My Fiasco, or Online Dating

Tucked away in my files is a three-part series on online dating. I spent much time and energy writing it. It is exhaustive and reflective and I think entertaining.

It will never see the light of day.

Rather than get into individual personalities, I will give you the executive summary: Online dating blows. It exudes huge chunks of unadulterated suckiness.

It is well-intentioned but ultimately destructive. A few people find love, but it seems to leave many bitter, disappointed, angry, and confused. Several women I met have confirmed this.

It is mostly numbers-driven. OkCupid, for instance, reduces the essence of complicated human beings to single number that allegedly represents some sort of compatibility.

Online dating is built on a false premise, that attraction is solely a matter of shared interests, desires, and needs. It boils out the reality of the inexplicable, that attraction derives also from seemingly insignificant details:

I knew a woman who turned me on whenever she stood close, looked up, and crossed her eyes. Another I find irresistible because of the contour of the little piece of flesh between the nose and the lips. A former lover’s appeal endures in the chiding/teasing phrase, oh stop!

If you have any talent for writing an interesting invitation, online dating can propel you through a parade of encounters that will, by definition, involve a series of rejections until you find a suitable partner. (I write under the assumption that you seek a significant other. If you are just looking to get laid, online dating may well be your best bet.)

The rejections, confusions, miscommunications, and outright lies have left me tired, angry, and disgusted. I have found myself apportioning blame to an entire gender, society, and God, a habit unconducive to happy living. It has eroded the most important thing in my life: my serenity. I am left drained and pessimistic about my chances and disgusted by the electronic mediation of desire.

I will content myself with my writing, photography, church, and visiting my friends and family. If there is to be another great love, Cupid knows where to find me, and I remain arrowable.

Unless, of course, I contract a serious case of the what-the-hells. And sign up again.

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Vinyl

The other day I celebrated the manual typewriter. Today I focus on vinyl as a recording medium and as an object of worship.

CDs were a gleam in an engineer’s eye when I began buying LP records. The first one was an album by (who else) the Monkees. I played it on a boxy stereo my parents bought from the Longines Symphonette. It was an exotic machine, having a speed setting of 16 rpm. This was meant for recordings for the blind, but I used it as a means to play albums at half speed and hear exotic noises.

I grew up assuming that all music hissed, scratched, and popped. I fell in love with the airy ambiance of the lead-in groove. If you listened very very carefully with good headphones, you could hear a faint echo of the opening bars, one spin before the music began in earnest.

As we played LPs, my family grew accustomed to the jerky motion of the automatic player. I cringed as the needle fell on the record with all the subtlety of a cinder block.

The other Blisses were astonished when I purchased second-hand an Acoustic Research manual turntable. I have never seen a more elegant example of form following function. The AR spun LPs on an inch-thick metal disk that took several seconds to reach speed. Once the record was going, you simply lifted the tonearm by a perfectly-crafted lever and placed it gently on the spinning grooves. I had a good touch, and took immense pride in a soft landing—I even compensated for the up-and-down of slightly warped records.

When the side was over, you picked up the tonearm, returned it gently to its cradle, and switched off the platter. When the spinning stopped, you lifted the LP and spun it on the horizontal axis, braking with a subtle grasp of the thumbs.

Anyone can shove in a CD.

As the music flowed through my headphones, I often gazed into the vinyl’s infinitude of blackness. It seemed as though the music emanated through an ever-changing pool of spiky rainbows. It mesmerized me, even when I wasn’t stoned.

It delights me that vinyl is back and that many bands prefer it. Audiophiles for years have extolled its warm tones. Yes, the CD is more durable—though not indestructible—but I did pretty well for myself by recording my albums on chromium tape on its first play.

This is not to mention the superiority of the 12- by 12-inch format for showcasing spectacular artwork and allowing the printing of lyrics at a higher resolution than that of the electron microscope.

CDs are utilitarian. They are product. Eesh. They have no mystique, no panache. If you still have a turntable, my friend, spin an LP today… for new times’ sake.

