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March 1 , 2003: Sisters of the Divine Disorder of Saint Viggo on an Unholy Pilgrimage

I will leave Friday out of it entirely. The only really important things about Friday are that once again I manage less than four hours sleep and that I miss the Opening of Viggo’s Signlanguage show at SLU, even though they have a ticket for me. I can’t get a ride to Canton in time. Grrrrrrrrrrrr. But it’s fine. I’m okay. It’s all good, right? Bloody hell.

So it’s Saturday morning. A nice, juicy five hours of sleep last night has left me just exactly as refreshed and perky as you expect. English is becoming difficult, which is not to imply that it is my second language, no indeed. At least I was woken up in my favorite way, which is by the words “Coffee’s ready!” Two cups and one shower later I’m ready to go. Janie pulls up and my sister, who is a steady type of person and not one to fly across the continent on a sudden whim at the urgeing of strangers, immediately jumps up and writes down the make and model and license of the car, as well as noting a description of the driver and passenger. I forget to ask for their real names. My sister and I take a different approach to life. Janie has brought a “chaperone” who is not a Viggo fan, much less a crazed Internet personage such as myself, for purposes of balance and also because she is going in the same direction. She seems like a steady sort of person, not the kind to go all Tony Robbins on us.

We drive out of Ottawa in a peasoup fog and get on the 416, talking about Internet acquaintances who communicate only in Elvish (Quenya not Tengmar, ‘cause Tengmar sux!) and familiarize the chaperone with the Viggo filmography. I explain that I have promised Chelle I would lick his neck. Chelle says if he resists to just say it is for the starving orphans in Iraq. Once the screams from the front seats die down I explain that I was lying when I made the promise. Even for a Canadian I’m a little uptight; my own mother used to tell me to loosen up and get out more. There is a less than zero chance I’ll be licking any Americans this weekend.

If I were organized I would never have made this trip. I only began to consider it because I remembered my aunt lived in Prescott, practically across the river from Canton. As I hurtle southwards, I realize that this is not the case at all. My aunt has NEVER lived in Prescott. My aunt lives in Pembroke, about as far North from Ottawa as Prescott is South. My mistake. Oh well, I’m here now. Somehow I get the feeling Kesey would be proud. Or maybe Alice or the rabbit.

We cross the border on a long, nasty bridge made of some gridlike material. Guess neither country wanted to spring for a road or solid bridge when they’d only get half credit, so the surface is some kind of mesh that wobbles the car from side to side. The border guard is a perky mass of blonde ringlets; we explain that we are going down to visit friends, which is true and also handy as none of us wants to explain that we are Sisters of the Divine Disorder of Saint Viggo on an Unholy Pilgrimage. It would just put the poor woman on the spot and nobody wants to do that, particularly as she has a handgun. I am reminded of the prevalence of handguns in the States, and resolve to be less offensive than usual. Wonder how long that’ll last.

We make a quick pitstop at Janie’s sister-in-law’s. The woman has our tickets, which she has left in an envelope in the mailbox; also tucked in there are a bunch of clippings from local papers, about Viggo and, strangely, about us. Seems we scared some of the locals when the group drove to Canton for the tickets. If memory serves, the quote goes, “They were really organized. There was this one with a clipboard. It was kind of intimidating.” The locals claimed to be doing this on a lark, but what kind of lark gets girls out in a blizzard at four in the morning on a Saturday? And, funny, it was just girls. Well, that’s okay. The locals we had not intimidated to that point must certainly have been frightened by the article, which went on to quote extensively from the Fanbase, including Ara’s sigfile: “Sister Aragrothien, the erotic baker, who wishes to show St. Viggo her hot buns.” She would be so proud.

We drive past the turnoff for the restaurant we are all meeting at, but manage to figure it out before hitting Florida, and turn around in the parking lot of the Burger King. I know they carried FOTR figurines, and try to coax Janie into going in and asking for an Aragorn. We lay down rubber on our way out; guess that would be a no.

At the restaurant the waitress says there is a large group in the back room, so we trundle back room ward, only to be stopped by a senior-looking waitress with her arms out wide, not in welcome. “Are you Presbyterians?” she asks, implying that if you are not, you had better take your trade elsewhere, there is to be NO BACK ROOM FOR YOU TODAY! We, alas, are not Presbyterian, nor even desire to be, so we go to the front room and look around. Nobody we recognize, no tables full of women, just a bunch of retired farmers and their wives and some families. We nab a table and sit down. After awhile a timid-looking waitress comes over and says, ‘I think that may be your group in the back room after all.’ We explain that we are not Presbyterians, not even slightly, and I may even be Catholic on my father’s side. She seems to think we are alright for all that, and leads us to the sanctum sanctorum.

