During the holidays, a friend and I went over to Cosmo's in Covington to have a few drinks. Crystal, our regular barmaid, has gotten to know me well enough to offer an honest observation.
I noticed she was staring at me a little too long.
"What?" I asked.
With a stern look on her face, she said, "Before you leave here tonight, I want to see you smile."
Way to go, Crystal. Here's yet another person who wants to see a grin on my face.
This isn't the first time I've heard this. I think it's something I need to work on in 2008. I need to remember to smile more.
Literally all my life, people have come up to me saying these two words: "What's wrong?" I even remember my parents wanting to know when I was a little kid what I was so unhappy about.
I'm not unhappy. For whatever reason, having a bit of a scowl on my face is my normal look. It's how my face is.
Short of having plastic surgery, I'm going to have to make a concentrated effort to erase that "mad look."
Do I have anything to scowl about? Not really.
I mean, sure, I have some health issues and a few problems, but I see people all around me dealing with their old stuff -- some of it quite serious -- and they still manage to have a smiles on their faces. I want to be like that, too.
Take this guy I've seen downtown for years. Most of the time he's homeless, but most of the time he's smiling.
I've often seen him on some street corner downtown, and often I've put a buck in his paper cup. We always talk for a while, usually about football.
He's a big Browns fan, and whenever we part company he always says the same thing: "Go Browns!"
I saw him again a few days ago, this time in a wheelchair.
Bad knees are making it hard for him to walk these days.
He told me that a friend has taken him in for now and that this friend has cable television. He gets to watch his beloved Browns play football every week.
"I feel truly blessed," he told me as I put another dollar in his cup.
When I said goodbye, he was smiling.
Another person I still see sometimes is Margie, who lives in Price Hill and works for an office supply company downtown. When I lived in Price Hill, I'd often run into her on the bus.
Sometimes we would sit together and talk about her cats. She has four of them and, to Margie, they're her children.
She's slowly going blind. We've talked about it a few times.
I saw her walking down the sidewalk last week. She's now wearing big Coke bottle-like glasses.
I asked Margie how she was doing, and she told me how she's taken in a new kitten. She was all excited as she went into some detail as to how she came about getting her new cat and how cute it was.
I didn't ask anything about her eyes, as she seemed happy. I didn't want to take that smile off her face.
My friend Joe smiles a lot, too. He and his wife have five young children to raise. His wife stays home with the kids while he works two jobs and takes on special projects. They have a hard time making ends meet.
Joe is a jack of all trades and master of them all. He works with his hands. He can do electrical work, plumbing and carpentry.
He sometimes tells me he doesn't get to spend much time with his kids because of all the hours he works. Then he'll get a big smile on his face, telling me the latest about one of his daughters or how his oldest boy is always getting into trouble at school.
Joe loves his children. The smile on this face tells me that.
I need to learn from these people -- the homeless man, Margie and good old Joe. Smiling seems to come naturally to them. It doesn't to me.
Maybe I'm one of those people who doesn't smile on the outside because I'm smiling on the inside. I have family who love me and friends who care about me, and I love the work I do -- namely, putting sentences together on the page.
So, yes, that scowl on my face is one of happiness. Still, I want to try to do something about it. I want to smile.
As my friend and I prepared to leave Cosmo's on that holiday evening, with that normal mean look on my face, I asked Crystal for the bill. She gave me the look right back.
When she returned, I had a big smile on my face. I hugged her and wished her a Merry Christmas.
Crystal laughed, smiled back and gave me a kiss on the cheek.
Hey, Crystal, if you're reading this, get your pretty self over here to Cincinnati. I'm going to be walking these streets downtown with a big old grin on my face.
I'm going to try to smile more in 2008 -- even if it kills me.
CONTACT LARRY GROSS: firstname.lastname@example.org