When my marriage first fell apart, I told friends in that whistling-in-the-dark humor you develop for such occasions that now was my chance to find a 19-year-old blonde. The men leered back, the women gasped. Little did I know that I would get to fulfill my dream.
Before I go into that, let's take stock of what's involved in this dream.
Everybody knows, or has seen it on the street: a 40- or 50-something driving a red sports car. In a Volkswagen commercial, it's described as an "ego emission." Instead of Rush Limbaugh's drug of choice, Viagra, some men get the red Triumph.
I am fifty-ish, have mostly gray hair and carry what personals Web sites charitably describe as "a few extra pounds." My marriage fell apart: I knew I was screwed (or rather, not likely ever again). I am not exactly bait even for post-pregnancy Britney.
So I went to support group meetings, to dances, to various socials and uncovered that I am not exactly unattractive, that -- Deo gratias! -- women look at faces, at intelligence, at grace and charm (and, yes, some also look for hefty wallets, but we'll overlook those). So if you find yourself in a similar situation -- no, you are not dead in the water at middle age; even men look beyond the obvious.
But you're still not 17 or 22.
I was thinking such thoughts during a trip across the country. On my flight back, the plane stopped somewhere in the Midwest (Chicago? I guess, that's in the middle somewhere, no?).
That's when the plane started to fill up and next to me (I was on the two-seat side) sits down a young woman who is blonde. She needs help with this and that and I gallantly provide what help I can offer. She sits down, I go back to my book.
Drinks come and they make me feel talkative, so I start a conversation. She is 19 years old. I smile a mile wide but of course she has no idea why. She thinks I'm just being friendly.
I decide to play Dick Cavett, the friendly talk show host who encourages shameless public narcissism by figures from whom one can't fail to learn something. (I'll never forget Orson Welles talking on Cavett's show about the lawsuits after "War of the Worlds" and the one claim that they actually paid: news shoes for a woman whose heels broke in the middle of a panicked rushing crowd. Trivia to tuck that away for moments such as this one.)
A 19-year-old young woman probably wants to tell the world where she is going and why. Indeed!
My putative fountain of youth was from Lyons, Kansas.
There is such a place. Look it up: I have. Population 3,732 (2000 Census), it is a farming community near a campsite used around 1540 by the expedition of Francisco Vasquez de Coronado in his search for the Seven Cities of Gold. (Conquistador: "Where are the Seven Cities of Gold" Indian: "Over there, yonder, can't miss them.")
She was coming to Washington on an internship, she recounted in a voice that seemed to grow squeakier by the moment. My mind computed the political implications and legal ramifications of the word "intern" in the 00's; I didn't like the outcome. But, hell, who's a little airplane flirting going to hurt?
So I asked what kinds of issues she was interested in and what organization she was coming to work for. I rapidly became ever more horrified as she detailed the entire Religious Right's political agenda, as if the entire world agreed, and as the internship sponsor she named one of those neocon organizations that I am sure have "666" carved on their headquarters' entrance.
Of course, I forgot! Nineteen-year-old blondes no longer wear flowers in their flowing tresses as they journey to San Francisco. They're more likely eager to wear jackboots in the Political Gestapo, as they seek to immolate homosexuals and "baby-killers."
And their history! I got a lecture on how conservative John F. Kennedy really was -- never mind that I had actually been alive the day he was shot.
Those blue eyes began to look beady. That smile to seem sinister as I pretended -- oh, how I pretended! -- to be amused. She flicked her hair back, she made eye contact; she was clearly flirting. I was clearly horrified.
Once I managed to steer matters to more neutral topics I found there was little common ground. Neither music, nor literature, nor movies nor even TV (I had a TV then) drew a single connection. Her blonde hair looked ever more bottled.
Then it was her turn. Whether she knew the tricks or was genuinely naive, she charmed with questions about Washington. Cognizant that I was with The Enemy I wasn't exactly eager to help her succeed, yet soon enough she began to remind me of my kids.
That's when the bubble burst and I simply turned into a surrogate father-figure. By the time we got to Washington I pointed her to the right Metro train and was happy to see her, her 19-year-old blonde hair, squeaky voice, beady eyes and neocon views go.
Maybe it's a 91-year-old I should be looking for ... I can talk a good game about FDR, Sinatra, the "Thin Man" series and that bestseller, "The Citadel." Or is my voice too squeaky, my eyes too beady, my views too conventional?