Tuesday, April 30, 2024

The Diary of a 221st Southumberland Waffleer

 "In the year 2023 I took my menu at the Waffle House of Peachtree City, Georgia, and proceed to order the courses prescribed by the waitress at the counter. Having completed my breakfast there, I was duly attached to the Two Hundred and Twenty-First Southumberland Waffleers as an assistant transporter."

-- From The Reminiscences of Brad A. Keefauver, EmDee (like a lower level of emcee)

That first Waffle House breakfast, April 14, 2023.

I shall never first my first Waffle House breakfast. At the tender age of sixty-five years old, it was like I had waited my whole life to finally cross that threshold, at a time when my body wanted to retire from all work and just eat breakfasts. (I still haven't allowed my body that comfort.) Still, the inspiring words of the leader of the 221st Southumberland Waffleers, that modern day Horace Greeley of breakfast, Steve Mason pushed many of us to the waffle front that year. We were not the first. We would not be the last.

The 2023 British Invasion

With Paul Thomas Miller commanding the first table of Waffleers that campaign, I was relegated to the counter, where a kindly waitress explained to me all of the workings of the Waffle House menu. I ordered the "All-Star Special," which is said to have a calorie count that only an orderly and a pack-horse can bring you safely away from. I landed back at the hotel with my waistline irretrievably ruined, but permission from my marital government to spend the next eleven months in attempting to improve it.

Eleven months later, it had not much improved, but the call went out, and I answered. This time, the location was Englewood, Ohio, which some call "Dayton."

March 23, 2023

This time, I found myself in the company of the officers of our company and a local commander. There are not many encounters where you can relive past glories like you can at a Waffle House, and again the All-Star Special came at me, and again it was summarily dealt with. 

A successful endeavor done!

I returned with one of our junior lieutenants the very next morning to find the site had been completely occupied by our forces after the success of our scouting party the previous morning.

Waffleers Ho!

But such successes on the battlefield of breakfast inevitably cause one to go too far, to attempt to take on more challenges than one's forces might be capable of holding and not gaining another ten pounds. Not a full month later, the Waffleers encamped in Atlanta, at yet another airport hotel, this one in the actual city its airport was named for.

The 8AM Campaign, Friday, Peachtree City 2024

It was April 12, 2024, a Friday I will not soon forget. As the change from Central to Eastern time caused our commander to delay our sortie until 8 AM, I was awake and ready when time came to assemble at our departure point. I plotted our route and got us back to the site of my previous year's first encounter with the WH waffle. I held back in my efforts and went with the "Two Egg Breakfast & Bacon," foregoing the waffle to preserve my energies. Little did I know what fate had in store for me.

Upon returning to our encampment at the Atlanta Airport Marriott, I found Waffleers who had missed the first call to forks, just as I had missed ordering a waffle during that early mission. There was only one answer to solve all our problems.

A waffle.

Back we went, shocking the waitress as two of our number were back at the same table we'd sat less than two hours before.
The 10 AM Campaign, Friday, Peachtree City 2024

At this point, waffle madness had begun to set in. Saturday morning, 8 AM, another Waffle House, this time in Fairburn, Georgia because our leader was tired of driving past six Waffle Houses to get to the one where my past glories had occurred. My ability to take photos was decreasing with my growing girth. And again we went, Sunday morning, 8 AM, taking up two troop carriers with the sheer mass of our forces.

Taken after stumbling out of my fourth WH visit in three days.

Was it all over? Was it all done? The call came for one last photo by the Waffle House sign to mark our last campaign of spring 2024. We gathered. We surrounded the sign. And just as the picture was about to be taken, the manager of the Waffle House and our waitress ran out. The manager offered to take the picture, the waitress handed me a handful of Waffle House hats to adorn our heads. We had not just invaded this Waffle House. We had emerged victorious. 

The final Waffleer shot of our spring 2024 campaigns.

