Copyright, all rights reserved 12-4-98
"As we grow old we become both
more foolish and more wise."
| The trouble with turning fifty
is that you know that you need bifocals but you just have trouble remembering
to make an appointment to go get them.
It was bad enough that he had hit the half-century mark, but why did they have to throw him a surprise birthday party decorated with all of that black crepe paper and allusions to the nearness of death plastered all over the walls? Besides that, if one more person said to him, "Hey, Jack, is that Rome burning or is that just all the candles on your cake?" he would have to shoot to kill. It's enough to have to walk through the door of another decade of your life, but who in the hell wants to be pushed through it.
On the day of his fiftieth birthday, Jack Avery was not a happy camper.
Then there was his wife, Toodles. That was not her real name but it was one that had been given her ever since high school. He had met her while still in college and they were married shortly after his graduation. How could it be possible that they had already observed their twenty-sixth anniversary together?
Toodles wanted to celebrate it. Jack thought that observing it was more than enough. This birthday party was her revenge.
It's true. Their relationship had been a long one, at least by today's standards, but it wasn't a happy one. Tradition and history are thin strings to keep two people tied to each other, but it was all that they had left. In fact, they had perfected endurance and compromise to the point that no one else was the wiser. Their marriage was an uncomfortable truce at best.
As far as Jack was concerned, the first several years of their marriage couldn't have been better; the middle years couldn't have been worse; and the last few years had been absolutely horrible. Her take on it was pretty much the same. She woke up every morning with a scowl on her face and it was still there every night when she went to bed. Whenever he attempted to touch her in any way, she responded with a coldness that could instantaneously freeze a burning ember. Her anger toward him resided just under the surface and had a way of popping it's ugly head up at regular intervals. In a funny kind of way he still loved her. He just didn't like here anymore.
Well, let's get back to the birthday party.
After all, Toodles reasoned, the big lug was turning fifty. Why not invite all of their friends over to help her rub it in a little. Her smile widened into a grin as the evening wore on. Everything was progressing wonderfully from her point of view. She was content to fade into the background while others jabbed and chided her ageing husband for her. Vindictiveness was her game and she was good at it.
It was the gift that changed everything.
Jack was an armchair athlete and a certified spaceship captain who constantly hugged the living room television (large screen with surround sound, of course). Although, in a supreme gesture of self-centered kindness he did purchase a little sixteen-inch portable for her to watch in their bedroom. It was his way of letting the "little woman" watch whatever she wanted to, whenever she wanted to without getting in his way. Yes, Jack was quite a guy.
Although, it could be said of Jack that he was painfully consistent. Every weekday evening he would pull his car into the garage fully expecting dinner to be hot and waiting for him on the table. After stuffing himself with seconds, it would then be time to hit the recliner, grab the remote control (and it had better be where he'd left it), and turn the old home theater on full blast. Furthermore, if the phone rang, well, that was Toodles' responsibility. Don't you just hate it when you are watching something really good on the tube and one of the kids calls long distance wanting money or someone phones you from work with an emergency?
The early bird went to sleep alone each night while the night owl cheered on his favorite team or spent the late night hours going where no one has gone before with steely-eyed androids and pointy-eared aliens.
Okay, back to the gift.
Toodles gathered the party of a dozen-or-so who were still enjoying their drinks, as well as her husband's chagrin, around the coffee table. Her brother Charlie, the computer whiz (everyone should have a brother like Charlie), carried the unboxed components out of the bedroom where they had been carefully hidden. After several trips, the top of the table was covered with all of the newest technology. It was all there; the computer itself, the keyboard with the attached hand rest, a remote control mouse, a monitor with stereo speakers attached to the sides, and something called a "joy stick." Charlie doubled back to the bedroom and came out once more. This time, he had a large box in each arm filled with all kinds of software sporting little tags of birthday greetings from most of those in attendance.
After everyone finally left, Charlie stayed behind and helped Jack set everything up on his desk in the second bedroom. After a crash course in personal computing (thanks to brother Charlie), he learned enough of the basics to boot up and click on his favorite programs. Now he could play all of his favorite sports interactively and traverse the universe without ever leaving the room.
