Despite the fact that I blog about the celebrities, the best part of the trip was really getting to meet and hang out with Pretty Parrot Lady and Mellow Bird Guy from Knoxville, and Chanandler Moviebitch, his brother Mac Geek, and Mac Geek's wife Chef Lucy-Liu-Alike from New York. By the end of the week we had formed a little mini-gang, with our own in-jokes, including my favorite (transplanted from Seattle): "Oh, do you like food? OMG, I LOVE food! Do you like kittens, too? That's so strange, because I LOVE kittens! Do you like air?... [ad nauseam]"
The night after the conference ended my mini-gang all had dinner together on the olde-tyme fishermans' warf; I had earlier invited my "she-didn't-say-no" future fiancé (more on her later) and her family to join us for dinner, but we didn't see her in the hotel lobby at the appointed time so it was just the six of us. I'm going to have to have words with her about being late like that, it makes me look bad in front of my friends!
Before we had ventured onto the wharf, I warned some of my companions that there were inverse-bums all along it: that is, every five feet someone asks you if you'll take some free soup from them. Mellow Bird Guy and Pretty Parrot Lady didn't see the problem in this, apparently not having the keen sense of guilt I do. I believe Mellow Bird Guy's words were, "You're hungry now, right? Seems like a good way to snack up."
When we got to dinner I ordered a bottle of red wine after verifying that everyone would drink it ("OMG! You like wine! *I* like wine! Do you like kittens?") and we all got to a pretty happy place. Well, except for MB Guy, who had to do all the driving in the zoo folks' trip to San Francisco that night. I asked PP Lady why she couldn't help drive and she said simply, "Because I'll be in the passenger seat," which sounds reasonable but doesn't really explain much if you think about it.
Chanandler loves sweets (but is annoyingly thin and handsome) and so I asked him if he liked to mack on some Magnolia cupcakes. It turns out that, in fact, he used to work at a modeling agency across the street from the now-famous Magnolia bakery, and that Chef LLA had brought him some of their cupcakes one time when she visited him at work and he about died. "Their frosting is really amazing. It's not cloying and has the perfect texture," he enthused, without the slightest hint of irony. "So, would you say that those Magnolia cupcakes have got all the bomb frosting, then?" I asked.
Chanandler took a certain delight in recollecting how many of the waifish models he got addicted to cupcakes, but the sad postscript is that Magnolia now constantly has a line around the block for their cupcakes, literally hours long, so real New Yorkers can't go there any more. In related news, I had a friend tell me tonight that he went to a theater in Olympia and they had run out of Mr. Pibb. I'm not even kidding.
I teased Mac Geek about marrying way above his station, since his wife Chef Lucy-Liu-Alike is a master chef and also funny and also kind of fiercely smart. Also, she does a really good lemur impression. I think she was a little taken aback to have me speak about her as if she were a prize to be won or lost, but I'm rough around the edges like that. And I've never met a guy who thinks this kind of teasing is offensive, because I think secretly it's every guy's goal to find a gal who is better than him. I know it's mine. Since Mac Geek's sister also married extremely well, I told Chanandler that if he didn't marry a damn supermodel/scientist he'd be the disappointment of the family. I think I also warned him I already had dibs on Jehane, the girl who had failed to say no to my marriage proposal.
I saw some amazing fauna native to Monetery when some of my gang and I went for a short walk on a long pier, including sea lions and huge anemones and giant starfish and parts of the kelp forest and grebes and a cormorant. However, I chose to take a picture of a gull. In retrospect, I feel kind of stupid about that.
Thomas Dolby took the stage for real on Friday with a great intro: "I've been coming to TED for 8 years now, and every year this old guy comes up to me and asks me, 'Hey, why don't you ever to play that song?' [pause] And I always respond, 'I forgot the words.' [pause] Well, this is for you, Albert. [pause] My song."
Then he kicked it with a new mix of "She Blinded Me with Science" that rocked the house. Charles Fleischer (famous for being the voice of Roger Rabbit) jumped up on stage and joined in on his harmonica, bouncing around like a 10-year-old. And for the first time in my life I finally understood the damn words to that one line, too: "...and antiquated notions but! - it's poetry in motion..." Some people like Thomas Dolby and some people don't, but if you're one of the latter then you're a big stupid, is the end of that sentence. TED liked Thomas Dolby plenty, and he got a standing ovation.
Julia Sweeney also gave her talk on Friday, which ended up being just the first 18 minutes of her show, which was fine with all of us, because that shit was damn funny, and also pretty deep. Like a lot of the other entertainers, on-stage she was completely lit up, but every time I saw her off-stage she looked like she was privately contemplating the heat-death of our planet. Which, given the tone of the conference, actually seems probable.
I don't think she went a single second over the 18-minute mark, so I dodged the bullet there. She simply broke character right in the middle of a sub-story and said, "Oh my gosh I have to stop, I'm out of time," and that was that.
