The Process Of Becoming A Successful Author

The Process of turning myself into a successful author: right now, it’s guess work. It’s like getting b—ch slapped daily by the world. I’m a dummy for checking my stats every day. How many downloads did I get last night? I shouldn’t do that; it often leads to a feeling of leaden discouragement, a visceral inner plummeting of my hopes. I get different messages from different “experts”. Most common: Be Yourself. Well….duh.

Almost There, almost there!
I don’t know who else to be. Other frequent advice: Lie. pretend you’re already a big success. Or….be totally honest, totally transparent,share your story with your potential audience. Oh my god! This IS a story, it’s like Don Quixote on the internet. The only happy news is that this page keeps growing. Not by huge leaps, but by small increments. Okay. I tweet maybe twenty times daily. I work all my social media, refreshing with new content as often as possible. I’m broke. This would be a very different operation if I had some shekels. But I don’t. Even if I had some cash, I wouldn’t be ready to spend it on Facebook advertising. The latter requires expertise, though F’book wants you to believe that anyone can do it. Their top-o-the-line ad platform is called AdEspresso. It costs $150/month for the middle level functionality. This monthly is BEFORE I pay for the ads themselves. The AdESpresso is a targeting instrument. Like, who’s my audience? I would say that my audience is comprised of well educated baby boomers who have been through some kind of therapy experience and have an interest in the nuts and bolts of spiritual practice. Or, to express it another way, my audience is comprised of smart people who feel broken by their upbringing and their culture and want to do something to be more alive and vibrant. AdEspresso allows me to target recipients of my ads by occupation, education, interests, taste in books, music, movies. Wait, wait….MY AUDIENCE IS ANYONE WHO HAS EVER BEEN TO OR PLANS GOING TO BURNING MAN!

Eleven Things An Unpublished Novelist Feels

Eleven Things An Unpublished Novelist Feels

Art Rosch
Copyright 2010
1.I am a genius unique in the annals of mankind.  Most of the reading audience is not advanced enough to perceive the layered depth of my work
2.If my books are published they will change lives.
3. I’m a committed artist.  My work transcends genre. This upsets agents, who are too conventional to see through the boundary-shattering nature of my work.
4.My life experience has been so unusual and difficult that I have a special credibility in writing about the human condition.
5.I’m getting older and all these rejection slips are coming from agents who are my kids’ age.
6.Who do they think they ARE!?
7.While I may not be published in my lifetime, my works will reach the world posthumously.  This is a good thing for the world but doesn’t do shit for me.
8.I frequently succumb to self-pity and apathy but I bounce back with increased defiance.
9.I know the odds against writing a best seller are astronomical.  A series of apparent coincidences will bring my writing before the world.
10.The seven hundred agents who rejected me without reading a single page will write to apologize and ask to represent future projects.
11. Ninety nine percent of the people in the world believe that they belong to the one percent that’s superior to the other ninety nine percent.  I am in the REAL one percent.

Writer’s Stampede

The Writer’s Stampede
            Where did all these writers come from?  It seems that everyone has a book to promote and is searching for an agent, thinking about self-publishing, attending workshops and jumping through endless hoops to garner attention with a book project.
            Literary agents report receiving from four hundred to a thousand query letters each week.  Agents have become something like gods, they have the power to bestow bliss, rapture and burning hope in the hearts of writers.
            All this is happening in an age when it is thought that no one reads books any more, that video games and other distractions have turned our children into withdrawn illiterates.
            Then along came J.K. Rowling with Harry Potter and the world changed.
            Ask any agent or publisher what the odds are of selling a book.  Conventional wisdom holds that selling a book to a publisher is impossible.  The odds are astronomical.  Self publishing is one way of getting a book to the public but the writer must SELL the book.  It’s one thing to place a work in the digital marketplace, get an ISBN number and register the book with Amazon.  It’s another thing to SELL the book.  The effort required to promote a book is staggering.
It requires spending twenty eight hours a day on Twitter, Facebook, Bonghook, Bookface,
Yourspace, Myspace, Crawlspace plus traveling to at least ten writing seminars a month.
            Certain genres have congealed as dominant in this scurry towards publication.  YA, or Young Adult, is by far the big market.  Add Vampires, horror,
the supernatural and you have the Infinite Candy Mountain of book projects.
            Park your dragon in the rear and get your ticket validated.
            I’m a writer.  Just another writer.  I’ve made a few sales.  I generate a little income but I haven’t sold any of my book-length projects.
            I’ve queried agents hundreds of times since I began writing fiction in the late seventies.  I signed to a major agent for two years after selling my first story to Playboy Magazine.  Then I proceeded to screw up, to write poorly, and my window of opportunity passed. 
            I continued to write and got better.  I devoted thousands of hours to my novels and they got better, and better, and still better.
            I’m still querying agents by the hundreds and receiving form letter rejections. “Not what we’re looking for.”  “Good luck with your writing career.” “Burn your manuscripts and take up knitting.”  Stuff like that.
            I believe in my writing with passionate intensity. 
            I feel as if I’ve just walked into Disneyland on a day when a major publisher has announced that it will chose one writer in the park, at random, and offer a three book contract with a half million dollar advance.
The crowd is suffocating, stifling.
            I feel lost, overwhelmed.
            I don’t have a vampire in any of my books.  I have really REALLY good writing.  It is muscular, powerful, original, funny and compelling.
            `All I can do is continue writing and querying agents, entering contests, hanging around internet writer’s blogs and endlessly revising the books t hat I love as I love my own children.

