A note on the story. This is a piece I wrote for the ‘We Brave Kids’ project. There is some language and a few adult themes, though it is a comedy and I hope it’s got at least one or two morals.
The Bland Necessity of Perfection
There are those experiences in life that you assume you’ll never experience, mostly because you don’t think yourself the kind of person to ever be put into a situation where you will experience them. Like the decisions you make and the things you believe will naturally sail you away to a safer place because, if you’re honest, you always assumed those experiences were the experiences of bad people, and you aren’t a bad person.
I looked at my watch and it told me it was 8:15.
But the truth is, the truth, is that the older you get, the broader your scope, the less attachment you have with these invisible things that keep you in line. Like your mom isn’t looking or God isn’t listening or however you want to say it. You’re just alone with your impulses, and you’re discovering what it means to be a human because you’re not being watched. It’s terrible.
My watch said it was 8:15.
The Internet is a strange place. It’s big and it’s nebulous and it’s new to even the most hip of us. I think there is this strange barrier in communication that is only a few nanoseconds thick, that all disappears on the Internet, where we communicate, and that’s largely a bad thing.
A red pick-up pulled into the parking lot. It was her. She parked and sat in her car, put on fresh lipstick and took a swig from a bottle of bourbon. What a waste of lipstick, I thought. She didn’t get out of her car, she just sat there. She was waiting for me. She was early.
I walked around to the side door of the café. I wanted meeting her to be more orchestrated than a chance glance in a parking lot. I ordered a cup of coffee and sat down. I couldn’t see her anymore, but I wondered if she was still sipping bourbon.
It was 8:20.
I don’t think people realize what they’re doing when they post incredibly intimate secrets on Facebook. It’s those weird kind of statements like “I’m having a really bad day” or “I can’t believe she’s gone” that would usually be stopped by that in-person barrier. And in a way it’s dishonest and it’s rude because you’re forcing this dark pathetic version of yourself on people so loosely connected to you. You aren’t who you are on the Internet because no one is watching you.
She finally walked into the café from the parking lot. She didn’t order anything; she walked straight to the booth I was sitting at. It was 8:25.
“My name isn’t Vanessa.”
“I used a fake name. My name isn’t Vanessa.”
“Oh yeah, of course. My name isn’t David.” She sat down and smiled. She was prettier in person than the picture she had sent. “Do you want some coffee or something?”
“No, I’m fine thanks.”
If you want to be pathetic, there are places for that; there are times for that. The Internet, being so big and strange, has special corners for every kind of thing. If you want to complain about how bad your life is, there are chat rooms for that. If you want to lament about why she left you, there are forums for that. If you’re a vile mix of bored and lonely, there’s craigslist.
“Thanks for meeting me here first, I’ve never done this before and I don’t really know how it works.”
“How what works?”
“You know, Internet sex.”
“We’re not on the Internet anymore.” She smiled and took a sip from a Starbucks cup. We weren’t at Starbucks. I wondered if it was bourbon, and I thought about asking for a drink.
“So what’s your real name?” I wonder if we’re all at a disadvantage, because of the Internet. Like maybe we’ve gotten soft in how we interact with other people, because we don’t really have to interact with other people, or at least we don’t have to do it directly.
“Vanessa, let’s just go with Vanessa.”
“My real name is George.” I don’t know why I said that. I don’t even think I know a “George.”
“You didn’t have to tell me that, I mean, no one has to know names or anything.”
“I know, I’m sorry. I’ve never done this before. My name isn’t George.”
“It really doesn’t matter.”
The Internet offers this great anonymity, where your name doesn’t have to be your name and it gives you the freedom to say or do whatever you want, but I think we can all agree that it’s this condition that creates the very worst things on the Internet. People need checks and balances, people need guilt, at least I think they do.
“So listen, I know this is weird-“
– Yes, Vanessa, this is very weird.
“But do you think you’d be OK with tipping?”
I looked at my coffee, from the café we were at. I looked at her “coffee,” from Starbucks. “What do you mean? I already tipped, I mean, I tipped when I bought my coffee. I wrote it in on the receipt and everything…”
“No, not like that, you know, not like that kind of tipping.”
Have you ever been to urbandictionary.com? It’s a good website to pull up at parties, though I think it may be a little antiquated at this point. Basically it’s a joke dictionary that offers definitions for slang words. You learn that “starfishing” means sending someone a picture of your butthole, or that a “likespike” is when you LIKE everything you can on a friends page so that, when they log back into Facebook, they have hundreds of notifications.
“I honestly don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“I’m talking about a ‘tip.’”
“No, no, I get that, I know what a tip is, like, I understand how tipping works. I’m just not sure at what point I am going to tip someone, or whom I am going to tip. Like, there are large bits of information missing from whatever it is we are taking about right now.” I was a little frustrated.
“Me, man, I’m talking about me.”
“So I’d tip you? I’d give you a tip? For what?” And then there’s PostSecret.com. If you haven’t been to the website then you’ve probably seen the books. This guy started this thing where people send in anonymous secrets on postcards and he takes the most interesting ones and publishes them. It updates every Sunday, the website, and it’s very interesting. People have done the craziest things in private. “I don’t understand.”
“Seriously? I’m talking about the sex, man.” She leaned in and whispered, “sex.”