At the aquarium party Friday night I cornered Matt Groening (as I had done several times already) and finally leveled with him, "You know, as sorry as I am that Futurama was cancelled, I gotta say after that dog episode [Jurassic Bark] I was really, really angry with you guys." I admit I might have been a bit drunk, and I might have started yelling, "YOU ABUSED US! THAT WAS ABUSE!" at poor Mr. Groening. He was an INCREDIBLY good sport, and in fact explained that he had argued hard against that final scene, in that it was too maudlin and also made no sense, because the dog is there in the rain for like ten years and never moves from the spot, yet somehow it's only old age that kills it.
But two of his writers really wanted to kill a dog, so there it was. "SO FIRE THEM!" I yelled, as I have trouble with modulation when I drink. "Well, one of them was my partner..." "YOU NEVER KILL A DOG! IT'S THE FUNDAMENTAL RULE OF HOLLYWOOD! DON'T KILL THE DOG!" Matt explained that the whole idea came from some famous Japanese movie ("THERE'S YOUR PROBLEM! THEY ARE ALL SO DEPRESSING! LIKE THAT 9-HOUR ONE WHERE THE GUY FREEZES AT THE END!") where a guy dies and his dog waits for him until it dies, and that Matt had gone into the movie telling himself he wasn't going to cry because it was such a set-up, and yet wailed the whole way through.
Then some of the other Groening-groupies and I took turns naming our favorite episodes of The Simpsons to Matt and why they liked 'em, which I think ended up being kind of a nice compliment for him. It's amazing to think we all spoke a common language of jokes ("Howdiddly hey, neighborino!") that were all penned by this one man.
After the party about a hundred of us staggered over to the bar in Monetery, which was absolutely packed. There were maybe twenty locals the place. About five of the locals were hot girls, all tarted up and ready to land themselves some millionaire husbeens, a plan which paid big dividends from what I saw. The others were angry local men, pissed as hell about their bar being invaded by rich famous dudes who were hoovering up their women. This is an actual conversation I had with one of them, who honestly did NOT seem the slightest bit drunk:
Angry Guy: "Hey! You knocked over my beer out there!"
Me: "Oh! I'm so sorry! I didn't see you!"
Angry Guy: "You need to buy me another beer!"
Me: "Of course! Look, I'm buying everyone a round right now, just go ahead and get a beer and tell them to put it on Wil's tab."
Angry Guy: "NO! You buy me a beer, now! Heineken!"
Me: "O-Kaaaaay..." (I go over to the bartender, wave him down, and explain the situation. The bartender is about ready to kill the guy, since I'm the bartender's new best friend.)
Me: "Ok, your beer is coming right up. I'm going over to my friends..."
Angry Guy: "NO! I want my beer!"
Me: "You just saw me order your beer, sir. What else would you like me to do?"
Angry Guy: "You give me a beer!"
At this point I pretty much said, "I got you your damn beer, I'm done," and turned my back to him and walked off. I felt safe doing this because I HAD JUST BOUGHT A DRINK FOR A HUNDRED OTHER PEOPLE IN THE BAR. Also, two tall and very fit young TEDsters were already talking to the guy, apparently telling him in soothing words that he needed to spaz the fuck down. (Note to Aaron: you rock.)
You really have to admire this guy's cojones, not only because I had four inches and thirty pounds on him, but because I had a HUGE RED 'TED' NAMETAG around my neck that looked surprisingly like the ones that EVERYONE ELSE IN THE ENTIRE FUCKING BAR was wearing, and they ALL CLEARLY KNEW ME. I mean, if it turned into a rumble, he was going to get a pounding. Frankly, I would have put my money on just Aaron vs. Angry Guy.
This was actually the second drink I'd knocked over that night, and interestingly the earlier one was also one of the locals', and interestingly he also demanded (less angrily, but firmly) that I buy him a new one before I even had a chance to offer. And verified again that it was, indeed, going on my tab.
In Monterey they must have a real problem with beer-related tip-and-run incidents.
The TED conference is very high-falutin' and intellectual and civic-minded, which of course means everyone there is horny as hell and ready to go. TED's a very different world for me, because the women are pretty much my age or older (I always seem to meet much younger girls in Seattle) and they have different priorities in what they're looking for in men. To put a fine point on it, ladies like me at TED. I like this.
I'm not claiming I'm always the smoothest. Last year, I fell madly in love with a pretty gal who's an expert in the biology of sex in different species. All those words are like catnip to me. I talked with her for several days and then, at a party and possibly drunk (I'm not saying I didn't not not drink) I asked her to marry me. Sure, I admitted, we didn't know each other, but love cares naught for these things, and my mom would be so disappointed if I didn't try.
