Carbonational Anthem

It’s been 87 days and counting. The counting is done, however, through muffled speech and several-second delays as a result of my fuzzy mind trying to determine just what exactly comes after the number 79. It has been 87 days in which I have willfully abstained from consuming carbonated beverages. I took a swig from the bottle of sparkling apple cider, as an alcoholic might from a bottle of hard apple cider, just before Dick Clark slurred his way through New Year’s 2009. In a panic, I realized that my last drink should have been something with more caffeine than is allowed by the FDA, but it was too late. The shining ball dropped amongst the screaming masses of caffeinated New Yorkers just as my pinkish eyelids drooped amidst the screaming cries of my awakening newborn.

I would like to think that this decision that I made was a result of some real forward, health-conscious thinking on my part. I would like to say that I involved myself in thorough study of the subject matter and determined to eliminate carbonation from my diet. Unfortunately, I don’t know how I came about the decision. It came as a passing thought of something that I could make a New Year’s resolution to do. And so I did, with the comforting memory in the back of my mind of many-a-resolution past coming to an end sometime before the holiday of gluttony and indulgence that is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

Unfortunately, I had a strange sensation of commitment that I have never had with any previous commitments. Of course, I noticed the immediate health benefits. I lost six pounds, felt less bloated throughout the day, and was remarkably able to endure the horrific withdrawal headaches. Much like with heroin and cocaine, giving up caffeine cold-turkey can result in a feeling of birthing some type of rodent from your cerebral cortex and having legions of spiders crawl just below the surface of your skin. It can also result in being caught stealing money from your parents to get your next hit of “Dew”.

Of course, my parents were enablers in my lifetime addiction. From my earliest memories of childhood, I can remember activities with my father: going fishing, throwing around a football in the backyard, swimming in the hotel pool on vacation. All of these were accomplished with my father firmly holding a 44 ouncer of Dr. Pepper. “D.P.” or simply “The Pepper” was the beverage of choice in the Smith household growing up. In a pinch, we would use it instead of milk in our Frosted Flakes. I came to love the taste of the lukewarm Dr. Pepper, watered down from the melted ice, as I pilfered it from my father’s long-abandoned gas station cup. I also loved the energy boost it gave me to complete my transcription of the Encyclopedia Britannica, M volume, onto college-ruled paper at 3:00 in the morning. I could never find the time to do that during the day.

As I grew older, I came to differentiate the taste of different brews from location to location. Like a wine taster, I stood in front of the fountain at the Circle K and swirled, sniffed, sipped, and swished the beverage in my mouth before spitting it in the slowly draining catch-all, then walking out while giving the cashier an air of indignity. My dependence on caffeinated beverages grew and grew until my college years where I would smuggle cases of the stuff onto my prohibitive campus. My dorm room turned into a makeshift speakeasy as several academics swarmed to my mini-refrigerator to get the sweet stuff they had been craving all week. Occasionally, there was cabaret.

It was in college that I had two scary experiences that nearly prevented me from continuing on with my addiction. The first was during finals week where I was writing a 20-page paper for Art History concerning the repressed sexuality in Georgia O‘Keefe‘s paintings of “flowers”. To get me past the first line which read “Those aren’t flowers,” I made the decision to couple a liter of Mountain Dew with three Excedrin and a king-sized Snickers. The paper turned out awesome, but the mild heart-palpitations that I incurred when I finally attempted sleep at 4 in the morning were less awesome. I would not recommend that experiment. The second incident occurred when my future wife issued a challenge to me. She would stop listening to country music for a month if I stopped drinking carbonation for a month; evil for evil, vice for vice. We each had a free day and I used mine to imbibe, from sun up to sun down, 26 individual cans of “The Pepper”. Again, it helped me get through finals, however, the ensuing vomit and later withdrawal pains provided justifiable grounds to sue this “Doctor” Pepper for malpractice. That is not what the doctor ordered.

In my later sterling career choices of Bread Delivery Dude and Dirty Uniform Guy, the early working hours required an extra un-natural boost. I ventured from the gateway caffeine products to the more hardcore taurine/guarana products. I found myself downing bottle after bottle of sugary goodness just to make it through the day. In fact, I would occasionally sip some at night to help me sleep. My dependency was complete, and I was mildly satisfied with it until, on New Year’s Eve, I made the stupidest resolution possible. Now, everything is tempting me to once again indulge myself at the teat of the Goddess Pepsi. My level of stress is rising, my infant child prefers incessant crying to normal, human sleep patterns, and when I turn on the television, the advertisers have tapped into the energy drought of my brain.

I recently witnessed a commercial where Coke, in another bid to unify the world through the peace and goodness of their beverage, had a commercial about recycling your Coke bottles and going green. I’m all for going green, but what irked me about this was the song that they used as background music to hock their leftist propaganda. It was a song that I loved from a band that I recently discovered. Because I had discovered it, it belongs to me and me alone. You may have heard it, but I heard it first. Coke knew that. They knew it years ago when they had a cute blonde girl roller skating around the bubbles emerging from her bottle of Diet Coke to the tune of my then recent discovery of Paul Oakenfold. I am offended that they have corrupted the music that I discovered, and yet, I feel noticeably parched whenever the songs come up on my iTunes.

I am confident that one day, scientists will find that carbonated caffeine products are not only a stimulant, but that they are also the medium for proliferating mind control across a mass population of drinkers. It lives in our music, our social events, our pre-feature movie theater word scrambles. Where will it end? After 87 days, I feel it has just about ended for me, in that I will submit myself into their sweet, caloric embrace. It may be time, once again, to savor the full-bodied suppleness of the 10% syrup count at the Top Stop over the bland and overly fruity offering from the pedestrian 7-11. Tonight, I dine with Mr. Pibb.

Breaking Up With Me is Not Hard to Do: The Finale

As a Mormon missionary, living for two years without anything more then a handshake to count as contact with the opposite sex, I took it as a bit of a surprise that one of the last things that my mission president, a leathery retired potato farmer from Idaho, told me was to find a wife as soon as I returned home. I suppose that for many missionaries, returning from their foreign service simply meant continuing on spreading the good word in their homeland. The only thing missing would be the black name badge. For me, however, I had every intention of ending my enforced drought of female companionship as soon as conceivably possible.

Though I was among the throngs of missionaries who had been “Dear John”ed at some point during their tenure, in my head I had made preparations for when I would return. I received sparse letters from my friends, who I can only assume forgot about my very existence. The one friend that wrote to me more than any others happened to be a girl by the name of Miranda. No point changing her name, even if she might want me to. She also sent me pictures, the coveted gold of any missionary. Occasionally, we would trade them like currency to purchase contraband or ensure our protection. I hung a picture up of her holding the newly born baby of another friend and informed all other missionaries that she was my girlfriend and that was my child. I committed to those around me that when I returned home, I would make her my wife.

Six months later, I would walk into my parent’s home at 2 in the morning, sneak downstairs to my bedroom, and lay in bed unnerved by the potential of my own prophetic ability. Miranda and I had started dating. We held hands. We kissed each other. We made plans together nearly every night of the week. If things kept going as they seemed to be, the promise that I made in jest to other love-starved 20 year-olds in Canada might come to fruition. After all, at this point, Miranda was my official girlfriend. Well, at least it was official to me.

