BY LARRY FLEWIN
Copyright is held by the author.
HI, I’M Willa Grant and I’m an Internet blogger. Too pretentious. Willa Grant, blogger extraordinaire. Too much. Willa P. Grant writer-to-be. Too . . . something. Well, I’ve always wanted to be something and writing sounded like it. I mean what’s not to like, you write about whatever you want, get paid a lot of money, and life is good. Or so I thought.
There’s a lot more to it than you think and, I discovered, once you start you can’t stop. People actually read this stuff, my stuff if you can believe that, and they want more. I mean I’ve only got so much advice to give out. I mean how many times can you comment on so-and-so’s footwear before your brain explodes! On top of that you have to be up really early to meet all those breakfast deadlines, anything really means anything that sells advertising, and getting paid means standing in line with all the other 20- and 30-somethings who also have something to say and also want to get paid for saying it.
Lucky for me I’ve got Iggy. He’s kind of a cool guy, runs a website called Guerrilla Town, which posts a lot of cool stuff about a lot of cool things, and actually gets money for doing this public service. Well, sort of, but posting nice things about restaurants and clubs, which they sort of pay you for, still counts right? It’s not like you’re selling your soul or anything you’re providing a service that all those rise-and-shine hipsters need to go with their lattes and chinos.
And that’s where I come in. I work for Iggy because he likes me, likes what I have to say, and actually pays me to say it. Not a lot, I mean I won’t get rich or anything but I don’t have to schlep coffee or walk dogs on slow days, or weeks. I started out writing for him for free just to get my foot in and my name out, so when his money started coming in he gave me a regular spot and money for pizza.
I still stand in line but now I’m closer to the front of it. Some of what I blog about is relationships, what I see, what I hear, what I’m told. Even what happens between people standing in a line is a relationship when you really think about it, and for what it’s worth I give my opinion and advice on all of that.
As if I could ever take my own advice. My relationships with men have been for the most part complete failures to one extent or another. My latest was a guy who adored me or so he said, until he was lying all over my new IKEA couch, scratching what itched, and yelling at the waitress whose apartment it was for more beer.
I should know better by now but there’s just that something inside me that reaches out, all full of hope, when someone handsomish gives me that look and buys me a drink.
Which might explain the notebook.
The subway was rolling along like a drunken sailor, as it always does on this section of the line, and apparently it slid out from under the bench I was sitting on and stopped between my feet. I had my arms full of this week’s pizza ingredients (I make my own, the stuff you buy is way to greasy) so I couldn’t see it but the creepy guy beside me did. I thought creepy guy was about to do something creative with my feet when he sat back, a great big grin on his pimply face, and handed it to me. I smiled and nodded thanks and moved to the next car.
I had stuffed the notebook into the top of a grocery bag next to the mozzarella, which put it under my nose when I finally found a new seat. It waved at me, daring me to open it up and read it, as if it contained some secret message that only I was supposed to find. It was nonsense of course, just the product of a brain tired of fighting with editors and other idiots over the correct use of spellchecker and grammar checker, both of which the modern writer seems to ignore like it was diseased or somehow socially unacceptable to spell words properly or use a form of grammar that wasn’t based on rap or hip-hop.
But I digress. The notebook was all I had to keep me from going insane at that particular moment so I tugged it out, wiped the cheese off, and looked it over. It was a small leather-bound notebook, like the kind you read about in those old Victorian novels where some older guy called Sir William keeps a daily record of his innermost thoughts and feelings, in his jacket pocket next to his pipe.
He would be one of those guys we used to call a gentleman, older, well dressed, owns a large estate in the country with everything going for it except the one thing he desires the most, the love of a good woman. Mine didn’t smell of tobacco but it did give off a certain scent that I found intriguing. I shamelessly inhaled it like I was trying to get high but I had to stop when I noticed that half the car was watching me.
At first sniff I got a dose of leather and suede, but subsequent sniffs proved inconclusive. No fireworks, no revelations, no visions of a grand estate, nothing but the intrigue. I’m usually pretty good at smells and scents, I have this thing for cheap perfumes, but this was different, a mystery scent that now had my full attention.
