Writing Calisthenics

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

Learning to Flirt

(This is a first draft.  The revised draft can be found here.  Exercise info and explanation for both drafts at the bottom)
 
I was looking for her before I saw her.  Not her in particular, but someone like her.  And by someone like her, I mean simply that she had to be a her.  I mean a she.  I mean, she had to be a girl.  A female.  I mean…  Shit.  I get nervous just thinking about it.
    There were two goals.  And by goals I mean there were two things I wanted to accomplish.  Well, not really accomplish, but… I don't know.  Is not *not* doing something an accomplishment?  For argument's sake, let's assume it is.  In that case, yes, I had two goals.  I was going to talk to a woman, some strange woman.  Not, you know, weird strange, but strange as in I don't know her, woman.  And I wasn't just going to talk to her, I was going to flirt with her.  I was going to make her like me.  I was going to make her laugh, and not in that "if I humor you will you please go away" way, but in that "hey, he's actually kinda funny" way. 
    Second — and you have to understand that this goal is one I've been working on for quite some time — I wasn't going to say 'no'.  Whatever happened, whatever she suggested, whatever stupid, hair-brained idea I came up with, I wasn't going to say 'no'.  I'm not sure why I listed this goal as second because if I hadn't sworn to stick with this resolution, there's no way on God's green earth I would have had the guts to go through with the first one.
    Did I mention she had to be attractive?  I guess that's important.  I don't mean _attractive_ attractive, but she had to be attractive to me.  Why?  Well, part of the instructions for this drill say not to spend too much time drawing conclusions, so I'm just gonna go ahead and say that that's left as an exercise for the reader.

    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 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 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.
Exercise 11.  Imagine some event that could have happened to you but did not — something that you wanted or feared.  First, make up the basic outline of the event, and then incorporate true details.  Put your teapot and cats into the story; they won't sue you.  Your knowledge of these details will help you convince your reader of the truthfulness of the story's main event.  Don't spend much time on introducing this event or on drawing conclusions.  Just give the scene with your desire (or fear) acted out.  Keep yourself as the main protagonist.

4 comments:

May 10, 2010 at 11:42 AM Perplexio said...

It reminded me a bit of a Coupling episode. The narrator's ineptitude with women was/is very reminiscent of the Jeff character. Although by the time he was done and due to a language barrier (she was Israeli) she thought he collected ears in a bucket and wanted to add hers to his collection.

Oh and the Commodore vs. Mac details I dig that. The Commodore company was great at MAKING computers but they weren't the best at marketing them and the guys running the comapny-- it seems they didn't quite have the same knack for business that they had for building computers. Tis a pity, Commodores were ahead of their time. If they were still around today (they kind of are, but in name only-- there's a company that bought the rights to the Commodore name and makes high end gaming PCs under the Commodore name and logo-- but they're Windows based) their computers would be about 10 years ahead of where both Macs and PCs are today.

May 10, 2010 at 8:07 PM Mark Juric said...

I loved that show. I learned the phrase "secret listener" from Jeff and have never forgotten it. I didn't really understand what he was talking about until the last time I went to the UK and realized that the white-noise generators we take for granted in American bathrooms are noticeably absent in the UK. Couple (pardon the pun) that with the marble floors that are so common and you can see how someone might come up with the idea of a "secret listener".

May 11, 2010 at 9:13 AM Mark Juric said...

Based on a couple of comments I need to modify this story. Since this is a writing exercise, I'm not sure what the best way to do this is. I don't want to lose the original text but would like to leave it there for comparison, however something like a strike-out font seems a bit intrusive. Thoughts?

May 11, 2010 at 9:21 AM Perplexio said...

Perhaps just a repost with a new title "Flirting (second draft)" or something of the like. You could even link to the original for comparison's sake.

Speaking of bathrooms, one of my favorite bits from Coupling is Steve's rant on bathrooms:

We are men! Throughout history, we have always needed, in times of difficulty, to retreat to our caves. It so happens that in this modern age, our caves are fully plumbed. The toilet is, for us, the last bastion, the final refuge, the last few square feet of man-space left to us! Somewhere to sit, something to read, something to do, and who gives a damn about the smell? Because that, for us, is happiness. Because we are men. We are different. We have only one word for soap. We do not own candles. We have never seen anything of any value in a craft shop. We do not own magazines full of pictures of celebrities with all their clothes on. When we have conversations, we actually take it in turns to talk! But we have not yet reached that level of earth-shattering boredom and inhuman despair that we would have a haircut recreationally. We don't know how to get excited about... really, really boring things, like ornaments, bath oil, the countryside, vases, small churches. I mean, we do not even know what, what in the name of God's arse is the purpose of pot-pourri! Looks like breakfast, smells like your auntie! Why do we need that? So please, in this strange and frightening world, allow us one last place to call our own. This toilet, this blessed pot, this... fortress of solitude. You girls, you may go to the bathroom in groups of two or more. Yet we do not pass comment. We do not make judgement. That is your choice. But we men will always walk the toilet mile... alone.

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