Author’s Note: this story is riddled with inaccurate but creative references to Scientology. I, in no way, mean to disparage it and this is purely a work of fiction. Sort of. Praise Xenu.
* Fun Fact: Googling many of the Scientology terms used in this story could potentially lead to laughter or possibly ending up on certain ‘watchlists.’
It’s been a long and lonely couple of years. And over the course of the pandemic, you’d be hard-pressed to find a single person (as in, un-coupled) who didn’t, at one point, have a conversation and/or relationship with a houseplant. For me, I realized things were amuck when the plant started talking back.
What do you call a person living with PTSD from covid trying to find love? Possibly Sharon or Denise. But you might also call them a giant red button with a sign saying “Press Here.” I was lonely, aching for human contact, and in need of a thumb to come smoosh my unusually flushed face. I can’t even count the number of days where the extensive side effects of Long Covid not only caused physical and psychological pain but also an overwhelming sense of nihilism. I felt nothing for anything and felt everything over nothing. Even my hair hurt. (And still does.)
I eventually discovered I wasn’t alone and that actually, millions of others felt this way. Thankfully, for me, a combination of Eastern and Western medicine, extreme nutritional modifications, and a splash of voodoo have been helping me on this long and winding road to recovery. Still, even now, sometimes finding my inner spark can prove challenging.
So the other day while walking to my car, en route to yet another doctor’s appointment, I made a big, juicy decision. No matter what, I was going to push through the sadness, depression, and existential dread and get back on the dating horse. I was going to discover a new purpose, create more love in my life, and seek out deep, authentic joy again.
I wasn’t going to let my fear of being reinfected stop me from finding love, finding my life partner, and finding my destiny. But for starters, I just needed to find my car keys. And then, as I stood there on the corner of Sunset and Vermont, face-deep in my purse wondering, why is it so full of kazoos? I heard a smooth and inviting voice call to me.
“Excuse me, Miss, would you like to learn about Scientology?”
There he was: tall, masked, wearing the pristine outfit of a missionary and/or a theater usher. From his posture correcting sneakers to his front-pleated, standard-issue trousers, to his crisp, white, polyester button-up shirt, hand-stitched by newly indoctrinated laborers, he was a sight to be seen. His arms filled out the shirt in an I’m-secretly-Thor-in-my-off-hours kind of way and he had dark, thick, tousled hair that did that front flipping, Harry Styles-wavy-thing, all on its own. His extra-large forehead was also teetering on the edge of neanderthal. I’m not sure why, but I found his giant skull pocket sexy.
He was masked and I couldn’t see his face. But with deep-set hazel eyes and a velvety voice, I was pretty sure he had immaculately straight teeth, a left cheek dimple, and a jawline that could crush walnuts.
When I looked up at his pumpkin-sized head, he blocked out the sun like Simba on a mountain top. Also, the song, Circle Of Life was blasting from a nearby Kia Sorento. The traffic noise disappeared and pedestrians around me froze. I was sure it was indeed destiny that brought me to this corner at 2:30 pm on a Tuesday, and definitely not a stool sample I was scheduled to give at 2:45 pm.
In a flash, I thought to myself, “My booty test can wait!” Hottie Religious Bobble-Head Guy was reaching out to me! And had I not just set my intention out into the Universe only moments earlier? The door was opening! How could I not go through it? I mean, yes, living in LA, you hear some pretty outrageous stories about the Scientology compound and rabble-rousing with space aliens. But, hey, I’m a free thinker. I watched the X-Files. I knew how to handle myself if things got cagey or gooey. I wasn’t concerned with them capturing my personal information or tormenting my relatives. And no amount of Tom Cruise propaganda would get me to give away my pin number. (But just in case you don’t hear from me after I post this story it’s: Redsandwichtuxedolady@aol.com, Password: 7.)
“Your password is 7?” you ask.
Yes, I was an early adapter of America Online.
I mean, what could it hurt for me to have an innocent conversation about one of the most controversial religions in modern history? If I could endure a lecture on Pastafarianism and Worshippers of the Flying Spaghetti Monster for a free plate of Bolognese, I could weather a few minutes of hearing about Xenu, The Dictator of the Galactic Confederacy. This guy was (most likely) handsome, and clearly eager to make new converts. I mean, converts. Wait, what I meant to say was, converts. Dammit, autocorrect, I mean, converts.
Friends. He was eager to make friends.
“You know, I’ve always been curious about what goes on inside that fortress,” I said as I pointed to the giant slew of pastel blue buildings carpeting an entire city block in the middle of Hollywood. Actually, because of the sheer size of their campus, the gesture was more like a flight attendant pointing out all the emergency exits on a double-decker airbus.
I then casually laughed while flipping my hair with all the effort of someone trying to look like they are not putting any effort into flipping their hair. (Clearly, two years in isolation has had affected my flirt game.) Shifting my hips with what I thought was a moment of swagger, I leaned onto a nearby crosswalk pole.
Attraction is a funny thing. It can spontaneously override our most logical behavior. Up until that moment I had been meticulously careful not to touch doorknobs, elevator buttons, or any commonly handled object, for fear of cooties raining down on my immunocompromised system. But in one fell swoop of finding someone attractive, I leaned on that booger-laden pedestal with the joie de vivre of someone picnicking at the Eiffel Tower in springtime.
