To Troll a Troll or The Ultimate Catfish – by Jason Hornyak
My years of trolling, both online and IRL, have taught me many lessons about sociology and the human condition, and have brought massive LULZ. Unfortunately, they have also conditioned me to become ultra-sensitive when it comes to the sincerity of others. I usually default to distrust when there is even a hint of doubt, but this is not always the case. I am happy to say that my cold black soul isn’t entirely shrouded in cynicism and there is still a glimmer of innocence and trust within me. In a world degraded by the darkness of the internet, there is still some hope and humanity left inside of me.
I was slightly depressed on Thursday night. There was no real reason, I was just feeling down. Instead of blaming my emotions on the wayward movement of a celestial body, I took accountability for my feelings and braved through them like Lieutenant Dan fighting the storm. As he and Forrest had their boat, Jenny, to keep them afloat, I turned to a less traditional life preserver: pictures of cats on the internet.
One cat, in particular, brings an infinite amount of joy to me. It’s Tard, the Grumpy Cat. I could digress for pages about why I believe Tard is the best meme that the internet has seen in years, or perhaps the best meme ever, but no amount of words can do it justice. A simple glance at one of her pictures is all you need to understand. Looking at that damn cat had such a therapeutic effect on me that I decided to share the picture on my facebook wall and declare for the entire world to hear, in all caps (because that’s how you yell in 2013) that Tard the Grumpy Cat is officially the best thing to ever happen to the internet. This was met by a facebook comment that changed my life forever…
A friend, who for his safety will remain nameless, popped up in the comments of the picture of Tard and told me that she would be in Denver TOMORROW. Perhaps it was my slightly off balanced emotional state, but this news sent a physical reaction through my body that I had never before experienced. My heart started to pound, my tummy vibrated, my hair started to sweat and my toenails melted. I felt a strange heat building in the corner of my eyes as my tear ducts fought to maintain their composure. “Could it be true?” I don’t know why I asked, because truth did not matter at that point. This was all about FEELING.
I did some research on the alleged grumpy cat event and discovered that it was some sort of slideshow about the SXSW festival at a puppet theater in the highlands. Yes, of course this sounded crazy to me, but it sounded JUST crazy enough that the god damn cat MIGHT be there. I knew Tard was in Austin during the festival, so maybe these people putting on the event met her and her family and they became friends. Perhaps they made some sort of plan to hold an event in Denver with the cat in the future and perhaps THIS was that event! All of this seemed so fucking crazy that I had no choice but to try to believe it. When every single sign points in a different direction, either every path you take is the right path or each path is the wrong one. It doesn’t matter as long as you pick a direction and walk. I knew this could either be the most epic endeavor of my life or the most dastardly failure. I made up my mind that I would be happy with either outcome and decided to throw the condom of caution to the wind and force my way in bareback, balls deep.
I told many people about what was to come tomorrow, and most dismissed me as some sort of anti-doomsday speculator rambling on a street corner with his pants around his ankles. There was only one person brave enough to ignore the signs of impending failure in order walk through the cave of trolls with me and hope that we would eventually find a light at the other side. Leslie and I are e-kindred spirits, in that we share the same online sensibilities. I feel that we both take the parts of the internet and social media that most people bitch about and make them work for us. For that, I respect her greatly, because my amount of self-respect is infinite!
Leslie jumped on board with me and we planned to go see this damned cat. We did not enter the situation without skepticism though, because despite our bravery, neither of us is stupid. The difference between courage and idiocy is small, but it is important. An idiot walks under the bridge to fight a troll unarmed and without any idea of what he is doing; a brave man walks in with sword and a plan of attack. Thus we went to the SXSW slide show at the Puppet Theater armed with a sword of skepticism and a plan to enjoy whatever weirdness we were about to encounter, cat or no cat.
Before leaving, I checked the facebook event page for the slideshow. The host of the event continued to talk about the grumpy cat, how he had just picked her and her handler up at the airport and other such hints. These posts ticked my childlike enthusiasm and made the glimmer of hope in my heart swell. I genuinely had a shred of faith that I would get to meet the most important thing on the internet, which is such a big deal to me that I would face any sort of potential embarrassment to do so.
Leslie, her husband Russ and I arrived at the puppet theater/coffee shop before anybody else… including the hosts of the event. We walked in blind, not knowing what to expect other than certain ridiculousness. The venue itself is one of the most charming places in all of Denver. The coffee shop was comfortable, colorful and homey. The couple that own and operate the place are the kooky hippie grandparents that we all wish we had, but are probably glad we didn’t (I mean this in the nicest way possible). They are the type of folks that you could sit down and chat for hours with and learn a lot from.
Attached to the coffee shop is the Puppet Theater. The gleeful eccentricity of the couple that owns the venue was expressed in the eyes of hundreds or thousands of puppets that decorated the room. Multiple stages, multiple rooms, all types of puppets, creepy and cute, insane and gleeful, old and new….this place is the definition of “a trip.” I really want to return and see an actual puppet show performed, I’m sure it would be an experience that would provide a few rescue breaths to the inner child that is suffocating under the weight of my cynicism.
Behind the theater is a patio of bizarre electiveness. Metal sculptures and ancient patio furniture provide the ambiance around a large empty centerpiece fountain. As the three of us wasted some time out there, we encountered one of the cats that lived on the property. I instantly recognized the cat’s frightful patheticism as a bad omen. It was a grungy beast, covered with filth and had one and a half eyes. The mere sight of this creature sent a physical reaction through my body that I had never before experienced. My skin shivered, my nostrils flared, my sphincters puckered, my spleen inverted and my kidneys pumped adrenaline through my system telling me to flee. Despite its ragged appearance, it was an especially friendly cat and it came up to us, meowed and rubbed its filthy carcass on our shins. I apologized to the cat for not petting it, but you wouldn’t have either if you saw it.
