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Staff illustration by Molly Quinn

Summer Stories: In the Woods


Cole met Lola on this new social networking site – Timber.

Timber was billed as Tinder for the Northwest, for Portland, Seattle and Spokane singles who wanted a less predatory, more casual online dating experience. The company was green, sustainable and didn’t use child labor – “all that eco-stuff,” said Cole’s friend Eck.

“Wait,” Cole said, “how would Tinder be using child labor?”

Cole and Eck played basketball together on an over-40 rec-league team. They were having beers after a game when Eck explained 21st century dating to his friend. “You go on Timber to seem less threatening than dudes cruising for sex on Tinder.”

“But I’m also cruising for sex …”

“Yeah, but sensitively,” Eck said.

On Tinder, you swiped one direction the photos of people who didn’t appeal to you, and swiped the other way the people who did. But on Timber, you “held” the person you liked (that did seem kinder, Cole had to admit) putting pressure on the screen for two seconds until the profile became a tree in your forest, a digital green world at the top of the screen you could access any time – like going for a walk in virtual woods, each “tree” morphing into a potential partner’s profile.

Walk this way and a cedar became “Tara, 31, teacher, 2 miles away, ‘Looking for connection.’ ”

“So instead of feeling like a meat market,” Eck said, “it’s like you’re traipsing through the woods.”

“Horny David Thoreau,” Cole said.

Eck stared at him. “Why do you make jokes you know I won’t get?”

Anyone Cole wasn’t interested in was summarily “axed” – all the unattractive, incompatible, unsettling people (“Amber 41, Looking for stability – finally!”) going straight to love’s compost pile.

Eck loaded Timber on Cole’s phone, signed him up and synched it to his Facebook page. “Boom,” he said.

“I’ll probably never open this,” Cole said.

That night, Cole was having a beer alone at Bennedito’s Pizza.

He pulled out his phone. Stared at the app’s icon (a green tree against a black background.) Opened it. On his screen, a cute couple with the words: “TIMBER: for Northwest singles who want to fall … in love!”

And just like Eck promised, women began throwing themselves at him. Or at least the app’s algorithm began throwing profiles at him. Another difference between Tinder and its Northwest alternative: the sheer number of people in North Face jackets.

Cole looked down at his own North Face jacket.

He couldn’t believe he was back in this world. Married 15 years, Cole’s first foray into dating had come after his divorce, a decade ago, and mostly involved going into crowded bars and yelling at women: “What are you drinking?” Then he got smart and girlfriended up for six years – a lovely yoga teacher named Claire. But he’d messed that up with chronic immaturity.

So now here he was, cruising faces on a dating app, pretending to be the kind of socially aware sensitive guy that some woman might want to pity–

Ooh, this one looked promising – brown hair, kind eyes. “Margo, 35, public relations, 8.3 miles away, ‘Life is about beginnings.’ ” He tried to hold her on the screen but pulled his finger away too soon, and he axed her instead. Margo disappeared from his life forever.

He didn’t have long to mourn; new faces filled his screen. He moved the good ones to his “forest” and soon had a dozen photos in his “love grove.”

But most of his trees (short to medium brown hair, soulful eyes, wry smile) looked just like Claire. He’d never get over her this way. So he traipsed the opposite direction: “Lola, 31, health care, 1 mile away, ‘Who doesn’t want to get crazy sometimes?’ ”

He liked her long blond hair and her blue eyes, but what he liked best was her proximity. According to the app’s GPS feature, she was less than a mile away. And, according to the flashing leaf below her picture, she was online right now.

So Cole held Lola.

And immediately a message popped up. A branch, these were called on Timber: “Want 2 meet?”

“Sure,” he branched back and told her where he was.

It was like ordering a pizza, this 21st century dating. Cole barely had time to run to the bathroom and bum a mint when Lola walked in – even prettier than her profile picture – wearing jeans and a blue North Face jacket.

She gazed around the crowded restaurant, saw him at the bar, waved and walked over.

