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.
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."
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.
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.
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.