The young man in the navy and gold Paul Malone tie nearly upsets his office chair at the approach into his cubicle of a slightly older, slightly stouter and slightly balder man. "Jeezzus, Warren," the young man says, grasping to regain his composure. "You shouldn't sneak up on people like that?"
"I beg your pardon," says Warren. "I was merely going to inquire if I may borrow a few sheets of printer paper." He reaches toward the young man's desk but pauses. "From the URL on your browser," he says, "it appears as if you have inadvertently clicked out of the company website."
The young man in the navy and gold Paul Malone tie fans the air downward. "Keep it quiet, will ya? I've already gotten reprimanded twice this week."
Warren bends closer to the monitor, "Strike A Match.com?"
"Don't give me a hard time. It's just a dating site. You might not know it this, but it's tough out there for guys that are single."
Warren shakes his head and makes a barely audible t'sk. "Tough it may be, but this is dangerous territory upon which you're treading."
"Oh, c'mon. It's not like I'm worried about sexual predators on an adult dating site."
Warren lifts the young man's arm. "If you would be so kind as to allow me to sit down while you locate the printer paper, I'll give you the benefit of my experience, gained at great personal peril."
The young man stands and adjusts his navy and gold Paul Malone tie. "I don't know, Warren. I'm already in trouble for goofing off on company time."
"Trust me. I will be merely curtailing your futile search for romantic fulfillment and saving the company wasted wages. I only need a few sheets. However, while you're at it, I might as well borrow an entire ream. Perhaps two."
* * *
You might not credit this, knowing me as well as you do (says Warren), but I entered manhood devoid of an appreciation for the song of the immortal bards -- by that, of course, I mean poetry. True, you might argue, Warren's spirit bends ever toward the aesthetic, but early on the love of poetry was ingloriously wrenched from my soul. At the tender age of twelve, I was obliged to memorize Longfellow's Wreck of the Hesperus with the intention of reciting in front of Miss Ruckshank's seventh grade English class. Miss Ruckshank had come to us by way of Arizona where she had broken wild stallions for the rodeo, and walked as if she had only just dismounted from two weeks in the saddle. I was terrified of both her and the prospect of my assignment.
When the dreaded morning arrived I stood before the class, knees on the verge of buckling, lacking even the humblest prompt. I inhaled as deeply as my young lungs were capable and began. I survived through the line 'Her cheeks like the dawn of day' and was on the precipice of 'and her bosom white' when I faltered. A torrent of blood rushed to my cheeks at the thought of speaking the word 'bosom' in front of a classroom of sniggering adolescents, half of whom were girls. I stammered 'and her ... her ... her' when arose in my mind a picture of naked breasts that literally seized the attention of my entire body.
"Continue, Warren," prompted the teacher, raising the same eyebrow that had reduced the furor of a half-ton of horse flesh to a sorry whimper.
"Her ... her ..." Even then, as now, I was blessed with a razor-sharp intellect, but at that moment, amidst a riot of physiological symptoms, my mind went completely blank. I strained to recall the proper term for that particular part of the female anatomy. Boobs, jugs, tits, headlights. None of them sounded like a word Longfellow would have used.
"We're waiting, Warren!" It was likely that the entire eighth grade class, situated as they were then on the far side of the soccer field, heard the raised voice of Miss Ruckshank.
Knockers, num-nums, cha-chas, tatas. I was completely non-plussed.
I knew it was neither gazongas, nor splazoingas, nor even the euphonic wop bop-a loo-bops.
Miss Ruckshank's ruler cracked a sharp whack on the edge of her desk.
I'm not proud of what happened next, but dedicated as I am to telling the truth, I am compelled to admit that the entire contents of my bladder flowed suddenly and unbidden into my trousers. The event put a quick end, not only to my recitation of Wreck of the Hesperus, but to my appreciation of poetry altogether.
From that day on, I avoided the merest suggestion of poetry. Even upon hearing the then ubiquitous 'Winston Tastes Good like a Cigarette Should,' I would cover my ears and click my teeth. It was at that time I developed my current inclination toward instrumental music. I assiduously avoided purchasing any greeting cards containing damnable verse and, upon the unpleasant surprise of being the recipient of one of these hellish missives, I would tear it to shreds and retire to the solitude of a restroom until the trembling subsided.
This satisfactory situation obtained until an incident occurred nearly ten years ago that shattered my defenses against this blackest of arts.
It began, as many life-altering events do, innocently. One Saturday evening found me at the computer embarking on research into the lost Greek island of Elaia when Google, off the mark as usual, brought up a listing for the web site, pikerpress.com. At the time, Piker Press wasn't the highly respected open literary site it is today, but a struggling site that required a login to access its treasures.
Google's reasoning (and I use the term loosely) for bringing the entry to my attention was a poem recently published on Piker Press entitled "The Languishing Lavender of Elaia." The first two lines, as sampled by Google, read simply:
The hedonic delection of Elaia's halcyon cascade
Was better than watching Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.
