In my fifty years, I have encountered only one person whom I have deliberately, unequivocally, and publicly cut out of my life.
That person then completely (and blessedly) vanished from my personal radar for eighteen years.
Some of my fellow Brainiacs, and some of our visitors, will recall this individual as well â€“ or will after I describe him. Thought he was gone, didnâ€™t you?
Well, thanks to the Internet, heâ€™s back. So this is the latest and greatest reason why I donâ€™t like the Internet. (Oh, sure, I use it. Here I am using it right now. However, as Iâ€™ve noted before: I donâ€™t like cars, but I know how to drive. And I donâ€™t like guns, but I know how to shoot. Life in the modern world often requires unpleasant compromises.)
What was the deal with this guy? And why did you shun him so utterly? many of you are wondering.
Iâ€™ll attempt to explain.
According to the American Psychiatric Association (as quoted on Wikipedia â€“ a dubious source, but since itâ€™s on the g***amn Internet, an appropriate reference point), a person must display three out of the following seven criteria to be diagnosed with “antisocial personality disorder” (that is, to be considered what a layman such as myself would call a “sociopath”):
1. Failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behaviors as indicated by repeatedly performing acts that are grounds for arrest;
2. Deceitfulness, as indicated by repeatedly lying, use of aliases, or conning others for personal profit or pleasure;
3. Impulsivity or failure to plan ahead;
4. Irritability and aggressiveness, as indicated by repeated physical fights or assaults;
5. Reckless disregard for safety of self or others;
6. Consistent irresponsibility, as indicated by repeated failure to sustain consistent work behavior or honor financial obligations;
7. Lack of remorse, as indicated by being indifferent to or rationalizing having hurt, mistreated, or stolen from another.
The only one of these characteristics that this guy didnâ€™t clearly display (from my admittedly non-professional vantage point) was Number 4.
But as for the rest â€“ you better believe it. Six out of seven.
Add in a pretty high level of insidious personal charm, and youâ€™ve got Poison.
He was always short of money, and what money he did have came from (he said) sporadic efforts at selling encyclopedias by phone. When he first came to town, he was an almost un-dislodgeable houseguest. Afterward, he was a perpetual freeloader, frequently showing up at my and Barbâ€™s doorstep, uninvited, at mealtimes. He was always having troubles that he insisted werenâ€™t his fault at all, and needing my help to get out of them. (“Gosh, I ran into this curb in the dark last night, and it blew my tire and bent the wheel. I donâ€™t know how it happened. And Iâ€™m broke. Could you â€“ ?”)
He conned me, then conned my friends and acquaintances. He progressed from that to flat-out lying. Circumstantial evidence indicated that he stole from us as well. (Hmm. I could have sworn I had two twenty-dollar bills in this drawer before . . . ohhhh . . . ) Direct evidence indicated that he drank heavily, then drove drunk. After which he conned and lied some more to avoid the consequences.
A few months after I finally told him to go to hell, he married a lady who (at that time) was a member of the Austin science-fiction and writing communities. A few months after that, he left her and moved to another state, taking some of her property with him. That property included a computer whose hard drive contained her novel-in-progress.
I donâ€™t know whether she ever got it back.
And Iâ€™d be willing to bet that, to this day, he wouldÂ act baffledÂ if someone accused him of stealing from her. (Thatâ€™s Number 7.)
Holy moley, some of you will say. Why did you ever hang out with a guy like that in the first place?
Long story short:
He was a guy I had known slightly in high school. He contacted me after I moved to Austin, said that he had read my work, and that he was interested in writing as well. And he was moving to Austin, too.
Well, when Barb and I had moved to town, one of the local sf authors (a great writer, a beautiful man, and a dear friend still) had taken us under his wing, shown us around town, and introduced us to EVERYbody. So I decided that I should pay-it-forward and do the same for this next newcomer.
And make no mistake: This newcomer was a charming, intelligent, friendly guy. At first.
Little did I suspect that several months later, I would verbally tear him a new asshole in front of several other people (some of whom are now of the Brainiacal persuasion).
I did so only after giving him the benefit of the doubt many times — then giving him second, third, and fourth chances even after “benefit of the doubt” ceased to make any sense. And I only made that final angry break after I saw that his presence in my life was beginning to harm a number of GOOD people in my life. People who did not deserve to be harmed.