Miranda had a different vantage point on the context of our relationship. It is true that we had engaged in all of the activities that would general classify us as a dating couple. However, when asked by family, friends, or strangers who passed us on the street, she issued the disclaimer that we were, in fact, just friends. With my inherent passive aggressivity, every time that she made this declaration, I decided that she was breaking up with me. Then, at some point between 1 and 10,000 minutes later, she would convince me otherwise by pulling me in for a kiss or suggesting we cuddle while watching a movie. After several instances of this tomfoolery, I became as confused as a male spider wondering just exactly why his mate was slowly licking her mandibles.
The coup de grace, as it were, would come while Miranda and I were in a sort-of long distance relationship. I would place the “sort-of” as modifying the physical distance between us while Miranda would place it on the “relationship” part. I was attending college about an hour away and, though I had no money for the water to boil my ramen noodles, I would find ways to come home every weekend, slow school day, or on days of Finals that I really didn’t want to take, to spend time with her. During one of these visits, she presented to me her miracle plan for our dating situation. Pulling the white draping off of a massive chalkboard filled with abstract figures, lopping arrows, and cryptic lettering, she made her findings known. “This is what I call ABC dating,” she told me and my bewildered expression.

The idea behind ABC dating was that Miranda represented the A. I could go on a date with her and then I would be restricted from a follow-up date until I had gone on a date with a girl B and a girl C. Then I was free to repeat the cycle as often as I liked. Simple words cannot express how much this concept blew my freaking mind. As you the reader know, I have been on the receiving end of a break-up several times in the past, but never one as ambiguously veiled in algorithmic logic. As I sat listening to what Miranda felt was a wonderful plan, I longed for the days when break-ups were as simple as sending two giggly friends across the playground to crush my heart. I made my argument against the dating plan and left for the dorm room I shared with a horde of computer programming nerds who probably understood the dating algebra better than I ever could.

With my head swimming about my supposed girlfriend’s uncertain intentions, I composed an e-mail I will never forget. In said composition, I let Miranda know the feelings that I had for her. I told her about how shortly after we started “dating” I knew I could marry her and how I knew that dating her was right and good. That and my obvious attraction towards her had been what kept me hanging on despite the perpetual state of break-up that was our relationship. I then told her that, for the first time in my life, I had to be the one to call it off. I clicked send and felt little pieces of my heart drip down to my ankles.

That night, Miranda made the long drive to come see me. We went to a park where Miranda explained the purpose of her wiles to me. She knew that she was essentially the only person that I had dated since my mission and the only one after my long-term relationship with Tina. Her plan was meant to ensure that she was not merely a “rebound” love interest after my series of airball three-point attempts. You see, Miranda is the most caring person that I have met and was so caught up in caring for me that she tended to forget that I was moderately capable of caring for myself. After a long talk in the chilly autumn night air, Miranda officially ended my sole attempt at a break-up after a grueling six hours.

Months later, we were engaged and months after that, we were married. I look back on that day as the happiest of my life. When the man who would perform the ceremony asked why I wanted to marry Miranda, I told him, simply, that she made me happy. She still makes me happy, and, as in times past, has loveable moments of alternately making me crazy. That day, we held hands and looked into each others eyes and, with every tragedy of supposed loves and broken hearts fading into the back of my mind like a bright, oversized moon dipping into the ocean waves just before sunrise, we committed to each other that we would never have to break up again.

Breaking Up With Me is Not Hard to Do: Part Three

The names in this column have been changed. Well, I guess it is only one name that has been changed. I took the name of the girl, found a popular singer who shares the same name, and replaced her name with one from another singer who also performed on the USA for Africa tribute performance of “We are the World”.

According to Special Agent Dana Scully on an episode of The X Files that I watched earlier today, during the teenage years, the emotional and physiological state of the body is in unparalleled upheaval. I can think of no better terms to describe my state of being during my high school years. Everything that happened to me was meaningful, deep, and eternal. I used poetry as an outlet for my soul to speak to the world around me. I had volumes of poems with titles like “The Damning Pain of Existence”, “My Enemy, Moon”, and “Black is My Heart Upon the Ocean Waves”. All these were meant to describe, in a convoluted series of metaphors and alliterative aphorisms (still got it!), my undying quest for true love.

In the summer of 1998, I met someone who changed my poetry. I first saw Tina as she walked into my Sunday School classroom. I still remember being instantly infatuated with her and desperately concocting ways for her to go out with me instead of focusing on the slightly less spiritual matters of the subject being taught. She came to Utah to spend the summer with her older sister who happened to live in my neighborhood. Over the summer, we became casual acquaintances, in that she was casually ignorant of my very existence and I was casually not sleeping at nights trying to figure out how to become acquainted with her.

The moment came as I approached her on shaky knees and muttered out the phrase, “So, do you like Garbage?” I then had to explain that I was referring to the band and not its eponymous refuse. I had tickets to a concert and, with a great deal of trepidation, invited her to come along. Due to a series of events that would best be categorized in another column entry, we didn’t end up going to the concert. However, in a way that honestly escapes my usually steel-trap memory, from the night of the would-be concert on, we started dating each other and she became my girlfriend. I think roofies might have been involved.

After summer ended, Tina stayed with her sister instead of returning to her native state. Our relationship lasted about two years—through our senior year of high school, and into our separate college experiences. Most of what I remember comes in a series of vignettes that are mildly humorous, mildly tragic, and mildly romantic. I don’t think that I made a very good boyfriend, but I attribute it to a severe lack of experience in the field. After all, this was one of only three actual, long-term relationships that I had in my life, and that is including the one which resulted in marriage and the one with Kamea in second grade.

In the year 2000, I left to go on a two-year tour of duty for my church as a missionary. For those of you not familiar, we were the ones with the backpacks, not the satchels. Before I left, Tina and I had the obligatory discussion of how I didn’t want her to wait for me, even though I really did want her to and she thought it went without saying that she wouldn’t. The flow of letters that made their way across the northern border quickly turned into a trickle and eventually, into a drip from a faucet that you figure is not really worth your time to repair. In the fall of that year, I received an ominous plain white envelope in the mail that had Tina’s name on the return address. I opened it and plowed through the first two paragraphs which included a smattering of personal updates until I arrived at the part that I knew I would find.

I took the letter and stepped out on the balcony of our 18th floor apartment overlooking the suburbs of Ottawa. I stared at the main floor overhang that included the remains of various pamphlets and explosive food items with which previous residents had experimented with the laws of gravity. Having associated every break-up with some type of blunt force trauma, I wondered if I could land between the large-print Book of Mormon and the five-month old watermelon remnants. Just before my companion hit the last digit to call the suicide hotline, I came in and announced that we had to head out to our next appointment. I sat in front of Richard the chain smoker and tried to expound the mysteries of God’s ways while my own thoughts swam in a sea of confusion. We knocked on doors and tried to convince people to let us inside while I never felt more the need to be alone. It is interesting because the contents of that letter were not necessarily unexpected, nor were they in any way unkind. However, I felt myself slipping back into the role of “Cameron Smith – Black Phase” poet. I would find myself recovering just in time to hear from my father that Blockbuster had called looking to collect fines from overdue movies checked out on my card. Tina and I had applied for a card together with me as the primary cardholder. Thankfully, the good people at Blockbuster forgave the debt when my father told them I had been out of the country for a year and a half. I was readying myself to return home when I received word about Tina’s impending nuptials. No matter how hard I tried, the break-up just wouldn’t go away.

