There are three of us waiting for a colleague to join us for dinner - all of us in tuxedos. We are at a black tie event, so we are wearing our most keenly developed adult faces; however, there is an unruly electricity between us that is partly a byproduct of the kinetic and forever unfinished world of sales within which we operate and partly attributed to the lack of sleep from the prior 20 hours of hardcore entertaining we have endured.
We are grouped in a large hotel lobby, and we notice a woman in a blue gown who is just stunningly beautiful. It is the kind of beauty that if she were singing on a collection of sharp shoreline rocks
I would be happily compelled - as pilot of a Homer-era wooden sailing vessel - to obliterate my ship in the awkward and violent shredder of those rocks.
But she is doing something that is distracting me more than her attractiveness. She is smelling her own hair. And she is doing this with such an obsessive intensity, running handfuls at a time under her nose as if the chemical makeup of her hair could change at any moment and could then give off a different scent. I have certainly seen women do this before; it is a behavior usually reserved for more quiet and private moments - say, reading a history text book in a quiet corner of a university library while wearing thick cotton sweatpants. It is not the kind of thing one does in such a public manner and in such an overdressed setting and at such a near-manic frequency.
All of this is compelling me to introduce myself.
As a point of visual reference, I am bald and look disturbingly like the guy from Powder
. What is to follow is best understood in how curiously it was misunderstood.
"I wish I could do that," I say to her, gesturing vaguely at the clump of hair she is currently inhaling.
It comes to her that she is being addressed and that she does not know me and that it is likely best for her to fall back into polite smiles and small-talk retorts. But all I know is non-linear conversation, and there is no democracy in this approach. And the nervous tick that is compelling all of this hair sniffing is now being spotlighted, and she opts to engage with grace.
"Oh," she musters, dropping her hand and delivering a crushing smile.
"If I could grow anything on my head, I would grow it out long and smell it all day," I say, softening her alarm and embarrassment.
But as I am explaining this, my colleague booms: "Let him smell your hair. He just wants to smell it."
At this I immediately imagine myself as some tethered cretin, pulling against my chains with a single and animal desire to smell this woman's bountiful hair. It is an image that has been so indelicately placed into this woman's mind: this man just wants to smell her hair. That's it. That's all he wants. No other desires. No other aspirations.
Now it is my turn to experience alarm. It simply was not my intention to approach this woman and request a sample of her hair to ingest. I was just interested in passing some minutes in experiential and shapeless conversation with her just because she was there and just because there were minutes to be passed. She was a prop among an open room of human props.
And as I attempt to explain the miscue that has been put out there, she is offering a healthy collection of her hair. She has assembled what appears to be some premium growth, harvested from the lower bounce at the perfect real estate between her neck and her collar bone, and she is offering it to me with a casualness that one might find when buying an ice cream cone.
Compelled to move forward with this transaction, I smell her hair in the manner of a professional hair-waft critic, taking the sample gently and finding the aromatic undertones that are blossoming in the blond fibers.
"I detect a light wheat," I tell her. "A light wheat tossed in an early autumn breeze. The kind of wheat that is perfect for harvest. It is well-watered but not over-tendered. A light wheat that has been browned perfectly in the sun but sustains its gold crispness through the stature the universe has given it."
"It does smell like a light wheat," she says, pulling forth another strap of hair in her fingers and taking a deep whiff.
The oddly successful exchange and the calm demeanor of this woman bring my two colleagues into the fold and we begin to layer in a more socially acceptable chatter. She appears to be enjoying the attention and the distraction when another man steps in and introduces himself as her husband.
Of course something this splendid would be married, and of course the natural reptilian brain thing among males to do is to compare and contrast in the instant animal moments before the most severe expressions of violence. But we are wearing tuxedos and we are in a public setting and there are three of us and one of him and I myself am married and dinner is just moments away and there are surveillance cameras in this hotel and there are far too many police and no decent escape routes and none of this is worth it and all of this is worth it.
I wonder if he witnessed this whole exchange and what it might mean for him and what it might mean for all of us. So I extend my hand and introduce myself and my colleagues more formally, delivering our names and titles and sharing also the firm that has employed us.
And he pauses before sharing his name, title and firm. It turns out that he is working for one of our most significant competitors, selling as we are selling in the fragmented pools, drawing what can be drawn from increasingly more difficult monetary environments. Except his firm is losing, and there are rumors of considerable trouble for them - anemic web traffic, lack of sustenance in their print offering, a brutal rise in competition in their conferences division.
I have personally taken money from this man as he has taken personally from me.
And so here we are, engaged awkwardly with his wife, smiling in the ebb of the evening, knives sheathed and bellies empty, the world turning in its slow and violent tick toward Monday.