I have received a letter addressed "Occupant" from a company called Great Expectations, inviting me to find my ideal mate through their video-viewing service.
"It's sad but true," the letter begins. "So many of us never find the one ideal, fully satisfying relationship of our dreams."
I don't know how our address got on their list, but I want to advise Great Expectations that I am not in the market for a new ideal mate. I already have my ideal mate.
I suppose such computer errors are understandable. I know people whose dogs have received letters inviting them to invest in mutual funds or life insurance.
So I'm not offended. But I'm not sure that video viewing is the most romantic path to an ideal relationship.
The letter asks me to fill out a questionnaire about myself, and also about the mate I'm seeking. Then I will be interviewed on videotape and will be able to screen their videotape file of female applicants.
Perhaps I should not assume that Great Expectations is limited to male-female relationships. But the questions do not seem to include any other kind.
"Great Expectations offers you a better way that has helped thousands of discriminating couples to meet and fall in love," the letter says. "Our selective Video Viewing Service lets you screen, at your leisure, our extensive videotape library of attractive, eligible singles. Viewing in relaxed privacy, you see and hear them in natural interviews . . . then, select whom you'd like to meet."
That does sound better than sitting around in a crowded singles bar, boozing and breathing smoke and being elbowed by 6-foot, 4-inch iron-pumpers.
Still, I wonder whatever became of the old-fashioned cute meet. The cute meet was a story device much favored by screenwriters of the 1930s and 1940s. Boy meets girl by accident. Boy and girl fall in love. Then the complications; for a time boy would lose girl. But in the end boy won girl, and we all left the theater happy.
They could meet at the museum, standing together in front of a Matisse. He might say, "That girl's arm is too long." And she might say (as Matisse once did), "That's not a girl, that's a painting."
Bingo. They're in love.
Or they might get on a streetcar together on a rainy day. He would zip up his raincoat and catch her sleeve in the zipper. She would be annoyed at first, and then they would begin to laugh. Zowie! Love at first sight.
Or she's at Trader Joe's, looking for a bottle of red wine to serve with her boeuf bourguignon at the little dinner she's preparing for her boss. He notices her indecision and says: "Have you tried the Gallo? It's a naive domestic burgundy without any breeding, but I think you'll be amused by its presumption."
She looks into his eyes. The boss is forgotten. Two souls are mated.
Or she's working at the china counter in the 5-and-10-cent store. He ducks into the store to get out of the rain. The rain continues for an hour. He keeps buying china. Result: a little penthouse for two, where they'll always contrive to keep love and romance forever alive.
Or he turns up at a small apartment he's rented. But she's rented it first, and she's in it. It's the only apartment left in town. He prevails upon her to let him share it. They hang up a sheet as a partition. You know how that one turns out.
Or she's a missionary's spinster sister in Africa, and he's a drunken river-boat captain. They are driven together by a German raid and escape in his boat. At first she is frightened of him and repulsed by his dissolute character. But several harrowing episodes later, and after her glorious awakening--wedding bells!
What would life be without those cute meets? Without the hope, however small, that every day one goes out into the city, or into a supermarket, or gets on a bus or an airplane, or crosses a street, one may encounter one's true love in the guise of a stranger.
"The ideal mate of your dreams, whom you might otherwise never meet," says Great Expectations, "is most likely waiting for you in our Video Library, right now."
If I weren't already mated for life, I don't think I'd want to sit in somebody's Video Library and run through a pile of videotapes in search of my ideal.
I certainly don't mean to discourage anyone else from trying it. I'm sure there are thousands of singles in our cities who despair of ever meeting anyone suitable and will try almost anything, including the preparation of little dinners for their bosses.
But if I were single, I'd head for the museum and keep my eyes open.