The Practice of Being Normal

I wanted so badly to have a normal life, to be seen as a regular person, and to one day have a house and a husband and kids

Photograph by Getty Images

I met Dan on a racquetball court. It was a “pickup game.” Afterwards, we flirted and he asked me if I wanted to have dinner. I was thrilled — not because Dan was so special, but because he wasn’t.

Dan was the kind of guy I was looking for; an antidote to my last boyfriend, Joe — a tattooed Harley Davidson biker, steroid-enhanced bodybuilder, bartender, not super bright ... and married. Dan was pasty, bespectacled, shaped like a bag of laundry, educated and drove an actual car.

When I met Dan, I was 23 and working for I.R.S. Records, coordinating tours for the Go-Gos, R.E.M. and lesser-known bands, and doing dance club promotion. I had a great apartment in West Hollywood and a convertible Alfa Romeo.

From the outside, it looked like I had a great life, especially for such a young woman, except I had two devils on my shoulders: one reminding me of my forbidden desire for diesel dykes, and the other mocking me because I barely finished high school. It’s not that I wasn’t smart, but I left an abusive home at a young age and school was a lesser priority than finding a place to sleep and doing anything for money.

Meanwhile, Dan was 26, had a master’s degree, was living in a loft in downtown Los Angeles — something no one did in the early '80s — and was a working commercial photographer. I thought all the trappings were so cool.

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I wanted Dan to be my boyfriend. Not that I liked him so much, I thought he was arrogant and boring, but I wanted so badly to have a normal life, to be seen as a regular person, and to one day have a house and a husband and kids, and he seemed to be a good person to practice being “normal” with.

It was in a movie theater that I found out Dan had another love. We were watching an Italian film with subtitles and a character was named “Ludovica.” Dan nearly jumped out of his seat. “I … uh … know … a woman named ‘Ludovica,’” he stammered. I was staring at his profile, waiting for more. “I’ll tell you about her later,” he said.

And tell me about Ludovica, he did. Endlessly. After we had sex, which made me miss Joe the biker, he told me every detail about this much older Italian woman he met on a trip to Italy. She was the love of his life. “So why don’t you move to Italy?” I asked, annoyed. “In time,” he answered, staring into the near distance. I wanted to slug him but I kept my cool.

Dan’s best friend was Victoria, an obnoxiously self-confident, pretty, young woman already on her way to a successful career in interior design. She and Dan were like members of a secret society with their in-jokes and wink-wink relationship. She didn’t like me; I didn’t like her.

The last straw was when I drove with them to the Indio Date Festival sitting in the backseat scrunched next to another couple who were somehow playing Yahtzee. Victoria, who almost knocked me over getting the front seat, wouldn’t shut up for a moment. She had to bring up Ludovica, ad nauseum, and then regale us with her latest crush, the actor Sam Shepard who she’d seen in a play. It was still early in Shepard’s career and I hadn’t heard of him. “You haven’t heard of him!?” Victoria snarked.

The next week I was walking near my apartment and I saw a flyer for acting classes. They were taught at Richmond Shepard Acting Studio.

Now even on a good day I am bad with names. I thought this was the guy Victoria was going on about. Gleefully, I stashed the flyer in my pocket and went back to my apartment with a plan to get back at Victoria.

I called the studio and asked how one can contact Richmond Shepard. I was put on hold. In a moment he was on. I thought it was odd and lucky for me that he answered the phone when according to Victoria he was a big star. I told Mr. Shepard that I knew a woman who had a huge crush on him. He was intrigued. I said she spoke so glowingly of him that I would love to meet him. He agreed to meet me at a café in West Hollywood.

When I was 17 and a groupie, I had a crush on Richard Chamberlain. A music writer friend said I should call his agent, say I work for a national paper and interview him. But I had to pay for lunch in Beverly Hills. I went so far as to write down the questions and pick the restaurant. My plan was to seduce him so I didn’t worry about paying; he’d pay. With a groupie’s bravado, I called his agent. She called me back. I spelled my name for her. “Yes, Time magazine,” I said. I never heard back from her.

I remembered my Chamberlain ruse when walking to meet Richmond Shepard. I was now older and more sophisticated and I would get this Shepard guy to like me. That would show Victoria and Dan.

“Are you Robin?” a guy asked. “Yes,” I said, wondering why this guy showed up instead. “I’m Richmond.” I’ve never had quite the out-of-body experience I had at that moment. I knew I had the wrong Shepard: Before me stood a toothy, squinty guy in his 50s with a comb-over. My performance for the rest of lunch was award-worthy. He was a mime. I feigned fascination, although mimes scare me the way clowns scare others. He asked me if perhaps Victoria said “Sam Shepard.” “No,” I insisted, “it was you.”

We parted ways and I never saw Richmond Shepard again. I saw Dan maybe once more and then never again.

I did think flattery was a pretty good ruse, though. And what a way to meet a guy if we actually clicked!

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