Whatever friends I had had, they are useless. And whatever lovers I had had, they are useless. Whatever children, useless, too. I am an old leather boot: supple, creased, well-worn, well-traveled. The rest of time is to take the steps taken, the places been, momentous arcs that will have had no span. To guide a yellow or a purple thread through the eye of a thin enough needle, and do a little sewing then. It requires what most people don’t: sadness, and solitude, and a sort of lonely patience for the moon. Not in a mythic sense nor in a romantic one. The sort that sees even shadows on the face of the earth as borrowed from somewhere. The sort that has heard the thrush in the woods, that has watched its faded still eye sitting on a low tree branch.
My old friend had driven up on his motorcycle and I really wanted to apologize to him. For almost four years I had barely seen him, besides trading emails about which set of snow tires to buy, and some political impertinences. And, just as he had called me about a week before pretty late at night to thank me for a talk that he and I had had while boiling down around a hundred thirty gallons of sap to make maple syrup when the thaw came this past winter about six months ago, I had in return wanted to say I had been sorry not to have been around much as good friend ought to be. There had been such trauma and turmoil in my life, I just didn’t want him to know, I told him. And, I said, really it must have meant not that I was afraid he would have whispered to himself about me, but what I instead might have been whispering about myself. I gave him lunch, some leftover pasta with pesto made from the basil and garlic grown in my garden, and he looked at my gas grill which I had cobbled together from an old rusted one I’d had that for years I was expecting to blow up in my face, and a nice Weber I’d found discarded along the roadside that some people who were not handy at all had ditched, or were too well off to be bothered with. He remarked that he had been impressed, actually, when at a local diner right across from the tall pine trees close by where we both live, I had declined his wish about four years back to sit down in the booth with me and my breakfast companion. There was, he felt, a sort of integrity in my establishing boundaries of privacy like that. But really, if it had been that, it was also that he would have been about to become privy to the world of danger, peril, and deep personal suffering I was just stepping into, despite the gorgeous vistas of the endless Atlantic ocean, the wild spray flung white up on the jagged rocks, and some ordinary summer vacation snapshots of steady Maine lobster boats motoring into the cove at dawn being flipped through at our table before the eggs and toast came. No, I told him, had it really been good, I would have wanted to share everything not hide it all from him. Come over to the pool anytime, he said, before he rode off, no need to call, an invitation he and his wife had been giving me for many years.
I can remember my bike chain slipping off and, after putting it back on, there was a bit a grease and sand on my fingers and hands I could just not get completely off. And I’d continue biking another eight or nine miles uphill to where the bees were buzzing in their hive. There were two plates of glass between which they had built their comb, and I read a sign as a kid on the outside of the display that told observers that bees can sense danger. From that moment on when I have been afraid I turned it around so I would not get stung, a sort of push-away feeling when I felt the danger of bees and other things. I’d felt a little low as well about the gritty, black grease that was still almost smeared off my hand, but that’s just the way it went. It could not be gotten off; that’s all.
And, I think, as the deer pull at the cucumber vines that have grown to the top of my fence; or when the cat plops on the shiny wood floor a dead bird—worst of all a bluebird; or when the birch trees I planted with my son die off after a few years, these are just the way things go. It is somehow better to feel the ever-fading day all the day than to believe or wish to believe in some hand-picked diamond that you’d really have to be crazy to think would sparkle on forever. Things don’t. You can look at Monet’s haystacks and see that all the beauty and joy in the world was always fading away at every moment. It cannot be really disappointing that way—momentary highs are not sought, breakneck speeds on the highway are not driven again, even something as simple as a daily perfect cup of coffee isn’t brewed time after time.
All exists as if it were flight upon a dragonfly’s wing. It views the water over which it flies, hovers there, and, as if thoughtlessly, curves in design and then flies off elsewhere. And with its big-eyed vision-trackers, its primordial form, its shape and its purpose, they appear almost demonic. But this backwards flying mini-phallus is only another of the many nearly comic earthly reminders that we and it and all of what is this life here are just temporary lookers-on, be it over the river, near the pond, in the mountains, through the woods, beneath the late afternoon, tomato-ripening sun.
