Saturday, July 23, 2016

Garden fight? Garden fight!!! (You know the story)

I recently posted on Facebook a storybook that Cara made for me for our first Valentine's Day as a couple, in 2007. It's really a remarkable piece of work. She was so amazing!

In addition to reminding me of how wonderful Cara was and of how wonderful it was to meet and fall in love with her, the book also reminded me of how we had our own special way of communicating with each other. The first lines of the book are:

This is a story;
You know the one

About a girl and boy
She plays music, and he runs

For anyone else reading Cara's story, I don't think there would be any reason to suspect that the very opening line, "This is a story; you know the one" was an inside joke. There's nothing unusual about the phrasing; it seems a perfectly ordinary way to begin a storybook. But reading it now, just as when I first read it so many years ago, it was immediately obvious to me that Cara was making a reference to the song "You Know the Story" by the band Ozma. Ozma was our favorite band back then (Cara got into them because of me) and we would often make reference to them in our conversations, both online and in person. "You know the story" was a phrase we often said to each other. And just as it was obvious to me that Cara was making an Ozma reference, it was obvious to her when she wrote the story that I would instantly recognize the Ozma reference.

I recall some other specific instances when we made Ozma references to amuse each other. The first trip we took together, in August 2006, was to Washington, D.C. to see Ozma perform. I recall being on the National Mall with Cara, and her saying, "I guess we should get down to business... the business of getting down... to the Ozma show." There is an Ozma song called "The Business of Getting Down" that includes the lyrics "Get down to business, the business of getting down."

There was also the walk we took together on November 4, 2006, the day we became a couple. While walking around Wade Lagoon we came across some apples that were for some reason sitting on a wall. I picked up one of the apples, and, giving Cara a knowing look, used my other hand to pull up my sleeve. She immediately recognized that I was referencing the Ozma song "Apple Trees," specifically the lines, "And so I'm taking a stand, with apple in hand, I pull up my sleeve. It's time that I make like an apple tree and leave."

I'm sure that it is not at all unusual for couples to have all sorts of inside jokes, and things they say to each other that no one else would understand. However, I think that Cara and I (before, incidentally, we even were a couple) took this to a level far beyond most, and actually developed our own unique method of communicating with each other. It wasn't something we intentionally did. It's just something that developed organically over time. It was an early sign of the amazing chemistry we had with each other. It happened in the online word game Psychobabble.

Playing this game, as many already know, is how Cara and I met. In this post I'll explain more about how the game worked, and give numerous examples of how Cara and I used it to communicate with - and flirt with - each other.

This is a picture of the Psychobabble game screen. The picture is actually not a screenshot, but rather, a picture of a computer screen taken with a digital camera. More specifically, a picture that Cara took to illustrate the fact that her screen had water on it, because something in the game made her laugh so hard that, while drinking water, she sprayed some on the screen!

You can see the various word tiles, styled after magnetic fridge poetry, taking up most of the game screen. In the middle of all the words is a light blue box into which players drag the words to form sentences. At the bottom of the game screen, on the left there is a scoreboard and in the middle there is a chat area for the room.

In each round, players had one minute to create a sentence out of the available words. Following this, all the players' sentences were displayed on the screen (with the names of who made each sentence hidden) and players voted for their favorite sentence (voting for your own sentence was not possible). After the voting, the players' names corresponding to each sentence were revealed, and points were tallied. One point was awarded for each vote received. The winning sentence in each round received three bonus points (in the case of a tie, the longer sentence won). Players who voted for the winning sentence received one bonus point. If you failed to vote, you could not receive any points for the round. Each game went until one player reached 30 points; that player was the winner of the game and then scores reset to zero for the next round.

Cara and I were both very good at this game. Our brains, it seemed, worked well for it. Success in Psychobabble definitely required quick thinking, wit, and verbal skills. We had a regular group we played with from the forums of the Something Awful comedy website (hence the SA at the front of many players' names). Especially in the early days of our playing, most of the sentences were attempts to be as crude and offensive as possible. I will note, though, that although there was an "adult room" in Psychobabble in which some of the words were curse words or sexual in nature, we eschewed playing in that room, finding it funnier to construct shocking sentences out of seemingly innocuous pools of words. We also strove to construct sentences with as correct English phrasing as possible, and strongly looked down on other players whose sentences contained such mangled garbage as "ares" (the "are" tile plus the "-s" tile) to represent the word "arse."

