Sitting at a bar, people watching can be fun. Sometimes though, I tend to get introspective. This took place around March 2017 and after a while, introspective indeed I was.
Garry Tries His Best to Pick Up a Stranger
I’m sitting at Barrio on a Monday night trying to catch a late dinner.
Barrio is one of my favorite spots here in Cleveland. When I first moved here in July of 2016 it was one of the first spots my family and I tried and it was exactly what anyone could ask for. I didn’t know what to expect at first – a Mexican restaurant that claims to have great street tacos in downtown Cleveland – so I was a bit skeptical going in, but damn did the tacos hit the spot. Although I’ve been told this Barrio has the worst customer service, I’ve yet to go to the other locations around Cleveland. I guess that’s what happens when you become a regular at a place – you either get better service or become oblivious to the lack of quality service.
So, I’m sitting here on a Monday evening trying to grab some dinner. I’m also here because I didn’t buy tickets to the Cavs vs. HEAT game so I’m trying to catch the action on their tv. In retrospect, I should have bought tickets since this was the game Miami won (I bought tickets to a previous game where Miami got spanked). Regardless of what event is going on, I enjoy Barrio because of the different crowds that form there due to the events that are hosted in downtown Cleveland venues. Some days it’s an 80s cover band, Cavs or Indians games, or maybe it’s some pop star like Demi Lovato. Each event brings its own unique set of individuals into downtown and into the restaurant.
I enjoy people watching. I have been doing so for quite a long time. I find it interesting how we interact with each other based on our perceived interests and how those interactions change once we discover an individual isn’t as similar to us as we originally thought. This particular day was filled with quite a few people that were in town for business. Some sort of conference and it was filled with sales people and sales managers sprinkled throughout the place.
Of particular interest to me was an older gentleman (early to mid 50s) who was speaking to a woman that must have been in her late 20s or early 30s. At first I thought the conversation was strictly professional, but as I listened in (and I often do with my bionic hearing) I realized that his interest was on more than a professional level. I wouldn’t call it a romantic level as he was wearing a wedding band, but lets just say he “coveted” this woman. Now, it isn’t hard to figure out why he was interested in her; She offered intelligent conversation, was friendly and attractive. We’ll call her the triple threat.
Did he Just Say That?!
Lets get down to it. During the conversation he was obviously trying to make some sort of connection with this woman – who I will call Leslie – that would lead to extracurricular activities beyond Barrio. I cannot say that this was his ultimate goal, but if you, like me, are on the lookout for the worst in people, then you’ll usually begin to pick up on these queues during conversation. The queues can be a change in tone, body language, a change in personal space, etc. Now, these changes don’t necessarily mean that someone has ill intentions, but my constant vigilance for the worst in people has made me observant of all of these indicators, which can be used to read people and help me decipher what their intent is. Being aware of and using these tools can also be a great way to seduce someone (not necessarily in a sexual manner) in order to accomplish something, whether that be a favor, work related task, promotion, or (and the most often thought of way) open someone up for a sexual escapade, a.k.a. a one night stand (or more?). It was easy for me to pick up on Garry’s – who I’ll call our gentleman protagonist in this conversation – intentions. He wanted to bed this woman. Maybe not this night, but at the very least he was looking for an “in” that would allow him more time with Leslie since they were both in town for the rest of the week.
“Oh, Garry. You gave it a real shot, but I am afraid your effort was not enough. I’m not sure where you learned your social skills or if being married has eroded your ability to talk to members of the opposite sex, but my friend you were completely out of your element”, was the thought running through my head.
I have to admit that I somehow injected myself in the conversation. I had to. Garry and Leslie were both sitting next to me so in order to get a better context and not be spotted eavesdropping by accidentally laughing at something that was said, I decided to recommend one of the tacos. This was my “in”. I didn’t use this to derail Garry’s plans, but merely used it as a tool to bring me physically closer to the pair. I did not want to miss any of the conversation due to the loud atmosphere in the bar. I was already enjoying the scene that was playing out beside me. I did not want to miss any Seinfeld-esque moments.
The conversation started like any other conversation between strangers at a bar. Leslie offered up why she was in Cleveland. Her work had brought her here on business for a conference. Garry followed suit by sharing that he was an account manager (salesman) and he was here meeting with some of his clients. It all sounded pretty above board. Garry made a comment about the food and just so happened to throw a glance in my direction, which is when I gave him my opinion on the tacos here and my recommendation. Just like that I was in. Garry was going back and forth with Leslie and I. I found out he was from South Carolina and we were able to make a connection since I spent a few years there and still own a home in Columbia. I did my job and allowed him to focus his attention on Leslie. I admit, I was being selfish because I wanted to see just where the path that his attempt at conversation/pick-up would ultimately lead.
SPOILER ALERT! He did not get the number, the girl, or a sexual conquest. Boy was your conversation dry Garry.
Look, after they got all the preliminary information about work and their reasons for being there out of the way, Garry was out of material. He just had nothing left to ask. Really, Garry? You’re out?
Our friend Garry was like an opening comic who used up all his material in the first 5 minutes of a 15 minute set.
I couldn’t help him. I wasn’t interested in talking to Leslie and I really was enjoying the game (which the HEAT won).
Garry’s last ditch effort to continue the conversation came when Leslie ordered a Margarita. Barrio has a list of flavors to choose from and I think she inquired if they offered beet (why not? After all, they did offer pomegranate) margaritas, which they did not. This, Garry thought, was his moment to shine. “So you like beets”, was his line. Garry, for the love of God, “So you like beets” was the best you could come up with?