I eventually recovered and went on to finish my spiritual vacation. After properly acclimating to the rigors of normal earth life, I underwent one of the most humiliating experiences in recent memory. I made my way to Tina’s apartment where I met with her and her mother to collect the CDs that I had entrusted in her care. I said goodbye with a firm handshake after my hug request was dismissed and I wished her the best in her marriage and her life. I then headed directly to the local Fuddruckers where I ordered the 1lb burger. “Um, that will take, like, half an hour to cook,” the acne-scarred cashier informed me. “That’s alright,” I said, “I’ve got nothing but time.” I sat there in the booth, waiting for thirty minutes and then eating the monstrosity over the course of the next hour. I slowly drove back to my parent’s house and, after spending some significant time in the restroom, I called one of my best friends to get her emotional support.

It’s been almost nine years since I received that Dear John letter. I have recently reunited with Tina via the wonders of social networking. She is also a reader of this blog (Hi Tina!). She has a beautiful family and I honestly and sincerely could not be happier for her. Because of our relationship, she was able to go to school here in Utah and eventually meet her husband while I, the admittedly inept former boyfriend, was thousands of miles away. Because of our relationship, I was able to enjoy both the light and dark side of poetic expression. And, because of our relationship and its long-distance eradication, I was able to meet my wife who is fantastic at giving emotional support when I need it most.

Of course, Miranda tried to break up with me several times as well. Oh boy, this is going to have to be a four-parter.

Breaking Up With Me is Not Hard to Do: Part Two- Junior Low School

In this column, names have been changed to the names of one of my heroes and the chimpanzee she studied in the wild.

As with just about every other facet of existence, once I moved from elementary school to junior high, my love life became even more tragic. Throughout seventh and eighth grade, I spent most of my time trying to cower from bullies and shield my horrific acne from the public view to devote any time to wooing the ladies. My friend, the one whose upcoming bachelor party got me thinking about all of this 12 years later, joined me for lunch in our usual spot, right next to the fly-infested dumpster, and we discussed our insatiable, hormone-driven need for female companionship.

As we entered the now legen-wait for it-dary ninth grade, my friend and I found more time to flirt with the girls, having perfected our escape routes from the Polynesian crowd that, for whatever reason sought to destroy us. We sat in my bedroom and plotted out the future of our respective love lives. We committed to each other that we would both have a girlfriend within seven days of our pow-wow. After the paperwork was signed in blood, we sat back trying to determine which girls we could trick into going out with us.

For my part, I flipped through the previous yearbook for potential candidates. The idea was to find someone who wasn’t amongst the legions of women out of my league, the Pee Wee league if you will, and who also wasn’t a complete uggo. Unfortunately this left my options quite limited. So, I began to think who amongst the girls that I shied away from every day would have a shred of interest in me. I then thought back to a few days earlier when a girl, Jane, commented that she liked the shirt I was wearing that day. To a hormonal 14-year old like myself, she might as well have sent an invitation to attend the area between her lips and her braces.

I called Jane’s home and she answered the phone. With a voice that cracked like a floorboard in the House of Puberty, I slowly and deliberately asked to speak with her twin brother. I asked him for permission, which he first denied, but later conceded after being promised the compensation of donuts for a week at lunch. He handed the phone back to his sister and I clumsily delivered my proposal. She was hesitant, but said that if I wanted to come along with her and some friends to the Nicklecade later that night, she would let me know then. We got there and shortly after I plugged in a bucket of nickels into Rampage, she said yes, right in front of Lucky & Wild. We stood there, one blushing uncontrollably with joy that his plot actually worked and one gazing downward in a hopeless show of resignation to a pitiful suitor.We spent the greater part of our relationship in a constant struggle; me trying to prove my mettle as a boyfriend by kissing her hand and buying the most expensive jewelry that the Silver Loft and a $2.50/week allowance could buy, and her desperately trying to conceal her utter embarrassment at being seen with me. Eventually, she won. She sent her girl posse over to the dumpster and informed me that our relationship was officially dissolved. I was then handed the promise ring that I gave her; what it promised no one can be sure. I flicked it into the dumpster and once again, cracked open the yearbook to search for my next conquest.

Ninth grade was my White Album to my previous years of Meet the Beatles. I experimented with several things of which I am not very proud. I bloomed out of my shell like a creature with the head of a slug and the body of a petunia. It began with a simple game of Spin the Bottle where I was brave enough to change the rule so that the contestants would have to kiss each other on the lips as opposed to the hands or the five feet of air in front of their person. This radical institution brought about a whole variety of party games that included various degrees of spinning, kissing, sucking, and blowing. In retrospect, many of these games made no sense, unless you consider adding gasoline-soaked fuel to the fires of puberty pent up inside innocent Mormon youth sensible.

In the following year, I became better friends (in the sense that I kissed her repeatedly while blindfolded on a trampoline) with a girl named Flo. She was the first girl to ever reciprocate the constant flirting that I was dishing out on a daily basis. She lived not too far from me, and so, while walking home one day, she and her friend parted ways with my friends and I. As we walked, we discussed the merits of having a girlfriend, something all of us were at that point painfully lacking. It was there that I stopped in my tracks, turned about-face, and ran back towards the departing love of my life. In my mind, there was a yet unreleased Billy Idol love ballad playing somewhere as I ran the three-quarter mile only to meet up with Flo, covered in sweat, panting the words, while crouching over and gasping for breath, “Will…you…go…out…with…me?”

She didn’t answer, but we walked to her home together and she kissed me on the cheek before going inside. I walked to my house in a state of utter confusion that would come to feel as familiar as an old blanket over the coming years of dating. I wondered if she agreed to be my girlfriend or not. I assumed that she did, because I could not imagine any girl turning down a request as elaborate as the one that I just completed. We spent a few days in this limbo state. She ate lunch with me, but we could only hold hands under the table of the lunchroom. About three days after the non-relationship began, it non-ended.

We were at a football game at the top of the bleachers, when she informed me how she came to her decision. She reminded me that she had just gotten out of a very long-term relationship with some kid that didn’t even go to our school. Well, she and her friends sat together in her basement. One friend opened up the sacred shoebox which housed all of the artifacts collected of the activities the broken-up couple participated in. These were then passed amongst the sitters. The test was to see if Flo would cry at any of these conjured up relics. Apparently, the ticket stub to That Thing You Do was enough to open up the floodgates.

