About Chris Wohlwend

Born and reared in Knoxville, Tennessee. Veteran of 30+ years in newspapers and magazines as an editor, reporter and writer. Lived and worked in Miami, Charlotte, Louisville, Dallas, Kansas City, Atlanta. Teach journalism part-time at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville. Freelance to several publications, including The New York Times. Working on a memoir focusing on my encounters in Appalachia. Excerpts will be posted on this blog. Have traveled extensively, and photographs from those travels will also be posted here.

Two sides, one grandson on Veterans Day

By Justin Mitchell

I’ve never thought that being a veteran was a big deal as the only fighting I saw was mostly GIs versus GIs in South Korean bars, battles over bar girls and assorted inebriated nonsense. But I was quietly surprised and grateful for my son’ Julian’s tribute to his late grandfathers who were on opposing sides during World War II.

Their stories were compelling, with the Korean grandpa’s mutiny, slaying of Japanese commanders and harrowing escape from an insignificant island, and my father’s front-row view of the dawning of the Atomic Age.

Julian’s South Korean grandfather was conscripted by Japan as the Japanese had colonized Korea and the two Koreas didn’t yet exist. He was sent with other Korean cannon fodder — commanded by Japanese officers — to an island in what I believe is in or near Micronesia. He was a bright, well educated man, but never knew where the posting was. But from his descriptions of the natives and climate, it’s a fair guess.

During the end of the war US troops were wiping up Pacific islands and the supply chain for his group had run dry. Hungry and angry, with the aid of the natives they rebelled, killed their Japanese overlords, happily surrendered to US soldiers and sailors, and eventually made it back amid more travails to Korea.

Julian’s US grandfather was a submariner in the South Pacific shortly thereafter on the USS Pilot Fish and saw no real action, except during the sub’s minor place in US Navy history as one of several vessels decommissioned for the atomic bomb tests at Bikini island in 1946.

When my father dropped the fact on me in the 1980s I was astonished.

“You saw an A-bomb go off? What was your protection?”

“Nothing except sunglasses,” he replied laconically, a la Robert Mitchum.

“What about the radiation?”

“Well, none of my kids glowed in the dark.”

Hiker notes

Local high school teacher lost for four days in Smokies

Will Henderson, 37

had been hiking Appalachian Trail in GSMNP

got off trail near Gregory Bald

tried to cross stream, slipped and broke his leg

 

experienced hiker, hiking since he was 10

member of National Hiking Association

had food with him

had been hiking about 10 days before accident, starting in Georgia and then moving into Tennessee

 

used sticks and string to make a splint for leg

began crawling, pushing 40-pound pack in front of him

went through a lot of thick underbrush

finally made it back to main part of AT

found by two other hikers

 

AT is nearly 3,000 miles long, Georgia to Maine

one of most popular hiking trails in country

 

Henderson teaches biology at Jefferson High School in Jefferson City

hospitalized in Knoxville for a week

media all did stories about his ordeal

now back home

 

Knoxville paper you work for sends you to interview him

Here’s what he says:

 

“I never doubted that I would be found. I got discouraged sometimes, but I figured that I had plenty of food and thought that if I could get back to a trail – particularly the main Appalachian Trail because it’s so busy – somebody would come along before long.

“I’ll tell you though, I sure was happy when I heard those first footsteps coming up behind me. Those guys thought I was some kind of animal at first. I guess I looked pretty rough. They kind of hesitated in approaching me, but when I said, ‘help’ a couple of times, they came running.

“One of the guys stayed with me while the other went for help. They kept telling me not to go to sleep, and I didn’t. I was so happy then that I probably couldn’t have, even if I had wanted to. I’ll never forget the feeling I had when they found me, not if I live to be a hundred. Those guys are going to get mentioned in my will.

“The hardest thing about being lost was thinking that other people might be worrying about me. I was supposed to meet some friends in Gatlinburg a couple of days after I got lost. As it turned out, they weren’t worried but said if I had been gone another day, they would have contacted the park rangers and started a search.

“After a day or so of crawling, I had to discard most of my clothes and most of the other things in my pack. They had gotten too wet and heavy for me to push. Of course, I kept all of the food I had. It was mostly dry stuff – crackers, fruit, peanut butter, things like that.

“The mountain foliage was like a jungle. There had been a lot of rain up there this year, and it was really thick. If I had stayed where I was when I fell, I probably would still be there. At least, that’s what one of the park rangers said. I think I knew that instinctively when I fell, so I never thought about staying put. I knew that I had better get somewhere where people could find me.

