On occasion, my job requires that I attend huge, all day conferences, packed with classes and brainstorming and networking sessions. Inevitably, I’ll find myself sitting next to a name-tagged stranger I have no choice but to acknowledge.
At a conference earlier this week, as my co-workers and I filed into a banquet hall for lunch, we seated ourselves at a table, were served some food and recapped our morning meetings. I soon found a rather unkempt older gentleman directly to my right, attempting to eat a chicken salad sandwich, but managing to bite pure air every single time, getting his sandwich not just all over himself, but on the table, the floor, I think parts of it even ended up in my handbag.
He wore a filthy shirt and appalling pants, which sadly, did not contain a working zipper and his teeth, I’m sorry to tell you, resembled corn kernels. When he crossed his legs, he revealed neon green polyester socks and every time he shifted, strange odors wafted over to me. Unlike everyone else at the table, he possessed an illegible handwritten nametag, which somehow screamed to me, “Imposter!”
However, having nothing better to do and finding the eggplant before me unworthy, I decided to take the plunge.
“What organization are you with?”
“Oh Christ!” He spit the food made had it into his mouth at me. “I’m tryin’ to eat.”
Hmmm. Okay. Back to the eggplant.
“Well, hell. I’m workin’, ya see, for a new upstart where’s we provide psychotic counseling to those that can’t get it but need it. It’s a real new venture.”
“Oh, how interesting.”
“Yeah, and I got to attend this thing cuz I’m the only fella in who ain’t workin’ right now. The other boys workin’ up at the Mini-Storage establishment most the time and I wanna get a leg up.”
“I see.” It was one of the rare conversations in which I had nothing to say, simply nodding at appropriate increments and occasionally asking polite questions. Partially chewed food covered him as he continued.
“Yeah, but I got me bigger plans, ya see. I got an inside tip from a Pakistani pal of mine – real stand up guy – about them whereabouts of Osama bin Laden.”
“I got the inside scoop, ya see, and I’m lookin’ to hire out 7-10 mercenaries and have them go in and git him, and once we pay my fella in Pakistan 25 million dollars, we splits the rest. I’m got a track on where to get some soldiers of fortune, too. And I can convince their wives and moms and all this is the right, patriotic thing to do, ya see?”
I had two choices. I could very sweetly get up and excuse myself to the ladies, running outside and hiding until the next session, or I could encourage the madness. I looked at my watch. We had another 45 minutes. Fuck it.
“And would you yourself go with the mercenaries?”
“Heck no! What a stupid question. I ain’t got that training. I ain’t no special ops. I’m the inside guy, I got the track on the whereabouts and the Pakistani contact and the big ideas. I’d stay in Copenhagen the whole time.”
It was at this point that I was regaled with the near re-enacting of the time he and the Pakistani pulled a prank and flashed their “manhood” to hundreds of Dutch tourists.
“But now I sees you work in show business. Yeah, I gots some ideas about that, too. I been working on some screenplays, ya see…”
“Oh movies. Well, I work in theater.”
“LET ME FINISH. I gots me these screenplays. Real tearjerkers. I based ‘em on my own personal experiences, cuz I had a hot tip on Tiananmen Square right before all that commie baloney went down and...”
I could go on. And on. And on. Our conversation certainly did. But it was simply more of the same; mercenaries, inside tips, pure insanity…you get the idea.
He finally gathered himself and began to leave, and as he said goodbye, I watched a chunk of food fly directly from his mouth, making an appallingly perfect arch directly into the tiny opening of MY water bottle. You’d think that was the low point. Nope. The low point?
“Well, lady. Real nice talkin’ with ya. I needs a ride to Novato. Course, where the hell am I gonna git me that, round here? Ah, well. Over and out.”
And with that, he stood up and his pants fell down…