Revenge on the Installment Plan

In which Citizen Jim spins an unlikely tale of being stalked on the Internet by a long lost love.

I’d just arrived at work one morning and was rearranging the piles of paper on my desk when I heard an awful racket coming from the floor below me.

“Who cares if I don’t have an appointment? I don’t need an appointment to see my best friend in the whole wide world!…I don’t care whose secretary you are—you’re not her secretary!…How do I know? Because she’s never in her sad, miserable life had a job important enough to warrant a secretary and she probably never will! Now STEP OFF!”

I was standing at the top of the stairs when Citizen Jim came bounding up three at a time. Behind him, the executive assistant for the boss of the Boss of Me was shaking her fist in the air. “I’m calling campus security, buddy! We’ll see how they deal with you.”

“It’s all right, Ann,” I said. “He’s here to see me.”

“He better make it quick because he’s not going to be anywhere on this campus for very long once I call the police and have him escorted off the property.”

“Pipe down! I’ll be gone in two minutes,” he yelled without turning around. To me, he said, “GO! I gotta talk to you!”

We went into my office and I shut the door. Jim sat down at my desk and picked up a pencil. He clicked a piece of lead until it hung two inches from the barrel. He sniffed the eraser. I watched him without saying a word, then yelled, “Why do you always have to make a scene?”

Tapping my keyboard with the pencil, he rolled his eyes. “You’re the one screaming like a banshee with the vein popping out of your neck. I’m just sitting here.”

“What the hell is so important that you had to track me down at work?” I asked.

“I’ve got a problem and I need your help.”

“And your problem couldn’t wait until five o’clock?”

“Five o’clock might be too late! Someone’s stalking me,” Jim said.

I couldn’t help but snort with laughter. “Yeah, I know the feeling!”

“Not like this,” he said, waving his arms around. He pointed at my computer and said, “I mean right there. In cyberspace. I got me an Internet Stalker. And I know who it is.”

“You better hurry. The campus police are only a block from here,” I said, glancing at my watch.

“I’m not worried about a bunch of glorified security guards. We used to beat the campus cops senseless at least twice a week when I was in college.”

Whatever. So? Who is it that’s stalking you?”

“Obviously, that’s not your business. An ex-involvement, let’s say.”

“Is this someone I know? Is it Helga Holbein?”

Jim slammed his fist on the desk. “NO! No, it’s not Helga Holbein! You know I still see her once a month or so to get my neck massage.”

I smirked. “Uh-huh. I know who it is. It’s *********.”

“Wrong again!”

“Is it Phyllissssthpbt? Citizen Meredith?”

“What? NO! Give it up, Stimpy. I’m not gonna tell you!”

“Oh! Now I know! It’s your FAKE ex-girlfriend, Erika Eleniak!”

“Keep on, and I’m gonna punch you so hard your eyes are gonna be rolling around on the floor looking for your face. Okay?”

I nodded.

“Now. Let’s just say I’m a little cornfused by this stalker. Because this person who’s stalking me? She’s not someone who’s in love with me.”

“Well, usually stalkers don’t truly love the objects of their insane desire. I mean, haven’t you ever heard that song by the Police, ‘Every Breath You Breathe?'”

“Every breath you breathe makes me want to choke you. Now listen to me! This stalker, she broke my heart a long time ago.”

“Now we’re both confused. Why would someone who broke your heart be stalking you? What’s your definition of stalking? And how do you even know she’s stalking you?”

“Well, I just get a funny feeling she’s been reading my blog.”

“You have a blog?”

“Maybe I do and maybe I don’t. That’s my personal, private business. I just need your help with shaking her off.”

“I don’t think reading a person’s blog really qualifies as ‘stalking,’ you know. I
mean—”

“Whose side are you on, friend? Mine or my stalker’s?”

“Why not just take down the blog? She can’t read it if it’s not there.”

“Take it down? I have thousands, maybe tens of thousands of people who read my blog every single day. They depend on it. For information. And insight. They have high standards and fine taste. I can’t disappoint my loyal fans.”

“If this supposed ‘stalker,’ who I now suspect is probably Ben Yancey—”

Jim leaped up and wrapped his arm around my neck, pulling tightly with his free hand. “Ben Yancey?! This is serious!” he shouted, releasing me from the headlock and sending me spinning across my office.

The thought of Ben Yancey made me giggle, but I hid my smile by shoving a fist against my mouth. “I’m sorry,” I finally said. “That was wrong.”

