This is a tale of the early days of the Internet, when modems were slow and beepy, phone lines were tied up for hours, and my newfound typing skills were put to use on Prodigy Net’s Bulletin Boards.
Bulletin Boards, for those of you younger than 30, were essentially group emails that anyone could look at. The boards were organized into broad topics like music/movies/TV/sports/fungi/whatever, and constantly, someone would start a topic like “BEST HORROR MOVIE”, name their favorite, and then it was on. No point was too small to be endlessly debated. BBs were my first look into how horrifyingly cruel people can be when they are anonymous- and I’m talking about myself.
A budding music snob, I trolled BBs for mentions of bands like The Melvins, King Missile, The Lemonheads, Nine Inch Nails, Dead Milkmen, The Cure, etc and so on, reading other people’s made-up rumors about the source of Trent Reznor’s depression and scoffing them. My favorite thing to do was a thing called “Music Quiz”, a game I wish I’d been diabolical enough to invent. For Music Quiz, you comb your alternative music databank (which in those days was your head) for the most obscure information you’ve ever heard and then create a post asking people if they’re cool enough to know what you know. The best posts of that ilk would be just random lines from songs you’re supposed to know, and it would be up to you and your fragile ego to identify each one.
Why did we do this? To prove dominance? To fill the holes in our tiny teenage lives? For fun? Who knows.
If you met someone whose tastes and knowledge base were on level with your own, it was time to move on to the second most important feature of BBs, which would be BBdating. There were no pictures with profiles back in those days, so all you had to go on was a person’s knowledge of Nirvana BEFORE they were popular, as well as their witty banter. If you liked a dude, you could invite him into a private chat room, where, for me, nothing dirty ever happened. I now know that I was missing out, but all I did with these guys was talk about where we lived, what bands we’d seen live, what movies we’d watched, how much we hated the towns we lived in, how old we were, and how many pairs of Doc Martens we owned.
Slowly, over time, you and a guy would end up chatting every day, telling each other about your (greatly embellished) lives. I was lucky, there was actually a teen punk club/coffee shop in my hometown, and it was seedy and vital and fun, so I bragged about that to my online paramours. Sure, it might have been a bit of a stretch to say that the Dead Kennedys played there, since just a CD playing over the PA probably doesn’t count, but still, I was able to paint glorious pictures of underground nightlife with minimal lying. Sometimes daily chatting would lead to packages being mailed back and forth, and every once in a while, an actual phone call, but only once in my storied BB tenure did I ever meet one of these guys IRL (that’s in real life). It was a crazy, topsy-turvy, after the parents are asleep kind of time. Would you like to hear about some of my BB Boyfriends?
Cameron was a guy who literally purported to be a devil. Like, a fire and brimstone red guy with a pitchfork kind of devil. He wrote in crazy all caps and I thought it was funny the way he dismissed anyone’s arguments about what band was better by going “YOU WON’T BE ABLE TO HEAR MUSIC WHEN I SINGE YOUR EARS OFF IN A POT OF OIL MADE OUT OF YOUR PARENTS FAT”. Hilarious. He and I started corresponding, and though he was quite limited in what he could talk about (he was a devil after all), he was quite funny. I still never gave him my home address though, as he was probably psychotic.
Paul was a nice enough guy I traded Lemonheads info with. He lived in Ohio and was about to go to college. He had clearly had a rough time in high school because he made a big production of telling me that he could kill someone with just a finger because he was “trained”. I gave him my address and he mailed me a mix tape and a picture of himself. The picture disappointed me, as Paul looked like the kind of guy I would have bullied, smiling with dumb eyes from beneath a baseball hat adorned with a fish hook. I sighed dejectedly but popped in the tape anyway, only to find that it was positively overflowing with songs from the band Dream Theater. That was the end of our romance.
Ratt was a skater kid who would send me flyers from clubs in DC, where bands I loved seemed to be playing every night. He never sent me a picture of himself but I did get tons of cool stickers. One of those was an Andre the Giant has a Posse sticker, which was one of the first grassroots viral campaigns started for the sake of being viral. These skaters just made these stickers and made it their mission to spread them all over the country. It was an intense and rare honor to have an Andre the Giant sticker, so intense and rare, apparently, that someone stole it off of my damn car while I was at the aforementioned punk club/coffee shop one night. Jerks.
Mori was an Israeli guy, and foxy. I knew this because he was one of the only people who actually had a picture along with his knowledge of the Pixies. He was an EMT in Israeli (that could have been a lie) and we chatted for hours and hours, although when I think back on it, I can’t imagine what we possibly could have had in common. He seemed more grown up than most of the guys I chatted with, and we graduated to phone calls that were far away-sounding and awkward. He made elaborate plans for us to meet at a conference he was attending in England, which I agreed to wholeheartedly with the knowledge that I would never ever do that. He didn’t really talk to me much after I didn’t show.