It was 8:30.
I was quiet for too long. “You mean prostitution?”
“What? No! What are you talking about?”
“You’re asking me to give you money after we have sex.”
“Yeah, like a tip.”
“Yeah, no, I get that. That’s prostitution, that’s how prostitution works.”
“But it’s not prostitution.”
“But it’s money, that I’d give you.”
“After we had sex.”
“Yes, how ever much you thought was fair.”
“I’m sorry, I really don’t see how that’s not prostitution.” Wikipedia is good. It’s a site that everyone goes to and trusts, though everyone always talks about how you can’t trust it. I think that’s unfair. So far as I’ve experienced, it’s a perfectly fine place to learn something knew, or to uncover some fact about some thing that you’re interested in.
“It’s not prostitution because, I mean, I’m not a whore, man.” She took a sip from her “coffee.”
“I never said you were a whore, I don’t think you’re a whore, but just try and see this from my perspective.”
“We met on the Internet.”
“With the express purpose of fucking.”
“Well, if that’s the word you want to use –“
“And now you’re asking me to give you money for that.”
“I just wanted to know if you’d be cool with it, that’s all.”
“Cool with it?”
“I mean, you don’t have to give me money.”
“But it’s out there, it’s a thing, it exists now.”
“I got bills man.”
“I understand that, like, I understand the foundations of economy and goods and services or whatever, in fact, that’s my point.”
“Well I disagree.” She folded her arms and avoided eye contact. I think she was about to cry, or that she was tearing up, something like that. We had just met and, already, we were breaking up.
“I don’t mean to be a dick-“
“-Well you’re a dick.”
“But what bills are you talking about?” I thought she owed someone money or, maybe, she was in trouble. Maybe all of this was her solution; her answer to some problem was having sex with a stranger from the Internet for money.
“I just need like, fifty bucks OK? My kid got sick and –“
“Jesus, you have a kid?”
“Well I guess there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s just an unexpected turn of events.” It wasn’t really, if I look back on it. I thought for a moment and drank the rest of my coffee. I pulled out my wallet and took out some cash. I had thought about leaving my cash at home in case this was some elaborate set up that ended with a mugging, but figured that was unfair to her, so I brought my money out of guilt.
“Listen, seriously man, you don’t have to pay me.”
“I’ve only got seventy-five on me, here.”
“Thank you.” She took the money and put it into her purse. She pushed her hair behind her ears and smiled. “So where do you want to go?” She asked with an eyebrow raised.
Kickstarter is a site I rarely go to, though I’m often directed there by links on friend’s walls. Basically it’s a place where people ask for money to fund certain creative projects. Most of the time they’re pretty silly, bands wanting to make albums or writers wanting to publish a novel. It’s all artist who are unwilling to do the hard work that art requires. “Well I’ll probably go home after this, maybe grab a beer or something.” I had stopped paying attention. It’s a terrible defense mechanism I have, especially in emotionally confusing situations, where I completely zone out and just plan ahead the rest of my day.
“Oh, so we should do this at your place?”
“Yeah,” she said. She leaned in and whispered, “sex.”
“What? Oh man, sorry, I totally zoned out. No, no thank you.”
“No thank you?”
“Yes, to the sex.”
“But you gave me money, you tipped me already, I don’t get it.”
“No, like, this is how it can work out. I can give you the money and that bill or whatever gets paid, but then we don’t have sex, and then no one is a prostitute.”
“I’m not a prostitute.”
“That’s what I’m saying.”
“No, man, like, this is not prostitution, when we have sex it’s not-“
“Oh my god Vanessa, have you not been listening to me?”
“But why would you give me the money?”
“Because you’re not a prostitute.”
“Right….ok…so can we have sex now?” she did not whisper.
“No, no we cannot have sex, because I gave you the money.”
She still wanted to have sex, I was surprised. I don’t consider myself especially handsome or attractive, and if I’m alluring at all it’s definitely not an allure than can be noticed during one short coffee date. Maybe Vanessa was the type of person who felt guilty. “But you can pay that bill and we don’t have to have sex, everyone wins in this scenario.”
“But I want to have sex.”
“Yes, you fuck, that’s why I got on craigslist in the first goddamn place.”
“Well I’m sorry, I just, I like, I just can’t now.”
“You troll craigslist for a random hook up and all of a sudden you have laurels?”
“What’s a ‘laurel’?”
“Oh FUCK you you FUCKINGfuck.”
“I seriously don’t know.” I did know, I was just nervous.
“So we are not going to have sex at all, there is no chance of that?”
“I’m afraid not, Vanessa.”
She grabbed her purse and stood up, giving me the finger, her hand held a generous inch from my face. She kept the there for a moment too long, I’d assume, for dramatic effect. Affect? Effect.
She stormed out of the café, I haven’t seen her since. I examined the Starbucks cup she abandoned. It was nothing but coffee.
“Send her flowers.”
“What?” I turned around; an old man in a corduroy jacket was sitting in the booth directly behind me.
“Send her flowers, that’s what I do whenever I get in a fight with my wife. Even if it’s her fault. It works all the time kid, leads to a long happy life.”
“Thanks,” I said. I got up awkwardly and left and, as I made it into my car, thought about flowers.com.