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He was sitting at his desk when a notification popped up in the upper right screen of his laptop: “Charleston Chapter of CPAs Invites You to Join Us for an Evening of Fun and Networking.”
“Fun and networking – two words that should never be used in the same sentence,” he joked to himself, smirking at his own cleverness.
It was September, and so the 3rd quarter networking event for the local chapter of accountants was upon him. He couldn’t contain his excitement about the upcoming get-together, and he couldn’t help but wonder where the last three months of his life had gone since the last one. After trying to think of any and every possible excuse he could give not to attend, he reluctantly moved his mouse to the “Accept” button and pressed down. “Thursday, September 22nd at 6:30 p.m., here I come.”
When the morning of Thursday, September 22nd came, his inbox greeted him with a notification reminding him of the event later that evening. Immediately he hoped he would have a lot of work to complete that day, forcing him to stay late, but he remembered it wasn’t busy season yet, so the 80-hour work weeks couldn’t save him. He was doomed to go to the happy hour – “happy” being the operative word.
He wound up using the quarterly meeting as an excuse to leave work early at 5:30. He went home for a little bit, just to contemplate life, since he was already dressed in business casual for work and ready to go.
“Time to go, fuck it.” He practiced his charade of expressions and mannerisms, perfecting the look and feel of feigning interest. He had gotten good at faking it, he had to admit to himself. He even had rehearsed answers cued for the stock questions he knew he would be unfortunate enough to hear.
“So you work at a boutique firm? What made you switch from Big 4? How do you like it?”
“I’m not putting in a good word for you.”
“How long have you been working now?”
“Do you get to travel for your engagements?”
“To hell and back.”
“What do you do for hobbies?”
“Not go to networking events. Not think about work. Contemplate life and how I got to this point. Debate going back to college and working at a bar. Remember how great it was to be a kid?”
“Have you thought about kids yet?”
“No, but that does remind me– I got a few new matches this afternoon. You can’t go wrong with the always-swipe-right strategy.”
Indeed, he was certainly ready to go. Two shots in his apartment later, he was absolutely ready to go.
He arrived 15 minutes late at 6:48. He got out of his vehicle, and made the walk from the parking lot to the restaurant. The organization had rented the whole second floor of a restaurant that overlooked a serene lake with water so still and blue it could be mistaken for a painted backdrop. “This is one good thing about these events, I guess,” he assuredly quipped to himself. “They always spend a lot on the places they book. I suppose that’s where the dues that I expense go.”
He walked in through two wooden Victorian doors at the entrance, conquered the flight of stairs, and located a few of his coworkers crowded around the h’orderves table. The group proceeded to make small talk amongst themselves, but their words were soon interrupted by, “Hello, my name is Kyle. It’s a pleasure to meet you,” followed by, “Hi, I’m David. What’s your name?” Trailed by, “Hey, I’m Matthew, but you can call me Matt. How are you?” And so it began.
An eternity into the conversation, he inconspicuously glanced down at his watch to see the time.
“6:59? How the fuck is it only 6:59? My watch has to be wrong. Did I remember to change it for Daylight Savings? Wasn’t that like five months ago?” he silently said to himself, hoping his face did not give away his thoughts.
Already, the contrived group was running out of contrived conversation. Already, he had eaten a dinner’s worth of finger foods. And already, he was ready to go. He’d stuck it out for ten minutes, signed his name on the attendance sheet, picked up his name tag, and shown a little face, but not even the single unused drink ticket he was given upon entry could make him stay any longer.
He plotted his route to the exit and made his discrete escape, being sure to avoid any newly-initiated conversation that could possibly suck him back in. He knew that networking events were a useful tool for creating connections and opportunities, but he couldn’t force himself to submit to the fabrication of the whole thing, and Samantha from Tinder wanted to meet up for drinks in 20 minutes. She wasn’t like a home run hit or anything, but connections and opportunities just don’t present themselves like they did in college. .
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