Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Three Trolls

I’m gonna start by talking about what I mean by “troll.” Sure, the word has its origins in Scandinavian folklore, and I can recommend a book. Real, old school trolls that turn into stone in daylight are much better than today’s trolls. You wanna tell me what you think trolling means, go make your own blog post, or comment. Whatever. I think I might have an inner troll, and she’s hectoring me already.

The term “troll” comes from the fairly recent past, but those early days of the Internet, that feel like now, but it really wasn’t, because then the Internet was, you know, just for porn,  sparsely populated by the denizens of the specific-interest message-board; from those boards it sprang, this term. It means “A deliberately provocative message board user.”
Specifically, for me, more simply, it is a person who tries to make other people mad.

Though my older brother and I are close now, I am pretty certain that he was my first troll. I do remember we played well together, but I also remember that as soon as he started elementary school (and I didn’t), I was rejected for bigger, smarter, faster-running school friends. Friends who could catch and throw. Friends who were cool. I was also rejected for being a cry-baby. In my family, teasing was constant. It was an expression of love, perhaps, but here is my evidence: I gave my brother a concussion when I hit him over the head with my shiny new baton, driven to the deed by rage from teasing. And then. Having been punished and won the damned thing back from my parents, I did it again.

My second troll was the M-boy, who lived near my grandparents, in our neighborhood. On a good day, I was terrified to walk to school alone, and the M-boy made it so I was even more terrified to walk home. How long did I endure the bullying? I can’t say. I don’t remember anything that he said, but I do remember a bird’s nest being found and thrown at me. In the infinite wisdom of the late 60s/ early 70s, the solution to this bully was to keep him after school an extra 15 minutes every day so the rest of the kids could get a head start running home. I guess I wasn’t his only target.

When the M- boy died in an accident at his home, just a few years later, I took delivery on the twin feelings of relief that this bully would never bother me gain, and of guilt for not being sad about someone who was really, actually now dead.

I have resisted writing about my third troll, because, just as I struggle with my latest troll, who occasionally plagues me on Twitter, I worry that writing about it will give the troll exactly what she was looking for.

My third troll (so named for the purposes of this essay) and I were friends in high school. We had the same first name and a similar last name. We’d started in 9th grade we were in the same crop of new kids brought in at 9th grade. We hung out. Talked on the phone. Passed notes in French class. I spent the night at her house a couple of times. We rode her parent’s tandem bike in her neighborhood and got chased by a giant, angry poodle. I watched her cat Daisy steal a whole piece of fried chicken off the dinner table and was impressed. I’d never seen a cat steal a whole piece of fried chicken off the dinner table before.

At my highschool, there were many privileges afforded to seniors: a special lounge, a special parking lot, senior prefecture, electing a Mary and a Joseph to pose in the tableau at the highlight of the school Christmas Pageant. On Halloween, seniors got to wear costumes and no one else in the school had this right.
Glee Club, Halloween, 1980. Only seniors could wear costumes 
I don’t remember what I wore, though I may have spent four years planning it. What I do remember was that my same-named friend came as me on Halloween.

It wasn’t a complicated costume. She wore socks that matched her turtleneck, and a tiny side ponytail in the front of her hair, with matching ribbons. You could say I was a walking target, dressing like that every day.

I used part of my precious free period to use a pay phone and call my mother. She was even home. I was upset. I was always upset about something, but I didn't usually call my mom. She told me, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”

I hung up, resolved to be cool about the fact that I felt mocked. In retrospect, I would describe the feeling as being trolled.

To the face of my same-name friend, I laughed. Maybe my eyes didn’t laugh, but I did.

Years later I dreamed I was having a swimming party at the house I grew up in. Everyone I had ever known was there: my cousins, my friends from college, my favorite TV actors. My same-name friend showed up with a machine gun and sprayed the place with bullets, shooting everyone.  It seemed real.

Saturday, December 6, 2014


We picked up our young dog from the trainer and he’d given her the nickname, “Quinny.” Back in those days, the Mythic Times, when software monopolies had hot and cold running spigots of money, when we had perfect house in the city and a farm on an island, we had a dog trainer who trained dogs for Seattle’s rock stars and lived on his own archipelago. He had a PhD in psychology and a rapid-fire banter full of references to E.P.A. Superfund sites and Shakespeare. There aren’t many people I’ve met who I had to struggle to keep up with verbally but talking to him was like the one mile of the Boston Marathon I ran in the 80s with my dad: I had to go as fast as I possibly could just to keep up.

I had to look up this word, “quinny.” And it was maybe 2000 or 2001, so I would have started in our Oxford English dictionary, where I thought I’d find it between “quinnet” and “quino,” but it wasn’t there. Imagine my surprise when the Internet told me it was an Elizabethan term for “vagina.” It’s also a baby stroller company; take that for what you will.

Crude terms for vagina also include “cunt,” “twat,” and, the primary insult of my childhood, “pussy.” Being a pussy had nothing to do with the other meaning of pussy, as in cat. Being a pussy was being a sissy, a weakling, a coward. “Wuss” was a variant on “pussy.” When my older brother teased me into an unsoothable rage, I wrote his name and “IS A PUSSY” in huge letters inside my closet. It was still there when my mother sold the house. Being a pussy was the One Thing we tried hardest Not To Be. It was the sine qua non of screamed insults you could hurl from a passing car, with or without mooning.

Since I was a known cry-baby, I was, de facto, a pussy. I am still a cry-baby, and a huge pussy, avoiding difficult, mildly stressful tasks like calling the dry cleaners to yell at them about my lost Rag & Bone scarf, or balancing the checkbook (two months overdue), or going to the dermatologist for the annual mole check.  I cry when other people get bad news, when I talk about people who’ve been mean to me, or in riding lessons when it goes especially poorly, or well.

Now that I have been empowered by my beloved Internet to embrace my real qualities, and to own my pussiness, and tell the sissy-haters that, baby, that’s woman-hating bullshit nonsense, I’m just gonna shed public tears about Mike Brown and Eric Garner like a real proud, pussy.