"You see that projector?" the con staffer told me, pointing at a monstrous plastic block with a winking red eye that reminded me of the technology from 2001: A Space Odyssey. "Just sit here and make sure no one walks off with it."
"For how long?" I asked, whipping out my beat-up schedule. "I'm supposed to have a lunch break soon."
He was already heading back towards the door, walking briskly in scuffed white sneakers. "It will only be about 20 minutes. Someone from Vid Ops will be here by then to start setting up for the next showing."
"What if someone else comes in here, someone who doesn't belong?" I asked, a little nervous.
"Tell them to leave," he called from the doorway, and then all I saw was his graying ponytail bobbing against his black T-shirt as he dashed away.
Hopefully, my red badge of authority, declaring me a Gofer, would be enough to turn away anybody who wasn't intimidated by my less-than-imposing physical presence: an average height woman in her 20s. Alone.
I was pretty sure the head of Gofer Ops had told us in orientation that we weren't supposed to be used as human traffic cones, but I wasn't sure where the rules stood when it came to babysitting equipment. Presumably, that was OK. I sighed and leaned back, wishing I'd brought something to read. Somebody really ought to invent a digital book reader you could carry with you. They'd make a mint.
Why were these convention center rooms so generic? Nothing caught my eye in the flat cream blandness. I found my gaze drifting to a lone chair, sitting on the stage as if it had been left behind by mistake.
Just as I was about to start counting ceiling tiles, a clear voice rang out from the direction of the stage: "It's not polite to stare."
I sat bolt upright, then whipped my head around to sweep all the corners of the room. No one was in sight.
The voice spoke up again. "I know I'm a celebrity, but it's OK to talk to me."
Had one of the convention's big guests wandered into the auditorium, unbeknownst to me? My hands began to tremble. I couldn't trust myself to talk to someone like that without fan-girling all over myself.
Tentatively, I approached the stage to get a better look. "I'm sorry. I'm not used to talking to celebrities. How did you wind up in here? Do you need someone to come escort you somewhere?"
As I neared it, the voice began to sound both louder and more metallic. "No need. I'm fine in here for a while. A little peace and quiet is welcome; the shouting and cheering gets a little old."
I still could spy no one on the dimly lit, sparse stage. Peering behind the stack of speakers revealed no one. The sound board at stage right was also vacant, and no one crouched beneath it or leaned against the back wall in the shadow. Besides, the voice sounded like it came from the center of the stage.
"Doing a little reconnaissance?" the voice asked. "That's a good idea. Make sure there are no stalkers about. When you're this popular, there's always the danger of slavishly devoted fans overstepping their boundaries."
The only possible source of the sound, I now determined, was the chair. Had someone left a radio underneath it? Was I being pranked?
As I neared the chair, the voice said, "I'm happy to talk, of course, but please don't sit on me. It's not that I mind being sat on; it just makes conversation... awkward."
"You're... the chair?" I asked.
"Yes, THE chair," it emphasized. "The famous chair whose name is on everyone's lips."
I finally understood what was happening. Somebody had dosed the Pocky I'd noshed on in Gofer Ops. There could be no other explanation. Could there?
Aloud, I said, "You mean that you're the chair that everyone is always chanting for?" It was a phenomenon that had sprung up several years before, and despite a few apocryphal stories, no one could agree where the habit had begun. But whenever more than 100 geeks were gathered in a room, watching a program like a costume contest or a movie, and there was a substantial lull in the action, the audience began to shout, "Chair! Chair! Chair!"
"That is me, the famous chair. Although I never sought fame, it's truly flattering to be so beloved. And all I had to do was to take the stage and be myself." If a chair could look smug, this one did.
I didn't have the heart to tell the chair that the same story had sprung up at a couple conventions almost simultaneously. Everyone always said the chants had begun during a long pause between skits, when a lone chair had been left onstage. The bored, wound-up audience had begun cheering for the chair. As one of my friends put it, there's no telling which convention truly originated the in-joke. Perhaps it was, as Douglas Adams said, like gin and tonic: something that was destined to spring up in every civilization eventually.
"I'm really proud to meet you," I said, humoring it. "I never thought I'd be talking to a... to THE chair."
"Well, I don't talk to very many people, but you looked so bored. I thought that, since they sent you here to keep me company before the next performance, I ought to be polite."
Oh, yes, the next performance. An "Escaflowne" marathon on an old projector, a recipe for technical difficulties. No doubt the chair would get another chance to shine.
This story is based on a real in-joke prevalent at Otakon and other East Coast fan conventions in the beginning of the millennium. For more on the phenomenon, read Otakon's FAQ about "The Chair" and a similar article at Fanime.com.