Un-Romance At A Glance
"Let me tell you, up front and foremost, I don't do romance. I don't read it, don't write it, and I most assuredly
don't live it!'
"Therefore, since I am one of the foremost experts on how not to have a romance, I felt it behooved me to commit certain rules to paper, to remind readers of the important steps you should take to insure that nothing so messy as love and romance ever encroaches into your life."
As I sat down to my computer, my fingers flew. My editor actually dared me - ME! - to write the "Un-Romance Handbook," as it's well known that I have a loathing for the stuff. I have no respect for writers who churn out the mindless dreck in the romance genre, and I certainly have no time in my life for any of the nonsense that inspires the dreck!
The only downside to this assignment was that I was actually required to read several examples of the aforementioned dreck, and was required to interview several members of the opposite
species sex as part of the job. Plus I had to talk on the subject to several members of the human female persuasion. I was obligated to interview straight, gay, bisexual; in other words, pretty much anything bipedal and capable of semi-intelligent speech.
Now that we'd established politicians and lawyers were out of bounds, I planned to begin with the people here around me. I forewarned friends, co-workers, and anyone I could accost at the grocery store. They were going to be fodder for this excursion into truth and reason.
Unfortunately, the boss also insisted that I peruse the singles spots. That required yet more effort on my part. Other than churches or bars, neither of which hold any appeal for me, I honestly didn't know where singles hang out. Which meant I had to ask around and pray for a straight answer. And I could already imagine the reaction to that question. I mean, what would you think if someone asked you, "Where do you go to meet guys/girls? I'm asking purely for research purposes, I swear!"
Oh, and there were just a couple of little catches. If I failed to turn in at least a chapter every month, or finish the book within a year's time, any time spent schmoozing would be docked from my vacation. I also couldn't spend more than four hours a week out of the office unless I took it as direct vacation time.
As if I'd let that happen while on THIS subject!
For the first three weeks or so, my typing was going along smoothly. I worked on other projects as they came to me and worked on my opus when time permitted. But it took me just about to the end of the first chapter to recognize that I had no choice but to leave this claustrophobic, burlap-walled cubby that's the closest I'll likely ever be to a real office. I cast a quick glance at several yellowed newspaper cartoon clippings stuck to the wall, whispered a few Hail Garfields, and dropped the first chapter into the in basket on my boss's desk. Using a stage whisper, I told her, "Misty, I'm on my way out, just like you said. You told me to research. I'm researching. Is that okay?"
It felt monumentally weird for me to tell my boss that I was about to hit the singles bars, I gotta tell you. Misty glanced up from her phone conversation, gave me an oblique nod and held up the wooden plaque she has that's engraved with the word, "Cheers!" It's her signal that she heard, can't reply verbally, and she's good with whatever you said.
I strode out to my car, checking my watch. It was just about noon on Friday -- still a bit early for the stereotypical singles scene. But given that I was supposed to research my subject with a completely unbiased eye and had to give it my best, most legitimate shot, I decided that the best approach was to go in as though I WERE looking for a date.
Hitting a Chinese place for lunch, after waited to be seated -- alone, of course -- I was already mentally working out my plan of attack. I was perusing the menu when I spied an equally-alone guy sitting catty-corner from me. I caught him staring at me, and was immediately flattered. Then, naturally, my common sense kicked in and I recognized opportunity. Here was an attractive, apparently single man who was a source of information. I smiled in his general direction and asked politely, "Hi. I don't suppose you'd know where a girl could meet a guy, do you?"
His face went a sickly gray, he practically flew from his seat and tagged the waitress, and she moved him to another table.
About the same time, I heard the kid in the next booth whispering something about the funny-looking woman. I wondered who she was talking about, wondering if that was who scared my prospect away, until somewhere about two minutes in it dawned on me that I was the funny-looking woman.
Time to re-examine my priorities, it seemed.
I hadn't been looking for Mr. Right for a while by then, so saw no point in making any real effort to look "pretty." I wore no makeup, my eyebrows hadn't been tweezed since 8th grade, my hair was knotted into a nondescript braid that hung down my back, and I knew that the wind had raised enough seriously-split ends that I must look like I'd stuck my finger into a light socket. The blah brownish-blondish-dirty color probably didn't help.
Neither did my interpretation of work's lack of a dress code. I slouched through my days in loose trousers, a white men's tee shirt, and an androgynous plaid shirt that hid anything resembling a figure. Dusty once-beige hiking boots didn't do anything to enhance my femininity, either. When editing copy or writing feature articles based on phone calls and feeds from the Associated Press, it really wasn't an issue. Going out in public, particularly going out in public into a room full of sexual piranhas, was something else again.
Digging out my daytimer, I flipped over to today's date and used a red felt-tip pen to scribble in, fashion overhaul: HELP!!!
With the help of my cell phone and directory assistance, I had an appointment at a hair salon in three hours, leaving me two and a half hours to finish with my lunch and shop for suitable attire.
If I was going to hit the singles' playground, no point sticking out like a sore thumb. Blending into the background was what I did best in my job. In this case, though, the background was a whole 'nother world from the one to which I'd become accustomed. Little did I know exactly how different!