My writing yesterday was happily truncated by the arrival of, as I mentioned, friend after friend in this oversized hotel room. The real bright side of this Academic Mayhem is getting to see people I haven't seen in a long time--and getting to see them not just because I've made a date to meet them in a hotel lobby but even because I'm just walking down a street and hear someone familiar calling my name. Last night, a car pulled up in a hotel driveway, and there was a friend hanging out the passenger window, hollering for me. The critically savvy term for such a confluence of interpersonal agency and desire is, I believe, awesome.
By the time my plane was on final approach into this fair city yesterday, I had had several adventures in ranking and rankness. I boarded the plane right on time--first in my boarding group--and settled into my seat with the work I needed to do during the flight. As boarding came to an end, a woman came to the edge of the bulkhead and asserted that she was supposed to be in my seat. I produced my boarding pass to prove that I was supposed to be in my seat. A stand-off brewed. And then the flight attendant appeared and said to me, "I've got your seat right here." Fortunately, she didn't say it like that. And when I obediently got out of my seat, I found myself relocated into first class.
Right next to a kid who was already getting drunk, at 9:30 a.m. He immediately told me that he'd had his beer and his shot in the airport bar but hadn't had time to go back out through security to get his smoke. I turned back to my work; he went back to talking to himself. About an hour later, I ordered a coffee, and he requested a bourbon, straight up. Remember: 10:30 a.m. The flight attendant said, "Are you 21?" "I'm almost 22!" he said jubilantly; she carded him anyway. He tried to get another couple of airplane bottles of Jack Daniel's as we were getting ready to land; she told him that that wasn't acceptable. After she turned around, he tried to shake himself out, as though psyching himself up for whatever awaited him in the city.
Though he wasn't on his way to the Academic Mayhem, he embodied a response to it that I've seen (and felt), many a year. As the plane gets ready to land, everybody comes to a little more attention; by the time we hit the hotels, we're all settled in to our baddest-ass badass academic personae (and yes, that shout-out is for you, and you know who you are). For me, this year, the persona gets to be more fun than in past years; I'm enjoying being more laidback and smiling more than a lot of the people passing me by. But, though it's a little thinner than in years past, there's still a steel rod in my spine when I'm here, an awareness that this whole part of the city is a panopticon for the next three days: I don't know who's watching or listening to me, and the people around me don't know who's watching or listening to them. Yesterday, I saw a person I'd only seen on an internet personals site--he walked past, and I thought, oh wait, I know you...oh, wait, I don't know you...oh, wait. Hm. I also saw about 40% of the luminaries in my field. And about 70% of my good friends. It'll be that kind of week.
Part of what makes this convention fun is the nametag check. Everyone wears a 3"x4" nametag, with name printed in perhaps 14 pt. type, and so everyone walks around multitasking all the time. Here are the tasks I'm doing all at the same time: looking for people I know because they're my friends; looking for people I know because they're colleagues; looking for people I know because I love their work; looking for nametags to put more names and faces together; looking for people who are only looking at the nametag at my breast, totally bypassing my face.
Fortunately I have a good friend (someone to drink Cosmopolitans [me] and Shirley Temples [him] with), the iPod, and an assortment of ribald songs that we can deconstruct. My friend thinks that he has just figured out, with the help of a 90's dance song, why I've always liked men with big noses. I think we'll leave the morning at that.
source for today's image: an Italian drink recipe site.