1. Once Upon a Galaxy, Far, Far Away
Once upon a time in a galaxy, far, far, away – 1977 specifically – girls wore jeans that had to be zipped with pliers and undulated to the sounds of Saturday Night Fever and Fleetwood Mac’s “Don’t Stop.” For us kids in Lumaville, the city was San Francisco, a whole continent away from the peanut farmer Walter Cronkite called Mr. President. There, gas lines spanned city blocks and suburban chic included a drought-inspired bathroom sign that read “If it’s yellow let it mellow; if it’s brown flush it down.” It was the year Apple Computer was born and the year Elvis and Groucho Marx died, later to be reincarnated together as punk rock. It was the year Star Wars, the real Star Wars, hit the silver screen.
As a five year-old, I immediately fell for Carrie Fisher’s portrayal of Princess Leia, which started a life-long search for a tough dame with aristocratic affiliations. To complicate matters, 1977 also saw the release of Woody Allen’s Oscar-winning re-imagining of Pygmalion by way of the Times’ “Arts and Leisure Section.” Annie Hall starred Diane Keaton as a young woman dealing with life and love in the Manhattan of the seventies, which started a women’s fashion craze for vests and ties that can only be described as hobo-chic.
Anyway, I was an impressionable kid. Imagine, the hard-boiled sci-fi siren and the bohemian artist type from Chippewa Falls—together, alas, my perfect woman. Her name was Annika Strang. We dated. What follows are scenes from the motion picture version of our relationship…
A line, long with theater-goers – anemic dudes clad in corduroy jackets with elbow patches and snooty women in long skirts, boots and berets. Annika, donned in her ubiquitous vest and tie, radiates an earthy sensuality. Her eyes are a faint blue, curtained by deep henna-hued bangs. She’s approaching thirty and in every other manner, prime, in the Miss Jean Brodie sense of the word.
Annika: “Can’t you use your press pass or something? This sucks. Why do we always have to go to the theater?”
Me: “Because I’m a columnist. And we get free tickets. When my sales pick up we’ll go to where successful writers go – like brothels and sanitariums.”
Annika: (sighing) “I should have gone to yoga.”
Me: “And you would think putting your feet behind your head would benefit our relationship.”
Annika: “I’m not good at relationships. I told you I’m kryptonite.”
I have to interject here. Annika’s excuse for every tic that transpired between us was that she was “kryptonite.” Why she chose the sole element that could kill Superman to express this is a question better left for her analyst. I suppose, since being in a relationship with her didn’t kill me outright, I must have been Bizarro, Superman’s backward doppelganger to whom kryptonite was more boon than bane.
Frustrated with Annika, I step out of line and pull in Tony Roberts, Woody Allen’s bearded, baritone-voice multi-movie sidekick, to consult (self-help guru Tony Robbins could fill-in in a pinch – everyone always thinks this is who I mean when I mention “Tony Roberts”).
Me: “You have to help me. My girlfriend thinks she’s kryptonite.”
Roberts: “You don’t need me – you need Lex Luther. When a woman says she’s kryptonite, believe her. Get out before you end up in a tabloid.”
Me: “You’re right. But she was so sweet when we met…”
3. Group Encounter
My pal Cameron made his fortune creating niche-based online dating services. Take your kink, realize you’re not that kinky in the grand scheme of things and then Cameron’s website finds all the other not-that-kinky people who share your kink. When a new site needed beta-testing, we were the guinea pigs. The kink du jour had something to do with women complete sets of wisdom teeth or something. “You met in school – where?” Cameron began. It was a softball question meant to lead, eventually to something more suggestive. I fully expected him to unveil his “you can leada girl to Vassar but you can’t make her think” gag again, but alas…
“Lumaville State,” said Annika. “”
“I can’t get behind any school wherein you can kill their mascot with salt,” I quipped, but nobody cared. I tread water: “We went to State. We didn’t have a mascot for fear of offending, you know, mascots.”
Cameron shook his well-coiffed head.
“It was a diploma mill. It was easier to get a diploma there than it was to get rolling papers,” he laughed haughtily.
“But you didn’t graduate, right?” Annika asked.
“No, we had little use for diplomas,” I said.
“Or rolling papers. We had a bong,” Cameron added.
Annika pursed her lips. “So, where did you meet, rehab?”
“It’s more romantic. We had a mutual enemy. He stole our girlfriend,” I explained.
Annika was incredulous, so I elaborated.
“Well, she was his girlfriend, but I would sub. Sometime in the 80s. Back when barrier protection had something to do with Iran-gate. Now we don’t let women come between us.”
“Even when it’s consensual,” Cameron lobbed, resulting in raised eyebrows.
