The very intense man

Group of people listening to a speaker

Everything happens. Not, everything has happened, or everything will happen, everything happens.

Years ago I was invited to attend a lecture by a famous scientist, and asked to introduce the scientist. Remarks were prepared for me, and after I introduced myself, I read them to the crowd and then the scientist took the stage. He gave a good solid, but somewhat dull lecture to the packed darkened room. At the end, the lights came up and he asked for questions.

Sitting more or less four seats to my right in the front row, a very intense man jumped up, and started to shout questions. He yelled out that the talk was useless and the speaker knew nothing. He was angry, red in the face, shouting at the top of his lungs. The speaker turned to him and said, that’s enough from you and turned away, and asked for other questions from other parts of the room. The man stopped yelling and sat down, looking confused, his arms wrapped around himself. The questions continued, and I watched the angry man.

At the end of the formal question period, audience members approached the speaker, and the very intense man got up and started to walk towards the speaker as well.

I got up and stood in front of him, standing between him and the speaker (I am not a small guy), and I said the following: hello. The man looked at me and said, you’re the dean, right? I thought to myself, for once someone remembers who I am when I give an introduction, and I said yes. He said I have to talk to the speaker. I said, no, he’s busy. The man looked at me. His arms were wrapped around himself, and I saw he was holding a weathered brown leather briefcase against his chest. He said, I want to give something to him. I said, no, he’s busy. Then he said angrily, OK, I’ll give it to you instead, and he reached into the weathered brown leather briefcase that he held against his chest.

And, like I wrote above, everything happens. Not, everything has happened, or everything will happen. Everything happens. So I am there. As the man’s hand goes into the briefcase, I think for a second, and this is what I think: my wife is going to be so mad. And the very intense man pulls his hand out of the briefcase and points a manuscript at me. I do not expect to see a manuscript. He says, will you give this to him? I say, yes. He walks away and leaves the room. I walk to the garbage bin, and drop the manuscript in the garbage.

Afterwards I have supper with the speaker, and the people who had invited him. I remember not one thing of our supper conversation.


Occasionally I get feedback from people here before these posts are put online. This post confused people. It is nominally about three things: firstly, how every darn thing seems to happen in ten years of being dean; secondly, how some things have an immediacy to them, and how one can live simultaneously in the past, present and future. The last thing it is about is related to the following story.

When I moved back to Canada after living for years in the States, I had a kind of cultural inertia, which I have written about before. For example, for a while, I watched news shows on TV from the United States rather than Canadian news shows.

At the time, I lived on Côte-des-Neiges, and had a beautiful walk to and from McGill across the mountain. In December, it was probably the nicest time to walk, crisp and clean and quiet. One night, 25 years ago, I got home and flipped on the TV to watch the American news. I watched absent-mindedly the flashing lights and police cars of a tragedy somewhere. Then I noticed the byline was Montréal. I walked to the window of my Côte-des-Neiges apartment, and looked to the east, across the North side of the mountain. I saw flashing red and blue lights in the distance. I looked to my TV and saw flashing red and blue lights, and then turned back to my window to stare.

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