Her name was Connie. But her Facebook profile identified her as Constantinople Pople, which was what she jokingly told people was her real name. The direct URL to her profile was www.facebook.com/conster1995, a nickname inspired by her personal quote: “It’s the Conster, makin’ copies!” This was something her Government and Economics teacher said to her every day before class since he caught her using her cell phone to cheat on an exam. “The Con-meister!” he’d say. “Macaroni and Cheat!” She didn’t quite understand the reference, since she’d never seen Rob Schneider in the original SNL skit, only in atrociously bad Adam Sandler films—all of which she had listed under her Favorite Movies, along with Mean Girls and the various Bring It On sequels. She was fifteen and she had a quick, nervous giggling habit of craning out her arm to snap self-portraits using her iPhone, usually while wearing ridiculously large sunglasses and puckering her lips into a cocky you-know-how-we-do smile. Often she posed with friends at the mall, at parties, at school—her hips canted, arms crossed or akimbo. Oh yeah, and don’t forget the fake lesbian makeout photos. Those are always awesome.
Her mother, who noticed every status update and knew everything on her profile and who hadn’t much reason any longer to update her own, always scolded Connie about the pictures she posted. “Stop making those stupid gang signs. You think you’re so cool?” she would say. Connie would give a no-she-didn’t look to these familiar old complaints and imagine her mother staring into the shadowy vision of herself reflected in her ridiculously large sunglasses. She knew she was popular and that was all that mattered. Her mother had been popular once too, if you could believe those scanned Polaroids on her MySpace page, but no one commented there anymore and that was why she was always after Connie.
“Why don’t you keep your profile neat and professional like your sister? How you’ve got it all cluttered with boxes—what the hell is this? Farmville? You don’t see your sister wasting time with all these junky games.”
Her sister June was twenty-four and spent most of her time on LinkedIn, as if listing all her dishwashing, waitressing, and cashier jobs online would lead to a real career. She’d liked the high school Connie attended, and if that wasn’t bad enough her profile pictures were so plain and steady (by this I mean not blurry) that Connie had to keep seeing her sister’s face shared on her news feed by her mother and her mother’s sisters. “Her face makes me want to throw up sometimes,” she complained to her friends. More often, she was tempted to submit to Failbook.com comments her mother and sister posted to her wall—comments insulting her schooling or asking for clarification. (She had a quick, grammarless writing style that made everything she posted mostly incomprehensible, whether she intended it to be or not.) Their father was away at work most of the time and when he came home he wanted supper and after supper he read CNN.com on the family computer. He didn’t bother talking much to them, but around his squint-eyed face Connie’s mother kept picking at her about social networking until Connie wished that her profile, like everything else about her, could have two sides to it: one for family and one for anyone who was not family. So she customized her privacy settings. Only her friends could see her entire profile now, not just anyone who happened to friend her or who she happened to have friended. One night in midsummer, for instance, she received a friend request, but it was just a boy from high school she didn’t like. It made her feel good to be able to ignore him. Or, if she wanted, to friend him but never actually speak to him, online or in person, which was basically the same thing if you believed the news her father kept repeating to her, since lots of teens had apparently been killing themselves lately over cyber bullying. Worse than that, though, was the invasion of privacy by parents and teachers. Connie’s mother kept burrowing her way into her business, asking her if she had been sexting boys at her school or reading her friends’ posts on her wall and saying suddenly, “What’s this about the Pettinger girl?”
And Connie would say nervously, “Oh, her. That dope.” She always drew thick clear lines between herself and such girls, who kept getting detention for publicly posting their party pictures, friends and themselves holding bottles of Blue. One girl who had started a Facebook group calling the principal a slew of vulgarities had been expelled, and everyone who joined the group was suspended for a week. But Connie had more sense than that. She was only a member of the group “Not getting raped by old dudes obviously symbolizing the devil”.
“This is becoming a real problem in our society,” Connie’s father would say after reading the news reports, as if he knew at all what it was like to be a teenager online.
