St Martin’s Press has agreed to publish my first novel, Love in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. More news to come.
Logging on to my email account, I was pleased to find a message from Evelyn, an ex-girlfriend, whom I hadn’t seen in years. Last I’d heard, Evelyn was married, with twins, living in San Francisco where she ran a store that sold stained glass.
I was less pleased after I read her message:
Judd-My husband and I find your emails inappropriate. Please respect our privacy and desist from trying to contact me.
Oh God, I thought, I’ve been drunk emailing again.
Months before, there had been an incident on myspace where I received a response from a woman I didn’t know to a question I had no memory of asking. After searching my account, it became apparent that I had been coming home from the bars after hours and firing off messages of lascivious intent that, come morning, I had no recollection of ever having sent.
Much to my surprise, however, after an exhaustive search, I discovered that I had not sent Evelyn an email in years, and the last one I did send was perfectly benign.
So I replied:
Great to hear from you. Hope things are well in San Fran. I received your message but have no memory nor any evidence of having sent you ANY emails. Are you sure you got the right guy? Best to…. Max, was it?
A few days later, Evelyn wrote back:
Judd-Come off it. You think we don’t know who Fish is?
This was getting interesting. For two years, I had been writing a blog called Filth that chronicled the life of a fictitious character named Julius “Fish” Fischman, his best friend, Arty From Philly, and a woman known only as Intimate Relationship #9.5. I figured this was the Fish to whom Evelyn was referring.
Dear Evelyn-Either you’re putting me on or somebody is putting us both on. Take into account that your web address is revealed on your myspace page. Just because these mystery emails are signed “Fish” doesn’t mean they’re from me.
She wrote one last time:
Judd-Figure it out and make it stops [sic].
Her last message came with an attachment that contained copies of the various missives sent to her by one email@example.com. Indeed, the emails contained material inappropriate to send to any woman, married or otherwise. They seemed to represent the unsavory intentions of a well-educated misanthrope whose sexual proclivities could best be described as criminal.
But they weren’t from me. Nor did I ever register a gmail account by that name, which led me to suspect that there was some imposter masquerading as Julius “Fish” Fischman in order to harass my friends and exes, all of whom would be easy to find for anyone with a myspace account and a link to my page. Perhaps the culprit was someone I knew, some friend playing a practical joke, or perhaps it was an enemy or con man running a scam.
I sent the following email to firstname.lastname@example.org:
Dear Fish-Who are you?
PS. Leave Evelyn alone.
Within seconds, I got the following reply:
I had to find him.
I started with a search on myspace and, sure enough, located a profile for one Julius “Fish” Fischman, 32 years old, writer/actor, living in Los Angeles. And here’s the kicker: 218,596 friends. I only had 164.
But not only was Fish more popular than I, he was also taller (5’10”), richer (income $150,000 – $200,000), and better looking, or at least the avatar on his profile looked better than the photograph on mine. I couldn’t know for certain if the artist who designed it was trying to represent me, but judging by the frizzy hair, slumped posture, big ears, and crooked nose, it’s safe to assume the graphic was at least inspired by me if not modeled directly.
The myspace profile also revealed that Fish writes a blog called Smut which one can view at www.juliusfischman.com. It’s a well-designed page, more professional than mine with many more comments, links, and advertisements, though the writing isn’t nearly as good. Fish’s voice reminded me of a poor man’s Bukowski aspiring toward Haruki Murakami. There’s a whiff of misogyny prevalent in his descriptions of women and a lack of discipline to his style, though an undercurrent of self-deprecating humor does save it from being total trash.
The protagonist in Smut – in case you haven’t guessed by now – goes by the name of “Judd Trichter,” but the Judd Trichter on the blog doesn’t resemble me in any way. Instead, Fish writes Judd Trichter as a drug-addled freeloader who suffers from delusions of grandeur while treating his mother like shit, borrowing money left and right, masturbating constantly, needlessly rebelling against authority, and generally lacking the ability or talent to ever get anything done.
In other words, Fish’s page had the makings of a lawsuit.
I called Kenny Gutstein, my attorney, at once.
“Listen to this,” I said. “There’s some clown on the internet pretending to be me. Wait a minute. That’s not quite right. He’s pretending to be a character I created.”
“And he’s harassing my friends and writing terrible things about me.”
“True things?” my lawyer asked.
“Some. But most are lies.”
“And judging by his page, it looks like the sonofabitch makes money.”
“Great,” said Gutstein. “What’s his name?”
