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August 13, 2006

No Ordinary Profile: The Talented Mr. R

Ukflagstarburst [published on August 15, 2005]

            I met him through one of those internet websites they used to have where you could find an e-pal.  Eight years ago an 'e-pal' was just the high-tech version of a penpal.  Christ only knows what they have now.  With all of the ways of chatting and ‘instant messaging’ that are available, I assume that nobody needs to write proper letters anymore. 

            Why did I want an e-pal?  Without going into detail, let’s just say that it was a bleak time in my life. Note that finding an e-pal wasn’t necessarily the route (at least in those days) to ‘internet dating’ or ‘online romance.’  I wasn’t looking for either.  I approached it very much in the spirit in which I decided to start a weblog;  I wanted to write about things that interested me and I wanted to feel that someone was reading them. 

  The internet wasn’t the same sort of resource it is today for meeting people; the available sites were static and modelled after the ‘personal ad’ pages in newspapers that were a relatively new and trendy development in those days.  Nothing happened instantly, even over the internet.  You went to the site, read the profiles, emailed or posted a reply, and waited. 

            I could write a book---though I’m not going to---on the best way to go about meeting compatible souls online.  First of all, an intelligent person who is mature and looking for an interesting correspondent and long-term friend (as opposed to a virtual sex partner) should avoid like the plague any ‘ad’ or personal profile that goes like this:

[marital status/race/sex], fortyish, [smoking/nonsmoking] enjoys [hobbies or interest, e.g., ‘long walks in the moonlight’],[type of music], [type of food], [favorite television show], [favorite type of literature] seeks [physical description] [desired marital status/race/sex] who likes same for [describe intended activities]. 

Setting aside the very limited imagination this sort of formulaic description reflects, it doesn’t tell you anything.   Common interests may be a way to meet someone, but---honestly---they don’t necessarily guarantee compatibility in any other respect.  And anyway, having things in common is overrated in any case.  Sometimes the best sort of friend, lover, or spouse is the one who can talk about things you know nothing about at all.

            And that’s part of what I wanted----someone who would write intelligently about things I didn’t know much about, such as British culture.

            I also didn’t want the emails to degenerate into discussions of home, family, clothing, spouse, and other topics which women tend to discuss with one another.  For that reason I wanted to write to a man.  A man who wasn’t looking for a potential lover or virtual sex partner. 

Tricky. 

            Eight years ago, I found three correspondents (this is out of a large number of people with whom I exchanged letters) who lasted and with whom I’m in touch---though admittedly, much more sporadically than back in the old days. Rumcove was one of the three.  He’s the only one I’ve met in person (several times now). 

            At that particular site, the ‘personal data’ was in the form of responses to an online profile”

[1]  What do you do in your spare time?  Consider my debts.  Despair. 

[2]  Marital status:  married, never married, widowed, or divorced?  None of the above.  I live alone.  My wife prefers it that way.

[3]  Describe yourself in twenty words or less:  Rumcove by name; rum cove by nature.

[4]  What are you looking for from an e-pal?  Female, between the ages of 30 and 75.  I try not to be agist or sexist, but being a sad git, I'd rather write to a woman. 

Now that is the way to write a profile. 

            Rumcove was from Southend-on-Sea in the county of Essex.  I’ve since learned that the proper attitude toward Essex is mildly derogatory, but I refuse to adopt it.  I loved Southend---sorry, ‘Sarfend’---when I visited it and I found it all totally charming, even the ‘net curtains’ in every window that Rumcove himself considers 'naff.'  I didn't meet any of the legendary 'Essex girls' but I would have liked to. ("What does an Essex girl do if she wants to make love with the light off?"  "She shuts the car door."  “What does an Essex man do when an Essex girl asks him to kiss her somewhere wet and smelly?”  “He takes her to Canvey Island.”) 

            Rumcove educated me in English slang, estuary English (which apparently is causing fear and consternation throughout the rest of England due to its virus-like propensity to spread), and aspects of English culture I’d never considered.  He brought me up to date on English comedy---like many Americans, I still thought of it as Fawlty Towers and sweet, unthreatening, mildly snarky comedy such as Waiting for God, Keeping Up Appearances, and Red Dwarf---and introduced me to Men Behaving Badly, Father Ted, Black BooksNighty Night, Alan Partridge, Happiness, The Office, and Green Wing. He also introduced me to the works of Nick Hornby, the poet John Clare and Ian Dury and the Blockheads.   He reintroduced me to Shakespeare’s sonnets.    A teacher by profession, and deeply interested in his own country and culture, he was a one-man symposium on English life in the Southeast.   

             In his younger years, he had been a member of a band called “Hieronymous Bosch.”  That, I think, ought to have been his real career.  He is one of those unfortunates who is both deeply introverted and at the same time only fully himself when playing to the crowd.

            He also insisted that I support Southend United Football Club (in a sad state at that time, but doing much better now) and that I look up the scores every Saturday so that we could discuss them.   Though he routinely referred to them as ‘the wankers,’ he was and is a devoted fan, and if you don’t know what that entails, read Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch or see the real film from 1997, starring Colin Firth.

            Email friends who stick around are like the imaginary friends you had in childhood---amazingly close but with voices only you can hear.  For me, the loudest and most obtrusive of these voices has a Thames estuary accent. 

            For mordant merriment, unquiet desperation, trenchant solipsism, irritating magic tricks, and occasional morose whinging when 'the Blues' let him down, watch this space….

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