an erotic thriller for nerds

copyright 1997, jason pettus.<

1
To:mmm@getty.com
From:tristan@worldcom.com
Date:3/5/97, 9:37 p.m.
Subj:Hello...?

...I think. I hope I did this right. I was going through the Web and stumbled across your site and thought it was just fantastic. And there was a button that said "SEND ME MAIL" so I clicked it and got this window and now I'm typing, but I'm not sure if this is the right way to do it because I've never sent e-mail this way before.

Well, I don't want to write too much, in case it doesn't go through. Let me know if you get this, and I'll write more.

Um, bye.

John
To:tristan@worldcom.com
From:mmm@getty.com
Date:3/6/97, 10:02 a.m.
Subj:RE:Hello...?

John -- Yes, your letter went through. On most computers, there are several ways to send mail, including directly through your SLIP connection, which you did when you mailed me. It sounds like you're new to the world of computers. If so, congratulations for starting. Now get out before it's too late .

So... you liked my website, hmm? Of course I'd like to hear more. For curiosity's sake, how did you happen to end up there? --Margaret
To:mmm@getty.com
From:tristan@worldcom.com
Date:3/6/97, 6:46 p.m.
Subj:Answers and questions

Does it show that I'm new to computers? The saddest part is that my mom actually knows more about e-mail than I do -- she's had it at work for three years now. There's a whole story about why I've come into computers so late in life, but I won't bore you with it.

Your site. Here's a deconstruction of how I got there:

Looking for websites on literature, I log into one of those 'search' websites, called "Excite."

Run a search in the "Literature" section, find an e-zine called "In One Eye." Title sounds interesting, so I link there.

"In One Eye" not nearly as interesting as title. Links to all the contributors' own websites; I link to a guy named Tom.

Tom's website is interesting, if a little cluttered: music, movies, "Xfiles," etc. He recommends a website put together by his friend Seth, so I link there.

Seth (in San Francisco) is crazy, wild, confessional. Lots of fine-art photos of nude women, which, frankly, I enjoy. He links me to the photographer, Mike.

Mike's website is like a catalog, which is not without its charms, but is taking a really long time to download each picture, and besides, I was looking for literature. His friends' links include "Joan in North Carolina" who's running a women's lit e-zine, so I link there.

Joan's e-zine includes your story, "Waiting for Balthazar," which is impressive and funny. There's a link to your website, so I go. Ta-da.

And how Kevin Bacon works into all this, I don't know.

I loved your stories. Smart and funny and witty and bitter, just like mine. And I really appreciated the simplicity of your design, esp. after spending hours sitting at websites, waiting for complicated graphics to download just to find out that the actual site sucks. It's very frustrating, and really turns me off to the whole idea of 'websurfing.' Why do so many people out there think that flashy graphics can make up for shitty writing? Maybe it's just me.

Now a couple of questions:

1) Why do you warn me to 'get out before it's too late?'
2) ?
3) Are you a professional writer? Have you published?

Thanks in advance for answering my questions.

Bye.

John
To:tristan@worldcom.com
From:mmm@getty.com
Date:3/6/97, 10:04 p.m.
Subj:Secrets and Lies

For someone who's so new to computers, you certainly sound like you're becoming adept quickly. On the contrary, I don't think the story of why you're doing it now sounds boring at all. I'd love to hear it if you want to tell it. What is 'now,' anyway? Your twenties? Your thirties?

Answers.

1. You'll quickly find that www and e-mail can take over your life. I spend 3 to 4 hours a night on my computer, and that's only because I force myself to quit. On rainy Saturdays I can find myself literally spending 12 hours on the damn thing. Can't believe I just told you that... :::rolling eyes::: It's very seductive in a way that I haven't completely figured out yet.

2. is shorthand for "grin." There's a whole shorthand language in computer etiquette. If I use any more I'll try to explain them as I go, but I'm so used to them that I might forget.

3. My writing is my therapy, not my profession. I have a job with, duh, computers, go figure. I publish when my friends ask me, but I don't really seek it out. And no, I've never ventured into the world of paper publishing and money and all those other things. It's just more effort than I want to exert... and besides, my writing's not nearly good enough to jump to that level.

And now some questions for you:

1. Are you a writer? If not, why the interest in finding literature on the Web?
2. (repeating) Why an interest in computers 'late in life?'
3. What does 'Tristan' stand for? Veiled reference to Tristan Tzara of Dada fame?

Thanks for all the nice comments on my site. I've met a number of people now because of it, and almost all of them have turned out to be really nice, very interesting people. Hope to hear from you soon. --MM
To:mmm@getty.com
From:tristan@worldcom.com
Date:3/7/97, 12:15 p.m.
Subj:War and Peace

1) I am indeed a writer. My biggest claim to fame is that I got my first novel published last year. It wasn't as nearly a fun or ego-stroking experience as I thought it would be. I was seeking out literature on the Web for obvious reasons.

2) I was raised as a technophobe. My dad was... a little strange? How do I explain my dad to someone who doesn't know me? Unabomber Lite. I have issues about my dad that's best saved for a rainy day (more 'writing as therapy') but let's say I grew up with a healthy disrespect for technology.

But then I wrote my first book and quickly realized that I NEED to get a computer if want to continue doing this for a living. So, took my fee from the novel and bought a laptop. I think I'm so adept at it because I'm still rooted enough in my youth to be intuitive. I've learned that computers are (basically) intuitive creations to begin with, so it's not so horribly difficult.

Oh yeah, and I'm 27. How old are you, by the way?

3) Nice guess! Are you a fan of the Dadaists? I certainly am, hence the name. And what's 'mmm?' Stand for 'mmm-good?' 'Mmm-marmalade?'

You're right about computers taking over my life. I wrote to two or three other writers I found that I liked, and I'm having little discussions with them too, now. Not to mention my mom's e-mailing me every day (and she loves it). It's seductive for the same reason that flirting with a stranger in a bar is seductive -- you're getting to know someone for the first time, getting to know their ins and outs and quirks and whatnot. Even more seductive, though, because you're not putting yourself nearly at risk than in a bar.

By the way, I think your stuff is good enough to get published.

Can I ask you more questions? I'll understand if you're a busy person and don't have time to correspond.

1) What kind of computer job do you have, and how did you end up writing despite of it?

2) What is YOUR history of computers? Are you an old pro?

3) I noticed all of Joan's contributors live on the eastern seaboard. Is this true for you too? Or is that question too personal? I know people get very weird about giving out personal info.

By the way, wanna ask your opinion on something. I find myself strangely talking to you in a much more honest, straightforward way than I sometimes talk to people even face-to-face with me. Is this normal? Normal or not, I kinda like it.

Well, I hope you have time to talk, but if not, it was nice meeting you. Keep up the good work, and keep getting your writing out there!

So long.

John
To:tristan@worldcom.com
From:mmm@getty.com
Date:3/8/97, 1:22 a.m.
Subj:So many questions

No, I don't mind the questions. Truth be told, I fairly enjoy the correspondence so far, and would be interested in continuing it at least for a bit. It's strange and pleasurable to be conversing with someone totally unfamiliar with computer culture. Most of my correspondence is with people fully entrenched, and their in-jokes, immaturity and general jadedness about it can really grate on my nerves sometimes.

But so many questions! I'm not sure where to start. At the beginning, I guess.

1. I'm 32 years old.
2. on your guesses of mmm. Oh, LOL is 'lots of laughs.' Have I been missing explaining any shortcuts? MMM is my name -- Margaret Mary Michalek (pronounced Mi-HALL-ick). I've had this irrational pride growing up about having 'MMM' as my initials, and I guess it still exists.
3. Big fan of the Dadaists. Maybe that's why you liked my stories? I studied art history in college, which leads me to...
4. I did a lot of writing in college, both nonfiction (for classes) and fiction (for myself). It's just something I've always loved doing, mostly as a way to release a lot of things inside myself. I'm working for an ad agency, and I design web pages, of all things. Which reminds me, I never responded to your comment about Web pages, which is yes, I did design my site in a simple way precisely because I get so sick of seeing all this clutter, all this downtime at most sites. I spend a *lot* of time on the Web because of work, and I get kind of obsessed with what I *don't* like and how not to repeat the mistakes. Why am I working a computer job? Well, that leads me to...
5. I confess, I'm a nerd. It's one of MY issues. :-) Seriously, I received my first computer in 1979, a Commodore 64, and I fell in love -- played 'Lemonade Stand' for hours on end and became neighborhood champ. There's just something about computers, technology, I just get very sucked into. I've always been that way.

I was a *nerd* nerd. Yes, I was one of the four females in America who played Dungeons and Dragons. Yes, I went to Dr. Who conventions. Yes, yes, yes. Got to college and got sick of being that way -- wanted to feel 'normal' and then when I did, wanted to feel 'bohemian.' Now I wear black leather coats, my haircuts cost $65, and I have a stack of the 'right' CDs sitting beside my stereo. Yet somehow I have wandered back into a job working with computers.

I guess we can't completely escape our nerd pasts, hmm? I feel sometimes that I'm presenting a complete sham to the rest of the world, while living a secret life inside my apartment, a life of HTML and flames and usenets. Oh, actually, you probably don't understand any of those terms, do you? Computer jargon; ignore it.

And wow, did I really just tell you all of that? You're right, you *can* start having these strangely intense honest communications via e-mail. Although I must admit that this letter is even more honest than usual -- I usually don't admit my nerd past, preferring to let everyone assume that I'm a sexy, elusive, mysterious slacker chick . It's either that I'm responding to what seems like heartfelt honesty on your part and can empathize with it... or that it's one in the morning and I'm overtired and letting my guard down a bit.

6. There's a reason why people get weird about giving out personal information on the Web, because there's a lot of strange people ready to take advantage of the information. That being said... no, I don't live on the east coast. I live in Chicago. It's a fine town and I enjoy living here (especially now that winter's finally left again ;-) ) Chicago's a big enough city that I can tell people I live here and still maintain a sense of security.

So, you had a novel published, hmm? That's very impressive to me, although you make it sound that it's not everything it's cracked up to be. Are you going to tell me the name of it, so I can check it out, 'John-with-no-last-name?' Or is that too personal?

The story of your father sounds fascinating and strange. If you feel up to it, write me on a rainy day sometime. But if you don't want to, I'll understand. I notice you refer to him in past tense. Story there?

Well, this is long and I am tired. Goodnight -- MM.

p.s. *asterisk text* is the same thing as italics in computerese. :-) is a sideways smiley face, but I suspect I'm insulting your intelligence by telling you this.
To:mmm@getty.com
From:tristan@worldcom.com
Date:3/8/97, 5:04 p.m.
Subj:A daring experiment

Do you really live in Chicago? *I* live in Chicago. Where do you hang out? Do you read at the open mics? Maybe we've met and don't actually realize it.

What a story about growing up. I really dig your honesty and the weakness you expose by sharing it with me. I too, I confess, was a nerd (and still am). I was a literature nerd, with all the accrouchements that come with the job -- Saturday afternoons in the library, lack of athletic prowess, inability to identify with the rest of my generation about '70s pop culture.

My transition from boy-geek to 'normal' adult was made mostly by heightening my intellectual side and really embracing it. I don't really feel like I'm pulling a sham on the public, because my outward appearance still betrays the nerd in me (I believe); fairly conservative clothes, short hair (but with goatee -- my 'bohemian' allowance, if you can call it that), constant dog-eared book on me at all times. However, I definitely understand what you're talking about. My nerd dilemma concerns whether I am supporting elitism by embracing this rather highbrow lifestyle that I do. I think that I should maybe incorporate more of the common culture into my life, in order to be a better human. Thus, the websurfing, and my attempts to watch more television and listen to more contemporary music.

So... I have a sort of ballsy proposition for you. Since we both seem to be enjoying this honesty flowing between us, I propose that we make a pact to exchange *only* complete honesty -- no lies, no half-truths, no holding back. It would be an agreement based on trust only and, of course, literally unenforceable, but I like what it would say about our communications. I'll agree if you will.

So I'll go first: realizing, of course, that you shouldn't read too much into this, let me honestly confess that nerd women really, really turn me on. Your turn.

P.S. For someone so concerned with not portraying geek behavior, I find it interesting that you embrace something so inherently nerdy as emoticons (you're right, I did know what they were before you told me. Read it in NEWSWEEK).

To:tristan@worldcom.com
From:mmm@getty.com
Date:3/10/97, 11:02 p.m.
Subj:Let me clear the air

Hi. Sorry it's taken me awhile to write, but I wanted to mull things over for a bit first.

Complete and utter honesty. Hmm. Interesting. Intriguing. Okay... I'll do it, provided that we both have the option to say 'I don't wish to answer that question' without offending the other.

So I suppose I start by 'fessing up to the lies I've already told you. Actually it's only one: I'm not 32 years old, I'm 26. Don't know why I told you that I'm 32 -- I guess more of my attempts to project allure. Being older than you put me in a subtlely dominant position that I liked... but if we're going to try this honesty experiment, I guess we should do it right.

So. Honesty. Okay... honestly speaking, the realization that we both live in Chicago, plus your admission of being 'turned on' by nerd women gives me a bit of consternation. Please see it from my perspective -- you seem like a nice, pleasant, intelligent man, but in reality I don't know for sure if any of that is true. For all I know, you might not even be a man. There's this great book by called , in which she discusses how e-mail has opened up an entire new world for people to explore facets of their personality expressly through role playing. We've reach an age where it's incredibly easy to pass yourself off as any type of person you want to portray... and really, seriously get away with it.

I know that I'm sounding very hypersensitive about this whole issue, but there's a reason. Earlier in life (when I was first starting to seriously get into e-mail), I was a lot more naive and I ended up getting burnt pretty badly. It's difficult for me to talk about, but I'll try to tell you about it one day. It'll be *my* rainy-day story. Since then, I have learned to err on the side of caution when it comes to e-relationships.

So. I'm not saying I don't want to correspond; I just want us both to understand everything up front.

BTW (By the way), let me tell you how glad I was to hear that you were a geek too. The Internet is being flooded more and more these days by the exact people who would ignore me and make fun of me in high school precisely for being into computers. Do you know how hard it is to get a jock you have a crush on to ask you to the prom when you play D&D? Long story.

Our childhood traumas stay with us for a long time and it's hard to get over them. I find myself with a lingering resentment over these former jocks and cheerleaders and others now interloping into my world, taking over and getting in my way. When you said that you were new to computers, I suspected that you might be one of those people, and our conversation would have then gone very differently. It's nice to see that you're not.

As far as 'hanging out' in Chicago, I don't, not very much. Most of my free time is spent on my computer, and almost all of the rest is spent in the company of friends. We go out and do things sometimes, but I am definitely not a part of any of the creative 'scenes' in Chicago, and I doubt we've ever met. Although I will say that I also have a laptop, and in an attempt to not be a hermit all the time, I take it and my cel phone out to the coffeehouses occasionally and work from there.

Emoticons... I was getting all geared up to be offended by your remark, except for the fact, of course, that it is true. What can I say? When you have a circle of computer friends, the circle tends to be incestuous, slightly dysfunctional, and one that supports each others' bad habits. Emoticons are a bit idiotic and nerdy, you're right, but in my defense I'd say that you probably do some pretty stupid things when you get together with your writer friends. Tell you what -- if you promise to start using shortcuts more, I'll promise to try to not use emoticons, and hopefully we'll meet at this nice middle ground. Do you need a list of shortcut words?

