The world is supposed to be full of possibilities, but they narrow down to pretty few in most personal experience. There’s lots of good fish in the sea . . . maybe . . . but the vast masses seem to be mackerel or herring, and if you’re not mackerel or herring yourself, you are likely to find very few good fish in the sea.
So said Lady Chatterley, on her quest for a suitable lover. The search for good fish is even more complicated, I think, when one lives so many miles from the sea.
There have been times here when I’ve lain in bed, stared up at the stars, or watched a storm, in awe, blinking as the sky lights up, feeling the rumble of thunder in my bones. In these times, I’ve felt not loneliness, but a desire to share this with someone. This place, this space, is too lovely, too wonderful, to keep to oneself. Then the feeling passes, and I revel in solitude, tuck myself under the covers, slip into dreams of fresh produce, bright egg yolks.
Weeks ago, I wrote the following in my journal.
I’ll be meeting someone new soon, and I don’t have high hopes. He is wealthy, seems a tad spoiled. But I’m not about to give up things that interest me to cater to his needs—which include lots of well-marbled steak, all the latest action movies, and trips to un-exotic and air-conditioned locations. So, I’ll meet him, but I expect I’ll end up telling the matchmaker that I’m looking for something else—something a bit more thoughtful, less obsessed with money and, well, steak. If he knows what’s good for him, he’ll tell her similar things—how he’s looking for something else, someone who better appreciates all that he can buy her, the uninspiring locations to which he can fly her.
And so, I will stay on my little farm, away from the world, and enjoy the peace that comes from being happy with oneself. If, along the way, I meet someone with whom I’d like to share this space, that would be wonderful. But I’m not out looking for him. I’ve too many other things to do, places to explore, adventures to find.
Steve, my so-called “match,” had planned to fly here and sweep me away from my peeps for a day and a half in Missouri, a night on the Lake of the Ozarks. So, Saturday afternoon, I stood in the sunshine, clad in a black cotton dress, flip flops, and a ridiculous straw cowboy hat, watching as his plane slid out of the sky, onto the short runway at the sleepy little airport here. Steps popped out of the side of the plane and Steve appeared. As we walked toward each other, he looked around, asked if this was Canada.
“Christ, this is a long way up here.”
I laughed. We hugged.
“It’s good to see you,” I said.
Minutes later, as we fetched my things, he stopped me, asked, “Are you sure you want to do this? It’s a pretty long first date. Are you comfortable?”
I adjusted my hat, smiled warmly. “Yep.”
I climbed onto his plane—a small jet, actually—and crawled into the co-pilot seat. We strapped in, donned headsets. He adjusted mine, tucked the microphone in closer to my lips.
The flight to Missouri went by quickly. An hour and a half of conversation, a string of sordid tales from my past told at 350 mph above the puffy white clouds. When we leveled out, well above the prairies, I pulled out a bag of snacks. I handed Steve water; he thanked me and took a drink. As he screwed the cover back on, he looked at the label-less bottle.
“I bet you reuse these, don’t you?”
He smiled, and, whilst casually burning fifty gallons of jet fuel per hour, said that he doesn’t like throwing away plastic bottles, either.
I marveled at the irony.
“Do you like cherries?” I asked, pulling out a bag filled with fat, dark-red beauties.
He eyed the fruit suspiciously. “Do they have pits?”
I wondered, momentarily, if pitless cherries existed. “Um, yes.” I flashed him a queer look.
“Ah, yeah. I don’t like things with seeds.”
What the fuck? Seriously?
Later, when I relayed this conversation to my mother, she laughed and suggested that I might have pitted the cherries in my mouth, spit them out and hand-fed him a bit of cherry-flesh. We laughed. I shook my head, still a bit incredulous.
Fortunately, I’d also brought along some bread, slices of an Italian loaf I’d baked myself, and labane, a cream cheese spread with extra virgin olive oil, fresh basil, salt and pepper.
“There aren’t seeds in it,” I assured him, spreading the rich mixture on a chunk of bread and handing it to him.
That night, we went to dinner at a lake-side restaurant, a party place featuring loud music, large servings, fruity blender drinks. The place was staffed entirely by nineteen year old girls in short shorts and tank tops. We ordered, and then waited, sipping fruity drinks. “I can’t wait for you to try the beans,” Steve said. “You’ll love them.”
Our appetizers arrived. “Are those corn flakes?” I asked, poking at the grouper with my fork, trying to peek beneath the crunchy layer of breading.
Steve tasted a forkful, then murmured, pleased, “Mmm. I think they’re frosted flakes.”
