By Wayne Elise
Be forewarned. This is a story about people talking. There's little action. No plot. Not much character development. Also, the details are how I remember them, not how they truly happened.
I was teaching a client in the field recently who had just returned to the United States from Afghanistan.
"Not much chance to work on my conversation skills out there," he told me. "I spent my time on a hill with my squad buddies searching for bad guys through binoculars."
"Yeah," I said. "And now you're here with me talking to girls. I bet it feels surreal."
He shrugged. "Pretty much."
Later he told me, "You wrote something once about trying to see strangers as potential friends. In the Marine Corp we're taught to see them as potential enemies. You never know who may be trying to blow you up. I'm friendly to everyone I meet, but I have a plan to kill them."
"That's how Erika is with me," I say.
He just stares ahead.
You're thinking about a way to kill me right now," I say. "Aren't you?"
He refers to women as females. That's a soldier thing. "Hey Wayne. Two females inbound at three o'clock."
"Great. Let's create an ambush and watch our six. Ten-four good buddy."
He looks at me as if I'm the most moronic person in the world.
I nod. "And that's why I'm not in the Army."
Despite carrying himself with a soldier's bearing that could be mistaken for being uptight and a sense of irony that's more locker-room than sensual, he can hold a conversation. He can talk about art and music. He knows who Keats was.
Coincidentally, we ran into the girlfriend of his favorite DJ/Rapper - a guy calling himself Napalm. I snapped a picture of the girlfriend and my client together.
"Her boyfriend is progressive in melding his beats with his rap." Says my client after we leave her. "It's a slow-build fusion sort of thing like the beatnik poets. He sings about getting fucked up at parties but his lyrical combinations are more akin to Jack Kerouac than Jay Z."
I'm impressed, though I have no idea what he's talking about. "Uh, yeah. That sounds good."
We have a heart to heart chat in the car I've rented to drive us around. "When you talk you say interesting things," I tell him. "Your intelligence comes across. It's just that you're conversationally passive. I'd like to see you engage more. You're fully loaded. Kill those fuckers. Conversationally speaking, of course."
We drive to SilverLake. "This area is full of hipsters." I tell him. "It's the opposite of being in the military."
"Let's go to The Thirsty Crow," I say. "It's Esquire magazine's best bar in America. I think you'll love it. We'll find friendly girls with piercings."
We walk in and look around. People huddle over their Old Fashions and their Traditional Manhattans. Every seat is taken. A few guys turn around to look at us. They stroke their beards and adjust the chains attaching their wallets to their jeans. I grimace and we walk out.
"It's usually better than that," I say. "Must be couple's night. Let's head to Good Luck. It's my favorite bar. Only a couple clicks away."
"You don't have to talk military talk Wayne."
"That's the Navy."
We walk into Good Luck. It's eight p.m. The bartenders are arranging their liquors.
I smile. "Let's sit at the bar. This is perfect."
We chat up the bartenders who seem glad for the distraction.
"It's helpful to get them on our side." I tell my client. "We can do this now. We wouldn't even try later when it's busy."
I open a time-travel app on my phone. I set it to forward 8x and watch life hurry. The cocktail waitress lights candles on each table in fast-forward. The bartenders shake and pour like people possessed. People fill Good Luck like a rising tide.
I return time to normal speed and turn to my right where I spot an attractive girl sitting next to me. She overheard my banter with the bartender and now I'm the devil she knows. She allows me to catch her eye.
"Hi," I say. "I like your…" I let my eyes wander over her.
"My what?" she says.
I gesture at her male friend. "I'm glad you arrived. Now I'm not the tallest one here."
"Are you sure?" says the girl. "You might be taller."
"No. I'm just closer to you. It's an optical illusion. He's a giant." I say to him, "No offense of course."
"None taken." he says.
This leads to him and me standing back to back.
"You're right," the girl says to me. "He's taller."
"And probably smarter." I look at him. "You look smart."
"And so do you," he says.
