About a Pen Pal

When you think about a pen pal, not sure why you would, but let’s just say you had a reason. So, when you think about a pen pal, you might have flashbacks of an elementary school project in which your teacher looked up another town somewhere in the country with the same name as your town. And the teacher contacted a teacher of the same grade, exchanged student rosters, and matched everyone up. It wasn’t likely both classes had the same number of students, which means either someone had more than one pen pal or someone had no pen pal. Back around ’94, that teacher was me because of course it was.

I went to an old-timey library, found an atlas, found a town in North Carolina with the same name as my school in New Jersey, and had my 6th grade class do a pen pal project. I have no recollection of how it turned out, but that’s not the important part. The important part is that I enjoy books about time travel. And I have a pen pal. Because it’s fun. And because I’m weird. But also because it’s fun. And it’s because of the pandemic. Let me explain.

About nine months ago I was looking for something good to read, and I mean an actual book that one holds. You know, the papery thing. For about six years my reading had all been audiobooks, and it was wonderful. My total commute was about 90 minutes, and I could knock off most books in about a week. And then pandemic, and then working from home, and then no commuting, and then no reading. Bleh.

I needed to read, but a real book greatly limited my options. I asked a friend for a recommendation, and she suggested Forever by Pete Hamill. I was familiar with the name because I grew up in the New York area, but I hadn’t read any of his novels. I’m a huge fan of time travel, and Forever sort of involves time travel, so I was in. Almost. There was still the matter of actually getting a copy. Alas! That’s why god made the internet.

I found a hardcover copy on something like thriftbooks.something, not really sure, not important either, but I ordered the book, it arrived in about a week, and I was very happy. However, when I opened it, I found something unexpected. An address label, the kind you put on an envelope when you send Christmas cards and things like that. I won’t give the address of course, but the name was Pam.

You know that thing when you see something and there’s an immediate flash in your mind? When I saw the address label in the book, I knew I would be writing to Pam. And I did. And I’m glad.

Oh, so anyway, this is supposed to be about a book. To summarize, great book. Death and swords and not really time travel but people who are immortal and stuff. Oh, and vengeance. Lots of vengeance. A good read, but that’s not the important part. Oh, ouch. I just said reading is not important. Yeah, no. ignore that. Let’s get back to Pam.

So, I read the book, and then I wrote a letter to Pam up in the New England area. I explained how I managed to have a book with her name in it and how much I liked the book and books in general. I also said I would be glad to send the book to her if it was important. Were important. If she wanted me to. If you know me, you probably know it took about four pages to say all that. Oh! Also, the bookmark!

You might know I’m a big Yankees fan. Which means I’m not a big Red Sox fan. And, Pam, being in New England, happens to be a big Red Sox fan. The bookmark was a ticket stub from a Yankees game against the Red Sox in Fenway Park. I mean, really? Yes, really. All true. Have I ever lied to you? Recently? That you know of? Never mind.

I wrote to Pam, and she wrote back. I admit I was worried that she might think I was some kind of stalker. It seemed like it could go either way, but those I shared the idea with said, “Go for it.” And I did, and all was good.

First, she was very thankful. Turns out she had loaned the book to someone who subsequently told her they had lost it. Suspicious to say the least. I don’t really get that expression because at no time did I say “the least.” Moving on. I also told her about the ticket stub bookmark. I had looked up the game, and the Yankees had beaten the Red Sox that day, so I thought she wouldn’t want the stub, but she did because someone had taken her to that game, and it was important. So important I don’t remember, but I had three beers and a gin gimlet since I started typing, so there’s that. And I’m about to make some tea with a splash of bourbon, so this could go anywhere in about ten minutes. Buckle up buttercup. Probably didn’t use that right. Correctly. Whatever.

Pam was beyond thankful that someone would extend themselves to not only reach out to a stranger but also offer to send her the book. She explained how she had lent the book to a friend who eventually claimed to have lost it. She also explained why the ticket stub was important enough to perhaps send that back also. Of course I sent both back, and I knew I would be doing that even before I had initially written to her. Overall, it was going very well. I was proud of myself, which is rather rare. But yeah.

We had written a few times each during the winter and early spring, then summer. We shared things about ourselves and family, and the coincidences were everywhere. Homemade pizza. Baseball, although there’s that Red Sox – Yankees. Hockey fans. More specifically, Boston Bruins fans. Disney. More Disney. Vacationing in Disney. Disney movies. Toy Story. Spending time with kids. Beach houses with family. Gin gimlets. Breathing oxygen. The list goes on. Then, around June, I suggested something that may not have been smart. If you know me, you’re not surprised I’d eventually screw it up.

It was June, and I had a week-long trip planned to Maine in July. The easiest route took me only a few miles from her town. So, I naturally suggested in one of my letters that maybe I could stop by and we could meet. Originally, she was all in. Later on, she suggested meeting at a nearby diner. Eventually, she said she would likely to be visiting family in Arizona in July.

I was disappointed and mentioned it to my daughter, who didn’t take long to explain that a woman juuuuust might think it’s not the brightest idea to meet a strange guy she knows very little about. I wasn’t smart enough to have put that together. The hell I was thinking? No idea, but no grudges either. Even with the most honestest intentions and reasons, which I had, it would not have been wise for her to meet me. I get that now, but it was a nice thought.

It was tempting to be friends on Facebook, but I hesitated because I liked the idea of old-fashioned letter writing. Got one from her today, in fact. I didn’t want to take the easy internet route. Of course, the trade is time and effort, but the loss would be greater. I didn’t mind typing, which is what I’m doing now. Well, not the “now” that you’re in while reading this, but the “now” I’m in while typing. To be more old-fashioned, I really wanted to write letters by hand, but it would have been rather difficult for her to read my handwriting as it’s kind of on the sloppy side. So we both settled for typing, printing, and mailing. Also, being friends on Facebook would mean there’s no anticipation. She’d be just like the rest of my friends, exchanging immediate thoughts and event. I like the wait. The delayed gratification. It was different. I like different. I’m different.

On the actual writing side, Pam has admirably prints her letters on the blank side of paper previously printed upon. On one side is a page for me, and the other side could be an advertisement for a plumbing company or nearly anything else. That’s another thing we both appreciate – recycling and reusing.

One of the dangers of having a pen pal is running out of things to write about. Several times Pam has apologized for taking so long to write back. I seem to send letters fairly quickly and often start my next letter before having gotten her next letter. But that’s not a problem because I’m basically a loudmouth who has too much to say, too many opinions, and too much drama in my life. There’s always something going on, from issues with an ex-wife or ex-girlfriend to one kid getting married while another kid is dancing in music videos for famous artists. Even when I should be quiet, I seem to have something to say. The downside – I seem like a know-it-all. The upside – I’ll never be hurting for material. It’s working out well.

There’s no way to know how long the exchange will continue. Might end when Pam gets sick of me. Maybe when I run out of words. Or a combination. All I know for now is it’s nice to have someone who looks forward to hearing from me, even if it’s just one person, but it’s not just anyone. It’s Pam from New England. Now, I have a letter to read. And write.

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