“You must be Lola,” Cole said.

“And you must be Cola.” She laughed at her own joke. “Pepsi or Coke? Or what was that diet stuff called? Tab?” She held out a vaping pen. “Smoke, Tab?”

“Uh, it’s Cole,” he said. “And I don’t–”

“Me neither.” Lola shoved the vaping pen in her purse. “You wanna get out of here?”

She walked straight to a little red Mazda.

“Oh, are we taking your –” Cole said, but she’d already slipped into the driver’s side.

He climbed in.

“Want some?” She offered him a giant convenience store soda. The straw nearly went up his nose. Rum.

Her tires chirped as she backed up.

“This is my first time,” he said.

“In a car?”

“No. On Timber.”

“Oh.” She sucked the straw of her giant rum and coke.

He looked around the car. “So, you work in health care?”

She looked baffled, as if he’d spoken in a foreign language.

“Your profile said you worked in health care? I was just wondering … what kind?”

“Mental,” she said.

Lola was crying by the time she pulled into the parking lot of Press, a bar less than a mile away, near the hospitals.

“We could do this another time,” Cole said. But she ignored him, sped through the parking lot up to a fence surrounding a courtyard. Cole put his arms up to brace for impact but she slammed on the brakes and the car skidded to a stop.

She laid on the horn, rolled down her window and stuck her head out: “Look what I got, a-hole!”

At the nearest patio table a guy stood slowly – late 30s, bald head planted on thick shoulders. Cole estimated the guy was no more than a year retired from a successful career in competitive bodybuilding. He was with another young blond – a newer model Lola.

“Tab and I just screwed!” Lola yelled out her window. “How do you like that?”

The bodybuilder did not like that.

“Nope!” Cole struggled to get his window down. “No screwing!” he yelled. “No sex! Just met! Not even named Tab!”

The angry bodybuilder strode across the courtyard.

The bodybuilder chased Cole around Lola’s car, while Cole tried to explain, holding up his phone, stuttering about rec league basketball and dating and everyone in his “love grove” looking exactly like his ex-girlfriend.

Lola wept.

Finally, the bodybuilder turned to her. “This was your idea, seeing other people.”

“I know,” she said, and glared across the courtyard at the other blond, who seemed bored by this drama and was checking something on her phone. “I changed my mind.”

“Jesus, Lola,” the bodybuilder said.

A minute later, Lola and the bodybuilder were standing next to her car, holding each other, not in the Timber sense, but in an actual physical way.

Cole saw his chance to sneak away. It was a nice night for a walk. He went up the hill and crossed Cliff Drive, so he could look out over the view – the city spread out before him like a great spill. But the turnout was packed with cars, kids smoking weed and yelling. A couple taking engagement pictures.

So Cole kept walking. He had the feeling there was a lesson here but he’d be damned if he could figure it out. He walked down 14th, pulled out his phone, and opened the Timber app, the young couple appearing again. Was he “ready to fall … in love”?

God no. The bodybuilder and Lola were in love. It was awful. Losing yourself like that. Still, when women’s profiles began streaming at him, Cole was incapable of looking away. If he didn’t want love, he clearly wanted something.

And these women too – they wanted something. All this desire for desire. It was exhausting. Cole added six trees to his grove, aware that he was again choosing short brown hair and intelligent eyes, aware that he was one of those lonely people walking down a street, face illuminated by the glow of a cellphone.

And that’s when a familiar face popped up on his screen: “Claire, 37, yoga instructor, 12 miles away, ‘Ready for something meaningful.’ ”

Cole was crossing Lincoln but he stopped in the intersection. He stared at those lovely, intelligent brown eyes – actual eyes that he’d gazed into, actual eyes that he’d caused to cry.

Oh, the things you can’t take back –

He pressed his finger down. One second passed, then another, and another … another – Cole wishing he could hold her like this forever.

Lead photo credit: Staff illustration by Molly Quinn