The first time I met Alma was at the bar in Atwood Café in Hotel Burnham in Chicago. I’d just finished putting in ten hours of work on a Saturday and I felt like unwinding over a glass of wine before catching the train home. There were no open stools so I ended up standing at one end of the bar, next to where she was sitting. I would have stood there even if there were an open stool elsewhere. There was something about her you could sense just by looking at her from any angle. She was so intriguing, so elegant and
cool. She’d be perfect in one of those 40s noir films...a cool customer...a femme fatale.

At one point she reached down to get something from her handbag, which was lying on the floor. I moved to my right to give her more room, and she put her hand on my forearm and said, “You’re okay,” meaning I didn’t have to move out of her way. I thought
Maybe more than okay now...


My favorite fantasies are about things that may soon come to pass; that endows the fantasy with an element of prospective reality. This was my fantasy about her as I fell asleep that night:
She and I are on the couch. I’m lying on my side and my head is resting on her lap and my arm is around her waist. We sink into the soft thick leather and into one another. It is so very quiet and warm and peaceful and comfortable. Every now and then she softly strokes my face with her hand or just holds me a little closer. She says some things and her voice is a lullaby to me. Before long I fall asleep in her arms. And for a while it is as if I’ve been transported to heaven…because it feels that good. It is as beautiful as any thought I’ve ever had, and in time it became a reality. And, as in even the best of fantasies, the reality was better than the fantasy.

This is an alternate version of that fantasy:
We take turns stroking each other’s face, and with every touch another layer is stripped away. After a while, everything falls away…all fears, all thoughts…until all that’s left is tranquility and contentment. The touch of the right person is like a mantra….so soothing, so consoling, so affirming. Nothing more is necessary...

The best feeling I’ve ever known is to be able to make someone’s fantasy come true just be being the way I am. I wanted to get to know more of her because of whatever it was that made me have that fantasy about her. This is how I think of it:
I saw some of her—perhaps more than others see, perhaps less. And I liked what I saw, surely more than others like whatever they see in her, however much. There’s something special, something alluring, in everyone, but unfortunately each of us can see it only in certain people. Any man can see it in her...


The week after our first date, I was having lunch with Ms. Lopez and I told her about Alma. She asked if I was going to see Alma again, and I said probably not. I was in my No Speculative Dating phase then; it meant I stop dating a woman as soon as I knew it wasn’t possible for me to fully love her. But my birthday was the next weekend and I felt like being with someone then, so I ended up calling Alma. I had such a good time with her that weekend; there was so much resonance and warmth, and it was so good simply to hold her and to be held by her. So I put the No Speculative Dating on hold and went on to have six wonderful months with her.


Some months before I knew Alma, I was walking along Michigan Avenue over lunch one day. I became aware of a woman walking next to me but a little in front of me. There was something about her face in profile, her way of walking, her clothes...she was absolutely absorbing, one of those few people who manage to pull in all of your attention. You’re not really thinking of anything then, you’re just basking...

Suddenly her scarf slipped off as we were crossing a street. I went back to pick it up—it was a silk Hermès. Then I caught up to her and handed it to her. She smiled, said thanks, and continued on her way. She was stunningly beautiful, and I thought about her for the rest of the day. I always wanted to tell that story to Alma because I was sure that woman was her. But I liked the idea that perhaps she remembered that time and felt the same way about it as I did.
It was a retroactive fantasy.


Of all the women I’ve known in life, she was the closest to being an angel. Just not the right angel for me...

She was the warmest thing I’ve found in all of life, and she told me she felt the same way about me. She often told me I was
snugglicious or cuddlicious. I thought that was a sweet sentiment, in part because it was so unlike her to say cutesy made-up things like that. I told her she should copyright those words...

She was almost unbelievably beautiful. Almost, but not quite...in the end, everything is believable. But now I can’t remember if it was thinking of her that made me have that thought, or if it was having that thought that made me think of her...

She was ethereally, rapturously beautiful...in all ways. Her outer beauty and her internal beauty came together in a way I’ve never seen in another woman. She was somehow perfect, somehow
smooth. I cannot think of a single rough spot on her, and perhaps that smoothness made it hard for me to get complete traction with her.

She was one of those rare people who are instantly enthralling simply because of their physical beauty and their presence. I’ve never known anyone, man or woman, who made a better or more powerful first impression. Everything good seemed already to be inside her...beauty, sensuousness, elegance, serenity, intelligence, and most of all, warmth. She gave the impression of depth, that what you saw of her was only the beginning, that it just went on and on. And once you got to know her, you knew that that was true, and you wanted to swim in those depths forever...