The Fugitives: An Extreme Dog Rescue Story

From The Road Has Eyes: A Relationship, An RV and A Wild Ride

The Fugitives
We are full time RV dwellers, and we love it. We live in a safe, well maintained Kountry Kampground north of San Francisco. Rent is cheap. A small community of “monthlies”, as we’re called, live year round in our big coaches, trailers and fifth wheels. There’s an unwritten social contract here. We leave one another alone. We want space, peace, we want to keep a low profile.
When we arrived in March of 2005 we didn’t know how to conduct our lives in a campground. We hadn’t learned how to choose a strategic site for our RV. We took what was available, a site that was at the center of the northern campground. We had people coming and going on both sides, as well as fore and aft. We had a continual round of new neighbors.
At first this was somewhat unnerving. Soon enough we discovered that if we wanted to schmooze, we could say hello, and if we didn’t, we could keep to ourselves and be left alone.
The only problem that wouldn’t go away was the strange couple living in a tiny trailer in the row immediately behind us.
When I say tiny, I’m talking about an RV model called “The Casita”. It is nothing more than a sleeping bag with walls. It’s interior is about the size of a Japanese capsule hotel room. A person can just about sit upright without banging the head. It has a little sink, a hot plate and a tiny porta-potty.

There were two people and a full grown Dalmatian dog living in this wheeled packing crate. It was hard to imagine how they could survive under these conditions, yet they were there, coming and going. Unfortunately, the dog didn’t get to come and go. He stayed locked in this dreadfully tiny space. He howled his loneliness and claustrophobic misery in a way that turned our lives into hell. This was our first month at the campground.

These were our neighbors .