Flo explained this to me while caressing my hand on the bench, continuing on with the flirtatiousness that got us into this fine mess. In a singular moment of pride, I removed myself from her clutches and started to leave the game, convinced that if I could be dumped as a result of a teenage love séance, then there was truly no hope for me. These thoughts continued on until they eventually dissipated, along with any shred of dignity I still had, as I tripped on the last aluminum stair of the bleachers, sending me sprawling into the concrete wall that separated the now hysterically laughing crowd from the field. My head swam with the images of all of the meaningless affection that I had so wistfully strewn about and how desperately I needed any measure of real affection sent my way. Life was so much easier when the crush of a tetherball or a concrete wall was the only type of pain I could feel.

Breaking Up With Me is Not Hard to Do: Part One

In this column, names have been changed according to a very intricate system that I have devised involving taking the name of each girl, finding their name in the title of a popular song, and replacing the name with the singer/songwriter’s wife or daughter or backup singer. Thanks Wikipedia!

My best friend is getting married in less than two months from now. Other than signifying the coming of the first of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse, it also means that there is a bachelor party to plan. In reviewing what I knew of my friend’s life, I realized that most of it revolved around his experiences, for good or ill, in the complicated world of dating. For the past 12 years or so, I along with all of my friends, would enjoy being regaled by the onslaught of his hilarious misadventures with the opposite sex. As I sat at my computer, reviewing these accounts and how I could best retell them at a bachelor party in a way that would make him cry in front of all attendees, I began to think of how they compared with my own dating and breakup stories.

Now, it must first be said that I did not enjoy the act of dating as it involves an uncomfortable interaction with a member of the opposite sex who was probably embarrassed to be seen with me anyway. I found it much more logical to keep all of my social interactions within the comfortable confines of The Sims. Because of this, I have had very few girlfriends when compared with most, and, as a result, I have very few breakup stories. But as with most things in my life, the tragedy involved in these stories is epic, and therefore, worthy of review in the form of a three-part blog entry.

My first interaction with a member of the opposite sex came at the tender age of four. I was running around in my front yard, torturing insects as kids are wont to do, when I noticed a line of boys leading into my next-door neighbor’s backyard. I sauntered over to it suspiciously and then asked my friend what the line was for. “Jennifer is giving away free kisses!” he exclaimed, a smile beaming across his innocent face. Though I still ascribed to the notion that one needed protection to avoid the dreaded KTA (Kissing-transmitted disease) of cooties, I was also easily swayed by the presence of a group of my peers in a line, and so I joined in. I spent the next few days wondering how many babies Jennifer would eventually birth as a result of this pre-school pimping.

Luckily, I made it into elementary school without having to pay for any child support. But, I also awkwardly fell for a string of girls who would eventually crush my little heart. In first grade, there was Lisa who I fell in love with because of the Mary Lou Retton shirt that she wore three out of the five days of the school week. Though there was no official proposal of commitment, she knew that, by sitting kitty-corner from me in class and having her coat-hook directly next to mine, we were destined for each other. My heart was broken as I walked into class after a riveting game of Four square and saw her carousing with Gary, the kid who spread Elmer’s glue on his fingers and then spent quiet-reading time eating the dried product. Last I heard, they were living happily in Washington with 5 kids, one of whom is an Olympic hopeful in the all-around competition for 2012,

My first official and formal request to “go out” (a term once held so sacred which is now laughable as actual “going out” was strictly verboten until the age of 16) came in 2nd grade. Our class sat, along with the rest of the school, on hard-backed chairs in the gym as we watched Flight of the Navigator. I sat directly behind Kamea, a girl who even in second grade made me appreciate the motion of the Laotian. I took out a piece of paper and a pencil that I had squirreled away in my pockets. I used that paper to eloquently express the intricacies of my love in the best way I knew how.As was the custom, I passed this note to Kamea’s best friend, who sat next to her. It may have been easier to just pass it to Kamea herself as she was sitting directly in front of me, but I knew that to accomplish these things, there were channels that one must go through. Through a series of note passings, a “maybe” was eventually changed to an “o.k.” answer as to whether or not she would go out with me. We never spoke to each other during the transaction or afterwards. I suppose that, legally speaking, we are still going out with each other.

One year after another, various girls were secretly adored. There were other requests, namely in fifth grade when I asked Amy if she would be my girlfriend. She returned the note which I had carefully folded up to resemble a heart (complete with aortic valve, I was a "gifted and talented" nerd after all) and wrote at the bottom these words which, paraphrasing one of my favorite musicians, Eric Elbogen, are the five worst words in our language:I, of course, was perfectly content with just being friends as I had so few of them anyway. Sure, I would have to put off (for now) the hand holding, kissing, and eventual matrimony, but my heart jumped at the idea that she would still want to at least be friends with me. For my younger readers, I will impart unto you this knowledge now for your future reference: this phrase does not mean what you think it means. You break it down semantically and, yes, I agree, there is little dispute over its meaning. However, Amy felt differently and told me so during one of my several attempts to play pogs with her at her house.

In sixth grade, I began my first relationship with a girl who I would actually end up speaking to. I became committed to Barabra because of, oddly enough, another attraction to the odd choice of apparel. On the first day of school, Barabra came to class wearing a necktie, but one that was slack around an unbuttoned collar. The other kids in the class made fun of her apparent confusing of gender-specific clothing. I, being the young Tim Gunn of my elementary school, defended her fashion-consciousness. Thus began the kinship between us. Her friends would come to me later with the hoped for “yes” response to my inquires as to her interest in me as a boyfriend. We would spend our recesses indulging our wildest lusting by holding each other’s hands and walking around the schoolyard.

One day after school, she walked over to my house and showed me an explicit passage from a Steven King book. I had no idea why she would do that, and I began to distance myself from her and her liberal ways. The relationship ended the way it began. Her friends ran up to me while I played tetherball and informed me that she was now going out with Dan, who held her hand like I never could. Just then, the tetherball crashed into my head and sent me sprawling to the floor. As I lay there I saw triplicate images of Dan and Barabra holding hands and laughing at me on the ground. I not only questioned the idea of true love, but I began to realize that if such a thing did exist, I would never be a recipient. This epiphony came just between my tetherball competitor’s announcement that no “headsies” would be used in the next round and my quiet sinking into unconsciousness.

The Mousing Gacy Challenge

There are a lot of these “tagging” games going around various social networking arenas as of late. I am sure you have seen them and either indulged yourself in their triviality or felt repulsed by their triviality. I am somewhere smack dab in the middle. I have never responded to one of these threads, however, I take the time to read all the ones that I come across. Whether it is “25 Random Things About Me” or “10 Pictures I Took of Myself in Various Reflective Surfaces” or “The Fourteen People I Would Release as a Sign of Good Will If I Were at the Center of a Hostage Scenario at My High School Reunion”.

I love to read these because I like to learn what goes on inside other peoples’ minds. It is not just about what they think, but it is about what they write to portray what they are thinking. You can truly tell a lot about a person by what they choose to send to all of their friends, casual acquaintances, and people with really high scores in Mafia Wars.

