pen pals & chat rooms


I have a pen pal. He’s shy on paper. He talks about the weather. His dog Rodney. His paper route. I try not to probe, but a paper route? How old could he be? When I ask I don’t hear back for almost two months, and then no mention of age.

Pen pals are what people had before chat rooms. It will never be known how many pen pals there were in the world before chat rooms. Or how many are left. I may be one of the last, me and my pen pal from Kentucky with the paper route.

I’ve never been to a chat room. I’ve been to a funeral parlor. I remember looking down at Uncle George and wondering if he’d ever had a pen pal. That’s how long I’ve been at it, since the age of six.

At one point, in my early twenties, I had five pen pals, almost like a chat room. I have no idea if that was common, having multiple pen pals. It’s almost like infidelity.

I wonder if what drove people to seek a pen pal is the same thing that drives people into chat rooms? Knowing that would be a good indication of how much things have changed.

I have the feeling that people lie a lot in chat rooms. About their accomplishments, their prowess, their gender. I have the feeling that people who go to chat rooms are restless and on the prowl. Pen pals, on the other hand, are lonely and reclusive. Becoming a pen pal is as close as they get to connecting with another human being.

“How’s the weather down there in Kentucky?” I write my pen pal. “How’s Rodney?” I don’t mention the paper route. “My dog died last week,” I write. “It’s windy here. I may take a trip.”

I seal the letter in an envelope and paste on a stamp.

Walk it down to the mail box.

Drop it in.

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