Bao Guy Has a Name

It’s Scott.

I was back at the mall getting lunch at the sushi place and the guy spotted me.

“Hey, sweet and lo guy. Come back for more plumberry tea?” He obviously remembered our one and only conversation and called on it like normal people do.

I explained I was waiting for sushi and he made some joke about me being a traitor. Then I said, “Hey, I’m Fletcher. What’s your name?”

Turns out when you tell people your name they usually tell you theirs in return. We talked for five or so minutes until my buzzer buzzed and I picked up my sushi. I learned he’s up for a guest starring role on some new sitcom.

Scott seems like a cool guy. I bet he knows a ton of people and that I’d hit it off with some of them. Not sure how to become “friends” with him and get into his life without seeming gay. Is that weird? I don’t know how to make friends anymore. Too bad we can’t just have our moms schedule a play date. I’ll have to ponder this. How to take our relationship to the next level.

My friend Dave from college is in town this weekend, so at least I’ll have something to do.

Elevator Girl Still Has No Name

I’m pissed because I was alone in the elevator with her and I just couldn’t muster the courage to say something. I almost did but she looked like she was in a bad mood or something. I don’t know. It just wasn’t the right time. I’m making excuses here but whatever. You try talking to the most amazing girl in the world within the next nine seconds.

Gunther and I

We hung out last night. I ran into Gunther at the mailboxes and he was like, “Fletcher!” and I’m like, “Gunther!” like we were old friends.

I was going to leave it at that but then he said, “You ready for that beer?” Before I could answer, he teased me. “Or wine.”

I was like, “Right now?”

“Unless you’re busy.”

Yeah, right. I think season one of Party Down on my Roku can wait. So I changed and went over to 302.

Turns out Gunther is a pretty weird dude, but in a cool way. He looks like a surfer, but he’s actually got a masters in economics from Berkeley. But does he use that degree to teach or work at the federal reserve? No. He sells shit on eBay.

Not like that girl in “40 Year Old Virgin.” He doesn’t sell other people’s stuff. And he doesn’t sell his own shit. He just scours eBay all day long for “undervalued assets” and “arbitrage opportunities.” He doesn’t care what the item is as long as it has a value that can be semi-objectively quantified and for some reason the bids are not meeting that price.

For example, he says the number one area where an auction gets undervalued is when people misspell the item they’re selling. So he actually has an algorithm that looks for common misspellings in the auction title, like “Genuine Piage Watch” (it’s Piaget) or “Jimmy Olson #1” (it’s Olsen). It doesn’t turn up on a normal search so no one bids on it. Gunther buys it below market and turns around and sells it again. He doesn’t just buy misspelled items–there’s a lot of reasons why an auction fails to sell at market price, like ending the auction at 3:00 in the morning, for example. But when the seller misspells the items in the description, they’re just asking to be taken advantage of, according to Gunther, because “money should flow from stupid people to smart people.”

I was pretty skeptical. I kind of beat around the bush for a while before I just came out and asked, “Do you really make money doing this?” Gunther was totally frank and honest. He said he made about eighty grand last year. Okay, not gonna buy any islands with that kind of money, but then he pointed out that he only works two hours a day, tops.

That blew me away. Naturally I asked him what he did the rest of the day. He said he reads. He sees a lot of movies. He’s writing a book on economics. And he goes hiking with his girlfriend Monica. (I was wrong, she doesn’t live there. Just stays over a lot.)

Of course, Gunther’s apartment was crammed full of junk that he’s in between buying and selling, so the place looks like one of those crazy people’s houses where they find the dead body two weeks later under a pile of newspapers. But on the other hand, there was a lot of cool shit to check out. We read Jimmy Olsen comic books for a while and got a pizza. It was cool.

Lesson learned: A little initiative goes a long way. All I said to Gunther originally was, “Hey, we should hang out some time.” And guess what? We did. How’s that for taking control of your life.

The Proverbial Dry Cleaner

I keep mentioning the dry cleaner as the type of person I should be talking to. So when I actually went in this morning to drop off my dry cleaning, it was hard to avoid thinking about it.

I bit the bullet, looked up at the TV they have on CNN all day long, and led with…

“Hey, I bet there’s one group of people pretty psyched about the oil spill in the Gulf– the dry cleaners!”

I thought that was pretty funny for off the top of my head but all I got was a pity laugh. So I asked the guy who’s handled my dry cleaning for the last year and a half, “Hey, what’s your name?”

He said it was Ramon. He already knew my name from his computer screen but I introduced myself anyway. We talked about the oil spill, how his brother has a restaurant in New Orleans, and about how dry cleaning works. Not too deep but he did give me some extra 40% off coupons for next time.

When I pick up my dry cleaning tomorrow I’ll see if Ramon has any thoughts on that city manager down in Bell who was ripping off the whole town.

Janet in Reception

I guess technically it doesn’t count as talking to strangers since I already know Janet, our receptionist on 19. But I don’t really know her, I just know her name. I’ve never actually spoken to her. Until today.

I had a team meeting in the main conference room and after it broke up I cut through reception to get back to my desk. Janet was just sitting there. She doesn’t get many calls. If someone needs to call one of the associates, they dial direct. And who calls the main number anyway? It’s not like a company cold-calls i-banks and asks if they have any debt restructuring specialists.

Anyway, Janet is just sitting there, probably reading a magazine, but I can’t see for sure because the facade is too high. I stopped and said, “Working hard, I see.” I know, real original. Like the stereo guy in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.”

She looked up and said, “Oh, yeah. It’s a thrill a minute here.”

And that would have been that on any other day. But today I was working really hard on using my powers of observation. I actually looked at her. And lo and behold I noticed something.

“New tattoo?”

She looked at her shoulder self-consciously. “No, well, sort of. I got this last month.” It was a butterfly.

