Being a motivational speaker who couldn’t even motivate himself was not what he had envisioned when he first decided upon this career. He had given himself a pep talk in the mirror that morning, but only managed a small smile. His smile always looked cock-sided because of his crooked teeth, and even his brown hair was curly and untamed. He liked to use his features as a metaphor. Sometimes being a bit off is what works! Only, it hadn’t been his day for a while now. A real string of downers. His smile barely lasted five seconds. Maybe that was why he repeatedly lost clients.
The other day he was kicked to the curb by the color-blind hairdresser with a confidence problem. Despite multiple individual sessions at a few hundred dollars each (he never could garner enough interest for a full-blown talk with a real audience), the man had fired him. It was an aggressive phone call. Lots of yelling. The speaker had encouraged the hairdresser to have a positive attitude and trust his instinct. Apparently there was a mix up –the hairdresser had been fired because he had dyed his client’s hair a bright violet instead of a chestnut brown. He took his frustration out on the speaker. If the hairdresser was still his client, their next session would be on accepting responsibility for what you can and cannot change or control.
When the germ-phobic dog-walker called him that same week to cancel their appointments for the next year, his self-esteem sunk lower. His last client was gone. He just wanted to help, yet he couldn’t seem to do that for anyone. That was why he went to the liquor store. A handle of whiskey wouldn’t quit on him.
When he walked into the small, boxed-in store, a bell dinged. It raised his spirits. It made him feel important, like he made a difference. At least people would notice him if there was a sound. But the cashier’s sticky eyelashes remained glued to her magazine, long nails imprinted with skulls turning the pages. The store was empty. He didn’t bother with the broken, splotchy red basket; he only wanted one thing. The first row of used-to-be-white shelves were covered with a layer of gray dirt. They hadn’t been washed in weeks and smelled like an unaired garage. The only attractive part of these shelves was the wine bottles, the rich reds mixed with the amber whites. He used wine a lot with his clients, to help loosen them up and discover their ‘wine personality’ –a sweet white, a bitter red, a compromising rosé. The whiskey was in the back.
He grabbed the cheapest bottle on sale for seven bucks. He had never tried it before, but You’re Lookin Good Whiskey had a positive attitude he could really use. His finances were tight, and with the most recent lost jobs, he didn’t have the luxury of expensive booze. Or booze at all really, but one of his tenets was that his clients should find small ways to “treat themselves.” He wasn’t a hypocrite and always tried to practice what he preached.
There was another ding. He didn’t turn, just gripped the glass container and stared at the label, decorated with a Van Gogh painted goat standing on top of a hill. It looked triumphant, accomplished. He could swear the goat was smiling. It started to turn blurry. The alcohol would have the same effect on him after he swallowed down half this bottle.
“This is a hold-up!” A man’s voice, young and shaky, echoed through the store.
Down the aisle of vodkas was a tall, slim figure wearing a black ski mask. The speaker thought that he should probably fall to the ground and hide. He backed up behind a shelf, holding the whiskey tightly.
“Give me the money!” the man said.
The speaker reached into his pocket for his phone. Since the robber hadn’t noticed him at the back of the store, he should take his chance and call the police. He had just grasped the smooth case when the robber lowered his gun.
He bent over, placing his hands on his knees, breathing heavily. “I can do this,” he said. “I can do this.”
The speaker released his phone. This poor guy was really lacking in self-confidence. He didn’t seem that dangerous.
The robber stood up again unsteadily, pointing the gun at the cashier again. “Money, please! I mean, I demand it! Please!”
This was a very pathetic robbery attempt. The speaker couldn’t help but want to speak to the robber. Maybe give him a few words of encouragement. After all, what could it hurt? He hadn’t been successful in a while; maybe this time would be better. Or not. No, he had to remain positive. He tried to remember why he had wanted to be a motivational speaker in the first place to boost his morale.
