Love and Loss at Neocon



625 W 34th St, New York, NY, 10001

Neighborhood: Clinton

The city was crawling with carpet salesmen and industrial designers and Formica representatives and stadium planners, and no one outside of the Javits Center even noticed. I wouldn’t have noticed either if it hadn’t been for my friend Amy, who had flown into New York from East Lansing, Michigan, to attend the NeoCon Interior Design Conference, New York’s largest interior design trade show. I hadn’t seen Amy for well over a year, and hoped that her visit might allow us to catch up and hit the bars.

She was in her last year of college at Michigan State University, where she had been named the president of her school’s chapter of American Society of Interior Designers. Amy and I had met in high school back in Minnesota, where I’d grown up, but where she’d moved from northern California in the middle of high school. I was a year older than her and barely noticed her presence on the high school basketball team. I was an inconveniently short varsity point guard who had had two knee surgeries under her belt, and was headed for a third (which would be necessitated two years later during a pick up game with Amy and some sweaty men at a health club). Amy was an awkward, dark-haired small forward whom the coach had assigned to the junior varsity, which Amy resented. She was the only person on the team as obsessed with basketball as I was and, she told me later, she thought I was “cute.” We finally got to know each other on the bus ride back from an embarrassing loss.

We stayed in touch after I left for college, and she was still in college when I moved to New York. I’d often begged her to visit me, but she was always too busy. Now that she was coming to New York for this conference—which, like all conferences, you were supposed to just skip out on—I thought we might have a few days of fun. I was wrong. She was here on business.

I didn’t know that Amy had been looking forward to the NeoCon Interior Design Conference for months. As president of her school’s American Society of Interior Designers chapter, her big perk was a trip to New York to attend this conference, held at the Javits Center. She’d been polishing her resume, hopeful that she’d land a job through an interview at NeoCon.

I also hadn’t known that Amy had become an interior design geek and that she had developed a predilection for hand-drafting tools. She told me that it had advanced to the point to where she kept her favorite drafting tool—a 45-degree plastic triangle—on her bedside table, “for emergencies.”

“It’s like your teddy,” she said. “It’s always there for you and really very snuggly. You feel confident and comfortable with it.” I wasn’t sure I had ever met this person, and told her so.

“Interior design becomes a way of life,” Amy told me. “And if you’re not hip to it, then you’re not hip.” She then told me not to expect to spend any time with her during her visit. But when she arrived in New York, she called me. “I’ll keep you abreast of any developments,” she told me. And it was through Amy’s periodic phone calls that I pieced together what happened while she was attending the New York NeoCon Interior Design Conference.

Amy’s first stop at NeoCon was the Skidmore, Owings & Merrill interior design firm’s booth. “It’s the number one firm in the world,” Amy said. “I had been waiting in line for two hours just to hand the guy my resume, and sit down for a chat. This guy in front of me, though, hands the Skidmore guy his entire portfolio. That was just cocky as hell. At a job fair, you don’t bring your portfolio, you just bring your resume because they don’t have time to look through your portfolio, and they don’t want to.” When the guy finally got up to leave, his entire business card collection fell on the floor. Amy chose not to tell him. “My mouth was opening, but nothing was coming out.”

After swapping resumes for business cards for a few hours that first day, Amy decided to see what kind of talks and forums she might attend. “A Day in the Life of Vinnie Vinyl Man” promised to reveal the facts and the fictions of vinyl. “Ceramic Tile—Demystifying the Specification Process” seemed interesting to Amy, since it would address the problems facing an interior designer attempting to correctly “specify” ceramic tile in its “ever increasing and diverse applications.” In the end, however, she wandered onto the main convention floor where representatives from myriad industries hawked their wares.

Amy saw a number of conventioneers with attractive purple bags slung over their shoulders, the name PATCRAFT appliquéd across the front. Amy wanted one. She approached the Patcraft Commercial Carpeting display and introduced herself to Craig, a stocky man with a receding hairline and a cell phone on his belt.

“So I ask him, what does he sell more of, modular or broad-loom carpet? And what’s the cost per square foot? I just didn’t want to be like ‘Oh hi, saw your stand, now can I have a bag?’” Craig showed Amy samples of commercial carpeting—a hardier grade of carpet than the variety you might find in a suburban home. It must pass abrasion tests and pass fire codes. (“It’s not plush,” Amy said.)

To Amy, Craig seemed different from the other men at the convention. Most men in interior design, Amy said, seem cocky in their flashy ties, expensive leather shoes and black mock turtlenecks. “And, they all seem to wear those Buddy Holly glasses.” These types ran the gamut from Kohler sales reps to guys heavily involved in wallpaper and commercial carpeting. They communicate in terms of space plans, mill work, modular furniture, systems furniture, color theory, direct glue down carpet, ergonomics and anthropometrics. At least Craig had had the presence to mention that he and some friends were headed to bar after that day’s activities ended at the Javits Center. Craig and Amy made a date for the next evening, right after Amy secured a purple Patcraft bag. At nine the next night, Amy met Craig at a bar on the east side.

“You walk in to this bar,” Amy told me over the phone, “and the environment was timeless from an architectural standpoint. Leather upholstered booths lined the corridor. There was low illumination; very few foot candles. It felt like a martini bar.” She couldn’t, however, remember the name of the bar. Craig and Amy were slow to warm to each other. The bar’s owner—a little drunk and very arthritic— came over and introduced himself to Amy. He told Amy that he was Craig’s camp counselor ten years ago.

“Hey, this girl is an interior designer,” Craig said. “She loves your place.” The owner asked Amy if she wanted a tour of the bar. She did, and immediately pointed out the violations of the American with Disabilities Act.

“There was no ADA capability. Steps to get up to the bar and all around. And the restrooms are down a flight of stairs.” After doing a few Vodka shots with the owner, Amy and Craig left for Craig’s apartment. When they arrived, Amy noted the modernist tendencies of Craig’s place, with its circular sofa and black and glass end tables and geometric shaped lamps. She also noticed that a number of picture frames were covered up by postcards that had been placed against them carefully. When Craig had left the room for a moment, Amy pulled the postcards away from the frames and saw the photographs were of Craig and a smiling woman who, judging from her numerous appearances in other photographs about the place, was a girlfriend. This was a blight on the otherwise perfectly balanced design of the apartment. It seemed as if it were time to leave.

Amy steered clear of the Patcraft table during the next days of the convention, instead focusing her attentions on the reps from an ergonomic furniture company. “I don’t get it,” Amy told me. “Interior designers are supposed to sort of be a superior kind of human being.”

“Well, he was a carpet salesman,” I offered. There was a pause on the other end of the phone line.

“You’re right,” she said. “I should have known better.”

This was the last I heard from Amy during her visit to New York. She felt bad about not seeing me during the conference. She offered to send me a gift as an apology.

“A teddy bear?”

“Why do I want a teddy bear,” I asked.

“This is no ordinary teddy bear,” she said. “This is a Benjamin Moore Paints teddy bear. He’s wearing a little t-shirt with their logo. I scored it at NeoCon. Almost as cool as my 45-degree drafting triangle—which I’m not giving you, so don’t even ask.”

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