It’s not often that Philosophy, fancy lingerie, and mass transit collude to bring about romance. But they, and a cast including Monty Python, Martin Luther King, God, and an urbane jewel thief, at least once brought together two wildly mismatched souls.
It all started, as things often do, with me being an idiot. Steeped in the irrational mythos of 1930s screwball romances and the dopey pre-Twilight pre-adolescent lessons gleaned from Wuthering Heights, I’ve taken many clichéd missteps in the love department. Hand over virginity, then two whole decades, to a charming alcoholic musician? Check. Get tangled up with an already entangled cross-country pen pal? Then, of course, the affair with a married man, followed by the usual trite trifecta: heartbreak, hopelessness, and contemplating ending it all? Check and double-check.
Convinced my every chance for love, and ever being loved, had passed me by, I fell into a torpor of endless "Law & Order" marathons and Billie Holiday albums. Desperate to keep from drowning in a sea of despair, I flung myself at any passing buoy -- religion, self-help, accordion lessons. As a forty-something woman with a raft of quirks and four parrots, my prospects of finding a man to love me, or even put up with me, were grim. My options seemed to be a headlong dive into spirituality, not giving a fig about ‘worldly love’, or sinking in the opposite direction, casting whatever cougar spell I could muster on the awkward and unattached. Both seemed equally impossible, as did getting out of bed.
Friends tried consoling me, bringing by books to help along either my spiritual or sexual awakening, or in the case of Mama Gena’s School of Womanly Arts, both. Amidst Mama’s encouraging vaginal va-va-voomery I came across her recommendation of a short 1925 self-help tome called The Game of Life and How to Play It. While in a less vulnerable state I might have made up my own game by seeing how far I could hurl the book across the room. But, parched for any droplet of hope, I guzzled down its old school New Age messages. These can all be summarized thusly:
* Surrender and trust that the Universe knows what it’s doing, and
* Manifest your faith with action that demonstrates your positive outlook.
Though simple, and perhaps easy to dismiss, these two tenets are not easily executed.
Time went on and my Great Depression grew greater. Then one winter night I was again up at 3am, crying or watching a parade of infomercials (I’m not sure there’s a difference). Then it hit me: I’d had it. Despair is exhausting. Worn out by weeks of inertia, suffocated by all my heaving hopelessness, I finally gave up. “God, Universe, Whoever – I surrender. I’m handing it all over,“ I said out loud. “Whatever You want me to do, it’s fine with me. Maybe it’s in the cards for me to find love. Maybe I’m supposed to rescue dogs, or live alone out in the desert somewhere. Since it’s all in Your hands I’ll take whatever’s in store, and that’ll be OK.” For the first time in a long time, I drifted peacefully to sleep.
The next morning I woke up refreshed but afraid my newfound equanimity might slowly start leaking out like air from a balloon, leaving me again deflated. I’d surrendered, so now I figured I needed to manifest my faith. I thought about the slew of tawdry lingerie I’d bought during my tawdry affair, giddy I finally had a reason to have some. A silly, costly legacy of my lost love, raging hormones and raging stupidity, it mocked me with a certitude no man would ever see me in underwear ever again. (This seemed tragic at the time.) The Bible says if you want it to rain, dig ditches, so it occurred to me I could manifest my faith by buying even more unwarranted panties. (This seemed logical at the time.) Certain that shopping for insanely expensive undies was what God had in mind, I got out of bed, put on a parka over the clothes I’d slept in, and I headed downtown to Agent Provocateur.
I knew the store wouldn’t be open for another hour, but afraid I’d lose momentum if I waited, I walked to the subway. Early on a Sunday morning, the train was nearly empty. There was this man reading a book, and I wondered why he was standing when he could sit. I could just make out the title of his book, The History of Philosophy. (I’d later learn it was Volume 9.) Partly because I’m always interested in Life’s Big Questions (“Why stand when you can sit”?) and thought I might buy the book myself, and partly to boast some Hey-I-Read-Philosophy-Too compatriotism, I asked, “Excuse me, can I see who wrote your book?”
