By Paula R. Stiles
About a year and a half ago, my brother Mike told me that there was going to be a Supernatural convention in Jacksonville and did I want to go? My brother lived about an hour south of the city, so it would be somewhat cheaper than it ordinarily would. At first, I hesitated because I had been to a previous Creation con in the late 90s and had a bad time. It had been a Star Trek con in Boston. The guest of honor was Alexander Sidding from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Despite some positives, such as getting to meet Claudia Christian and meeting some cool people in the vendors’ room, I had had a pretty bad time.
I realize now that the convention had been poorly organized. I had bought a Silver pass and they had so overbooked that there was no way I would’ve been able to meet Alexander Siddig, even though I’d paid for it. Another factor that made it unpleasant, though this was unrelated to the convention organizers, was that I had originally intended to go alone. However, some friends of mine who were not science fiction fans had decided to tag along for kicks. While they were there at the con, they had mocked people in cosplay, which I pointed out was a lot like going to Mardi Gras in New Orleans and making fun of the people in costume, and had generally acted as if being a Trekkie was little better than a serial killer. By the end of the con, I was ready to smack the both of them continuously for the next three days and alas, I got no apology for that, ever.
Because of all this, I was not necessarily enthusiastic about paying the money to go to another convention, even though you would think it would be just my speed (nor did I realize at the time this was the first con of the year and the first in Jacksonville, FL, ever). I also was not sure what it would be like to meet the Guests of Honor, which can be a little overwhelming. While I really enjoyed the Star Trek fandom )particularly in the early days of USENET in the 90s) the cast and writers of the Star Trek series were not particularly cozy with each other, or the fans, and there was a very uneasy relationship between the two (still is, though both Takei and Shatner have taken to Facebook and Twitter like ducks to a pond). I don’t think people fully appreciate how times have changed in the past two decades. With the advent of social media and internet shows, the lines between fandom and artists have become fuzzier and more friendly in some ways, though this has also led to a sense of entitlement in some parts of fandom. Well, you can’t have everything.
Eventually, I decided to go because it was my brother, I wanted to meet Jensen Ackles, and because we wouldn’t need to get a hotel since my brother lived so close. Signing up turned out be quite a trip, since it required doing so about nine months ahead of time in order to get a good ticket. Since getting a Silver ticket had been such a disaster the last time, I resolved to go whole hog and get a Gold ticket up near the front this time. I consulted with a friend, who assured me that tickets on the side were perfectly fine. In fact, they were more than fine, since it was actually easier to see the stage from the side than it was from the back. Another plus of the Gold ticket, which kept bringing up flashbacks to Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory for me, was that it included most of the guests for autographs. Since there were 13 main guests in all, not including the band members and a couple of other related people (like the makers of the Hillywood Show, who were rumored to be signing at one point, but sadly, we were never able to locate them), that was important.
The con was scheduled to run for three days, Friday through Sunday. Originally, my brother and I were not sure how much of it we would want to attend. We had no idea what the con would be like or whether we would want to stick around for autographs with people. Once we got to the con and started attending panels, though, we really started to enjoy ourselves (Also, I talked about twice as fast as I normally do all weekend, on no caffeine at all, then face-planted on Sunday night). I was surprised to see more men than I had expected (maybe a third of the audience) and a wide range of ages and situations, albeit there were a fair number of teenagers.
I then made it a goal to buy autograph sessions with all of the guest stars. This was partly to help support financially those artists who are still at the level of using these cons to pay the rent and also to try to make a personal connection (however brief, since Jaxcon was pretty big) with each GoH. Sure, part of it was selfish – or at least self-oriented – but I also wanted to give them something – I dunno, fan feedback? – that they might appreciate and that would add to their experience. Why? Because as a fellow (very minor) artist who’s been on the other side of the table, I know damned well know you don’t do cons (or don’t just do cons) for the money. You have to want to meet the fans, too, for it to work.
