Claws for alarm

When she heard his insanely long toenails click on the hardwood floor, she knew the love affair was over.

Published January 6, 2003 8:59PM (EST)

Hell: They clicked, we didn't

I typically avoid online chat and messaging, but I came across an intriguing profile on YaHoo! and before I could talk myself out of it, I sent an instant message with a simple "Good Evening." A few minutes later, he responded: "This may be my lucky night. You're a knockout!"

I don't hear that too often. Our e-mailed conversations were frequent and lengthy. We moved to the telephone within days. "You're scaring me a little," he said. "If someone sounds too good to be true, they generally are." I assured him I was the real McCoy and was equally nervous.

We met for dinner at a restaurant. He was on time and waiting with flowers. He was heavier than he described, and his photo online was probably 5 years old, but it didn't deter me. Substance over style, I told myself.

Dinner was effortless, and he made no move to take me home, which I liked. He did, however, ask me to come to his home the following weekend. "It's going to be boiling hot in the valley, and I have a pool you can lounge in all day. I'll pamper you. I have a guestroom, and I have my own bed. You are equally welcome in either." I thought that was both polite and charming. I eagerly accepted.

His house was lovely. His manners were lovely. His pool and pool house were lovely. Even his dog was wonderful. His pantry was fully stocked, and we cooked a delightful meal and ate it by candlelight next to the pool, then swam in the nude. He was playful and affectionate. He kept repeating: "You're really scaring me. You could break my heart."

Later, we lay together on his couch and watched a DVD as we shared a pint of ice cream with two spoons.

Then the bubble burst.

He stretched out on the couch while I was seated and asked, "Can I put my feet in your lap, Sweetie?"

"Of course," I replied. "Would you like a foot rub?"

He happily accepted and even handed me a bottle of lotion. "My feet are killing me," he complained.

He slipped off his pool sandals and leaned back, while I uncapped the lotion and picked up one of his feet and put it in my lap.

I recoiled.

Prince Charming had the longest toenails I'd ever seen. Freakishly long. Howard Hughes long. They were thick and yellow and curled down toward the foot, like talons. The skin on his feet was dry and scaly, with deep fissure-like cracks in the heels. I begin to rub the lotion on his feet.

"Do you spend a lot of time on your feet?" I politely inquired.

"Not really," he responded, and turned back to the movie. I tried to think of why anyone as well-off as he appeared to be, reasonably well-dressed and with a good career, would allow his feet to get in such bad shape. How hard is a pedicure when you know your feet are walking disasters? I wondered how he comfortably wore shoes. By the looks of it, he'd need Krusty the Clown shoes. I searched desperately for reasons to excuse his strange toenails -- maybe he'd been in a full-length leg cast and hadn't trimmed them yet.

I picked up the other foot and it was the same. It was all I could do not to push his feet off of my lap in horror, but I gamely carried out the task and then told him, "You're all done."

"Thanks baby," he said, and sighed with pleasure, blowing me a kiss.

He got up to walk into the kitchen to replenish our drinks, and I had to cover my mouth to stifle a gasp. The nails were so long that they curled down and tapped the ground and as he walked across the hardwood floors. They clicked just like a dog's nails. Click, click, click. I stared at his feet and then quickly looked away so he wouldn't catch me. Click, click, click. He was on his way back to the couch.

I pictured a giant sloth, or some horrible troll coming to get me. "I'll fix you my pretty," he'd cackle, then slice my throat with his freakish feet and drag my body into his cave.

His house was a three-hour drive from mine, and it was well into the wee hours when he asked, "Shall we retire?" I couldn't drive home that night, but I couldn't imagine sleeping with him; his raptor claws would shred my delicate legs and leave the sheets bloody. So, I responded, "Yes. You mentioned a guestroom?"

His face fell so quickly I felt a pang of shame and regret. "Oh. Yes, of course," he said, and showed me to his guestroom, which was sadly, exquisite. He tucked me in, kissed my forehead, and said, "I'll be down the hall if you get lonely. Goodnight." He turned off the light, and walked down the hall to his room.