“Besides food, I did manage to keep a few small things with me. I had several pictures of my wife and two little girls. I looked at them a lot, especially when I got discouraged. I would spend a little time looking at those pictures, and then I would crawl a little bit more.

“I broke the first rule of hiking, of course. I hiked alone. If you’re on the Appalachian Trail, it doesn’t matter because you’re not really alone. There are so many people on that trail. But when you get off the beaten track – that’s when you need to be with somebody. I learned my lesson about that. My goal is still to hike the entire trail, but I guess I’ll have to wait until I get my leg in shape.”

 

 

Jan Winburn

Jan Winburn, CNN’s senior editor for enterprise, will be speaking to two journalism classes Monday, Oct. 13, and Tuesday, Oct. 14. She will address issues of importance in today’s fast-changing world of journalism: Developing strong ideas, conducting thorough research and interviews, and then turning that information into a comprehensive and compelling story that is effective no matter the platform.

 

Her biography from the Poynter Institute:

 

Jan Winburn is senior editor for enterprise at CNN Digital, where she is bringing longform multimedia storytelling to a brand known for breaking news. Before becoming an online journalist in 2009, she spent 30 years as an editor and writing coach at newspapers, including The Philadelphia Inquirer, the Baltimore Sun, The Hartford Courant and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

 Her writers have captured numerous and varied awards, including the Pulitzer Prize for feature writing, the Ernie Pyle Award, Investigative Reporters and Editors’ awards and the prestigious Livingston Award for young journalists. She led Digital enterprise coverage of the BP oil spill that was part of CNN’s Peabody Award in 2010. The Dart Society recognized her career work with its 2009 Mimi Award given to editors “who encourage journalistic excellence.”

 She is an Editing Fellow at the Poynter Institute and has taught writing workshops all over the United States and abroad. She is a graduate of the University of Missouri, the author of “Shop Talk and War Stories: Journalists Examine Their Profession” and co-editor of two e-books, “Secrets of Prize-Winning Journalism 2013” and the 2014 edition.

On Monday, she will address Journalism 499, which will meet at 2:30 p.m. in Communications 321. On Tuesday, she will address the Journalism 230 lab that meets at 9:40 a.m. in the Scripps Lab. There are seats available for both sessions.CNN Digital Rebranding 2013 Jan Winburn

Scenario 3

Centers for Disease Control release on a study of nutritional supplements. Category includes vitamins, protein supplements and products promising muscle growth. “It turned out that at least half of the ingredients have no documented medical effect” quote from Ross Halleck, medical epidemiologist at the National Center for Environmental Health and Injury Control and a member of the study team. Study concluded that many of the nutritional supplements have no medical support for their advertising claims. (CDC headquartered in Atlanta.)

Scenario 2

Fire yesterday at Joe’s Pizza (2035 White Avenue). Two firefighters injured when roof fell in. Taken to St. Luke’s Medical center, treated for minor injuries. Fire started in basement, cause under investigation. Damages estimated at $100,000. Info from city fire officials.

Scenario 1

A study was released yesterday by the University of Colorado. It was funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. The study said that 60 percent of college students who begin studying science, mathematics or engineering switch to another major. Reasons cited by the study were poor teaching and an aloof faculty.

Cumberland Parking Garage Approved

City Council unanimously voted Tuesday night to approve a plan for a parking garage for Cumberland Avenue’s “Strip” that would add 500 to 800 spaces to an area where parking is scarce. The garage is part of the Cumberland Avenue Redevelopment and Urban Renewal Plan.

An amendment to the budgets for fiscal year 2014-2015 brought the most discussion, with councilman Nick Della Volpe arguing that 25 percent of the 4.35 million dollar surplus be set aside for a “rainy-day fund” instead of being added to the general fund for renovations.

Mayor Madeline Rogero argued that deferring maintenance adds to its cost. “This is the time to invest wisely in infrastructure and in deferred maintenance,” she said. “If you want to save money, you save money by spending this money now.”

The rest of the council agreed with the mayor, and the amendment passed 8 to 1, with Della Volpe the dissenting vote.

In other action, rezoning requests involving properties in the Atlantic Avenue area and the Asheville Highway area were approved. Both involved changing areas from Residential. The Atlantic Avenue plots would be changed to Industrial and the Asheville Highway plots would become Office.

 

True Confessions: single and looking for Mr. Right

 

 

By Susan Stewart

I’m afraid the dating service people are mad at me. They’ve called a couple of times already this week to find out why I’ve stopped coming in to look at videotapes of eligible bachelors. The first time they called I told them I’d been out of town. The second time I told them I was leaving town. If they call again I will tell them I am mentally ill. Some would say this is true.

 

I don’t think I was mentally ill when I was first assigned this story, just after Christmas, but I must have been on the right track. When the editor told me to go out and try to meet men in Dallas, I jokingly suggested my expense account should cover a few trips to a psychologist. Therapy in developing successful interpersonal relationships, that sort of thing. The truth is I was just like very other single person, convinced I was leading a miserable life but unwilling to do anything about it. This assignment changed all that.

 

For two months I have doggedly explored every avenue toward interpersonal relationships Dallas has to offer. I have gone to parties held by singles’ groups for single people. I have attended singles’ Sunday School classes and singles’ nights at singles bars. Thanks to a hefty cash advance from the editor, I have gazed for long hours at videotapes of single men, and gazed at a handful of them in person, across tables at places like San Francisco Rose.

 

I spent an afternoon in the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, there for the art, of course, but working, always working, keeping an eye peeled in case some sensitive hunk should happen by. “When she first saw him he was studying a Rothko, a whimsical private smile playing across his craggy features. She noticed the cut of his tight, faded jeans, his neatly trimmed mustache. Perhaps sensing her interest, he glanced at her. She smiled …”

 

If you think I have also been reading Redbook fiction, you are right. In Redbook fiction, timid heroines often show a talent for picking up handsome strangers in unlikely places such as museums and supermarkets. The stories end, if not in fairy-tale bliss, at least with some realization about Life. If this story achieves neither, it is not for lack of effort. In the interests of better journalism, I actually changed grocery stores. I left my middle-aged North Dallas friends to their white bread and macaroni and headed for the fern-banked aisles of the Olde Towne Tom Thumb (Tomme Thumbe?), putatively Dallas’ hottest singles’ mating ground. Naturally, all I picked up were groceries.

 

While I can’t say I have learned anything from this grueling social foray that I didn’t suspect already, i.e., it’s a jungle out there, I have developed a certain resignation about the whole business I didn’t possess pre-dating service. But before resignation came other things. I will start with them.

 

It all began in January, when I signed up with the dating service. The dating service people rent a little office that is separated into tiny rooms where you sit and look at men on a Sony videocassette recorder. They give you earphones if you want listening privacy. It works this way: you make a five-minute tape telling salient facts about yourself, and if somebody likes your tape and you like theirs, you have what is called a Mutual Video Match. Mutual Video Matches exchange phone numbers and occasionally end up married to each other. The dating service people are on your side. They like you to look at lots of tapes before you make your own, so you’ll get the idea and not make a fool of yourself. I sat and looked for more than an hour.

 

I looked at Jeremy (which is not his name, since I am changing all the names in this story to protect myself), a lapsed Catholic Gemini condo developer who likes “creative type people” and is himself a “very up-front type person.” I looked at Pete, a Catholic Aquarian AAMCO manger who likes to work with his hands. “That’s what I do all day is work with my hands,” Pete said, sitting straight in front of some wood paneling and a droopy dracenea. “I work with my hands all day, then when I get home, I work with my hands again. I make model ships.”

 

I must have looked at two dozen tapes. I noticed two things about all the men I looked at. One, they were all sports fanatics. A Lutheran Leo inventory control supervisor listed his favorite sports as “dirt-bike racing, sports-car racing, motocross, drag-racing, swimming, hiking, and camping.” And two, they all made strange clicking sounds. This was a real puzzle. The guys came in assorted sizes, shapes, and zodiac signs, but they all clicked. I watched and watched. Finally it hit me.

 

Tic Tacs. Every one of them was sucking on a Tic Tac, or some similar little nodule of wintergreen or cinnamint or fruit-bouquet breath freshener. This was reassuring. Despite their macho sports interests and the fact that, in terms of sexual innuendo, about half of them came on like gangbusters, these guys were plenty nervous. They were so nervous they were afraid of offending me, the anonymous onlooker, with halitosis. All they could think to do was pop a mint. They failed to realize that sweet breath does not translate on the screen, and all that came across were those annoying clicks.

