The old Steely Dan hit Rikki Don’t Lose That Number has this great chorus:
Rikki, don’t lose that number
You don’t wanna call nobody else
Send it off in a letter to yourself
…which brings up how very difficult it was to flirt with people before the internet made everything so goddamn easy. There was a time, you know, when it was possible to never see somebody again. You could have a life-changing conversation someone at a party, and if either of you were suddenly whisked away, you could spend years with that “what if” inkling in the back of your mind.
It could be much bigger; you could have a summer romance with boardwalks and road trips, howling at Saturn over a rocky precipice, dropping acid and having months full of meaningful, soul-divining sex… and then lose touch. Forever.
All this led to the romantic notion of The One That Got Away, a person who embodied everything you didn’t have, or weren’t getting from your relationship at the time. You’d never actually see them again, but they’d appear in the short stories you might write, or the songs you’d sing. They would be lingering in that twilight liminal state in the wisps before sleep: they’re out there, somewhere, waiting.
In the Facebook era, The One That Got Away never quite gets away. They become a Facebook friend, and unless they take the trouble to un-friend you, their whereabouts are meticulously documented for years on end. In fact, not only can you find your crushes, you can find anyone’s. How about Rikki, Whose Number You Were Not Meant To Lose?
Say hello to Rikki Ducornet, who was a student at Bard College when Donald Fagen and Walter Becker (of Steely Dan) went there in the late 1960s. Fagen met her at a party in Annandale and gave her his number, wrote a song about it five years later, and now there’s her picture and here are some of her cool paintings.
How about another one? Let’s take Same Old Lang Syne, the Dan Fogelberg classic that I have both hated and thought about since 1981 – you know, where he runs into his ex-girlfriend in the frozen foods section and, well,
She said she’s married her an architect
Who kept her warm and safe and dry
She would have liked to say she loved the man
But she didn’t like to lie
Fogelberg always said it was autobiographical, and kept the identity of the woman secret for the rest of his life, as did she. Until, of course, he died and the internet took over…
Say hello to Jill Greulich, who was a student at Woodruff High School in Peoria, IL, when Dan Fogelberg went there in the late 1960s. Fogelberg dated her before he left for college, wrote a song about meeting her ten years later, and now there’s her Facebook picture and an article in the newspaper.
When you start comparing eras, it’s easy to be an old fart and kvetch about how Kids Today™ with their twittering and twattering don’t know anything real, and drown themselves in a vat of unceasing information, rendering them hopelessly unimaginative. I’m sure the same thing was said about us, so I always repeat the mantra “not worse, just different.”
But I will say this: there is something magical about some people leaving your life, forever, in a cloud of lingering possibility. A chance encounter, a dream dance, a moment that gets to live evermore in its time. I had a superlative moment with a girl 20 years ago, then met her again through this blog and now I can’t imagine not having her as both friend and confidante. But I’ve also had a question that remains unanswered, and those stories without endings can inspire stories without end.