You know, your statement about attraction to geek girls is still bothering me. Why did you tell me that? And what is it about nerds that 'turn you on,' anyway?

So how does this 'honesty experiment' work? Am I supposed to make a confessional statement in each letter? Okay, here's today's honest statement -- I'm bisexual. You're next.

p.s. You still haven't told me about your novel.

To:mmm@getty.com
From:tristan@worldcom.com
Date:3/11/97, 2:36 a.m.
Subj:KA-BOOM

Say, what a bomb to drop! Okay, I want to talk about that, but later. First...

I think I've really made the wrong impression, and I didn't mean to. My statement about being attracted to nerd women was purely an innocent one, and I didn't mean to imply anything between you and me. The reason I told you was because your admission has made it a recent topic of inner-brain conversation, and it's just been on my mind lately. What you say about 'e-mail personas' makes a lot of sense, although I admit I never really thought of it that way before. I've seen all those network news specials about how your children can be abducted by 'cyberstalkers,' but I assumed it was the normal alarmist bullshit -- didn't realize it was a real danger. I'm very interested in respecting your boundaries, so... okay.

Since you asked, the reason nerd women turn me on so much is that when they are attractive they rarely realize it, and to me, one of the sexiest things out there is an attractive woman who doesn't know she's attractive. When I speak of attraction in this case, I'm speaking of physically, as opposed to... oh shit, I just realized that I have to explain a whole story before I can explain *this* story. Okay, I'll try to make this snappy...

I subscribe to a theory originally created by an ex-girlfriend of mine about the entire concept of attractiveness, intimacy and dating. She asserts that there are actually three ways to be intimate with someone or at least to be attracted to them -- physically, mentally and spiritually. The three are mutually exclusive -- you can actually be 'dating' someone mentally, having 'sex' on a mental level, without actually physically touching. Conversely, you can be fucking every night and still have no spiritual connection and the whole thing falls apart. The only way to have a truly happy and successful relationship is to truly and honestly connect on an intimate level in all three realms. Anything else is just a third of a relationship.

So... when I speak of someone's attractiveness, of finding them 'sexy,' I speak of all three aspects. In the case of nerd women, I find that most have a highly developed sense of their own mental attractiveness (which is great unto itself because 1, unbelievable amounts of women don't have that, and 2, mental beauty is simply a fetish for me). But physically speaking, nerd women are usually like me (and like you've already mentioned) -- we spent so much time in our adolescence being rejected by people who cared only about looks, that we have developed a complex about our physical sexual selves, even if we have eventually blossomed into gorgeous creatures.

I think the reason why this is such a turn-on to me is that it's so exciting to know a secret that no one else knows. There's nothing quite like the first time you have sex with a nerd, you peel off the layers of clothing, the strata of protection, to reveal a slender, shapely, arousing body. Esp. when they dress in a way so that no one else knows all that exists under there. *Esp.* when they don't even realize it themselves. Have you ever had an experience like that? I hope you know what I'm talking about.

Let me reiterate that I didn't mean to draw any inferences to you. It's just that you said you were a nerd, and you got me thinking about the whole subject, thinking about ex-girlfriends, and... :::sigh::: I really shouldn't write so late at night (see, I'm using the shortcuts).

And BTW, since we both live in Chicago, I will know the next time it rains and I will be expecting the story. It sounds absolutely fascinating.

So I guess now's the time to divulge my prior lies. Two of them, one innocent and one not-so-innocent: 1) I watch more television than I originally let on (it's not a particularly impressive thing, so I don't usually mention it); and 2) um, uh, oh yeah, did I mention my name's not really John? Perhaps I understand this need for privacy better than I realize. My name's really Eric Barnes. Hi.

Okay, so my novel's called "Juice Box," and you can find it at most of the larger stores but not a lot of the smaller ones. Instead of telling you about it, I'd be much more interested in having you read it and *you* telling *me* about it. I'll tell you about the whole process sometime, but this letter's getting so long and it's so late...

No need to send a list of shortcuts -- I decided to create my own, which I'm sending to you right after this letter. Hope you get a kick out of it.

Emoticons... again, I've made the wrong impression. I didn't mean to insult you, I was simply pointing out that it was interesting. I suspected that the answer would be something along the lines of what you said... it's just that you seem to feel strongly about being a nerd, yet (subconsciously?) continue a lot of nerd behavior. Perhaps you like being a nerd more than you want to admit...

Okay, you dropped the bisexual bomb, so now you have to explain. I want details. Write as little or as much as you feel comfortable saying.

HONESTY EXPERIMENT: How 'bout an exchange of honest physical assessments of ourselves? Up to the challenge?

See ya.

Eric

To:mmm@getty.com
From:tristan@worldcom.com
Date:3/11/97, 2:38 a.m.
Subj:The List

SHORTCUTS IN COMPUTERESE THAT MAY NOT EXIST, BUT SHOULD

Sorry I'm sounding so silly; I'm drunk
Sorry I'm sounding so incoherent; I'm stoned
I'm watching "Xena, Warrior Princess" while typing this
NERD ALERT: ignore the last sentence I just wrote
"Bloom County:" used whenever you use a reference that really dates you
"hungry but can't stand up" -- used whenever you've been on the computer for twelve hours and really frazzled
Sorry so sexual, I'm horny today
Typing with one hand. Enough said.
I know this subject's provocative, but I'm not ready to discuss it yet
I hate my life
I'VE HAD TOO MUCH COFFEE!
FM -- Fuck, man ("FM, work sucked today")
Did I really just say that?
TOL -- thinking out loud (used as an apology -- "TOL, but have you ever noticed that 'Peanuts' is simply no longer funny anymore?")
I'm bitter about love today
Gratuitous Pretentious Statement ("R.E.M. has sucked ever since 'Lifes Rich Pageant'... oops, sorry, .")
Out of cigarettes: used generally whenever you need to step away from the computer (or use the more generic , 'gotta go to the bathroom')
You know what I mean?
Honesty Experiment
Damn that Honesty Experiment!

To:tristan@worldcom.com
From:mmm@getty.com
Date:3/11/97, 9:16 a.m.
Subj:HA-HA-HA-HA-HA

Cannot BEGIN to describe how tickled I was by your computerese list. Are you *sure* you've never done this before? I've taped a printout of the list to my wall and will try to start incorporating them into my vernacular.

I'm at work so don't have time to talk (I'll write tonight). Just wanted to tell you, Mr. Eric Barnes, that I picked up "Juice Box" at Borders this morning, and I'm currently 5 pages into it. And I like it. --Margaret

To:mmm@getty.com
From:tristan@worldcom.com
Date:3/11/97, 9:20 a.m.
Subj:It's almost like talking

You're at work right now? I didn't know you could do that -- share one e-mail account between two computers. So if I send this it'll come right to you instantaneously? Like a real-time conversation?

To:tristan@worldcom.com
From:mmm@getty.com
Date:3/11/97, 9:23 a.m.
Subj:STOP

Yes, it comes straight to me. But DON'T DO IT, because work is swamped today and we're in the middle of a crisis down here .

I'll talk to you tonight, okay? --MM.

p.s. You describe your body first and then I'll do it.

To:mmm@getty.com
From:tristan@worldcom.com
Date:3/11/97, 9:26 a.m.
Subj:Sorry!

{NO BODY TEXT IN MESSAGE}

To:mmm@getty.com
From:tristan@worldcom.com
Date:3/11/97, 5:01 p.m.
Subj:My physical assessment

I'm exactly six feet tall and weigh 160 lbs. I have dark brown hair that's almost black, that's cut fairly short in a 'Caesarish' sort of way, and a small goatee that comes and goes with the weather. Hazel eyes.

Um, where do I go from here. Top to bottom, I guess. My ears, nose and lips are all large, but work comfortably together. Flattish chest with some hair but not a lot. More flab around my stomach than I want, but not enough to really show when I'm wearing clothes. I have large hands with big bones and veins that stick out. As far as muscles, I'd say I'm 'well-toned' but not 'muscular.'

I'm very happy with my legs -- they're muscular and long and strong. My feet are the same as my hands (and you know what they say about big feet... small brain :::ha ha:::). My skin is fair and right now pale, but tannable if I wish to spend the effort.

Overall, a body that is not perfect but I'm fairly happy with.

To:tristan@worldcom.com
From:mmm@getty.com
Date:3/11/97, 7:22 p.m.
Subj:The marathon letter

I have so many things to answer from your last letter. When I know I'm going to be doing a lot of writing, I'll usually pick up a bottle of red wine on my way home and sit all evening and drink and type and drink and play music and drink... so please forgive me if the quality of this letter goes downhill as the evening wears on.

I'm not even sure what to start with... your book, I guess. Your book is very good and I really like it so far. You have this way of capturing all of these really true things about childhood that I totally forgot about, emotions and neuroses that I think we all repress when we turn 18. And it's very engaging -- I found myself loitering outside my building at the end of lunch so I could sneak in a few more pages. Not to mention that you have a real gift at capturing the female voice, which is... hmm. But more on that later.

Your theory about the three realms of beauty has had me thinking all day, going through my past relationships, disseminating them, putting them into this model you speak of and seeing what comes out. And you're right, it really does work along 3 separate lines. I've always wondered why sometimes in my life it's seemed like I've had a really satisfying, fulfilling relationship with someone even though we weren't very physical -- your theory would explain that. Conversely too, I had this experience a few years back with this man who turned out to be a real asshole and filled me with regret for ever dating him, yet the sex was absolutely incredible and to this day I lament it.

So what is your definition of the 'spiritual' side of dating? And, for my own curiosity, do you feel like you have ever had a relationship that suceeded on all 3 levels? For my part I would say no, although I believe I've come close.

I don't actually think I'm in danger of being abducted -- I like to think that I'm old enough and smart enough to avoid anything going that far. What I mean is that if the wrong person gets enough personal info. on you, they have the capacity to really make your life a living hell for a while. I've already gone through the process of changing my phone number and getting a new apartment once, and I'm not that anxious to do it again.

However... I think there is a certain level of honesty, of "intimacy," if you will, that we can achieve without either of us really putting ourselves at risk. I think we can explore ourselves and each other without divulging too much. Plus, obviously, now that you know my name, if you were really determined you could eventually track down my phone #, address, place of work. However, I have made it difficult for someone to do that, so you'd have to be a pretty serious stalker to succeed... and if you were that psychotic, you would probably find all that out even without the info I've already given.

There's a certain amount of risk we all put ourselves in every day just through the process of living, and e-mail is no exception. I suppose the only way to truly be safe on the Internet is to transform yourself into an ageless, genderless, historyless, jobless entity with no interests, hobbies or opinions... but Jesus, who wants to do that? The entire concept is so dehumanizing that it actually scares me a little bit to think of it. It's like the first step that will eventually lead you to living in a shack in Montana.

And besides, not even *that* is foolproof. I don't know if you know this, but there are (illegal) pieces of software now that act like moles -- you attach it to an e-mail address and it will actually follow the trail until it gets back to the source -- usually your host server's database, where they keep all your real info so that they'll know where to mail your bill. We live in age where if someone wants to find you badly enough, THEY WILL... but my rant is starting to sound obsessive, so I'll move on.

>>> "Perhaps you like being a nerd more than you want to admit..."

Well, perhaps I do. I have this strange and borderline-unhealthy way of dealing with the hobbies and interests in my life -- I flip-flop between a fierce, obsessive pride in them, and a fierce, obsessive shame of them. I wasn't kidding when I said that this was an issue of mine. I've spent a lot of time and money dealing with this very comment you off-handedly make to me in your letter...

I spent a large portion of my life feeling like I wasn't normal, and the way I dealt with it was pretty unhealthy -- I retreated into myself and for a little while really stopped dealing with humanity on an emotional, interactive level. Then I got to college and just finally threw my hands up and said, "This is idiotic!" and started working really hard at catching up on the social retardation that I had forced on myself growing up. I think I'm almost there, but there are still certain key experiences that my friends want through several years ago that I still haven't.

And yes, part of that process was seeing a therapist, which was great at first because she was able to really clue me in on fundamental issues that were the real basis behind a lot of my superficial behavior. Eventually, however, I realized that I was just paying someone to listen to me talk, so I quit and started writing instead. Clich`e, yes, I know, but true.

So where does that leave me now at the tender age of 26? Feeling comfortable about myself (for the most part) for the first time in my life. But... I've learned to be really analytical about my own life, and I'm going through this whole thing right now about the very subject you bring up -- how does this natural tendency to gravitate towards nerd behavior (without even being conscious of it) gel with what I now know about the reasons *why* I gravitate towards it, and how I use it a lot to mask various insecurities? You got me. I bet you had no idea what a can of worms you were opening, didja?

Whew, my fingers are hurting and I still have so much to go. I'm going to send this and take a break for a bit before continuing. Do me a favor, if you happen to log on sometime tonight and get this message, don't write back until I've finished the whole thing -- it's a very disorienting feeling to have someone responding to stuff that you're currently writing about and having to go back and change what you wrote to address what *they* wrote. You have to figure that all correspondance used to be like that, back in the days of the Pony Express, when it would take weeks to get a letter. No wonder this country used to be so screwed up.

Later -- MM.

To:tristan@worldcom.com
From:mmm@getty.com
Date:3/11/97, 9:45 p.m.
Subj:The marathon letter, part 2

Okay, so I ended up putting 10,000 Maniacs in my stereo and taking a long, hot bath, and I'm feeling rejuvenated again. For some reason, I feel completely and totally adult when I drink wine while I'm in the tub Anyway, I'm quite a bit drunker than when I started, so please forgive any indescretions that start slipping in.

So... :::SIGH::: I suppose I really am going to have to give you an honest assessment of my body, now that you've sent yours and I can see that you weren't lying at all. Or did you forget that there's a photo of you on your book jacket? A-HA! I've got one up on you! Here it goes...

I am 5 feet, 9 and a half inches tall (I am NOT 5'10"), and weigh generally 130 pounds, give or take a few pounds depending on what day it is. I have blonde hair which is generally darkening the older I get, but is still pretty light. It's currently cut... (oh boy, I can't believe I'm really about to tell you this) ...like Rachel on "Friends." Please please don't hate me.

My facial features are pretty generic, except for that I have really thin lips. I have light blue eyes, and that plus the light hair means that I have one of those faces that can really disappear unless I'm wearing makeup.

I have a long neck which I'm not really happy about, but what can you do, right? My torso feels like it's long, but I'm not sure. I have these small, pale breasts and I can't decide how I feel about them -- some days I'm really glad they're small and that they don't get in the way, but sometimes I feel really asexual with them, like I'm genderless and have a biologically disadvantaged ability to attract people. Needless to say, I have childhood traumas closely tied in with my opinion about my breasts.

Oh God, that reminds me, I was reading your book in the tub tonight and I read this section that I wanted to ask you about. REMINDER TO MYSELF TO DO THIS

Oh, and one more thing, my left breast is bigger than my right.

I'm finally starting to get a little body definition, now that I've joined a gym and am actually *going* to it. There are still some places, though, where I look alarmingly gaunt; I'm very sensitive about it. This includes the fact that my ribcage is visible on the sides of my torso; and that my pelvic bones jut out so far that I once actually, physically hurt someone while we were having sex.

My favorite part of my body is, surprisingly, my butt, which is trim, firm, perky and makes me feel 19 when I catch it in the mirror. Oh, and you know what? Let's just move on.

My legs... imagine my torso doubled. Long and gangly and like chickenlegs, covered most of my life with bruises and cuts. And my feet are... normal? I don't know, I never really thought about it much.

