Born With a Broken Heart (Part I)

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This week, with very little pomp but quite a lot of circumstance, I received my new health insurance card in the mail. I also got my first premium bill, a true sign of inclusion in the language of American capitalism. It may not seem like much to celebrate (“Yay! More money I owe!”), but this marks the first time in my entire life that I have been able to have health insurance independent of a job, school, or parent. So while delivery of the membership card required only a small step for my mailman, it represents one giant leap for this womankind.

We have heard a lot of stories since October 1st about people with dire medical needs getting life-saving help because of the Affordable Care Act. I celebrate for them, though I am not among their ranks. There are also countless stories of people with individual insurance being forced to change plans, or change doctors, or pay more because of the ACA. Some are my friends, and I understand their frustration, but I am not one of them either. I represent an under-reported third category: those for whom it would be irresponsible to go without insurance, but have not, until now, had access to individual coverage.

You see, I was born with a broken heart (more accurately, a congenital heart defect). The engraving on my Medic Alert bracelet reads, “ASD closure ’79; mitral regurgitation; VPB’s,” which sounds like either a Daft Punk set list or a sketchy Craigslist ad. But for you bi(ology)-curious out there, I’ll give you the gist:

ASD stands for “atrial septal defect,” which is a fancy way of saying I had a big hole in the wall that is supposed to separate my left and right atria. This hole was also low enough on that wall to mess up my mitral valve, which in most hearts operates like a set of French doors (opening in one direction) but in mine swings both ways like saloon doors. While this does make my heart sound John-Wayne-level badass, it also means a lot of blood that is supposed to go one way flows back the way it came. Not so great for pumping action.

All of this was repaired with open heart surgery in 1979, when I was two. My mitral valve still leaks a little (“regurgitates” – gross), but not at a dangerous level, and the scar tissue from the patched hole occasionally lets the electrical signal – which normally travels around the chambers pumping them in sequence – jump through the wall, causing ventricular premature beats. I got rhythm, but my heart stutters. Still, I don’t see anyone denying Porky Pig health insurance, so why hold it against me?

In June I will celebrate the 35th anniversary of my life-saving surgery, and for most of those 35 years I have existed in an insurance categorization limbo. Not actually sick, as many with “pre-existing conditions” are – I do not have diabetes; I do not have cancer; I do not have a parasitic infestation known as “baby” on board. In fact, since the surgery, I have heard doctors marvel time and again at how healthy I am – I do better on stress tests than most “normal” people; I eat well and exercise regularly, don’t smoke or drink in excess; my cholesterol and blood pressure are fantastic… I have passed every physical I have had since the surgery with flying colors. My nerdity isn’t just for the classroom – I overachieve everywhere.

And yet, because I had the surgery as a child, I have never been considered “healthy” by insurance standards. What I am, they never determined, but not “healthy”. Because I am among the first generation of patients to survive into adulthood after such surgeries, the insurance world had no category to define us. Sick, but not really. Healthy, but not really. So, in a true act of humanity, they avoided the complexity of evaluating each case on its merits and instead labeled us “heart condition” and tossed us in the no pile. Every time. No amount of appeals or doctor testimonials or medical records made a difference.

Now, listen. I love my broken heart. I love the big old scar down the middle of my chest. It has literally been a part of me for as long as I can remember (my earliest memory is of coming out of anesthesia in the recovery room, though it is really more of a feeling than a memory). That scar has been incredibly useful to me in life. For one thing, I always win the scar game in getting-to-know-you situations such as camp or parties. “Oh, you hit your head on the corner of a table as a kid? My chest was opened with a buzz saw and then wired back together.” Drop mic, walk away.

In high school I realized that my scar can tell me when a guy finds me physically attractive. The boys on the baseball team used to put the necklaces bought for them by their girlfriends on me (their statistician, naturally) for safekeeping during the games. One day, I wore a T-shirt that was a little tighter than usual, and three of them asked how I got my scar. Eyes up here, boys, but thank you for noticing I have nice breasts. That question remains a reliable attraction indicator to this day. I have “scar-dar” instead of “gay-dar”.

My scar is also not-quite-vertical in its path from sternum to navel, which is maddening for an obsessive-compulsive perfectionist like me. But that is its best gift; if I ever need a solid reminder that not everything in life can be perfect or controlled, all I have to do is stand topless in front of a mirror.

