The presentations had gone very well. Sherie, my creative director, Roman, my Western sales account manager, and I had torn up the Portland, Oregon, area in our own little way. We’d flown out from back East and gone through seven complete, detailed creative presentations in only three days. Even better, we’d closed four of the deals!
We’d been hoping that at least one of the two presentations we’d made to big-name clothing makers would bear fruit, but those were a bust. They were interested, they said, but they were still examining their options. We weren’t holding our collective breaths, though. But the four that we’d landed were more than enough to make us forget the ones we’d missed—especially the last one yesterday. When a major electronics mail-order outfit decides that they like your preso well enough to not only let you design their web site, but also to ask you to put their entire catalog online and maintain it on a weekly basis, well... that’s a reason to celebrate! And that’s exactly what we did that night, with a dinner that would definitely make my finance lady give me the evil eye when she got the expense report.
We’d flown in on Monday and done our presentations over the next three days. After dinner last night I told Roman and Sherie that they should make an extended weekend of it, and if I saw them in the office before next Wednesday, I’d be upset. Roman had relatives up in Washington State and said he was going to visit them. Sherie was an incurable beachgoer, so she was headed for the coast. That left me in downtown Portland on a hot July Friday afternoon.
After three days of meetings and evenings spent planning for the next day and fighting jet lag, I wasn’t up for much more than doing a little tourist sightseeing around the city for most of the day. I went to the rose gardens, looked around Pioneer Place, and walked down Salmon Street to it’s famous fountain by the Willamette River. The heat had plenty of children and even a few adults letting the ring of water jets from the fountain cool them off. Across the river, in the distance, I could see the spectacular snow-covered peak of Mt. Hood. According to the flier I’d picked up in the hotel lobby that morning, there was skiing to be had on Mt. Hood, even in the middle of July. I love to ski, so that was where I was headed the next day. But I needed to figure out what I was going to do on a Friday night in downtown Portland, first. And I had an idea...
When I walked into the upscale department store, I knew exactly what I was looking for. I was looking for a cosmetics counter lady. I didn’t want any cosmetics, I wanted the girl. Pretty painted perfection in a white lab coat seemed like a nice distraction for a Friday evening. I entered the store, looked around to get my bearings, and headed towards the mirrored counters over to the right, knowing exactly what I was looking for.
What I wasn’t looking for was Laura.
She was too young, probably in high school. She wasn’t cloistered behind the mirrored counters. And she most definitely wasn’t a cool, aloof, painted princess in a white lab coat. Most definitely not.
The scene might have been funny if it wasn’t so sexy. Somehow she’d managed to build an almost complete pyramid out of boxes of body lotion on the low platform at the intersection of two aisles. Not a difficult achievement for many people, but it must have been quite an accomplishment for Laura. She was hampered by several things. The black spike heels probably didn’t help with her balance. The snug black mini skirt probably didn’t help with her mobility. The straight, honey blond hair that hung to her lower back and swished freely as she moved probably didn’t help with her focus. And there’s no question that the volleyball-sized breasts testing the strength of her dark orange sweater weren’t helping with the delicate task of stacking the boxes neatly.
Her black-on-gold nametag was pinned to the sweater atop her right breast, and it almost pointed straight at the ceiling. If I wasn’t a couple of inches over six feet tall, I wouldn’t have been able to read it. Orange sweater; black miniskirt and heels; huge chest; she looked like she should be hosting a pornographic Halloween film festival on cable TV. Hell, she looked like she should be starring in a pornographic Halloween film festival on cable TV!
She’d been crouched down, taking more body lotion boxes out of the case on the floor, as I approached. When she stood up... Well, I’m sure that I wasn’t the first person to stop and stare at her. I had no doubt that she stopped traffic on a regular basis with that body.
Beyond Laura and her construction project I spotted the original targets of my quest. Three lovelies in white lab coats were standing together, watching Laura and whispering among themselves. They were what I’d come here to find. They were in their late twenties, slim, not a hair out of place, beautiful, and painted to perfection. But Laura had stopped my traffic and now I had a dilemma.