He had attended a symposium during college. His state school hosted multiple events every month, most of which he ignored. This symposium had been assigned by his (required) public speaking course professor, since he had a slight fear of public speaking. It was very inconvenient. The symposium, which was about motivation, had been sparsely attended; at the same time there was an event with a CIA operative who was far more interesting in his talk about spy training. The speaker and a few other students from his class, including the guy who constantly tapped his foot and the girl who liked chewing gum during her speeches, sat down in a large auditorium. The girl was on her phone the whole time, he could hear the tapping of the keys, and the foot-tapper fell asleep. The guest speaker had no audience. He should have been humiliated. Should have given up and left. No one would have noticed. Instead, he took the stage and gave the most inspiring speech the speaker had ever heard. He didn’t remember what the man looked like, besides a single earring, but he still remembered that speech. The man exuded such confidence, such style, and spoke straight into his heart. “Inspiration isn’t a noun! But a verb! Inspire, to inspire! That is an action. You can only be inspired if you act.”
He liked to believe that after that day he was cured. Though he had never spoken in front of a real audience, he was sure he could do it. Within the next week, he pierced his right ear and changed his major to motivational speaking. He designed it himself after a short battle with the college administration. He took classes on public speaking along with psychology, with a few communications classes thrown in. He tried some history courses, but the professors glossed over important speeches, like the Gettysburg Address and ‘I Have a Dream.’ They only gave part of a class to discuss them! He dropped the classes and signed up for Yoga instead –it seemed more enlightening.
The speaker walked up the vodka aisle slowly; he didn’t want to startle the guy. When he reached the top of the aisle, he realized he was still holding his bottle of whiskey. The man was pointing a trembling gun at the cashier. She was in her twenties, with long brown hair streaked with silver and swept up in a ponytail. A shining tank top revealed a tattoo of a dove on her shoulder. Her eyes flicked over to meet his, and they seemed more amused than scared. She went back to reading her issue of Rolling Stone. That sort of apathetic reaction to the robber’s attempt must have been extremely disarming. No wonder his gun was shaking. The cashier was clearly a catalyst igniting the robber’s own insecurities. Sometimes people had no clue of the repercussions of their actions.
He decided that the best approach to this tense situation would be to introduce himself with a joke. Lightening the mood might make the robber more comfortable.
“Guess I should give my money to you for this, huh?” he said, holding up his whiskey. It was a great opening line, great.
The robber jerked towards him with the gun. He was a skinny guy with sagging jeans and large hands that didn’t know their own girth as his fingers struggled to fit over the trigger.
“Stay back!” he yelled. “Or…or…I’ll shoot!”
The motivational speaker looked at him with pity. The poor guy was really trying.
“No he won’t,” the cashier said. “Dude can’t even hold the gun straight. And I am fairly certain the safety is still on.” She spoke without looking up, lifting her phone to turn another page in her magazine.
“What?’ the robber said. He frantically checked his gun. “I don’t know what that is!”
“Here,” the motivational speaker reached for the gun, but the robber jumped back and pointed it at the speaker.
“I’ve seen this on T.V, you’re just trying to take it away from me! Back off!” He jabbed the gun forward a few times as if to push the speaker away with air.
“Okay, okay!” the speaker took a step back. “What if I turn it off while you hold it? One hand behind my back?”
The robber lowered the gun a fraction. “No funny business! Move slow or I’ll…I can hit you with it! And that would hurt!”
“You have my word,” the speaker said. He moved forward slowly, whiskey bottle in the hand behind his back, but stopped once in arm’s length of the gun as the robber yelled, “Hey!” The ski mask reeked of aftershave and maple syrup.
“Okay, now turn it off from there! No extra movements!” The robber kept the gun pointed at the speaker’s chest.
The speaker leaned forward and tried not to make any sudden moves. He pretended he was swimming in a pool of jello –visualization was a great technique for tense situations. Though he couldn’t see very well since the robber’s hand covered most of the gun, weapons were the one thing his dad had taught him about. Feeling along the metal, he found the slide and pushed it back. He stepped away to give the robber some space, but now with his gun ready for action, the guy looked dejected. The gun hung loose at his side. He needed some sort of confidence-boosting statement.
“You know, this is the most frightening robbery I have ever been to,” the speaker said encouragingly.
“No, this is awful. I don’t know if I can do this. It was a stupid idea,” the robber said, head hanging down like his gun.
“The only awful idea is giving up!” That was a good line; he was on his game. Maybe that was what he needed to do, keep things loose. Improvise more. Now he needed to focus. This robbery was close to being an utter disaster. He was sure though, with his encouragement, the robber and he could work through this together.
“You want me to rob this store? Are you insane?” the robber asked looking back up and waving his gun around.
“More like depressed. He’s buying a whole handle of whiskey and looks like a homeless Backstreet boy,” the cashier said.
“Ignore her,” the speaker said, shifting uncomfortably in his large coat. “I want you to be the best you, you can be! And if you want to be a robber, then dammit, you be a robber!” He pounded his fist on the counter. He thought it made a wonderful impact, really emphasizing his point. Physicality and gestures were just as important as motivational words, in his opinion. He learned about gestures in his advanced public speaking course –the more he moved his arms, the higher his grades seemed to get. “Now, take your gun and point it at her head!”
The robber raised the gun slowly and leveled it at the girl’s forehead. She continued reading her magazine.
“Good! Great! How do you feel?” The speaker was thrilled at how well this was going. The robber was responsive and seemed to have a real desire for change.
“I feel more powerful,” he said taking a deep breath, but it was level and not shaky. The robber stood taller.
“You are powerful!” the speaker shouted. “You are an individual whose power comes from inside. Now dig deep, why are you a robber? What drives you? Fuels this power?” The speaker made a fist to emphasize power.
“My twin brother asked me what I was doing with my life, pretentious dick,” the robber said uneasily, looking over at the speaker.
“Really? How interesting!” The speaker knew that his robber needed to feel heard to know that his words were important. He took a small step forward. “You’re taking ahold of your life; you’re a risk-taker, bold and fearless!”
“Right!” the robber said, grasping the gun with both hands. “That asshole would never have the guts to do this. He thinks that because he has a complete collection of state quarters and is president of the star-gazing club, he’s so great. Wait until he hears I’m a badass thief!”
“I sense some hostility here, would you want to explore this?” The motivational speaker was on the brink of a breakthrough. He was giddy, ridiculously excited. The most successful talk he had had in months. The hairdresser had refused to talk about his clear father issues, and the dog walker refused to talk to him at all.
“He’s just…he’s going to damn Harvard. For astronomy. What the hell can he even do with that? Parents threw a damn party for him. What have I got, huh? Mr. Goody Two Shoes won’t be able to wrap his head around this. Now who’s going places? He’ll be in debt, and I’ll be rolling in it!” He moved the gun closer to the cashier’s head. She looked up this time, hot pink lips pouting.
“Dude, chill. Besides, there’s only like two hundred bucks in here.” Her voice was lower and grating. The speaker frowned. Didn’t she understand? It wasn’t about the amount of money. It was about the ability to take action, the satisfaction of fulfilling a goal.
“No, this is great! You are really working out your feelings. Find your motivation and use it to guide you. Trust your instincts, trust yourself. You are your own master. Own your future!” He was whipping out these nuggets of wisdom. He remembered the speaker on stage saying these same things, and he was excited he could now use them. This was his stage. “Now demand! Demand what you need from the world and take it!”
“Money! Now!” the robber shouted, shoving the gun into the girl’s head, so she was almost pushed out of her chair. Catching herself on the counter, she slowly put down her magazine. A burnt red crescent scarred her forehead. She shot him a glare, but opened the cash register. She slammed the money on the counter. There were only two flattened piles, less than an inch high. Her eyes were a hard, wet glaze.
“Calm down with the gun, the money’s right there,” she shifted in her seat and the motivational speaker saw her phone’s screen light up in the folds of the magazine. He wondered if she had been reading the magazine the whole time or texting her friends. She wasn’t the best employee either way. “You going to put it in a bag, or what?”
The robber hesitated. “I have no bag.” He looked over at the cashier. She pulled the pile of brown bags away from the robber until they hit the floor behind the counter. The poor guy stood there for a few moments. The motivational speaker panicked; he couldn’t lose him now, not when he was so close!