Returning to our base camp at 221B Con, it would be some time before I took that Waffle House hat off. One of the vendors who sold Waffle House earrings converted some of them to necklaces, and I wore that the rest of the weekend when the hat did finally come off. What does any of this have to do with Sherlock Holmes? 

I do not know. But it's too late to even ask.

A Waffleer.

Saturday, April 27, 2024

The Hallmark of a Scandal in Bohemia Romance

 During our recent discussion of "A Scandal in Bohemia" at our local library, we came upon a realization that couldn't be unrealized: "A Scandal in Bohemia" has all the makings of a Hallmark movie.

There is the prince, of course. Hallmark movies love their princes. The fairy tale come true.

And our Hallmark adaptation of "A Scandal in Bohemia" starts in what is typically the last act of of a "girl meets prince" story. Irene Adler in finishing her final performance with the Imperial Opera of Warsaw, her vocals providing the soundtrack for the opening credits as Wilhelm Gottsrich Sigismond von Ormstein watches adoringly from his box, fiddling excitedly with a small box, that we eventually see has a ring in it.

Irene's performance finishes and she rushes backstage, immediately asking her best friend/costumer if the bags are packed. Her pal replies that of course they are, and already en route to the station. Irene is returning to America and her roots after finding Europe just too traditional and trapped in its history. They leave the theater and start to get into a waiting four-wheeler only to find the handsome and charming King Willie inside. Irene is angry at first, but he wins her over, convincing her that her American ideas are just what Bohemia needs and if she agrees to marry him, they will show Europe that new ideas are possible.

Cut to three weeks later, with title card saying "Three weeks later . . ."

Willie, sitting cowed with his mother and his ministers, telling Irene that his royal duties must take precedence over his personal desires and that he cannot be with her. His mother states that travel arrangements have been made and that she has passage booked to America, and that the Bohemian royal guards will now escort her to a waiting ship. As they leave the palace, however, Irene eludes her escorts and leads them on a merry chase, finally taking refuge in the British Embassy.

Here we meet the slightly awkward but endearing Godfrey Norton, who at first tries to talk her into going to the American embassy, but eventually sees the menacing-looking Bohemian guards outside the embassy searching for her and agrees to help her escape.

Norton has some emergency documents they keep at the embassy allowing Godfrey and Irene to pose as a Canadian couple and leave Bohemia by train. A lot of cute stuff goes on here, and at one point in the journey Irene accidentally sees this awkward Brit with his shirt off and realizes what a hunk o' man he is, as Hallmark movies tend to go with. She is recognized by a fan at some point, and the King of Bohemia's agents start making trouble, stealing her luggage (which makes her wear charming local garb so Godfrey can see that she's just a normal American girl and not a fancy opera star), and attacking twice with Irene and Godfrey working so naturally together in fending them off that it brings them closer together. A mystery man is watching them as well, but they don't notice.

News of the King's impending marriage comes to them, and Irene sends the King a telegram telling him to call off his agents or she will send the photo of him and her to his fiancee's family. Godfrey and Irene were getting pretty close, but Godfrey is put off by the fact Irene still has a photo of her and the King, thinking feelings still exist.

At this point, the Watson-written part of "A Scandal in Bohemia" kicks in. Irene has settled temporarily in London, and Godfrey is preparing to return to embassy duty in Europe, when he is summoned to Whitehall by one Mycroft Holmes, who wants to know why he's helping this American woman screw up an important alliance-cementing European royal wedding. Godfrey tries to tell Mycroft that Irene is a good person who has authentic feelings for the King and a broken heart, but Mycroft then tells Godfrey that his best agent had been watching Godfrey and Irene since Bohemia (the mystery man mentioned earlier) who steps in to report that Irene Adler is plainly in love with Godfrey, not the King. Mycroft points out that if Godfrey were to marry Irene, she would pose no threat the the King, and Godfrey awkwardly wraps up the conversation and rushes out.

Godfrey and Irene have their big moment, ending all confusion and admitting their love for each other, and we soon get all the rush to get married part with Sherlock Holmes as their witness that we know so well.

