Back in the last decade when I finally gave in and got a Facebook account, pretty quickly I got re-introduced to a couple of high school friends who had co-starred in lots of great memories. I was delighted to “see” them again, if only through digital photos on a computer screen.
We did a lot of catching up through private messages at first, but when other classmates found us, the simplest post could generate a mega-thread of fun co-written by dozens of people. We shared vacation photos and kid photos and daily updates, joking around and making plenty of references to events from a shared past that brought instant comments and plenty of emoticons.
It was like high school had never ended. It was really good.
Then one day I caught a news story about legislators somewhere out west pushing to allow guns in bars. Not thinking too much about it, I posted a link to the story along with a mini-editorial along the lines of “Hey, nothing dangerous about mixing bullets and bourbon in the Wild West, right?”
A brief observation and a link to a current event, just regular Facebook stuff.
The next morning when I checked my account, it said that more than 200 new posts were waiting for me on my page.
Working late into the night, a trio of former high school friends had gone on a copy-paste spree, papering my wall with not only the text of the Second Amendment but the gun laws of each of the 50 states, most of them so long and detailed that they required multiple posts to accommodate Facebook’s then-limit on word count. The capstone to all of the pasting was an angry screed about my foolish naiveté and my need to get with the gun-rights program or be the first person sacrificed in the coming War Against Tyranny.
I imagine they sincerely thought that I would keep all of this crap on my page for all of my actual friend “friends” to see, but that didn’t happen. Instead I spent the morning clicking an endless series of tiny “x” symbols and verifying that yes, I really did want to delete each post, permanently and without possibility of an Undo.
Then I sent a group-addressed private message to the wall vandals: “Stop by and check out my gun collection whenever you’re over this way. But stop assuming, too.”
When that chore was finished, I told Facebook that it should never show any of these people another word I posted. Nor did they have permission to put anything on my page anymore. They could remain my “friends,” but only in names-on-a-list form. We were in all other respects done.
It was like high school had never ended. It was really stupid.
The next day, there were no new posts. Instead, I had hundreds of private messages. The gundamentalists had found a way around the blocked permissions. All of the gun laws were back, plus new editorials about censorship and free speech and the First Amendment coming right before the Second so it was just as sacred and not to be trifled with and who the fucking hell did I think I was, deleting the truth?
Another unwanted explosion of outrage from people who didn’t have a clue about friendship. So I deleted them all from my contacts forever.
A week later, nearly all of the other high school friends—people who had not piled on in the give-him-hell backlash—had deleted me.
The gundies had taken their revenge.
It was like being in middle school again. It was a pre-teen popularity contest and I was the weird kid ostracized by the cool clique. My one little hey, let’s talk about the wisdom of mixing guns with alcohol had met with nearly 500 resounding shouts of HELL NO LET’S TALK ABOUT YOUR IGNORANCE INSTEAD YOU MISERABLE GUN-HATING SHITBAG.
It reminded me of a far-ago time when, at a poker table discussion with my then-girlfriend’s brothers and a few of their friends about something political, I’d said, “I dunno, I really can’t envision that happening,” and the table talk immediately froze while everyone turned to stare at me.
“Uh, I can’t enn-vish-enn that you just actually said that,” one of the bros said after a long silence, his eyebrow raised about as high in disapproval as an eyebrow can go, and great laughter broke out all around.
I know I turned red because I could feel it; the embarrassment tingled along my scalp like a hundred crawling ants. But it burned for only a minute before I knew how to get out of the vocabulary hole I’d just dug.
“Ah, fuck you and your enn-vish-enn, dumbass,” I said, mocking the way he’d mocked me. “Get a fucking dictionary.”
The laughter around the table became a roar, and the offended party raised his beer bottle in acknowledgement of the counterstrike. We went back to playing cards and I went back to losing my money.
But for the rest of that night, there was something in the way that he looked at me—or more accurately, wouldn’t look at me. Although neither of us would ever acknowledge it, and would pretend for several more years to be on friendly terms, a divide had opened up and we had become instant enemies—over a Big Word.
“Gun” has a lot fewer letters than the word I used that night, but it’s a thousand times bigger.
Maybe I’ll post something about that to Facebook. My list of Friends has gotten too long, anyway.