"That's nice of you to say. I barely graduated high school. But thanks. I mostly feel smart when I wear my glasses."
"You wear glasses?" the girl says.
"Well, reading glasses. When you get my age you stop being able to focus close-up."
I pull my glasses from my pocket and model them for everyone. I push them out to the end of my nose like a librarian. "We just got eye glasses for my wife too. She never realized it until now that she needed them. So she never really knew what I looked like. When she wore her glasses for the first time, she turned to me and did this." I contort my face with surprise and horror.
I introduce my friend.
"How do you guys know each other?" the girl says.
I hate that question. I hear it a lot when I'm with clients. People don't understand why a middle-aged, white, married guy would be out with a twenty two year old, single, Asian guy - they have no imaginations.
"Good question," I say. "He's uh… here to hang with me because… uh… he's visiting. He just got back from overseas. He's a Marine. You should see his biceps. But he's got no tattoos. I don't get that. Oh well. C'est la vie. Do you mind if I ask you a personal question?"
She nods. "Ask it. We're all about the personal questions."
"How old are you?"
"Ah, that's a good age."
"Why? How old are you?"
"Forty three. I'm almost twice your age."
She raises her eyebrows. "I'm surprised. You seem younger."
"Aww, thanks for being nice."
"No. You do."
"If I do seem younger it's because I move around a lot. That's the secret to appearing younger. Never let people get a good look at you. Even now - I'm moving." I wave my hands in front of my face and rock my head.
I turn to the guy. "I don't know how you feel about being tall but sometimes it's a pain."
"Like on airplanes. I'm usually folded up in coach."
"I know what that's like."
"And we get sexually harassed at the grocery store. This little old lady the other day... She must have been eighty. She asked me to pull a cereal box off the top shelf. And then when I reached up for it, she grabbed my butt."
"Ha. Did she really?"
"Well, it could have been an accident. She might have been steadying herself. But she was smiling at me when she did it."
I look over to my client and wink. He looks mesmerized by the situation.
I continue, "… and then the next morning when we woke up in bed together… "
I put my hand out. "I feel as if I've been hogging the conversation. I want to hear about your lives."
"What do you want to know?" the girl asks.
Between slurps through a straw of the last of my Fists of Fury drink I say, "Everything."
They look at each other and then the guy says, "We're traveling nurses."
"That sounds like important jobs. I don't know what that means though."
"We're sent for six months to a city to work in the ICU and then we move to another city for sixth months."
"Very cool. I think that'd be interesting and in ICU I bet you get to follow the patients progress more so than in emergency."
"We do. I love it. It's the best job I ever had. We just came here to LA. Before this we were in New Orleans."
"Welcome to town."
I peer closer at him. "Has anyone ever told you that you look like someone famous?"
"Not lately," he says.
"I'm thinking Tony Robbins. Except a better looking version. Your head is normal size. That guys has a big head."
"I don't know who that is."
"You're better off."
I Google a picture to show them.
"You're right," she says to me. "You do look similar," she says to him.
I nod. "What can I say. Your talent is saving lives. Mine is finding celebrity look-alikes."
We talk about their work. I'm fascinated. And then the conversation moves on to travel. "I'm mad about threesomes being illegal in China," I say. "I don't know how to change that."
"Yeah, I'm not happy about it. My wife and I visited China last year. I might start a Facebook protest page or something."
"How do you know they're illegal?"
"This famous Chinese actor went to jail for like three months because someone leaked a cell phone video of him with two girls. It's horrible."
We talk about threesomes for a bit.
Then I say, "I love my wife but she makes me feel bad about myself. She's in prefect shape. It makes me feel fat by comparison."
"How long have you been married?"
"About nine months. We did a Craigslist wedding."
"You met on Craigslist?"
"Ha. No. We hired everyone for our wedding off Craigslist. The photographer, a stylist, the woman who conducted the ceremony."
"Do you have a picture of your wife," the girl asks.
I pull up a photo of Erika from my phone.