Since I hadn’t actually bought the sessions for autographs, I wasn’t sure what to do with that aspect of them. I then got the idea of having everybody autograph a Wayward Daughters charity t-shirt that had been put out with the participation of Kim Rhodes and Briana Buckmaster (which turned out to be one of my few bursts of true inspiration in life) and my brother was willing to get his autos put on a t-shirt from Gil McKinney’s charity, Attitudes in Reverse, which went with much gratitude to my cat sitter. This and a few other individual-specific approaches got some really nice reactions. Getting the Wayward Daughters t-shirt signed also resulted in a fortuitous and totally accidental interaction with the original organizer of the charity behind it, who was thrilled to get a photograph of it after overhearing my brother and I discussing the impromptu project with my con-worker friend.
Another amusing story out of the con was that a friend of my brother who was teaching a media class on the show had her students there, asking questions in the lines. This created much bemusement among the GoHs, but the funniest reaction came from Padalecki and Ackles. They couldn’t get over the fact that someone was actually doing a class on the show and she got more than she’d bargained for when Ackles demanded to meet with her later and pump her for info. Reportedly, applications for the next such class shot right up.
The guests were not all there for the entire part of the weekend (and for us crazy early birds on Friday, Richard Speight Jr. made a “Thanks to Dick, I got F’d!” t-shirt). We also had a last-minute GoH change, when Briana Buckmaster, who played Sheriff Donna on the show, had to cancel because she had gotten an acting gig. That was good news of course, but it also left a hole in the schedule. Fortunately, the con organizers managed to get Kathryn Newton, who plays Claire, to replace her. My brother and I arrived at the convention on Friday in the middle of a panel with Newton and her co-guest star Kim Rhodes (who plays Sheriff Jody Mills). They were hilarious. As we walked into the room, they were in the middle of a story about why neither of them did Disney shows anymore. Rhodes had played the mother on the Suite Life of Zach and Cody and she was explaining that once you are typecast as a specific character on a Disney kids show, they didn’t want you to confuse things by having you play any other characters. Besides, she added, there are so many con videos out there of her cursing that she was unlikely to get another Disney job ever again. She found this greatly amusing.
Newton talked about their upcoming episode, which has since aired, and her interactions with costar Jensen Ackles. There is apparently a moment where Claire beheads someone and her first take involved her singing out, “Hi-ya!” She immediately asked for another take, not sure that they would let her do one, and Ackles snarkily allowed that that would be a really good idea. Newton also talked about a golf charity that she does, since she has had a career in golf. The charity allows children who could not otherwise afford it to get into the sport.
One thing that was a theme through most of the panels was how much fun the Supernatural set is compared to your usual television or film set. The guests seemed very comfortable with each other onstage, coming on and off fairly randomly, and there was much clowning around.
Now the show has introduced both Rhodes and Newton’s characters, as well as a third character named Alex, as an impromptu group of female hunters. Up until their latest episode, which played an awful lot like a backdoor spinoff pilot, there was no confirmation whether they would ever do a spinoff, despite building the characters up like that. Even so, I told Newton and Rhodes, as part of my attempt to make a GoH connection, that I would watch such a spinoff. I used PG language with Newton (’cause she’s still a kid), but felt more comfortable with telling Rhodes straight out, “I would watch the shit out of a spinoff of you guys.” Rhodes found this very funny.
I then added that I understood that not everyone might be into such a spinoff, but I would still watch it. Rhodes agreed. She said she saw a lot of the negative things that people said about her online, but didn’t even bother to “mute” it anymore, because “that’s their shit and I don’t see that as having anything to do with me. That’s really coming from them.” I found that a really interesting response, in light of my goal to make an attempted connection with a fellow artist. Certainly, you can’t make everybody happy and you can’t take that home with you at the end of the day. But it can still sting.
Rhodes was not the only person to comment on that. Travis Aaron Wade plays a recurring character, Cole, who starts out hunting Dean as the murderer of his father and so far has become a reluctant ally of the brothers. Wade in his panel was a lot funnier and friendlier than I had expected from the way people talk about him online. He talked at length about how long it takes to do a scene, particularly an action scene. He said that a 30-second action scene could take all day to film.
Wade also talked about his concerns that because he was playing an antagonist, the audience would really hate him. Also, his scenes often involved a lot of physical closeness with the leads, usually because he was beating one of them up, that might make some audience members very unhappy with them. He would say, “Yeah, the fans are gonna really hate me now.” And unfortunately, I think he had a point.
