by Evil Wombat
The day Ralph Dieters purchased his computer his intentions were pure. He did not expect to become a big, fat liar. Honesty was important to him, as a writer. He felt fiction could only rise to greatness if it were written with truth. This made little sense, at least to anyone aside from him, but he would state it with great fervor every chance afforded him.
"The computer will be ready later today," he told his neighbor, a woman of Irish descent, who was easily in her mid-eighties. Every day he would speak to her, Mrs. O'Fannen, because he felt this was what a neighbor should do.
When he finally lugged the two thousand-dollar monstrosity home, up the stairs, into his attic office, he was concerned he wouldn't be able to put it together..
After several phone calls to the entity known as Tech Help, he reached the final stage. It was time to push The Button.
The machine pushed on him by the horse-like salesperson at Best Buy featured One Touch Internet Access. Ralph gazed cautiously at The Button that provided this mystical feature; much the way his ancestors nervously approached the snapping, angry-sounding, bright flames of fire thousands of years earlier.
Ralph Dieters would be the first person to tell you that being Ralph Dieters was not easy. He would not be the last. Working with Ralph Dieters was not easy, nor was living next-door to him, nor even selling him a computer. Ralph Dieters was not an easy man, in any sense. His work, which was his only passion, was demanding, or so he believed. Editors and coworkers at the syndication agency would disagree, claiming that being paid large sums of money for nothing more than spouting your opinion on any and all subjects was a goddamned cakewalk.
Ralph Dieters did not see anything as easy, but he did divide everything into two groups: true and false. This included statements, situations, opinions and even people.
In his mind, Mrs. O'Fannen was true, simply because she was too old to be false. The young woman at the Shop and Start was false, simply because she was too young to be true. Some things and people were too good to be true, too bad to be true and too easy to be true. Still others were too good to be false, too bad to be false and too difficult to be false.
"She crossed one thunderous thigh, trapping the other beneath it. Squinting through her glasses, it never occurred to her to feel guilty about sending a picture of her youngest sister... She was convinced she could captivate him with her mind, and once that was accomplished, the flaws in her body would not matter."
Ralph Dieter believed himself to be true.
Ralph had resisted buying a computer in part because he believed them to be false. It was his feeling that having the option to backspace and delete words took away from the truth of a written piece. Whiteout glared from a typed or hand-written page, as did words that were crossed out, to him belying the inherent falseness of the writer. Whiteout was like a grand-jury indictment for perjury.
Say what you mean the first time, say it loudly and say it in a grammatically correct way; this was Ralph's motto..
Then his typewriter sprung his most beloved and oft-used letter: the E. He found himself plunged into an E-less world, unable to cope, or to even comprehend what had happened to him. He couldn't even type that his favorite key was gone, as "My favorite key is gone" contained three "E"s.
It was this horrible event that sent him, panicked, to Best Buy, in search of a model of typewriter that had not existed for the better part of twenty years. He found word-processors and computers, some so small they could be held in the palm of a hand. For the first time, he was enchanted by these electronic marvels, and since his honesty and truth as a person were never in question, he felt it would be acceptable to buy a machine.
The button was still there, taunting him with promises of easy research and effortless interaction. Part of him longed to be caught like a fly in the World Wide Web. It was right there, on the right-hand side of his keyboard, this button, waiting for a brave finger to transport him to a realm of dreams.
He pushed the button, feeling like a Viking warrior, embarking on a journey into uncharted spaces to conquer, to rule.
Since he had a cable modem, his connection was silent. However, in his mind a soundtrack was playing; the alternating creaking and splashing of oars in the water, shouts of Viking seafarers, the sloshing of the ocean on all sides with the distant sound of waves breaking on a beach. Sea gulls squawked and cried. Land Ahoy. He made ready to do battle.
An innocuous box popped onto his screen as he adjusted himself in his leather executive chair, feeling like a great pioneer, or the ruler of a vast empire. It asked for his name, his address and billing information.
Taking his credit card out of his wallet, he nearly overturned himself in his chair in the process put small fractures in the whole of his imaginary arrival on foreign beaches. Ever the artist, he held onto his images, struggling to ignore the Sears credit card and pictures of distant nieces and nephews who stared at him from within his wallet, striving to spoil his fantasy.
Beating back these chunks of reality, as he was sure his Viking brothers would, he typed information easily and accurately in the box. He was then asked to select a name by which he would be known in this strange, new world. How delightful, he thought, and entered RDieters. VikingKing seemed too arrogant.
A voice startled him by shouting, "GREETINGS!" The volume of the computer was far too loud, so he searched for a way to turn down the sounds.
"YOU HAVE MAIL," blasted into his brain, louder even than the imaginary Viking warriors. His search for volume-control was unsuccessful. All he could do was hope these announcements would cease and leave him in peace.
The mail was a friendly letter from the online service, outlining his privileges and the rules by which he must abide. From his hasty scan of the correspondence, he deduced that to be there at all was the privilege, and the rules removed the potential for any others. He wondered if he would be permitted to speak at all, since such a thing could violate the CHAT ROOM DISRUPTION portion of his contract. So much for the first amendment.
A button on the screen marked "Key Terms" snatched his attention from the e-mail, and made him momentarily forget about his civil rights, or the fact that in this cyber world, he had none. He licked his lips, ever hopeful, images of Viking victory gone from his mind, and moved the mouse pointer to it. Click. A small box appeared, requesting his key term.
A large box appeared, and captured inside were the areas of an entire forum. A forum dedicated to his comrades in truth, his fellow protectors of the written word: writers.
Shifting his large body in the chair, scratching his balding head with his free hand, he greedily examined his options. There were archived files, a Meet the Staff area, some blue sentences next to pictures of tiny globes, which he assumed "armed with his amazing journalist senses" might lead to sites on the fabled World Wide Web and one final, tantalizing selection: Chat.
Here, yet another button, this one decorated with faces, all apparently in the process of flopping their gobs, was next to the word Chat. He maneuvered the little arrow to that button, (icon, his mind inserted, icon) somewhat clumsily; he was unaccustomed to using a mouse.
YOU HAVE ENTERED THE WRITING CAFE
My word, he thought. Thoughts attached to names that were unthinkably absurd scrolled past his eyes at an alarming rate.
RancidSwine: Yeah, well, I still think Clinton deserved that blowjob
HanginJudge: It is my job to defend literature from the interlopers
FruityTutti: Interlopers, antelopers, whatever, you old coot.
JaMmInYoU: teens? Teens in room press 11. Laddies, im yer man.
User43829: any real writers in here?
Ralph wanted to applaud User43829. That was the only important question, after all. He waited anxiously for the answer. They fell on poor User, like hyenas.
RandyQ: Real writers? As opposed to what? Synthetic, inorganic writers?
JaMmInYoU: shut up, User
Windingroad: Define "real writer." I'll bet you think you're one of them.
HanginJudge: Uh oh. Another one. Speed, you handle this one, I'm still full from the last one.
Ralph wondered if he should defend poor User, who was silenced by this onslaught of questions. No, better to wait and not get off on the wrong foot with these cyber-dienzens. Speak, User, defend yourself.
HanginJudge: C'mon, User, out with it. What's a real writer?
User43829: Someone who can spell "writer?"
HanginJudge: Just what we needed, a smart-ass. That was obviously a typo.
Geneffa: Using profane language is a violation of Conditions of Service. HanginJudge: Please go to Key-term COS and review your Conditions of Service.
FuityTutti: What's up with your screen name, Hangin?
Ralph suspected this young woman was attempting to change the subject, to take the heat off User.
Windingroad: He writes westerns.
Ralph decided it was time to speak.
RDieters: Hi. I'm a journalist.
SpeedyDemon: How wonderful for you, RD.
RDieters: What does LOL mean?
HanginJudge: It means I'm laughing at you, RDickweed.
Ralph was taken aback by the name-calling. Soon a guardian angel swooped down from the heavens to avenge the slight.
Geneffa: Using profane language is a violation of Conditions of Service. HanginJudge: Please go to Key-term COS and review your Conditions of Service.
EvilWombat: Geneffa, you're such a cybernazi.
Geneffa: I'm not you are. Calling me a Nazi is in violation of COS.
EvilWombat: Everything is a violation of COS. Why did Hanging stop talking?
This piqued Ralph's interest.
JaMmInYoU: Yeah, gagged. One of them guide people makes it so you can't say nothing.
RandyQ: What our little semi-illiterate mascot is tying to say is that the guides can use technology to remove your comments from chat rooms. This is typically
JaMmInYoU: Im not illiterate, you punk.
RandyQ: used as a punishment. If you continue to fit their definition of chat disruption when they remove the "gag", they can bounce you offline.
