Creative Non-fiction Literature Rolli

The Lonely Life: A Quest for Friendship in the Digital Age

The life of a writer can be wonderful.

With no employer’s thumb to struggle out from under, one can indulge in more enjoyable forms of exercise: walking to the liquor store, etc.

It can be a lonely life, too. Alas, it usually is. It’s no wonder so many authors are alcoholics.

Bullfighting, beekeeping, and other odd hobbies are only attempted remedies for the boredom of isolation. Sometimes, they work. Alas, they usually don’t. But diversions can get writers into lots of wonderful trouble—and give them something new to write about, besides.

I’m allergic to bees, afraid of bulls, and while I enjoy a drink or two, a third puts me immediately to sleep. So I’ve had to drum up other ways of alleviating my boredom.

I was sitting on my doorstep one morning when an idea came to me like a stray cat. A beautiful idea. Or so I thought.

A wiser man would’ve shooed it back into the street. But I’ve always had a weakness for stray ideas. They’ll be my downfall, I’m sure of it.

◊ ◊ ◊

WANTED: People. For interesting conversations.

That was the ad I posted on a popular classified site. I included a photo of my smiling face, half-hidden by a coffee cup.

When I checked my inbox minutes later, there were already several replies. I was a fool, I thought, for not trying this sooner.

Then I read the replies.

ONE: “I’m married but curious. Wanna come over and ‘chat’?”

TWO: “Your mouth is kinda … sexy. Can I see your penis?”

THREE: “Are you into bondage?”

By the end of the day, my inbox was full of similar solicitations. Plus (shockingly) the following:

“Lee here. A friendly chat sounds nice. How about a walk in the park?”

I couldn’t type YES fast enough.

◊ ◊ ◊

The sunset was beautiful—presumably. I’d been gazing at my coffee cup. Good coffee is breathtaking.

I was standing by a bronze monarch awkwardly mounting a horse (the statue was our agreed-upon meeting spot), waiting for Lee.

When a voice said “Rolli?” I tore my loving attention away from my java and saw a pale young man advancing.

We shook hands and commenced walking around the manmade lake that’s one of two agreeable features of my home city. The second being the abundance of coffeeshops.

Smalltalk is the forte of old men. Though I still consider myself young, I tried my best, beginning with, “What do you do for a living?” People over 60 are always asking me this.

“I’m a barista,” Lee answered.

He was, I instantly decided, destined to become a lifelong friend.

“How about you?”

I described the process by which a writer transforms the torment of his soul into silly fictions. And the far more torturous route by which he turns the latter, if he’s lucky, into money.

To his credit, Lee listened attentively. Then he gestured and said:

“There’s a better view this way.”

We turned down a narrow, tree-lined path. My new friend stepped into the margins, pausing in front of an enormous oak. I understood: when nature calls, I also listen.

At night, this part of the park is both less traveled and dimly lit. With nothing/no one to gawk at, I just stood there swallowing coffee.

I finished my coffee. Lee was taking all day. Baristas drink their share of java, too.

I waited another minute.

I turned my head.

I squinted…

Lee was standing in the shadows. His eyes were open wide. So was his zipper.

He winked. He did more than wink. And waved to me with his free hand.

I stepped forward—and kept stepping, until the aberrant barista was as far away as possible.

 ◊ ◊ ◊

The following morning, I redrafted my advert as follows:

WANTED: People. For interesting PLATONIC conversations. I can’t stress the platonic part enough.

The new wording reduced (but didn’t eliminate) the fruitful nudes I received in the ensuing days. But among the lovingly photographed eggplants were a few suitable replies, too. One was especially promising:

“Hello, my name is Gemma. I’m a 70-year-old Soulspirit.”

I read on, smiling.

“I live in the cosmos.”

My smile widened.

“I’m interested in all forms of bliss.”

I clicked reply.

◊ ◊ ◊

Pink-tinged sunglasses … waist-length grey hair … a snake’s den of beads upon beads. The barefoot woman had to be Gemma. She looked like she’d taken a wrong turn enroute to Woodstock 50 years prior and wound up here, on the leafy terrace of an overpriced Canadian café.

I bought an astonishingly hot/expensive coffee and approached her.

“Your aura is gold and green, with white spots,” Gemma said as I sat down.

She reached across the table and squeezed my hand. For a septuagenarian, she had a death grip.

“Can you see ghosts? I’m picking up that vibration from you.”

It’s difficult to contradict a barefoot woman who’s wringing the life out of one’s hand.

“All the time,” I lied. “You?”

Gemma nodded. Beads rattled.

“There’s a ghost over there. A little girl. In the plum tree. Most trees have ghosts in them. Plum trees always do.”

I don’t know why, but I turned my head. The plum tree quivered in the breeze.

