Fellow travellers

Walking down the street this morning I watched as people in their Friday casual, last work day before Christmas clothes headed to work. Almost all had a casual air to them, knowing perhaps that they’d likely be heading home some time in the mid afternoon. Many carried bags containing their contribution to the office Kris Kringle, and some a treat they had whipped up the night before to share with their office colleagues on this festive occasion. Today all those things get ticked off and by this evening the end of the pre-Christmas silly season can be declared closed. There’ll be bits and pieces happening tomorrow, the odd Christmas get together with the B grade rellies not up to snuff for the big day itself, and a lot of last minute Christmas shopping. By and large though I think most will be drawing breath after a crazy few weeks and preparing for the big occasion just ahead.

Though my life is different to that at present I find myself caught up in many of the peripheral Christmas activities. In fact I have been a bit of a Scrooge this year, declining to call a few friends who had desired a catch-up before Christmas. That can happen in the new year. I’ve still managed to keep busy nonetheless.

Yesterday seemed typical in many ways of the demands of the season. I went to lunch out in the burbs. The lunch was healthy, the company pleasant, and the wine more than adequate. It was fine, but I didn’t get home until just on 5. I felt relief. I looked forward to some quiet time to myself. Then it dawned on me that I had committed myself to a networking and entreprenuer function that evening. And that it started in 30 minutes.

Damn I thought, or something similar. Weary and a little warm I just had time enough to change my shirt, put some shoes on, and feed the dog before I was in the car again racing towards North Melbourne.

I got there at about 5.45. I nodded my head and said a few hellos to people I knew. Over a beer standing by the bar I chatted to a very distant acquaintance until a very determined woman with a Jeanne Pratt hairstyle barged in. Over to you I thought, happy to make way. For the next 10 minutes I stood there sipping at my beer surveying the room. I looked for interesting faces, or people I felt I had to speak to. I found none. I looked for attractive faces then. In a room where 90% of the people there were few, and those I found roused me to continued inaction. I was quite content just standing there taking things in. I get that way sometimes. It’s fun to observe, and in any case I didn’t have the social energy to start up a conversation. It didn’t worry me a bit standing there by myself.

Normally when I go to these things I’m in the midst of it. You get a drink, look around, pick out the most likely types and wander over to introduce myself. It’s pretty easy really. For the most part I’ve found it pretty rewarding too. There’s a lot of interesting stories out there, and always something to learn.

Last night I looked upon the crowd differently. I probably hadn’t stopped previously to make the effort, but at my leisure I began to see patterns, to look in faces and get some understanding, to look at the clumps of people and see different tribes.

The room was full of very smart, very enterprising people, and often very passionate people. To my eyes though most of them appeared very ordinary. Now that’s not meant as an insult. I guess what it means is that the signs of being this or that are not always obvious. You don’t have to look like a rock star to be a successful entrepreneur. Most in fact looked like husbands and fathers, many in quite daggy, conservative clothing. Their gift, if that is the right term for it, was inside them. It is the thing they possess when other people possess different attributes, equally banal in appearance.

The guy who runs the show came over and had a chart. Then an attractive blonde entered the room and approaching me said I had the best spot in the room. I agreed. Rousing from my lethargy by this human contact I made my way to man whose name seemed familiar. I introduced myself and we talked, getting to the bottom of that familiarity before going on to describe our stuff. He put him down on the positive side of the ledger.

Then the presentation began, interesting enough, but I found myself looking forward to mingling again. An hour later there I was, wine in hand cajoling the different stories out of people. My experience was as it has been previously. I found myself occasionally fascinated or intrigued. I asked questions, we debated meanings, posited outcomes. I mixed with people I didn’t know, often being the most active, turning the conversation in different directions or bringing shyer people into it.

Networking is always a big part of all this, and the exchange of cards is regular. At one point I proclaimed how bad I am at networking, how I can never really be bothered with my elevator pitch, how discomfited I am at the notion of selling myself, how generally it feels phony and contrived. I preferred, I said, to listen to other peoples stories simply from curiosity. As I said this, people nodding their head in agreement, it occurred to me that perhaps I’m not as bad as what I think I am. If the purpose of networking is to make connections then I’m okay. We laughed saying how much of networking is cultural. The American style – the vise like handshake they won’t release you from, the steady gaze, the machine gun delivery of the hyper-rehearsed pitch, and the total disinterest once they realise you have nothing they can use – would never work in Oz. We’d laugh it off, or suggest maybe that they get their ‘hand off it’ (I love that irreverence). We have a perfectly justified scepticism of such professional networking, and as a result it’s much more likely to be of counter-benefit here.

By now I had sparked up a bit.I had some of that who gives a fuck attitude flowing through me, which invariably works so well. I marched up to a girl to tell her how much I admired her fringe. She was grateful for the compliment, but didn’t quite know how to respond. Just pay it forward I said, it’s Christmas. Or, turning to the Jewish guy next to her, Hanukkah. Or even Festivus. He liked that idea.

Then across the room I saw a guy I knew who had arrived late. We’re acquaintances. I’ve met him maybe 3-4 times previously at different, quite cool parties around town – we have mutual friends. Each time we meet we look at each other as if we recognise in the other something we know. If you didn’t know him you’d look at him, tall, casually dressed, an easy manner, a relaxed attitude, and think: I bet he’s a single man. You talk to him and you find that just like you he’s travelled a bit, had his share of adventures, and lives for the experience. And so on.

I went across to join the little group he was regaling with a story, and he interrupted it to turn to me hand extended, mate, good to see you.

You see, there are different types. He was clearly of a different type to most there. So am I. We’re both of a type that has wide variations, but which is recognisable. It has a mix of all sorts of things in it, an independent perspective, curiosity, adventure, ego and vanity, a touch of the bohemian, a restless desire, hunger, an understanding of the ridiculous, a love of the sensual and a tendency to over-indulge, and so on. Amongst the determined but conservative go-getters there it stands out, mainly because being good husbands and fathers they’re not the attributes they celebrate or really need.

It’s probably my imagination, but there almost seems a physical template for this, taller than average, better toned, longer hair than the norm, an attractive attitude. And that’s because there is only us, height might be genetic but the rest is a kind of preening. There is nothing to dissipate that energy or focus outside of ourselves: we are our brand, we alone, and thus vanity demands that we present it well.

I’m happy, broadly speaking, to be of that general type, but am left wondering what it really says about me. Do I need that edge, and for that edge to be acknowledged? Not sure, but I like it when a pretty girl looks at me. Isn’t it a little precious end of the day? It is without balance or perspective. It’s a way of being, not a purpose. End of night I left wishing my merry christmasses across the room and wondering as I drove home in the dark if we’re this way because we’re unmarried, or if we’ve yet to settle because we’re this way?

Whatever. Tribes come together. I suspect I’ll become friends with this guy, and I suspect he knows it too. We’re fellow travellers.

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