So, I took a deep breath and dared myself to open the thing. I mean it’s somebody’s private diary right, somebody’s innermost thoughts and who was I to intrude on him or her? Well, I was a writer and I’m always looking for something to write about. Why not write about the absence of true gentlemen in this day and age. How’s that for showing my age.
I think the last guy I knew of that I could call a gentleman was Robert Wagner. He was a semi-famous actor who just oozed old school elegance, grace, and charm. My favourite role of his was on that TV show NCIS as the ne’er-do-well Dad living the good life on somebody else’s money. I could’ve gone for that. I had money, I could have kept him for a while, well maybe a day or two but you know what I mean. We’d dine at Delmonico’s, take a carriage ride around the park, and dance the night away at the ballroom of the Ritz-Carlton.
Then we hit a bump in the track and I was back to the land of the living.
My stop came and I joined the madding crowd racing up the stairs to street level to try to find that most elusive of creatures, a live cabby. When you live in a city as big as this one, finding a live anything is a magic moment, a sort of personal victory you share over tapas at your local watering hole with a table of like-minded warriors. You cheer the victory, commiserate the loss, and figure out where the best locations are for your next attempt at glory. But not today.
It was a long walk home but I’ve lived around here long enough to know that when creepy guys give you things it’s time to go. I mean the pizza might enjoy the walk but it wasn’t carrying two big bags, a laptop case, and a purse that doubled as a gym bag. Besides Lester (that’s my cat) was waiting for his dinner, and I didn’t want to disappoint. Hungry cats do bad things to shoes I’ve discovered.
He wouldn’t even look at me when I finally stumbled in. And I do mean stumbled. It’s a long four blocks with 2 bags of groceries, a broken heel (yes I snapped one off in the middle of block two), and two gropes in block three. Food went to the fridge, Lester’s Fancy Feast skidded across the kitchen floor, and I hit the shower.
After that, armed with a great big glass of wine in one hand and the notebook in the other I threw myself down on the futon under my one and only window and started to find all I could about Mr. Wagner or Sir William or whomever he was.
Deep breath, girlfriend, deep breath, open it and see if it really belongs to Robert. Well, it didn’t and no it didn’t contain Sir William’s innermost thoughts either. It was somebody’s address book, page after page of names, addresses and telephone numbers, written in a very neat copperplate style. Something else you don’t see much of any more these days, good handwriting.
They were very carefully written, as if he was afraid it might explode if he made a mistake. Did I say he? Well, this was most definitely a man’s book, the writing was firm and bold, punctuated correctly and spelled perfectly. Here was a modern example of a gentleman of the old school who actually took some care in what he was doing, and was making the effort to be good at it. I mean when’s the last time you met a guy at a bar, or anywhere for that matter, who took the time to do anything right, let alone fill a notebook with exquisite handwriting. I just had to meet this guy if only to satisfy my own curiosity about this throwback to an earlier age, only I couldn’t because his own name and address weren’t in it. His one character flaw, he was shy. I could live with that.
Problem now was how to find him The book had over a hundred names in it, I know because I counted them, mostly men but more than a few women. He seemed to be very particular about who he talked to, some pages were almost pristine, like he added the name once and never called back, and some were well worn, showing he must have called them a lot, maybe even cared about them. Family maybe.
Needless to say, I was well past hooked, I just had to find out who he was, yeah, and give him his book back. And maybe, just maybe, dinner out at some fancy place as a thank you, and maybe meet some of his high powered friends, and maybe . . . sigh, maybe.
I couldn’t wait. Meeting Robert Wagner or Sir William or somebody’s rich uncle became my newest weekend obsession. I get those because I don’t have any other obsessions, or friends for that matter, at least ones that don’t call too often and invite me out. So to keep my mind intact and make some claim to a social life I invented obsessions, things that would occupy me for an entire weekend and give me something to talk about if I ever found someone who wanted to listen.
I have obsessed about shoes (how many pairs I don’t have but would like to), if I was BFF with Paris Hilton (not in this lifetime), or now, for example, finding the mystery man of my dreams.