Womankind

I have loved a few women and liked most of them. They have softer edges and usually lack the bruteness of some men. Their thinking frequently catches me off guard, but I appreciate the different perspective. Some of them have a way of carrying themselves that makes my ego fall away. As that fan of women Marshall Crenshaw sang: I think about you and forget what I’ve tried to be…

A world without women would not only be sterile but drab. I like women just because they are women, tough, graceful, and yes, pleasing to my eye. So many men cannot be a woman’s friend, are focused only on possession. They are missing so much.

Time to open your eyes, guys.

Elegy for the Manual Typewriter

It was 1970. I was all of fifteen. I was showing the danger signs of becoming a writer (obsessive reading, poor social skills, long periods of thoughtfulness/moodiness) so my father bought me my first typewriter from the Raleigh Typewriter Exchange.

This was in the Mesozoic era, before the advent of computer keyboards and voice recognition. Believe it or not, texts were created by bulky machines operated entirely by hand. Each “type-writer” came equipped with the QWERTY system still in use today, only it was accessed by “keys” pressed by the fingers. You millennials will be amused to discover that the F-key only produced, well, the letter F.

Each “key” activated a lever, on which was engraved a raised letter or number or punctuation mark. These levers slammed through a “ribbon”, creating an inky letter on the paper. The paper was held in place by a long cylinder known as the “carriage.” Successive strikes produced a string of characters resembling today’s word processing output, the difference being that a “typewritten” line of text was fuzzy and by today’s standards illegible.

Instead of today’s silently gliding cursor, the carriage jerked one space left with every stroke. At the end of each line, the user operated a crank that shoved the carriage back to the right and moved the paper up for another line. With each return, the machine emitted a pleasant ding as a reward for hard work.

When the paper was filled with the inky marks, the user pulled it out and rolled in another page. There was no such thing as saving a file, except via something called “carbon paper,” which you would not believe if I told you. Astonishingly, there was no screen on which to view your output.

My “manual” typewriter was made by a German company, Adler. The last page of the owner’s manual contained a cheery encouragement to go forward and work with courage and good forth, or words to that effect. I was psyched.

Aside from its slowness and inability to save documents, the most salient feature of my typewriter was its physicality. Hitting the keys took a concerted effort and a keen sense of rhythm, lest the machine jam up. Moving the carriage return made a pleasant counterpoint to this noisy choreography.

I produced all manner of verbiage on my dear Adler. Term papers mostly, but also a sheet full of dubious satire that I photocopied and called the Raleigh Rag. I followed the Rag with even more doubtful humor for the N. C. State student newspaper. I also used manuals at The News and Observer and later an advertising agency.

All long gone, of course. I saw an old Smith Corona from in the The News and Observer in the N. C. Museum of History—broke my heart. Somehow making all that noise and banging on the keys gave one a sense of power and confidence, of muscular literature in the offing.

I had retrain my muscle memory with the arrival of the modern keyboard. At first I was bashing the keys and almost raising welts, until some kind soul pointed out that a gentle touch got the same results with less damage to the keys.

Bangety, bangety, bangety, ding! God I miss those days.

Evangelicals Get It Wrong. Again.

Let me just get something out of the way: celibacy leaves a lot to be desired.

I went through a hot spell of purity when I returned to America after my conversion experience in Scotland (A Variety of Religious Experience). I hung around N. C. State campus with some folks from the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (IV), an evangelical group of college-age Christians.

Let me be clear: my beef is not with them but with church doctrine. The IV folks were most hospitable to me–open, warm Christians who enjoyed life, whom I remember fondly. Back then, in the early Eighties, political fundamentalism had not taken hold. The brothers and sisters were sincere and accepting. And yes, there were quite a few attractive women in their ranks. I even fell in love with one of them.

Like other Christian youth organizations, they were dead set against premarital sex and advocated waiting until marriage. I accepted uncritically their belief that marriage was the ultimate form of human relationship. It was an ironic assumption, given the sad end of my parent’s marriage.

