I wandered the halls of the Marriott Wardman Park alone for the first time in three days today. I felt like a dead man wading through a sea of ostensibly impressive conversations about books Borges never even reviewed. I'm not sure what the official ontological status of an imaginary book neither reviewed nor written is but I'd believe in parsley first. Case closed.
Very wonderfully good conversations everyone but me is having. (Anyone else suppose MLA makes English professors not to speak English good? Or think for that matter?)
I stumbled through the Grove Press stand and leave it with two Robbe-Grillet and one more Tristan Egolf novel than I'd entered it with . . . but I was only out six dollars. So I turned around and made a beeline for the ATM. I understood why they require security passes to enter these dens of inexpensive brilliance.
I needed was more money. The line at the ATM snaked around the former homes of pay phones. I stood there patiently . . . like a toddler with a Big Gulp and an undersized bladder. At that point I ran into fellow UCI future-alum Peter Byrne. He looked sharp. I don't want to knock his typical attire but I had never seen him with clean lines and a complementary trench coat. He took one look at what Sean called my "blog hipster" look and correctly sussed that I was not on the market. We talked for a couple of minutes then he went to search for "his" suite. I haven't seen him since but I can spy the gutter from my window so I'm sure it wasn't a disaster.
So I played ATM and returned to the killing fields. I noted the New York Review of Books booth and made a blood oath to never enter it. Two minutes later and two gallons paler I entered the booth and spent fourteen dollars on seven books. The woman at the counter performed admirably. Her small talk consisted of giggling (sure to surge the Philip Roths out there to untidy ends) and the "confession" that she had read all the books she displayed. I grilled her on the three books up there I remembered well enough to grill someone on and she passed with flying colors. Then the guy manning the Louisiana State University Press box across the pavement from the NYRB booth joined in the festivities. She did not, however, know much about the wetlands or for that matter any of the books LSU press thought important.
I asked her how she knew so much about the books she sold. She informed me that she gets so bored sometimes she has nothing better to do than read the merchandise. If only all students displayed such admirable laziness.
Enough about the books I bought. Because if the wife asks I didn't buy a single book. I don't even know what a book is. But I did eventually find myself before the Inside Higher Ed booth. I saw two men (neither of whom was Scott McLemee, whom I had met that morning) discussing something and a woman passing out candy. I went for the candy. She asked me if I ever read IHE and I told her of course I do . . . I consider McLemee a friend and look forward to reading his column every week.
She seemed impressed that I knew McLemee's name so she started to stare at my most masculine chest. She parsed my letters and outed me as Office Coitus Interruptus Guy. Scott Jaschik didn't bat an eye and continued talking to some unknown male. I approached him to "quickly" introduce myself and he immediately turned to his companion and said:
"This is Scott Kaufman . . . the guy who caught the kids having sex in his office."
His interlocutor responded:
"Nice to finally meet you Scott. I'm Matt." Being that I hadn't slept in 24 hours at that point I took the "finally" to be a colloquialism. Then I looked up and read his full tag:
For one delirious quarter of a second I nearly blurted out that I blogged alongside a Matt Greenfield but Matt rendered that unnecessary by gently reminding my scrambled eggs that I knew him.
Then shit of unknown origin descended from the sky and landed on Jaschik's jacket. It splattered on his sleeve and he and Matt and I stared at the ceiling in a vain effort to identify the culprit. Fearing for my life I fled the scene of the untimely release and made my way back into the main rooms. Once there I met up with the people I almost consider my cohorts now . . . but I must pause that story until the demons stop darting in and out of my peripheral vision.
UPDATE #1: Scott Jaschik writes:
After you and Matthew left the booth, I went off to clean my jacket. En route, I noticed three hotel workers talking in the area between the exhibit hall annex in which our booth is located and the main area, and I was mulling whether to complain to them about the bird situation and I thought "they'll never believe me, despite the evidence that remains on my jacket." But just then, not one but two birds flew down and landed so I went up to this trio, pointed to the birds, pointed to my jacket, and suggested that there is a problem with some of those being admitted to the MLA exhibit hall without proper badges. One of the men then told me: "In the country where I come from, having this happen is very good luck, especially right before the new year."
I was not thrilled with this response, I'm afraid, but another of the men found the supervisor, who promptly took my jacket and promised to return to the IHE booth -- dry-cleaned -- before the conference ends.