Loves Spark Extinguished Online

**From 2001, originally appeared in a UK short story collection**

“It was revealed to me many years ago with conclusive certainty that I was a fool and that I had always been a fool. Since then I have been as happy as any man has a right to be.”

Alistair Sims 30th August ’76

I have recently embraced this quote by Mr. Sims and it has afforded me great comfort. I am now separated, after a long relationship, and have joined the multitudes of the unattached. The last time I was in this position, George Bush’s father was president and tattoos still meant you had served time in prison. Piercing was meant for the ears, now they are everywhere, it is much like the Earring Fairy has been cruising about the country since 1996, visiting young ladies in their sleep and causing them to awake with rings appearing in their belly buttons.

There was also no Internet dating which has caused the genesis of this piece. Like so many of my peers, I have visited this cyber landscape with trepidation but also with hope. Being a parent, and having a career which occupies an inordinate amount of time, how can you meet other people? You place a singles ad online and try to get the essence of yourself in 2 paragraphs with a photo. Then you begin the laborious task of looking through other profiles, seeking those that strike some interest and ask them to look at your profile then respond and so the cycle starts.

I now consider myself a ‘savvy’ veteran of such profiles and have noticed some striking similarities. Almost eighty-percent list, moonlit walks on the beach at night as a favorite pastime. Recently I went to the beach at night expecting to see a throng of people walking arms-linked under the moon. I was there, alone! This distortion between reality and fantasy is all too common and is one reason this process is severely flawed. I can encapsulate, for you, what most women are seeking online as:

” I like a sense of humor and also he should be honest, romantic, sincere. Someone with a nice build who is masculine, but can also communicate his feelings. A man, who is passionate about life, has a good job and likes walks on the beach at night.”

I am sure it is the same the other way around, however, I can only speak from the male perspective. Sitting alone, at 3 a.m., in my underwear, I began the process of sorting through the profiles and sending out my letters. What follows is a small sampling of my experiences, and why I am considering following a monastic lifestyle!

My first was from AOL, at their site LOVE@AOL. I sent out a reply, to someone in my age group with similar interests, and chose an ad with a picture that showed someone I was attracted to. I received a response to my letter the next day and we began e-mailing each other and then moved to chatting on the phone. Since this was my very first experience, I thought things were going well and after 2 weeks, we decided to meet for a drink, at a local restaurant. I arrived early, as I always do, and got a vibrating beeper to alert me, when my table became available. I then sat myself by the door, with my mental image, waiting for her to arrive.

“Bob!” I heard my name called and scanned the crowd by the front door, no recognition.
“Bob!” This time I saw someone smiling and walking towards me. I was quite confused as I was looking for someone of average build and possessing the face that I had seen. This person knew my name, extended her hand, and said the name I expected to hear. I shook her hand mechanically, not knowing what else to do.

Bzzzzzzzzz’. My pocket vibrated and our table was ready, we were seated. In silence at first, as I had still not uttered a sound, I was looking at someone 100 pounds heavier than stated and the only thing that matched her description and picture was that she had brown eyes.
“So what do you think, are you as happy as I am? You are so much better looking in person.” She said.

Our waitress arrived, and mercifully took our order, allowing me to organize my shattered thoughts. I finally said. “I must admit, you look somewhat different than your picture. I almost didn’t recognize you at first.” She then launched into a diatribe, about how it was taken before her baby and really, it’s what’s on the inside that counts, and she could tell that I was above all that anyway. I nodded, made a mental note that she was indeed wrong. Then I was assaulted, for the next half-hour, with tales of her former marriage and how her ex-husband was a no-good drunk; always had jobs that took him on the road, and she knew he was unfaithful. After a mere 30 minutes with this lady, I understood this man’s need to drink and travel!

Finally, our drinks over, she asked if I want another. I said that unfortunately my babysitter had asked that I make this short, as she could not really watch my son that long. Although it was springtime the weather that evening was actually quite chilly and we emerged into a whipping wind and rain. She asked where I was parked and I pointed to a distant lot, as it was packed when I had arrived. As fate would have it, her car was directly in front of the door.

“Let me drive you to your car, you will be soaked if you walk to it”, she said.
The ride was a short one and she was right, I would have been soaked. I said ‘Thank you’ and ‘I am sure we will talk again real soon’. I began to open the door, felt a hand on my shoulder and I was pulled backwards.

