The internet is an incredible thing. Even now that it’s a daily (hourly? minutely?) presence in my life, I continue to marvel at the possibilities that exist—accessing everyone, everything and anything you desire is just a simple Google search away. Thank you, Al.
My first days of internet access were as a cadet with my own computer, which was connected to the wall by a bright blue cord that looked something like a thick telephone line. An “Ethernet” cable, they called it. I had an email address consisting not of a name, but of a number and letter combination: my Cullum number plus academic company assignment. I had access to “bulletin boards”—West Point’s own version of Craigslist that existed before Craigslist--some portions of which were restricted to cadets only. Because plebes were not allowed to speak to each other in the cadet area, they often took their conversations to the boards designated for our class.
“Jokes” one person would title their post. From there you could use your mouse and open the entry to read the jokes or click again to add some of your own. In the more popular posts, comments cascaded down like intricate staircases made of bright blue hyperlinks. Many of the contributions were part of a collective effort aimed at making mealtimes easier for us all. If your table commandant demanded something funny, you could placate him by whipping out that printed page of jokes that good old “Smokestack” posted the night before.
That’s another plus of the internet—you could post as “Spider-Man” and none would be the wiser. In the readers’ minds you really were that guy in the red and blue suit spinning webs on the web. Most people used their actual names, but some thought it fitting to throw in their alter ego as if to say, I’m a generic plebe by day, but behind my computer I’m a superhero, and I’m letting all one thousand of you in on the secret.
Ghost that I was, I was petrified of heading out of my room at the end of the day. I didn’t socialize, I didn’t study, I merely lived in daily terror of the upperclassmen, who in retrospect weren’t really all that scary. My refuge was the local network and the cadet bulletin boards. It was there where I sparred with some yearling calling himself “the General” or poked around to find something clever or funny. It was there where I printed off trivia and menus for upcoming meals, or read debates about the fairness of the rules and whether the academy’s “toleration” clause in the Honor Code was worth following.
It was there where I discovered someone else who admired The Cure just as much as I did.
One of my classmates had posted an inquiry about the Cure—my favorite group. That post hung there, unanswered, as if it were beckoning for me and only me to respond. I was a worthy responder--I had every one of their albums in my Case Logic CD storage book, including their very first album, produced when I was 3 years old. The group’s lineup had changed over the years, but the one that mattered, Robert Smith, had been there from the start. I spent most of my high school years wanting to be that man’s lipstick, and even went through a phase where I carried a Wet N’ Wild tube of the closest knock off of the shade he wore. My Spider-Man wasn’t the one in the skintight suit, it was the thing from the “Lullaby” video. At one point I had five posters of the Cure on my walls in all, each one containing the aforementioned Mr. Smith with his porcelain skin, raccoon eyes, teased black hair and smudged red lips in what was to me at the time, a varying array of come hither poses. What my parents must have thought when they opened the door and looked at the walls—I’ve never asked, but I sometimes wonder.
“I love them,” I typed, excited to have found a kindred spirit, one that didn’t post about U2 or Jimmy Buffett or any of the typical cadet musical mainstays, no! This guy liked the Cure. And so did I! Finally, someone who got it! Who can ask for anything more?
We exchanged a few more messages until the guy decided we needed to meet. Things were rolling right along, why not? It might be a love connection or at least someone else to swap music with.
“Meet me by Ike Hall.” He replied.
See, this was the point where I should have politely declined because all of the magic, all of the conversational chemistry we had over the web couldn't possibly survive once we met. In fact, everything came to a grinding halt not long after we recognized each other and introduced ourselves.
He was attractive—tall, with well placed features on an oval face. Wire rimmed glasses framed inquisitive eyes and dress gray made him sharp. My first impression wasn’t the problem but I knew instantly from the look on his face that he was disappointed. "This isn't the Goth girl of my dreams," he appeared to be thinking. Here was the down side of the internet--left to your own devices, the person typing on the other side of that ethernet cable looked any way you wanted. Then you actually met them, the reality very rarely matched up to the illusion you created. I'm guessing he was imagining a female version of Robert Smith, with alabaster skin, a wisp of a figure and hair the color of midnight. I knew in my heart that the reality: tan skin, short curly hair and the lack of being able to carry on a conversation as effortlessly as I had done through a computer was going to be the death blow to anything that might have been, and ironically enough, "what might have been but never was" is the running theme of many Cure songs.
“Um, so it’s nice to finally meet you,” I said.
“Yeah.”he replied, though he probably felt like adding, "Get away from me, you impostor!"
Kill me—kill me now, and kill me quickly, I thought, when things fell so flat so fast. I wouldn't be able to rescue this meeting with small talk because I don't have that quality we all know as the gift of gab. I know you're thinking, "Nooo...not you. It can't be. I've read these blog posts and you are one wordy mutha (shut yo' mouth)!" Well, that's true, I can be wordy if it doesn't involve actual talking. I can work wonders with a keyboard and lag time to come up with something witty, but when it comes to a live performance I get stage fright. And God help me if the other person is cute.
“Well, the Cure, I mean, their intros are just sooo long.”
“Oh, yeah." he said, nodding, "They do have really long intros.”
We stared at each other, knowing that unlike a Cure song, this intro was likely to be very, very short. We both wanted this to work but we also seemed to realize that it wasn't. With just a few lines of conversation we found ourselves bogged down in that swamp known as “So what?” territory.
“I have all their stuff.” I said, while thinking: “Eject, Eject, Eject!”
We didn’t last five minutes. Maybe he had invited me to Ike Hall with the idea that at some point we could venture inside for a Coke and fries, but he never admitted it and I don’t blame him. Why continue the awkwardness when you could cut your losses? When we parted, we returned to the barracks with the smallest of goodbyes, and the unspoken promise to pretend it all never happened, to never speak of our meeting again. We didn’t even attempt to rekindle the magic over email because we knew it was futile.
It was a disappointment (not the worst) then but it’s funny now. What was I thinking? How did I ever believe that meeting was a good idea? How could I ever have thought, in my deluded teenaged mind, that if only Robert Smith met me would he truly know his soulmate when I couldn’t even get past a few sentences with a commoner--a non-famous fellow fan?
I’ve often asked and sometimes wonder.