“Uh, oh,” I thought as Laura leaned to put the last few boxes on the top of her display. “That’s not going to work. Too much lean, too much heel, WAY too much chest for her to balance...”
But somehow Laura managed to maintain her balance with a smooth grace I wouldn’t have expected from someone built like her. Unfortunately the four lotion boxes she was trying to balance on her left arm weren’t gifted with her poise and grace, and one slipped off, knocking a few other boxes from her display. There were audible snickers and giggles from the trio behind the counter.
I bent down and picked up the three boxes that had fallen. Laura turned to me as I stood up with them. Her deep blue eyes were wet with unshed tears, her face flushed with embarrassment. She definitely wasn’t in high school. Her face was too refined, too mature, even in her shame. I stacked the boxes back on her display, then took the remaining three that she was holding and finished the top of the pyramid for her.
“Thank you,” she said, her voice sounding more than a little constricted.
“You’re welcome. It’s easier for me because I’m taller.”
The three girls behind the counter continued to snicker and whisper, obviously having a laugh at Laura’s expense. It was clear that they wanted her to know they were laughing at her, and the shame and hurt in her eyes made it clear to me that she knew. I no longer had a dilemma.
“Just ignore them,” I told her softly, “you’re doing fine.”
“But they’re right,” she said, her voice almost a whisper. “I screw up all the time.”
Her shoulders were slumped, her eyes held pain, her expression showed despair. This girl definitely didn’t deserve the crap they were giving her.
“Do you have men’s skin care products,” I asked, my voice loud enough for the Terrible Trio to hear. I’d heard that some of the women’s skin care companies were starting to branch out into products for men, and I figured that an upscale store like this would probably have them.
“Yes we...” Laura began.
“I can help you with that,” interrupted one of the Trio who’d suddenly appeared next to us. She was stunning. Dark brown hair, hazel eyes, perfect makeup, pouty lips. She was the epitome of what I was looking for when I walked into the store. But now my interests had changed, and she wasn’t appealing to me. Maybe another day, in different circumstances...
“Thank you, but I’m OK with Laura here.”
“Oh, but I’m certified by all the major...”
“No thank you. I’m. All. Set.” I didn’t get to be a successful CEO, cut lucrative deals with big corporations, and get 148 employees to give me their best in doing their jobs without learning how to use The Voice. It’s the same Voice your mother gave you that set off all the warning bells in your head and sent a chill up your spine. When you heard The Voice, you knew that you’d better pay attention.
The vixen in the white lab coat backed off. Stepping back behind the counter, she gave a little sniff of arrogance to try to convince herself as much as anyone else that she hadn’t just been slapped on the wrist like a naughty little girl. She wasn’t convinced, and neither were the others.
Laura looked at me in surprise. I guess she’d expected me to leave her standing there and go with Little Miss Certified. Then her look turned to one of curiosity mixed with gratitude. Smart girl. She knew I was up to something. The pain and shame were still there, but they had dimmed a bit.
She led me to a separate counter.
“You know, Nicole really does know this better than I do,” she said quietly.
“I don’t care,” I told her, “I want to deal with you. Nicole needs to pull the icicle out of her ass before I’ll talk with her!”
Laura’s face was priceless. She gave me shocked, amused, and confused all rolled into one expression. Then she giggled for a second, sending a very captivating little bounce through her huge chest, before going back to her quiet, sad expression once again.
“What are you interested in today?” She asked, looking down through the glass at the assortment of lotions and potions. She was trying to be the cool, professional businesswoman, but she wasn’t succeeding.
“I’m interested in why you are so unhappy, Laura,” I told her.
“You... We have many... You...” She paused for a second, her gaze still downward. Quietly: “I’m pathetic. You feel sorry for me, don’t you? That’s why you’re doing this, right?”
“May I see that body scrub?” I pointed to a bottle in the case. She retrieved it and handed it to me. As I took it from her, I gently touched the back of her hand.
