A lunchtime adventure during which I do not engage in networking with Brazen Careerist author Penelope Trunk

April 1, 2009

brazenbook_frontIt’s raining at a medium windshield wiper pace and I’m running late for lunch with Penelope Trunk. I was going to park in a ramp, but I spot an open space on West Washington Avenue only a block away from my destination; so I take it even though I only have 85 cents in change for the meter and may well end up with a parking ticket.

The wind is so strong it blows my cheap umbrella inside out, so I decide not to risk taking my Nikon D40 with me. Instead, I tell myself if there’s an opportunity to take a photo I can rely on the little point and shot Olympus I always carry in my purse. Besides, the Olympus has a 10X zoom, so I can sneak up on my subject from a distance if necessary.

I may have to use that zoom lens because I won’t be sitting at the same table as Trunk. I probably won’t even be sitting at a table because my destination is “A Brown Bag Lunch Networking Event” sponsored by Wisconsin Women in Government and it’s being held in a conference room. I may also have to use that zoom lens if I’m late and relegated to standing in the back of the room.

There are still quite a few seats available when I arrive at 11:30 a.m. I pick up my nametag and pause to look at the rows of bottled water and platters of cheese and crackers, fresh fruit, vegetables, and sweet desserts sprawled on tables just inside the door to the conference room. I haven’t brought a brown bag lunch and there is no one standing at the front of the room about to launch into a lecture, so snarfing some goodies and laying claim to 500 ml. of Aquafina seems like a good idea.

Problem: No silverware, not even a bowl of toothpicks. I’m deft enough to pick up small bits of melon without touching somebody else’s nosh, but putting some cheese on a round cracker is a challenge. Someone already tried to dip into the semi-hard cheese ball and there are bits of shattered cracker littered around it. I stick with fruit and baby carrots.

I take a seat on an aisle. It’s a habit I developed from all those years of writing on deadline. It also makes it easier to slip out of the room if the speaker is boring. Not that I expect Trunk to be boring: I’ve been reading her blog too long to believe that.

It’s 11:35 a.m. by the time I finally sit down in this room full of women. There’s still no action in the front of the room. I turn down the volume on my cell telephone in case Himself decides to call me. I haven’t told Himself I’m having lunch with Penelope Trunk because recently he admitted that, “When she writes all of the blood in my veins rushes to the appropriate locations.” I call this Priapic Trunk Syndrome. My spellchecker refuses to recognize the “p” word and offers “prosaic” as an alternative.

In the back of the conference room is a collection of shovels from a groundbreaking ceremony. All the shovels have names. Maybe I should take a photo, just in case I need to blog about shovels if Trunk doesn’t show up to enlighten us about our careers.

The Arrivals

At about 11:45 a.m., I think I spot Trunk outside the conference room, in the entryway space where the tables with the nametags and copies of her book, “The Brazen Careerist,” reside. She’s tall, attractive, emanates energy, and has a certain je ne sais quoi presence. I take notes about what she’s wearing: black and white pinstripe trousers and a fitted grey jacket. From a distance, she doesn’t look quite like the photographs I’ve seen. Her hair is shorter than I expected.

After she hugs a few women, she enters the conference room and removes not one, but two expensive leather bags from her shoulder and puts them on a chair near the rear of the room. She heads for the tables with food and comes back with a paper plate filled with cucumber slices, cauliflower, watermelon, and crackers. I take notes and think this is all a bit odd. Why isn’t she in the front of the room?

About 10 minutes later, the real Penelope Trunk arrives. We’ll soon hear her tell us she was running late. The real Penelope Trunk is wearing a black dress and looks more like photos on her Facebook page than the woman in the pinstripe trousers does.

I pull out my camera. The batteries are dead.

The talk

After a brief introduction, Trunk begins speaking. In the beginning, her talk is peppered with too many “ums” and “likes” and I begin to think my seat on the aisle may be put to good use. Soon, however, she picks up speed and the verbal tics vanish. She speaks so rapidly even Himself would find it difficult to interject a bon mot, a good joke, or an inept pick-up line. She’s smart, funny, occasionally outrageous, and always entertaining.

I jot down a few notes, not certain whether I’ll steal some of her lines, share them with Himself, or lose them in the bottom of my purse. I think I’ll probably follow some of her advice, but not heed the admonition to start Twittering.

She talks for half an hour. I take six pages of notes. After she finishes talking, she asks if there are any questions. The first one is from a man: “The guy who came in late is asking the first question,” she says as she acknowledges him.

I take three more pages of notes while she answers questions. I learn she has very few friends but an amazing company. I don’t learn much about what her company actually does.

Most of the people who’ve been following Trunk on Twitter and Facebook (where she has hundreds of friends) want to know if she’s pregnant; but no one in the audience asks her that question.

The brown bag lunch and networking event ends at 1 p.m. I’m not certain anyone in the conference room did much networking during that 90 minutes. When I leave, Trunk is seated at one of the tables in the entryway, signing copies of her book. Someone else is handling the money.

The aftermath

It’s not raining very hard as I walk back to my car. I check the windshield, but there’s no parking ticket under the wiper blade. Whew. I check my cell telephone. Himself called just before Trunk arrived in the conference room. Sigh. I’m in no hurry to call him back. I want to ponder what Trunk said before I engage in a conversation about whether or not she’s hot.

I stop at the library to drop off some books. I also stop at a grocery store to buy some broccoli for dinner. I stop again to buy some batteries for my camera.

When I arrive home and check Facebook, I discover Trunk has already left a comment (via Twitter) about today’s networking event: “Giving a speech. They want to network. I don’t want to talk. I want to text my boyfriend. I want to text him to tell him he’s my boyfriend.” No word about whether or not she’s pregnant.

Two hours later, Trunk posts another comment on Facebook (via Twitter): “Now I’m nervous to call him my boyfriend. So I say: “You can’t be my boyfriend because it’s too many characters to tweet. You have to be D.” Several people respond with comments of their own. At 7:50 p.m. Trunk responds, “Wow. No. D is not for dad. I am not pregnant. Negative test: hooray. And D is the first initial of his first name. I am a practical girl.”

Mystery resolved. Now, perhaps, we can go back to pondering more important things, such as her observations about résumés: “A résumé is a marketing tool, not a life story. If you have a good life story, you’d have a book about it.”

If you missed today’s opportunity to meet Trunk in person, get to know her by reading her blog. Then leave some comments – or as she said today, “Join the conversation: Force yourself to put your ideas out there.”

She also said, “If you want to be known for your ideas, you must blog.” Of course I knew that long before I made her acquaintance.

Reader April 1, 2009 at 9:59 pm

This is hilarious! Thank you for this long-overdue commentary on Madison’s greatest BS artist.

Previous post:

Next post: