How did the title come about?

One of my favorite descriptors of the book by a reviewer is “tastefully scandalous”!  The original title was Weird and Wild Under the Sea: And Why These Creatures Matter.  However, as I delved into the academic literature and talked with colleagues, a few rather intriguing and shall we say, titillating, themes evolved.  Turns out that in the ocean more creatures use, have, or are made up of slime than I ever realized—it is a seriously slimy place beneath the waves.  I also discovered all sorts of wacky reproductive behaviors in the ocean.  And while I was aware of some of the research being done by my colleagues in the field of biomedical research, I never knew the breadth and diversity of organisms being studied in the search for new drugs or that are being used as models to study disease.  And so the title, Sex, Drugs, and Sea Slime: The Oceans’ Oddest Creatures and Why They Matter was born. It did take a little convincing to get my publisher to go along with it. And while I really like the title and think it is absolutely appropriate, I hope that people will not shy away from the book because of it or think that I did it simply for shock value.


What was the inspiration for the book?

There were several “light-bulb goes on” moments on this one, beginning with a conference in Washington, DC on biodiversity loss. It is a very significant topic, but I came away thinking that nobody outside the scientific and conservation communities represented at the meeting would ever understand what biodiversity in the ocean is or why the heck they should care. Too much science-speak and jargon with little relevance to the average person. I began to ponder how to make ocean biodiversity an interesting and relevant topic for the layperson.

Then, while visiting a wonderfully funny friend in Maine, I discovered the answer (I hope).  She had me laughing almost to tears with her newly discovered, little-known, ocean phobia—hagfish.  There are hundreds of thousands of hagfish in the deep waters of the Gulf of Maine.  They are jawless, finless, eel-like fish that have only small teeth on their tongue.  They cannot tear through the scales or tough skin of their prey. To feed on the tasty inside flesh and organs of fish and other victims (I mean prey), they must therefore find other means of access—in through the mouth, gills, or you might say, the “backdoor”.  With so many of these orifice-seeking ghoulish creatures in the Gulf of Maine, my friend (crossing her legs) explained that swimming just wasn’t so appealing anymore. Actually she was joking–they feed mostly on the dead or dying, so a quick dip isn’t really a problem.  Burial-at-sea, now that is another story, unless you want to share your remains with writhing, squiggly hagfish! When I heard that Osama Bin Laden had been buried at sea, I tweeted that even the hagfish were unhappy!  They are also called slime monsters or slime hags because they can create large quantities of gooey hagfish slime in just minutes (a defense mechanism).

I am proud to say that the slimy, orifice-seeking hagfish was an inspiration.  Using weird, wacky, and, okay, totally disgusting, biology stories would be a great way to hook readers and engage them in learning about the great diversity of life in the ocean and how it is connected to the average person’s life.  Yes, there are even reasons why you should care about the hagfish!


Do you have a favorite story or creature from the book?

Lots of them.  One is not only a fun story, but exemplifies how I came by much of the information included in the text.  I sent an email to Dr. Al Stoner, a colleague that has long been studying queen conch, and asked if he had any fun biology facts about the queen conch.  And in an email he replied, “There is a real advantage to studying the reproductive biology of an animal that is big, slow, mates for hours on end, and has a penis half its total body length”. As you might imagine, my eyes lit up with joy and I dove into the literature to learn more. I found clever and funny limericks about the well-endowed male queen conch and an even more surprising fact.  When the male queen conch extends his “verge” (that’s what the scientists call it) out of his large shell, around, and under the female, it is vulnerable to hungry crabs and eels (sorry, men).  But not to worry, lose one and they just grow another! The male queen conch can regenerate its penis!


What do you hope people come away with after reading the book?

One of my main goals with this book was to make science entertaining, understandable, and relevant to the average person. So I hope people learn, but have great fun doing it. Of course, I also want people to better comprehend the great importance of the diversity of life in the ocean not only for the ocean, but for humankind as well., in terms of the things we all care about, such as jobs, food, health, the economy, security, and our quality of life.  For readers to also become better stewards of and have a stronger voice for the oceans, and to promote more sustainable use of its resources. It is meant to be entertaining, but with a more serious and relevant underlying message.


