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I imagine nearly everyone – and by "everyone" I mean everyone under the age of 40 – has a favorite moment from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. That Chaz Kaufman penned post-millennial statement of romance or anxiety that resonates perfectly, and very personally, like a tuning fork on your spine. Here's mine: Joel Barrish is seated alone in a diner, on a bleak winter's Valentine's day, and a strange at another table raises her coffee mug to him in a friendly salute. In voiceover we hear Joel ask himself, "Why do I fall in love with every woman I see that shows me the least bit of attention?"

I share this affliction, embarrassingly. The simplest gesture can send me into paroxysms of aw-shucks love – an upward flit of lady eyeballs in passing; momentarily glancing up at me from a book she's reading that I've read before –  or a book I've pretended I've read before to help pad my online dating profile – with her toes pointed toward each other; a smile from a waitress that's no different than the smile she reserves for every paying customer with a boner in his dirty, filthy pants. And, not surprisingly, as quickly as I fall in love, an equally trivial event can upset my perfect heartspin and send me plummeting out of love, ten times faster and three hundred times harder than I fell in.

Recently, I found myself stuck waiting for a connecting flight at Dallas International Airport. (brag) I had already finished reading Don't Do Us Like That: The Unauthorized Biography of Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers so, with little else to occupy my attention, I decided to fall in love with a woman at my departure gate. It was easy. She was seated across from me, several rows away. Her cute bangs and round, smooth shoulders were all the bait I required. Then I noticed she was drinking an iced coffee beverage from Timothy's Coffee and since I was also drinking an iced coffee beverage from Timothy's Coffee I knew it was meant to be i.e. we were totally going to "do it" i.e. penis-vagina i.e. my penis inside her vagina and then outside it again, briefly, before going back inside it again i.e. she was about to get very disappointed very quickly.

I spent the next several minutes alternating between pretending to write in my moleskine notebook and taking long, pronounced sips from my iced coffee beverage while staring at the latest object of my unparalleled love. I hoped, just once, Miss Dallas Bangsworth (she needed a name) would look up from her iced coffee beverage at the same time and our eyes would lock, and marry.

The courtship was very satisfying and I slowly let my fantasies take over, making do with what little information I possessed. There I was, rubbing moisturizer into Dallas' shoulders. There we were, ordering iced coffee beverages at the exact same time, and laughing at both our overlapping dialogue and the perfect dovetailing of our desires. Here we were, at the coffee service station, knocking the plastic stirrers and Sugar in the Raw to the floor with a great crash, and making furious love on a bed of refined sugar and cooled-over decaf espresso spill.

I had just made it to the requisite section of my fantasy in which I disappoint Dallas by choosing to check my email while she is naked in my shower, when her flight was called. Until this point, my viewing area of the woman I planned to marry was extremely limited. Because Dallas was seated so far from me, I could only see her tank-topped torso, bare neck and head; the rest was hidden behind rows of plastic chairs and obese Texans. As she stood, and I was afforded my first completely unobstructed view, my concrete fantasy instantly disintegrated, where it rested at the bottom of my broken heart like sediment from a cup of French press. While Dallas was unadorned and perfectly lovable from the waist up, her lower portions committed a series of affronts so horrible they felt like an act of betrayal in our beautiful relationship. Drab Old Navy cargo pants cinched with a braided rainbow belt in the style of "appropriated Navajo." (no doubt purchased at "Shop Therapy" or its kin.) Grateful Dead dancing bears embroidered into the face of her rolling carry-on luggage. Performance sandals over woolen socks. And, amazingly – as if she knew exactly how to hurt me – a straw cowboy hat hanging from her luggage handle.

I felt as if I'd been kicked in the stomach. Controlled by nothing by the moment, I stood up, letting my moleskine drop to the floor. With caffeinated tears streaming down my face in twin ribbons, I screamed to her across the terminal: "You really fucked me, Dallas. You reallllly fucked me here!!" I took a long drag on the straw in my iced coffee beverage, and nearly choked on its contents.

Now, this may sound extremely unfair so let me qualify it a bit. By no means do I have a tremendous problem with women who choose to present themselves this way. In fact, I'm sure many men would find those additional accessories acceptable, even desirable. Men like Stephen Stills and these guys. For me, the love in/love out cycle was determined exclusively by expectations and the feeling of being cheated out of those expectations. For instance, if this scenario took place on the Burning Man playa – for instance, if I were banished there for bad behavior in a previous life – and I saw this same woman, head to toe, her visage blurred through the kerosene vapors of twirling, flaming devil sticks, I might have fallen in love with her, woolen socks and sandals and all. Then, if she put down her devil sticks for a second to photograph an art car with her $400 cell phone camera, I would have fallen out of love with her just like that. Context matters.

If these very visual examples strikes you as uniquely and unfairly male, here is an equivalent scenario created just for the ladies. Imagine sitting at a bar. Somewhere along the bar is a young man with messy hair and an expertly held bottle of inexpensive-yet-not-pretentiously-working-class beer, which he occasionally raises to his lips with absolutely no self-consciousness, when he is not distracted by the copy of Love in a Time of Cholera, which he's reading under bar light. His jeans are just dark enough, and beaten-in without the benefit of stonewashing or chemical rinsing. And his boots are NOT Doc Martens. Every now and again, his long fingers drum against the bar, beating out the rhythm of a song that lives exclusively in his own head. What's that? He just took out a pen and underlined a passage in his book! You love him.

Suddenly and wordlessly, he communicates with the bartender, indicating that he would like quarters for the jukebox. As the bartender smacks down four quarters in front of him, he slides them gracefully from the bar to his palm, and gives the bartender a quick nod and a smile. He has one dimple! And the single dimple is darkened by the tiny bit of stubble that falls in light patches on the unessential areas of his face. He swings around on his barstool, and ambles over to the jukebox. Standing, you realize he's taller than he appeared from his seated position. He seems to have unfolded like a paper throwing star. The light from the jukebox warms and softens his features, and you decide to walk past him now, to glance at his jukebox selection and perhaps to let the heat from his body mingle with yours. As you pass behind him – he smells exactly like your father's old Army jacket – you see him punch in the last digits of his selection: "3702." Your legs are so weak you feel someone might have to carry you back to your bar stool. That's when you hear it. The bar, which just a moment ago was a quarter filled with the low volume loose groupings of small talk, suddenly swells. The song – Nickelback's "How You Remind Me." You look at your man. His eyes are closed and he is nodding reverently.

You hate him.

[p.s. for more on instant love – the kind before the fall – go buy a mini-zine from jami.]

WE FIRST MET ON 06.07.2004

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