It meant a weekend of making completely random phone calls to complete strangers and either begging or sweet-talking them into saying something about the notebook or whoever it is that owned it. Sadly, none of them knew who it was but for the most part were very charming and talked endlessly about all sorts of things. I learned a lot about candle making, dog walking as a business enterprise, and the loss of hardwoods in Indonesia but nothing concrete on my man.
Undaunted I turned to my blog, and on Monday morning I began Operation Wagner. Iggy thought I was out of my mind but I was determined. I started with a description of the notebook it’s contents and where I’d found it. I posted the details of what I had been doing, who some of the people were I had spoken to, and their impressions of who he might be. What I got in return was everything from you go girl to a WTF comment on why I was using my blog to troll for married men. My heart stopped at one point when I read a response suggesting he might be a she and was I aware of what that implied. I had a large glass of wine that night to steady my nerves, and convince myself that he really was a he and kept making calls.
Three days later I all but had a heart attack when someone named Marie replied to my blog and not only said she knew who my man was but did I want to meet him. My euphoria at striking gold so quickly narrowed to a laser like focus (jealousy?), as in who was this Marie and why was she answering for him. Wife maybe, girlfriend, sister (oh please), some kind of nut like me trolling the net for strange men with some weird fantasy in the back of their minds about happily ever after? Jealous, maybe, but like I said I just had to know if my instincts were still as sharp or if this was another one my weekend obsessions gone on a bender.
I carefully crafted my replies to make it look like I was doing research (which I was) and not casually dating (which I wasn’t) and just wondering what kind of a guy kept a notebook and not an iPad.
The old school guy who kept a notebook and not an iPad replied to my blog a week later.
It took me the better part of an hour just to calm down enough to read it and not accidentally erase it (which sadly I have done before). Some guy claiming to be Elmore Leonard had replied to my blog on crime in America and just as I was reading his message my allergy weakened nose exploded. I learned that coffee does bad things to keyboards, not to mention the dignity of the cup holder, and the new silk shirt she was wearing at the time.
Deep breath girl, deep breath, in through the nose and out through the mouth, and . . . open. And read.
Well, it wasn’t from Robert Wagner. Or Sir William.
His name was Callahan. Rory Callahan. And he was very pleased that I’d found his notebook. He wasn’t aware he’d lost it until he was halfway across the Pacific on his way to Borneo. He had business there and losing the book had made things a little tricky, contact wise. He didn’t have a permanent address I could FedEx this thing to (I travel a great deal he explained), so, perhaps next time he was in town he could look me up and meet over coffee. Absolutely I replied I’d love to, my fingertips oozing feminine mystique. Where and when, but there was no reply.
Hah, I knew it! Rory Callahan didn’t exist, at least on the Internet, which pretty much keeps track of everybody on the planet. I can be Googled but apparently not this guy. Trust me I researched his name the moment I stopped reading his overly charming reply, for the fiftieth time. I spent the better part of an afternoon going through every search engine I could find, even those sketchy Chinese ones that sometimes download spyware and other crap that takes a week to rid of. An entire afternoon wasted trying to find out something about him, anything for that matter because all I could come up with were a couple of articles on what he did and a few very grainy photographs that could have been anybody.
Hopelessly romantic me turned into raging spurned lover me and spewed all sorts of venom through my blog over the next few days about men and their evil ways with innocents such as me. I didn’t mind being toyed with over the Internet, it happens to me all the time, it’s just that I had felt something for a moment and now maybe it wasn’t so much of a feeling any more. Can you be sad and angry at the same time? That’s the one downside to blogging, you need have to have a very thick skin and show no shame.
Marie was most unhappy about all this and did everything she could to convince me that this was all wrong somehow and that I was slagging some really nice guy. Oh no he isn’t I said, oh yes I am he replied several days later. I know what this must look like but I assure you it’s all a tragic misunderstanding. Yes, he actually said that and I was momentarily taken back to the romantic side of me before reality slapped me awake and I tartly inquired who Marie was and why was she doing his dirty work for him. Your wife maybe, girlfriend, or is this just some sick game you and half the male world like to play.