She excused herself from the conversation shortly after that and didn't speak to me again. Nor did she come to this year's TED. Thus, I am starting to consider my conquest of her to be a failure.
Another huge failure of mine, this year, was a pretty speaker who gave what I thought was a really fascinating talk but that some people found kind of obtuse. Her work really interested me, and even if she weren't totally good-looking I would have liked to talk to her about some of the implications of her work.
However, she didn't want to talk to me. Nope. Not at all. I went up to her after her session and thanked her for it, and she said she was glad I liked it and turned away. Ok, well, maybe she was busy, that's fine. A day later I walked up when she was talking to James L. Brooks (the same, yes) and sort of stood a couple feet away to see if I'd get any signals this was a conversation that I was allowed to join (eg, looking up, smiling, acknowledging I am alive on this planet, spitting on me as I set myself on fire). No, no it wasn't.
At the final party she was in a large group around Matt Groening (she's apparently really crazy about those Simpsons, man), and I joined in beside her after gathering every glow stick that they'd scattered around the entire place, and said, "Hey, want a glow stick?" I should mention I had them tucked in my ears and in my hair at this point, and I'd been offering them to lots of people.
She looked completely nonplussed as she turned her head the slightest bit towards me, so she could just see me out of the corners of her eyes, and slowly said in a voice as cold as the edge of space, "No, thank you," then turned back to Matt. In my most cheerful voice I said, "You sure? I've got plenty!" and waggled my huge stash of glowsticks at her. She turned slightly and squinted at me, as if she could kill me with her eyes. I backed away and never spoke to her again. Message received.
I did find some women who didn't hate glowsticks or me with the intensity that she did, and in fact I did several women's hair in glowstick-based fashions. Here's a picture I took of one of them after I was through.
This year I did manage to flirt with several smart, amazing, interesting, gorgeous women, only most of whom turned out to be married. In my defense, I didn't know. Yes, I know NOW that married women often have rings, but you have to understand that, never having had a woman wear a ring of mine, I'm not really very hip to this protocol. It's like expecting someone who doesn't drive to check your blind spots for you.
One gal who wasn't married, as far as I know, and in fact who I might now be engaged to, was Jehane Noujaim, who was one of the three winners of the TED prize this year, meaning she gets $100,000 and she gets to make a wish and all the collected geniuses and rich dudes in the audience are supposed to try their darnedest to make it happen. Last year was the first year they did this, and Bono was one of the winners, and damned if those zillionaires didn't make his wishes didn't come true. And they were big ones, too.
Anyhow, Jehane created the documentary "Control Room," which is pretty incredible, and also is young, smart, and gorgeous. One funny side note is that TED asked her for pictures of herself (for the party) while she was traveling, so she just asked her assistant to do it. So, at the party after the TED prizes were announced, the other two winners had all these pictures of themselves building houses for the poor and/or saving the most downtrodden people in the world from polio, and Jehane had pictures of herself dancing with her hands above her head, drunk off her ass and showing her tummy. (I'm not just assuming the drunk part; I asked Jehane.)
Jehane told me she's never making that mistake again, I told her she should just be happy it wasn't porn or pictures of her ex-boyfriends naked. (I can tell you that I'll never let an assistant rifle through my laptop for pictures.) I did ask her to re-enact the best photo for me so I could remember her always, you can see her re-enactment here. She's a good sport.
I figured I should really get my bid for Jehane in early, so I gave her some ideas for completing her wish, to which she responded that I'm really quite smart. I preened like Einstein at this. After we closed down the bar in Monterey at 2AM or so, a group of us staggered across the street to hang out in the Marriot lobby, and as I helped Jehane brave the vicious night traffic in Monterey (chirp, chirp, chirp) I asked her if she'd be willing to marry me, maybe. "Sure, why not?" she said. I'll note for the record that that is not a no.
I noted that she was an awfully good sport, and told her of my failure the previous year with the biologist. "That's just rude," was Jehane's opinion.
The next day Jehane was in the line to FedEx our crap back home behind me, and she had to run to the beach party. She felt bad leaving her father in line alone, so she grabbed me and another TED guy and batted her eyelashes and asked if we would make sure her father made it to the party OK. We of course said, "Screw your dad, we're going to the party now, woman." No, not really.
So her father mailed his packages and my companion and his brother and I all escorted Jehane's not-very-aged and not-at-all-enfeebled father on the short walk to the beach party. I think all of us (including the father) were wondering why we were doing this, so I said loudly, "Yes, sir, we're here to protect you. If anyone messes with you, we'll flatten them." He chuckled a bit, but I could tell there were still questions unanswered. Why were we protecting him? Because he was of Egyptian descent and racism is rampant these days? It seemed like a bad time to bring that up. Oh, wait, I have it. "Yes, sir, you've demonstrated a clear ability to create really amazing daughters, and we have a real shortage of those. So, we're gonna make sure you can create some more."