What are some of your favorite personal ocean adventures?

I have been incredibly fortunate to have so many wonderful, sometimes a bit wild, ocean adventures and jobs so far.  During the summer following my junior year in college, I worked as a safety/support diver for an undersea laboratory in St. Croix, U.S.V.I.  My job title was really a euphemism for undersea slave and all around underwater gopher.  But it was fantastic and I learned a ton about diving, marine science, and doing fieldwork.

I taught oceanography to undergraduates out at sea for six weeks aboard tall sailing ships for Sea Education Association.  A wonderful and exciting program, thank goodness I do not get seasick.  My very first cruise we went through a hurricane in the open North Atlantic (was there something about that in the fine print of my contract?). I was also at one time the director of a marine laboratory on a very, very small island in a remote area of the Bahamas.  It was a difficult job, things were always breaking down, and people tended to go a little nuts being so isolated.  And we had to worry about hurricanes, drug-runners, and a serious lack of supplies. Not so fun, but the snorkeling, diving, and hiking off-hours were fantastic.

I have also lived underwater for almost two weeks, twice, in the Aquarius Reef Base habitat in the Florida Keys.  The habitat is in about 60 feet of water in a sandy area on Conch Reef some 3.5 miles off Key Largo.  Living in the habitat allows divers six to nine hours of diving each day down to about 100 feet. It was fantastic. You truly feel a part of the underwater world instead of just a short-term visitor. Every day we would swim to our work sites on SCUBA and see the same corals or sponges, with resident fish and even a big green moray eel. Essentially, we got to know the neighborhood. And even just watching from the habitat viewport while we were inside was amazing.

Lastly, I have to say that I especially appreciate the time I have spent and am spending in the Galapagos Islands. I did research there in the 1980s and have been the science advisor for Celebrity Xpedition in the Galapagos for several years now and get to go there several times a year. The Galapagos allows us to view what our world must have been like before humans decimated the planet’s wildlife and destroyed habitats. The animals have no fear of humans, are extremely well protected, and you can see extraordinary behaviors and wildlife right at your feet. It is a place everyone should go at least once in their lives,, one that inspires an entirely new and heightened appreciation for the wilds of our planet.


What’s next?

I’m doing a lot of public speaking right now and between the reactions I’m getting from the book and at my talks, it seems that I am able to engage broad audiences, keep them interested, and make them laugh (even with science).  That last part is a bit addictive and I can see why comedians like their jobs.

I love the idea of marrying science and the environment with entertainment, and I think I am pretty good at it.  So I’d like to do more in that vein, use my ability to make people laugh and relate to broader audiences to better communicate ocean and earth science to the public through entertainment.  Know anyone in the entertainment industry?

Having made all the mistakes that may be possible when appearing as an expert on television, I am now very comfortable in front of the camera and would maybe like to do more of that as well.  I’ve also started writing an ocean-related fiction book for young readers, but it’s really a new genre for me, so I’ll have to get an agent and face potential manuscript rejections like all the writers out there.

It’s exciting not knowing what is next, and yet somewhat terrifying as well – that “paying-bills” thing always gets in the way!


Dr. Prager will be on a public speaking tour associated with Sex, Drugs and Sea Slime: The Oceans’ Oddest Creatures and Why They Matter sponsored by Microsoft Research.

October 12th, Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution, Ft. Pierce, FL
October 18th, University of South Florida, St. Petersburg, FL
October 27th, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA
November 2nd, Rookery Bay Reserve, Naples, FL
November 19, Miami Book Fair, Miami, FL
December 5th, Oregon Museum of Science and Industry

Here’s a shocking statistic courtesy of Fast Company magazine: four hundred independent bookstores have opened in the past six years. Don’t these people know their industry is supposed to be on life support?