What else can I tell you about myself? Wait, I'm going to look at myself in the mirror and see if I missed anything.

[...]

It's been a long time since I've stared at my own body for any length of time. Now I remember why... Anyway, two things I forgot -- 1) I no longer shave, but my body hair is so light, it's hardly noticable anyway (makes me wonder why I spent such a large portion of my life shaving to being with); 2) I have a small tribal tattoo. It was during my 'coming out' year in college, when I did a lot of weird things I doubt I'd do now. Anyway, I had enough foresight to put it on my behind so I wouldn't have to see it everyday. It's just a part of me now.

Describing myself was a lot more of an uncomfortable process than I thought it'd be. I've come a long way over the years with body/self issues, but I still have a lot of problems. I just read over what I wrote and realized that I did most of the description through a negative tone of voice. Hmm. Is that what you mean by being turned on by geek girls? I can't really see how that would be attractive.

Okay, 9 pm and still haven't eaten dinner... and I'll stop again for a bit and try to regroup. Oh, just read through my letter and saw the reminder to myself -- did you actually have a 'Judy Blume epiphany' like Mark in the book did? Usually anything that smacks of 'Generation X' simply makes me want to throw up, but I found this reference very charming and mirroring of my own life. Okay, seeya -- MM.

To:tristan@worldcom.com
From:mmm@getty.com
Date:3/11/97, 11:43 p.m.
Subj:Hopefully the end of the marathon letter

Went downstairs and picked up some Chinese and, what the hell, another bottle of wine, sat around and ate cashew chicken and read more of your book and got drunker than I meant to get tonight. What a strange experience writing to the author of a book you're reading, while you're reading it. I've never really known any authors, much less one I'm talking with while I read their book. I find the process very... intimate in a strange way I've never experienced before.

So what am I doing right now? I'm sitting at my Powerbook, looking through my bay windows down at all the drunk college students and young executives stumbling out of the bars and weaving their way down the sidewalk. I'm listening to a CD by The Magnetic Fields, but I'm getting tired of it and am thinking of switching to something else. I am typing in my flannel pajamas that I switched to, realizing that I'll probably fall asleep right after I click the 'SEND' button on this last letter. I'm watching the smoke from my Marlboro Light drift up to the ceiling -- it's another remnant of my 'coming out' year, one that's almost gone but still rears its ugly head when I've been drinking.

I find it very interesting that you'd refer to it as the 'bisexual bomb.' I have sex with men and I have sex with women... 'ta-da', as you'd say. Some bomb, alright. Don't you have any bisexual friends? I hear it's all the rage these days (or so NEWSWEEK tells me, ha-ha).

>>> "I want details,"

you write, but really, it's not that interesting of a story. I'll tell you what I know...

I had always been attracted to certain, select women throughout my life. At first I chalked it up to confusion, then to youthful rebellion. My sophomore year in college, I actually slept with a very good friend of mine, but I had always considered it an aberrant event -- she and I had been very close to begin with, and we had both been pretty messed up that evening (physically and otherwise).

I dated men exclusively up to a few years ago, which was fine at the time. What I mean is that unlike a lot of my lesbian friends, I never felt this deep feeling of something inherently wrong when I had sex with a man -- I enjoyed it as much as any other girl.

But then after college I went through some stuff and I found myself living with 2 lesbian roommates. They took me to a lot of women-oriented events and gave me great amounts of gender closeness and trust, which at that time in my life was very spiritually healing and just what I needed. An almost before I knew it, I started hanging out a lot with one of their friends (Jennifer) and one night she made a move and I responded and I realized quite suddenly that this wasn't an aberrant behavior but actually a very natural one for me.

I have ended up dating many less women in my life than men, but I still cherish each of the relationships. Even though I really enjoy the company and intimacy of men, I have discovered that there are some things that they simply cannot give me (I know men don't like hearing that, but it's just a simple fact). Since I am very choosy and discriminate about the homosexual part of my life, I have ended up having for the most part very fulfilling, very happy relationships with women (with one notable exception ).

However, there are of course some problems, and as you may have already guessed about me, I have many issues tied to my bisexuality, not the least of which is that I seem to be a lot more uncomfortable with being out and delving into the political side of it than my friends. They are issues that I keep tightly held to my chest, because the lesbian community is just like any other minority group, in that any self-critical comments about the community are discouraged and sometimes not tolerated. The conventional wisdom is of course that we should be sticking together in the face of overwhelming criticism from other groups. "Leave the complaining to the bigots," you could put it. As a result, I don't seem to really deal with my bisexual issues very well, because I don't really have a chance to talk about them or really have a soundboard.

Um, I'm not really sure what else to tell you. Yes, I have sex with both men and women, and no, never at the same time (common question, which is why I automatically answer it for you). To me it just seems like part of my life now, so I guess I'm not sure what it is you want to hear.

Okay, well... I'm starting to get really tired, and judging by the quality of this last paragraph, I think my brain has officially shut off for the night. I have this really odd emotion going through me right now. I feel like we just got done with our first date, having dinner, drinking some wine, getting to know each other a bit. That's pretty pathetic, isn't it? Well, I never said my life was exciting or even normal. And finishing the letter is like the two of us standing at my front door, me trying to decide whether to invite you in or send you home. And whether I should give you a kiss.

Well anyway, please forgive the ramblings of this drunk girl. I'll talk to you soon -- Margaret.


p.s.

:::kiss:::
To:mmm@getty.com
From:tristan@worldcom.com
Date:3/12/97, 12:53 a.m.
Subj:nightcap

In a way, it kind of is like we had a first date tonight. Unbeknownst to you (you told me not to write, remember?) I've been home all night myself, sitting around drinking beer, listening to music and reading your letters as they came in. It was like spending the evening with you, and I actually feel close right now. I'm tired too, though, so will write a big response to your big letter tomorrow. For now, I go to sleep with thoughts of you in my head. Good night, and I hope you have pleasant dreams.

Eric.

P.S.

:::kiss back:::






2

To:tristan@worldcom.com
From:mmm@getty.com
Date:3/12/97, 9:41 a.m.
Subj:Where's the fucking Advil

Can't believe I made it to work today. We're working on a website for the new Sprint/Rolling Stones tour that's coming up this fall, and I really... just really don't want to be working on it this morning.

Thanks for the note that I got from you this morning. I feel a little embarrassed about my long drunk letter now, in the light of day. Hope it doesn't scare you off.

Well, Mick Jagger calls me. I'll talk to you later -- mmm
To: mmm@getty.com
From: tristan@worldcom.com
Date:3/12/97, 3:31 pm
Subj:Let It Bleed

No, your letter was very charming. There's no reason at all to be embarrassed.

Maybe you'll have a chance to get on your mail tonight and we could talk. For now, let me tell you:

You've completely misunderstood why I made a big deal about your bisexuality. It's not because being bi is unusual or shocking -- it's because you seemed to expressly not want to talk about sexual subjects or give off any indications that we were flirting with each other. The highly personal admission is what shocked me. I don't know, your letter brought up something that we should probably talk about.

Well, much work to do today myself. Hope everything goes well at work. Talk to you tonight?

Eric
To:tristan@worldcom.com
From:mmm@getty.com
Date:3/12/97, 6:15 pm
Subj:Hello, hello, testing, testing

Hey, I'm home. You there?
To: mmm@getty.com
From: tristan@worldcom.com
Date:3/12/97, 6:19 pm
Subj:This is only a test

Hey, here I am! Okay, let me get a letter started to you. See you in about fifteen minutes. eric
To:tristan@worldcom.com
From:mmm@getty.com
Date:3/12/97, 6:31 pm
Subj:My honesty experiment

Okay, I'll type to you while you're typing to me and we'll see what happens.

Okay, my confessional statement of the day. I think I WAS being kind of flirtatious the other night. I'm about halfway through your novel right now, and...

well...

I'm thinking about Eric Barnes a lot right now.

I've never read a book before while I was corresponding with the author. Have I mentioned this before? And there's something... I can't explain. I don't know, it's got me mystified. This very intimate, emotional thing that's going on inside myself during this whole process. It's like I'm connecting to you, if that makes any sense. Oh boy, I just can't describe this at all.

I've read books before by my friends, it's not that at all. It's just... it's a BOOK, you know? With a cover and artwork and a glued spine and a UPC code and... it's a BOOK. It's weird.

Well, how about that for an unequivocal statement? Urgh. Let me just mail this before I chicken out. -mm
To: mmm@getty.com
From: tristan@worldcom.com
Date:3/12/97, 6:32 pm
Subj:Maybe another marathon?

Okay, so I'm glad that you told me the stuff you did. You took an enormous chance and I appreciate it. I hopefully will be able to return the intimacy and keep us on an even level.

In answer to your letter:

Thanks for the compliment on the female voice. It's a big struggle of mine, finding and using a real, convincing voice for my female characters. It's a tough thing, writing as the opposite sex, and you never quite know if you're doing a good job. Ultimately you fail in small, detailed ways, always, but the struggle is to write so that in the end you come up with an overall convincing character. It's always good to hear from one more woman who thinks you did a good job.

The 'spiritual' side of dating... You know, I never was quite sure what my ex-girlfriend meant by that. She was a pagan, so God only knows. My religious beliefs are something that I simply don't think about very much -- I wasn't raised with much of a faith and, well, I guess it just never mattered very much to me. No, I don't think I've ever had a relationship that connected on all three levels either.

You had to change your apartment and phone number once? Jesus. Tell me, tell me.

Yes, I did indeed have a Judy Blume epiphany once. I think I might be a bigger fan of Gen X stuff than you, to tell the truth. I mean... how do I put this? I like WELL-WRITTEN Gen X stuff, that's the crucial difference. It's difficult to talk about, because the entire point Douglas Coupland and others are trying to make ABOUT our generation is that any attempts to classify it are met with open hostility from members OF our generation. There wouldn't BE a Generation X if it wasn't for that complete mistrust of labeling our generation. Yet that mistrust and hostility is something that's SO widespread that it actually DOES become a defining point of our generation... which, of course, is proven by our generation denying that it exists. Hoo, it's like one of those weird time displacement episodes of Star Trek. You can only prove it by having other people disprove it.

So, needless to say, if you're a writer and want to get this across, you have to be damn good at treading this incredibly fine line between subtlelly, intelligently pointing out generational marks and just plodding through the pop culture like Godzilla. And I think it's why our generation gets so incredibly cynical about the idea of Generation X, because you've got a lot of stupid people trying to cash in on it. "It's like punk rock, but it's a car!" Idiots. "Da Da Da. Volkswagen fits your life. Or your complete lack of one." Genius. You see? Could you tell someone else where the line is between those two ads? No -- the best you can do is see the two ads and say, "This one works and this one doesn't."

So unfortunately, some writers who I really like -- like Coupland or David Foster Wallace or Bret Easton Ellis, get unfairly maligned because they are unfairly lumped into the entire gen x soupbowl, when in fact they are actually intelligent and subtle about it, and bring up much bigger, much smarter emotional conclusions ABOUT the pop culture they quote, instead of just taking the pop culture and throwing it in our face verbatim. Make any sense? And can you see my Judy Blume reference in Juice Box and see what I'm trying to say?

Okay, so let me tell you my whole nerd story, since you went so much into yours. I was raised

Oops, just got an e-mail from you. Let me send this and then read yours.

Eric
To:tristan@worldcom.com
From:mmm@getty.com
Date:3/12/97, 6:35 pm
Subj:Jet leg

Oh hell, now we're doing that thing I was warning about last night -- now I'm going to be responding to things and you'll be responding to different things at the same time and our letters will keep overlapping each other and we'll never get a coherent narrative going.

Maybe we should switch to a chatroom and talk live. You up for that? --mm
To: mmm@getty.com
From: tristan@worldcom.com
Date:3/12/97, 6:37 pm
Subj:Chat

Sure, I'd be up for trying that. How do I do it?
To:tristan@worldcom.com
From:mmm@getty.com
Date:3/12/97, 6:38 pm
Subj:How to chat

First, wait about five minutes while I set things up. Then go to your web browser and go to "http://www.chatworld.com" -- they're one of the better chat sites. Then go to the chat room called "marketing discussion" -- hopefully the title will keep people out (they're all public rooms). Then the site will ask you for a logon name, so just pick something I'll recognize.

Alright, see you in 5. Margaret
www.chatworld.com
Talk Live! 24 hours a day
new room initiated 3/12/97 at 6:40 p.m.
"Marketing Discussion"

There are (1) people in "Marketing Discussion"

mmm> eric say hi when you get in

has entered the room.
There are (2) people in "Marketing Discussion"

JuiceBox> Hi, I'm here.

mmm> so we finally 'meet'

JuiceBox> A little weird, seeing your responses so fast.

mmm> yes. so tell me about nerd childhood

JuiceBox> So how did work go?

JuiceBox> Oops, put that in before yours came up.

mmm> work turned out fine, not so bad

JuiceBox> So, I was raised in this weird house and

mmm> yes there's even lag time here in chat rooms

JuiceBox> I have to keep sentences so short, I'm not used to it.

mmm> you might be typing something at the same time as the other...

JuiceBox> God, this is weird. Very disconcerting.

mmm> ...and send at the same time. tip, add '...' to unfinished sentences so I'll know to wait

JuiceBox> AUGH! There's got to be better way to do this.

mmm> okay. we take turns like on airplane radio. over

JuiceBox> That sounds good. Over.

mmm> so tell me about your Judy Blume epiphany

JuiceBox> 'Then Again Maybe I Won't.' Realizing that other boys have to stand up in front of room with erections. You?

mmm> 'Are you there god' about 4 different things. I see what you were trying to say

JuiceBox> Yeah?

mmm> Your point in juice box is to tie in larger emotional issue of letting go, importance in being honest to others cause you never know when they're feeling the same way...

mmm> ...but you use blume to illustrate point instead of just bringing up blume to be cutesy. yes, definitely got your point

JuiceBox> Aha, yes. Not pop culture for pop culture's sake, but because that is our generation's lore, our totem poles. Use as icebreaker to tie in cultural point.

mmm> well not sure i'd put it the same way

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There are (3) people in "Marketing Discussion"

softdog> Hi any women here

mmm> then again you're the published writer, not me

JuiceBox> It doesn't make you a bad person if you disagree. I'm in the minority, remember?

softdog> Age/sex people in room

mmm> f/26. softdog, having private discussion here

softdog> About what

JuiceBox> m/27, about writing.

softdog> oh yeah? I write

mmm> okay, softdog, great. please respect private disc

has entered room.
There are (4) people in "Marketing Discussion"

nrrdgrl> Hi everyone!

softdog> Hey nrrdgrl. age

nrrdgrl> 17

mmm> eric just keep writing and ignore everyone else

JuiceBox> This is weird.

nrrdgrl> nice attitude!

softdog> nrrdgrl where are you from

mmm> nrrdgrl trying to have private discussion here

nrrdgrl> kentucky and you?

softdog> Minneapolis wanna talk sex?

JuiceBox> Shit.

(JuiceBox, this chat room is monitored by automatic word detection software. A word was used in your last post that is not considered appropriate content for "Chatworld". Any repetitions will necessitate forcible removal)

nrrdgrl> sure. your age and fantasy

JuiceBox> I'm stuck in a David Lynch movie.

mmm> bad idea sorry :( let's move back to mail

softdog> 21 we're in bed

nrrdgrl> and then?

