If it was hard to get a date in a city of millions, it became even more difficult once I relocated to this middle-of-nowhere college town. Oh, I had high hopes at first. The census data was very promising; thirty percent of the local male population was single and between the ages of twenty and twenty-nine. Jackpot! I thought.
That was, until my friend NPapaya pointed out that the census data included the large undergraduate student population in the area, and further pointed out that yes, I would in fact get fired if I even went there. (I did think about handing out my number as I handed out diplomas, but even I recognized that might not be the best way to find everlasting love.) So, I did what any desperate person would do in similarly dire circumstances—I turned to the internet.
“Are you really going to go out with lumpy-headed guy?” NPapaya had asked. I could practically hear her eyebrow arch skeptically as she looked over my shoulder. One aspect of internet dating I did like was that it was kind of like shopping from a mail-order catalogue. I could put in the size, age, hair color, and level of education I wanted and then filter for whether he believed George Bush is the greatest president ever and—Presto! I had….oh….well….far fewer matches than I had thought. NPapaya was still looking over my head as she grabbed the mouse from me and scrolled down. “What does it say that he does?”
“It says he’s a Chemist.” I replied. I was looking at the picture on-screen a little more closely. This guy did kind of have a lumpy cranium. But if I squinted my eyes and tilted my head, he might turn out to be somewhat presentable. And if I had to introduce him to my mother, I could always make him wear a hat.
“So, a Chemist? I’m guessing that means he either runs a meth lab, or he rearranges the cold medicine at K-Mart.” NPapaya said. I shot her a look. She pursed her lips, and shrugged. “Hey, I’m just saying…Hasn’t experience taught us anything?”
Yes, in fact experience had taught us that a guy who described himself as an “Artist” undoubtedly lived in his parents’ basement, and a guy who mentioned he was “shy” inevitably had an undiagnosed case of Asperger’s syndrome.
I protested. “Look, isn’t that lovely?” I was pointing to where Lumpy had copied his favorite sonnet onto his profile. Hope sprung eternal. “I think he must have a beautiful soul.”
“That doesn’t show his soul,” NPapaya scoffed, “because he didn’t write it. His soul could very possibly be empty. We don’t really know.” She always did make the most annoying points.
I decided that the only way to know for certain though was to meet this guy in person. “Don’t worry, I’ll meet him in public—no identifying information given out, he’ll never be able to find me.” I told her.
“Do you remember the guy that Anne met? Also online!” NPapaya continued as if I hadn’t spoken. “The ex-green beret asylum-escapee? As she pulled up to the restaurant to meet him, undercover police and a SWAT team converged to arrest him. (True Story!) Don’t let that happen to you!” She waved her strawberry twizzler in my face.
“Is it likely to? I don’t think so.” I said. Her expression retorted that she thought I was a fool.
His name turned out to be Jay and we met at a local café. He was nebbishly attractive with small round glasses and an unfortunate tendency to lisp. I soon discovered both why he lisped, and why all of his pictures online had shown him with his mouth closed; he was missing teeth. This turned out to be apropos, because getting conversation out of him was like pulling teeth.
We made small talk—(Or, rather, I made small talk. I was like a one-woman song and dance routine. See post below regarding selfish conversationalists!) I asked him about his hobbies, and that’s when it got interesting. “I like to make soap.” He said.
“Soap?” I didn’t know what else to say. “Like the craft kits you get from the store?”
“Oh, no. I like to get lye and experiment with different types of fats. Crisco, bacon grease, vegetable oils. Any types of fats really. I make my own essential oils, and scents, and I make it artistic with different molds.” He said.
I didn’t know what to make of this. I hesitantly said, “So, do you sell this soap?”
“No, that would be cost-prohibitive given the quality of the ingredients, and the time I spend making the soap.”
“Well, what if you bought the ingredients wholesale---” I started.
“—oh, I do. I have several 5 gallon drums of olive oil right now. I’m also experimenting with sunflower oil.”
“So, if you don’t sell it, what do you do with it?” I joked. “You don’t bathe four times a day, do you?” I was greeted with silence. An uncomfortable silence.
“So,” I said with forced levity. I cleared my throat. “Tell me what else you like to do.”
“I also like to swap soup.”
“Excuse me?” I nearly spit out. This time I couldn’t keep from laughing.
“There’s this yahoo group—we met online.” He shrugged. “We all like soup, and we get together once a month to swap soup.” He looked at me very earnestly. “It’s a good way to get soup. I usually come away with about six quarts of soup. Do you like soup? You could join us. Did you know last month was national soup-swapping month?”
“Oh-ah, well,” I was frantically looking for a way to escape. The door seemed so far away. “What time is it? I had no idea it was this late. Ha-ha.” I forced a laugh. I stood up and he followed. I held out a hand. “It was nice to meet you.”
“You too.” He responded. He looked at me expectantly.
“Ok, well, I’d really better get going now.” I was babbling. “Nice to meet you.” We both left with, I think, a mutual sense of relief. (Well, I thought it was mutual relief until he asked me out again. I did contemplate saying yes. For a very brief moment.)
Later that day I saw NPapaya and her eyebrow was already arched in that way it always was when what she really wanted to say was “I told you so.” I admitted that she had, in fact, told me so.
After I told her the story she mused, "You know, I almost joined that soup-swapping group the other day!"
Didn't I say it was a small town? With nothing to do?
Well, at least it's good for fun stories...
 So totally not his real name.