Sunday, January 18, 2015

Becky and the Copying Machine Salesman

This story was first published on MySpace in 2007.  I cleaned it up in 2012 as part of that notorious second book that I shelved indefinitely, and then added the short introduction in 2014.  For the first time in public in eight years, I present the tale of me being set up at work:

Early in life it was an aspiration of mine to be an entomologist.  Even as a child, I was concerned about leaving behind a legacy, and I knew that there were far more insects in the world than insects that had been named.  It seemed a quick and easy path to immortal relevance to discover hordes of arthropods new to science and then name them after myself.

My path was hindered, however, when I discovered that 1) I was petrified at the thought of touching most insects, and 2) the areas of the world where most new species were waiting to be unearthed (any rain forest, for instance) were the parts of the world most likely to have absolutely terrifying insects.  If I couldn’t even touch the (literal) garden variety, how was I going to study, collect, and document the scary-and-exotic kind?

I was in third grade when I was forced to concede that my dream had died, and between the ages of nine and thirty-two, I mourned this by refusing to take seriously the idea of a “career.”

At twenty-four, in the middle of my rebellion, I started working at a small financial advising firm.


Even before I officially began working at A Financial Services Office (not its real name), the office manager, whom I will call “May,” expressed concern about my lack of male companionship.  I was on my way out the door after my interview when she first mentioned that (job perk!) she was willing to set me up with the grandsons of clients.  

After a couple of months on the job, though, May had gotten no further in her quest than to occasionally mention that some of the traveling internal wholesalers were "cute."  My idea of "cute" rarely (if ever) coincided with her idea of "cute" but since she wasn't going anywhere with any of this, I indulged her.  "Oh, yeah," I'd say.  "He is cute.  Too bad he lives in [insert state here]."  The fact that these men were miles from home and often had wives and children waiting for them meant very little interest from my end.

One fateful day, however, our office was visited by an unsolicited copying machine salesman.  Not once during his visit did I lay eyes on him, but I half-heartedly eavesdropped while May got some information.  Such as:  yes, he was single, and yes, he'd come back with more brochures for copying machines.

As soon as he left, she came running to the back of the office and gasped, "Becky!  Did you see him?!  He was so cute!!  Do you want me to go after him?!?  I'm sure he's still in the parking lot!!!"

In my usual work-induced state of lethargy, I noncommittally shrugged, "Oh, I didn't see him." 

"Well, he's coming back!" she gushed.  "He was cute, too!  AND SINGLE!!!" 

Pushing my enthusiasm level up from "half-dead" to "visibly conscious," I asked what he looked like.  In return, I got some adjectives like "tall," and "cute," and "good-looking," and "cute," and "cute."  This was back in the days when I shared a two-sided cubicle with another administrative assistant, an older woman named "June" whom I remember mostly for her propensity for cross-country motorcycle trips, and the fact that she had her appendix taken out not long after I started working and would discuss the healing progress of her wound with unsuspecting clients who called for their financial information. 

Upon hearing May’s enthusiasm, June came sauntering around the partition between our desks and said, "Becky, I saw him too!  He was cute!"

"Cute," but she, too, was unable to come up with any phrase more descriptive than that. 

Since he had left his business card, May called him that very afternoon, taking my repeated inquiry for some vague description of what he looked like to mean that I was interested in dating him.

Phrases like "I've got a girl for you," and "she's cute!" and "24," and "she's single too!" floated down the hall before the phone was hung up and a triumphant, "He's coming back next week!" rang out clear as a bell.  I just sort of ignored the whole thing.

But as the week progressed, I couldn't help but notice that more and more of May's phone conversations were being held in whispered tones.  There were things being said like, "oh, she'll be there!" and, "don't worry about it!"  I had a vague inkling it was all connected to the copying machine guy, but since no one had mentioned anything to me since that first day, I was still resolutely ignoring it all...until she came back to my desk midweek and said, "All right, here's the plan."

The Plan, as I was told, involved me being brought into the conference room during the course of the copying machine sales pitch, at which point May was going to ask me what I thought about getting a new machine (a conversation starter which would no doubt facilitate the stirrings of romantic involvement).  Everyone in the office was going to be in the room too (it was an actual sales pitch), which brought the awkwardness level to unfathomable heights, although this was handily solved by the clause that, should I be interested, private consultation could be arranged.  About a new copying machine, of course.  Whatever else we got up to in the copy room was strictly up to us.  It was at that point that I realized that this was actually going to happen.  I was being set up.  With a guy I had never seen or talked to.  At work.

Unbelievably, it got weirder.  I overheard May relaying The Plan to the copying machine guy over the phone.  In detail.  Any escape options were completely compromised in the wake of him knowing the exact schedule for my entrance and exit.

Of course, the copying machine guy hadn’t seen me, either, so it's possible he was going along with all of this just because he hoped to make a sale.  But by the end of the week, he was calling May, not the other way around, and they were having disturbingly long conversations about how "nice" I was and how they just "couldn't wait!" until we met. 

