As a columnist, I received hundreds of letters daily. Some of which were junk, others not junk. Half of them (the non junk ones) were all business, a third would be utilities for my house and the last sixth would be a few rare letters of admiration of my writing.
I loved working as a journalist in Plainview. It was plenty of time to work and play. I would write a paper, catch a train into Hillsborrough and watch a little league game, then write about it. Quite literallly, I was the only journalist in town, but that would have been a lie. Now if you had said I was the only hard working journalist in town, that would be much more accurate. My boss was a tall, lanky, wispy haired old man. He was the kind of boss who would go out fishing during the day sometimes. Those days, the office would just shut down completely. The other journalist who worked at the paper, or supposedly worked there was my senior, One E.V. DeMartin. In the 12 years I have worked at the paper, never once did I see him. So I only could assume that he was either dead or just a figment of the boss' imagination. Somehow, he managed to get three columns in every sunday paper. Other than that, it was only me writing and the boss making a few contributions to the fishing page.
But fan mail was a rarity. Not a necessity or a commodity, but it certainly was a treat. DeMartin's desk would be piled in perfume stinky envelopes of admiring ladies, but never were they collected. I did note that one day after I had filled his last box with them, the boxes were empty the next morning.
It looked like every other envelope in my box that morning. I milled through the other things, browsing through the catalog for fishing tackle to buy the boss for chirstmas, then at possible useless things to buy for DeMartin. I thought he supposedly could have used a two speed shoe cleaner and buffer. But then I contemplated if he had feet or not. I had gotten from my uncle several years earlier what he called a Dynamus Speed Letter opener. It was an amazing little piece of machinery. Slip in a stack, turn it on, the letters zip through with the their tips shaved off and the letter ready to be read. I brought the stack to my desk, and carefully, I pieced out which was which, one by one. At the very bottom of the stack, a neatly hand addressed envelope caught my eye. You could tell it was a lady's handwriting. I had a knack for handwriting, I could tell which hand you were, what size your hand was and how you held the tool. Also, I could tell your sex. Sometimes, it gets ambigious, but for the most part, I could tell.
The letter was a fan letter, but it seemed strange. It made comments about how "dashing" I looked in my photograph in the paper. Funny, I had a photo in the paper? My arm shot out for the last issue of the paper. Sure enough, on the second page, There was a photograph of me dressed as superman. God, Boss must have thought ruin your worker's lives photo edition must have been very beneficial. I tried to find a picture of DeMartin, but only a big "Photo Missing" was in its place. I tried to look the other things that she mentioned. My "elusive" use of contractions, etc. Crazy weird grammar related things.
What made me post the letter in the paper, I dont know. But I guess it was now for all of Plainview to see. At least at this point, whoever read the Plainview gazette would see it. The next day, another letter arrived, this time, it was a bit angry at me. I could understand that. I decided to post a response to the letter when I published the paper tomorrow. It went on and on for several weeks. It seemed more of a conversation now than an admiration. I kept the letters carefully documented and filed in a cabinet. This was actually turning fun for once. At one point, I couldn't anticipate the moment for when the letter would arrive and I could start writing a response.
The last letter came in the middle of August. The weather was hot, the fans were all on. To leave the room with moving air was like stepping out into suicide. The humidity and heat hit you like a train. But anyhow, the last letter came that day. It said, lets meet. I was certainly speculative about meeting a stranger. But then again, were we strangers? We had been on a very civilized conversation for the past three months and now all of a sudden, there was a chance to meet the mysterious person. The person who had always signed her letters with a large A in red ink. I examined the A closer. It wasn't a ball point or a gel pen. It was one of the dip pens and the A was written with a scarlet ink. It still would glisten in the light if I moved the angle about. The thought nearly dazzled me, of printing lest writing all my letters in dip pen with shimmering ink.
My last response came without hesitation. I published my response.
I'll meet you in the Okeh Diner on Seventh street at ten tomorrow night.
I hoped she would read the paper religiously.
The Okeh wasn't anything fancy at all. It was your plain old ordinary kind of diner. One side sectioned off for passing truckers and the other side for the regular patrons. To have a seat at the counter was like being on the council of elders. Custom would dictate to never sit in any of the seats. Heaven help us if one day, a new comer would just walk in and sit at the first counter seat. I've seen it happen once. Judith behind the counter set down the scalding coffee pot on the patron's hands. He winced, and she directed him at a booth. Luckily, there were a few seats without names at the other end, all the way to the rear of the counter. I took my spot in one of these pleather chairs and ordered a cup of coffee. It came, in a still slightly wet mug. The blip stains now just leaving their trails down from the lip to the saucer. I heaved my shoulders up and leaned onto the counter and unfolded my paper. Stanford beat Washington in sports. Nothing new. There was hardly anyone in the diner. Just the fat waitress behind the counter, a shady looking teenager "enjoying" coffee while grinding something, then dumping it into the coffee. A few truckers could be heard snorting in the background and making farting sounds. A chortle of laughter from fellow brothers.
The neon clock on the wall indicated now it was half past six. I had sat in the booth for nearly three hours waiting. I had work to do, lots of it. I had a choice, I could stay and wait, stood up by a sap of sorts, or just leave.
It was now quarter til nine. The diner would close soon. The waitress stared at me with the intent of getting me to leave. I rolled up the bundled newspaper file, and I left for the door. My reflection did not greet me at the door, but a young beautiful face stared back at me. It blushed bright red and retreated back to a car and drove off. I stepped outside for a moment, tossed the file into the trash and went home.