The Gare du Nord is the perfect place for a mysterious encounter.

by Hugh Gilmore

I’ll do my best this week to tell you about the woman I hooked up with for a while, the one I’ve been calling ‘La femme mystérieuse.’ I probably wouldn’t be writing about her if she were still around, but she elected a little while ago to make me part of her past. So be it. It is easy to accept a woman’s departure when you don’t have her address or phone number. Not even an email address, to be honest.

In fact, I do not know her name or age. Nor her physical type, style, or the sound of her voice. I am left with only computer screen pixels shaped into letters and kerned into words. To make sense of them, I copied our correspondence and pasted it into a Word document. From February 15 to May 2, we filled 84 pages as we exchanged 32, 759 words. Then she was gone. I’ve been rereading lately what it was we said to one another.

My friend, Frank A., read the first three installments of this series and wrote to me to suggest I make her French, “as it would add an element of the ‘exotic’ to the mix and one’s imagination can take it from there!” But, alas, this story is not fictional and I have no control over her origins. I only have a nom de plume she used. And even at that, she asked me never to mention that name or her avatar (the little thumbnail image people put beside their names in various online websites).

It’s time to admit I met this lady on Facebook.

I know. That kind of cheapens things doesn’t it? So common. For entertainment purposes I should claim I’d glimpsed her across the tracks in one of those fabulously visual settings they use in French movies – the Gare du Nord, for example. Say she wore heels and one of those little hats they call a “fascinator,” one with a veil partially covering her face. I could claim that we talked to one another in hushed voices from adjoining phone booths. And that she’d hung up first after making me promise I’d count to a hundred before stepping out to look for her.

But no, Facebook provided the introduction. And believe me, for my generation, where everything is new everyday, Facebook is plenty exotic. Or at least, confusing. My first days using it felt like I was trying to make a soufflé while trapped inside a revolving door. Around and around, no obvious entrance or exit, nor sense of where I wanted to go.

I’d had no personal interest in Facebook when I joined, but did so in order to promote my writing – several works on Kindle format, four paperback books, and a blog. At first I had no faith that it would make a difference (it has), but I was tired of people asking the same question and rejoinder whenever we met: “How’s sales ?” and “You should go on Facebook.” So I did. I created a friendly personal page and a shamelessly self-promoting “professional” page. Or so I thought. The two bled … no, hemorrhaged, into one another. Content from one appeared on the other. Nothing was as it seemed. Even when I read the instructions.

So I posted a “Please Help Me” message on my “Wall.” (One’s Wall is meant to be for general public announcements – as opposed to one’s “Messages,” which are exchanged one-on-one with Friends. If you ask me to friend-as-a-verb you, or vice-versa and we both say yes, we become friends and can exchange messages that include only the two of us. One can have many friends and many private dialogues. Often simultaneously. When I posted my Cry for Help on the public Wall, la femme mystérieuse responded by asking to be friends. I said yes. She wrote to me using the private message channel.

It’s time I refer to her by name, but I’ll have to invent one. Perhaps I should ask my readers to offer suggestions, a sort of “name the pup” contest, but I’m too far along in the introduction for that now. I’ve decided for column purposes to call her Felice, a very pleasant and just slightly uncommon name. I could have said Gertrude, or Mabel, but those names are comical in this context and they also convey an age gone by. This lady, Felice, is quite up-to-date.

The problem she attempted to help me with was: How could I get rid of my nice, fuzzy-me, original, friendly Facebook page and just have the Writer page? She wrote, without much preamble, some clearly worded instructions that sounded well informed. I tried them. They didn’t quite work. Nothing short of quitting Facebook altogether would work. I’m still stuck with two pages. Only a few Friends overlap the two pages, so I must now post everything twice. When I do, the original friendly-me page is the Daddy page. Whenever I write a “deep and well-written” message, the follow-up to it on the Wall is usually an amusing kitty picture or an “urp” (my term for people posting pix of themselves enjoying a restaurant).

For a week or so, Felice and I exchanged several rounds of messages that contained no personal information. The conversation focused on how to promote a book using social media. She sounded very authoritative. This was very helpful to me and I followed some of her advice.

Soon, however, I realized that I was in the third week of near-daily correspondence with Felice, some of it now personal. A stranger-woman. Whom my wife did not know about! What had begun as idle comments made on a crowded elevator had somehow become two people riding up and down inside a possibly tall building.

I’d better find a way to explain this, or I was going to get the shaft.

Continued next week.

Hugh Gilmore is the author of “Memories of Loren Eiseley,” a tribute to Loren Eiseley, available in e-book format only through Amazon and most book stores.

- Part 123