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Just for Today, a Couple of Love Stories

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

They’re hopeless romantics of all ages, outwardly conservative in their expectations of love, but secretly clutching the same, gushy hope: to be reunited with a lost, but not forgotten, old flame--on Valentine’s Day.

I am trying to locate my former high school sweetheart, writes one. Approximately 14 years ago I met a wonderful lady, spills another. It would be great to see her again.

All of the requests are different, but all achingly similar. Please help us return to love.

For a private investigator who has volunteered to find their hopefully happy endings, such assignments are a nice break from the more common Valentine’s Day request. I think my husband’s cheating. Please get proof.

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“We’re always booked with marital surveillances on February 14th,” sighs Thomas G. Martin of Martin Investigative Services, who says he spies on about 1,400 unsuspecting spouses each year--and catches many in the arms of another on Valentine’s Day. “The wife may expect something from the husband that day, a gift or dinner or whatnot, but the lover flat-out demands it.”

Last month, Martin decided to expand his sleuthing business by soliciting “lost love” requests and performing the work free. He received 71 requests in all, and found everyone on his list using the information sources he has compiled over his 16 years in the business.

“Finding people is one of our most popular requests,” said Martin, who claims to have access to more than 900 million names and addresses at the tap of a keyboard.

For the love-hungry Orange County residents who asked Martin to find their former sweethearts, being handed a telephone number for the object of their affection was enough to set stomachs flipping and palms sweating.

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Maureen Schaller of Newport Beach was one who quickly pounced on the offer.

Her request was to find the Culver City High School boyfriend she last saw in 1960. Michael Pinto, now 54, lives near Santa Rosa and said he was “flattered and intrigued” to learn that the girl he knew as Maureen “Honey” May wanted to see him again.

“She was absolutely beautiful,” Pinto recalled. “I remember that distinctly.”

It took several days for Martin to complete Schaller’s request--there are 156 Michael Pintos in the country--but he made the match and got Pinto’s permission to release his telephone number.

That precaution ensures that the “hunted party” is interested in being found, Martin said. Several of his Valentine’s Day searches uncovered lost loves who preferred not to be reunited with an old girlfriend or boyfriend.

“We have to respect the fact that some people don’t want to play,” Martin said.

Not so for Schaller and Pinto, who spoke this week for the first time in 37 years. First they compared physical descriptions. Admitted Pinto: “I’ve lost some hair and gained a few [pounds]. The usual stuff.”

They also got basic information out of the way. Promised Schaller: “I do not weigh 500 pounds and have 10 kids.” (She has two.)

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Then they reminisced about their high school love affair, which was cut short by parents who didn’t approve of the relationship on religious grounds; Schaller is Catholic and Pinto is Jewish.

“I’ve often wondered over the years, if we had been left to make our own decisions, how differently our lives would have turned out,” said Schaller, a state procurement agent.

While Schaller recalled treasured details of their romance, including how they met, their favorite songs and what she bought him for Christmas one year, Pinto said much of it is a blur to him now.

“I was a teenage boy,” he shrugged. “I remember how she looked.”

The two are planning an in-person reunion soon, to rescue an abandoned friendship and start over as they are now: divorced and unattached, a coincidence Schaller called “a blessing in timing.”

“I’m keeping an open mind about this,” she said slowly. After a pause, she gushed: “I’m having trouble sleeping. I feel like a crazy teenager again. . . . I want to see him now!”

Pinto, a professional poker player, said he shared her sense of urgency.

“It’s been such a long time and we have so much ground to cover,” he said. “But we found each other. And if I fall in love again, well, who knows?”

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Nicole Thome of Garden Grove also couldn’t pass up a chance to find a certain high school sweetheart.

The 23-year-old public relations agent put Martin to work on the trail of Mark Meismer, whom she danced with as a senior at the Orange County School of the Arts in Los Alamitos five years ago. Thome said she knew Meismer “made it” in the entertainment business when she spotted him in a music video.

“There he was, dancing away, and I thought, ‘I have to find him again,’ ” Thome said. “We always had so much fun together.”

Meismer, who lives in North Hollywood, said he was surprised to learn Thome was looking for him.

“It was so bizarre,” he said. “I hadn’t really thought of her until then, but now it’s like all I want to do is see her and catch up. I have a ton of questions.”

The pair, both still single, plan to talk by phone this weekend.

Martin said he enjoyed playing cupid for a week and hopes he can start doing “more of the bringing people together part, instead of always breaking people up.”

But unable to resist the cynicism of a veteran investigator, he added: “If later on I start getting hired to tail some of these couples that we brought back together, I may just lose it.”

* ISN’T IT ROMANTIC? The title of the new book “50 Most Romantic Things That Ever Happened” says it all. E1


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