Social conventions

Eventually, we who work at home must emerge blinking into the sunlight and go out among our own kind.

Lonely workers need the occasional people bath. We need to renew acquaintance with the human race. We need interaction with strangers, the ritual exchange of business cards, the subtle rush of quick flirtation. We need an excuse to gab and drink and smoke and repeat bad jokes and make exotic wagers.

To meet these needs, the American business community has invented the convention.
Traditional weekend conventions give people an opportunity to get away from their humdrum jobs for a while. Out of the cubicle and into the larger world, where friends are made and new careers are found and hearts are broken. Occasionally, some work even gets done. And it's all tax-deductible.

Now, with 20 million people working at home, conventions have become even more essential to the health of your career. Everyone has to get out there and shake hands and make eye contact and hope for the best. If you work at home, you need to network so you're not forgotten in your field. If you compete with us who work at home, you'd better attend your industry's conventions because you can bet we'll be there in force. Conventions let us get away from the kids for a couple of days.

A strange tranformation occurs when people who work solo attend conventions. Normally, we spend whole days alone, speaking to no one but the dog. We nibble bagels and sip coffee and tap away at keyboards, comfortable in monkish silence. But throw us into a crowd of friends and we become back-slapping degenerates -- pouring down liquor, staying up way too late, laughing too loud and talking, always talking. We sit in silence for months, stowing up words, so we can spill them in the hotel bar.

During the convention day, we doze through lectures and panel discussions, making the occasional note, which we'll later use as a coaster. We trudge past exhibits and booths. We conduct formal, muttered conversations in hallways with people who'd probably like to have our jobs. All in all, it's like a day at the office.

Everyone becomes more animated as happy hour approaches. Cash bars and evening clothes add an aura of glamor. Hospitality suites beckon. By midnight, we're wearing party hats and leading conga lines around the parking lot.

I recently attended a meeting of mystery writers and fans. It had been six months since my last convention, and I was pumped up, ready to chatter through a weekend of fun and commerce. I even bought new clothes, so I'd look more like a Professional Writer and less like Grizzly Addams.

My hotel room wasn't ready when I arrived because, under federal law, hotels must keep a maid in every vacant room until 5 p.m. With no place to unpack, I had no choice really but to adjourn to the hotel bar.

The next nine hours or so were a whirlwind of hand-shaking and book-signing and conversation and alcohol consumption. That regimen was followed by two more days of the same, interrupted only by fitful sleep and doses of aspirin and trying to take my pants off over my head.

Before I knew it, I was back on a plane, nursing an H-bomb of a hangover.

When I got home, I found my pockets were full of business cards from people I barely remembered and rumpled notes on things I'd drunkenly promised to do -- phone calls, interviews, more conventions, whole books -- that will take months to deliver, at considerable expense and exertion. And I had a bag full of convention freebies that I woozily gave to my family in lieu of real gifts.

The older I get, the harder it is to bounce back from these weekends of debauchery. I needed extra sleep for three days. My jaws ached from so much unaccustomed yakking. I haven't touched hard liquor since I got home.

Now, I'm back at my desk, back in the hair shirt of silence, until the next convention draws me out of the house.

I hope to fully recovered by then. The next one's in March.

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