As for my broken little heart itself, well, it pretty much defines me. First of all, it isn’t little. For more than two years, it did everything it could to keep me alive long enough to make it to surgery, including halting my growth after six months to maintain a manageable size and beating more than 200 times a minute to get the blood where it needed to go. In doing all this, it grew strong and it grew big. Dangerously, big, sure, and unsustainable without the wall patch, but that doesn’t change the fact that my heart can and will go Incredible Hulk on your ass if it needs to. My heart is tough, determined, and a little volatile – just like me.

And the stutter…I am so happy about my stutter. To be clear, I am not talking about skipped beats. It is a double beat, where the regular signal still beats the heart in its steady rhythm, but part of the current jumps through the scar tissue and bounces around, adding an extra little beat of its own. Like when you’re walking down the sidewalk and trip over a loose brick (because you were texting, admit it), suddenly taking two steps to steady yourself where you normally would only take one. My stutter is a little “I meant to do that” flourish. A grace note. A trill. Sure, it is also potentially the start of fibrillation followed by possible death, but that is what I love about it!

At least once every day, usually several times, I feel one of these heart stutters, and every time I immediately think, “what if this is the last beat, right now?” I know it sounds morbid, but after several decades it really is just a deeply ingrained, automatic response. Sometimes, if I am having a dark day, it can start an anxiety train that thunders dangerously fast down the tracks, but most of the time it simply reminds me that life is fragile and fleeting. Every day, with almost every odd beat of my heart, I am made physically aware that this moment is a gift, that gifts should be appreciated, and that life is to be lived with purpose. Often, that is enough to get me to turn off the TV, stop eating chips, and go do something more productive. Not every time, though – there is some really good stuff on TV these days.

The point is, I would not change the circumstances of my birth for anything. My heart defect and its repercussions have made me the person I am. But in the 15 years since I left school, they have also kept me from being able to pursue my life in earnest. Until now.

Yes, I am lucky to have the support and resources to pursue a creative career; but before January 1, 2014, I was never able to work full-time toward my goals. Regardless of my financial status, I always had to maintain insurance coverage through employment. Sometimes, this meant keeping a full-time job and writing on the weekends; sometimes it meant writing full-time only for however many months I could afford the COBRA premiums (never very many), and then finding a new job; sometimes it meant taking part-time work to maintain catastrophic coverage as a minimum safety net, and foregoing regular checkups. None of these scenarios allowed me to relax enough to be very creative. But now, for the first time in my life, I have reasonably-priced health coverage that I get to keep no matter what I decide to do for a living. That is huge. That is life altering. That is liberty.

Is our health care system perfect now? Not by a long shot. There are still many flaws – leaks, stutters, quirks. It will definitely need to be monitored, and probably need more improvements down the road. But the ACA marks a major repair to a dysfunctional system; a vast improvement in its ability to sustain us; and a new hope that it will be able to serve us well for years to come. Just like my broken – but still beating – heart.

 

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Love, Damn Love, and Statistics

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Okay, kids, let’s get down and nerdy for a little bit. Fair warning: there will be math in today’s session. I promise to make it fun and not scary (says the former captain of her high school math team), and I assure you there will be no test after. To every student past, present, and future who ever rolled his eyes to the heavens in math class and asked, “When am I ever going to use this in real life?” I answer with the eternal wisdom of Shania Twain: “From this moment on.”

I have been reading about Bayesian reasoning lately (in Nate Silver’s awesome book about prediction – and if that surprises you at all, I invite you to glance up at the title of this blog one more time), which is a school of probabilistic thinking employed by, among others, the most successful gamblers. According to Marvin Gaye (and confirmed by anyone who has ever been willing to eat at a Taco Bell), life is a gamble, so I naturally wondered how Bayesian reasoning might apply to areas more relevant to me than sports betting. Now, I consider myself a fairly logical and scientific individual – mostly because I am ridiculously logical and scientific – but what I came to realize about my approach to other humans kind of blew my mind.

A little background: Thomas Bayes was an 18th century English minister who sought to resolve the paradox of a benevolent God and the existence of evil. See? I told you this would be fun. In very brief terms (my apologies to any theologians or philosophers our there), his answer revolved around the idea that the imperfections we see in the world are ours, not Gods, because our knowledge is never complete. In other words, if we see too much evil in the world, it doesn’t mean that there isn’t overall good, but rather that we are not seeing the whole picture. I’ll save the larger debate about good versus evil for my next Lord of the Rings party, but what matters most is that Bayes introduced the concept that humans learn about the world through approximation rather than certainty – getting closer and closer to the truth with each new piece of the puzzle, but never knowing the absolute truth.

Bayes’s chief rival in those days was David Hume, a Scottish philosopher to whom I’m going to give the benefit of the doubt and assume was drunk a lot, because he equated rational belief with certainty. Talk about depressing. Here’s a quick example to demonstrate the disparity: imagine you have moved to Los Angeles with no prior knowledge of it climate, history, or reputation, presumably because you have never seen a movie, read a book, watched TV, or met a Californian. This makes you either an alien or Amish, but I digress. Day 1: it is sunny. Aw, that’s nice. Day 2: sunny again. Cool. Perhaps this is a trend. Day 3: still more sun, and so on, and so on. The Bayesian thinker will grow more confident with each passing day that tomorrow’s weather is likely to be sunny – never fully reaching 100% certainty, mind you, but getting darn close. Even when, 300 days in, it suddenly rains (in case you haven’t heard, we’re experiencing an epic drought here in LA), the Bayesian will still be pretty sure the next day will be sunny. Those on Team Hume, on the other hand, reason that since we can’t be certain about tomorrow’s weather, it is equally rational to predict sun and rain. This sounds like a pretty high-stress way of life to me, and a recipe for an early ulcer. No wonder he drank.

Now we’re all caught up: Bayesian reasoning balances past knowledge with new information to make a probabilistic prediction about what is true, while those on Team Hume remain susceptible to the false positive – when the newest info is given disproportionate importance. I don’t know about you, but one seems like a far more productive way to interact with the world. (And if you think I mean the second way, then, well, you should run for Congress. You would do well there.) But when it comes to pursuing the opposite sex, or the same sex, or just sex in general, we tend to drop Bayes like a hot potato and make out with Hume every time.

First date went well? We’re in love! No word for the next two days? He hates me! Got asked out in a clear, direct way? Hooray, a grown up! Got cancelled on a few days later? What a flake; it’s over. In relationships, we tend to ignore the past entirely in favor of how we are feeling right now (it’s raining today and thus will never be sunny again), OR deny the probable with the excuse that we can’t know for certain (sure, he hasn’t called for three weeks, but maybe he was unexpectedly sent to space; YOU don’t know). Either way, there is going to be a lot of anxiety and crying over what is – to be all cold and scientific for a second – just one new piece of data.

To be Bayesian in life, we must consider not just the newest information, but also the weight of everything else we have learned up to this point. This is easier than it sounds, but brace yourself: here comes the math. In Bayes’s theorem, when new information comes in (an event occurs), we must consider three specific things before we can make a probabilistic guess at the truth. Let’s make our “new event” one to which we can all relate: he asked for your number (email, Twitter handle, whatever), and then didn’t call (text, write, tweet, you get the idea). According to an entire franchise, this means without question that he is just not that into you. But to really judge the truth of that, Bayes asks us to evaluate the following:

First is the probability that, if it IS true – he is NOT into you – he would ask for your number and then not call. This is variable Y. It seems weird that someone not into you would ask for your info, so our instinct might initially be to set this probability low. But then again, there is social convention to consider, as well as alcohol, the existence of sadists, and the fact that this is Los Angeles where people are always hedging their bets, plus there is the actual fact of his not calling…so let’s say there is a 75% chance of someone NOT into you still asking for your info but then not calling. Y=0.75

Next we have to consider the opposite – the probability of someone who IS into you asking for your number but then not calling. This is variable Z. As a female, I can come up with a million possible reasons for the lack of call: maybe he lost my info, or his phone, or maybe he’s scared, or hasn’t broken up with his current girlfriend yet, or maybe he works for the CIA… But I am going to let the rational part of my brain step in and acknowledge that, while possible, all together there is still at most probably a 20% chance of any of these being true. Z=0.2

Finally, and most importantly, is what Bayesians refer to as the prior – the probability before the event, before knowing anything about this particular guy or situation, that any guy you meet would NOT be into you. This is variable X. This is also where self-esteem comes to play, so let’s start with a neutral 50%. X=0.5

Once you have assigned those probabilities, the math is pretty simple. The probability of it being true that his is, in fact, NOT into you is the fraction: (XY) over [(XY) + Z(1-X)]. In plain English, it is the probability of ANY guy being not into you multiplied by the probability of a guy being not into you and not calling (XY), divided by that product (XY) plus the probability of any guy being INTO you (1-X) multiplied by the probability of him being into you and not calling (Z). With our numbers, that is: (.5)(.75) / [(.5)(.75) + (.2)(.5)], which comes out to 0.79. So, yeah, there is an almost 80% chance he isn’t into you – but a far cry from the 100% chance that it feels like in the moment.