 

I was so pleased about the breath fresheners that I didn’t mind when Alice, the lady who asks the questions off-screen during the taping, suggested that I was not suitably dressed for my own taping. I was wearing a black turtleneck. Alice offered to lend me something a bit more décolleté. I declined. Let them see me as I really am, I figured. I did let Alice choose some lipstick for me, her effort, I suppose, to make some part of me voluptuous. The lipstick was neon pink; it lasted for hours.

 

The taping itself was forgettable, except for the fact that Alice kept coming back to the topic of my “hobbies” and “leisure” activities, and I kept insisting that I have none. Sports went better, because on my application form, under the heading, “Sports I Enjoy,” I had listed every sport I had ever watched on television: tennis, basketball, football, baseball, skiing, competitive diving, etc. I enjoy none of those sports, but I was desperate.

 

I was also suspicious. If all those guys really enjoyed all those sports and leisure activities, what were they doing at a dating service? I, for one, was there because I have no leisure activities. It seemed like a vicious circle. To meet men, you have to be accomplished in leisure activities, but to be accomplished in leisure activities, it helps to know a few men. It all seemed terribly unfair. I went home and worried about the evening.

 

That evening the schedule called for a singles’ event at a local restaurant-bar. The sponsor was a group called “Creatively Single,” which puts out a monthly calendar of events like this one, drinks-cum-discussion. The idea, apparently, is that in this misery-loves-company atmosphere, mating is easier than in singles bars. The discussion topic, led by a social worker in private practice, was “Why Can’t I Find Somebody to Love Me?” The people who had come to seek an answer to this question included a New York transplant who said “Dallas doesn’t relate to my consciousness.” The first thing we all had to do was write down a list of necessary traits in a potential mate. I thought my list was modest: “humor, taste, ambition, loyalty, intelligence.” Those are the first five. I put down 15 traits. Naturally, the social worker told me and everybody else we are dreaming. The whole evening was a lesson in diminished expectations.

 

But there were some interesting exchanges between the male and female portions of the group. They were highlighted by Mr. Over-Medicated, who earned his name by saying that his own problems stem from the fact that he was “over-medicated” for years. Every time Mr. Over-Medicated spoke, the women booed.

 

Over-Medicated asked this question: “Now how many people here would marry the person they married if they’d lived with them a while?”

 

An old man raised his hand. “Yeah, I’d have married her, but I wouldn’t have married her if she’d lived with you and me both.”

 

The women cheered. The old man was the hit of the evening. He described his own marriage, which ended a few years ago with his wife’s death.

 

“My entire married life could not have been more perfect than it was. There was love, affection, understanding. There was normal sex. It was 50-50. I didn’t come home and sit in my La-Z-Boy and say, when the hell are you going to have supper ready? This TV, movies, free love, that’s not – and I’ll refer to Him – that’s not what God intended.”

 

Everybody clapped, but I had the feeling I was the only person there who understood him. I thought for years that the sexual revolution was only a media trend, like disco, and I stood idly by, smirking, while all my friends enlisted enthusiastically in the revolt. Was I ever wrong. The sexual revolution is, mark my words, more important than disco.

 

These people hadn’t made my early mistake. They were sophisticated, often wounded veterans of the sexual revolution. They talked of doing things most people only read about in Cosmopolitan. There was a lot of talk about how people change, probably because most of them had been divorced. “I was married for 19 years to someone I never really knew,” one woman said. I couldn’t figure that out. To be fair, I must admit that I have been neither married nor divorced, so I speak in ignorance. But I don’t see how you can stay married even nine years to somebody you don’t know. I don’t like to meet for coffee unless I know the person I’m meeting.

 

Which brings us around to the topic at hand, dating. Dating has always seemed to me to be the most awkward of social conventions, often more uncomfortable for its participants than a funeral. At a funeral, your schedule is pre-determined and you don’t have to say much, and you don’t have to worry about whether you’re going to have sex with the participants afterwards. Too, the natural solemnity surrounding funerals precludes any question of what sort of facial expression one should adopt. A serene frown takes care of it.

 

On a date, on the other hand, solemnity is taboo, and you worry constantly about your facial expression. If your natural physiognomy is of the type that makes frowning easy, you are in trouble. I am like that. Often at college football games, when the score was, say, 31-0 in favor of our team, my date would throw a beery glance my way and inquire, “Hey, whatsa matter with you? Aren’t you having fun?” I was usually having loads of fun, a state I express best by grimacing.

