SKEMERs

Note: these historical essays are a capsule in time from when the biggest Stephen King fan club on the internet used email - of all things! - to communicate with each other daily. I was the SKEMERs historian back in the day, so I provided the pocket history and the con write-ups. I've edited basically nothing, which is sort of brave. I was young, Stephen King was everything, and SKEMERs was my first foray into the world of fandom. Enjoy! - Kevin Q.

SKEMERs: A HISTORY (1996) 

How SKEMERs Works

SKEMERs is a unique chat-club, different from almost any on the internet, not just among the Stephen King chats. What happens is real simple: you sign up, get a confirmation letter, and you're in the club.

That's it! What makes us so unique? The way the chatting is handled. We communicate through plain ole' e-mail. What we do is write a letter (about King or whatever; we're not particular about what we talk about, but we tend to stay on the subject of SK), and we send it to our group Dictator, Michelle R. (For more info on how she became the Dictator, see Chapter 4.) Michelle then reads the newsletters, responds to nearly each individual letter, compiles the ones she receives into one big newsletter, and sends them back. She also has help from her new assistant, Brad (the Arthur to her Tick), who also responds quite often and is doing a great job in his own right.

This is quite an effort for Michelle, so there's an understandable lag between when you send out your letter, and when you'll see it in a newsletter (not real long, though -- only about a week.) Then, other people respond to your comments, and you respond back, and etc., etc., etc. It's easy to do, and the dialogue gets to be fun and informative.

There are a few rules. 1) No swearing. Use %&^$#@ if you want to cuss. 2) No truly offensive remarks. If you don't like a book or a person, fine, but keep in mind that other people do. (i.e. The Stand really *&(^@~! sucked!) Public humiliation of stuff can be found in other groups. And that's pretty much it!  For the detailed list of rules and a letter from our dictator herself, click here.

We're a laid-back, fun little obsessive group. In my humble opinion, we're the best Stephen King group in the world, internet or otherwise. So, become a member, and then come back here to find out how we all got started!

 

How We Came About; or, A Rose Madder Blooms

SKEMERs -- which would not end any time in the near future, if it ever did end -- began, so far as I know or can tell with two women linked up through America On-Line.

Missy Gongre and Michelle Rein created a club (then known as Rose Madder after Missy's favorite book at the time) for Stephen King fans on AOL. The idea was actually quite innovative: contributors would send letters to Missy, who would read them, comment on them, and then compile them into one big letter. Then, she would send the newsletters out to every member. At first, the task was easy; there were only six or seven members (most of which, except Luanne, have left our merry club). But from modest beginnings, big things do come.

After a few letters, Michelle decided the club needed a new name. But what? Something catchy, something that really described the concept of the group. Well, they were Stephen King fans communicating through e-mail. Stephen King E-Mailers. An acronym was culled, and SKEMERs was born.

Ostensibly a book discussion group, SKEMERs also became something of a social gathering. They still discussed King (actually quite a lot more than other SK internet groups), but they were also interested in one another. The processes of friendship via e-mail were in the works, even at the very beginning.

The basic premise of the book discussions held, though. People discussed theories, pondered why King chose to write a certain way, argued good and bad points, and (quite hilariously) pointed out typos. They talked about King gossip, rumor, and speculation: upcoming projects and past successes. From the beginning, SKEMERs was a bright, opinionated group of well-read Stephen King fans.

And they would not stay small for long.

 

How We Got a Web Page; or, Michael McAlcin's Great Idea
Michael McAlcin, a King fan from (of all places) Moscow, Russia, was discovered by avid SKEMER Rich DeMars fairly early on. Rich found his page, alerted him to SKEMERs, and started the snowball a-rollin'. Michael was a bit of a net-head: he'd already created his own SK-devoted page on the internet. He proposed this idea to Michelle and Missy after several letters: what if he were to take all the SKEMERs newsletters and post them on his page, allowing new members to read all the old letters right off the web. Better yet, why not create a space on the page so people browsing could join SKEMERs, thus allowing World Wide Web users SKEMERs access, not just those on AOL.

Both Missy and Michelle (who had kind of fallen into the roles of President and Vice-President of SKEMERs) wholeheartedly approved of the idea. In Michelle's words, "This is gonna be fun!"

