Saturday, September 02, 2006
I think I'm finally ready to tell you about Lara from London.
It's been a couple of months now and seeing as today is Tony Bennett's birthday, I think it's a good time to take a look at this particular chapter of my life.
Sometimes I wonder if I didn't dream the whole thing up, but I still have a folder full of her e-mails to prove I didn't. She was real and for a while there, I was real happy.
I "met" Lara on a dating web site back in April while doing a routine search through the postage-stamp sized photos and abbreviated life stories for the woman of my dreams.
One caught my eye, an Englishwoman who looked really cute and who said she was moving to New York. Lara--not her real name, of course--seemed like someone I wanted to know. So I sent her an e-mail introducing myself and welcoming her to the Big Apple.
Most of the time I don't hear back from these cyber-people. It's a rejection, I suppose, but it usually doesn't bother me because these people really don't exist, at least not in my world. They're just blips on a screen and if they don't feel like writing back to me, hey, God bless you, have a nice life whoever you are.
But Lara did write back and I was thrilled. We began exchanging e-mails on something like a daily basis, learning more about each other, joking about the different slang expressions and spelling ("humour," "rumour," etc.)
I couldn't wait to log on to my email account. Because of the time difference I often wrote to her from work and every time I got a new message from her I was very happy indeed. She told me about the misery of moving, of how she had to sneak out at night and deposit her trash in front of other homes (her neighbours?) because she had so damn much of it.
At some point we started calling each other by affectionate names--honey, babe, sweetheart--all the good stuff. It had been so long since I had been involved in any kind of a relationship that I started to feel like I had a real girlfriend. So here I was a 49-year-old man acting like a teen-ager.
We set up a time for our first telephone conversation. I went to a local candy store, asked the young Arabic guy behind the counter for the best phone card for international calls, and then, early on a Saturday in late April, I made my first call to London.
A Foggy Day in London Town
It was fabulous. Lovely accent, lovely voice, I couldn't get enough of Lara. I wrote her an e-mail after the first call and saying that her voice was music to my ears.
Now when I read your e-mails, I wrote, I hear them in your sweet tones. Priceless.
And I meant it, too. From that day on, I lived for those Saturday morning calls. I'd clutched my phone card, banged out the number, and counted the rings until Lara picked up.
She sent me questionnaire with all these questions about life, family, friends. I think my favorite answer was when she asked if my bum looked big would you tell me? and I wrote back, yes, but only by e-mail.
I had trouble coming up with my own quiz and I initially swiped hers, which prompted her to rightfully cry "cop-out." But then I hit upon the idea of making all my questions film-related, as I love movies so much. She had good answers, especially the one about which film hero or heroine she most identified with.
"Lara Croft," she wrote, "you need to ask?"
I told very few people about Lara. I didn't post anything about our "relationship" because I didn't want to jinx it and, honestly, there was some small sliver of my brain warning that this wasn't real.
We had not met face-to-face, we had not spent any real time together, we were strangers separated by a very large body of water. But I was still crazy about her.
She was going to come into New York for a weekend in June and I was counting the days. I see that I ended my e-mails with "See You in June" and used my nom d'keyboard, "Me in N.Y.C."
It seemed to take forever for June to arrive. I kept wanting her to be here with me, but it was like being on a treadmill.
And then...the day came. I don't know, as I read this, I guess I come off as some prospector in the Old West waiting for a mail order bride. But I was excited. I told myself to calm down, to take it slow, don't get your hopes up, and let things happen naturally. And I then I promptly ignored every bit of my own advice.
So I was waiting in the lobby of an east side hotel. The woman behind the desk said they were not expecting anyone by that name and I'm getting panicky. Did she miss her plane? Do I have the right hotel? Am I out of my mind?
I felt like pervert hanging around the hotel's tiny lobby, watching tourists from all over the world come and go. I went outside and witnessed a minor car accident as a south Asian cab driver got into a fender bender with an older African-American lady right on the corner of Madison and 29th Street. And I just got more jittery.
Finally, a cab pulls up in front of the hotel, and I know it's Jane. She gets out, grabs her bag and there we are finally meeting in person. It seems she used her married name, or her maiden name, I forgot which, but that explained why the hotel clerk didn't know her.
I had it all planned. We'd have dinner that night and see a Broadway show the next afternoon. I was finally taking my English sweetheart out for a date.
And after all the build-up, all the e-mails, and the long distance phone calls, after all that emotion...there was absolutely no connection.
I felt it almost immediately, as we were going up to her room to drop off her suitcase. I don't have anything to say to this woman. I was struggling with the most inane "conversation" I could think of, but it was bad, real bad.
Dinner didn't improve things. The restaurant was kind of noisy, which didn't help, but there was a fundamental lack of communication that we could not overcome.
Set 'Em Up, Joe
I don't remember what we talked about over dinner; it was meaningless. I've had more intense conversations with my accountant, and I only talk to him at tax time. And we still had the matinee on Sunday.
Things did not improve the next day. We walked up to the theater from her hotel and I am reminded of Chairman Mao's long march. Somewhere around Grand Central, my sister called me on my cell and told me to have a nice time.
"I'll try," I said weakly.
If you have to try, of course, then there's no hope. At one point I couldn't help wondering if this was the same woman I had been "involved" with for so long. How could all the emotion, all the good feeling, just vanish like that?
After the play, we had dinner at a restaurant near her hotel, I walked Jane to her door, got a perfunctory kiss on the cheek, and hit the bricks.
I didn't have the courage to discuss the painfully obvious problem with her over dinner. It was hard to accept, frankly, and I didn't want to get angry and say something stupid, which has been known to happen. So I wrote her e-mail, the final one, on June 19th, after she'd gone back to England.
I told her how great it was to finally meet her--which is true--but I also said I was disappointed and somewhat confused about the lack of chemistry. I thanked her for the good times we did have and asked her what she thought happened, why the flicker didn't lead to a flame.
I didn't think I'd hear from her, but she did write back. She expressed her regrets, but didn't have an answer as to why it didn't happen between us. Maybe there is no answer.
Take care of yourself, she said, there is someone out there for you, and if you concentrate on the positive in life, good things can only follow.
I can't argue with any of the above, but I had hoped we'd have a lot more to say to each other than just these little sayings.
I feel like a man dying of thirst who runs to oasis in the desert only to find its a mirage. My "relationship" with Lara was great so long as existed in cyberspace. Once it hit reality, reality hit back, much harder.
So now it's a rainy Saturday in September and Tony Bennett is 79 years old. Jonathan Schwartz is playing a ton of Tony's songs on his radio show, and one jumped out of me. It's called Falling in Love With Love and it underscores my trouble.
Don't force relationships, don't create something out of nothing. If I meet someone else online, I want to see them in the real world ASAP. Weeks of writing and phone calls don't cut it. I've had bad dates before, but I didn't care so much about them because I didn't have this tremendous build-up.
While looking through my e-mails, I came across her photo, and I must say I miss her, or what I thought she was. I miss having someone in my life, no matter how ethereal. And I want to go back and make it work this time.
I don't know what you'd call these feelings, but you can bet Tony Bennett has a song about them.