Now working a mere 30 hours a week, I find myself with a little free time on my hands, and among the amusements I allow myself is reading the on-line postings for our neighborhood chat board. It serves a rather large zone of the city, perhaps 1500 or so homes, maybe more. The chat board is a place in which neighbors alert one another that there's a rash of garage break-ins occurring in one corner of the neighborhood; or that that loud boom at 2:00 am the other night was just a power transformer blowing out. It's the place where garage sales are announced, where people ask advice on good chiropractors working in our area. That kind of stuff.
It's also a place for a handful of eccentrics and occasional crackpots practice their writing skills. So the chat forum also has its entertainment value. One fellow spent two pages the other day bitterly complaining about a single small dog turd left in the grass of his boulevard. Another writer described in very peculiar fashion that he'd seem some crazy person trying to eat the face off a child at a local park (no such event ever happened).
Another writer recently reported that a teenager up to late summer hijinks was seen streaking naked around the Walgreen's parking lot—conjecturing that this was certainly a manifestation of either sexual predation or drug use, rather than a 16-year old running naked on a dare. This guy then proudly GAVE CHASE to the young man, finally cornering the kid on the shores of a small pond. An old man driving his car to chase down a naked teenager was apparently in the boundaries of proper behavior, while a kid running naked on warm night after being dared by his friends is the stuff of felonies.
My wife realized a week or to ago that I had begun to post my own replies to a few of these letters, and warned me then that nothing good was likely to come of it. She knows me well. But I sometimes can't help but drop in a quiet reply note on the chat board. And if this has the effect of gently baiting one of the eccentrics and his minions, well, whose fault is that?
To the fellow outraged by a teenager streaking in the night, for example, I replied with an outraged agreement over "today's youth," then went on to express my own similar outrage at a kid who had stepped on plants in my garden, and finally asked if anyone knew the telephone number whereby the FBI could be alerted. Hyperbole, all the way. If you were keeping score, you'd get big points for putting sarcasm over on the writer of the letter without him catching it. My success rate exceeds 50%.
It's all meant in rather good fun, really. I actually like the lunatic fringe. They are more fun than the dreadful "I found a baby sock, is it yours?" folks.
But the other day I came across a fellow's rant about a careless driver in the neighborhood. Now, a rational neighbor might alert the chat board to be on the lookout for a possibly dangerous driver, and that would be that. Good old fashioned public service. This writer, though, went through a creative writing exercise that included phrases like "assholedness" and "jackassery," not to mention a host of other misspellings and vitriolic raging. The tirade went on for perhaps 700 words or so, and was done not to inform, but to rant.
With an admitted lack of cleverness, my quiet printed response, one among two dozen from other neighbors, was "Perhaps review grammar before next post?"
Lord in heaven, what a shit-storm ensued.
"Jim" appears to have quite a following, since in addition to several "likes" given to my own comment, a half-dozen of Jim's tribe began to publicly accuse me of malicious cruelty. Then one decided to go on a personal quest—first with a long public response saying that she'd complained to the board's moderator that I had inappropriately "attacked a fellow neighbor." The board's moderator responded by suggesting gently that "Jim's" complaint had been a little inappropriate to begin with. This perhaps is what set Joyce in to hyper drive.
Unhappy with the response, Joyce then decided to send me a personal, non-public message bitterly accusing me of vindictively attacking Jim. (Personal messaging is a rather unusual thing in our chat forum, reserved generally for situations in which somebody gives you their phone number after offering to magnanimously take that incontinent old dog off your hands, for example. )
It was fascinating. Let's remember, my comment was merely "Perhaps review grammar?"
Joyce was, she said, a teacher of college English, and as such had reviewed Jim's essay before hand, and had verified that it was both grammatically fine, and semantically brilliant. Furthermore, Jim was a scion of a fine old family within the community, and had earned the right to be guardian of the roadways. He had the ears of police officers everywhere. Hitler himself would not have attacked Jim as cruelly as I had done.
Hmm. This was getting distinctly entertaining.
The first dumb thing I did was begin playing along, by responding to Joyce in the same private chat mode. I feigned professional interest, asking what dictionary I might refer to for a definition of "jackassery." And I asked for a citation in Chicago Manual of Style or the AP Style Book where Jim's interesting use of punctuation in and around parentheticals was promoted. (Clearly, I have, too much time, on my hands.).
Escalation ensued, and before I knew it I was into eccentricity beyond my pay grade. Soon Joyce announced that she was "watching me" (her real words) and would report any bad behavior to the police.
Any rational person would realize that this was some serious lunatic nonsense going on now, and would have responded with dead silence and getting the hell out of the neighborhood chat forum altogether. Is that what your Geezer friend, Mercurious did? No, of course not. Instead, I stupidly replied to Joyce once more, saying that her "stalking threats" were scaring my little kids, and that my dear little Jenny was crying her eyes out about the "crazy lady hunting us." (My own daughter is 27, is not named Jenny, and eats dumbasses alive for breakfast in a way that puts me to shame.)
You may now be relieved (or perhaps disappointed) to hear that we now take a step backward from the gate to the crazy farm.
This story does not end in tragedy or even juicy drama. Two more rounds of private messages ensue, in which first I learn that "Joyce" is actually "Jim's" wife—not his English teacher—and that her angry accusations are her means of rather touchingly defending her hubby—who apparently has a medical condition marked by a very, very thin epidermis. This is proven when Jim himself actually private-messages Mercurious, apologizing for his inappropriate name-calling—and then kind of weepingly acknowledging he is a bad writer but is trying to get better. (Dunno, maybe my own leg being pulled? I kind of hope so.) And Mercurious also apologizes for inadvertently creating personal insult rather than simply communicating compositional criticism.
Mercurious, "Joyce" and "Jim" are now fast friends. We'll be vacationing next spring to the foothills of the mountains near Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, in an enclave that caters to our kind.