Soon, SKEMERs: The Web Page could be found on what the search engine Yahoo! listed as the Russian Stephen King Fan Page. The major influx of members began.

 

How We Branched Out; or, Friends, Buddies, and Spouses

The addition of the web page was only the harbinger of bigger things to come. SKEMERs weren't content to just discuss books, they wanted to do. The idea of a real-time chat was proposed and begun. At first, the chats were confusing. Times fluctuated and only AOL members could sign up. Eventually, a set time was agreed upon, and other, non-AOL chats came into existence. These gave people the chance to say what was on their mind then, and not have to wait awhile for a response. Given this opportunity, though, SKEMERs actually stayed away from the subject of King. The real-time chats were times for people to talk about themselves and their lives; in short, they were places for people to become closer friends.

The chats weren't the only way SKEMERs connected. Several became phone-friends, and many began filling out their collections by trading with one another. Usually, no money changed hands. A story for a story, a book for a book, or some comparable happy medium. The really great thing about SKEMERs was the sense of trust and camaraderie. No one had reservations about sending stuff through the mail -- they knew it would be reciprocated. It's a rare and fine privilege to discover a group of internet friends that truly behave like friends.

Some SKEMERs felt the need to leap over the boundary of mail-and-phone and actually meet, the most memorable of these meetings being that of Michelle and Missy, two friends who had never seen each other. Then there was the shocker of the century when two SKEMERs (Vic, she of EEEEEEE, and Laird the Lurker) became blissfully wedded SKEMERs. These scant few personal meetings foreshadowed the First SKEMERs Conference in Bangor during August of '97 (see Chapter 5).

The font of King knowledge grew. Readers became collectors. Rich DeMars (aka the Gauntster) provided a first editions list so SK collectors would know if they were getting a good deal or not. SKEMERs jumped in with firsthand knowledge, bringing all of us up-to-date on late-breaking King news. The collective Stephen King info grew vast indeed (sort of like the Borg). And still, new friends joined everyday. 

With friendship, however, comes the sharing of grief. Several of us had to face the loss of family and friends. Others dealt with personal and painful ordeals.

And then there was that head lice epidemic.

With the existence of SKEMERs, however, came support. No one had to face difficult times alone. Keeping with the spirit of friendship, this little reading group also functioned as a worldwide support group.

Early in 1996, Missy began having family and legal problems. We all tried to be there for her. Her being president complicated matters. Her home concerns took precedence over SKEMERs. After several valiant attempts to maintain leadership of the club, Missy decided to resign.

 

How We Got a Dictator; or, Beware Flying Licorice Whips!

Michelle, the vice-president, graciously stepped up and assumed responsibility for the newsletters. We all supported her and came to enjoy the little quirks that made her great: Her cyber licorice whips (she'd constantly *WHACK* someone playfully for almost no reason), her often hilarious comments on letters, and the later (and still ensuing) Sam Elliot insanity.

After a few letters, we decided that Michelle having total control earned her the title Dictator. She loved it,and didn't let the title go to her head (well, maybe once or twice :) ) Besides handling all the newsletter consolidating and sending herself, she also took the time to read and comment on each letter. She maintained the decency rules without being overbearing. And, on a single, memorable occasion, she acted against how she wanted to for the good of the group. (The history: a new member, knowing the rules, decided to ignore them and go on constant swearing fits. During one letter, he put down all of King's works in favor of a single book by someone else [opinions are fine, but in a Stephen King fan club, the logic of that is a little bent]. And he said of the then-upcoming novel The Regulators: "It doesn't seem scary at all, just a silly, laugh-out-loud joke." He said this based on the blurb at the back of The Green Mile. His constant insulting, pandering, and I'm-better-than-you attitude got him kicked out of SKEMERs. Michelle didn't want to do it, but she disliked him and several other members complained. That was the only incident of its kind, and SKEMERs has been up and running for two years.)

Michelle also reached out to make us known to the King community at large. She sat in on other groups' chats and mentioned SKEMERs. Later on, she teamed up with George Beahm (creator of the excellent King 'zine Phantasmagoria and author of The Stephen King Story and The Stephen King Companion), bringing the group's name to Beahm's readership. (In issue #6, SKEMERs had a full-page "advertisement", as well as a column written by Michelle on King's Princeton Conference -- and her first King meeting.)

