On Nobody Liking the Picture I Tweeted of Billy Crystal’s Birthday Wish to My Father
The following piece has more to do with the Internet and my relationship with it and the people on it than it does with most anything else, I think, but to get there I’ll have to spend time on a few side characters. Thinking about the task ahead I realize I might get lost in their stories, and maybe theirs are more compelling than my own — please keep in mind, no matter how much you grow to love or hate either character, that this piece is about me and my neuroses. I’ve not yet graduated to the point of being able to tell other people’s stories. I don’t have that sort of perspective.
The first character is my father, Steve. He is a good man. The cynic in me loves to roll his eyes when people say their parents are their heroes, but my father has set nothing but an excellent example for me about how a hard-working, responsible person should live their life. Wherever the cynical side of me came from, it wasn’t from my father.
Steve is a thoughtful man who cares about things deeply and personally and doesn’t play emotional games. He prioritizes his family over himself. He calls his mother every day. He always looks for creative and meaningful ways to show the ones he loves that he cares. Somewhere in the family archive my mother has boxes of notes and gifts he gave her during their courtship. I’ve been mostly limited to stories of thoughtful, romantic gestures Steve has made over the roughly four decade relationship he and Donna have had, but their house does have some on public display. For instance, on my mother’s 45th birthday he had a 45 rpm record of the Ritchie Valens song “Donna” framed for her. Other stories of personalized artifacts — some genuine, some altered for effect — confirm the fact that my father is a sweet man.
I feel lucky enough to have gotten a touch of this sweetness from him in the genetic draft (there may be readers with anecdotal evidence pointing to the contrary, which I can blame on the immaturity of youth or on anxiety, depression, and the muck they sometimes turn my judgment into). A girl I saw for several months in high school was a big fan of the band Beirut. I, then a young member of the press, was hired to shoot stills of a Beirut concert. I later printed some of my favorite shots and signed them to the girl as the various band members. I am my father’s son.
I’m not a carbon copy and have given more than a few dud gifts in my life. It’s been a long time since I gave him a neck tie, but I’ve certainly sent presents just as derivative. He deserves better than a gift card to a movie theater, but he ends up using them, so there’s no harm there. Every now and then, when I take a brief break from thinking about myself, his influence shines through.
Enter Billy Crystal. I know far less about Billy Crystal than I do about my father, despite having seen far more of Billy Crystal’s movies. He’s exactly the type of entertainer from exactly the time that my parents enjoy very much. When Harry Met Sally? City Slickers? Forget Paris? City Slickers II: Legend of Curly’s Gold? All classics in our home. Is my dad a member of Billy Crystal’s fan club? No, but he likes him and that’s something.
One thing Billy Crystal and my father both like is baseball. Crystal directed a movie about the New York Yankees and Roger Maris/Mickey Mantle’s home run chase called 61*, which wasn’t as much of a classic in our home as City Slickers II, but was definitely well received. When I tell you now that my father turned 61 earlier this autumn, you should be able to put the pieces together. At least some of them.
I was at work when I presume my father received the package, but I couldn’t talk so I had to call him back on the drive home. He and my mother were on speaker phone and said they’d just received the most wonderful signed DVD in the mail. I feigned ignorance and asked them to explain. I remember lots of thanks and indiscriminate praise and talk of how nice of a gift it was — nicer, they said, than any of the others of this year’s batch.
“How did you track him down?” he asked me. I instinctively deflected before realizing what the actual question was. How did I track Billy Crystal down. To get his signature. His personalized signature and birthday message to my father. Because Billy Crystal signed the DVD that I sent them. Because why would you open a package with a DVD signed by the film’s director and assume it had been forged? Particularly when the signature includes a reference to one of the signer’s catchphrases, albeit a weird one that originated in an SNL sketch that absolutely does not hold up.
