Brother Bark and I spent fifteen years helping to blur, or perhaps smudge, the boundary between the Internet and real life. Around the turn of the century he and I trolled a succession of local-music boards to the point where we had a half-dozen or so people swearing on the lives of their weedmen they would dox us and beat us up — so I invited all the players to a charity boxing match, at which point they all said they had to play gigs that weekend. The funny part was that at least one of them probably could have thumped me without much difficulty — the fellow just didn’t want to take the risk. So then Bark invited all the Internet Tough Guys to his gig — and they all showed up, slapped him on the back, and told him he was great.
My favorite story comes from an old-school BMX board back in ’03 or thereabouts where another rider and I clowned a self-important and hugely unpleasant participant by finding him at an event, removing the stupid vanity front license plate from his used Mercedes-Benz, and reinstalling it behind his stupid vanity rear license plate. I then photoshopped the plate onto a nearly identical vehicle at a used-car lot 2,500 miles away and put that picture on the message board. He filed a series of police reports and spent a week braying about how justice would be done. As I recall, he’d gotten as far as his local FBI office before someone took pity on him and told him where to find his “stolen” plate. To his credit — or maybe my discredit — the dude ended up kinda changing his ways and becoming a tireless volunteer on behalf of disadvantaged young riders before suffering a stroke and leaving the sport in 2016.
A few years later, I got tired of an “anonymous” fellow on VWVortex trying to cyberbully me so I cracked open my favorite Kevin Mitnick book and worked my way all the way to the desk phone at his job. “Hey man, I’m going to give you an opportunity to put your words into practice,” I said.
“How did you get this number?” he asked, voice shaking. Then he apologized for being such a jerk, told me he was actually a really meek person when he wasn’t online, and asked me to give him a chance to mend his ways. A few days later, he sent me a private message on the Vortex board thanking me for not humiliating him any further. We had no further interactions, he laid off his bullying behavior, and we lived happily ever after for about twelve years.
But that’s not the way he remembers it.
Earlier this year, a friend sent me a screenshot of a post on Vortex where this person tells a very different story. He says that I did in fact call him all those years ago, but that I promptly backed down once I realized that he and his friends could beat me up at a racetrack of their choice. And then I told him how awesome he was before promising to never bother him again.
The French call this l’esprit de l’escalier — literally, “the spirit of the staircase” as you leave a confrontation or argument. Typically, it’s just a feeling of regret that you weren’t brave or clever enough to carry the day, so to speak. For some reason, your humble author provokes this reaction in quite a few people. Another VWVortex fellow who apparently disliked me drove all the way from Chicago to spend a weekend helping me and my race team co-owner rebuild the front suspension of my Neon in 2008 — then he waited six years before posting about how he’d put a gun in my face and told me to stay away from his wife. (Narrator’s voice: Jack did not completely stay away.) I could go on: the wedding photographer who actually thanked me in a 2007 email for setting him straight on his behavior via a phone call then waited eleven years before posting a series of hateful comments on my YouTube under a different screen name, thinking I wouldn’t make the connection. Well, I say “hateful” comments, but in reality all he did was point out that I got fat between 2007 and 2019. Like I didn’t know that already!
All of these staircase-spirit types have one thing in common: they’ve all somehow intuited that I am no longer the kind of person who will expend time and money to put their noses back into the dirt. In this intuition, they are entirely correct. If I have an open weekend I’m not going to spend it driving to New Jersey and re-clowning some dude whose sole achievement in life to this point has been the subsidized lease of a four-cylinder Genesis G70. I’d rather spend that time with my family or my beloved Sesh, who is proving rather more expensive to own on a month-by-month basis than any entry-luxury sedan. (You should see the lime-green coordinated livery it’s wearing now — the stickers had to be made in both Hungary AND the UK so the wheels would match the “RSL Race Shop” seatstay logo. But I digress.)
Being a grownup is kinda lame. I still have this impulse to go out there and set the record straight on a whole lot of things. There’s just no percentage in doing so at the moment. So what I’ve decided is this: I’ve taken a lot of notes over the years, saved a lot of screenshots, kept almost all of my e-mails. When my son is grown, and when I leave the auto business for good, I’m going to publish a book with all of it. Every name, every story, every embarrassing fact. I have stuff that will curl your toes, trust me. It’s going to be a lot of fun to see what happens as a result.
Of course, there’s always a chance that I could stuff my ZX-14R into a concrete piling before then — so consider today’s column my last will and testament on the subject. If I get killed before I have a chance to tell everyone all the stories, I’m relying on all my friends out there to tell, and re-tell, every story they’ve heard from me. Brother Bark will have some of the choicest tales to tell. Oh, heck, maybe I’ll write a few down now and put them away so they can be found later. Consider it trolling from beyond the grave, or perhaps merely the final act of someone who never met a line he wouldn’t willingly smudge.