This happened eighteen years ago. And to this day, I have difficulty explaining when asked, “Just what did he do to you?” Because for quite a while, there was no one clearÂ despicable act. Rather, there was a long pattern of questionable behavior and dubious incidents, culminating in a final overt insult against some of my friends.
That was when I got out the flamethrower and burned away the spider and his web. I only wish, for the sake of the lady he married and whose computer he stole, that I had done it a lot sooner.
Why am I telling you this story now? And how is it connected to the Internet?
Well, EVERYTHING is connected to the Internet now. And I wouldnâ€™t be telling you any of this had That Person not dropped my name while introducing himself to an old acquaintance and colleague of mine on a blog site.
I wonâ€™t quote it exactly, but it was along the lines of: “Hey, Iâ€™ve read your stories and I love them. You might remember me â€“ we met at Bradley Dentonâ€™s house a long time ago.”
If I had run across That Personâ€™s name on the Web any other way, I doubt that I would have given it a second thought. And I probably would have run across his name sooner or later, since heâ€™s posting stories and reviews on various sites. Nothing wrong with that; after all, thereâ€™s no law against sociopaths posting to the Web. (Indeed, there seems to be a law requiring it.)
But he used my name.
And then he proceded to “friend” someone I know after introducing himself that way.
Also, he revealed that he now lives in my part of the country again, although apparently not in Austin. (Surely he wouldnâ€™t think of coming to ArmadilloCon? No; there are too many â€˜dilloCon attendees who still remember what he did to the local lady he married. Tar and feathers can still be obtained.)
Now, Iâ€™ll admit that eighteen years is a long time. People can change a lot in eighteen years. Alcoholics can join AA. Thugs can become teachers. Sociopaths can get therapy. So itâ€™s possible that the Person Iâ€™ve described here is not the Person he once was.
But he used my name.
He shouldnâ€™t have done that.
Because now all I can think of is that he used me and my name once before, with heinous results for my friends and community. I canâ€™t allow that to happen again.
However, I wonâ€™t mention his name here in a public forum, since I have no evidence that heâ€™s done anything heinous in recent years. And Iâ€™m asking everyone else who might remember him to refrain from mentioning his name (or initials, or anything else that might directly identify him) as well . . . because if all heâ€™s doing now is writing and “friending” on the Web, heâ€™s doing nothing wrong.
So Iâ€™ve told this long story for just one reason â€“ to remind all my fellow Brainiacs (and anyone Brainiacal) of what you should already know. In other words, Iâ€™m pointing out the bleedinâ€™ obvious:
Just because someone “friends” you online, that doesnâ€™t mean he/she is your friend. And just because someone praises your work, that doesnâ€™t mean he/she is your friend. And if you like someoneâ€™s work, on the Web or elsewhere, or if you just find someoneâ€™s Web presence charming and intelligent . . . well, THAT doesnâ€™t mean he/she is your friend, either.
And yes, that applies to me as well. If you havenâ€™t met me, you donâ€™t really know me. No matter what you think of my posts, my stories, my novels, my music, my photo, or my website. Oh, I can tell you — either directly or by trying to flatter and charm you — that I’m a swell guy who would never hurt you (by the way, I am, and I wouldn’t) . . . but how do you know? Just because I tell you? Just because I (sometimes)Â seem “nice”?
Of course you should all continue to enjoy your Internet “friends” for their words, their music, their art, their wit, and their virtual comradeship.
But until you really, really KNOW them, donâ€™t let them near your wallet. Donâ€™t let them into your home. For the love of God, donâ€™t let them anywhere near your kids.
And donâ€™t even think of meeting them In Real Life unless youâ€™re also in the presence of a few Real Friends who are willing, able, and authorized to provide a Reality Check.
You see, some of my Real Friends told me, after the horror of That Person had vanished into the past, that they had been creeped out by him the first time Iâ€™d introduced him. But they hadnâ€™t said anything about it because theyâ€™d trusted me.
Thatâ€™s why I wonâ€™t let it happen again.
But jeez, gang, next time, just tell me . . . although you probably wonâ€™t have to, because now I know the warning signs, too. Thanks to that one awful guy.
In fact, that one awful guy is the single biggest reason why Iâ€™m as paranoid as I am today.
But remember. Just because youâ€™re paranoid, that doesnâ€™t mean â€“
You know the rest.