Like we talked about on Monday, I went to Anthrocon last week to be amongst the furries. Having arrived on Friday night with no particular plan in place for how things were going to go, Captain Eyebrows and myself found ourselves plied with booze and top hats, directed around a convention center with rooms that double as airplane hangers, and spoken to at length about things that could be expected to happen over the next two days by staff members who, essentially, control the infrastructure of North America. Then we returned to the hotel late at night to get a little bit of rest for what was surely a full day.
So, I mean, since this is going to be a long one, let’s just get right into it.
The sun rose over Pittsburgh, then promptly retreated behind the clouds. The night before, prior to hitting the hay, the Captain had asked if I wanted to join him at the gym in the morning. After I finished laughing and realized he was serious, I informed him that, no, this would not be something I would join him in. Sure, I may have shanghai’d him into attending a furry convention far away from his home, but asking me to exercise was going one step too far.
So I was slightly surprised when, at 7:30 in the morning, I woke up the Captain was still in bed having been laid low by the amounts of alcohol fed to him the night before as we had sat with the staff. It had not all been some Salvador Dali inspired dream, as the hungover proof of the evening before lay in the other bed mumbling to himself words that sounded like “Alkali, no, please stop.” I probably should have warned him that furries can drink, but this was apparently a right of passage and I was damned if I’d deprive him of the chance to be absolutely miserable and hungover. So, with a guarantee that we’d meet up for breakfast, I left the Captain to his slumbering bliss and headed out to meet the day.
I got less than three steps out the door of the hotel room before my phone beeped. I looked down to find a message from my handler, Fiend, waiting. This, by the way, was the habit. The kid was more precise than the fuckin’ Germans when it came to making sure shit was getting done on the correct schedule. Normally that type of punctuality increases the punchability of the person exhibiting it, as I tend to operate on a schedule of “Hold the fuck on, man, I’m coming!” Here, however, it was endearing as the first question spoke to my stomach: “Hey, Good Morning! Let me know when you’re up and I’ll show you some places to eat.”
Asking me to eat is a damn good way to make me like you.
The day was overcast, but nice to begin with, and my hotel was only a 5 block walk from the convention center. As such, I made a decision to walk. God, however, gazed down on Pittsburgh, said “Oh, look, the furries are awake and walking around outside in their suits,” and directed the heavens to start pouring down, I assume in an attempt to keep them hydrated. I walked instead to the cab stand, where I hailed a taxi and set off for the convention center.
Fiend was waiting for me as I climbed out of the cab, and the day began. First a small group of furries I’d been speaking to on the internet appeared, and we shook hands and met with each other before slipping off to Fernando’s for a quick bite to eat.
[I’m gonna pause right here and explain something: Pittsburgh loves the goddamn furries. There’s no better evidence than this than Fernando’s, as has been repeatedly explained to me by many, many, many cartoon animals on the internet and, again, by my guide as we mowed through a meal. Fernando’s Cafe is, to every person in Pennsylvania, nothing amazingly special. It’s a pizza and sub joint, and both are about as normal as you can get. But the relationship between the Furries and Fernandos is…something else, man. The owner once interceded to stop someone from attacking the furries and got hit in the head with a fucking brick. The furries have returned the favor by saving his goddamn restaurant and making it a goddamn mecca where you can buy your food in a dog bowl.
No, that isn’t a typo. You can order food in a dog bowl.]
After food it was time for furries. And goddamn, there were a lot of fucking furries. During the after-action report given on the last day of the convention, I would find out there were over 7,500 furries present. As I wandered the dealer’s floor with my native guide, I was given the following information:
- The furries, in keeping with the theme of having their own goddamn municipality, have a full-fledged security force drawn from a group called the Dorsai Irregulars, a trained volunteer security department that works several different science fiction-themed conventions.
- You do not want to fuck with the Dorsai Irregulars.
- The staff of the convention is more or less entirely comprised of volunteers who, instead of saying “Gee, I want to go have a fun time with no worries,” say “Gee, I want to go be a stressed out mess for the next three to four days and relax only at the end of the whole damn thing.”
- Staff and volunteers from one convention will often go to the other. On more than one occasion I ran into folks that I’d met working FurtheMore who were now working Anthrocon, including Sparf – the big green something – that I’d come to know as the Voice of God at FurtheMore.
- My guide was really fucking nervous that I would see something which would change my opinion of the furry fandom.
At some point during this walk and talk through the dealer’s section, the Captain had awoken and appeared with us in a haze of “What the hell is this?” He stood in amazement as people stopped me and talked or took pictures. He seemed more than a little taken aback…right up until Fiend mentioned there was a Magic tournament, at which point you could see the Captain decide he was definitely down for that shit. Everyone was loose and had a damn good time.
