Monday, June 26, 2006

Monkey Man and The Information Superhighway

By the time I encountered Monkey Man, the first wave of digital cameras had flooded the market, and most internet dating sites had adapted their approach accordingly. Many sites had banners proclaiming: “People with pictures get noticed!”, or words to that effect. Accordingly, in a short time, a majority of clients were posting photos of themselves that were displayed prominently at the top of their profiles. Most sites provided the option of posting a Primary Photo as well as a number of Additional Photos, but it was the Primary Photo that was immediately visible when anyone clicked on a profile…the Primary Photo was the first visual impression that others had of you.

Currently, there are all sorts of guidelines and rules on what sorts of photos can be posted on internet dating sites. In addition, every photo that’s posted on all dating sites that I know of must be approved by someone at the site. But that wasn’t always the case, and judging by some of the photos I saw posted in those early days, I’m not sure anyone was even reviewing them. And so it was with Monkey Man…

When Monkey Man first wrote me, I confess I sent him my generic reply in which I thanked him for writing me but said I didn’t think we’d be a good match, without ever looking at his profile. I don’t remember the reason, but something he’d said in his original letter had convinced me I wouldn’t be interested in him. Of course, his handle wasn’t Monkey Man. His handle was something very innocuous, like “Bill 961″. Shortly after sending him on his way, I received a letter back from him, thanking me for taking the time to acknowledge his letter, and asking,
“Will you look at my profile and tell me what you think is wrong with it?”

“Sure,” I thought, “I can do that.” I’d done this for a number of guys I’d turned down. It had always involved reading through their profiles. Usually they just needed a few tips on polishing their answers to the questionnaire, and sometimes they just needed to complete the questionnaire.

I clicked on Monkey Man’s profile.
Immediately, before even beginning to read his answers, I saw the problem. In his Primary Photo, he was holding this…monkey.
Or maybe it was a chimp.
I dunno, but I do know…it was a big, hairy, primate, and she had her arms and legs wrapped around Monkey Man’s torso, in a tight embrace. I say “she”, because as if the embrace weren’t enough, this hairy primate was wearing a ruffled little print dress.
And lipstick.
And both she and Monkey Man were squinting into the sun, and smiling into the camera lens, like they were any other Happy Couple.

It was entirely too easy to imagine that, right after the picture was taken, she'd looked into Monkey Man's eyes and tried to ask, "When will I see you again?"

I skimmed his profile, and saw no explanation for the bizarre photo. That made it even more…bizarre. He hadn’t posted any Additional Photos, but under “Other Things I’d Like You to Know About Me”, he said that his favorite drink was a banana dairquiri.


I immediately wrote him,
“It’s your Primary Photo. That pic has gotta go! It’s sorta creepy, so most women won’t like it, and you won’t like the ones who do.”

“But why?” he wrote back. “I LIKE that pic!” He offered no explanation of when/where it was taken, but I did establish that the monkey didn’t live with him.

“Trust me on this,” I wrote.
“Remove that pic, and put another one in its place, and see if it makes a difference.”

He agreed to try it.

A couple of days later, I clicked on his profile. The picture of him and the monkey was gone, replaced by…a pic of him holding a fish.

A BIG fish.

Oh well. I knew that somewhere in cyberspace, there was certainly a photo of a woman whose Primary Photo was a glamour shot of her, holding a small dog named Precious, with a bow in it’s hair. And I knew it was possible that she and Monkey Man might be a perfect match for each other…and with a little bit of luck and a lot of fortitude, they might even find each other…

and they’d probably both love banana daiquiris.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Looking for Love In All the Wrong Places

It's summer, and I'm feeling a little lazy...well, as lazy as someone who's had three job interviews this week, among other things, can feel, soooooo...this is a post that I wrote for my singles blog, and because I haven't had time to write much of anything else this week, and because I haven't signed anything saying I can't do this, I'm reposting it here. Look on the bright side, it'll save some of you a trip over to my other place. :)

Before the net, it was simple: to meet people, you went to a bar, or to church, or friends fixed you up with “someone who’s PERFECT for you”. Ugh. The bar scene was never my scene, I’m not religious, and the couple of times I allowed friends to fix me up resulted in my seriously questioning how well those friends actually knew me. So when I became separated in my forties, after more than 20 years of marriage, although I knew I wasn’t ready to actually date anyone, I was more than a little curious about who (if anyone) was out there. Internet dating sites, where I could browse infinite descriptions, including occasional photos, of men and women of all ages who were also “available” were suddenly appealing to me. Yep, you read that right, I browsed descriptions of women, too, because I wanted to check out the competition.

