Be Careful What You Ask Zen For

100% fact, names omitted.

Once upon a time, there was an urban princess, whom we’ll call ZS. And on the day our story begins, ZS heard this record at a friend’s house and got really crushed out immediately on it, especially on the guy’s voice. JM we’ll call him. She thought, This is the voice of the man I’m going to marry.

Background on ZS: She is ruler and queen of celebrity crushes, and back in summer of oh-one she was living in the beautiful fantasy of sharing a royal bed with Aragorn and Arwen of Gondor. Yeah, she had a massive celebrity crush on a couple of literary characters. Married ones. Maybe that's not technically a celebrity crush, or maybe it's the highest expression of the genre, though posthumous celebrity crushes (e.g. Lord Byron, John Lennon, Dali, Mitch Hedberg, David Bowie...oh, wait a minute...) are also pretty impressive. So anyway, when she heard her future husband's first record she was hearing it as court music performed for her royal Middle-Earth lovers, and the first track was all like madrigal and stirring as a majestic ode to their beauty and power, and well, upon repeated daily listens, she found herself transitioning out of Gondor and into a new fantasyland where she and JM were gazing raptly into each others' eyes and listening to a lot of Echo and the Bunnymen and singing "I got the hongries for your love" to each other. She realizes she may well be a complete nut (it's true she has such delusions of grandeur that she thinks she can change the world with her slightest thoughts) but she’s also cute and artistic, so people encourage her.

Anyhow, this particular celebrity crush soon became an idée fixe, and it lasted, persisted to the point that she found herself occasionally speaking out loud to her fantasy prince. She lay awake at night ruminating on her marriage to this stranger and how perfect they were for each other. She brought JM along in her mind wherever she went. Even when she was with her sweetie.

But mindful of the disappointment engendered by desire, she did try in certain ways to avoid the claws of yearning; avoided mentioning the band’s name; kept herself away from the lyric sheet inside the record. Didn’t go to their shows, didn’t sing the songs when alone in her car. Didn’t look at the band’s website for months; then finally, in abject fear, she crept to the internet—as if she thought he would be able to tell that she had looked—and that was the first time she saw a picture of him, and she was like, That’s my husband, that is the face of my future husband. That’s him. That’s my guy.

And there was an email address.

So why not just email him? She composed some sweet little messages: Dear J--, your music makes me ever so happy. Dear J--, I long to marry you. Dear J--, I think the universe wants us to be together. —Well, needless to say, she didn’t send these.

Because, though she’d never had more than a bare working knowledge of zen, it made sense to her that obsessive desire was bound to make her miserable, plus she felt the universe wanted her to just trust that JM would come for her. Also of course there was the fact that his band was indie, and he was quite sincere and probably wore corduroy, making ostentatious groupie lust inappropriate; she was a hipster and too cool for gushy fan declarations. What--assuming she ever saw them play, was she gonna storm the stage, flashing her tits? No, she’d shoegaze with all the rest. So there was one irony: The music--plaintive, heartfelt--invited love, but the situation made it impossible.

So she knew she couldn’t, would never chase him. And this image rose up repeatedly in her mind: the arrow flying to the target, effortlessly, attraction drawing the arrow magnetically, inexorably.

—You may have gotten the wrong idea from that just there, and thought that ZS fancied herself the arrow hunting JM, the target; but actually she knew herself as the target; he the arrow would fly inevitably to her.

And then events began to prove her right:

First she found out that he had moved to a city she had long been planning to move to – had even looked into housing there. I wish you could have heard how her heart pounded when she read that. She blushed and was like, Holy shit! and felt exceedingly reverse-stalked.

Next came all the mutual acquaintances: one person after another who spontaneously revealed their close connections to JM. She let the conversation drift towards intriguing information, she tried to stay passive, she tried to preserve her precious secret. And felt increasingly reverse-stalked.

And the next thing she knew there was an article about her and JM in the local weekly.

What had happened was that she got drunk with DD and when he asked what music she was listening to lately she gushed out the tale. He mocked her for a stalker and she said No I’m only zen stalking. But then, Mark my words, she added, mark my words, I’m gonna be married to that guy in five years.

That was the moment she created an irony vortex in her life that stayed around for some time (and then just as abruptly snapped shut - but that comes later). Because days later DD called her up and was like, Can I interview you and JM about this whole Zen Stalker thing, cuz I already got my editor interested in it, and I’m gonna get paid so much? And she pondered it for a bit – was it more zen to say no, or to allow what might be a sign from the universe? So she said yes – indeed with a certain panic.

