Writing Calisthenics

AvatarA collection of short stories, essays, and exercises to keep my brain from rusting between larger works.

Learning to Flirt (second draft)

(Based on feedback from the first draft, I've revised the story.  Exercise info can be found in the first draft here)

       I was born without that gene that allows normal people to flirt.  It could be that I'm too serious, or maybe I'm just socially inept.  My wife says she thinks I'm too intense.  I'll let you in on a secret though: the truth is, I'm just a chicken shit.  It's not just flirting either.  I'd love to be one of those people who can walk into a bar and just start up a conversation with some stranger, but I'm not.  This bothers me, and at one point in my life I vowed to do something about it.  Every chance I get I like to practice, and waiting for a flight out of O'Hare seemed as good a place as any to work on my skills with members of the opposite sex.
    I had checked my bags, passed through security, and now I was looking for an outlet to plug in my laptop.  No, that is not a euphemism.  I swear to god this was just going to be flirting.
    My gate had a courtesy charging station, but all of the outlets were already occupied by a button-down group of guys and gals who had an approachability factor somewhere below a high school chess club.  I walked up a couple of gates looking for another charging station when the opportunity to kill two, maybe three birds with one stone appeared sitting under a water fountain.
    She was cute, brunette, and wearing a pair of tan corduroys - that thick corduroy that looks like a fuzzy Twizzler.  She was about 35 or so and she had on a white top and these great boots with a big chunky heel.  She sat cross-legged on the floor, and had a MacBook Air on her lap that was plugged into the wall in the same outlet as the water fountain.
 
    Okay, read that last paragraph again.  Go ahead, I'll wait.


    So how many things do you think I managed to find that would scare the crap out of me and make me slink back to my gate, depressed and less (Jesus, is that even possible?) self-confident than I was before I started?  How many did you get?
    Yeah, well I got 5.
    Possibly 6.
    I'm not completely sure about the corduroys.  That could have gone either way.