And so, though I do not like to collaborate in this type of thing publicly, I am, right here and right now, starting my own tagging game. And you are all tagged. Yes, even you, dude from Pakistan who found this site with the Google keyword search “Nicole Kidman Full Frontal”. Even you. The idea is to write a short story of your own. It doesn’t have to be too long. The subject of this short story is where it gets interesting.

Every time you log in a comment on someone’s blog or Facebook account, you are requested to enter in one or two words. The purpose of this is so that the computer knows that you are human because of your ability to read typically undecipherable words shrouded behind a Jackson Pollock painting. This is obviously something that a computer would never deign to do. After failing, these computers return to Nigeria to offer support to their ousted Prince. Occasionally, humans cannot understand their own language either. Not too long ago, I was entering in these words and had to refresh the box several times in order to get a pair that looked like something more than forensic evidence. As groan-inducing and frustrating as these words are, I have grown to love them, which is why I have never disabled them on my Facebook account. The words are often misspelled, archaic, or non-sensible. And, when they are paired together, well, thus the fun begins.

Here is your challenge. Take the next two of these words that you come across, whether it is in leaving a comment on one of my blog posts (yeah, I thought that was funny too, like you would ever do that) or on your next status update on Facebook, or your billing information for the Rick Springfield box set you are purchasing off of eBay, and use them as the title or underlying theme to a short story of your own composition.

If you feel that you are not a writer, I simply don’t care. Think of it as an exercise in creativity. Think of it as a team-building exercise. Think of it as an eighth-step in your program to recovery. If you can make sense of these two words, you are more of a writer than Shakespeare, Spenser, Steinbeck, and Steele combined and you are truly worthy of admiration. After you have completed the story, send it on to and I will read it over. If I get any good ones, we’ll have a fun little posting here on Bag Stranded. You can also comment at the end of this column and let us all know what the title of your story is so we will be rapt with anticipation.

Of course, being the instigator of this fun little game, I do not plan on participating in it. I have no idea what kind of engine these words are generated from, but I believe it is located somewhere in hell. I base this off of the past combinations that I have received; namely “666 Shelltate”, “murdereous bazaar”, and “hornfoot allHailSatan”. You tell me if you see any pattern. But none of these compare with the most recent word-recognition request that I received a short time ago while commenting on a favorite music blog: “Mousing Gacy”.

I kept repeating the words over and over in my mind, finding both humor and disgust at their pairing. The resulting image brought back two horrifying events that I both read and listened to very recently. I joined a book club at work where the members alternate novels once a month and meet at a greasy chain restaurant to discuss our intellectual findings. The selection for this month was entitled “The Painted Bird”. For those of you who may not know, the story follows a young boy wandering between villages during World War II, encountering and suffering from various kinds of horrific tortures and brutality. Imagine the worst thing you can think of. Yeah, it is worse than that. And it is spread throughout the book like a thick smoldering of human ashes (yeah, that’s in there to). Well, one scene describes the use of a mouse placed in an upside down jar placed on the bare stomach of an unfaithful wife. You can imagine the rest. When I hear the word “mousing” this is now what I associate it with. It is kind of like reverse “gerbiling” and only slightly less fun. Don’t look that one up.

The second part, "Gacy", reminds me of a Sufjan Stevens song about, well, Gacy. John Wayne Gacy, Jr. to be exact. The song, unfortunately the best on the “Illinoise” album, discusses the serial killer who murdered and buried under his porch 33 boys in Chicago in the mid 70s. He also often had block parties on the same porch where he would regale the neighborhood children with his Pogo the Clown routine. The song is so eerie and creepy and sad that I want to simultaneously cry and shower every time I hear it. Then again, so is the actual accounting of what happened. Then again, so is mousing. So turning “Mousing Gacy” into a humorous story is a feat that I really couldn’t pull off.

Unless of course, the role of Gacy is played by an actual mouse. He puts on clown makeup and kidnaps several hunks of cheese. After taking little bites of them, he buries them in his little mouse hole for safekeeping. Ok, I might have something here. Story forthcoming.

By the way, if you are a member of my graduating high school class who is now questioning going to the reunion, I won’t be there, don’t worry. Now get writing your story!

What is P.G.T. Beauregard, Alex

I spent a few tedious minutes this morning searching out a variety of ways to get my hands on some game show tickets. My family and I are planning on a family vacation this Spring, though we are at the financial level of canceling formerly essential services such as caller ID and splurging through complementing our Kraft Diner with cut-up hot dog slices. We are planning on taking our first family vacation to the sunny beaches of California. Of course, we won’t spend very much time on the actual beach, what with the translucency I have generously bestowed upon my offspring that will allow the sun to fry their skin like a won-ton. Instead, we will spend some time at Disneyland, under the shade of the Matterhorn and the inflated dreams of children.

I am also hoping that we can make it into the air-conditioned studios where we can be part of a live studio audience. I have always wanted to be a part of one of these tapings. I would love to be part of a talk show where I could grab the microphone from Jerry and alternately wag my head and finger as I scolded the lesbian Klan member for cheating on her husband with the gay member of the Nation of Islam. It would be so cool to force an exaggerated laugh at what is surely the funniest video in America, featuring a grandfather being hit in the genitals with a football thrown by his helper monkey. I would also like to carry my from-the-belly laugh just half a second longer at a joke told by Kelsey Grammar in his new sitcom so that I could later distinguish it when the show airs.

If I lived in Southern California, or the O.C. as the kids are calling it these days, I would totally go to every show taping available to me. The only thing better than the non-participatory activity of watching television at home is the non-participatory activity of watching television in person as it happens. Of course, not all studio audiences are used only as a visual or audible backdrop. Some involve more advanced levels of audience participation. If I were on Who Wants to Be A Millionaire, I would throw the “Ask the Audience” lifeline a curveball, answering “D. my pet frog Hoppy” to the question “Neil Armstrong’s first words on the moon were ‘One small step for man, one giant leap for’ what?” If I were called to be a backup singer on “Don’t Forget the Lyrics” I would continue singing “Rock You Like A Hurricane” even after the music stopped, even after the contestant answered, and possibly even after Wayne Brady roughed me up a little.

Of course the dream of any career studio audience member would have to be the Mecca that is The Price is Right. Even with the exit of the leathery Bob Barker, the show still manages to desperately cling to the 70s era kitsch that makes it the depressing staple of the daytime soap-opera watching set. The simply squeezable Drew Carrey doesn’t help to upset the non-updatable show, what with his Buddy Holly glasses, Johnny Unitas haircut, and questionably thin microphone. But there is no doubt that for people who can skillfully cheer on gravity as it randomly carries their plastic puck to a certain dollar amount and who can accurately guess the cost of a foot fungal cream, this is the way to make money on television.

I have also dreamed about being an official contestant on a game show, not just one that the narrator picked out of the audience because I had a bright orange t-shirt that said “I Love Bob Barker More Than Life Itself”. However, the major problem with this is that most game shows require some level of skill. One of my favorite game shows ever is Jeopardy. I love it so much because it rewards people for knowing things that got them beaten up in middle school. The greatest champion that the show ever had is now the pride of my home state. With his tiny head full of an incompressible amount of trivia, he earned millions of dollars and a way into our hearts.