In those early days before the proliferation of
digital-cameras, posting a pic on the net was a rather involved process that required taking a photo somewhere to have it scanned and transferred to disk, and then e-mailing or uploading it to a site. Few people seemed inclined to do this, so the majority of profiles on most of the early dating sites were without photos.

This made for more detailed written descriptions, but it also enabled people to lie, freely, about their attributes. I’ve never understood lying about your attributes, especially on a dating site. After all, the goal is to eventually meet, right? And then…sorry, folks, but…the jig is up! After meeting a couple of guys who bore little or no resemblance to their descriptions of themselves, I became jaded. If I read this description: “I’m 6′2″, and have been told that I bear a strong resemblance to Tom Selleck (*blush*),” I’d think, “Sure he resembles Tom Selleck…when he’s wearing elevator shoes and a Tom Selleck mask.”

Nevertheless, internet dating sites enjoyed a sort of heyday in those early days of the net. This was not entirely accidental, because they were brilliantly designed. For example, on one site, there was a static red light to indicate no new mail, but a flashing green light as well as an excited voice announcement (”You’ve got mail!”) to indicate new messages awaiting you from potential love interests. That’s a perfect illustration of B.F. Skinner’s schedule of irregular reinforcement, which is, not coincidentally, the same principle on which slot machines are based. In case you don’t remember all this stuff from Psychology 101, here’s what Wikipedia has to say: In his early experiments using the Skinner box, B. F. Skinner made a surprising discovery. If he did not deliver a food reward after every lever press that his rat subjects made, the rate of lever pressing did not decrease and become irregular, as Skinner had expected, but (after a few hours of experience of the situation) increased and became more regular. Wikipedia goes on: The interesting thing that Skinner discovered about intermittent reinforcement, and maybe one of Skinner’s most important discoveries, was that behavior that is reinforced intermittently is much more difficult to extinguish than behavior that is reinforced continuously. Note: my boldface, not Wiki’s.

In other words, if we can’t always get what we want, but sometimes we get what we want, rather than giving up, most of us will keep on trying. It’s as if we can’t believe that we won’t “win” every time. Many behavioral addictions besides gambling are related to an irregular schedule of reinforcement.

But back to my early internet dating experiences…after reviewing several sites, I chose the one with the longest questionnaire. I did this not only because it’s easy for me to be verbose (um, I guess you know that), and so I loved having the opportunity to write at length about my likes and dislikes, but, equally important, it allowed me to get to know a little about guys whose profiles interested me…and also helped me to quickly eliminate many of them. For example, because I love words, and writing, I wasn’t interested in anyone who couldn’t (or wouldn’t) write complete sentences, or spell halfway decently.

Being female, I received lots of correspondence every day, even though I didn’t have a picture posted. Being polite, I felt it was important to acknowledge every letter sent to me, even the one from the guy who sent me a huge photo of himself, wearing a big cowboy hat but no shirt. (The phrase, he’s all hat and no cowboy, came to mind when I opened that e-mail…).

Early on, I drafted a careful, generic reply for guys in whom I wasn’t interested. I’d write, “Thank you for writing me. I’m sorry, but I don’t think we’d be a good match, but good luck to you anyway.”

OK, I know that’s not brilliant writing, but the point was to thank them for writing and to send them away without hurting their feelings. I didn’t think it was any big deal…but I soon learned (because many of the guys wrote back) that a lot of women simply hit the “delete” button, without acknowledging the contact. I received a few letters asking, “So WHY AREN’T WE a good match?!?!?!” but I also received a LOT of letters thanking me for my note and asking, “Will you look at my profile and tell me what you think is wrong with it?” How could I say no to that? In no time at all, without having planned it, I became the Ann Landers of that site…and that’s how I met (electronically only) The Monkey Man.

To be continued

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Sweet days of summer, the jasmine's in bloom...

Remember that old song, Summer Breeze, by Seals & Crofts?

See the curtains hangin' in the window,
in the evenin' on a Friday night...
A little light a-shinin' through the window,

lets me know everything's alright...

Summer breeze
makes me feel fine
blowing through the jasmine in my mind

See the paper layin' in the sidewalk
A little music from the house next door
So I walked on up to the doorstep
Through the screen and across the floor

Summer breeze
Makes me feel fine
Blowing through the jasmine in my mind

Sweet days of summer
The jasmine's in bloom
July is dressed up, and playing her tune
And I come home
from a hard day's work,
and you're waiting there...not a care in the world
See the smile a-waitin' in the kitchen
food cookin' and the plates for two
See the arms that reach out to hold me
in the evening when the day is through

Summer breeze
makes me feel fine
blowing through the jasmine in my mind

It's such a great song about the pleasures of summer. With that in mind, here are pics of a couple of my favorite places, where I find it especially easy to let the summer breezes make me feel fine...

