She’s got the “look”

I have come to the conclusion that I just don’t have the looks.

Let me explain. Her name was Becky and she was a member of my traveling troupe on a tour of Europe, one of those whirlwind excursions where you cover five cathedrals, three museums and two countries in a day’s time, then find a hotel and have at it again. We were in Pisa, Italy, home to the iconic leaning pylon and after we’d climbed to the top to take our obligatory pictures of each other trying to hold up the titling tower, we jumped headlong into that most beloved of tourist activities … we shopped for souvenirs. This was the end of our European excursion so our funds were running low, but everyone wanted a memento of Italy and the venders were plentiful.

This guy was about 70 and looked a great deal like Sergeant Garcia on the Zorro TV show. Bulky, mustached, gruff and beyond bargaining, he wouldn’t budge a nickel in the price of his t-shirts. Sixteen-year-old Becky stood beside me, patiently waiting for me to fail in my bartering. I threw up my hands in defeat and took a step back, warning Becky that this guy was beyond negotiating. The guy took a look at her blond hair, her sparkling blue eyes (she’s still got them, 30 years hence), and her empty purse. The hulk melted before our very eyes. In his broken English he said, “For you, pretty lady, anything … take what you want.” Becky picked out a shirt, gave him a hug, and paid him nothing as I stood there with my gringo mouth open even wider than usual. It was simple … she had the look. She got the shirt and I got the shaft.

Fast-forward about twenty years and jump across the English Channel to London’s Gatwick airport. The reason you take Gatwick instead of Heathrow is to avoid the crowds and confusions and calamities. Such was not the case on this summer morning as I was told that our return flight to the U.S. was overbooked and my group of 24 would not be able to get on board. Most travel books will advise you that when this happens you should throw a fit. One article said, “Even though as a mild-mannered American it is not in your nature to scream and shout, if you get bumped from a flight, scream and shout.” Having spent three decades teaching jr. high students, shouting was a part of my repertoire, but I wasn’t up on my screaming exercises. The snooty little gal with British Airlines insisted that we would have to wait until the next day to fly out of London and return to St. Louis. As a tour leader at times like this, you either end up looking like a hero or a complete failure, and I was headed swiftly down the road to flop. I announced the ugly news to my group and an audible groan filled our departure lounge. Then one lady in our group shouted, “No way!” I’d love to give her name, but she’s a regular reader of The Source and I don’t want to embarrass her by detailing the explosion that took place at the ticket counter as she charged through the line of waiting travelers and proceeded to put on an exhibition of screaming, shouting, crying and commotion that stopped just short of death threats. The ending of the story: we got on the next plane. I had failed, but she had “the look.”

A final case in point: I sit on a state committee charged with the responsibility of choosing a site for our annual speech convention. Some towns in Illinois are tough to get into since they simply don’t have the hotel space. A few years ago our group thought we should pick a location in Central Illinois so I was given the responsibility of securing a large enough hotel with banquet, meeting, and rooming facilities. Jacksonville was out of the question since baseball players had taken all the rooms, Springfield is the toughest town in the state to book, and so I started calling around Decatur. No dice. I wanted to book the Holiday Inn, but they said they couldn’t handle our group, so I informed the committee. Before another day had passed, a young teacher from Mt. Olive had gone to Decatur, sweet-talked the hotel manager and we were in. She told me, “I just turned on the charm.” Charm? Maybe … but she had “the look.”

A local actress once told an acquaintance of mine, “I’d like to audition for one of Ken’s plays, but he seems so scary.” Honey, if I am it isn’t doing me any good. Call it what you will, I think this all smacks of sexism in reverse. If the I.R.S. ever audits me I’m tempted to send in a twelve-year-old girl to plead my case.

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