A Simple Motto: Go With the Gut!

The first few messages were pretty basic, if not bland. Then her third was based on actual reporting. The Internet, after all, has made the world a much smaller place. Anyone with the insight or desire can pretty much do the same thing as even a lazy reporter. A simple Google search can make any yenta an amateur sleuth, even with a slow-speed dial-up modem.

In the now old-fashioned paper-based society, her recent e-mail would have been a dossier in a manila folder – the kind you see in spy movies. But this was a listing, describing some of the places I've worked and things I have written.

This enterprising young lady, who I'll call Amy, had done her homework. And she found all this out based only on some thin details such as my first name, city where I lived, my age and occupation. The messages were exchanged via an online dating site.

I can't say I was surprised by her investigation. There's enough info about me out there.

And in the dating world nowadays, perfunctory background checks are not only performed, but expected. Granted, with Internet dating – just like any dating – safety is a concern. But doing a Google search will likely not reveal that your prospective date is a lunatic or serial killer.

Private sleuthing is tacit and relatively unspoken. Everybody is doing it, but nobody is talking about it.

Despite my own journalistic background, I tend to resist going to work before going out on a date. If I knew everything beforehand, what would we talk about?

Conversely, the investigative reporter and lawyer in me says, "Never ask a question you do not already know the answer to." Just look what happens to Jack McCoy on "Law & Order" when he asks such questions at trial: His case simply disintegrates.

Several months ago, I met a nice girl, a writer, who deliberately obscured many details about herself, including the spelling of her first name to prevent guys from checking her out prior to meeting.

She said she'd met a few guys who had done so much research on her and read so much of her writing before the date that they sat there like lumps. Of course, that did not stop her from looking things up about me and reading a few things I have written that are floating around cyberspace.

"I admit, I read a couple of your stories online," she stated during dinner. "But I felt guilty and didn't read the whole thing."

Key Words and Phrases
But with Amy's e-mail dossier, I had to wonder whether I should have been flattered, impressed, nervous or confused that with such scant info, she'd gone digging for details about me.

Despite her investigation, all she left me with was some meager stuff about recently moving back to the city where we lived and her first name. Her online profile was vague. She described her employment as "my dream job." She did not post a photo either – a risky proposition for both sender and receiver.

Amy wrote that she thought I had an interesting background. What she did not anticipate was that based on her meager profile, I was able to pinpoint her identity; she inadvertently left several clues in her notes. The evidence was thin; only someone with a finely trained eye or ear could figure it out.

Some key words and phrases here and there about my workplace that only someone familiar with it might be able to say and her use of words like "reporting" helped clear the way.

Also telling was her reiteration that she kept her identity secret because of her job. After all, this is Central New York, not the Central Intelligence Agency.

As a keen observer of local news, I was somewhat fond of a reporter named Amy. I frequently watched her; she appeared cute, well-dressed and sufficiently peppy, the way reporters have to be in smaller markets.

Plus, like all local TV reporters, she had a biography on the station's Web site, which I just happened to read eight months earlier and remembered a few key details.

I put two and two together. Could the Amy writing me be the same Amy from TV, where the news was "Hitting Hard and Breaking Late?" I'm not a gambling man, but I occasionally take chances, and decided to spill the beans. My gut was telling me they were one and the same.

My response to Amy was a playful note back under the subject heading of her station's motto and a question about her celebrity weatherman. I prefaced that I was going out on a limb, but suspected that she might be able to answer those questions.

My gut instincts rarely fail me. My gut has helped me avoid troubling situations and troubled people. My gut reads between the lines and gets me the answers in the subtext. My gut fills in the subtle and unstated.

I'd like to believe that my gut instincts are somehow linked to my family name. Yet they're not always accurate. If they were, I'd be able to pick winning lottery numbers. But with Amy, they were on the mark.

TV Amy and Internet Amy were the same person. Her next e-mail came under the subject heading "WOW!" "You beat me on this story, very impressive!"

Because there were plenty of people in my office who would know Amy, she asked that we approach this with some discretion. She also questioned whether the story would make it into a column one day. I agreed to hold things discretely; after all, I was not too eager for people to know about my Internet experiences.

On its face, this seemed like potential for a great romance. We went out for lunch, had a flowing conversation about news, politics, pop culture. We made plans to go out again. But between several Jewish holidays, television Sweeps Week, her cold, my cold and whatever other guys she was juggling in her life, a second date never materialized.

Still, I was not too broken up about it. I'd wanted to meet her for some time and thought we had things in common, but the truth was, she seemed more personable and interesting on television. At least, that's what my gut was telling me – and I always go with my gut.

Roy S. Gutterman is a Syracuse, N.Y.-based writer. To contact him, visit: www.Lrev.com.



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