My friends and I had decided to meet at a dive bar called the Farm House, a dark, sticky feeling place that always somehow smelled more of stale cigarettes than the cigarettes that were currently being smoked by the patrons holding down bar stools. I was with a group of computer nerds who knew each other from frequenting the same online chat room, “Portland: 1”, deeming us “chatters”.
Chatter parties, otherwise known as GTs (get-togethers) and chatters in general were very rarely boring. After spending a few months hanging out in front of my computer screen and chatting online to people in these chat rooms, I became one of the planners of said GTs on a pretty regular basis because I really loved meeting this crazy, diverse, often wonderful, frequently troubling cross section of humanity.
Occasionally, a person new to the chat world would want to attend one of the gatherings I would post details for in the chat room and they’d ask me, “But how will I know how to find you?” to which my answer would always be, “Look for the table filled with a whole bunch of mismatched people who look like they have zero fucking business sitting together. That’s us.”
This worked every time because it was an absolutely spot-on description. Chat rooms attracted all walks of life, all ages, men, women, white, black, brown…the common denominator was that damn chat room. You had lawyers, retail clerks, teachers, accountants, ex-cons, and a whole host of people who could barely hold a job, but somehow kept their internet connection. But it didn’t seem to matter when we were all hanging out.
And this was one of the many reasons I loved these groups of people. And, for the most part, your connection was fully based on communication rather than preconceived notions based on their appearance. Because on the internet, you can be anyone. Or no one at all. Your choice. You can share who you are (or who you want to be) or you can remain totally anonymous. That’s the beauty of social interaction on the internet. And you come into contact with people you might otherwise never have.
I recall one instance where I saw this man standing on the other side of the room at one of the house parties and I thought, “Well who the fuck is that gnarly looking dude?” because I was sure I didn’t know him. He was tall and extremely thin with hunched shoulders. He had long shaggy hair that looked like a faded version of that prepackaged cotton candy you could buy at the movie rental places back then, and he was wearing shredded jeans, tattered combat boots, and a wallet chain to tie the whole ensemble together. You got a real sense that his regular diet consisted of coffee and smokes and not much more.
I found out a bit later that this fine gentleman was someone I had been chatting with for months, engaging in hours-long discussions about everything from classic literature to extreme sexual deviancy to berry pie recipes. I was never a shallow or superficial person, not really, and, quite frankly, I was a pudgy goof with no room to throw stones or cast judgment, but before that night, I might not have seen him as “my people. It was at that moment in time that it was really cemented that appearances do not mean FUCK ALL when it comes to who you are as a human being. Not one shred. My people looked like all people. Or, sometimes, just characters on a laptop screen.
Some of you who weren’t a part of the “chat world” don’t really understand it, which is reasonable, and, from the outside, you’d just think, “Ok, a bunch of geeky computer dorks who don’t know how to socialize so they hide behind their computers.” I had my own preconceived notions about this world as well when I first started out as a chatter. Also, proven to be inaccurate as hell.
In reality, sure, there were the awkward, anti-social ones who hid behind their keyboards and never ventured out to spend time with the 3-D folks, but for the most part?
These people were fucking party animals. Debaucherous, beer swilling, pot smoking, loving, fucking party animals. Holy shit. They were social, and they were LOUD about it. And I imagine it was because they were, when we were all together, with their people.
And did I mention debaucherous?
It’s like the line in Revenge of Nerds when Betty Childs asks Lewis after he creepily pretends to be her boyfriend and bangs her in the bouncy castle or whatever the fuck it was, “Are all nerds as good as you?” and he replies, “Yes, because all jocks think about is sports. All we think about is sex.”
It was pure insanity and hormones and chemically loosened inhibitions at these get togethers.
This particular night at the Farmhouse I was meeting up with some of the regulars, including but not limited to my girlfriend, Samantha.
Samantha had started chatting about six months prior, and, when she started off, she was a lot more reserved, in her shell, etc. Her first husband was a jackass, and her confidence level wasn’t so high. She was a quiet, skeptical bird.
Her first introduction to me was when I showed up to a spot where I knew a few friends of mine would be drinking that night, The Lotus Bar in Portland, OR. When I saw their familiar faces across the way, I ran to that section of the bar and jumped on the table, raised my arms up and went, “BITCHES, I AM HERE!” The look Samantha gave read 100% as,”Who the FUCK is this idiot???” A second later, the bouncer told me to “get the fuck off the goddamn table right now” or I’d “be out on my ear”. Good fun.
But, after a few months or so of hanging out with the stone-cold pack of weirdos that was the crew from Portland Chat, Samantha more than came out of her shell. Once her initial “who the fuck is this crazy woman” impression of me wore off, we really connected. On more than one level as it turns out. We had a lot in common, including but not limited to being married to assholes who needed to tear down their wives to (unsuccessfully) keep them under control and to feel better about their own boatload of inadequacies. Also, we both thought the other were really great kissers, so that was neat.
