Love Letters and Mixtapes: What Happened to Romance?

"Hey, Kid, do you have any love letters?" asked my friend Karl.

Why, are you lonely? I asked. Do you want me to write you a mash note?

"Don't flatter yourself. They're not for me," he said. Karl and I were at First Editions, our favorite literary-themed bar, for lunch — cheeseburgers and Cokes, because my wife and his daughter weren't around. But if they ask, we had salads and mineral water.

Do you mean real love letters? Like the notes we passed around in grade school? I said with a laugh. I remember those things. God, we were so dumb back then.

"No, not those. I mean—"

I remember trying some guerrilla romance techniques in fourth grade. I'd write 'Do you like me? Circle yes or no.' Then I'd write 'yes' really big and 'no' really small so the girl wouldn't see it and would think yes was the only option available to her.

"Not those," said Karl. "I'm talking about—"

Needless to say, they circled the bejeezus out of the tiny 'no' so there was no mistake. That's when I knew I wasn't cut out for subliminal advertising.

I took a bite of my burger, gazing off into the middle distance, remembering.

"Kid, do you ever stop talking?" Karl asked.

Fompimes, I said, my mouth still full of cheeseburger. I took a drink of Coke and tried again. Sometimes, I repeated. I just thought it was a nice memory. Why, what's up?

"There's a company that's offering to flush people's love letters for them," said Karl, dipping a French fry into a blob of ketchup on his plate.

Why do I need a company to do that? I could do that for free. Or I could set fire to them. Or I could throw them in the trash, although I should probably recycle them because that's better for the environ—

Karl plonked his Coke glass on the table. "Seriously, Kid, stop talking." The Coke fizzed and foamed over.

Kurt, the bartender, walked over with a wet rag, making "Tsk-tsk" noises. He wiped up Karl's mess. "Yeah, Kid, you really need to learn to listen."

Hey, only Karl gets to call me Kid. Besides, I'm older than you are. 

Kurt held his hands up in mock surrender and left to get Karl another Coke.

"Anyway," continued Karl, "there's a toilet paper manufacturer called Who Gives a Crap that will recycle all your old love letters into TP so you can, uh, use them. They said they're transforming BS into TP."

And you want me to give you my old love letters? Don't you have any of your own?

"No, the only women I received love letters from were my ex-wives, and I gave them back when we divorced."

Well, I never got any in the first place.

"That may be the saddest thing I ever heard."

Oh, knock it off. It's because my wife and I had email by the time we met in grad school. We weren't sending letters on the mail train, you old geezer. I wasn't paying some street urchin a shilling to carry a message to the telegraph office.

"And now kids are texting and sending videos to each other on their phones these days," groused Karl. "What happened to romance? What happened to the days of analog expression that you could keep and look back on years later?"

Calm down there, Grandpa. There aren't any kids on your lawn.

"Excuse me for being a little nostalgic for writing letters with a pen and paper. Or sharing your feelings on a mix tape."

Mixtape? What did you do for mixtapes back in your day? Wax cylinders?

I heard a snort behind me. "Sorry, Karl, that was a good one," said Kurt. He set Karl's new Coke on the table and left.

"Whatever. Kids today don't even know what mixtapes are. How do they even do mixtapes these days?" Karl asked.

Spotify, I said. They share playlists with each other.

"Seems rather soulless and empty. Mixtapes were a physical representation of a moment in time. You could pop one into your tape deck and listen to a musical expression of love through music. Did you ever make a mix tape for a girl, Kid?"

I think I did once, I said. I couldn't tell you what was on it or who it was for.

"I used to make mix tapes for girlfriends in high school," said Karl, who had graduated in 1967. "It was a true art form. Each song was a message, but it was part of a larger narrative. And each song had to sonically blend into the next one; you couldn't just jam random songs together.

"And if you were really creative, you'd decorate the cover with something bright and colorful, but you still had to write all the songs on the cover. I even took some calligraphy classes at the community center just for that."

I never had anyone to make a mix tape for, I said. And by the time I started dating anyone, CDs were a thing and no one was listening to tapes anymore.

"How did you even get your wife to fall in love with you, Kid?" wondered Karl. "Sounds like you sucked at romance."

Same way you did, Grandpa. We rode my velocipede to the soda shop and split an egg cream, and then went to the penny arcade to watch silent movies.

Kurt snorted from somewhere behind me again and walked off.

Photo credit: Andrys (Pixabay, Creative Commons 0)
Photo credit: Jessamyn West (Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0)

My new humor novel, Mackinac Island Nation, is finished and available from 4 Horsemen Publications. You can get the ebook and print versions here.