Judging by her name, I assume the title character of a current television show has the reputation of being one who seals the deal. They call her The Closer. I could be called The Everything But. I consistently play the game wonderfully - up until the very last moment. I’ll tell two stories.
A NURSE, A CUP, A LOOK
It was the middle of July, 2007, and I had some time to kill before visiting a couple friends at a home they had recently bought. I had a book to read, a hankerin’ for a mocha, and a perfect solution. I parked my car outside of a Tulsa Starbuck’s across from the mall and took the comfy seat in the corner next to a small table. I could have sat anywhere. Besides the one other guy frozen to his chair up against the far wall, the place was empty. I had my heart set on the pillow-soft, checkered-brown seat; and the location couldn’t be beat, how it allowed me to see all the inactivity of the place. It was just after 5 that evening when I sat down. I knew I didn’t have much time. My friend would be getting off work soon, and would be calling any moment. I figured I wouldn’t be able to get much more than a chapter read of Donald Miller’s advice when it comes to dragon-management. 5:30 rolls around - still no call. I could have drunk my drink more slowly; I didn’t have to read as quickly as I had read. Once 5:45 hit, the frustration kicked in. If my friend wasn’t able to meet up, he could have at least called to let me know. I decided I’d enjoy the few pages left of the present chapter before I gave up on him and got moving home.
And then it happened.
My line of irritated thought came to a screeching halt when the door opened to my right and the warm breeze met my mumbling lips. The angels begun to sing the moment my eyes caught the sight of her. She was wearing scrubs and carrying a book. It screamed she was as intelligent as she was lovely. Captivating. You should have seen her smile. Oh, and her eyes just above it! She had no notice of me. And why would she? Angels think of higher things. But I noticed her, to say the least. Because of my perfect location, I had no problem watching her walk up to the counter and order whatever it was for which she came. I instantly stopped reading. I moved my eyes as to give the appearance of it, but could give my attention to nothing but her. I peered over the top of the book, peeked around the side, whatever I had to do to keep my eyes on her - without appearing catatonic as I stared. Then she turned. Then she started walking in my direction! She passed chair..by chair...by chair - closer and closer with each step. I held my breath.
Mind you, the place was all but empty. She could have sat anywhere. Even if the place was full, kings would have given up their seats for such a beauty.
I gave up my game of secrecy. I made eye contact and shot her the best smile I could muster. Frank Sanatra begun singing Strangers in the Night as she returned my gaze, directed that smile right at me. That was when I noticed something. By this time she had stopped, just a few feet away from me! Not showing that I jumped to the euphoria section of Cloud Nine, I worked to keep the smile from reaching both ears, as to not blow my cover of cool, calm and collected. I stayed locked on to those eyes as I cleared off the table for her so she could sit in the identical chair just on the other side of it. I said some perfect and simple words before returning back to my book. Still no call from my friend. (I had quickly forgotten all about my friend.) I had plenty of time to play it cool. I started reading again, but, at the end of each line, my eyes continued right just a little further. I didn’t want to lose site of her. I couldn’t not look at her. And, get this, one time I caught her looking right at me! We shared one of those great moments - the one where I knew that she knew that I knew that she was looking at me. Her head quickly snapped back to looking straight ahead, as did mine. The time had come. I’m in! I had made the decision and was about to move into phase 2.
That was when, God bless his soul, my friend killed the moment.
