I'm in Philadelphia attending two meetings. Right now I'm thick in the middle of the American Schools of Oriental Research, and I give a paper in an hour with my friend Jennie Ebeling. It is a pretty good paper, and very funny, and beer, women, and archaeology. Starting tomorrow I'll be at the Society of Biblical Literature. Here at ASOR I've seen hundreds of friends that I met usually through archaeological digs that I've been on, or people I met while living in Jerusalem at the Albright Institute or in Jordan at ACOR. But the same thing keeps happening. People are very happy, and then they see me and their expression changes to sorrow and compassion. Often the subject goes something like this:
Them: "Woooowwwwwww! I couldn't believe what happened to you with the hurricane, and it is great to see you. (insert joke like "you're not wearing a mask and snorkel" or "your socks dry yet?"). At least your house is OK, right?"
Me: "Well actually our house is pretty much destroyed. We're waiting on an engineer to tell us what we already know, that it is racked and most likely unsalvageable. We're living in Omaha right now with relatives."
Them: "Oooooh. Well at least your school was OK, right?"
Me: "Well actually not. It suffered huge damage and we are hoping to have classes in January."
Them: "Ooooooh. Well at least all of you in your family and your dogs are alive."
Me: "Yes, we are all alive."
So I think I'm sort of the opposite of Santa Clause, bringing harsh gloomy reality of the tragedy that was New Orleans right into the lives of these people. It is nice to have people thinking about me and my family. It is also great to hear academic papers and not read about insurance adjustors for a change. The biggest news of the conference is the inscription we found at Tel Zeitah, and honestly it is great to have my colleagues hear about how the thing was found in the area that I supervised, and that I was the first to read letters on the stone. I'd better get ready for my paper now, as I have to be there in about 20 minutes.