In my work as a feature writer, guest columnist and radio talk-show host, I have to find out lots of information about people.
Back in the old days, before the web and Google, when we used rocks for hammers and found our food by digging for grubs in our backyards, we in the newspaper business had to use what were called “morgues” if we wanted to uncover background information about people and stuff. These were in-house libraries of sorts, where old newspaper clippings were kept, grouped by people, places or past events.
So, if you wanted to find out if someone had a police record or a job history or who they might be related to, you could go back to the morgue and finger through the alphabetical or chronological files. If you were lucky, it might lead you to microfilm files, little filmstrips of pictures of old newspaper pages — or even what were called “microfiche,” the same sort of photos on film made into cards.
This was the stone age, of course, and we wore only polyester clothes and underwear came in one color — white — as it should be.
Today is so much different, both in clothing options and the amount of information available on anyone. Actually, there’s often too much information.
Which brings me to this: Now, almost everyone has a little descriptor on their “biographies” on social media platforms, websites, and any digital archival material about them.
Here’s a typical one:
“Holly lives in Alstead with her husband, Ralph, two beautiful children, and a milking cow named Sarah. When Holly is not busy cultivating Tibetan kale, she spends time spinning wool into wall-mounted tapestries of famous feminist leaders.”
“Samuel is an unabashed back-to-the-earth woodsman and craft-beer fanatic who occasionally tunes into Netflix to re-watch ‘Breaking Bad.’”
These little microbits of information are sometimes slightly useful, opening up a sliver of insight into a person’s personality or background. But most of the time they’re just little add-ons, of mild interest. Almost all of them sound sugar-coated, cute and cuddly, undoubtedly meant to make you feel like you’d want to know them or be friends.
Naturally, I can’t stand these little affected taglines.
But what if people wrote down really truthful ones:
“When Richard isn’t checking in with his parole officer, he reads books about serial killers and stares out the window.”
“Gerty’s primary preoccupation is eating potato chips until she vomits.”
“Willard will tell you right away he hates his job as an insurance adjuster and would much rather badger people in a job down at the department of motor vehicles.”
“Marilyn has worked as a seamstress, blackjack dealer and, briefly, as a hooker. She would like to find a job as an insurance adjuster.”
“Peggy, and her partner, Horace, raise bonsai trees, fix old washing machines and occasionally write bad checks.”
“Jim, whose dream is to live off the grid, likes to save his urine in old empty mayonnaise bottles.”
“When she’s not tending to her job putting bottle caps on beer at a Putney, Vt., brewery, Sheila likes to get really high and go kayaking topless on the Connecticut River.”
“Whitney once had an out-of-body experience at Walgreens and also once smashed a windshield with a baseball bat during a road-rage incident.”
“Polly worships crystals and she and her partner are squatters in an old abandoned tannery in Ashuelot that’s haunted.”
“Ken’s a big collector of old comic books from the 1950s and likes to sit at a park bench downtown, looking at girls.”
“Mark’s not a big fan of his wife and wishes he’d married her sister instead; she’s a lot better looking.”
“Ben generally doesn’t like people, but he acts like he does because most of them are clients and he makes money from them.”
“If you run into Shelly, don’t bring up two things — her ex-husband and that incident that happened a couple years ago at Lab n’ Lager where the cops got called.”
“Bernard has only one regret in life — actually two. That he didn’t complete his MBA at Wharton, and that he got a tattoo of a female genitalia on his thigh one drunken night in Key West.”
“When she’s not taking long hikes out in the gorgeous mountains of New Hampshire, Lori dreams about the day she can jettison her husband and start life all over again.”
OK, you get my drift. It’s all just a fantasy that people would write such things about themselves. But you know what? These aren’t made up, but rather scrambled smash-ups of things I’ve either uncovered or been told by people.