“So that’s where I picked him up. The enemy of my enemy is my friend, right?”
“You invented the ‘frenemy?’” Annika jibed.
Cameron smiled broadly, then ran off to register the domain name of his new niche. I stayed with Annika.
4. Last Summer
Me: “What do you mean he was hitting on you?”
Annika: “I don’t know, there was just, you know, something…”
Me: “Well it’s got to be a little more specific, Cameron is my oldest friend. Was it the partner swapping gag? That’s just his patter.”
Annika: “No, it was no big deal, nothing. At the boat house, but it’s not important. Don’t be jealous.”
Me: “Whose jealous? When were you at the boat house?”
Annika: “When I helped him move. Don’t be jealous.”
Me: “I’m not jealous. He moved? Huh. What did he say to you? I’ll interpret it so we’ll know that you’re not just flattering yourself.”
Annika: “Thanks. He didn’t say anything.”
Me: “Then how could he hit on you? What, was he counting his money in front of you? ’Cuz the man’s subtle.”
Annika: “I think he tried to kiss me.”
Me: “You think?”
Annika: “It was dark. We were talking.”
Me: “Nah. He’s very old world.” I kiss her on both cheeks. “See, hello, goodbye. Like that? No? What, he tried to kiss you goodnight or something?”
Annika: More like “good morning.”
“Was your ex good in bed?” she asked, which I knew instinctively was girl-code for
“Was she better than me?” Annika cantered: “Oh, what does that mean, anyhow? It’s so subjective.”
“No she wasn’t good in bed. She was like a four star restaurant,” I explained. “Any achievement she enjoyed was small and pricey.”
“You like me better than her, though, right?”
“You? I love you.”
“My ex claimed to have phantom pain from his circumcision,” she said, staring through the pillow. “Do you really love me? You shouldn’t. I mean, you know what I really am, right?”
6. Bad Haikus
Golden Gate Bridge
North, at the Marin Headlands
We sat on a bench.
Beautiful isn’t it?
I see why people always jump off.
Something on your mind?
You’re perfect, Annika.
Please don’t say that, I’m trouble.
That makes you sexy.
I am kryptonite.
Sure, but, I’m not Superman.
You are Bizarro
7. Company Party
The loft looked like a nightclub on Planet Softcore. Girls clad in kitsch space vixen outfits maneuvered trays of exotic hors’dourves through throngs of young, rich, angry people. Cameron clinked his Champaign glass with a silver spoon.
“I just to says some words about our new strategic partners, the Russian Space Administration,” Cameron began.
Annika pinched my elbow.
“You didn’t say he was working with cosmonauts,” she whispered in my ear.
“Yeah, the Russian space people were seeking an injunction to shut down Cameron’s website because they thought it was, you know, defamation of character. Then they found out how profitable it was, scraped up their rubles and became a majority investor.”
Cameron raised his glass: “To our Russian partners, welcome to Slutnik-dot-com!”
Cameron: “Thanks. Aren’t these women just amazing? That one has a tattoo that reads ‘STS-51-L.’”
Annika: “What does it mean?”
Cameron: “Last flight number of Challenger – the space shuttle. Too cool. Hey, man, try the Tobiko caviar. It’s red hot and spicy. Had it shipped.”
Me: “I can’t handle spicy, you know, it’ll blow out my O-ring and then the teacher will die.”
Cameron: “You guys wanna see something?”
In his office, Cameron takes a cylindrical object out of a locked case. He hits a button and a glowing shaft of light projects from it. The dude has a lightsaber.
Me: “What about the part about hokey religions and ancient weapons?”
Annika: “Can I touch it?”
“Something has definitely soured between Annika and I. Everyday, she becomes a little cooler, remote, distracted. By tomorrow she may become catatonic. With a woman like Annika, I should be happy just getting into her pants – maybe I don’t want to be in her head.” – DH
“It was nice flirting with Cameron, in the boathouse. I should never have said anything. I’m a wreck. Cameron makes me feel sexy, unpredictable and naughty — feelings I enjoy, then feel guilty about, which, turns me on even more. I get so bored I fear slipping into catatonia. Hold tight. But, you know, you did encourage Cameron…” – AS
“See, you finally admit to yourself, you did encourage Cameron. Great.” – DH
Me: “We’re at that age when our heroes begin to die – in the metaphysical sense. The myth-makers of our youth are being put to pasture to be grazed on by junior college professors and social media marketers.”
Cameron: “Everything I learned about life was from the movies I saw as a kid.”
Me: “That’s why you’ll end up a new age weirdo with an absentee father and a fake hand. I’d hate to be your girlfriend.”
