When I see her, I know that my entire life is one simple story: Boy meets girl. It’s one that’s been told plenty of times, but I think mine is special. Not because it’s a “new spin on an old favorite” or it’s strange or out of the ordinary. It’s special because it happened to me. God do I hate that phrase. “New spin.” It’s just a nice way of saying, “Oh, I ran out of ideas but I was able to plagiarize an old one just enough so that it’s vaguely original.” Like fucking “13 Going on 30.” “It’s ‘Big’...but with a girl! And there’s time travel! And that chick from Alias!” Jesus Christ. Trying to collect stem cells from the aborted brainchild of previous screenwriters. But either way, none of that here. Just boy meeting girl. Two characters. Boy. And, you guessed it, Girl. And apparently at some point during the course of the drama they will run into each other and introduce themselves in a manner that qualifies as “meeting.” They say that all you need for a good story is a girl and a gun. Well, the gun’s going to come later, so let’s just start with the girl.
But before you write this off as a dumb story and change the channel or fall asleep, let me make one point: There is a huge difference between dumb and simple. A difference that I will now demonstrate with extensive visual aids and hand gestures. Dumb is a story where you shut off your brain and get nothing out of it. Empty calories. Nothing gained. As soon as it’s over you forget you even heard it and go on with your life unchanged. It’s Scary Movie or Epic Movie or anything with more than one Wayans brother in the credits. Just horrible. Pure shit. Like, wouldn’t save it if you were drowning and the DVD case was your only flotation device.
But as for simple, I don’t mean Of Mice and Men “Look at the rabbits, George” or rides on the short bus or Billy Bob Thornton. Simple means that the story accomplishes exactly what it set out to do, nothing more, and you feel good for having heard it. It’s not trying too hard to be something it’s not. It’s a good romantic comedy or an episode of “The Office.” Reach equals its grasp. It just feels right. Simple. That’s just what people want. Which might explain Ray Romano’s success and why the third season of Lost really blew.
But the problem is that people always want their story to get more complicated and convoluted and complex than it should be. They ignore the first rule of writing: keep it simple, you fucking retard. You get into one of those forced square peg into a round hole/Sammy Hagar into Van Halen kind of situations. They focus so much on symbolism and depth that they forget to tell a good, entertaining story. They try to be too damn funny or too damn intricate, and start digressing into whole arenas that having nothing to do with the plot at all. And all of a sudden your show about a deserted island turns into Dharma Initiative smoke monsters and polar bears.
You get those dumb ass student films that get so caught up in postmodern meaning and technique and “gorgeous shots” and countless upon countless homages to David Lynch that they have no story whatsoever. They’re made by your stereotypical pretentious film students who belong in an independent record store and love the sound of their own voices and find phallic symbols in every aspect of life and probably wrote one of those senior theses with fourteen words in the title, like “Oedipal Themes and Marxist Overtones in Literature and Film of the Roosevelt Administration.” They go to midnight screenings of Francois Truffaut movies and sit in the back, cracking jokes like the two old men from the Muppet Show. Because watching a movie needs to be so damn complicated. Simplify. Wasn’t that the whole fucking point of Walden?
I’m really swearing a lot, aren’t I? Well, sorry about that. I always start cursing when I’m nervous. And yes, I’ll go to confession and say x amount of Our Fathers to make up for it. I’m just nervous, that’s all. And if you were in my position, I’m pretty sure you’d be swearing too. Just nerves. Get over it.
Okay. Getting away from the point. Boy meets girl.
The girl in question is Marion Malone. One of those alliterative names that’s better suited for one of Dick Tracy’s love interests. But I guess it suits her well. I haven’t forgotten it once. Marion. That name that makes you stop for a second whenever you hear it, like someone just tapped you on the shoulder on a crowded street. A name that feels like home. One of those faces where, oh I don’t know, you bump into her 8 years later at a Starbucks, you both drop your blended coffee beverages and you lose the ability to form words when you make eye contact. You’re left there, standing, trying to figure out where it went wrong, what to say, how she’s been, what she’s been doing, or when she started drinking chai tea. And you start thinking.
Now, we weren’t high school sweethearts. Missed that one by three years. “College sweethearts” I guess is what they would call it, but by the time you get to college the term isn’t as sweet. Since in high school, love meant holding hands and making out under the bleachers, and in college love means holding each other’s hair back while you puke.
We also missed the “sweethearts” by a bit. We never had that archetypal, pseudo-romantic college love. You know, listening to Jack Johnson in the common room while talking about Darfur. Making her horrible mix tapes that you can only get away with when you’re 22. The long walks down snowy streets in a college town, doing your best impression of the album cover of “The Freewheeling Bob Dylan.” All the while experimenting with the weird sexual stuff you’d seen in movies in high school. Yeah. You know what I’m talking about.