What I love most about this, though, is how it shows with math the effect that our own personal outlook changes the way we react to things (or should react to them). A person with very high self esteem would probably have a low prior – say, a 10% chance that any random guy would NOT be into her. When X gets changed from 0.5 to 0.1, the lack of phone call results in only a 29.5% chance that he isn’t that into you. We become more willing to consider the event a false positive. But if we have a low opinion of ourselves – say, a prior of 90% (and if this is you, listen to some Katy Perry or go hug a Muppet or something, stat) – one missing phone call results in a 97% chance he isn’t into you. Devastating. So, if you find yourself reeling from every little dating hiccup, take a hard look in the mirror and re-evaluate your priors. Also, find a friend to tell you how awesome you are – and listen.

Besides protecting us from the imbalanced impact of a false positive, Bayesian reasoning also defends against being that sucker who believes Adam Sandler could actually be a secret agent, because the idea is that we re-asses our reality with each event. Instead of treating each time he doesn’t call as a new event to be reasoned and given the benefit of the doubt in isolation, we absorb them and allow them to affect our prior. One last time, let’s set our variables: we will keep Y at 75% and Z and 20%, but let’s go for a normal, healthy prior of 30% – a 30% chance any random person wouldn’t be into you. When he doesn’t call the first time, this calculates out to a 61.6% chance he isn’t into you. This becomes our new prior for this guy (rounding down to 60% for the sake of headaches). Now, when we go out and run into this guy again, and he is flirty and attentive again, and then doesn’t call or communicate again (you know who you are), we calculate the probability that he isn’t into us with an X-factor (not to be confused with an American Idol) of 60%. That results in an 85% percent likelihood of his disinterest. And if it happens a third time (again, you know who you are, and I am NOT amused), the prior is set at 85% and Bayes’s theorem calculates a 95.5% chance he is not that into you. Time to write the boy off, for sure!

Bayesian reasoning allows us to learn and grow from experience, rather than repeat the same mistakes by coming at the world from a place of willful ignorance. Every failed relationship has something to teach us about what we do or don’t want in the future, until ideally we know enough to get one right. That is exactly the idea behind Bayes’s probabilistic thinking – it is the path, through logic, to less and less wrongness. We can’t ever be 100% certain about what is in another person’s heart or mind. But if we are willing to apply a little patience and, yes, math, we can get to a level of confidence that allows us to trust the gamble and win big.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Creeps Me Out

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To be completely judgmental, you can tell a lot about a potential partner by the type of pet they choose to adopt. (I am ignoring people who have no pets, because these people either have severe allergies or no affection for their fellow living creatures, and in either case you don’t want to have to deal with that in a partner. The one exception might be those who want a pet but can’t have one in their current living situation. You can like these people, but they clearly don’t have their shit together yet, so let them ripen a bit before dating them.)

Let’s start with the usual factions of dog owners and cat owners. Dogs get credit for being devoted while cats are widely considered to be indifferent, but really both species are loyal in their own way.  There isn’t any more difference between them than there is between our two political parties, where dogs are Republicans (“I will love you forever regardless of logic because you are here and you are giving me attention”) and cats are Democrats (“I will love you forever because you have given me what I want, and I will periodically pretend to not love you for the sake of my dignity, but who are we kidding?”)

The real difference is in the type of energy you choose to invite into your life. Dog owners like drama, choosing a companion that is shamelessly affectionate, emotionally dependent, and entirely focused on the owner. This is why dogs are the preferred pet of only children – they provide elusive companionship along with the feeling of still being the center of the universe. Dogs basically have borderline personality disorder (“I love you! I love you! Where did you go? When are you coming back? Why aren’t you answering my texts? Are you dead? Am I dead? Oh, you’re home. I love you!”), while cats live somewhere along the autism spectrum (“You can see that I love you because I used the litter box instead of your closet. What more proof do you need?”). Dog owners clearly opt for high-maintenance relationships. They are also more likely to hump anyone who smiles at them (and half the people who don’t).

Then there are fish people – straight up narcissists. Owning a fish is all about selfish pleasure. Almost nothing is required to keep the fish alive, just clean water and a few food pellets a day. With a self-cleaning tank, that’s literally five seconds of thought. Meanwhile, the fish provide ambiance, relaxation, beauty, entertainment, escape… the very definition of a one-way relationship. This is why so many children own fish. Is there anything more narcissistic than a child? Their brains are physically wired to think only about themselves.