For some unexplainable reason, I was entranced. I immediately clicked on the link. After signing up under my usual user name, fabio_lanzoni, I was transported to the poet's ephemeral world of words. By the time I reached the 137th and final stanza, I had fallen utterly under the spell of the author, eulalia_windsong. With barely a control of my extremities, I brought my mouse over the words "Pikers Love Feedback" and clicked.
What words I invoked at that moment of literary inebriation I have no idea, but eulalia_windsong and I began a correspondence that daily raised my spirit from a state of mere existence to one of sublime ambition.
Eulalia_windsong shared with me samples of her poetry notebook, some so personal and delicate that even Sand Pilarski was not able to endure them. The only thought that marred my otherwise invincible happiness was regret that I had let a mere childhood indiscretion rob me of decades of the pleasure of verse. Imagine then my inexpressible delight when I learned that Eulalia_windsong lived not more than twenty-five miles from my home!
I immediately made plans for us to meet. She suggested as the venue The Dangling Participle, a coffee shop frequented by the local literati, but I insisted we dine at Chez Aubergine, the most expensive restaurant of which I was aware. The meeting time was arranged for eight the following Friday. I would know eulalia_windsong by her fine puce lace gown.
Thursday evening found me: 1) at the Credit Union, securing a loan for three hundred dollars, 2) at Freddie's Fine Formals being fitted for a rented tuxedo (a process made unnecessarily disturbing by Freddie's stage-whisper comments on my physique) and 3) at Frank's Fashionable Footwear, purchasing a pair of dazzling wingtips (replete with subtle but effective lifts).
Friday I arrived at Chez Aubergine precisely at seven-thirty and, after tipping the maitre'd a dollar, was seated at a table overlooking the irrigation spray of the establishment's rose garden. It was a moment only a poet could express and, taking pen to napkin (regrettably of a fine count cotton) I began to compose my own verse.
I had just scribbled the line
I don't care if I dine with silver spoon or plastic tong
As long as it's with eulalia_windsong
when I saw a woman come through the entrance wearing a fine puce lace gown. My instantaneous joy vanished when I recognized her unmistakable walk -- that of a woman who had only just come from two weeks astride a horse.
"Ho!" she said, causing a stack of fine crystal atop a nearby waiter's tray to tumble. "You Fabio?"
I stood, wondering if even my eighty-five dollar lifts could help. "You're ... you're ..."
"Eulalia Windsong," she said, thrusting a calloused hand in my face. "Otherwise known as Rupertina Ruckshank in civilian life. Say, do I know you?"
"W-warren Borman," I croaked.
"Hey, pal," she said to a wide-eyed waiter, grabbing him by the seat of his pants. "My mouth's dryer than your grandmother's crotch. Get me a boilermaker. Jack Daniels and Bud. Now, where were we?" She plopped herself into the chair. "Warren? Let's see. You by chance ride at the Twisted Buckstrap Rodeo? No. Hey, I got it. Belmont Avenue Junior High."
I admitted I had indeed attended that institution.
"Well, you'll do for a free meal. Warren ...Warren ... let me think. Aren't you the fat kid who couldn't finish reciting Wreck of the Hesperus?"
My cheeks flushed. I stammered a response in the positive.
"Well, I think it's high time you finished." She picked up her salad fork and pointed toward my throat. "Let's hear it."
"B-but, it's been over thirty years ..."
"Then you've had plenty of time to memorize. I expect it to be perfect."
I felt as if I were suddenly a child of twelve.
"I-It was the schooner Hesperus that sailed the wintry sea;
And the skipper had taken his little daughter, to bear him company. My dear Eualia, of course I mean, my dear Miss Ruckshank, you must see ..."
"I see nothing but a snotty-nosed kid trying to sleaze out of an assignment he should have done years ago. Continue!" she said in a voice usually reserved for calling to bucking broncos.
I took a swift shot of Perrier, regretting I had allowed my parsimoniousness to forego a martini."B-Blue were her eyes as the fairy-flax, her cheeks like the dawn of day, and her b-b-b"
"Her what ...?" If the eight graders of Belmont Junior High had still been on the soccer field they could have heard her every word. "I can't hear you."
"Her b-b-b ..." Then, I'm most ashamed to admit ...
"No!" says the young man in the navy and gold Paul Malone tie. "Don't tell me you peed in your pants again."
"I will oblige and not tell you that," Warren says, rising from the chair. "But if I do, I will omit the climax of the tale."
"You actually peed yourself in this fancy restaurant?"
"The pain of ruining a rented tuxedo and a custom pair of wingtips was offset by avoiding what was sure to be a costly meal. I left in haste, absconding with one of the establishment's fine count cotton napkins in a futile attempt to hide the signs of my shame. That is why, young man, I caution you against the perils of meeting women through the Internet. So, in lieu of the overwhelming thanks that I can see is perched on your lips, I will not only take those two reams of paper, but also borrow your printer that I can see is a much more advanced model than mine."