When I got to the Farmhouse, I headed towards the back near the dart boards and found that there were quite a few chatgeeks already there. There were a few playing pool, a few more at two tables that had been pushed together with coats and such strewn about in an effort to hold seats for later arrivals. I saw Samantha sitting with a few other regulars and a couple of guys I didn’t know and went over to join them.
“Hey, jerks,” I say as I sit down and realize that I’ve totally skipped over the very important step of supplying myself with a drink. I was already feeling a slight buzz because I had started drinking on my way there. That was my routine, actually: I wasn’t prone to getting drunk and driving, but I WAS apt to pop open a beer when I had about 10 minutes left in my drive. That way, I’d be sober while driving, but my buzz might hit about the time I hit the front door to wherever I was going. It was science, at least in my mind. While I wasn’t lying when I said I enjoyed these people, I found out one night when I was feeling ill and chose not to drink at all, that I didn’t enjoy these people as much when I was sober. I didn’t realize until a few years later that this might be an issue I should consider addressing.
One of the guys at the table offers me an unused pint glass and I filled it from pitcher that was on the table when I arrived. “So who are…these?” I asked, motioning with my beer hand to gesture towards the two men, both around my age, give or take, I hadn’t seen before.
The bigger guy said, “I’m James. This is Spider.” James was an affable, smiley guy in an Iron Maiden t-shirt and a weathered, blue cap with the Tampa Bay Rays logo on it.
Spider, on the other hand, was a short, broad shouldered, stone-faced ginger decked out in a black leather jacket and motorcycle boots. He came off like a total asshole. So, of course, I was immediately drawn to him.
“Spider…ok, eh…great.” I laughed and headed with my gifted beer over to another tableful of chatters.
The night wore on, I had a drink, and another, and I brought a pitcher over to the table Samantha and the others still sat at, though the faces at this had changed as people milled about, playing pool, socializing, looking for their newest hook-up. I checked around for Sam and saw her at a table with James and the arachnoid, and another woman there I didn’t know well at the time named Lora.
When I reached the table, I saw that James was attempting that smart party trick where you put your hand down on a table, splay out your fingers, and then attempt to tap the table between each digit without stabbing yourself. A great trick, really, to attempt when your manual dexterity is hindered by alcohol if I do say so myself. Only James was using a dart and, fortunately for all nearby, it was only a plastic tipped dart and not the sharper metal tip, as many bars at this point had moved away from encouraging drunks to throw sharp objects around. I could only speculate how many darts landed in the skulls of bar patrons over the years.
Samantha was perched upon a chair, and Lora was sitting between James and Spider on the booth side of the table. There was room next to Spider, so I sat my ass down and said, “Hi, we’re gonna be friends now whether you like it or not.” Spider looked my way, and I thought I saw the smallest of smirks, but I couldn’t be sure. He slowly turned his head back to take in the spectacle that was his friend poking every other finger with a plastic tipped dart.
I finished the last few sips of my drink and said, “Ok, my turn,” and grabbed the dart out of James’s hand. Because alcohol enables you to make smart decisions.
I splayed my fingers out and started to slowly tap the dart between each finger on my left hand. I made a pass over all my finger and my thumb, successfully I might add. However, once I was headed back towards my pinky, I immediately jabbed the small web of skin on my hand between my thumb and forefinger. Because, you know, beer. I pause a second, and, as I’m about to continue, spider puts his hand over mine and pushes down on the dart.
What the hell is going on…
I look at him and he’s staring at me. We lock eyes, and he is pushing down a little harder, his hand warm and covering mine while also pinching the shaft of the dart with his thumb and forefinger…gradually increasing pressure while keeping his eyes deadlocked onto mine.
Seriously what the fuck is happening right now…
I somehow immediately pick up on the fact that we’re engaged of some bizarre game of chicken…or something. And I immediately also decide that he’s not winning.
I continue to stare at him, and he doesn’t break eye contact. I’m strangely aroused and simultaneously a bit disturbed with myself about this.
I calmly ask,”So are you trying to prove something here?” I can feel this dart pushing harder. It’s not SHARP sharp, but that is a thin piece of skin and I’m starting to wonder if I’m going to end up with a new piercing. Spider just stares at me. I don’t blink. No fucking way.
The pressure is getting intense. I can’t say it hurts that much, though I’m not sure how much of that is the booze numbing me and how much of it is adrenaline at this point.
I really don’t want a hole in my hand. But there’s no way I am going to let this psychopath know I’m starting to panic.
A few seconds later, I quietly, in a controlled tone say, “Look, I’m sure this is fun for you, and I’m not sure if you’re used to penetrating women with tiny objects, but I’m getting bored.”
Something in his eyes shifted a bit, and he smirked (Ok, I saw it for sure this time), and he lifted the dart and set it down. I left my hand where it was for a second, but then I used that hand to grab my drink and take a sip. That’s when I realized that that display had garnered, not only the attention of the others at the table but of a few people who had been standing nearby.
“What the FUCK did I just watch???” A guy named Joe who was a frequent attendee of chat gatherings sat there looking dumbfounded. “Seriously, what the fuck just happened?”
TO BE CONTINUED