This is my local Starbucks. It's a great place to hang out, and in summer I can often be found here, either outside, at one of the tables, or inside, curled up in one of the big, oversized, purple velvet chairs. Sometimes I go by myself, with a book or some writing, and sometimes I meet a friend or family member here. When he's in town (he travels a lot and is currently in Africa), I often meet my ex here for coffee. I'm a nightowl, and not a morning person at all, so the icy goodness of a venti iced latte delivers the necessary jolt of caffeine that I require, always, to ease into the day.

Another place I find it easy to enjoy the summer breezes is by my pool. This is a pic of Kath and me, taken on Sunday night, when we were feelin' fine by the pool.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Scalzi's Monday Photo Shoot: Still Life

Scalzi's Monday Photo Shoot: Take a snap of something in a "still life" mode. It doesn't have to be a bowl of fruit, mind you (although there's nothing wrong with a bowl of fruit, if that's your thing). But something that you can get contemplative about would be nice. Also, it doesn't move, unless you go and pick it up. If you want to play, click on the link.

OK, here's mine: this is a bottle of iced lemon water, a/k/a tap water, Lajitas style, that was served to Mike and me one blazingly hot afternoon last August at the Candelilla Cafe in the resort town of Lajitas, Texas (near Big Bend National Park) when we stopped there for lunch. This definitely didn't move unless we picked it up, and when you're traveling through the desert in Texas, it's easy to get contemplative about a bottle of ice cold water.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

The lazy, crazy, hazy days of summer

My younger brother says I’ve been neglecting this blog, and he’s right. Mea culpa, Dave, I’ve been remiss. But I’ve been busy with other things. Inside my house, in the living room, the brown velour sofa slipcovers of winter have been replaced by the off-white, cotton duck of summer; the red and brown wool winter dhurries have been rolled up and put in storage, and the blue and white cotton summer dhurries are on the floor; the winter kilim cases on the throw pillows have been replaced by blue and white summer toile.

Outside my house, the lawn is freshly edged and cut, the flower beds are freshly mulched, and there are blooming pots of petunias, geraniums, guara, shasta daisies, impatiens, evolvulus, and bougainvillea. The pool is up and running, and last night, with Mike, Sara, Xander, Katharine and me in attendance, we had our first family swim of this season. 3-year-old (almost 4!) Xander liked it so much, he came back today, and happily "swam"with Mike, Sara and me in his flotation suit for a couple of hours, after which he was peeled out of his floaty suit and sat, nude and happy, beside the pool, contemplating the blue water as he happily devoured an orange popsicle.
Tonight, Mike and Sara grilled flank steak. I tossed a salad, and steamed some veggies, and Chris and Stephanie came over for dinner, and the five of us ate by candlelight on the patio. Afterward, we sat around the table, talking about our upcoming July tubing trip on the Guadalupe. In the background, the low, rhythmic, rising and falling buzzing sound of cicadas filled the air. Yes, summer is almost here...and it feels good.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Deb started it...

This is just a quick note to say that I'll still be writing here, but, as of this morning...TA DAH! I'll also be writing for a new website called, where I'll soon be one of several bloggers (right now I'm the only singles blogger) "sharing their thoughts, their dreams and their nightmares" (that's a direct quote from the site) about being single. I have to admit, I'm pretty happy and excited about this.

I'm not the only one around here who's doing this. One of my favorite blogspot writers, Deborah (Outtabody Mommy) has a new blog over at Clubmom. Click on the link and it'll take you there (and you'll be glad you did).

Geez, what a girl has to do to keep up around here!

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

The beast in my bedroom...

It being 06.06.06, I thought I'd write about a beast...although this may not be the beast one might first think of...