JuiceBox> Okay.

has entered the room.
There are (5) people in "Marketing Discussion"

LeStat> Greetings from the Vampyre. sex/age people in room

softdog> m/21 talking sex

nrrdgrl> f/17

JuiceBox> I'm outta here.

has left the room.
There are (4) people in "Marketing Discussion"

softdog> What was his problem

mmm> new to chat. have fun folks

softdog> you should stay

mmm> no juicebox and I are in middle of something bye bye

softdog> Bye mmm

nrrdgrl> see ya mmm

LeStat> See you in your dreams. softdog, nrrdgrl, you're talking sex?

has left the room.
There are (3) people in "Marketing Discussion"
To: mmm@getty.com
From: tristan@worldcom.com
Date:3/12/97, 7:04 pm
Subj:Fuck I can use swear words again!

Information superhighway, my ass.

Okay, now that silliness is over... how about I start writing about my childhood and you start writing about this changing apartment story, and we'll just both swap when we're done and then play it by ear?

Eric
To:tristan@worldcom.com
From:mmm@getty.com
Date:3/12/97, 6:38 pm
Subj: :o

Okay!

I should have known better. To really talk live we'll both need to get an account at one of the chat places that allow private rooms. Those cost money, though. Well, think about it.

Well, I'll start my story. --mm
To: mmm@getty.com
From: tristan@worldcom.com
Date:3/12/97, 7:48 pm
Subj:Raining, pouring

My dad was very political about a lot of things. He was a member of SAS during the '68 convention here, did a lot of weird things as a student, and some illegal stuff too.

So basically I was raised in a slightly different way than most -- vegetarian diet, no television, immediate distrust of authority. At the same time, my dad was clueing me into some amazing things at an extremely young age -- Vonnegut, Pynchon, Steinbeck, all by junior high. My dad homeschooled me until I was thirĀ teen, then thought it important that I get into the school system, both so I could meet new people and so I could "get an idea of all the bullshit in public schooling," as he put it. And he entered me when I was just old enough that I COULD appreciate the bullshit, and appreciate the fact that I was homeschooled. Later in life, that is.

So here I am suddenly in this junior high and all these kids are wearing "Charlie's Angels" t-shirts and getting ready for school dances, and I have no cultural common point to discuss with them. I'm trying to quote "Cat's Cradle" to them and just getting blank looks back.

I was thirteen, what can I say? There's one thing you want when you are thirteen, that you overwhelmingly want, and that's to be like everyone else. And I was suddenly thrown into this environment where I was like NOBODY else.

I worked very hard the first couple of years. I started reading the books my compatriots were reading -- Judy Blume et al, which actually, even though the complexity level was woefully lower than I was used to, actually did provide me with some insights into myself in a way that adult books couldn't (which is why I put it in Juice Box). And I started hanging out at some of these kids' houses and watching television for the first time. And you know, tv's DESIGNED for thirteen year olds, that's expressly the audience they're writing for, and I WAS thirteen, so I naturally loved it.

So I started getting into arguments with my dad about these things -- I wanted a tv in the house, and dad was of course shocked by this and thought himself a bad parent, like he hadn't taught his child anything important. My dad, I think, in many ways was as immature as any teenager about a lot of things. He was completely unable to recognize that his lessons HAD worked into me, but that they would really surface as an adult. You can't expect a thirteen year old to act and think and express themselves in the same way as a fully grown adult, right? A teenager wants to dress like his friends and go out on Friday nights and, god forbid, make out in the backseat of the car.

My dad wasn't able to comprehend any of this. Also, he was going through his own struggles. What I didn't know was that he was sort of flipping out, over his growing age, about his political fierceness in the face of his former peers getting older and "going soft," as he looked at it.

And when I was seventeen my dad killed himself. It was tough, yes. We weren't getting along very well at the time, and there's always going to be a part of me that will wish I could have made up with him before he left. Also, there's a big part of me that wishes he could have seen me grow up and start exhibiting many of the attitudes and opinions that he had always wished I would have exhibited when I was younger. And of course I went through the same emotional struggles that any child of a suicide goes through -- the quest to find out why, why, and all the baggage that goes with that.

I am ten years older now, and my dad had always raised me to be pretty self-reliant to begin with. I've been through the quest, and I've found most of my answers. I know why my dad killed himself, and I've gotten to the point where I can look at him in human terms and not godlike, which we usually do when our parents are alive. I still have my doubts, yes. I still have my baggage. (I'm shrugging my shoulders right now)

And just like you, I tried to deny my true self for a little while, although I don't think to as great an extent as you. I was always comfortable with my intellectualism and nerdish behavior, just went through a period where I didn't want to share it. A highly-trained brain goes hand-in-hand with an elitist attitude, because the first thing an intelligent child realizes is that they are, in fact, more intelligent than most of the people around them.

I just finally got to the point where I had to admit to myself that there was nothing I could do about it. I was born smart, and I had parents who highlighted that and taught me to utilize it. I can work hard at not being an asshole, but that's pretty much the only thing on the subject that I DO have any control over. And once I realized that, I realized that I should be using my advantage to its advantage. That's the whole goal of humanity, right? To find the things you are naturally good at and do them? So I started writing and I started showing the world the conclusions I had made about the world around me.

Okay, I'll send this and wait for yours.

Eric

p.s. I'd like to talk about you-thinking-about-me, me-thinking-about-you next.
To:tristan@worldcom.com
From:mmm@getty.com
Date:3/12/97, 7:52 pm
Subj:My very own stalker
Sorry again about the chat room fiasco. Just feel the need to repeatedly apologize.

To understand the story of my stalker, you need to understand the story of my online history. Being a computer nerd, I have been going online since I was 13, back before the internet was readily available to the public (do you know the history of the internet? Short version -- it was only available to government officials and college students for a long time, and then when it started going public it was VERY SLOWLY until just about a few years ago).

So when I was going online it was run a little differently -- you would dial up an actual self-contained bulletin board, which would usually be a dedicated computer sitting in somebody's bedroom or den that existed specifically to run the bulletin board. It worked pretty much the same way as the internet does, except you could ONLY leave messages for people that had accounts at that specific bulletin board, and you could only talk 'live' to people who had also specifically called that specific computer at the same time. Everything about it was like a micro-internet -- you have to imagine an entire BBS being run on an Apple ][ -- you know, only maybe 4 or 5 people could be on it live at the same time. Also, don't forget the speed, which was the biggest reason why the internet suddenly took off. The modem I'm using right now to send this is 56K, or transmitting 56,000 bytes per second. And the first modem I had, which I actually used for the first two years I was online, transmitted at 300 bps. Yeah! This was top of the line!

Okay, so now that you have this mental image in your head, you can now understand the instant familiarity with all online users at that day and age. You know, there was only a couple of dozen of us in the whole city, and we were all members of the same BBSes all over. We all knew each other, you see? We had even met most of each other in the flesh, at this science fiction convention or that computer convention or whatnot. Besides the usual teenage horniness, there wasn't really a question of being lecherous -- really lecherous -- because we all KNEW each other.

Boy, there's times that I really miss that. There really are times when I wish the world of computing was still limited to 300 baud modems, no graphical interfaces, where only the truly dedicated (insane) were involved because it was so much work and sweat and memorization to get the damn things to do what you wanted. But this is beside my point.

So now you hopefully understand part 2 of this story, which is that I was raised with this familiarity and friendship, LITERALLY raised with it, you see? So by the time I got to college and DID get my first internet account, I was so used to being online that it never occured to me to act any differently than I had when our entire community was local.

So, let's see, I was 21, I think. No, I was 20, had this kick-ass Mac LC in my first-ever apartment, had the dial-up number for my school's internet connection so I wouldn't have to do my e-mail at the campus computer lab (which was unusual for the time, BTW).

I met a boy named Robert through a usenet group I was on at the time, a fan group for the Smiths (and how much does THAT date me? Jeez). He was a sophomore at Ohio State University, studying computers. He was nice. He liked a lot of things that I liked -- same music, same movies, you know. He made me laugh.

And one night he said we should actually talk, you know, voice to voice, so I stupidly gave him my phone number. I wasn't thinking. No, I take that back -- I shouldn't beat myself up. I WAS thinking, but I was thinking with this old-school mindset about the online world, where everyone is friends and we all end up running into each other anyway.

So to make a long story short, 'Robert' was using an address emulation program (piece of software that changes your real email address to anything you choose -- 'bclinton@whitehouse.gov', get it?) and Robert was actually Bill, a 40 year old guy who lived in Chicago. Bill originally called me and told me he was a friend of Robert's, but the more I talked to him the more I realized that he really WAS Robert. And of course by then it was too late and he was calling me obsessively and then got my address by having my phone number and... whew, showed up at my place one night which just absolutely freaked me out and I really don't want to discuss it anymore. And so I had to move to a new place and change my phone to finally get away from him.

God, this is really bringing back some bad memories. Let me send this to you, and when you're done, do me a favor and send back something nice. I feel really alone right now.

mm
To: mmm@getty.com
From: tristan@worldcom.com
Date:3/12/97, 8:01 pm
Subj:Something nice

That's quite a story. I'm surprised that you would even go back online after an experience like that.

Something nice: You are older, and you are smarter. You went through the experience and learned a very important lesson, without having to be hurt by it (physically hurt). You are obviously an empowered, self-reliant person, or else you WOULDNT'VE gotten back online after that. Um... I'm not sure what else to say. You're a good person, I can tell that.

Maybe we shouldn't talk about what I wanted to talk about. It might be a little too personal.

Eric
To:tristan@worldcom.com
From:mmm@getty.com
Date:3/12/97, 8:05 pm
Subj:Thanks
Believe it or not, you DID just make me feel better. You reminded me that I'm a wiser person than I used to be. Older, more mature. Thank God the two have gone hand-in-hand in my life.

I think we should go ahead and talk about it. I can't deny that I've been thinking about you a lot. I also can't deny that I have this strange emotional feeling from reading your book that I can't explain. Can you shed any light?

Margaret
To: mmm@getty.com
From: tristan@worldcom.com
Date:3/12/97, 8:39 pm
Subj:Rock star syndrome

First let me confess that I've been thinking about you too. It was that physical description that did it -- before then, you were just this muddled shadowy 'person' who I knew was somewhere, typing these words that I was reading. But after reading your description, you suddenly became real, a real living person on the other end of the line, if that makes sense. And you've been sort of in my head since then.

About how you're feeling about me...

I hope this doesn't come out cynical, but it probably will. Congratulations, you have rock-star syndrome, but in the literary way. Let me explain the difference:

Before I published a novel, I thought the entire 'rock star' comparison to writers was complete bullshit. How can you compare Axl Rose on stage with thousands of screaming fans to me sitting in my living room, typing away in solitude? But there is a causal connection, albeit manifesting itself in a different manner. I can probably relate it best by showing you my own example...

I've met, obviously, several writers since becoming a writer myself, mostly through the open mics that I go to. Several of them published before I did, and I had a very similar experience to what you're going through right now. I would pick up their book, not really knowing them at that point, and I would read and read and read, and get really... enchanted.

You have to remember that a book is a singular experience. Unlike any other medium, reading a book keeps you involved with the artist for dozens of hours, days at a stretch. Reading for pleasure, when it's done with a good author, becomes this sensurround experience, like a sensory-deprivation tank. You get sucked into their book, you turn off your other four senses as you read, you get completely drawn into this world that has come directly out of the author's own head, their own attitudes and fancy and all the other things that make up a novel. Think about it -- think about what an intense experience reading a book can become sometimes, where people can actually call out your name and you physically won't hear them because you're so caught up in the world of the author.

Usually we don't know the author personally, and so there is a sense of being removed. But if you know the author, if you talk to them as you're reading, or right when you've finished... well, for me, it can be a really overwhelming experience. It's like... hmm. Okay, you know when you have one of those evenings where it's just you and one other person and you start having a really long conversation, really detailed, and it slowly turns very personal, very confessional, and you're both into it, and soon the whole world disappears except for the two of you, sitting in that diner or that coffeehouse or that living room, until three or four in the morning. Well, Jesus, that's exactly what a novel is -- it's one of those all night conversations written down onto paper. And reading it is like having that conversation, just one step removed. And then there's the author, and you're suddenly confronted with this person you've been having this intimate, detailed conversation with, and remember, not just over one night, but spread out over a week or two. Reading in the bathroom. Reading in your bed before you go to sleep.

There's a good reason why those long conversations we have in life end up so often in a makeout session or sex or a one-night-stand, etc. etc. And the same thing happens many times between an author and a reader. This is what I mean by rock-star syndrome, because it's what fuels so much of our fascination with rock stars -- this immediate, so electrically-charged common experience we have just had. This is also what I mean by it being in a literary way, because music is much more powerful -- this experience can literally happen in a matter of a few hours, literally over the course of a live show. It's why you can get so "...Wow, wow, wow!" sometimes right after a live show. With the literary world, this experience slowly builds over the course of reading a book, days and weeks. But the experience itself, the parts of the human spirit the experience is coming from, is the same.

Why I said at the beginning of the letter that this might come across as cynical is because I've learned that this experience, this feeling of being overwhelmed, is in most cases transitional. I've been on both the giving and receiving end of this equation before -- sometimes I've just finished someone's book, or someone has just finished mine, and you are just SO overwhelmed by the author, you're SO much in their world, that it just seems like the natural thing to be attracted to them, to want to just, you know, be there, be with them, sleep with them, what have you. But then you get to know them and their book wears off you and you are suddenly confronted with a human again, with all their faults, neuroses, little things that make you grit your teeth. And hey, with writers, there's a lot of those things to deal with. And you're not so attracted to them anymore and things sort of fall apart.

You know, it happens. Right after my book came out, I had three or four experiences right in a row like this, and I was like (and you should really excuse the indescretion here) but, to be completely honest I was like, "Yahoo! I'm getting laid all the time, because of my BOOK!" It was a complete validation for me -- I had always thought my writing to be one of the sexiest things about me as a person, and now suddenly here were all these women who were agreeing with me! But then they all fell apart and I just felt kind of empty. About the only thing worse than an attractive person not being attracted to YOU is... a person who is INITIALLY attracted to you and then gets to know you a little and realizes that they're NOT attracted to you AT ALL. It's very humiliating.

I'm not saying any of these things to deny your feelings or to try to say anything bad about you. It's just that you asked me if I had an explanation for what you were feeling, and that's the explanation. Like I said, though, I'm having my own fascination with you right now. Perhaps our mutual fascination isn't such a bad thing at all, if we both go into it realizing that it's a mutual fascination and that it could end at any time.

What do you think of that? Can we find a mutually positive thing to have come out of this fascination?

Eric
To:tristan@worldcom.com
From:mmm@getty.com
Date:3/12/97, 9:01 pm
Subj:Hmm... hmm hmm
Well, first of all, let's drop the word 'fascination' and call it what it really is -- 'infatuation.' We both have crushes on each other. We both know that, and if we're going to do this honesty experiment of yours, let's just admit it.

You know, this is the first time I've ever had a conversation with someone like this -- "Okay, you like me and I like you, but we both recognize that this might end at any time." It actually frees up a lot of obligations, doesn't it? Me knowing that you know that I have an infatuation doesn't make me feel so bad about it being an infatuation. Wait, huh? How long have we been talking to each other tonight? It seems like forever. I mean I don't feel nearly as bad about it being a crush (I suspected this even before your detailed explanation) now that I know that YOU know that it's also a crush.

