Hate to say it, folks, but your old pal Jean had just about the lousiest summer since the Bay City Rollers canceled their show at the Schenck Ice Arena in June 1977!

True, I was gainfully employed again. With my final unemployment check looming, I finally knuckled under, swallowed my pride, and rejoined the TrustiTemps agency. But I ended up getting placed with SouthCentral Insurance, doing data entry, and believe me, it's the pits!

Data entry is just not my style at all! You have to know how to classify different claims and stuff, and I have such a hard time keeping all the codes straight. And I think I'm getting carpal tunnel from all the endless typing! The joints in my right hand feel all stiff.

All I can say is, thank God for chocolate and romance novels! I'm just about the biggest romance novel fan of all! I've collected Harlequin Romances since I was 13, and have read every Barbara Cartland novel in existence!

If I lived 100 years ago, I think I would have been one of those romantic poets, because I'm such a sucker for romance. Back then, ladies wore parasols and long, pretty, lacy dresses, and men would go a-courting in a very nice way that didn't involve alcohol at all. Boy, times have sure changed!

Today, it's all wham, bam, thank you ma'am, which may be all well and good for a Playboy centerfold, but for old-fashioned gals like me who prefer snuggling and heartfelt passion, well, forget it! (As for my hubby Rick, he thinks "courting" is when you go to City Hall to contest a parking ticket!)

Anyway, I was home eating dinner and watching my soaps on the VCR, and normally I fast-forward through the commercials, but one caught my eye in a big way. RomantiCon '96 was coming in one month to Milwaukee's Beltz Plaza! I couldn't believe it! The romance novel convention to end all romance novel conventions!

I just about choked on my Weight Watchers lasagna when they said Marjorie Windemere would be there. After Margaret Mitchell and Barbara Cartland, she's my favorite author, having written such heart-stoppers as Destiny's Kiss and Torrid Orchid. So I was pretty pumped up already. But that wasn't all: The convention also featured a special appearance by—be still, my heart—Fabio! Fabio's only the sexiest hunk alive (after Patrick Swayze and Don Johnson). I was in hog heaven!

Of course, hubby Rick immediately began ribbing me about it. "I suppose you'll be there making passes at Faggio," he sneered. Rick looked so disgusting, with mayo from his Subway sandwich dripping off his stubble. It irks me just to think about it. But I played it smart. "Actually, Pam's baby shower is that same day," I coolly replied. "And I've already sent confirmation that I'd be there." Which was true, only that Pam's baby shower was the week after next!

That took a lot of reserve on my part, because inside I thought I'd just perish. Rick grunted. "Maybe you girls can go screw Faggio after the shower's over," he said, Always ready with a zinger, that Rick. But he didn't say anything after that. He bought it! You can be sure, as soon as he was out of the room, I called that toll-free ticket number as quick as my hot little fingers could dial it!

It seemed like that month crawled by like molasses. My nails were bit to the quick! On the day of the convention I got up at 5 a.m. (I could barely sleep the whole night!) By six I was out the door with tickets, camera and credit cards in hand!

I also carried six first edition Marjorie Windemere books—if I could get her to sign each one, I'd be sitting on a goldmine! According to Supercollectors Magazine, a signed first edition could be worth up to $200. (With the glorious thought of seeing hubby Rick's face as I came home with $1,200 worth of books, I didn't even need to turn on my car's heater!)

I could barely contain my excitement as I pulled into the Beltz Plaza parking lot at about nine. But my spirits drooped a little when I discovered there was already a long line outside the Beltz's doors. After all, when you pay $35 for a ticket, you expect first class treatment.

Well, I finally got in, but the crowds were so enormous that I could hardly see anything. Most of the people there were women like me, buying romance novels, T-shirts with Pegasuses on them, psychic readings and so forth. I told myself I wouldn't spend a lot of money, but I just had to break down and buy these gorgeous blown-glass swans made by a real German glassblower. They were so graceful!

Next I attended the Marjorie Windemere lecture, and it struck quite a chord in me, because she was a housewife-turned-newspaper columnist too. Then in 1971, she self-published Gloria's Bodice, got a book contract with Doubleday, and the rest, as they say, was history.

She looked really pretty in a lavender suit, standing at a podium decorated with orchid garlands. In her speech she said to never let go of your dreams, even when they seem highly unlikely. I got kind of misty at that, because I think I have a romance novel or two in me too. Only I hate typing, and my carpal tunnel syndrome is starting to get bad.

Then I had to stand in line for almost two hours while Marjorie signed copies of her latest novel, Winter's Song, which I bought too. As I finally got my turn, I was so nervous that I stammered something to her I can scarcely remember! I think it was about how much I liked her Branch Beddoes character, and she kind of smiled as she signed my book.

Then I asked her if she'd be willing to sign my other books. But you know what she said? She looked me straight in the eye and said, "Sorry, but other people are waiting in line too, you know. I'll do it for ten bucks a book." I couldn't believe it! Marjorie Windemere signing autographs for money? I was crushed and disgusted! She was practically my favorite author, and all she could think about was the Almighty Dollar. And she had a really hard look on her face too. So I said, "No, thanks," picked up my book, and moved on. I wasn't going to sacrifice my pride to her! Besides, I spent most of my money on the blown-glass swans.

I tried to cheer myself up by telling myself there was always Fabio. Again, he wasn't supposed to come on until 7 p.m., so I killed time by browsing through books, eating lunch, and looking at jewelry. Unfortunately, by the time I reached the main amphitheater at 6:30, the place was already packed, and I could barely see a thing! And when 7 o'clock rolled around, there was still no one on stage. The audience began to shout, "We want Fabio! We want Fabio!" But still no action onstage.

Finally, at 7:20, the lights dimmed and strobe lights started flashing to the music of "Disco Inferno." Everyone started to cheer like crazy, including me! "Ladies and ladies, the gentleman you've all been waiting for, let's give a big RomantiCon '96 welcome to the one... the only... Fabio!"

My heart was in my throat! Forget "I can't believe it's not butter"—I couldn't believe it was Fabio!

And there he was! Only I was tucked so far in the back I could only see the top of his head and his forehead. I could see him getting closer to the podium as the audience screamed. When they finally stopped, Fabio moved close to the mike and said, deeply, in his husky Italian voice, "I hereby declare RomantiCon '96 over."

Before I knew it, the lights went up, people were shuffling to the exits and Fabio was nowhere to be seen! What a rip-off!

I have to admit, RomantiCon '96 was just about the least romantic thing I have ever attended. My pictures came out too dim, I had to pay five bucks for a croissant and jam, and one of my blown-glass swans got cracked on the ride home. On top of that, hubby Rick found out about my little white lie! Apparently he had called Pam's house to ask me if we had any more taco dip in the freezer, and she told him her shower wasn't until next week. I'm still hearing about it to this day, believe me!

But I guess if I hadn't gone I'd be wondering about what I had missed and would have felt even worse. Oh well—live and learn! Besides, this Christmas, Harlequin is coming out with a hardcover anthology of their best romance tales. I can't wait!