By The Sauce Boss
Photographs © Bruce Matsunaga and Robert Gary

They say doing time’ll change a man… But we’re not talking about some cushy prison or psychiatric getaway, with flickering fluorescent ambience and softly-padded walls. No, this formerly soft, shivering 98-pound weakling has earned his stripes at the very pinnacle of “Con” fashion – amid the heaviest of heavy-hitters.

© Bruce Matsunaga

Surrounded by the most supreme of galactic superheroes and the most vile of interstellar villains (not to mention a couple indescribably random characters who are still causing cold sweats), I found myself institutionalized – albeit it for far too short a period of time – at the very core of comical camaraderie. Yes, I did time at the fabled Phoenix Comicon.

I’m almost positive these are the good guys… Hey, I just know that *I* felt safer with them around.

© Bruce Matsunaga

Tens of thousands of proud nerds, geeks, dweebs, dorks, doofuses, and at least one Wil Wheaton – and those are just the ones I met – orbiting chaotically around a tightly-wound nucleus of celebrities, illustrators and authors. Ahhh, the vibrant sights…the cacophony of sounds…the occasional unnerving odors… ‘Twas an epiphanic event, the likes of which I had never before experienced; so violently uprooting prior established paradigms that I knew instantly the stoic shell of a man I arrived in would be cast aside in favor of a shiny new exterior, with geek flag proudly flown.

But let’s be clear… While this event made for better people-watching than anywhere outside of Manhattan’s Lower East Side, it was not the throngs, nor the crowds, or even the masses, that made me feel more at-home than I have felt in ages… It was not the endless row of celebrities hawking their Hancocks and photo ops that sparked long-lost stirrings of potential and opportunity within me… And it was certainly not the self-imagined caped crusaders or masked vigilantes who inspired me to seize on this moment, clutch it tightly to my Captain America-worthy pectorals (just trust me, it’s better this way), and use its energy to change my own life for the better…

Note the lack of supernaturally patriotic pectoral definition? This man is an impostor!! © Bruce Matsunaga

No, that honor falls on a special team of super-people rallied around a power far more dynamic than the yellow sun of Earth (don’t get it? Ask your nearest Superman).

You see, save for this super team, the individuals, groups and endless legion that I’ve addressed above all have one thing in common – while no doubt wonderful people, each of them purchased their Full Event pass to this extravaganza with the clear and unequivocal intention of feeding their own imaginations and immersing themselves in worlds they had previously only read and dreamed about.

However, in the midst of this frenzy of fantasy and the comic-based consumerist carnage (I sincerely apologize… I tend to get alliterative when excited), my new BFFs at the Kids Need to Read booth were tirelessly laser-focused on the betterment of others…and this is what makes them, and the organization, my personal superheroes.

© Robert Gary

Led by a fearless mystical mastermind (generally known as Denise Gary, though I just call her “SIR”) whose diminutive physical stature belies a truly gargantuan heart, and a powerful field general (the inimitable Debbie Brown) who commands the tides – despite living in Arizona – and the allegiance of countless KNTR warriors, this truly amazing crew of staff and volunteers managed to make a chronic outcast like me feel like family while simultaneously sparking the imaginations of the next generation of conventioneers (may the power of Grayskull be with them).

She may be small, but her Kung Fu is wicked strong. © Bruce Matsunaga

As far as I can tell, and I admit I am still the new guy in the fray, none of these selfless individuals have been exposed to gamma radiation, none of them possess billionaire alter egos, and not a single one of them has ever broken the bonds of gravity in my presence. They are, for lack of a better expression, mere mortals… And yet, somehow, I witnessed a wealth of talents and passions come together to form a force that transcended the sum of its parts and I knew, then and there, that I wanted to be a part of this.

Children’s author Steven Riley: kind heart, rugged good looks, great with kids, has an absolutely beautiful family… You kind of have to feel bad for the guy… © Robert Gary

What’s more, seeing these “real” people accomplish so much through the sheer force of will, driven by a simple passion for helping those who are often overlooked, I realized that I CAN be a part of this. Like so many, I have spent more time than I care to admit passively reassuring myself that – someday – I am going to step up and devote more time to supporting causes I believe in.

Well, therein lies the elegant beauty of the entire experience. You see, Denise, Debbie and the gang have absolutely no tolerance for “someday”. They understand that every day we sit and ponder “what if” is another day of precious education lost forever… And, if my extended Kids Need to Read family is not going to sit back and let that happen, then how on earth can I?

Yep…they say doing time’ll change a man… And I like to think my stint in the Valley of the Sun has left me reformed and rehabilitated… But, deep down, I know – I’ll be back again…and I’ll love every minute of it!!


So, wait a minute. Who is the Sauce Boss? And why should you care? Fair questions, both of them, and ones I ask myself to this day. For those of you not yet familiar with my blog,, to some I am “that masked guy with an epic flair for deliciously unconventional cuisine, fueled by raw imagination”… To others, I may be “that lovably verbose storyteller with a rampant lust for articulation and a quirky knack for twisting the lexicon to his whim”…

Regardless of how the outside world perceives me, I have always defined myself – in part – through my creativity and my writing; skills I could not have developed throughout life were it not for my early passion for reading.  Perhaps this is why I was so drawn to the uniqueness of Kids Need to Read, and why I traveled across the American southwest to meet these awesome people, face to face. While I grew up with the benefit of a traditional middle-American support system and people who were genuinely committed to my education, countless others are passed by and left to wander through life without the very tools most vital to success. This is never “OK,” and even less so as we slide deeper down the literacy ranks around the globe. With so many good-hearted organizations repeatedly re-inventing the wheel with passive donation programs, to no avail, I instantly fell in love with Kids Need to Read’s proactive, hands-on programs and the enthusiasm with which Denise advocates them.

I may just be the cook…but after spending some time with this amazing crew, and making so many wonderful new friends, I’ll be sticking around for a long time to come.

© Robert Gary

Related Blog: Kids Laugh and Learn at KNTR Build-a-Book Program with Steven Riley

Related Blog: 2012: A Geek Odyssey (aka KNTR Geek Prom)

Related Blog: Memories of Phoenix Comicon 2012

Related Video: Phoenix Comicon 2012: Behind The Scenes – Geek Prom by NewMutinyMedia


3 Responses to “Doing Time, “Con”-Style”

  1. Honey Apostos on June 9th, 2012 9:22 pm

    I laughed out loud more than once.

  2. Honey Apostos on June 9th, 2012 9:22 pm

    That’s a good thing.

  3. Denise Gary on June 9th, 2012 9:56 pm

    Yes, Sauce Boss had us laughing all weekend long! He is extremely witty and great with words!

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