Fox and I we went helplessly berserk over this dog. We tried to hatch schemes to liberate him from his plight.
There was something dreadfully “off” about the couple who owned the dog. If I make the statement, “I couldn’t look at them”, I want you to take me literally.
Every time I tried, my eyes seemed to meet a force field that deflected vision. My sight could get to within a foot or so of Ms.X or Mr. Y and then my eyeballs would physically bounce a few feet farther along, repelled by a barrier occupying the space at which I was attempting to look. This was one of the strangest things I have ever experienced.
I asked one of my neighbors to look at the couple next time the opportunity arose. I asked for a brief description of the people who were living within eight yards of our coach. The dog was no problem. I could see the dog when he was let out on a chain. I couldn’t see the people. I could hear them, I could make out their voices if not their words, I knew when their pickup truck pulled into and out of the parking space. Fox and I said hello a few times and were completely ignored. That’s weird, to greet a person who responds by behaving as if you don’t exist.
The next day my other neighbor came over and said, “I’ll be damned if I can figure out what they look like. I can’t really see them. Maybe they just move so fast I can’t draw a bead.”
The human eye moves extremely quickly. It wanders, far more than we consciously know. Eye movement is the fastest muscular action in the human body. These lightning quick movements are called saccades. I read a science fiction novel recently in which alien creatures knew how to scan human eye saccades and move only during those micro-seconds when human beings were looking away. This created a ‘just-at-the- edge-of- -vision’ effect, and gave the aliens a tactical advantage in outmaneuvering their enemies.
Whatever the cause, I could not look at, I could not see these people. They must have wanted so badly to be invisible that they had created a psychological force field. This mysterious couple evaded eye contact, they moved in such a manner as to attract minimum attention. They did not engage in conversation. They had taken the adjective “furtive” to a new level. Somehow, they had established an invisibility matrix, they had tuned in to the collective saccade. Fox couldn’t see them. My neighbors saw them more than we did, but not much. My neighbors could detect a few details of clothing or hair color. He couldn’t describe their height, weight, features, ethnicity. Nothing.
Only the dog provided a common ground of agreement that they were there at all. Otherwise, they would have been “the people who weren’t there.”
When they were home, the dog came out on a chain. He looked at us sadly, wagged his tail and sat quietly, licking his paws. If one of us said, “Hi buddy,” he would come to the limit of his chain, hoping for friendly contact.
When the Xys left for the day, which was most days, the dog got stuck inside the little house on wheels. He keened piteously. We were going insane.
Other neighbors began to feel the hurt that lived so pitifully in our midst. There was no question that this was animal abuse. Solving the problem was not simple. We could call the Humane Society, but that was tantamount to a death sentence for the dog. We didn’t know what the dog’s owners would do. If they were criminals, we could find ourselves targets for retaliation. It wasn’t our style to call the authorities. Other and more imaginative solutions had to be found.
The first thing, the simplest thing, was to leave a note.
“Hi neighbors,” the note said, “if you would like help with your dog, we would be glad to take him for a walk. Just leave a note on our car (the white Jeep) if this sounds like a good idea. signed, your neighbors in site 45.”
I crossed the lane and taped this note to the door.
The next day there was a response, in the form of another note, on bright yellow paper, attached to THEIR door. It seemed reasonable to assume that this paper was their response to our request.
I went across the lane. The note was terse. “Buster’s fine,” it said. “He gets exercise.”
Buster wasn’t fine. His howls changed to a continuous scratching sound. He was tearing up the inside of the tiny RV. We began hearing a low haunting wail, followed by frantic scraping sounds.
One day the Xys came home, and I heard the woman shouting at Buster. Thwop Thwop Thwop!, she was beating him with a magazine.
We couldn’t stand much more of Buster’s agony.
Help came in the form of Roscoe and Lulu Martin. They came to the campground with their dog Barkley. They were regulars. They came almost every weekend. Roscoe was an Aussie merchant seaman with arms full of crude tattoos. He looked the part of the classic rough n’ tumble Australian. He was tall and fair, windburned. Lulu was a petite Jewish woman from Long Island, with a great cascade of red-brown hair. She had endured twenty years of an ugly marriage, then more years of frustrating single-ness. Then she met and fell in love with Roscoe.
They spent their weekends around the campfire, drinking beer and laughing at Barkley. Roscoe played wonderfully delicate songs on his guitar. Lulu sighed with adoration. They were an eccentric couple, a love story of people from opposite ends of the earth who might not meet in a million years. Yet they met, clicked and had been married more than a decade.
Barkley was a Retriever-sized mutt who was obsessed with the hammock. He would jump into the hammock as Roscoe snoozed with a half empty can of Foster’s perched on his belly. Together they would tumble to the ground in a tangle of arms, legs and tail. Lulu would emerge from the Winnie to untangle them, and the process would start again. No one begrudged Barkley his love of the hammock. He just didn’t understand the concept of sharing.
“He needs a playmate”, Lulu said. “We’re looking for another dog.”
We knew about a dog that needed another family. All that was required was for the Xys to relinquish Buster.
We described Buster’s plight to the Martins. “Alrighty,” Roscoe said, “on the morrow we shall pay a visit to these blokes and straighten things out. Eh Barkley? You want a friend?” Barkley jumped up into the now-empty hammock, his tongue hanging out, his eyes saying “I love everything about you and everything you do.”
The Xys seemed to spend most of the afternoon and evening away from the campground. They left at about eleven, returning at nine or ten o’clock.
Roscoe was going to be the point man. He would knock on the door of the tiny trailer. He would make his offer: we’ll take your dog off your hands and give him a good home.
Roscoe had balls of brass and could talk anyone into anything.
At about ten in the morning, Lulu, Fox and I took positions at our picnic table. Roscoe, leading Barkley on a leash, went across the way and knocked firmly at the door of the tiny RV.