We were told in alarming detail exactly how much physical contact we should avoid. And we were given copious instructions on how one should prepare for marriage. The pressure was, shall we say, unsubtle. (In another irony, IV’s magazine carried an article that pondered why its members were so afraid to date each other.)

I have changed since those days. My fervency for Christ is the same, even deeper, but the fundies’ doctrine of chastity no longer holds water for me. (To say nothing of the absurd notion of wife submission, another favorite of patriarchal evangelicals.)

As years passed, I sought and failed to find a Christian wife with whom I could experience a mystical union of souls.

It is one thing to reserve sex for marriage when one is in their teens or early twenties. The span from sexual flowering to marriage will most like be only a few years.

It is another thing altogether to marry in later decades, or not marry at all. Both possibilities are open to me at age 63. Forty or so years is a long time to go with only sporadic sex. What I once held up as an ideal turned out to be impossible, and I have been in several sexual relationships. Sinning, in their eyes. Pleasure, in mine.

It is popular wisdom not to “settle”. Hold out for the just-right someone, we are told. At some point, clinging to such an ideal becomes outmoded and injurious. At some point, many men and women reach an accommodation with the prospect of decades-long celibacy.

Evangelicals point to several New Testament verses that condemn “fornication”… a word that is also translated as “sexual immorality”. The second phrase allows for the possibility that appropriate sexual behavior involves much more than technicalities. (Interestingly, I have never heard them criticize the all-too-common presence of sexual exploitation in marriage.)

Although marriage remains an admirable ideal for me, maybe I would be just as happy with a woman-friend who wants to jump my bones. Maybe I should settle for an occasional screw without pining for an ultimate joining of spirits. I am not planning a skirt-chase to make up for lost time, just a monogamous relationship with a woman I enjoy being around.

I think I could do this and be just fine with Jesus, as opposed to obeying restrictions designed for a bygone era.

I think I am on to something here.

 

Mister Prince

DSC_0431gScHe is “my” favorite cat. Prince actually belongs to my neighbor. He always comes out to greet me, lumbering his way across the living room carpet. At the age of 17, he is a senior kitty and a fine fellow.

I first met Prince when he shared his quarters with another cat, Buster. As the name implies, Buster broke a lot of things and was quite the aggressor. Prince sidled up to me and I, of course, loved on him. Immediately Buster sauntered over and, in alpha-cat fashion, swatted Prince away. My heart went out to him and we have been buddies ever since.

Prince is a gentle cat. When my friend brought in a cage with two finches, I feared the worst, and told her so at great length. Happily, I was wrong. Prince rears up on his hind legs and meows at the birds, but he never lays a paw on them.

During games of gin rummy, Prince stands beside me, as if on guard. I like to think he brings good card luck, but sadly the facts do not always bear this out. Still, he lets me scratch him on the neck.

He is getting old. Most of the spring in his step is gone. Even so, he can still jump up on the bathroom sink to demand that one of his hoomans turn on the faucet so her can drink. Sweet little guy.

One day, and it could be soon, he will no longer be with us. That will be one sad day.

Antipathies (Part One)