I heard his "click, click, click" all the way down the hall, and then his heavy, disappointed sigh as he climbed into bed alone.

The next morning I mumbled about having to dash home and work, and was gone before breakfast. I stopped answering his messages, didn't call him, and could not even bring myself to e-mail him with an explanation. I couldn't tell him that I was so shallow that his toenails kept us from being together. "I knew I was afraid of you for a reason," said his last e-mail. "Best of luck to you, gorgeous." I felt like a heel -- the kind without cracks and scales.

-- Kristina, Sacramento, Calif.

Stairway to Heaven: The Frog prince

Suddenly I found myself in the dating pool at 47 without prescription goggles. What's a girl to do?

It's amazing the number of things that can go wrong with a computer date: bad facial hair arrangements, bad breath, bad posture. Rose-tinted aviator glasses, the inability to talk about anything but their pet, no sense of irony, no sex drive. Works at McD's at 53 (at least he's got a job).

The list is unexpectedly peculiar. One guy, who wasn't doing too well to begin with due to an unfortunate hair management choice, had an obsession with text messaging and anything Finnish, especially Finnish text-messaging. For two weeks, my Nokia would screech like Tippi Hedren when I pulled it out of my bag, and respond to my tender button pushing by urging me in Helvetica: "What are you doing Saturday night? In Finland we go ice skating."

"How about a cool glass of Finlandia?" it would purr later, after a movie.

A 43-year-old hypochondriac, not bad-looking, living in his parents' garage, wouldn't kiss me because I had experienced a chest cold within the last decade -- but he was perfectly willing to shag. In the front seat of my car, I found myself breathing this unlikely sentence into his neck, at the risk of him catching bronchitis: "So, what made you decide not to become a rabbi?" That did it. I started giggling uncontrollably, and had to drive right home and call my Jewish mother in Queens to tell her what I said this to a guy I was dating.

"You'll have to kiss a lot of frogs" said my psychic friend Judy, "before you find Prince Charming." I didn't need to be psychic to know that.

One afternoon I drove to a suburban mall to meet a Silicon Valley geek with a croaky voice, who intrigued me because we always managed to talk on the phone 'til 3 a.m. I decided that CompUSA was a good choice for meeting a programmer; besides, I could always use free tech help.

He was so cute that we decided to move to a more romantic venue -- a computer store across the mall. I was a little shaky. As he leapt into his Datsun to follow my Mazda to the other side of the mall, I literally drove right into the center divider of El Camino Real. I had to circle into oncoming traffic to return to where he was sitting in his car, laughing at me. I got out and went over to his window. Gosh, he was awful cute. "I never, ever did that before, you know?" I said, slapping myself in the head like someone that slaps herself in the head regularly. "How about you drive?"

He reached over and unlocked the door for me like a gentleman, and rummaged around the back seat for something. I thought, "Great, he's a rapist and a geek." Then he presented me with an ergonomic trackball.

"I know most guys would have brought flowers," he croaked softly, "but you said you'd been getting achy, Photoshopping all day." It was so sweet, I vowed to see him at least a couple more times. This was almost a year ago, and I'm just now breaking up with him.

Maybe he wasn't Prince Charming, but he was no ordinary frog.

-- Caryn Leschen, San Francisco

Heaven: Blame it on the boomerang

One New Year's Eve long ago, when the Internet was new, in order to satisfy my Aunt Shirley, I placed a really negative posting on a Jewish bulletin board. I basically said that I was sure that no one would answer it because all Jewish men were afraid of intelligent Jewish women.

Within hours, I received dozens of responses, many from what I perceived to be nebbish-y kinds of men who immediately inquired after my stock, real estate and money market portfolios, my parentage, my weight and height, my hair and my neighborhood. All those local responses I almost immediately tossed away. But I did get one response from a guy in Sydney, Australia, alone in his flat with his new computer. He seemed not to be trolling for a girlfriend but just looking for someone smart to talk about things with. By the end of the first week in January, we were e-mailing several times daily about things like fishing and the nature of the soul.

