Jerry is a strange fellow. We just finished a conversation and I couldn't help thinking that he really is quite a strange fellow. Not that he's a weirdo or anything; he just doesn't act like other people. Think Napoleon Dynamite, not Michael Jackson.
I met Jerry last year when I was on AIM. AIM is where I go when I'm too bored to do homework but not bored enough to play Halo. (Halo fans, do not kill me -- release your angst against the Flood.) In other words, it's where I go when I'm in a humanities class. AIM is a cool place where lots of happy friends hang out, and it only needs Ronald McDonald to make it perfect. And little plastic tunnels.
I logged into AIM and noticed something a little unusual. It wasn't my friends. sk8trfrk had his regular "chugging Mountain Dew" status, and fcnLvr was "busy," probably working on another post. ImaEmo's sad emoticon peered through the screen at my half-empty bottle of soda just as usual. No, the change I noticed had nothing to do with the friends I already had—it consisted rather of a new group of friends that had unexpectedly joined me.
Everyone in the group had the same name: AIM Bot. Their status messages were what set them apart. "Want to know the secret of the universe? Type '24' to find out!" "Want to get rich quick? Type 'Vegas' to learn how!" "Want to know who will win the elections? Type 'Obama' for our latest forecasts." Apparently, the AIM Bots were a tribe of superheroes who hung out on the web just to help people expand their mental horizons and strengthen their intellectual prowess.
I was attracted by the glamor, the mystery, and the utter uselessness of it all, so I initiated a chat with one of the bots at random. I figured this was one of the more intelligent ones because his status message had to do with books: "What happens in the unwritten Twilight novel? Type 'lolz' to find out." Besides, I hadn't known about an unwritten Twilight novel and hoped this bot could enlighten me. I dutifully typed in "lolz" and waited for a response.
For a minute, I felt like I had asked the Godfather for a favor he didn't want to give me. The bot stared icily into my eyes. Then it suddenly started replying. "I'm sorry, just a minute, just one minute. I know I have the file in here somewhere. I just didn't expect anyone would be stupid enough to type in 'lolz.' No, no! I didn't mean that! Stay there, I'll give your answer in a second—why does this stupid little search dog keep running but never get anywhere? I'd almost rather deal with the paper clip! Sir, please be patient, this is my first day. Please."
The poor bot seemed on the verge of tears, so I felt compelled to offer some encouragement. Our dialog went something like this.
Chip: Hey bot, no problem.
Chip: Say bot, while you're looking, have you read the Twilight novels? Pretty good stuff, huh?
[Another awkward pause.]
Chip: Well, why don't you try selecting a certain folder so the dog doesn't get lost in your entire hard drive?
Bot: Haha, sorry, I'll try that right now. I don't mean to be rude, I'm just a bit overwhelmed. Do you have any idea how hard this job is?
Chip: Um, no. I just assumed it was easy for you because you seem like a superhero. How hard is it?
Bot: Very hard. I'm Jerry, by the way. What's your name?
[I had changed his alias to Jerry.]
Chip: I'm Chip.
Jerry: Do you have a friend named—
Chip: Dale? No. That's not funny. I think I'll go try the Janet Jackson bot.
Jerry: No, no! Please don't go! I need the company! I'm so, so sorry I said that.
Chip: Lol, no sweat. I was, uh, kidding. So how did you land this awesome job, Jerry?
Jerry: Really, you think it's awesome? omg, that's such a relief! I'm seriously starting to think it's not as cool as it's made out to be. They only pay me fifty cents an hour, and none of my friends even know who I am.
Chip: Who pays you? I thought you were here of your own free will, motivated solely by the beneficent satisfaction resultant from the fulfillment of your fellow-humans' erudite cyber desires.
Jerry: Very funny. Do they even have online prostitutes?
Chip: That's not what I—
Jerry: Hold on a sec, I think I got the file.
I stretched and looked around. Pretty much everyone in class was sleeping on the inside, even as their faces radiated counterfeit rapt attention. I glanced up at the teacher and nodded thoughtfully at a point he was making, hoping he thought I was still taking notes on my laptop. Then I stole a glance at some of the other laptop screens in the room. There was the predictable Facebook, and the equally predictable goth girl looking at "fashion" pictures. One of my colleagues in baggy clothes and a loose-fitting cap was playing an online flash game. He had to kill all the little soldiers before they reached his fort. Pity there was no sound. And then of course there were the studious individuals who were frantically filling out a dozen pages of single-spaced bullet points in Word, evidently intending to print them out later and memorize them. I yawned and opened my notes again to see if I had missed anything. But Jerry was back.
Jerry: Hey Chip, you're out of luck. There is no unwritten Twilight novel.
Chip: Dude! How can you say that? I started this whole chat just because I wanted to know about that book.
Chip: I sacrificed valuable study time to talk with you, and you've betrayed me.
Chip: Jerry, huh? How about Benedict Arnold?
Jerry: you didn't lose any time
Chip: Who are you to tell me I didn't lose any time? I have a pile of papers to write and instead of typing them I'm typing to you!
Chip: Besides, you're getting paid fifty cents an hour, which is pretty good in this economy, and all you give me for it is lame excuses about the Microsoft search dog.
Jerry: because I'm sitting here
Chip: You know what I ought to do to you? I ought to report you to your employer.
Chip: Who's your employer, Bozo? Come on.
Jerry: and you're in the same class as me.
I jerked up my head and scanned the class. The professor was trying to squeeze in a last sentence but no one could hear him over all the zipping and packing and paper-rustling sounds, as students scrambled to get out of the room the instant class was scheduled to end. A laptop slammed closed behind me, and I whirled around to see its owner. Jerry flashed me a smug grin and a fleeting snicker, and headed toward the door. And I had to smile at myself.