Several weeks ago, I email one of the people in charge of a networking event/social club which is starting out. She tells me it’s at 18h00 on Tuesday the 21st of August. The meeting place is a café which I later learn to be more of restaurant.
As I leave, I am wearing navy dress trousers, a white, pocket-less dress shirt and black wingtips. My stubble is 2-3 days old and starting to turn into a beard. I depart well in advance to make sure I am not late. I get there about 35 minutes early. I take a walk to pass the time so as not to be too early. I walk towards a park. It is a historic park where the cannons from centuries past were left for historic/tourism purposes. I try to guess what caliber the cannons are. I look at the bore hole in the gun. Judging by its size, the size of the 20lbs free weights I have at home and the differences in shape and density between steel and lead, I guess that the cannons are either 24 pounders or 32 pounders. I get closer to the cannons and see an inscription which reads “32 Pr” so I guess I was right. I am mildly proud of myself and wish I had been able to show that off to someone.
It is 17H45 and my bladder is telling me it’s not too early get to the meeting point. I see a sign which tells me to wait for a waiter to assign a seat. A waitress spots me and comes to me. I mention that I’m here for the meeting of the club which is set for 18h00 hours. She goes through the listing and sees nothing. She talks to a man in his mid 40s to early 50s who is apparently in charge. I wonder if he is the manager or the owner. I wouldn’t want to take a seat in one location only for the meeting to take place in another. The guy in charge calls on the phone and seems somewhat upset or angry because of the apparent confusion. Is he involved in the club? I see other customers enter and I step aside for the waitress to assign their seats. My bladder puts a gun to my head and makes me ask for the restroom. It’ll give the guy on the phone time to sort things out. When I come back, the guy on the phone isn’t there anymore. I ask the same waitress what’s up and she tells me I can go upstairs, that’s where the guy who was on the phone is.
He’s a member of the club too. He goes up to his office to get the communiqué from the club. It seems the agreed upon time was indeed today at this hour but it was recently changed from another date which created confusion. I introduce myself by my first name only and he also does. I don’t want to involve last names right now because it risks making things formal. Keeping it on a purely first name basis helps make the relationship warmer. He introduces himself as “Marc.” He asks how I learned about the club and I give a very boilerplate answer about having heard about it and then looked it up on Internet and wanting to find out more about it. He asks if I want some coffee and I say “Yes, please”. He goes back downstairs.
I look at the nearest table and see a book with no title on the front cover, just an intricate drawing. The texture of the cover and its ugly blandness remind me of books published in the 70s and 80s. I look at the side of the book. Something about a dance with dragons by a George Martin. That rings a bell. I open it to a random page. Something about “khaelish” or something dragons. Flip to another page. The title of the chapter is “Tyrion”. Wait, I know name, it’s only spelled like that in one context. It’s the §Imp! This is one of the books the TV series Game of Thrones is based on! How I’d like to have that book.
Lord Baelish appears on my left shoulder and whispers into my ear: “Take it”, he says “You can get away with it and you’ll have that great book to read.”
Ned Stark appears on my right shoulder and whispers into my ear: “Do no such thing. The owner may remember where he lost his book and come back to claim it. Wouldn’t it be scummy to do that to him? How would you like that to be done to you?”
Fucking Ned Stark. Always right.
Marc comes back with the coffee and sits down with me. He asks me what I do and I mention being a lawyer. I note that he uses “tu” and not “vous” which means he is addressing me informally. He asks what kind and I mention that I mainly do business law, transactions, people who owe each other money and all that. I don’t do family or criminal law. I tell myself that I need to practice giving out basic information about myself, especially when it comes to the kind of law I practice. It’s important that I have an answer which is both interestingly informative and elegantly flowing.
He asks me if I do landlord/renter conflicts and I answer that it’s part of transactional law.
