Thursday, October 27, 2016

Ten-Minute Enigma

Zestful Blog Post #182

This happened on October 21 at approximately 9:25 a.m. at the Florida Writers Association conference. ‘Crystal Ballroom C’ in the Hilton hotel, Altamonte Springs. Some of you were there.

[But oh, first I gotta give a shout-out to the Royal Palm Literary Award Winners. Special congratulations to frequent Zestful blog commenter Tricia Pimental, and to my St. Augustine crit-group member Melody Dean Dimick, who won two awards! Have I overlooked any blog follower? Lemme know.]

OK, the enigma. I arrived at about 9:00 to set up for my presentation scheduled for 9:20, “How to Write Dialogue Like a Pro” and found the room already filling up. There were about 10 of those big round tables seating 8. Or maybe it was 8 tables seating 10. Anyway, over the course of the next fifteen minutes the place got packed, so much so that people were resigning themselves to standing room. Gratifying for me, but problematic for the conference, because attendees were still trying to crowd in.

At 9:20 I received a nice introduction from Nancy, one of the many unsung conference volunteers (so unsung that I can’t remember her last name), and began. After maybe five minutes, two or three hotel staff guys came in and began the process of transforming the wall between Crystal Ballroom C and the currently unused Crystal Ballroom D from a solid thing to a huge accordion-fold of heavy panels. Writers intent on improving their dialogue skills happily moved to occupy the near tables in Crystal Ballroom D. This was a bit disruptive, but one of those necessary things, and everybody was now more comfortable. As the hotel guys shoved the panels into a compartment in the wall behind me and left, I resumed talking, using slides and pictures to illustrate my brilliant points.

Five minutes later a woman stood up and called out, “Excuse me, but my purse has been stolen!” 

“Maybe folks nearby could look around?” I said, checking my watch and starting to worry about time lost. During the next few minutes people peered beneath tables and chairs, despite the upset woman saying, “It isn’t here. It isn’t here. It’s been stolen.”

No one could find it; the purse was gone.

“It would be a good idea to get hotel security involved right away,” I suggested from the dais, and the woman hurried out. I sympathized; it’s terrible to lose your purse, and although the victim was distraught, I thought she was doing a pretty good job of holding it together. I resumed talking, then in another few minutes a hotel security guy came in with the victim and started looking around, etc. I was reluctant to speculate that maybe one of the wall-moving guys had somehow grabbed the purse. One doesn’t want to automatically blame the help, and moreover, the guys had on just shirts and pants, no jackets or anything, and they hadn’t been carrying any kind of equipment bag that could have easily hidden the purse.

I kept talking in spite of the minor hubbub still going on with the security fellow. My audience nicely stuck with me and overlooked it when I lost my place a couple of times.

After another minute, someone sitting close to the dais spoke up and pointed: “I wonder if it could be in that wall!” Meaning the compartment where the partition panels had been folded away.

I thought that was a brilliant possibility, because the victim had been sitting near the partition. A couple of attendees took the initiative to open the compartment and root around in it, and lo and behold came the shout, “Here it is!” The purse had gotten somehow swept up in the partition as the guys accordioned it away. (Thank you for speaking up, RPLA winner Melody! Later I learned others had had the same thought, but hadn’t called it out yet.)

Happy ending, though I had to hotfoot it over the last parts of my presentation to try to make up for the lost time.

Afterward, the woman stopped me in the concourse and apologized, saying, “I’m the drama queen who disrupted your presentation.” Of course I told her never mind, these things happen.

In the aftermath, a few conversations got going around the assumption that the purse had been stolen, which—hey, it seemed like a reasonable conclusion. After all, I was standing there at the lectern thinking of the likeliest suspects: the hotel employees, who had come in and out so quickly. Who were they? Where were they now? And yet—and yet! A freakish, unintended event had come between the woman and her purse; no one’s fault, a perfectly reasonable explanation. Such a fantastic lesson in remaining calm and considering all possibilities in the face of calamity! Any of the great detectives—fictional and real—would have been proud!

I’m still shaking my head over it.

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  1. I think it sounds like part of a plot in a book. KT

  2. I never thought the purse was stolen. Too many years of FWA events, attendees, and professional staff for that to have occurred. I was surprised the unfortunate young lady didn't call out "missing" rather than stolen. For me it was a sad commentary on how quick we can be to think the worst. I do think it's great she spoke to you after your presentation, which you rocked despite the distraction.
    And many, many thanks for the shout out!

  3. First, really glad the purse was found and not stolen. She must have been so relieved.

    Second, I'm not at that surprised about everyone's initially concurring it must have been stolen. I just attended an unconscious bias seminar at work and our collective experiences over time, coupled with personal experiences, makes that scenario appear to be the most likely one. There's nothing wrong with that, but it's great to see people also look past it and suggest other possibilities.

  4. I didn't get to your dialogue presentation at FWA - though, I saw your full room and thought, "You go girl!" - so I don't know the atmosphere that may have contributed to assumption of the purse being stolen. There were many new attendees who may have felt nervous or jostled, so the benevolent feel of FWA may not have sunk in yet.

    My first thought from your story was that the accordion thing would be a great place to trap someone. Everyone is distracted between sessions. The walls open, and the victim gets stuffed into the soundproof divider storage. The missing purse provides an unexpected distraction as the villain gets away. But the victim finds the purse in there with them and thinks it will give them a way to get out...alas, no. But they do find something to fight off the villain when they return.

  5. Tricia, that's very cool that you did not automatically make that assumption, and yeah, I too thought it was a little strong for the woman to have called out 'stolen,' right off the bat. It did get everybody's attention, I'll say that. I picked up a small vibe of some people not buying the 'stolen' storyline; wished I could have paid more attention to that. Lorraine, that workshop must have been pretty interesting! It's human nature to be suspicious of other 'tribes,' and I might add that something as valuable as a purse (money, ID, gadgets) might reasonably trigger a more extreme reaction than if the item had been a sweater or notebook. And Leavesandcobwebs-- yeah! I too thought about the partition thing sweeping in, say, a small child or even infant. I like your plot spin of having the trapped individual find the purse (which might have already been in there for a day or two)... The purse could certainly contain a weapon, even pepper spray... Ah, these are heady times we live in!! XXOO to alla you lovely commenters!!

  6. I also thought that the purse may have been in the folds of the wall, but I would have waited until the end of the presentation to avoid further interrupting the speaker.

  7. That's because you are a gentleman, Stan. XO


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