He sent me a boomerang. I found his phone number on the Net and called him. We talked for four hours. He was funny and smart and not nebbish-y at all. He gloried in my work. He listened when I answered his questions. He asked my advice, and then actually took it.

We exchanged photos. He told me that he was vertically challenged -- which I thought meant he was a secret midget, but it just meant that he was as tall as me. And he told me I was beautiful.

Three weeks later he asked me to come for a coffee first date, and sent me air tickets to Sydney. When I balked, wondering aloud if he could be a mass murderer, Aunt Shirley threatened to go in my place.

So I went.

The week in Sydney, he tried to sell me the city: the Opera House, the beaches, the harbor. To me, it looked like California with folks driving on the wrong side of the road. He proposed marriage by the end of the week, and he tried to convince me that I should never leave.

I did leave. But I came back. The magic of the boomerang: That's why he sent it in the first place, to get it back.

I've lived in Australia for the last seven years. While he is wonderful most days, it hasn't been easy. I miss California, I want people to speak English, and mostly I want the department stores to be open past 5 o'clock.

But his parents have been marvelous, and I figure it this way: my German great-great-great grandmother came to the U.S. in 1840, on the basis of one letter -- no photos, no phone calls, no e-mail. She never saw her parents or her homeland again. There were so many like her. I'm part of a historical continuum and I've got it pretty good.

-- Michelle Stein-Evers Frankl, Sydney, Australia

Purgatory: Who am I kidding?

My online personals profile is carefully crafted to be as sexless as possible. I'm looking for a friend, or maybe a pen pal, gender unimportant. There's no mention of what I want in a mate or even my own availability. Living with my baby's father in the corpse of what was briefly a beautiful partnership, I have no energy to spare for anyone but my medical nightmare of a son. I want no part of anything else that will dump emotional demands on me. Singlehood is fine. Celibacy preferred.

Enter Theo. From his opening words onward he was the perfect man. First and foremost, he's happily married with two children. The younger is almost my son's age and therefore a potential playmate for my lonely little boy. Theo wanted someone to talk to, someone to share ideas and thoughts and stories with, someone who will talk about the elusive Meaning of it All with him at 3 in the morning. Hey, I can do that! And I don't even have to sleep with him. No commitment, no selfishness, nobody needing anything from me. Perfect.

After a few weeks of e-mailed essays we met. I hadn't even thought about his physical appearance, but I guess I'd been imagining him as a sort of male manifestation of how I see myself: average, awkward, unremarkable. I nearly had a heart attack when one of the more beautiful men I've ever seen stood up and smiled at me. He's a honey-skinned, dark-eyed, silk-haired elf -- the kind of guy I find irresistible even if he does make me feel like a large white cow by comparison.

It was a perfect night. The e-mails following were also perfect, and he had the grace to call me beautiful and compare me to Audrey Hepburn. I was hooked. Several weeks after that I found myself in bed with him, his wife and their other girlfriend.

But it's too perfect. He's too perfect. He's more than I'd hoped to find and now I'm in trouble. The success of this particular venture relied all along on nobody getting attached. Who has time or attention to waste on another sticky, ultimately doomed bond? Not me, right?

As I type this, Theo, his wife, their girlfriend, and their daughters are out of town visiting their families for the holidays. I'm checking my empty e-mailbox every half hour trying to quash that old familiar teenage hope. Is he going to call, is he gonna write? Am I going to see him again? Did I say something wrong? I'm not sure what I'm going to tell him if he does write. I've betrayed both of our expectations by learning that what I really want after all is the love of a perfect man. The only cure is to make some excuse, leave Theo's key in his mailbox, and never see him again.

Who am I kidding? There's no chance of me walking away now.

-- RR, California

By Salon Staff

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