Guest contributor: Katherine Heiny

Origami Weekend: Confessions of a Non-Folder, Continued

categories: Cocktail Hour


Origami by the incredible folder and scientist Robert Lang


[We invite Katherine Heiny back to follow up on her Origami post from May 22!]


“Folder or non-folder?” the woman at the front desk asked me.

“Is that like ‘Human or subhuman?’” I asked.

She stared at me expressionlessly.

I sighed.  “Non-folder.”

We were in New York for the National Origami Convention.  My husband had taken Angus to the first day of the convention and when they returned to the hotel room, Angus had been in a sort of joyful daze and my husband had drunk scotch straight from the bottle.  We had all been too tired to go to the origami dinner or participate in the nocturnal folding.  Today it was my turn to accompany Angus.

Angus with  Robert Lang!

The woman at the front desk gave me a non-folder badge with a beautiful little origami sailboat stuck to it (made by a folder somewhere) and Angus and I went off to register for his day’s classes.  Then we had an hour to kill so we went to the cafeteria, where almost every table was full and every single person was folding something.

Angus and I found two chairs at a table and he began folding while I unpacked my laptop.  I couldn’t find a wifi network.

No wifi!  I felt like I’d been trapped in a mine cave-in.  Looking around, though, I saw that I was the only person even hoping for wi-fi.  No one else held a PDA.  They were all folding.

I walked Angus to his first class and then went back to the cafeteria.  Most of the folders had gone to workshops.  I saw the father of one of Angus’s friends from Maryland and sat at his table and he let me use his wireless router to get on the Internet.  For a few brief, happy moments, I was like a trapped miner tapping my code on the line:  I’m here!  I’m alive!  Don’t do anything interesting until I’m rescued!

All too soon, though, the first workshops were over and the man and I went to collect our children and then he was driving back to D.C. with his precious router.

On the stairs on the way to Angus’s second workshop, some nice lady gestured to his origami project and said, “That’s very pretty.  It looks sort of like a pinecone.”

“It’s a Star of David,” Angus said loudly and slowly, as though she were an idiot.

I couldn’t see her badge but I know in my heart she was a non-folder.  I tried to think of a way to signal her – how did the humans find each other in Invasion of the Body Snatchers?  I couldn’t remember, so I gave her a big smile, meant to convey I’m one of you, not one of them.  She just looked scared and then I lost her in the crowd.

Angus went into his next workshop, and I had a brief conversation with a janitor, who told me that a whole bunch of people had stormed one of the escalators trying to get upstairs for the praying-mantis workshop and the escalator had broken.  Something had happened and I had missed it!  I felt this loss keenly, like someone who’d waited weeks for a mail stagecoach and then happened to be off in the fields that day.

Angus and I went to McDonald’s for lunch and I wanted to walk around – New York is my favorite city – but Angus wanted to go back to the cafeteria, where he folded an origami Thomas Jefferson and the woman sitting next to him folded an origami tea cozy, and they had a very intense conversation about tessellations.  I read my book.  (Please be aware that I’m hitting the highlights here — I’m actually leaving the really boring parts out.)

Angus went back to class and I sat in the cafeteria and finished my book.  When I looked up, a man sitting at another table made eye contact with me.  I recognized it instantly:  it was the kind of eye contact people make at parties when it’s late and everyone remotely desirable has gone home.  I sighed.  I was lonely, too.

So the man moved over to my table and showed me how to fold a fujimoto cube and I told him about my new high-heeled sandals which are guaranteed not to cause blisters.  But like all desperation hook-ups, it left us both feeling a little used, a little tarnished.  We didn’t have much to say to each other afterward, and he moved to a table on the other side of the cafeteria and ostentatiously began folding a piece of paper into sixty-fourths.  And what did I do?  Something I would have done at ten that morning if I hadn’t been afraid Child Services might find out:  I went out and had a beer.

The bar I chose was Irish, dim, seedy.  I loved it.  I sat at the bar and ordered a beer and the bartender asked me where I was from and if the weather was hot enough for me and he told me the password for the bar’s wifi and he didn’t mention origami once.  I found him quite the most charming man in all the world.

When I went back into the convention, I had to stop and dig my pass out of my purse.  The woman behind me in line said, “You should wear your pass even when you leave the building.”

“I don’t want to walk around New York wearing an origami badge,” I said.  “Bartenders would never flirt with me.”

I could see the woman look at her watch (it was not quite one o’clock) and then my wedding ring.  She was clearly debating several responses but finally she looked at my badge and said, “Non-folder!” contemptuously and pushed past me.

I was just in time to pick Angus up from the fighter-jet workshop.  A man also waiting outside the classroom asked me politely if I’d been at the convention all day.

“Yes,” I said.  “But I just went out for a beer so I’ve regained the will to go on living.”

“Well, I wouldn’t know about that,” the man said.  “I don’t drink.”

“Oh,” I said, very happy that I’d chosen not to share the fact that I also felt like I’d just escaped from a bad one-night stand.  Then I added, “I’m a non-folder,” and he nodded as though that didn’t surprise him.

In the break before Angus’s final class, we were sitting in the cafeteria and he was folding and I was tipped back in a chair, sleeping with my eyes open (a trick I perfected in junior high school) when Angus poked me and whispered, “Look, it’s Robert Lang!”

Robert Lang!  I brought my chair legs down with a bang.  If you don’t know who Robert Lang is, it’s because you don’t love someone who loves origami.  In terms of celebrity sightings, it was no less exciting than the time I shared an elevator with Cindy Crawford.

Angus shook hands with Mr. Lang and I took a photo of them, and Mr. Lang was so charming and gracious that I vowed to watch his TED talk all the way through — something Angus is always wanting me to do.

We were at the convention for eight hours, most of which Angus spent in class, folding things so detailed and precise that some people would have ended up in a special home somewhere after attempting just one.  And yet on the walk back to the hotel, Angus was fresh as a flower, talking about crimping and ridgeline creases and how hard it is to fold foil precisely.  Then he interrupted himself to say, “Why is that man is waving at you?”

It was the bartender.  I waved back.  “People are just very friendly in New York,” I said.  It seemed hard to believe that during given a whole glorious summer day in New York, I’d seen only the insides of classrooms, a cafeteria, a McDonald’s, and a bar.

Angus talked a little more about the difference between a bird base and a cupboard base and then he turned to me, his face glowing and his voice exuberant.  I have never seen him look so happy, and that’s not an exaggeration.  He said, “You won’t believe this, but today was one of the best days of my life!”

Well, nobody will believe this, but it was – suddenly – one of the best days of my life, too.




  1. Tommy writes:

    Your sweetness, veiled in sarcasm, comes bluthering forth in the end.

    I loved it!!

  2. Bill writes:

    I love the idea of a nocturnal folding. Maybe next year!