Over the next few days, Toodles reveled in her successful ploy to regain the living room television. Her husband seemed to be completely caught up in the joy of clicking and going crazy with his new joy stick.
What made it even more enjoyable for her was that he was grabbing his dinner and taking it into the bedroom with him. She had finally figured out a way to get rid of him and have her evenings back for herself.
Jack was happy, and for the first time in a long while, so was his wife.
It even got better when that free internet cd arrived in the mail.
Being a "newbie" on the internet is like getting to be a kid for awhile all over again; like being allowed to roam the aisles of the toy store all by yourself. Every time you turn around, there are countless shelves filled with all sorts of new things to play with. Jack finished the installation process and clicked on the internet. It would be a few weeks before he realized that he hadn't played any of his games. He was hooked.
Surfing the web was his first choice of toys to play with. He discovered a couple of magazines at the drug store that listed various web sites by categories and he found himself spending every evening visiting one after the other. He tried everything from the serious to the risque'. He was absolutely in awe at the volumes of information framed in the most amazing variations of content and graphics.
One of the magazine articles mentioned something called a ‘search engine'. Calling up one of these gives the user the ability to type in any topic and the engine does the rest. It searches the entire world wide web and locates any site that pertains to the topic of inquiry. He couldn't believe the thousands of entries that came up related to the subjects that he was curious about. He was an explorer and the new world that he had discovered seemed to be absolutely limitless.
There was so much more: The files of his own internet service were filled with news services, chat rooms, bulletin boards, member entries, etc. The list went on and on. There was no end to it all.
Toodles was as delighted as Jack. She had no idea what he was doing in there every night. All she knew was that she had the television to herself. In fact, she almost had her freedom back again. She would mention to him that some of her friends were stopping by and he would just nod, make some short comment like "That's nice," and go play with his computer. He had always been the type that just couldn't stand his evening being interrupted by a "bunch of cackling hens" (his words). Now it didn't seem to matter. She even found it easy to step out for an evening, whereas before she was expected to always be there for him. He was completely absorbed with his new toy and he didn't seem to care what she did anymore. It was fine with her. In fact, it was wonderful.
At some point during his romp through the many facets of the internet, Jack decided to investigate what was behind the ‘chat' icon. With one click of the mouse, he found himself looking at a little window on his monitor asking him to enter in a nickname along with any other self-descriptive information that he might want to include.
After a few minutes of trying to come up with some kind of creative name, he thought back to the day of his fiftieth birthday. His life had just about flat-lined on him and now he was having a wonderful time. He recalled the ancient myth of the phoenix bird that fell to the ground, died, and then miraculously came back to life again. That would be it. He typed the word "Phoenix" into the appropriate blank, filled in the state where he resided, and in the interests blank he wrote, "To live, to laugh, to love; for I have arisen from the ashes and am alive again!" It was dramatic, but it really was the way he felt.
Taking his first stroll through the streets of Chatville took the better part of an evening. The temptation to check out the "flirty-dirty" rooms certainly intrigued him but his curiosity drove him on to sample every other room that seemed even half-way interesting. Curious names described the interests of those visiting the rooms; everything from "After-Hours Chatters" to the"Women's World" was listed. Multitudes of nicknames hovered in the different rooms and attics chattering away the hours with each other.
It took Jack a few evenings to get up the courage he needed to jump into the middle of a chat. On that particular night he was in the "Michigan" room and noticed a nickname that brought back memories of a car that he had owned as a young man. He typed two letters on his keyboard, hit "enter", and took his first step into becoming a full-fledged citizen of Chatville.
"Phoenix" has entered the room
Although Jack would go on to check out a number of chat rooms, it was this one that would become his favorite hang out. Over the next few months he stopped by to visit nightly. He only missed an evening on rare occasion. Soon he began to figure out who the regulars were and eventually became recognized as one himself.
