WHAT’S THE SOUND OF ONE HAND CLAPPING?

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That’s an old chestnut of a question.  It comes from some faraway period of my life before real adulthood brought less theoretical problems to think about. Does its reappearance in my consciousness now mean real adulthood is over?

So here’s the story. One of the two periodicals I’ve subscribed to for a long time is The New York Review of Books. (“NYR” for short.) NYR is a large, classy intellectual publication that addresses such subjects as (from the latest issue) the art of Gerhard Richter, includes lengthy reviews of books about how Austrian economists fought the war of ideas and about Greenland’s buried past, and – more accessible, at least to me – a consideration of The Mirror and the Light, Hilary Mantel’s conclusion to her Thomas Cromwell trilogy, and a detailed account of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s astonishing performance as the nation’s emergency responder in chief in these difficult coronavirus times. In short, some stuff I skip, and some stuff I read. Which means there’s never an automatic yes when it’s time to renew. I have to do cost/benefit analysis.

What almost always tips the scale in favor of renewal is the Personals column on the last or next-to-last page.  During the long period of emotional draught after divorce from the father of my then nearly grown children I sporadically availed myself of its expensive services. (You pay by the word.) The results were interesting although not ultimately successful. But even if you’re not offeror or offeree, the ads are fun to read. Such as (again from the latest issue): “Slim, stunning blonde in her youthful 50s, accomplished, light-hearted, warm, seeks bright, successful gentleman 40s-60 for deeply loving partnership. Let’s laugh until our tummies hurt. Reply with bio/photo in confidence: Phoebe (and an email address).”  Or, from the opposite sex: “Semi-retired professional, slender, athletic man in NYC seeks elegant woman 47-60 with reciprocal qualities to discuss James (Henry), Strauss (Richard) and for cultural events, travel, and the rest. Photograph/note reciprocated. Dicorinemo (and an email address). “

“And the rest?”  “Tummies?” Who are these people? More to the point, who — if anyone — responds? There must be some results for some happy subscribers, else this feature would not have continued to bring in shekels to NYR for more decades than I can recollect.

Last January, NYR offered a contest to its readers. Submit a Personals ad suitable for Valentine’s Day and the winning entry would be published in the Valentine’s Day issue for free! Second and third place finishers could opt to publish at half-price.  It was nearly midnight, a time when – if still up — I can misplace my moral compass and lose my way. I soon dashed off a short submission which pretty much reflected how I was feeling at the moment.

My ad had many flaws as a real-life solicitation. It was silent as to age, geographic location, size or shape, education, tastes or interests of the desired respondent. Nonetheless, it implied literacy, some assets and preparations for the end. So let’s see what happens, I thought. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. And if I don’t win, it doesn’t run. A responsive email from a NYR person arrived two weeks later. I had tied for second place. Did I want them to publish what I’d written for $55?

$55 is a bargain for a NYR Personals ad. And I grew up in an era of pen pals.  Even if only one lonely heart in Arizona wrote back, wouldn’t that be worth carrying on with for a while.fullsizeoutput_10e0

Reader, my second-place ad showed up in mailboxes all over the NYR-reading world on or around February 3:  “F to M: Don’t want to go gentle into that good night?  How about we make a big ruckus together and startle all the heirs? NYR Box 68305.” 

Who do you think responded in the two and a half months since then?  What is the sound of one hand clapping? However, NYR forwards responses to its boxes for six months after ad placement. This crazy (old) lady therefore suggests to any crazy (old) man with a free hand that there’s still time.

 

 

           

VALENTINE’S DAY CONVERSATION

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[The scene: one of three checkout counters at Whole Earth, small organic fruit and vegetable store patronized mainly by Princeton “intelligentsia.” It also stocks some organic processed foods, dairy, and ecologically approved cleaning, toiletry and beauty products. In addition has “deli” section offering organic vegetarian take-out options.  Temperature outside: 5 degrees F.]

She (crowding many items from her cart onto conveyer belt and addressing next person in line without seeing who it is):   I‘m not a good person to get behind.  (She is bundled up in heavy scarf, black down coat, lined gloves and boots, and therefore only visible from the chin up. However, she did have her uncovered hair cut and colored three days previously.)

He (for it is indeed a he):  I see you’re eating healthy.

She (turning to look): Not so healthy.  My husband goes kerflooey now and then. (She is referring to two tubs of Bent Spoon ice cream and several packages of crystallized ginger on conveyer.  Also two 70% chocolate bars near box of Zen greens, organic grape tomatoes, lemons and Braeburn apples. Man behind her is person with completely shaved bald head and wearing only white tee shirt. No jacket, gloves or hat in sight. Slight belly. Wide-open baby blue eyes. White skin so smooth and unlined it might have been entirely Botoxed.)

He: We all have to do that now and then.

She (pushing empty cart forward): I guess.

He: Eating that way you’re going to live a long time.

She: (Why is boy at register so slow at ringing things up?) I’ve already lived a long time.

He: G’wan.

She (unwisely): I’m old enough to be your mother.  I’m probably twice your age.

He (incredulous): You’re a hundred and two?

She (really looking at him now):  Well, no. Not quite.

He (proudly): I’m fifty-one.

She: I’m closer to a hundred and two than to your age.  (She pauses.) I’m eighty-three.

He (also pausing):  I thought you were sixty.  Or sixty-one.  

(He must be pulling her leg. Well, maybe he isn’t.  She is all bundled up. He can’t see what’s really what. She hopes she didn’t smile.)

He (continuing): How old did you think I was?

She (now fishing in wallet for credit card): Oh, somewhere in your late forties.

He (disappointed):  Most people guess thirties.

She: I have sons in their mid-forties.  Sorry, you don’t look younger than they do.

He (desperate?): I have thirty to thirty-five years of experience. How’s that?

She (signing machine and preparing to exit): Don’t brag.

He:  But it’s true. [He pushes his seven cans of overpriced Wolfgang Puck vegetarian soup forward on conveyer.]

She:  Doesn’t matter.  Say nothing. (Good advice to self, she thinks.) Always keep ’em guessing. 

[She exits.  However, in the car she thinks it over. Just a weird crazy guy making small talk.  But sixty?  Sixty-one?  She feels good all the way home.]