Our entrees arrived, and the waitress took away the barely-touched appetizers. The aforementioned green beans arrived, though I didn’t recognize them. Perhaps because they were deep fried. The potato salad was made with not boiled, but fried potatoes, which were then slathered in a cream sauce.
I am, by no means, a health nut. I love cream, butter, salt, sugar. One summer during graduate school, I more or less lived on Dove ice cream bars. But, imagining the vats of cooking oil in the kitchen, I felt my arteries clench up a bit.
I tried a bean. Not too bad.
In the morning, Steve slept in, and I rummaged through his mostly bare cupboards, foraging for coffee. I found a box of pods—pre-ground, pre-packaged coffees. I tossed aside the hazelnut/vanilla/decaffeinated atrocities and tore open a regular dark roast. Not what I wanted, but it would do. I fiddled with the machine, pouring water into what seemed to be where water ought to go. I set the coffee pouch in the only reasonable place for it to go. And then I pushed the button.
The machine whirred a bit, then spewed water, some clear, some coffee-colored, all over the counter.
I grabbed paper towels, mopped up the mess. When the machine finished grumbling, I peeked in the mug. I had perhaps two tablespoons of a coffee-like substance.
This would not do. Fortunately, there was another packet of regular coffee. My second attempt was successful, so far as success is defined by a cup of superfund-sludge-like coffee. Resigning myself to the toxic brew, I fetched a novel and headed to the deck. I draped my legs across a chair, sunned myself, and read.
After an hour, Steve joined me on the deck.
“Is there any chance we could go somewhere to grab some good coffee?” I asked.
“Sure. There’s a couple Starbucks around.”
“No. I mean good coffee.”
In his defense, Steve doesn’t drink coffee, so he’d have little reason to know that Starbucks coffee sucks. But I had sort of assumed that, by now, everyone had figured this out.
We went inside, cleaned up, then headed to brunch, which was at a vast hotel restaurant. Without asking me what I’d like, he told the waiter that we’d both have the buffet. As I carried my plate around, peeking under metal domes, discovering bacon and sausage and a gelatinous substance I presume was supposed to pass for eggs, I sighed. I can’t eat at a buffet without thinking of a feed lot, giant creatures lined up next to each other, their noses ducked into a trough.
After brunch, we met his realtor, looked at a few homes. Vast swaths of peach carpeting. A master bedroom the size of my home. Lots of taupe walls. As we drove away from the last house, a 14,000 square foot castle complete with copper minarets, I asked Steve where he thought the moat might go.
Sunday evening, he flew me home. “Wasn’t that more fun than just hanging out with your chickens?” he asked, as we hugged goodbye. I kissed him, choosing not to answer. As he flew away, he wiggled his wings at me and waved.
I climbed in my little truck and drove home, a bit dazed by the trip. I marveled at the oddity of it all. The Ozarks had been Oz-like. Magical, unreal, faintly bizarre. I was glad to be home. Not in black-and-white Kansas, but full-color Dakota territory, big blue sky above, lush green grasses at my feet, warm breeze in my hair.
Days later, sitting here at my desk, I keep coming back, not to Steve’s words, but to those of another. A few of the loveliest, loving-est words I’ve read in a long while, written by a friend who lives far away, but whose world—whose reality—is, I think, much closer to my own.
I know a certain amount about you. You are living blissfully - within a reality… You have woven a world of experience into a life that is magical…
What I know from talking to you, from reading the stories you have about the things that thrill you - not actively necessarily - but simply, I swoon. It's like you were dropped in front of me to show me the life I have had, the life I crave, the life that is possible.
What I know - having not even met you yet, having never tasted, smelled, felt you, is love. I can't help it - you are speaking my language. I feel like I could walk into your world and be a partner in crime instantly. I feel like the discovery you are experiencing is partly my discovery - you write of the building, the geometry, the shelter, the bread baking, the sun-bathing, the wood cook stove, the peeps, the facts of the world you are in, and I feel love. I feel something I have never truly felt - a path that is true, sure, beautiful and infinitely real.
The you that I know… I love.
The feeling is mutual. I’ll be meeting Andrew in a couple days, when he will fly to Minneapolis, rent a car, drive many hours to my little home on the prairie. There will be no private jet, no mansions to tour, no Starbucks, no buffet brunching. But there will be wine, and fresh baked bread, and cherries, and a bonfire or two, and Lola, whom he is excited to meet.