But the article went on to say that some bookstores are changing their business models and thriving. Brookline Booksmith in Massachusetts, for example, has increased store traffic seven percent by cross-merchandising books with non-book products. In St. Louis, four bookstores banded together in an alliance that saved one business while increasing sales at the other three.

Dear Eve

By Heather Bartlett


The answer to your question is not
in the longing, the rage
and range
the reaching – what will you find
when your hand touches
something solid? Behind
the wooden door you close
and latch so carefully, as if the sound
of closing alone will echo
off the empty walls, the scent
of someone else’s breath is shut in
with you.
You are alone
as before she moved
her small body
under yours.
And here, inhaling
swallowing, holding it
as the poem you forgot
you’d already written, this is not
the love that carried you
away to this small suburban
space, where the dirty light
from under the door
illuminates only
what has fallen from your hand.

Please explain what just happened.

I made a smoothie in my magic bullet blender and drank it while wearing shorts. I never, ever leave my house in shorts.


What is your earliest memory?

I remember swinging on the swing-set in my yard, all by myself, when out of a small hole in the ground below the swing a crayfish crawled out. It scared the hell out of me. Being three years old or whatever I was, that thing with its claws looked like a small monster emerging from the depths below. I ran as fast as I could up the hill to the front door of my house screaming all the way.


If you weren’t a musician what other profession would you choose?

When I was growing up I wanted to be a professional hockey player. My dad used to give me 10 bucks every time I scored a goal. Let’s just say that he didn’t go broke paying me.

Thank you for coming.

It’s the least I could do.


What’s the most common question you’ve been asked lately?

What’s wrong with you?


What do you say?

I just shake my head.

What poets do you admire the most?

In the lyrics of “Tower of Song,” the singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen conjures the image of an infinitely tall tower inhabited by every person—living or dead—who has ever made the decision to devote his or her life to music.  I imagine myself as a poor working-girl who rents an apartment on the ground floor of an analogous “Tower of Poetry.”  The penthouse, hundreds of floors above me, belongs to a charming married couple:  the ancient Greek poet Sappho and the anonymous author of the biblical Song of Songs.  Other tenants, on lower floors, include the Indian princess-cum-mystic Mirabai, the bawdy Mexican nun Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, the sharp-tongued Vietnamese courtesan Ho Xuan Huong, and the sour Russian Revolution survivor Marina Tsvetaeva.  Sometimes, on balmy evenings, Edna St. Vincent Millay and I go out on the fire escape to gossip and drink diet Cokes together.  (Just kidding:  I only drink regular Coke.)


Why do so few Americans read poetry for pleasure?

My mother grew up in Vietnam, where poetry is regarded very differently than it is here.  In grade school, she and her classmates were required to commit poems to memory:  real, classic, heavyweight poems, buttressed by rhyme and meter.  To this day, Mom is still able to recall bits and pieces of those poems, and can recite them fluidly.  It’s rather like “muscle memory,” except that the muscle we’re talking about here
is the heart.

It’s actually a lie to say that the American public is uninterested in poetry, though.  Every minute, a tween girl in the heartland is posting her favorite song lyrics on her Facebook profile for all her friends to see, and song lyrics are a form of poetry, aren’t they?  If the art of poetry ever kicks the bucket, it’ll be because of society’s trend toward overspecialization and the imposition of artificial barriers between poetry and music, poetry and painting, poetry and mathematics, etc.  To keep the art of poetry alive, we need to keep in mind that the creative arts are all interrelated and that they must intermingle frequently in order to maintain their vitality.  As Ezra Pound said:  “Music rots when it gets too far from the dance.  Poetry atrophies when it gets too far from music.”


What goes through your mind when you hear someone say, “I just don’t understand poetry”?

The 1992 Teen Talk Barbie was programmed to say “Math class is tough!”  This was not Teen Talk Barbie’s fault, of course; it was Mattel’s.


Can you answer the rest of these questions without being snarky?



But can you do it without being long-winded?



What do you want to tell potential readers about your new book, Six Rivers?