Cameron: “I have no girlfriend. After the merger, we discovered there was a conflict of interest. Our parent companies are competitors. We’re going to see other people until our stocks vest.”
Me: “Wow, that’s horrible.”
Cameron: “S’business. How are you and Annika?”
I missed the ball, but Cameron thought it would ironic to pretend not to notice the irony.
Me: “It’s not, you know, a bull market. In fact, it’s mostly just bull. Annika seems so remote somehow, she says I over-idealize her, that I …Hey, you don’t fancy her or anything — I’m just paranoid, you know, ’cuz sometimes I detect sparks.”
Cameron: “That’s just from grinding our axes.”
Me: “As long as that’s all you’re grinding.”
Cameron: “She’s got a great axe.”
I walloped the ball, which lodged into the corner of the ceiling.
10. Garden Party
“Cameron gets invited to everything,” I muttered.
I hadn’t been to a Star Wars party since my eighth birthday. The garden was rife with characters — if you stood in place too long a Jawa would run between your legs. Chewbacca worked the bar. Darth Vader was the DJ. I accepted a glass of Champaign from passing Stormtrooper and another for Annika, but when I turned to find her, she and Cameron already had theirs.
“You’re projecting what you want in a woman on her,” an oddly diminutive Stormtrooper advised. That’s not who she is. Now she’s craving the attention of other men, who appreciate her on her own terms, not some invented romantic vision.”
“Aren’t you a little short for a stormtrooper,” I said in an effect to dismiss the runt, but his words echoed a looming truth.
Cameron and Annika were joined by a Jedi who goaded Cameron to compare the length of their lightsabers. He left disgruntled.
“Maybe you’re right, maybe she’s not the woman I’m looking for.”
The stormtrooper agreed. “She’s not the woman you’re looking for.”
“And I should just move along?”
“Move along,” he admonished.
11. All the Jung Dudes
Me: “The old books mixed with the new. Bookstores like this have no respect for the linear nature of time. It’s meaningless here — only the arbitrary order of the alphabet, which is itself completely arbitrary. I mean alpha, omega, A to Z. Who’s to say? And even still that system is fallible. What’s DeVore doing among the Munroes? And no H’s whatsoever. Of course. Tell ya, bookstores can be like a hall of mirrors for us bottom list writers — you can see everyone else but never yourself.”
Annika: (sighs) Remember in the seventies?”
Me: “I’m a child of the seventies — I was swaddled in Christo’s Running Fence. Vote for Anderson?”
Annika: “Remember the drought of seventy-seven?”
Me: “If it’s yellow let it mellow; if it’s brown flush it down.”
Annika: “We’ve reached the flush it down part of our relationship. It’s gotten too complicated. For what it was supposed to be.”
Me: “What was that?”
Annika: “Brief. I don’t know. Maybe we just need some space — some time apart.”
Me: “No more nights and weekends.”
Annika: “This is a relationship, not a calling plan.”
Annika’s phone rings. She fishes it out of her bag and answers while strolling off. Lost in my own thoughts, I bump into an attractive woman, fairy-like character and fascinatingly vague.
Me: “I’m sorry, excuse me.”
Anima: “I recognize you. Omigod, you’re that writer! I think your column is just – just meow.”
Me: “Meow? No one has ever meowed at my work before. Or even read it for that matter.”
Anima: “I think you’re meow too.”
Me: “Should I pet you or something? I’m sorry, I’m being cavalier.”
Anima: “You can pet me. I like cavalier. I even like narcissistic.”
Me: “Really? You know, I have a lot of self-love to give.”
Anima: “Mmm, I bet.”
Me: (having painted myself into a corner) “Okay, now I have to go.”
Anima: “No you don’t. It’s not like I’m kryptonite or something.”
Me: “That’s refreshing.”
Anima: “I’m your anima. I’m the female archetype within your unconscious.”
Me: “Who says?”
Anima: “Carl Jung.”
Me: “Fair enough.”
Anima: “I’m a projection of your inner, feminine side.”
Me: “You’re definitely my good side.”
(She wraps her arms around me and plants a smooch.)
Anima: “Listen, let’s ditch your girlfriend and go home. I’m your ideal woman — not her. This is you’re ultimate fantasy.”
Me: “You’re right. And it wouldn’t really be cheating, would it?”
Annika walks back in, shocked. Expletives follow.
Me: “It’s not what it seems. She’s my anima, my inner female.”
Annika: “And you’re kissing her.”
Me: “I know, but it’s alright, you see, she’s just a projection of an aspect of myself.”
Anima: “He’s hyper-critical of himself so he projects his longing for self-satisfaction on women, which he over over-idealizes in inverse proportion to his innermost anxieties.”
Me: (to Annika) “What she said.”