All in a day's work for Michelle. She still considers the work she does fun. Kind of like, oh I don't know ... Stephen King.

 

How We Organized a Conference or, The Roadwork Crew Takes Us to Bangor

Late in 1996, the cohesive nature of SKEMERs suggested a further step: an actual all-group meeting. The idea had been bandied about before, but never with any real follow-through plans. Now, however, the group had reached an age when such things were possible. Enlisting the help of Jan Parr, et al (termed The Roadwork Crew), SKEMERs began to plan. Where would such a meeting take place? And when?

A burst of genius suggested there was only one place: Bangor, Maine, Stephen King's hometown. After some bantering, the date was also set: The weekend of August 9th -- the high point of Maine summer.

Several of us worked out activities. There would be an It tour (visiting all the spots that that novel made famous: The Paul Bunyon statue, the Standpipe, and, of course, The Barrens), a "Drawing of the Three ... and Then Some" contest run by Rich DeMars, as a chance for all conference-goers to win rare King merchandise for the low low low entry fee of $5 per person. Meg organized the printing of SKEMERs T-shirts (complete with the logo you see on the top of this page). And Betts Bookstore offered to give SKEMERs discounts on merchandise.

Perhaps the biggest thrill is having the opportunity to meet and attend a book signing with one of our more famous SKEMERs, George Beahm. One of the best King critics (and one of the more avid fans; along with Stephen Spignesi's Stephen King Encyclopedia, Beahm's many King books make up the canon of most knowledgeable and accessible books on Mr. King.)

After nearly two years, the group SKEMERs would finally be able to meet. And from what this historian can see, it's gonna be a blast! (Full Bangor coverage by me will show up sometime after the conference.) (See below.)
 

How We Added Another Chapter or, Kev Is Forced at Gunpoint to Update

(April 1999)

After the con in 1997, everyone got what Michelle termed "Post-Conference Depression." The phrase was apt: people who had been making friends over the internet for years had met, and now they would have to return home. For those who had family and friends who cared little about their King fascination, the leaving was sorrowful indeed.

Little did the conference-goers know, 1998 would be rife with King opportunities. In January of 1998, the YMCA in Bangor sponsored a benefit auction. Several auction items included signed King books and a dinner with Stephen King himself. An added attraction were rumors that King himself would be present. (These rumors didn't play out, however; King had made an unbreakable commitment elsewhere and could not show. And I wore my nice suspenders and everything.)

The second best part of the evening came when two of our own won the Big Prize: Dinner with the King. The SKEMERs that were there (Kev Quigley, DiAnne Vandevender, Sarah Toll, Michele Ballard, Michelle Rein, Valerie Barnes and Marty [Marty, I always forget your last name]) cheered heartily, shaking up the stiff auction crowd. We were, as always, a force to be reckoned with.

The best part of the evening was when a nun and a priest got into a bidding war over some sports item. One of the funniest moments of my life.

Later on, at l'hotel, the girls dressed Kev up as The Unabomber. Kev, showing all sorts of dignity, immediately put the picture up on his web page. Ah, SKEMERs: a classy group.

A few months later, in May, King and the rest of the Rock Bottom Remainders performed in concert at the Bangor Auditorium. Here's something you won't find in the concert coverage:

George Beahm, King expert and super-smart guy, got in contact with me at home before my trip up to the Bangor. When I got to town, we checked in with each other and began to do some photo-shoots for his new book Stephen King Country. That was an odd, transcendent experience for me. Before '97, I had known Beahm as a famous writer-guy who, through his books, helped me with some important essays in high school. In '97, I got a little closer to him at the conference. But now, in May, '98, running around muddy graveyards or eating a burger at McDonald's with him, we stopped being awed fan and famous guy. George Beahm became my friend. You get a lot of that with SKEMERs.

