The conference

Seventeen tables line the walls, each numbered, each covered in a blue tablecloth. These seventeen are housed in one room of a large convention center, just a fraction of the total tables.

A conference crowd files by, stopping at the tables with overeager attendants giving away candy, or pencils, or tote bags, halting briefly to watch a looped video on a 12-year-old TV/VCR combo as a middle-aged man in a white short sleeved oxford looks on, waiting for his moment to jump in.

One table, however, attracts no one. Staffed by a harried, graying gentleman, the table looks bare, as if the conference budget was spent on placement. There is no color. A sparse selection of last year’s forms dot the tablecloth.

The gentleman waits for eye contact. A fraying collar highlights an otherwise defeated frame, his features bordering on frantic.

It was a mistake to bring these photocopied brochures, their bare black and whiteness betraying his company’s prospects. Blue suits and red ties stop and listen only for a few minutes before politely taking a business card and moving on. And even the blue suits have dwindled.

An echo of conversations fill the room. Sales are being made. Business cards are being exchanged over a handshake, promises that “I’ll get a hold of you when I get back to the office,” or “I’ll make sure to check your Web site.” Dinner offers are curbed. Flattery ignored.

Still, the open curve of space in front of this booth keeps people away. No one wants to be the first to break the plane.

And so no handshakes are offered. No interest is levied. No sales.

The promises – all of them – are empty. All of them. But at this point, even an empty promise would feel affirming.

This was lovingly handwritten on July 27th, 2009