"Where do seniors meet?" sang the TV ad. "At the doctor's office? At the medical supplies store? At the complaints department of Wal-Mart? No! They're meeting at MilkShakeParlor.com!"
Playing on elder peoples' memories of "the old dime store with the soda fountain," the ads were enticing, what with smiling, healthy, affluent seniors showing their fluorescent teeth and bemused expressions of blissful retirement. The number of users on the site swelled each month by the population of Woodstock-1969.
Friending became frenetic.
Groups sprung up: Paddle Boat Pirates, The Golf Course Gang, Power Walkers' Blog, Branson or Bust. Activism took hold with groups organizing and demanding "free, sterile catheters" and posting updated lists of "Where you can buy everything you need for a DOLLAR!"
Along with the uploaded pictures of new golf drivers, ambiguous beige "comfy" shoes, and bathtubs equipped with sportscar doors, a darkside emerged: septuagenarians trawling for women twenty or thirty years their junior.
There was no question young women were drawn to the Web site in search of "sugar daddies." No one excused or condoned such crass, materialistic behavior, but it was nearly impossible to prove. MilkShakeParlor.com discouraged "ageism," and imposed no birthdate restrictions. And so, a crude and perverse minority MilkShakeParlorites lurked in the cyber shadows, targeting the innocent and the vulnerable.
In response to this growing social blight, NBC launched a new investigative program called To Catch a Milkshake. The program rented a bungalow in Tar Paper, Florida and rigged it with half a dozen cameras. The place was stocked it with peanuts, crossword puzzles and Applebee take-out cartons for authenticity. Local police posing as vulnerable 39, 41 and 44 year old women, respectively, created profiles on MilkShakeParlor.com and waited for the rancid overtures to roll in.
It didn't take long.
Unfortunately, many of the potential milkshakes either fell asleep on the evenings they arranged to meet their "dates" or they simply couldn't find the place, being unable to see all that well at night. So, the set was relocated across the street from a locally adored specialty shop called 51 Flavors of Metamucil. That was the game-changer.
The first man to arrive confounded the cameras outside that were equipped with "night vision" because of the intense brightness of his white athletic shoes. When his shoes were finally out of frame, authorities saw that he carried something under his arm that looked like a thin binder or folder of some sort. One law enforcement officer viewing the live feed from a bogus cleaning van out front surmised that the perp may have arrived with a board game.
The old man rang the doorbell and was invited to enter by a 44 year old actress hired to impersonate the "date." The tread of the man's athletic shoes on the living room's deep pile carpeting made it appear that he was walking through sand, as he approached his "date" who stood behind a bar at the opposite end of the camera-rigged living room. When he came to within five feet of the bar, the actress escaped into the kitchen off to the side, and the host of To Catch a Milkshake leaped out to confront the (un)invited guest:
"Wha?" the man gasped as the coiffed journalist took his position behind the bar. "Who in tarnation hell are you?"
"I'm Blaze Sandalwood," the journalist laughed. He placed a sheaf of pages -- the man's chatlog with the "date" from MilkShakeParlor.com -- on top of the bar. "Would you like to tell me why you're here?"
"Uh -- what? No! Where'd Cheryl go?"
"Ah, 'Cheryl,'" Sandalwood mocked, fondling the chatlog. "Yes, you had quite the chat about hibachi cooking and architecture magazines with 'Cheryl,' didn't you?" He looked at the object the man carried under his arm. "And what is that?"
The man held it up. "It's a Birdseye frozen dinner. Macaroni, clam chowder and baklava. You wouldn't believe how hard that was to find."
"Does your family know what you're doing tonight -- right now?"
"I'm seventy-six years old! It's none of their business what I do!"
"Well, it is now," Sandalwood smirked. "You're on NBC's To Catch a Milkshake. You know, people are not going to sit idly by and see Internet social media like MilkShakeParlor.com misused this way."
"What way? We're both adults. I came to play Scrabble and eat some Birdseye baklava."
"Right," Sandalwood said, incredulous. Then he glanced at the chatlog and saw that was true. "But still, you've never met 'Cheryl' before. And you just make arrangements online and then show up."
"That's how you meet new people, isn't it?"
"What's your name, sir? Surely, you're family doesn't know you as RobertSmithson1148."
"In fact, they do," Robert Smithson said. "Except for the number. There're more Robert Smithson's out there than you'd realize." He looked around. "So, this was just a setup? That woman who was here wasn't Cheryl?"
Sandalwood smiled and nodded, smug.
"Well, you've wasted enough of my time," Robert Smithson said. "And I'm taking the frozen dinner with me."
"I'd like you to stay for a moment," Sandalwood said, "and answer a few questions."
"Answer a few questions? Two consenting adults agree to meet for an evening of Scrabble, and you think I've got a single goddamned thing to answer about that?"
"Come now, sir -- Robert, if I may," Sandalwood said. "Everyone knows that 'Scrabble' is a euphemism for 'orgy.' Surely, you don't think we're so naive."
"This conversation is over," Robert Smithson said. As he turned and trudged through the deep pile carpeting, law enforcement got into position outside for their take-down. The moment Robert Smithson stepped outside, four shadowy figures run, hunched, toward him. One gruff voice ordered him to get down on the ground.
"Get on the what?" Smithson said.
He was then tasered for non-compliance of a police order. The officer whose turn it was that night to use the taser, held the weapon "gansta style," which caused the electric prongs to strike Smithson in the throat and the bridge of his eye-glasses. The electric charge set Smithson instantly on his back, his sideburns burst into flames.
* * *
As it turned out, there was nothing illegal about 70 year old people hooking up with 40 year olds.
Although the video of Robert Smithson's sideburns exploding went viral on the Web, Blaze Sandalwood's career shriveled in an instant. He returned to parking cars at a steakhouse in Reno.
And MilkShakeParlor.com's web continued to ensnare bemused, fluorescent-toothed elfen elderly connecting the world of coupons, Jerry Lewis videos and Parcheesi clubs.