I was first to sit in the Main Room in wait of Mike Cruse’s reading. There was a host of tables to choose from, and my usual modus op would’ve had me select the back table, to the left. I don’t know why so GPS-specific.
Well—back table, because I’ve always been part of the assorted bustle in the ‘Peanut Gallery’; to the left may be an accident of ideology. I always default to the left. Perhaps wish I were left-handed like DaVinci, Escher, or Michelangelo. Or at least Macca, with his restrung bass. This way, I could pretend to be in a league of creative elites by manner of genetic predisposition.
Being the first to select a seat in the conference hall, though, I chose middle-middle. The experiment: ‘Who’s gonna sit with me, when people file in?’
At the SanFran Summit, at LucasFilm, I sat in a recessed corner with my guac and chips. Kevin McKeever sat his tray across from me as rescue, and, swinging a leg over the cafeteria bench, said: “What—you didn’t make any fucking friends today?”
Others joined—old DadCentric folk—and I was relieved. I’m generally a nervous wreck; I only recently learned how to speak.
At the middle table in the Hyatt, during the quiet of an empty conference room, I cracked open my laptop and set my phone at right angle to it. I am OCD and believe in setting up a station accordingly—the things we do to make ourselves comfortable when cornered with openness. I typed maybe two sentences before a tidal wave of swag bags and backpacks were heaped on the table next to me.
“Thom—how are you?!”
Jay Sokol. I hadn’t expected to see him. With all the busy thread-making in preparation for the conference, Jay had posted:
‘Might not make it. MIL just passed.’
I, guiltily, had not garnered a response.
‘Goddammit’, we sometimes say, and to ourselves without touching a keyboard to reach out.
I like Jay. He exudes kindness and has been present at every Dad event I’ve been present for. Always a disarming presence, always with a half-smile—gracious and effusively polite. He’s met my kid—the younger one—and I was able to tour the Sokol family at SeaWorld to show them penguins.
“I’m sorry for your loss, Jay—I really am.” I lost my MIL before she actually became one, dead from a failed brain surgery while my wife and I were planning our wedding.
Jay looks almost wan, wisened, or maybe just tired. But he wears his gentle smile and dismisses my apologies. We talk, and I close my laptop.
“You know what, Thom?” he says. “I have a hard time looking at the internet sometimes.”
We all do, unless we force ourselves to, like some pried-eyed Burgessian Alex, seizing on the current news.
“And I only met your son for a few minutes, but sometimes I look for him, and he makes me feel better.”
My son, the unicorn—Findlay of the red hair and extra chromosome—he does make everyone feel better, especially me. But my heart grows three sizes hearing Jay say as much, without him knowing I’ve been through similar loss, and that I have similar gain in the fact of Findlay just being Findlay.
I am sensitive to loss, but also to gain—I remember Jay’s kid chasing a duck-butted penguin on the grass at my work—and I’m thankful that, in an empty conference room, Jay surprised me by filling the seat to my RIGHT.
Thanks, Dude of the House; thanks Mr. Sokol. Thanks for sitting next to me.