My phone rang and I nearly lost all concentration. I answered, said I’d be at his house soon, and had to think fast. I had to think on my feet as I stood to my feet. Turning to her as I held out my hand, I asked if I could throw away her trash. There is nothing spectacular about this gesture. You ask a stranger if you can do a small act of kindness for them and they either give you a programed, ‘Thank you,’ as they hand off their rubbish; or they say ‘No thanks,’ proving that they can take care of themselves, thank you very much. In response to my offer, she caught me with those eyes once again - this time, if no other time, I was hooked - and said, “Oh, thank you so much. That is so kind of you to do such a thing for me!” Yeah, I was in. With a cool, calm grin on my lips, as I grabbed her cup, I replied, “Hey, no problem; that’s what I do.” And, believe it, with my free right hand I shot her the gun. Get this: and she bought it! Eye of the Tiger began to play as I walked to the trash can. Thinking over and over, ‘Please don’t trip; please don’t trip,” I half didn’t realize what I did next. I wasn’t any closer than 5 feet from the can when, without realizing what I was about to do, I pulled my arm back and tossed the first cup into it’s final resting place. Nothing but net! I repeated this motion with the other cup. Again, nothing but net! That’s when the internal dialog started playing in my mind: “Well done! Jake, you have never played so well. This can be the result of nothing less than divine intervention because your actions are far beyond even your greatest of natural abilities. You have captivated the angel that has captivated you. Well done!” By the time the trash had settled I had turned around and caught her eyes as I started for the door. Yes, she was looking at me. Staying Alive blared in my mind as I walked smoothly towards her, past her, then out the door. I kept my eyes focused on hers. I slowed as I walked past and said something to the effect of, ‘I had a wonderful few moments with you. My day is much better now having the privilege of having met you. I hope your day is great.’ I say this as I walk out the door, noticing she is stuck by every word. My peripheral vision shows me that she is repositioning herself, in order that her eyes can follow me out of the door and into the parking lot as far as she can before I leave her last possible line of sight. My inner voice is now screaming: “WAY TO GO! YOU HAVE NEVER BEEN AS GOOD AS YOU HAVE BEEN THIS PAST HOUR! A MOVIE COULD BE MADE ABOUT YOU! YOU COULD ASK FOR HER HAND IN MARRIAGE AND SHE WOULD BEG THAT THE DATE BE TODAY! Unable to stay collected any longer, I grinned like a moron as I got in my car and got on to Memorial Dr.
Then it happened.
The moment I crossed 71st St., the inner voice changed it’s tune. Still screaming, but, this time for a different reason. It said, “Do you realize what you’ve done!? You didn’t even get a number! She would have paid you to take her number! And you didn’t even bother to get a name! You don’t even know her name! How could you be so dumb to not at least get her name!? She doesn’t even know your name!” The screaming went on like that as I continued to drive north. But not for long.
I reached a point where I couldn’t stand it any longer and did an illegal U-turn at 61st and Memorial - almost hitting a car. I started driving back. I could not let my heart go on unfulfilled, I could not go on and let her dream go on unfulfilled. Driving back I came up with what I was going to do. I was going to walk in, catch those eyes again as I handed her my card. I’d say something about how I could not allow myself the punishment of not speaking with her again, and I would be honored if she would call and joined me for dinner. I smiled. Yeah, that’s smooth. The inner voice disrupted my moment by saying, “Why in the world do you think you have a card?” Point well taken. I quickly switched my plan to walking in and giving the same lines, only, this time, giving her a piece of paper on which I jotted my number down once in the parking lot. Much better. Less pompous.
I pulled into the parking lot and glanced to see that she was still present. Looked like she was right where I left her - a bit broken-hearted due to my absence, of course. I parked and only then did I realize I didn’t have a pen in the car. NO! Surely there is one in here somewhere, I thought. I frantically looked...and finally gave up. I knew there was not a pen anywhere. I came to my senses and realized that the best I could do was simply go in and give her all the lines, and hope for the best. No matter what happens, I’m going to look foolish. So it can’t hurt anything. I get out, shut the door, lock the door, and head back for the door.
And I see that she is now gone, nowhere to be found.
I stay frozen, standing out in the Starbuck’s parking lot on the corner of 71st St and Memorial on a hot July day until my heart comes back out of shock. It took everything I had to get back in my car and drive to my friends’ house. Goodbye, my love.
That’s not the end of the story. Not by a long shot. Just a few days later I happened to be in Tulsa again. At 5:15 that day I drove back to the same store, got the same drink, and sat in the same spot where the magic had happened just days before. I waited for her to return. But she didn’t. I happened to be in town 4 days after that. Same store, same drink, same chair, no angel. But that’s ok. I was going to be in town the next week. I ended up finding the time to spend another hour going through the same routine. No angel.
