Meet Dr. Lawrence Rupert, adjunct professor of history at a community college. A man of modest but sustainable means. A man who, at 62, decided it high time to find a partner. His journey would take him into the world of online dating where fact is often stranger than fiction. Welcome, Larry, to the Twilight Dating Zone.
Dr. Rupert and his PhD. had recently moved into Leisure Village, a well-worn gated community reserved for senior citizens. Although he enjoyed the popularity of his arrival – that casserole cascade of enthusiastic divorcees and widows – his preferences leaned less toward the grandma crowd and more toward supermodels. Since this was not plausible in what we call reality, the abundance of sites with names like Bumble, Meet Me, Coffee Meets Bagel, and his fave – Plenty Of Fish filled him with hope and excitement. The posts should have included Chock-Full-Of-Nuts.
Dr. Rupert (as per his online profile) logged on. He scrolled down to Rhonda: blonde, blue-eyed, cute, not yet eligible for his age-restricted neighborhood. She enjoyed camping, biking and long walks on the beach. On paper, a wonderful match. After a few flirtatious back-and-forth calls, a hook-up (the hip term for date) was arranged: a possibly romantic and definitely anxiety-filled dinner at McCloone’s in Long Branch. She even offered to bring her 2-for-1 coupon that she’d been saving for such a special “is this my future husband” dinner date. Against the backdrop of the seductive Atlantic Ocean, what could go wrong?
Larry’s adrenaline soared as the date approached. But his lifelong bachelorhood was not without cause. For starters, he was an inveterate late-comer. He was late for everything. One of those people who, if you want him there at five, tell him four and expect him at six. On making plane flights, he was 50-50. He rarely got to class on time, much to the delight of his students.
At their scheduled day, even with his anticipation at full throttle, he left himself only twenty minutes to get from Lakewood to Long Branch. Allowing for heavy traffic, taking his motorcycle seemed the only option. Now this doctor was nobody’s fool. No Sir. He knew how sweaty and unkempt he would appear after a frantic ride with a helmet on. So he packed a jug of water and some shampoo. The plan was to stop at gas station restroom near his destination and freshen up. Hey – you only get one shot at a first impression!
As darkness settled in, he raced up the Parkway. An accident up ahead forced him to get off at Exit 98 and take the back roads. Zooming along Wykoff Rd., he glanced over at the Monmouth Mall parking garage. Perfect! A minute later he was at the back edge of the top level. After pouring the water on his head, he lathered up and placed the jug on the ledge. Actually, in the dim light, he lathered a bit too vigorously as the froth of Head-n-Shoulders poured into his eyes. And then…and then…and then reaching blindly for the water, he knocked the jug off to the lot below. As the shampoo solidified on his hair, the blood seemed to drain out of his face, except for, of course, the redness of his stinging eyes.
Time was running out. Already late, he would have to find some place along the way to rinse off. He passed a church on Rt. 36. They had a lawn; they had landscaping; they should have a spigot, maybe even a hose. He pulled around back. His karmic tides must have been ebbing that night. While he didn’t find the water he was looking for, he did find the water he wasn’t looking for. The sprinklers came on, drenching his clothes through his furious getaway. He checked his phone. Rhonda was blowing it up. He would have to go straight to McCloone’s.
When he walked in, he spied an angry woman sitting alone at a corner table. By the scowl on her face, it could only be the irascible Rhonda. His disheveled condition did not go unaddressed. “You must be Larry. You’re late. You don’t look like your picture”.
“Why?”, he wondered. Was it the white epoxy of his matted down hair? Was it his damp clothes? The beard he had grown since his last photograph? Or the fact that his online picture was ten years old? Really not such an odd misrepresentation considering her profile was twenty years younger and actually a photo of her sister. An empty wine bottle, a plate of half-eaten roasted peppers, and chards of mozzarella on her chin suggested dinner had already begun.
Larry wanted a beer. She insisted he have wine. He preferred a burger. She ordered him the high-priced fish special and demanded sushi for herself. The waiter politely informed her they didn’t have sushi. She impolitely informed him that it was on the menu and he was an idiot. “That’s not sushi”, counseled the idiot. “It’s salmon.” “Well then, I’ll have it raw”, she drunkenly slurred.
The next hour seemed an eternity. He didn’t even care that she forgot her credit card at home and he had to cover her half of the bill. Anything to bring this to a conclusion. They walked out and said good night at the restaurant door but not before she launched a kiss that he could have lived a long and happy life without. Then he mounted his bike and disappeared into the blackness of the night.
The next morning Larry swore off online dating and deleted Rhonda from his contacts. For her part, it would be two days before she called.