I was about to launch into my usual tirade about tattoos–how it’s impossible to put something truly cool on your body, how lame girls get sayings in languages they don’t speak, how people make frivolous decisions that last forever–but I stopped myself. I think I’m funny. But the conversation isn’t just about me. Instead, I listened. Paid attention. And this is what I said:

“How many tattoos do you have?”

Not totally fascinating or surprising, but effective. I was being interested in her.

We talked for probably ten minutes. She has a boyfriend. She lives in West Hollywood. She went to Cal. State Fullerton. She’s thinking about going back to school for social work.

To be honest, I was a little bored. But it was weird, I felt like I was auditioning her, not the other way around. She was doing most of the talking and so I didn’t have to perform. I wasn’t trying to be funny or charming or interesting. I was just listening to her. And that made it so I could gather information, find out if I liked her, as a person. And she was basically fine. We are infinitely closer now than before. It wasn’t some magical connection but the point is I felt like I was doing the deciding about the future of our relationship.

Maybe that’s key to talking to women. Don’t talk, just listen. Don’t audition, make them audition. Then, if I really like the person, I’d be armed with a million facts about her to segue the conversation into something more.

Back at my desk, about twenty minutes later, something occurred to me. Was I flirting?

Amanda

Why did Amanda and I break up? Well, the consensus is that we just grew bored of each other. I always assumed that it was just something that happens in relationships.

Some molecules simply unbond due to the infinite complexities of quantum physics. In other words, there’s nothing you can do about it. We just drifted apart.

But something occurred to me today. Maybe it was talking to Janet, or more accurately, listening to her go on and on about her stupid tattoos. Maybe it was our fault that we broke up. Or at least what I’m trying to say is, that I was partially to blame. Maybe we could have saved the relationship.

Maybe if I was more observant like I was with Janet. Sure, I was kind of bored, but Janet was really happy after our talk. She was practically beaming. If I took more of an interest in Amanda’s life–her interests, opinions, her daily battles with her stupid boss–maybe that would have been constantly refueling the relationship. (Of course, it would have helped if she did the same in return, but that’s another story.) The point is, maybe relationships aren’t like molecules whose fate is determined by quantum physics, completely out of our control. Maybe you have to keep reapplying the glue that keeps the molecules bonded. Or relationships are like fires that you need to constantly refuel. Okay, I’m on the slippery slope of lame analogies here–next stop: relationships are like gardens–but you get the point.

If and when I ever get another girlfriend, I’m going to have to think long and hard about maybe paying attention to her.

Gas Station Guy

So thanks to modern technology, you don’t have to talk to anyone at the gas station anymore. You just pay outside with a credit card. But sometimes I buy a lottery ticket when I fill up (I know, it’s stupid, but it’s a better vice than Slim Jims).

So I went inside and the guy behind the counter was reading a book.

The new me was required to ask, “Whatcha reading?”

He lifted the book to show me. It was “Of Mice and Men.” Seriously.

Now I’m not going to get drawn into some awful stereotype about the average intelligence of a gas station attendant. But I’d be lying if I wasn’t surprised. I read “Of Mice and Men” in high school. Or maybe even junior high. I don’t really remember. But I’ve never seen anyone reading it who didn’t have braces.

So out of surprise, I blurted out, “Oh, great book. It’s a classic. I was totally traumatized when George had to shoot Lennie.”

He looks at me like, “What the fuck, dude?”

It never occurred to me that this was the first time he was reading it. Oops. I guess I should have said, “Spoiler alert.”

I totally turned red. I just said, “One Super Lotto Plus, please.”

I passed a one dollar bill across the counter and he printed out my ticket. I think the law requires him to say “good luck” because he did, even though he clearly didn’t mean it.

I said thanks and got the hell out of there.

The Olden Days

People often romanticize the “good old days” when there was no indoor plumbing and you could get your head cut off if you didn’t bow to a samurai.

But there is one thing about the days before TV and the internet that I do think was kind of cool. People talked.

A hundred years ago, on a Saturday night, sure, maybe you might go to the theater or something if you were rich, but really what people did was sit around talking to each other. You’d pay a visit to your friend and discuss the events of the day, politics, literature, philosophy… Okay, maybe it wasn’t this intellectual all the time, but people did talk to each other.

Now we live in such an isolated society. Fractured and disconnected. I’ll give you an example. Kyle at work told me to call Samuelson about a discrepancy in some income statement. But instead of calling him, I sent an email. I mean, going over to his office, that would have been insane. It’s practically twenty yards away. But even calling him was too personal. Too much human interaction. Even that level of contact was shunned in favor of something more impersonal, an email. How messed up is that?

Sandwich Lady

Got a sandwich at Ralphs for lunch just now. (P.S. It’s much better than most sandwich shops and they slice the meat right in front of you.) So I got this older lady and ordered my sandwich and she starts making it. But first she examined every piece of lettuce there was, then picked the best one. Same with the tomatoes. Only the best for my sandwich. The turkey was lovingly laid in overlapping layers for maximum airflow…

I was mesmerized. I am a sandwich aficionado–I could eat sandwiches for literally every meal–and so I really, really appreciated her care and expertise. So I told her so.

“I like the way you’re making my sandwich!”

She laughed. I needed to prove I was sincere so I added, “I see the way you’re doing the turkey. I hate those people who just slap down all the slices together. Might as well not slice it at all.”

She agreed and said basically there’s no reason not to make the sandwich as well as possible. She makes them like she’d want it for herself. We discussed the finer details of sandwich making and then I told her that I really appreciated her attention to detail and that I bet a lot of other people did as well, even if they didn’t say so.

Anyway, I think I pretty much made her day. She was beaming when she rang me up.

And then I went home and ate my sandwich.