As time went on, my and Cara's playing styles evolved tremendously. Although we still went for shockingly offensive sentences at times, we started to favor more cleverness and wit in sentence construction. But the really big change is that she and I, more and more as we became better and better friends, started to actually play two games at the same time - the normal Psychobabble game that everyone else was playing, and a second game in which we looked for every opportunity to make inside jokes and references directly targeted at each other, not caring whether anyone else in the room would have any idea what our sentences were about. Many of the sentences were references to music the two of us liked (especially Ozma), many were metahumor sentences about the game itself, and many were references to things we had done together.

Keep in mind, in each round there was only one minute to look through the set of words, pick some out, and arrange them into a sentence. It's really quite remarkable that we were able to do all of this. And despite devoting more and more energy to looking for opportunities to "pander" each other (as we called it), we continued to be quite competitive in the games.

Looking back, it's pretty apparent that the two of us using this game to send these sort of secret message to each other was a significant factor in us falling for each other. I have a huge collection of screenshots from Psychobabble games. I had an idea kicking around in my head for a while of printing a book full of screenshots that were relevant to our friendship to give to Cara as a gift, but I never got around to doing it. That's something I regret. I guess with this blog post, I'm doing something like that. I'm not sure, really, whether anyone else will find this nearly as entertaining as I do, but I'm sure at least a few people will find it interesting.

Now, on to the screenshots.

Cara's storybook contained a page about Psychobabble. It contained these lines:

With simple phrases
Like 'Garden Fight'
They traded victories
Into the night.

So here's the origin of "Garden Fight."

(click for bigger)

In this round, I noticed that both the words "garden" and "fight" appeared twice, which was very unusual. I wanted to take advantage of this somehow. Also unusual was that there were a whopping three exclamation marks available. I ended up with the nonsensical construction "Garden fight? Garden fight!!!" (My screen name was VogonPoet. Cara's was SACommunista. No, she was not actually a communist, in case you're wondering.) Sometimes just making something really absurd was a winning strategy, and it worked in this case as I got five votes. This occurred on August 14, 2005, long before Cara and I met in person and even before we were online friends. We were just two people who were sometimes in games together. However, for some reason Cara absolutely loved my Garden Fight sentence and never forgot about it. As you will see, this resulted in us making many, many inside joke sentences referencing Garden Fight.

For all the remaining screenshots, I have cropped them to only contain the relevant sentences and chat excerpts, and have also moved the name of the sentence maker from to the right of the sentence to below the sentence, so that the screenshots will be easier to read and fit better in this blog format. This was a fairly tedious process, but I like the presentation better than just presenting the sentences as text.

Now jumping forward from August 2005 to early 2006. For each screenshot I'll show the date (all are from the year 2006) and provide a brief explanation.

January 30
A type of sentence that I would often try to make when the opportunity presented itself was what we called "Yakov Smirnoff sentences" named after the comedian. Most people have probably heard jokes of this sort - "In America, you do x. In Soviet Russia, x does you!" In case you feel like reading a more thorough explanation, here's a Wikipedia page about "Russian reversal" jokes. I had great success with these sentences. Cara eventually became very tired of me doing them and she let me know it. In this early example, Cara's sentence amazingly set up mine. To be clear, we never collaborated on sentence construction. There were many times that we came up with eerily similar sentences. I remember occasionally someone would express suspicion that we were actually the same person.

January 31
Here my sentence, again completely by accident, made a hilariously fitting response to Cara's. My message in the chat box cracks me up. It's so funny now to see us referring to each other by our screen names.

February 24
I kindly respond in the chat to Cara's request in her sentence.

February 26
 Already you can see Cara getting tired of my Yakov sentences, as she reluctantly says that she has to vote for it. You can see how successful such sentences could be; receiving seven votes in a single round was quite rare.

