Ghoti Out of Water By Andrea White. Few people that know that “ghoti” is a phonetic way to spell “fish.” The “gh” in tough, “o” in women and “ti” in motion...

Few people that know that “ghoti” is a phonetic way to spell “fish.” The “gh” in tough, “o” in women and “ti” in motion. In the balmy month of June, Mike and I attended the Underground Publishing Conference as an alleged “birthday weekend getaway” and here I felt like the proverbial ghoti out of water.

We got to the Bowling Green, Ohio the night before the conference began. We had reserved a hotel room, despite the availability of dorm rooms, a lovely church floor, and ample campsites. After stowing our bags, we went over to the local campus looking for the conference building to drop off all the stuff Mike had brought. Here we met up with another person looking to do the same thing. Dressed in his jean shorts and Hawaiian-type shirt, this fellow led me to believe, wrongly, that I was going to be okay with this weekend event.

Saturday morning we were up bright and too early. When we got to the conference building, we started hauling in the numerous boxes of stuff that we had brought to sell or give away. Once our table was loaded, we were all set to begin the two-day event, or so I thought.

It wasn’t long before I committed my first punk rock faux pas by asking the dread-locked, safety-pinned, pierced, young man what the “A in a circle” tattoo on his arm meant. After that, things only got worse. It didn’t take long before I realized that I didn’t conform to the informal dress code. My clothes were quite conservative; no tights, tank shirts, slip worn as a dress, overalls, or Betty Page look on me. And though my hair was dyed red (“light auburn” according to the box), it did not compare to the bright pinks, blues, purples, and stop-light red that adorned other tresses in those rooms. The hairstyles were incomparable; multiple pig tails, dread-locks, numerous barrettes and shaved heads were de rigueur. If the hair on my head wasn’t enough, shaving also separated me from the other women in the crowd. Most leaned toward the hirsute lifestyle, a fact made easily discernable via tank style shirts, overalls, and skirts.

The first day of the conference I stuck close to the table. I sold what I could, traded zines and tried to answer questions about all the swag and wares we’d brought. Easier said than done, I’m afraid, as I had no idea what half of the things we had brought were for or about.

I got brave a couple of times and circled the room looking at the zines, drawings, books, pamphlets, and other tchotchkes on the other tables. Later in the day, I enjoyed sampling the “donations accepted” vegan offerings provided by a group of women friends of the conference presenters. I especially enjoyed the cookies. I even bought a couple of vegan cookbooks, although Mike and I include eggs, dairy and seafood in our diet. I had a tense moment late in the day when I realized I was eating Baskin & Robbins ice cream among this group of strict vegans. I thought it best to turn around and hide what I was doing. Who knows how many “laws” I was breaking by enjoying real dairy!

I also hid what I was reading from other eyes. The book was a spy story and didn’t support the prevailing anarchy theme of the room (Yes, I found out what the “A in a circle” tattoo meant). Thinking about it, I suppose I should’ve been reading some of the zines we had traded for. I perused a couple at some point but they just didn’t hold my interest like the book I brought.

That night we went to a showing of Godass and Acne. After the show I stuck my foot in my mouth when I said we were going back to our hotel room to use the jacuzzi instead of going to a bar and listening to a band (whose members were also part of the conference). Comfort over punk rock? Say it isn’t so! On Sunday I changed my tactics, electing to go to a presentation enticingly titled “Fuck Western Medicine.” I mistakenly thought that the presenters would offer alternatives to traditional medical practices like using holistic medicine instead of pharmaceuticals. Instead, I learned how to do a menstrual extraction with homemade holistic RU468. The gals also recommended the use of sea sponges in lieu of tampons or pads. Per the presenters, “you just have to get used to rinsing [the sponge] in public restrooms.” <shudder> Let’s not forget the advice that women should not wash their perineum area with soap and water. I couldn’t support that theory and respect myself afterwards.

My head was reeling and my neck was tense from watching my back. I kept wondering when someone would point at me and shout: “She doesn’t belong here!” I was biding my time hoping to last the remaining hours before we could make our escape. I had figured out that this gathering was not a part of my regular milieu.

I am a self-realized government worker who prefers a hotel room with a king-sized bed and jacuzzi to a spartan dorm room, dusty church floor, or muddy campsite. I prefer dairy, eggs, and fish to true vegan offerings. In general, I just did not fit well with an anarchy-supporting conference. We left Bowling Green with less to pack up than when we started and I suppose that means the event was an overall success. I can’t begin to relate how relieved I was to put the last box of “stuff” into the car and head back to my “normal” life.

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