Two days ago I was alone in the running store. It was early afternoon; there had been few customers, and the sunlight of a mild September day was flooding in, adding to the store’s peaceful, sleepy atmosphere.
All of a sudden an energetic older man walked in. He was holding an enormous bouquet of roses, at least a dozen each of red ones and bright yellow ones tinged with orange.
He greeted me with a barrage of sentences in Italian. I know little Italian, but could recognize some words from my knowledge of French. I gathered he was saying hello and commenting on what a beautiful day it was. As I struggled to reply in Italian, he demanded “Can you help me find a red dress?” Then, looking around, he added, “Maybe I’m in the wrong store.” (There is a Get Dressed store next door.)
Now that I knew he spoke English, I had to exclaim, “I love your roses!”
“Thank you, yes, they’re for my wife and I want to get her a red dress too.”
“You’re quite the romantic! I like that!”
Yes, we were flirting. I’ve never flirted with a man that old before.
He said boastfully, “You know I’m the fastest in the world in my age group?”
Now he really had my attention. “What is your age group? What distance? What is your name?—I bet I’ve heard of you!”
“Pleased to meet you.” He stuck out his left hand (he was holding the roses with his right) and shook my left hand warmly.
I laughed. “A left-handed handshake!” So he switched his roses to his left arm and we shook with our right hands.
Then, answering one of my questions, he said, “I’m in the 75+ age group.”
“And what is your event?”
Instead of answering simply, he began a torrent of conversation, partly English, partly Italian, and partly French. Much of it was mysterious, even the English parts. I finally understood that Johnny was not an athlete himself (“I like Havana cigars too much and they take away lung power,”) but his son is a champion cyclist who was invited to train with Lance Armstrong once, but refused because he is “clean” and knew Lance wasn’t.
“We don’t need drugs–we get drunk on life!” said Johnny. I showed my agreement by smiling and nodding.
He then took a scrap of paper from our front desk and scribbled down his son’s name as well as “Jacques Brel” [Belgian singer-songwriter-actor, 1929–1978]. He told me to listen to a certain track from the revue show Jacques Brel is Alive and Living in Paris.
“That song is the theme of my life!” he announced. “Google it!”
[I did, later, and I also found his son’s name in masters cycling results.]
Next I asked him how many languages he spoke. He started rhyming them off, adding after about ten that he knew more. “I learned most of them from women,” he added.
I could believe it.
We shared 10 or 15 minutes of excited dialogue and smiles. Then he said, “Will you watch my roses while I go next door to look for a dress?”
“Sure,” I said, taking the roses and inhaling their fragrance. After he left I put them in a big plastic container so that I could continue my work unpacking that day’s shipment of clothing and other articles. From time to time I bent to enjoy their perfume again.
He returned about 30 minutes later. He wasn’t carrying a package from Get Dressed. “You couldn’t find a dress?”
“No…” His energy seemed diminished a little. He thanked me for taking care of the roses, picked them up, and we said goodbye. It was only as he went out the door that I noticed the lit cigar he was holding behind his back.
I was reminded that day how much I like men who know how to flirt. Men can be flirts and romantics at any age. In fact, I suspect that older men are better at it than younger men. No age is too old to flirt.
He turned an ordinary day into one with some magic and mystery.