A few days ago Louise said something I'd never heard from her before.
"Honey, I was speechless."
It happened while she took part in a rather strange business call with a man who wanted to talk with her about agenting. During the conversation, the man's arguments, complaints, proclamations and threats left her, as she said, "speechless."
Louise speechless. It hasn't happened often. In third grade, an exasperated teacher in South Africa chastised little Louise for speaking too much and called her a chatterbox, seconds before sending her out of the classroom and into the hall as punishment. Twenty years later, now in America, a professor called Louise a chatterbox, though he did not eject her from the classroom for her talkative ways and actually appreciated her contributions.
Louise can talk, and thank God, because if both of us were quiet, our marriage would consist of silent nights broken up only by occasional cursing during Lakers' games. At the same time, it's good she's married to me - she's guaranteed a receptive audience. And I'm lucky because Louise's speaking skills are surpassed only by her listening skills. Great speaker, great listener, great mixture.
She combines superb speaking abilities with a missionary zeal when it comes to getting a good deal, creating one of the most powerful consumer rights advocates in the free world, a job she actually dreamed about holding when growing up in South Africa (strange child). She's Ralph Nader with a sexier accent and better hair. Her beloved late grandpa - who taught Louise everything he knew, from working the system to picking locks - used to tell her not to be intimidated by anyone, because hardly anyone out there knows what's going on in the world. She's fearless, confident and quick on her feet. She's a master of improv but also always well-prepared - a potent combination. She can charm or prod doctors, dentists, telephone companies, celebrities, politicians, banking millionaires and music billionaires.
When our cell phone bill was 200 dollars higher than we expected, Louise spoke with an unfortunate nameless, faceless soul who eventually erased all of the extra charges, but not before telling her, "Ma'am, I'm going to take care of all of this, but you have me a little flustered and I just want to settle down for a few minutes."
When I lived in Fargo, Louise often traveled on Greyhound to see me, trekking across the country while calling every four or five hours to remind me of the sacrifice she was making out of love. On one never-ending trip across this great country, the bus driver kept the big rig on the road even after a young man suffered a seizure in the walkway. Louise demanded that the bus driver stop the bus so someone could call for medical attention. When the driver hesitated - there are schedules to keep and slogans to live up to, after all - Louise said she worked as a producer for a TV show that helps those who have been wronged by nefarious individuals or greedy companies.The driver stopped the bus. A passenger called 911. An ambulance arrived.
Her greatest speaking accomplishment happened two years ago, before her return flight from Cape Town. Delta canceled the scheduled flight and representatives from the airline told Louise and the other passengers to return the next day. There was a chance they'd be able to catch the next flight out. And there was a chance they wouldn't. Louise rallied the other passengers, priming them for a fight. The airline didn't have any right to treat them like this! Like, like, like cattle, to be herded in and out of hotels and terminals. With Louise leading the charge, the airline agreed to pay for hotel rooms and meals for everyone who had been bumped. They all agreed to meet at the terminal the next day to demand that everyone left behind would be guaranteed a seat on the next flight out of the country.
But Louise arrived earlier than everyone else. A lone representative from Delta stood at the gate. Again Louise used a lot of charm and a bit of bullying. She laughed with the employee behind the counter and praised the woman for her hard, thankless work. Louise bonded with the woman, but also didn't let her forget the horrors Delta had put her and the other passengers through 24 hours earlier.
The woman upgraded Louise to first class, for no additional cost. The 20-hour torture flight turned into a day of luxury. The other passengers wandered to the gate after Louise and stood dumbfounded as she boarded first. By the time attendants ushered the other passengers toward the back of the plane, Louise had already downed a glass of champagne and was reclined in her spacious seat, covered in a blanket.
In the classic movie Planes, Trains and Automobiles, John Candy's character spends much of the movie making ends meet by selling shower curtain rings. Along the way, he picks up a little extra cash and a ride. But eventually Steve Martin's character realizes the shower curtain ring gig can only go so far. When asking about a rental car, he asks Candy, "How could you rent the thing anyway without a credit card? You couldn't. How could you do it?"
"I gave this gal behind the counter a set of shower curtain rings."
"You can't rent a car with shower curtain rings," Martin replies, and he was right, Candy's character couldn't, and didn't.
But Louise could. Because she can talk her way into anything or out of any situation.
So Louise speechless? It might have been the first time in 33 years Louise found herself in such a state. It will likely be 33 more before it happens again.