I have applied to be on the television show, but no one at Viacom called me back. It is most likely for the best. I feel I am a smart guy when it comes to trivial things. I don’t mean to be smug about it or anything. I just happen to have read at least two complete encyclopedic volumes as a child and opened the box and read the answers to every Trivial Pursuit game my family ever bought. My wife insists that I would do great on Jeopardy, but I don’t think I would. I know myself far too well. I am not smart in the way that it would take to perform well on a game show such as Jeopardy. I practice at home, using a click pen as a replacement for the buzzer. I always buzz-in just a few words after the answer appears on screen. My response in the form of a question is rarely in the form of actual words. The contestant gives the right response and I tell myself that I knew that all along and score the points on my notepad.

If I were to appear on Jeopardy, I would bring shame to my family for generations. In the category of words that begin with X, none of my responses would in fact begin with the letter X. I would shout out random historical figures to questions regarding plant science. I would probably bring up “Hoppy” every time Neil Armstrong was mentioned. I would be the first contestant in history to receive more in negative dollars than the leader in actual dollars. The show might actually request that I pay that amount. You ever wonder why those contestants in the negative can’t participate in final Jeopardy? Alex takes them backstage where he breaks their knuckles with a lead pipe.

And so, I don’t believe we will be joining Mr. Trebek on our whirlwind trip to California. I would still like to both have my dream of being in a studio audience fulfilled and be able to pay for the extravagances of my vacation through the winnings of a game show that will take me on as an impromptu contestant. Of course, as we have established, it can’t involve any specific skill, knowledge, or ability other than maintaining myself in a standing position for half an hour. Then it occurred to me. I logged on to and I am now in the process of applying to be on Deal or No Deal. This fits all of my criteria. There is no skill involved, other than being able to count to 30 and make incredibly rash decisions with no base of reference. I do that every day of my life. I guess you also have to have the ability to blindly believe that your simple faith can beat the odds. I do that as well. As long as the place is air-conditioned. Or maybe I can don a wetsuit and be repeatedly battered by a foam wall with cookie cutter shapes in it as it pushes me into a shallow pool. That might be as close to the beach as I’m going to get in California.

The Way Wii Were

I came to terms with the advancement of modern technology and the hopeless dependence that we have on technological forms of entertainment in our day when I found myself sitting in front of my television set on a Saturday afternoon shouting curse words at a bespectacled Japanese man. With my fists raised to protect my face, I fought Korioshi in a brutal battle of brains and brawn. Though he would keep dodging my punches, I eventually knocked him out cold with a triple combo hit to the face, body, and face followed by a searing right hook. With this, his body flew in the air and convulsed on its way to the ground until it folded up, limbs protruding in opposite directions and the halo of stars swimming around his x-ed out eyes, in a heap on the mat. Take that back to Tokyo.

The object of this rage, as either you could obviously infer or are pleadingly hoping for, is Wii boxing. The Wii is a small, white video game system that uses state-of-the-art remote control technology to make normally sane people look as though the tourettes has come back and violently mingled with schizophrenia. The Wii is a Japanese product that takes its name from the Japanese verb “to urinate.” Despite the ambiguous name, the Wii has been a worldwide sensation as millions of people desperately want to create an armless character that, no matter how you configure it, ends up looking like an embryonic version of yourself with too-thick eyebrows. You can then take this “Mii” as they are so cleverly called and use it to play ping-pong with your grade-school nemesis, Bowser.

I own one of these newfangled contraptions. We got it as a gift from my in-laws because of the fascination that my young son had every time that he would see it played elsewhere. He always talked about one and wanted one for himself, but as we would spend the $300 cost every couple of months on other things for him to “wii” in, it was not really possible. Luckily, the in-laws came through for the little guy and he has been watching his Daddy play ever since. I sometimes feel bad that “Hey, Zach, do you want to go play the Wii?” really means, “Hey, kid, do you want to sit still and watch me play the Wii?” In truth, we have tried to teach Zachary how to play. His cousin who is eight months younger is a wunderkind when it comes to the Wii. Before he could say mommy and daddy, he knew how to throw a curveball to pick up a 7-10 split in Wii bowling. We tried to coach Zachary how to perform the simplest maneuvers with the remote. As the badminton birdie was hit towards him, his mother and I would shout “Swing it, Zach! Now! Now! Now!” Only after the Mii character hung his head in the shame of defeat would he, laughingly, swing his remote. He actually does rather enjoy watching me throw a touchdown or figure skate to Madame Butterfly.

As with most things, my hogging of the Wii can be traced back to my disturbing childhood. In the gaming department, my parents were the proud owners of both a Texas Instruments computer and an original Atari game system. While my friends played Duck Hunt and Super Contra, I learned how to type lines and lines of programming code from the T.I. manual in order to turn the white cursor into a man made up of about six white cursors and watch him turn cartwheels against the backdrop of a blue screen. While my friends upgraded to Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis, I battled pixilated tanks in a never-ending desertscape and raided the hell out of many a river. I would go over to my friends house trying to find an escape from the terrible monotony that was my childhood, only to receive ridicule that I could not even beat Soda Popinski, let alone Don Flamenco in Punch-Out. I was often relegated to watching from the back of the room and fetching beverages. Still, it beat writing program code all day.

Today, I not only have the most coveted gaming system around, but I also have one at work. Yes, the liberal higher-ups at the corporation that I work for believe that playing the Wii is an excellent way to inspire much-needed creativity. And who am I to argue? I used to have a Wii-date with one of my co-workers nearly every afternoon. We later had a Wii-breakup however as I was much too dominant in the game that we played and that was somewhat off-putting for him. Lately, I have used the work Wii to prepare for the company-wide Wii boxing tournament. A fellow entrant into the tournament and I have ruggedly jousted for a few weeks now in order to prepare ourselves for the upcoming tournament. Sometimes, he would follow me on a bike, wearing a pink tracksuit, as I jogged with the New York skyline slowly inching past me. We have sufficiently built up our stats over these sessions, and just in time as the first round of the tournament will begin tomorrow. Yes, I love my job.

And so, Sunday afternoon, while the rest of the family is napping, I find myself in front of the television flailing my arms wildly. It does not matter who steps in front of my fists of fury. I have punched men who were dumb enough to wear their glasses in the ring. I have punched women directly in the ovaries. I have defeated an inordinate amount of Japanese boxers in order to arrive where I was at that moment. I have reached the legendary level of 1500 and was toe-to-toe and glove-to-glove with Matt, the champ, in person, or, technically, in per"Sii"n, I believe. I ended him as I ended all the others. Oh yes my friends, first round knockout.

With this knockout I received the ability to fight all future bouts with Matt’s own silver gloves. I was so proud of myself for reaching this milestone that I nearly cried on the couch, by myself. Then, the deflating sense of pointlessness hit me, like a slow-motion uppercut from the surprisingly talented Hiromashi, as it does after achieving success at any video game. I have a personality where I am gung ho on anything I undertake until I eventually realize the futility of it all. I completed a whole season in Fifa Soccer, only to have the season start all over again. I achieved victory by means of nuclear annihilation on Civilization, only to have the anticlimactic text “Congratulations” come on my computer screen. They couldn’t even spring for an exclamation point. And here I am on my couch staring down at my pointless silver gloves and wondering what I was doing. Had my life come to this- a meaningless pursuit to win back the video game experience my parents thoughtfully and mercifully denied me?