Lizard and snake people are clearly non-conformists, which at least makes them interesting. (I have dated some lovely lizard and snake owners.) They also demonstrate an obvious capacity to see beyond traditional representations of beauty, which is nice. Of course, they have chosen a pet that essentially precludes any close contact – it doesn’t take Jung to read into their preference for cold-blooded animals. Snake and lizard owners have a propensity for voyeurism, or at the very least being wallflowers. Plus, there is the whole willingness to feed another living creature to their pet. I’m not saying a lizard owner will definitely break your heart, but he’s probably not going to spend a lot of time making you feel better about yourself either.

On the exact opposite side, we’ve got people who own hamsters, gerbils, rabbits, mice – any of the small caged animals. These people care about nothing BUT appearances. While their pets are super cute, they are good for pretty much nothing else. They poop, sleep, occasionally eat each other, and pretty much roll over and die out of self boredom. If you are dating someone who owns a hamster or a gerbil, congratulations; you are probably very attractive.

Anyone who owns a baby anything – duckling, piglet, pony, tiger cub – has a major red flag warning flashing overhead. These people give no thought to the future and are unable to consider the consequences of their actions. When Chandler and Joey adopted a baby chick and duck on Friends, it wasn’t just funny, but also a deep symbolic representation of their emotional immaturity. Notice those pets went away as the characters gave in to adulthood.

But the biggest red flag of them all is a pet bird. If you find out you are dating a bird person, run. Just run. The fundamental truth about these people is that they are perfectly content to keep a creature that is meant to fly trapped inside a tiny cage with no freedom. Even worse, most of them keep that cage somewhere near a window, so the poor bird can see exactly what he is missing every day of his sad little life. Bird people are sadists. Maybe even psychopaths. They will crush your dreams and laugh while doing it. Don’t even take the time to make an excuse about an early doctor’s appointment the next day – just grab your shit and get the hell out. Now.

I am a cat owner, or, more accurately, a person who attends to cats. Six years ago I rescued two sisters – Martini and Olive (I like it dirty) – and between the two of them have been pretty well trained. But I am also more literally a cat person, in that I am very much like a cat. If dogs are an emotionally needy live-in partner, cats are your asshole roommate, and that’s a pretty accurate statement about me as well. I’m not saying I’ll throw up in the middle of the living room if you piss me off, but I am definitely going to live life on my schedule more often than not. Cats are independent and often prefer to be alone. Some call this aloof, but I say low-maintenance. It’s pretty easy to keep someone happy when they are perfectly content to stare at the same tiny speck on a wall for hours at a time (or, what I like to call “screenwriting”).

Cats are creatures of routine who get openly grumpy when that routine is disturbed – something to which I, with my obsessive-compulsive tendencies, can easily relate. We are fastidious, finicky, and often frustrating. To say we are demanding would be an understatement: Martini will cry at me until I move into a position on the couch where she can sleep behind my knees, and if I dare move or stop petting her before she is satisfied, she gives me one of those death stares that I am sure are the reason the Egyptians said, “better safe than sorry, let’s just treat them all like gods.” We are curious, analytical, and far too prideful. (Have you ever laughed at a cat? It won’t look at you for the rest of the day.) All of these things are what make cats less popular than dogs, and what make cat people like me more difficult to love.

But to stop at these things would be a disservice. There are such great rewards to be had as well. As anyone who owns a laser pointer or has had the pleasure of witnessing a cat high on the ‘Nip can tell you, we are also completely willing to humiliate ourselves for your amusement. Even better, no matter how often we may get startled and run from random coughs or doorbells, when the chips are down and you need us most, we are fiercely devoted. And if you should be so lucky as to be chosen as our person, rest assured you are going to have our ass in your face every day for the rest of your life. Don’t be scared – just rub our belly and we’ll fall asleep in no time.

Talk Nerdy To Me

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If a person’s sex dreams are any indication of her true personality, then I am apparently the love child of Woody Allen and Pee Wee Herman. And I should probably be concerned about the amount of pop culture permeating my brain. Last night, I stayed out until closing time sharing good wine and great conversation with a guy I am starting to get to know. Let’s call him “Joe”. Joe and I talked about many things, from family and travel to literature and football, so it was only natural that upon hitting the pillow at 3am I dreamt about him. But if this is what qualifies as a sex fantasy in my subconscious, I might as well get me to a nunnery tomorrow.