We knew the Xys were home. Their pickup was parked in front. When Roscoe knocked, Buster began shrill barking from inside the RV. The door did not open. Roscoe knocked again. Barkley sat back on his haunches and uttered a low “Ooooo” in response to the frenzied hacks of Buster.
The Xys did’t open the door. I saw the curtain move at the tiny window. A frightened eye briefly peered out, then vanished. Buster’s shrill alarms must have been deafening from inside the tiny trailer. The Xys couldn’t hold out very long.
Roscoe circled the little vehicle, stepping over the hitch, going to the other side and around, back to the door. He knocked hard. “Come on, mates, you’re in there,” he shouted over the sound of barking dogs. “I don’t mean ya harm. I just want to make you an offer.”
Four or five minutes passed. It really seemed as if the Xys intended to just wait us out. We were prepared to wait longer.
At last the door opened, the little screen flew against the trailer’s flank and Ms. X, came outside.
Roscoe stepped backward in sudden revulsion. Even where we sat, the stench was palpable. “Bloody hell,” he muttered. Ms. X carefully closed the screen door behind her. I tried to look at her. I could see lanky brown hair, long and dirty. That’s all my eyes were permitted to register.
“What do you want?” she asked, flatly.
“This heah’s Bahhkley”, Roscoe said in his rounded Aussie vowels. “He’s lonesome and we heah you have a dog that might want a friend that…..”
“Fuck off,” Ms X interrupted Roscoe. “I love Buster. He’s my dog.”
She did a one eighty and went back inside the tiny rig, closing the door. The stink filled the air. How could people live inside that cloud of dog shit smell?
“Fuck off to you too,” finished Roscoe. He stood there for a moment. Barkley rubbed his face against Roscoe’s leg. Together they walked across the roadway.
“Unbelievable,” exclaimed Roscoe. “You would not believe what that place looks like inside. There’s stuff everywhere, and most of it’s stuck together with dog shit. Ucccchh!”
Thwop thwop thwop, we heard Buster yelp as he was hit with Ms. X’s instrument of discipline. The poor animal stopped barking.
“I think, “ I said, loudly enough to be heard all up and down the row,
”that we need to talk to the management about these people.”
Quietly, Roscoe said, “they’re up to here with the dog. I sort of saw the guy, or at least I saw something like a man, well, I saw a baseball cap, that’s all I saw. Bloody ‘ell, they’re hard to see, those people. Anyway, he was saying, Let em have the fuckin dog.’ He imitated a redneck American accent perfectly. It was funny but our hearts were breaking. “I think something will break loose in the next little bit. No worries, we’ll get poor Buster.”
I wish I’d had his confidence. We could report the Xys, we could get them thrown out of the campground, but that wouldn’t help Buster.
We went down to Roscoe and Lulu’s campsite. We wanted to put some distance between us and the Xys. It was Saturday and the campground was full. The weekly mediocre blues band was warming up on the slab surrounding the pool. Soon they would be belting out “Mustang Sally”, and we would go inside, close the windows and read until evening fell.
Barkley jumped into the hammock. Lulu spoke firmly. “Get down, Barkley, down!” Reluctantly, the dog vacated the swinging net. Roscoe popped a Foster’s and lay down in the hammock with a sigh. Barkley pushed off with his rear legs and landed atop Roscoe, and the two of them fell to the ground, foam lager slopping from the can and wetting man and dog.
“You bugger, Bahkley,” Roscoe laughed. “Got to put him on his lead or he’ll never quit.” He took the dog and fastened him to twenty five feet of nylon. It put the dog just out of range of the hammock. Barkley lay with his head on his paws. Roscoe picked up the Foster’s, brushed some leaves away and returned to the hammock.
“We’ll see mates, something will come up. Old Buster’s a nice looking dog. He doesn’t deserve that treatment.” Roscoe took a sip, closed his eyes and drifted with the breeze. Lulu was inside the camper preparing bangers and English muffins. The day went by the way so many spring Saturdays do in the campground. Fires were lit as night fell. Beer and wine were consumed, kids raced around on skateboards, people laughed. The Crazed Laugher cackled her resonant campground-filling laugh, which made everyone within hearing laugh all the harder.
We returned to our coach. Across the way, silence emanated from the tiny trailer. It was hard to keep despair from our hearts.
I experience more pain when I see animals abused than when I see pain inflicted on human beings. Maybe that makes me weird, I don’t know. It’s just the way it is. Animals can’t effectively defend themselves when humans are bent on causing them pain. They’re caged, restrained, and otherwise helpless. They have no words to express their grief. They have only cries, yelps, whines, screams. They probably don’t understand why they’re being hurt, why a man or woman is beating or tormenting them. I get very upset when I see an animal treated badly. Buster’s plight was like an ice pick in my heart.
Fox was beyond words. Her inchoate stifling made me burn with helpless anger. She could see Buster’s thoughts, read his images. It was terrible.
We went to bed that night without hope. It seemed as though we must report the doings of the Xys to Woodson, the campground owner. Woodson set a standard, and when his customers violated his rules, they were out of the campground with no warning and no second chance.
We had trouble getting to sleep that night. Buster’s pain and the ugliness of the Xys were making our first month of campground life a misery. What if it was always this way? What if there was always some horrible person to make life an ugly ordeal in campgrounds?
About one thirty, we drifted off to sleep. Both of us had bad dreams. My nocturnal visions were a chaos, a commotion of dogs howling, hands beating, pickup trucks spewing pebbles.
I always wake before Fox. I start a pot of coffee, check my email. When the coffee’s ready I take a book and go outside, to sit in one of our folding chairs.
I did the usual things. There was something odd about the world, but I couldn’t figure out what it was. Something out of place, something missing. For thirty seconds I looked around. I was half asleep, not really connecting the dots. Then I realized that the tiny Casita trailer was gone. The Xys had hooked the thing to their ratty old F-150 and vanished in the night.
They had left Buster, chained to a tree.
I crossed the lane, squatted in front of Buster and said hello, giving him a sniff of my hand. He was sweet and friendly, delighted to see me. I unhooked his chain and walked with my hand through his collar over to our coach. I dragged the chain behind, and hooked Buster up to a D-ring on our awning. Then I went inside and woke Fox.