I couldn’t save Garry. At that moment even I was not interested in carrying a conversation with this man. He seemed like a nice enough person, but there just didn’t seem to be anything there. No substance and didn’t seem to want to interact with anyone other than Leslie for his ulterior motives. That was the extent of his social interaction or interest.
At the end of the day, we are social creatures. This is how we connect with one another. There are a myriad of ways by which we engage in social activity. Sports was my social experience. Sports had an enormous influence on the way that I went on to lead others.
And Now a Little About Social Psychology
I had an opportunity to play alongside kids of different cultures and social economic backgrounds. I had first hand exposure, through sports, to interact with all sorts of personalities. I wasn’t a “social butterfly”. I was one of the shy kids. However, on the field or court, I had a different personality. I wasn’t always the leader on my teams, but something in me was awakened when I played. Looking back now, I realize that I was a team leader. In football I played D-line and my hustle set the example for the rest of my teammates. I was the smallest guy on the team, but I was relentless. In soccer I was always the defensive captain. I ran the defense and realigned them throughout the game, always communicating to the defenders and the other team members where we needed to be and where they needed to be on the field.
With that kind of conversation I wonder just how effective a salesman Garry really is. I doubt he’s a Top 10% guy. Maybe I’m being a little harsh on Garry. Valid point. I am a lot more confident in how to deal with people in a variety of different scenarios, but am wasn’t always that way. Amongst friends I was more than comfortable speaking my mind. So much so that one of my friends bought me a hat for my birthday that said “I’m the Man!”. Why was I the man? Well, because I used that kind of “Bro” language whenever I was correct or scored yet another “A” or even when I took my SATs a second time (actually studied that time) and scored a 1420.
Indeed, I did think I was the man. Outside of my social circle, though, I was far from being the man. I was shy and awkward when talking to girls (at 15 and 16 they are girls) that I liked. I wasn’t confident in my game (my ability to connect with girls, not just some pickup lines). I had a negative self image. “I’m too short, I’m too chubby, I’m too skinny, I don’t have enough muscle mass, I have a weird haircut”. Yea, those thoughts ran through my head on a regular basis. I had some things going for me. Externally, I had a great support group. I surrounded myself with intelligent, kind and driven people. Internally, I knew 2 things about myself and I’ve never stopped believing those things: I am intelligent and I’m a good person.
So, I went off to college where I reinvented myself. No one knew me there. I intentionally went to a school in state, but as far away from home as possible because I did not want to be influenced by the friends I had known growing up. I was at FSU for almost 2 years, but early on I knew I wasn’t going to stay that long. Two weeks into a freshman “Excel for business majors” course at FSU, I saw something that I thought and hoped wasn’t real. Something I thought would be the last of its kind. Two airplanes (believe what you want on whether it’s true or not, this is what I saw on t.v.) crashed into the World Trade Center on September 11th, 2001. I left school about a year and a half later (I did finish my degree at a later time) and enlisted in the Army within weeks. Problem was that I had to wait. There were more people enlisting than the Army could train. Eventually, after working in retail sales for 6 months (yeah 6 month wait), I finally shipped off to Basic Training.
My experience in the Army was filled with ups and downs, but mostly with ups. At one point I was even an Army recruiter and that lasted about 3 years. I chose not to permanently convert to that career field, but I learned a ton. This experience was essentially sales and marketing. I went through the 7 week “Army Recruiter Course”. This taught me how to be a better salesman. It gave me some great insight into marketing psychology and people in general. A large emphasis on selling and networking was part of the job. It was here where I polished off my social skills. The Army was an awesome experience for me. Long story short, I met my wife, whom I have 2 beautiful kids with. I made lifelong friendships, I further developed my social and leadership skills and was able to build a network of friends and colleagues that most build during their college years. Needless to say the travel and experiences that are tied to the above are priceless.
Garry, my buddy from above, may have had a different experience. Maybe he doesn’t know how to talk to women. Maybe when he is just interested in one thing from the opposite sex he is too obvious and no one wants that (well, some may).
I know, this was supposed to be about Garry and Leslie. And, for a time, it was. You got to know a little about Garry and maybe a whole lot more about me.
Take Care of Yourselves and Each Other
Why did I tell you this story? I think Garry’s portion is funny. A little sad, but he’s married and he’ll be OK. More importantly, I wanted to share my story because you know people like me. They are your friends and family. Don’t take them for granted.
Suicide is an epidemic in this country amongst our Veterans. It happens to everyone -Veteran or not. I never once considered suicide, no matter how bad things became. And I did have some dark moments. From feeling inadequate growing up, to initially struggling as a recruiter because I was setting too high of a standard for myself -and the pressure that comes with it- to being separated from my family for extended periods of time, I sometimes felt empty. However, because I had grown up feeling inadequate and developed coping mechanisms (sports, writing, open to adventure and trying new things), I always made it out fine. Having great friends and family (even if they didn’t know how I felt) was what got me through those times I felt like an outsider.
As a recruiter I knew I needed help, so I sought the help of a psychiatrist. I saw him for 8 sessions. We worked on visualization and relaxation techniques. Techniques I already knew, but because I had become so bogged down by my perceived lack of success as a new recruiter, I needed an outsider’s point of view. After those 8 sessions I emerged a stronger individual, with tools that reinforced the self confidence I have developed over time. Hint: It’s because of those tools that I’ve been able to continue to develop my self-confidence. As Soldiers, we think it’s weak to seek this help. Not everyone has this ability to look for help. You need to encourage your friends to seek it. Remind them that seeking help is a true sign of strength. Realizing that you don’t have all the answers and are willing to seek those who can is real strength.
I hope you got a chuckle out of Garry’s failed attempt at a pickup. He’s no pickup artist. I hope you got even more from my personal story. A personal story that is more common than you know.