“You don’t have to be such a gentleman, I kiss on the first date.” She said, eyes twinkling. With that said, I saw her come in, lips puckered, and then her hand moved to the back of my head. I ducked and her lips brushed my forehead. I escaped the grasp and opened the door. I waved quickly, jumped into my car and, as I drove home, just pondered the meaning of it all.

I received e-mails for the next 2 weeks, 30 in all, and numerous phone calls. She even shared in one of them that she had bought me a razor and shaving cream, because, next time, I would be staying over. Finally, she realized we would not be picking out china patterns, and it stopped. I then moved to a pay-site, as I felt it was better because AOL accepts everyone for free, perhaps a more serious clientele could be found if one paid.

I joined MatchMaker.com, again filled out the profile, answering essay questions this time, and again posted a picture. The gimmick here is you are matched, based on your answers, to those who match you best. I put in my search and the names appear in match order: the first one on the list said 89% and I was intrigued. Although she did not have a picture online, I read her essay and answers, and I was even more intrigued. I wrote her a response, and it was answered. The same email protocol was followed, then again the phone-call and I could tell this was a very witty and intelligent lady.

We decided to meet at Starbucks, for coffee on a Saturday morning. I again arrived early, this time armed only with a written description and the type of car she drives. The car arrived on time and she emerged. Absolutely perfect, petite, well dressed, and truly attractive. We had our coffee and enjoyed each other’s company, for over 2 hours. When we parted, she suggested that we would see each other that Monday evening, for dinner. I heartily agreed and waited impatiently for Monday to arrive.

This time I picked her up at her apartment, we departed for a local eatery and enjoyed some wine and Italian food. As we lingered over our coffee, she kept looking at her watch. Of course, my first thought was she could not wait for this to end, so I asked her. To my utter shock, she said she would rather go down to the beach, as it was a beautiful night. My inward smile was a broad one and I quickly paid the bill to honor her wishes. I suggested several beaches that I knew,  but she said she knew the perfect place, and then proceeded to direct me. It was several towns away and quite deserted. She knew her beaches!

She exited the car and beckoned me to follow her. We started to walk, holding hands, and I must say, I could understand why this is in so many profiles. However, she kept walking for what seemed an eternity, and then in the distance I saw what appeared to be a fire. She pointed and said it was our destination. I was slightly perplexed; however, the lure of her was too great. As we started to get closer, I noticed people, about 30, in a circle around the roaring fire. In the light of the blaze she turned to me, looked into my eyes and said. “This is my coven, we are celebrating the new moon tonight, that is why I wanted to see you Monday. I wanted to show you, rather than tell you. You are one of the first I thought that would understand. Just watch, this is a beautiful ceremony.”

Getting caught pulling the fire alarm in 7th grade, and this moment, both produced the same feeling within my stomach. She was a witch! She drifted off and joined hands with the others. Then the chants started and I sat down on a dune; I had no idea how to leave and with my mouth still open, I think, I watched. Besides my Laura Ashley-dressed date, the rest was the stereotypical lot. All in black and with that peaceful look of those who feel they understand something that you don’t. There was a leader, wearing a robe with a hood, and looking mysterious.

After the hood came down, you could see the result of lost battles with acne, the scraggly beard and the long hair. Obviously High School had been cruel and this was where his search for identity had landed him. He spoke a stream of mindless drivel about Nature, the Moon, the Land and the Power around us. The believers listened, heads bowed, occasionally nodding.

When it was over, she came back, flushed and excited. ‘I want you to meet xxxx ‘ and she mentioned the head-man’s name. I was brought to him and shook his hand; it was then that I was informed that he had instructed her to bring me. It seemed a spell had been performed and then I appeared in her life, as he had predicted. We met some others and although it was hard to part this magical place, we left.

Safely back in the car I asked her about the spell. I knew we would never see each other again and this was my last chance. This was was a love spell, one that takes several days to perform and should not be taken lightly! The following is a brief description:

Two red candles are placed within two circles. At sunset, they are lit and moved a little closer together every day, until the third day when they should be touching. The circles are then joined. Next, cookie dough is placed under your pillow for three nights and then planted in soil. Then you will find your love.