So that being said... yes, as a matter of fact, I think there IS something positive to be experienced from this situation. Let's flourish in our crushes! Infatuation Celebration '97! Or would you be okay with this? Let's... explore each other. Explore each other's crushes, pick each other's brains. Let's continue our honesty experiment but up the ante yet another notch. Wow, I've suddenly exploded into this unbridled celebration of hubris! Where the hell did this come from?

I don't know, wow, just this sudden confession of each others' crushes has suddenly opened up this whole new world for me. I'm envisioning this whole utilization of email that I've never envisioned before -- the entire intimate exploration of each other, both knowing what we're doing up front, no hidden agendas, no power struggles... just this complete and honest flow of information. Wow. Now that I think about it, it's something that I could really use right now in my life.

Um, hey. Okay. What do YOU think of this? Unfortunately, I'm going to have to sign off for the night pretty soon, so we'll have to wrap up this conversation.

Waiting... Margaret
To: mmm@getty.com
From: tristan@worldcom.com
Date:3/12/97, 9:22 pm
Subj:Moving to some weird ground

Your question about how long we've been talking tonight got me thinking. I took all our correspondence, cut and pasted into a Word document, ran a word count -- 5,584 words! Lord, that's the size of an entire chapter in my book.

Your proposal sounds intriguing, titillating, loaded with possibilities. I'll ask you a few questions before agreeing to it:

--Does this mean that we're officially going to be talking about sexual topics now? One way or another, doesn't matter to me. I just want to make sure I don't suddenly bring up something that will offend you.

--Can we both agree up front that if one or the other crush ends, we can just both admit it and neither be hurt by it?

--Can we also both agree to admit to each other if one of the crushes turns into something more?

You know, there's a whole other possibility here too. We could meet in person this weekend at some public spot. That would quickly give us a definitive answer to what this mutual infatuation means and where it might lead.

Okay, you said you had to go, so this is my last letter for the night. Answer this and I'll be waiting for it and I'll talk to you tomorrow.

Good night,
Eric

p.s. Assuming we both agree to this, what do we do now?
To:tristan@worldcom.com
From:mmm@getty.com
Date:3/12/97, 9:30 pm
Subj:Answers
{M167523 attachment to message: uuencode 'me.gif' encapsulated postscript graphic file}

I'll agree to both your requests if you will. As far as appropriate subject matter, it would seem to me that if we're going to do this right, all prior bets are now off and any subject can be broached. Of course, I will still reclaim my right to not answer questions. But I promise not to be offended by any questions you might send.

Meeting... hmm. On the one hand, it seems like a pretty good idea. On the other hand, I'm not exactly sure how I feel about it right now. Could we postpone meeting each other for the moment but still keep it a possibility?

I realize that I have an advantage right now of seeing a photo of you without you seeing one of me. Therefore, I include with this message a photo of me that I just took 5 minutes ago with my Quickcam. It's attached to the email -- you'll need 'uudecode' to see it. If you don't have that software, let me know and I'll send you a copy.

Okay, I really REALLY have to go now, previous business, sorry to cut this off right when it's getting interesting.

mm

p.s. Where do we go now? I guess let's start where one always starts in a discussion like this. How did you lose your virginity? Write yours tonight and I will too and we'll exchange them at the same time tomorrow.

With one eyebrow raised... Margaret.




3

To:tristan@worldcom.com
From:mmm@getty.com
Date:3/13/97, 12:42 pm
Subj:Heyya
Beautiful Saturday today, so I thought I'd grab my Mac and cel phone and go sit outside for awhile. Hanging out at the Belmont/Clark Starbucks, writing my virginity story, thinking of you, laughing to myself as I type.

Are you on right now? How's your story going?

M.
To: mmm@getty.com
From: tristan@worldcom.com
Date:3/13/97, 12:55 pm
Subj:Hold on

You're at that Starbucks right now? Hey, I'm just up the street -- the Pick Me Up Cafe near Addison and Clark. Tell you what, hang on about twenty minutes and I'll pack up my stuff and come down. Finally, a chance to meet!

Eric

p.s. I did a "Find File" search on my computer last night and found that software you talked about. Interesting photo.
To: mmm@getty.com
From: tristan@worldcom.com
Date:3/13/97, 1:30 pm
Subj:SOS

Okay, I'm sitting here at the Starbucks and I don't see you. In fact, I don't see anybody with a laptop anywhere.

Where are you?

Eric
To:tristan@worldcom.com
From:mmm@getty.com
Date:3/13/97, 1:31 pm
Subj:Hide and seek
m sitting on the red line typing you a quick note. I'm feeling mischievious, what can I say.

So I'm heading to... you wanna know? Here's some hints -- it's another coffeehouse; it's near the city limits; and it's named after an underground movie.

I'll stay there a half-hour and see if you can find me! M
To: mmm@getty.com
From: tristan@worldcom.com
Date:3/13/97, 1:40 pm
Subj:TAG you're it

Oh, why am I doing this?

I know exactly what you're talking about, BTW -- Atomic Cafe in Rogers Park. I am RIGHT BEHIND YOU so you better get ready! Eric
To:tristan@worldcom.com
From:mmm@getty.com
Date:3/13/97, 2:02 pm
Subj:ABC123 Blackout
re doing it 'cause you LOVE it! Ha ha! Filled with impish black humor today.

Okay, WriterBoy, you're two minutes late, so I left. So where am I heading next? Hmm...

Well, I'm on the red line going south. I'm getting off at the Chicago stop. And I'm heading to a coffeehouse named after another city. The mystery!

As you're heading down here, tell me the story of how you got your novel published, BTW.

At the speed of light... MMM
To: mmm@getty.com
From: tristan@worldcom.com
Date:3/13/97, 2:12 pm
Subj:Seattle's Best Coffee Seattle's Best Coffee Seattl

I've been there, I've been there. I'm on my way right now.

Um, my novel, let's see. Well, basically, I got an agent, which is just about the only way you can get a book out on one of the Big Seven. I completely lucked into an agent, which is pretty much the only way a first-time novelist can GET one. I had been sending out query letter after query letter, getting rejected left and right and all over. And then my aunt met someone who knew someone who was an entry level reader at Mary Corman Agency, and I got the number through the chain, and I talked to her and she agreed to pass it through the slush pile, and just by accident the next person liked it enough and passed it on, and then again, and then there it was on Mary Corman's desk. And... she liked it, what can I say? So I got accepted, but that's only the first half, then the agency has to convince one of the Big Seven to like it too.

Oops, I'm here. Story to be continued in person... Eric
To: mmm@getty.com
From: tristan@worldcom.com
Date:3/13/97, 2:15 pm
Subj:AAARRRGGGGHHHHH!!!!!!

WHERE ARE YOU!?
To:tristan@worldcom.com
From:mmm@getty.com
Date:3/13/97, 2:16 pm
Subj:The Caffeine Phantom strikes again
Oops, seems you were just a little late again!

I'm on my way to Wicker Park, to go hang out at a place that Smashing Pumpkins used to hang out at before they got famous. Know where I'm talking about?

BTW, just got your note about the novel. Question -- what are the odds of getting a book published? Then continue the story. MM
To: mmm@getty.com
From: tristan@worldcom.com
Date:3/13/97, 2:25 pm
Subj:Closer than you think

You're not going to believe it, but I saw you at the el stop. I went down to Washington on the red line, walked the tunnel over to the blue line, walked up RIGHT as the train was taking off, and there you were, sitting in a seat, plugging your phone into your laptop. I tried to get your attention but the train was just zooming off.

The odds of getting an agent are astronomically low. Conventional wisdom says that you are doing pretty average if you can get 2-5 out of every 100 query letters back, asking to see the novel. And then out of that 2-5%, your chances are very slim. Very very slim. Once you have an agent, I've been told that the chances of getting the book sold is somewhere between 30 and 50%, based on the agent you're with -- all in all, about a 1 in 1,000 chance of getting your first book published.

So basically I was very lucky. And here's the kicker of the whole thing, the part I never realized -- once you go through all that work, spend the months and the hundreds of dollars to find an agent, and once that agent has spent the months and the hundreds of dollars to get your book published, then the entire process comes grinding unceremoniously to a halt.

The pub. co. I'm with makes 85% of their annual money from five titles. Yes, five. But they publish, what, 40 books a year? Something like that. So basically, unless you're Stephen King or some celebrity with a hack ghostwriter, the co. doesn't really give a shit about you and sort of prints your book and then leaves it out there to hang in the wind.

So I was clued in onto this informa

Fuck, I'm here. Later. Eric BTW I DON'T KNOW WHERE I'M GOING NEXT!
To:tristan@worldcom.com
From:mmm@getty.com
Date:3/13/97, 2:32 pm
Subj:Snug as a bug in a... rug
re STILL traveling? I'm nice and cozy in my secret destination. It's right near the Damen/North/Milwaukee intersection, and it's not a bar. Those are your next clues. I had no idea you were so close behind me, BTW.

You left something out of the equation of getting published -- your book also has to be very good, which it is. You shouldn't forget that.

Well, I'll loiter for a bit and see what happens. Margaret

p.s. How are you paying for all this cel phone airtime? I know how mine's getting paid -- it's my agency's phone.
To: mmm@getty.com
From: tristan@worldcom.com
Date:3/13/97, 2:47 pm
Subj:My patience is wearing thin

Went to Estelle's, Borderline and Quimby's before I got your last note. Then went to the Note (where Hothouse used to be -- thought you might be trying to be sneaky), Bongo Room, and even Lit-X, but couldn't find you anywhere. Now I'm getting really worn out, so I stopped in Earwax to send another note, get a cup of joe and beg for another clue. Nope, you're not here either. To tell you the truth, I'm beginning to think of calling it a day.

Back to the book... my agent pretty much told me this info about lack of support from the publishing co., after it was published. So I pretty much had to take on the publicity/promotion myself -- booked my own signing tour around the region, got newspapers to do reviews, threw my own book release party. It turns out that I've had to do almost just as much work than if I had gone with a small press or even self-published. Welcome to the world of American Literature.

I shouldn't complain, though. I got paid $10,000 for the book, about a buck for every copy they printed. As of last month, about 4,000 of them had been sold nationwide. A little deceptive, though, because that counts all the copies the bookstores have mass-bought for the shelves, not how many individual books have been sold to readers. And the thing is that bookstores can send books back if they're not selling, and get their money back from the publishers. Yuck. However, my agent just told me that I might be getting into the Borders, you know, "Hot New Authors" brochure or whatever the hell that thing is called, and that would be a HUGE boost to the book sales-wise. The nice thing about going with one of the Big Seven is that I get paid no matter how many copies are sold. Of course, if the book gets huge or goes on Oprah or something, I still only get the $10,000, even if it sells a billion copies. But what are the chances of THAT happening, right?

Okay, send me a real obvious clue or I think I'm going home. I'm waiting... Eric

p.s. My cel phone calls are free on weekends and evenings, silly!
To:tristan@worldcom.com
From:mmm@getty.com
Date:3/13/97, 3:06 pm
Subj:Kind of freaked out
Boy, you're going to hate me.

I was sitting at Urbis Orbis when I was in Wicker Park. But then I sat there and waited and waited, and I was working on my virginity story and reading through it and realized that I would be mortally embarrassed to give it to you if we actually met face to face, and then the entire experiment would fail. And I'm very interested in working on this, so... I packed up and went home. I'm sorry.

Sometimes I'm not a very easy person to work with or get along with. How 'bout that for an honest statement? Anyway, I apologize for dragging you all the way across the city and then ditching you. I just... feel a little stupid about it now.

Is the Honesty Experiment still on?

Margaret
To: mmm@getty.com
From: tristan@worldcom.com
Date:3/13/97, 3:18 pm
Subj:Um...

Okay, let me admit that I was kind of pissed off when I first got your latest note. But I thought about it and realized that you're right -- just like any other form of semi-random intimate information exchange (fancy way of saying "trading dirty notes"), anonymity is one of the keys. Once we get to know each other a bit person-to-person, the opportunity to honestly exchange this information will no longer exist.

I guess we shouldnt've tried to meet in the first place. But I got kind of excited -- my confessional statement for the day: now that I've seen your photograph, I realize that I am physically infatuated with you as well as mentally. I was looking forward to, you know, meeting you. But you're right, this isn't going to work if we do that.

So how about later tonight for the stories? I'm not completely done yet. 9 pm?

Eric
To:tristan@worldcom.com
From:mmm@getty.com
Date:3/13/97, 3:22 pm
Subj:Onward, upward
9 pm sounds fine. Do you REALLY find me attractive, or did you just say that to make this correspondence work better?

Margaret
To: mmm@getty.com
From: tristan@worldcom.com
Date:3/13/97, 3:24 pm
Subj:Answer

Does it matter?

I'll see you at nine.

Eric
To:tristan@worldcom.com
From:mmm@getty.com
Date:3/13/97, 9:00 pm
Subj:The Virginity Story
(Eric, a word of explanation -- I've been writing this on my laptop over the last 24 hours, then I collected it and pasted it into an email. So when I refer to different times of the day and night as I write, you'll understand. Capiche?)

11:30 pm. Sitting down in my bed, laptop on my lap (go figure), starting to tell a stranger the story of losing my virginity. How odd. But it's really kind of... 'titillating,' as you put it.

Let's see, where do I start? The facts, ma'am. Okay. I was 18, a late bloomer, lost it my freshman year in college. I've already told you that I had body/self issues in high school, didn't I? I think so. Well, if I haven't told you already... I did. I realize now, of course, that there were men I was attracted to who were attracted to me back then, but at the time I didn't realize. I could barely fathom it, really.

So I got to college and decided suddenly that it was time for me to grow up (I know for sure I've told you something about this already). And there's something important for you to know about me, which is that I'm a strong proponent of the idea of ritual, of symbolic physical activites perpetrated in order to usher in something new into my life. I mean, my tattoo story pretty much illustrates this, maybe you already understand this, maybe I'm repeating the obvious. Okay, I'm not going to worry about it, I'm just going to write.

Oh, but the laptop's pressing against my bladder and I have to go to the bathroom. Hold on.

(...)

I looked at myself in the mirror again, just like the other night when writing to you. You know the thing I'm most worried about with that photo I sent you tonight? My nose. Weird, huh? It's got a little bump in the middle of the ridge and I've just never liked that bump. When I was in junior high I used to imagine it looming out in front of me like a big circus balloon.

Anyway, my freshman year. I decide that losing my virginity would be that perfect symbolic ritual to usher me into my lagging womanhood that I need. So... ah hah. I spent the next few weeks doing some CAREFUL looking around, believe you me. It was so fascinating, once I actually made the decision. I was watching my male friends with exaggerated detail that month, the ones who I figured I could convince to sleep with me. I would watch the way they would raise their forks to their mouths and imagine it being my nipple, see if I could discern which one would put it in their mouths just the right way. I got obsessed with jeans that month, watching the, you know, the front and the back, seeing what was there, seeing what WASN'T there. Oh God, I'm sounding like a dirty old woman! I just was, you know, I got a little obsessed. And I didn't know whether a big penis would be better for the first time or a smaller one. And then I thought, "Well, if I lose my virginity with a big cock, will that ruin the pleasure if I end up dating a man with a smaller one? Will I constantly have that memory of being filled up, and is it actually better or is it a myth?" Who knew? I was a virgin! And no, I had never used dildos or anything at that point. Just... well, I just hadn't. Let's leave it at that.

