You're in a strange city. It's dark and cold, and you're so ravenously hungry that you think you're going to faint at any moment. Your pockets are stuffed full of money, but you can't find a restaurant or market. Everything in this city seems to have closed for the night.

You walk and you walk, feet aching, head swimming with hunger, when finally you spot a soft neon glow in the distance. A restaurant! Salvation!

You reach the front door and try to go inside ... but the maitre 'd blocks your way and pushes you back onto the steps. Is there a dress code? Is your face dirty? He won't tell you anything other than that you aren't allowed inside. He's indifferent to the cash you show him, indifferent to your pleading.

So you sit by the door outside, getting hungrier and hungrier and colder and colder, smelling all the wonderful food, hearing the warm laughter and clink of silverware on plates.

And then your friends come waddling out, stuffed to the gills, and when they see you they say, "Oh, you don't want to come in here, the food is just awful!"

 

All your life, you've yearned for a best friend, a lover, a life companion. You know it's a tall order. But it's what you need. You need it like you need air and water ... and try as you might, you just can't seem to find your love.

You were an only child. Typical of many larval writers, you were very shy and were too weird to make friends easily. If the other kids noticed you, it was to make fun of you. So at school, you always sat at the back of the room. Once you got big enough, your parents would just leave you at home when they went to the theater or to the dance club or to whatever Adult Stuff they did that they didn't want to drag a kid along to. And you remember sitting in your room screaming at the walls because you were so fucking lonely.

Now you're an adult, and you're still sitting in your room screaming at the walls. And, as always, nothing answers but silence.

Maybe your relationships have been brief and far between, one night stands scattered across a frigid, barren landscape.

But maybe you've been in long-term relationships. You've been in love, your heart broken so many times you're surprised it still works. And one day you wake up to realize that all the people you've ever loved are now married. After all your sweat and tears trying to get them to love you, too, after all their claims of not wanting commitment ... they're committed. To someone else. And no one can say why you lacked that certain je ne sais quoi d'amour, not even them.

You're a good person, and you have a lot to offer a lover. You're considerate, generous, and you have the Kama Sutra practically memorized. But you see the men going out with vacuous, whining bimbos and the women going out with jerks and slimeballs ... and no one's giving you the time of day.

It's gotten so the moment you see someone you're attracted to, desire is immediately crushed by an overwhelming sense of despair from the weight of all your past rejections. And sometimes, all you feel is rage at the sight of couples holding hands, kissing, smiling at each other. Paint it Black becomes the soundtrack playing on an endless loop inside your mind.

Your friends -- who at this point are mostly all in committed relationships -- are full of helpful advice.

You particularly like the Ann Landers Special, which is: "Feeling Lonely? Get a dog!" Wow, great idea. You need someone you can have meaningful conversations with and make love with and go to the movies with and buy a house with and have kids with ... yeah, a dog is the perfect replacement for a human being!

You also love the advice you get from older friends who are going through divorce or who are about to get a divorce. These are the friends who've got nice houses, and they've got fine, healthy children and cats and dogs. You have a crappy apartment that doesn't allow pets.

And when you tell them of your loneliness, these friends cry, "Ah, to be young and single! Be glad you're not married! It's terrible!"

And in your mind you're sitting right outside that restaurant again. Your friends have had their turn at the banquet, and gorged themselves until they were sick. And now they tell you that you should be happy you're starving?

Fuck them.

Fuck them.

Get up off the steps and walk back into darkness. You will not starve, and you will not fail, not if you keep searching. Don't waste your gold on those who dismiss you, ignore you, take you for granted and belittle your dreams.

The lonely ones will find each other by the heat of their bodies in the cold blackness.

And they will find their love.



When I hear bad Christmas music in a fast food restaurant, I tend to pause for a moment and go back in time. 20 years ago I was working as a weekend cook/kitchen guy in a KFC during Christmas break. I was one of many who was earning some extra money while home from school.

Christmas eve at that sort of place was, and I expect still is a bit surreal. Tired, listless teenagers on one side of the counters, Sad, disheveled grown ups, usually senior citizens, on the other. Why are they even here? Some of us asked, aloud. Probably not loud enough for them to hear, but still.

The answer was simple of course. They had no other place to be, no family to be with and no one who expected them. We sorta laughed about it, even though it wasn't funny.

Who would laugh at such loneliness, such isolation? What was funny about people who felt more comfortable with a plastic plate and fried food than their own house, their own apartment and their own company?

The truth was we weren't heartless or cruel, just bored. We didn't give the personal lives of our customers much thought either way. It was just one of many things we joked about while we waited for the end of the shift. On holidays close came early, usually by 9 and then we cleaned up the place as fast as we could. After wards, in the abandoned parking lot we drank a couple beers in someone's car until we got too cold or too tired to stick around anymore.

Years later now, when I hear that music inside one of those places it is hard not to recall that experience. Harder still not to wonder if some day soon I will be the guy in the old flannel coat and the bad teeth ordering his dinner on Christmas eve from a bored teenage girl in red polyester.

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