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Tuesday, June 8, 2010


It's never too late to find love

By Sandy Huffaker

I'm sixty-six years old. There are those who would point out that, 'Hey, that guy over there is an old fart.' But I don't listen to those people because, as a cartoonist, I must remain resolutely immature or no one will find me amusing. These same imaginary people (I need them to make this opening paragraph work) also say, ' Say, I'll bet that old fart's romance days are all behind him now.' On this I must admit that, after two failed marriages and numerous relationships, these evil literary-device people had a point: For nine years I had not even had one date.
Eight years ago I moved from the northeast to a small farm deep in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia where my only neighbors are bovine. I have a slice of land cut out of a thousand acre bull raising operation, surrounded by deep woods, the Blue Ridge Mountains, massive rolling hills, and cows. I love cows more than people, but every now and then I need to drive twenty miles into the tiny town of Lexington to bullshit with the guys at my favorite bar.
When I moved here I knew there were very few people around, but it seemed possible there might be at least one woman around for me. There wasn't. Unlike Europeans and northern girls, Southern Bible Belt females feel they aren't "nice girls" if they go to a bar. But I've never felt that a person looked for love anyway, rather it just found one every now and then. Sadly, since I wasn't looking and nothing was finding me, I began telling my morning hard-ons, "Go away, you've caused me nothing but trouble." Soon, Mr. Johnson stopped bothering me.
Slowly, I started enjoying being alone with no woman around to give me a list of my faults or complain about imaginary mold, neurotic illnesses, dust I couldn't detect, the toilet seat being up, or any number of nitpicky details. I leave my clothes wherever, eat off of paper plates, smoke anywhere, fart freely, and vacuum never. My grandkids love to visit me because they say, "Grampaw never makes us take a bath." There are few rules at my house and I can do what I want whenever I want. Not a bad life.
Then one day I get an email from out of the blue from one “Claire” that read:

“Hi Sandy, I wonder whether or not you remember me. It's been around 30 years since I last saw you. We went out a couple of times. You used to live on West 12th street and I lived in Midtown. I had an Abyssinian cat and left for Paradise Island when I first met you. It looks like you did well over the years and I'm glad for you. When I knew you, you were divorced and I believe you had a couple of kids. I imagine you have met quite a few women since I knew you. I was in Santa Fe and I wish I had known that you owned a gallery there; I would have definitely come over. I still live in NYC and so much has happened - most recently my significant other died after I was with him 11-1/2 years of congestive heart failure. He lived with the condition for 7 years. It's been 7 months now and I'm depressed still and am wondering if one ever stops grieving although admittedly I'm a lot better. I have a grown son now and he is a best selling author. New York City isn't what it used to be and I hope I have the courage to leave eventually. Hopefully, you'll drop me a line. Anyway, enjoy the holiday season.”

Wow. I was blown away by the straightforward honesty of the email, plus it seemed like someone out there in cyberspace liked me. But there was one slight problem: Though it is a pretty name, I've never known anyone named Claire. Maybe it was that art director I went away with for a few days but never called again? Anyway, I wrote this Claire back saying I was glad to hear from her and filling her in on what I'd been doing for thirty years. I didn't mention that I had no idea who the hell she was.
We started emailing each other and I was able to clear up a few questions. Did we sleep together? Surely I would remember that but, in the wild 70's in New York City, maybe not. Her answer was NO. Well, she must be a dog I thought, and I suggested we swap pictures. The answer was NO again--she was absolutely beautiful with large breasts, two of my favorite things. Then I wondered why I would completely erase from memory such a beautiful and honest woman. I figured she must be mean and nasty and had done something terrible, or was a total slut. I was gonna get to the bottom of this I swore to myself.
Since I had no memory of any Claire person, I wanted to let her write what she remembers about our few times together thirty years ago:

“I can't remember meeting Sandy for the first time, but likely it was at One Fifth Bar, (the address on Fifth Avenue), Mickey Ruskin's bar after he closed Max's Kansas City. It could have been the first time I was ever there and Sandy most likely bought me a drink. I saw him a couple of times after that, once meeting him at lunch and sitting outside with him. He teased me and although I enjoyed that immensely, I wouldn't let him know it. I didn't let him see me laugh at anything he said, usually walking in front of him and not letting him know what a good time I was having at my own expense. I don't recall Sandy calling me on the phone, but he must have because when I was leaving for Paradise Islands, I had to drop off my cat with a friend of mine and we met at his place and then Sandy and I went somewhere after that, probably for a drink. He asked me whom I was going away with and I told him a friend, but he questioned me further so I told him the truth, a very good friend who was separating from his wife. Sandy was more or less disgusted when I told him this and I realized that I made a mistake and it would have been better for me to have lied and told him that I was going with a girlfriend because he never would have known otherwise. I realized it was all over then. Anyway, I may have gone home then or maybe had a quick drink, as I was leaving the next morning. The man I was going away with already paid for his wife and we were honestly just friends and I later met someone nice at the airport from Paris that wrote to me and he didn't mind and I met other people on Paradise Island that I made friends with and we all went out together. There was never any kind of intimacy with the man I went away with and our friendship wasn't much either, especially after the trip. It was nice to get away; this was my first time on a tropical island.
After I got back, I eventually went to One Fifth again, where I ran into Sandy and he asked me if I see the woman that he's with and I said yes even though I didn't. He told me the woman said that I looked like a “cupcake” and asked if I wanted to have a drink with them. I wondered what he had in mind and said no thank you but I told him to thank her for the compliment. He left but came scurrying back a few minutes later where he seemed to pop up out of nowhere and asked me again whether or not I wanted to have a drink with him alone and I said no. Then he asked me whether or not I was sure and I told him I was waiting for someone. I stood around by myself for a few moments and then I suppose I left with whomever I was waiting for. I never went to One Fifth again and never saw Sandy after that. A couple of years later I had a new job and called Sandy's number in order to give him my new work number and he told me he moved to Princeton because he had gotten custody of his children. Since there was a long silence and I wouldn't give him the satisfaction of telling him that we ought to get together, I rang off and wished him luck with his kids. I was afraid he might say something mean and I didn't want to hear it. I always remembered him as a nice, fun guy and I liked him, but we never got to know each other, I hardly ever said a word to him because I was too shy with him for some reason. I concluded that he thought I was one useless and boring female. Also, I was raising my son at the time and felt that he wouldn't want to be mixed up with someone else's children.
About 24 years later after my boyfriend died and months had passed, I finally felt okay. I was bored at the office and wanted to reach out to someone without having them ask how I was and breaking down when I told them, I said to myself whom can I email? I went to Google and Sandy's name popped up in my head. I Googled him and on his website there was a place that I clicked in order to send him an email. I never expected a response, not a quick one anyway, but respond he did and I am the luckiest woman to have found the love of my life.”