Telling you this story and also thinking about this agreement we made tonight, the excitement and the quickness that I agreed to it, makes me realize something about myself -- I really do have an enlarged libido. I mean, I think I really do like sex more than most of my friends. Maybe that's why I agreed to do this in the first place. And maybe that's why I got obsessed with staring at men's crotches that month I decided to lose my virginity.

Anyway, I'm really straying from my story and I'm sorry. I picked a guy! His name was Todd* (actually, Todd really is his name, but I've always wanted to write one of those daring stories that has to change everyone's names and put a little asterick behind them). Anyway... can you tell I'm sleepy? Jesus, I get so stupid and loopy when I'm tired.
ANYWAY!!!

Here's what ultimately made me decide to pick Todd: one night my friends and I were coming home from a midnight showing of "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" and, of course, I was the only female in the group. And we're all walking across campus at 2:30 in the morning and most of my friends were yelling and running around, screaming "We are the Knights Who Say... Ni!" at the top of their lungs, how embarrassing (and BTW, this was also the night that I realized for the first time that I seriously did NOT want to present this kind of image of myself to the rest of the world anymore -- this loser geek with no social skills. But that's another story). And Todd's walking along by himself, not talking, and he stops at a bed of flowers on the quad and picks a tulip and keeps walking. And I'm all hopped up and feeling silly myself, so I say, "Oh, did you pick that for ME? Am I your GIRLFRIEND now?"

So Todd turns to me, real serious, and says, "Oh, did you want this flower?" and I say, "Well, I am your girlfriend, aren't I?" and he stops and I stop and we look at each other for a moment. Then he reaches out, takes my hands into his, sort of cups his hand around mine in a bowl, and places the flower inside my hands and gently curls my fingers around it. And he looks down at the ground, completely serious, and says, "Just promise me that you won't get mad at me when it dies." And then he walks off and catches up to the group. And it was right then that I realized that I wanted those gentle hands to be the ones grasping my body for the first time, that I wanted that man to be the first one ever inside me. Oh wow, it was just this real epiphanous moment, and it still sort of smacks me in the gut, thinking about it.

So of course I make the classic mistake that all virgins do, which is... but I just realized that this is a good stopping point and I'm getting so tired my eyelids are closing on me as I type (a little tip -- falling asleep with your laptop in bed? NOT a good idea. You can't roll over on top of it in the middle of the night like you can a paper notebook). Anyway, I'll continue tomorrow.

I'm thinking of you. I'm thinking of you right now. Maybe I'll dream about you tonight. MmM.

11:30 am. Sitting at the Starbucks at Belmont/Clark. God, what a wonderful day. I was beginning to think that March didn't produce any nice days any more. I'm sipping on a Grande Mocha Frappacino Ah, what are you going to do, right?

So, to continue the story... I made the classic virgin mistake, which is to believe that if I plan the evening down to the last detail, that the evening itself will go along with the plan and the entire experience will be this wonderful, romantic moment that we all want it to be. Wrong-o.

The Plan was that I was going to innocently 'bump' into Todd and tell him that I just got some unexpected cash from relatives today and boy, wouldn't it be nice to actually eat at a real restaurant for once instead of this shitty cafeteria all the time, oh HEY, why don't we go, my treat? No, really, Todd, I insist, the money is specifically meant to be blown on something fun, okay? And then after dinner I was going to see maybe if he wanted to pick up a bottle of wine (every good collegetown has at least one liquor store that sells to minors) and then I had picked this park on the edge of town that I had scoped out and knew to be real quiet at night and I would oh-so-innocently guide us there and drink and talk and steer the conversation the right way. And then we'd walk back to the dorms and right before we got there, right at this tree that's about 50 feet away from the front doors, I would pull him over with the hand that was invariably locked into my hand and I would kiss him, full and hard, push him up against the tree, and I was going to say... well, I don't think I had decided. I couldn't decide whether to go with this real romantic "I want you to make love to me" or if it would be more reliable and sexy to say "I want you to FUCK me." And he would be unable to resist my wily charms (of course! ; ) ) and I would lead him up to my room, get out the condoms I had bought that day (yes, the image of me standing in the condom aisle of the convenience store looked just like one of those sappy but endearing coming-of-age movie scenes) and nature would take its course.

Oh, the best laid plans of mice and men...

Everything went fine up to the end of dinner. And then I started to get nervous. Really nervous. REALLY NERVOUS! It started occuring to me that he wouldn't necessarily accept my proposition just because I was asking. Or God forbid, we get up to the room and I tell him this will be my first time (I wasn't about to do it without telling him that) and he gets freaked out or doesn't want to deflower someone and suddenly leaves! Oh God! What have I gotten myself into!

So I blurt out at the end of dinner, "Hey, you wanna go to Patty McAdams?" which was this bar near campus that was notorious for serving minors. And he sorta shrugged and said, "Yeah, sure," so the next thing I know, I'm in the middle of this crazy, loud, smoke-filled room that's completely packed with all these frat guys playing Quarters and getting shitfaced and fucking "Louie Louie" or "Monie Monie" or something was blaring out of the jukebox and there's four different baseball games being broadcast from 4 different TV's around the room. And I thought, "Where did this evening go wrong?" which made me drink more, and then I realized that I wasn't going to lose my virginity tonight, which got me really upset and made me wonder if I was EVER going to get up the courage, which made me start slamming beers.

And I got REALLY drunk and asked poor Todd to walk me home. And we got about halfway there and Todd asked me if he could hold my hand and suddenly, without warning, I just BURST into tears (all that beer, God) and my mouth started opening and closing of its own volition -- I was listening to myself talk and I couldn't do anything to stop it!

"And Todd I was going to get this wine and we were going to go to the park and shit it was going to be so romantic and shit and you see I'm still a virgin and I want to be rid of it so bad and you gave me that flower and am I really your girlfriend 'cause I really REALLY want to be your girlfriend I won't ever hate you when the flower dies really I just want you I want you to make love to me I really do oh I mean I want you to fuck me or I don't know I just want you to be my first..."

on and on, snot running down my nose, makeup streaking from the tears, oh it was just a nightmare. I mean, I laugh about it now, I'm laughing right in the middle of Starbucks, but man, it's still such a painful, embarrassing memory for me.

So get this -- Todd says that the other night when he picked the flower, he really DID pick it 'cause he wanted to give it to me, and he kind of freaked out when I said that exact thing to him. He's had a crush on me all year! I never knew. Well, I guess I did, or he wouldnt've made the short list of contenders, would he?

And I just start crying even harder and apologizing profusely for ruining the evening and he says I haven't ruined it at all, I've made it special and real, and God, my heart was about to break. Unfortunately, so was my liver, and Todd says he's going to take me upstairs and make sure that I get to bed all right, but we're up there and I whisper, "Don't leave, Todd, please don't leave, just sleep here in my bed tonight, please" so he does.

Still more story to go! I'm going to take a break and send an email to you.

3:00 pm. Sitting in Urbis Orbis, after just running all the way up and down the city in a matter of hours, playing wild goose chase with you. This whole afternoon's been really thrilling, like the first time you go to Six Flags without your parents and you suddenly realize that you have complete control over your activities and behavior, so you cut into all the lines and flirt with rollercoaster operators and blow 20 bucks at the arcade. Yeah!

Okay, I'll try to finish the story while I wait for you. The actual sex part was SO easy once it got to that. All that planning and worrying and fretting about whether I would be a horrible lover since it was my first time. And then in the real world, we both sort of woke up that morning and immediately started making out, and then before almost any effort had been made, we were both naked and I was pulling out a condom. That's the one lesson that should be taught in high school sex-ed classes that isn't -- "Ladies: it's not nearly as difficult as you think it's going to be."

There's a couple of specific memories I remember about Todd's cock before the actual sex itself started. First, of course, I was trying to determine its size without the benefit of sight, just by feeling it against my leg as we moved into the heavy-petting, getting-naked part of the foreplay. And I remember, I thought it FELT huge, but then I realized that I have no way to judge, it being the first cock I'd actually ever felt. And then I was dying to feel it in my hand, just dying, so I reached under the sheet and grabbed it, and even in my hand it felt huge. And oh boy, I just had to get a look at it, but didn't know at all how to broach the subject -- "Um, hey, Todd, you mind if I get a good, long look at your cock before slipping it in?" You know, I was 18, didn't occur to me that a man would get turned on by this question. But then I got the chance when Todd told me he wanted me to put the condom on him. So I DID get a good long look at it, and it seemed... "well, how the hell am I going to get that in me?" And in hindsight I realize now that it really wasn't that much bigger than average (sorry, Todd! ha-ha) but the only other penises I had seen was on accident, and they were always flaccid, had no idea that they got so... BIG.

And it's needless to say that I had no idea how to put a condom on, completely fucked it up, ruined two condoms before Todd finally said, "Let me," and slipped one on like a pro, which of course led me to other, more darker questions in my mind which I immediately tried to throw out, least I ruin the occasion.

Now, male friends of mine have asked me the following question before, so I imagine you might be curious too. They always ask, "Does it really hurt the first time for women? And if so, can you enjoy it whatsoever?" And I used to say, "Well, has anyone ever lost their virginity to you?" and most say "Yeah" and I say, "Well, did they say they liked it?" and they invariably say "Yeah, but I thought maybe she was bullshitting me to make me feel better."

So, in answer to the question... yes, of COURSE it hurt some, but yes, of COURSE I enjoyed it. And I really can't answer the question much better than that. The fact of the matter is that there's always a little tiny hint of that hurt, everytime you have sex after that point. There's always a little tiny bit of pain with sex... but Jesus, isn't that what makes it so GOOD?

Oh my God. I just took a little pause and read through what I've written. There is no way I can actually meet you today and still be able to give this letter to you. Oh my God. No way. I hope after you read this you understand.

7:20 pm. Back in my apartment, a couple hours after we had our final repartee on the subject of meeting. I really do think it's for the best that we don't meet right now -- I'm glad you understand why I think it would ruin the sponteneity of these letters if we did.

Not much story left. Todd and I dated for about 6 months (it's another thing to know about me -- I get kind of emotionally attached to people who really know how to push my sexual buttons... but really, who doesn't get attached to something like that?) but both the mental and spiritual angle turned out to be all wrong. Todd was happy living the Geek Lifestyle, and I was suddenly empowered with this newfound sense of sexuality and adulthood and wanted nothing to do with the geek life. I have many issues about how I treated my former geek friends in that time period. I really was an ass in many ways to them, and I still regret a lot of the things that I did.

Okay, that's the story of how Margaret lost her virginity. I hope you liked it.

The Mighty M.

p.s. I feel like I owe you something special for the extreme patience you showed me today when I ditched. So let me just tell you that earlier at Urbis Orbis, when I was said that I had just taken a break and read over the story? What I didn't mention is that I went into the bathroom and masturbated while doing so.
To: mmm@getty.com
From: tristan@worldcom.com
Date:3/13/97, 9:00 pm
Subj:Summer lovin'

I lost my virginity in the most truly cliche way known to humankind -- at summer camp when I was sixteen years old.

I attended a writing camp that summer, held in of all places, Mizzoula, Montana. It's one of the things I definitely have to give my parents credit for -- they went out of their way to support whatever weird/expensive creative jaunts I wanted to take when I was younger. So I heard about this special three week writing camp for teens where they basically locked you away and everyone wrote and swam and wrote and ate and wrote and walked in the woods and wrote some more. Sounded like just my cup of tea.

When I arrived, I realized that it was just like the brochure had made it sound -- out in the middle of these rustic surroundings, just this view that expanded all around you, fresh air, God, it was so inspiring. I wrote so much while I was out there, jumped so far ahead in my abilities. I heartily recommend camps for teenage writers.

It's funny, because sex was the last thing on my mind when I headed out there. I had spent the last school year being on-again, off-again with this girl named Mary, and she couldn't make up her mind whether or not to have sex -- we would start petting pretty heavily and then she would back out at the last second. This happened all year long, and I was pretty sick of it, being the sixteen-year-old that I was. And so I was envisioning Montana as this place where I could just get away from Mary and the entire issue for awhile and just concentrate on my writing.

What I hadn't counted on was meeting Leah. Leah was a seventeen-year-old (an older woman!) who was from New Haven, Conn., also in for the camp. Leah used to sit in the back of the discussion groups, wearing her sunglasses indoors, which impressed the hell out of me. She wrote these stories about lives I couldn't imagine -- rough n tumble kids and loose sex and drinking, etc.

I was fairly intimated by Leah and couldn't get up the courage to talk to her. But lo and behold, Leah was the one who initiated conversation with ME! She just walked right up to me one day in the cafeteria, plunked her tray down across the table from me, sat down and said, "You know, about ninety percent of the work being done here is complete bullshit. You're in the ten percent that's good, and I'm determined to hang out with those people. Hi," and she stuck out her hand, "I'm Leah."

And that's how it started. Leah and I started hanging out more and more, and then I ended up becoming pretty good friends with the "ten percenters" (as she called them) that she had sort of culled together. I mean, she was right, the people she collected together really were the best writers at that camp, it just never really occured to any of the rest of us to consciously meet and become friends with each other.

Leah got me into the habit of sneaking out past curfew -- she'd come by my window and let out this really stupid, fake meow that would make me laugh (a Tom Sawyer reference that was a little inside joke between us), and we'd go down to this lake right by the cabins and just hang out and talk until two, three in the morning. Oh, and she got me smoking cigarettes for the first time, too. And I guess about halfway through camp, one night I asked her if I could kiss her and she said, "I was wondering how long it was going to take you."

Leah was literally unlike anyone I had met before -- she had this weird split personality. One minute she could be virbrant and charming and optimistic and just make you laugh and laugh, but then the next minute she could flip, and suddenly she had so much of the weight of the world on her shoulders, really way more weight than a seventeen-year-old should be allowed to have. She used to talk about how she felt she was predestined to be an artist, and how the predetermination had already ruined her life, before she ever got to live it. I didn't really know what she was talking about, but just listening to her was the important thing.

So our make-out sessions kept up during the rest of the camp, and the very last night before we all left, she showed up and gave out her usual meow, but when I came out, she had a blanket and a little paper bag with her. She put her hand in the bag and showed me a little peek of a vodka bottle, and then ran off towards the lake.

I ran down after her, and she had pushed one of the canoes out, and was throwing everything in. And I said, "What's the blanket for?" and she looked at me and said, "What do you THINK it's for?" and she smiled and I realized at that moment that I was losing my virginity that night.

The sex itself was unremarkable, except for the pleasant fact that I lasted longer than I thought I would -- I had always assumed that the first time I had sex, I would be so excited that I would pretty much put it in and be done -- but this was not to be the case. And when we finished, she lied down next to me and started crying, really softly, almost so I couldn't hear it. And I asked what was wrong, and she said, "Nothing's wrong. That's just the first time I've ever had sex." And I didn't know what to say, it was just such a shock. I mean, she put off all this attitude to everyone and really took such charge of the situation, not to mention, like I said, she was always writing these stories about teens having sex and so I just assumed, you know? And she put my hand on her stomach and she said, "Your soul's inside me now. I didn't realize that was going to happen."

Leah and I maintained a sort of semi-regular contact for a couple of years -- once every four or five months. And then when I was maybe nineteen, I suddenly lost all contact with her. I had no idea what had happened, and I thought about her a lot for a number of years. And then when I was twenty-three, I suddenly got a letter in the mail from her from New York, this huge letter about how she had moved to Manhattan and gotten really in over her head and got involved with heroin and thought for a point that she was going to die, and then she got into recovery and completely turned her life around and started writing seriously again. Since then, we've maintained regular contact, and have actually seen each other a couple of times when she's been in Chicago. And now that I have e-mail, we've been writing on and off to each other recently.