 

But I digress. Dating is awkward because, according to the Platonic view, it wasn’t meant to be that way. We were, in some earlier and superior incarnation, born as bisexual creatures, with two sets of arms and legs and all the necessary equipment for procreation. We traveled by cartwheel. We mated ourselves. We did not date. Something happened, and we were sliced in two. Since then mankind has gloomily wandered the planet, walking dully on his feet, looking for his other half. The “yolk and the white of the one shell,” the “one true love” idea. This idea is charming in its simplicity and it explains “love at first sight” and if it were true, mankind would never have had to invent the blind date.

 

But something went awry, and now, when you are 25 and single and you move to a new city where you know not a living soul, you lead a grim existence, experts say, for four to six months. If you are serious in your desire to make a full, rich, and rewarding life for yourself, you go out with every goon who has the good taste to ask you out. And you spend a lot of time alone.

 

Big deal. Spending time alone cleanses your mind of extraneous social matter, like thinking about anybody but yourself, and you learn a lot of things about your personality, like how boring it is. If you get enough practice, you can go two, three days without uttering a sound. Then when the phone finally rings, and it’s some relative in another state, you will squawk and croak as your vocal chords whir into life, and your relative will think you are sick, and will say warm, loving things to you. One thing about all this solitude is depressing, however; if you die in your apartment on a Friday night, nobody will find your body until, say, Tuesday, when they realize you’re not at work. You will be stiff as a board.

 

But I digress. While I was thinking about all these things, my fellow singles were hot on the trail of the perfect relationship. They were talking about values. The social worker leading the discussion said this: “There’s a common conspiracy in our culture. Nobody’s helping us to get in touch with our real values. They’re telling us what our values should be.” She advocated “helping a child explore and find out what his values are.”

 

I couldn’t figure this out, either. Now, if by “values” we mean weighty decisions like whether you should use your raise for a down payment on a condominium or blow it on a Club Med vacation, I can see how we have some room for discussion. But if “values” means moral choices like whether little Johnny should shoot his grandmother with a BB gun, all this hashing over is pointless. Some things are just wrong.

 

But of course, the singles were not talking about crime and punishment. They were talking about sex. And by leaving the word “moral” out of a discussion on sex, they left a lot more room for discussion, since all the decisions connected with sex then become problematic, even economic ones, as easy to argue as the condo-Club Med question.

 

Despite the new amorality, the singles couldn’t stay away from the old morality. A girl with glasses and a frizzy permanent stood up. “I’d like to know what men think of a woman who goes to bed with them on the first date. One of the things on my list I circled was ‘enjoy sex’ because I do.” The men hooted. “But I’m 34, and when I go out, I still don’t know what men expect.’

 

“You just told us,” Mr. Over-Medicated yelled.

 

“Don’t’ worry about what men expect,” the social worker said. “Just do what you feel like doing.”

 

They started talking about where singles go to meet other singles. “Church,” said the woman who enjoys sex, “has been very good for me.”

 

The bartender entered the conversation at this point. “A lot of people have a problem with the whore/Madonna syndrome,” she said. “I’m having a problem with it. I’m not a whore! I’m not a Madonna! I’m somewhere in the middle.”

 

“I think she’s drunk,” the woman beside me whispered.

 

“Why can’t she be a whore in the bedroom and a Madonna in the living room?” Mr. Over-Medicated shouted. The social worker decided it was time to end the discussion, and we all began collecting our coats. Then two surprising things happened. A man about my age walked up cold, introduced himself to me, and said, “I’d like to meet you.” I could barely hide my amazement. I gave him my phone number.

 

Then, since I had been picked up myself, I thought the least I could do would be to pick up somebody else. I walked over and introduced myself to a pudgy fellow in this 30s who had, during the discussion, said he loves to talk to his dates about such wide-ranging topics as “philosophy, music, the future of the human race, the creative process.” I had to meet this guy. He was pleased, and called me twice the next day. We met at San Francisco Rose, but not before a lot of detailed juggling of time slots. Bert was a precision conversationalist. “How is traffic southbound on Central in the 4:30 to 5 p.m. time slot?” he asked me, while we were juggling. “Don’t be surprised if I’m not perfectly punctual,” he cautioned.

 

He was late, but that was okay. Bert turned out to be quite brainy, so intelligent, in fact, that he has a hard time with ordinary human relationships. We talked about this for a while. Talking with Bert was interesting because he knew so many things. “Do you realize that roast beef has virtually no taste at all?” he asked at one point. We talked about human relationships (Bert, like every man I met, knew from the start that I was working on a story. I don’t want some maniac to see himself in this story and decide to even up the score in a dark parking lot). Meeting women, he said, “is a randomized process. I expect to have to meet a lot of people before I find two or three I really enjoy.” I left Bert in the bar to continue his search and dropped by the dating service.

