Tough Love Tender Love
Don Fisher, a 41-year-old misfit who craves love but has known little of it, lives alone on the outskirts of New York City in an apartment about the size of a squash court, where “during much of the time he was there Don could have sworn he was the ball.” Seeking a break from the northeastern cold, he catches a year-end flight to Caracas, Venezuela, where he lucks into a whirlwind encounter with Ana, a beautiful Colombian. After returning to New York, Don gets shocking news from Ana that leads to a marriage proposal and plans for Ana to join him permanently in the United States. What follows is a gripping account of the struggles this improbable couple face in dealing with the US immigration bureaucracy and in getting their relationship off the ground. Reminiscent of The Bridges of Madison County, TOUGH LOVE, TENDER HEART is a stirring, fast-flowing depiction of love trying to take root in an impossible situation, and a tale of unsurpassed relevance to our cross-cultural and post-9/11 age.
After covering the want ads, Don read the book reviews, movie reviews, a couple of cartoons he couldn’t figure out, and even his horoscope, which advised him that his patience was sure to pay off eventually. He looked over the travel section, tearing out an ad that interested him, then worked awhile on the crossword puzzle, looked at some ads for escort services and massage parlors, and then, finally, arrived at his original destination: the personals beginning on page twenty-two.
He began reading, at first eagerly and almost expectantly, then slowing down when he didn’t see anything of interest. It was the first time he’d more than glanced at personals, and he wasn’t sure what to make of them. Everyone was ‘attractive,’ ‘professional,’ ‘caring,’ and so on, though Don suspected those were just code words for ‘loser.’
Don was about to give up the search when, toward the end of the personals, one ad jumped out at him. Someone was on the lookout for a “sincere, 40ish guy, a bit bored with his life, looking to spice things up and to build a faithful lifelong partnership.” At the end of the ad was a note advising prospective callers that looks didn’t matter.
There was a phone number, the same number Don had noticed in many of the other ads. Each ad also had an individual code, which, Don supposed, enabled voice mail messages to get to their intended recipients. This made it easier for him to call. If a human being were likely to answer the phone, Don knew he might never call; but leaving a message and having someone call him back … that much he could do.
Overcome by the moment, he dialed without having thought about what to say. Seconds later, a recorded voice asked him to key in the extension he wanted to reach. He punched in the number and the same voice instructed him to leave a message.
“Hello,” said Don. “I’m calling in response to your ad in the Weekly Pulse. I’m a sincere 40ish guy with a good job, I’m honest and faithful, and I’m ready for a lifelong partnership.” He paused for a breath, then said, “Thank you,” and was about to hang up before adding, “Uh, my name is Don, and I can be reached at 201-372-2166. Bye.”
Though looks weren’t supposed to matter, Don couldn’t help wondering what the person who’d placed the ad looked like. He imagined a slightly plump woman in her mid-to-late thirties, a bit shorter than he was, with brown hair to match his own, and probably with a loudly ticking biological clock. He looked back at the ad for any hints he might have overlooked, but saw none, not the slightest reference to her appearance, age, size, or anything of the sort. She did identify herself, however, as a ‘GWM,’ whatever that was. At first Don had taken that to mean she was a good woman, and hadn’t concerned himself at all with the ‘M.’ Now that he looked back at the ad, he was wondering whether there was something about the ‘G’ he didn’t quite understand. Was she Greek? Or German? The idea of an intercultural relationship excited Don, but he’d have been happy enough just to settle for a plain old good woman. The ‘G’ didn’t concern him much, but what the heck, he wondered, was the ‘M’ for?
Then he found a key at the bottom of the page telling him ‘GWM’ stood for ‘gay white male.’
Barely two seconds after making that discovery, Don unplugged the phone from the wall.
TOUGH LOVE, TENDER HEART is available at the following online retail outlets: