What I saw at the COSMIC II Meeting (posted 7/17/18)

After a day of travel back home from Denver, and another day back in the office to re-acclimate to real life, I thought I’d share my experience at the gathering of CO-conspirators at COSMIC II.

I realize that doing this carries some risks.  Because the vast majority of the CO nation was not there, and will likely be wracked by pangs of jealousy over what they missed.  It’s like that time in college, when you were out at some dive bar in the suburbs with your buddies, and you called it an early night, leaving the bar right before the Stones showed up to play a 12-song tune-up for their US tour that was about to start.

Or the time you were set up on a blind date, and when she was 10 minutes late you left, thinking you’d been stood up, and the next day your friend the waitress said that some girl showed up looking for you, and she looked just like 1983 Rebecca De Mornay, when she was in Risky Business, in that scene on the empty train car.

My point is that it was really a great time, and don’t hate we few… we happy few… we band of brothers… For he (or she, no offense) that Saturday ate some great food with us shall be our brothers (or sisters, no offense)!  Be they ne’er so vile, this day shall gentle their condition!  And COers in America now a-bed Shall think themselves accursed they were not in Denver, and hold their manhoods cheap (or womanhoods, no offense) whilst any speaks that drank with us… upon COSMIC II Day!

See?  You’re terribly jealous.  But at the risk of making things worse, I have a few thoughts…

Meeting everyone for the first time was made even sweeter for me because I’d spent the three previous day with my cousin, who is like a brother to me.  A sarcastic, pain-in-the-arse brother.  I flew to Denver on Wednesday, and he drove his Harley for three days from Illinois, reaching Denver that same evening.  When he planned that excursion, he had no way of knowing that it would be over 100 degrees for all three days of his ride through some of the most featureless landscape this side of the Sea of Tranquility.  But with hog farms.

He and I spent several days driving around Colorado, doing a little hiking, and seeing Breckenridge, Vail, and Aspen, and half a dozen small towns in between.  We rode through an amazing stretch of beautiful canyons around Glenwood Springs, and we hiked up a hill to a small cemetery we found, to see Doc Holliday’s grave.  Then we returned to Denver on Saturday, and he went to hang out with an old friend of his in town, while I went to Cosmic II.

One last necessary detail: my cousin Darryll may well be the most caustically sarcastic human on the planet.   To give you an idea, at my world-class, much-loved dad’s funeral in December of 2014, the cousins were sitting around after the service making small talk.  In an offhand comment, I said that I always thought that if I could have one wish, I’d love to be able to make a head-over-heels tumbling run down an aisle in a crowded building, and nail the landing flawlessly.  (You had to be there, and I’m sure that it made perfect sense at the time.)

My cousin looks at me without missing a beat, and says, “Gee, if you only had one wish, I would have thought that it would be that your dad hadn’t died.”

Total, horrified silence around the table for a long beat, then a storm of laughter.  All I could choke out was, “Too soon, you idiot!”

I did get him back though.  When his mother, my beloved Aunt Donna (whom I wrote about in March, if you want to go to the archives at Martinsimpsonwriting.com) died, I went home to be a pallbearer.  After the service and before the ride to the cemetery, a line of folks passed the casket and comforted my cousins.  By the time I got to him, Darryll had been weeping openly for a few minutes — for those of us males raised in the Midwest this is a very rare thing, unless the broken femur is severe enough that the bone is sticking through the skin.

I teared up too, and when I got to him, he gave me a bear hug, and I whispered in his ear, “You are making a total ass of yourself!  Man up!”

Good times.

Okay, I said all of that to say this:  going from three days with my hyper-critical, much-loved jackass of a cousin into the company of the merry band of COers threatened to give me the bends.  Because they are all so warm, and generous and big-hearted and welcoming that the change in atmosphere made me dizzy.

I may also have been dizzy because I spent 15 minutes wandering lost around the streets of Denver.  My freaking GPS in the phone got me downtown, to within .3 of a mile from my destination, when it lost service.  So I saw a surface lot and pulled in to park immediately, thinking that I could surely find my bearings on foot.