Jehane's dad is actually quite sharp (and, if he ever reads this, I'd like to mention handsome and distinguished and a fine judge of character) and he commented, "You know, I have another daughter back in Connecticut."
"Dibs!" blurted one of the other escorts, but then, being a TEDly gentleman, "Oh, I guess Wil asked about her first."
At this point I felt it was best to come clean, "You know, sir, I'm a traditional Southern gentleman, and I know Jehane's not really a traditional girl [her father mutters something incredibly affirmative under his breath] but I felt it'd be appropriate if I let you know that I asked for her hand last night, and she didn't say no. And, you know, I'd like your blessing."
Her father said something pretty noncommittal about me being raised right, then after a pause, changed the subject to something more neutral than how much we all wanted his daughter.
"So, what is it you do?" he asked. Then, realizing the irony in his question, he added with a twinkle in his eye, "I have to judge your economic prospects if you wish to be with my daughter."
"Oh, I can assure you, sir, in that regard I will not disappoint." My two fellow escorts, to whom I apologize whole-heartedly for forgetting their names (it was the last day), completely backed me up, telling him how great I am and what a coder and whatnot. TEDsters got your back, yo.
At this point we were about a block into our journey, and I realized I had no idea where the beach actually was. I'd never been there in the light, and last time I'd taken a bus. My two companions also were unsure. We sat there for a while, and the consensus was that we should go left. Except for Jehane's dad, who I'd like to point out we were told to escort, thought it was right.
Well, he was our senior, and we're really just his honor guard, and we were all in love with his daughter, so we did it his way. I don't think I have to finish the story... if we had gone left we would have wandered for miles before finding any beach, and it certainly wouldn't have been the correct beach. Instead we walked fifty feet to the right and there was the dang party.
I thought it spoke really well of the man that he had let his daughter assign two young guys to look after him when, in fact, he knew perfectly well where the damn party was and was perfectly capable of walking a block. He just smiled and said OK, and then led us to the correct spot. I'm betting he never even told her that her guides had screwed the pooch. I'd even go so far as to bet that he thanked her when he got there for making sure he was taken care of.
On the beach, they had ran out of hot dogs after about thirty minutes (and just before we got there), which seemed like a cruel irony considering the embarrassing number of plates dripping with the most expensive delicacies from around the world that had loomed over us at the three other parties that had been thrown that week. There was minor grumbling but it was hard to complain in light of recent lavishness. The beach party is a more informal affair, I gather.
I noted, "You'd think one of these billionaires would run to the market and spring for $5 worth of franks," but honestly I knew why nobody went; it was the same reason I didn't go: this was our last hour together, and nobody wanted to get food and come back and discover all his friends were gone. So I eyed other people's dogs hungrily, hoping to be offered a bite. I thought about saying, "Hey, I'll give you $20 for the rest of that hot dog," to one of the slower eaters, but I realized that in a bidding war in this crowd I was going to lose. Badly. And then someone was going to end up with a $100,000 hot dog, and we'd all feel silly.
Matt Groening was there, surrounded by well-wishers again, including my old friend Mike Matas. As far as I knew this was the first time Mike had met Matt, so I walked up behind Mike and said loudly, "GEEZ, Mike! Leave the man alone! Just because he's famous doesn't mean he wants fans constantly coming up to him and pestering him! Don't be such a fanboy! Have a little pride!"
The funny part was Mike had no idea what I was on about, not having seen me pin Matt seven or eight times already that week with my fanboyishness, but Matt gave me a wink and laughed.
When the party was breaking up PP Lady and MB Guy and I walked past Dynamo, impressing the same local ladies from the bar last night with his hip-hop street magic, yo. He took a signed quarter from a gal and made it teleport inside of a full, closed can of Coke, which he then opened and poured out and showed her. I figured the trick out (it was neat) and re-enacted it quietly to PPL and MBG, because, you know, only a jerk loudly proclaims "OH I SEE HOW HE DID IT!" in front of a street magician who is making time with the local ladeez. PPL called me clever and I realized why that parrot only speaks to her.
As we walked from the beach to the wharf a gorgeous private jet was taking off overhead, fresh off Monterey airport runway 28L, heading to parts unknown. Someone said, only half-joking, "there goes Jeff Bezos," and I realized that the likelihood that it was someone from the conference, waving us a last goodbye, was actually staggeringly high.
And it struck me that, sure, I get to go to sessions and parties with them all week, and we talk and laugh and booze and schmooze, and I think, "Hey, these guys are just like me." And then at the end of the week they are helped into the black Escalades they've hired, and are zipped off to their private jets, and they fly home to their mansions.
But the people I miss most aren't separated from me by a difference in fame or money or power, it's more a matter of geography. And we're not all such jet-setters that we can just nip off to each other's houses on the weekends.
But I've already signed up for TED next year. I hope they have, too.