“I don’t know his real name, but on the internet, he goes by Julius Fischman.”
“Stop right there.”
“What’s the problem?”
“He’s a client.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.
“You represent this fraud?”
“I represent Julius Fischman,” said Gutstein, “and believe me when I tell you, this fraud, as you call him, brings in ten times the revenue you ever brought.”
I asked if I was entitled to any of that.
“Not a cent,” Gutstein shouted into the phone before I could finish my question. “And if you intend any legal action against him, you can expect a counter suit and an injunction that will shut down your page.”
“But he’s my creation,” I complained. “Without me he doesn’t exist.”
“Well… I’m sure Julius Fischman would argue the same about you.”
There went my lawsuit.
I sent Fischman another email:
Dear Fish,Where can I call you? I want to talk.
He responded with a terse imperative:
The next step was to browse through Fischman’s thousands of myspace friends to see if we had any in common. I found one: Tracy Choo. Of course Tracy would know Fish. I should have known.
Tracy Choo was a half-Korean, half-android woman who worked as a barista in an internet cafe where I used to sip tea at two in the morning and write. She introduced herself one night, after her shift, when she sat down next to me and asked what I was working on. Turned out Tracy knew all about Filth and was psyched to learn I was the man behind it. We wound up talking for hours, constantly interrupted by the electronic gadgets she tended to at all times: some DJ from Japan calling her cell, some computer hacker IM’ing her, some web artist sending her a video text. To talk to Tracy was to interact with only half of her while the other half drifted through the constellations of cyberspace.
On our date, Tracy and I shoveled Kimchi into our mouths and washed down ecstasy with our sake. We danced at a crowded rave in an abandoned warehouse downtown. In the morning, we drove back to her apartment and its many screens and monitors, its criss-crossed cables, its overwhelmed power strips and webcams rigged to the ceilings in every room.
“Just so you know,” she said, “if we have sex, there will be thousands of people watching around the world.”
Despite what one might presume from my being an actor, exhibitionism isn’t really my bag, but ecstasy combined with a hot Korean android can do strange things to a man, and I decided to give it a try.
The sex wasn’t what I hoped. Even though she was eager and able to please, the fact that Tracy didn’t sweat or carry a scent had the effect of reminding me that she was only half-human. Nor did it help my self-esteem that as a condition of her manufacture, Tracy couldn’t lubricate naturally and had to shove a fresh battery up her ass between orgasms. It’s hard to say this without sounding like a bigot, but I’ve always thought that dating an android – even one who’s only half – was an admission of failure or at the very least a compromise I didn’t want to make.
We went out one more time, but after that, I lied and told Tracy I was getting back with an ex. She took it hard.
“What’s she got that I don’t?”
“Nothing,” I said. “It’s just that my ex and I have a history, and I want to see if we can make it work.”
We were outside at the time, and the rain drops collecting on her cheek made it look like she was crying.
“I thought we had something,” Tracy whispered toward the ground. “I thought we had something real.”
“I thought so too,” I replied. But that was also a lie.
After seeing her profile on Fish’s myspace page, I sent Tracy an email to feel out whether she’d be willing to talk:
Hey Trace-Long time no see. How’ve you been? Came across your profile on myspace and thought I’d say hi. Hope all’s well.
Tracy replied with an indecipherable stream of words, letters, and symbols that might as well have been written in binary. I emailed her again and asked if it would be okay if I called. She responded thus:
Though possible that she was asking, “Why,” I took the letter “Y” to mean “Yes” and gave her a ring.
Tracy and I spoke for about fifteen minutes, catching up on the last year of each others’ lives, until finally we overcame the awkwardness inherent in my calling. Then I brought up Fish.
“What about him?” she asked.
“I see he’s on your myspace page.”
“He found me in a chat room and asked me out.”
“Did you go out with him?”
“Couple of times.”
“What’s he like?”
“Kind of like you, I guess, but not exactly.”
I asked her to elaborate.
“He’s more angsty,” she decided. “Better looking. More stylish. Just sexier in a weird way.”
“Sexier than me?”
“Yeah. And he’s a better writer too. Have you seen his blog?”
“Yes,” I said, “I’ve read his blog. And thank you.”
I asked Tracy if she had slept with Fish, and she admitted she did.
“How was that?” I asked.
“Well,” she sighed, “he did make me come.”
“So did I.”
“Uh… no.” Liar. “But I have to tell you,” she added right away, softening in her rebuke, “he wasn’t you. As much as I wanted him to be, he just wasn’t.”
“How so?” I asked.