A long time ago, in a previous life, I had a friend named Tammy. She was an agency service rep. for one of the companies my brokerage did a lot of business with, and as such I was on the phone with her several times a week, for several years. She had an outgoing bubbly personality, which sometimes irritated me. She, in turn, would call me “Mr. Grumpy”. Over the years, we became friends.
We had many conversations that had nothing to do with insurance. She would tell me about her fiance, and how he sometimes made her unhappy. I told her to dump the chump. I would tell her about my divorce (the first one, that is), and she always had something to say that would cheer me up. We got to know each other pretty well.
But I live in Massachusetts, and she lived in Nebraska, and this was before the Internet shrank the whole world so that nothing is ever farther away than the nearest keyboard. I never met her, and I’ve always regretted that.
In the Brave New World known as the 21st century, I have lots of “cyber-friends”. Communicating with someone as far away as Australia is commonplace. There is a whole international community, connected electronically, who can call me names a lot worse than “Mr. Grumpy”, and sometimes do.
But can you really call someone a friend whom you only know through the Internet? The Internet is amazing, but it’s still only a two dimensional medium, and thus lends itself to two dimensional relationships. For all I know, Maureen might be a man. Evyl might be a 96 pound cross-dresser. The only reason I know Michael isn’t a cross dresser is because I work with him every day, and even then I sometimes have my doubts about him.
You never really know, do you?
And then there’s Spaz. When I first started reading her blog, I was impressed at the cerebral spirituality of her poetry and prose. I found her mysterious. I honestly wasn’t even sure if she was a man or a woman. But I loved the way she wrote. I was most deeply impressed with her poetry, both for its highly original use of the language and its intensity of feeling. I left comments. I got her attention.
Then she started leaving comments on my poetry. We started corresponding. And then a weird thing happened. She said she was grateful for my comments, but was at first diffident about leaving comments on my poetry because she felt “intimidated” by me. The weird part was that I, for my part, was intimidated by her.
Thus started a relationship that is part friendship, part mutual admiration society. She became one of my best friends in the blogosphere. She has given me at times a shoulder to cry on and a kick in the ass, and always seems to know which one I need at any given point. She reads my stuff, even when I am lax about returning the favor.
And she really “gets” my poetry. She sees things in my lines that even I didn’t know were there. There have been times when I have radically altered, or even destroyed altogether, a poem because I knew that it was not worthy of the high standard that she has not only helped set for me, but has convinced me that I can attain. She make me feel that my writing has worth, even when I have my own doubts.
But still, how could I say I really knew her, even after countless blog comments and emails? Did I even know if she was a woman? For all I knew, she could be a 300 pound death row inmate who just happened to, y’know, like poetry.
You never really know, do you?
So it was with no small amount of delight that I received an email from Michael saying that Spaz (her real name is Susanne, but I never call her that) and her husband Bryan would be in Boston on Thursday, and wanted to get together for dinner. It occurred to me that this is how great friendships start.
It also occurred to me that this is how they crash and burn.
Delight, not unmixed with a certain amount of trepidation. Communicating through the Internet is one thing. Real interpersonal contact is another. There would be no hiding behind the computer screen and a carefully contrived online persona for either of us. What if she had an annoying laugh? What if I reminded her of an uncle she really hated growing up? What is she just doesn’t like short, fat, Conservatives?
Furthermore people skills, as Michael will gladly tell you, are not my strong suit. I’m abrasive and confrontational and my usual attitude is that if people don’t like me the way I am, then fuck ’em.
But this was different. This was Spaz. I decided that if she was going to drive all the way from Canada just to have dinner, the very least I could do was try to be somewhat likable. Y’know, just a little bit. It wouldn’t be easy, I realized, but I felt I owed it to her to make the effort.
First step: shave and take a shower. Mustn’t have her thinking I’m a complete slob. We agreed to meet at five at the tobacco store where I work. I had the day off, but Michael was working until five. After I parked my car, I did a quick check in the mirror: no food stuck in the teeth, good. Nose check: no nose hairs sticking out, good. Hat? Check. Phone? Check. Wallet? WALLET???
WHERE THE FUCK IS MY WALLET??????
With the same sickening feeling that someone who had bet their life’s saving on Big Brown must have felt, I realized that I didn’t have my wallet with me. In one horrible instant, I could see the whole crashing and burning thing playing out before my eyes. I could have sworn I had it. In fact, I had intentionally left it in my car just so that this wouldn’t happen. It was then that my eyes fell on the big leather case I keep my pipes in, laying on the front seat. I picked it up, and there was my wallet underneath.
Big exhale. Blood pressure returns to normal. Urge to walk in front of the first bus that comes along subsides.
I walked up to the store. I paused outside. I knew I was forgetting something. What was it? Think, Smith, think! Oh, I remember. Zipper. Up. Good. Very good.
I arrived at the store promptly at five, the General Manager no doubt wondering why I couldn’t be this punctual about my shift. Mike was there, but told me that Susanne and Bryan would be late. My mind raced back to my phone conversation with Susanne that morning, the very first time we had ever actually spoken. She was in the car, and Bryan, from the driver’s seat, told her to ask me if I was a serial killer. I told her I hadn’t killed anyone for a very long time, so they could feel reasonably safe. I wondered. They knew I was kidding, right? Hmmmm.
Going to your place of employment on your day off is always a bad idea. You WILL find something to do, giving your boss an undeserved dividend. There was a minor computer problem which I began delving into, when I heard Mike say, “I’ll get Smitty!”. They were here. As I walked out to the front of the store, I found myself wondering what my first impression would be of this woman with whom I had forged this strange electronic friendship.
The very first thing you notice about Spaz is her eyes. She has large, expressive brown eyes, which bespeak of the compassionate soul within. There could be no doubt that this was the author of the deeply moving and intensely spiritual prose and poetry that appears on her blog.
The next thing I noticed is that she’s taller than me. Somehow, I wasn’t expecting that.
Bryan is a thoroughly likable chap who deserves to be nominated for the Coolest Husband in North America Award. All he had to put up with was being dragged to a foreign country so he could have dinner with two complete strangers who just happen to have a common hobby with his wife. On top of that, the poor guy was a little under the weather. And yet, for all that, he was thoroughly friendly and engaging and actually seemed to be enjoying himself. A good sport, to say the very least. We talked about a number of things, including music. He mentioned that he likes James Taylor, which immediately ingratiated him to Michael. I’ve decided not to hold that against him.
The evening really couldn’t have gone any better. The four of us had dinner at Jacob Wirth’s, one of the oldest restaurants in Boston. Much beer and German food was consumed. I ordered the roast pork shank, and when it arrived it looked like something Fred Flintstone would have eaten. It was delicious, but the temptation to pick it up by the bone and just go all Neanderthal on it was overwhelming.
Somehow the “serial killer” joke got started again, whereupon Michael and I pointed out that if we were serial killers, then we must be the most inept serial killers in the history of the trade, since we had gone out of our way to leave an electronic trail leading right back to us. In fact, we emphasized that we would both be praying that they got back to Canada safely, because if they didn’t we would each have a State Police officer at our door and a whole lot of explaining to do.
I suppose it took some courage on all our parts for the four of us to meet up like this. Sometimes reality impinges on our fantasies. But not this time. I found Spaz to be as warm, caring, and intelligent in person as she is online. Meeting Bryan was an unexpected pleasure. I was expecting, at best, a put upon husband stoically but grudgingly indulging his wife’s whim, but instead met a friendly and engaging man who was as stimulating a conversationalist as his wife.
Best of all, I made two new friends here in the real world, where friends are not always easy to find.