 

I noticed a bookshelf in the waiting room at the dating service. I’m Okay, You’re Okay, Think and Grow Rich, Body Language, How to Run a Small Business. I looked at tapes.

 

I looked at Randy, a Pisces computer science instructor who loves to roller skate. “I put about 50 miles a week on my skates: speed, disco, free-form. If I’m with friends I don’t wear my stereo headphones.” But when he skates alone, Randy said, he wears the headphones. He described roller-skating to private piped-in music as something close to nirvana. “I’m really in touch with myself then.” To each his own, I thought, noticing that I was wearing headphones myself.

 

I kept going by the dating service, watching tape after tape, for weeks and weeks. The dating service people were nice, and the guys on the tapes were interesting, but something was not clicking. Each week had its own special store of disappointments. One day I waited anxiously for Number 198-01, because the man on the tape had watched mine and indicated his interest in meeting me. He turned out to be a divorced Baptist Leo metallurgist, wearing a striped Ban-Lon shirt. He seemed agreeable, but I didn’t think we would have enough in common to get through an evening. I wondered, over and over, what do these guys see in me? And, what am I supposed to see in them?

 

These were grim thoughts. One afternoon as I left the dating service, “Eleanor Rigby” was playing on my car radio. This would have thrown a maudlin cast over the scene had I not been so angry. I was angry because it was the only emotion left. I had no cause for self-pity, I wasn’t in love, I wasn’t exactly bored. I was just plain mad. Mad at the guy at Diamond Jim’s who’d told me he was in love with me when I nudged him over to get to the door, mad at Pete at the dating service who’d called me up one afternoon and said, “Hey, baby, this is Pete. Aw, you know. Pete. The good-looking guy with the great personality. Does ‘White knight, come to sweep you off your feet’ ring a bell?”

 

But mostly, I was mad at myself. Mating is like driving a car; it’s difficult and dangerous but everybody knows how. Why was I having so much trouble? I was doubly concerned, about my life, and about the story I was allegedly reporting. If Gay Talese had been this cautious, Thy Neighbor’s Wife would be about three paragraphs long. What was the answer?

 

More research, I thought grimly, turning in at the Olde Towne Tom Thumb. I quickly cased the store – two couples, three single women in jogging suits – and drove home, with a bag of Lorna Doones. I checked my mail. A bill, and a fat envelope full of pastel flyers from the singles’ Sunday School class. The “Becomers’ Class,” they called it. I munched moodily. What, I wondered, was I becoming? What would become of me and Bert and Pete and the whole confused, Tic Tac-clicking mass of us? I turned on the TV. A “Happy Days” rerun was playing. Those kids really did look happy, swiveling around the pizza parlor in their dumb grins and bobby socks and collective virginity. Ah, the simplicity of Eisenhower-style mating. There seemed to be none of the complexities that haunt us now. Instead of a class ring and a drive-in movie date, I had a lot of phone messages. The messages were terse. “Ron called.” “Call Buck.” Usually I had no idea who Ron or Buck were. They were men I knew from a furtive glance exchanged during Sunday School or a quick character assessment on the basis of a video-listing of favorite sports. But they had my number. I was starting to think about carrying a purse-size can of Mace with me in parking lots. I needed friends.

 

Besides, I had another problem. I realized, starting on the second row of Lorna Doones, I was getting fat. All those trips to the Tom Thumb had taken their toll. I had started patronizing the store honestly enough, only to meet men, but in order to protect my cover, I’d taken to picking up a few items while I looked. It began innocently, a crispy bunch of asparagus here, a mango there, but soon I moved into carbohydrates and refined sugars: steaming crullers, whole-wheat doughnuts, individually sliced cheesecakes. If this kept up, I would scarf my way into a lonely and obese middle age.

 

But hope springs eternal. Tomorrow was Friday, and I was to meet a date at T.G.I.Friday’s. It is some measure of my sickness that I was excited because Friday’s has great food. Baked-potato skins aside, however, the restaurant-bar deserves a paragraph for its ceiling decorations alone. Exposed-beam ceilings dribbling décor from on high are in vogue these days, and the ceilings at Friday’s franchises around the country represent the trend at its highest form. The things that hang from the ceiling at the Olde Towne Friday’s include: a cello, a stuffed-grouse-like bird, a toy car from which a stuffed duck and a fern protrude, a kayak.