User43829: This is all very nice, and everything, but none of you ever answered me.
Ralph felt strangely betrayed by User. After all, he was the new guy, just trying to figure out what he was doing here. One would think User could be more polite. To hell with User43829.
RancidSwine: The guides suck. Can you talk yet, Hangin?
There was a lull in the scroll as they awaited a reply from their electronically imprisoned comrade. He did not answer.
SpeedyDemon: I guess not.
RDieters: This is absurd. I am a journalist. I can say whatever I want, so long as it is true, in major newspapers all over the Nation. And I come
SpeedyDemon: We've got a live one here, people.
RDieters: to this chat room and find that a man cannot say "smart-ass?"
Geneffa: Using profane language is a violation of Conditions of Service. RDieters: Please go to Key-term COS and review your Conditions of Service.
RDieters: Silence, you swine.
RancidSwine: What did I say?
RDieters: Not you. Geneffa.
RancidSwine: Look, I'm Swine, she's Geneffa. Keep it straight.
For the second time in twenty minutes he was amazed to note that it had been twenty minutes since first he entered this room "YOU HAVE MAIL," thundered through the speakers of his brand new personal computer.
This one was a not-so-friendly letter from the online service, informing him that he was in violation of their Conditions of Service and that a note had been placed in his account.
Suddenly, as he contemplated this travesty, a smaller box appeared on his screen accompanied by a hugely amplified chiming sound. It was an Instantaneous Note from Windingroad.
Ralph was confused. Could the entire room see this exchange, or was it private? He did not wish to expose his ignorance and ask, so he elected to keep his responses neutral.
He typed, "Hello," in the small box, and noticed a button "Icon". The part of him that struggled to become computer-literate advised him to click "send," and he clicked it.
Windingroad: You're a journalist?
RDieters: I am.
Windingroad: For what paper?
Paper, thought Dieters, we have an amateur.
RDieters: I'm syndicated.
Windingroad: Oooolala. Must be nice.
RDieters: It is, indeed. Very gratifying.
He loathed speaking in sentence fragments, but it seemed to be the way these people communicated. This was his first step into Big, Fat Liar-hood. There were two categories: true and false. Dieter was not being true to himself.
"YOU HAVE MAIL!"
Dear lord, this was really too loud. He must find a volume control lest he go deaf.
This mail was from Windingroad, and it finished Ralph's transformation into a big, fat liar.
Hey. Here's a pic of me taken last month in the Hamptons. Windingroad (Leslie)
Two buttons-icons-rested at the bottom of the mail. One read, Download Now, the other, Download Later. Curiosity captured the life of yet another feline as Ralph selected, Download Now.
Slowly, magically, Windingroad (Leslie) appeared on his monitor, one row of pixels at a time. First, the top of a building, possibly a house, materialized into a new window that appeared spontaneously to showcase the magnificence that was Leslie. Then her shining hair, rich deep brown, gleamed at him from this captured moment in time. Her face, angelic and clean, fresh and young, smiling, charmed him.
Her shoulders, delicate collarbones, buoyant young breasts and slender upper arms became visible, clarifying from an electronic haze, making him silently thank God such a creature existed.
From the no-man's land of pixel transfer, her abdomen, tight and smooth and gloriously nude in the two-piece bathing suit she wore appeared, causing him to look down at his own large gut in distaste, then turn his pleading eyes back to the beauty.
Soon came her milky legs, smooth as the finest China, pale as cream. They tapered down to dainty feet, the toenails polished in a bright, exciting purple.
He stared at her image for a good while, contemplating his own physical self and feeling dismayed at his shortcomings. His business was one of words, not looks, so he never spent much time obsessing over hair-plugs or fitness programs. Regret filled him.
She was waiting for a reply. Of this he was certain. There was little doubt in his mind that she envisioned a young man, a strapping journalist, complete with safari outfit and bullwhip. Harrison Ford with a pencil, that's what she would desire. Such a creature would settle for nothing less.
RDieters: You're beautiful.
Windingroad: Aw, shucks, newspaperman. I'm okay, I guess.
She seemed charmed by his response. At last, he'd found a medium in which he could compete for women. They did not know about his pasty skin, absent hair or flaky scalp. His fat stomach was invisible to them, as were the sagging thighs, distressing love handles and man boobs.
RDieters: You really are stunning.
Windingroad: What about you? What do you look like?
Without hesitation, he placed a foot on the edge of his principles, poised and ready.
Then he jumped.
RDieters: I'm told I resemble a young Harrison Ford.
Several cities away, Windingroad, otherwise known as Leslie Carpman, felt excitement.
A young Harrison Ford, he said.
She crossed one thunderous thigh, trapping the other beneath it. Squinting through her glasses, it never occurred to her to feel guilty about sending a picture of her youngest sister, the great white hope of their family, to this man. As a single woman, living alone in a large city, she felt she could never exercise enough caution. She was convinced she could captivate him with her mind, and once that was accomplished, the flaws in her body would not matter.
A journalist, he said. Syndicated, no less.
Windingroad: What's your real name? I'd love to see your work.
Ralph frantically searched his mental database, trying to recall which publications carried his photograph with his column. LA did, NY did, as did the other big papers.
RDieters: Where are you?
He typed this quickly, hoping she would think he sent it just as she asked her question.
There was a pause, and Ralph wondered if she had deemed his question inappropriate. The loud chime proved his concerns groundless.
There was blessed relief. The papers in Maine didn't bother with photo credits.
RDieters: Ralph Dieters. I write TRUE OR FALSE.
Leslie yanked herself out of her chair, which was no easy task, and waddled as quickly as she could to her magazine rack. There, on top was a copy of the NY Times she'd picked up Sunday in a Borders near her home. She bought all the major papers every Sunday. Doing it made her feel worldly.
TRUE OR FALSE was indeed a column, and next to it, she saw a small, grainy photograph of a bald man who possessed far too many chins for his face. Disappointment rushed over her like sewage from an overflowing grate. That she lied to him didn't matter. It was understandable that she, a perfectly sane woman, would feel the need to lie a little. That he lied to her was unforgivable.
Angrily, she clicked the X at the right corner of the Instantaneous Note box, making it vanish from her sight.
She gently rubbed her leg, which was puckered with cellulite, and plotted revenge.
Ralph waited for her response, and was highly agitated when none came. The chime was silent. He wondered what happened to the Maine beauty.
He didn't realize that he was now Ralph R. Dieters, the big, fat liar. A man who, in one day, his first in possession of a computer, had flushed his principles and put himself in the False category to which he had contemptuously banished so many others.
For the remainder of the fall, Ralph spent almost every waking hour on his computer. He prowled rooms, engaged in debates and flirted with women, lying easily to them. Soon he began to feel he WAS a young Harrison Ford, with taught muscles and a full head of hair. He learned the chat protocols and never received another COS violation to his beloved account.
Slowly, Windingroad, the fat, unemployed chat room Goddess, turned the regular crowd in the Writing Cafe against him. Surely, the occupants thought, if such a beautiful young woman spewed venom about this man, he must be a vile creature.
She wove tales of horrible manipulation, deceit and misery. Soon the stories ran amok, painting RDieters as the Antichrist. A fat, old, bald man trying to lie his way into the good graces of the beautiful people. In the online world, she believed herself to be one of the beautiful people.
In defending himself from such attacks, Ralph missed deadlines. He sat up late at night and slept most of the day. His scalp became flakier, his midsection rounder and his spirit sapped by the blue screen.
Mrs. O'Fannen observed eerie, flickering blue light coming from the attic office windows very early in the morning. She did nothing, however, so grateful was she to be spared daily contact with Ralph Dieters. He was, after all, a difficult man to like.
On a snowy Tuesday morning, Ralph, who was sucking down his ninth cup of coffee and typing like a madman in the Cafe, realized he had not left the chair in twelve hours.
He was so intent on defending his reputation in cyber land his real-world reputation deteriorated rapidly with lies and that he had not noticed the passage of time. Two weeks prior he had moved the coffee maker to the computer desk, placing it near the printer, and filled it three times per day.
As he drained his ninth cup, knowing he only had one left, he startled. Looking down at his dirty undershirt, stained with coffee, he realized he could smell himself. Usually fastidious about his hygiene, he had not smelled his own natural odor in years.
If he were to venture out and check the overflowing mailbox on his porch, he would know that his columns were discontinued and that he now owed his syndication agency several thousand dollars for work that he never completed.
He glanced out the window, the same one Mrs. O'Fannen looked to in the early mornings, searching for that blue light, and saw snow on the treetops.
It was time to go outside.
True or False?