I asked if it was called the Pillsbury spell. She was not amused! I then said I had temporarily stopped dating pagans and perhaps we should be friends. She exited the car quietly, and finally. I received an e-mail the next day, saying the planter with the dough was overturned that morning and that meant it would be over anyway. Those who believe will always find a reason to keep their beliefs. Perhaps there is something to it; I have had cravings for cookies for several weeks!

Although I have found humor in such instances, is does leave me wondering as this new frontier I have been thrust into, is so different than when I was younger. Attitudes and values have indeed changed and I think we are lessened by it. It seems we chase ideals that cannot be attained and cannot find happiness in our own realities.

I think I will go down to the beach so I can be alone and think about it, but never during the new moon!

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Guitar Case Keys and Amber Dreams

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Young men of 20 years of age should not have many burdens placed upon them. Biologically they are distracted by far greater urges and their thought process is greatly affected. The insurance industry knows this and charge a premium for young men in this age group.

I was once 20 years of age, a lifetime ago, it seems, and I proved the Insurance industry assessment correct. I was a college student and had to seek employment to fund my higher purpose. My lifelong friend suggested security work, as it would not tax our energies, and what job could be easier? This was before licenses were required. I wonder if our security careers had any impact on that sensible law.

We went to Pers-Eval Security in Huntington, Long Island, a since closed firm: I also wonder about our impact on that, as well. We filled out applications that consisted of name, address, and shirt and pant size. The office consisted of 2 women, Phyllis and Carmen, the latter being the subordinate. Both were divorced, and were “Older” women, they dressed in what I call Deer Park couture: something peculiar to Long Island. It consists of tight pants, loose shirts, big hair, high heels and noticeable makeup. Accessories vary, but gold bangle bracelets and gold chains are preferred. There is also a certain attitude associated, quick talking and a sachet that suggests experience in the feminine arts.

After glancing at our applications, we were hired and Carmen then bustled getting us uniforms. We were informed that our careers would begin that night, the third shift, 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. at the Freeport Marina. The job paid 5.50 an hour and would last for 4 nights; we received .50 over the going rate, because of the overnight hours. In less than 30 minutes after our arrival, we were leaving, outfitted and trained for our new careers.

The month was September, and the night was clear and crisp, we arrived at 8:30 and met our contact. He had worked at the marina for 35 years by that time, in a maintenance roll, he was a short, bald and had a pronounced shuffle: he looked like Muddy Waters the blues singer. We called him “Borkum Riff” after the pipe tobacco that he constantly smoked. Borkum sized us up and then went through the list of things we were not to do.

Pipe clenched between his teeth, he had an amazing gift of conversing this way. In a nutshell, we were not to touch anything, we were to be separated at all times, on opposite ends of the complex, and use the walkie-talkies only when necessary. No one should be there for any reason, and for any problems, call the police via the pay-phone. He said he would see us in the morning and then shuffled off in a cloud of smoke.

We were alone. It was immediately agreed we would never be separated and thus began our systematic breaking of the rules. The reason for our presence was the Freeport Boat Show, a yearly event, and the marina was crowded with tents and exhibits. We perused the covered tables, sampling the candy and wares. After our first tour we went back to the bathrooms and main office area, and then we noticed them. Golf Carts! 25 of them, all plugged in and humming.

We went to the first one, and to our dismay learned you needed a key to operate them. We quickly tested my keys and all were too big, next we tried my companions, his keys also didn’t fit, but then an epiphany, he has his guitar case in his car and that had a small key. When we came back, I watched as he slid it in and the cart sprang to life. We unplugged it and off we went to more effectively patrol the grounds.

There are few better things in this world than feeling the wind in your hair as you cruise in a golf cart. Unlike our walking tour, we really explored this time, going all over the grounds. The exhibits were in the gravel area, and the tents made it seem as if you were circling a figure eight, then there was a grass area with porta-johns and the food-vending facilities, and then the dock with all the boats.

Dawn was starting to creep in and we felt the cart should go back, and we should split up for our relief, and end our first night. Borkum pulled up in his Red Maverick 20 minutes early, no doubt, to see if we were performing as we should. When he approached with pipe blazing, he seemed pleased and told us we could leave, and he would see us that evening.

Our second evening began, and, as soon as we saw the headlights of his car disappear, we went to our chariots. This time we each took one and decided to make a circuit of the grounds again, today marked the first day the show was ‘open’, and there were a few more exhibits and the food areas were also occupied. As we were making our tour through the food court we saw it and both applied our brakes. A Budweiser trailer was parked on the lawn!