“You’re not pathetic, Laura. I don’t know you well enough to feel sorry for you yet, but I am concerned. You’re a lovely lady, and there’s no reason for those girls to be so mean to you. I think you have a good heart.”
“Thank you,” she said. “It’s just that I... I feel like... I feel so clumsy and awkward around them. They’re always making fun of me. You know, technically I outrank them here because I have my Bachelor’s degree, but they’ve been here since they graduated high school, and they just treat me like shit and make fun of how I look and I just want to die and...” The words were tumbling out so fast that it took her a second to realize that she’d just sworn in front of a customer. Her head snapped up, her eyes wide.
“Shhhh,” I said, smiling, “everything is fine. I know how you feel. It’s OK.” It was time for a little pattern interrupt for Laura.
“You know when I’m in a situation like you’re in, I just STOP... and I say to yourself, ‘Everything is OK because I can handle it and I have people near me who can help me.’”
Her face relaxed, almost to the point of smiling. Almost, but not quite.
“Better?” I asked.
“Thank you so much. I could get fired for...”
“You’re not going to get fired. You didn’t do anything wrong. We’re just talking. Getting to know your customer and developing a closer relationship with me is an important part of the sales process,” I told her. “By the way, I’m Jeff.”
“Laura,” she said, before rolling her eyes. “You already knew that.”
“Nice to meet you, Laura,” I said. “May I ask you something a little personal?”
“Sure, why not?”
I thought for a second about how to phrase it.
“Why do you beat yourself up for every little mistake? You know that everyone makes little mistakes all the time and they’re no big deal, right?”
“But I’m always screwing up,” she said. “I feel awkward and dumb and... and... I just don’t know. I feel like I’m always in the way or saying the wrong thing or doing the wrong thing, I guess.”
“OK, another question,” I said. “How can a nice girl with a Bachelor’s degree possibly feel dumb? And for that matter, what’s a nice girl with a degree doing stacking boxes into a pyramid?”
“I’m still in school, working on my Masters,” she said. “This job pays OK, and I can still keep it part-time when classes are back in session. I need the money because I’m paying my own way through school. Student loans don’t cover everything. I had to go part-time a few semesters during my undergrad degree so that I could work enough to pay for school.”
“Why not get a job with a company that will help you with your tuition, Laura?”
“I thought of that, but I think that if I did that, I’d never finish my Master’s. I’d probably screw up anyway and get fired. Working here I can keep going on my degree and this job is easy enough... Well, except...” She glanced across the department at the other three girls.
“Nicole the Icicle and her Frosty Friends?” I asked. The Terrible Trio were all helping women customers.
“Yeah. They treat me like an idiot and I feel so... so...”
“You never answered my other question. How can a smart girl who not only has her Bachelor’s degree, but is in the middle of her Master’s possibly feel dumb?”
“I don’t know. I just don’t feel like... It’s like... I guess I just don’t have much self confidence,” Laura answered.
“You know, I think you may be right about that,” I said. “You do always seem to assume that you’re going to mess up, and just assuming that will often make it happen.
“Yup. Simple psychology,” I told her. “That was my minor, by the way. Well, one of them. I majored in marketing, with minors in psychology and computer science.”
“Cool,” Laura said. “My degree is in commercial art, and that’s what I’m doing my postgrad in, too. It’s hard to get a commercial art job around here without a Master’s. Everyone who just has their B.A. seems to end up being an art teacher or something.”
“Commercial art is cool, and you have a lot of potential career paths. You could work at my company and actually use your degree. Of course that’s back East, and the commute to class would probably be a little long, what with the Great Plains and the Rockies in the way and all.” I smiled at her.
“Yeah, that wouldn’t work, and besides, I’d probably screw up a printing press or something and end up getting fired.”
“We really HAVE to do something about that self confidence problem, Laura,” I said.
“Yeah, I guess so, but what can you do? I’m just... me.”
“Just you is plenty, Laura.”
