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The Stockley Gardens Art Show and my 70th First Date

May 16th, 2011 Sears Homes No comments

In May 2006, after 69 first dates (it’s true, I counted), I sat down at my favorite internet dating site (Match.com) and tried one more time.

This time, three new guys popped up. One in particular captured my attention. His profile said that he played the guitar and sang songs and enjoyed woodworking. Judging by his well-written profile, he was also a capable wordsmith. His profile photo showed a man with a bushy beard and silver hair and a green flannel shirt.

Mr. Green Flannel looked fuzzy and cuddly - a good combination.

And the singing? Be still my quivering heart.

“Singing silly little love songs” was on the very first draft of my four-page “What I Want In a Man” mission statement and that bullet point remained throughout that document’s countless revisions.

All three men looked promising, so I dashed off a quickie note, tweaked ever-so-slightly to make it seem like a personal note. Within 48 hours, there was an email reply from Mr. Green Flannel. The other two men never replied.

Mr. Green Flannel was intrigued and wanted to know more. I sent back another note and gave him my phone number. I didn’t hear from him again for several days and assumed he’d lost interest. And then the evening of May 10th,  my cell phone rang. It was Mr. Green Flannel.

Within moments of this first phone call, I was on the fast track to love. Stretched out on top of the fluffy comforter of my queen-size bed, I found myself grinning from ear to ear as he told me about his life. He was intelligent, articulate, interesting and well-spoken. Unlike 97.52% of the world’s population, Mr. Green Flannel spoke in full sentences, peppered with beautifully descriptive words, phrases and expressions. Every now and then, he used a word that I didn’t know. His ability to out-vocabulize the well-read, smarty-pants author swept me off my feet. He spoke slowly and purposefully and all of his words were laced with a delightful West Virginian accent.

As we talked, I learned we had much in common. His first story and my first story (involving our fathers) were much alike. We’d both lost our mothers on Christmas Day. Not too many people share that experience. We were both history nuts. And I made him laugh and vice versa. After a long, enjoyable telephone conversation, we agreed to ratchet up to a face-to-face meeting.

We made plans to meet on Saturday morning, May 20th at 9:00 a.m. at a downtown coffee shop. This suited me well. I was a morning person and I was a lot more charming and witty first thing in the morning. And if it turned out that this guy was nothing but bad news, I could spill my hot chocolate on the table and be out of there in a flash.

This time, I feared I may have over-reached. Date #70 was a highly intelligent, well-educated man with a prestigious job and he was handsome and witty and intriguing and had the most beautiful male voice I’d ever heard. I’d traveled down this well-worn path many times before. Same man, different body. And this story always had the same ending: Sadness and regret, self-recriminations and tears and a night or twelve of crying myself to sleep.

Like the proverbial moth to the flame, I was attracted to intelligent, well-educated, charming men and they were no good for me.

I said a little prayer and asked God to send some big chubby angels to help me through the next few hours.

Date #70 had told me that he was one of those people who was never ever late. That meant that he arrived 10-15 minutes early everywhere he went, which meant that I should arrive at least 30 minutes early; 10 minutes to beat him there and five minutes to calm down my frenzied, frizzy hair, with five minutes left over to mentally practice making an incredible first impression. The coffee shop had free wi-fi, so that gave me an excuse to take my laptop and surf the net and pretend to be one of the beautiful, happening people.

I arrived about 8:30 and ordered my hot chocolate. About 8:50 am, my last first date walked through the door.

He was shorter than I thought. Or maybe the doorway to the old building was unusually high. He was wearing a green plaid flannel shirt, clean blue jeans and a belt with a West Virginia buckle. West Virginia’s upper-most hinterlands were hidden underneath his muffin top. He was grinning. And he was cute as a button.

“You must be Rose,” he said with that enchanting West Virginian drawl.

“I am. And you must be Wayne.”

I managed to rise to my feet without falling over. A good start.

“Nice to meet you,” he replied through perfectly aligned teeth.

He was way too relaxed. He appeared to be someone who actually enjoyed dating. I wasn’t sure what to think of that. Did that indicate good self-esteem (a plus) or a smarmy familiarity with the ladies (a big negative)? His body language suggested he was comfortable and planning to have a splendid time. He looked both relaxed and alert. He seemed happy and eager to get to know this newest offering from the internet dating world.

We sat down together and engaged in the idle chatter that is the on-ramp to meaningful dialogue on a first date.

Less than 15 minutes into the date, my well-honed listening skills failed me. I gazed into his kind eyes and looked at his pretty red lips and wondered if he knew how to kiss a woman. His beard was also very distracting. He had a beautiful silver beard with a few remnants of the original red and brown. It was a really, really good beard. It was a very manly beard. And there were a few gray chest hairs sprouting from his open shirt. A manly man with a manly beard and manly chest hair.

He talked very slowly and yet, he spoke in whole paragraphs. No fragmented sentences and no umms or uhhs or rambling ideas. If someone were sitting in the corner writing down his words, there’d be no revision or correction needed prior to publishing.

