by Robert J. Collins

Somebody suggested to our Managing Editor Jim Merk a nifty idea for a column. For some rea­son, probably related to discretion and good taste, he decided against writing on the subject. He did pass the idea on to me, however.

Now I’ve never been too proud to walk away from con­cepts merely because they didn’t spring from inside my own skull. Expanding upon the thoughts of others might even be considered noble. (The technical phrase for that is “ripping off someone else’s ideas.” The practice becomes more noble as deadlines loom and nothing is springing from inside one’s own skull.)

In this case, Jim recommend­ed I take a jaunt through cyber­space—specifically the part of that world where lonely hearts and yearning bodies reach out to others hoping to establish “rela­tionships.” On the Internet, the scope and variety can be mind-boggling.

My entry point to this world was through Excite which displays a “Friendship” line, and then with a few clicks provides further refinements in age, sections of the country (U.S.); Man Seeking Women and vice versa, and finally a photograph option. Without paying a dime, or giving up a credit card number, I was in the club.

The initial thing on my mind was to try to find evidence that the whole operation was a fancy cover for a pornographic ring of some kind, and the “relationship” deal was to set up one-night stands at one end of the scale, or at least more revealing photographs for a price at the other end.

Surfing through the submis­sions (I have standards—I only go for the ones with photos), it seemed to me that perhaps 20 percent of the people are there with the sole goal of getting laid paramount in their minds. (“I can take all you have to give me,” pro­claims Vickie N. of Modesto, “and as many times as you can give it.” Vickie N. is wearing a towel and sitting on her kitchen sink. Not your average housewife.)

The men in that 20 percent all get around to referring to them­selves as “studs.” (“I’m the sensi­tive, caring stud you’re looking for,” says Bob of Omaha, sitting sleeveless on a motorcycle, “and you’ll never want another man after you’ve been with this stud.” For such a powerhouse, Bob has remarkably thin arms.)

But what about the remaining 80 percent? Quickly scrolling through the photographs, one could conclude that the whole thing is a hoax—sadistic directors assembling the most outrageous examples of nerds and nerdettes in a cosmic joke for the benefit of those who “do not do this kind of thing.” Sophie F. of Scranton— big as a barn door in her photo— likes “in-line skating, walking on the beach and playing with her 6-­year-old granddaughter!” Whooa. Playing with her granddaughter. A cartoonist’s dream.

The more I scrolled, and the more I read the little “bios” sub­mitted by the participants, the sadder I became. This isn’t funny stuff. It’s sad.

“I am very lonesome,” says Carol D. in Wichita. Her picture, taken in her living room with the flash bouncing off the mirror behind her, shows a prim, straight, somewhat resigned woman of 42 not quite smiling. “I just want the companionship of a man. I can drink socially.”

“I like the outdoors,” says Stan P. of Colorado Springs. Stan P. is shaped like an egg—little legs emerging from the fat part at the bottom seem only slightly longer than his little arms emerging from the top. Getting in and out of an SUV strikes me as being a big job for Stan P. outdoors. “And I want to meet someone to watch sunsets with for the rest of my fife.” Stan P. is 42.

No one knows for sure how many people go “on line” looking for relationships. Experts tell me it could be as many as 10 million, perhaps more. Chat rooms on specific subjects can also provide similar services, but in a more indirect way.

The point is, why wouldn’t I even dream of meeting someone that way? Why wouldn’t most people I know meet others that way? Or do they?

I’ve been lonely sometimes. I guess I’ve been depressed some­times. Over the course of a life­time, we all have had our demons. But clicking on-line? Letting it all hang out there? Like a brainless stud. Never. And I guess I’ll never know if something’s wrong with me for not even considering it, or something’s definitely not wrong with me—and those folks there­fore really are a sad lot.

Anyway, this column went off the rails. Look up the Website yourselves. I’m going out to my neighborhood saloon, drink a beer and argue with every single one in the joint that God wants the Yomiuri Giants to lose, and to prove it, He will strike with an earthquake if they win. Or hook up Nagashima with Sophie F. from Scranton.