There I was, a free range Aspergian in a room full of shrinks. I’d been hired to speak to the 116th annual gathering of the American Psychological Association. Imagine that. They not only invited me into their midst, they paid for me to come.
But they still made sure I knew where I stood, beginning with the registration clerks. Luckily, I arrived early enough to sort it out.
The first registrar I went to just stared. The second unit directed me to the third, which gave me a badge and pointed to the door. I walked inside, and looked around. I wondered if I’d see Larry David, or any of the crew from that other show, In Treatment.
I passed book sellers, pill merchants, and recruiters from the US Bureau of Prisons.
Luckily, I am resilient. I flipped the badge over so the security guards wouldn’t read it and evict me. I looked for the Taser booth, knowing they often exhibit at trade shows, but I couldn't find it. Then it was time.
That’s where I was supposed to go. I headed for the auditorium, which had filled with shrinks in a manner reminiscent of a high school at class change. Which was, in essence, what it was. They had all these programs going on, and they were handing out credit for them. There was a guy at the door to my room, scanning badges. I waited for him to get distracted and slipped inside.
Most places I speak have one of two arrangements. Some have a wireless microphone that they clip onto you, and you are free to roam around. A few places stand you before a podium, with a fixed microphone. This place, though, was unique. Here, a stout black cable emerged from a ring in the floor, leading ten feet to a microphone that I was supposed to wear.
They had me on a leash. Six feet forward and eight feet back. Close enough to see the audience, but too far for a quick grab. I began wondering about that so-called mike cable. Maybe it was meant for more than just sending a voice signal from me to them. Maybe they had a guy in back with one of those hand-crank field telephones, ready to fry me if I said a wrong word.
That Zimbardo fellow – the rock star psychologist who wrote the Lucifer Effect about the Stanford Prison Experiments – was here. Forewarned, I tucked all the metal outside my clothing. And the soles of my shoes were rubber. The floor was dry. I was confident that I had Freedom of Speech, subject to the leash.
With that preparation, my talk went well.
One tall dark fellow approached the booth, and I read his tag. Lima, Peru, it said. Quick as a flash, I turned to Mike Gentile, the Official Random House representative, and said: Look! A Peruvian!
There were others from even farther. There were people from Fiji, Australia, Detroit and even a human Tasmanian. I signed books for them all, as long as they had money to pay the bookseller. When the show ended, there were still people gathered round. I resolved to return tomorrow, for something they called Coffee With The Authors. I do not drink coffee, but I went anyway. Someone gave me an orange juice. Dr. Zimbardo was there, along with John Boyd and a female named Janice Erlbaum, who wrote a very strange book. But of course, this was a psychology convention, so strangeness was the order of the day.
A few hours later, I was able to slip out the door on my own, without any of the guards catching that NON MEMBER badge. I returned to the scene of flooding from last week, and I photographed these rocks: