Cousin Woodie and the Internet
By Tony Crowley
A cautionary tale about sending up internet forums
My cousin Woodie was an overweight dropout in his early 40's who lived on a trailer park in the USA. He never married and was often unemployed. He was quite a clever guy but somewhat unhinged. Generally, he kept himself to himself so few folks on the park ever saw him around. They certainly heard him though, for at dawn he liked to burst into song, just making up any words he didn't know:
"Jo Jo was a man before he was a woman, but he was another man."
"Michelle ma belle, some say monkeys play piano well, ma belle Michelle."
Any Beatles fans listening must have found it very irritating. I know I would.
Woodie liked to brag about his collection of exotic foreign magazines which he hid in a shoe box in his den when his ma called round. He also kept a train set, ordered a lot of model aeroplane glue and wrote bad poetry. Though I hadn't seen him for several years, he emailed me regularly. His main contact with the outside world, however, was through the internet where he used dubious pseudonyms and sent up or lampooned internet forums.
On a parenting forum, an anxious father reported that, to his horror, he had found his 13yr old daughter smoking. Among the members' helpful suggestions and replies, you would have found Trailertrash asking if she was just hanging out with bikers or puffing away in front of her kids. Another father, who wondered how to tell if his son was gay, was given several suggestions such as "Auditioning for Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, is a good clue.' and 'Wearing a left ear ring does not mean he is gay. But if they’re shorthanded, he'll probably help out.'
On a medical forum, as Trousersnake, he commiserated with those suffering from loss of libido but described in some detail how the offending medication (Lyrica) was having quite the opposite effect on him. He made it sound like boasting.
A missionary ship bound for Africa was holed up awaiting repairs in Newcastle, England. Eager to sail, the crew vented their frustration, through various blogs, at the lack of progress in the shipyard. As Trinity, Woodie warned the good people that as the ship probably provided the only form of employment in that city, it would never be allowed to leave. In the circumstances, they should consider devoting their lives to converting the locals to Christianity. His suggestion was not well received.
Visiting a sailboat forum, as Capt Bligh RN, he posted a design for a self-steering device which looked quite genuine but was complete nonsense. Several hundred members made the device and, oddly enough, a few of them claimed that it worked. One unfortunate sailor used it on a Pacific crossing to Hawaii and was never heard of again. That upset Woodie a lot, but he got over it after a beer or two.
By the way, if you are a member of the international PrayForMe forum, remove Repentant from your list of those in need of your assistance. Like most of us, Woodie may have worried about the stock market, but does not require divine intervention in his choice of investments. It is unlikely that he has spent much time praying for your ailing mother. Oh be generous, brothers and sisters, and find space in your hearts to forgive him.
And should you happen across any of his suggestions for evading speeding fines or income tax, I would suggest that you ignore them. At the time, a few were quite promising but all the loopholes have now been firmly closed. Try praying instead.
Though he was rather scared of his ma, Woodie was very loyal to her. In fact, when she was transferred to the hospital wing, he visited the prison every month. She once told me that as a child he entered an talent contest and sang a sentimental ditty he had heard on the radio:
M is for the million things she gave me
O is only that she's growing old
T is for the tears she shed to save me
H is for her heart of purest gold
I is for her eyes forever shining
R is right and right she'll always be
Put them all together they spell MOTHER
A word that means the world to me.
While the audience and the judge rocked with laughter, Woodie stood on the stage in confusion. Why were they laughing at his best song? Then, struggling to contain his amusement, an elderly judge stood up and shouted:
Put them all together, they spell MOTHIR. A word that makes no sense to me!
The audience collapsed in convulsions and Woodie fled the stage in tears. That was the end of his brief career in show business. When his mother told me this, she was still laughing and said ‘Little varmint should have taken a bow. Might have won.'
Siblings? Yes there are two older sisters. As kids, I believe they were fond of him but had a strange way of showing it. They once told him that he had a twin brother called Forrest. He was very excited and asked them where his twin was now. They offered to show him. ‘Do I need to put on my shoes?' he asked. ‘No,' they replied, ‘Just come in your bare feet.' He followed them to the bottom of the garden where they showed him a large mound of earth. ‘Forrest, our dear brother, is buried under there,' they whispered sadly and then ran off laughing into the pig field. I think it affected him quite badly. Two years later, they dug up the mound to show him it was empty and he stopped wetting the bed.
The world of education was not always kind to Woodie. On his very first day, the teacher told the kids that they were to draw a picture of something that they liked. She handed out paper and crayons and the kids eagerly set about the task. When they had finished, she told them to put their names on their drawings and hand them in so she could mark them. Woodie, who had drawn a very good picture of Squirts, his dog, waited in anticipation as the teacher studied the various works of art. She then showed them individually to the class and it was clear that the quality of the artwork gradually improved as she worked through the pile. Finally, she reached the last drawing and it just had to be Woodie's. ‘Now look carefully, children,' she ordered. To Woodie's joy, she held the sketch of his beloved Squirts in front of the class. Then, to his horror, she tore his picture into several pieces. ‘This is what happens when you don't put your name on your work.'
Some years ago I asked him if he had ever seen his father and told me that he had met him just the once. His pa had turned up on a motorbike outside the educational institution where Woodie was being reformed and asked permission to spend a couple of hours with his son. After an emergency staff conference, permission was granted and, with Woodie perched precariously on the pillion, they roared off together into the desert. Later, propped up against a rock and enjoying a joint, this long lost relative stared at his son for a while and then offered some words of wisdom. ‘Listen kiddo,' he said, ‘Whenever you get nervous, take several deep breaths to calm things down. It always works with me.' Woodie thanked him for the fatherly advice but thought he would have preferred a crash helmet. With dusk falling, they raced back to the school. As the gates closed behind him, Woodie turned and watched his father disappear towards the sunset in a cloud of smoke. That was the last he ever saw of him. I asked Woodie what his father looked like. ‘I dunno,' he replied, ‘He never took his goggles off.'
Woodie was never very confident or comfortable with girls. His mother once told me that any decent girl would be hard-pressed to seek a romantic association with her son, though those were not her exact words. He did, however, have a Brazilian pen friend called Lidjaine. She was learning English at the time and, after an exchange of letters, he sent her a charming little poem which he had written.
Lidjaine Lidjaine Lidjaine
With your long flowing mane
and two identical eyes
that set my heart aflame.
Lidjaine Lidjaine Lidjaine
I know you're not to blame
But there is one thing about you
I find a bit insane.
Lidjaine Lidjaine Lidjaine
I think it is a shame
That your parents didn't call you
By another name.
Lidjaine Lidjaine Lidjaine
Oh please can you explain
How do you pronounce
Your clumsy looking name?
Oh, Lidjaine! Lidjaine! Lidjaine!
She never replied which was a pity because he got good grades in English. For several years, he kept a fading photo of her pinned up in his den next to the letter from Prince Charles (Yes, the one who lives in London, England). More of that later.
Woodie never married and it's probably for the best. A few years back, he was asked to help out as Santa at the staff Christmas party in the Sewage Farm where he worked as a drains inspector. With his tattooed fingers and wild hair, the kids approached him with some apprehension to collect their gifts. One of his greeting cries was ‘Hi there and when's your mom coming out of jail?' To those who were brave enough to reply that mom was not in jail, he shouted ‘That's great news! So they've let her out in time for Christmas!' The following year they employed a professional actor for this role.
Now I don’t want you to think that Woodie had no friends. On the contrary, he had quite a lot of them and probably still has. He started to post pictures, that were taken of him as a kid, on sites with names like cuteboylinks or beautifuladz. When he was twelve, I’d say he resembled a miniature version of Elton John, but he looked pleasant enough. His pictures, apparently, generated quite a lot of traffic. He found the attention hilarious, if not flattering, and sent me some of the comments that had been posted such as ‘This kid’s real cute!’ or ‘Got any more of this angel?’. He kept a record of the comments and found that the most frequent requests were for images of him shirtless. Yes, that had me puzzled too. Well, he didn’t have any photos like that and if there were any in the old family album, I wasn’t going to let on. When he started to sign off his emails with Hübsch Junge, I realised that he had established an international following. As far as I know, those pictures are still spinning away in cyberspace and attracting a host of new fans. Right now, he is probably boy of the month on gorgeousyoungsweetguys.blogspot
Despite his failure as a young singer, Woodie never abandoned his dream of being a famous songwriter. Occasionally, he sent me the lyrics of songs he had written and asked me to put a tune to them. I grew tired of this and just kept sending him the same tune, but Woodie was too busy writing new lyrics to notice.
I guess he must have penned over three hundred songs. The last one he sent me was entitled Try, Try, Try Again. which seemed appropriate. He liked writing country songs with lyrics like: The marriage is tomorrow but the honeymoon's tonight!, She stole my heart, my hat and my horse, etc. He mailed I'll Just Lie Here to several well known country singers but their agents ignored it. Personally, I found it rather disturbing. Here's the chorus:
I see a man with my wife
I see a man living my life
I see a man with my gal
If I’d a gun I'd blast him to hell.
But I'll just lie here all alone
I'll just lie here on my own
I'll just lie here outside town
I'll just lie here - six foot down.
Animal lovers would not have appreciated the lyrics of Bring your dog up right. You only needed one verse to see why:
Oh, I love my dog to pieces
For she really cures the blues,
But I kick her butt each time I find
Her mess stuck on my shoe.
Now there was a subject close to Woodie's heart if not his brain. Some of his ideas beggared belief but they may catch on one day. For example, he developed an airbag for use with a motorbike (too late for that ride into the desert), and there was the car that could be driven from the back seat. His other major contribution to road safety was a sharp steel spike clamped to the centre of a steering wheel and pointing at the driver's heart. That was almost as gruesome as his self-tattooing machine. Rather less risky, was the sideways rocking chair for use as a training aid to cure seasickness. Then there was the harmonica which played itself in a gust of wind. Another project involved home-made fireworks. Using a recipe for explosives he found on the internet, he designed a hat to fire rockets and demonstrated it at Halloween. Though Woodie lost most of his hair, the neighbours considered the hat a resounding success. He blamed the confusing instructions - some of which were in Arabic. I also recall the baby bed cage which was something parents could use to protect their newborn in bed. If one or both parents rolled over onto junior, the bars of the cage were strong enough to withstand the weight of two obese adults. As I said earlier, it was probably for the best that he did not father any children.
The explosion was not the only time that Woodie diced with danger. He stumbled into the forbidden castle or something; a forum celebrating the beauty of young models and actresses. The kind of forum where sad guys post things like ‘OMG I love her and I want to marry her one day!' Woodie added comments like ‘Well I just want her to come over to my den and play with my train set.' or 'Hey, she looks like my favourite niece, Jolene!'. When he told me about this, I hit the roof. I told him to steer well clear of that stuff. You just don't know who is on these sites. The internet is a dangerous place, even for guys who own a train set and mean what they say. Come to think of it, I don't remember a niece called Jolene. Months later, he was still hanging around the castle walls. There was some kind of a fan club for the original Dorothy in Wizard of Oz and he told the members that, having studied their photos of the young Judy Garland, he would rather have a romantic affair with Toto, the dog, though those were not his exact words. He got thrown off the forum.
Earlier, I mentioned a letter from Prince Charles. Actually, the letter came from the Prince's personal assistant but it had the right address on it and all the trimmings. It seemed that some years ago Prince Charles had an accident. Perhaps he was playing polo or involved in some kind of horse play, but he spent the night in a National Health Service hospital. This was a humble medical destination for the injured king-to-be but he was looked after with great skill and the story was picked up by the international press. Woodie got the idea that this was a state institution providing very basic medical care for the destitute, and some folks in the UK would agree. He wrote a letter to Prince Charles expressing his sympathy for the injury and suggesting that he took out some Blue Cross health insurance. The return letter thanked him for his concern and assured him that the Prince had fully recovered. Woodie was very proud of that letter. As you will see later, it may have been his first, but not his last, contact with royalty.
Woodie the Seafarer
For someone who had probably never seen the sea, Woodie was quite interested in ships and was delighted when I sent him a photo of the SS Romantic, a rust bucket on which I had worked. One day, he removed the photo from where it was pinned under his beloved Lidjaine and, having scanned it, started to mess around using photoshop. He altered the masts, enlarged the funnel, added some extra portholes, disguised the name and then posted it on an international forum for ship enthusiasts. As Neptune, he asked members of the forum to help him identify it and they applied their knowledge and skills to this task with great enthusiasm. The ship's nationality was the subject of much discussion and, according to the experts, was variously owned by Norway, Israel, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia or Poland. One member was adamant that he could see a Star of David on the funnel whereas another member insisted that the pattern was caused by some radio masts. The two became very argumentative over this point and had to be restrained by a moderator.
Asked to describe where the photo was taken, Woodie replied that he'd seen the mystery ship in Antarctica. Excited by this news, the experts embarked on another line of enquiry but it was one that led only to more arguments. By the time the topic had clocked up 2,500 visitors, Woodie decided to drop anchor. He returned to his original post and replaced the fake photo with the genuine one. The arguments trundled on for a few more days and then someone new to the topic asked what the fuss was all about. In his opinion, it was perfectly obvious to any fool that the ship was the SS Romantic; the name was clearly painted on the bows. Some of the self-styled experts were furious and demanded the immediate expulsion of Neptune. One irate member was particularly aggrieved because he had paid a laboratory to work on the photo in order to reveal the ship's name. In crossing the Australian outback to do so, his car had broken down and he had to go walkabout for a couple days before being rescued.
After this, Woodie tried spreading an urban myth in which the government had blocked publication of a report comparing the personalities of criminals and police officers. In a study of many different traits, no significant differences between the two populations were discovered. Now can you imagine that anyone would believe such a thing? For some months, several police forums kept receiving recipes for donuts from a certain Yobbocop. I asked him what he had against cops but he just replied 'Well, I never met one I didn't want to kick.'
As Trailerskunk, he soon tired of asking junkie sites where he could obtain some pot suppositories: ‘I need a bullet shaped preparation I can place where the sun don't shine and the cops won't look'. Somewhat to his irritation, he discovered that such a product did indeed exist and came highly recommended, which took the wind out of his sails. Later, as IllegalAlien, he filed sightings of UFO's with the National Reporting Center. ‘Driving north on I-440, I observed in the night sky a cigar-shaped object with a long row of windows and flashing lights descending to earth. It landed in a field to the east of Little Rock.' No one seemed to notice that this event occurs about 150 time a day at Little Rock, but he was starting to lose interest. Then, Nigerian scammers entered his computer and they must have lived to regret it.
Like most folks who use the internet, Woodie had his fair share of scam e-mails, particularly the kind that appear in the inbox and say things like:
My Dear Friend
It is with heart of hope that I write to seek your help in the context below. I am Genza Munga, the first son of the late Mko Munga, A political philantropist and the alleged winner of the June 12 1993 Presidential election, Who died in custody of the Gen Inje Obanithe former military president of the Democratic Republic of Nigeria. I know you will be surprise on how i got your contact, but it was after a careful search in my late father archives that i saw your contact, I have no doubt on your good will to assist me in receiving into your custody (For Safety) the sum of Forty Eight Million, Five hundred Thousand United States Dollars (US$48.5M) willed and deposited in my favour by my Late father. .........and so on.
He had several ways of dealing with these requests. One was to create an email address which included the name of the sender. So, in the example above, he would become [email protected] and berate the sender for stealing both his name and his scam. He would threaten to send in the heavy mob, ‘For I know where you are hiding, you snake in the grass.' At other times, however, he would agree to collect the crate of dollars or family jewels personally and bring the $1000 release fee in cash.
One spin-off from these scam emails was that he increased his geographical knowledge of the world quite considerably without leaving the trailer. He became quite well-informed about African countries, Holland, and the streets of Amsterdam in particular. He often went to the trouble of investigating the cost and times of flights from New York to Amsterdam. Naturally, he would expect a driver and car to meet him at the airport and the driver had to hold up a very large card with the word Squirts on it. Squirts, of course, was long since deceased. but Woodie had never forgotten his only true friend. In meeting his scammers, he usually selected the same rendezvous which he described thus:
Go to the Amnesia Bar on the Herengracht. The music there is the pits and the door is always banging, but the coffee is good and the other customers will be too busy enjoying the smoke to notice us. I shall be carrying an empty violin case which can be thrown into a nearby canal if we need to go somewhere else. Meet me at the table by the entrance to the bathroom.
He said that he sometimes managed to arrange meetings with several different scammers at the same time and would sit in his trailer imagining them all threading their way through the smoke to sit at the same table by the entrance to the bathroom. I knew that he had got involved with this kind of nonsense because he had started inserting certain phrases into the emails he sent me; phrases which he had picked up from his newfound friends such as:
‘Thank you and God bless you and please extend my greetings to your entire family.’
‘WHAT IS GOING ON?’
‘Be that as it may, my friend.’
Then came the fateful day when Queen Shoneka entered Woodie's cyberspace. It was the usual kind of scam with the promise of 9 million dollars deposited by her late father (the country's first interim president) in a South African bank. At first he played all the usual time-wasting tricks and was entertained by her quaint spelling, eg massage instead of message. ‘Oh Queen, how I look forward to your next massage.' With the aid of an airways timetable, he found a flight that sounded plausible: SAA235 to Johannesburg, arriving 6 September at 7.25 am local time. He apologised for its early arrival - deliberately timed for the middle of the busiest rush hour in Africa. Somewhat to his surprise, Queen Shoneka booked him a room in the Road Lodge Hotel not far from the airport and gave him a reservation number. Out of curiosity, Woodie checked the reservation and found it to be genuine. But, of course, he was still back home in his trailer when her driver and his assistant turned up at the airport to greet him. Queen Shoneka began to panic:
"I am writing to ask what actually is going on. You did not show up. I even sent a massage to you. Kindly reply to ease my mind. I am waiting for you at the Road Lodge Hotel and am so worried. Please don't destroy my entire life and future."
A later massage, sorry, message, informed Woodie that her driver and the assistant had been arrested at the airport and that she was in deep trouble. It was at this point that Woodie began to feel guilty. His excuse for missing the flight was a lame one but the Queen swallowed it. He then emailed her some ideas as to how she might escape the building and avoid capture by the South African police. Eventually, he received the good news that she had taken up his suggestion of hiding in a rubbish skip, by which means she had been transported, free of charge, to an industrial tip not far from the city centre. After that, they began to exchange messages, and even the occasional photo. Undeniably, Queen Shoneka was an attractive woman and her photo soon replaced that of Lidjaine's on the wall of his den.
When Woodie told me all this, I urged him to be cautious for Queen Shoneka might not be a genuine female monarch. In fact, she could turn out to be a six foot guy weighing 180 lbs who moonlighted as a bodyguard when he wasn't sitting in an internet cafe. But it was no use; he was hooked and, until his emails suddenly stopped, talked of nothing else but his African Queen. I even wrote to his ma and asked her to talk some sense into him, but the reply I received came as a shock. Woodie had disappeared from the trailer park and no one knew of his whereabouts. I couldn't believe that he had gone to South Africa to be with Queen Shoneka, though there was always a possibility that he had. It was a complete mystery.
So the months passed by and there was not a single word from Woodie. Then, while visiting friends in the USA, I happened to pass the trailer park where he had lived and drove in. An old guy, sitting on a bench in the sun, pointed out Woodie's trailer, now occupied by another family. I asked him if he remembered my cousin. ‘Remember him?' he replied, ‘I won't never forget him. As sure as hell, that boy was wired to the moon. Most people round here avoided him but he didn't scare me. About a year ago, he just took off one night and never came back. Had an African lady with him. Fine looking woman too. I don't know what she saw in him, but it takes all sorts.'
We sat there sharing a beer and gazing at the folks going about their business in the park. ‘You ain't the only person whose been here looking for him,' he continued. I asked him what the other visitor looked like. ‘Not one visitor,' he replied, ‘A whole darn posse of them. Police cars all over the place, special agents in the trees, loud hailers, guns at the ready. I was scared out of my mind! We had guys from the narcotic squad, the IRS, the child protection agency, the immigration service. You name it, they were there. In fact, before they discovered he'd split, they were arguing over who should snatch him. Do you know that Woodie had a little train set? After they searched his trailer, some of them sat outside playing with it. The others were going through a big pile of magazines and it took them a long time. I guess he had something special hidden there. The two guys from the IRS kept sniffing at some tins. I'll never know what that boy was up to, but it weren't legal.'
As I drove away from the trailer park that afternoon, I felt a warm glow inside. Cruising down the highway, I burst into a Bob Dylan song; it was one of Woodie's favourites:
‘The ants are my friends, they're blowin' in the wind
The ants are blowing in the wind. ‘
Woodie, if you ever read this, I wish you and your African Queen well. Have a long and happy life together. You don't have to send me another email. In fact, I'd be overjoyed if you never touch another computer or surf the internet again.
Tony Crowley 2009
writer and illustrator of educational, navigation and musical articles