Ignoring my strong desire to quickly bathe in hand sanitizer, I held my position, leaning swankily like a masked supermodel on Ativan. Something about this wholly unnatural position must have appealed to him as he then laughed at me. I don’t know if he found me attractive or just thought I was winded, but he leaned in towards me, reaching out his hand like a character on the cover of a gosh darn romance novel. I swear I could see his chiseled smile through the mask, and as he started to handsomely explain the first stages of becoming a member of a cult, my hearing softened.
It may have been from fasting for my poop test, but I like to think it was instead my drunken pheromones taking hold as he whispered his innermost fantasy to me: Maybe you should come inside and I can show you around. I know where to find free snacks. And I don’t mean flimsy packages of Saltines, I have access to full-sized candy bars. We can cuddle on the community couch and watch a movie about aliens, but the good kind who don’t probe your bottom. And then head up to the rooftop where we’ll laugh at all the tourists paying forty dollars for pictures with knockoff Spidermen in rented unitards. And after we’ve laughed so long we give ourselves firm, but not overly aggressive six-pack abs, we’ll roll around on the furry carpet at the foot of the community couch and pull lint balls out of each other’s static-induced hair.
And though what he really said was, “How about I show you the business office”, I was so deep into my telenovela version of what was looking like a promising future together, I heard my outside voice say. Yes! Let’s go now into that place inside the place!
Lusty, human-interaction-deprived Nina, couldn’t believe it! My blood sugar was tanking, and I was starting to get the shakes, but he was asking me out! And I was all-in. Here was this fabulously armed, religious-talker who was fun, arousing, cool and energetic. Or more simply, he was a F.A.R.T. F.A.C.E. And he was going to be my FART FACE.
The next thing I knew I was seated in a small room with brick walls painted pastel blue. I remember thinking Cookie Monster would have approved. (Also, my hypoglycemia was starting to get a foothold.) There I was sitting at a table, hands wrapped around two soup cans when FART FACE said he was going to ask me some questions to get to know me better. In his hands, he held a giant, dog-eared paper manual the size of a Thomas Guide.
“Does that thing give you directions to my soul?” I joked.
“Pardon?” he asked as he looked up from his bible-sized pamphlet.
He clearly didn’t get my rock-solid 1980s navigational reference. This was slightly disappointing. So then my internal scoreboard began keeping track.
FART FACE: 0
But despite my assiduous care in making light of my impending indoctrination, I stayed cheery.
“Nevermind. You had to have been a commuter in Los Angeles from 1912 to 1989 to have gotten that one.”
And yet another blank stare from those little hazel marbles.
FART FACE: 0
“Anyhoo, yes please!” I happily replied. My life is an open book, albeit with a lot of footnotes and bibliographical references to Jewish folklore. But still, ask away, you hunk of proselytizing love.
“Ok, here we go. Just keep your grip firm and try not to move around too much.”
“That’s what she said.” I blurted out.
“What?” he asked.
Where was this guy from? Middle Earth?
It was becoming more clear this big, hot, dum-dum was better suited to open a jar of pickles than sire my future children. But I still held out hope. He was going to ask me questions about myself! Something most men rarely ever do. So I took a breath, sat back in my prison-issued chair, and waited for his curiosity to abound. And then ask he did:
“Did you come to earth for evil purposes?”
“Evil, as in, Evil Knievel?
“Have you ever torn out someone’s tongue?”
“Only when I mistook him for a Golem or a fortune cookie.”
“Have you eaten a human body?”
“Have you ever made a planet radioactive?”
“Only with my bomb dance beats.”
By the time I got my last response out, I could see a frown forming on his magical nutcracker face. I wasn’t the lunkhead he was looking for and my brief fantasy of us running away together to start a giant family with glorious overgrown forheads full of hair was quickly vanishing among the hidden human cries mortared into the walls of that tiny room.
“If you’re not going to take this seriously, you should leave.” He said while he wound the crank that powered the device resembling a broken boombox.
“I’d take it more seriously if you raised that thing above your head and lip-synced the words to Peter Gabriel’s, ‘In Your Eyes”.
FARTY looked at me like the level zero that I was.
And when my reference to the classic 1980s rom-com starring John Cusack, landed like a hammer on the head of someone already dumb as a box of rocks, I realized it was time for me to hit the road.
Kissing on the rooftop of the Disciples Of Xenu was clearly not in the cards today.
Thankfully, on the questionnaire I’d filled out, I’d given the contact information of my ex-boyfriend, so instead, they could harass him in perpetuity.
“Yeah I don’t think it’s a good fit anyway,” I said as I unwrapped my hands from my soup cans. But thanks for the diversion. By the way, I never caught your name.”
“Lucky,” he said as he unlocked the door and let me out.
“Figures,” I said as I pressed more tightly on the seal of my mask.
Back out on the street I looked around and saw that life was once again moving at its fast pace. And I was just a gal who had a brush with an alien intervention. I didn’t find love but at least for a few moments, I felt butterflies again. And for that, I felt pretty lucky.
*If you or anyone you know is struggling with long-term issues from having covid, check out these links for great resources on information, support, recovery, nutrition, and community. (You can also always reach out to me and I’m happy to provide info on what’s helped me as well! 🙂