his face flushed, his hair curled from now-evaporated sweat.

SCOTTY: You’re gonna want to hear this.

ERIC: (bemused) Yeah, it…looks like you’ve been on an adventure.

SCOTTY: I was. (still panting, sets down his items one-by-one, trying to collect his thoughts)  I was.

ERIC: Let’s hear it.

SCOTTY: So, as you know, I parked my minivan on campus last night.

ERIC: Your, uh, Mercury…

SCOTTY: …Mercury Villager Mini-Van Sport ™.  1999.  Yes.

ERIC: Hot ride.

SCOTTY: Right.  So today I walked up to campus for lunch.  I only took my medicine and my lightsaber.

ERIC: Why?

SCOTTY: I need to take insulin to eat.  Diabetes, remember?

ERIC: No, why the lightsaber?

SCOTTY: Oh, I figured there would be snow on my van and I don’t have a shovel. Better than using my arm.

ERIC: Gotcha.

SCOTTY: Turns out there wasn’t any snow on it, but there was a considerable wall between the back of the van and the road behind it.

ERIC: Where was this?

SCOTTY: Behind Stillman, to the far right of the dumpster.

ERIC: Okay.

SCOTTY: Adam, thank God, is also out there, and he has shovels.

ERIC: Adam…

SCOTTY: Tennis Adam?

ERIC: Oh THAT guy.

SCOTTY: Super nice. Once he’s done with his car, we start working on mine.  In a couple of minutes, we’ve made a nice, wide path behind the van.  So I get in and begin to back out.

ERIC: Right…

SCOTTY: (pacing about the room) It goes for a bit and then, suddenly, stops.  A bit frustrated, Adam and I resume our shoveling, scraping away some of the more base-level snow around the tires.

ERIC: How long is this story?

SCOTTY: But the car will not move.  The tires continue to spin.  We shovel more, this time bringing out our ice scrapers, chipping any frozen bits we can off the ground.  When  I try to move the car, I smell burning rubber from my front-right tire.

ERIC: What the…?

SCOTTY: AND STILL IT WILL NOT MOVE.  Adam and I return to our knees with a new determination, pulling off our outermost layers to ward off heat exhaustion as we kneel in the snow, hacking at the solid ice with the strength and precision of ancient artisans, banging down on the ice with our shovels like those first ancestors of man.  Asphalt flew up with ice in our fervor, as we nearly broke through to what seems like the earth’s mantle with our four- and seven-dollar ice scrapers.

ERIC: No lightsaber?

SCOTTY: What? No, I put that in the van.

ERIC: (disappointed) Aww…

SCOTTY: We spent half an hour or more shoveling, scraping, driving, and pushing.  Our arms and lungs grew tired, but we cracked jokes to keep our spirits up, refusing to quit til the van had at last been freed.

ERIC: And…?

SCOTTY: We eventually got it out of the parking space, but couldn’t drive it any further.  So I got in my van and…called my parents.

ERIC: Ooh.  Rough.

SCOTTY: But then, as I’m talking to my Mom I glance down at the dashboard, and…

ERIC: The parking brake was on.

SCOTTY: Yeah. (beat) Wait…yeah.  How did you know?

ERIC: I guessed pretty early on.

SCOTTY: (deflated) Well.  That’s my story.  That’s it.

ERIC: What’s the moral?

SCOTTY: That, in college, you can go from feeling like a man to a boy really quickly.

ERIC: Nice.  Want some tea?

SCOTTY: (collapsing on the couch) Please.


Masquerades and Mask Parades

I wrote the original version of this essay as an undergrad “cultural commentary” piece in 2014.

Hundreds sat in expectation on that warm Virginia night as Jesse Pinkman, garbed in trademark yellow hazmat and goggles, took his rightful place on center stage to extend his greeting to the audience:

“It’s the Cosplay Contest, biiiitch!”

Of course, this wasn’t really Aaron Paul’s Jesse Pinkman from Breaking Bad. No, our host was one in the crowd of hundreds of competing cosplayers, meeting together this weekend for Richmond’s first annual Comics Convention.