“Your hat!” he shouted. “Improvise, use your surroundings. You find that everything you need is right in front of you!”
The robber tugged off his ski mask, revealing static shocked black hair and a diamond-shaped face. His round chin was spotted with pimples. He stuffed the few hundred dollars into his black mask while holding his gun, a few dollars floating to the floor through the mouth slit.
“Now you,” he said, turning to the motivational speaker. “Wallet. And that whiskey.”
The motivational speaker was shocked. But the robber was now going above and beyond! Really taking it to the next level!
“Of course, of course!” he said, placing his wallet and his whiskey on the counter. He was a little disappointed at losing his whiskey, but it was all for the greater cause. The wallet was also a problem, but he would deal with that in the future. He was living in the moment! “You are really coming into your own now.”
“Right,” the robber said. He started slowly backing out of the store, but stopped at the sound of sirens. “What the hell?”
“I texted a friend to call the cops. They’re in front of the store; you guys are screwed,” the cashier said, picking her magazine back up. “I told her to wait at first because this was kind of funny, but I hate guns pointing at my head, asshole, so I told her to make the call. I suggest running out the back or surrendering. Don’t care which.”
The robber looked at the speaker. “Now what?” he shouted, eyes wide in panic.
The speaker felt the thrill of adrenaline; what an exciting turn! Inspiration is action! The robber needed to act! This wasn’t the speaker’s robbery, it was the robber’s! If he wanted to take control of the situation, he had to believe in his goal! He had to feel powerful!
“Find your power again! These are merely obstacles in your journey. Life isn’t a smooth river, but a rocky one. Don’t forget you have a paddle to wield!” Despite his excitement, the speaker was a bit anxious; he didn’t want the robber to lose all the confidence he had just gained. He couldn’t lose another client. He didn’t want to fail again. He was changing this kid’s life, and he wasn’t going to let anything stop him!
“You mean this?” The robber looked down at his gun. “Should I use it?”
“Yes! Yes!” The motivational speaker was patting himself on the back with his inner accolades. The robber was getting it now, understanding metaphors and applying them to his personal life! What more could he ask for? “Do it! Do it now! Don’t let the opportunities in life pass you by! You will always miss the target if you never shoot!”
The robber shot.
The motivational speaker’s ears rang from the beautiful bang of the gunshot. He couldn’t see the cashier or how she reacted to this perfect moment of the robber’s self-actualization, but he assumed she was emotionally moved as well. He fell down as the robber pushed past him toward the back door, dropping the gun as he ran. The speaker wanted to shout some last few words of encouragement such as “Go be yourself, but better!” or “Now that you have your life, don’t let anyone take it away from you! The power is yours!”
He found that it was difficult to speak.
“Hold on there dude, cops are right outside. You’ll be fine, physically. You’re in deep shit for being an accomplice, though,” the cashier said without looking at him and the blood staining his coat.
The robber had shot him, what an accomplishment! His shoulder hurt, sure, but he wanted to tell her that everything was fine! More than fine! Things were great! He was oozing blood and pride!
His head felt fuzzy. He hoped after the cops brought him to a hospital and the doctors patched him up, he could have a celebratory glass of whiskey –but the expensive kind this time. Maybe the robber would visit him in the hospital! They could break him out, and then hit up some other liquor stores! Or grocery stores! Or a bank! He made a note to tell the robber that it always paid off to think big, reach higher!
He was bleeding a lot; his arm was sticky. He felt emptier, lighter. Less burdened. This was his moment! His destiny was to be there, in the liquor store, to help this poor thief find his confidence to follow through with the robbery! This would be a great story to tell his future clients.
With his functioning arm he stretched his fingers to grasp the gun the robber had dropped. It was his token of a successful job. A physical representation of his powerful motivation. He hoped the gunshot left a scar –what a metaphor that would be! Something about survival, or toughness. Or needing to feel pain to know joy. And the gun! Why it could be the main symbol of his speeches! He could show it to his future clients, even let them hold it! It would be a constant reminder of this moment, of his greatest triumph! It was the gun that gave the robber such power, such confidence!
His fingers closed around the handle. It was his turn.