I think the dream started in a car – at least that’s the first part I can remember. Joe and I sat in our separate dance spaces (he was behind the wheel, so it must have been his car) and talked about some fascinating subject that I cannot remember for the life of me. The conversation came to a natural lull, and Joe told me that it was his birthday. So, I kissed him (apparently operating under the Marilyn Monroe philosophy of how to appropriately celebrate birthdays). The kiss was super awkward; I think I even had to hold his chin to keep him still. We stopped kissing. We talked more. Joe mentioned that it was his birthday. So, I kissed him. (My dreams get caught in time loops quite often.) The kiss was still awkward, but this time I was determined to stick it out until we made it work.

For some reason, we just couldn’t get our kisses to feel quite right. It was like our mouths were two puzzle pieces that look like they should absolutely connect, but no matter how many times you try them together they just…will…not…fit! Was this my subconscious sending a flare that Joe is not a good fit for me? A normal person would think yes, but I have always felt a bit awkward about kissing; I think too much about the mechanics of it and worry that I won’t be able to breathe, which keeps me from getting swept away by the magic of the moment. So it’s just as likely the dream was merely reflecting my neurotic fear that I will never experience that romance-novel moment of seeing fireworks and forgetting my own name. Even in a dream, I cannot relax.

Being two resourceful people, Dream Joe and I worked together to crack the kissing code, systematically trying different head positions and chin angles until we finally found the sweet spot and could begin the work of finding compatible things to do with our tongues. Did I not promise this would be a super-hot sex fantasy? Apparently, in my sex dreams I am just as deductive in my reasoning as I am when solving logic puzzles at work.

Joe invited me to go home with him and I agreed. Finally, some action! But, no. When we got to Joe’s apartment it was suddenly daytime and his courtyard was bustling with activity. As we walked toward his building, Joe (who was suddenly wearing a plaid shirt and a baseball cap) explained that before we could continue our private fun time, there was some very important public fun to be had. In anyone else’s dream this would have had kinky implications, but no such luck in my head.

That day, as it turned out, was the day that everyone in the building had to turn in their certified energy meter readings to the city government. No, I don’t get it either. In my dream world, once a month we citizens had to print out note-card-sized readings detailing our energy usage, get them certified and laminated, and hand them in for approval. Joe and his neighbors objected to this Orwellian regulation, so every month they participated in an act of group civil disobedience. As Joe held up his laminated, calligraphied (yes, calligraphy) certificate and grinned at me with a devilish twinkle in his eye, all of his neighbors slowly converged around him. Every single one of them now wore an identical plaid shirt and baseball cap. I don’t even want to begin to think about what this little nugget says about my psyche; I don’t need to poke the bear to know that it has claws and fangs and probably also rabies.

As one, Joe and his group of Joe-a-likes launched into what looked like an enthusiastic game of hacky sack played in the middle of a mosh pit. Instead of busting and bruising each other, though, they focused their aggression on the plastic coated certificates. Apparently, their ultimate act of sticking it to the man was to soil, mangle, and otherwise disfigure those pristine little symbols of government overreach before handing them in as expected. This is probably as rebellious as my inner-teacher’s-pet would let them be. From my vantage point just above the mayhem (a position to which I had somehow teleported the instant the action began), my job was to document the violence with my camera. Why did I suddenly have a camera? Just in case something like this happened – duh.

Don’t worry, I got some great mental pics. One of them was an awesome action shot of Joe smashing his certificate into a muddy planter like a rabid pitcher in a cricket match. He was suitably impressed when I showed him, but there wasn’t much time to bask in his admiration because a car had arrived to take us to Detroit. It was a small SUV, and while I have no idea who else was in the car, I remember that there was only one seat available so Joe and I had to squeeze into the back seat together. This turned out to be an excellent position for more kissing practice, and I was just starting to think I might finally get some action in this sex dream when, wouldn’t you know it, the van passed through a wormhole and arrived on the set of a fashion photo shoot in the glamorous Motor City.

Much to my surprise, the model for the fashion shoot turned out to be me. Well, I was one of them, anyway. I was dressed up in a slinky pink negligee and instructed to writhe around in faux ecstasy with the male model for all of the wide shots, while a pretty young thing in the exact same outfit popped into the scene for the close ups. This is my brain’s not-so-subtle way of reinforcing my confidence in my general physical fitness while simultaneously boosting my neurosis about having a “butter face”. Just what every girl wants in the middle of a sex fantasy: her mind holding a mirror up to her ego.