One thing I was struck with was how different it was being at the con itself from the videos, let alone seeing these people in character on television. The videos, with their literal recording of the panels, appear to be accurate, but the emphasis is all wrong. Things said that were no big deal at the panel itself appear to be much more serious and stripped of context on a YouTube video, whereas things that seem perfectly acceptable and even brave on Tumblr came off as boundaries-pushing and uncomfortable all the way round in person. Also, the incessant yelling was much more diffuse and less distracting in person (since the sound for the videos is much worse than when you’re there).
In their panels, all of the guests dealt with questions from the audience. There was a line on either side of the stage and they would go back and forth answering questions. Rhodes and Newton sat in chairs most of the time, but other actors like Wade would actually go down to the question-askers and interact with them much more closely. At one point, one girl asking a weighty question got a serious case of stage fright, so he came down off the stage and told her there was a method for getting over that. He then told her to look into his eyes and repeat her question. He said that as long as you concentrated just on looking at the person in their eyes, you would be okay. Where you would get into trouble was when you started looking around at your surroundings and not at the person. Then you would get nervous. The girl was able to do this and get through her question.
What I found interesting, though, was that Jensen Ackles reportedly had a reputation for looking everyone right in the eyes. He also had a reputation, especially at the beginning of the show, for being extremely shy in public and at conventions. He had since become much more relaxed. I wondered if he had used the technique of looking right at people to get over his own nervousness.
Wade, Gil McKinney (who played Grandpa Winchester) and Osric Chau (who played teen Prophet Kevin Tran) were all “Awwww” when we told them we were getting a shirt signed for the sitter and that we’d brought Freebie (my dad’s old dog who now lives with me). Wade commented on how much he loves dogs (He does animal and military veteran charities) and Chau said, “Oh, I like cats!”
Wade was only able to stay for Friday, because he had to leave for an unexpected family reunion with a new family member. Newton also only stayed on Friday. Rhodes signed autographs for both Friday and Saturday, as did other guests Rob Benedict (the Prophet Chuck), Gil McKinney, Richard Speight Jr. (the Archangel Gabriel), Matt Cohen (Young!Papa Winchester), and Osric Chau. Unlike conferences or professional conventions, Supernatural Creation cons have a pattern of beginning with past or occasional recurring guest stars, then building up over the weekend to bigger recurring guest stars, in this case Misha Collins (the angel Castiel) and Mark Sheppard (Crowley, King of Hell), and ending with the two lead actors on Sunday, Jared Padalecki (Sam Winchester) and Jensen Ackles (Dean Winchester). Though they were only able to come for one day due to their work schedules, Padalecki and Ackles dominated Sunday and were there the entire day.
The autograph and photo op lines were very regimented. The autographs were done in the evening after panels ended, while photo ops and private meet-and-greets (which my brother and I didn’t get since they were auctioned off and sold out before the con) occurred throughout the day. There were usually several autographing guests at any given time, though they were introduced in staggered order. If you had more than one autographer to visit at the same time, you would be directed to the first guest and then to the next line and to the next, so it was rush-rush-rush to each person.
At the beginning of the con, the organizers announced that the con had 1700 attendees. I’m not sure if this was just for Friday or for the entire weekend, but it was a lot. That meant that they kept things moving (and had to, in order to make it all work). In fact, the woman who was running the con was retired military. She was given a little tribute near the end of the con on Sunday. It turned out she was the first woman to run a flight crew on an aircraft carrier. Somebody who had been in the military, and had her name as an answer on one of his non-com officer exams, even asked her for her autograph. She was quite abashed by all this, but when Padalecki (who was signing behind the stage at the time) came running out to give her a hug, she came completely undone.
Benedict and Speight did a panel with Matt Cohen (who played a young version of Sam and Dean’s father, and announced that he’d just got a gig on General Hospital), which was hilarious, but they also had more integral roles in the con. Speight was the host and Benedict’s band, Louden Swain, did all of the intros and outros, as well as the Saturday night concert. I was surprised to find that they were more than a cover band and actually had some good original hard rock songs. But the intros and outros were also entertaining. For example, Padalecki and Ackles got “Carry On, Wayward Son” (of course), while Ruth Connell (Rowena, Crowley’s witchy mother) got “Black Magic Woman,” and they ended the con with “It’s the end of the con and you know it – now go home!”
