Monday, July 26, 2010


There’s one fringe benefit to this whole Internet dating deal, it gives me a never ending supply of fresh material.

Reassured that my dance card was full for two nights out of three, over the long 4th of July weekend, I figured I wouldn’t feel too much like a loser if I hopped online on Friday night to check my,“Top Five” pics of the day. It’s revealing to see who you can smoke out on a lonesome Friday cozied up to their computer, hoping against hope that their miracle soul mate, who is: slender, athletic, emotionally, financially and sexually secure, with no baggage, no excessive drinking, no smoking, no drugs, no dentures, no leftover kids, someone who’s “comfortable in her own skin” (not too saggy, not too pasty, not overcooked) someone who loves life, loves to laugh, loves to go on thrill seeking adventures, including but not limited to: white water rafting, repelling, campin’, huntin’, fishin’, who has the free time and financial wherewithal to cover her half of the “let’s live life to the fullest” thrill-seeking tab, oh, and someone with great legs, expressive eyes, loves to cook, salsa dances, likes romantic walks along the beach, a crackling fire on a cold night or curling up with a good book on a rainy day, who just happens to be sitting at home on the 2nd of July, fingers poised over the keyboard, ready to respond, “ that’s me, that’s me, that’s me!”

Well, good luck buddy. On a good day, you might get seven of the twenty-four aforementioned “must haves” which 99% of the men on list as key attributes for a made in heaven. I have yet to read one profile in which a man says, “must have good grammar.” Why is this not important?

Catchy headlines, however, is apparently important to this one fella I came across, as evidenced by his clever Greeked in screen name. You know what I mean, Greeked in, placeholder copy in an ad layout, like Lorem ipsum dolor ? Well, I’m no dummy, because I got it right away and to hear him tell it, this guy is a rock star in the advertising world because he said, “you see my work. it’s the good stuff.” Pretentiousness notwithstanding, and I told him as much, I figured we could at least have an intelligent conversation. So I emailed him, always a bad call on a Friday night because it’s so transparent. “Doesn’t have a date” leaps from the screen, like one of those annoying banner ads saying President Obama wants moms to go back to school. But I threw caution to the wind and lobbed over the first shot of verbal repartee to Mr. Witty and Sophisticated, and lo and behold, ol’ Witty was all alone on a Friday night too.

He emailed me right back! He said I was cute.

Well ! My self confidence shot up like a rocket ship to the moon! Because obviously if someone as intelligent and accomplished as, “I’ve worked all over the world” thinks I’m cute, then surely it must be true! His high regard for my cuteness meant a lot more to me than, say, the opinion of “Lure_U_In,” another of my "Top Five" matches of of the day. Lure_U_In, is a pipe fitter working the night shift at a power plant across the river in Illinois, who smokes daily, drinks regularly, exercises never, is not a game player, just an honest guy lookin’ for an honest woman, whose favorite place to shop is Lowe’s and his favorite TV show, CSI. His photo looked like a mug shot, and I know from whence I speak. But true to his profile, I give him props for being honest. And I’m flattered, I guess, that he thinks I’m cute, and I wish him well, with anybody on the planet except me or anybody in my immediate family.

Lure_U_In was ranked a 67-percent match for me! 67-percent, that’s an F in school.
An F. This guy gets an F. Not that I don’t like pipe fitters, some of my best friends are pipe fitters, but, really? What are these damn computers thinking? What in the world do we have in common, that we both walk on two legs? We both live in the continental United States? Wait, I know! I think I’ve got it! It’s “sense of humor!” I put “sense of humor” in my profile and through the magic of data bases our keywords aligned! Hell, that's worth 67-percent right there!

A second look at Mr. Witty showed our compatibility ranked higher, 82-percent, more like a B+ as I’m typing my response to the first decent lead I’ve had in weeks. He wants somebody, of course, “confident, slender, and attractive, someone who could stop traffic." I told him the only way I’d stop traffic is if my shoe fell off while I was crossing the street, since the most slender thing on my body are my 9AAA feet, which I have a hard time finding shoes to fit and consequently often walk out of them when trying to look hot for a date.