Ryan was the one guy I met that I really really dug. He introduced me to a few awesome bands I didn’t know, he was in a band himself, and he was also an artist. We chatted about music a lot, and then about our friends, and then just about our day to day lives. I knew about his job at a comic book store, he knew about my drama club, and we clicked. My first package from him contained a few pictures (dreamy!), a mixtape, and some of the comic books he’d illustrated. In response, he got a mixtape and a picture of me with purple hair wearing my standard look, old men’s pants and a long-sleeved shirt with holes cut in the sleeves. Ryan lived in Detroit and we had frank chat conversations about how we were meant for each other even though we were both dating people. It felt very mature. I still remember one email I got from him, late one night, about how he dreamed about us meeting somewhere at a hotel, talking all night, and when I woke up the next morning, there would just be a long-stemmed rose and an engagement ring on the pillow. SWOOOOOOON. Nothing sounds more indulgent and romantic to a 17 year old girl who wears flower-printed Doc Martens on purpose.
When he told me that business was bringing him through my hometown in a few weeks, and casually suggested that we meet, my heart took off in a permanent gallop. We made tentative plans to meet in a hotel room near the local mall.
Now let me stop here. We made plans to meet in a hotel room. It was 1995, years before Internet predators started messing up teenagers’ social lives with their creepiness, but the fact remains that I was a worldly-wise 16 year old who agreed to meet a stranger at a hotel with absolutely no hesitation whatsoever. To make matters worse, I told my parents that I was meeting him at the mall, just adding an extra layer of intrigue for the 20/20 reporters when they inevitably came to interview my parents about my disappearance.
In the days leading up to our meeting, I talked to Ryan less than usual, but I chalked that up to nervousness on both our parts. I distanced myself from my current, less-cool boyfriend and spent my time daydreaming about the magical moment when Ryan and I saw each other for the first time. I imagined we’d fall into each others’ arms and spin each other around while listening to The Posies.
When D-Day arrived, I got dressed with extra care, wearing something dark and hip looking, dark mainly because I was concerned that my nervous adolescent body would be sweating too profusely. I drove to the hotel all pins and needles, aware in some part of my brain that this day was not going to end with me running away with this guy. Apparently I was not sure in my entire brain, as I had brought some cash just in case I did decide to leave my boring kid life forever.
I knocked and he opened the door. He was taller than I thought, very handsome, and he flashed me a quick, tiny smile. My heart hammered, and just as I reached my arms up for a hug, he abruptly turned around and walked back into the room, which held a bed, some chairs, a TV, and a girl who looked to be 19 or 20.
“This is my girlfriend Lainey” Ryan said woodenly, gesturing. “And this is that girl I know in North Carolina”. The girl and I nodded at each other, and when my heartbeat returned, my blood began to boil. He wasn’t acting disappointed that his girlfriend decided to tag along on our pre-destined first meeting, he was behaving as if it was me who decided to crash their love party. This was not going as I planned, to say the least. I sat in a chair and made awkward small talk with her, as Ryan had shut down and was just grunting responses from across the room. Lainey seemed nonplussed by this whole interaction, and I couldn’t decide if I respected that or if it just infuriated me more that she didn’t see me as a threat. I was just some kid to her. I wondered how long I’d have to keep this up before I could throw myself out of the window of the hotel room in order not waste time opening the door. After about 15 minutes of him making snide remarks and me describing my home town to no one’s interest, I stood up and said “Welp, it has been just awesome finally meeting you, Ryan!” My voice dripped with what I hoped was the vitriolic sarcasm of being 16.
He crossed the room to open the door for me, and once my exit was clear, he hugged me like a piece of picket fence would feel if you wrapped your arms around it. Still, my heart leaped, hoping for a whispered apology, a secret plan to meet later. But nothing. “Awesome”, I hissed, and without a backwards glance, I got into my car and drove about two blocks away, where I stopped to sob and shake like a woman scorned. It didn’t occur to me until after my tears dried that I could have been in any sort of danger, and by the time I got home I’d recast the whole experience as one that I just barely escaped with my safety and dignity intact.
That didn’t stop me from emailing Ryan to ask him what the hell happened, but I never got any response, which I somehow took to mean that he didn’t think I was pretty.
I looked him up a few days ago, and there he was, that could-have-been predator, on Facebook. He is married to hotel surprise Lainey and they have a 5 year old daughter. I can’t wait to introduce that baby girl to Chatroulette.