Rivers have always been a vital part of my life.  The first boy I almost kissed used to take walks with me on the shores of the Mississippi.  And, like every other Boston college student since time immemorial, I used to spend hours reclining on the banks of Charles River, vainly imagining that this measly bit of contact with the natural world would make me more “artistic.”


According to the back of the book, Six Rivers is “peopled by diverse characters from history.”  What’s that all about?

Generally speaking, I’m fascinated by historical personages who lived at the intersection between art and science, and quite a few of my poems are written records of my attempts to summon such people from the dead.  One ghost I’ve tried to conjure is Dr. Claribel Cone, the turn-of-the-century Baltimore art collector who was also one of the first American women ever to attend medical school.  Ada Lovelace, the famous poet’s daughter who grew up to be the world’s first computer programmer, figures in one of my poems as well.  Yet another of my poems revolves around Louise Bourgeois, the brilliant sculptor who studied mathematics at the Sorbonne before embarking on her art career. 


Time for the lightning round!  Quick—tell me a story.

Once upon a time, a poet was lying in bed with his wife, an investment banker.  Offhand, he asked her if she had ever tried to write a poem.  She replied, “I used to write poetry, back when I was a teenager.  But it was just a phase I went through.”  It was then that he realized that she would someday leave him.


That was depressing.  Now tell me a joke.

The last time that someone commanded me to tell them a joke was at the tryouts for my high-school literary magazine.  I was a pathologically shy kid who stammered and blushed tomato-red when I tried to tell a joke.  Unsurprisingly, I didn’t make the cut.


Are you still bitter about that?

Let’s not talk about it.


Joseph Cotten

For years I lived in fear of the monster that I believed emerged from a pond in the movie Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte. I could hear the eerie song echoing in my head from some movie preview seen in childhood…visions and memory scent of the Grand Lake theater in Oakland or the Oaks in Berkeley…scenes and shadows seemingly cast on the cavernous walls of Larry Blake’s restaurant where everyone in the family ate salad but me. I see the old decaying house and the long spiralling staircase from the monster’s point of view as it climbs the steps, dripping leaves and mud…some awful shape of nightmare curiosity…

When I finally saw the movie all the way through many years later, I realized it wasn’t a pond, but a creek, and the monstrous shape I’d been imagining all that time was really Joseph Cotten. He and the crooked Olivia de Havilland are trying to drive Bette Davis mad. What I’d been seeing in my mind and dreams was a supposedly drowned Joseph Cotten come back from the dead.

Flashback to a summer night in Tahoe…

My father’s friend Bill with the deep smoky voice, his ballerina wife and their two children, Wade and Wendy, are there. Bill is going bald and his skin has a stained leather look. I think he has liver spots. The wife’s hair is pulled back tight into a bun, her body is slender and petite, her face vaguely Spanish looking. My mother never knows what to say to her unless they’re beating the men at bridge. She dislikes them because Bill and Dad disappear off to Stateline or Reno and gamble all night. Bill plays blackjack and has won as much as $5,000 in a weekend. Wade is a weird kid and Wendy wets her pants and cries. We go to the movies. The drive-in in South Lake Tahoe. (My God, there are still drive-in’s.) A Hammer horror film is showing, The Mummy’s Shroud. I cover my eyes throughout, only glimpsing up at the most terrifying moments which two decades later I realize are actually quite ludicrous. It’s a hot dark August night full of bugs thick like fog in the light, and far outside the glow of the giant screen and the cinderblock snack bar the stars are trembling.

I see now that it’s Bill I’m really afraid of. But back there in the car before the shining screen I don’t know why. I only sense it. A darkness taking shape. I think what I’m afraid of is his deep smoky voice and the curling lip of his laugh which I never know how to take-and the way he always says my mother’s name as if it’s a question. It’s not the colors of the movie that I close my eyes to hear…it’s the way he wants me to look, the way he likes that I’m afraid. The way he eats his Good n’ Plenty with methodical calm.

Wade whispers about penises and ladies’ things. Wendy sobs softly and the stars dissolve over the Sierras. The smell of popcorn and steamed hotdog buns fills the car and for years I’ll be afraid of a bad movie, not knowing why.

