ASL: A Memoir

February 13, 2008
By Paul Cunningham, Monaca, PA

Chat rooms are certainly not a reliable source when searching for companionship. However, the great thing about us humans is no matter how many warnings we come across; no matter how many “bad situations” we read about in magazines, we continue to respond in ways we feel are acceptable and/or safe. Our feeling, meaning that it is only a feeling and never truly the correct or safest decision to put into effect. My first chat room session involved a 35 year old woman named “Wanda.” Wanda, in retrospect, could have actually been a 45 year old man named Fred who indulged in such guilty pleasures as feeding pigeons and stalking the youth of America. We’ll never know—I’ll never know if Wanda was really Wanda because the conversation never made it past “ASL”, which I quickly discovered meant “Age, Sex, Location”. The three finest attributes a person has to offer.

Steering my wary self away from such chat rooms, I turned to my Facebook account for the first time. I clicked on my Profile. I clicked on my Interests. I clicked on my Hobbies. I clicked on Acting/Theater first. I came across a Beaver County native. A girl named Jess*. Not only were our interests similar, but we shared common ground in terms of taste concerning film and literature. Jess’s profile picture. She had one of those kid-faces. Not too many signs of grief or distress. A comforting smile. So I added her as a friend. Two days later we met for dinner and a movie.

“I’m an actress. I’m an actress and I’m mad about it. I’m mad because no one has seen the potential of Jess.” Isn’t that just the dialogue writers die for? The girl would refer to herself in the third person from time to time, but I have plenty of problems. I yawn a lot because of lack of sleep. My feet smell especially bad after jogging. I’m a cynic. The list goes on and on. So who am I to actually patronize a complete stranger just because she has a bit of an ego?

It’s those 3 o’clock in the morning revelations that make life worth living. You’ve got that whole “new relationship” feeling; that lovey-dovey nirvana surging through your mind, body and spirit. You’ll do anything to please your new “gal”. Acting. She likes acting. So I decide I’m going to tell her about my school. A performing arts school. Make a connection. Except not only did I cross blue and red wires, I fused them together and created some kind of monstrous she-banshee as an end-result.

I wrote on her Facebook wall: You should have definitely checked out my school if you were that into acting. I even typed a smiley face to insure my good natured intentions. I didn’t think I said anything wrong. Oh wait, it must have been the name of the school because soon after mentioning the joint, she launched an arsenal of unadulterated slander against me. All public. For all of my friends to see. Apparently she had tried out for one of the county-wide musicals. Apparently she was rejected. Apparently that forced her to seek out opportunities from a talent scout agency. One of those “my kid is adorable and they’re going to be the next Kelly Clarkson” kind of things. You know, where you give strangers all your trust and money and they tell the fat kids who’s fat and the ugly kids who’s ugly as they struggle to obtain their daily commission. Jess thought the agency was going to make all her dreams come true. She never gave me the chance to reveal any of my dreams or ambitions. I never got the chance to talk about my hobbies. I never got the chance to talk about the things we had in common. I never had the chance to ask if her if she was going to get that CAT scan.

A close friend of mine had later discovered videos of Jess on the Internet, long after we went our separate ways. The videos were of her. Doing monologues. Her own improvisational monologues. One particular epiphany regarding her own plotted “suicide”. All my friend could say was, “Gee Paul, you sure do know how to pick ‘em.” The videos furthered my lack of sleep.

About a week later I returned to a typical chat room in an attempt to fight Monday-inspired boredom. A person (or thing) who went by the name “Pat” contacted me. Pat, of course, asked me “ASL”. I thought about the demand for a moment as I scrolled though this Pat’s interests. They ranged from fetishes dealing with meat to feathers. I responded in the only way I knew how.

“My name is Jess. 17/F/Pa.”

Pat said: (Giggle) Hi Jess.

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