And I admitted, in the interest of full disclosure, that I have 16 pounds, give or take, to lose, since I have now, (...wait for it...) lost FOUR POUNDS on Weight Watchers, since beginning this strict diet and nutrition plan just six months ago! I didn’t tell him the Weight Watchers part, just that I certainly wasn’t perfect, but then, who is at 55 andI hit send.

While waiting to see if the on-going weight loss goal would be a deal breaker with Witty Ad Agency guy, since he’d lamented about showing up for Match dates only to encounter “Mimi in the Mumu and Orca the Whale,” (I sense he has issues) I received not one, but two emails from guys firing on my profile!

But, riddle me this: what was the key word that matched me up with the blond mullet guy, wearing a wife beater, with a cigarette in one hand and the receiver to a red Princess phone in the other. This either means the photo is 30 years old or he still lives with his mom, and he also has piss poor taste in beer, because there’s two Miller Light cans on the table in front of him. But wait! All is not lost, he’s “low maintenance with zero baggage.”

To say you’ve reached your 50s with zero baggage is tantamount to saying you’ve undergone a life experience lobotomy with an emotions enema shoved in for good measure. Not me, baby. I am nothing if not the sum total of all my baggage. Baggage I cling to like my ratty, old Reebok running shirt, the miles showing on that threadbare scrap of fabric like they’re showing up on my face. How many times I have pulled it off my back and wiped my sweaty brow with its Tide-smelling splendor. My baggage is as much a part of me as the chicken pox scar on my cheek bone.

Because baggage, a.k.a. memories, experience, lessons learned, moments of grace, sorrowful regrets, certainly, or probably should inform our next steps, shouldn’t it? Whether we pay attention to its wisdom or not, it subliminally influences our choices. Of this much, I am sure.

It was, in fact, my early baggage which fueled the tingling feeling I felt when I met Rick.
28 years worth, to be precise. He had so much to offer and I had so much to apologize for -- a divorced woman with a child, I was barely out of college, getting a late start on my journalism career, just weekends at first, at the top TV station in town, where he was the BMOC anchorman, a household name in New Mexico, successful, square jawed, blue-eyed blond handsome, wicked smart with not only one, but two cars, impressive to a struggling single mom who prayed every day that her car would make it to work. My God, how some things just don’t change.

But we had chemistry.

That’s something you can’t discern from a laptop; the kind of chemistry which made my heart go pitter-pat when he’d come through the back door at the TV station, the afternoon sun back lighting him like some stocky blond God, as the metal door would bang shut and he’d pull off his Ray Bans to check his mailbox. Sometimes the whoosh of outside air would announce his arrival, scent before sight, a whiff of his Grey Flannel cologne triggering my stomach to tighten up, because he was the boss on those weekend shifts, and he was a hard ass back in the day when Type A personalities weren’t grounds for a lawsuit. His command of a room turned me on. What turned me on even more is that he deemed me worthy of his attention from the start, not only because I could pull a lead story out of my ass, but because I was cute. Yeah, we had chemistry.

It didn’t go unnoticed by the crew we hung out with after work at the Gin Mill, a watering hole for the press corps back in the day. Bonnie Raitt’s “Let’s Give Them Something to Talk About” was top of the charts and we obliged. He’d connive a way to sit by me at these post mortems, where we’d compare notes on our antics to get all manner of murder and mayhem on the air, but he largely held court, everybody at the table busting a gut laughing. It was me though, he’d walk to the car. In a few months, our group outings had winnowed down to two, “I’ve got a bottle of wine in my fridge,” he said, and our first time alone at my house, he and I and a bottle of Mateus white, and a sleeping five year old in the next room, was made complete with that first sweet kiss on my front lawn. Of course I had to make the first move on the kiss, the first nudge toward the bedroom, borne on an ultimatum that if he wasn’t willing to take it to the “next level” after months of making out, in his car or mine, I was going to walk. How much I see in my rear view mirror now, free of the clamp on my gut instincts, which I wore like blinders on a race horse running for the good life. I don’t scold his inner child, nor mine, for wanting so deeply to feel legitimate.