Every last member of the octopus and squid species. Mushrooms, poisonous or not. The sexism of the Eagles. Mindless flag worship. Singers with excessive vibrato. The use of quotation marks for emphasis. Tang. Clichés of any sort. The mind-cracking scream that only a baby can produce. Howie Mandel. The (stolen) cartoon of Calvin peeing on a Ford logo. The old comic strip Nancy. Crotch-sniffing dogs. People who say “real fast” and then drone on for five more minutes. Business meetings. ABBA. The decline of Paul McCartney’s songwriting when he left John. Apocalyptic mass mailings from the Democratic Party. Use of the word “fascist” by people who know nothing of its true meaning. The loose fit of Donald Trump’s suits. Carolina fans. Radio announcers who over-enunciate. Sales representatives who browbeat me with my name. Online daters who respond to my carefully-written profiles with “Hi there” or “How are you.” The genetics teacher at N. C. State whose boring delivery nearly killed my interest in a fascinating subject. The time when I ran out of papers and rolled a joint in a piece of newsprint. The Indy magazine’s adoration for “political” art exhibits. The uniboob. The market research firm that hired black people only for the phone room. Every last condo tower in the city of Raleigh. People who weave in and out of heavy traffic. Tailgaters. The day I demanded an apology at a Taco Bell, only to have the cashier tell me he had not been trained for that. The phrase “homosexual lifestyle.” The world history teacher in high school whose eyes never left the book. Harry Munn. Narrow aisles at the Readers Corner. The $99.99 that Amazon stole from my credit card account. Verbose plugs for car donations to WCPE. Lugubrious classical music. The camera salesman who regarded me as a lower species for not buying a Nikon. People on Facebook who load my feed with twenty or thirty posts. My knuckles when they refuse to crack. The stickiness of Krispy Kreme doughnuts. The near-death of Hydrox cookies. The entire concept of reincarnation. Movie credits that show up just fine in the theater but shrink to indecipherable blurbs on my TV. Actors who are slow to pick up their cues. Online daters who say they are my age and post pictures of models in their thirties. Uncooperative coupon perforations. Failure of structural integrity in a Bojangles biscuit. Writers who produce pages of dialogue without an occasional “he said.” People who crunch ice in their mouths. The idiot who said that black and white movies were not “visually stimulating.” The absence of 30-inch inseam pants in department stores. The layout of every Walmart in the known universe. Cashiers who can’t balance the load between my two cloth bags. Moon landing hoaxers. Small type on the Internet. The Firefox update that totally fried my bookmarks. Web pages with minimal verbiage and gigantic images that require you to make five jumps to find a relevant fact. Waltzes. The tonette. People who can’t understand the appeal of a cat blep*. Exorbitant charges for veterinary office visits and tests. Injustice and oppression. People who say they are apolitical. Yap dogs. People who say “play acting” and “toe dancing.” Rampant extraversion. Excessively tanned Playboy models drenched in fake sweat. Fake you-know-whats. Hillary Clinton’s sense of entitlement to high office based on her name. The uncanny instinct to say exactly the wrong thing. Women who make a career out of being Southern. Northerners who whine about the South’s “backwardness” after moving here to take a job they couldn’t find up North. The media’s tendency to go into overdrive when a sub-tropical storm emerges in Costa Rica. Fake laughter on the local news. The lingering death of newspapers. Loading fourteen warning labels on one pill bottle. Medical receptionists who refer to “doctor” as if she had no name. Women who reveal their entire life story during the first date. Being told to commit to exclusivity after two dates. The guy in junior high who mockingly offered to carry my tiny flute case and said he was only trying to be Christian. Being called “man”, as in “hey man.” Big hair. Makeup derived from kabuki masks. Movie trailers that compress a film’s every sonic and visual assault into three minutes. Madea. Celebrities who say stupid things that inflame the Right. The word “libtard.” The week of pain I spent adjusting to new braces. Being talked to while I am taking pictures. People who saunter across sidewalks like they had all the time in the world, while I am wasting gas waiting to turn right. Public display of curlers. Relentless PDA. Seeing the American flag being used to sell cars. Ignorance of the Constitution. Racism. Sexism. Ageism. Adding an “s” to the name of the last book of the Bible. The word “alright”. Damp benches. People who try to converse with me loudly across a crowded room. People who signal me across that same room. Flat sodas. Golf. People who don’t get my deadpan humor. The lingering stain on my carpet. Spectrum’s automated instructions for trouble-shooting my modem during an outage. Hearing the doctor make small talk when I am waiting in the exam room. The too-tiny hole on a calendar page. Escape (The Pina Colada Song). Jimmy Buffett. Removing the DVD from its case. The presence of only one drawer in my otherwise useful kitchen. Microwave dinners with improperly placed rice. Being asked questions I can’t possibly answer. White bread (except in tomato sandwiches). Air conditioned movie theaters that could double as meat lockers. Vacuuming. Mis-tying my shoelaces. Glitches in my expensive camera’s autofocus. The End key on my keyboard that does absolutely nothing. Prissiness. People who knowledge of rhythm and blues begins and ends with The Blues Brothers. Stale jokes. Spam on my smartphone. People who send a separate text for every sentence. Seeing the same ads over and over in the theater. Holocaust deniers. The name of the Utah Jazz. Facebook’s pitiful attempts to make nice after they cozied up to the Russians. The political incorrectness of the old Coppertone ads. The word “hoopity”. The people who complained about delays in restoring cable service while their neighbors got by on no electricity during Hurricane Fran. Euphemisms for tragic events. Hitting the wrong key and triggering an unwanted process. To reiterate, every last member of the octopus and squid species.