"Thanks. She's out of my league of course. I had to make her feel sorry for me to get her to go out with me. Pity game. It works. So how about you? What's your relationship situation?"
"I'm single. I was dating a guy in Seattle but I had to leave him behind. He's there probably cleaning fish as we speak."
"Ah. I see. Well, it's good to be single. Complete freedom. How about you?" I say to the guy.
"Actually we're here with a bunch of other nurses," he says. "They're over there."
I look. At a table are sitting five or six girls.
He points toward a hot one. "That's my fiancee."
"Wow. Congratulation. She's very attractive."
"I know. Thanks."
We talk about rock climbing, which the guy calls his passion.
I shake my head. "I regret that I lived in Boulder for a time but never climbed a rock. I'd love to learn how."
The fiancee walks over and we meet her. I tell more silly jokes about my life and tell her she's pretty. And then the guy asks to exchange numbers.
"I can take you out to Point Dume," he says. "There's some easy, beginner routes there."
"Sounds great," I say. "I can't wait." And then I turn to the girl and say, "And I uh..."
"I'd love to hang out with you and your wife," she says.
I feel a shiver down my spine.
"Well," I say. "I don't think you're cool enough."
Her face went red.
"I'm kidding," I say. "You're very cool. You're like three or four times cooler than me. I'd love to hang out with the three of us. It'd be fun. We could meet up and have some drinks and see where the night leads."
She smiles. "You guys seem different."
"I like to think so thanks."
We all exchange numbers.
Leaving Good Luck I turn to my client. "Sorry I didn't find a way to include you in the conversation more."
"That's okay," he says. "I learned a lot by watching and listening."
"I don't always do this - whatever this is, perfectly. But that was a pretty good interaction I think. The vibe came together. I like when the conversation is coming together like that. It's fun to ride the wave. Now we have an in with a bunch of nurses. You know what that means?"
"Nurse parties. IVs with booze in them. Girls with those short and sexy nurse outfits, people with broken arms hooking up with people with broken legs. Sick shit like that."
"Yeah. I could see they were into you."
"We were lucky. They were looking for something or someone fun. They felt up for a conversational adventure."
"So the lesson's to lucky."
"No. The lesson is take the conversation to people and not be so fucking passive. Be like your rapper buddy. His lines are aggressive. He really says a thing when he says it. He blows."
"You mean 'flows'."
"I'm not really his buddy by the way. I'm just a fan."
"Whatever. We met his girlfriend. You know what I call that? Serendipity. You know what serendipity is? It's the thing that happens when you put enough of yourself out there that you run into happy coincidences. Most people play life too close to the chest to put enough of themselves out there to change their luck."
"You heard me. I just babble on about relationships and K-Pop. And it works pretty well. Agreed? Good. But you actually say smart things. You've had time to sit and think of all the philosophy in the world up there on that ridge holding your rifle and waiting for the Taliban to run past. I bet the stars are amazing in Afghanistan. You've lived a unique life with unique thoughts. That's gold. But no one knows any of that if you just wait for someone to ask. They won't. How could they know how cool you are? They can't. But they'd love to be surprised. It's like going to a movie that you expect to be average and sitting and watching and thinking oh wow this is great. It's like when I saw Amélie."
He looked confused.
"Obscure reference for you. It was the 500 Days of Summer of its time."
"A romantic comedy. Anyway, forget it. The point I'm trying to make is there are a million guys out there who look like you, making safe conversation from typical perspectives. They're adding no value to the world. While you, though a little rough around the edges, have got things to say. So say them."
"You've given me a lot to think about."
"Good. Do you have a plan to kill me right now?"
"Yeah. But for a second I kinda forgot."
"You're lucky I'm not a Taliban secret-agent mother fucker."
If you're interested in excelling at the art of people sign up for my Conversation Camp or our new event Confrontation Camp or do some Phone Coaching. We'd love to work with you. As always I love to read your comments.
All the best, Wayne Elise