“Yeah,” she said looking sadly at her bountiful chest, “that’s another thing they make fun of. I’m kinda a freak there...”
“Laura!” I spoke sharply, but quietly. She looked up at me in surprise. “Stop that now. You’re a very pretty lady. They’re just pissed off because you put all three of them to shame. You’re a smart, beautiful, wonderful girl.”
“I wish I could believe that,” she said.
“Do you really want to believe that? Do you really want to see how poised and confident you can be? Do you really want to feel good about yourself, Laura?”
“Of course, who wouldn’t? But how...” She trailed off.
“May I see that exfoliant,” I asked. “We’ve been standing here for a few minutes with me holding just this bottle. It’s going to look a little strange soon, and I don’t want you to get in any trouble.” She handed me the bottle and a two other bottles of a competing brand from the cabinet behind her. Smart girl.
“First things first,” I continued, launching into a little pacing and leading. “You’ve only known me a few minutes, and we’ve been here talking and you’ve been showing me these lotions and you’ve told me a little about yourself because you trusted me enough to tell me about yourself and now you’re thinking that you want to trust me more. Can you do that, Laura? Can you trust me more so I can help you?”
Her deep blue eyes looked me over, almost as if she was seeing me for the first time. Appraising. Worrying.
“I’ve been hurt by guys a lot,” she said. “With these,” she nodded to her chest, “a lot of guys seem to think that I’m some kind of prize they have to win and then brag about. You’re not going to hurt me are you?”
“No, Laura, I’m not going to hurt you. But me saying that doesn’t matter if you don’t feel a real trust for me in your heart. What does your heart tell you?”
She paused for a moment, thinking. “OK, Jeff, I trust you. What are you going to do?”
“Well, Laura, I’m going to hypnotize you for a few seconds and help you feel better about yourself. Is that OK?”
“Are you serious?!? Can you do that? Don’t you need me to be lying down or something like in the movies?”
“Oh I can hypnotize you all right, Laura. Very easily, in fact. When I was studying in college, I learned how to be a very powerful hypnotist. And college girls are always easy to hypnotize because they’re used to concentrating and focusing on their studies and a powerful hypnotist like me can take that and use it to put you into a deep trance immediately.”
OK, I laid it on pretty thick. But given Laura’s confidence problems, I figured that she’d do better thinking that I was going to exert some powerful control over her, rather than knowing that she would be playing the major role in her own trancing. I’d originally come into the store planning on seducing one of the Ice Maidens with twenty minutes or so of conversation loaded with neuro-linguistic programming commands. But for Laura I figured that a simple Dave Elman induction would be just the trick and it would only take a few seconds. It was much quicker and simpler to get inside her head that way, but this wasn’t going to be a seduction. Or at least that’s what I thought.
“You’re that good?”
“Yup. Want to start? This will really only take a minute or so, and I can help you feel better right away.”
“Ummm...” She looked around. Nobody was paying any attention to us any more. Maybe they now thought I was one of those pain-in-the-ass customers who wants to spend hours comparing a couple of products. “Sure, go ahead and do it.”
“OK, Laura, first you need to rest your palms on top of the counter... Good. Now take a deep breath and as you exhale, let your eyes close... That’s right. Now relax your eyes and the muscles around them... Yes, that’s good. Relax those eye muscles and the nerves around your eyes fully and completely... Relax them fully and completely... Yes, just like that. Fully and completely relaxed... Relax them so completely that, as long as you maintain that relaxation, your eyes will just remain closed. They simply won’t open. And when you’re sure that you’ve relaxed them so completely that they can only stay closed, go ahead and test them to make sure they remain closed...”
Laura’s eyebrows twitched upward, but the muscles around her eyes remained relaxed and her eyelids stayed shut.
“That’s good. Now stop testing them and take that same quality of deep, comfortable relaxation that you have in your eyes and let it spread through your body, from the top of your head all the way down to the tips of your toes... That’s right... Good. And you can easily remain standing as you let the relaxation deepen... Good.”