After re-reading that quote, I don’t blame me for forgetting her. She must have mistaken me for someone with high self-esteem who would never take no for an answer as she shut door after door on my nose. But knowing her now, I realize that she liked me a lot and that her low self-esteem told her I would never be interested in her. Evidently I really liked her because I don’t “scurry” after women after the first no.
We soon graduated to the telephone at night while continuing to email during the day. The more I got to know this Claire person the more I liked her. One day I emailed my daughter that I had "met" someone who I liked a lot, but that I couldn't detect a sense of humor in her. Unfortunately, I clicked the wrong button and sent the email to Claire. When I realized what I did, I thought, oh shit, that is gonna hurt her feelings and she'll never speak to me again. But Claire took it well, and said that she wasn't sure if she did or not have a sense of humor, but she thought she was pretty funny. How wrong I was, for today I know her to be practically a professional comedienne made in the ditsy Lucy Ricardo mold.
Claire disagrees, but I think that way more than half of romance is in the mind. We talked for hours every night and the more I knew about her the more I realized I was falling in love with her...before in my mind I had even met her. We discussed our likes and dislikes and the potential problems that could ruin our getting together. With Claire being a lifelong New Yorker, I knew I was gonna hear about her dislikes and she put them all out there. Southerners don't do this, but then all of a sudden somebody shoots somebody for no spoken reason, so the New York way is best. We were brutally honest with each other, going over all the fears we had and fielding questions about each other and our histories. We were both wily veterans of the relationship wars and we questioned each other like suspicious investigative reporters, but trust was building and we were starting to smell the roses.
Since we lived so far apart - 7 1/2 hours by car or train - we had to make do. We swapped recent photos and, hey, this Claire was gorgeous and sexy looking. Why the hell did I ever let THAT go I wondered, but she had been totally erased from my mind for some reason? Soon, I was starting to stir sexually after all those years, so I started talking dirty with her. She had never done this on the phone, but she took to it like a duck to water. It became so powerful that we had to start making plans to do the scariest thing imaginable: actually to have a date!
To be safe, I planned to drive to Princeton, see and stay with old friends and then pop up to New York on the train and actually meet this apparition Claire.
If she looked at me and said, "EEEUUUUUWW," I could quickly go back to Princeton and no harm done. If I didn't like her, I would have to perform a mercy fuck in order not to be mean after all of our sexy talks. I told the friend who took me to the train to be at the ready to pick me up the next day in case we bombed out.
However, after several months of hours on the phone at night and around ten emails a day, I knew deep down that I was already in love with this woman. Being an introvert, if my mind is captured, the actual physical presence is just icing on the cake. Claire lives in the tactile world, so she disagrees with this, but I already felt I knew her and had asked all the serious questions about her I had wanted to know about. But, and I hate to be picky, it still might be a capital idea to meet.
I drove the seven hours to Princeton during the worst snowstorm in American history. After nine years of hardly speaking to a woman, here I was risking my life to see someone I didn't recall ever meeting. At least four trucks had skidded off the road and I had some real close calls myself, but something told me I MUST meet this woman no matter what. Finally arriving in Princeton, I called Claire to ease her worried little mind and tell her I made it in one piece. She said, "Hey, I'm watching my soap opera. Can I call you back?”
Oooooh, how I hated her. Does this woman do empathy at all??? I raised hell, but she talked my fears down (like she always does) about how into this meeting she was. I felt better and, after seeing friends for a day, the plan was that I would come see her the next day.
Extremely nervous, I approached her apartment door. It opened before I got there, and this beautiful little person (five feet tall, 104 pounds) stepped out and nervously said, "Sandy?" This picture of her in the doorway will be forever etched in my mind. She was so stunning and cute that my first thought was how will I ever keep THAT down on the farm?!! It was almost worse than if I hadn't liked what I saw.
We had a glass of wine and our hands quickly started roaming over each other. In short, our first date lasted six days of being together every second. I think doing it this way would have ruined most couples, but we were even more madly in love at the end. We both felt this should have happened thirty years ago, and began to try to guess what happened back then for me to erase her from memory. Maybe we weren't ready for it then? And should two old people in their sixties who had not had sex in years and had given up on love run around lovesick like two crazed teenagers?
Chemistry is chemistry, though, and it is either there or it isn't. One really doesn't have to work at it. Besides the intense physical attraction, we found we had read an astonishing number of the same authors, have the same satirical and sometimes wicked sense of humor, and like or don't like the same people. Basically, we are both lone wolves who finally found someone we want to be together with alone forever.
We have problems but they are all out there on the table, but we quickly bitch so they don't fester. She is a neat freak and I am as messy as they come, but she still laughs at the time she found what looked to be "gravel" in my refrigerator. I said it was only petrified grain, which won at least a half-laugh. There are other problems we are meeting in the middle on, which is not easy for old farts used to their ways of doing things. One day, I believe she set the world's record for bitching, going on for three hours straight about things she didn't like without taking a breath. I congratulated her on her hard-won record. She belatedly chuckled and we got happy again, proving once again that a sense of humor is essential in love.
A few weeks later after our first "date," I hitched a ride with an artist buddy back to New York for four more glorious days with Claire. One of those days Claire had to work, so I was left on my own to wander the city, soak up the vibes and wonder if I could live here again after being gone for thirty years. I only reluctantly left the city when my kids came to live with me and I felt that Princeton would be a better place for them.
Claire is a lifelong New Yorker, and those people have trouble living anywhere else. They can't drive, don’t swim, live in closets and are afraid of crickets. I live in a place where bears roam and that is enough to scare the panties off a little Jewish princess, so we'll have adjustments to make. We set a time a month later for her to visit me for nine days...our third "date."
I never met anyone who wasn't knocked out by the awesome beauty of the blue mountains and picturesque farms of the Shenandoah Valley, so I was very optimistic that Claire would love it here. But as the time approached, she scared me with a comment: "What if I hate it there--you'll break up with me?" My certainty vanished and I decided not to hope or not hope, just remain neutral and let it happen.
Good news, SHE LIKED IT! Or maybe even loved it. Our handful of fancy restaurants and the quaint charm of Lexington pleased her. She liked my friends and they loved her. Some things took awhile for her to warm up to: I knew she was an animal lover, so I suggested she feed a local cow some cow goodies. She said, "No, I didn't bring any handiwipes!"
"Just do it," I said, and she did. The cow's monster tongue plopped out and slurped the goodies out of her hand.
"I LOVE IT!" she chirped. We were making progress. But later we suffered a setback: I thought she needed a little practice driving my car. She had a license, so how bad could it be? Right away she went off my driveway into the grass and headed towards a big tree. I yelled, grabbed the wheel and put my foot over hers to stop the pending disaster. "Which is the break and which is the accelerator?" she queried. Then she said I was mean, yelled at her and she was afraid of me.
"Good," I said, " how the hell did you ever get a license???"
Quickly though, we were madly in love again, but our nine days were running out and neither of us liked the idea of being apart. I made Amtrak reservations to come up to New York again in five weeks and serve as "house husband" for two weeks while she was at work. I would cook, put on frilly unmentionables and powder my pussy while eagerly awaiting her return from bringing home the bacon. Also, I would write this article that I am doing right now.
Why write this article, you ask? Our story seems normal to us, but it seems to blow everybody else away. 'You met thirty years ago,' they ask, 'what happened?' 'I've never seen you so happy,' they say to both of us. Everybody smiles when we are around, which makes me think that we can offer hope of actually finding the love of your life, even if late in life.
We are only five months along now and we both know that this love stuff can bomb out and go away. But we have some kind of certainty that we will do everything possible in order to be together. They say life is what happens to us between our best-laid plans. New York wasn't in my plans, nor was moving to the rural South in Claire's plans, but here we are. Who's to say that having a New York City apartment and a beautiful country place might not be such a bad thing?
Wish us luck.