Since I haven’t met Andrew in person, I can’t be certain that he’s not mackerel or herring. I’ve demanded photos, though, and from what I can tell, he’s at least not covered with frosted flakes.
At least three people have written to me regarding the last F-word, in which I answered a question from some dude who's looking to find a wife on fubar. All of the men who wrote to me were like, "Hey, if you're looking for a long term relationship, I'm mildly retarded, but I'm totally available and would like to have sex with you."
That's a rough paraphrase. One of the guys has epilepsy and can't work or drive, but assures me he's a great guy and whatnot.
This shouldn't need to be explained. I don't write the questions for the F-Word. I write the answers.
And thanks, but I'm not at all interested.
I’m supposed to go on a date with someone I met through a professional matchmaking service. As with most dating services, it’s free for women. And as with most free things, you get what you pay for.
Michelle, the matchmaker, called to tell me about my match a few weeks ago. She gushed, describing him as a really great guy, and said she thought we would have a lot in common. “He bought a plane, because he really likes to travel.”
I like to travel. But owning a plane? Is that really necessary?
It turns out he also owns a chain of gas stations, so fuel economy is the least of his concerns. And, as it turns out, the bulk of his concern rests with finding a good television station. While we talked on the phone, getting to know one another, he flipped channels, telling me
what was on television. I explained to him that this was the first time in years that I actually have a television. And that I have turned it on precisely once. To see if it worked. It does. I even vowed to watch the Daily Show and the Colbert Report, but haven’t had time.
He asked what I was up to that evening, and I told him about my dinner. I’d picked five pounds of asparagus in the trees behind my house, and then made a lovely creamy risotto, enjoyed a glass of wine.
“Asparagus? Doesn’t it make your pee green?”
Asparagus is, to me, the epitome of spring. I marvel over the purple-green stalks emerging from still-cool soil, phallus-like, signaling nature’s arousal. Asparagus is tender and sweet when sautéed in butter, crisp and smoky when charred on the grill, fresh and delicate when pureed into a creamy soup. So I puzzle over this obsession with asparagus’s effects on one’s urine. Does it make your pee green? Not to my knowledge. Does it make your pee smell funny? Maybe. But does it matter? And do you make a habit of sniffing your pee?
“Do you not like asparagus?” I inquired.
“Well, I had it one time, but it was prepared wrong, and since then, I’ve always been too scared to try it again.”
Michelle’s words rang in my mind. “I think you have a lot in common!” Was she referring to blood type?
We talked more about food, and I mentioned that I’m a vegetarian.
“Are you still a vegetarian, or do you eat a T-bone steak every now and then?”
“I’m a vegetarian. Or, rather, a pescetarian, as I eat fish, but generally only if it’s local.”
I tried to explain my food choices – about how I used to be a cattle rancher (I had a herd of seven cows), how I don’t have any qualms about killing animals and eating them, but how I think most animals raised in the United States live in miserable conditions and that I don’t want to eat something that led such an unhappy, unhealthy, and unnatural life.
“Oh, you raised cattle? Do you know the [people whose name I forget]?”
“Oh, they have [absurdly large number] head of cattle in Kansas.”
We were both silent for a moment. I was puzzled. Had he not heard what I’d said?
For fun, he likes to watch movies. I asked him what movies he enjoys, and he rattled off a handful of names I vaguely recalled as movies I didn’t want to see. “Oh, you should see X. Great action. And Y. A real good feel-good movie. You’ll really like it.”
Have I mentioned how I don’t like feel-good movies? Or how I think action films tend to be incredibly uninspired, uninspiring? Or how I don’t appreciate it when other people—particularly people who don’t know me well—tell me what I will and won’t like?
I didn’t feel like tackling the issue, so I asked him where he travels.
“Oh, Florida. California.”
He asked me about my travels and I told him about my adventures in Central America.
“What’s wrong with traveling in the US? You ought to explore here some more.”
And, really, he’s right. There’s nothing wrong with traveling in the US, it’s just more fun and—oddly enough—much less expensive, to travel outside the US.
As it turns out, what he deems “travel” isn’t so much traveling as it is flying to California to work and flying to
Florida to stay at his second residence. Granted, work travel can be fun and interesting. On various employer-sponsored trips to DC, NYC, and Atlanta, I recall mixing several dollops of pleasure with perhaps a teaspoon of business. But to let work travel take the place of travel
for pleasure seems, well, misguided. Especially if you have your own damned plane.
He called last night and left a message, asking how the asparagus was growing. I haven’t returned his call.
If I do, I might invite him over for a meal. A menu of grilled asparagus and walleye would be nice.