Crazy in Chicago

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The young son of a widowed man calls up a radio show on Christmas Eve and shares with the host, and anyone listening, how sad his father is. He wants his lonely dad to find a new wife. The boy, Jonah, is able to convince his father, Sam, to pick up the other extension and have a conversation about his wife, who had passed away a year and a half ago, to a complete stranger. (Only later does he realize he’s been talking to a nationally syndicated radio show.)

A woman, Annie, who lives thousands of miles away, has just left a Christmas party with her fiancee. She drives alone and turns on her radio and a child’s voice fills the car. She listens as the boy talks about his dead mother and his heart-broken father. When Sam gets on the phone, his voice is soft, deflated, as he runs down his daily routine of trying not to miss his wife.

Annie is stopped by the way the man on the radio longs for his dead wife. He loves her still. Probably always will. Annie listens, breathless at times, as he tells of how they met and when he touched her for the first time it was like…magic.

Annie and Sam say “magic” at the same time.

A shared moment between two strangers living on opposite ends of the country, Sam in Seattle and Annie in Baltimore.

What Annie feels in that moment is enough for her to write a letter to Sam, but she doesn’t send it, a friend, her editor (also a woman captivated by this man’s story), secretly does. Annie is a reporter and she is sent to Seattle to do research on talk radio shows.

In Seattle, she finds Sam and watches him play with his son on a beach. Sam notices her from across the street and walks toward her because he is taken by her, but she leaves before he gets too close.

If you don’t know, what I’ve written is the premise of the movie Sleepless in Seattle. Tom Hanks plays Sam and Meg Ryan portrays Annie.

In the end, the two strangers meet at the Empire State Building in New York City. Sleepless in Seattle is one of the most romantic movies of all time and the two main characters share only a few scenes together. They touch once. They hold each other’s hand. And that’s all they need because like magic, they just know.

I wonder how a story like this would play out in real life. If a woman jumped on a plane, tracked down a man she’d never met before, but felt a deep connection to because she listened to him a couple times on a late-night radio show, and watched from the street as he played with his son.

If the “darling” of movies at the time, Meg Ryan, wasn’t the real-life version of “Annie,” would this still be written like a sweet romance movie? Or instead, would it be watched as a “scary-as-shit, holy-fuck, Glenn Close Fatal Attraction-esque, I’m calling the cops!” psycho-thriller?

Sleepless in Seattle was made in 1993. We hadn’t yet been introduced to social media and because of that, this kind of story is more likely to happen in 2014 than in 1993. The Internet has given us access to people’s lives we didn’t used to have. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Blogs, Vine, Tumblr, etc. can allow us to feel like we know a person, when we really don’t.

Annie fell for a man by listening to him tell his story over the radio, so is it that crazy to imagine it’s possible to fall for someone by following them on Twitter, reading their blogs, or creeping their Facebook page?

You stumble upon a person’s writing and they stop you because their words hit you so hard, right in the gut, that you can’t stop reading and need to know more. And the deep connection you feel overwhelms you and soon, you’re reading everything you can find about this person.

But how do you know if you’ve taken it too far? Where’s the line? And if you cross it, how far do you go?

To look at a stranger’s pictures and they feel like home. To be so inspired by someone you’ve never met before that you can compose the most powerful, breath-taking ballad or write an emotional, heart-melting love story that blows Sleepless out of the water – is amazing.

And what if you meet this person and she ends up being even better than the fantasy? And her beauty, stronger than any dream you could ever imagine. What if she is everything you want and just when you get close, she slips away and into the arms of someone else? Bam! You couldn’t see that coming because it doesn’t fit the version in your head of the way this would play out, because it doesn’t fit the movie.

All you want to do is cry because she’ll never know how much you longed for her or all the nights you went to bed thinking of her in your mind and woke up feeling her in your heart. She’ll never know that you check her Twitter account every day just to see what she’s thinking, if only for that one moment, to feel close to her.

What if nothing else mattered – a huge promotion, winning the lottery, publishing a book. What if none of that meant a goddamn thing if you didn’t get the girl in the end?

