A series of eight micro-non-fictions being published throughout the week as part of AltTxt.
1. Girl Who Is Not An Old Lady Stalker
The terminal was empty except for a huge, middle-aged woman who walked towards us slowly but with great inevitability. I was waiting with my mate Bob, who along with being my longest-serving friend, was sometimes spontaneously enthused about things such as meeting random people from the internet. ‘Is that her?’ Bob asked, expecting a girl more similar to our age. It was at this point I realised we had no idea what the girl we were picking up looked like. On MSN Messenger, she had a picture of a horse as a portrait. She swore a lot and had impeccable spelling.
See you cunts in a week, she typed. Motherfuckers are going to get wasted.
‘I think she’s been working on a ranch, so look out for… horse stuff,’ I told Bob.
‘What, like a saddle?’
‘I dunno. A whip? Spurs?’
‘Well, does she know what WE look like?’ asked Bob, rattling his keys impatiently.
‘She knows that I am tall,’ I ventured, still worried that this woman was one of those people who imitated teenage girls on the internet and now expected us to take her back to my mum’s house for pizza. She seemed to be wearing a nightgown. ‘I’m also tall,’ pointed out Bob.
Even if we loomed like giant gangling monsters, with heads that chewed on the top of the airport’s ceiling, it still wouldn’t help us, because the only people were us, and the slow moving lady. ‘Let’s bail,’ I whispered to Bob, which was an awful thing to do, but also understandable. We had only ever bailed from one thing before, which was when we bought six Baileys at an Irish bar and discovered how unreasonably expensive they were. Bailing on a human woman was probably a step up on some sort of awful scale.
After we had run away, we realised that we hadn’t actually bailed on our internet friend that we had never met before, stranding her at the airport late at night, because we found her waiting at a different terminal. She was sitting on top of a suitcase, wearing working boots and casual flannel – horse gear! We drove her to my house in the Royal National Park, where you have to drive through a really long, dark bush road, full of shrieking possums and deer with blazing eyes and I said, ‘Ha ha ha, we’re not going to murder you,’ and we all laughed.
2. Juan Crankington
The moment I fell out of love with a teenage Singaporean boy on MSN Messenger was after I’d sent him a blurry nude photo of myself, shining super pale, reclining awkwardly on the lounge, folding the entire gangle of my body to fit into the picture of my Nokia Coolpix. After I sent that, he sent me a picture, which I then started to download, but my dialup modem kept fritzing out, so I watched it appear one fuzzy grey line at a time.
By the time I’d come back from dinner, I could tell the figure in the picture was hiking, which was weird to me, because we spent like 100% of our time chatting on the internet. He was pixelated, and I thought ‘Jesus, he looks way more muscly than the pictures of him I’d seen with clothes on’, and that made me happy and also paranoid about my looks. And eventually, I realised that I was looking at a picture of a white guy, not a Singaporean guy, who was crouching in hiking boots and a backpack, holding a huge curvy penis aggressively towards the camera, and I thought, ‘Shit that’s not him,’ and then I thought, ‘Shit, who am I talking to,’ and I got up and I walked around doing a little panic dance, and I closed down Messenger. Then I deleted it from my computer. Then I reinstalled it, and changed my name to ‘Juan Crankington’. I tried not to go onto the internet for the next month, and later found out that the gay porn sent to me had been a mean trick from his sister, but it was too late by then, I realised I wasn’t ready to be in a secret gay relationship on the internet, I wasn’t ready to be gay at all, I wasn’t ready to send nudes into the ethersphere. He sent me a Playstation 1 as an apology, which I gave to a mate.
3. The Ketamine Harry Potter
He stayed under the stairs the whole week he was in my house, in a little nook where we set up his bed, like a long-haired Kiwi stoner version of Harry Potter. When I went to work or to uni, I wondered what he ate. The cat pissed on him multiple times while he slept. When it was finally the night of the Sigur Rós concert that he’d come to Australia to see, he texted me, ‘were is the trn stn?’ and I realised he had probably been stuck inside my house in the Sutherland Shire for a week, reeking of cat piss, and I felt so bad. I sort of expected him to be street smart, because once he crashed his car into a creek and called me from overseas, still sitting in the car, laughing while the water rose up around him, so in my mind that was a pretty cool thing to do and translated directly to being comfortable with foreign public transport systems.
On the forums he played a trash-talking obscene gnome named Spangles McGroiny, who used to team up with the alcoholic homosexual elf I played and we’d wander around this fantasy world making elaborate penis puns and shocking some of the conservative middle-aged roleplaying set. I remember staying up entire nights, drinking and bitching in the chatroom about game politics and conspiracy theories with him, and now that he was in my lounge room, I was constantly running away to go to work and uni.
I tried to make it up to him by having a big party on his last night, but a dodgy guy sold him some extra-strength ketamine, and he crawled back under the stairs, muttering about the bubble surrounding him, about the meniscus between people. He tried to hum a Sigur Rós song at me. It sounded like ‘hnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn-hnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn’. Two weeks after he’d gone, I received a package from him, which was a copy of Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake wrapped in a pair of someone’s boxers.
My first date was with a girl I chatted to on ICQ, and one summer I barely went swimming at all because I’d get ready to go and there’d be this ‘uh-oh’ noise and then the day would pass somehow. And she was a friend of a friend, so we both kept saying it wasn’t that weird that we’d never met, but it totally was. People kept telling us stories about how we were probably chatting with some fifty-year-old predator, and our school even had a special meeting about it, where I rolled my eyes about seventy times. When I went to the Blue Mountains with my family, the plan was to meet her in the park, and we did and as we chatted awkwardly I could hear the typing noise from ICQ Messenger in my head, but never the ‘uh-oh’ to say that a message had come, because we were super awkward, we were like fifteen.