L-R front row, Pandora, Gubydal, Viggo_Is_Gorgeous, Debi. Second row, Janie, Rocky-T, Dragonlady, Aragrothien, Evil Elf and V.I.G.'s fiance, Brian. Photo courtesy of Aragrothien.

It is us. We are they. There are no Presbyterians in sight, just about fourteen crazy women, one husband and a fiancee. As a group, we are pretty presentable if no spring chickens, except for Sister Viggo is Gorgeous, who can only be described as gorgeous, damn her! At least she has the decency to be engaged. Dragonlady turns out to be an executive type, immaculately turned out. Aragrothien reminds me of nothing so much as a controlled nuclear reaction, except maybe for an uncontrolled nuclear reaction. Will have to re-evaluate my stereotype of Connetticutions; obviously, New England is less buttoned-down than I thought. Gubydal and Debi are as alike as two black cats, tiny and delicate, sleek and alert. Pandora is the youngest, and she is very quiet, though perhaps somewhat tuckered out, having driven since three or so in the morning to make it here. We play the “I am more exhausted and freaked out than you” game for awhile and I was so exhausted and freaked out that I forget who won. I do remember that the waitress who brought us to the back is the one who serves us, and that she spends a positively inordinate amount of time fitzing with the cups and the computer and straightening many, many things around the room. Could it be that she finds our little chat...intriguing? Intimidating? Freaking weird? Guilty on all counts. Steph, the Mother Inferior of the Disorder, could not make it but sends along enough cash to buy brunch. We leave the tip (well, the others do. I am so bright I have forgotten that they don’t likely take Canadian cash, and have not gotten any US. Not that I have any money anyway, but then they knew I was a charity case when they took me on) and we get in our cars and we go.

We go to SLU, which we find out quickly is not pronounced “Ess ell you” but “Slew” like Seattle. Oh, now we feel like such insiders! We park our cars in the lot and our butts in seats in the lobby of the building whose name I forget if I ever knew it but has all the Viggo signs and security people and so must be the right one. It’s a pretty campus, what I can see of it, with pilasters and brickwork and a steeple or two around the place. We essentially take over the lobby. The gallery is through one door and the pub through another and the theatre for the poetry reading opens right into the lobby in front of our chairs. Ain’t no-one getting in ahead of us, baby!

Janie, Chaperone and I have yet to see the art, so we head into the gallery after securing the lobby for the Fanbase. This means we placed our coats on the seats, but I am loathe to give up intimidating the locals: it was fun and we were good at it. After securing the lobby, we mobilize and deploy troops to the gallery. Okay, here the metaphor will be ruthlessly abandoned, both because it clashes with the antiwar message of much of the art and also because I wish to give an impression of ruthlessness too.

The outer gallery, which is really just a hallway, shows the work of Tom Tomorrow. I am a big Tom Tomorrow fan, and spend mucho time with my nose up against the glass, nodding and dimpling if not quite laughing outloud because I am, as I said, repressed even for a Canadian. I am also extremely nearsighted; trust me, this is not a non-sequiter. A group of people comes out of the main gallery and brushes past me on their way out. The others later inform me that this was Viggo, his mother, and his step-father. I resolve to become less interested in art. Damn you, Tom Tomorrow!!!!!

Back in the lobby we are seized upon by the media. This means that Mike and Cathy from The One Ring. Net have asked for and recieved an interview. Dragonlady obliges and speaks intelligently and with admirable calm for some time on the topic of Viggo. Not a giggle in sight. Then the intrepid media team explain that they are also working on a documentary of Ring fans, modelled after “Trekkies” but a little kinder, to be called “Ringers.” They would like to do another interview for this project, so we all sort of swarm in and try to look respectable and intimidating to locals but not to Danish-Ameerican movie stars. It is difficult to pull off, and I, at least, settle for trying to look like I’m not under a restraining order.

I manage to explain how the others brought me here, and also manage to totally blow my cover by talking about what I post to the Fanbase. Oh well, perhaps I’ll become famous. They get a kick out of how respectable we actually are, and how juvenile we enjoy being on the Web. Ara and I also show our bracelets. Did I tell you this part? No? Well here comes:

Tamariel, another organized person like Dragonlady, and one who always dresses as if she is not travelling but making an important presentation to many similarly respectable people, has made us all different-coloured beaded bracelets with the word “Viggo” in them. They are beautiful and handmade and I cannot believe she went to all that trouble, but she did. So we show our bracelets and talk to TORN and our bracelets are important later. Right now all you need to know is that one woman from the Fanbase is MIA and so we have an extra.