Ah, well, here’s the thing. Marie is Grandma Marie, my grandma, a lovely lady whose best years are past her and who is now residing comfortably in a very expensive nursing home just outside of town. It’s my own fault I suppose. Grandma is a great and grand gossip and loves nothing more than to read up on who’s doing what with whom. I gave her a laptop some time ago and showed her how to follow blogs on it. Like yours, for example. She loves yours and reads it every day. That’s why she contacted you after you found my notebook; she’s the one who gave it to me in the first place.
As for me well I’m a little old school I suppose. I’m not on the grid for personal, and professional reasons; I prefer face-to-face.
How does that hipster phrase go I was gobsmacked? Talk about a wow moment. He wasn’t Robert Wagner, but he sure could be his younger handsomer brother. I didn’t know what to say. Here I am thinking I’m in the middle of some weird blogger love triangle and it’s more like a classic case of foot and mouth with me looking like a complete idiot, online and in living colour.
So why does a guy like you use a notebook and not an iPad or a laptop I asked sheepishly, I mean you gave Marie one, why not you.
Well, thing is I’m harder to track without one. What I do for a living has its moments and I try to keep ahead of them so they can’t track me down and try to arrest me.
Um, arrest you?
Yes, as an environmental lawyer I get involved in some very complex and dare I say it dangerous discussions with governments and other elements around the world. There are more than a few government agencies, and countries, who would like to curtail my activities, so I try to keep as low a profile as possible. Hence the notebook, it’s untraceable. My friends all tell me that you sound like quite the charmer and maybe a little more curious about me than you were willing to admit, but that’s okay, so am I.
I couldn’t stop crying. Wow! He sure wasn’t Robert but Rory; yeah I could live with that. Coffee? Absolutely! When and where.
Well, how about Delmonico’s, the internet cafe. I see from your blog that you work out of there and they make a really wicked sticky bun. How about a week from today? I’ll call you when I get into town and set it up. I haven’t said this for a long time, but I’m really looking forward to this. Thank you.
So, like a complete fool I actually dressed up in my best business casual, showed up one minute after opening and spent the entire day trying not to look too obvious. Not to mention shelling out a small fortune on coffee, sandwiches, buns, cakes, and cookies. And all for nothing. No calls, no messages, no Fabio moment when he walks in, nothing at all. I cried all the way home. You do that when you’re heart’s been broken. Now I’m no expert (well maybe I am with my history) but when a supposedly really cute guy calls you up, checks off all the boxes in your holy crap I want to marry you today box and then doesn’t show, it’s allowed that you’re a just a little saddened by the whole thing, and not just a little angry.
And wouldn’t you know it, next day I open my blog and see an urgent message from him. I don’t know if I should laugh, cry, and throw my laptop under a bus. I said so in my furious and elegantly stated outrage, which I directed at him and his less than well-meaning attempt to apologize. He surprised me by taking in all that anger, and calmly responding to it and apologizing to me anyway.
So where were you I screamed (in capital letters by the way).
Sorry, I was held up at the Canadian border. They tend to be a little zealous at times, and yesterday was one of those times.
Oh really, and I suppose you still want to have coffee sometime, like next week, next year, or will you be off to someplace else and leave me sitting here all alone again like some romantic idiot? What would Marie say about all this? Does she know that you toy with people’s affections like this, that you’re some kind of love ‘em and leave ‘em international lawyer jerk? I mean I could go for a guy like you, not that I have you understand but you sound really cool and I’d love to here more about your life but if you’re just going play some kind of international agent game or something and expect me to wait for you, well . . .
Well, truth be told Marie knows all about this and she has certainly voiced her opinion to me about my very boorish behaviour. I can only apologize and promise you it won’t happen again. I too would love to meet you and at least make amends with a story or two on some environmental issues that I think need to be told. If you’re still up for it I’m still buying.
And if I say yes how do I know it’s really you and not some loser looking to make me look more of an idiot than I already am.
Fair enough, I’ll be the guy in the Harris Tweed jacket, leather elbow patches, khakis, and Armani shirt, light blue.
Really, environmental lawyers dress that well, I was expecting a fringed shirt and beads…
Well, if you don’t believe me see for yourself . . . turn around.