Tom Hanks got the girl in the end. He got his “Annie.” I still ache for mine and I don’t think she even knows.

And that drives me crazy.

Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

“Books and Internet Love.”

The year was 1998. Amazon was three years old – a puppy not yet showing any semblance of the big dog it’d become that would be the bane of every brick and mortar company’s existence.

In 1998, the “bad guys” were Borders, Barnes and Noble, and any other big corporate giant that moved in and put friendly, independent neighborhood bookstores out of business. Those same corporate giants are now shutting their doors thanks, mostly, to Amazon, but back then, you couldn’t mess with them. This “bullying” of small bookstores didn’t sit well with me because I’d envisioned a nice quiet life managing my own bookstore where I’d serve coffee and chat with customers I knew by name. It could have been a nice life, but with a Borders across the street and a Starbucks right next to it, it would have been short-lived.

Years before Ellen Degeneres came out as a lesbian, she had a TV show called, Ellen, where she played a character who owned a bookstore. I was a teenager at the time, fantasizing that I was watching my future life play out in front of me. I believed it could be like that. Just…like…that. The perfect business. The perfect friends. The perfectly-timed jokes. I was naive enough to think a TV show could resemble real life.

Then came the movie You’ve Got Mail. It still makes me smile when I watch it. It touches on two things I know well. Books and Internet dating. You didn’t boast loudly back in ’98 about having a profile on the Internet searching for love. You whispered it into a trusted friend’s ear, if you said anything at all. But You’ve Got Mail made Internet dating sweet and charming, in a way only Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks can do.

Meg Ryan plays Kathleen Kelly, owner of The Shop Around the Corner (friendly neighborhood bookstore) and Tom Hanks plays Joe Fox, owner of Fox Books (evil corporate bully). Fox puts Kelly out of business all the while romancing her over the Internet, unbeknownst to her that it his him.

Only “always the good-guy” Tom Hanks can pull something like this off and come out looking as wholesome as Jimmy Stewart in an “ah shucks” kind of a way. “Ah shucks, Ms. Kelly. I’m really sorry I put you out of business, taking away your livelihood, as well as conversing with you online and not telling you who I really was. But I’d really love to take you to dinner sometime.” You’ve Got Mail segued into a sweet love story with a happy ending, in a way only Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks can do.

It was 1996 when I corresponded romantically with someone on the Internet for the first time. Meg Ryan nails it perfectly when her character says, “I wonder. I turn on my computer. I wait impatiently as it connects. I go online, and my breath catches in my chest until I hear three little words: You’ve got mail. I hear nothing. Not even a sound on the streets of New York, just the beating of my own heart. I have mail. From you.”

Yes, Meg, I know the feeling well.

In ’96 we didn’t have Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or texting. If you had something to say to someone, you called them on the phone. If you weren’t ready to give out your number because you were, after all, talking to someone from the Internet, which could be ANYBODY, you used email. That was it.

I eventually met the woman that had sent me rushing to my room as soon as I entered my house, locking the door, and holding my breath until I saw her name in my email box. Big smile. She was the first woman I called my girlfriend. The woman who would help me come out to my family and friends. I remember the exchange with my mother when I told her. She sat on the living room couch. Me on the other. I told her I needed to tell her something. And then I lit a cigarette – signifying this was serious. She sat up. “Mom,” I said. “I met someone online. This person’s name is Chris. But not Chris as in Christopher. Chris as in Christine. I’m a lesbian. She lives in Jersey. I’ll be leaving to see her next month.”

Maybe that wasn’t an entirely fair way to put it to my mom. “I’m gay, but no time to talk. Got a flight to catch! Bye!!!!!”  I was nineteen. What stupid things were you doing when you were nineteen? I flew to Jersey. Met the girl. Sparks didn’t fly.

Though it didn’t end “Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan” style. I don’t regret doing it because I took a chance. I wish one day I’d open my email and see her name again because I’d like to know how she’s doing – nineteen years later.

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Photos courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net