Written by Rob Daly
I had one thing on my mind as I crossed the sweltering parking lot at Office Depot: the printer cartridge that would let me finish a job, due at FedEx in an hour. I hoped I might find the right person who could find the right cartridge, then race through the checkout and back to my office. I had no time for fruit sellers today, the men who sit at street corners with papayas, oranges and watermelon spread around them. But that’s who approached me from the direction of the store with the steady gait of a good salesman. I angled away but he corrected, quickened his pace and intercepted me. He gestured with an open arm, as if to pull me in. We stood, his face at the level of my chest.
He looked up and studied me. He was perhaps thirty years old, despite deep lines in his forehead and wisps of gray spiked hair. His white buttoned-down shirt had been pressed but looked damp from sweat. It was tucked into clean khaki pants, which tumbled onto worn brown work boots. He smelled like stressed cologne. I looked past him for the fruit.
“Excuse me,” he said with a heavy accent, re-gaining my attention.
“No thanks” I blurted out and started to walk around him. “Not today.”
“Senor. Excuse me,” he said more urgently, moving to block my path and holding up a small, flat white box. He lifted the lid, revealing a man’s tie. It was navy blue with small white dots, nestled on white tissue.
He sells ties. Very clever, I thought, and good of Office Depot to allow it. Which reminded me about my cartridge and the minutes ticking away.
“Very nice tie. But not today, thanks.” I stepped to the side but he stopped me again.
“No. Excuse me,” he said, lifting the tie from the box and holding it up to his throat. “Por favor,” he said, pointing to himself, then to me “You. Tie.”
The man’s look had gone from determined to desperate. I started calculating what I would pay to get past him into the store. I didn’t want another tie, having largely sworn them off. I wore ties to school from the time I was six years old. I remembered struggling each morning with my own and then my little brother’s.
“Look at me!” I would say to my brother, pulling him close as he squirmed. “Hold still!” I was annoyed that by second grade he couldn’t make a knot to please the nuns. Finishing my work, I would slip the narrow end through the label of the wide end and shape the knot into a rounded triangle, the way Sister Alberta demanded.
“When are you going to learn this?” I’d say as he raced for the stairs.
“Never!” he called gleefully from the landing below.
The man was pointing toward the store. Near the entrance was a sign:
See Teddy in Customer Service
I read the sign and understood. He needed the tie for the job interview. I put my hand to my throat and made knot-tying gestures.
“You want me to tie it for you?”
He seemed unsure. “Tie. Sí.”
I took the tie from him and strung it around his thick neck. I folded up his collar, and let the ends of the tie fall onto his chest, adjusting them as best I could. There’s no fixing a bad start, if it comes out wrong you pull the knot apart and start over.
Our faces were inches apart, too close for strangers in a parking lot. I tried to concentrate on my task as he shifted nervously and people passed by, watching us.
“Hold still,” I said. He stopped moving and raised his chin. I leaned down, lifting and crossing the ends of the tie into the classic knot. The wide end fell perfectly in place, just above his belt. I slipped the narrow end through the label and shaped the knot into a rounded triangle.
I stepped back to assess my work. He touched the knot cautiously and caressed the length of the tie, smiling.
“Gracias. Thank you,” he said and turned quickly toward the store to find Teddy.