FSP suggested that people share stories of the weirdest thing that ever happened to them at a conference.
My weirdest conference experience took place at the very first international conference I ever participated in. I was young, and this conference was a really big deal for me. Several leading scholars in my field whose names I always encountered in my textbooks were sitting in the first row.
I spent weeks polishing the talk, and it came out pretty good. Later, it got published, so obviously it wasn’t bad.
However, delivering the talk at the conference turned out to be a very dramatic experience. When I was about halfway done, an old professor (OP, for short) who’d been huffing, puffing and raising his brows in indignation really lost it.
“I don’t know what this senorita thinks she’s doing,” OP announced in a booming voice. “But this talk is crap.”
After which he threw his pencil at me.
My professor (MP, for short) who’d brought us to the conference and felt responsible for us flared up.
“What the hell are you doing, throwing pencils at my students?” he inquired in an even more booming voice. “Go throw some pencils at your own students. Oh, wait, none of your students are presenting. Maybe that’s because they are stupid.”
“My students are stupid?” OP bellowed. “They are miles smarter than this senorita.” And he pointed a finger at me.
I didn’t really see myself as a senorita in that context but, rather, as an esteemed colleague, so I decided to break up the fight.
“After we heard this fascinating exchange of opinions,” I said, “we should turn back to the autobiographical work of Juan Goytisolo.”
After the panel ended, my friend and I went outside and encountered OP and MP screaming at each other.
“Like I don’t know that you were the one who wrote this talk and gave it to this student to read!” OP vociferated.
“Oh, like you don’t know that I never in my life worked on this writer,” MP yelled back. “You are an old fool!”
My friend and I felt like the whole thing was getting too boring, so we went to a nearby bar to wait for the next panel.
A few glasses of wine and some really great jamon serrano later, my friend and I tipsily stumbled out of the bar. OP and MP were still standing outside, yelling at each other.
“I still remember what jerk you were back in grad school!” OP screamed.
“Oh, like you weren’t?” MP yelled back. “I still remember that time when…”
My friend and I looked at each other and went back to the bar.
In the evening, we were having drinks at the restaurant of our conference center (this was taking place in Spain, so wine was ubiquitous) when a hopelessly drunk OP stumbled into a chair next to us.
“So girls,” he asked playfully, “where are you spending the night?”
“Not anywhere close to you!” my friend answered and we left.
Later during that conference, OP ran off with a grad student, while MP was left consoling his weeping wife.