I got onto a BBS (a Bulletin Board System) back in the early 90’s because I knew a bunch of reprobates who were cruising each other over internet dial-up. I didn’t know anything about computers, nothing about BBS boards, nor why anyone would use such an animal. But my roommates were intrigued by the possibilities and perhaps the faceless anonymity too. I went along for the ride because everyone was doing it, and just like apocryphal lemmings, jettisoned myself off the cliff and out to sea.
We created our web identities without the benefit of Facebook data mining. A number of hobbies, interests, and identifying characteristics were offered up as points to share with other members of the BBS, things like “Video Games” or “Knitting Kilts on Sundays.” We checked off the ones which resonated with us, and as a result we would have other members flagged because of our “mutual interests.” Blinking cursors and black and white text, the BBS was alluring in its complete irrelevance to my life.
There was not one single interest which I shared with the general BBS community. Nothing.
My identity made me appear to be the most dull of dull members on the BBS board, this despite my remarkably checkered existence and even more remarkably checkered friends. And with no shared interests with anyone, I wasn’t ever going to have one of those interesting “chats” I’d heard tell about. No email queries, no bupkus. I was going to have an identity more clear of blemishes than Holly Hobby.
In fact, the only interest which was mildly entertaining was the Society for Creative Anachronism. And this was because I didn’t believe it existed.
I thought that such a completely off-the-wall idea had to be a lark. What the hell is an anachronism which is creative? A dancing ascot? A pince-nez which recites Herodotus? And who would create a society based upon it? How patently absurd! How brilliantly Monty Python-esque! Ministry of Silly Walks, indeed. We had here a real contender for the ridiculous crown.
So I put an ‘X’ between the brackets. Me and my one interest, chosen purely for comedic effect.
I received a personal message on the BBS not long after putting my identity up. He wanted to meet, maybe catch a movie. Did we know any of the same people? It appeared we did. It was mildly creepy, sure, but innocuous enough. We grabbed a cheap burrito and some coffee, and during our brief introduction I realized we had as much in common as a high strung squirrel monkey has with a waffle iron. He was nice, but odd. About thirty years old, full of strange mannerisms and a trailer in which he lived alone on several acres with six cats he adopted from his mother. He moved with a self-conscious rigidity reserved for people tortured through high school, both by their peers but also their miserable home life. He didn’t know where to put himself in any room where he wasn’t in the way.
I moved with shocking self-confidence despite the fact that I was dangerously close to a clinical breakdown. Nimble, frenetic, and over indulgent. A dancer for years, I moved with a saucy grace anywhere I went, and I dressed to the effect. A hyper pixie flashing in and out of the lives of people I knew, moving too quickly and laughing too loudly to be contained in any room.
I filled the room to bursting, he tried to become the wallpaper.
But he seemed to be encouraged after our modest date, and after he brought me home asked if I’d join him at the Star Trek convention.
I was not exactly aghast, but I’ll admit to being confused. I was a night club fixture and a complete tart, not a science fiction lover with six cats and a trailer. Did something about me and my strangely crafted persona invite comparisons to Deanna Troi? Sure, sometimes I dressed the part of one of Kirk’s brief assignations, which is to say with skirts far too short to be borne. I even painted myself silver one night to go dancing with the drag queens. But really. A Trekkie?
I politely declined the invitation, scratching my head in wonder.
I got another query from a different gent a while later. I looked at his BBS identity and it appeared he actually had interests, which was remarkable enough for me to respond. Films and literature and god knows what else, but enough that he didn’t seem like my ridiculously bland no-interest self. And we chatted, or whatever it was then, had an exchange of ideas. Not that I was terribly articulate.
We met at a bar and hit it off. He was far more pulled-together than I was; he had a job which didn’t involve serving coffee or slinging beer or taking off his clothes, so he was almost like an adult. He lived in an unbelievable warehouse space with several other guys where they had film equipment, huge numbers of computers and a tire swing. Props from their various indy film projects hung from the rafters, completing an enchanting effect of grown-up romper room.