She was the only woman I’ve ever known who truly is a femme fatale. Men don’t just want to sleep with her, and it wouldn’t be enough even to possess her. They want to love her and to be loved by her.


No woman has ever looked finer in an evening gown than Alma, nor has any woman ever looked finer in a silk blouse and silk culottes. And no woman has ever looked finer in a white cotton blouse and faded jeans than Charleen. I thought about why that is, and in each case it has something to do with her having the right kind of body for that clothing. But that’s really just the small part of it. There’s something in how the personality and presence of those women match those outfits. It all comes together, and the clothes are the extension of the women.

Once I was in a restaurant with her and she was wearing a new red silk backless evening gown. I almost melted when I helped her out of her coat...beautiful fabric, beautiful cut, stunningly beautiful woman. Throughout dinner, men and women were looking at her. When you’re with a woman like that, it’s impossible to be anonymous.

I went back to that restaurant for some takeout a few months later and a server came up to me and asked if I wasn’t there a while back with a woman who was wearing a red dress. I said, “So you remember her?” He said she was hard to forget. I said that once you’ve been with her, she’s impossible to forget. What I meant by
being with her wasn’t making love to her, it was being held within the sway of her presence and her romantic nature and, most of all, the warmth I felt for her.

This is another fantasy I had about her.
We’re lying in bed and I’m behind her, just holding her. She’s wearing that red dress and I’m wearing a silk shirt and silk trousers. I’m caressing her, my hands on her clothes, but I can feel her body as if she were wearing nothing at all. Suddenly I slip my arm under her and roll onto my back, rolling her on top of me. She’s smiling sweetly, and I’m absolutely entranced by her eyes. I say There you are...there you are. And I kiss her. Not once, but a thousand times, in a thousand places. Where do you go after that? There’s nowhere else to go, and no need to go anywhere…you’re already at the limit. In time, that fantasy, too, became real.


For a man, there are basically six levels of physical attractiveness in a woman: unattractive, average, attractive, beautiful, stunningly beautiful, goddess. For me, the statistics break down roughly like this: after excluding the women who are too young or too old for me, 1 in 20 are beautiful; of those, 1 in 10 are stunningly beautiful; of those, 1 in 10 are goddesses. Most men would be more generous in the number of women they would put in each category.

Most men would say Alma is the most beautiful thing they’ve ever seen in all of life. She has the face of an angel...
a very sexy angel. So sexy that it was no longer even about sex. It was about everything, and that is the ultimate sexiness.

But for me, she had an excess of beauty, far more than was necessary for me to find her physically attractive. I would have traded away all that excess beauty in order to have had that one last drop of warmth with her...


My attraction to her was really an attraction to the warmth. For me, there are several kinds of warmth; the one I felt for her was romantic warmth, and it’s more complicated that the simple warmth I felt for Anita. There’s more it depends on. You could almost say that some things about Alma got in the way of that attraction, that in themselves they were so much that they got in the way of seeing her as a whole person.

There’s never been another woman I so wanted simply to hold and be held by. It was almost as if I were holding her already when I was near her. It was that kind of warmth...

There is a point of perfection in relationships, and what I wanted in ours was simply to hold her for as long as she wanted to be held, to feel that warmth then and to make her feel warm, too. And to make love to her. God yes, to make love to her...

I could get lost in that warmth for as long as I was with her. Her incomparable face...her soft and lilting voice...her slow and measured way of moving...her eyes, with their long, lingering, caressing way of holding you. All those things added to that effect, and they resonated perfectly with the warmth I felt for her.

Her face was like something straight from heaven…untarnished by the cares of this world. But as beautiful as she was to me, I thought little about that. I thought
a lot about the warmth because that was what made her so beautiful to me. That was the rarer part of her...

Whenever she was near me, I could
feel her flowing around me; it was like our physical boundaries didn’t exist. I could hear her flowing, but through something other than my ears; it was like a bass note played so loud and low that your hearing and feeling come together as a single experience. But with her, the experience was quiet and soft...so quiet and soft that I could feel her with my heart.


I was in Chicago yesterday running some errands, and when I was finished I found myself with some free time before the next train home. So once again I stopped at the bar in Atwood Café in Hotel Burnham for a glass of wine. I sat on the stool where Alma was sitting one and a half years ago. I sat there reading a book, but mostly I was remembering her. I looked at the huge mirror suspended behind the bar, and in my mind’s eye I saw reflections not of the present but of the past.
Now that was a woman...