The story concludes with Godfrey and Irene happy and headed for America, Willie and Clothilde happily at their Scandinavian royal wedding, and Irene's costumer friend having a meet cute with Dr. Watson.

The final mid-credit scene of the movie is Sherlock Holmes visiting his brother Mycroft and comparing notes, with Mycroft alluding that he actually solved the problem and that Sherlock wasn't needed. And that maybe Sherlock should see about finding a wife of Irene's caliber, which Sherlock nopes in some funny fashion that may or may not involve Watson.

The End.

It's the spaces in between what we know of the King, Irene, and Godfrey that make "A Scandal in Bohemia" true Hallmark movie fodder. Watson's different, distant POV only gives us the most scant outline of the romance that lies beneath the King and Sherlock story, and neither of them is the true lead character of "A Scandal in Bohemia."

I really hope Hallmark does adapt the tale one day and bring it to its true potential. And let Godfrey Norton finally have his due and his Irene.

Friday, April 26, 2024

The Blood and Bone of Sherlockiana

 During some recent conversations about The Watsonian, the journal of the John H. Watson Society, I started thinking about the body of the Sherlockian party and its two most important parts: the blood and the bones.

The bones of Sherlock Holmes fandom are old and solid, over a century old. The original Canon. The Victorian era. The Sherlockian societies. The pseudo-scholarship, studying Holmes as if his were historical. Traditional Sherlockiana.

The blood of Sherlock Holmes fandom are hot and fast-moving, surging and receding. The movies. The TV shows. The popular Sherlock in any medium, getting people excited, inspiring them to write, to draw, to create . . . and to learn more about Sherlock Holmes.

And like any body, we need both to keep Sherlockiana alive.

The bones might look at the blood and go, "This blood was not here last year and will be gone next year. It does not have the importance of bone. It flows here and there and does not stay in one place as bones do. Bones are secure. Bones give comfort."

And the blood, the blood just looks at bone and goes, "Boring old bones. Never changing, not moving on the way blood does. Blood is life, blood is energy, blood powers action, creativity, joy."

When BBC Sherlock came and hit Sherlockian fandom, there were many on the side of bone Sherlockiana who were a little afraid of blood Sherlockiana flowing in and replacing their cherished tradition with a tide that would ebb. They set up walls and went "this is a literary hobby," knowing full well that Sherlockian cinephiles have been with us as long as movies. And the new blood so often replied in kind, not having the patience to deal with those old dry bones and their stiff traditional structures. And yet, there were still old bones who welcomed the energy of new blood, and new blood that saw the value in old bones that had been holding up Sherlockiana before they came.

Sherlockiana, like any body, needs both to endure. New Sherlockians rarely come from reading Victorian literature for entertainment without being led to it by some more modern text, be it written, filmed, or otherwise made to intrigue the mind of today.

The John H. Watson Society and its publications have long had one foot in both worlds, publishing both fanfic and the most studious of papers on Dr. Watson's life. Not every publication has the bandwidth or audience to do that, we've been lucky that way. Exploring a man with so much mystery and depth as John H. Watson takes both research and imagination, treatises on the Battle of Maiwand and fic explorations of how his character would live as a leprechaun cohabitating with a pixie Sherlock Holmes. There is something to be gained from looking at all sides of this gem of a man.

The blood and the bones of Sherlockiana. Together they make us whole and bring this hobby to life, every single day.

Monday, April 15, 2024

221B Con 2024: The Penultimate 221B Con?

I was a younger man when 221B Con started eleven years ago. That's my primary excuse for not keeping up with ongoing blog reporting as the weekend went on this time. Also, I'm not sure how I found the time in the past . . . or the wifi connection? In any case, my lack of ongoing reportage is not because there are things to report. And I did try, as you will see. 

So let us return now to Thursday of last week . . . 

Here’s the initial pro tip for attending 221B Con: Arrive on Thursday, if at all possible. Also, don’t spend the entire day driving, if you can help it. My sweet spot itinerary is to get the to eastern side of Nashville by Wednesday night, then make the scenic drive down through Chattanooga Thursday morning, lost that hour in the dreaded time zone crossing, stop at the Georgia Welcome Center, then get to the Atlanta Marriott Airport mid-afternoon before rush hour fills up the ring road.

