IN ALL THIS RECENT WTO mess, it seems we've forgotten the kind of gatherings that can bring meaning to our lives. I'm not talking about family suppers or evenings around the hearth, although those things certainly have their place. I'm talking about an unabashed celebration of the collective unconscious, the sort of cerebral assembly that gives succor to our souls. I remember a Trekkie convention not so long ago that gave me a completely new outlook on life, and I don't even have the space to get into what I learned at the Babylon Five Fantasy Getaway. What can I tell you: Art reflects and inspires.

Not too long ago, I received an invitation from Nathan R. Bageley, president of the local Seattle chapter of Elmo, the international fan club of the classic Joel Schumacher Brat-Pack, post-college angst film, St. Elmo's Fire. Nathan is usually working hard at a Qwik Kopy in Kirkland, but he's spent the last year organizing an Elmo weekend for hardcore aficionados like myself. The two days to which Nathan treated us at the Sea-Tac Holiday Inn passed like a dream. Luckily, it was a dream I recorded in my diary.

I can't tell you everything: Some of it is private, and some of it is rightfully the sole property of the participants. But it simply feels stingy not to share what I can. We participants may have left the weekend with cherished video copies of St. Elmo's Fire in widescreen format (which is great, because now you can finally see all of Mare Winningham), but -- laugh if you will -- we took away so much more that was intangible yet incalculably more valuable.

Saturday, 9:00 a.m.Well, I can't possibly say enough about Saturday's events. Breakfast started with a lovely fruit salad, then greetings from Anna Maria Horsford, who played the prostitute confidante of Andrew McCarthy's heartsick Kevin, the bongo-playing, chain-smoking cynic who seems gay but is really just strangely attracted to Ally Sheedy. Anna Maria went on to acclaim in Amen, that hilarious Sherman Helmsley sitcom, and just recently I saw her as a lawyer in a riveting episode of Judging Amy, starring Tyne Daly (who, by the way, is looking much trimmer since I shook her hand at that Taste of Cagney and Lacey event held last summer at the Spaghetti Factory). In most Elmo circles it's generally accepted that Anna Maria's turn as Naomi, the tart-tongued whore, is one of the film's comic highlights. I mean, leave it to Joel Schumacher to think up something as clever as a sassy black hooker; the only funnier bits in the film come from the hysterical appearances by Matthew Laurance as Demi Moore's horny gay neighbor, who's always showing up with a lecherous smirk, a prissy whine, or a big fruity drink in his hand. Joel Schumacher is a real people person, but you probably know that if you've seen Flatliners.

Nathan then had the honor of introducing the actresses who played Welfare Woman and Banker Woman, two bright performers who offered the inside scoop on how to make the most of two lines in a major motion picture. They certainly had tales to tell: I had no idea Mare Winningham was such a prankster, or that Rob Lowe had such trouble digesting dairy products.

11:00 a.m.Whew! I barely escaped with my credit card after the St. Elmo's Fire Sale in the ballroom. Two hours with tons of tempting props and costume pieces up for grabs, and not a few rabid fans getting a little pushy. A particularly smarmy SPU student insisted he'd inquired about Rob Lowe's cross earring long before some Gene Juarez stylist noticed it, causing much commotion and resulting in some pushing that almost knocked over the coffin in which Andrew McCarthy and Ally Sheedy fornicated in the film. The stylist finally settled for the string of pearls that had adorned an otherwise naked Ally in her sex scene. I had long since excused myself from the fracas and purchased Mare Winningham's girdle, which a tailor friend of mine smartly stuffed, stitched, and turned into a rather formidable throw pillow that's been turning heads ever since.

1:00 p.m.It was a laugh riot this afternoon at the Tickle Me St. Elmo's Luncheon, a catered screening of sidesplitting bloopers and outtakes from the movie. It was hard not to drop your shrimp puffs at the sight of Rob Lowe getting tongue-tied saying, "This face seats five," or Demi Moore suffering a spasmodic nosebleed during her tender climactic speech -- the one where she says she never thought she'd be so tired at 22. God, they must've had fun.

2:30 p.m.A minor disruption occurred during the St. Elmo's Fireside Chat with John Parr. He was moderating a playful debate concerning whether his fab Top 40 theme song from the film should have been called "Man in Motion (St. Elmo's Fire)" or its original title, "St. Elmo's Fire (Man in Motion)." Mr. Parr, in town to promote his new line of golf wear, Parr for the Course, had us all swooning with a husky, a cappella refrain of "Wanna be your man in motion/All I need is a pair of wheels." Suddenly, some guy in the back started screaming something about how the song "sucked" and couldn't compare to "other, more awesome" film themes. As he was escorted out by hotel security, you couldn't help but notice the culprit's Simple Minds T-shirt. Everybody let out a communal sigh. It's no secret that Breakfast Club fanatics need constant validation, and are known for sneaking into Elmo events and making wild claims about which of the two films really shows off Judd Nelson to the best of his abilities. Am I crazy, or do these insane John Hughes obsessives need to take a closer look at what his films are really about? Why can't we all just accept each other for who we are?

