Connie

by

07/22/2023

Neighborhood: East Harlem

Bored on a pre-pandemic Sunday, I scan through Facebook’s dating app to see who liked my profile, and finally, someone interesting!

Connie is heavily tattooed and only has three pictures (just one includes his face). Aside from a giant Yankees logo and “CONNIE” emblazoned on his abdomen, I can’t see many tattoo details and his profile is sparse. But he appears to be good looking and edgy, and he just moved to NYC from Venice Beach, California. Occupation: stylist/barber.

Facebook Dating offers pre-selected questions like, “What’s one thing you are embarrassed to admit?” Connie: I love chick flicks.

“Other than where you live now, where else would you love to live?” Connie: Mexico (same!)

This tough guy’s answers humanize him, but something seems off. I heart his pic anyway. He’s, by far, the most interesting person who has expressed interest in me, so why not? My insatiable need for a good story, my Nancy Drew tendencies, and my gravitation toward the dark and dangerous sometimes gets me in trouble. But that’s more about me than him.

We begin private messaging.

“I loved your tattoos. They show real commitment, which is so hard to find in a guy these days.”

“Thanks! I am tattooed everywhere except the front of my face, palms, and soles of my feet,” he replies.

I love a guy who immerses himself in a project, perhaps because I have similar tendencies.

For the last 14 years, I have been working on “Letters from the Inside,” where I write to sociopathic prisoners with genius-level IQs. What I’d hoped would turn into a book has instead left me a single woman living in a studio apartment with over 1,000 letters from serial killers.

Back to Connie: We ask the usual questions, but when he says he lives at 101st and Third —a rough stretch bounded by housing projects, check-cashing places, and run-down walk-ups, I’m surprised. It seems a strange location for a NYC-newbie to live.

For a living, I write about New York real estate so I’m fascinated with how newcomers find their homes. When I ask him how he found his apartment, Connie says he moved here four months ago to open a barbershop. Things didn’t work out as planned and, frankly, he says, people here are just not friendly.
 
“Well, I’ll be friendly to you,” I type.

As I’m trying to decide if he is fabulous and out-of-my-league-cool, or sketchy as fuck, I add, “Well, your apartment hunt will give us something to discuss when we go on our date.”

I ask Connie what he’s checked out so far in New York, expecting him to mention some hip venues, but he says he hasn’t been anywhere except “Sentral (sic) Park.” Something is clearly off.

He asks about my hobbies and I respond that I like reading, writing, hanging with my dog. I also create some interesting projects and explain Street Rorschach – an art project in which I snap pictures of street stains and record what others see. I mention it is interesting how people see different things in the same street stains.

“And, I know this is a bit strange,” I attach the link to a New York Post article about my prisoner letter writing project.

But Messenger doesn’t allow links, so I give him my number.

He texts me, and I immediately google his number. Nothing comes up, but I notice the area code is for Venice, Florida, not California.

Are these strings of weird things a warning or just me being paranoid? Why can’t I chat with a potential date without going full Columbo on him?

“Wow! You might be even stranger than I am!”  he texts in response to the link.

He tells me I am pretty and interesting. I imagine myself hanging with a tattooed, hipster barber. And what better way to snag a beau than capturing him as a transplant, before the hordes of single women sink their claws into him?
 
I can’t figure him out, though. But that’s exciting. So many people are boring, talking about their finance jobs and goldendoodles.

Connie again says he wants to open a barbershop, but things haven’t gone the way he’d like.

“I understand,” I respond.

“Do you?” he retorts.

“Well, I get that NYC can be tough. Perhaps give it a little longer,” I write.

He goes on a tirade saying he isn’t a quitter.

I ask if he has any family or was ever married. He says he has an 18-year-old daughter back home. Connie asks if I have kids and I send a picture of my Biggie Smalls, my dachshund. Biggie makes it difficult to date because she can’t stay home alone due to extreme separation anxiety, and I don’t have a sitter at night.

I’m touched when he says, “Well, take her on our date.”

It’s been over an hour of chatting. I’m fascinated but confused. He’s cute and I don’t want him to think I’m too thirsty or asking questions because I am planning our future together. Still, why the conflicting area code? Why does my gut give me a warning? I will get to the bottom of this!

I want to say, “Hey, we live a few blocks from each other, let’s meet for a drink” but something is nagging at me, and thankfully, I let my suspicious nature get the best of me.

“So, your profile says you are from Venice, California, but your area code says Venice, Florida. Am I missing something?”

“Yeah, well, I am from Venice Beach, California but spent a little time in Sarasota/Venice, Florida before coming to NYC.”

I know he is lying and keep him on the hook by saying, “Oh, I will be in South Beach, Florida next week.”

Then I ask for his last name. Fair is fair – he already knows mine. Connie gives me his surname and I frantically start to google him. First stop, Facebook where I find a profile but it has a different picture. It’s the back of a tattooed head and says Sarasota. I search through his page and there are skinhead and Nazi pictures and memes everywhere. Ah, it all falls into place: He is not a sexy, edgy haircutter from Venice Beach and super rock’n’roll; he’s a scary skinhead. I have been messaging for an hour with “Florida man…”

But my heart still flutters when he texts, “When it snows here it will be the first time I’ve ever seen snow. I’m so excited.“

This is the dichotomy of the human spirit. Things are rarely black and white. Most people are not “good” or “evil” but a mixture. We all have our shortcomings and our beauty.