I grew up mostly without a television set. Well, for that matter, I grew up without a car, too, and we didn’t have indoor plumbing until we moved into town, when I was 8...but I digress. We had a tv, briefly, when I was 6. I have no idea where it came from, because I can’t imagine my Dad actually laying out cash for one, but...suddenly, we had one, and when the rabbit ears worked, I can remember watching the occasional show. To my mother’s consternation, my favorite show when I was 6 was not Lassie (I was a cat person even as a child, and anyway, I found Timmy impossibly sappy), nor Howdy Doody (he creeped me out), nor I Love Lucy (although I did love Lucy’s zany humor)...nope, my favorite show, as a 6-year-old, was Alfred Hitchcock Presents. I loved that show, and I still remember my favorite episode, although I’ve never seen it again: the one in which a disgruntled wife murders her husband by hitting him over the head with a frozen pot roast, which she then proceeds to cook (destroying the evidence) and serve to the cops investigating the murder. Yeah, I’ll concede that I probably was a weird 6-year-old, but the delicious irony of that appealed to me, even as a little kid.

By the time I was 7, the tv was gone. I have vague memories of some sort of small explosion, but I have a vivid imagination, and it’s possible it died not with a bang, but a whimper. At any rate, it was gone, not to be replaced until I was about 13. In those intervening years, I became an avid reader, with the result that during my formative years, while many of my peers were watching Leave It To Beaver or American Bandstand, I was curled up reading Alcott and Wilder and Twain. I don’t know if that’s the reason, but somehow I’ve never succumbed to the lure of the boob tube.

When I got my first apartment, I bought a good radio and eventually (in my audiophile days) an AR turntable and several feet of vinyl. But I didn’t buy a television set until I realized that my sweetheart loved the old movies shown on Chicago’s WGN as much as I loved my books...and because I loved him, and wanted to please him, I surprised him one night with a small, used black and white set that I’d purchased for $25, and it was a pleasure, to curl up with him on my bed and watch the screwball comedies of the ‘30's, late into the night. But when that set died (shortly after the demise of that relationship), I felt no need to buy another tv.

I married someone who loved tv. Well, I don’t know if it’s fair to say he LOVED it...but at any rate, he was not as distracted by it as I am. Unlike me, he could have a conversation and have the tv on at the same time, and he preferred to have the tv on, pretty much constantly, when he was home. When we got a tv with a remote control, he began to channel surf. Sometimes he would mute the tv and watch the flickering screen, hitting sound when he saw something interesting. Eventually, we agreed on some ground rules:

No TV in the mornings.
No TV during dinner.
No TV in the living room.
No TV in the bedroom.

In Dallas, we moved the TV to the living room shortly before Mike and Chris were born, but only because the game room became the nursery, and also because there were built-in cabinets in the living room that could make the tv disappear.

Time went by. We got divorced. He moved into a house nearby, and bought a big tv for his game room, conveniently adjacent to his kitchen, as well as a big tv for his bedroom. In my house, I redid the master bedroom, but didn’t even think about putting a television set in there, until...deja vu...I began seeing someone who loved old movies as much as I loved books...and I went out one day, and bought a big pine armoire, and a 27" color tv, with a remote...and had both delivered to my bedroom.

Eventually, we broke up, but the tv stayed. I became unemployed, became an insomniac...welllllllll...I’ve always been an insomniac...but, before I had a television set in my bedroom, when I couldn’t sleep, I used to listen to music and/or read myself into a state of delicious drowsiness from which I could slip effortlessly into sleep. With a television set in my bedroom, I stopped reading myself to sleep, having found channel surfing to be a reasonable substitute. And didn’t escape my notice that when I listened to music or read myself to sleep, I tended to sleep through the night, whereas when I channel surfed my way to sleep, more often than not I found myself waking at 3:07 AM to weird infomercials (e.g., Kevin Trudeau ranting on about "natural cures ‘they’ don’t want you to know about...")

Fast forward to the present. Mike and his girlfriend, Sara, having just completed their freshman year at UA, are living with me for the summer. Highly industrious, both found jobs within a week of arriving here, and Sara, a math major, is taking two tough math courses as well. They won’t have a lot of free time this summer, but when they do...well, they’re movie buffs...and the game room in my house is, once again, the game room. It holds a wall of books, and my desk, and my computer. It holds a leather chair and ottoman, a comfortable, slip-covered couch, with lots of pillows, and a coffee table. It also holds a piece of furniture called an Entertainment Center...which has plenty of space to hold a 27" television set, and a VCR, and a DVD player...and it has doors to shut it all away when we’re not watching movies...

So tonight, Chris is coming over. He and Mike are going to move the tv, and it’s accompanying technology, from the armoire in my bedroom, to the Entertainment Center in the game room. I may watch a movie with Mike and Sara...or perhaps I’ll just read myself to sleep...but I can’t help thinking Joni Mitchell had it right:

And the seasons they go round and round
And the painted ponies go up and down
We’re captives on the carousel of time
We can’t return, we can only look
Behind from where we came
And go round and round and round
In the circle game