Sunday, 9:00 a.m.Today's closing events started with a total surprise and a complete coup for our local chapter. After a rousing, full-crowd cheer of "boogeda-boogeda-boogeda-ah-ah-ah!" (the Elmo characters' group chant, in case you've forgotten) Nathan, to whom I am now finding myself irresistibly drawn, stepped up to the mic and introduced three of the stars who have so encompassed our passion: Ally Sheedy, Emilio Estevez, and Andrew McCarthy. I couldn't believe it -- there they were, taking time out from their busy schedules to return the affection we've given them for over a decade! Nathan tried to arrange an appearance by all the other stars, but it simply wasn't possible. Mare is shooting a movie for Lifetime; Rob's busy with his West Wing TV series; Demi is guest-editing the latest issue of Marie Claire; and Judd Nelson is apparently experiencing a painful recovery from an operation removing whatever it was that's been sitting on his left nostril all these years. Andie MacDowell, who was so smartly cast as a glamorous young physician and the object of Emilio's obsession, sent a warm video welcome from the set of her latest movie, which she says will feature her best work yet. We all winked at each other and had a good chuckle. We've all become such family. Mingling with the stars over a continental breakfast was just icing on the cake.

9:30 a.m.Ally Sheedy was the first to take the podium after donuts. Boy, can she talk. Riding on a post-High Art high, Ally launched into a fascinating discourse on the sins of commercial filmmaking, saying she "dropped out" of Hollywood because she was "over it" and needed to regain some spiritual ground, some piece of herself that was hers and hers alone. Emilio Estevez heartily agreed. And so did Andrew McCarthy.

"What about Maid to Order, Ally? What about Short Circuit?" somebody hollered. All of us Elmos have a tacit agreement never to speak of such things, but there's always one person at these events who just wants to bring everybody down. Reminds me of that aggressive woman in flannel at The Facts of Life Oktoberfest last year who just wouldn't take Nancy McKeon at her word. Ally looked slightly miffed, but held herself with admirable poise and brushed off the question with a simple remark about the lack of good scripts, then carried on with a lengthy plea to let her return to her roots in The Theater.

11:00 a.m.When Ally ran out of breath, Emilio took over and shared several emotional truths, including a statement about the burden of coming from "a talented acting family." Remembering Charlie Sheen, several of the younger fans got confused by the comment, but when Emilio reminded them that his father was once in a Terrence Malick film, it seemed to clear things up. Emilio said he is currently at work on an action picture, and while he didn't want to give away the plot, he did say that at some point in it he would be running down a corridor, narrowly escaping a giant fireball. Nathan piped up, "Will that be a St. Elmo's Fire-ball?" Oh, we all just laughed and laughed. Even Emilio seemed to have a little twinkle in his eye.

11:45 a.m.Andrew McCarthy discussed in depth everything he's been doing since the mid-'80s.

12:00 noonLunch.

1:00 p.m.After the break, the stars returned and led us in a scholarly dissection entitled, "Love Sucks: Representational Sexual Politics and Gender Roles in the Films of Joel Schumacher." Our heads were spinning, recalling those codpieces in Batman and Robin. I personally remember Alfred the Butler, at an Evening in Gotham City mixer I attended, claiming that there was nothing funny going on between the caped crusaders, so I've always been a little wary of looking too deeply at things. Fortunately, Ally provided ample evidence of the sly genius of Joel Schumacher in his understanding of sexual relationships. She cited the St. Elmo's scene in which Rob Lowe, playing the carousing, charmingly messed-up saxophone player Billy, sees his estranged wife making out with another man and explodes in a jealous, incisive rant. "You ever have boys, you just do 'em a favor and get 'em neutered right away," he screams. " 'Cause they knock up some little slut, they're the ones who're fucked. Fucked for life. I hate you, you little bitch!" He then grabs his wife and makes out with her. I felt so pigheaded and ignorant that I had forgotten that scene.

3:00 p.m.We ended the weekend the only way it could end: with a screening of the film. Can you imagine the emotions in that room? If you had told me that one day I would be hearing that infectious Emilio Estevez cackle simultaneously on and off screen, I never would have believed you. And don't even get me started on witnessing the cinematic coupling of Ally Sheedy and Andrew McCarthy while they looked on with nostalgic smiles. Some moments have to belong just to me.

After so much hilarity and so much heartache, both at the convention and on the silver screen, it took Rob Lowe's words to Demi Moore to bring us back to earth -- the words he used to keep her from freezing to death in her empty pink apartment with the Billy Idol mural. I don't know -- somehow those words seem fitting here:

This isn't real. You know what it is? It's St. Elmo's Fire. Electric flashes of light that appear in dark skies out of nowhere. Sailors would guide entire journeys by it. But the joke was on them. There was no fire. There wasn't even a St. Elmo. They made it up. They made it up because they thought they needed it to keep 'em going when times got tough. Just like you're making up all of this. We're all going through this. It's our time on the edge.

Maybe I'm sentimental, but I can't help thinking there's a whole lot of truth there.

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