April 5
Here is the oldest sentence I found referencing an event that happened to us "in real life." It was on March 16 that we met for the first time in person (recounted in this post). While bowling, a man in the next lane called Chuck admonished our group for not following the "etiquette of bowling." Here Cara made a sentence about Chuck. In the chat I'm calling out the third member of our Psychobabble bowling meetup, who was also present in this game room, for not voting for Cara's sentence.

Cara again expressing her annoyance at my Yakov sentences.

April 7
"Jeff" was a word that sometimes showed up in the game, conveniently for Cara and me. Cara and I definitely had a friendly rivalry and would often tease each other, as seen in this sentence. As I point out in the chat, "she" doesn't necessarily have to refer to Cara; it could, perhaps, mean "emma" (another player in that particular game).

At bowling, Chuck had addressed our group as "Skinny" (me), "The Nerd" (Jon), "and... you" (Cara). In this round we both referenced Chuck's referring to me as Skinny, cracking me up (this might be the first time we both referenced the same real-life event in the same round). The funny part about Cara's sentence including "Get food!" is that, years in the future, she actually found it offensive when people would suggest that I must not eat enough because I'm so skinny.

April 10
At the bowling meetup Cara had mentioned how much she loved that old Garden Fight sentence. This led to us making numerous sentences referencing it. Here's one by me.

Here's one by Cara. We both express our confusion that it got so many votes, because no one else would have actually gotten the reference.

April 12
And here's a round where we made nearly identical sentences.

April 13
At the bowling alley we also played the old arcade game Galaga; Cara did not do very well. My comment in the chat was made before the names corresponding to each sentence were revealed; I was therefore pointing out that I recognized it as her sentence.

April 15
There is an Ozma song called "The Flight of Yuri Gagarin." We both made sentences about it and about how the other would "get it."

April 16
Cara made a sentence about beating me and I made a sentence about not being able to beat her. "Cutting" is cutting one's wrists, which was apparently a fad among angsty teenagers; yes, we joked about some dark subject matter. My reaction in the chat stems from the fact that by voting for her, I gave her the third vote necessary for her sentence to (fittingly) beat mine.

Cara pretending to be me.

April 21
I love this Garden Fight reference and in retrospect I should have voted for it, but my "good one commie but sorry doesn't gmv" (gmv = "get my vote") comment also greatly amuses me.

April 22
More Garden Fight.

April 23
Have I mentioned we were easily amused?

Cara making a sentence to call out my over-use of Yakov sentences.

April 26
In this screenshot I made a sentence to respond to Cara's line in the chat about "AGE IS A NUMBER." She was almost five years older than me and early in our friendship one thing I teased her about was being old. By the time we starting dating I had definitely stopped doing that. Actually, in later years I would sometimes say that I was old and when Cara would ask what that made her, I would say she was young. When she asked how that worked I would say it just did. This was the first in a series of sentences about Cara's age that game.

The next sentence. Pretty harsh, huh? In the chat I ask if it cheers her up and say "I guess not" because she didn't vote for it. I do have to say, it's eerie to look back at this sentence, "She dreads her next decade," and realize that almost exactly nine years later Cara would die of cancer. But! Most of that time she would definitely have said was among the best in her life!

And the age sentences continue, with us both chipping in. I'm pretty sure there was actually another one in between that I didn't take a screenshot of; see Cara's reference to "453 years old" in the chat, and I remember that "453" was a tile that appeared occasionally.

Cara getting back at me for teasing her.

April 28
I correctly predicted Cara's sentence and made my own sentence about it, cracking us both up. "Please cap that" means please take a screen capture.

April 30
In this screenshot we both made sentences about "Paper Boats," a song we loved by the band Nada Surf. I remember once, some time before this, Cara quoted the lyrics to the song in the game chat because she was listening to it, causing me to say "I LOVE THAT SONG" (this was, in fact, before we had ever talked about Nada Surf with each other). In this round extrafox (who was also a good online friend of Cara's) managed to inadvertently make a sentence that went perfectly with our two sentences.

