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After Work: The Wrong Seat

…And then you discover that had you taken that vacant seat you would have had the opportunity to talk to the most interesting person in the room.

Dona Gibbs tells a choice story.

For further delight read more of Dona’s words by clicking on After Work in the menu on this page.

There’s always a wrong seat and I haven’t learned my lesson yet. I choose it, nine times out of ten.

I’m not referring to a wrong seat where you find yourself at a play stuck behind a view-obstructing column. That could often prove to be a blessing. Nor am I thinking about the many times I’ve been seated near a restaurant’s kitchen’s swinging doors where the curses and the clatter of the line chefs become audible. That can be part of the entertainment, provided you’re in the mood for culinary drama. And I’m not referring to an airplane where you might likely find yourself in the middle seat stuck between a cranky toddler and mom and an exceedingly over weight sales manager from Atlanta. From that experience you can learn more about time and space than any advanced physics lecture.

And those are choices not in your hands but in the maitre-d, the airline or your booking agent.

No, I’m talking about entering a room and making a wrong choice all on your own.

Here’s an example.

I decided to attend a book breakfast given in all places, Palm Beach, Florida. The small community in Palm Beach is ever eager to prove that’s it’s no community of barbarians unlearned, uneducated and unread. So there are several clubs, societies and what-have-you that invite notables to lecture, read or pontificate. Come February when snow in northern climes has become a nuisance rather than a novelty, invitations to notables to come and speak, read or pontificate are eagerly accepted.

This breakfast reading was part of a marketing ploy to promote a new apartment building, actually an old small hotel that had been re-cast into luxury apartments-- beyond anything the original builders had ever dreamed. I guess they hoped to attract the erudite. I never thought that erudition and the bucks to afford a multi-million dollar apartment necessarily went hand-in-hand, but then again maybe it was part of their community outreach program.

Anyway the event started at 9:30 a.m. and cost $75—but it included three readings, three autographed books and a full breakfast.

I signed in, picked up my books and entered the room. I looked around. The place was abuzz. It seemed I was the only one to brave it alone. There were two tables with an empty place each. One was filled with Palm Beach matrons, well coiffed, impeccably dressed, chatting amicably among themselves. The other was a mixed bag. Men and women who looked pale, tired—and dare I suggest it—a little hung over, even in this pink room with flattering lighting.

I paused. The pale group looked up and smiled wanly. The Palm Beach contingent merely looked up and then went on buttering croissants.

I’d always wanted to be one of the cool kids. I never was, but here I had the chance. I choose to sit with the self-possessed, self-absorbed Palm Beach matrons.

I introduced myself. They responded by digging into their fruit cups.

Finally, the omelets aux fine herbes were finished and the readings began. And that’s when I realized I had thoroughly botched an opportunity to sit with three fine American writers, including a former staff writer of The New Yorker. Pale though they were; their talent shone.

Now you’d think that would be an object lesson for me. It was. But I quickly forgot it.

Recently, I attended a New York urban story telling event. It is sponsored by a group, The Moth, and showcases some very talented people who take the stage without notes and spin out ten minutes’ worth of autographical stories. Some were funny. Some were heart breaking. They were all brilliant.

Before the show I chatted with an older gentleman. I had sought him out. He appeared to be in his late seventies and was wearing a black silk bomber jacket on the back of which read: The Reality Club.

With his wild white hair and beard, I thought that he and reality had perhaps never had so much as a nodding acquaintance. He explained that back in the good old days The Reality Club had brought poets and scientists together for conversation but that now the group had evolved into something called The Edge. He referred me to their website. However, he said, a discussion group still existed and met in “A____’s loft. “

I had no idea who A___ was and why he spoke of him in such reverential tones.

The show was about to begin and up bounced a muscular man in his thirties. He looked straight from Berlin—shaved head, tight black leather jacket with a policeman’s badge of some indeterminate origin, not that I was about to lean in for a closer look He looked menacing. It was A___.

He grabbed his friend in a tight hug and looked over his shoulder said,” Oh fantastic, you brought a friend.”

I quickly leaped in to dissuade the leather-clad one that I was Mr. Reality’s “date.”

“We just met,” I stammered, thinking about my husband at home nursing a torn muscle.

A___ didn’t miss a beat.

“Tell you what. I have a table. Usually one or two of my guests don’t show so when the show’s starting, I’ll stand up and wave you over. Besides my mom’s coming tonight. I think you’d like her,” he beamed.

I guess I just have that Mom look.

Anyway the show started and A___stood, scanning the audience. I ducked behind the seat in front of me.

Later that night I looked A___ up on the Internet and found that he’s a worldwide rally driver, an exceedingly young entrepreneur and well known in certain circles.

I had blown it again. And I would have loved to have met his mom.


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