And she did the interview: She told DD about the arrow and the target; about the inappropriateness of pursuing an indie rockstar; about her forbidden fantasy of showing up at his show with a scented Magic Marker, and writing him love poems on her arms…you know, making some kind of declaration, and how shameful it felt to imagine that; she told DD about walking in the Pure Land with JM, and gettin’ hitched at Buck Owens' Crystal Palace, and together being the nerds they truly were. She told him how the Five Year Plan was so Zen, because it was always the Five Year Plan, it didn’t matter if it wasn’t culminated in five years, because next year it would be the Five Year Plan, in twenty years she would never be disappointed because she’d always have the Five Year Plan.

DD asked her, What if this interview only results in, say, JM writing a song about you? And ZS responded, But all his songs are already about me.

And DD duly interviewed JM, and told him all about his Zen Stalker, and how she had danced around her bedroom in saucy lingerie to his newest record, and all of it; and he was flattered and said charming things like “So! She’s cheating on me already?” when told ZS had a real-life sweetie. (DD did not ask him the one question she’d written, only half tongue-in-cheek: “How much can you bench-press?”) Oh! How her heart beat as she lay on her bed, listening to the taped interview, the sweet timbre of his voice, the voice of the man she would marry.

Still you know up to now she hadn’t seen his band play, out of fear and a reluctance for reality; but now she had been put on the guest list, and DD and the PR guy from JM’s label insisted she go. At least it wasn’t the small venue she considered her territory, where the band used to play when the crush began, where JM was likely to step right off the stage into the crowd after playing a show; but a large concert hall she’d always hated. And she would be closely chaperoned (by TV, her real-life sweetie). Still, her real name was on the guest list, put there by the record label guy; she could only hope he wouldn’t pass this intelligence to JM. It made her queasy.

The night of the show came, and she dressed in great anxiety, and tried to think zen thoughts, and just enjoy the evening with TV. They arrived; they stood in the will-call line. And then she realized that just two people behind her in line was MH, foremost of the mutual acquaintances; in fact a close friend of JM. She was obliged to walk into the show with him, making small talk; then she saw JM a mere ten feet away, at the side of the stage, checking out the opening band; she turned to TV in panic and started making out with him….

The show passed. She stayed near the back, kissing TV. But still there were those moony moments of bliss, when JM sang to her about her lips, his passion…. The last encore ended. They left promptly, didn’t linger around the backstage door, though the PR guy had offered. (He’d even told DD about the girl known to JM’s band as the Blow-Job Queen of Minneapolis. Ugh! said ZS, if anything, I just want to be the Hand-Holding Princess of San Francisco.)

Time passed. She tried to be zen. JM’s band came to town again. KF called her up, trying to get her to go with him; but tickets were selling for crazy money, and he knew JM from high school! Not a chance. Afterwards he told her they’d taken the band to the Arrow Bar. The very one. Can you imagine? If she’d been there, wearing her t-shirt with the target on it?

And then the sweetie gave her a very disturbing gift: a band t-shirt signed by JM, which read, To the Zen Stalker—I’ll see you in 4 1/2 years! She was horrified. So he was counting down! What information had been passed, by whom? How had this shirt found her? Was TV—her own sweetie—helping JM stalk her?

And then the sweetie DIED. He died in a heartbreaking accident, and with that, the irony vortex closed, closed hard; and the very phrase “celebrity crush” was dirt in her mouth forever.


Appendix: Messages she’ll never send

Sweetheart,
I wish you'd come over so I can woo you in person. Good God, what am I saying? I couldn't even make eye contact with you without blushing. Don't bother writing me back unless you are really my pretend boyfriend! I won't even open your message unless the subject line states the location of our future wedding.

thanks for the great show,
what a great time I had,
dancing around with my big grin and moony starry eyes.
blushing terrified when I thought you were looking in my direction.
hearts&sighs,
your zen stalker

oh dear,
I'm so lovesick.
I think you've given me a flu.
I know it's delusional,
but I hope you don't mind it too much.
wish you'd come find me.
I am mortally scared of you,
eye contact was more than I could handle.
but I'll be real brave if you will.
your ZS

hi J--
thanks for the tshirt
I didn't realize tshirts were made in such massive sizes. I think you and I and Buck Owens could all hang out in it together.
holla back in '08.
luv,
your ZS

Dear J--
Today I have this crush on some other boy, but you know it is just for practice.
love
ZS

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