Let the hate mail begin!

* A blep occurs when a forgetful cat leaves a tiny bit of her tongue showing between her teeth.

Pleasures (Part Two)

Seeing little kids scrunch up their faces. The sublime partnership of flute and guitar. The flickering image of Neil Armstrong stepping on the Moon. Feeling the heft of my Nikon D3300. The chunkering sound as my shower water exits the spout and strikes the floor of the stall. Watching a jet trail etch the sky for the first time since 9/11. Bruno Ganz’ beneficent face in Wings of Desire. The look of satisfaction that crosses my pastor’s face when he wraps his sermon. Artichoke hearts. Pictures of Martha Graham dancing. Georgia O’Keeffe. The elegance of bilateral symmetry. Listening to the spacious radio ambiance of Durham Bulls games. Writing under the influence of music. Pulling my blankets over my shoulder. The glow of the phone screen when my bestie Nancy calls. Seeing the cities glide below the International Space Station. The night I discovered my, um, manhood. Breaking a bar of Monty Jack cheese in half and seeing the nubbly bits. The song “I Travel”. Anything by Marshall Crenshaw. The race car in Monopoly. The first sputter of the lawn mower. Cupid’s bow on the lips of a certain woman. Size AA batteries. The offset parentheses formed by the mutual stroking of my hand and my old girlfriend’s. Any three-point shot. Raven Rock. The opening bars of “Twentieth Century Schizoid Man”. Rocking the developer tray under the red light and watching the picture emerge from the white void. Rubbing my earlobe. Farting in the bathtub. The gray hair of another certain woman. Pulling the big lever in the voting machines of my youth. The cartoon character Stitch. The stripped-down simplicity of my AR turntable. Ursula K. LeGuin. Movies told in reverse chronological order. Freezing falling water with my shutter. The Fallingwater house (Frank Lloyd Wright). Modernist homes. Taking stairs two at a time in my youth. Leaving a room that reeks of ferrets. The first night at the beach. Turtles. Anticipating the arrival of my Jane Siberry CD. Money. Reading the reviews of movies I really like. Rolling down the car windows. My counselor’s jokes. Talking in a low voice because of a cold. Signaling with my eyes. Arcing to the left on the flyover. The sensation of new air on my freshly-trimmed scalp. Seeing my neighbor’s cat round the corner (big fun). The sentence that begins and ends Finnegans Wake. The word “Oshkosh”. Brown-eyed girls. Black curly hair framing a round face. Being done with washing the dishes. Recalling choice evenings and a couple of mornings in the company of a certain Alicia.

Sin

My church occasionally asked me to give sermons when a pastor was not available. Here I present an edited version of one. It is based the sixth chapter of the book of Romans.

In the 1920s, President Calvin Coolidge went to church. When he returned to the White House, his wife Grace asked him the subject of the sermon. A man of few words, he replied, “Sin”. What did the preacher say about sin, Grace asked. “He’s against it,” Coolidge said…

When I wrote in my old neighborhood, I sat next to a big window overlooking my street. Waiting for the next words, I sometimes looked out the window. One summer day my neighbor passed by on the way to her car. It was a hot Sunday afternoon, and she wore a black bikini. Presumably she was on her way to the pool.