Huffing and puffing, Citizen Jim pushed his shirt sleeves up to his elbows and grabbed either side of his head. He began pacing. “Okay! All right! It’s this girl…this evil, awful…BITCH…I was crazy about in the eighth grade.”

“Eighth grade? Are you serious? That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever—”

He stopped in mid-pace and grabbed my shoulders, shaking me like a new carton of orange juice. “SHUT UP and let me FINISH!”

“I’m g-g-g-getting m-m-m-m-motion s-s-s-s-sickness,” I tried to say.

He released me and continued pacing. “This young lady, she acted like she wanted to be my girlfriend. But then…The next thing I knew, she was…GAH! She was holding hands with someone else during the morning assembly!”

“Was the new guy a friend of yours?”

“Hell no! It was a girl! Willa Mae Randolph, some rich, geeky drum major in the fucking marching band! And MY girl, she never talked to me EVER AGAIN! Then my family moved away. After that everything’s a blur,” Jim said, then laid the back of his hand against his forehead and started taking deep breaths. “Stimpy, I think I’m gonna blackout.”

“Okay, okay,” I said. “Enough with the drama. So you never saw her after that?”

“No,” Jim pouted. “Never again.”

“And you think this woman you haven’t seen in 27 years is reading your blog? And it’s creeping you out?”

“YES! I think a deaf man would’ve heard my meaning, jackass.”

“Two questions: why, and why?”

Because. That’s why! Just because! She’s got no right to know my business after breaking my fragile heart!” Jim said, then began sobbing into the crook of his arm.

“First of all, you were thirteen years old when she broke your heart,” I said. “And second of all, what kind of ‘business’ would you, of all people, deign to post on a blog, Mr. Secret Agent Man?”

“If you MUST KNOW, I post book reviews. Very important book reviews,” he said, breathing on his fingertips and buffing his nails against his shirt.

“If they’re just book reviews—”

“They’re not JUST book reviews! They’re the kind of reviews that can and have been known to make or break an author within two days of a book’s release,” Jim insisted.

“Even so, I’m sure she can’t do any harm by reading them.”

“I don’t care! They’re mine! They come out of my head, about things I’ve read with my own two eyes! About things that touch my heart—the one she broke!”

I hated to tell Jim, but that was just the way the cookie crumbled. Anyone with a computer who knew how to use Google could track down just about anyone else in the world. Engagement announcements, arrests, marriages, court proceedings, divorces, real estate transactions, and, yes, even blogs—there’s almost no limit to the amount of unveiling a person can undergo online.

Living “off the grid,” so to speak, has become, just as Emerson remarked about true friendship, “a dream and a fable.”

Rather than breaking this news to him, I said, “Look, Precious Lamb. I think you need to keep in mind that the best revenge, if that’s what you’re bent on, is living well. So she broke your heart. The way to get back at her is to just keep writing your reviews. Sooner or later, she’ll realize that she would never cross your mind if you didn’t know she was trying to peek into your world.”

Jim’s tears had stopped flowing, and his face was red with anger. “How the fuck am I supposed to do that, Dr. Laura?”

“Try this: write a fake book review—”

“Yeah?”

“Sure. You could call it something like Revenge on the Installment Plan,” I said.

“Yeah, yeah! Like Revenge of the Monkey Girls!”

I rolled my eyes. “Um, NO. That’s some stupid thing you made up. More like Death on the Installment Plan? By Louis Celine?”

“You mean one of those frog writers who collaborated with the Nazis?”

“Exactly. So, just write a series of fake book reviews, and make the plot of all the books about a guy who’s being stalked on the Internet by some girl who broke his heart.”

“How could someone with a brain the size of a bed bug’s asshole think of something that clever? I bet you’ve never read Celine in your life!” Jim asked.

Truthfully, I didn’t consider the idea so clever, but I knew it would pacify Citizen Jim. And, in actual fact, I had read Louis Celine, back during my short, tortured, post-adolescent phase of nihilism that lasted for about two weeks during the spring of 1989. “No, I’ve never read Celine,” I said.

“I knew it! Poseur!” he said, then his face clouded over. “Wait a second! That plan of yours sounds good on the surface, but…But I’ll lose all my cred in the blogosphere if I do that!” he shouted.

“I think you’ll be forgiven for one stab at parody,” I assured him.

Jim drew back his fist and came at me. “You better be right! Or you’re gonna write a public apology to all my readers for giving me such a stupid idea!”

Just then, the door to my office burst open and two campus security guards grabbed Jim by the arms and dragged him away, while a third man zapped him with a cattle prod every few feet.

“And I’ll get you back for this!” he screamed as they dragged him down the stairs.

THE END