Malcolm Gladwell sat next to me yesterday. I was at this little coffee shop in the West Village. It's fairly new, and set up beautifully -- the whole front of the shop is floor to ceiling windowed doors that fold open to this nifty little street corner. It's quiet and leafy and the shop is filled with men in seasonally appropriate colored shorts and tailored button-downs and young women in those suddenly trendy short shorts that nicely show the bottom curve of the ass and artists and trustafarians and -- you know, the unemployed.
Anyway, somehow I looked up and he simply materialized, bug eyed and quiet and with that eerie sort of look-nowhere focus that people who get looked at all the time tend to develop. He was wearing dark blue shorts and a light blue shirt and some new old-looking trendy sneakers. He was a runner in high school -- I remember this from some assorted piece of his in the New Yorker -- and he still looks it, this veiny lithe little man with his Kramer-from-Seinfeld haircut and his espresso and his brownie and his little tiny MacBook.
I went right over to him and I said "Hey Malcolm, Jesus Christ, look at you man, you're tiny." I can say this because I'm a large man, 73 inches tall, 200 pounds, and I towered over this guy, despite the extra five inches his hairstyle gave him.
"I expected you to be big and bloated like your prose and bombastic like your assumptions but instead you're wiry and small and look like you cause parents at playgrounds to run and hug their children."
Actually, I didn't say that at all. I'd seen him before. This man is actually following me. It started three years ago, when I was camped out at the Ace Hotel in its early-stages uber-hip it's-all-happening-HERE phase. I was sitting at a group table writing sales pitches for Change.org -- we were a small company then, maybe 30 or so. Gladwell had just published his 'Small Ties' piece (yes, The New Yorker again - look, I'm a liberal Jew in NY, it's all I know) arguing that social media was useless in mobilizing people. It was a few months prior to the Arab Spring, and I was one of many in the clicktivist community to rail against his railing.
So we're on Skype, all 30 of us or so, and when he sat down I looked up and thought 'oh, shit', and immediately popped the information into our water cooler chat room. Someone suggested we invite him on the platform to debate our founder and have an informative chat on what modern social movements could or couldn't achieve. So I went up to him and introduced myself, told him I'd read The Tipping Point (I had), as well as his latest, and that while I liked his writing, I disagreed with his conclusions, and offered up our little concocted opportunity. He was polite, if distant, accepted my card, noted he hadn't heard of the company, and that was that. He never replied, the Arab Spring happened, he was pilloried up and down the interwebs, and that was that.
Except for a few weeks later when AGAIN he sat at my table -- same hotel, different side of the lobby -- and ate a chicken sandwich with the vim and vigor of a man befitting his haven't-eaten-in-weeks demeanor. I totally ignored him, apart from when I couldn't stop staring, and wondered if I should re-nudge him and remind him of the offer. I didn't, which, knowing me, may be the most surprising part of the story.
And now here he is again, stalking me. I was tempted yesterday to bring up the Arab Spring, or, even better, another piece of his from last year. He wrote a very convincing essay on why education was overpriced and how the value of name schools weren't nearly worth their prices. Instead, he postured, the best school you could possible attend was Penn State. But I didn't. It was late in the day, the sun was out, and I had to hop on my bike to make an appointment. Instead all I did was smile, pack up my own MacBook, and quietly whisper 'Sandusky' as I walked out.