Gemma relinquished my hand, at last. As I watched the blood run back into it:

“Angels are skyscrapers of light,” she said. “They sway to the music, the beautiful music they make. Demons are mudballs rolling over the earth. Singing dark songs. Moving as fast as the speed of light—almost.”

It’s reassuring to know that demons obey the laws of physics.

The Soulspirit looked up at the clouds for several minutes (I couldn’t even smell marijuana), then returned to our planet and said:

“It’s been a long time since I dated anyone.”

Under the table, a calloused bare foot brushed my own.

Though my coffee was still incredibly hot, I sipped it anyway, wincing.

“Something’s wrong,” said Gemma. “I can sense it.”

“I’m getting a headache,” I said truthfully.

“It’s probably your shoes. They throw everything off. I haven’t worn footwear since ‘67.”

I believed her. Her toes felt like gravel against my calf.

“I haven’t vibrated this strongly in a long time. I can tell that you haven’t either.”

It was just the coffee, but I didn’t tell her that. I took another swig. And another…

When my mug was empty, and my throat scorched, I rose.

Gemma stood up, too. She abruptly kissed me on the lips—then put her arms around me. As she constricted my ribcage, she whispered in my ear:

“The girl in the tree is smiling. She knows cosmic love when she sees it.”

I looked again, for some reason. A plum dropped onto the sidewalk.

When Gemma finally released me, I sprang off, like a hostage. Past the rustling plum tree. All the way home.

◊ ◊ ◊

I hadn’t yet given up on humanity. Though I was getting close.

“Third time’s a charm,” I said to myself one night. As I clicked post.

WANTED: People. For interesting PLATONIC (non-sexual) conversations. I can’t stress the platonic (non-sexual) part enough. According to Webster’s Dictionary, platonic relationships are “characterized by friendship and lacking romantic or sexual aspects.”

In the morning, I checked my inbox.

It was empty.

One message arrived that afternoon. From HungFred69.

“I hope you’re aware that people only use classifieds for sex nowadays,” he wrote.

I didn’t tell him I believed in Santa Clause until I was 15, and Jesus until I was 20. Such is my naiveté.

I was about to delete the listing and give up altogether when a second message came in.

“I could go for a beer,” was all it said.

Ditto, I thought.

◊ ◊ ◊

Keith and I agreed to meet at O’Finnegan’s, a renowned hole in the wall. Beer-soaked rats were pouring from the hole, but I weaved my way around them/inside.

Downing stout, I eyed my potential friend skeptically.

“I’ve never done this before,” he said.

“Done what, exactly?”

“Met someone. Online, I mean. As a friend.”

“And you’re looking for a friend? Just a friend. A friend friend?”

Keith looked puzzled.

“Isn’t that what your ad said?”

“Yes!” I almost screamed with relief. Then I told him about Barista Lee, last seen wanking in the shadows. And Gemma the Soulspirit.

Keith laughed.

“How do you attract these people?”

I ask myself the same question daily.

“But I’m not surprised. People mostly use those sites for sex. Meeting up in the park after dark? You are naïve.”

Somewhere, Jesus Christ and Santa Clause were nodding in agreement.

We talked and talked for an hour and nothing went sexually awry. Keith was ordinary, employed, married—and like me, looking for a friend. Just a friend.

Someone shouted something, and when I swiveled my barstool, a sobbing man collapsed on my lap. He looked up at me, glumly.

“The world is shit,” he said, in a thick Irish accent. Then he smiled and said, “Do you have any gum?”

As it happened, I did. I gave him a stick, and he went happily on his way.

“Seriously, how do you attract these people?” Keith repeated, in disbelief.

“It’s my gift,” I said, shrugging my shoulders.

“Another round, mates?” the bartender asked us.

We both nodded.

◊ ◊ ◊

Keith and I have been friends, good friends, for years now. When I grow bored of my own company, I bore him instead. We have interesting, platonic conversations over coffee/beer every week. It’s a modern miracle.

I’ve had no reason to set thumb in the classified section ever again. Thank god.

Though I haven’t run into Lee a second time (I avoid parks and back alleys after sundown), I did spot a familiar face not long ago—and a bare pair of feet to match. As the latter clapped down the sidewalk, I leaped behind a tree. Don’t blow my cover, I whispered to any resident ghosts.

I didn’t move a centimeter. Neither did the ghosts in the leaves. They didn’t want to be seen either.

I only emerged when the bead-rattle had softened in the distance.

Rolli is a bisexual Canadian author and cartoonist. His words/drawings have appeared in The New York Times, The Saturday Evening Post, Playboy, The Wall Street Journal, The Walrus and other outlets. Rolli is the author of the new book of poems and drawings, Plumstuff. Follow him on Twitter at @rolliwrites.