What I failed to mention earlier is that not only is my father a member of the press with impressive connections and access people of note (not to brag on his behalf) but he also fully supported and helped nurture my hobby of sports memorabilia collecting when I was younger. Outside of the thousands of baseball cards I now have boxed up, which are worth either enough to pay back a bunch of people I owe money to or whatever the value of that much cardboard is, I had a very substantial autograph collection. Not just autographs from nobodies — legends. Willy Mays. Stan Musial. Whitey Ford (who also has a role in the movie 61*). Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, Billy Williams, Fergie Jenkins (all childhood heroes of my father). I used to spend summer days at the baseball stadium in Houston, wait for the players to show up before the games to get their autographs, get autographs while they warmed up before the game, get their autographs while they were leaving the park after the game. With the help of the “baseball address book” and the Internet I used to mail cards and baseballs to players with self-addressed-stamped-envelopes in hopes that they’d take 20 seconds and send me back the signed items.
Despite the collection of cute, thoughtful fakes in my parents’ house, the collection of authentic, often personalized autographs is far, far greater. The idea of someone being unreachable, with the exception of the dead and the ultra reclusive, was nonsense. Of course the legends of baseball could be reached for an autograph. Of course Olivia Newton John could be reached for an autograph (he keeps her autograph at his desk at work). Of course Billy Crystal could be reached for an autograph.
I mumbled a bunch of non-words and took a gulp of nothing before letting my parents know that the DVD was signed by someone who was, in fact, not Billy Crystal (I don’t remember if I said it was me or not). I don’t think they were heartbroken — it was more heartbreaking to me to have to tell them, I think. They certainly understood the novelty of the gift and still appreciated the thoughtfulness of it, but regardless it had to be sobering after thinking you’d been given something with quite a bit more meaning that took quite a bit more work. They did mention they maybe wouldn’t mention the authenticity of the signature to the people they’d already told. So shit, I guess.
Maybe I should have made it more obvious. Maybe I should have planned better and tried to actually get Billy Crystal’s autograph. Maybe I should have just gotten my dad the DVD of 61* unsigned and included some sort of extra note saying I’d get him something better next year when I have any money at all. I drove home feeling awful about myself.
I don’t know about you (you are, after all, the unknowable multitudes of cyberspace) but when I feel awful about myself I like to take to the Internet. Do I love Twitter? I absolutely do not love Twitter, but it allows me to vent or see things I hate or see things I love or if I’m lucky get a tiny, meaningless indication that someone somewhere feels, or wants me to think they feel, in some way positive about something I put out into the Twitter-verse. I absolutely do not love Twitter. I absolutely did not love Facebook either, which is why I had to delete my account — I may have been an active user, but that came at a damaging cost that to many just looked like me masquerading as some sort of (brilliant? I sometimes think so) troll, definitely not losing his mind.
Yes, when I feel awful about myself I take to the Internet. And I take to the Internet a lot. You may solve for C if you feel like it.
I returned home having devastated my father (not really) and myself (really), and the only reasonable next step would be to turn rotten lemons into Twitter lemons, which sometimes yield juice and sometimes lead you into interactions with people that make you feel properly uneasy. Of course I’d taken a picture of the DVD before sending it off because WHY WOULD I NOT EXPLOIT A PERSONAL THING THAT I DID. That’s partially true — I do retain some privacy in my life. I visited the Grand Canyon over the summer and managed not to post pictures of it anywhere. I’ve played lots of medium-stakes poker over the years and have on many occasions held handfuls of beautiful, dirty bundles of cash that I’ve abstained from taking pictures with. I spent years languishing-slash-walking dogs and I mostly didn’t spam the web with pictures of cute dogs, despite having a phone full of dog pictures. But a picture of a weird thing involving Billy Crystal and my dad — two people the Internet famously has opinions about — how could I not?
I opted for one of my online behavior patterns, which involves engaging with larger people and implicating them in my life. Since I’ve managed to keep my presence quite limited, big names are unlikely to engage with me and the veracity of the outlandish claims is rarely checked or believed, as well it shouldn’t, because online I’m full of shit. Online is the safest place to be full of shit, and since I’m so notoriously full of shit, I’m allowed to carry on that way, harming nobody and entertaining myself.