He was a darling man and I’m sure the women loved him. Why was this guy on the loose, I wondered. Why did the last 27 women send him packing? Drug addict? Alcoholic? Gasoline sniffer? Or maybe, just like Date #49, he liked looking at pictures of naked men. Or maybe he was one of those guys who threw off his clothes as soon as he came home from work and donned women’s silk underwear and stiletto heels and pranced around his bachelor pad, lip-synching Carly Simon songs? Or maybe he was on probation and just got out of the Big House and this whole lawyer thing was a ruse. I glanced at his ears, hoping to find a bright, yellow warning label that might give some insight. He’d been caught and released by several other women, but he’d never been tagged, darn it.

Somewhere, amidst all this mental meandering, he handed me his card. Both he and his card claimed that he was a city employee (and a high ranking one, at that). I glanced at the card, which bore an impressive title.

“Wow. That’s quite something,” I said out loud.

“If you’re going to fake an identity, you probably should go for something a little more plausible,” I thought to myself. Surreptitiously, I ran my thumb over the card’s face. The city logo wasn’t embossed and the card stock was an inferior grade.

“I finally snag a big fish and it’s nothing more than a cardboard cut-out of a trout,” I told myself.  And then, trying desperately to salvage something from this masquerade, I decided that Date #70 would be a great story for the book. As #70 talked some more, I listened closely to his words and watched his body language and looked deeply into his eyes and that’s when I started to think he might be legitimate. Maybe, just maybe, he really was a lawyer and maybe, he really did work for the city.

And I remembered a story he told me during our first phone call. At a party, a woman asked him what he did for a living. He replied that he was a lawyer. Over the noise and din, she thought he said he was a logger. He laughed about it. “I guess I do look more like a logger than a lawyer.”

After about 90 minutes, he invited me to attend a local art show with him. It sounded like fun and I hadn’t been to an art show since my mother was an exhibitor in 1978. As we strolled around the Stockley Gardens Art Show, I had a recurring urge to reach out and hold his hand but hesitated. A raging internal debate about handholding ensued.

Was it forward to reach out and grab someone’s hand? If I held his hand within 90 minutes of the first meet and greet, did that mean that we’d be kissing within the next hour, breathing heavy by noon and then back at his place for hot sex by 3 o’clock? Is that how men think? Was it wise for a woman to send that message so early on the first date? Or maybe I was thinking about this all wrong. Maybe, if I reached out for his chubby little mitt, he’d see my sweet and playful side. Maybe he’d think it was cute, like reaching behind him and snapping his suspenders. But snapping suspenders and holding hands are two different things. Did male/female hand-holding constitute foreplay in today’s dating world? I couldn’t decide. And then there was the whole matter of rejection. I’d die from sheer horror if Date #70 rejected a hand-holding.

It was too risky. I decided not to reach out for his hand.

Walking along the city sidewalks, he stopped me for a moment and said, “Hold on,” and then he took a step or two backwards and gracefully positioned himself on my other side.

“A gentleman always walks on the street side,” he said.

“Nice,” I replied, “but do you know why a gentleman always takes the street side?”

He did. Mr. Green Flannel knew the reason why. (Gentlemen, in days of yore, walked on that side to protect a lady from the mud and muck thrown by a passing carriage.)

Now I wanted to grab him by the lapels on his flannel shirt and tell him that he was the man I’d waited for and dreamt about and prayed for and I could show him my four-page mission statement and it was very clear on all these points and could we just forego all the societal silliness and get married that afternoon and wouldn’t it be great to tell our kids that we got married on the very day we met and plus, was anyone ever married in a green flannel shirt, with the bride wearing red sandals and sporting a black laptop case as an accessory? It’d all be grand.

To read the rest of the story, buy Rose’s book here.

But I’ll give you a sneak peek of the ending. They lived happily ever after. And once a year, they attended the Stockley Gardens Art Show and strolled through the many exhibits, talking about that fortuitous first date.  :)

The Eight-Cow Wife

Photographic proof of the happy ending. :)

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Portsmouth’s Got a Brand-New Train

August 26th, 2010 Sears Homes No comments

Recently, Norfolk and Western’s #1134 settled into its new home in downtown Portsmouth. According to the The Lost Engines of Roanoke website, the old steam locomotive was rescued from the Virginia Scrap Iron and Metal Yard in Roanoke, Virginia where it had been dying a slow-death by rust for the last 60 years. The website also states that #1134 and her siblings (#917, 1118 and 1151) landed there in in the 1950s, having been relegated to the scrap heap when newer, more modern steam engines were ordered by the railroads.

The Virginian Pilot reports that on Tuesday (May 18, 2010), the 250,000-pound locomotive was back on the tracks again at its new home in Portsmouth. Unfortunately, this shining black beauty is not ready to be run out of town on a rail. She’s had a “cosmetic restoration,” meaning that she’ll never ride the rails again under her own steam.

Nonetheless, it’s wonderful that a handful of visionaries in Portsmouth have worked so tirelessly to preserve a piece of our country’s past. And Norfolk and Western’s #1134 is the capstone in the privately-funded Railroad Museum of Virginia. According to the article in the Pilot, contributions are welcome and can be made to:

The Railroad Museum of Virginia, Inc.
c/o Willard J. Moody Sr. Esq.
500 Crawford St. Suite 300
Portsmouth, VA 23704

The beautiful and cosmetically restored #1134 sits on the rails in downtown Portsmouth

The beautiful and cosmetically restored #1134 sits on the rails in downtown Portsmouth

Another view of N&W 1134

Another view of N&W 1134

close up of the wheels

close up of the wheels