You’re just the kind of trouble I like. Behind your sado-masochistic array of words, I know you’re just a romantic angel falling headlong first into the lap of love. You can’t feel or fool me for a second. But, you’re really wrong about the dating bit. Are you kidding? This place is a paradise for successful daters. Even Stephen Hawking could make girls pine and yearn here. And that, basically, is the lost art of romancing, isn’t it? Some dude with the right amount of DNA to thrill your shot glass with, who’s witty and smart enough to make that little rictal smile of yours appear and wander off into the desert the same way that that poor great fool Enoch with God did. I am looking, prowling, a big Virginia Woolf-sized lighthouse on the lookout for an “adjective whore” just like you. Come on; come to Papa, and crash your vessel upon my rocks.
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The first thing Jean—aka Pinkroadster—was concerned with when I met her for coffee in White Plains was how she appeared to me; that is, did I mind that she was much plainer in person than she had been in the picture she had put up of herself online. That is, until she had changed her photo for another the night before. That is, did I mind that she had done that? That is, could I like her this way?
Before that, she was absolutely, drop dead stunning. In person, she was attractive enough, but no head-turner. Still, it’s embarrassing when no sooner than two people from Match do meet, they start analyzing Match itself. It means it’s dead in the water: if that, Match itself is the only thing two people can muster up to talk about together, if the only common denominator between two people is the online dating service they used to bring them together, and to discuss their past experiences, all of which ipso facto must not have worked out, then there is equally as little promise they will either.
Still, I remained intellectually curious to hear Jean, a well-paid accountant, break down in percentages the men she found eligible candidates. Just by showing up, by my not cancelling at the last minute, or wishing to change the date, I realized, by her reckoning, I was already in the top 10%.
From there, though, the odds seemed to decrease exponentially. There, in that last 2 1/2%, by keeping to schedule and my word, is where Jean let me know I happened to be. Somewhere there she was being saved, by her own calculations, it seemed, for some lucky sonovabitch who’d give her the whole farm and a promissory note for collateral.
She told me a tale of being taken out to an expensive steak dinner by a Wall Street executive. When he asked her, she related, “Do you like sex?” she stopped at appetizers, claiming to the gentleman that she was no longer hungry. Her point, I suppose, was to show me she had morals, and that she would not take a man for one single steak if she found his values repellent or unattractive.
“What,” she asked me, “do you think about a question like that?” Naturally, hoping not to just as abruptly end our date at the cafeteria-style coffeehouse we were seated at, not at some fancy joint where the big boys pumped up their cholesterol and balls over a thick slab of Angus, I concurred with Jean’s assessment; without, at the same time, wholly condemning my own semi-salacious and libidinous tendency, so as not to possibly, however slim the chance, find myself in a contradictory bind of logic I could not surmount should the evening pan out in such a way that I was questioned again by Jean over wherefore my fingertips were prowling at the top of her underpants.
But this, I doubted, would ever happen: for by her bringing up the past steakhouse episode and the serious affront to her character it had caused her then, now being displayed as a lesson to me through symbolic narration meant clearly that her response, had she responded to the gentleman in question over her liking of sex, would have have to have been “No”; and if not “No” itself, then something punitive for sex with her, something like offering to her the stars and moon and one’s firstborn’s toenail clippings drowned in Aramaic vinegar and then sealed forever in amber in order to get her pants off, would be required.
She took me entirely wrong when I suggested we go somewhere else to continue our talk. She felt interrupted, dislodged, and altogether, I suppose, minimized. My forehead was hot from all the intellectual fervor. I just needed a change of location, I tried to explain to her, along with an unnecessary apology, as she now stood on the curb of the sidewalk and pointed to the direction she was crossing to, and pointed to the direction perpendicular from hers, where she told me I was to go.
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To the extent that you “don’t like talking about yourself,” I love talking about myself. I’m a born egomaniac. Fortunately, I’ve learned to curb my voracious appetite to take over and subdue an entire dinner table with my tales and wanton arrogance, with an attentive ear. But, alas, most people would, in the end, prefer to hear my ridiculous yarns and bombast over the grayed-out tales of their own lackluster lives. You don’t seem like you’re much of a talker at all, really. I can understand that, with your looks and intelligence a sure bet every time. Me, I just went berserk, long ago and far away, with making myself smart. Sure, it got me into some interesting spots in Budapest & Saint Petersburg & Prague, but it never got me home. That was just dumb luck.
