The scene: I’m in my office on a Saturday afternoon, getting on towards evening. I’m wearing Saturday clothes: faded blue jeans with a hole in one knee, that really needed a belt to stay in place, a gray t-shirt with a green LLBean fleece with a toothpaste stain on it. Hey, I’m living in borrowed accommodations, I didn’t have my full wardrobe at my disposal and truly didn’t plan on seeing anyone.
6 pm: I’m walking down the hallway towards my office, coming back from the lab. I run into a colleague. I address him, trying to be friendly.
Me: “hey, what are you doing here on a Saturday night?”
Him: “what are you doing here? (pauses) More importantly, what are you planning on doing the rest of the evening? I don’t suppose you have a 45 minute general interest seminar you could give for a group of 100 high school science teachers?”
Me: stunned silence. “Um, I can look, I’m really working hard tonight, trying to finish my book before the end of the year.”
Him: “I’m really desperate, the keynote speaker for tonight is really sick and we have no one to fill, you can come to the nice dinner afterwards…”
Me: “Um, okay, let me see what I have on my computer. Can you come by in ten minutes?”
Him: “How about 5? We’re really desperate here.”
Me: “Um, okay, let me see.”
6:10 pm. In my office, checking my computer. Colleague comes in.
Me: “yes, actually, I have something that might work, but I really was trying to get some work done tonight.”
Him: “Please, we need this so badly.”
Me: “Oh what the heck, I can try. I’m not sure about dinner though, I really should get some more work done.”
Him: “No problem, you can duck out after the talk. Oh, and do you have a laptop you can project from? We were expecting the speaker to bring one.”
Me: (relieved) “Yes, I have this (Asus Eee pc in my desk drawer) and can pdf the file to project”
Him: “Brilliant, let’s head there and get set up”
Me: “I’m really not dressed appropriately”
Him: “Oh, it’s casual, don’t worry.”
7:00 pm. I am introduced to a room full of science teachers who are expecting someone else, and a very different topic. I’m nervous as heck, not remembering the precise order of the slides since I didn’t have time to look through them. I do the best I can. Some of the assembled audience are in suits and ties (or dresses) and I’m still in my torn blue jeans and stained shirt.
7:55 pm. The talk is over, lots of questions have been asked, and I’ve probably gotten the strongest applause I’ve ever had from a talk (I’m feeling totally chuffed). I’m packing away the tiny and trusty machine. I’m swarmed with further comments and questions.
Him: “You’re coming to dinner, right? You can answer more questions then.”
Me: “Um, I guess.” (there is no real choice)
9:55 pm. The three course dinner is done, I’ve sat through it in my torn jeans and my toothpaste-stained fleece. I tell my host I really must be going.
Moral of the story 1: It does get worse than giving a seminar at MIT in your pajamas
Moral of the story 2: I was justified in buying a second Asus Eee pc (one for the office and one for home) because if I had not had this one in my office tonight, it would have been a disaster. (See me try to excuse my penchant for gadgetry…)
Moral of the story 3: If you’re called at the last moment (and make sure the audience knows it!) you are not actually persecuted for being dressed totally inappropriately at a work event.
Epilogue 1: The speaker who I was replacing was a very good friend of mine, and I knew he was ill as he had cancelled a meeting we had on Friday. So to him, get better soon!
Epilogue 2: Tomorrow is going to be damned busy trying to finish the things I was doing in my office at 6 pm when this whole adventure started!