5. Florida Cat Lady
From what I understand, she lived alone with a thousand cats in this city full of old people in Florida, saving enough money so she could move elsewhere and study obscure French history. She worked at an Australian themed steak-house, and I remember asking what that even entailed, and apparently they wore akubras and had boomerangs on the walls. She wrote a scheming aristocrat character in this game we played together, like a French duchess, with impeccable historical detail to clothes and mannerisms that barely anybody could appreciate if they didn’t know what to look for.
She told me to read this book called House of Leaves, a book she said she loved so much that she used to just carry it around with her in the hope that someone would strike up a conversation about it. I read it mostly to impress her, but then I always loved/was terrified by it, and on Christmas day I pretended to go to the bathroom, but actually stood in there reading House of Leaves for half an hour.
Once I had an assignment for my class, to interview the editor of a magazine or journal, and I didn’t have a clue about how to do this, and I was chatting with her on one of the strange nights where the sun was only just coming down for me, and on the other side of the world, she was watching it come up with those sandpaper eyes you get from computer screens and no sleep. We decided that she would invent a magazine called ‘Florida Living’, a homeware and lifestyle periodical in which she was the founder and the editor.
I ended up getting a pretty good mark too.
6. Internet Hippie
I think because I’d just left high school, I was probably at the most dangerous stage of my ever becoming a hippie. I mean, it was all pretty cool stuff from my perspective – hippies liked being calm and sixties music and drugs. This guy I used to chat to was kind of like a rockstar of the roleplaying community. We all thought he was this amazing writer, although in retrospect it was because he peppered his purple prose with incorrectly used words like ‘the minotaur breathed the ephermerance of dust, the extramity of life and quintessence combined.’ And nobody really knew what it meant, it was evocative, you know? And a couple of us would listen spellbound as he typed about midnight raves in the Redwoods of California under a full moon and these amazing communities of artists. And I’d always talk about when I got enough money I’d come and visit him, and he’d recommend me some more dodgy trance music and promise to show me wonders, which in retrospect was totally culty, and it was really good that I kept getting fired from jobs when I was twenty and couldn’t save up enough money to go to the US, because this guy turned out to be a legit criminal, like a total fucking internet monster, and his writing actually sucked.
7. Dinosaur Lady
We drove to Canberra for this girl’s 21st birthday party, and even though we’d met her before, that she’d technically made the leap from internet person to physical person, we were super nervous, and kept going to the War Memorial to hide. When we stopped being giant cowards and left the War Memorial, the party was super hostile about my pants and our choice of beers and we drank in the corner awkwardly. The birthday girl ignored us for most of the night and then when it was really late and she was really drunk, she had a fight with her boyfriend and left. We realised that we now had no place to stay, because we were at her boyfriend’s house and he kept calling us ‘city slickers’ even though Canberra is technically a city. Technically.
He told us that the birthday girl had gone to a pub, which we followed her to. In the pub, whenever a certain song played, everyone dropped their pants. We lost the birthday girl again. Then we met this other girl who we’d chatted to a bit at the party, and she said that we could stay at her place and it was just around the corner. My mate drove us there, even though he was super drunk, and we discovered that actually ‘around the corner’ in Canberra terms was like a half hour drive. On the way we discovered that we already knew her from the internet game we all played, and she took us to her house which was full of dinosaur bones because her parents are palaeontologists (!) and rescued us.
I thought about how we’d been betrayed by an internet person, which was bad, but then totally rescued by an internet person, and how we would never have had the chance to be rescued if we hadn’t had that connection, and I was like ‘internet people are good’ and then the next morning, hungover and driving around Canberra’s stupid loop roads, I realised that internet people are just people.
8. A CD-ROM of Greatness
When my dad told me we were getting the internet, I only really understood it as a thing we used at school that had Ask Jeeves on it, and I was a bit excited to get it because then I could feed my Neopet more omelette. The first thing I ever searched for on the internet was ‘X Men’ because I liked the comics, and I opened a bunch of gay porn in the school library.
When the internet arrived, it was an AOL CD-ROM, and it asked me to fill in all these details about myself, which I thought was my application to use the internet, but was actually for my AOL messenger profile. I put in the ‘interests’ field that I liked elves and books and writing, which was a pretty good summary of my teenage (/current) self.
Not a moment later, a chat window popped up and it was this girl who just wanted to talk about books and peer pressure me into writing for a roleplaying game. She was super enthused and older than me and at that point I lived in the joyless void of early high school where people asked questions like, ‘why are you reading?’ so it was like someone just appearing out of nowhere and being like ‘the things you like are OK’ which I guess was really important?
We’re still friends and she is great for getting drunk and leaving messages on my Facebook because she’s in a different time zone, and it’s the morning and I’m drinking coffee and she’s posting pictures of empty wine bottles to me. Judging from her pictures, she’s totally motivated about yoga and dancing for fitness and I imagine she eats lots of healthy meals with pumpkins involved. She’s great because only like three other people have watched me age from weirdo teenager to weirdo almost thirty-year-old, and I suppose I’ve done the same for her. I watched as she fell in love with a boy and moved to California and then watched as he ended up being scum and she moved home, we both wandered around studying things and hoping to get a job maybe, and then I suppose we did, but that was pretty recent for both of us.
Her boyfriend now looks like a super-villain, and sometimes I wonder if we’d be even better friends if we lived near each other, if we hung out and drank coffee in the mornings, if we didn’t have the barrier of the internet to climb over, and then I remember we wouldn’t even be friends at all without it, that we’d be complete strangers, and that’s pretty cool.
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