I am a man. Need I tell you what happened next? I did not turn my head. I looked. And looked. Stared, frankly, for the duration of her walk. Watched her get in.

I am a sinner saved by grace.

I want to put this in the right perspective. I know the difference between looking and saying “hey baby” in a loud voice. I what lust is. This is not meant as another dreary anti-sexuality message.

But in that moment I was powerless. It’s not that I did not turn away—I could not turn away. God understands that, and so did Paul. He wrote “do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions” (6:12). He knew how powerful sin is. In looking, I wonder who was in control—me or God?

Paul adds, “no longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness,” (6:13). That speaks to intentions. It means admitting my weaknesses, and what tempts me, and avoiding it. It means not trusting too much in my own power to resist. If I am angry at you and I feel the control of my tongue slipping, I’d best adjourn. When I want my own way, I had better consider if getting my own way is good for you.

Sometimes, of course, I act on selfish impulses. And sometimes I say, this is all right—God will forgive me. And God does forgive me—but he will not deny me the pain of my consequences. He gave me a conscience…

Sin” is a word we must use carefully. It refers to one wrong action, or a pattern of them. I prefer this definition: sin is a state of alienation from God. This keeps us from tunnel vision of individual actions and allows us to see the main point: the peril of separation from God. God calls for obedience and faith, yet we can do neither without His love. Sin is a spiritual, mental, and physical condition of isolation from each other and from Christ. It is living death…

In our better moments we want to do good, but only in Christ is our desire completely fulfilled… Christ changes us from within. Christ writes His law on our hearts, and we respond with agape love that transcends our often temporary feelings.

My Bestie: An Appreciation

My new best friend is not one to blow her horn, although she has good reason to. So instead, I will toot for her.

The vitals. “Of a certain age,” Nancy lives in Chapel Hill, retired but working part time. Divorced, gets along with her ex, has a daughter and grandson in town. Served in a prominent staff position at UNC in the department of epidemiology, and worked in medicine at Yale before that. Lots of smarts. On her reading list are authors such as Victor Frankl, the Holocaust survivor turned philosopher.

We are a study in contrasts. I am the more outgoing, Nancy is more reserved. My conversation is more focused, hers more digressive. I am essentially liberal, she leans conservative. Luckily neither of us are ideologues. I like cats, Nancy likes dogs. I like synth-pop, she digs Gregorian chants.

Nancy is the more talkative one, but listens carefully and perceptively. She sees herself as lacking many sensibilities attributed to American women of the 21st century, but her insights about them are insightful and thought-provoking. She has patiently endured my tales of dating woes, for which she deserves a medal.

She is a great texter. Writes in paragraphs. Like me, Nancy abhors most textese, yet is fluent in emojis. She reads herself to sleep every night, which makes me jealous. She writes a damn good email—paradoxically, she dislikes writing. I have yet to figure that one out. Our favorite pastime is texting snide remarks about the judges on The Voice.

Nancy never answers her phone with a mere hello, but a witty, sardonic bon mot. She ends the calls with piquant humor. Example: I dated a woman who had an emotional support dog, and Nancy wondered aloud if I got on better with her or the animal. At least twice we have talked for exactly one hour and thirty-eight minutes.

I thrive on fatty food. Nancy’s diet revolves around protein bars and the occasional steak. Not a morning person, she kickstarts the day with two cups of tea and (of course) protein bars.

Her favorite expression of skepticism is “shoot me!” Odd choice, but it works.

She frets over her daughter and her black Labrador, and dotes on her grandson. Home projects are not her first choice for leisure time. Nancy is way too busy and needs a vacation. I am nagging God to arrange a beach trip for her.

Nancy checks out the online dating sites. She deserves an excellent man, and soon please, but so far none have had the good sense to court her properly. Get on the stick, guys! She goes to the gym, has oodles of character, is kind, literate, forgiving, playful, spiritual, sensitive, and nobody’s fool. And yes, she is nice to look at.

Suitors, you should be beating down Nancy’s door. Stop. Being. Idiots.