Friday, November 19, 2010

Working the Room

Working the room is an expression you and others use to include appearing at some gathering or event where a number of strangers and friends are present, touching base, allowing yourself to be introduced, having fun with one particular lady by telling her you were a security guard and asking her for identification.  It is the sort of thing where, depending on the primary event, you not only manage to enjoy yourself, you might possibly stir up a tad of business.

In this case, you were introduced by the eldest son of your close friend to a woman who's been speaking of her trip to New York and the need for copious research, whereupon the son of your friend introduced you as a writer whose stories he enjoyed, an editor, whose projects he respected, and a critic, whose views he finds intriguing.  The woman reddened, hastily advising you that she was not yet ready for you, but would definitely call.  She pressed you for a card.  When you learned the nature of her research and the focus of her project, you were aware of the potential ringing of a cash register.  Reaching for an olive that rested comfortably in a bowl of mates, you were sideswiped by a bearded, mustached man with the same intent.  "I don't see how you can write for that paper," the man said, "but I'm awfully glad you do.  I'm your biggest fan."  "Flatterer,"  you respond.  You are not friends so much as associates; you have had long, splendid conversations with him on any number of subjects.  When his students came to you, they were well prepared, had impressive reading experience.  When some of his students had worked with you, he found them, as he put it, quirky and Lowenkopfian.  On the basis of his compliments, you allowed him first shot at the olives.  It is not every day you get Tom Boyle for a fan.

Still working the room, Sandy Vanocer stops you.  It invariably betrays your age to have the image of him working the presidential conventions for NBC back in the days of David Brinkley.  "If you don't send that fucking review of the Pat Conroy to Nan Talese, I'll do it for you."  You agree that he, by virtue of knowing Conroy and Ms. Talese personally, is the better one to send the review, but still, you are getting room-itis.  You spot groups of closer friends, with whom your relationship is more along the lines of boys in locker rooms, snapping towels at one another.  A bit of parry and thrust to get you back on your game of being observer rather than recipient.  But you get no solace from your friends, no reminders that work, occasional fun, and moments of quietly enjoying company or arguing fiercely against the outrage of Lisbeth Salander are the primary things.  Is it possible you have worked the room too well.

A great old pal pulls two long-neck beer bottles from a tub and leads you outside into the gradual arrival of a soft rain.  This is more like it:  sipping beers in comradely quiet.

A woman neither of us knows and, from her dignified posture and frizzy haircut, we would like to know, approaches us, her own long neck in hand.  "Can either of you imagine spending time with anyone who does not think life is essentially humorous?"

We think this over as the rain begins a more pronounced presence.  Three individuals of a mid autumn evening book signing, standing in the rain while Barnaby Conrad sees us through the window and would clearly like to join us if he did not have a line of other room workers, waiting to get his autograph.  Wordlessly, we three outsiders begin to laugh in unison.

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