Cosplay (short for “costume play”), finds its most basic definition as the practice of dressing up as a fictional character.  You likely did it as a child every Halloween, using whatever resources you had–a seamstress mother, an army jacket from Dad, or the local Walmart– to try and emulate the spirit of someone or something you were not.  And yet, calling someone a cosplayer communicates something deeper than the word’s mere denotative sense.  The word cosplayer is almost always preceded by the qualifier professional; it is not primarily a world of childish dress-up, but adult craft.

My friends and I were there for a fun bachelor party–all of our costumes might have taken 10 or 12 man-hours. Combined. But true enthusiasts put hundreds of hours into their outfits, ensuring a final product identical to the source material.


Left: The bachelor party, minus me. Right: A girl who had just bought a print of the character I’d dressed as (Wash from Firefly).

“I put twelve hundred hours into this thing,” one man told me, gesturing to his outfit from the upcoming video game Arkham Knight.  “Then (Eidos Interactive) finally sent me some reference shots, and I had to start over and spend like, four hundred more hours.”

But why?  Why do grown men and women care so much about costumes?  Answers vary.  Enthusiasts such as Arkham Night-man enter competitions as a kind of advertising for their skill. They hope other cosplayers, lacking the resources or technique  to make their own, will pay him to make their next project.  Thousands of dollars can exchange hands to ensure an authentic-looking product, but Arkham Night-man assured me his goal was not to make money.

“People will want like, a Plexiglas battle-ax,” he told me, “and other guys will do the job for say, eleven hundred dollars.  I tell them, ‘I’ll do it for five.’  Because I don’t need this. I have a job.  I do it because I love the shit!”

So, cosplay cannot be just about the money, or even the contest.  Hardly any cosplayers came solely to compete; most made appearances earlier that day at the convention, happily shopping for comics and merchandise while dressed head to toe in outfits of various fandoms and detail.

But the winner that night, for the competition itself, could only have had a hard time fitting in the spaces between the booths.  My friends and I watched him from our seats, slack-jawed, as he walked to center stage.  A Space Marine, eight feet tall on internal stilts, encased in painted foam and wood.  The suit flashed red and gold, insignias sky blue.

Was this the reason people cosplayed?  To be worshiped as gods and walk above mortals?  Only if we ignore The Crappy Justice League. These young men dressed in  cheap skirts, Wal-Mart shirts, and green duct tape with an obvious air of self-deprecation. No one there would expect hope for victory in the taped-up of Crappy Green Lantern.

Or take Ryan.  A friend who had come to the Con with me that weekend, Ryan cosplayed for the first time that night, employing hair dye, a tank top, army tags, claws, and a cheap, half-smoked cigar to pull off a rugged, Hugh Jackman Wolverine.  Ryan had come not for fame, but to have a good time with us, his friends.  He had decided to join the competition after arriving, at the suggestion of impressed strangers.  Ryan told me that as he stood in the impossibly long line to stage, a strange camaraderie pulsated through the line’s serpentine curves.

Image may contain: 2 people

“We were like, ‘We don’t care who wins!  We want to see each other do well!’” Ryan described the atmosphere to me after the contest, an electrifying sort of post-Con buzz shooting through him despite having no trophy to his name.  In fact, since Ryan had been the only one in my friend group to enter, none of us walked home winners.  Yet in retrospect, my friends and I remember the Cosplay Contest and the Comic Convention as a whole with a fondness.

The convention and its costumes have value.  Common interests brought our bachelor party together, both with one another and  people we would have never met otherwise.  And because the people there shared the bond of nerdiness–that exciting shame of being a little too interested in something–we were all the more willing to hear one another’s stories.  I talked about sanctification theology with seamstresses who specialized in comic book fabric.  An independent author eagerly engaged with me from his sales booth, explaining the heart behind his writing process. And our Arkham Knight friend, amidst the rough shop-talk, felt free to open up about his convoluted family life.

I ascribe value to these nerd-fests, if for no other reason than connection. Cosplay gives us the opportunity to meet people at the place of their passion. Not only to marvel at masks, but to understand the minds behind them.


I Need You to Stay

We drove home late from the concert–

brother and sister

–into a dark quiet rippled only by streetlights

and our excited talk.


Half-past midnight, you strongly contended

one of the songs was a cry to God,

but I felt you’d overthought the lyrics.


To me, the words

referred to nothing

more than a girlfriend


–both of us fixating,

I realize now,

on whatever ideas

felt furthest away at the time.