They came from all over. Internationals and locals converged on the city to attend our graduate conference of 2003. Ok, it wasn't that many people, but some from out of state. A large contingent from the New Jersey University came because our keynote speaker was one of theirs. One guy from Massachusettes came to give a paper, he somehow knew all the Jersey people. I actually went to his reading. It wasn't that great, but I asked a question. Which is thrilling enough for me, it makes me so nervous. A gentleman in the back of the room asked some questions too. He had an English accent and looked familiar to me. When the session ended, I walked towards the exit and looked at the man. He looked back. He had greenish-blue eyes behind his steel rimmed glasses. And crazy hair, dark with silver streaks. He looked like Giles from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but cuter, and way less uptight.
Then I recognized him. I had seen him a few weeks earlier at a seminar somewhere else, when the Oxford don I wrote my thesis on discussed his latest book. I asked one of the first questions then kept asking because he didn't answer it, so I know I stood out. (I was also one of the four women out of 40 people there.) This professor had been there and sat opposite me at the table. He might have remembered me. So I smiled as I passed him and went out the door. A minute later, he came out to the hall with the Mass guy and the Jersey student with the ponytail. He asked me and Kyle where they could eat dinner. We told them we had planned a conference dinner at a restaurant afterward. Then I asked the English professor, "Weren't you at that symposium with __(Oxford Don's name excluded to protect the innocent) ?" He said, "Yes. I remember you, you were there too." We both smiled.
We didn't talk again until hours later, when the group walked to the Chinese restaurant for dinner. He talked first. He asked about my work. He had contributed a chapter on my thesis subject for a forthcoming reader. That was exciting, we're doing the same kind of stuff. I wanted to know all about it. Then the big Mass guy suddenly appeared and interrupted us.
During dinner, I had the misfortune of sitting across the round table from our keynote speaker. 'Lush' accurately describes the famous man who ate too much and drank too much and whose shirt popped open at the navel. Eww! Yes, I had to sit across from his rotund belly with his navel peeking through the opened buttonhole. It taunted me. The fuzzy chasm amidst protruding flesh. I lost my appetite.
Meanwhile, Mass dude tried talking to me across the heads of Mike and NJ ponytail boy. but he had to shout. He kept trying until my friend Kyle put his arm on the back of my chair. Kyle asked if we could share meals since he didn't know what to order. Ok, I couldn't afford one by myself anyway. So we ate off of each other's plates. I realized that Kyle might've wanted to make it look like we were dating. Maybe MA dude seemed a little too interested in my...thesis? Was Kyle jealous? If so, it worked and the guy stopped shouting at me.
At the time, Kyle was my best friend in the city. We did everything together and were very close. Predictably, tension had been building. I was ready for things to heat up. But we hadn't talked about it. I wasn't sure how I felt about Kyle's territorial behavior. It annoyed me because of his presumption, we were 'just friends'. But I also derived some hope from it. Maybe now he wanted things to get romantic too?
The sexy prof spent dinner talking to the other tenured grown ups. After, the remaining students and visitors went to a nearby pub. The prof, hereafter 'Giles' and I talked on the way. It felt like flirtation but I couldn't really believe that. This man was a real person with a real career and success (he taught at one of the best departments in the country!), he had class and style (comparatively speaking), was distinguished and older, sexy, and very published. I'm just an unaccomplished grad student, with breasts.
He made me very nervous. He asked a lot of questions about my studies and papers. I couldn't remember the names of anyone I had written about or read. All the names got jumbled together in my brain and I said several stupid things. Painfully aware of my errors of erudition, I tried to steer conversation towards more mundane things, like his accent. What part of England was he from? How did he like New Jersey? I felt like an idiot. We went from questions on the nature of substance to stupid small talk.
At the pub I scooted to the very end of the bench by the wall. English sat at the end of the table next to me. The Mass dude sat on my other side. Bore. Kyle sat directly across from me next to Giles. Everyone else was at the other end. Giles and I continued to talk only to each other. He made me laugh out loud, I liked him. He had a charming sweetness.
Mass got more drunk and more obnoxious. He reminded me of an annoying frat boy. He was very loud, bombastic, and too much in my personal space. He kept trying to talk to me and distract Giles. Kyle grew increasingly perturbed as he watched me and the men around me. Then, Mass started a brain teaser contest. They all took turns describing a puzzle that everyone else tried to solve. (The nerd version of a pissing contest.) I didn't care to participate, and as the only woman I wasn't expected to. Giles took it rather seriously and spent a few minutes with his forehead in his hands while he worked out the answer. He got it right. He grinned from ear to ear for solving a puzzle, this prominent scholar, among the most important in his field. It was very cute, Giles had totally won the contest for my attention. Mass solved more puzzles but his extensive conversation about his new XBox disqualified both him and ponytail boy. Sorry, try again when you grow up.
As it got later, I wondered if Giles would get around to asking for my phone number? Then Kyle and Daniel said they were leaving. We all lived in the same building so I needed to go with them. But Giles and I weren't done yet. Sigh. I told him I had to leave now because I was going with the guys. I explained that I lived in the ghetto and shouldn't go home alone this late. He didn't say anything. Everything got confusing, people were getting up and moving around. I didn't know what to do. I stood up while Daniel settled the tab. Then ponytail boy started talking at me, wanting to know if I ever came to NJ and when our next department event was going to be, could I let him know about it, blah, blah. Go away and play XBox! I wanted to say goodbye to Giles, who just went to the bathroom! Argh.
Daniel got insistent and agitated about leaving NOW. So did Kyle. I saw Giles standing in line for the toilet. I went over to say goodbye. I shook his hand and said it was nice to meet him. I tried smiling and being flirty but he didn't really respond, he'd had a lot of beer. But, he's English, so. So, he wasn't interested? I didn't know what else to do. The guys were calling me.
As soon as we got outside, Daniel said in a taunting older brotherly voice, "That professor liiiked yoooouuu." I said, "Really?" He replied, "Oh, yeah. You should have seen his face when you stood up to go. His whole face fell, he was so disappointed. He reeeaally liked you." Kyle agreed and mumbled something. I said, "I would've gone out with him. Why didn't he ask for my number or anything?" They didn't know nor seemed to care. I didn't understand. What did I do wrong?
Kyle was definitely jealous and very intoxicated. We had an interesting ride home, followed by even more interesting events. It might have been worth the loss if things had worked out differently with Kyle that night. Instead, I just lost twice.
Come back for more TRUE stories of the strange, sad and pathetic exploits of me not having sex in the city.