I do a lot of public speaking. It’s the price you pay to sell books. No, I’m not a bestselling author. I write for the practitioner market. Explaining boring technical shit to a bunch of nerds; all of whom are just slavering to point out flaws in your logic, or errors in your facts, is like taking a refreshing crawl across the Sahara Desert. Nonetheless, in academia, you either publish or perish. So, crawl I must.
You gotta hustle If you want to get your ideas out there. So, I have a symbiotic relationship with the big Houses. My publishers truck me into a conference in East Buttfuck Nebraska and I do my thing. It’s like leveraging your prostitution career by being a stripper. You show the audience enough to get them interested. But, they have to buy the whole package if they want to unwrap the goods.
I was painfully shy when I was a kid. The idea of talking to a room full of strangers filled me with horror. But, I grew up to be an academic. You learn to get over it after years of standing in front of students. Lecturing to students is a special situation though. They HAVE to listen. I hold the whip. It’s called a “grade.”
The group that I was speaking to tonight was another matter entirely. Each and every one of them was a gimlet-eyed C-Level. You have to be on your game with those guys. Otherwise, they will communicate their displeasure in creative and ego-shattering ways. I know my stuff. You don’t publish six top selling books in the field, without knowing your stuff. But when you are up there on stage you are entertaining, not informing.
I learned that the first time I tried speaking. I did two hours of serious and informative discussion. The reviews were less than kind. The best they said was that I was boring. That hurt. So, like the burlesque queen in Gypsy, “I got myself a gimmick.” Rational discourse doesn’t hold a candle to a guy in a mirrored suit telling you that they are going to hell. Consequently, the next time I was in front of a group I unloaded a steaming pile of demagogic shit that would have made Chicken Little sound like a starry eyed optimist. The audience loved it!!! And from that day on, I did a fire and brimstone shtick for the assembled multitude. It was full of allusions to digital Pearl Harbors and post-apocalyptic societies. I honestly felt like I was way over-the-top simplistic. Even if most of what I was telling them would probably happen. Of course, they ate it up. Apparently, you CAN fool all of the people some of the time.
There are two kinds of players in the public speaking game. One is an attention junkie. They are on stage when they do their talk. And they are even more “ON STAGE” afterwards. They hang around the event and grip and grin with all their adoring fans. They can’t get enough public adulation.
The other kind are like me. I am not the guy up there on stage. I’ve NEVER been. It’s an act. The guy up there radiates jaunty confidence and communal fellow-feeling. He’s Davey Tyler, good-old-boy. The fellow you want to have a beer with. He connects with people from the front row to 50 rows back. Everybody knows he’s their pal.
The private Davey Tyler is not a fan of the human race. So, as soon as the applause dies down THAT guy reasserts his rights. And heads for the nearest alcohol dispensary. As usual, Bernie was waiting for me. Bernie is my Development Editor. He’s the guy who ACTUALLY PAID ATTENTION during English class.
Most subject-matter-experts, particularly in the technical fields, can’t spell “grammar” let alone apply it. I’m a nerd, not a literarian. So, the big Houses pair me with a DE. That’s the normal situation in the book trade. The responsibility of the DE is to turn whatever incoherent shit I give them into a product that is not too publicly embarrassing.
You interact in virtual space with your DE. The DE for my first two books was a woman. I never met her. For all I knew she could have been a 300-pound behemoth, or hotter than Scarlett Johansson. In fact, she might have actually been a guy literary catfishing me. All I knew was that she could catch mistakes that no human ought to be able to spot. And she turned my boring stuff into really influential contributions to the field.
Bernie took over for my third book. He had the same amazing skill and also a sense of humor. Producing a 500-page professional tome is roughly equivalent to a woman birthing a rhinoceros. It is exceptional agony over a prolonged period. And you need a sense of humor unless you want to go totally nuts. Bernie eased the birth pains with the driest Jewish wit ever.
Ever since that time, his services have been rolled into every contract that I sign. I finally met him at a book party. He knew who I was because I was one of the speakers. But I didn’t know HIM. All I saw was a brown bear in a wrinkled suit and sweat stains descending on me. The guy was massive. And Bernie is as enthusiastic as he is large.
