Like many people of talent, I was discovered in a restaurant at a very young age. I was ten, maybe eleven. My mother had just slapped me across my mouth for calling my dad “a dummy,” and I was crying. I apologized without looking up, then sank my shame into my macaroni salad, which I began to eat mournfully one macaroni spooned into my fork at a time.
A woman in a hot pink pantsuit approached our table.
“I’ve been watching you,” she said, not unkindly. “I think your daughter has a gift, if you don’t mind my saying so.”
“She has no respect for elders is what that is,” my mother said, glancing up at the woman before returning to cutting my brother’s pork chop into tiny squares.
“No, she has a beautiful way of weeping. This kind of silent weeping—well, you don’t see it in most kids. They cry in a snorting, ugly, arrhythmic sort of way. But not your daughter. See how quietly she does so? And how her eyes sort of gleam? We call this mature-crying.”
“And what about it?” my dad said. He buttered his baked potato and then began salting it vigorously as if he were angry with the salt shaker. The only thing he hated more than a salesman was a saleswoman, and the only thing he hated more than being interrupted was being interrupted while he was having his dinner.
“Well, we’d like to train your daughter,” she said, handing my mother a card. I noticed that her long, pointy fingernails were painted hot pink as well, although a shade or two off from the color of her suit. “This is a very lucrative career, but professionals aren’t made over night. They start young. Like gymnasts or dancers or models. And we believe your daughter has that special gift that could take her all the way. One day she could help disaffected prisoners tap into their remorse or actors earn Oscars or returning vets heal from their war traumas. The possibilities are endless.”
My parents remained skeptical. They ignored the woman in the hopes that she would walk away.
By now I had stopped crying and I had finished my macaroni salad. I looked at the woman and I smiled. I wished she would take me by the hand to the salad bar, replenish my bowl, buy me a Coke, and then sneak me off into her car.
But she didn’t. She just patted me on my back and wished me luck.
No one ever discovered me again, but every time I cried after that day, I thought about that nice lady in the hot pink pantsuit who tried to scout me at the Ponderosa on Route 30. Was she real, or was it all a ploy? Was she trying to save me with a bizarre, cockamamie story, or was there really such a thing as professional criers?
I told myself that there was indeed such a thing, that indeed I was very gifted. Most people had never been singled out for anything their entire lives, and here I had been found at such an early age and offered a golden ticket, even if I didn’t get to take it. Other people may have been rich in wealth or happiness, but I was rich in tears.