I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve gone through the motions. But I can say this: after several months have passed of the returning and waiting routine, I have now been able to go to Tulsa and resist the urge to make this stop. Mind you, this is not saying that I no longer go through the motions from time to time. On occasion, when I’m in town, there’s still a chance that I make the same familiar detour. I’ve studied statistics. I know that with each time I am there and she is not, my chances of her being there the next time are that much greater...
A TALE OF TWO COUNTRIES - AND A SALES PITCH
I never cave. I pride myself in that. I get a hint of pleasure out of going round and round with salespeople, making them think their tactics are working. I’ll wear an interested look on my face as they give me their lines, while taking internal notes and rating their performance. Some impress me more than others; some impress me with the use of creative techniques when attempting to sell me their products. But nothing works. My empty hands signify my victory, notify their defeat.
As is the beginning of some of my note-worthy encounters, I had some time to kill on a Monday. My plan was to go to the Apple store to check into something before I had to make it to Muskogee for a meeting that afternoon. As I came down the escalators, I didn’t make a B-line to the big white room. Various things caught my eye as I moved forward in the general direction - one thing, specifically, being a lady with curly hair, a brown shirt, and eyes aimed right at me. She must have noticed nothing but me, because she was locked on and motioning me towards her little hut in the middle of the walkway. Before I noticed it, I was but feet away from her, and my hands softly in hers.
Turns out she sold lotion for a living. (I assume for a living, because, for the price of the stuff, I don’t think she’d have to do much more in order to survive!) She grabbed hold of my hand, placed some gunk in them, and said, simply, “Rub.” And so I rubbed. I was able to keep my eyes on hers as I gave my hands an efficient rubbing. She began to give me lines about all the beneficial aspects of this lotion from the Dead Sea, how the salt from this area is rich with what-have-you’s. The game was on. I realized I was going to be there for a couple minutes either way, and reasoned that I might as well play along. After she mentioned the Dead Sea, she asked me if I knew where that was. I told her I did. (I don’t have a minor in Humanities for nothing!) Thinking she might call my bluff, she said, “Oh, well, where is it?” With no hesitation, and much confidence, I said, it’s a body of water near Jordan and Israel. Obviously impressed, she replied with nostalgia that Israel is her home country, a wonderful land. She stated that that was the reason for her accent, for which she apologized. I countered her apology by telling her that there is nothing for which she needs to apologize, that her accent is lovely. In response, she said that I was very kind, and that she is having a wonderful time talking with me. Obviously.
At this point she begins rubbing something-or-other on my arm, talking about all the great benefits of this action. And then she puts stuff on my face. She couldn’t keep herself from it. She couldn’t keep her hands off me. My kindness broke her out of her ordinary routine and she couldn’t stick to her usual game plan of just hands and forearms. I assumed because she was thrown off, she moved in for the kill more abruptly than they normally do: “So what will you buy?” I kindly responded that I couldn’t buy anything that day, and that I had to get going. For a moment the gloves came off. “Well, where do you have to go in such a hurry?” I was momentarily thrown off by her question, and told her about the meeting, which was just an hour away by this time. Like she didn’t hear a word, she moved on and reiterated that the benefits of my purchasing the lotion would be worth the delay. I let out an internal sigh. I’ll go at it another route. After I asked the question, she said that the two things of lotion would only cost me as little as $49 each. I was taken aback by her thinking she could make such a price seem like a steal to a 20-something man who obviously doesn’t have much care about fancy lotion. I apologized for taking her time, that she was very kind, but that I simply could not afford to make that kind of purchase. She grabbed my hand again. They were still smooth due to the lotion, but her grip was tight enough that I couldn’t pull away without a small struggle. She pulled me close. I mean, she pulled me very close.