I’m not a man who believes in much, but if there is any sort of cosmic consciousness out there, this cat was surely its manifestation. The cat was sent directly to us and told us to extinguish any sort of hope that remained for the arrival of Grumpy Cat. This cat, joyful and uncelebrated, was the exact opposite of the reason for the night’s whimsical flight of fancy. We had met Tard’s foil, and we should have left then.
We went back inside with expressions of defeat and shrugs of “well, we’ve come this far… we have to see this through.” The host of the event, who was setting up for the slideshow, came over and introduced himself to us. Thankfully Leslie is a hardened veteran of Austin and SXSW so we had a vague excuse for being at this friends and family event. As she put it, it felt as if we crashed a backyard BBQ party just because we smelled the meat cooking from down the street. We were random outsiders without a purpose, other than a faithful hunch to see a famous cat from the internet.
Leslie and the host talked about Austin while Russ and I exchanged knowing glances. Then, to the chagrin of both Leslie and I, Russ brought up the grumpy cat to the host. Now Russ is a man of solid character and confidence, a man who has earned my utmost admiration for not only not giving a fuck, but truly having no fucks to give. As lesser beings, Leslie and I squirmed a bit when he mentioned the cat up to the host. It was played off benignly with a statement along the lines of “oh yeah I picked the cat up from the airport, but she is somewhere else now…” I gave the host my best Larry David look and thought “so THAT’S how it’s gonna be, huh?”
We took our seats on the plastic outdoor patio chairs that filled the puppet theater. There were 25 other people in there, all who knew the hosts in some way or another. I knew we would be in for a ride when the Hostess introduced the garden rake she was holding after she introduced herself and her husband. She was wearing a dress covered in bananas and had silver/purple hair. He was dressed in all black and had random patches of long hair shooting off his otherwise closely sheared head. They were an interesting and lovely couple that spent most of their lives tiptoeing the fringe. It made perfect sense that they’d be hosting a slide show of their trip to Weird Town, Texas in a Puppet Theater.
Since they booked a venue, invited all of their friends, and made up a story about a famous internet cat being there, I figured they would at least have some decent pictures or a fun narrative to go along with the show. It turned out their slideshow, must like the stereotype from sitcoms in the 1980’s, was entirely self-indulgent imposed voyeurism that nobody asked for (much like my writing). The pictures were taken from either an iphone or a point and shoot camera, the subject of which centered on them eating donuts out of food trucks and accidentally scraping their car.
As a big supporter of unintentional humor, I found all of this to be magical… especially when the other spectators would attempt to be clever and yell “jokes” during the presentation. I was suppressing massive giggle fits for the majority of the hour and a half presentation because of the sheer ridiculousness of the situation in which we found ourselves. In all fairness, had we been there for the right reasons and actually knew these people, the charm of this event would not have been lost on me. Any negativity that I express is of my own manifestation and projection.
Leslie and I maintained a line of communication through text so that we could express our snark to one another privately. At one point I suggested that we all step out one at a time and escape our captivity early. This was out of the question, however, because the host of the slideshow was asking Leslie place names and the like during his own presentation, because he knew she was better versed in the subject than he was. Since Leslie was playing armchair tour guide, our departure would be too noticeable and much too rude, so we waited it out. Russ was meanwhile keeping track of the number of dresses the hostess was wearing in order to figure out what day of the trip the pictures were from, in attempt to clock the end of the slideshow.
At the last picture, we all had enough and immediately ran out without looking back. Allegedly they punchlined the grumpy cat joke by bringing out an empty cat carrier after we had left and said something about the cat running away. How clever and cute of them.
So we were trolled, though it was more of an inside joke that was overheard by outsiders who were too insane to realize the truth right away. In my defense, I always kind of knew that this was going to be a goose chase, though I am not ashamed to admit that I held out hope for much longer than I should have. It would not have been impossible for these people to have met the cat and his owners in Austin (the cat was at SXSW), befriended them and had them come out to Denver for their slideshow. This tiny chance was worth the leap of faith that we took, it was worth the ridiculousness that we endured and was certainly worth the ridicule from the cynical people in my life who still tease me for the folly.
I learned some important things from this adventure. Firstly, I learned what it is like to be on the other end of a massive trolling. Though I am sure that these people had no intention of actually tricking strangers into coming to their event in hopes of seeing the grumpy cat, if the tables were turned and I were in their shoes, I would have glorified this as a major victory of trickery. They got me and I salute them for it. I could be mad, I could be butthurt, I could be embarrassed, but I accept my failure with grace. I will now never feel bad for trolling anybody, because I have learned that there is a way to take the defeat with head held high, in reverence and respect for the game. To become butthurt is strictly on you. You’re only a victim if you don’t laugh along.
The other lesson I am taking away from this is that cynicism and distrust, though valuable weapons in this bleak and mischievousness world, can be quite stunting to the imagination and to genuine feeling. It had been years since I had felt the excitement and childlike wonder that happened on Thursday night when I first believed I would meet the Tard. I was so filled with joy and glee that I knew regardless of the outcome, I was destined for a whimsical experience. I would see it through no matter what. It was never really about the cat.