Research has always been the bane of my writing life. It is, however, an absolute necessity when writing non-fiction. And though you may be secretly snickering about the research I did for Virtual Strangers; sitting smugly with your cup of joe; I will ignore the hisses and whispers long enough to percolate a little true story that gives a whole new meaning to "good to the last drop."
Virtual Strangers is about on-line relationships. In order to research the topic, I interviewed countless Internet users who were involved in such activities. And, in an effort to gain first-hand information, I traveled to several introduction sites and posted my own profiles to gauge the number and types of responses one might expect when choosing this venue for meeting people. These profiles ranged from general and/or suggestive to ones specifically designed to screen out all but those in upper echelon professions with advanced degrees. E-mail responses from each profile were directed to different addresses, making it easier to determine the kind of response to a specific type of profile.
Needless to say I was flooded with responses ranging from the incredibly mundane to the exceptionally bizarre. It was an avalanche of information falling on the head of a rather typical working wife and mother who was, for the most part, ignorant of such things, but gearing-up for a rude awakening. I ingested caffeine by the two-liter bottle as I filtered through the vast numbers of e-mails. Each night, I sorted them, by profile, into three categories: 1) worth contacting to interview, 2) worth answering if I was actually looking, and 3) wouldn't answer on a bet.
The "wouldn't answer on a bet" pile ran the gamut from complete boredom (one-liner's like, "I'm Gary. Write to me, Babe") to those who spent inordinate amounts of time, and page after page, attempting to seduce by extensive descriptions of whatever deviant behavior was their flavor of the week. I had no idea that the variations on this theme were more extensive than the coffee menu at Starbucks! At the end of this sorting exercise, I would take that particular pile of e-mail and toss it into the incinerator with one notable exception.
A single letter caught my eye. The gentleman in question sent me a lengthy dissertation, complete with pictures, regaling me with example upon example of why he thought I should allow him to introduce me to the stimulating and highly erotic pleasures of…coffee-retention enemas??? They were wonderful to share, he said. They cured all his ills, and, as a bonus, had rid him of his migraine headaches.
I have to confess that by the time I finished the reading of it, I was laughing so hard that Depends would have been a welcome addition to my wardrobe. Vivid images of Maxwell House and Folger's Crystals on the same shelf as Fleet's in the drug store came suddenly to mind. Café "oh lay" would require sloshing bags of ground roast hanging from IV poles. Beano would not just be for gas anymore. And, "Oh miss, I'll have a danish and a bag of frothy crappachino, and can I make that a bottomless cup, please?"
Quite frankly, I had experienced a few enemas in my youth, and it would be a cathartic stretch clean around the equator to say I found anything the least bit pleasurable in the procedure. On the other hand, I will say that, as a migraine cure, he might actually have hit on a useful discovery…after all, the amount of caffeine in a pot full of coffee, traveling directly through the intestinal walls into the blood stream has got to do something stimulating, right? In the end, Juan Valdez could become a very rich, headache-free man!
Tears rolling down my face, lungs ready to explode and ribs in dire need of ibuprofen from uncontrollable laughter, I looked at the letter in my hand. This guy was a nut job. I knew that. I should not respond. I knew that, too. But as surely as I knew those things, I knew I would answer it anyway. I could not help myself; such unswerving java loyalty demanded a reply. Through a haze of tears and rib pain I wrote the following…
Dear Mr. Mugbottom (name changed to protect the innocent),
I am writing to thank you for your interest in and response to my profile. I enjoyed reading your letter, and, I have to say that I found your descriptions of the coffee-retention enema procedure, its benefits and results, to be most educational and highly enlightening.
I must tell you, however, that although I, personally, have never had the dubious pleasure of experiencing a coffee-retention enema, considering the smell and taste of the stuff, I can't think of a better place for it.
Would you care for a doughnut with that?
Thank you for your interest.
Needless to say, the gentleman in question did not respond again. But I may never recover. I succumb to instantaneous hysterical laughter every time someone asks, "Wanna go do coffee?"