Annika: “You may over-idealize me, but you’re kissing her.”
Me: “I know, it looks bad, but this is really just an elaborate form of masturbation.”
Annika: “Well, you better get good at it!”
Annikas storms off.
Though they claimed to be best friends, Annika and Sutton secretly hated each other. In fact, the term “best friend” was just an ironic honorific. And they were clever rivals, keeping close, every embrace an opportunity to stab each other in the back.
“Annika and I met at a dance club near campus. The Cha-Cha-Cha,” Sutton recalled as she unclipped her long, honey-brown hair. As it tumbled I could have sworn I heard harp music. “We discovered we had been sleeping with the same men. At least two. The Rogers and Hammerstein of musical beds. They’re gay now. But not together.”
Later… In her bed.
“Annika was the consummate drama student. The fake British accent, a tote bag of unread books. She had a protracted puss in boots stage. Only danced with girls.
Dance clubs are human rat wheels. I prefer dancing alone anyhow. My father got me a really big ‘back off ring,’ see—Says ‘married.’”
“Is that what that says?”
Sutton kept an Apache knuckle-duster beneath her bed, made me look like bantam-weight drunk and had a razor-sharp tongue she sharpened fellating her professors in grad school. Moreover, she was my best friend’s girl.
Afterwards, when the lights came back on…
“This is very Henry Miller. Think about it. I did it with Cameron. You did it with Annika. Now, you and I just did it,” Sutton observed.
“We could’ve organized better and made a weekend of it,” I quipped before I had completely understood what she had said. “What do you mean, Cameron and Annika? You, you say that like they’re together.”
“Don’t play dumb. That’s why you’re here isn’t it?”
I burst into a meeting Cameron is leading, which forced him to excuse himself and shuffle me off into a recreation room. He buttonholed me against the vintage Space Invaders arcade game.
Cameron: “What’s gotten into you?”
Me: “You’re my best friend and you’re poaching my girlfriend. You’re upsetting the natural order of things—alpha-males don’t scavenge off the little guys—bottom feeding should be beneath guys like you.”
Cameron: “All’s fair in love in war, man.”
Me: “What, are you declaring war on me?”
Cameron: “I’m declaring love for her. Kind of. I guess.”
Me: “Great, now the circle is complete. When did everyone get so mercenary? Annika and I were just taking a time-out, that means you take a time-out and warm the bench awhile, not go and play another game.”
Cameron: “Game’s over, man.”
Me: “Hey, don’t get cocky, kid.”
Cameron: “She’s booked a flight back East. Going to grad school or something. Today.”
I got panhandled by a bunch of Jedis with tambourines, but they were kind enough to give me a flower and a brochure.
Annika: “What are you doing here?”
Me: “I don’t think you should go back to school.”
Annika: “I bought this ticket on the Internet, it’s non-refundable.”
Me: “You should stay in the wine country with me. We’ll get a place together—straighten things out—combine our student loan payments at a reduced rate. Come on Annika, we’re supposed…”
Loudspeaker: “Flight 1977 from San Francisco to Back East, now boarding.”
Annika: “What about Cameron? I don’t think you could ever…”
Me: “Hey, there’s nothing that transpired between you two that a long shower couldn’t fix.”
Annika: “But I don’t want to come between you.”
Me: “I’m solid with Cameron, I’ll never see him again, but he can call me for forgiveness from his deathbed. Which, with any luck, will be soon. I love you.”
Annika: “Peter, you don’t love me. You love an idea of me. Your idea of me.”
Me: “But it’s not a bad idea, is it?”
Annika: “Sure, but it’s not me.”
Me: “Don’t we owe something to love?”
Annika: “No. No one ever tells you that because it isn’t romantic, but it’s true. Listen, I’ll be back at break — who knows, maybe I’ll come to my senses and realize that you were the only man that ever accepted me as I am and loved me for who I am, who learned before I did that I’m a better person than I think I am. Christ, I sound like Popeye. Anyway, now I have to go back to school.”
Annika pauses, approaches and knocks me on the chin.
“Told you, kiddo. I’m kryptonite.”
Then she was gone.
I’m joined by a Jedi —Tony Roberts. What’s weird is that his younger padawan is Tony Robbins.
Roberts: “You know, I thought you had her with all that ‘Don’t we owe love’ crap. What a break. Who knows, maybe you got lucky.’
Robbins: “A wise man once said ‘The heart does not know from love.’”
Roberts: “Good, young padawan.”
Me: “Good, young padawan, indeed.”
Ten minutes later it finally occurred to me, what Annika had been telling me all along. Annika Strang wasn’t Princess Leia and Annie Hall – she was Margot Kidder’s Lois Lane from “Superman The Movie.”