L.A. AFFAIRS

In a downtown high-rise, a romance that couldn't be copied

In each of our lives, there will be at least one day when a door opens and sunlight comes pouring in. I had such a day the first time I saw her. She was copying pages at one of two copy machines in our building, and my attraction was immediate. She was petite with long brown hair and matching eyes, but what I found most appealing was her captivating smile. I remember thinking, "That is a smile I would never grow tired of seeing."

It was the mid-'70s, and I was a single guy in my 20s, working in downtown Los Angeles at 6th and Flower streets for an oil company. In those days, copy machines were very large and expensive — the entire building only had two of them. One was on the ninth floor; the other was on the fourth floor, directly in front of my desk.

As I gravitated toward the shy side, I glanced at her while pretending to work on some papers. As soon as she left, I asked a co-worker if he knew her. He informed me her name was Carol and she worked in marketing on the ninth floor. I may have been circumspect, but I was not one to waste a hot lead, so I immediately picked up the phone and called a friend who worked in marketing. He knew immediately who she was but reluctantly added, "She has a boyfriend." Not dissuaded, I asked him to call me if he ever found out they had broken up, which he enthusiastically agreed to do.

Early the next day, Carol appeared at the machine again. I overheard her say that the copy machine on the ninth floor was broken and she had to use this one. I tried to get her attention, but the best she could muster was a brief smile. That same afternoon she made at least three more trips to the machine. "I'll bet she noticed me and was hoping I would initiate a conversation," I thought to myself. The next day she showed up several more times. I was convinced she was becoming quite interested in me. I called my friend on the ninth floor and asked when the copy machine would be fixed. When he replied, "They fixed it yesterday," I was certain she was enamored with me. Hadn't she used the fourth-floor machine at least three times after the other one had been fixed?

The phone call I had hoped for eventually came. "Hi, you asked me to call, and I just heard she broke up with her boyfriend."

"That makes sense," I answered, "as I think she is now interested in me." When I hung up, within the hour Carol returned to make more copies. I told myself that she must have been "copying" blank sheets, feeling quite confident she must have been falling in love with me.

When her name appeared on a list of marketing people recently promoted, I picked up the phone and called her. "Hi, I'm Larry, and I see you just received a promotion. I was wondering if I could take you to lunch to celebrate?" After a pause, she replied, "I'm sorry, I don't think I know you." The trap was sprung, and I was ready to deliver the line that would not only seal lunch but also my entire romantic future. "Oh, I think you do know me … you see, I'm the guy who sits next to the copy machine on the fourth floor." There was another pause before she said, "I don't remember seeing anyone next to the copy machine."

I was stunned. "You don't remember the guy right next to the copy machine?" I asked.

"Sorry," she replied. "I don't recall seeing anyone there at all."

I had now reached the nadir of my dating career. I went from supremely confident to "Where is there a hole to hide in?" I was asking someone out who had no idea who I was. I finally blurted out, "Well, would you like to meet the guy next to the copy machine?"

We agreed to meet in the building lobby, where I clung to one last hope that when she saw me it would click. But it didn't. She simply did not remember me.

Then my luck changed. Lunch at Casey's Irish Pub could not have gone any better. We both had a great deal in common, and when lunch ended, I asked for her phone number. Nine months later, I asked for her hand in marriage, and 37 years later and two kids, I still thoroughly enjoy that smile. It only fades a bit when she hears me again recount our meeting. That happens every time a new acquaintance asks, "And how did you two meet?"

Roberts is a freelance writer in Orange County.

L.A. Affairs chronicles romance and relationships. Past columns and submission guidelines are at latimes.com/laaffairs. If you have comments to share or a story to tell, write us at home@latimes.com.

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