We talk about the new club that’s created and how meeting at 18H00 is in some ways better than the alternative club which meets at 7H30 in the morning. It doesn’t bother him personally though because at 7H00 he’s up and often finishes his day around midnight. I note that he works a lot. This is a venting/sharing/empathy/sympathy opportunity where he gets to share the fact that he’s overworked. I keep it in mind for later. I ask him if he’s the owner. He mentions that he is not the owner of the building as it’s worth several millions because of its historic value and prime location. He does own the business though. He’s owned it for about two years. I ask about the name of the restaurant and he tells me the history behind it. I probe into how he came to own the restaurant and learn that he started as a pizza deliverer and worked his way up to cook and then manager. He’s had about 23 years of experience in restaurants. I am impressed that someone went from delivery pizzas to owning a restaurant with a good reputation.
I know that in a historic building, making renovations can be quite a regulatory hassle so I ask about that to create empathy/sympathy/bonding opportunities. He goes on about how difficult it can be, even more so because he has to get the green light from the landlord even before he gets it from the city. He talks about the fact that his landlord is difficult to reach and is demanding in dumb ways. I wonder if he was probing me earlier to possibly represent me against his landlord or provide legal advice about his situation.
I ask him about the book and if it belongs to someone. He tells me it must be a customer who forgot it. He asks what the book is about and, not wanting to go into all the nerdy details, I tell him that it’s like Lord of the ring and the TV series A Game of Thrones is based on it.
Have I just outed myself as a nerd?
I ask him about the best offers in his restaurants and he details some of them. We talk about his business some more and what it’s like to manage a restaurant. He’s been having some difficulties lately because of a seasonal lack of customers. He mentions the complexity of the accounting and how every year he takes the time to sit down with his accountant and relearn the concepts. His work history involving working his way up (with likely no formal education) and the fact that every year, his accountant has to re-explain accounting concepts to him leads me to believe that I have to do a balancing act: On the one hand, I have to come off smart but I have to be careful not to make him feel dumb. He doesn’t seem dumb but his intelligence isn’t geared toward abstract concepts and theories. Going on about abstract topics, even if they are useful to him, could backfire if he’s insecure about a lack of scholarly learning.
Through the discussion, I learn that he relaxes at his chalet (with the ownership of the restaurant, this suggests assets above $1 000 000, possibly 2), is married and has at least two daughters who work at his restaurant. I can’t ask about his daughters yet, he doesn’t know me enough. Once we have created more of a rapport, I can ask about his children, what they’re like, how he worked to make sure they were well-provided for and the hopes he has for them.
The woman I emailed and who gave me the meeting information finally shows up at around 18H20. Her arrival makes it clear that no one else will show up and that there was a scheduling kerfuffle. The meeting will be next week. Marc uses “vous” with her which is formal. Marc asks for my phone number to keep me informed. I didn’t want to give him my business card on our first meeting but in this case, it makes sense to give him my card rather than dictate my number.
I tell Marc that if the owner of the book doesn’t come back to reclaim it and none of his employees want it, I’d quite like to have it. I ask Marc for his business card. He has to go upstairs to get one. As I wait downstairs, the waitress from earlier (who might quite well be Marc’s daughter) asks me what’s going on with the club meeting and I say there was a fuck up and it’ll be next week.
I immediately realize I shouldn’t have used the term “fuck up” with a stranger.
Marc comes back with his business card and I learn his last name. I ask him how much for the coffee. I know quite well that the coffee was provided free of charge. I ask because 1) I did want the coffee, expected to pay for it when I entered the restaurant and I shouldn’t presume of someone else’s charity. 2) I want to give him a good impression of me as upstanding and not a smoocher 3) I want to make it mutually explicit that he has given me a gift. Not a major gift, the coffee likely cost him a few dimes, but still a gift. Him giving me a coffee rather than charging me for it gets me out of the “just another customer” circle and into a closer circle and I want to make that explicit and mutually acknowledged.
He answers: “No charge. Michael.” in a warm tone and gives me a friendly pat on the shoulder. We tell each other goodbye.
That worked even better than I thought it would. A * friendly* pat on the back.
How many languages of love do we have here? There is the gift, plus the touch so that’s at least two which are certain. Then we arguably had quality time talking about his business and career. His warm tone, his explicit waiver of the price and his use of “tu” are getting close to words of affirmation considering we’re two men who just met each other.
So, this was a networking event which got aborted, where I met almost no one and talked very little about myself and my services. Yet it was pretty good.