Connie’s best girl friend’s father was way cooler than Connie’s father because he’d drive them to the mall so they could shop for charm bracelets at Claire’s or pull-over jersey blouses at Maurices. Afterwards they’d usually jet over to Regal Cinemas to watch pale actors portray pale vampires or bumbling wizards in yet another mind-blowing summer blockbuster event. If they had time they’d share a burger and fries at Johnny Rockets, an in-mall diner modeled to resemble those All-American juke-box joints of the 40s. You know, something similar to those drive-in restaurants—the ones usually shaped like a big, squat bottle, on top of which a revolving figure of a grinning boy held a hamburger aloft—where the older kids used to hang in the mid- to late-60s, listening to the music that made everything so good. Like that, but actually only about 500 square feet on the second floor of a crowded metropolitan shopping center whose harsh emptiness was partially disguised by glittery pop music and classic rock bubbling out of a tinny PA system. (I’m pretty sure they were called Bob’s Big Boys, those 60s restaurants. I don’t know why I didn’t just say that to begin with.)
On this particular night, while waiting to be seated, Connie noticed that a boy named Eddie had written something on her wall. Her friend guided her to a booth then ordered a malt drink as Connie replied, “@ jonny rokitz u?” Connie couldn’t help but let her eyes wander over the booths and faces around her, her face gleaming with a joy that had nothing to do with Eddie or even this place, and certainly not the music. Mostly it was gleaming because she kept looking down at her iPhone, whose screen shone fluorescent white on her face. All around the restaurant people were on their cell phones: businessmen emailing reports on their Blackberries, waitresses texting on their enV3s, old ladies chatting on their Jitterbugs. Outside in the lobby people were walking by, bumping into each other. “I hate to sit here on the phone when I’m with Betty,” Connie earnestly texted (not in so many words), but the boy texted that Betty had a Droid, which was as good as an iPhone, sorta, so she wouldn’t technically be bored for too long.
Across the table, Connie’s friend must have been checking her Facebook, because she suddenly said, “Ew, who’s this creepo posting stuff on your wall?” When Connie assured her it was just Eddie, from gym class, she said, “No, this dude Arnold Friend, just below that.”
“I don’t know. Maybe one of June’s friends.” It was a boy with shabby, shaggy black hair that looked crazy as a wig. He wore metallic sunglasses that mirrored everything in miniature, but in another picture she could see that his eyes were like chips of a broken cell phone screen that catch the light in an amiable way. Her friend shared another photo of him, typing “fonzy eh!” in the message, to which Connie LOLed a response. “He looks kinda old,” she added aloud, wondering how exactly it was that Fonzie hung out with high school kids when he looked like he was about thirty. People used to watch some weird shows.
“Why’d you friend him?” Betty asked.
“I don’t know.” Connie slit her eyes at Arnold Friend’s Facebook and looked away, but she couldn’t help glancing back at his info and there it was, a link to his MySpace profile. She clicked it and was brought to a circus of a social networking site, something resembling digital vomit, the background plastered with dozens of pictures of an old convertible jalopy painted gold. Arnold had installed a music player, which kept repeating a clip from a Smashing Pumpkins song asking if she wanted to go for a ride. Most of the comments were made by this dude with sideburns calling himself eLlIe OsCaR, who had posted an annoying widget that streamed a local radio station blaring hard, fast, shrieking songs over all the other incessant widgets and animated gifs already formatted into the layout. In another comment, he’d posted a YouTube clip of an old TV show called Becker, in which a short Italian-looking guy named Bob wore lifts that hurt his feet. “this is sooo u” he wrote. Arnold in reply told him to shut his mouth and keep it shut.
“Hey, isn’t that Willy the Snitch?” Betty asked. “He does kinda look like him.”
“Yeah, I’m not sure I want to be friends with someone like this,” she said, repeating again that he seemed kinda old.
Just then Arnold Friend sent her a Facebook chat: “90|\||\|4 937 j00Z, b4B’/”.
“Oh, god, he’s chatting me in leet,” Connie told her friend. She was starting to feel like the lesbian-looking chick on the “To Catch a Predator” Dateline specials with Chris Hansen.
“Ew,” Betty said. “Block him.”
So she did.
Danny Pelletier’s work has appeared here and in Pear Noir!, qarrtsiluni, One Forty Fiction, and elsewhere.