    Her name was Sarah.
    I'm sure some of you have gone off half-cocked already and are sitting there thinking "Holy crap, he did it!  Good for him!"  To this I say: for the same reason I know her name was Sarah, I first thought her name was "Liz", and then just as quickly I thought her name might actually be "Coco", and for an even briefer moment, considered that she might be a coach of some sort.  No, I didn't ask her what her name was.  What I did was walk back and forth between Hudson Booksellers and McDonald's trying to read the name tag on her carry-on bag.  I knew if I did manage to talk to her and I did manage to get her to tell me her name that I'd be so nervous I'd forget it immediately, and one of the things I've read about casual conversation was that people really like hearing their own name, so I thought I'd get a jump on things and memorize her name before she'd even told me what it was.  Clever, huh?  In retrospect, the fact that she may have borrowed the suitcase and that I'd insist on calling her "Sarah" when her name was really "Martinique" or "Penny" was a gaping flaw in my plan that I hadn't considered.
    Once I'd gotten a fix on her name, I needed a plan.  What was I going to say?  Her boots were pretty awesome but how in the world does a normal, healthy, heterosexual guy compliment a woman on her boots without coming off like some campy Rip Taylor parody?  "Oh, those boots are simply faaaabulous dahling!"  I'm fairly certain shit would spiral out of control pretty quickly after that.  The weather?  Too mundane.  Flight delays?  Too obvious.  I needed to find some common ground, something that wouldn't lead me down a path in which I'd have nothing to say and we'd be stuck there with an awkward pause floating in the air like an empty cartoon conversation balloon.
    Awkward segue: Apple Computers and I have been mortal enemies since their superior marketing division put Commodore Business Machines out of business and sounded the death knell for my beloved Amiga computer.  Technologically inferior in every conceivable way, Apple's marketeers sold and continue to sell form over function and I generally hold their customers in a level of contempt normally reserved for fans of Mariah Carey.
    However.
    I follow the ancient Arabian proverb: "Keep your friends close — hold your enemies closer", so I make it my business to stay educated about Apple's products.  I have a friend who owns a MacBook Air so I know about the CPU overheating issues, the tiny hard drive, the non-expandable memory, the unreplaceable battery, and that lonely single USB port.  I also know that it's frighteningly light and — most importantly — sexy as hell.  For the sake of my goal though, I wasn't going to let this be a hindrance.  In fact, in a flash of brilliance, this would be my way in.  What Apple fan could possibly resist talking about their stunningly gorgeous laptop?
    I made one more pass to work up my courage.  She stopped typing as I walked by, saw me looking at her, smiled, and went back to her laptop.  I could feel my face flush with gratitude.  Thank you, Sarah.  You've just made "Mission: Impossible", "Mission: Improbable, but Possibly Doable".
    So here was the plan.  I'd walk back towards the water fountain.  As I casually leaned in for a drink, I'd look over at her and ask "So whaddya think of that MacBook?"  Then I'd look back to the fountain and take a drink while she formulated a reply.  If she liked the Air book, I'd ask her about what kinds of applications she ran (Nice, huh?  I thought of that all by myself.  Not only do I get to know her stance on Apple, but I get to learn a little bit about what she likes to do, and open up all kinds of conversational doors.  "Oh, Photoshop?  Are you a graphic artist?".  I'm sneaky as hell.)  If she didn't like it, I'd commiserate with her about all the pitfalls she was probably experiencing with her over-priced, under-powered fashion accessory.
    I was nervous.  Really nervous. Not quite I'm-gonna-throw-up nervous, but I'd- definitely-have-to-wipe-my-hands-on-my-pants-if-she-offered-to-shake nervous.  Which probably explains why as I leaned in to take a drink from the fountain, what came out of my mouth was closer to "Ffffuuuuuu..." instead of my carefully scripted opening line.
    I recently read an article entitled "Men Lose Their Minds When Speaking to Pretty Women."  In it, the author described the results of a study published in the Journal of Experimental and Social Psychology in which they discovered that men devote so much of their limited brain power to impressing an attractive woman that they literally become unable to perform the simplest tasks.  One subject in the study was so intent on impressing an attractive woman he'd never met that he forgot where he lived when asked.  The article didn't mention anything about disruption of spacial orientation or depth perception faculties, but it appears that very primitive part of my brain had just shut down.
    I had misjudged the distance between my head and the spout of the water fountain by a good six inches and slammed mouth right into the top of it.  My head rocketed backwards and I could immediately taste blood.  I'm pretty sure the aluminum shell of the water fountain rang-out like a gong.  Then again, that could all have been in my head.  Sarah looked up at me with shock.
    "Good lord, are you all right?"
    I nodded my head, but by this time, blood was streaming off my split lip and I held my hand over my mouth to stem the flow.  She pointed.
    "You're bleeding.  Are you sure you're all right?"
    I pulled my hand away to say "Yes, thank you."  As I did, a droplet of blood flung from my hand and landed on the cover of her pristine MacBook with what I'm convinced was an audible plop.  We both looked down at the blood splotch in that same uncomfortable manner that happens when you accidentally spit on someone while using words with lots of 'p's and 's's.
    "Oh my god, I'm so sorry," I said.  "Here, let me get that."  I started to lean over, but she was already pulling a tissue out of her purse.
    "No, that's okay.  I've got it."  She wiped up the dot of blood, and holding the tissue up by a clean corner, just sort of held it there.
    I reached over and tried to smile, which not only hurt, but probably made me look like a vampire who had just finished an appetizer and was now moving in for the main course.
    "I don't have AIDS or anything like that."
    Oh, fuck.  Did I just say that?
    "Oh," said Sarah, obviously more uncomfortable than ever.
    "Here, I'll, uh… I'll take that."  I took the tissue, and since my brain had completely ceased functioning, I made sure to grab it by the blood spot.  You know, to show her that I wasn't afraid of getting infected.  By my own blood.
    "I better, uh … " I stammered, and pointed vaguely towards some place in the airport where she wasn't.
    "Yeah.  You better."
    I used the tissue to sop up as much of the blood as it would hold, then pressed it against my mouth to stop the bleeding.  I followed the signs to the nearest bathroom, and the picture in the mirror wasn't nearly as bad as the one in my head.  Except the cheeks.  The cheeks were much redder than I had expected.  I cleaned up as best I could and rinsed my mouth to get the taste of blood out, then I sat in one of the stalls until I felt damn good and ready to leave.  Mercifully, she was gone by the time I'd worked up the courage to head back to the gate.

    This exercise says we're not supposed to spend any time drawing conclusions, so let me just end with this: Sarah, if you're out there, let me just say I am appropriately contrite for having inflicted my neuroses on you.
    And thanks for the tissue.

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