My Blood Is In Every Word

Ten years ago I bought a digital keyboard. I was embarking on a studio venture, making a CD of my songs. I grew up as a drummer but took to the piano as a means of composing material. The day I brought the keyboard home I had injured my hand. As I explored my new instrument I began to bleed on the keys. This is appropriate, I t hought, I’m anointing my instrument with my own blood. It makes a nice metaphor regarding my writing passion. I’ve been writing since I was fifteen, when I penned my firsst e.e. cummings-style poem to please a girlfriend. I was born to be a writer. Here I am, not a youngster any more, engaged in the ridiculously grim and absurd business of finding an agent for two novels and a travel/adventure non fiction book. “Not right for us”, “not quite what we’re looking for”, “good luck in your writing career”, etc. You’ve heard them all. Will I stop querying? No! Will I stop writing? Of course not. I’ve gotten more pleasure from the process of writing than almost anything I can think of besides my family relationships.
I love my books as if they are my children. I’m proud of them. I think they’re great! I want them to do well. Does it break my heart that they are continually rejected? Of course it does. Music broke my heart, too. My last gig was a killer. After spending weeks in promotion, pinning up posters, getting promises from friends who would ABSOLUTELY be there, I dragged my heavy equipment into the place, set it up, went through the usual stage fright and waited for the audience to appear. I had learned to calculate my audience in negative numbers. I count the people who are there when I arrive. I add the people who show up during the performance. I tally all those who showed up and I subtract the people who walked out, those who were already there eating, drinking, whatever…I also subtract the number of friends who promised to be there but weren’t. At this particular gig there were five people already at the bar when I arrived. Not one of my fourteen promised friends showed up. All five people at the bar left as soon as I began playing. BTW, in all modesty I’m a good performer, very entertaining. No one else came. My total audience was
minus nineteen. That was my last musical gig. I came near to tears but managed to
keep them back until I was in my car driving home. Okay, so what? Creating art is
a thankless task. It doesn’t matter whether one is great or a mediocrity. The effort and dedication are the same. All of us writers work our tails off. I won’t stop, I can’t stop and I will never give up. The music ended because I was physically unable to continue without some kind of payoff. It cost money to produce, I was aging and developing a chronic pain in my feet. Carrying a seventy pound keyboard or two hundred pounds of drums had become unsustainable. Writing is a good solitary occupation that requires a different form of stamina. I will be writing until what’s left of my mind disintegrates or they put me in my grave clutching the keyboard that they could not take out of my determined fingers.

Best to all writers!


How I Met My Soulmate: From “The Road Has Eyes”

The names of the characters in this book have been changed to protect their privacy.

Chapter 1

Meeting My Soulmate

At the time of my first encounter with Fox, I had spent my life failing at relationships. It’s a common disorder, chronic relationship failure.

I’m surprised there isn’t a support group, a twelve step program, a Failed Relationships Anonymous. If I became a member I would find a few musicians from the group and form a band. We would develop a special repertoire: We would play carefully chosen love songs, such as“Killing Me Softly” and “I Put A Spell On You”. Then we could begin rehearsing “Love Is A Battlefield” “Since I Fell For You,” and, of course, “Crazy.”