SKEMERcon '98 (the dictator, Michelle, didn't want me to name it, but I am, and I have a big ol' web site, so ha) just reaffirmed what we all discovered in '97: get a bunch of SKEMERs together and you have a lot of fun. (My coverage of the event can be found on my SKEMERs page.) Picture a bunch of grown men and women running around the Bangor Standpipe at midnight, Kev Quigley carrying some of the girls piggy-back (Wolf, Wolf, right here & now!) Remember when we:

had the pool beer-guzzle? went into Friendly's and no one would serve anyone else in the minivan except Rich cause he's suave with the ladies? saw the Apt Pupil preview? stepped in dog poop? saw a sight to behold? didn't eat at Holiday Inn? stuffed a dozen SKEMERs into a tiny hot tub? rode all over Bangor and Kev pointed out the "Shawshank Redemption Center?"

All the details can be found in the essay.

Later on, Bag of Bones was released, and we spent some time talking about that in the letter. Michelle had to bow out for awhile due to computer malfunctions and Brad and Kev took over for some time. We discovered certain subjects do not lend well to huge group discussions (including the infamous Pig Rental incident). And we lost some of our friends, dear SKEMERs Jan Parr and Pat Norling. We will miss you both; you will continue to live in our hearts.

How We Kept in Touch or, Some Things to Tide You Over

Late in 1998, King's signing tour for Bag of Bones was coming back full circle. King would be signing in Bangor, Maine, at Betts Bookstore in November, and the majority of the attendants would be SKEMERs. One of the greatest things about this group is that we get all the advance info about signings, book releases, etc. When you're a SKEMER, you're never gonna not know about an event. It's just a question about choosing which ones to be a part of.

(Instead of wasting space with info about the signing, you can read my personal veiwpoint on my essays page. It's a three-part essay that first appeared over three days in the newsletter. Hope you enjoy.)

At some point after SKEMERcon '98, several SKEMERs got the brilliant idea that one con a year is not enough. Sure, the signings were great but few and far between. Thus began the rein (ha!) of the Mini-Con. The first, cochaired by TexasLiz and Sarah Toll, took place over Halloween Weekend in California, and was a rousing success. There was a costume party (dead George Denbrough, Carrie White after the blood-drop, and a leafy Jordy Verrill topped out the evening) and lots of memorable experiences. I, however, don't remember any of them cause I wasn't there.

Later on came the Midwest (Mid-World?) mini-con, followed soon after by the Mini Phillycon. The minis became like stepping stones across a big lake: the smaller get togethers were there to tide you over until the big mega island of the Bangor Con. Talk surfaced of a 2004 Stanley Hotel con. A Vermont speech by King brought in a few SKEMERs in early '99 (hi Chris and Val!) Throughout all this was the newsletter, the one thing that hasn't changed. We now number in the thousands of members, but one thing hasn't changed. The letter brought us together in the first place. The letter will never disappear.

Long Live SKEMERs!

 

FIVE STORIES: Tales from the First Annual SKEMERs Convention in Bangor, Maine

1.

August Seventh

A breeze blows solemnly from the east. Trees rustle, making sounds like maracas playing a dirge. The hill we’re driving on curves downward, and a massive, grinning figure looms into our view. The plastic Paul Bunyan has welcomed us to Bangor, Maine.

SKEMERs (Stephen King E-MailERs), an internet group formed two years ago, began its first annual convention in Bangor on August seventh, 1997. People who have written each other via e-mail or chatted on the phone for the two years of the group’s existence were now, for the first time, meeting face-to-face. Like the Loser’s Club in It, every time a new member arrived, there was an almost audible click. We belonged together.

The first SKEMER I met was Rich DeMars. A tall, funny Minnesotan gentleman, Rich simply exudes charm. It’s impossible not to smile when you’re around him, a fact that proved itself over and over again during the convention. It was with Rich that I descended upon Bangor that first day, and visited the Bangor counterpart of Needful Things: Betts Bookstore.

Stepping into Betts is like stepping into a dream. The glass display case to the left contains wonders mere fans can only gawk at: The lettered edition of The Regulators (complete with real bullets jutting from the front cover), or a pristine Christine, the first King limited edition from Donald M. Grant. Behind the case sits an almost overflowing bookshelf replete with even more treasure: The Philtrum Press edition of The Eyes of the Dragon, the profusely illustrated Scream/Press edition of Skeleton Crew, and so much more.

The first person to assist us was Judy Sherman, a hilarious woman with a sharp sense of humor. She displayed and promoted many of the items for us (some of which we put on hold), then introduced us to Stu and Penney Tinker, owners and operators of Betts.

You will never meet a nicer pair of people.

