Copyright© 2003 by Carlos Malenkov
"You're what? How old? Eighteen? And you've never had a date?"
Beth knew she was hopeless. Grossly overweight and ugly. Totally inept when it came to dealing with people one-on-one. Maybe she should resign herself to living the rest of her life without companionship. Finally dying as a dried up old maid. Alone. Forever.
Freshman English Comp was one of the few classes she enjoyed. The instructor, Professor Wilmington ("Just call me Prof."), calmly took for granted the adulation of his female students. Young -- in his early thirties -- dynamic, and conventionally handsome. A hell of a good teacher, too. He made the act of writing come alive. His praise for an effectively written story or poem, or even just for a well-turned phrase, brightened Beth's afternoons.
"I'm giving all of you a rather unusual assignment this week. Let us suppose you are seeking a person of the opposite sex -- or even of the same sex if you are so inclined -- for romantic purposes. One method of doing so is through the personal ads in various publications and venues. Well then, write a personal ad. Pour your entire soul into a paragraph or two. Push your imagination and creativity to the limit. Craft the ad as if the rest of your life, or your love life anyhow, depended on it.
"I will, of course, award a top grade for the best-written ads. Additionally, as a special incentive, I have arranged with the editor of the well-known Voice of the Millennium Monthly to have the three best ads published in their personal ads section. So, you might get national exposure, and a pipeline to thousands of potential boy or girlfriends at no cost to you. Good luck and good writing."
Awaken the sleeping princess. A shy and sweetly virginal maid awaits the knight whose kiss will set her free from the cold, cold dungeon of loneliness...
It was corny and old-fashioned, but it expressed her deepest longings.
Prof awarded her an A-, and what mattered more, third place in the competition. She had won the opportunity to present her case before a national audience.
Responses began to trickle in. The trickle became a flood. Beth had a stack of over 200 letters in front of her. All were from men who claimed to be dying to meet her... or, more accurately, dying to meet the woman she had represented herself as.
Prof encouraged her to write back to a few of them.
"But I'm nothing like what these men expect me to be. I'm fat. And ugly. And afraid."
"Precisely, Beth. You're terrified. That's what lies at the core of your being -- fear. And that's the challenge you have to face up to. As for the rest... certainly you are unconventional in appearance. But you'll discover that some men won't mind, and will, in fact, appreciate your special charms. However, if you don't look, you won't find."
Beth began writing letters. And she found Leo.
Leonidas Zartblum was frighteningly intelligent. His darkly luminous sense of humor and fierce joy in living burned through the dry, sterile words on paper. He was a sensitive soul who felt compassion for human suffering, and understood and respected Beth's loneliness. This was all the more remarkable in light of his physical handicaps. He stood all of 4'-8" tall and had a twisted spine.
My Dear Beth,
It grieves me that the other men you have thus far met through your personal ad have proven disappointing. Certainly a woman of your quality deserves a worthy companion. Continue to search and you will find him. Were it not for my malformed body, I myself would be honored to find favor in your eyes, and perhaps even... seek your favors.
Meanwhile, if you're amenable to the notion, we'll remain friends.
"Disappointing" was something of an understatement. The men were complete jerks. Most lost interest immediately when they found out her looks didn't measure up to pop culture standards. The rest didn't care what she looked like, but then they didn't care about much of anything else except getting her into bed.
"Leo, what am I to do with myself? Here I stand, a newly-minted adult, eager to go out and make my way in the world, to experience what it has to offer, sensual pleasures and all. But, it seems that one of life's main avenues is permanently closed off to me. I'm fat! I'm ugly! I'm condemned to remain the perpetual virgin. Doomed!"
"Feeling sorry for yourself, Beth? Look at me. Look at me. Birth defects doomed me not only to be a perpetual virgin, but a perpetual outsider. I'm a mascot, a circus freak, someone not to be taken seriously.
"Poor, poor fat Beth. A couple of centuries back you might have been considered voluptuous. Fashionably plump. Poor, ugly Beth. You have a face more interesting by far than most of the vapid Barbie doll clones walking the streets. Spare me your self-pity. It ill becomes you."
"Whatever other physical problems you might have, Leo, there's nothing at all wrong with your tongue. I see you spending your evenings stropping its cutting edge."
"We're two of a kind, you delicious dumpling of a maiden. My soul just happens to be too large for the body it inhabits, and yours is too refined. Let us then console each other with the delights of witty intercourse, since the other kind seems denied us."
"Witty? What knowest thou of such matters, churl? Varlet! Ah, well, half a wit is better than none."