It’s interesting to me that I lie so freely online when I have such a problem doing it in person. I do it every now and then in person, but it haunts me. I lie with abandon online. I justify it as character work, and that’s not wrong; Dustin as he exists in the flesh does not exist in cyberspace. I feel no shame about the lies my character work leads to, only frustration (and sometimes amusement) when the lies lead to conflations of who I really am. This rarely happens since I tend to flood my Twitter followers with reminders of how full of shit I am online, but sometimes the uninitiated will find the fraudulent me and have lots of questions. Like, did Billy Crystal really sign that DVD and send it to your dad?
That’s a theoretical example — nobody asked me that. Nobody commented on the tweet. Nobody favorited the tweet. Nobody reached out to me privately with questions or praise. Nobody cared.
Well, I don’t know if nobody cared. Nobody engaged, but that doesn’t mean nobody cared. As someone who tends to care about the wrong things (I am an obsessive pedant) it often baffles me why people don’t care about the exact things I do, but I quell those thoughts by caring about a new, doubled-down analysis of why they do or do not express their care in the ways they do or do not, which I proceeded to spend indeterminate amounts of my anxious, obsessive, pedantic life doing.
I’ll repeat the facts for you:
· For my father’s 61st birthday I gave him a DVD copy of the movie 61* that I’d signed as Billy Crystal.
· My father thought it was an actual signature from Billy Crystal.
· I felt guilty about the dupery and tried to create some positivity out of it by getting positive feedback on Twitter.
· I received no positive feedback on Twitter.
I suppose it’s important to clarify what I mean by positive feedback, which doesn’t directly equate to favorites or views or strictly quantifiable statistics. It’s positive for me when someone engages and I’m given the opportunity to continue the game, the character work. Because it’s a character so far removed from me (though infused with many of my truths) I consider myself untouchable. I can make jokes or statements that amuse me with very little consequence and no fear of being disliked. I can post a semi-nude picture of myself, as I recently did, without feeling exposed. For that reason I consider positive feedback the acknowledgement from others that they’d rather be on my side than against me, lest the character go after them.
That’s an awful manipulation of power and it’s unfair to other people of the Internet, but like I said I do very little harm. I’m just looking to be reminded, again and again, that I’m either liked or feared, and that I haven’t been forgotten altogether.
When I don’t receive positive feedback on Twitter I tend to double down until I get some sign of life. Then I can leave it alone. Sometimes, though, I just end up confused, and it results in a period of reflection and theorizing that doesn’t make me feel any better.
While I rarely find myself completely distraught by lack of engagement, this instance, which was rooted in very real emotion, hit a bit harder, and for that reason I felt that I really needed some cyber love to counteract the guilt I was feeling in reality. The father/Billy Crystal tweet going un-liked consumed me for an amount of time I’m not proud to admit, but I took comfort in knowing that everything happens for a reason — not in the refrigerator-magnet way where you justify your own bad luck with affected spiritual meaning, but in that there is an actual reason for every decision anyone makes. Liking my tweet is a decision. So is not liking it. There has to have been a reason for each and every decision made regarding engaging with my tweet.
It’s a complex world, though, full of complex people, so there have to be more than a couple reasons. After the first 24 hours of no one liking my tweet I began working on a list of the reasons you (from now on we will assume that you are who I’m trying to figure out and that you are at least partially responsible for this spiral) might not have engaged with my tweet. I’ve done my best but I’ve surely missed something, as there’s human behavior that I, even after 26 (almost 27) years on earth, don’t understand.
Why you didn’t engage with the tweet of the photo of Billy Crystal’s fake birthday wish for my father.
1. You don’t like Billy Crystal. This one is obvious. My father was the target for the gift because of his general positivity towards Mr. Crystal, but you were the target for the tweet because of your positivity towards general oddness, and outside of that it’s more likely that you feel dislike/indifference towards Mr. Crystal. That the tweet involves him at all filtered you out. Maybe you even have his name muted from your feed.
2. You like Billy Crystal but could tell that the signature was a forgery and didn’t agree with the mean-spiritedness of the gift and/or the obvious lie of the tweet.
