Stalking the stalker
By Wanda Fleming
Washington Post Magazine
First Published: Sunday, August 10, 2008
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POSTED AT 1 A.M., the e-mail simply states: "I found your Web site. I want to buy your sweetest soap and move it up your thighs. I want my mouth washed out. What scent do you suggest?"
My heart stops.
I have two consuming vocations: handcrafting scented soap and writing. I work on both in a Batcave-like room dubbed The Studio. Cement makes up the floor. Drafts rattle the 100-year-old jalousie windows. But the ambiance is well worth the rent.
Only three people are allowed in this space. The stalker slips in anyway. He finds me through the words I write.
On my retail Web site, my soap cannot simply lather. It fluffs in fat creamy bubbles and soothes with the richness of olive oil. These words are plucked by Internet search engines that bring buyers but also oddballs seeking lasciviousness. They type a string of ordinary words whose meaning turns lewd only in composite, like silky and creamy and girls. They arrive hopeful and leave disappointed after the first page reveals soap. But not my stalker. He stays for hours, poring over each page.
"Who's the freak?" my husband asks, pointing his coffee mug at the message.
I immediately dismantle the blog linked to my Web page. I pull down the photos of my children digging for blue glass on the beach and whirling sparklers in the back yard. Then panic turns to vigilante prying.
Who would write such a thing, and to a woman miles away, married with children?
I know his name already. Bizarrely, he signs his obscene note, as though I might become his pen pal. He doesn't know this, but like most business Web sites, mine tracks every visitor. It discloses when he arrives, what pages he views and how long he lingers. It doesn't divulge names but often reveals the location, be it Austin or Stockholm. Sometimes, it pinpoints with disturbing exactitude. This is the case with my stalker.
With his town and name in hand, I immediately crawl the search engines. There are about 100 men in the United States with his name. Only five spell it the way he does.
Only one resides in this small town, a place whose chamber of commerce Web site boasts 1950s friendliness and low crime rates. In one photo, blond children run though leaf piles. In another, an elderly couple sits on a bench licking vanilla ice cream cones. The major realty agency suggests a three-bedroom ranch house costs $157,000. It lists six open houses this weekend.
My stalker's name appears on a city agency government roster. He is a high-level manager and has won performance awards for leadership and peer training. A photo shows him flanked by colleagues as he accepts a Lucite plaque. He is gangly with pink-rimmed eyes and thinning hair the color of preserved salmon.
According to his church's Web site, he also sings in a choral society. He recently attended his high school reunion, where he and his wife danced to Frank Sinatra.
My mind races with the brimming dossier. I contemplate writing him back. I'll tell him I'm an FBI agent with black belt expertise! I'll tell him that I know where he lives and what his spouse's name is. I'll say: "Leave me alone, creep; I know your wife plays bridge! I see from your neighborhood community center that she's quite the card shark!"
Whatever his peccadilloes, my stalker looks oddly happy as he swings his wife around the high school gym floor. Round and round they go, beaming like children on a Disney teacup ride.
I delete his message.
That night in the shower, the water cascades down my back. I close my eyes as the scent of soap wafts beyond the curtain.
"What happened today?" my husband asks between the slosh and spittle of his toothpaste.
"Not much," I call out, rinsing the lather from my shoulders. "I found that guy, is all."