She was that sort of pretty, accessible girl that every guy (even if they didn’t admit it) was in love with and wanted to hang around. The sort of girl that you’re happy to count as a friend. Partly because you’re a really nice guy and you enjoy her company, but partly because you think that by showing emotions and being her shoulder to cry on she’ll throw you one. And then you get into this negative feedback loop, causality chain, chicken and the egg, snake eating its own tail paradox and you start feeling bad about yourself because you’re not sure whether you were being a nice guy in the first place or if you were always a sex crazed demon and how easy it is to confuse genuine kindness and self-involved, fuck-motivated courtesy.
But not with me. There was no act, no faking, nothing forced. In accordance with the When Harry Met Sally corollary, we weren’t friends. I could never be friends with Marion because we fit too well. To be anything less than in love would be a sick reminder of what we could be. We just connected. No ulterior motives. No fake sincerity. We saw each other and knew that it worked.
We hadn’t met before because...we hadn’t. Never ran into each other on campus or had a class together or a mutual friend. Sometimes you just don’t meet people. I’d like to tell it that we were at the library, both reaching for the same copy of a Kurt Vonnegut novel when our eyes met and Norah Jones played in the background while we both stumbled for an introduction. Once more, being the great storyteller that I am, I mention that I’d only like to tell it that way. We met in the line for the port-a-john outside the Sigma Chi house at a Eurotrash themed party. And no one ever looks good at these. I had a gallon of gel in my hair while wearing a French cuff shirt with just enough buttons undone to show the maximum amount of chest hair. She was in a skimpy dress with sunglasses four sizes too big and her dress strap pulled down past her shoulder to reveal her lime green bra. Love at first sight, right?
In the time it took to hold our bladders, we talked. We liked the same movies, had same sense of humor, both shared an irrational hatred for Jon Bon Jovi. We both had a horrible habit of making obscure references in everyday conversation that no one else got. All of our jokes went over other people’s heads. It was like Rick and Ilsa. Only we looked like rejects from Studio 54 and instead of “As Time Goes By” our anthem was some indiscernible techno remix of Billy Idol that you’d hate if you hadn’t been drinking that night. You know those kids in high school who all of a sudden read Fight Club and start hating consumerism despite the fact that they purchased the book at Barnes and Noble? And then they insist that you haven’t lived until you’d seen the director’s cut of Donnie Darko and scoff at anyone who hasn’t even heard of the movie? Well, I’m pretty sure Marion was one of those people. But thankfully by the time she got to college she grew out of it. She was what every man dreams of: a grown-up version of high school.
When you meet someone you like at a party, your college brain goes into autopilot. Do what it takes to get them into bed. You come up with all these slick lines to playfully disarm her. You try to find some kind of suave way to insinuate you should head back to your place. You casually make contact with her forearm to send the proper body language. There was none of that bullshit. We never said a single one. We left our game at the door and simply talked like two people who had been dating for years. Right here is the point where I’d recount all of our conversation, since apparently it’s the most important one I’ve ever had. But for the life of me I can’t remember a single word. It all melted together. All I remember is talking to her and never wanting to stop. And before you knew it, we were back at her place. Now, I don’t jump into bed quickly. Except for when I was 8 years old and I was convinced that in the time it took me to turn off my light and get under the covers, Billy Joel was going to jump out of the darkness and get me. That’s right. Instead of the boogeyman, I grew up with a fear of Billy Joel. Which I argue is much more terrifying. But with Marion it didn’t feel like we were rushing into anything. As though sex was the logical next step.
We went out for a year and a half. Each day as good as the next. Except for one thing. She would always alternate between saying “pat-ronizing” and “pate-ronizing,” which drove me nuts.
All right. Stand up straight. Not too upright, though. Maybe lean forward a little to indicate attraction. What did those Queer Eye guys say about body language? She’s smiling. That’s a good sign. Or is she embarrassed to see me? Has she been wondering about me? Do I dare? In which case seem approachable yet rugged. Think George Clooney. But without the weapons grade arrogance. Or is it smugness? One of those two. Either way, seem cool. Casually flick your hair back. This is Marion we’re talking about. Let her know that you’ve still got a sense of humor. Say something. Some line about “crying over spilled coffee?” No, nothing that stupid. Don’t tell any “What did the teddy bear say to the waiter” jokes. How does that one even go? No. Doesn’t matter. Do not tell that joke. Okay, fine. We only went out for a month and a half. I’m not sure why I lied. Maybe I wanted to impress you. Maybe I wanted our relationship to seem like more than it actually was. I think that everyone exaggerates their past flings by a factor of two. But still. Best month and a half of my life. It wasn’t so much that it was fun. We felt right. And I felt whole.
