What Really Goes on With Those New York Review of Books Personals
A Work of Speculative Fiction by Jonathan Baumbach
THE NEW YORK REVIEW OF LOVE
A Short Story
Unequivocally adorable, aesthetically attuned, lifelong student of the arts, authentic, unpretentious widowed academic with an enchanting manner. Sometimes shy, sometimes daring, almost always delightfully unpredictable. A real head-turner. Fun-loving, though with the inner strength to keep afloat in good and bad times. Seeks attractive, fit, intelligent man with similar interests to share dinners, theater, opera, travel, the romance of life.
Dear Unequivocally Adorable,
This is my first response to a personals ad and I confess to not knowing how to begin. I am, and I say this without irony, a bit in awe of your credentials. I have tended in the past to be wary of great beauties. In my youth, it was my practice to seek out the second-prettiest girl in the room, assuming she’d be easier to get along with than the reigning radiance. As you might imagine, this practice did not always yield what I was looking for. As I’ve gotten older, always a student of my experiences, I’ve developed greater respect for head-turning presences, realizing that outer attractiveness speaks, often eloquently, to the beauty within. You might say that I am a recent convert to the appreciation of someone who, like yourself, is “aesthetically attuned” and “unequivocally adorable.”
I share some if not all of the interests you cite. I am a creative writer and intellectual who has recently retired from a successful career in advertising. I don’t like to blow my own horn, but some of the wittiest and most compelling ads you’ve seen on television are my creations. Anyone who knows me knows that my true aspirations run deeper than the handiwork of my livelihood. Like you, I am a “lifelong student of the arts,” theater and opera-goer, a affcionado of classical books on tape, reasonably fit, financially solvent, more than less charming with perhaps some of the same “inner strength” that has also kept you “afloat in good and bad times.” Over the years, I’ve been happily married twice for extended periods of time, both marriages ending, unhappily, in divorce. Casablanca and Realm of the Senses are my two favorite films.
If I’m at all what you’re looking for, I’d appreciate getting an e-mail from you at the above address. I’m looking forward to continuing our dialogue.
I am pleased to report that I found your e-mail letter mucho simpatico and I’ve placed it high on the list of intriguing respondents. You were one of the few who didn’t request a photo, but of course I’d be willing to send you one. We might, in fact, exchange images, if that’s your pleasure. I am not someone who is attracted particularly to opposites, so I would be interested in knowing what plays you admire, what books you read for pleasure, the music that inspires you, your favorite museums, etc. If you had a weekend where you could do anything you want and do it wherever you wanted—a dream weekend, so to speak—what would be your choices? Also, please let me know how tall you are. Height is not in itself a requirement, so you might interpret this request as a symptom of curiosity and interest. Is Jack your real name or a nom de plume?
Cordially, Deidre C
Dear Deidre C,
I was pleased to get your response to my response, and I can honestly say that you are also high on my list of prospects. As for my height, I am a shade under six feet, though I give the impression of being taller. If I had to choose a favorite playwright (twisted arm and all), I’d probably stick with Shakespeare, while giving a tip of the cap to Neil Simon. My tastes in music are quite various—classical, jazz, folk, rock and roll, opera, pop, almost anything by John Coltrane and Bob Dylan. And you? e dream-weekend question is harder to negotiate. I try to take every day as it comes, so as a rule I don’t put o living life to the fullest for special occasions.
Okay—back to the wall, I’ll give you an answer, which would probably be different tomorrow and different again the next day. My so-called dream weekend would take place on a well-equipped sailboat somewhere to the coast of Maine not far from, say, Islesboro, with an adorable and intellectual woman much like yourself and no other obligation than to take pleasure in the bay breezes and the incomparable sights and the sharing of affectionate companionship.
I’d be happy to exchange photos with you, but perhaps we ought to talk (through e-mail) a little longer before taking that next step. Is Deidre a real name?
Warm regards, Jack
You must have been hanging out on my wavelength when you conjured your “dream weekend,” and if I didn’t believe you were an honorable person, I’d accuse you of reading my mind without a “by your leave.” If you added “gyring in the waves” from this wonderful sailboat of yours, your proffered weekend would seem unbearably perfect. If I knew you better, and didn’t have a care in the world, I’d have my bags packed in a trice and take the plunge.