 

I got there early and stood at the bar, studying the stuffed-duck-in-toy-car. The guy beside me found it interesting as well. “To kill something and then eat it, that’s okay,” he mused. “But to kill something just to be killing, that’s wrong.”

 

I stood there for quite a while, picking up bits of conversation from the crowd, which consisted mainly of well-dressed young executives. “I’m trying to talk her into letting me mount the speakers on the ceiling.” “ARCO tries to keep you mentally stimulated.” “You’re going to think this is strange, but I don’t own a television set.”

 

Dan arrived, none too soon. Like Bert before him, Dan was a near-genius who found that his intelligence gets in the way of normal human relationships. But he’s working on it. The weekend before he had attended a psychology workshop where the participants broke the ice “relating tactically to each others’ hair.” “I want to be able to selectively use the analytic portions of my mind,” Dan told me. We had a nice little chat, during which he drew a diagram of the damped sinusoidal motion, which he said explains harmony.

 

Inspired by his words on harmony, I invited Dan over to dinner. I also invited two other couples. Dan’s first mistake was not helping me put out the fire. The fire was in the oven, and consisted of a huge pan of over-roasted almonds. Dan stood there and analyzed the chemical composition of the fire while I frantically poured water all over the kitchen floor. His second mistake occurred after everyone else had left. Dan plopped down full-length on the sofa and said, “Well, you know any other girls?” Dan, it seems, is hell-bent on a beautiful relationship, and my desire for a simple friendship irritated him. He explained the problem. He said he doesn’t particularly want to be friends, because friendship he can get anywhere. And so if his chances for something more are dim, we might as well call off the friendship. He talked about how hard it is, being a single guy.

 

“I’ll tell you why nice guys finish last. I sort of read part of this in a book, The Art of Manipulation. You can be nice to girls for years but it just doesn’t work. You end up being just friends. So if I’m going to be nice to you what I’m going to do is give you continued positive reinforcement. I’ll be no challenge, and you’ll take me for granted. So what I should do is give you intermittent reinforcement. That way you’ll have to earn my affection.”

 

Dan did not help his cause then, or a few days later, when he phoned me up. He must have been trying the intermittent reinforcement route when he said he doesn’t ask girls out if they’re “too attractive, because then they’re unreliable.” I may not be “too attractive,” I thought grimly, but I’m damn sure going to be unreliable. I did not like the person I was becoming. But I had to face it, even if Dan had told me I was the most sultry woman who had ever crossed his path, it wouldn’t have revived our wilting relationship. I threw a hairbrush at the wall and hauled out the Lorna Doones. Putting out kitchen fires is a lot easier than extinguishing the flames of passion, however dimly they may burn.

 

The question of my own attractiveness was becoming an obsession, thanks to the Lorna Doones and Dan’s last remark and the fact that most of my Mutual Video Matches had said things like “What’s inside a woman is more important than what she looks like on the outside.” I decided to look at my own tape.

 

I sounded great. I sounded very Southern, and reasonably intelligent, and I used words like “conventional” and “gregarious” with a certain flair that stopped short of pedantry. I was amusing yet gentle, assertive yet feminine. There was only one problem. I looked like I had been pumped full of Cortisone and force-fed Lorna Doones for six months. I looked sick, and very ugly. Was it video distortion? I asked one of the dating service people anxiously: Did they use a fisheye lens? He smiled slyly. “Oh, everybody thinks they look worse on tape,” he said. I decided he was lying, and that they do use fish-eyes. I listened again, this time not looking at the bloated vision on the screen. I decided I like myself.

 

Then I looked at a tape of a guy who had said he was “possibly” interested in meeting me. Perhaps because of that blasé “possibly,” I was plenty interested in meeting Blake, a divorced Unity Capricorn interior designer. Blake wore a suit and said he likes “taste, class, charm and intelligence, along with a certain degree of spirituality” in women. He didn’t say anything about looks, which concerned me. But I think I possess “a certain degree of spirituality,” so I got in touch with him.