I set the controllers down and began to walk away. I felt so angry with myself that I had wasted so much time. So angry in fact, that I felt like punching something. I realized shortly after the “Ding-Ding” of the Wii starting up sounded in my ears once again that there was a perfectly valid reason for me to be playing this game. There is no better way to manage one’s years of built-up and internally stored anger than by ruthlessly punching countless Japanese faces as they continue to line up, one by one, just to play with me.

Bag Stranded Changed My Life!

Good evening. I wanted to just insert a little note here to thank you for your readership here at Bag Stranded. My humble little blog is just over three months old now, and just like a three month old it is prone to excessive crying, dribbling and explosive diarrhea. But, I love the little guy. I hope you do to.

I am experimenting with a few changes here at Bag Stranded. Some are permanent and some are definitely not. My hope is to enhance the aesthetical appeal for those who might happen to click through on their way to find pictures of cats in funny poses with misspelled bubble quotes. And also for those of you who take the time to lightly skim my slaved-over prose.

But all in all, I will keep writing and posting a couple of columns a week, whether or not I have weird pictures along the sidebar. Bag Stranded is coming up on having 1000 visits, and I couldn’t be happier. If you come to this site and enjoy it, please let your friends know. Also, please let me know. Whether you are a casual reader or a die-hard fan who is waiting for their own “Bag Stranded” t-shirt, please leave a comment after this post. You can offer insight into what you would like to see and read, or just simply comment “I read Bag Stranded.” This will not only make me feel justified in my blogging pursuits, it will make you feel like you’re supporting someone in need. Desperate, desperate need. You can also send me an email if you are a closeted reader at

Once again, thank you for reading all the way through one of my blog posts for the first time. Yes, it is a lot of reading. Go ahead and comment now!

Social Science is Not a Science

As I have previously mentioned, I may have some social problems that I should deal with. You know those personality tests that ask you how you would react among a group of people that you either know or don’t know. I lie on those tests. When I look at a question like that, I wonder how I would have placed myself in such a situation and how quickly I might be able to find a way out. I feel abnormally uncomfortable in large groups of people and I honestly don’t know why.

The resulting anxiety that occurs when I am thrust into such a situation causes a feeling not unlike claustrophobia. I have that too by the way. I never knew until one day in Elementary School some friends and I decided to go down the enclosed twisting slide. I was the fourth out of about eight to go down, and the punk kid who went first decided it would be funny to securely lodge himself at the bottom of the slide, causing one stinky child after another to queue up in the polyurethane death-trap. It was all fun and games for the first minute or so. Then something happened. Perhaps it was the summer sun seeping through the red slide. Perhaps it was one of the several issuances of gas that were thought to make the ordeal even more humorous. Somewhere around the third minute, I began asking that the kids remove themselves—the fun was over. I received no response and so my request began to be more determined. Then, at about three minutes and 45 seconds, something snapped in my head. I began to scream and flail my arms and legs wildly. I kicked the kid below me several times in the head, but that did nothing to remove the two kids in front of him. I decided I would have better luck forcing the kids above me to move. I crawled over the first kid so that we essentially traded places on the death slide. At this point, the children were realizing the rampage that they were about to deal with. They scrambled away up the top of the slide like river salmon trying to escape a claustrophobic Grizzly bear. They made it out, but the smiling brat at the top of the slide refused to yield. I warned him, or at least I thought I did though I may very well have been screaming incoherently. I immediately lowered my fist into the freckled kid’s groin. His entire body tightened up and his eyes rolled back into his head. He slowly slid away from the entrance to the slide down towards the dammed end while I climbed away to safety.

Not every anxiety-inducing social situation can be as easily resolved as with a swift punch to the junk. Believe me, I know. My wife, who is a Monarch of social butterflies, seems to have no problems at the social events we attend. I firmly believe that if I did not marry her, I would be sitting alone in a studio apartment playing World of Warcraft whilst wiping the grease from the pork rinds onto my ironically worn wife-beater undershirt. Every day. But, Miranda often forces me into natural sunlight and speaks to people at parties on my behalf. She will even call my family members to invite them to family events so that I don’t have to call them. Come to think of it, I might have married her so that I wouldn’t have to speak to any other girls again.

Before working as a writer, I worked at jobs where I was effectively by myself the entire workday. This was a perfect environment for someone with my given condition as I could avoid the general populous for extended periods of time. After I started my current line of work, I had to learn how to slowly adapt to being around people, like astronauts acclimating themselves to a change in gravitational pressure. For the most part, I have survived. Most of this survival I can attribute to a new facet of social life that had previously been unknown to me. I sit at a computer all day and, we are allowed and even encouraged to search the internet at times in order to inspire our budding creativity. I have used these creativity incubating sessions to watch videos of pandas sneezing on YouTube, to search articles on Wikipedia involving everyone who has the name Cameron Smith (go Melbourne Storm!) and learning about indie bands that are so indie that no one else knows about them but me.

Beyond these diversions, however, there is a new fascination that is sweeping the “inter-web” called Social Networking. Enough jokes have been written regarding these sites: namely Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, WheresMyMommy, TongueShare, and PeopleBruiser. Everyone seems to be in on these jokes as well. We all hate these sites and can’t believe that this is the new way people communicate with each other, but how many times have you checked your Facebook since you started reading this article? Really? That’s what I thought. Like heroin, social networking is highly addictive and can make you feel like you are the most popular person in the world, only to bring you to the point where you are waking up in a gutter begging for someone to take you home. Also, social networking is most effective when liquefied in a spoon.

I joined Facebook soon after I was hired as a writer. I have since collected numerous “friends”. Sometimes, these are people from high school that may or may not have beaten me up. Sometimes, they are people who I work with but have never spoken to once. Sometimes, they are people that grew up around the corner from me and now are listed under a different gender. There are missionary companions, ex-girlfriends, siblings, siblings’ siblings, and people who happen to have very high point levels on Mafia Wars. These, I am proud to call my friends.

What is fantastic about social networking is that it combines two words that I completely disdain and creates something entirely new that I hate myself for kind of liking. I have some sites bookmarked and I check them frequently. Who knew that that girl that I think was a grade older than me and maybe hung out with my best friend’s sister was suffering from post-partum depression after having her fifth child? I love reading Billy’s three recurring status updates: “is working.” “is almost done with work.” “is going to bed.” Fascinating stuff. I revel at the opportunity to know 25 things about your life I did not otherwise know or want to know. I desperately desire to be poked by a sheep.