When the big day rolled around, the office was buzzing.  June hovered around my desk asking me if I was excited.  My boss (let’s go with “April”) came waltzing in saying, "Well, Becky, it's your big day!"  May paced up and down the hall most of the morning.  She all but squealed when the door finally opened.  My man had arrived.

"Oh, Becky!" I heard her overly-cheerful voice cry.  "Come meet what's-his-name."  (I can't remember his name.)  "He's here about a new copying machine."  (As if there was a spectator among us unaware of what was really going on.)  Fearing the worst, I trudged forward as June shooed me on and April poked her head out of her office to give me a thumbs up (all in view of the copying machine guy).  I turned the corner, lifted my head, and there he was. 

Not to drag us down by bringing this back to science, but physical attraction is biologically complex and in large part beyond our conscious control.  There are yeses, there are maybes, and then there guys like the copying machine guy, who was not only a no for me, but incontrovertibly I was a no for him too.  This guy was squinting at me like the disappointment (i.e., non-Ole-Miss grad) that I was.

He was looking for someone blonder.  Someone shorter.  Someone a little more top heavy.  I could tell all that and more just by the way he was standing there.  There’s something about the way you can know a person's political affiliation by the way they smirk (Republican!) and what church they go to by the khakis they wear (Baptist!) and what they do for fun by the way they counter-intuitively stand with their feet as wide apart as possible (Jack Daniels and muddin’!). 

When a friend of mine in high school started serially dating guys a decade older than her, every single one looked like the copying machine dude.  When high school friends would come back from college on breaks and show me their "hot" guy friends, every single one looked like the copying machine dude.

There’s this thing that happens to girls whose families have spent a few too many generations in the Southern United States, specifically the trifecta of Tennessee, Mississippi, and Arkansas:  They start to think this kind of man is attractive.  Or, I'm sorry, "cute."  I am immune because my parents were born north of the Mason-Dixon line.

Momentarily paralyzed, he and I stood stock still in the hallway taking each other in.  Total and unmistakable mutual dissatisfaction.

But no one else had caught on, and seeing nothing but potential before her, May clutched her hand to her heart.  June radiated a smile in my direction.  (Both dyed-in-the-wool Southerners, I might add.)  April’s head was still stuck out of the doorway, waiting to see what would happen. 

So I tried to smile (awkwardly) and we shook hands (awkwardly) and we sat there for the most painful half-hour copying machine pitch in the history of copying machine pitches.  He rambled and I zoned out and I could see the light in May’s eyes dimming.  We all continued to make (awkward) eye contact, feigning ignorance of the disastrous undertones of the situation.

He finally left (with a sale, no less!) and April good-naturedly squeezed my shoulder and said, "Well, that didn't go so well, did it?"  And that was the last anyone spoke of it.


Over a year later, the latest in a constant stream of traveling internal wholesalers stopped by the office and, for the first time since I started working there, I was genuinely impressed.  Maybe more than impressed.  He was good-looking, polite, intelligent, cracking jokes that actually made me laugh, a little too invested in his dogs, perhaps, but nobody's perfect.  May pounced again, in a way that I hadn't seen since those early, early days of my employment.  Within minutes she had him lamenting his lack of a girlfriend and I perked up when she exclaimed, "I have just the girl for you!" 

I straightened up, made sure I didn't have anything in my teeth (it was after lunch), and waited for her to call me into the room.

"I know this girl from church," I heard her say, "and she is just a doll!"

I should have known.

He came back a week or so later and once again got the, "I have just the girl for you!" treatment.  April scurried in with, "I'll bet she's not Jewish, though!  He's looking for a Jewish girl."  So that took me out of the running once and for all. 

It also may have once and for all ended May’s matchmaking career. 

One can hope.


  1. what a nice giggle :)

    never happened to me, which probably is because I made a point in not wanting to be set up with anyone and that I would make a horrible event out of it if anyone ever tried x)

    the one master-match for you will come when time'S right

    1. :) Thank you, friend! I hope so. :) And looking back on this, I still can't believe it happened! This was definitely a case where 24-year-old Becky went along with something that 32-year-old Becky would not have. ;)

    2. what's up with the new "................, friend" answer? :)

      btw I had to read twice that it happened at the office lol i thought that is only in movies the case ...


    3. I don't know, nothing special! I've used "friend" for a while, but maybe this is the first time it's popped up in a response to you? Just another way of addressing people, I guess. :)

    4. probably, at least i cant remember it from earlier ... :)


  2. Being set up is the worst. It's made worse when it's by work colleagues you have trouble avoiding. At least your real friends have some vague notion of whether a certain type will be of interest, rather than anybody being single at the same time as you makes people think they'll be perfect for you

    Good read... keep the scribbling going.

    mark (uk)

    1. You speak the truth. This is actually the only time I've ever been set up...perhaps because my friends know better than to try to guess who I'll like... Glad you enjoyed!