And in 14 years, we legitimized a lot, three more babies, four or five different houses, a passle of cars and career moves all over the country. He went from a two-pack a day, right-wing Republican, (he was a Nixon volunteer in high school to my door-to-door canvassing for McGovern) non-believer to being a non-smoking, Democrat, Catholic convert. Imagine my satisfaction! It was a comprehensive act of contrition for some untold sins, if ever there was one, and to this day, I believe, a sincere undertaking. That life, house of cards as it turned out to be, still has sweet memories in the rubble. The good ones rub up like pill balls on a blanket--a blanket I try to toss off like some mildewed tarp of betrayal and disappointment. Who wouldn't, after being left with four kids alone, while he figured things out in prison? But the memories are persistent.

On this July night, I remember dancing at the symphony ball twenty-two years ago on my daughter's due date. I was in a last minute, rented dress, since I'd been planning to be at home with a newborn by then, and Rick wore a tuxedo he actually owned, an indication of our social calendar. My arm resting on his familiar, broad shoulder, my belly pushed against his paisley cummerbund, where he could feel Lauren stirring to the music, he whispered, “you are the most beautiful woman on this dance floor” and my eyes overflowed with tears, as my feet swelled even more, stuffed into high heels at nine months and counting.

Another memory busts through the barricade, the night of our 10th anniversary, when I prepared the same meal we'd had on our honeymoon in the high desert hills of New Mexico ten years before. It had spit rain on the short mountain drive to Lamy, a little railroad town just outside Santa Fe, making the two-lane hairpin turns nerve wracking. But the rain on the dusty terrain transformed the scrubby pinon pine and clumps of mountain sorrel into giant herb bouquets, the air spiked with the aroma of renewal. Ten years later, the dense North Carolina air carried nothing but the smell of charred flecks of steak stuck to the barbecue grill. Our back yard was as big as a park, lush with azaleas, dog woods and an enormous Crepe Myrtle, its branches bending with huge fuschia blooms, and while lovely, gave off no perfume. My Shalimar smelled sweet though. I’d catch a trace of my own scent, the same fragrance I’d worn on my wedding day, as I raced back and forth into the air conditioned kitchen to have the surprise anniversary dinner ready by the time he got home from work. I spread the linen table cloth over our rusty patio table and lit candles everywhere. I scared up the silver wine bucket with a cheap bottle of white Zinfandel, (what all the ill bred were drinking back then) and got the wedding crystal out of the china hutch. I timed everything perfectly, shrimp cocktail, filet mignon with Bernaise, Caesar salad and fluffy baked potatoes and decadent eclairs, with real custard inside, not the fake stuff, which popped out with sweat beads the minute I carried them on the bone china dessert plates from the fridge to the porch. Rick cried, I wasn’t sure why, when I asked, “do you want to dance?” to Van Morrison's craggy voice on the boom box, singing "Have I Told You Lately ?"

"Fill my heart with gladness,
take away my sadness,
ease my troubles that’s what you do."

There was, I guess, no easing his. When I whispered, “what’s wrong ?” his words said, “’s just so beautiful” but his eyes told me there was some unreachable sadness in him, that no amount of love, or wifely skills, or shrinks, or even four innocent kids, who took turns pestering mommy and daddy dancing on the porch, could cure. It was my four innocents, the forgiving southern breeze and that beautiful song, lulling me back to wishful thinking that it was still real, still right and everything would be okay.

