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Monday, July 18, 2005

Escape from Potterworld!

You may have been wondering where I've been these last few days. I've actually been recovering from one of the most arduous, energy-sapping, life-threatening, soul-searing, skull-splitting, bollocks-crushing and sweaty experiences of my life. Yes, I have survived a Harry Potter book release party. On the whole though, it was quite enjoyable.

We arrived with 4 hours to go until the magical midnight moment when sullen college student bookstore clerks would boxknife open the stacks of 650+ page treasures and ring them up as fast as their highly frappuccinoed nervous systems would allow. In the meantime, our local bookstore's managers had devised a series of games, adventures, and challenges, all which seemed to involve groups of people wandering aimlessly about, occasionally stopping to admire each others' plastic round glasses, or painted-on lightning bolt scars.

One of the challenges was a scavenger hunt. Unfortunately, the "scavenger hunt" was just a list of books, for which participants had to find the authors. (I was hoping we'd be tracking down actual scavengers.) This proved two things, first being that the bookstore clerks knew as much about scavenger hunts as Tom Cruise does about psychiatry, and second, that surprisingly few people realize that Charles Dickens wrote Great Expectations. I was also personally disappointed to learn that Where the Red Fern Grows was not written by Jerry Seinfeld. (He only did the forward and at least two book jacket blurbs.).

There were trivia contests for the kids, run by a tall woman wearing a sorceress hat and a smile that grew steadily grimmer with each round of questions such as, "Who does Hermione Granger's hair in Book number 4 and do they have discount rates?" and "What kind of grip does Ronald Weasley use with his wand?" It probably didn't help that I stood off to one side and occasionally shouted the answer "Chicken necks!" in tribute to the well-known Saturday Night Live "Family Feud" sketch. I don't think she understood the joke, as she kept menacingly waving her toy wand at me.

About midway through the party there was a short magic show. The magician was OK, although about half of his tricks consisted of the beginners list of tricks in the magic book I borrowed from the local library recently. The magician's patter though consisted of a lot of "Ooooh, wasn't that fun boys and girls!" leading me to believe that most of his gigs were birthday parties, pre-schools, and Lions Club meetings. This was confirmed when his biggest trick consisted of making his "Have a nice day", size 46 boxers (pants/underwear) magically appear outside his trousers. If it had been briefs though, it would have been highly creepy under the circumstances. (Comedy rule #473: Loud boxers = somewhat amusing, Tight briefs = uncomfortably personal.)

Several of the participants wore Harry Potter costumes, most of which looked like bargain basement magic costumes without the top hat. Incidentally, this had the effect of making the professional magician look quite underdressed. In fact, in his spangled vest, he more or less resembled a Las Vegas busboy.

My own daughter wore a web-ordered Quidditch costume with the name Potter printed on the back and she carried a plastic racing broom with her much of the evening. At one point a young boy saw her costume and responded "Awe------soooo-----mmmmmme!" before passing out from a combination of Potter overload and the odd jerking motions his head was making trying to get a good look at the broom. He only looked to be about 8 years old or I would have suspected crack.

The night continued to wear on and the bookstore became steadily more crowded, much like the stateroom scene in the Marx Brothers' A Night at the Opera, only as filmed by Federico Fellini. Then there was a jellybean counting contest in which the winner won the jar of jelly beans, many of which had flavors from the "Bertie Botts All-Flavor Beans" of the Harry Potter series (With flavors like grass, pepper, bangers & mash, escargot, vomit, rotten egg, booger, sardine, soap, cholera, bubonic plague, spittle, ripple, funk, and Port-a-Potty.)

Finally, the magic moment came, when all of the eager customers were lined up by store managers whose crowd control skills appeared to have been honed at football riots. Their organizational incompetence was only matched by their nonexistent personal skills, which seemed to be limited to the ability to smile and pretend that 300 people jammed like jellybeans in a 10 foot wide space between bookshelves and the register constituted a "line".

The other annoying thing was that, those of us who had arrived early received wristbands which were supposed to allow us to go first. Imagine our surprise when, with wristband number 24, we found ourselves standing in line with people who wristbands numbered 243, 341, and 10,765. One poor soul had a wristband with the infinity symbol on it. I hadn't the heart to tell them that it meant they would never actually be served. (They remained firmly convinced however, that it was the number 8 and had only fallen on its side because of an evil plot by Lord Voldemort.)

At last, one of the store managers announced, via fast food drive through speakers, that we were just 10 seconds away from the witching hour. This caused almost everyone to scratch their heads in confusion, except for a few Wiccans who alternated jubilantly rolling on the floor and ceremonially burning copies of Dianetics and The Collected Works of Deepak Chopra to great applause.

After about a fifteen second pause, in-between chants of "Burn, Chopra Burn", the manager decided to lead a countdown, which may have lasted another 25 seconds. Fortunately people realized that the only way to escape the mosh pit of robed, broom-wielding, and pointy-hatted maniacs (and to actually get a copy of the book) was to play along with this chronologically-challenged, caffeine-addicted, novel-pusher's little game, despite the fact that that it would cost them another precious 45 to 120 seconds of their lives that they could have spent rereading Book 5.

The line began to move, and soon, at only the cost of a small car payment, we had our copies of the book, and were fleeing the premises of the store faster than Dead Heads out of a Barry Manilow concert. We climbed into our vehicle and drove home, staying up until the wee hours reading Rowling's latest edition of the young electrically-scarred wizard's adventures.

Or would have... Unfortunately, I passed out just as I sat down to open the book. I hear that it's not bad though.

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