For three hours, Stu and Penney talked to us, even letting us stay in the store after official closing time. We chatted about their hometown and its sights, about their amazingly impressive stock, and, of course, about Stephen King.

Rich and I left Betts that night overjoyed. It had already been a day of discovery and excitement, yet it still wasn’t over. We made a call to our resident Bangor SKEMER, Liese Wood, who arrived minutes later and brought us to our hotel, the Holiday Inn on Odlin Road.

We had just finished putting our travel bags away when the phone in our room rang. Picking it up, I found myself talking with Michelle Rein, the "dictator" of SKEMERs, and a close friend of mine whom I had never met. Rich and I hurried down to the lobby, where we were greeted with running hugs from Michelle. It was happening; the distance of the internet was being replaced with personal contact. That night, six of us (Rich, Michelle, her fiancee Jim, DiAnne Vandevender, Chris Storck, and I) went out to dinner and later found ourselves in the room I was sharing with Rich, talking until well past midnight, becoming real friends in the process.

The SKEMERs conference had officially begun.

2.

August Eighth

The morning began at nine o’clock (delayed a little because we all forgot to call DiAnne and wake her up). In the lobby, we met more of our group: John Thornburn and his mother Olivia, Rich and Tara, and May Hess. Our plan for the day was to visit Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park, driving in a gypsy caravan to the Maine coast. At one point, we stopped to ask directions at a convenience store. I walked up to an older man, sitting at the counter and reading a newspaper.

"Do you know the way to Acadia Park?" I asked, a little timidly.

"Ayuh," the man responded, and slowly lifted a gnarled finger to point at the road to the left of the store. Then he went back to reading his paper.

It was my first real taste of Maine.

The trip ended up going nowhere, mainly because people were too busy talking with each other to pay much attention to our maps. It didn’t really matter much, anyway, because we all wanted to get back to Betts.

On the way, we looked for names and places out of King’s books. It would have been quite silly if there weren’t so many. In our car alone, we saw the Hanscom Hotel, a tractor-trailer reading "Hallorann" on the side, and a place known simply as "The Ironworks."

By the time we returned to Betts, we were tired but happy. Stu informed us (to our utter surprise and joy) that his shipment of the much-anticipated Dark Tower IV: Wizard and Glass would be arriving that day. It was when the trailer containing the multitude of boxes arrived that our real camaraderie exercised itself. No one asked the SKEMERs to unload the boxes; we just did. The unloading and unpacking went much swifter than usual, and SKEMERs were the first in the country to buy copies of the book.

As we were about to leave Betts for dinner at the hotel, a man stepped into the store, wearing glasses and a Maurice Sendack shirt and sporting an amazing tan. I should have recognized him, but he had lost weight since I’d first seen his picture in Stephen Spignesi’s The Shape Under the Sheet. George Beahm, who had broadened my knowledge and appreciation of King with his Stephen King Companion in 1989, stood before me and shook my hand.

The night progressed: after the long dinner, many of us went to enjoy the Jacuzzi, which turned out to be as cold as Maine in January. We decided to use the (much warmer) swimming pool instead, later meeting out on the lawn of the outside pool. More SKEMERs arrived, many standing around to listen to George talk about his newer projects and to talk about previous King books. People from all over the USA and Canada were finally meeting other people who didn’t think they were weird for liking King. We all had stories about friends and co-workers who either didn’t read in general or didn’t read King specifically, and didn’t have any idea why we would want to perform a conference dedicated to him.

SKEMERs knew. Something special was going on here.

3.

August Ninth

The day of the actual conference opened early. Rich, Michelle, Bob Ireland, and I got to the conference hall early to set up. Rich’s amazing selection of items ranging from a Grant hardcover of The Dark Tower III: The Waste Lands to a photocopied set of The Plant to "men’s magazines" containing interviews and stories were set out for, in Rich’s term, "The Drawing of the Three…and Then Some," a raffle (the smaller amount of items I brought were dwarfed in comparison). Upon each chair sat a "gift bag" from my collection, each containing a Dark Tower IV preview booklet, a Green Mile screen saver, and another cheap item like an Insomnia bumper sticker or a Nightmares & Dreamscapes bookmark. Michelle supplied plastic spiders. In a surprise move, George supplied five sets of The Dark Tower III artwork portfolios for a separate drawing.