Her head tilted forward as she relaxed, spilling her long blond hair over her shoulders. It obscured her face from anybody looking at us from the side. To an observer it would look like she was looking at the bottles on the counter. I picked one up and held it to help complete the illusion for anyone looking as I continued speaking to her.
“Now in a moment I’m going to ask you to open your eyes and close them again. When you close them, just go ten times deeper into relaxation, but still easily and comfortably standing on your feet. Open your eyes...”
Laura’s eyes opened slowly, almost as if she were just waking up.
“...now close them and go ten times deeper... Good. In a moment I’m going to ask you to open your eyes and close them again. This time just double your relaxation. Become twice as relaxed as you are right now. OK, open your eyes... and close them again. Twice as relaxed... That’s right. Good. In a moment I’m going to ask you to open and close your eyes one more time and this time just go much deeper... As deep as you can... All the way down... Open your eyes, and close them. All the way down... As deep as possible... Good.”
Laura was responding well. If we weren’t standing in the middle of a department store, I’d have given her the full induction, with further deepening of the physical trance. But the circumstances meant that I needed to keep this short and sweet. I decided to go through a quick version of the suggested amnesia technique to help get her mind a little more suggestible, then move straight to the therapeutic suggestions.
“Now that we have a good level of physical relaxation, let’s relax your mind, too. In a moment I’m going to ask you to begin counting backwards quietly out loud from ten. Allow each number to help your mind become more calm, more relaxed, more open and comfortable. You’ll find that after a few numbers, it only takes two or three numbers, your mind will become so relaxed that you can just make the rest of the numbers fade away and disappear. When that happens, you’ll notice how good it feels. You’ll say the numbers backwards like this...” I waited for her to exhale. “Ten...” I waited for the next breath to release. “Nine...” and each number will relax your mind until after just a few numbers they all just fade and disappear as your mind becomes totally calm and relaxed. Within just a couple of numbers, the rest will disappear and you can let me know they’re gone by nodding your head. Begin saying them backward now.”
“Ten,” Laura whispered.
“Good. That’s right.”
“Nine,” she breathed.
“Relaxing more and more...”
“Ehhhh...” Her voice faded to silence.
“Now just allow the numbers to disappear completely. Are they gone?” She nodded slightly. “Good. Very good.”
At this point Laura was solidly in trance. Normally I’d spend some time deepening the trance, but we didn’t have that luxury. I went right into my suggestions to help her.
“You are in a trance, Laura, and your mind is open to learning new things and discovering things already within you that you may not have seen before. You can feel how calm and relaxed you are right now. And you know that since you feel calm and relaxed now, you can feel that way whenever you want. You can feel the solid surface against your hands. In the past you may have felt that solid things like that help support you, but you are strong enough and smart enough and graceful enough to support yourself. Lift your hands off the counter, Laura, and see how you can support yourself and stand on your own, even though you are very deeply hypnotized.”
Her hands lifted off the counter.
“Very good, Laura. You see that you can support yourself. And you know that you are strong enough and poised enough and smart enough to support yourself all the time. You feel the self confidence that this brings. The simple act of standing on your own fills you with confidence and trust in yourself. Enjoy that feeling, Laura, and know that it came from within you. This is your own doing, your own strength, your own confidence and it’s always with you, Laura. Always with you. Always confident and poised and strong and smart.”
That was about all we had time for. If I kept her standing there with her eyes closed too long, somebody would eventually notice. It was time to bring her back up. But first...
“It’s almost time for you to come out of trance, Laura. But first I want you to remember when you said that you trusted me to do this. You will remember everything that happened while you were in your trance. You will remember everything that I said, everything that you said, everything that you did, everything that you felt. You will realize that some men are not like the ones who have hurt you in the past. You trust me and you see that I cherished that trust and respected it. While others may have betrayed your trust in the past, you now see that there are people you can trust.