And there was magic, for a few moments. His blue eyes as shiny as the drops of condensation on the champagne flutes in the candle glow, the same fancy glasses we'd sipped champagne from on our honeymoon, back when the sheets and towels and dreams were as fresh and clean as the desert air. Such a sweet beginning, long before his wild-eyed panic, the beginning of our end, a few years later, when I caught him flat footed, stammering to explain who Matt was, some random guy who'd called our house and actually spoke to me, saying he was an "old friend." No, there would be plenty of time to comb through that lice later. Or not. A mere shudder, shake it off, stay focused on the kids; that was the dismissal drill, the same duck-and-cover survival strategy I’d perfected as a kid. And on this screened in porch anniversary night, it was about being happy, feeling content, our children safe, a roof over our heads, a lush summer night and a loving dance partner, remnants of the dream incarnate in our kiss and Van Morrison’s voice, “have I told you lately that I love you?”

I take healthy sip of my vodka tonic. By now I need a drink, perusing the singles on a 4th of July weekend and then spitefully being bitch slapped by a memory that should be civil enough to leave me in peace. Then,“bling” another email from a prospective suitor not two seconds later and I’m belly laughing. Laughing hard. Laughing out loud, in my dining room, all alone except for the dog, who jumps up, startled. It’s theater of the absurd. Surely this MUST be a joke, because it says,“I’m a DDS - Doctor of Drains and Sewers, and lists the last two books he read as “Classic Toy Trains and The Plumbing Code Book.”

WTF? I know I did not put, “must possess solid plumbing, both personally and occupationally” in my profile. I snap my lap top closed and walk over to my neighbor’s house, where they’re hosting a graduation party for their son.

I’m somewhat obligated to go, as they are good neighbors, have attended my kids’ graduation parties and have never called the cops when those same kids have hosted a few little backyard parties of their own. I walked over with the graduation card, with a crisp $20 stuck inside, (We should just dispense with the cards, it’s an extra $2.95. Why not just hand them the cash and be done with it?) There were hugs all around, especially from the graduate and I sat down with a beer. This guy was playing acoustic guitar and singing, slightly horribly, maybe if he’d avoided "Stairway to Heaven" he would have sounded better and I’m thinking it’s about time for the band to take a break when indeed, he did.

“So, you dating anybody special?” my neighbor lady asked half nosey, half sincere.

“Not really,” I said. “I went on a date a couple of weeks ago. Nice guy, college professor, retired, kids grown, smart, not bad looking. Wants somebody to travel around the world and climb mountains and stuff with him.”

“And...?” she picked up on my dismissiveness.

“Well, there’s this little issue of my job, a mortgage, college loans, dog food, you know."
The guitar player sat down at the next table. “And I couldn’t climb a mountain if my life depended on it.” (In addition to the illiterates, have you noticed how many singles are into extreme sports?)

She pondered. “Well, you know, Austin over there is a very interesting guy. He’s our house guest. He’ll be staying for, well, I don’t know exactly how long he’ll be staying...”

This is code for unemployed.

“...and he’s single!”

God is going to strike me dead, I know, but this fella was a cross between Jerry Garcia and Elmo -- with a long salt and pepper beard, curly hair to his shoulders, but with bangs, like Friar Tuck with a fro. And bless his heart, he had a bulbous, red nose (probably a medical condition) and a bulbous belly, (probably NOT a medical condition.) I sincerely doubt that this guy has been able to see his own penis for years, and he might not even be able to see it standing buck naked in front of a full length mirror. And Lord knows he can’t see his feet when he looks down, because if he could, surely he’d have the decency to cover that shit up, because his toes were nasty. I’m telling you, nasty, the way you’d imagine Gollum’s feet, in Lord of the Rings to be. But to his credit, his Hawaiian print shirt was neatly pressed.

I was introduced to him, like some kind of prize pig and he was introduced to me, more like Don Knotts, The Reluctant Astronaut and we both smiled. It was awkward and kind of sad and weird at the same time. I left after I drank my beer, saying, “nice to have met you.”

Later, I was thinking, if you were to boil it down to keywords, whether it was the meddling neighbor or my former spouse, I suppose “good intentions” says it all.