So now that I've shared with you the glamour that was my publishing career. I thought I would take a stab at one that stories I've wanted to tell for a long time that is more odd than glamorous.
One of the many cities that I travelled to for work in those years was Philadelphia. I had never been there before and I haven't been there since, though I've meant to go back. I liked it. People sort of shudder when I say that, and of course I know that Philly has its problems, but it's old and historic and quite beautiful in places.
Our conference party was held in one of those historic museum/homes that doubles as a function space to supplement revenue. The party was one of those with servers in mock tuxes carrying trays among the mingling guests. I'm terrible at this sort of social gathering, can't really make small talk with people I don't know well, and I'm sure I spent most of the gathering looking busy.
But with the company, there was always an after party, a meal at a restaurant where I could be one of the group, and could sit and listen to the stories of the old days.
This time the stories of the old days started before we ever got to the restaurant. In fact, they led us to the restaurant. "Remember that time when we had no money and we went to that seedy Middle Eastern place..." turned into "Let's go back."
An hour or so later I found myself entering a dark, cavernous, room - more club than restaurant, really - with a few executive-level co-workers, a few middle managers, three of our top authors, a few sales reps, and one guy who was interviewing for a rep job in Texas. The food? Well, the food was kabobs and rice. I think that was pretty much all that was on the menu, but I could be mistaken. There was beer. It was brought to the table in the cardboard six-pack carrier. The kabobs were dry, which was a shame because I actually like lamb. The skewers, with their curved and hammered handles were the most interesting part.
There were a bunch of guys playing bongo-like drums on a tiny platform stage. It was pleasant, if strange, until the entertainment was announced. Belly dancing. With Fatima.
Okay, she was attractive, somewhat exotic with her flowing costume and her cymbals. But of course, belly dancing really doesn't do much for the men in this country. People looked at her, applauded politely, and went on with their meals and conversations. She did her thing, coaxed a few men out on to the floor with her (including our young interviewee), and walked away with a few paltry tips.
A few minutes passed and the drumming became more intense. Apparently Fatima was only the opening act. The real headliner was still to come. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, put your hands together for The Amazing Omar!
Clad in brown pantaloons and a vest, Omar strode to the center of the floor with bare feet. Metal disks like coins sewn up and down the seams of his clothes jingled as he walked, and became part of the music as he danced. There was an intensity and an urgency to the rhythm that grew as the dance progressed. Balancing a sword on his head and twirled with grace and precision, he conveyed, not so much sexuality, as power and mastery: mastery of his art, mastery of the room, mastery of the women, many of whom were now on their feet and waving money. The temperature in the room rose ten degrees.
I remained in my seat with my jaw dropped, stealing glances at my coworkers, the VPs, and the authors. They had let loose, let go. A director balanced a kabob skewer on her head and moved out on the dance floor, intoxicated by both drink and dance. These dignified people, many in higher positions than I, were completely undone by The Amazing Omar.
And then suddenly it was done, over. Omar sheathed his sword and disappeared. We were left looking around, awkwardly wondering what had just happened. We gathered our things hurriedly, as if we had awoken in an unfamiliar place, and headed for the door.
As we left, I picked up the now forgotten kabob skewer and slipped it into the sleeve of my coat, intending to leave it on the director's desk back in Boston as a joke. On the flight home, I thought the better of it. Now every spring, the skewer stands in my garden, marking off planted seeds - a silent reminder of the little curves in a seemingly straightforward life.