“Now it’s time for you to come out of trance. You’ll remember everything. You’ll remember being in a deep trance where you could discover new things that you hadn’t known about yourself and you’ll especially remember how confident, strong, and poised you feel. I’m going to count to five. When I reach five, your eyes will open and you’ll feel relaxed and refreshed, remembering how confident you are and everything else that happened while you were in trance. One... Two... Three... Four... Five, eyes open, relaxed and refreshed.”
Laura’s eyes opened. She blinked twice and then focused on my face. A smile lit up her face. It was the first real smile I’d seen on her. She was stunningly beautiful when she smiled.
“Wow! Oh... Wow!”
I smiled at her and picked up another of the bottles.
“So which one of these is actually better,” I asked, “or are they really both about the same?”
Laura laughed, showing white teeth between her glossed lips.
“Are you serious? After that you want to know... Are you serious?”
“Gotta keep up appearances, Laura, we don’t want them to get suspicious.” I nodded toward her earlier tormentors.
“Jeff,” she said, “I don’t care if they get suspicious... Wow! That’s amazing! I really don’t care! I feel like... like... maybe like I’ve had a big weight lifted off me and now I can breathe! That’s amazing. And I remember everything you did and how you took care of me and didn’t make me do anything bad, even though I was completely at your mercy. Thank you, Jeff. Just... Thank you!”
“You’re very welcome, Laura. I’m glad I could help you feel better today.”
She looked pensive.
“Is it just today, Jeff? Will this be forever, or will I go back to feeling the was I was tomorrow?”
“Honestly, it’s not going to be permanent, and it may not even stay very long.” Her face fell. “But, Laura, but... That’s only because this was a very quick session because of the situation here. There simply wasn’t enough time to get into things deep enough to start making real permanent changes like we would in a longer session. But you know how it feels to be confident, and you can build on that and remember that feeling, so maybe this can turn into a more permanent thing if you work at it, but the brief session we had isn’t really going to permanently change your life by itself. It did made you smile though, and that’s worth quite a bit to me. It makes me very happy that I could help you.”
I could see in her eyes that she was thinking through what I had just said about a longer session. She was formulating a plan.
“I’d really like to do something to thank you. I mean, OK, maybe it’s not going to be permanent, like you said. But you did help me, and I trusted you and you were a gentleman and you let me remember everything and you didn’t take advantage of me, even though you’re such a powerful hypnotist and I was...” Her eyes closed for a moment and a slight blush came to her cheeks, “...I was so completely in your power.” Her eyes reopened. “So I’d like to buy you a drink or something to say ‘thanks,’ if that’s OK?”
“That would be nice, Laura. It’s very sweet of you. And if you’d like, maybe I could tell you some ways to help keep this feeling going then.”
“That would be great, Jeff,” she gushed. “I’m off work in about an hour. Where do you live?”
“About 3000 miles away,” I smiled, “but I’m staying at the Premiere Hotel just down the street.”
“Nice place,” she said. “Very nice place. Business trip?”
“Yes, but business is done. Now I’m just enjoying the wonderful things that Portland has to offer for a few days.” Laura smiled and blushed slightly.
“OK. I get off work at 6:00. How about I meet you in the lobby, then we can get that drink?”
“That sounds like a plan. Um, what about these things?” I gestured to the bottles.
“Do you really want any of them? I mean, I figured you were just helping me get away from those bitches.”
“Well, I don’t really know if they do anything I need done.”
“Basically they help get the dead skin cells off so that your skin looks and feels better. I’ve tried a sampler of the ladies version of this one,” she pointed to one of the bottles, “and it really does work. I don’t know about the others, though.”
“Then let’s have the one you recommended,” I said, pulling out my wallet. You trusted me, so the least I can do is trust your recommendation.” I laid a card on the counter. Laura rang up the sale and placed the bottle in a small bag while I signed the slip.
“So I’ll meet you in the lobby at, say, 6:15, OK? That’ll give me a little time to freshen up,” she said.
“It’s a date. I’ll be there,” I told her, giving her hand a brief squeeze and then walking toward the main entrance, with visions of huge breasts draped in honey blond hair and deep, blue, hypnotized eyes going through my mind.