Rosebuddy: how old is phoenix
Those whom he came to know as room regulars were from all walks of life and represented various lifestyles and attitudes in life. There were those who were the kind of people common to his own experience; a school teacher, an accountant, a couple of housewives, a bank clerk, a few young people, and a retiree. A few professionals enjoyed stopping by and chatting also. There was at least one medical doctor ("DrWhitty") and a college-level math professor ("MisCalculatn"). There was also a certain free-lance writer and poet that Jack and the regulars particularly enjoyed. Talking with people one wouldn't normally meet in the real world is one of the many attractions of chat.
has entered the room
Even inner-city convenience store
owners did not have the opportunity to talk with so many diverse individuals.
As an everyday man he felt the exhilaration of actually being able to converse
with people he would never meet otherwise; perhaps even in a lifetime.
Besides that, Jack was fast becoming a welcome chatter in the "Michigan"
room himself. Not only was he proving to be a friendly contributor
to the conversations but his three semesters of high school typing classes
made him a little quicker than most and that is always a plus in chat.
Greeter: "LadyMirage" has entered the room
Until this moment he had been
chatting with classic car lovers, flower ladies, and authority figures.
He perceived them as a group of middle-aged baby boomers who just liked
to shoot the breeze and have a good time yackking with each other.
Yet, the mood of the whole room seemed to change when she slipped in; at
least as far as Jack was concerned. Another man might not have looked
twice but her wispy nickname immediately got his attention. His curiosity
kicked in and then turned into boldness; followed by a bad attack of raging
testosterone. Fifty-year-old men need to be careful when having a
It started off innocently enough. How much more innocent could it be? All they had done so far was introduce themselves to each other.
LadyMirage: so, Jack, are you married
There it was; he told a lie. It would have made no difference at all it he had just told the truth. After all, what was he going to do? How do you have an affair with a faceless person who probably lives on the other side of the state or even the country for that matter? Yet, there was always the slim chance that something more might come of it and Jack figured that it was at least worth a try. It's amazing how one can justify absolutely anything if there is something personal that might be gained from it.
LadyMirage: then are you divorced
Truth has a way of breaking up into little bits and pieces and then getting discarded one part at a time. This being the case, our man Jack was doing fine.
LadyMirage: i am 39 <s>
It was a close call. He reasoned to himself that, had he told her the truth about his age, she might have bolted for the door.
LadyMirage: i like older men
Jack patted himself on the back. Her cute response to his supposed age encouraged him to try to learn more about her. The usual approach to ask a woman to describe herself was, "what do you look like?" He wondered if she would answer him. There was a long pause and he almost typed in "r u there" when her response popped up on his monitor.
LadyMirage: 5'7", dark hair, shoulder-
It was his last chance to redeem himself. With all the fervor of a man on a mission, he failed.
Phoenix: 6', 175
lbs., brown wavy hair, brown
Actually, he wasn't too far off
from the truth; at least, in his own mind. He was really of medium
height at 5'9", overweight at 195 pounds, gray hair mixed in with what
was left of the brown, in shape as long as he sucked it in and held his
breath, average looking by anyone's standard, an armchair athlete, and
the only weights he lifted were fork-fulls of food in sets of twenty, several
times a day.
It was the same feeling he had
when he was a kid striking out in a Little League game. He threw
down his bat and retreated to the dugout. She had eluded his attempt
to move the relationship from Chatville into the real world. Further
attempts were just as fruitless and the hope of ever meeting her face to
face appeared out of the question. It's impossible to get to second
base when you can't even manage to hit the ball and touch first.
The snow lightly dusted his overcoat
as Jack made his way up the sidewalk into the Lansing Diner. He was
surprised to find that his hands were shaking. The anticipation of
finally meeting his Lucinda was starting to hit him. For the first
time he felt the tension of the last week as he hung his coat up on the
rack in the restaurant foyer. He pushed back his hair and straightened
his tie as he considered the possibility that, when all was said and done,
he may not even be able to reveal himself to her. He might not have
a private moment to share with her and that would be hard to deal with.
Regardless, he would now at least know exactly what she looked like and
even that was worth the deception.