As we approached, we could smell the stale beer that had spilled throughout the day. It had what appeared to be a 30-foot garage-type door protecting the treasure inside, and we could hear the trailer humming, no doubt keeping it chilled. The door had a handle and, as we expected, it was locked and secured. This time we tried the guitar-case key first and VOILA!

The handle moved and we pushed the door up, all the way, there were several flickers of lights and then they caught. We were standing before 40 Budweiser taps gleaming in the fluorescent light. There are moments you remember forever, this, and Christmas mornings when I was a child, produced the same effect, utter joy! Each tap had a stack of cups next to it and we each took one and filled our glasses. It was wonderful!

After downing several glasses, and starting to feel very nice, we decided to empty the thermoses of coffee our mothers had given us, and fill them with beer. We closed the door and set-off on our carts, chasing each other at full speed. We wheeled through the exhibits and spun out on the gravel, even crashing into each other a few times.

At about 5 am we realized we were exceptionally drunk and needed to lock up the truck and our carts, not an easy feat in our condition and, once accomplished, we both got very sick. It was too much of a good thing and we needed to practice moderation. Borkum arrived that morning and saw two bloodshot and weary young men; he attributed it to not being accustomed to overnight shifts and advised we should get some sleep.

Before we went that evening we raided our houses and took every possible device that could hold liquid, and put it into my Chevy Malibu’s trunk and back seat. We had 100 bottles between us, my friend being the main contributor. His father had a passion for milk and bought gallons at a local store. He never remembered to bring back the gallon, glass containers. Every bump we hit, on the ride there, produced a loud, clanging noise, but we were careful to cover the back seat with a blanket, to hide them.

We arrived, and Borkum seemed tired this time, his shuffle was almost at a standstill, he left immediately and did not admonish us once. This time we took my car to the trailer and began our labors; filling each bottle, capping and carefully stacking it. The back of my car sagged a little from the weight and the process took us over an hour, but it was a labor of love. Once finished, we got our carts and rewarded ourselves with several cold drafts.

Our lesson in moderation was not heeded, and soon we were again, feeling good and racing around. Hours passed in this fashion and it wasn’t until we stopped that we realized how truly inebriated we were. The night had flown by, quickly everything was put back and Borkum arrived on time and sent us away. We drove home exceedingly slow and stacked our booty in my friend’s garage; it was an impressive sight. It meant our meager paychecks could go much further, as beer was a major drain on our funds at that time.

We drove to work that day in a melancholy mood, it was our last night and we had really enjoyed our time there! When we entered the parking we noticed several cars and people milling about. One car was marked Pers-Eval and the assembled group turned to us as we stopped. Immediately we knew something was amiss, I figured they found out that we raided the beer truck.

A tall man, dressed in a Freeport Marina shirt and hat, excitedly jogged towards us and, as the words, “Are these the A**holes” exited his mouth, I knew it was more than that. My friend and I had heard this phrase directed at us before and knew that what was to come would not be pleasant. This man reached us, put his arms on his hips took two deep breaths and announced he was the director of the Marina. Then all his pain and anguish came out.”Do you two know what happened last night?” He asked but did not pause for a response. “A goddamn yacht was stolen, from the end, goddamn berth. How could you both miss a 50-foot boat going that distance? How ******* stupid are you?”

He let out a web of obscenities that might still hang in the universe and concluded with: “So what do you two have to say about this?” Luckily my friend and I had attended Catholic school and we gave him the blank stare we had learned there. It was impossible to combat, impassive and emotionless. Frustrated, he turned and kicked the gravel as he stomped away. Next a supervisor, from the company who employed us, told us we were relieved and no further assignments would be forthcoming. Security career over, at the age of 20, is a blow to any man, However, we had a cache of liquid treasure to comfort us, and it did.

Actually, my friend still worked there for a year, before becoming a police officer for New York City. They forgot he had worked the Freeport Boat show and gave him regular assignments. I still have my old badge tucked away in a box somewhere, now a memento of of a misspent youth. I think of that experience often and would like to offer an apology to that man, to whom we caused so much pain.

He learned the hard way that 20-year-old males are not responsible, he should have listened to the Insurance companies!