Although I am a “can do” person, my life has not been a walk in the park. I’ve known my share of sorrow and I am on the whole a stronger person for it. I’ve mentioned in my published profile that I am a widow. In fact, and this is not information I give out to just anyone, I’ve been widowed twice. Again, let me say, I do not dwell on the unfortunate hands I’ve been dealt, but on my ability to triumph over adversity. As a child, I had an extremely minor case of polio, which has left me with a virtually imperceptible limp. My friends see it as a sexy adjunct to an otherwise adventurous and sensuous persona. Yes, Deidre is a real name but it is not exactly mine. My intimates call me Didi. What do your closest confidantes call you?
In friendship, Didi
The voice in your letters, for whatever reason, seems uncannily familiar, as if I’ve known you without actually knowing you for as long as I can remember. For that reason, I want to strip away some of the artifice of the public self and give you a glimpse of the private person that lurks beneath. Sorry to say, I don’t own a sailboat, not at the moment, but it has been a lifelong aspiration. No matter the word on the street, I am not without a few marginal deficiencies myself. I have never actually been to the opera, though if it’s any consolation it is not an omission that I’m proud of. On the other hand, I am proud to say that I have persistently fought and virtually conquered my various addiction issues. I’ve not had a drink or whatever, social or otherwise, in eleven months and three days. Scout’s honor. If, as has been said, I am a work in progress, isn’t that what living is all about? As for my signage: I have been called Jack by my friends, but in the cause of total honesty I am compelled to say it is not actually the name on my birth certificate.
If the above revelations remove me from your radar screen, I’ll make an effort, though not without a smattering of regret, to understand your position.
Best wishes, Oliver
I don’t want you to think I’m as off-puttingly artsy and gorgeous as my original personals presentation may have signaled. My mother used to tell me ad nauseam, “Dorothy, always put your best foot forward.” And I have, I believe, aspired to do just that. If one doesn’t reinvent oneself every seven years or so, one can very easily disappear from the main stage. I was not, I confess, a natural beauty. Nor was I, as a teenager, the second-prettiest girl in the room, the one your younger self would have pursued. I was, I say without false modesty, somewhere in the middle of the pack. As I’m sure you know, intelligence and charm can more than compensate for nature’s oversights. Also, I should say that I’ve always been attracted to men who are not in the least vain about their looks. I have generally held being “authentic” in the highest regard. So don’t lose heart, Oliver. I await with pleasure the receipt of another of your lively, unassuming communications.
Your friend, Dorothy
Is Didi short for Dorothy, or was Didi a different reinvented self altogether? And I do prefer being called Jack to Oliver, if you don’t mind, the latter offered basically in the spirit of unmitigated honesty. That I tended to go after the second-prettiest girl in the room didn’t mean I was always or often successful in that pursuit. I was not averse on occasion to settling for the second-homeliest girl in the room if she had a winning personality (as you seem to have) and was suitably affectionate. This is not to say that you are less than beautiful, though if you are it would not be a deal-breaker between us. Most men (and I don’t exclude myself) like to have a beautiful woman on their arm not so much for the woman per se but for the macho statement it offers to the casual observer. With maturity, I’ve grown beyond that. What I’m looking for in a relationship is not just an adorable companion with whom to go to cultural events or the occasional Knicks game. I’ve come to believe that eros is also a vital component in any lasting relationship.
If we’re not on the same page, I’d appreciate being so informed before we take our blossoming friendship to the next level.
Best wishes, Jack
Whatever else I may be, I am not squeamish concerning sex. I’ve been known to call a fuck a fuck, the consequence be damned. If I’m no longer the intellectual sexpot of my younger days, when I was thought to be the Tuesday Weld of the academic set, I have learned a thing or two about love over the years. That you don’t sail is not a problem; sailing, if the truth be known, has always made me seasick. Shall we meet, my friend? And if so, where?
How about the coming Friday at five at the Cedar Bar?
J, my friend,
I believe the Cedar Bar no longer exists. How about meeting in front of the former Cedar Bar, which is a short walk from my apartment. I have shoulder-length white hair and I’ll be wearing a red sweater. And you?
My dear D,
I’ll be wearing a black turtleneck and a gray tweed jacket. I have pepper and salt hair, what there is of it. To avoid confusion, I’ll be carrying a black cane with an elegantly baroque handle. “This could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”
“The New York Review of Love” from The Pavilion of Former Wives by Jonathan Baumbach, courtesy Dzanc. Copyright 2016, Jonathan Baumbach.