Monday, October 30, 2006

A Series of Unfortunate Events

Last year I went to a large gathering for a group I belong to. I don’t belong to a lot of groups. I am not a group type person. Large crowds tend to annoy me, I find many conversations repetitive and boring, and I don’t drink. In a crowd of adults, the fact that I don’t drink automatically makes me an alien. However, last year, I had a nice time at this particular annual large gathering. This year, I felt like an alien. Sigh.

I had looked forward to it, with moderation, all year. I was not lusting for the event, but I was thinking, “oh, hey, that’ll be nice.” Instead, I got the BoS version of a series of unfortunate events. If I were required to sum it up, and I’m not, I’d phrase it as:

“It was probably a bad choice for an acrophobic, teetotalling, lactose-intolerant, coffee-loving, smoking, dedicated Mom with periodic back trouble to go to a Large Group Event in a hotel undergoing renovation.”

There were problems. I blame myself for some of them – I got lost on the way there and wound up spending an additional hour in the car, stopping and starting through rush hour traffic in order to turn around and get back on track. I got over that fast enough, but it put a hitch in my plans – I’m a listmaker, and when I have to cross off something on my list undone because I’m stuck in traffic, it ticks me off momentarily, until the Zen Mother within me kicks back in and I decide to enjoy the radio programs instead. Parking was good, and the hotel was doing it’s best to make the renovation as unnoticeable as possible, also good. My room was fine, just what I asked for, near the ice machine and quiet.

And, before anyone blows me snot about claiming to be a smoker AND a dedicated Mom, let me advise you that I quit smoking while pregnant and for the first several years of my kids’ lives. I don’t smoke in front of babies. I will stand in poo in a cesspool before voluntarily smoking in front of babies. I don’t do it. It’s like smacking them, to me, particularly if there’s a reasonable alternative.

That being said, when I when to the smoking hospitality room, not only was everyone there already on their way to being drunk to the point of dangerously stupid, but there was a baby. I held off smoking, thinking, in my egocentric way, that the baby and its people would leave soon, not wanting to have a baby around smokers for too long. I was wrong. The parents decided to watch a baseball game on the TV (for FOUR hours) while the baby wandered around, eating food off the floor, and pulling stuff, including beers and hot ashtrays off tables, which led to a whole group of snockered adults, and my teetotalling self, into having to baby-safe a room which seemed to ME to be clearly intended for adult use. The parents had a reason – they didn’t get the smoking room they had asked for, so this was their only option. I can understand that, BUT…

So, I lit up, and the mother of baby decided to tell me her life story in 5 minutes or less, and I will have to say that it put me into a state of perpetual shock. Just because, and I blame myself here, I have not spent a lot of time around communities of People in Perpetual Trouble. It’s not that I’m not sympathetic, I am. It’s that when I have other people to look out for, I become UltraPrudent Woman. So, my nasty cigarette kind of locked to my lips as I listened to a recitation which included five kids removed from her because of her drug habit which she has overcome in the last five years, a current pregnancy (while watching her sozzle beer), and a long list praising the baby’s delightfully gregarious behavior because he had spent so much time of the first year of his life at parties just like this one – where he was cruising around, eating food off the floor, etc., and being in danger at every moment of being stomped into the emergency room by an oblivious drunk. And she was obviously in her early twenties. I kid you not.

I am heinously guilty of projecting my ideals onto others. I reminded myself of that as I felt the blood drain from my face while trying to maintain a friendly and positive demeanor, because, God forbid that I should say something that would throw her back into abusing drugs or feeling inept, since she clearly did love the kid, she just didn’t show it the way I would. No one elected me the final arbiter of diddly nor of squat, but I did need a few deep breaths in order to maintain a detached equilibrium.

I decided I’d be doing my smoking in my room for the most part from thereon, simply to remove myself from the stress. Which is, in itself, another bummer, since the hospitality room crowd, when not preoccupied with baby-safeing a room, nor too drunk, can be a lot of fun.

Traipsing to programs became another adventure in WTF. Normally, my back does not give me too much trouble, but that changed for the quarter mile walk to the different facilities this time (my fault, not anyone else’s), which made attending meals and events more of a chore than I’d have liked. All that stuff had to be moved to the far end of the facility because of the renovations. Most the events were down a flight and a half of stairs, with an open area next to one side (hence the acrophobic in me coming out for a little play time along with the back ache), and I elected to attend either as much in one fell swoop as possible or nothing more at all. I wound up going to one event on the lower level, which was, again, completely my choice.

