“Campbell, face it. You sent that tweet unwisely. Someone thought it was funny. Not ha-ha funny, but over the top bad. Then you got a thousand shame-on-you tweets when it went viral….” I was sympathetic. Sort of. The poor woman was dead before age 30 because of one dumb mistake.
“More like 11,000 shames,” Campbell said. She slurped her vodka gimlet and the tears started again. It was sad seeing a former Miss North Carolina with a leftover life to kill. I had run into her professionally and admired her candor and affection, like a baby who smiles and then throws up on you. Our friendship had outlasted our affair.
“What ever!” I said. “You’re an injudicious blogger, saying the first thing that comes into your head. But you’re my blogger buddy.” I extended my hand to cover Campbell’s and couldn’t help noticing her nails were bitten to the quick. Poor Campbell, pilloried in shame, fired from her PR counselor’s job, hiding out at a friend’s apartment because of a death threat. And her nails and hair needed major work.
I understood the shock of getting fired. Kind of. Finding work was never my problem, so I couldn’t experience Campbell’s plight empathetically. Still, sympathy is a small investment in friendship. And cocktails at the Carlyle were always pleasant, even with a pariah wearing dark glasses.
“Why are people so mean?” she wailed. “A 140-character mistake.”
“African-Americans are sensitive, Campbell. They’re people. One must not make jokes about blacks, Jews, or Indians — dots or feathers. And, I’d advise you to go easy on the Irish, the Italians. Russians are fair game — for now. So when you tweeted that if you got any more tanned you’d be shot in Ferguson, Missouri, well….”
“I said ‘arrested.’ Not shot. I’m not vindictive, not a bad person.”
I signaled a waiter for refills. Campbell’s incident also signaled a truth, that there was a world of rage out there. Faceless rage from people in their cubicles and hidey holes. The population was beginning to feel an unfocused outrage after digesting a steady news feed of air crashes, barbarous beheadings and drone-based assassinations while drinking their morning Starbucks.
My friend, an adjunct professor at NYU, called it the Gyges Effect. People were coming unhinged and uninhibited, lashing out at real and imagined wrongs while they remained safe in their gated compounds, mortgaged mini-mansions and rent-controlled apartments. They were reaching through their little screens to make somebody — anybody — feel something. Anything.
I must have said something, because Campbell asked, “Who’s Gyges? Do I know him?”
“Eh? No, Plato wrote about this shepherd who finds a ring that makes him invisible. The little dweeb uses it to kill the king, screw the queen and take over the kingdom.”
“Well, golly, I thought we were talking about something else.”
“Nooo, we’re on the same thread. My academic lady friend insists that anonymous Gyges-like people are hiding behind a keypad doing things over a screen they would not do in person. Like, no one is going to say to your face that you’re a racist. But the Internet trolls feel that no one’s home at the other end of the Net. They simply want to be noticed, to be heard.”
“Well, I want to be heard….”
But my mind had wandered momentarily to the adjunct professor and her crooked smile, the way she pulled factoids out of the air.
“You’d think people would be more tolerant,” Campbell muttered. “More accepting. More forgiving. I have friends of who have lots of ethnic persuasions. My manicurist, my hairdresser in Chelsea, my guys in the parking garage.”
“Your garage attendants?” I squinted.
“Yes, they’re from Ecuador. Some of my best Latinos are friends.”
“Dammit, Campbell! There you go again.”
We were both startled when a man rushed up to our table, blurting, “Campbell, I found you!”
“Was I lost?” she asked, honestly perplexed.
“No, my talent scout, Maury, told me where to find you. The Carlyle, he said. The maître d’ told Maury you’re such a regular they’re gonna name a table after you.”
“Who’re you?” I demanded. “It’s kind of rude to interrupt a lady having a gimlet.”
“I’m Maury Berenstein and I have an offer. A proposal. I follow your tweets. I want you to sign for a show. An exclusive pay-per-view stream — the girl with her foot in the mouth.”
“What on earth…?” Campbell said.
I believe I saw her actually glance at her shoe.
“Weren’t you the one who tweeted ‘I met Hillary Clinton before she became a virgin’?” Maury made it sound like an allegation.
Campbell and I looked at each other. I could see this thing getting litigious.
“Maybe,” Campbell said, not wanting to admit anything before witnesses.
“And didn’t you tweet that your sister was an only child? And you going to marry that guy who did a soap opera on CBS, but your father said he wouldn’t have you marrying an actor. He saw one episode and told you, ‘He’s no actor, go ahead and marry him.’”
Campbell was getting confused. And teary-eyed. Her Kleenex was turning into a little pyramid of confetti.
“Well, what of it!” she screamed. “Words just confuse me, always tumbling around in my brain like socks in the clothes dryer!”
“Here’s what of it, kiddo. I have a check in my pocket. And an option if you’ll come down to the studio and discuss doing a reality show. Call it ‘Shame on Everybody if You Can’t Laugh.’”
I saw a rainbow suddenly appear that could dry Campbell’s tears forever. “Take it, Campbell,” I said. “Remember that guy in Wizard of Oz saying ‘Some people without brains do an awful lot of talking.’ And Maury’s going to pay you for it,”
# # #
Bio: Walt bounces between writing genres, from mystery to humor, speculative fiction to romance. His work has appeared in print and online in over a score of publications including Short-Story.Me. Two volumes of short stories, Cruising the Green of Second Avenue, are available at Barnes & Noble, Amazon and other online booksellers. He's also bounced from Fortune 500 firms to university posts, and from homes in eight states and to a couple of Asian countries.