Just Keep Smiling
2nd Place Winner of the 2009 Be Your Art Writing Competition. Co-published with the North Shoreian Magazine, February 2010.
It smells of a scavenger hunt, each of us waiting for the cue, each of us ready to pounce. We take our positions, sit up straight, and smile, all of us flashing our biggest, toothy grins. Forty-five dollars poorer, we’re gathered in a swanky city club, sitting at our designated tables, each of us perched on her seat, emitting vibes that beg, “Pick me, pick me.” This eight-minute speed-dating, a bizarre, rate-a-mate version of musical chairs, is already more than I can handle. It’s worse than I had imagined, worse than that school-yard feeling of waiting to be chosen.
Ding! Ding! Every eight minutes, Ding! Ding! I mean come on–eight minutes? It takes me longer than that to pick out bottled water.
My first moving target approaches. On a scale of 1 to 10, I give him a preliminary 8, though he’d do well to ditch the neon tie.
“Not bad looking,” I’m thinking, as my hopeful heart starts to flutter. I take a breath and squirm a bit in my seat as he settles comfortably in the chair across from me.
“OK, I can do this,” I try to convince myself, though his bitten fingernails don’t bode well.
“Hi. I’m Anna,” I say, my smile wide as a fruit wedge, my voice already cracking. “Pleased to meet you,” I chirp, but he’s already off and running. I just nod.
“Oh, that’s nice,” I lie.
“Really? How interesting,” I lie again.
He’s busy yapping away, and pretty soon I’m starting to feel like a bobble-head, nodding and nodding.
“Just keep smiling,” I remind myself as I notice a couple of stray hairs sticking out of his ear.
It’s been at least two minutes, and he still hasn’t come up for air, but my smile stays pasted because the good girl voice in me says I’m supposed to be polite. About half-way through his well-rehearsed litany, he finally reaches for his drink, and I manage to squeeze in a quick question.
“A licensed M. P.?” I ask, part of me still hoping that his incessant chatter is just a sign of nerves. Waiting for clarification, I rapidly run through a Rolodex of possibilities: “Member of Parliament? Probably not. Management Planner? Hmm, maybe? Military Police? Oh, God, I hope not.”
When he sees that I’m all ears again, my smile still strung like a hammock, he hands me his card.
“Oh” I say politely, smile now frozen, “A licensed master plumber. That’s nice,” I say, wondering, “How the hell did I get talked into this fiasco?”
Think what you will of me, but I am not looking for a plumber. I already have a plumber. Marty and I have a great relationship. He shows up when he says he will, listens carefully to what needs fixing, does what he needs to do, cleans up his mess, and leaves. That’s it, nice and simple.
But tonight, it’s anything but. I shift in my seat, sneaking a peak at my watch, hoping it won’t be much longer before the next Ding! Ding! My face is weary from smiling so much, and I’m slightly pissed that he hasn’t even noticed my dimples. I take another deep breath and force myself to refocus.
“Sorry–you were saying?” I press myself to ask the mug now looking less and less appealing, and I think the stray hairs have gotten longer.
“Oh, me? Um, I teach,” I stammer, omitting the particulars of college prof with Ph. D. in English, which he wouldn’t have heard anyway cause he was already off at the races.
“NASCAR?” I repeat, my frozen smile going visibly limp.
“Well, no, can’t say that I have,” I confess, almost apologetically, “but I have been to Saratoga,” I offer as compensation. But he looks at me as if I’m speaking Greek. I try to spell it out for him, “You know, the horse races?”
“Upstate, New York?” I tag on, tempted to add “where I’d rather be right now,” but I don’t. Yes, I’m thinking, Saratoga, Canada, Siberia—anywhere but here.
His next question nearly floors me, but I muster up a puny smile because I hear that damned voice again scolding me to “Be nice.”
“Wrestling matches? No, gee, no, I’m afraid not,” I murmur. “But I do have a photo of me with Hulk Hogan,” I blurt out, surprised at my need to impress this idiot, who still hasn’t noticed my dimples.
“My son took that picture when we were vacationing in Clearwater Beach,” I continue, but nothing I’m saying seems to register with this guy. “That’s where the Hulk lives you know,” I say smugly, looking straight at him and raising the volume a bit. By now, I’m convinced that he must be deaf, for what other explanation could there be for such cluelessness.
When it’s clear he has nothing more to say, I take a long hard look at my watch. Little Goody Two Shoes is still nagging at me, but this time I don’t care if he’s insulted; in truth, I am hoping he is.
I decide to keep talking. “My son, who’s 27 with an MA in PE, he used to love watching wrestling,” I say, smile hard as chewed bubble gum, “but he was 12 then.”
“Ouch, that was cold,” yells Miss Nice, but I’m already licking up the sarcasm that’s dripping like melted ice cream down the sides of my snarky mouth. Delish!!
His startled look convinces me that he’s not deaf, maybe just dumb. He starts to fidget with the business card that never made it to my wallet, and I see again the white porcelain bowl advertising his credentials. Must be the Taurus in me is awake now cause I’m no longer hearing voices. As I watch beads of perspiration trickle from his temples into his beard, I just can’t help myself. I am genuinely smiling. And then, there’s no stopping me.
“And another thing. . .”
Ding, Ding. Ding, Ding.
The lovely Vana White-clone is ringing her bell, signaling my next victim to take a seat. Yum, yum. I just keep smiling.