I scan his profile for pictures of his daughter but only find a little girl and a woman around the same age as Connie.

The woman was his sister. And she was murdered a few years ago. I read an article about her with a knotted stomach. She was highlighted in a true-crime series I watched last year. The same picture of her from Connie’s page was used in the series. She was the victim of a serial killer who targeted addicts and sex workers. Connie was interviewed from prison three years ago when this happened. He said he last spoke to her right before she went missing and was concerned because she told him she was going to begin escorting. The article details about how he and his sister were both abused at a series of foster parents.

According to arrest records, Connie got out of jail shortly before coming to New York. He went first to New Jersey and worked in a pizza shop, then somehow made his way here.

I go back to his dating profile to look again at his pictures. Yup, the background looks like a halfway house. How clearly I am seeing things now. Just like my Street Rorschach project, we see what we want to see. The same image can suggest totally different things for different people.

I wanted to see a hot hipster barber, not a neo-nazi convicted of multiples felonies.

I fall deeper into the rabbit hole, learning all I can about Connie and his family’s tragedy. A long rap sheet, prison stints, and shady-looking friends.
 
How do I extricate myself from this without angering a felon who lives just a few blocks from my house? I have to do something, but what do I say to avoid him getting agitated?

I text, “Hey, you aren’t a white supremacist, are you?”

“No.”

Long pause.

Then, “Wrong page.”

My silence alerts him that the jig is up.

“Well, that is the old me.”

“Hmm,” I reply.

I’ve been chatting (flirting!) with a recently released felon and (former?) skinhead who knows my name and cell number and lives just a few blocks away. I don’t want to anger him. This could turn into something explosive if I don’t handle it correctly.

Scanning through his Facebook page (the real one) again. He seems to have a hair-trigger temper, even jumping down the throats of well wishers who comment about his late sister. More pictures show him fishing and posing. All from a trailer park.

I also had a very rough and odd upbringing. I had no father – don’t even know who he is – and was raised on welfare by a dysfunctional, schizophrenic mother. Had it not been for my wonderful grandmother, I could have easily ended up in foster care when my mother was arrested.

I think about how Connie told me he was excited about seeing snow for the first time and remember it’s not so fun seeing it from a window in the projects.

So when he texts, “I guess this is a goodbye,” I don’t want to be cruel or dismissive. I also don’t want to draw too much attention to myself.

“Connie, NYC is a melting pot. I would think it would be stressful and frustrating for a white supremacist. So, no, not an abrupt goodbye. I’m curious and fascinated. But to go on record with you, I am the polar opposite. I have friends of every color, religion, sexual orientation.”

“It is not how I feel anymore… and it sucks that old Facebook page is up there. I have a new one connected to this FB dating thing.”

“I’m glad you feel differently,” I type. “Because my dog is black.”

He sends me an “LOL!” and I check out his newer profile. It is a very diluted version of the full-on white supremacist profile. The pics are cleaned up, so I guess in a way he is a “stylist” after all.

“So, you were raised in foster care?”

I guess that was too much for him because he wants to know how the fuck I saw that.

“I googled your name and Sarasota.”

“That comes up?” he asks.

“Yup, haven’t you ever googled yourself?”

“OMG! NO! I moved up here to leave my past. But, wow, you are good!”

“Look, I’m a good researcher. And dating in NYC can be dangerous. I’ve had some bad experiences,” I write, “And it sounds like you have had a stressful past.”

“Yeah, so did my sister.”

“I’m sorry things have been so hard.”

“Thank you, but it’s ok,” he says.

“Hopefully things will start to look up. I have to make lunch now but it was nice ‘meeting’ you and I wish you well.”

“Thanks, Kelly. Have fun in South Beach.”

And just like that, I walk away.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t find it all jarring. I lay on my couch for a long time, just sort of vibrating. Did I somehow open the door for something bad? Am I being histrionic? Chatting with someone different than you isn’t harmful. Connie didn’t say anything to indicate there was something to fear. Still, I don’t want to hang with felons or white supremacists. I can’t get close to someone who had that inside of him. However, to just recoil in horror would be immature and show a deficit of empathy. It’s a fine line between being safe and shrewd, and being a close-minded dick.

The next day, I go back to the messaging app to copy our chat. I see that he has deleted and blocked ME. I guess I was too much for him.

***

Kelly Kreth is a freelance writer who often feels trapped in a Seinfeldian Hell. She’d like people to love her for her flaws, not in spite of them. That rarely happens.

You can read more by her at: https://youmightaswell.tumblr.com

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§ 2 Responses to “Connie”

  • Tim Bulone says:

    I married the first good woman who would have me so my dating days are done. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be in a city like New York and then being a newcomer recently released from prison. I’m glad you were kind to Connie, even though you had to let him down. Life can be hard on us in a million different ways, so every kind interaction is really a small blessing. I wish you both luck in the dating world, just putting yourself out there seems brave to me, but I’m convinced there’s a person out there for everybody. And Connie, keep going, life can be full of surprises!

  • JM says:

    Great essay

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