One of the more unpleasant parts of meeting new people is explaining what I do – or don’t do – during the work week.  I have always dreaded being asked what I do for a living.  Saying “I am a writer” is too mortifying for words, and what’s more, in Los Angeles, I have to further explain that no, I’m not a screenwriter.  (Stage director, train engineer, doctor of philosophy – someday I’ll tell my children to never take a job that requires them to constantly say, “No, not that kind.”) 

No one knows what writers do – hell, I don’t even know what writers do.  In the last decade I have written corporate memos, software instruction manuals, trivia questions, travel guides, and crafting how-tos.  I’d call myself a hack, but I think hacks get paid better. So when someone asks me what I write I try to answer as vaguely as possible.  These days I mostly do “creative” writing, a phrase which puts listeners in mind of grade school essays written on that paper with the two solid lines and the dotted line in the middle, but when pressed I usually say that I write comedy and then immediately regret saying that.

Now that I work only part-time and stay home with my two children, I have to further explain that my job is to write comedy for free only some of the time.  If there’s anything that makes you sound lazier than that, I’d like to hear it.  The very worst part about working from home (besides the lack of free coffee) is that no one will ever believe you are actually working.  “Working from home” is treated as a polite euphemism for “sleeping all day,” when in fact trying to meet a deadline while locked in a house with a two-year-old and a three-month-old is like trying to pick your handcuff lock from the inside of a submerged steamer trunk. 

Judging from their comments, what people envy most about those who work from home is that they can “wear their pajamas all day,” a lifestyle boon we share with infants, in-patients, and, I suppose, professional pajama models. Personally I associate wearing pajamas past noon with times of great emotional or intestinal distress, and am more likely instead to put on something much too nice and then trump up some flimsy excuse for wearing it (Oil change? That calls for pearls!) but then maybe I’m just too spoiled from sleeping all day to appreciate the freedom that comes from dressing like your dog just died.

I used to work in a fancy office with elevators and cubicles and glass-walled conference rooms and people you see for years without ever saying hi to, and I felt very grand.  But often these jobs were in publishing or in technical writing, where the work required access to expensive printers and dual-monitor computer schemes, whereas now all my job requires is a laptop, an internet connection, and a total lack of human dignity.  Best of all, I had coworkers, people with whom and about whom to gossip, people you could eat lunch with and join for happy hour and invite to your home for a dinner party and watch mix awkwardly with your other friends. 

One might ask why I choose to work from home when I clearly miss the old days of fancy clothes and free Nature Valley granola bars.  The reason is simply that it costs more to pay for full-time daycare than I can earn as a writer, which anyone who has both read my writing and met my children will agree is totally fair – giving the world a 500-word musing on “What If Chaucer Wrote For Gawker?” simply does not equal the effort of cleaning 16 ounces of Greek yogurt out of my daughter’s hair.

Like many freelancers, I’ve combated the pajama-wearing blues by taking my laptop on the road.  These days I do most of my work from coffee shops.  Working at a coffee shop keeps me on my toes: I can’t afford to eat as many pastries as I would at home; I’m too afraid of random violence to sleep in public; and I feel like people notice if I go a long time without typing something.  Sometimes I’ll type something, lean back, and murmur approvingly, just like I used to do back in the old cubicle.  Occasionally I’ll laugh quietly to myself, shake my head in fond disbelief, and give a little shrug that says, “Can you believe the stuff she comes up with?”  The “she” in that sentence is me. 

Someday when my children are all grown up I’ll be back to water cooler gossip and structured waist bands.  After years of working from home, I can’t wait to jam the printer and chat in the break room, but I don’t know if I’m responsible enough anymore to be around all that free coffee.

The Nervous Breakdown Literary Experience – Portland*


We Read So You Don’t Have To


Tagging along with Wordstock JUST LIKE YOUR YOUNGER SISTER






October 3, 2011


8-11 pm


Bunk Bar


1028 SE Water Ave.
Portland, OR 97214


Half-time show, including potential wardrobe malfunctions with Portland’s MINTY ROSA playing their hearts out while we get liquored-up!