The Louden Swain guys had said they would autograph anything for free as long as it was band merchandise. I had bought two CDs (one for my sister-in-law) and a kazoo for the giggles, but I’d forgotten to bring the kazoo for the signing after their concert on Saturday night. So, I actually ended up getting three separate signings with Benedict, who recognized me pretty well by the third one (“Hey! It’s you again!”).
Autograph connections for Speight, Benedict and Cohen were easy. I had contributed to the Kickstarter for their webseries, Kings of Con, and gotten a 15-minute Skype chat with them. At the beginning, they had asked me if I had any questions for them and I opined that I would love to ask them stuff, but thought it a bit unfair to know so much about them without their knowing a thing about me. Did they have any questions? This somehow mutated into an impromptu Latin lesson when they found out I had a Latin degree (Speight had done two years of Latin in high school) and I had mentioned I was going to the con. So, I simply said, “It’s Latin Girl from the Skype chat!” which elicited an “Ohhhh, yeaaaahhhh!” of recognition from all three of them.
The Latin theme somehow continued later when I mentioned to Ruth Connell I had lived in Scotland and she mentioned she had done a year of Latin at St Andrews while in school. And I suspect I got outed somehow back in the Blue Room (where the guests hung out between panels and photo ops and autograph lines), because Misha Collins, when he came to sign the Wayward Daughters t-shirt, sternly demanded to know what he was signing and what the Latin inscription meant. Caught off-guard, I had to admit I hadn’t had the chance to read the whole thing yet and he dismissed me with a Misha wave. Embarrassed was I to read it five minutes later and realize it simply read, in Latin, “Carry on, Wayward Daughters. There’ll be peace when you are done.”
There were several memes that came out of the panels and other things happening. For example, at one point, Chau came down off the stage during his panel to talk to a particularly nervous questioner, who then commented on his “musk.” The GoHs were quite taken by this and for the rest of the con, whenever something inexplicable occurred, they would belt out, “Blame the Musk!” This even got hashtagged on Twitter.
We hadn’t originally intended to stay overnight any time (We’d taken a miss on karaoke the previous night), but then the girl next to us excitedly looked up from her phone at one point on Saturday that Ackles had just tweeted he would be at the concert that night. He sometimes did this, but he and Padalecki were flying in that evening and so, it seemed we would be expecting too much. My brother at first didn’t want to stay for the concert (since the Padalecki and Ackles Gold panel was the following morning fairly early), until he realized what I was saying: “Wait, Jensen’s going to be at the concert?” And then it was a matter of talking to the front desk and getting a pet-friendly room, since we already had Freebie in the car and had brought his dinner. And putting up with having to wear the same clothes for two days straight. So much for wearing my “I don’t care who dies in the movie as long as the cat lives” photo, though I was wearing a cat/heartbeat t-shirt, so it was all good in the end.
I also took a photo of Freebie in the hotel room. When I was going through Padalecki’s line, I showed him the photo. It was on my camera and we weren’t supposed to take photos of the GoHs in the autograph line (the con volunteers had not agreed to have their photos taken), so I gave his volunteer handler at the table a bit of a start. It got through, though, since it wasn’t actually breaking the rules (and believe me, people were pushing a lot harder boundaries than that one, like asking for hugs at the panels, though overall, the crowd acted a lot better than I’d expected from the YouTube videos of other cons).
Anyhoo, Padalecki (who came off very open and friendly) automatically leaned forward to see the photo and said, “Awww!” (Freebie is a cutie, this must be said) when I said, “We brought our dog to the con! He spent last night at the hotel.” I then asked him how many dogs he had now (since I knew he’d lost one a few years ago and didn’t want to dredge that up). He said, “Two and a half.” It turned out he and his family had two, but were in the process of getting a third. Awwww.
The concert was a pleasant surprise. Not only did Louden Swain kick ass, but Connell and Rhodes came onstage to purr “Son of a Preacher Man” with a lot of sexy sashaying, Mark Sheppard beat on the drums (he’d started out in rock bands as a teenager), and Gil McKinney turned out to have quite the set of pipes on several other songs. Speaking of that, Ackles (as promised) burst onstage early on to belt out The Allman Brothers’ “Whipping Post,” which was the highlight of the night. Ackles was so brash that he even made fumbling the curtains during his exit look badass. Ackles and McKinney need to make a record.