Cathy wants to get a shot of us all, I guess because they don’t have middleaged women where she comes from, and so we pose nicely in the lobby. Then one of us, I don’t remember which, but obviouly the smart one, hands her a camera and asks her to take on on that. There is a stampede of cameras and I figure if Cath made a break for the door right now she could make a couple of thousand dollars easy selling them all on eBay, but she is nice and settles down and takes a couple of hundred pictures of us all. Mike comes back from the bathroom and sees this scene and at that point realizes that this is a different type of crowd. Bemused dimples appear in his cheeks. We are putting the media to work for us!!! Yes, any evil genius knows that controlling the media is an important part of any world domination plan. Sorry, regressing to Internet identity. Evil Geniuses for a Better Tomorrow!

Eventually we are herded into the auditorium; actually, the Fanbase kind of stampedes albeit with great dignity and at a walking pace, but with elbows out so nobody tries to pass us. We get most of the two front rows, which is about as perfect for a nearsighted person at a poetry reading as you are going to get, and dead centre. Did the nice radio folks leave my Canadian spellings intact? “Centre?” Just wondering. And now back to our regularly scheduled diary...

Many of the women here have taken to heart the info that Viggo is heterosexual. I look like I’m sitting in the middle of a bowling ball rack. From onstage he is guaranteed to get an eyeful. Suddenly I’m glad that I didn’t wear my Victoria’s Secret bodysuit, however cute it may be. Like I said, Canadian.

Ara has lost her bracelet. This is a major, major drama. We search the front row, we prostrate ourselves in front of the staff, we beg for help and they promise to help look for it. Must have fallen off in the stampede, dammit, and it is not to be found anywhere. Ara is upset until Tamariel points out that she still has purplepant’s, and hands it over. It is soft pastel and silver, in her birthstone colour, and looks great with Ara’s outfit. It fits better, too. Crisis is averted. After about 15 more minutes of waiting (apparently promptness is not a particularly Viggian quality) we look over and notice the security guy, who looks like he was fairly intimidating back in the sixties, wearing a peculiar expression and dangling something sparkly from one meaty finger. It proves to be the missing bracelet. Ara decides she prefers the new one, but now we have to decide what to do with this. It is agreed by all that purplepants has forfieted bigtime, she still owes her pal much cash for expenses and she seems to have simply bailed. So some brilliant person, perhaps the same one who put Cathy to work, suggests that we pass it back to Viggo’s mother, who is sitting a couple of rows behind us. We do: we call her name and explain about the bracelet, say we’d like her to have this one. She is gracious and sweet and seemed to like it, which is no wonder as it is really quite a nice little bracelet. And one can assume she is a Viggo fan as well.

Viggo Mortensen setting up for poetry reading. Photo courtesy of Aragrothien.

The University President introduces Viggo and we can see that, while the man will never make a living giving speeches, he is genuinely proud of this alumnus, and enormously pleased that all these people are so happy to be here. He introduces Viggo and polite but repectable applause breaks out. We got over screaming when Hall and Oates were still together. I really don’t remember much of the reading. I never do remember those “live in the moment” moments, but I do remember that he has trouble finding his own poems in his own books and that the audience helpfully yells “which one do you need?” flourishing any number of his books, and that he says that’s allright. He explains that he’d be even more of a basketcase without Pilar Perez, who works at Perceval Press, his publishing house. From what I see at the signing it’s true, but more of that later.

Gotta love a man who can’t dress himself. It’s a nice enough suit, with nothing spilled on it, but it is a grey suit with a dark pinstripe and he is wearing it with an olive green shirt, grey ragg socks, and poo-brown shoes that are scuffed to hell. His socks don’t stay up, and one pointy shirt collar is out of the suit while the other is tucked in. He’s also so softspoken that I am sitting six feet in front of the guy and can’t always make out what he’s saying, even after they turn on the mike.

The reading goes on for twice as long as it was supposed to and we want it to go on for twice as much longer. Pandora cries when he reads in Spanish, although I gotta say that it was not exactly a lyrical piece; something about pooping like a monkey in the jungle. Believe me, though, everything sounds better in Spanish.

More later.

Lorraine Murphy, Vancouver BC

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2003 North Country Public Radio, St. Lawrence University, Canton, New York 13617-1475