At one point I was escorted to a balcony above an airplane hanger, where we looked down on a crowd of fursuiters being assembled for a photograph and parade. I want to re-state that: they had an airplane hanger full of fursuiters, damn near 2,000 of them. When they were instructed to all turn to the left, it was like watching the cutest army in the world prepare to march into battle. It was as if Disney workers had unionized and were headed for the picket lines. There’s no real way to describe the sight of two thousand fursuits all staring with their unblinking eyes at you. It’s like the best nightmare ever, guys. Here. Take a look at the picture from 2016.
On the balcony, directing the assembly of the fluffiest attack group ever through a microphone, was an excitable gentleman in a lab coat festooned with badges, a necktie, and, for some reason, a brown paper bag with what appeared to be the neck of a sake bottle sticking out of it. It was for a moment confusing, jarring even, the appearance of this man who was well-put together in all aspects other than the presence of a “hobo sippy-cup” in his hand, especially as he leaned into the mic and repeatedly told people to “Put on their heads” or “Take off their heads” while being completely serious. At one point he turned, leveling his gaze on myself and the Captain, and while his face was smiling, his eyes were screaming for help.
This is Dr. Samuel Conway a/k/a Uncle Kage, published author of peer-reviewed articles, holder of patents, Dartmouth alum, respected academic…and giant sentient cockroach and chairman of Anthrocon for damn near 20 years. After a very, very brief introduction, he returned to his job of literally and metaphorically herding cats f0r the photo so the parade could start on time.
Oh. Yeah. The parade.
Alright, so Anthrocon does a fursuit parade every year. It winds out of the convention center, goes up a block, then doubles back around. Guys…this is a big fucking deal. It seemed, to me, that like half the city of Pittsburgh turned out to watch the furries march through the streets in giant costumes in the sweltering fucking heat. I was surprised nobody died, but being duly licensed in Pennsylvania, I’ll admit that I stood by with business cards ready to rush out in the event someone did. While the fursuits were amazing, I had been seeing them all day and chose instead to keep an eye on the crowd.
The crowd of young children and families who had come down with smiles on their face to watch the free show put on by the furries for the people of Pittsburgh. The kids with animal masks on, the parents with their sons and daughters on their shoulders, the clapping with glee and the cheering that went on. The pure, unassailable and simple joy of it. These were cartoons come to life in their home city, and it was amazing to see it on the faces of those children, and even the parents, as they watched a multi-colored menagerie.
It felt a little fitting this was happening in the hometown of Fred Rogers.
And, you know, I think that’s when it hit me: FurtheMore was a convention for the furries, and it was fucking awesome, but Anthrocon was…I don’t know. Something more. It was a convention for the furries and the community that hosted them. I had, over the entire Saturday, seen kids running up to furries on the street and asking for hugs. I had watched fursuiters stop for photographs with families and passersby. I was watching what could best be described as a goddamn death march (and having worn a fursuit head for approximately two minutes before ripping it off and gasping for breath that’s not a goddamn understatement) taking place so they could voluntarily bring some joy to the public while showing off their hobby.
That was just…amazing.
The rest of the day was a bit of a blur, to be fair. I attended a show where a large panda-man, the Booze Fairy, and the Cockroach Chemist performed, the final doing an entirely legal themed story in recognition of the presence of myself and Captain Eyebrows. It was funny…but space and time is running short here, so I want to hit on the second big impression from Saturday.
We attended the Talent Show, which holy fucking shit are these guys talented. At one point, there was a kid who volunteered to get up on stage and be part of a performance intended to show how talented furries were. I was seated, through all of this, next to the Chairman. The kid, looking out on the literally thousands of furries, got stage fright and ran off stage with a croak.
People are fucking cruel, and it isn’t the first time I’ve seen someone freeze…and every other time I’ve ever seen it happen the audience laughed. Not here. Here, there wasn’t a single acknowledgement of what happened. There was no laughter, no derision, nothing. Instead, there was something better. There was the Booze Fairy leaving the stage immediately to go check on the kid, and the immediate launching of the Chairman from his seat to the backstage area to make sure they were okay. Instead of laughter at the sudden fear, a sadly common response, there was what I can best describe as an immediate and visceral outpouring of love and support from the top dogs of the convention.
…I can talk about the rest of Saturday night. It’d be funny, because we sat around drinking with the Chairman, I went to my first room party, I had drunken conversations, and I ended up doing shots with a naval officer and coming face-to-face with his fursuited room mate…but here are the images I want to leave you guys with for Saturday.
I want to leave you with the image of a sweat-drenched person in a fursuit marching through the humid and debilitating July heat of Pittsburgh, waving to a crowd to delight the public with nothing to gain from it except the knowledge they’re bringing a little joy to the city by suffering, and I want to leave you with the image of the kid running off-stage and finding no derision, but rather immediate love, support, and concern from their community.
Oh shit, guys, I brushed up on 2,000 words, didn’t I? Fuck. Well…how about I talk about Saturday Night, Sunday, and my last thoughts tomorrow then? Yeah, that’s right, Anthrocon has so much to it I’m gonna need three posts this week to wrap it up.