| Max Paley was vulnerable to critical remarks. For that reason he was hesitant to make the first move. It had been three years since his wife Dorothy’s death and he hadn’t had a single date yet, if you don’t count the ladies, his wife’s old golfing buddies in the club. To tell the truth, he didn’t count them as dates because there were six of them, all over the age of seventy, and he was sure they were talking behind his back, comparing notes. He had stopped calling them. But they called him now and then, and he attended functions with them only because they used to be his wife’s friends and they lived in the same neighborhood.
Well now, this was Florida. There were more old ladies than elderly sophisticated gentlemen like Max. The younger widows were more popular just because they were younger, looked slightly better, didn’t wear Depends, and didn’t forget where they put their keys. Max wanted to have a regular companion like Dorothy, whom he could lean on but who wouldn’t die on him like Dorothy did. He didn’t care for looks, youth, or riches. What he needed was companionship and someone to coax him when he needed coaxing.
Max had been in the company of friends, men and women alike, but just like Dorothy, most of them had taken off into the unknown realm. For a while there, Max had not wanted to get too close to people for fear that they’d die on him, but he was over that fear now and he ached for company.
His son had sent him a gift of a laptop computer last Christmas. Just learning to operate it and figuring out how to connect to AOL had taken Max four months with the help of some lessons and CD’s by the Video Professor. That laptop was better than nothing, but it wasn’t the same as a real live woman inside the house.
One day as he was fooling around in AOL’s entertainment section, his phone rang. It was a representative of Solomon Smith Barney, inviting him to a business seminar, ten days later, on irrevocable trusts and retirement planning at the Mariott Resort. He accepted the invitation, because a free lunch was a free lunch, and he wanted to find out what these youngsters could possibly tell him.
He came back to the computer to find out that he had been dumped for leaving it idle. When he signed on again, AOL’s Personals flashed in front of his eyes. Out of plain curiosity, he started reading the ads. Most of them were racy, with people exaggerating their high points for a romp or a lark.
Here… At least someone had a decent sounding ad. It was from a Laura of Deerfield Beach, the same town as Max, a widow slightly over sixty, looking for a casual relationship, someone to go to dinner with, and take walks by the beach. Her hobbies were golf, internet, and needlepoint. Max could live with that. He wondered if he ever ran into her in Publix, Albertson’s, or any place else. Hesitantly he clicked on her e-mail and answered.
Five days later, he got this answer, “Dear Max, I received all sorts of replies to my ad that I had put out of sheer curiosity to see what kind of a response I’d get. Most of the replies bored me. Most were desperate or bragging. Except I found that yours was well thought out, respectful, and valued friendship more than anything. If you agree, maybe we could arrange a meeting.”
After quite a few phone exchanges, they agreed to meet six days later for lunch in front of the Red Lobster.
Max attended the business seminar a day before he would meet Laura. There was a nice looking lady close to Max’s age who questioned the young lecturer with intelligence.
In the dining room when Max found out to his surprise that her seat was next to him, his heart skipped a beat. He leaned over and read her name on the card ‘Clarice L. Thresher’. She looked at him with puzzled eyes.
“Hello,” Max said. “I’m Maximillian Robert Paley. You asked good questions back there.”
Clarice, a widow, was gracious and friendly. Max was quite taken by her. He asked her if he could see her again. She said during the following week she’d be busy with her daughter and her grandchildren visiting her but Max insisted with a newly found courage, “How about tomorrow?” But then, he immediately added, “No, I can’t tomorrow,” remembering his date with Laura. “I have a proctologist’s appointment at midday, but we could meet for dinner.”
As soon as he said that Max bit his lip. He had meant to say podiatrist. How embarrassing! He was never a good liar.
“Well, I have some kind of an appointment myself at midday too. Later is not feasible. Let me get your phone number and I’ll call you after my daughter leaves.” Clarice said.
As Max drove to Red Lobster, he thought of Laura who would be wearing a blue dress with a name tag. He planned to tell Laura that he was interested in someone else, for he now felt that Clarice was the person he wanted to take his chances with.
As soon as he got out of his car, Max stopped dead in his tracks with astonishment. Looking at him was Clarice in a blue dress with the name tag 'Laura'.
“Hello Max,” she said laughing. “Is this where you usually meet your proctologist?”
A couple of weeks after that date, Maximillian Paley and Clarice Laura Thresher were inseparable. Six months later, they were living together and Max, fortunately, never had to see any proctologist.