I'm telling you, Margaret, I've had better sex since then and I've loved other women more passionately than I did Leah. But I will never, the rest of my life, ever be able to completely recapture the magic of that night. It was so... perfect, so just like what everyone's virginity loss should be like and can never be. And the older I get, the more blessed I feel like I am to have had a night like that.

Well, that's it. I'll talk to you later. Eric.

p.s. Leah was right about the "ten percenters." Out of the eight or nine of us in the little circle, almost every single one of us has gone on to have a career in writing, either novels or poetry or journalism. Leah was actually the first of us to get published -- it's why she wrote that original long letter from New York, to tell me that her first novel was coming out. It was called "Cemetary Gates," about a group of death-obsessed high school Smiths groupies in New Jersey and all the fucked up things that happen to them during the '80s. It actually turned out to be a pretty popular novel, and she's gone on to publish two more books since then.

Okay, NOW that's it. Eric.
To:tristan@worldcom.com
From:mmm@getty.com
Date:3/13/97, 9:52 pm
Subj:You're my hero
Jesus Christ, Eric, are you telling me that you lost your virginity to Leah Johnson? I LOVE Leah Johnson! We were completely enthralled with "Cemetary Gates" at school -- remember, I used to BE a death-obsessed Smiths groupie! We used to quote that book to each other all the time, and I actually stood in line fo r a half-hour once just to get her autograph! Jesus Christ, I can't BELIEVE you!

Well, I just feel like an idiot now. Your story was so romantic and beautiful and so nicely-written and mine was just this crude, dirty little story about dicks. I just feel like an idiot. Oh wait, I said that already.

Wait, I'm remembering that there's a section in her novel where two of the characters call out to each other by yelling these fake meows. Was that about YOU? Wow, you amaze me more and more. I hate you. M.

p.s. I'm just kidding.

p.p.s. No, I'm not.
To: mmm@getty.com
From: tristan@worldcom.com
Date:3/13/97, 10:07 pm
Subj:No, you're MY hero

Boy, you really don't get it, do you?

I wanted to write a dirty, graphic story like yours, but I was AFRAID to. I'm still trying to feel you out and figure out what kind of stuff you want to hear, and I figured it would be best to err on the side of caution. Besides, how can you say your letter doesn't have romance or beauty? What about the flower and the hands curled around it? And don't you realize how charming the whole 'getting nervous and end up getting plowed and then confessing everything' is?

You have a pretty pronounced problem with looking at yourself in negative terms. It flavors just about every letter I get from you. You need to relax! I wouldn't be corresponding with you if I didn't like you. Believe me, I ENJOY your letters.

Tell you what -- to set your mind at ease, let me pull up a short dirty memory and send it. While you're waiting, feel free to tell me more about your little bathroom experience at Urbis Orbis today, hmm-hmm.

Give me twenty min... Eric.

p.s. Yeah, that section in "Cemetary Gates" is about me. She told me that the memory of that month in Montana was one of the things she held onto really tightly during her detox period in NY, and gave her the strength sometimes to go on. There's other hidden things about me in her other books, too, but I won't go into it. It's cool, though, isn't it? You have every right to hate me -- I'd hate me if I was someone else, too.
To:tristan@worldcom.com
From:mmm@getty.com
Date:3/13/97, 10:10 pm
Subj:A quick one
Instead of sending another memory, write a little note about the photo of me that you got last night. I'd like to hear what you think.

There's not much to my Urbis story, but I'll write it anyway.

Margaret.
To:tristan@worldcom.com
From:mmm@getty.com
Date:3/13/97, 10:20 pm
Subj:Air guitar at the coffeehouse
Basically, I got really horny while I was writing my story today, and it was really unusual. It's literally been years since I've gotten turned on by relating my virginity story. I guess it's the whole thing of telling someone new. Well, and I've never really told it in such detail before, either. Plus there's this unspoken but definite sexuality in the air between us right now, nest pas?

So I went into the bathroom and had a quickie with myself! Yo-ho-ho! When I was in college my female friends and I got into this really stupid habit of calling masturbation "playing the air guitar," all stemming from this one day at the student union when we wanted to talk about it in front of this boy but didn't want the boy to know we were talking about it. And the term kind of stuck as this little joke, and now I catch myself using it to this day.

Although I have to admit that I kind of like the acronym you came up with -- , typing with one hand -- from your original list of computer shortcuts. It pretty much describes it to a T, doesn't it? You know, I kept looking at that one when I first got your list. The volume of unspoken thoughts it implies is immense.

I have several different ways of masturbating, but that's such a large subject that I should leave it for its own letter another night. Let's just say I was utilizing "Position 4" in the bathroom today.

Okay, still waiting... tick tick tick
To: mmm@getty.com
From: tristan@worldcom.com
Date:3/13/97, 10:33 pm
Subj:Staring at a blurry photo

I'd be happy to give you my thoughts on your photo. BTW, tell me about this "Quickcam" thing. I assume it's some sort of fancy digital camera that puts pictures on a disc that you can stick into your computer. Another toy from work?

So the first thing I notice (I have your photo open on the screen as I type) is that your hair doesn't REALLY look like Rachel's on "Friends." It's shorter, bobbier. The next thing I notice is that you have these completely mesmerizing eyes. You said they were light blue, but in this black and white photo I have, they're like a piercing white, just these electrifying white eyes that seem like they're jumping out of the photo and looking at me.

You have this shy little subtle smile on your face, like you know a secret that I don't. Very cute.

I can see the light from your laptop glowing on your face. It gives the photo this professional look, like it's a scene from a movie with complicated mood lighting.

I can see a hint of curvature of your breasts under your grey t-shirt. It's very very very very very very very nice.

You have a thousand page book sitting next to your computer that's titled "The Complete Guide to Premiere." And I don't even know what Premiere is.

You have a GIANT Jeff Koons poster on the wall right behind you, a photo of his metal "blow-up bunny" sculpture. Really cool. It's, like, seven feet tall! Where did you get that?

I can't tell that much else -- the photo's not the best quality. You don't look like the mental image I had had in my head from your description. But while usually that's a bad thing, this time it's not -- I find myself very physically attracted to you, going hand in hand with this complete mental crush that I have.

Well, I think I better go. I've done nothing this entire weekend but either talk to you or write on a story to SEND to you. I feel like, since it's Sat night, I have a moral obligation to go out and spend at least a LITTLE time physically dealing with humanity.

For next time... instead of answering the same question, how 'bout we ask each other different questions that we want to know? If you agree, then you ask first, in your next letter. I'll wait around for it, then send my question, and then I am Audi here.

Eric.
To:tristan@worldcom.com
From:mmm@getty.com
Date:3/13/97, 10:52 pm
Subj:You mean there's PEOPLE out there?!
Oh yeah, that's right, I can actually go out and SPEAK to people and see their lips move. I've been more of a loser than normal this weekend -- I should probably go out too.

That was a great letter you sent about my photo. I could recognize the same writing style that I see in "JuiceBox," and made me realize all over again that I'm collecting personal letters being written to me from an author.

Quickcams aren't nearly as elitist and expensive as you're thinking. It's basically a little lens that plugs directly into your computer, and the lens is embedded into a little ball that comes with a little stand. It turns your computer into a camcorder -- okay, a cheepie, black and white camcorder, but oh, it's so cool to play with. And they only cost 50 bucks! You should go down to MicroCenter and get one so you can send photos to me too. In fact, you should just go down to MicroCenter just on principle.

GOD BLESS MICROCENTER!
I HEART THE MICROCENTER!
GEEK MECCA!

Anyway. The poster was made for the "Documenta" show he was (not) in a couple of years ago, when he had the big show down the street and had that giant topiary dog on the front lawn of the museum. I don't know how much you keep up with cont. art, but if you recognized Jeff Koons, I'm assuming you know about the dog and Documenta. A friend of mine was in Germany last year and bought the poster for me at the museum store.

Okay, I'm up for asking different questions. Do I get to ask you two questions?

1. Tell me some masturbation incident from YOUR past. Your choice.

2. What's the sexiest thing one of your lovers has ever done to you?

BTW&BTW, I did know a secret that you didn't when I took that photo. I was completely naked from the waist down.

Sweet dreams,
margaret
To: mmm@getty.com
From: tristan@worldcom.com
Date:3/13/97, 11:01 pm
Subj:Naughty girl

Well, well. And that's all I'm going to say.

Okay, I'll answer those questions. Here are my two questions for you:

1) Now that I've heard your hetero virginity story, tell me the story of losing your lesbian virginity.

2) You mentioned very early on in our correspondence:

>>> Since I am very choosy and discriminate about the
>>> homosexual part of my life, I have ended up having for
>>> the most part very fulfilling, very happy relationships
>>> with women (with one notable exception >> another RAIN>).

So, I'm calling in my hall pass. Let's hear the story of the notable exception.

Eric.

p.s. Did you end up dreaming about me last night like you thought you might?




4
To: mmm@getty.com
From: tristan@worldcom.com
Date:3/14/97, 3:50 pm
Subj:Let's see if this works

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Okay, I went down to the Micro Center today. You weren't kidding, it really is nerd nirvana down there. I'm new to computers and even I ended up spending about two hours there. So much shit everywhere! And so cheap!

I picked up "Monopoly" on CD-ROM, a Mac Secrets book, a Dilbert mousepad (how funny is THAT strip?) and... a Quickcam! I've been playing with it for an hour now -- I CAN'T STOP TAKING PICTURES OF MYSELF! I know exactly what you meant now. It's so addictive.

So, I tooled around with my e-mail, actually broke down and read the manual, and I think I figured out how to attach photos. So here it goes... tell me if you get it.

Eric
To: tristan@worldcom.com
From: mmm@getty.com
Date: 3/14/97, 5:04 pm
Subj: Hooray for the MicroCenter

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What a pleasant surprise -- come home, log on to find a new picture of Eric! You look a little different than your book photo -- your hair's longer. It's also strange to have an entire mental image of you from your face full on and then suddenly seeing a photo of you with your face in semi-profile.

Okay, you got me playing with my Quickcam now. Here's another photo.
To: mmm@getty.com
From: tristan@worldcom.com
Date: 3/14/97, 5:12 pm
Subj: another one

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Aha!
To: tristan@worldcom.com
From: mmm@getty.com
Date: 3/14/97, 5:15 pm
Subj: Top this

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To: mmm@getty.com
From: tristan@worldcom.com
Date: 3/14/97, 5:19 pm
Subj: Okay

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To: tristan@worldcom.com
From: mmm@getty.com
Date: 3/14/97, 5:23 pm
Subj: This is getting ridiculous

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To: mmm@getty.com
From: tristan@worldcom.com
Date: 3/14/97, 5:27 pm
Subj: Hey...

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Send me another picture of yourself.
To: tristan@worldcom.com
From: mmm@getty.com
Date: 3/14/97, 5:31 pm
Subj: How's this?

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To: mmm@getty.com
From: tristan@worldcom.com
Date: 3/14/97, 5:35 pm
Subj: I mean your whole body

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To: tristan@worldcom.com
From: mmm@getty.com
Date: 3/14/97, 5:39 pm
Subj: Like this?

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To: mmm@getty.com
From: tristan@worldcom.com
Date: 3/14/97, 5:43 pm
Subj: Yes

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BTW, did you have the same experience that I had? About ten minutes after I got the thing plugged in, my immediate first desire was to take a bunch of dirty photos of myself. You know... because I can! No pimply-faced Fotomat employees rubbing their grubby fingers over your shots. It's just, like, boom, there's the camera and there's the photo, no middleman.

Oh, Horatio, beware the electronic age...

Eric
To: tristan@worldcom.com
From: mmm@getty.com
Date: 3/14/97, 5:47 pm
Subj: Oh, you mean like one of these

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To: mmm@getty.com
From: tristan@worldcom.com
Date: 3/14/97, 5:51 pm
Subj: Holy shit

I can't believe you just sent that. Maybe we should pause for a moment and think about this -- it could get kind of weird.

Eric
To: tristan@worldcom.com
From: mmm@getty.com
Date: 3/14/97, 5:53 pm
Subj: DID I JUST SEND THAT?

Jesus Christ, what am I doing? It's like I lose all sense of rational thought when I'm around you and just throw myself into the wind.

Okay, yeah, let's ssslllooowww down.

MMM.

p.s. You gotta send me a dirty one too, though, to balance the score.
To: mmm@getty.com
From: tristan@worldcom.com
Date: 3/14/97, 5:57 pm
Subj: You asked for it

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I suddenly understand why you sent that photo -- that was just maybe one of the most exciting things I've ever done. My heart is literally racing from sending you that picture I just did. Wow.

I'm going to go now.

Eric

p.s. I'll send my story tonight.

t
w
o
h

!
To: tristan@worldcom.com
From: mmm@getty.com
Date: 3/14/97, 8:56 pm
Subj: I've been thinking too much

I've been sitting here thinking all evening about those photos we exchanged this afternoon. And I've come to some weird conclusions. Or rather, I've come up with some weird questions I can't find answers to.

Why IS it so easy for me to do stuff like that with you? You have to understand, you really do, that I'm like this with almost no one else, CERTAINLY have never been like this with any of my other e-friends. About the only times I've approached this casualness have been with lovers. And we're not lovers.

Are we?

This is what I mean by weird questions. Let's examine this, as I have obsessively been. It's undoubtable that we have a really solid mental connection going on right now. I mean, can we deny this because it's over a medium that's one-step-removed? Perhaps. Perhaps my whole argument is blown away right there. But let's assume for the moment that interactive words on a page are enough to establish a mental connection.

And I think it's obvious that we're establishing a physical connection, although that's REALLY up for grabs in the "shades of grey" department. I'm obviously physically attracted to you and you the same to me... but over photographs? And where does that line exist where you can definitively say that the physical connection exists? Do we have to sleep together? Well then, what about those people who are plutonic friends yet have an incredible sexual tension hang between them (and God, if I could have a dime for every time that's happened to me). You CAN'T deny that there's a physical connection there, but THEY'RE not sleeping together.

I guess it boils down to the definition of a relationship again. Maybe I should stop looking at it in a "whole ball of wax" scenario and break it down like your ex-girlfriend. Spiritually... well, I don't know, I still haven't figured out how to judge that aspect. Physically, nothing. But mentally... my God, we're like Henry and June right now, it seems. Anything goes. We're like two 19 year olds who just lost their virginities -- we just seem to keep fucking and fucking, every day, all day long.

I don't know what any of this means. I've been thinking about it WAY too much (and I made a pot of coffee and drank the whole damn thing, which doesn't help whatsoever). In fact, I'm overanalyzing it so much that sometimes I forget what I was thinking about in the first place.

Anyway. Me rambling.

I can't answer your second question, about the notable exception. It was too soon in the recent past and I still have a lot of bad feelings associated with it. I'm just not ready to talk about it, sorry. Feel free to ask another question if you want.

I'm still mulling over the first question. I think I told you before that I've never discussed my lesbianism with a man. It was always something I reserved for my own femininity. But now that I'm thinking about it, maybe a male perspective would not be such a bad thing. I guess I'm worried about a man taking the stories the wrong way or trying to make me feel guilty or bad about it, which I don't and never will. Hmm, let me think about it.