This was what I aspired to: bohemian creativity which relied on nothing but ingenuity, an awesome loft and a tire swing. Plus, I suppose, a real job to buy the equipment to capture the bohemian creativity and pay for the awesome loft and tire swing. I can’t say that I offered much return on his investment; I had a crummy job, no education, and a sassy attitude with nothing to back it up. I must have been rather like my online identity to him: dull.
Regardless, we had a completely inconsequential fling, burdened by nothing resembling passion in the least. It was marshmallow fluff until the next thing came along.
That came sooner than it might have after he picked me up from work one night and we went to a tirelessly seedy but trendy bar near his warehouse. I had been in training, so could pack away a great number of cocktails; he didn’t seem terribly impressed but gamely entertained his higher notions of chivalry by chaperoning. We left around midnight, right into the center of an altercation between two homeless men harassing a homeless woman. Arriving late to the kerfuffle meant we couldn’t parse whether they all knew each other or if this was brute force against a defenseless victim. A small crowd developed on the sidewalk, a limo parked next to a fire hydrant, the driver climbing out to observe, all of us deciding whether we needed to intervene.
A little scrappy guy, hunched over with a grungy baseball cap covering stringy hair began to physically push this tiny woman with her rolling cart, and my chivalrous, recreational fling moved into action, stepping between them to push them apart. Fling turned to the woman to ask if she was alright when Scrappy jumped on his back; Fling looked like he had a giant baby attacking him from behind who he desperately tried to shake loose. Scrappy was tenacious and street strong and would not let go until he could get Fling down on the ground to really pulverize him.
This was perhaps the moment when Fling and I lost any hope of becoming something more than a fling. Because it happened that while Scrappy was attacking Fling, I remembered that I had, for the first time in my life, a can of pepper spray. I never felt threatened before–except by people I knew–and I wasn’t planning on making a habit of wandering around downtown Seattle alone in the middle of the night. Maybe I just happened upon it in my apartment. I didn’t know where it came from; I certainly never purchased it. Maybe one of my friends left it behind and I picked it up just because.
So I sprayed Scrappy, the Attack Hobo. But Scrappy’s face was hanging over Fling’s shoulder from behind, and it turns out there isn’t much control over the range of pepper spray. And perhaps my aim wasn’t great because I both had a number of cocktails and Scrappy was a highly volatile moving target. I sprayed them equally and liberally.
Scrappy dropped off Fling’s back, both of them holding their eyes and choking to catch their breath. Their eyes lit up baboon butt red, and while I gritted my teeth in horror and embarrassment, cringing and shifting from leg to leg not knowing what to do, Scrappy slapped Fling on the shoulder genially. “Man, I’m really sorry. Dude, we good? I’m sorry, man. Shit, I didn’t mean it, you know?”
The chauffeur had called the police and we spent several confusing minutes explaining that I was just trying to help; no, I wasn’t the instigator. Yes, I used pepper spray on my date. It was an accident! The woman who had been assaulted disappeared into the streets like smoke, leaving us three mortal enemies defending each other in the eyes of the law, Scrappy bobbing and weaving behind us, popping up like a Whack-a-Mole. “Sorry, dude,” he said. “Dude, hey man. Sorry! No hard feelings, man. Lemme buy you a beer.”
We pulled ourselves from the grips of Johnny Law because they were confused and amused and didn’t know who to charge with a crime, and Fling and I wandered to an even nastier bar to soak out the pepper spray and adrenalin. We got unfathomably ripped, went to his warehouse to swing on the swing, wash the pepper out of his eyes and, though I didn’t quite get it, say, “Sayonara, babe. You’re too out there for me.”
This from a guy who sought me out because I was interested in The Society for Creative Anachronism. The nerve.
It was several years before I discovered the Society for Creative Anachronism really exists. And wouldn’t you know, it provides a place for people to live out their dreams of chivalry and nobility. There are no pince-nez which recite Herodotus, nor dancing ascots, but lots of terrible romantics who dress as troubadours and behave like lovesick paramours reciting Ye Olde poems of love and death to each other between tournaments in which they pulverize one another with remarkably deadly weapons.
Well. Lesson learned.
At least I got the Trekkie to watch my cat for six months when I moved out of town.
And Fling, I finally understood why he looked me up in the first place. Talk about your misguided romantic.