If you want to succeed at online dating, everybody’s got to pass a test.
Sometimes, during my six month Match.com dating extravaganza, I just wrote the test myself:
Please complete the following Match Guy Aptitude Test (MGAT). When finished, please submit your answers to me for correction.
1. The guy on Match is
a) nice but insincere
b) bright but not brilliant
c) dull but not dumb
d) forward-thinking but not revolutionary
e) eager but not crazy
2. The guy on Match lives
a) too far away to commit
b) too far away to love
c) too close for me to see other guys
d) far away enough to miss me when he’s not here
e) around the block
3. The guy on Match is probably
a) a faithful and romantic man at heart
b) a two-bit sonovabitch at heart
c) a tranny
d) a trust fund alcoholic
e) a dangerous sociopath
4. I like the guy on Match because
a) he will eat of my hand, night or day
b) he’s cute enough for now
c) he’s original and daring, even at his own expense
d) he’s rich and famous
e) someone I know dated him already
5. Most guys on Match
b) have great six-packs
c) are virgins
d) are cultured, worldly, and speak several languages
e) know how to make a girl laugh
6. The guy on Match probably likes me because
a) like me, he’s thinking about law school
b) like me, he’s thinking about medical school
c) like me, he’s thinking about becoming a chartered financial analyst
d) I wrote him back already one time
e) he just thinks I’m beautiful, funny, and smart
7. Going out on a date with the guy on Match would probably lead to
a) the feeling that I was being listened to by someone who cares about what I have to say
b) both of us seeing what the other is like
c) my talking to him about stuff that makes me happy as well as concerned
d) unexpected sex with him all night long until the pigeons are cooing
e) a belief in love, even if it doesn’t seem practical
8. Even if in the end it doesn’t work out for me and the guy on Match, I will be happy to have known him because
a) he will have been kind and gentle to me
b) he will have been a solid lover with a great body
c) he will have made me feel good about myself
d) he will have made me realize or affirm that not all guys are shitheads
e) all of the above
9. My number one reservation about going out on a date with the guy on Match is
a) I actually think guys are pretty yucky
b) he’s way older than I am
c) I don’t think he can really be serious about me
d) I’m actually afraid of finding a really good guy
e) I’d like to keep this Match-thing at a distance
10. If I were to go out on a date next weekend with the guy from Match, I’d tell him I’d be comfortable going to
a) that falafel place on Avenue A
b) the Pegu Club in Soho
c) Katz’s on Houston for pastrami sandwiches
d) just anyplace uptown for coffee
e) to dinner somewhere in the Meatpacking District
Divorced and on the loose, writer Egbert Starr reveals the manic days of his six month plunge into online dating. A cringe-worthy read that’s hard to let go of, he writes over three hundred letters to women online, just as desperate for sex and love as he is. Funny, cruel, sentimental, heartfelt, and just plain ridiculous, these letters stage the outlandish adventures he ends up on—from bi-polar potheads discovered in the forests of New Jersey, to crazed Harvard PhD’s threatening to break down his locked front door.
Coming out soon!
Everything is quiet. Nothing is forlorn. The folks have gone off to Rhode Island. Families visit Father; he is crazy, certified, a jolly lunatic. On Monday and on Tuesday, municipal services are suspended. The trash bags will be toted out to their garaged plastic containers and heaped upon heaps of trash bags, one higher than the rest the day before that, until Wednesday when all are trolleyed out. Post offices will have been unlocked three days by then. Turkey will concede to Russia. And Russia will bomb Syria. Old shelved board games will be played by neighboring children around the block. Indian Summer watches children wheeling their bicycles, up and down, back and forth with foam-padded helmets on. In other parts politicians dodge this and that as is their custom—nothing especially unusually wrong in that, no more than a tall man holding a fresh pint of lager ducking near a tossed point floating freely walking too near a local game of darts at the pub. Christmas presents are hidden in growing attic piles as mid-December will soon near. Shiny cookie-cutter snowmen, wreaths, and stars will come out from their plastic zip-locked bags stored in the high closet above refrigerators in due time. Dusted menorahs following Kislev will be fitted with eight new candles and lit for the burning days of religious notice. Giant sea turtles elsewhere underwater will have been swimming for one hundred fifty years all the while.