On top of everything else, the male model in the shoot hated me, because I refused to have actual sex with him in front of the camera. He kept giving me vaguely-gay Argentine death stares when the photographer – who I swear was from an episode of America’s Next Top Model – paused to reload his film. Yes, film. My Luddite tendencies run deep. So, even in the middle of a sex fantasy I get rejected by men because I won’t put out without at least a little conversation first. Does this mean I wish I were more of a slut? More likely it means I am a prude through to the very core of my being. Awesome.

Eventually, the photo shoot ended – though no one told me; I figured it out when I found myself writhing against a bare mattress while the male model chatted up the hot-face girl and everyone else stood around looking awkwardly embarrassed for me. Joe, who for some reason had not yet decided to run for the hills, climbed back the into SUV with me, but this time he sat on the other side of the back seat and I got crammed in with my nemesis the face model. She immediately turned into my 19-year-old cousin, Paige, which was pretty great for me because Paige is built like a bird and I had to have her on my lap. At this point, it became clear to me that the driver of the car was my dad (hello, Freud!), and I’m pretty sure that the person riding shotgun was Heidi Klum. Seriously, I need to stop watching reality TV.

As we drove away from Detroit, and as I became more and more sexually frustrated in my own fantasy, I suddenly realized that I had absolutely nothing appropriate to wear to a swanky event I would be attending that night with Joe. Having completely failed to impress him in any way thus far, I would now have to accompany him to a party in jeans and a T-shirt from the musical Wicked. Fortunately, this was MY sex dream, and even in a world of its own creation my brain does not rest until a problem is solved. I remembered that back at home base I had my suitcase, which was full of clothes packed for (what the hell?) my college reunion, including a little black dress. The reunion, dress, and Joe’s party were all near Boston, I guess, which is clearly only an hour-or-so drive from Detroit.

In the blink of a REM-sleeping eye, I was snug in that little black dress, back with Joe in his car at night, and back to (finally) getting some dream nookie. For some reason, Joe’s car was much smaller this time so we were crammed together, but who cared? We were alone and all over each other; two over-the-hill teenagers making out like we’d just gotten our braces off. Things heated up and I found myself finally confident that Joe really did like me – largely because he kept moving my hand down to grasp something hard and insisting that I “tug on the parking brake”. It was raunchy and arousing, until I looked down and I realized… he was not being euphemistic. Joe really did want me to keep a hand on the parking brake so his car wouldn’t start rolling backwards down the hill. Safety first – and apparently rides before brides.

With this sudden confirmation that I can’t even manage to play first fiddle in a fantasy, my sex dream finally imploded. I woke up, alone, with the sun in my eyes and my cat hollering in my face for her breakfast. Figuring at least one of us should feel satisfied, I fed her.

When Sally Didn’t Meet Harry (or, why Facebook is evil)

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Art often imitates life, as well it should, so we can relate. More disconcerting is when life imitates art. As much as I would like to believe in the romanticism of Kermit’s closing lines to The Muppet Movie (“Life’s like a movie, write your own ending…”), in reality we don’t get to choose which movie/song/story to live – and it’s almost never the one we would prefer. I am an unashamed Taylor Swift fan because, yes, I have spent much of my life in T-shirts sitting on the proverbial bleachers watching my guy friends chase after the short-skirted cheerleader, and yes, some days I DO feel twenty two, and I totally knew that the last guy I dated was trouble when he walked in. (He was a self-described “serial monogamist”, which we all know is a euphemism for “unable to sustain a healthy relationship but too selfish and insecure to be alone for even a week,” but he was smart and cute and funny, so I dated him anyway. Going forward, I resolve to add “not an emotional child” to my criteria.) As much fun as it is to have a Swiftian soundtrack to my life, I would much prefer to live a Beyonce song now and then, or maybe Pink so at least I would be badass. Instead, I live in perpetual country-pop high school.

Last night, I found myself living a scene from my favorite romantic comedy. Which sounds awesome, right? I mean, if someone asked, “How would you like to live a scene from one of your favorite movies?” you’d think, “Hell, yeah! I’m gonna be flying an alien spaceship and saving all humanity!” Or, “I’m going to make a really stupid romantic choice and have him turn out to be the EXACT RIGHT GUY for me!” But this is a Faustian offer, because while you get to live a scene from your favorite movie, nobody said anything about it being one of your favorite scenes. Before you know it you’re Jodi Foster getting semen sprayed on a glass window in front of your face, or Vincent D’Onofrio making out with an M14. Last night I lived the scene from When Harry Met Sally where Meg Ryan finds out about Joe’s new life – except my Harry is actually two Hairy cats with limited comprehension skills, and I didn’t get to have sex with anyone.

