I recently saw a woman walking through LaGuardia Airport wearing a denim jacket covered in patches from something called “PezCon”. I chased after her to make sure I had read them correctly, because I was entranced by the idea that there were enough fans of Pez candy and the dispensers thereof to warrant an annual convention. (I didn’t talk to her, of course. Never ask an enthusiast about their enthusiasms unless they love you enough to keep it short or you love them enough to listen.)

A little Googling revealed that not only are there enough Pez enthusiasts to support a convention, there are enough Pez enthusiasts to support several Pez conventions. This, as you might imagine, piqued my interest in the world of highly-specialized hobbyist conventions, and over the last couple of weekends I have managed to attend three without needing to have anything at all to do with LaGuardia Airport. 

First was a dollhouse miniatures show at a Marriott near O’Hare. It is good that I am accustomed to looking out of place at things. This dollhouse show was low on actual dolls and dollhouses, to my surprise—much more a show selling dollhouse furnishings and furniture and lighting and such. Lot of tiny food, too. Most of the items cost roughly what their real-world analogues would, including one fully-furnished home listed for considerably over $100,000. While most of the dealers were volume artisans, densely packing their display tables with their cunningly-made wares, there were at least a couple who went the other way. My favorite was a lady from Japan who specialized in dollhouse fishtanks and had evenly spaced three of them on a piece of black velvet, as though you were buying them from Tiffany’s or Harry Winston. (Which in a sense you are—many of the pieces are not unlike jewelry, and I suspect many of the skills are the same. The prices are certainly similar.)

Yesterday I went to the Prairie State Cat Show. I had no idea there were so many breeds of cats. Dogs get all the publicity in this arena, for some reason. I paid my $5 and wandered through. It was fine; strongly cat-smelling and filled with people who you would identify as “someone who would probably enjoy a cat show” with the naked eye at fifty yards. The only other time I’ve experienced an audience that looked that much like they truly belonged at the event they were attending was when I saw movie-maker Kevin Smith speak. Petting the cats was generally discouraged, a policy I disliked, but the cats were cute and the intraspecies diversity sufficiently striking to pass a pleasant half-hour, even though there were no present Turkish Vans despite the Van being the best kind of cat.

The last show was the Chicago Pen Show. This is where I really got in over my head. I’m a free-ballpoint kinda guy, with the occasional exotic foray into a pencil or Sharpie. Most of my pens come from hotels featuring casinos. I was vaguely aware that fancier people than I occasionally own fancier pens, “fancier” in the latter case being a different way of saying “more expensive” and I had always assumed that the Waterman or Cross gift pen was a hotel ballpoint in a $100 shell. ($100 being what one might pay for one of these fancy pens.) I had also been under the impression that the fountain pen was a relic of the past, like cars you start by turning a crank. 

I was very wrong. I realized this when I saw a fountain pen – a new fountain pen, not one used to sign the Emancipation Proclamation or anything – labeled “$1,800.”  

I was boggled. Inks, nibs, nib grinds, alignment, weight, length, barrel diameter…there are a million options and every Pen Person has strong feelings on every one of them. I have no idea how people maintain so many opinions. These people have impassioned, marriage-threatening debates over the relative merits of shades of blue ink I could not distinguish from one another. I wound up apologetically introducing myself as a “Pentile” (my word, not theirs) when my Penthusiast (ibid.) friend would try to pretend I wasn’t there. 

I did come home with a mechanical pencil, though. I needed a souvenir, and I found one honoring the 40th anniversary of the Detroit Ball Bearing Company. I’m having a display case built for it, once the insurance kicks in. 

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