Like all good things, it started with a snafu.
I was sitting at my computer, bored, browsing profiles, drinking my first cup of coffee when a chat window from the personals popped open.
“Hi,” the message read. I looked at the picture of the person sending the greeting. It was a woman’s. Oh, Lord, I thought, another lonely-heart. I was about to write back to let her know about her misfiring finger when she wrote back, “Sorry!”
Out of curiosity, I clicked on the profile’s picture to see who the woman was. I was doubly surprised. Not only was she beautiful, her reading choices were impressive: Steinbeck, Nabokov, Dickens, Garcia Marquez. Her description was funny, without a trace of self-deprecation. We had similar interests in the kind of men we’re looking for. She is fifty-two. She had impeccable punctuation. And her idea of sexy was indeed sexy.
No worries, I replied. Trust me, your profile is confusing me and almost makes me want to reconsider what I’m looking for.
She LOL-ed back. “Any luck?” she inquired.
I’m batting about as good as you are right now, I replied.
“Too bad. Same here” she said, and wished me luck.
I went back to my browsing. There was no need to continue the conversation, and I was not about to get myself entangled in something I couldn’t finish. While I looked at profile after profile of potential coffee dates, none of the matches compared to the woman’s profile. Why, I wondered, is everyone here so uninteresting? It’s like I’m looking at an army of clones. Isn’t there anyone original, or substantive, any more?
“Have a good day,” the woman chimed in again. I couldn’t help laughing now. She was gutsy, at the very least, and had a sense of humor about her trigger finger.
What are you doing today? I wrote back. It’s beautiful and neither one of us should be indoors.
“Nothing,” she wrote back. “Walk.”
We met on Lincoln Road, in Miami Beach. Busy. Popular. Neutral. It was her idea and her neighborhood. I recognized her immediately from her photos. She was shorter than I imagined. She had not lied about herself on her profile; I just didn’t read it carefully enough. She looked like Penelope Cruz (from the Almodovar days), long brown hair falling over her shoulders, brown eyes that reflected the sun, and lips that should have been on an ad for lip gloss. She didn’t wear make-up, nor did she need to. She had dark, smooth skin most women would pay for.
She smiled and shook my hand firmly when I introduced myself. Her face was very expressive. She handled herself with confidence. She wore a turquoise skirt that seemed almost too long on her with a white top that flattered her figure. She didn’t seem embarrassed at us meeting. Rather, she treated it as another one of those things that happen in Miami and one later find himself telling friends about.
After a quick chit-chat while we waited for our order, we decided to sit outside. This was an odd situation for both of us. We had decided not to call it a date. Instead, we were “meeting” as two fellow single folk who suddenly find themselves in an odd situation trying to make the best of it.
I asked her about her online dating experiences, and if she found herself drawn to gay men’s profiles.
“Never. You’re my first one, really. I’m usually very good about that,” she said.
Me too. I don’t go for profiles of people with long hair.
“Me either. It clogs the bathroom tub.”
Penelope spoke with a slight accent. She’s French, but moved to Miami twelve years ago. She works as a casting agent for a modeling company, but her real love is literature and theater. She spends her summers abroad, in France, with friends and family who live there. She likes European sensibilities, so she finds Miami’s attitude trying and tiring. She often gets tired of how “gauche” people in Miami can be.
While she loves the city and its energy, she likes going away to London, Paris, or Amsterdam where “people seem a bit more real. Here, it can be a bit pretentious. It’s too celebrity driven.” Unfortunately, she admitted, Europe is beginning to feel the same way. “There’s so much competition to be the hottest city in the world.”
I asked her about her profile. I was drawn to the way she wrote it, what it said about herself, and what she was looking for. “You’re the writer,” Penelope said. “Aren’t words important?”
I agreed, but…
“It’s simple. Every profile is a pitch no different than an opening line at a bar or an introduction. You put your best foot forward and hope for the best. When you’re dealing with words and pictures, all you have to go on is the way people use them. When you read enough profiles, you sift the people you’re not compatible with. A misspelled word or bad punctuation says a lot about a person. I tend to notice those things.”
You must have been horrified at my profile, I said.
“You have typos,” Penelope said, taking a drink of water. “But your profile is different. Yours is a metaphor for something else. It’s the last line that caught my attention. Something about looking for a travel partner for before and after the race. To me, it implied longevity. Like you want to start something, but you also want it to last. Clever.”
You got the message then, I said.
“How many others have?” she asked.
None so far. As far as all the rest are concerned, they think I’m serious about being in The Amazing Race.
And you? Anyone bite the bullet and send you more than a wink?
“You’re the best conversation in a long time. But not the best date,” she said with a sly smile.
I do get that often, I said.
She laughed. “What I meant was, there’s no reason for us to go further. If you were straight, I’d either marry you on the spot, or think you were in the closet. Neither one is a good choice.”
If there’s any consolation, I said, I know a certain woman in Miami who would pay you an insane amount of money to date me and turn me over to your side.
Penelope smiled. “No doubt. But you either are or you’re not. And in your case, I have a strong feeling you are. I’m sorry your mother does not see it that way.“
I loved her at that instant. And I knew this was not going any further than the next cup of coffee. We did talk, a lot. And the afternoon got away from us. In the end, we each consumed four cups of coffee, agreed to share a cheese cake we vowed to work off at the gym the following day, and she let me pay the bill although she was adamant about it not being necessary. I insisted to a point I almost embarrassed myself.
As we stood to leave, the streets were crowded with early evening shoppers looking for a bargain. Penelope thanked me for the coffee and shook my hand. “I think I’m going to walk for a bit. Too much coffee.”
I thanked her for a wonderful chat and told her I enjoyed meeting her. She said she enjoyed meeting me too. She put her hand on my shoulder, pulled me to her, and kissed me on both cheeks.
“Bon chance. For before and after the race,” she said. She walked away waving good-bye before turning the corner.
I stood to the side, letting tourists walk by me, wondering what to do next. It was a spring evening in Miami Beach: breezy, bright, warm, beautiful, and full of possibilities. I started walking and I did what any gay man in my position would have done: I went shopping and lost myself in the crowd.