The little bluebird of happiness smiles down upon everyone at one time or another.
My old pal Mingo’s turn came on a sunny Saturday in June.
It began, as these things so often do, with a misunderstanding.
Mingo was a guy who was a master of the unfortunate first impression, especially with women. He had many admirable qualities, but presenting himself well when meeting new people was not among them. This case was remarkable because it was opposite of the usual.
The gang and I were attending one of those neutral sorts of weddings, the kind at which the condemned couple are close enough to make one feel an obligation to attend, but not close enough for one to actually care.
Our friend Rae was there with an old college chum of hers, Kira. They had matriculated at Madison together.
I happened to be standing with Mingo when Rae introduced Kira.
Mingo had just been telling me about one of those bizarre situations in which only Mingo could find himself.
He kept a couple cats around the place for company. He explained that during the recent rainy spell, he had been running on a treadmill when it was too damp to run outdoors. The cats, he said, had been curious, and had tried to join him on the treadmill. More out of fear for his safety than theirs, he had grabbed a yardstick and fended off the cats while he was running. The production must have looked like a fencing scene from “The Three Musketeers.”
As a result, Mingo had injured his back.
Unbeknownst to us, just prior to the time Rae introduced Kira, the ladies had been talking about manners, or rather, a lack thereof.
Perhaps that’s why she misinterpreted Mingo’s actions at the time of their meeting. He was bent over, not out of politeness, but pain, and when he was introduced he reached out his hand and announced stiffly that he was delighted to meet her. He spoke through clenched teeth because he was experiencing a twinge of acute agony, but it had the effect of making his comment sound infinitely dignified, like David Niven without the accent.
As the ladies continued on their way to find their seats, Kira commented to Rae that it was nice to meet a man who still knew how to act when meeting a lady. She meant Mingo.
It was easy to see how she could make the mistake. She was from Wisconsin, and Wisconsin women are often over-awed by any show of politeness in the part of men, since the local men rarely exhibit this trait.
We didn’t encounter the ladies again until after the preacher had passed sentence on the bride and groom, and we were relaxing at the reception.
Fate again shone down upon Mingo in an un-Mingo-like way. Several of us were sitting around a table. Mingo’s back was causing him misery again after sitting too long in one of those metal backbreakers that pass as chairs at these functions.
Mingo got up and stood behind his chair with his hands on the back of the chair to steady himself while he stretched his back just as Rae and Kira walked up.
Kira, no doubt prejudiced by her earlier impression of Mingo’s actions, mistakenly thought he had leapt up to offer her his chair.
“Why, that’s very kind of you,” Kira said, accepting it. “It is refreshing to meet a real gentleman.”
Her assessment spawned guffaws from the fellows at the table who knew fully well that the list of adjectives that might be used to describe Mingo’s admirable qualities did not include debonair.
Kira froze the lads with an icy glance. “The rest of you could learn a lot from this gentleman,” she said, underlining the last word.
Even Rae, who had known Mingo as long as the rest of us, stifled a laugh at that remark.
Mingo, for his part, was enjoying this new development, and saw there might be profit in helping it along. He tried to remember some of the things he had heard Cary Grant say in the movies, and he worked those gems into the conversation.
Kira seemed smitten.
Mingo left the reception early because his back was making him uncomfortable. He managed to leave Kira with her glowing impression of him intact.
Fate, however, is fickle, and the bluebird of happiness soon flitted off to other business.
The next day, Kira talked Rae into taking her to Mingo’s place to see him. It was then that the scales fell from Kira’s eyes.
When the ladies arrived at Mingo’s residence, they found him lying on the porch swing. He was so arranged because the hard surface was the only place he could find a degree of comfort.
He did not get up when the ladies arrived, because his back pain had by then rendered him immobile. Kira, however, interpreted this as a sign of rudeness.
This impression was reinforced when Mingo offered them a cold beverage. Instead of rising to get the drinks for them, he told them where in the house to go to serve themselves.
Kira’s vision of the perfect man from the night before was shattered.
By the termination of their visit, her disillusion was complete.
“I was wrong,” she told Rae. “He’s just like all the other guys.”
Mingo’s magic moment of romance had ended as quickly as it began. As is so often the case when a guy finds himself in this position, he was not sure what had caused it to blossom in the first place, or why it had come to such an abrupt conclusion. In that respect, Mingo really was like all the other guys. He hadn’t the faintest idea what makes women tick.