Cut to 5 minutes later, after I’ve wandered in circles – and rhombuses, and trapezoids, I think — and been reduced to asking a homeless guy for directions.  He explained that I had to walk toward the sun until I saw a blue sign.  He couldn’t tell me what the sign would say, but I’d know it when I saw it.  And he warned me that Trump had drones in the air over downtown, and they could read my thoughts, and he was going to surrender our country to Putin within 3 days, and they were going to come for anyone who is not in the top 1%, and put us in camps.  (Interesting side note: only this afternoon, when I saw some of the hysterical coverage of Trump’s Helsinki press conference, did I recognize that that homeless man was actually MSNBC spokes-lunatic Lawrence O’Donnell.  True story.)

Anyway, I’m wandering around hearing my cousin’s voice in my head (“Way to go Magellan!  The phone takes you to within .3 of a mile, and you’re going to end up wandering in the desert for 40 years!”) I   finally gave up on my dream of making a positive first impression, and called lovely and gracious Coloradoan Laura Belveal (the COSE, to those of you with a scorecard at home).  Unfortunately, Laura is not a Denverian.  (Denver-ite?) So this is how our conversation went:

Me: “I’m at 20th and Lincoln.  How do I get to you?”

Laura: “I don’t know Denver.   We’re at 17th.”

Me: “20 is three more than 17.”

Laura: “I know.”

Me: “But which way?”
Laura: “Can you see what the next street is?”

Me: “I see big buildings.  And cars.  And the TIAA building.”

Laura (talking to me very slowly): “I don’t know Denver.

Me: “Well, it has a big TIAA building, I can tell you that.”

Laura (now talking to me like Tom Cruise did to Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man): “Can you call an Uber?”

Me:  “I’m a very good driver.  A good driver.”

Laura: “I’m sure you are.  Why don’t you call—”

Me: “Hey, listen, I think Lawrence O’Donnell is about to relieve himself on the sidewalk right next to me, so I’m going to start walking up Lincoln until I see if the cross streets go up or down.”

Long story short – I know, TOO LATE! – I found Laura at the restaurant, and she was as sweet as she is on the site, and she took me over to the building where the COers had gathered for pre-dinner drinks in a very cool rooftop bar.  (It gave such a panoramic view of the city that I could even see the TIAA building from there!)

I think most of the gang had known I was coming, but Laura and the COW had kept it a secret from CO.  I had been a little intimidated to walk into a group of strangers, but the vibe was so welcoming that all of that dropped away immediately.  I talked with CO for a while, and he was just as you’d expect: intimidatingly smart, but very friendly.  Though he didn’t refer to himself in the third person, which threw me for a while.

We all went to the restaurant, where we had a reserved room with our own waitstaff, and even a seating chart that Laura (and maybe the COW too?) had come up with.  The food was great, especially for someone with an uneducated palate like mine.  All I know is that white wine goes with fish, and red wine goes with meat, and chocolate milk shakes go with everything.  But I had some red wine that went great with an amazing salmon dish, so go figure.

And yes, there was crème brulee.  Which shocked me, because I had always thought that Crème Brulee was a piping hot Italian actress from the late 60s – I swear I saw a skinny dipping scene that she was in with Sophia Loren that left quite an impression.  But it turns out that it is a dessert. A dessert that, luckily for me, goes well with red wine.

Not that I had too much wine, necessarily.  But I’m not used to a waitstaff of any kind, let alone one who refills your glass with Ninja-like stealth.  And I was nervous to meet so many smart people, and you know the old cliché: Feed a cold, starve a fever, and drink a lot of wine when you’re nervous.

Then several people said some complimentary things about my writing.  And you know the old codicil to the old cliché: Drink more wine when you’re happy.

But beyond the great food and the great atmosphere, was the great conversation.

Some of which I will share with you in Part 2…

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