Tonight was the official opening of the 30th annual FFRF convention. Earlier in the day there was an open house at the FFRF offices, but before going to that I spent an hour in the Madison public library reading American Gospel by Jon Meacham. It was a pleasant time and I may end up going back there tomorrow just to find some quiet space to read. Once I got to the open house there was quite a crowd waiting to get in. While waiting in line to enter the building I struck up a conversation with a gentleman named Bill, who had driven up from Illinois for the event. Once inside it became a little awkward moving through the small building balancing small plates of food. I grabbed a cup of punch, but skipped the free food. (Can you believe it?) I ended up in the library upstairs talking to Bill about politics and the history of the Middle East. Heavy stuff. I left after about an hour and on the way back to the hotel I stopped at Capitol Kids to pick up a little something for Justin. At first I thought I'd get him something that represented Wisconsin, but all they seemed to have in that respect was a Wisconsin football jersey, or a stuffed badger wearing a football jersey. I ended up getting him a shirt with an elephant on it and a small plastic elephant to go with it. I was a little dismayed when I saw that the price of the shirt was $23 yet it was made in Vietnam. Somehow I don't think the wages of the textile workers in Vietnam merit the exorbitant price.
This evening conference events started at 7pm, so I left the hotel about 5pm and went to a bar & grill called Nick's for a chicken gyro. I was surprised when it arrived on my plate deconstructed. I'm used to eating my gyro like a sandwich, but I ended up using a fork. I couldn't finish the fries, because they were quite rich . . . as if they were fried in lard. Tasted damn good though. After dinner I walked to the Monona Terrace where the evening's events were taking place. I had a little time to browse the freethinker products on sale and picked up a copy of Dan Barker's book Losing Faith in Faith and Katha Pollitt's Death or Virginity. Ms. Pollitt was the first speaker after some musical entertainment provided by Dan Barker and local jazz singer Susan Hofer. Katha Pollitt was very inspiring and political. In fact, she stated at the beginning of her talk that she wanted to be hopeful for a change, because a lot of good things have happened for secularists in the past couple of years with no small thanks to FFRF. Julia Sweeney was up next and first she commented on an item that Katha Pollitt had mentioned. Katha Pollitt talked a little about the ineffectiveness of abstinence programs and one of the programs she mentioned was the "silver ring thing." This is someone's ridiculous idea of having teenagers wear a silver ring to signify their virgin status and they are only to take the ring off once they are married. Julia's comment was "How hot would it be for a teenager to have sex while wearing the silver ring? Didn't they learn anything from those Catholic school girl uniforms?" After the talks I stood in line to get a couple of items signed by Julia Sweeney and Katha Pollitt. I mentioned to Julia that I'd be seeing her perform Letting Go of God in Bothell next week. She replied that a friend asked her, "where are you performing? In a brothel?" She commented on the copy of Dan Barker's book that I had in my hands, talking about a particular moment when he is lying back on his bed contemplating the whole idea of disbelief. I then had Katha Pollitt sign her book Virginity or Death. In her talk she had mentioned going to communist summer camp and I told her that my wife had had a similar childhood. I told her who my father-in-law is and she said, "Oh, I get e-mails from Clark all the time!" Small world. Once I had my items signed (I also found Dan Barker and he signed my copy of his book) I made my way over to the tables to have a piece of cake. By chance I ended up sitting by a woman from Capitol Hill in Seattle. We had a nice conversation. In fact, I was so involved with being social that I left my signed copies of Losing Faith in Faith and Virginity or Death on the table in the convention center. My only hope is that someone found the books and noticed that they are both signed "to Mark" and turned them into lost and found. I'll be back at Monona Terrace tomorrow for more events, so I'll check then. There was a time when that little mishap would have me beating myself up for the rest of the evening, but somehow it just doesn't seem that important.
When I had gotten back to the hotel I met the gentlemen from Gig Harbor, who I had met the first night, coming out of the hotel restaurant. He told me that he and Christopher Hitchens were the only patrons in there and he was sitting there with a copy of Hitchens' book. He contemplated asking Hitchens to sign it, but thought that would be intruding. These nonbelievers are so damn considerate. That's why somehow I think that the books that left behind will be turned in to lost and found. He then told me that Hitchens was in currently in the bar (who would have guessed?) I went to my room and deposited my stuff and then head back down to the bar with visions of a pint of Guinness in my head. Unfortunately, the bar was packed and there was an annoying jazz band filling the room with sound. I think that I did spot Mr. Hitchens at a table by himself. In fact, he looked up as I was scanning the room for a seat. I decided to pass on the bar and went downtown in search of a quiet spot to enjoy a stout. I soon realized that there is no quiet pub on a Friday night in a college town. I was soon back in my hotel room, setting my alarm clock for 7am, so that I can go downstairs for the non-prayer breakfast tomorrow morning. I have to admit that I wish I was flying home a day or two earlier than Tuesday morning. I suppose that I can head back to the public library for some quiet time. There is also the geology museum and the museum of modern art that interest me, so I have some options.