Quick back story: about two and a half years ago, I met a guy at a party, which isn’t a big deal. Except a couple of months later we started dating, which was a big deal because I had been single for a lo-o-o-ong time. And a month into the relationship, I wanted him to be my boyfriend, which was a very big deal as it had been four years since I had wanted anyone to have that title. Heartbreak had made me cautious, to say the least. Fortunately, he was crazy about me, and even though I was reluctant to let my walls down, I was smart enough to know a great guy when I saw one and I let him woo me. Boy, did he woo me. We went on trips, stayed in nice hotels (always using AmEx points and travel deals – frugality is super sexy), went to concerts, ate great food – basically had a blast. He was fun, and funny, attractive, and open; it was a wonderful romance. So finally, after eight months of keeping a slight layer of protective padding around my wounded heart, I let it all go and admitted I was in love with him. That was of course the beginning of the end.

We’ve all seen relationships unravel so I won’t re-hash the details; I grew more attached, he grew more distant; I introduced him to my family; he introduced me to his desire to be alone. I won’t say I blame my family for scaring him off (even though we are a little Stepford close in a matching-T-shirts-on-vacation kind of way, we are also lovely people), but I do know that meeting them was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I am all about family, and he was absolutely not. We had talked about how he didn’t want kids, and I was okay with that (or at least was able to convince myself I was), and I knew that he wasn’t very close with his parents or sister or niblings (the collective noun for nieces and nephews – awesome, right?). But now he didn’t really want a committed partner either, so that was that. He walked out and I moved on; it wasn’t meant to be.

That was a year and a half ago, and last night, I did the dumbest thing a person can do: I decided to check Facebook one last time before going to bed. One of the myriad reasons Facebook is evil is that while you can cut ties with an Ex, unless you are also willing to cut ties with everyone you both know… Right there, in the middle of my newsfeed was a shout out from a mutual friend wishing him and some girl a speedy delivery of their baby. Holy frak, Batman. I had no idea what to think, except that there was no way I was going to be well rested for my 7am hike.

After a fitful “sleep” and no morning hike, I still am not sure what I feel. Of course, my first reaction was very much Sally’s – devastation that less than a year after leaving me he did start a family, just with somebody else. (Oh, Nora Ephron, you are missed.) Maybe it really is as simple as, “he just didn’t want those things with me,” but the question of “what’s wrong with me?” is too depressing to think about; I’ve already cried about that question enough, and as I said, I don’t have a Harry to comfort me with sex, so I’m just going to let that emotion go sit in the corner and think about itself for a while. Besides, I don’t know that he chose commitment, or that he actually wants to have a family. He could just as easily be banging his head against a wall somewhere thinking, “Why the hell did I leave Kate? At least she was organized and compulsive enough to remember her birth control pills every day.” Maybe he decided to be someone’s sperm donor, with the caveat that he had no responsibility beyond floating in every now and then like the Wizard of Oz with a bag full of gifts from some exotic land. Or maybe, as my best friend so wisely pointed out, he really did want kids but lied to me and left because he was afraid it would kill me (I have a heart defect – more on that later). Ridiculous, yes, but since I know no details (Facebook is EVIL), all theories are equally probable.

The part of me that is still a broken-hearted ex-girlfriend hopes that this man, this man who walked away from me in tears (his, not mine – I was angry by then) with the words, “I will be in touch; I am a man of my word” and then never was heard from again, that this man is currently living his own movie moment, preferably one emotionally akin to James Bond tied naked to a bottomless chair getting his balls smashed over and over. The part of me that is an egomaniac is mostly just annoyed that this pregnancy was a reality for nine months without my ever knowing about it. And the part of me that is a coward wishes I still didn’t know about it. But the part of me that is a good person (which is – I hope – the biggest part) hopes in the end that he really does want this baby, hopes that he is able to commit to it and to its mother, and hopes that he will be a good dad.

Of course I also hope it’s a boy, and that it pees in his face.

Meet the Geek

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I, Kate, am a Harvard-educated, Second City-trained comedy writer who teaches logic in my spare time. This is precisely why I am also still single. (Well, that and the fact that I live in Los Angeles.) I will use this space to share musings, observations, and all-too-true stories from my three decades (and counting) of adventures in love and storytelling. Thanks for reading! [Return to full-frontalnerdity.com]