Michelle stepped up to the podium to speak, when Rich and I began our preplanned surprise.

"Wait, Michelle," Rich interrupted in his big voice, "Kev has something he wants to say."

I came up to Michelle, bringing my backpack out from a lower shelf of the podium.

"Michelle, we at SKEMERs really appreciate what you’ve done for us, and we really wanted to show you how much you mean to us." I opened my backpack and brought out a traycased copy of Six Stories (the book sold to us – at cost – by Liese Wood and the traycase by Betts Bookstore). Before Michelle could say a thing, I said, "Let’s see what number it is." I pulled out the book, and below it sat a thank-you card. I opened it for Michelle, and out drifted the gift certificate. Money donated by SKEMERs and Betts Bookstore since Jim Talmadge came up with the idea in April was finally making it into Michelle’s hands.

She collapsed in joy. Tears streamed down her face. This was quite possibly the happiest moment in her life. However, being the first scheduled speaker, she composed herself quickly and spoke.

Rich and I followed, then Stu and George, respectively, gave expert-eye speeches. Stu proudly displayed his copy of the lettered edition of The Regulators, complete with the Richard Bachman "canceled check" made out to Betts Bookstore. After the speeches came the drawings, transforming many fans into collectors. Then, George graciously agreed to a signing, spending time with each person’s book or issue of Phantasmagoria to leave a personal note – something he didn’t have to do, but wanted to. He was becoming less "GEORGE BEAHM, published author and Stephen King expert," and more "George," a guy who shared our interests and wanted to be part of us.

After the conference room closed, the "It Tour" commenced. SKEMERs traveled around Bangor, visiting sights which that book made famous: the Standpipe, the birdbath, and a small part of The Barrens (where some of the more dedicated fans picked up remnants of balloons and pom poms). Then came the part of the tour many SKEMERs had been anticipating for years, a visit to the house formally known as the William Arnold house.

We went to 47 West Broadway: Stephen King’s mansion.

The SKEMERs spent about two hours there, taking pictures in front of the iron gate. We walked around to the side, noticing the window where we believe he got the inspiration for "Secret Window, Secret Garden." A few of us just spent some time staring up at the place King writes his ideas down. There’s a dividing line in perhaps all readers of King that separates the appreciator and the fan. King’s house, more than any other sight we saw in Bangor, edged us closer to plain fandom than any other.

We were still caught up in the moment when a gas station attendant informed us that King was watching a ball game at the park he financed a few years ago. We hopped into the car and hurried to the field, but no one was there. It was really the only moment the locals tried to pull a fast one on the tourists, and we took it with good humor (but still more than a little disappointment).

Once again, we traveled to Betts. The place was beginning to feel like home. Stu and Penney’s raffle went without a hitch, none of us leaving disappointed with our prizes. This was also the day for large purchases, the shelves emptying faster than they could be restocked. After weighing our cars down with merchandise, we made the trip to Miller’s Restaurant.

Everyone enjoyed the buffet meal, which was punctuated by several surprises. George asked Michelle to leave the room and presented a limited edition copy of Demon-Driven, a book about King by George himself, and asked us all to sign it for her. As we all set signatures and messages down, I felt that sense of friendship and community again. We were all here for the purpose of discussing and enjoying Stephen King, but were, mostly by accident, becoming a family.

We rounded out the night in room 218 of the hotel. TBS was airing the Stanley Kubrick version of The Shining, and we all gathered around to watch. Mainly, what we did was heckle. We held our own Stephen King-flavored version of Mystery Science Theater 3000, deconstructing Shelley Duvall’s performance in the cruelest ways imaginable. (Several quips called out included "You gotta wonder about a movie where the finger acts better than Shelley Duvall," "Don’t choke up on the bat so much!" and, my favorite, accompanying the scene where Wendy finds Jack’s ‘All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy’ manuscript: "Maybe the next page will be different!") George wrote a note reading "Think SDRAWKCAB and say the password!" When someone would knock, we’d all scream out "PASSWORD!" The response, calling from the other side of the door: "REDRUM!" It was the time of our lives.

Michelle came up to me once during the party and said, "I can only describe this as magic." It wasn’t just the party or the tour; it was us. We were becoming magic. And I think we all knew it.

