Steven (unzeugmatic) wrote,

A Familiar Name Recalls an Anecdote and then a Story

In researching a project at work today, I found a link to a paper presented at the 2005 Linux Symposium. At the top of the list of members of the Review Committee for the paper I saw the name of somebody I met many years ago at a Usenix Technical Conference. This gentleman and I had corresponded for a while afterwards, but that correspondence faded away. The surprise appearance of his name felt like a greeting, so I have since sent him an email message (to which he has responded). This reminded me of a conversational exchange I had at the very end of that conference with my friend Elizabeth, an exchange that still makes me smile.

Elizabeth was asking whether I had enjoyed the conference, and I said oh yes, in part because of the delightful experience of meeting somebody new and spending time with him. I said that I found myself thinking that if this gentleman lived in the same town as me I would actually want to date him, and this is an extremely unusual feeling for me to experience. Ok, those of you who know the outlines of my life since then are perhaps skeptical, but to that I respond that this experience was the one that first inspired my retrospectively designating a "Crush du Conference". That there were two in subsequent years (each with its own particular flavor and duration) doesn't diminish how unusual (and exciting) this one felt at the time. (In fact, just remembering it is putting me in a good mood.)

In response, Elizabeth gave me one of her patented discerning looks and asked, "Does he live on the same *continent*?" (Elizabeth lived in Switzerland at the time and this happened to be an issue of personal concern to her. )

"Yes," I admitted.

"Did he give any indication that he might return this interest?"

"Well," I mused, "we talked about the possibility of my helping out with the Linux Documentation Project, and he noted how much he would enjoy the chance to work with me."

"Did he give any indication that this was other than a professional interest?"

"Immediately after he said it he kissed me on the lips," I noted.

"Yes," she laughed, "I would call that an indication that this was more than professional courtesy."

The really exciting thing to me, that I'm now recalling, was how wonderful (and yes, unusual) it felt for me that whatever I have to offer might actually be of interest to somebody I liked. This was before I became a late-in-life barfly and got almost jaded to the notion of others expressing interest, I should point out. But there was also the sense that maybe I was misreading things. This gentleman's friendliness and flirtation was ample and pleasant, but there seemed to be a wall beyond which it would not go. So I feared, as I always do, that I was imagining something to be so because I wanted it to be so. Kisses on the lips aside.

When I got home I sent a long roundabout email message, full of sentences in the subjunctive mood, trying to make my interest (such as it was) clear while not making myself vulnerable -- or putting this gentleman in an awkward position of response. I did a pretty good job of two-steps forward, one-step backward, if I do say so myself.

To my delight I got a very clever note in response, reassuring and friendly, following my roundabout lead in style, but mentioning -- in a roundabout way -- the existence of a boyfriend. Whose existence, somehow, had never come up at the conference. Now, I could at this point have felt funny about the whole thing, as in how could I possibly have misread things, but strangely enough I did not at all. No, what I felt was great pride that hanging out with me had caused a nice handsome smart guy to forget to talk about his partner for a few days. Well, ok, part of me thought that maybe I had misread things a little.

Ah, but there's a reassuring postscript, or at least an explanation. We corresponded for a bit, then faded off for a fairly long time, then took up the correspondence again. At this point the life update included the mention of a new boyfriend, and a summary accounting of the end of the previous relationship. I had to do a little calendar math to put it together, but what became clear was that at the time of the conference in question the earlier relationship was ending, at least from my friend's perspective, but hadn't actually ended yet. Which really does explain what you might even call the mixed messages I was getting. It was not the first nor the last time I have experienced something of this sort. I like to think that this means I wasn't imagining things. And that's why I call this reassuring.

Before I realized that I wanted to write about this, I sent my refound correspondent a link to this journal. My hope is that he will find this tale entertaining (from my recollected sense of him I'm pretty sure he will), or at least not terribly inaccurate. Because really, not only am I pleased to be back in touch with this guy, but I'm probably going to need his help in documenting the Linux Device Mapper.
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