I have been rather unsure about social networking as of late. This is in part because of the inordinate amount of time that I spend each day checking my profile, only to find that no one has commented on anything that I have done. A thinly veiled plea for help disguised as a status update has gone unnoticed. My posted video of that sneezing panda has not brought so much as a “cute =)” comment my way. These are my Facebook friends and some friends they are. They are too busy blogging or tweeting or skidooshing to see what I am doing on a minute by minute basis. Maybe this is why I am so comfortable with this new brand of socializing—I don’t have to socialize with anyone. Instead of a gigantic room filled with friends constantly trying to assert their social superiority over me, this is more of a small studio apartment strewn with empty bags of pork rinds that only receives an occasional phone call from my mother or somebody wanting to give me an oddly named plant for my little green patch. Actually, this room feels a little too small, almost like the red plastic walls are closing in. Get me out of here or someone is getting hit in the groin.

Why I Love Nicole Kidman: Part Two

In case you could not infer this from the title, this is the second part of the epic Nicole Kidman story. If you haven't read Part One, I encourage you to scroll down a bit and check it out first. Otherwise, I would just sound crazy. And, now, for the thrilling conclusion...

I was so sure that Nicole Kidman would be there that I went away from our tour group for a moment to sit on one of the benches that rest underneath the tower. I put my head in my hands and prayed vain prayers to St. Isadore, the patron saint of sheepherders, good land deals, and teenage stalkers. Every crumble of gravel that I heard under the massive steel edifice served to reignite my hopes. She would come to me, approach slowly, and like an Amazonian goddess, she would take my hand. She would have to bend down ever so slightly to reach my quivering lips and with the fleshy contact of her lips with mine, my life would be complete at the tender age of 15. I eventually walked back to the bus with my hotel group feeling entirely dejected. I wasn’t so separated from reality that I believed my fantasy would actually happen, but there was a continual glimmer of hope that my poetic brain could conjure up the miracle of my dreams. I left Paris and returned to my regular life and my crippling want of Nicole Kidman to comfort me.

About a year later, my father, mysteriously supportive of my fascination, went with me to see the newest Nicole Kidman movie, The Portrait of a Lady. In preparation for the film, I managed to plow through my first Henry James novel. By the end of it, I was not sure what I had just done and where two weeks of my life went. I do consider that a good preparation for my tenure as an English major where I blanked out in the process of reading plenty of thick late 19th and early 20th century lit. We went to the theater and were part of the 54 viewers that the film showed for worldwide. My father, bless his heart, fell asleep somewhere between the 2nd and 3rd minute. I could not tell you one single part of the plotline for the film, but I could tell you that I was completely enthralled.

The one concern that I had with The Portrait of a Lady at the time was that I knew (from reading volumes of reviews) that there would be some nudity involved. I had long held the belief that I did not want to see any representation of a nude Nicole Kidman until I was drawing my last breath on my deathbed. I jokingly said that it was because there would be nothing else to live for. In truth, I had such a sacrosanct reverence for Nicole that I couldn’t imagine sullying that by viewing her nakedness. Luckily, before this movie, there was no other option as I held with pride the fact that Nicole had never revealed herself in front of the cameras. That was, until now. To this day, I couldn’t tell you what exactly was revealed. There was some build up to it, so I was able to adequately shield my eyes before the glorious fire, like one that would emerge from the opened Ark of the Covenant, would melt my face off.

In the beginning of the year 1999, news broke that “Practical Magic Star” (a title that still makes me wince) Nicole Kidman was scheduled to appear in a stage drama called “The Blue Room” which would run for a month in a London theater. I had recently turned 18 and I was proud of my newly acquired title of adult. I began making plans to fly, by myself, to London for the sole purpose of attending the stage production. I made all of the necessary arangements, including the hostel I would stay at and the cost of airfare. If I took all of the money I had earned as a grocery store dairy boy out of savings, I would have just enough. I could handle missing a week of school. I would just have to present the idea to my parents. I did so and was shocked that they did not put up much resistance at all to my request. They both let me know of their disapproval, but they also both understood how my obsession was a kinder, gentler version of stalking. They said that I could make my own decisions, and so that I did. Just before I was to buy the airfare for a round trip ticket to England, I read a report on the “Official/Non-Official Nicole Kidman Fanclub Web-zine” that the actress would be appearing in a scene of “The Blue Room” involving full-frontal nudity. Nudity for the sake of art is one thing, but when the descriptor of “full-frontal” is put on it, it is just dirty for dirtiness sake. I cancelled my plans to attend the show, much to the relief of my parents and my college fund.

It was with that simple report that the dream and obsessions that I had harbored for so long began coming to an end. I eventually took down the pictures of Nicole in my room and on my locker. I hid the magazines at the back of the bookshelf. I cancelled my Web-zine electronic mailing list subscription. In the summer, Nicole Kidman would appear in a movie that was hailed to be her amazing breakthrough performance, Stanley Kubrick’s romping sex-fest Eyes Wide Shut. Sticking religiously to my no-naked philosophy, more out of a sense of disgust than bridled passion, I did not see the movie. In it, Nicole Kidman appears, opposite her husband Tom Cruise, as the wife in a burned-out marriage. In real life, the marriage of the two stars was coming to a bitter end. My pleas to heaven had been heard only a few years too late. Nicole Kidman was single again. I was above the age of being considered a victim of statutory rape. The stars seemed to be aligned, only the stars I had in my eyes for years were slowly dimming.

I have enjoyed watching Nicole Kidman over the years in her variety of roles. It is the kind of satisfaction that one might get in seeing the success of an ex years after their departure from one another. I made no real effort to attend her movies, but I usually would end up renting them and watching them by myself in the late hours of the night. I would sometimes give a second look, but never purchase the many magazines in which she has appeared on the cover over these several years. She has since starred as a sing-songy penguin in an animated feature, as a robotic wife, and even went on to win an Oscar by putting on a fake nose and drowning herself in the ocean all nerdy and poetic-like.

I am now as old as Nicole would have been if we had happened to meet that fateful day in Paris. So many things have changed in the course of both of our lives. In March of 2003, I made my way back to the City of Lights, only this time with my best friend in the world. Miranda and I walked together, hand in hand, through the crumbling gravel underneath the Eiffel Tower. I held her tightly directly underneath the arching beams and it seemed like we were the only people in the world in the chilly night air of early spring. I kissed Miranda after bending down slightly so my quivering lips could reach hers. I then whispered in her ear “Thank you for making my dream come true.” I brought out the ring from my pocket, kneeled down, and proposed. We have lived happily together for several years now and I can think of no one that I would rather spend my life with.

As a young, innocent, and hormone-fueled teenager, I searched for the answers as to exactly why I loved Nicole Kidman. I was willing to carry that search to a different continent at least twice. I bore all of the symptoms that if my own children ever displayed, I would admit them immediately to psychiatric care. I claimed that I wanted the world to know, when I was actually just trying to find out for myself. Now, nearly half of my life later, and slowly (after writing this) recovering from a mid-life crisis, I believe that I know the answer. She was talented and beautiful and charming and gorgeous, all this is true, but it is not the answer. I loved Nicole Kidman so much so that I could appreciate what true love would be when I found it later on in life. I love my wife even though she can’t magically wiggle her nose, or have a job as a U.N. interpreter, or even haunt the living along with our ghost children. What we have is something that a movie script can’t write.

But if they ever do, I think Keith Urban could play my part very well.