Chapter 57 of The Empty City

By Andrew Looney

Jim made himself a chicken salad sandwich and locked himself up inside his closet. He had just gotten the new City Paper, and as he bit into his sandwich he turned directly to the "Personals" section.

He scanned the column of fine print ads, dropping sandwich crumbs on the paper as he went. "SWM... SWM... DWM... SWM... SWF loves shopping, sports... SWM... SBM... SWF, attractive, independent, loves soap operas... SJM... DWM... SWM... GWM... BiWF ISO similar BiWF... Rubenesque SWF... MWF seeks MWM for discreet encounters... SBF... SWM... Religious SWF... SWM..."

He was about to give up on this week's offerings when he found an ad that read:

"Tremendous SWF, 30, independent, intelligent, and creative, seeks similar SWM with whom to listen to music, go out to dinner, see movies, and ride rollercoasters. Non-smokers and cat-lovers preferred. Must have good sense of humor. Write to me NOW! Box 761."

Jim wondered if the word "Tremendous" were a euphemism for "Fat," but in spite of his slight misgiving, he decided to send her something. He pulled out a sheet of stationery and started to write a letter.

"Dear SWF,
I saw your ad, and you sound like a fun person so I decided to write to you."

Jim read this sentence and then crumpled up the sheet of paper. "It sounds stupid," he said aloud to himself. "Every letter she gets probably sounds like that."

He sat for a long time twirling his pencil around in his hand, trying to think of some way of writing an introductory letter that didn't sound boring and stupid.

Finally he decided not to send a letter at all. He concluded that he needed something that would grab her attention, that would make his letter stand out from the other ten she'd probably receive. He decided to send an envelope containing only an assortment of odd things. He had a cigar box containing small clippings, cards, and slips of paper, which he acquired and saved from all over the place. He'd often toss one of these items in with letters he send to friends and relatives. This letter, he decided, would contain nothing except an assortment of artifacts such as these.

He dug around in his cigar box, pulling out choice items. A "Colonel Mustard" card from an old "Clue" game. An "Inspected by #12" slip. A picture he'd cut out of a newspaper, depicting a mushroom cloud rising above the Nevada desert during a bomb test in the 1950s. A carnival ticket reading "KEEP THIS COUPON * IT IS VALUABLE." A playing card, the eight of hearts. A matchbook cover from "Trader Flip's," a Polynesian restaurant. A photograph of him, taken the previous Christmas, wearing a Santa Claus hat. A yellow slip of paper with some mathematical formulas written on it, which he had found on the floor of "Dollars to Donuts" a few days before. A Cracker Jack prize, a tiny booklet of brain teasers. A full color photo of the unblinking statues on Easter Island, clipped out of a magazine. And lastly, a Bazooka Joe comic.

Jim placed all of these items into a business size envelope. He wrote his name and return address in the corner, but it then took him a while to figure out how to address the envelope correctly so that it would properly get to the person who'd placed the ad. This done, he put a stamp on the envelope and strolled with it out into the nighttime.

As he tossed it into the corner mailbox, he thought "That ought to make her sit up and take notice."

Copyright © 1991 by Andrew Looney.

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