After checking in and settling down, the hotel has a really nice area for watching the familiar faces roll in, and those initial hellos are one of the best parts of any Sherlockian weekend. Giving them a little extra time in never a bad idea.

Last year I made the mistake of becoming a dealer’s room dealer and didn’t get to bounce around the con like usual, but the one thing I did get in during 2023 was an early meeting of what was initially called “the Southern Waffleers.” That Waffle House based Sherlockian society has grown immensely since we dragged Paul Thomas Miller there last year for his and my first time at the classic southern eatery, where the waitress was more shocked that there was an American of a certain age who had never been there before than an Englishman. So when the Waffleers headed out at 8AM Friday morning, I was with them. And when we returned and found my friends from the John H. Watson Society had slept late and still needed an alert Waffle House driver, I decided a second Waffle House visit was needed.vAfter returning to the same table and freaking out the same waitress two of us had served only an hour before, I settled into the waffle I skipped during first breakfast. A second good time was had.

And then back to the hotel, yet again, where we ran into Marilynne McKay, one of the original fiver traditional Sherlockians who had been there at the first 221B Con eleven years ago. Getting the big table near the entrance, my fellow podcast bullpups from the John H. Watson Society and I recorded our weekly review of Sherlock & Co. with Marilynne as our guest. Soooo, podcasting taking precedence over blogging . . . another excuse from me for not getting this out sooner.

Late afternoon is registration time for the con, and the numbers of Diogenes Club (lifetime con attendees) in their registration line was longer than ever. This con has a very dedicated core following. A quick circle of the dealer’s room, which was still getting its tables filled when it opened at five, and I was off to the first set of panels, already in progress.

The room for “Adapting Sherlock Holmes” was full, so instead of creeping in to a corner there, I headed next door to the 25th Anniversary of The Phantom Menace, which a certain person had encouraged me to attend due to a bit of a debate we’ve had over that film. That room was so cold, however, that I went to my room to retrieve my sweatshirt, which turned out to be still in my car. When I eventually made it back to the con area, I ran into Rob Nunn which . . .


As I type this in the “221B Con Redux” panel reminscing about past cons, we just got the announcemnt that next year will be the last con. The BBC Sherlock surge that made a con of this size financially possible has faded, so I had started to wonder about such things. And while the news is sad, I’m sympathetic, and the fact they’re giving us one last year to go out with a last hurrah is definitely the way to go. 

I hate to jump in time, from Friday to Saturday, but the news and a break between panels sent me into retail therapy mode in the dealer’s room. (Operating on five hours of sleep, for reasons to be described later, and I’m a little more emotional than I would be on a full night’s sleep.) Some good artists that I haven’t seen before have some nice stuff, and while I’m not a Johnlock shipper, there’s a parody of the classic Sidney Paget train art of Holmes and Watson that has them bending forward for a kiss that’s totally delightful in both execution and rebelling against tradition. After years of admiring the wardrobe vendor’s wares, I went for a shirt and vest that were very reasonably priced. Conversations happen about the last-con news as I move through the dealer’s room, and even after I drop my purchases off in the room and hit the food truck outside, 

But let us now return to Friday eve. I had run into Rob Nunn just before he was sitting on his first panel -- on Sherlock and education, which I then attended. While I hadn’t signed up for an panels this year, the “Arthur ‘Continuity’ Doyle” panel had a panelist who couldn’t make it, so I was asked to sit in, having done it many years before. So 6:30 found me in the Georgia room, discussing all the little continuity issues, primarily about Watson -- wounds, wives, knowledge of Moriarty, all the raw materials Sherlockians have let their imaginations run wild on for over a hundred years.