Wow, sorry for this weird rambling letter. Let it go, Margaret, let it go...

p.s. You have a nice penis.
To: mmm@getty.com
From: tristan@worldcom.com
Date: 3/14/97, 10:33 pm
Subj: answers

Just got on my email to send you my responses and found your letter. A lot to think about, which of course I haven't done yet. Let me send this and mull over your most recent letter a bit and write tonight or tomorrow.

BTW... you have stupendous breasts.

(written last night, 2 to 4 a.m.)

Hey, guess who's drunk!

I called my friend Aaron and we went out to JoyBlue tonight, this really cool bar at Irving Park and Southport, you ever been there? And we got loaded. It was surreal being around all those people -- every time I said something out loud, I kept imagining the words in my head and how they would look as an e-mail. god, how horrible.

Aaron made me think about something tonight that hadn't occured to me. I told him about this thing that's going on between you and me (don't worry, I left out any and all specifics about who you are) and he was COMPLETELY cyncial about it. And I was laughing about our wild goose chase today and he said, "What, you get this e-mail from her and suddenly you go traipsing off after her?" and I stopped smiling and said, "Well... yeah..." and he said, "Did it ever occur to you that she might have been completely fucking with you? It could have been so easy for her to sit in her apartment the entire time, sending you to one ghost coffeehouse after another, just sitting back and laughing at you." And I was like... hmm. Well, it DIDN'T occur to me -- there was never any doubt in my mind that you really were running all over town just like me. And then I thought I had a good comeback to Aaron, I said, "Well, she doesn't know, either. I could have been sitting in MY apartment, faking like I was running around the city too." And Aaron just looked at me and said, "Let me get this straight. You spent the entire afternoon sending e-mails back and forth talking about chasing each other across town, when the truth of the matter is that you might have both been sitting in your apartments, making the whole thing up? And neither of you would've known?" And then he squinted at me and yelled, "What the FUCK are you doing! LOOK at yourself, Eric!"

And I don't mean to tell you all this as a way of accusing you of doing that, faking it all. And I don't mean to tell you all this as a way of admitting that I faked it all. The reason I bring it up is because... I've always been bothered by something. After that story you told me about your stalker, it's always bothered me that you would get so involved in your e-mail again. I just couldn't understand how someone could go through such a scary experience yet go on to trade the type of letters you've been trading with me now.

And now, after Aaron's outburst, I finally get it, I finally understand. You got back on your e-mail for the same reason that I recklessly ran across the city all day looking for you and never considering the idea that it was a sham -- because WE MUST PUT TRUST IN OURSELVES TO THRIVE. If you abandoned intimate e-mail after your experience, it would be just as bad as a rape victim never dating again -- you are GIVING IN TO YOUR FEAR, letting it consume you, letting it run your life instead of the other way around.

We must learn to make intelligent decisions to survive in the world, but we must also learn to put trust in our intelligent decisions -- we must learn how to tell when we've made a decision that's right, or else we'll never know when we've made the WRONG decision. Sure, we ARE wrong sometimes, but those are the crucial lessons we need to get better at it. I ran around today because I believed in you, I trusted in my judgment that you really were running around and not yanking my chain. You send me the letters you do because you believe in ME, you trust in your OWN judgment that you've sized up the situation and CAN trust me.

The internet itself is not inherently evil, and it will not lead to the downfall of civilization. After all, heavy metal didn't, and neither did Dungeons and Dragons, or the Beatles, or Elvis, or flappers, or bibles written in English... all things that have been accused of being the harbingers of apocolypse at one time or another. Sure, a lot of people have gotten really fucked over by each of these things, but it's OUR DECISIONS. We MUST empower ourselves. We MUST take control of our decisions and learn to realize when they are the right ones, and realize that when, for example, we think we hear Judas Priest telling us to kill ourselves, then that is the WRONG decision.

Since I made this realization, I've gotten A LOT more comfortable with your position and my position in this correspondence that we have.

So, enough of that. On with the dirty stories!

I have two masturbation stories and I just can't decide which one to tell you. Oh hell, I'm drunk -- I'll tell 'em both! One's about the first time I ever masturbated in front of someone else, and the other one's about the one and only time I've ever masturbated in front of another man.

Even though I became sexually active in high school, I never jerked off for someone until college. Hmm, my sexual activites in HS were pretty much just the straightest most normal stuff you could ever imagine. And then I dated Ann!

Ann was the person who ushered in the first of my tender steps into kinkiness. Ann was an artist! A painter! A not very good painter! Oh, I kid. Ann was cool -- she'd drink Mad Dog and smoke cigars with us and we thought that was just so kick ass.

So Ann and I were dating (I'll skip over everything else and get to the story) and one night we were fooling around and she was playing with my penis and then she sat up and said something like, "Jerk off for me." And I said, "wha'?" and she told me that one of the things that gets her almost more excited than just about anything else is watching a man masturbate. It went so far into her psyche, in fact, that she actually owned a videotape, a gay porn tape of beefy guys jerking off. "Come on," she said, and if I remember correctly, she sat on one of my legs and rubbed her clitoris against my knee. "Come on, jerk off for me."

So I did. And my god, I never had any idea how incredibly sexy something like that could be, how much better it is than those thousands of times I had done it for no audience. It just added this whole exhibitionism/voyeurism angle to it all that I found so compelling.

There are different reasons to be excited when you jerk off for someone else. At first, when you first start, it's just the fact that you have an audience, and you keep peeking at them to see if they're watching you, and when you see that they're staring at your dick, you lose all concentration and any sexual energy towards orgasm you had built up is suddenly dissipated again.

Well, I guess Ann had watched enough men jerk off in her life to realize that this happens, so the next thing I know, she's pulled out a bottle of lubrication and she's glopping it all over my dick, just everywhere. And in this husky voice she whispers, "Now ram it, up and down. Use your whole fist."

I should explain that I have my own unique ways for masturbating, like you. There was this fascinating Hite report a couple of years ago, explaining the six most popular ways that men jerk off. Oh man, I've got it in a box somewhere in this apartment, I'll have to find it tomorrow so I can send it to you. Anyway, it's like, "stroke with up and down motion with entire fist," "rub hips against stationary object in sexual thrusts," blah blah, like that. But one of them is to grab the foreskin between two fingers and rub it between your fingers vigorously, like if you're making the slang sign language for "lots of money." God, does that make ANY sense whatsoever? Basically, the system of nerves in the penis is remarkably like the vagina -- almost all the pleasure nerves are concentrated in a little tiny area, like the clitoris. For a man, it's right underneath the glans, on the underside of the penis. Dr. Barnes to the rescue!

And so, for some reason I don't know why, that's how I learned how to masturbate when I was a kid. I don't know, couldn't tell you. Can anyone tell you why they started masturbating the way they did? I've known some pretty weird masturbation edicts -- a female friend in school told me once that she could ONLY get an orgasm by sitting straight up on her knees -- another guy I knew could ONLY masturbate to orgasm by rubbing his dick, hands-free, against a pillow. Who knows.

Anyway, this is how I learned how to masturbate, which is what made the sudden fist action so fucking exciting, because I wasn't used to it. And there's my dick, right out there in the air, just GLEAMING in the night's small light with all that gel all over it, my fist gleaming from the gel too, and you know, I'm squeezing my fist around my dick, so the blood isn't dissipating but bunching up at the head, so my dick's suddenly HUGE, the biggest I've ever seen it (and don't let a man tell you any differently, we ALL have unhealthy narcassistic tendencies with our penii). So then you start forgetting about the other person, and the joy of masturbation becomes the JOY of MASTURBATION, like always.

And then I'm starting to get near my orgasm, I can feel it starting to swell at the base of my scrotum, and Ann suddenly leans in, cups her hand around my balls, leans her head against my hip and starts whispering, "On my neck. Come on my neck. Come on baby, I want you to come all over my neck." It was HER fetish, I guess. But unfuckingbelievable to me, this little eighteen year old who had NEVER seen a woman act this way, talk this way, who could just come out so plainly with their own weird little idiosynchracities like there was nothing unusual going on at all. And I guess later in life I learned that there is INDEED nothing unusual going on, because we all have these weird little things that really turn us on even when it might not turn anyone else on.

Anyway, I'll let you in on another secret from the world of men -- the more excited we are, the further the come shoots. Or did you know that already? So you can just imagine. My orgasm finally gets to the head of my penis, and it just starts coming out everywhere -- I've come all over her neck and it's in her hair, across her nose, on her cheek. And it was the first time I had ever done anything remotely so kinky (to me). Certainly not the last. Thanks, Ann!

Okay, so now the time I jerked off in front of another man. Oh God, no, wait, wait, jesus, I've got to stop and jerk off right now, right this very second, I'm so fucking horned up from that story!

Okay, much better. Is that weird, BTW, to stop in the middle of the letter and say, "Oh wait, I've got to jerk off first?"

Okay, so the time I jerked off with a man. This is much later, perhaps four or five years later, in fact, now that I think about it.

Oh, and I should explain some things for you to understand this story, namely that I've never slept with a man, but I have had enough gay people around in my life that I've considered the possibility (it's just another by-product of running in artistic circles) (and I'm not saying it as this weird justification of discrimination -- "Some of my best friends are gay!" I'm just explaining the facts, ma'am, as you would put it). You know, I've thought about the idea of having sex with a man and in theory, it doesn't seem like such a horrible idea. But I've just never met a man who I'd like to have sex with.

But... I have this unhealthy fascination with penises, like I said. And I get really turned on looking at them. The pornography that I own, it's never just women posing by themselves -- it's always actual hardcore pornography of people actually having sex. I just can't get that excited unless the pictures also involve a penis somehow, in a woman's vagina or mouth or hand or anus. Well, it's something to know about me.

So I have this collection of hardcore pornography, like I told you, magazines and videotapes. I'm not sure if

Actually, I just realized that my pornography story is long enough to fill its own letter, so I'll wait. For the purposes of this story, you only need to know that I have a rather large stack of magazines.

So I had this friend, Jim, one of my oldest friends on campus, met almost our first day our freshmen years. And Jim and I had been through a lot together, a lot of relationships, a lot of drunken nights. And this entire masturbation story is not completely without its precedents -- Jim and I were both dating our sophomore years and one night the four of us ended up really drunk and all went back to my dorm room, and Jim and his girlfriend started making out on one bed and me and my girlfriend on the other, and I think Jim and I were both thinking of steering the night into sex, in which case we both would have seen each others' penises, so I think we both knew all along that it wouldn't be so bad to be naked in front of each other. BTW the women chickened out and Jim and his girlfriend went home that night.

The point of my story is that Jim used to come over and hang at my apartment, and sometimes when there was nothing to do or it was raining outside or whathaveyou, Jim used to say, "Hey, let's look at your porn" and we used to sit around and flip through my stack of magazines.

God, it used to be excrutiating. Here I was, looking at picture after picture of people fucking, and I couldn't even get near my own penis. I've never understood the entire point of bachelor parties or stag nights, where a whole group of men sit around and watch porn tapes. I thought the entire point of pornography was to jerk off to it, not sit around and passively watch it!

So, this would happen -- Jim and I would sit around and look at magazines every so often, and I would get hornier and hornier, and eventually he'd leave and I would frantically masturbate as fast as I could, or else I would just get too horned up and go into the bathroom and jerk off while he was still there. And you know, Jim was known to have his share of bathroom trips too.

And one day I just got sick of it, and I plopped my magazine down and I said, "Look. Jim. This is ridiculous. We both want to jerk off, you know it, I know it, so, you know... let's, just... you know." And Jim looked up in the air for a few seconds, and then laughed and said, "Yeah, I guess you're right."

And neither of us looked at each other, and I said, "Well... okay." And then THAT, of course, is when I got nervous. So I unzipped my pants and just took my dick out just far enough so I could rub it, and I kept a magazine in front of me, you know, trying to jerk off with one hand and keep the magazine up vertical in front of me with the other hand and still trying to turn the pages. And it occured to me, what am I going to do when I get to the last page?

But then, of course, I start building towards my climax and I start getting more and more daring, so at the end of the magazine I decide to just put it down so that Jim will get a theoretical first view. So I do and I glance over at Jim for the first time, and he's just got his dick right out in front of him, jerking away, using his whole fist. And Margaret... he had the BIGGEST DICK I'd ever seen with my own eyes. Okay, I haven't seen a lot of dicks with my own eyes, but it was big, that's my point.

At first Jim is into it and he's got his eyes closed, but after a moment he opens them and notices that he can see me now. He says, "You masturbate different than me" and I look down at myself and say, "Yeah, I do." And once that public acknowledgement was made, suddenly it seemed like just the most natural thing in the world to watch each other jerk off, and we soon lost the pretense of the magazines altogether and just sat there and jerked off for each other, provided the live porn for each others' viewing pleasures.

At a certain point, Jim said, "Do you have any lubrication?" and I said "Sure, hold on a second," and got up, walked into the bathroom, grabbed my tube, came back into the room with my dick bobbing up and down in front of me. By the time I got back, Jim was standing up too, and he took the bottle from me, said, "Thanks," smeared gel all over himself. Then before I could do anything, he took the tube and squirted gel all over my dick, too, saying, "Here, let me get that" and I said, "Thanks" and he said "no problem." And neither of us mentioned it, but we both ended up standing there, starting to jerk off again, both standing up leaning with one shoulder against the wall, facing each other about a foot apart.

And I remember how strange it was to see a man's face as they approached orgasm, 'cause I had never seen one, not even mine. We're a lot sillier looking than you women are when nearing climax -- frowning and huffing and puffing. And here's the part that was the most exciting, that got me the horniest of it all -- right when he getting really near his orgasm, Jim reached his hand out and steadied himself on my shoulder, as if he was about to fall over.

My orgasm itself was like suddenly turning on a faucet -- I mean, I don't usually have much control over WHEN I'm going to come, it just sort of comes when it wants to, but as I'm standing there jerking off, getting my dick closer and closer to Jim's, Jim suddenly starts spurting, without any warning, just bucking his hips and sperm starting to fly, and something about it just suddenly and immediately makes me start having my orgasm. I don't know, synchronized coming or something. And we're both so completely lost in our orgasms at this point that we're not paying any attention, and about ten seconds later we open our eyes to see that we have both ended up grabbing each others' neck with our free hands, and that we're standing literally about three or four inches apart now, and that we've inadvertedly sprayed ALL OVER EACH OTHER, my hand and dick and balls and thighs are covered in Jim's sperm and he mine, and Jim looks at it and says, "Oh shit. Sorry." And I say, "No, no, it's fine, don't worry about it. You need a change of clothes?" and Jim says, "No, I'll just clean up in the bathroom and leave my shirt untucked." And then right before he goes to the bathroom, he reaches up with the hand that's been on my shoulder, he grasps the back of my head, and he clunks our foreheads together, laughs, and walks away. And it was this perfect little capper to the whole thing, 'cause there we were, we had just gone through a simultaneous orgasm, a really intense one, and we're both afterglowing it pretty hard, you know, I'm used to curling up with a woman right after an orgasm and just sort of trying to lose myself in her and here we are, just had this serious moment, and what do we do now? And clunking foreheads made me sort of get back into the here and now, made me laugh about it and not take it so seriously.

And Jim and I stayed friends after that, but we never jerked off together again. In fact, he never asked to see my porn again, and I never brought it up as an option. Maybe we both realized that we could never top that incident.

Ugh, I'm all typed out. Your second question is going to have to wait for another time.






 

 



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