I waited until Thursday to check my mailbox. Didn’t want to water down the surprise (or be disappointed; you decide) by getting there before the wave of responses to my radio appeal did. When I checked, the only thing in my box was a note from the secretary to please see her to get my mail. But there was no problem like overdue postage or a certified subpoena or anything like that; just that the carton of letters was way too big to cram in my box.
“RSVP’s for a big party?” She smiled at me, obviously curious but way too shy to come right out and ask. Marcie had a pretty face but was about forty pounds overweight. In my experience, heavy women are either shy because they’ve spent so many years thinking of themselves as second-class citizens or else loud and brash and clown around a lot to hide their inner insecurities. I guess the rest of us beat them up so badly with our uncaring—or worse, ignoring—that they have practically no chance to just be themselves. Or maybe their image of themselves is slender and beautiful, but it stays buried so nobody will laugh at how ludicrous it is for such a delicate creature to be packaged in such chubby wrapping.
“Marcie, you know I can’t afford a big party on what a TA makes. But if my rich Uncle Clarence dies and leaves me a bundle and I celebrate by throwing a shindig with real booze and appetizers too pretty to eat and napkins too fancy to wipe your mouth on and everything, I’d bring the invitations here to mail and the one on top would be yours. I just know you’re so much fun to party with, you’d be the first person I’d invite.”
She was so totally unprepared for the compliment that she didn’t even think to turn away to hide her blushing astonishment. But she immediately decided that I was teasing, and her face fell.
“No, Marcie, it’s true. If I wasn’t going with someone, I’d be around here so often you’d never get anything done and have to work weekends.”
“Brad, what a nice thing to say,” she said in a quiet voice, at the same time lowering her face so that I could hardly hear her at all.
What had started out as innocent flirtation had suddenly turned serious. I didn’t have to be a rocket scientist to realize that being flippant, which nine out of ten times would be how I would’ve handled the unwelcome encroachment of sincerity into a frivolous conversation, had the potential for doing real hurt here. Well, in for a penny, in for a pound, as my uncle Poor Richard once wrote in his almanac. I sat down opposite her desk so she couldn’t see me reach in to touch The Grail.
“Marcie, listen to me.” She sat up with a start and stared intently.”If you want to do something about your weight, you can. You have the power. Even if you’ve tried and failed before, you can do it now. I promise. But you don’t have to be thin to be something special. Inside you are a wonderful, fun, sensitive, person. People will see that and respond to it when you quit hiding it. So stop.”
Gosh, her smile was astonishing. And you know, all of a sudden she really was pretty sexy. Well, it was about time I did something worthwhile with The Grail, even if it was nothing more than an easy compliment and a pep talk for a lonely person.
Marcie didn’t say anything more, and I’d probably said enough. Practicing psychology without a license was a felony in Texas. I patted her hand as I got up and was rewarded with the smile again.
Why Bradley Schuster, I do believe you’re guilty of being a nice guy. I started to protest but she cut me off. Actions speak louder than telepathy, young man. So don’t you try to pretend with me. Sometimes she did sound exactly like my mother.
There were one hundred and ninety-four letters in the box, containing a total of four hundred and forty seven dollars. More than half had a dollar bill in them (one hundred and twenty-four, or sixty-four percent, if you’re interested in the details); very few as much as a five. As for the big contributors: there were three with ten dollar bills, two with twenties, and one with a check for a hundred dollars, the payee line left blank. Hell, I’d have bet that there weren’t even that many people listening.
The next time I saw The Boomer, I smugly pulled out the wad of cash. “Well, we got more than three or four responses. And although we may not know scientifically what it means, financially it means I’m not broke. Wanna go out for a steak?”
I should have known better. “I would be more than happy to consume a steak’s worth of your newfound affluence. But you’ll have to use the cash we collected in the park. This has to go to the whale people. Otherwise you’re guilty of using the airways for purposes of fraud, which is a felony and subject to prosecution by the FCC.”
The Boomer is always right, and occasionally that pisses me off a little. I should have just shut up, but I didn’t. “Well, here’s my prediction. I’m going to just come right out and say it. I think The Grail influenced the appeal, and that’s why the response was so good.”
“There’re a million people who go to Vegas every year with a way to beat the system. Nine-hundred and ninety-nine thousand of them come home broke. Here’s my advice—don’t bet money on non-scientific hunches unless you’ve got money to throw away.”
“Well, I’m betting on this one. Mark it down somewhere. A six-pack of the good stuff. Better than Bud.”
I should have known better than to bet against The Boomer.