This week I had my first in-person business meeting since COVID Zoomed us all into little boxes, a year and a quarter ago.
It seemed like such a big event that I had my daughter take a picture of me, leaving on my motorcycle. I thought I looked a little dashing. I actually looked a little dumpy. “Good luck!” my daughter said.
It turned out to be kind of a disaster.
I rode down to the Loop, where a speechwriter to a prominent Chicago civic leader had suggested we meet. I was worried it might rain, worried I might not find parking close by, worried I might have missed a spot shaving or grown a spot balding. Or a hotwire eyebrow hair might arch across the table and poke the young woman in the eyeball and scratch her cornea.
None of that happened. But so much else did.
I got there early, picked out a seat, picked out what I wanted so I didn’t have to think about that. But then she came in and we didn’t know whether to elbow bump or shake hands, when to take our masks off or when to put them back on. We sort of followed one another’s fumbling lead.
Up to the counter together, to order our food. The hour of lead. Small talk about eating habits. Little quips. Timing off. Timing back on! And off again!
We are not faces on screens! We are people, in person! We drop things! We spill things! We ask the other person questions right after they ate a huge bite! We give little gifts and put too much emphasis on them, or big gifts and put too little, never the right amount. We talk too much or too little, never the right amount. We get carried away, never the right amount. We reveal things we didn’t mean to, unwittingly conceal things we meant to express. We say the dumbest things—things we would never say on a Zoom call—because we are distracted and overwhelmed by everything around us, everything across from us, everything inside us!
We are in the physical presence of another human being, and that is terrifying and thrilling because anything, I mean anything, could happen!
After we ate and all of the above happened and so much more, we went to throw our stuff away. I dropped the receipt on the floor. She picked it up. “Do you need this?” she said. “Oh yes, I do! My accountant will kill me! Hahahah!” But then we couldn’t figure out where to throw the stuff away, or whether we were even supposed to. Our lunch almost ended with our wandering around the restaurant like lost drunkards, indefinitely.
But that’s not how it ended. It ended with a handshake (because fuck it, we were friends now, after all we’d just been through together!) and an awkward but absolutely mutual authentic expression of thanks, for taking the time—and taking the plunge into the endless amazing adventure that is any simple lunch meeting with a new person who you want to like, and who you want to like you.
Honestly, I’m surprised we didn’t fall into each other’s arms.