He approached me with a huge grin on his face. I did the man-hug backslapping thing with him, while looking pleadingly at the rest of the people trying to get somebody to tell me who the fuck he was. Now Bernie shows up at most of my gigs. Especially ones in nice cities like San Francisco.
We were at the Fairmont this time. The bar area off the lobby is one of those big open expanses where it feels like you are terribly de rigueur if you are not sipping martinis. Bernie drinks beer directly from the bottle so he stood out. He also stood out because he is close to 350 pounds, and wears bright aloha shirts that don’t quite cover up his hairy chest.
But he mostly stands out because he absolutely radiates not giving a shit what other people think, which is pretty-much my OWN attitude. He was sitting with two guys. Those dudes were wearing suits that cost more than my car.
A woman was also sitting with them. She was absolutely stunning in a Xena Warrior Princess way.
Her facial features were absolutely perfect. But, the effect was aesthetic rather than sensual. She was Athena, not Aphrodite. She was tall for a woman, with a body that could only be described as aggressive, muscular and lithe. But it had substance to it, like she could kick your ass without breaking a sweat. She was almost mannish in her general attitude too. She came off powerful and controlled, not girly in the least. And she radiated a man’s sexuality, forceful and omnivorous. You got the impression she would happily kill you in bed; and then feed your carcass to her cubs.
Her main attributes though were two of the biggest jugs ever mounted on the species. Even though she was a substantial woman those things were disproportionately large. They must have weighed fifteen pounds each. They made me want to grab a tit in each hand, stick my head in between and go “Brrrrrrrrrrr.” Of course, serious suffocation would ensue, but what a way to die!!!
I couldn’t take my eyes off her. You didn’t need to tell me what Bernie was up to. Bernie looks after me like a brother. He had gathered a set of movers and shakers. And he expected me to dazzle them with my footwork. We run that little bait and switch game at all of my shows. And it frequently leads to consulting engagements and other kinds of stipends that fatten both of our coffers.
It had been a long day, featuring a cross country flight. And I was thinking to myself, “Shit Bernie! I don’t need this!” But a buck is still a buck and Bernie is my best pal. So, “Once more unto the breach.” I donned good old affable Davey Tyler and ambled over to the table with my legendary lopsided grin.
I said, “Howdy pardner” to Bernie.
I stuck out my hand to the first guy. I said, “Davey”. He said, “Brad.”
Same with the next guy, “Davey”, “Doug.”
I turned to the woman and offered my hand, “Davey.” She took my hand like a guy would. It was definitely NOT genteel. And THEN she proceeded to crush it. She was ONE seriously strong woman. She said “Marigold, but everybody calls me Mary. My parents foisted their bizarre sense of humor off on their children.”
They all looked me over. I am nowhere near as impressive up close, as I am walking around on the stage. The lighting and elevation change the perspective. Their disappointment in my lack of awesomeness showed. I looked THEM over.
Mary was stunning in a tucked in preppie princess kind of way. Plain black skirt, patent leather heels and very expensive looking silk blouse with some kind of industrial strength thing-a-ma-jig underneath, hoisting her girls to epic proportions. Her auburn hair, was very thick and cut into a hip quasi-Cleopatra hairdo. The bangs made her huge yellow cat eyes look absolutely feral. She had a $20,000 Rolex Yachtmaster on her wrist and enough gold to stock a pagan temple. But everything was displayed in a tastefully discreet manner.
The term “slick lounge lizard” came to mind when I looked at Doug. I wasn’t sure whether he walked or skittered. He was clearly NOT the brains of the operation. But he was probably the money. His companion Brad was radiating human attack dog. You know THAT type. Got popular in college playing middle linebacker and that’s his approach to everything in life now; including his wife, kids, colleagues, and whatever friends he can scare up.
In fact, he was so much the alpha-male I expected him to lift one leg when he peed.
Mary had obviously just come to socialize. She was a senior Partner with Deloitte in Chicago and since I have done some consulting with them I directed most of my initial conversation toward her. She kept cutting me looks like, “Can you believe these two?”
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