So, I figured a nice cup of coffee and a few minutes sitting down would help. Last year, the coffee was good. I’m picky about my coffee, so that was really saying something. This year, it tasted like dishwater, and instead of using real half-and-half, someone chose to offer flavored half-and-half (aaaaaargh) and put milk in a squirt bottle to fake the rest of us out. I can drink half-and-half because I don’t need much of it to lighten the coffee. Milk is a whole different story. So there I was, drinking diner dishwater, lightened with the alternative of plastic cow, trying to recover from the baby and its parents that were in the hospitality room, listening to people talk about what a great time there were having, and it dawned on me that I was an alien again. In a group of people not known for being conformists in the first place, the fact that I really didn’t want to spend time with a startling parent, an ignored baby, drunks, or madly clutching a railing while chanting a mantra to avoid thinking about heights, I’d become an alien again. It reminded me, sadly, of all the insurance conventions I’ve been to with hubs, where if you’re not drunk and still drinking and yelling “TATER” across the ballroom, there’s something genetically wrong with you.

So, I went back to my room, with better hopes for the next day. I didn’t get enough sleep, which didn’t help, my dinner out was a cluster fuck, including a very high quality piece of prime rib and potato that were both so cold that butter wouldn’t even melt in the potato, and I got back to the hotel in time for the last half of the one event I really, really wanted to see, and when I went to get a brownie and hand off my free drinks coupon to someone else, I ran into a crowd of already half-sozzled people, and two hairy white men fighting over the last two pieces of coconut cream pie, which was all that was left of a “desserts” table.

I mentally whacked myself on the head for having chocolate expectations, went back to my room, lit up, opened a book, and bitched aloud at myself for a while until Practical Me showed up and said, “shut up and order something chocolate from room service,” which I did, along with a pot of decaf (due to the late hour), and it showed up promptly, of the appropriate temperature, with half-and-half, and it was the one reasonable pot of coffee available all weekend, despite it being decaf, which I normally hate. I put it down to desperation.

I did give the smokers’ hospitality one more try and wound up stuck in a social tesseract of boredom between Person Running for Some Office, Annoying Pedant, Exhausted Person, and Person Who Simply Holds Forth With the Same Story Four Feet Away From Where They Last Told It Very Loudly while watching the cooler reloaded with alcoholic drinks. So, I gave up.

I saw Smoker’s baby and parents in the lobby later; baby was flushed, glassy-eyed and apparently running a fever.

When I finally went to have breakfast before bugging out early, I wound up having to explain why I had quit an electronic group list that had become TechMasters and NetNannies – hence my departure. They disagreed, and I clamped my mouth shut from yelling, “that’s because you’re one of them,” disengaged, and cheerfully headed for my car.

I didn’t complain about various things because the whole event weekend is run mainly by volunteers, and I have this thing about not complaining unless I’m willing to do it myself, and I’m not. I don’t go to regular meetings for several reasons, there are no local events within the area that I think is reasonable to drive to, and this one event was the one thing I felt it was worth trying out. I haven’t written it off entirely – there was too much that was situational, and I’m not willing to write off the whole possibility because of one bad experience. But… … … I’m an alien again.


Anonymous said...

It's so much more disappointing when something that's usually such a relief from the usual insanity turns out to be just more of the same.

Anonymous said...

The nut woman with the baby is something I've been through, too. I had moved to a new city and needed the conversation and comraderie. I'm no fan of bars but this group met at a "restaurant bar" only a few blocks from where I lived. The only other woman was quite apparently an alcoholic but was, at least, an interesting conversationalist. When she announced she'd been approved to adopt a baby I naively thought we'd see less of her. Instead, she just dragged the baby to the bar with her, even through times when the child was obviously sick. I found myself increasingly in a quandary about whether to report her to child welfare authorities. So, I just quit going. That was six years ago and I've heard she's still doing exactly the same thing.

Amy said...

Hi- I surfed in here through that group's website (oh, the thing's I do when I should be working...) Did you know that there was an elevator between the two floors? I think quite a few people missed it. As for the unflavored coffee creamer, I had trouble finding it, too!
I've been to tons of these events, and this one was one of the most fun for me, but that's because so many of my friends were there. I've been to events that were just an exercise in getting through it, so I know how you feel.

Bill Slankard said...

I'm so sorry I missed you last weekend. I was looking forward to meeting you at last. And I'm really sorry that it turned out to be a bust. I've had a few years at the event when I did not have a good time, but this year was pretty good. I attended several interesting talks, and made myself talk to a couple of strangers.

This time I was recovering from some health and children problems, and managed to mostly enjoy myself. I went into the smokers hospitality room once, looking for the eldest son. It was dark and smokey, which I guess is fine for those who were there, but I was sorry I couldn't hold my breath long enough to look around the room for him.

I don't know if there is a higher percentage of strange people who show up at this event than exist in the general population, but it sure seems that way. Some of them are tolerable, some are avoidable, and most are harmless. And since I'm part of the group, I'm probably just as strange. Maybe we'll get a chance to talk next year (providing we both plan ahead and have a good way to excuse ourselves from the others presence in case you or I turn out to be a little too strange :-).

M2 said...

Dear BoS,
I'm so sorry you had a rotten time, but, um, guess glad I didn't go this year. How about some of us, at least me, and maybe a friend, or more, plan for next year? If nothing else, we could commiserate companionably. :-)
Your Mystery M-Friend,
p.s. I didn't know You smoked too! ;-)