I expected the stranger to turn the book slightly so I could see its spine, but he spun around and knelt to my eye level, happily telling me the author’s name. (Copleston, if you care to know.) I mentioned my longstanding interest in my favorite philosophers (Emerson and Spinoza, if you care to know), and he mentioned Monty Python’s Flying Circus had written a comic “Philosopher’s Song”. I demonstrated its familiarity by offering up the first 2 lines: “Emmanuel Kant was a real pissant, who was very rarely stable; Heidegger, Heidegger was a boozy beggar who could think you under the table…”) The stranger chimed in, with both of us ending up singing the song in its entirety. We continued talking philosophers, but while he talked Nietzsche, I was solely focused on the fact my stop was coming up.
I needed to decide on a course of action. While I talk to strangers all the time --hell, I hug strangers all the time –I usually bid them adieu with some effusive send-off and move along. But somehow, this was different. I didn’t know anything about this guy, except that he was in his late 30s and British, both of which turned out to be untrue. But I also knew that he radiated goodness. I’m not sure if there are such things as soulmates, but I know there must be souls because this man’s was coming through loud and clear.
Metaphysics aside, I basically had 3 choices before me:
*Say goodbye forever,
*Stay on the train, or
*Give the luminous lug my number.
None of these choices were appealing. Brazen as I may appear on the outside, my gooey center is pathetically shy. My lack of confidence and a certainty of my utter lack of appeal made this kind of a Big Deal.
Saying goodbye forever was out of the question. Also, I judged staying on the train was too cheesy, and possibly dangerous. (For all I know serial killers’ souls glow too.) And while millions of adults are able to straightforwardly exchange contact info with the opposite sex, I am not one of them. So as the train began pulling into the Prince Street station, I earnestly asked, “What other Philosophy books can you recommend?” As he started to answer, I said, “Oh, here’s my stop. Well, it was nice meeting you.” I got up, and just before the doors closed I quickly shouted, “You can email your recommendations to firstname.lastname@example.org.”
I sat on the stoop of Agent Provocateur until they opened. I manifested my faith to the tune of about $200 and went home. No email. The next morning I was off from work (it was Martin Luther King Day) and still no email from my well-read stranger. I was really angry with myself for not staying on the train. Our five-minute encounter didn’t warrant these intense pangs of regret, but that beaming soul-thing of his did. Then later  his email popped up– a full-page of book recommendations. I proceeded to write back. Not Jefferson, Churchill, nor any writer in the annals of the written word has put as much effort into a document as I put into that reply. I aimed for a lighthearted blend of wit and intelligence, a smidgen of salesmanship, and a breezy soupcon of I-am-not-a-maniac. He’d Googled me and his email had listed what he’d found. (Like I didn’t know who I was?) Googling his name I found nothing. I thought he’s probably a serial killer, or has a secret identity like Raffles, the turn-of-the-century “gentleman jewel thief”.
“Raffles” and I wrote back and forth for about a month. I kept waiting for him to ask me out. Afraid I’d been relegated to the “friend zone”, I escalated my emails’ charm at an alarming rate,
peppering them with subtle reminders of my opposite sex status, things like “Well, time to take a bath!” or “Off to pole-dancing class!” Finally, his email inviting me on our first date came February 14th (He was oblivious to the fact that it was Valentine’s Day. I wasn’t.)
We went out for pancakes and discovered we’re polar opposites. With almost nothing common, no one would have ever set us up. (No matchmakers of the human variety, anyway.) But as advertised by that intangible glow that day on the R train, Raffles was indeed a good, kind person with smarts and integrity to spare and not an ounce of drama. On our second date, I asked in which state he’d want to live if he weren’t in New York. He replied, “Well, what state are you in?”
That same declaration disguised as a question is now inscribed inside my wedding ring. And for his groom’s gift, Raffles gave me a beautifully framed scrap of paper on which he’d scribbled my email address that Sunday on the subway.
God, Universe, Who- or Whatever You are – You clearly know what You’re doing. Well-done. And from the bottom of my heart, thank you.
 He was actually a well-spoken American in his late 40s
 This did turn out to be true.
3 Like the rest of America, I know longer use my AOL address
 At the Clinton Street Baking Company. They were delicious.