And here both extrafox and I made sentences responding to Cara's message in the chat. Remember again, we only had one minute in each round, so doing this sort of thing really required some quick thinking. That's why it was so fun to pull off sentences like this.

May 1
 Even more Garden Fight.

"Last Dance" is an Ozma song. I like my chat message here.

Yakov, again.

May 2
Another Galaga sentence from Cara.

This sentence works without knowing the Ozma line I mentioned near the beginning of this post, but Cara recognized that I was thinking of that song.

May 3
For the first time, we got both the words "garden" and "fight" in the same round, and naturally we both made Garden Fight sentences, which apparently confused Katherine.

May 6
This is an early example of an ambiguous sentence that could have been about Cara or could have been "just a sentence." As time went on we did more and more of these. It was fun to flirt, even if at this point in time I wasn't actually sure whether I wanted to date Cara. I think, really, the fact that such sentences could be excused as "just sentences" made it easier for us to express our true feelings in the sentences as time went on, while still being able to maintain plausible deniability just in case the feelings weren't reciprocated. Eventually I became much more sure that Cara had feelings for me than she was that I had feelings for her, and I guess it would have made me something of a jerk for doing so much flirting and toying with her emotions if nothing ever came of it. But it all worked out in the end!

May 8
A nice pair of Garden Fight sentences.

May 9
Here Cara's sentence is about how the two of us often made remarkably similar sentences.

This is one of my all-time favorites. Shortly before this, Cara actually called me on the phone during the game in order to distract me from sentence making (she hung up without saying anything after I answered). Then she made a sentence about it! My response to her sentence in the chat refers to the fact that I had 29 points and the one point I gained from voting for her winning sentence put me at 30 and gave me the win for that game.

May 11
Despite Cara not being in the room, I seized the opportunity when both "garden" and "fight" showed up again.

I then told her about this on AOL Instant Messenger (which we were always chatting on back then) and after she joined the game we both made sentences about it.

May 14
In our AIM chat Cara had just told me that she was thinking of going to a baseball game in June. I saw a way to respond to her with a sentence and jumped on it. We would, in fact, go to a baseball game together the next month.

May 15
Fluffalina confused by our Jeff sentences.

May 16
Cara was in a community band (she played clarinet) and had told me she was playing a piece of classical music that she found boring. Here we both made sentences about this.

Here Cara made a sentence about baseball (the Columbus Clippers being the team name).

Sorry for the downer out of nowhere, but yes, Cara, you were very right. Everyone does miss you.

This is just adorable, isn't it?

May 17
Cara's line in the chat "oOoOoOoOo" is something we said to each other after incidents when we were on the same wavelength mentally (which happened quite often).

May 18
 And this was a pretty amazing oOoOoOoOo moment as I made a sentence praising Cara upon her arrival to the game and she made a sentence disagreeing with mine.

May 20
And this is a sentence about those ambiguous sentences that I mentioned. This began a series of sentences by the two of us following this theme; the next two screenshots continue this.

May 21
When I went to see Pearl Jam here in Cleveland, I called Cara (who was in Columbus) during the show so she could listen to the song "Black." Immediately we jumped on the opportunity to make numerous sentences about this event. We clearly found this very fun and exciting. The next four screenshots are also about it.

This sentence also references how I had previously told Cara that I didn't really like talking on the phone (although in this particular phone call, I didn't do any talking.)

"Black" being the song name.

And before the next sentences, I have to include another image. On the message board where we organized our games, she and I collaborated to start a thread called "MSPaint your favorite Psychobabble sentence," which received numerous hilarious contributions. One image that I made for the thread was of Cara's "Thanks to me, he just lost" sentence about her calling me during a game. Here is that image:

And here (from May 22) are Cara's sentence about my drawing, my response to her sentence in the game chat, and then her response to my chat message in her next sentence!

So I haven't nearly gotten through all of the screenshots. It turned out that there were a whole lot more than I anticipated. I hope people find this enjoyable. Unless no one cares about it, I intend to continue this in another post. We really did have such amazing chemistry with each other from the start, and I'm so glad I still have all my old screenshots and chat logs to remind me.

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