We kept going on with no end in sight...and then suddenly it was time to graduate. College was over. She had a job on the east coast and I was never going to leave Los Angeles. The romantic impulse is to give your career the proverbial middle finger and run off together. But you can’t do that in the real world. You don’t run off with Juliet or stand outside Ione Skye’s window with a boom box or ruin Elaine Robinson’s wedding. You go to high school, you go to college, you get a job, and you become all in all another brick in the wall. And we weren’t about to risk that for the sake of 44 days together (not that I’d been counting). We thought about doing a long distance thing, but what we had wasn’t really even a thing at that point. Expecting an exclusive relationship was like expecting good grammar in country music lyrics. So what do you call it when you get dumped and you’re not officially together? Waking up. And she said, “I wish I had met someone like you sooner.” We kissed. And that was that. Which sums up my relationship with Marion Malone in a nutshell. A convoluted, babbling, neurotic nutshell, but a shell that contains nuts nonetheless. And like people do, we lost touch. And I know what you’re thinking. What kind of perfect bond was this that you couldn’t even e-mail? Guess it wasn’t meant to be. Or if it were, it would be some kind of Love in the Time of Cholera love affair. Speaking of shitty movies: Serendipity. What a pile of crap. And they try so hard to seem literate by “subtly” and “casually” referencing Gabriel Garcia Marquez. John Cusack deserves better. So it goes.
“No thanks. I’m stuffed.” That’s the punchline. Haha. Great joke. Maybe it’s not so bad after all. So there she is. Marion. No idea what she’s doing for a living. She looks good. She looks...like Marion.
God no, that joke’s awful. There’s another one I used to know. “What did the envelope say to the stamp?” Damnit, why is it that I can only think of jokes from second grade? Better second than seventh. Right around the time you start being able to joke about sex. “So this newlywed couple decides to go to a nude beach and they run into a priest...”
You compare the next few girls you date to her. She was the bar that they were all measured against. Side note: “The Bar” would be a kick ass nickname. Every woman after her seemed slightly off. Like listening to Jingle Bell Rock in any month that’s not December. Every so often you think about Marion, and for a second it hits you that she’s fucking some other guy right now. Someone else is loving the body you thought was yours. And you get angry, you get sad, you sit crying over good times you had. And even though you swear it’ll never happen, you find the time to get over her.
Ob la di, ob la da. She was just one chapter in your book. And probably not even a very important chapter, otherwise she would’ve been the entire novel. She was a passing craze. A transition girlfriend. A kiss that you held onto for too long when you knew you should have broken it off. She felt special, but at the age of 21 every relationship seems like it has the potential to be “the one.” Every girl you date feels like one of those out of all the gin joints kind of girls. Somewhere during the time I was trying to forget what’s-her-name, I got a job in advertising. A regular Don Draper, man in the grey flannel suit. Except the sort who still dreams of screenwriting and has been living out a stop gap as a creative director, peddling mid-size sedans to middle class, mid-west families. Just a way to make some money until I make it big. Which has lasted five years and will probably last another ten and will then turn into something that might resemble a career.
Right about now you’re probably wondering when the gun is going to show up in this story. Maybe a shock ending? Bank robbery? Freak hunting accident? NRA convention? And by now you’ve probably realized that there is no gun in this story. Once again, I lied. I’m sorry, but I wanted this to seem more interesting and the promise of a gun is something that always keeps an audience on end. But a gun doesn’t always show up. Life isn’t dramatic. There’s no act structure. The tension doesn’t build up to a climax right before life gets easier and the girl of your dreams shows up before the end credits. There’s no soundtrack, no logical sense of order to any of the events. Because life isn’t a story. It’s just life.
And then it just happens. Out of nowhere you open a door and you bump into each other at Star bucks and her Frappa-mocha-Al-pacino flies all over the place. You stare at each other. Neither wanting to make the first move. Don’t want to seem over keen, right? And in the course of one deep breath you start wondering.
So what the hell do you say to her? How do you remotely break the ice? Do you mention that at one point you actually thought that you were going to get married? Would that sound creepy or romantic? That you’ve never stopped loving her. Well, apart from the times you didn’t. You’ve got to say something meaningful. Something that only she’ll understand. What was that band she liked back in school? Radiohead? Or was it Portishead? Were they really that different? I should have been a pair of ragged claws and all that nonsense. God she looks amazing. Maybe I should lead with that? Or does that make it seem like I only care about sex? Do I? Of course I don’t. I still can’t believe I let her go. Did I put deodorant on this morning? Maybe I should have followed her. And then, all of a sudden, you just... Simplify.
“Hi,” he says. “Hi,” she smiles back. Boy. Meet girl. Go.