To Boldly Go to Framingham

Super Megafest offers the relics of our escapist fantasies.

By S.I. Rosenbaum | The Boston Phoenix | January 5, 2011

The entire 20th century is crammed into a ballroom in the Sheraton hotel.

It's all here at Super Megafest: the Beatles in their Yellow Submarine, the Scarecrow and Mrs. King, the Creature from the Black Lagoon. A hundred years' worth of fevered nerdery. It's hard to take it all in. There's Han Solo's pistol! There's the Enterprise communicator! I fall to my knees in front of a tub of action figures, little effigies, and dig my hands through the cool plastic bodies.

These days, fandom has gone mainstream. Every movie producer has to show up to San Diego Comicon; it's not even embarrassing. And then there are celebrity-free cons, run by fans for fans Boston alone has Arisia, held January 14 to 17, and Boskone, coming up next month.

Super Megafest is something different. Organized by a private company, it's a kind of merch orgy/B-list-celebrity petting zoo. Only here can you see Chewbacca, Big Bird, the guy who played that one rebel officer on Hoth, Marina Sirtis, some wrestlers, Christopher Lloyd, a guy who was in a movie once with Bruce Lee, Peter Tork, and the Playboy Playmate of the Year from 1982.

The 20th century, man. Every mask we ever wore. Every escape we ever made.

***

Batman is out front, leaning on the Batmobile. It looks like the model from the 1960s series; Batman is wearing a satin cape. He's kind of tired-looking, like he just got home from work and it wasn't a good day.

There's a guy next to him who's answering questions about the car, but Batman isn't looking up at all. What do you want from me?, his bent shoulders seem to ask. What do I want from him? This isn't Gotham City. This is a fucking Sheraton in Framingham.

***

Inside, the hotel is packed with people. Many of them are, like me, reasonably attractive, young, and okay-smelling.

In addition, as at all cons like this, there's also a high proportion of people with severe facial disfigurements, neurological disorders, and regrettable haircuts.

I know there's no real difference between me and them, though. We're all here because at some point in our lives we needed a place to hide.

We inch down a long hallway, get tagged and ticketed, and spill into a ballroom full of . . . oh my God. It's full of merch. Big tables of merch. Shelves of it. Despite myself, I feel a tug toward certain objects not the T-shirts or the action figures, but the artifacts on display: Scully's FBI badge. The TARDIS key. I feel like I've found this place where all these things are almost real. Almost within reach.

I float around for a while in a daze. For about half an hour it remains enchanting.

***

But there's also something about Super Megafest that makes it harder to suspend disbelief, something that underscores the fakeness of these things. All these relics that once meant so much to us, these things that at one time or another saved our lives it's all crap.

A skinny middle-aged guy behind a folding table is carefully writing the words "OF THE MONKEES" under the name "Peter Tork" on his table plaque. In the '60s, Peter Tork was member of the world's first prefabricated boy band. He has his own band now: the Shoe Suede Blues. In between, he did a lot of things, including temping.

A guy comes over and tells him that he saw him in Springfield at United Fan Con. Tork doesn't remember this. "Five, six years ago?" the guy says. He pulls out a portfolio of eight-by-10 pictures and shows it to Tork. All the pictures are of the guy with Tork. Tork still doesn't remember him.

"That's you with my wife," the guy says, pointing to one of the photos.

"How is she?" Tork asks. "Say hi to her for me."

At a nearby merch rack there is a first edition of Leonard Nimoy's Warmed by Love, a poetry collection, for $70. There is a yo-yo with Jean-Luc Picard's face on it for $10. Hellboy is pushing a stroller. A small child is presented with a light saber. He seems delighted, even though it is made of plastic, not light.

***

Fred "The Hammer" Williamson buys pictures of himself on eBay. Then he sells them at conventions. He comes to these cons to make a little change, he says, and to let people know that he still looks this good. "People come here to see and be seen," he says. "People come looking for the stars that are advertised, and they come in costumes so they can walk down the street and not be ridiculed. Here they're admired."

A guy comes over. The Hammer says, "Brother man."

The guy says, "I love your work."

The Hammer says, "I can understand that."

He points at all his pictures. "That's me in the NFL . . . That's me in From Dusk Till Dawn. . . And that's me with a little white pussy right there." It's his Playgirl shot, of him holding a white Persian cat. This joke will never get old.

A blind kid with autism comes over and introduces himself; his name is Brian. "That's a good thing," The Hammer says. "Everybody has to be named something."

***

In the middle of all this, Batman goes apeshit.

This is a different Batman than the one out front another congoer, here with his two small children, who are dressed as Batgirl and Robin, respectively. There's a lot of therapy in their future.

Anyway, he is losing his shit, perhaps in character, screaming at someone, "CAN'T YOU SEE I'M A PROFESSIONAL?!" He gets louder and louder. Then a small, ruddy person on the other side of the room stands up on a chair. It's wrestling legend Bob Backlund.

He screams back: "QUIET DOWN IN HERE!"

Batman shuts right up.

***

The more celebrated celebrities are clustered toward the back of the room. Marina Sirtis, an old pro, seems to be having a blast, signing autographs and telling fans that she and Riker and Data are all still good friends. Somehow this is deeply reassuring. "We all had lunch together last week," she says, laughing.

Christopher Lloyd is barely visible behind the line of worshippers. Some of them are dressed like Marty McFly. All you can see beyond them is a guy in a sweatshirt who looks, well, exactly like Christopher Lloyd.

And there is Carol Spinney! The man who was Big Bird, who was Oscar the Grouch this man looks exactly like Santa Claus! He's talking to a guy with a horrible facial deformity, and I gather they've met before.

They take a picture together.

Suddenly, Spinney starts to sing. It's Oscar's song, in Oscar's voice. "I . . . love . . . trash," he sings, and I have a visceral flashback to being five years old. The color of the rug in the TV room. The dusty smell of the old sofa, sunlight coming in through the window. Safe for a while from everything.

"I love trash," Oscar sings. And we do, oh, we do.

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PHOTO: Derek Kouyoumjian