One of the funniest bits in Collins’ panel was Speight and Benedict trying to convince Collins that a story from their previous panel with Cohen about a horrendous plane trip had not been exaggerated at all. Collins claimed not to remember it (since, in the story, he had emerged from the plane’s bathroom “soaking wet” following an unfortunately timed drop of the plane). To one-up them, he then over-shared a story where his plane farts had inadvertently caused a man behind him to faint.
Connell, Sheppard and Collins liked to wander around the room, way back to the cheap seats, which was a hit with the crowd. Padalecki and Ackles weren’t able to do this, thanks to the heightened security when they came on for their panels, but they did go off-stage to talk to questioners. Connell was very sweet and gave questioners little gifts (so did McKinney and Wade) connected to her charity for breast reconstruction following mastectomy. Collins liked to prank those asking him questions (and also got a rather awkward proposal during his panel), but nobody took it to quite the level of sheer art that Sheppard did. I called it “Getting Marked.” He didn’t answer a single question seriously in his first panel, yet people happily lined up, both for that panel and the one on Sunday, to get Marked.
Even I got Marked, to my surprise. I didn’t line up to ask any questions, but I did go through his autograph line. Up to that point, someone would run up and down the line and ask us for our names so that the guests could personalize the signatures if we wanted. They would then write down the name on a small Post-It note and affix it to the item to be autographed (only one per autograph ticket). But once we got to the level of Sheppard and Collins, they phased that out because the lines were getting too large. I had a cute conversation in line with a Sheppard fan and her husband about their once visiting a small local con where Sheppard was signing, only to find his table and discover he’d gone to dinner because nobody wanted his signature. Times sure have changed because Sheppard’s line was not small.
So, when we got to his table, I don’t think I was expecting anything. I calculated at that point we were getting an average of 6.66 seconds with the larger GoHs (especially Ackles’ line, which was the last event of the con and measured at least five hundred). Imagine my surprise when, as I was starting to walk away, Sheppard (who must have spotted one of the old Post-It notes still on the shirt) belted out, with an evil grin, “Hey, hey, Paula! Bet you never get that!”
I had the presence of mind to snark back, “Oh, no! Never, ever, ever!” So, yup, I got Marked.
Sheppard was more thoughtful in his second panel (and also had a question-asking fan with her new baby asleep on her shoulder to mess with). When he was talking very fondly about how he’s about to be a dad again and his new baby will be a girl (she should be born by now), there were people in the audience and in the question line telling him the usual thing about how girls are more difficult than boys. I don’t think they meant anything by it, or consciously intended to say, “Girls suck,” but I found it interesting that Sheppard’s response to that was to talk about how his 16-year-old son has his moments (albeit not as crazy as his old man at that age) and the new baby (who wasn’t even here yet) isn’t liable to be any tougher a job to raise.
More perspective was added when a later question about his supporting juvenile diabetes charities brought out the fact that his younger son has Type 1 Diabetes and an extended explanation of how difficult that’s been all round. Sheppard went on to say he supported the charity because 1. he could afford to get his son help, but not everyone else could and that wasn’t right, and 2. there was a lot of stigma about diabetes that made it difficult to raise money for a cure. He talked about how 95% of diabetes worldwide is the less-deadly Type II and that the public has a misconception that diabetes is both easily managed and something you get because you don’t take care of yourself. He noted that Type I is a very different kind of disease entirely, that it’s hereditary not a product of bad diet (with more than a hint that Type II really isn’t, either), and that it will shorten his son’s lifespan if a cure isn’t found.
Padalecki and Ackles’ two panels were a hoot. It was immediately clear why they were such a draw for Creation. Most panels were about an hour long, but the Gold panel was only half an hour, while the afternoon panel was over an hour long. My brother commented about the Gold breakfast panel (which was only available for those with Gold tickets) that Padalecki had showed up with a small Coke, while Ackles had an enormous cup of java, and I commented that Ackles was pretty up front about not being a morning person (plus, he had stayed up to sing at the concert the night before). One of the highlights in the second panel was Padalecki doing a striptease with one of his old “Sam” belts from the show (Sweat and a white towel were involved), some Fifty Shades of Grey snark, and Ackles immediately jumping in to auction it off (it was later auctioned off for real, for a hefty price). At one point in Ackles’ auction chatter, a woman in the front row threw her purse at the stage. Ackles looked amazed, flung his arms wide, and belted out, “She just threw her purse on the stage – ‘Just take it all! COME TO MAMA!'” He then picked it up and gave it back to her, saying, “Sorry! We don’t take credit cards!”