We could call ourselves The Damned If You Do.

My relationship history is pretty boring. I spent a year with a woman, two years with another. My longest relationship lasted three years. I thought we were doing fine but I was out of touch with my partner’s feelings. She ran off with a Tibetan lama and became the mistress of his ashram. It happened very suddenly, or so it seemed to me. My friends told me they had seen it coming for months.

Thanks for the help, guys.

I was a relationship saboteur. When a woman started showing signs of attachment, I grew more distant. The more love she offered, the more distant I became. This dynamic is also a common affliction, especially in men. Where devoted love is concerned, men talk a good game, but are actually big scaredy cats.

I wanted to be in a lasting relationship, but the more love came my way, the more I curled up in my shell and hid. What was so scary about loving and being loved?

This knot of confusion about love earns a lot of income for therapists. Their relationships are at least as messed up as the rest of ours, if not more so. Their Phd’s and MFTs are licenses to practice alchemy. They turn OUR angst and numbness into THEIR gold.

Aside from the three “long” relationships in my life, I’ve had about twenty flings of less than a month. Each of my girlfriends said virtually the same thing as we broke up.

“You’re remote, I don’t know what’s going on inside of you. I need more from you than what I’m getting. You’re a nice guy; I really like you but if this is all you can give, I have to move on.”

I wasn’t such a nice guy. After I met Fox I began to accept this fact.
I had a wicked tongue. I “leaked”, as the shrinks like to say. That meant I said nasty things without knowing I was being nasty. I was a nice guy, right? I didn’t hit anyone; I didn’t shout or lurch unshaven from room to room holding a can of beer.
I needed the right woman. She would have to attach herself to me like a barnacle and never let go. I needed someone who had already decided she would hold onto me.
I was commitment-phobic and averse to responsibility. On the brief clock of life, I was already past fifty. It was time to put this childishness behind me! I decided to make a serious effort at meeting my partner.

I had to be thorough, make myself available. I would post and answer personals ads, do things to meet single women.

I started visiting websites. I had been told that the internet dating world is a freak show of fantasy and bad judgment. Fine! I’m a writer. I thrive on fantasy and bad judgment. Bring them on!

I subscribed to matchmaking sites and perused the ads, looking at the pictures and reading absurdly perfect descriptions of prospective partners. Where were the neurotics, the nut cases? They’re right here, I thought, hiding in plain sight.
This was the early nineties. The internet wasn’t so slick back then. The ads were brief and the photos took agonizing minutes to download.
Here’s a typical ad: Fit female professional, petite, 38. Loves reading, wine, fine dining, romantic walks on the beach. Looking for financially secure man with sense of humor.

My problem with these ads was the way people presented themselves as generic versions of human beings. The honest text of this ad would read “Female professional running out of eggs. Obsessed about weight. Keeping thin via fiendish treadmill workouts. Loves trashy novels. Gets sloshed during dinner. Looking for generous man or will soon commit suicide.”

My email box filled quickly. Having twenty or thirty letters a day was exciting. It was a rush! I was hoping to find my destined soul mate. I kept looking and reading, ad after ad, email upon email, and it was difficult to stop. I fantasized about finding that honest ad accompanied by a photo that would make my testosterone sit up and notice. Just one more, I kept thinking, just one more. Maybe that will be The One!

It became an addiction. Every day, I spent all my spare time at the computer. I looked at photos, exchanged emails, spoke on the phone. Once or twice a month I went on a coffee date, hoping there would be that magical ingredient, Chemistry. I met teachers, single moms, lawyers, nurses, psychologists, tarot readers and massage therapists.

Without exception, they were crazy. “Fit female professional” was a nail biter. She compulsively gnawed the ends of her fingers and spat the leavings onto the table.
She was an attorney. She kept talking through the nail biting, P-tuh. P-tuh. She spoke quickly and emphatically. While she gnawed her left hand, she waved her right hand in my face. This right hand was her way of telling me not to interrupt because her story was much more important than any of my stories. I was to shut up and listen attentively. It was okay. I didn’t have anything to say. Attorney stories are incredibly boring to non-attorneys.

I’m sure the ladies found me just as strange. The LEAST strange thing about me is that my favorite T-shirts are ninety five percent holes. They are just bits of thread barely connecting a few patches of fabric. I have only three left. I can’t sleep in anything but one of these three T-shirts. Sometimes I forget what I’m wearing and go outside to fetch the mail or talk to a neighbor. I get a strange look and I realize that I’m wearing a garment that resembles the lining of a hamster’s cage. That is the LEAST strange thing about me.