She and I were standing nearly nose to nose in the middle of the mall with crowds shooting us confused looks as they passed. Forgive me for not having a measuring stick at hand which would have enabled me to measure out an accurate distance between us. A 12-inch ruler would have been in excess. I felt her words on my face as much as I heard them in my ears. I could have kissed her. I might as well have kissed her. I should have kissed her. That way at least the two of us would have walked away with something to show for this exchange. With our eyes as close as ever, she told me that, because I have been so kind, she would cut me a great deal - a deal that she really should not be giving to anyone. She said she would give me one of the things of lotion for $35. “What do you say, mister?”
I started laughing. I knew exactly what she was doing all along. I knew at that moment what she was doing; I still do not know what I was doing, what I was thinking. I’m still not sure why I told her I would buy her stupid, magical lotion. But I did. I knew as I gave her my card and took the tub in my hands that this thing would surely find it’s place in the back of the cabinet as fast as any inanimate object can. But I forked over the money anyway. As I was leaving, she told me that she had a great time, and that, if I came back on Wednesday, she would give me another great deal on the other thing she was trying to con me in to buying, whatever it was.
I came up with another plan.
I did go back on Wednesday. I made a trip back to the mall, because it really wasn’t too far out of my way - the few extra miles were a small price to pay for the story that was going to come of it. As I would walk back to her little hut between the escalators and the dude selling glasses, our eyes would meet again across the distance. As I moved closer, her smile would grow bigger. She’d ask if I had come back to get the second thing of lotion. This is the response I was going to give: “I’m sorry Michelle, but I just simply can’t afford to pay for something like that at this time; but what I can afford is this: I would like to take you out to dinner tonight. I can pick you up here when you get off, or we can meet at whatever restaurant you choose. I don’t mind either way. I’m only in town for a week longer, and I would hate to pass up the opportunity to spend at least one evening with you while I still have the chance. What do you say?” That right there is golden.
So, I take the long way around so I can have a quick go-over of the script in my mind. I turn the corner and feel the magic warming up. I clear my throat as my eyes watch the stretch of mall walkway that stands between she and I grow smaller. And then I see it. My foreign love, talking, just like she did with me two days prior, with another man. Same distance. Same smile. Same grip of hands. Everything. I walked by with my eyes straight ahead, circled the nearby escalators, and passed by her again without the slightest sign of recognition.
I lost. The undefeated was defeated. This was no victory lap. I decided to finish my walk of shame quietly and go about my day with an ending to the saga which was much less fulfilling...
...But there was one last trick up my sleeve. Go for broke...
On my way to fulfill the encounter I had played out in my mind, I passed a lady selling some what-have-you’s for hair styling. Either as a product demonstration or a last minute personal fix, I noticed this tan lady looking into a mirror and giving much attention to her long, curly hair. It caught my attention, but it didn’t stop me. I had something to do. As I made my way back around, however, this tan beauty popped back into mind - as well as popped back into my line of sight. She was still at the mirror, still playing with her hair. I don’t know what she was trying to do, but the look on her face made it appear as if she felt unsuccessful. I had lost once that day, but I still had some fire in me.
I redirected my path so that I would pass close behind her. Her back to me, I was able to catch her eye in the mirror. I’m now close enough to her that I can speak just above a whisper, close enough so that she can feel my words. She lost attention in herself and quickly turned to catch my gaze more clearly. As she was still making the turn towards me, I stay turned towards her. As I walked away slowly backwards, I kept my eyes to hers, shot her the smile, as I said: “I want to let you know that I’ve past you both ways, and you still seem fixated on your hair. You should know that you have no need to be concerned. It looks great today; and you look great. You can put the stuff down and relax. Trust me.” With that she nearly melted. She didn’t know what to say. Or, if she did, she wasn’t able to say it. The breath had been knocked out of her. All she could do was let a mix of a sigh and a giggle pass through her lips as I smiled and raised my brows one last time before turning back and continuing on my way.
I limped away with a victor’s grin on my face and my head held high.
It was more of a strut than a limp.