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!

Valentines Day memories

**From 2001, originally appeared in a UK short story collection, now 11 years removed, sans ToughSkins, my name was finally called”

The Tao of ToughSkins

It looks like the bottom of a tied balloon, so round and soft and utterly mine.

I have recently learned to appreciate my bellybutton more, and try to spend some time with it, on a daily basis. So often, at times or moments, emotional pain inspires us to retreat into the world of the known: the comfortable. Perhaps, pondering where the umbilical cord attached us, is one of those exercises. Anything that occupies our mind, everyman’s great tormentor and our one solace, is that, and it allows us to trick ourselves.

I have also recently known true pain and have sought any way to divert my attention: to imagine that tortured thoughts are like a beachball. When occupied, the ball is submerged in water but the moment the concentration breaks, it zooms to the top and pops out, and the cycle perpetuates itself unabated and never ceasing, or so it seems, until the shirt rises and I see my old friend.

Life is a cyclical event and at these times I often go back to the beginning of the circle. For this purpose, I go back to the burgeoning of puberty, that most confusing time for all of our species. When all problems were of a grand proportion and would never be recovered from. Now they seem so small, but the seared memories prove the voracity of the emotions felt.

I was 12 years old, and enrolled in the 7th grade at Memorial Junior High School, home of the Wildcats. For me, the transition from the friendly confines of my Elementary school was not an easy one. It was, as now, a venture into the unknown, unfamiliar faces, new surroundings and new expectations.

All one wishes for, at such moments, is to blend in seamlessly, and do nothing to warrant the label of ‘different’. I arrived on my first day and immediately felt different. Let me qualify my comments first. I always went to school clean, neat, and prepared for anything I needed. I always had new and clean clothes, but it was the choice of clothes that made me different!

I wore Toughskin pants by Sears Roebuck, a since forgotten line that had a reinforced knee which could be seen from the outside. It looked as if you had a metal plate under your pants, attached at your knee. This was during 1979 at the height of the denim revolution; Sassoon, Jordache, Gitano et al and my peers were right in fashion, and most bore a name on their derriere. I bore my mark on my knees, an indelible one!

There were several other unfortunates, although we averted eye contact and did not have a group, we knew of each other. I think we consciously did not wish to be seen together. Why draw more attention to our condition? If it were today, we would have had a support group and counselors to assist us. Perhaps even our own alternative high school, to cater to our special needs, and a separate prom!

Discovering the opposite sex is difficult enough, without any added burdens, but my school had an especially cruel Valentine’s Day custom. It allowed students to purchase carnations with messages to their peers: white for friendship, pink was a secret admirer, red for love. A huge flower-laden cart would be wheeled down the hallway, into your homeroom and names would be called.

I knew the outcome, and dreaded that day, as you would wear the flowers pinned to your shirt for the remainder of the day. The beautiful people would look like a parade float, completely bedecked in flowers, from neck to waist. I was more fortunate as my movements were not in anyway restricted! However, I did listen to all the names, and hoped that there would be some superior female who could see my inner qualities, but my feeble attempts with the opposite sex were rebuffed initially. I was labeled ‘a weenie’, equal to those in the A. V. squad or the Dungeons and Dragons club.

I now find myself again in that very same position, recently separated after a 10-year relationship. I am far different from the young lad in Toughskins: outwardly I am fairly good-looking and possess advanced communication skills, honed, no doubt, from persuading louts not to pummel me in Junior High. However, the feelings are still the same, and I have yet to find the person who can see ‘the light within’.

I learned from my early experiences that outward appearances mean little, and it is that which lies under the reinforced knee that counts. Even now, 20 years removed, I can see that few have learned that lesson with me. In bars, or in personal ads, everyone desires the same thing, an ideal rather than reality.

However, I am an optimist, still listening to the names, and knowing that some day I will hear my mine called.