Hand drawn door prizes by TNB resident cartoonist TED MCCAGG!


Reading at this event:


The inscription preceding Drew Magary’s first novel, The Postmortal (Penguin, August 2011), is a quote from the band Mastodon. Though appropriate for a story about a species in peril, this reference is an unfortunate omen for the novel to come. Mastodon, for the uninitiated, is a popular (and pretty damn great) metal band whose shows are so notoriously populated by knuckle-dragging testosterone junkies that I’ve always been afraid to attend. As a 30-year-old lady geek, this band and many aspects of Magary’s novel are fantastic in concept, exclusionary in practice.

Assistant’s Note: Hi! I’m Fabian, Mr. Dust’s personal assistant. As some of you may know, Mr. Dust performed his first public reading in San Diego last week at the vaunted TNB-SD “Stay Classy Edition” event. I’ve heard over and over that it was a total blast! Of course, I wouldn’t actually know, since I wasn’t allowed to come. Invited, yes. Allowed, no. The word through back channels is that Helmsman Listi himself really wanted me there. Nevertheless, I was forced to stay down in the bunker and coordinate. I guess you can’t always get what you want, even if you try sometime and you may find that you get what you need. Can you? At any rate, if you were at the event and “heard” rumors that I refuse to fly anything but first class, well that’s just not true.

The bottom line is that ever since the event, the Castle Dust mailroom has been DELUGED with letters. Let’s get to them, shall we? Yes, we shall!

(Also, Mr. Dust made me promise not to post these pics. Did anyway! Ha. Next time, maybe I’ll get an extra legroom seat in business class.)

In Samuel Beckett’s 1957 play entitled “Endgame” four characters are placed within a triple-walled, minimalist stage. Although the characters seem to be the last remaining people on earth (with the exception of the young boy who briefly appears outside of the walled interior), they each seem to resist any and all physical, human contact with each other. Each potential touch and interaction between the characters is mediated by a prop, so that each point of contact only takes place when two characters touch the same object (barrier) that lies between them. It is my contention that Beckett deliberately eliminates any bodily contact in order to further emphasize and solidify the sterility present within this environment.

I first posted this on Thursday night. I apologize to everyone who read the first version, because with all the typos it looked like the ramblings of a drunk. The reality is someone edited the story without my consent. I’ve contacted the editors at TNB about the issue and I’m assured it will be handled properly.

In any case, this is the second part of a story I posted on June 15th. I intended to follow up much sooner, but unfortunately I had to take a little break from the Internet.

If you don’t feel like going back to it, I’ll give you the Hollywood pitch of the previous post: A college kid (me) meets the girl of his dreams,  but there’s a problem: She has a boyfriend already. So the natural question of part two is if the erstwhile lovers can overcome this obstacle, and if so, how3?

The last post ended when Sophia invited me to a fraternity party she was officially attending with her boyfriend, Jack. At the party, which was also a concert, Jack spent most of his time wandering around talking to his friends, while Sophia and me listened to the band together. At one point we wandered off the fraternity grounds and found an old playground across the street. We sat in a couple of old swings and looked at the sky. The stars were too bright, like someone had turned the power up too high, and neither of us said anything for a while. When I finally looked  Sophia again, she was staring into my eyes, leaning close to me, and I knew the moment called for me to kiss her.

But when I moved toward her, she pulled away. I remember this like it was yesterday.

“1 have to go,” she said.


“Jack’s waiting.”

“You mean wasted?”

Sophia stood up and glared at me.

“Don’t do that.”

I was angry with her but I tried to pretend like my comment was a joke.

“Don’t do what?”

After she walked away, I 4resolved not to see her again. I felt like an fool for being so drawn to a girl who couldn’t or wouldn’t return those feelings. I still spent time in the computer lab every day, but luckily the summer schedule changed and she didn’t come by anymore. But then one day, maybe two weeks later, she showed up in my ICQ chat list and wrote me soon after.