Ackles called Padalecki out on his accidentally-insulting-Italian-waiters story by speaking French randomly through both panels. Padalecki got him back later, though, after Ackles confessed (in relation to a question about spirit animals) that his would be Pepe le Pew.
The two of them also answered some more serious questions in both panels. My favorite was when a very nervous young woman asked a question I had wondered about for some time. Padalecki has recently founded a charity to battle mental illness and there has been great debate in the fandom about whether or not Sam and Dean are themselves mentally ill. I’m personally of the opinion that they couldn’t possibly not be in light of all they’ve been through, but some fans perceive this as weakness. So, when the woman asked them to talk about the brothers’ battles with mental illness, specifically Dean’s alcoholism, I was rather pleased.
After a snarky beginning from Ackles (“Whoa, whoa, whoa! Just because he likes to continuously be slightly bent all the time…”), Ackles and Padalecki then gave a thoughtful and longish response to the question. They stated that yes, the characters were very damaged (Ackles especially cited Dean’s inability to ask for help and talked about how Dean’s alcoholism had never been fully resolved, despite being a major character point for a few seasons), and had suffered from many serious issues over the years, but that they still tried to do the right thing and that was what made them heroes. “They still try to help people,” Padalecki said.
There was also a really funny moment in the Gold panel when they were asked what nickname Sam and Dean would call Crowley (since he calls them “Moose” and “Squirrel” from Bullwinkle). They went through an elaborate explanation of how they’d given that much thought and had finally settled on “Crumpet.” When later informed of this (of course) at his second panel, and asked for his response, Sheppard swore to get them back.
And then there was the extended gag involving a birthday cake Ackles claimed to have gotten for one of the Louden Swain band members, but that somehow got eaten by everyone else (Speight came out, collapsed in mock-shame, and blamed the whole incident on Ackles’ “musk”). That was downright surreal.
Photo ops were a trip. My brother and I had originally talked about bringing a book on the occult (Norman Cohn’s Europe’s Inner Demons) and some reading glasses, so everyone could pose reading the book and looking horrified. I had bought photo ops for Speight, Benedict, Cohen, and two-handers with Sheppard/Collins and Ackles/Padalecki because those were the ones available when I’d registered for the con (and I could bring my brother on as a second person). Well, the idea of the book quickly went by the wayside because it would have taken far too long. Those really elaborate photos some fans post from these things are probably holding up the line big-time.
So, we just went for straight up post-and-smile. My brother said he was going to do devil’s horn signs for the one with Sheppard/Collins and I pretended not to know him during the shot. It went well. I have to say the photographers really knew their stuff.
We didn’t have a clue what to do with the Ackes/Padalecki op and as soon as we got there, my brother promptly abandoned me to make a beeline for Padalecki. I started to follow, just as Ackles turned toward me, and found myself confronting his chest. I looked up, figured he was the expert on all this, and said brightly, “I have absolutely no idea what I’m supposed to be doing here.”
He took charge with the practiced skill from having done thousands of these things and said, “Well, why don’t you get in the middle?”
“Works for me,” I said and the final photo is of me in the center of three tall guys bending down to my level. Ha.
Ackles was the last person autographing for the con and therefore looking at a huge line probably a fair bit past the end of everything else in the con, including signing up for Jaxcon 2017, so I can’t say I was expecting much. Okay, I wasn’t expecting anything from anybody but especially not Ackles. We were lucky to be in the top 25% (maybe more like top 10%) of a line that could have been as much as 1700 strong (i.e., most or even all of the con). At any rate, his autograph line was very sold out. Of course he had a plane to catch at some point in the evening, so being That Rude Asshole Who Held Up the Line For Longer than 15 Seconds was simply not an option.
I had bandied about some ideas about very-brief topics and then run them past my friend who works cons for how they might go down with people, but there was one thing in particular that I wanted to tell Ackles, something very positive, that I didn’t think he’d realized he was doing. When we got to him and they were laying out the t-shirts to be signed, I ended up improvising.