I think we would be better off if we stopped pretending to be well adjusted and wore our neuroses like outer garments, as plainly as blouses and jackets. Perhaps someone should invent a kind of portable holographic billboard, a way to display personality profiles. They could be called REALITYGRAMS ä. They would convey honest self-assessments. For example, when a man comes into proximity to an attractive female, he can switch on his REALITYGRAM™, which will say something like “ I am a needy narcissist with food addictions and a tendency towards cruel verbal ‘leakage’. I’m working on these issues in therapy. I dwell excessively on my childhood abuse. I blame my mother for everything that’s wrong with my life.”

The dark side of one’s-personality is up front, out on the table. The man I’ve just described, whoever he might be, could look for a woman with a hologram saying, “I am a compulsive nurturer. I can’t say ‘No’ to anyone. I’m submissive but full of repressed rage. I cycle between anorexia and bulimia. I’m attracted to men like my father. He could verbally cut a woman to shreds and seem as if he was doing her a favor.”

Instead of looking for Mister or Ms Perfect, we can look for a person with a tolerable set of neuroses and compulsions. A person we can live with. Think of all the time and trouble to be saved!

The internet dating world is a freak show of fantasy and bad judgment. That isn’t just a rumor. I had dates that were excruciating and bizarre. One night I went out with a psychiatrist who offered herself in marriage after about twenty minutes of light conversation. We had been driving around Golden Gate Park. I had parked my car in front of the Hall of Flowers and we were sitting there, chatting and inhaling the fragrant air.

“Do you want to marry me?” she asked, in all seriousness. “I need to know right now. Otherwise I’ll make different plans. You’ll never regret hooking up with me. I’ll support you in your work, connect you with publishers. Your life will be glorious. I’m a fantastic woman, sexually, intellectually. I cook gourmet food. I know volumes of poetry by heart. I can fence, I play chess….”

“Why,” I asked, “are you so eager to marry me?”

“You’re a brilliant man,” she said. “I’ve read your writing, heard your music. Your work will be loved centuries from now. I want to be part of that. An artist like you doesn’t come around every day.”

There was a little red light going off in that part of my brain that discriminates between decisions that are in my best interests and decisions that are not. Beep beep beep beep. The familiar Star Trek Computer Voice was saying, “Warning warning, attractive objects may be less attractive than they appear!” There was part of me that was flattered and tempted. She was a fine looking woman, with blue eyes, milky skin and a glossy black helmet of shoulder-length hair. She was a socialite psychiatrist who lived in a five thousand square foot house on Twin Peaks. I had gone to her house for coffee. It was incredible. The furnishings, the view! Then we drove in our separate cars to the bottom of the hill. She was going somewhere else after our little date. I picked her up on Haight Street and we took my car into Golden Gate Park.

I thought about being supported in luxury while I played music and wrote novels. I thought about that amazing house and its view of the glittering lights of the entire bay. I was exhausted by my artist’s poverty. I had struggled for decades just to stay alive and continue my work. I was worn down by the incessant tension of squeaking by on a pittance.

I was actually thinking about it! I was insane to even consider it! Let me remind you that, a few paragraphs back, I make the blanket assertion that we’re all crazy. Yes, I thought about marrying this woman. I just couldn’t fight my way through the temptation. For fifteen minutes I waffled around, equivocating. I could not bring myself to say a clear “No.”

My hesitation made her furious.

She grew strident. Her transformation from charming to vicious was instantaneous.

“Asshole!” she rasped. Her hair swung like a whip as she turned on me. “Do you have any idea what you’re passing up?” She grabbed her sweater at the waist and pulled it to her neck. Her eyes burned into mine. The nearby street lights revealed a perfect pair of medium sized breasts with taut little nipples. The muscles of her abdomen and torso were beautifully toned from regular workouts. I got the message. I didn’t know what to do with it.

I babbled. “What the fu…? I…um..shit….how would I…umm?” My mouth was full of the stones of reality. I didn’t know what to say. This woman was nuts! What wonderful irony!

“Take me back to my car, you fucking pussy,” she finally ordered. “I need a man who knows what he wants. You had your chance, you fat kyke.”

This is internet dating, I reminded myself. Don’t be surprised by anything, no matter how bizarre. Our world is like a locked psych-ward after the doors have been thrown open.

I drove out of the park and delivered my rejected wrathful shrink to her Mercedes on Haight Street.