 

Blake was fun to talk to, and by now I sensed that the waitresses at San Francisco Rose knew me. The only awkwardness about our meeting was my acrobatics with my cigarettes. Blake had said, “Deep down in my heart, I really do mind smoking,” but there was no way I could get through a drink-after-work without a cigarette. So I blew up, I blew down, I blew into the draft. Somehow all the smoke seemed to drift into Blake’s face, but he insisted he didn’t mind. We talked for hours. “I look at the eyes first,” Blake said. “Eyes are the seat of sexuality.” Blake spelled “weltschmerz” on a cocktail napkin. The word means “world weariness,” and I knew it would come in handy eventually. Blake told me about all the women he’s met through the dating service.

 

One was a woman a few years older who told him on their second date, “Look, I really like sex. I’m sick of men who can’t satisfy me.” Old Blake apparently passed muster, for they spent the rest of the summer engaging in sex “more or less as an athletic exercise. It gave the satisfaction that an athletic exercise gives, which is not what you want from a personal relationship.”

 

Blake said lots of his dates were more interested in television than in him. One wanted to be back by 9 p.m. on a Friday night to watch “Dallas.” One fell asleep while he was talking. For one reason or another, Blake seemed to think most women are afraid of men. “Sometimes you walk up to a woman and the thing you see in her eyes is, ‘What’s he going to do to me’?”

 

As we parted, Blake cast a Delphic glance across the table. “I think you have a terrible attitude toward men. In the paranoia you may have is reflected the idea that men are the chief doers of evil.”

 

I shuddered. Of course, I knew he was wrong – me, paranoid? – but that comment struck a nerve. Only the day before I’d had lunch with a man who owns the restaurant where my singles’ Sunday School class meets for brunch. The Christian dating service I’d signed up with to supplement the video-dating service had been burglarized. Somebody had stolen all their files, so some member of the criminal element now knew my home address and zodiac sign. Things were closing in on me, the shadows deepening. Everyone I met seemed to know somebody else I’d met. Some might say this means I was making a “network” of friends, but I know a conspiracy when I see one.

 

That was in February. Blake never called back, and things, which had hardly started out on a high note, began going sour. Oh, I had dates. I had plenty of dates. I wasn’t sitting in my apartment waiting to die on the weekends; more likely I could be found in some fashionable fern bar, wishing I were dead.

 

The interesting men never called back, but the awful ones did. I started writing “interested” on fewer and fewer videotapes, and the dating service people started losing patience. “Oh, have we got one for you, Susan,” they’d say on the phone. I’d come in and take a look and shake my head. I shook my head at Presbyterian Libras and Baptist Virgos, meat-packers and owners of Western-wear stores. I felt guilty about my negativism, so I stopped going by there so often. I noticed I wasn’t going to singles’ Sunday School class anymore. Had I lost my faith? I bought the Mace canister for my purse, but since I had stopped going anywhere after dark, I never had occasion to use it. Nevertheless, I was always looking over my shoulder.

 

And one day I looked over my shoulder and nobody was there. That was when I realized I had given up. I didn’t care what the people at the dating service and the singles’ clubs thought of me anymore. With this thought came a luxurious yawn and a sudden sense of power. I had a friend in college who told me that one day she was sitting in history class and she had an urge to stand up and yell, “I am Me!” I laughed then, but now I know what she meant. When you like yourself, you don’t need constant reinforcement from others. So solitude doesn’t bother you. You learn, as they say, how to be your own best friend. And this is lucky, because you start spending most of your time alone.

 

I’m alone again. I’ve stopped visiting the dating service, the singles’ clubs, the bars. It’s as if this weird social nightmare had never taken place. No more jovial phone calls, no more elusive messages from Mutual Video Matches. No more frantic weekends, just a long, slow easy 64 hours of padding from the kitchen to the bedroom and back again. Very little human contact.

 

Oh, they’re still trying to get in touch with me. The pastel flyers from the singles’ Sunday School come in the mail, and Dan calls me occasionally to update me on his sexual odyssey. At last word, he had met two girls in one day, one at a Mensa meeting and one at the popcorn counter of a theater. I smile benevolently when I hear Dan talk about life on the outside. For me, there is none of that. No more pressure. No more small talk. Who needs it? I if want to hear small talk, I turn on an old “Happy Days” rerun. If I want romance, I watch “Love Boat.” If I want a Lorna Doone, I eat a Lorna Doone.

 

Of course, I still go to work, and to the Tom Thumb. The casual passerby might not even notice the difference. But should you see me walking down the street, a bovine girl with a placid smile, and should you remark that I seem different from all the other singles, less tense, more in touch with myself, and should you ask me how I got this way, I would tell you my story. And then I would tell you what I have discovered: It’s a jungle out there. Stay inside.