The Time I Had a Stalker
2005 isn’t so long ago that it’s the Stone Age of the Internet. Social media’ing was all the rage —MySpace was king, some Luddites were still on Friendster, and the new, New Wave was all about poking friends on Facebook. Blogs were around and popular if not accredited sources of information (just like today! “Ba-ZING!”), and if you knew a cursory amount of HTML, had a few free hours, you could be web logging to all of your LiveJournal fans in no time. Craigslist had caught fire (for the web sophisticates of the U.S. Midwest) in 2003 and was a fascinating spectator sport.
In any case, as mundane as those examples seem, people-watching and —most reflective of the jaded 20-something I was— boredom set in quickly. And with the detached, bored, slack-jawed, webgazing and voyeurism came the need to share with friends. Now when I say “share” I don’t mean that there were buttons on a webpage to post to Facebook, Reddit, Twitter, et cetera, instead, I mean sharing via email or IM. Particularly with Craigslist there was a strong need to share the goofiness and madness of others, to wit (actual IM conversations ensue):
[My Yahoo! Messenger Avatar]: “Somebody actually is asking for free rent in exchange for blow-jays?” <Craigslist ad url>
[Friend’s Yahoo! Messenger Avatar]: “That can’t be real.”
[Friend’s Yahoo! Messenger Avatar]: “Check it out, this “crazy” person is just giving away their entire collection of Ranger Rick and Highlights magazines.” <Craigslist ad url>
[My Yahoo! Messenger Avatar]: “That’s nuts! Let’s go get them.”
While 2005 wasn’t the Stone Age of the Internet, there was a strong sense of brazenness to the whole thing. An earned (and novel) sense of the Old West to the entire concept of a social Internet.
While the concept of a “fake [insert chuckle-worthy celeb, inanimate object, news story]” has been honed into an art form/redundant meta-meme on Twitter, the idea is nothing new and in 2005 it seemed even funnier. As far back as Friendster I can remember a World B. Free account that was definitely not World B. Free and even a Fakester Shamu account, though benthic Wi-Fi eludes us to this day. In any case, what really had me all-a-tizzy in ought-five was the concept of fake Craigslist postings. Particularly Missed Connections. As a temping, office drone for a travel company in the Loop I would IM with a good friend who also temped, through the same agency, but in a different downtown office building.
Along with the casual and friendly exchanges that friendship forges, we would continually barrage the other with brutally honest assessments of each masked as fake Missed Connection posts. It was a fun game of one-upmanship made all the more so by the fact that we lived very close to each other and would commute on the train each day; thus affording us the chance to note what each other was wearing and use that information to punch up the day’s fake MC’s. At the end of each workday we’d inevitably find each other at the Division Blue Line Stop and walk to our respective apartments, guffawing and knee-slapping at our collective wits. A real circlejerk to be certain.
One morning I received this IM from my friend.
[Friend’s Yahoo! Messenger Avatar]: “Hey, I think you should see this and want you to know that this isn’t me.” <Craigslist ad url>
I clicked the ad and read it, slightly more creepy language than our normal copyspeak and it was dated from about a week earlier.
[My Yahoo! Messenger Avatar]: ”Haha. Very funny, [redacted]. Using slightly weirder language and backdating this one is a new wrinkle.”
[Friend’s Yahoo! Messenger Avatar]: “Yeah, no. Brian, this isn’t me. I didn’t post this.”
[My Yahoo! Messenger Avatar]: “OK. Suuuuure ;-)”
My friend was slightly miffed at the train stop after work and continued to deny posting the Missed Connection and I agreed to simply drop the subject. I didn’t have Wi-Fi in my apartment yet (it was 2005 you see and one could just steal wireless like so many apples from an orchard), but for some reason I couldn’t find a signal that night and I went out to Inner-Town for a few hours to with some friends.
At work the next morning, waiting in my inbox, I had an email sent the night before from my friend with a veritable stack of hyperlinks to various Missed Connections that were all about me. Either my friend was really good at chronicling what I was wearing every day and a much better (read: creepier) writer than I’d known or someone was stalking me. The Craigslist posts had started in May and it was the first week of June at this point. “Who is this person?” I remember demanding to know, aloud, in my cubicle. Further adding to my confusion was the fact that this person was apparently everywhere I was. They lived in the same neighborhood, saw me at the same bars and coffee shops, and seemingly worked in the same part of the Loop as me. The backlog of Missed Connections read like a big game hunter’s log:
"Saw you walking down Division this morning towards the train with someone. Are they your significant other? A roommate? You both walked into Alliance Bakery and walked out with coffee."
"Saw you out at Rainbo Club wearing a jean jacket and talking to a bunch of people. You looked like the life of the party. I wish I couldn’ve been your center of attention all night."
"Saw you waiting in line at Potbelly’s today. I was too! I wanted to say something but decided not to. You looked great in your polo shirt."
The Internet continued quietly updating and accruing the Missed Connections as this person pursued me from afar. I’m an already very paranoid and oddly shy person and the unwanted, invisible attention was driving me crazy, at times I would simply look up and expect some tailor of skin with calm eyes and steady hands sizing me up as they lunged with a knife, ready to make a mask out of my face.
Finally, the last Missed Connection showed up. The stalker was in the office I temped at and they posted something along the lines of:
Felt you staring at me. I got so excited and really wanted you to come over and talk to me.
I didn’t have the heart to respond that I had actually been checking out the person next to them and that I hadn’t the foggiest idea who they were aside from being a bizarre, cyber-thorn in my side for weeks. I contacted my temp agency, explained the situation and requested that I be moved to a different assignment immediately. Oddly, after I stopped working at the place there was never another Missed Connection and I never saw the person in my neighborhood either, still, and **CLICHE ALERT** I sometimes wonder if they’re still out there thinking about me or if they’ve happily found someone else —not to stalk, but to, y’know, be happily in a relationship with.
*As an aside/brief postmortem, on review of the Craigslist postings, the actual language (or rather, the sentiment that’s being expressed) isn’t too dissimilar from what feels and tries to express to one they like or love. The major difference being of course that when you say those things to a significant other, you’ve likely been smooching and hanging out and not hiding/plotting how to trick one into your “Totally Legit, Fun-Time, Basement of Neat Stuff and Sleep Forever.”