This was a chaotic period in my life, a time when I frequently lost my bearings. On one occasion I accepted a dinner invitation to a woman’s home. She had posted an exquisite photograph online, that of a gorgeous blonde with a sweet and tender expression.

I would be meeting her son and a few close friends. It seemed innocent enough. It seemed safe.

I rang the doorbell of a ranch house in the North Bay. The door opened with an ominous squeak of the hinges. If I had been living in a cartoon, there would have been a sudden scream of tuneless brass from the orchestra. My hair would have stood on end. As the door opened my eyes would pop out on stalks and a second ghostly figure of myself would be seen separating from my body and running away in terror. The orchestra would follow my ghost-body with a tinny xylophone playing silly running sounds.
She wore a hair net. She cradled a bottle of bourbon in her armpit. A cigarette dangled from the corner of her lips and sent swirls of smoke drifting into watery eyes. The makeup that was daubed on her face looked as if applied by a chimpanzee. She leered at me, smiling the ways horses laugh, with the lips flapping like big wet paddles, showing her oversized square yellow teeth. The photo in her web ad showed a fresh-faced blue-eyed beauty with the looks of a magazine model. If I squinted and imagined her in a much younger life, I could recognize the svelte beauty. There are no rules on the internet outlawing the use of images from twenty or thirty years ago. I had been hoist on the petard of my own shallowness!

Rather than bailing out at the first opportunity, I politely persevered. I didn’t have the heart to reject the woman outright. I had been on dates that lasted five seconds. Both followed the same script. I strode into the coffee shop, recognized my date by her description. I sat down. My date stood up as if she was on the other end of a seesaw.

“Nope, not my type,” she said. She pivoted and walked away. That’s all. Twice! Had the date lasted five seconds? Ten? It depends when the clock started. When I walked ithrough the door? Or when I sat down?

These ladies were black belts in internet dating. They threw me to the mat, bam! I’m not like that. I could never be so ruthless.

There were a dozen or so people about the house. Something illicit was going on in a rear bedroom, where the door opened periodically to swallow people. When they emerged there was a glitter about their eyes, a skewed smile, a naughty wink. When I was invited, I declined. I hadn’t come to this place to get loaded on the buzz of the day.
I protected myself by spending time with the son of my hostess. He was eleven and had a set of drums. I had once been a professional drummer. I felt I had something to impart. I showed the boy how to play a few rudiments and easy swing rides on the cymbal. He wanted to play blasting heavy metal music and wasn’t very impressed. He demonstrated his playing by thrashing at the drums with uncoordinated rage. I took my turn again and started doing Gene Krupa licks. This was more to his liking. He could relate to the primitive tom-toms, to the boomboombity boom.

The boy had a sad resigned look on his face. His dad was absent; his mom was a decaying alcoholic, his home a location for drug parties. He was not having an easy childhood. He had a Marine Corps haircut, the kind that looks like an oval piece of carpet glued to the top of his head. He had pimples, a few missing teeth. I could see the thug he would be in four or five years.

I digress. The story of how I met Fox goes like this: Fox kept her laptop at her best friend’s house. In the course of my online meet ‘n’ greets, I had corresponded briefly with this best friend, and my name had gone into her Buddies List. There was a small problem, because it wasn’t her computer and it wasn’t her Buddies List.

Fox was a deeply reserved woman in the midst of an unspeakably abusive marriage.

The computer was with her best friend because Fox’s husband relentlessly spied on her. He scanned her computer, listened to her phone calls, brazenly read her mail. Her best friend’s place was the only refuge she knew. She had to embezzle her own money to buy a laptop. It stayed at the best friend’s house; it was her only private expression.

The next time she signed on to AOL, she saw my name on her Buddies List. “Who is this?” she asked her friend. “Have you been using my computer?”

“I’m sorry,” was the reply. “I couldn’t resist. I hate sharing a computer with Tom.” That was her son. “He’s always playing video games, I never get online.” She looked at my name on the Buddies List. “That’s just some guy I chatted with a few times.”

Fox was angry. She sent me an email and requested that her screen name be removed from my Buddies List, and she would remove mine from hers. I don’t really remember, truth be told, how the first email morphed into several more emails. Soon we were regular correspondents. Then we started talking on the phone. The conversations were strangely confessional. Sometimes Fox fled from her home in despair and called me from her car. She barely mentioned her marriage. She listened. She was a great listener and I could talk raindrops back into the clouds.

Then we arranged to meet.

It was impossible to anticipate how profoundly we would alter one another’s lives.