4.

August Tenth

It was another early morning. This was the day when most of our clan was leaving, and we had much to do before then. After a brief jaunt for breakfast, we concluded the "It Tour."

Down the street from the hotel, we traveled to the first image of Bangor Rich and I had seen: the monolithic Paul Bunyan statue, his axe slung over his shoulder and a crazy gleam in his plastic eyes. After handing our cameras to Olivia once again, we all climbed onto the base Paul stood on and posed for pictures at his huge feet. We decided that the "Richie" of our group should be the mirror of Richie in the Loser’s Club, sitting on the bench near Paul and holding his hands up in horror.

Soon after, we decided to hit the Kenduskeag River. The day before, we had visited a dry part of the Barrens; this would be what we all remembered from the book. When we got there, we all agreed that this was the picture the novel had left in our mind. Rich, Becky and I took off our shoes and went wading. As we prepared to leave, a reporter and cameraman from a local Bangor station arrived. Purely by coincidence, they were driving around Bangor looking for groups to get together and yell "Hi, Steve!" "Steve" apparently is the name of the station’s weatherman.

 

But as we stood on that large rock in the Kenduskeag, we all knew which Steve we were talking to.

Our last stop that day was Mt. Hope Cemetery, where a portion of the motion picture Pet Sematary was filmed. It was there, in the cemetery, where many of us had to say goodbye. Michelle’s departure was the most emotional. She hugged everyone, crying the whole time, not wanting to leave. No one wanted to leave. We had stepped into a world where we were all accepted for who we were and what we read, and the circle was breaking apart.

We were all returning to that thing folks call "reality."

5.

August Eleventh

On my last day in Bangor, Rich and I decided to spend a little more time at Betts Bookstore. I wasn’t there just to look at the books one last time or say goodbye to Stu, Penney, and Judy; Stu needed help loading and shipping the boxes of The Dark Tower IV to his customers. That morning we took all the boxes from the back hall and filled up a U-Haul. After that was done, Stu pulled me aside and said, "I need you and Rich to come with me. You need to make a solemn oath. I have to deliver boxes to Steve’s office, and there will be no taking things off the walls or drooling on the carpets. You also can’t tell anyone where it is."

Rich and I, our brains exploding with excitement, agreed wholeheartedly.

We stepped into the front door, our arms loaded with heavy boxes, and met Marsha DeFillippo, Stephen King’s secretary and fellow SKEMER. She shook our hands and thanked us for bringing the boxes.

Then, to our utter surprise and amazement, she asked, "So, do you have time for the ten-cent tour?"

We were astounded. Once again, we were in the presence of someone who didn’t have to do anything special for us, but she was. Maybe it’s me, but in Massachusetts, this type of thing doesn’t happen often.

She led us through the offices. King’s office was simply amazing, replete with foreign and limited editions of his and other author’s books. Upon the coffee table, sitting placidly among the issues of Time and Sports Illustrated was a lettered, bulleted copy of The Regulators. We saw the artwork for the upcoming re-release of all the Dark Tower books. But, more than the objects in the room was the sense that we were in a room where genius works.

The hall was lined with paperback books set in glass cases and posters for Insomnia and The Shawshank Redemption. The storeroom – simply amazing. Stacks of King books sat piled high, foreign editions cozying up to U.S. trade editions, expensive limiteds standing next to knock-off paperbacks. It was almost too much.

When the time came to leave, Rich and I shook hands with Marsha and thanked her effusively. She, and Stu, had given us an experience that had transcended everything we had hoped for during this trip. Their kindness helped make these five days in Bangor, Maine, more special than we ever thought they could be.

Driving home, feeling Bangor bleeding away, I had time to reflect upon these and other thoughts. The convention had been too short, there had been too few experiences. And yet, thinking back upon it, those days were packed with more excitement than any I had lived through in a long time.

As I watched Rich enter the plane terminal and leave my sight, I began to feel a little sad. My last connection to "the Maine event" was leaving. Nostalgia for the past few days began to creep in, and I let it. There comes a time when the good times end and the good memories begin. I forged a lot of friendships in Bangor, put faces and personalities to the words I had read on my computer screen. And now, by God, I miss each and every one of them.

I can’t wait until next year.