The Victorian manners panel starts a bit later after than, and following that, I suspect I settled into conversation somewhere, as one does at 221B Con, and missed a panel or two after that. Some 11 PM pizza in the bar, more socialiizing, and eventually hitting the already full-force karaoke party at 1 AM. Rusty Mason used his influence with the DJ to get me a spot on the already full song list, and a couple of songs later, I wind up bellowing my go-to, “Flagpole Sitta.” And suddenly it’s two in the morning. A mere five hours sleep followed, as I had to be up for another Waffle House trip at eight.

By the end of Saturday, the “Southern Waffleers” were officially renamed the “221st Southumberland Waffleers” by the head waffle (or whatever position Steve Mason holds). Yes, it was my third Waffle House visit this trip in 24 hours. Does that make the Waffleers a cult? As I write this on Sunday morning, I’m actually wearing the paper WH hat from our most recent trip -- our waitress had actually run outside with a stack of hats for us as we posed for a photo by the roadside sign, which was handy when Ashley Polasek suddenly expressed the need for one during the later BSI scion society panel.

Back the con, the first panel of the morning for me was not “Mycrofts through the Ages,’ but "221B Con Redux," a panel about past con memories, where the announcement of next year’s final 221B Con came out. After that, I went to the dealer’s room to tell a few friends the news.

A lot of bouncing around between panels and the food truck followed. The Sherlock & Co. panel was one of the best panels of the con, with four enthusiastic panelists who introduced themselves as Coat, bullpup Maddie, bullpup Starlight, and Jones. (Hint: The editor of The Watsonian, two cohosts from The Watsonian Weekly, and artist 4thelneyj0nes, from my POV.) Jones turned out to be the artist whose work I'd already admired in the dealer's room, and finding out that some of the art I didn't recognize what his visual interpretation of the Sherlock & Co. audio characters, I had to go buy some more art.

At that point, I'm not sure what happened in the haze of con stuff, but I missed the Dynamics of a Podcast "From Baker Street to the Holodeck" panel. Some panels moved around on Saturday night, so things got a little more hazy as I write this two days later. There was a Sherlolly panel, a fan fiction workshop panel, Victorian soda fountain creations . . . and some other Sherlockian things I definitely missed.

Eventually it lead to hanging out in the bar, the Saturday night dance party and all of us dressing up in whatever we had on hand for "prom" photos that the official con photographer Christ has somewhere. We wound up in Mrs. Hudson's lounge at some point, for more chats with different folks, but I forced myself to end the evening at 1 AM this time to try to get a little more sleep (this weekend had a few necessary naps in it).

But since this is 221B Con, Sunday is still a day of programming, and after a nine-Sherlockian trip to Waffle House yet again, there was a queer interpretations of Canon panel, an "ASH, BSI, and Other Sherlockian Orgs" panel, one on Young Sherlock Holmes, a nap break, Ashley Polasek and Curtis Armstrong in full academic gear doing a "Skippable Canon" hour of entertainment, and finally the "Our Last Bow" panel at which our con hosts let the attendees ask questions and offer appreciations. With the news of next year being the final con, this eventually turned into a "How do we keep this going?" discussion, as diehard 221B Con Bees brainstormed, suggested, and wondered about how to keep next year's con from being the last.

Was it just working through the "bargaining" phase of the five stages of grief? Or will something catch fire and somehow keep 221B Con going? The next year will tell that tale. And just because something goes away, as we learned during Covid, it does not necessarily mean it won't come back in some form. The alchemy that created 221B Con might not be a recipe that works as well in 2025 as it did in 2015, and sometimes that's just life. BBC Sherlock gave us an energy that's worn off at this point, and one questions if CBS Watson will even be a small jolt -- CBS's Elementary never had the presence at con of its British counterpart, and media representations are a big part of 221B Con. But as we learned Sunday afternoon, it's easy to do sports-type analysis of what coaching can make the team have a successful season next year.

I think I'll leave it at that, because it's Monday and I now need to pack up my car to start driving home. Had a great time, as always, and wondering how long the infinity symbol "temporary" tattoo is going to be on the back of my left hand. More blogs to come . . .