Ackles’ “energy” at the autographs was very different than in the concert or at the panels. I think, there, he was surrounded by people he knew and it allowed him to be open and even extroverted. But here, he was sitting in between two con volunteers, with hundreds of people filing past, and his demeanor was very different. He certainly wasn’t rude or unresponsive, but his head was down most of the time at first and I sensed he had entered an “autograph zone” where he was distracted by all the signing.
Perhaps that was why I punked out initially and went straight for the snark (all quotes are from memory, since there’s no recording allowed at all at signings):
Me (about his People’s Choice Award): Oh, congratulations on your coffee pot!
Ackles (with casual snark, while signing my t-shirt and moving to my brother’s): Yes, I’ll treasure it forever.
[A little bit about my brother’s t-shirt being for the catsitter may have ensued.]
Me (very quickly, in a more serious tone as Ackles looked up at me and handed me the t-shirt): I just wanted to say that I really like how you and your wife talk so positively about your daughter – like, “Psych! We have a daughter!” (Plus, I think, a bit more about what a positive message it was for young girls and women through the world. Yeah, it didn’t come out quite as elegantly as I would have liked, or at least what I remember.)
Now, this next bit, I might not normally make public, but technically, it wasn’t a private conversation (In addition to my brother, there were several other people there). And I also got the impression that this was a message Jensen Ackles would like out there, in light of all the crap he hears and sees about his family.
Anyhoo, according to my brother, Ackles had been signing the cat-sitter t-shirt, with a pen in one hand and a small pile of pens in the other. When I said what I did, he stopped dead, put the pens down, and looked up.
I don’t exactly recall what he said next, but it was something along the lines of an extended “Thank you! Thank you very much!” in a surprised tone that went on for two or three sentences, and there was a brief exchange that, to the best of my recollection, boiled down to the idea that daughters were pretty cool.
At this point, the handler volunteer sitting next to him started making noises about moving things along, as was her job. I was in agreement that this was quite a bit more than I could reasonably have expected (since Ackles seemed pleased) and I had expected a rather distracted “Oh, well, thank you” at best. I mean, 6.66 seconds just isn’t that long and there were certainly still a hella lot of people behind me, so I started to back away and follow my brother out.
At that point, Ackles turned to the volunteer, quickly put his hand on her arm, and said in a gentle tone, “Nono, it’s okay.” (My brother says he added, “Let her finish.”) She looked so startled that I felt a bit bad for her. Then he turned back, looked up, and zeroed right in on me.
Now, I don’t intimidate in the face of celebrity too readily. I’m a big proponent of Rudyard Kipling’s “If” (“‘If you can walk with the crowd and keep your virtue, or walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch”). I’ve met a fair share of famous people and had various interactions with them.
But I have to admit that I found Jensen Ackles basically stopping a huge autograph line for ten seconds or so to zone in on me like that a tad intimidating – as if you were scuba diving or on a whale watch and tried to attract the attention of a very large, rare species of whale doing its thing in the wild nearby. And then you actually got the whale curious and it decided to come right up to the boat and check you out. Like that. Like, “Oh, hell, what did I just do? And is everybody gonna get mad and throw me overboard to avoid capsizing the boat?” When he focuses on you, that man has the concentration of a Barracuda discovering you just speared a tasty Lionfish ninety feet down on a U-Boat.
After seeing him do an entire day and change giving other people their moments, I also sensed that I had somehow handed Ackles an unexpected opportunity (one he was even savoring) he did not often get and that we were all going to let him have that moment to speak his piece.
So, then, Ackles leaned forward with his palms flat on the table, looked me right in the eye, and said in a very serious tone:
“You know, I used to think I wanted a son. But when we found out it was a girl, I was really happy (“thrilled”? Don’t recall the exact word he used). I think what’s important is that the baby is happy and healthy.”
I wasn’t sure what to do. He looked almost as if he wanted to shake my hand.
So, then he leaned back and I stuttered out a “Well … thank you!” And I think he smiled and I went on my merry way.
And just like that, it was all over. We stopped to chat with my con-working friend for a while, had the brief and fortuitous encounter with the girl doing the Wayward Daughters charity, and went on home.