A few days ago, I went to a conference. It’s unusual for me these days because I have close to zero time. Public conferences are for me hiding places. I am there unapologetically anti-social, love sitting at the back and having as my single duty for the day to utter a solemn ‘with milk please’ to the waiter in the coffee table outside . The best conference is the one where I don’t talk. Yes, I am talking about me, in case my friends and colleagues may wonder.
I went to that conference. It was a long drive form home. Even better. Even more monastic. I arrived early. There was a table selling books from the speakers of the day. I was browsing then when a patriarchal looking man in his fifties approached me from the back, muttering something.
This was the dialogue:
Patriarch: Oh, hello, mm, looking at the books?
Me: (Saw his badge, he was one of the speakers and one of the books on the table had his name). Oh, yes, well, looks interesting.
Patriarch: Oh, well, this is me. (And he reached into his pocket and gave me a business card. He then repeated) this is me.
Me: Oh, thanks, very nice meeting you (now I am reaching into my pocked). Here is my business card.
Patriarch: Mmm, grr, no, mmm, err, don’t… don’t get business cards. (And stepped back a few centimetres so not to be too close to my hand and my business card).
Me: Oh, well, in that case, have yours back.
The patriarch transfigured himself with disbelief and obvious incredulity, looking at the young student minding the table (who by now exhibited a barely restrained smile) for a sign of something, maybe sympathy, maybe call security, I don’t know, and walked away muttering undecipherable sounds.
The funny thing is that it all happened fast and I did not give any thoughts to my behaviour. It just happened. Afterwards I thought I had been a bit inpolite with the patriarch. But my Bullshit Detection System (that sits somewhere in the amygdala of the hippocampus, completely out of reach from the cortex) did not think so at the time.
Then I went to my seat. At the back. Even the stream of platitudes that came from some big name presenters ‘ who had been in CNN and CNBC’, showing meant-to-be-clever slides with last century data, did not bother me.
The patriarch was still giving cards at the break, looking very serious and confident, enjoying himself and polishing his ego with enormous care.
Back to the motorway, there was rain.