“I installed ICQ on the computer in my apartment!” she wrote. “We can talk on the Internet now. 1sn’t this cool?”

And pretty soon we were talking every day again, about everything and nothing. She told me about her family, about her classes, about a boyfriend in high school who once hit her after dropping a touchdown pass in the waning moments of a playoff game. I 5told her about my mother, how her bullying had affected my early relationships with girls, that I staggered through four years of high school without asking a single girl on a date. Or we just chatted about whatever was going on at that moment in the day. This was a dumb thing to do, obviously, because the only way she was ever going to see what we meant to each other was if I took it away from her. But I couldn’t bring myself to play games. I wanted to know what she was doing, what she was thinking, and I wanted her to know the same things about me.

I was also still learning to play the guitar.

You see, I’d never let go of this idea, the one I had back at the concert. If Sophia liked men who played guitar, why couldn’t I be one of them? And what could p9ossibly be more romantic than singing to the woman you loved, in front of the world, and declaring your love for her?

After working my way through a book about guitar chords, called CAGED, I started practicing a particular song—“Only You” by Yaz. I know it’s a sappy song. It’s embarrassing . But you have to consider my mental state at the time. I felt like I was living in a fairy tale. I felt like I had to prove my love to her, like a prince longing for a faraway princess. I just had no idea the fair maiden I was after was Rapunzel.

It wasn’t easy to work out how to play that song on the guitar, considering the synth-oriented sound of the original. I think I practiced in front of the mirror about 5000 times. I know for sure my fingers bled. But finally I decided I was good enough to make it through the whole thing without screwing it up too badly, and that’s when I wrote to Sophia on ICQ and invited her to join me for a drink at a bar called Ike’s.

I knew her boyfriend, Jackass, would be out of town that weekend, and I knew on a Saturday the bar would be packed. But that was the entire point, to make the scenes as dramatic as possible. My biggest fears was that Sophia would turn me down, but to my surprise she accepted readily. In fact I remember precisely what she wrote after we decided on a time for that Saturday night:

“This is gonna be a night to remember.”

After Sophia agreed to meet me (this was Thursday), I  drove to Ike’s and spoke to the bar manager. He was a surly bald fellow who listened to my story and looked at me Ike I didn’t have a Y chromosome in my body. But eventually I convinced him this would be a story he would tell for years afterwards, and he agreed to let me set up in a corner of the bar. He even arranged for a spotlight, and told me he’d turn down the other lights when I got ready to play.

On Friday I practiced until my fingers would no longer obey my commands. I played the song over and over and over until I was sure I could play it left-handed if it came to that. On Saturday Sophia wrote me on ICQ and confirmed the time we were to meet, which was 8 P.M.

I arrived about two hours early and spoke first with the bar manager. Then I had a few drinks. While I waited for Sophia to show up I struck up a conversation with some strangers and told them my story. They seemed to enjoy it and helped me watch the door. I kept watching along with them, first hoping she would arrive on time, then laughing to my new friends about how women never arrived on time for anything, and finally agonizing over if she would ever show up at all.

I’m sure you can guess what happened. That’s the whole point of telling this, right? By the time 9:00 rolled around, most everyone around me was watching the door for Sophia. The embarrassment was intense, severe, crippling. Here I was, terrified of getting up in front of a crowd of drunken strangers, ready to declare my love for a woman who was bound to another, and she never bothered to show up at all.

Turns out that Jack, ostensibly out of town, had actually staged an elaborate proposal for the girl of my dreams. While I waited in the bar for her, ready to play the guitar with bruised fingers, ready to sing to her, she was with Jack. Probably having sex with him. Isn’t that what people do after getting engaged?

So yeah. I’m not a fan of true love. I mean, it exists, I have firsthand knowledge that it does, but in the end I think it’s too rare to ever hope it might happen to you. When it does, chances are the timing is going to be off in some way or another. And they’re probably not even that happy. Did you ever notice how the person texting you, the one calling you, is never the one you wish were calling you?

It was a long time ago. I should probably get over it. I mean I am over it.

Yeah, I’m totally over it.