3. You don’t like my father. This better not be the case. You have no reason not to like my father. He’s a great man. He deserves much more praise than I do. If for whatever reason this is true, though, you wouldn’t have supported any sort of gift being given to him.
4. There’s not enough in the tweet that you can relate to. I don’t think I’ve spoken to anyone outside of my parents and a friend of mine from elementary school (grade school) who has seen the movie 61*…beyond that, most people haven’t even heard of it. It came out in that awful window of spring/summer of 2001 when lots of art was eventually co-opted by coverage of you-know-what. This is true of my favorite sketch show, The Armando Iannucci Shows, which was released less than two weeks before you-know-what, and went mostly unnoticed. Didn’t help Iannucci’s case that in one scene he casually admits to partial involvement in a globally devastating act of terror. ANYWAY, the movie is too niche for you, my father is too niche for you, and you don’t know what’s going on with the tweet — what’s real and what isn’t — so you passed on it.
5. You don’t like me. This is the current leader. Note: multiple answers are possible, so not liking me doesn’t mean you also just didn’t get the tweet or whatever.
6. You like me/the tweet but I’d been tweeting too much. There’s a very real phenomenon that dictates you won’t have all of your tweets/posts liked in immediate succession — despite some of them being bangers — unless it’s done flippantly or as an inside joke or something like that. With that in mind, having tweeted as much nonsense as I had over the previous few days, I was not setting myself up for lots of approval. We must enter into the following subcategories:
a. You’d liked a lot of my tweets previously and liking this particular one would be pushing it. Perhaps you were already on the cusp of seeming desperate or overeager to like my stuff. Unfortunately that’s part of tweeting. It’s not a meritocracy. Sometimes good things get passed on for reasons like this. You’d liked a bunch of tweets recently and you have to let some tweets breathe.
b. You hadn’t liked a lot of my tweets previously; you just think I’d been tweeting too much. Again there are politics involved here. Regardless of what you had or hadn’t liked in the span of a few days (I tweeted a thing or two about the movie What A Girl Wants, as well as an odd contest involving a tattoo parlor), it’s not always kosher to jump into a tweet-storm-in-progress and like one towards the end. Doing so makes a statement about the previous tweets and why you didn’t like them, which maybe you didn’t want to make. Or you tend to like my tweets when they come every now and then, but you’re not going to take part in my games like this. I’m flooding the market and it’s frustrating, despite how much you may enjoy what I’m posting.
7. You didn’t see it. Boy do I hope this is the case. Not everyone lives on their phone…I hope you’re a part of that camp. You just weren’t on at the right time and didn’t want to spend your day catching up on what you’d missed. And since the tweet hadn’t been liked by anyone else, the Twitter algorithm wasn’t going to add it to your feed. Plus, since moving to the west coast I’ve yet to adjust to prime tweeting time. Out east I had it down. I knew exactly when my tweets would hit hardest — that’s why I was such an effective tweeter. Here, I don’t know when people are up, when they’re on their phones, when I’m missing the folks on the east coast, etc..
8. You want to play games with me. I get it. I’ve been playing games with you so why shouldn’t you do the same? This isn’t far off from option 6a except in this instance maybe you want to fuck me. Maybe you know I know you saw it. Maybe you knew I wanted you to see it. You just wanted to get in my head. Job well done.
9. You were scared off by me tagging the real Billy Crystal in the tweet. Whether it’s a good gift or not or a good tweet or not, me trying to engage with the actual Mr. Crystal deterred you because you’re no complicit in this weird joke, which Mr. Crystal will take note of. You liking it represents either a pro-Billy Crystal or anti-Billy Crystal stance, and you don’t want to publically take either, especially when Mr. Crystal can see.
10. It’s just not funny.
Are there other reasons? Maybe, but I’m convinced everyone falls into at least one of these categories. It’s torturous to not know exactly which, but at least narrowing it down as I’ve done helps to add some structure to my neuroticism.
By this point in writing I’ve gotten distracted and am equally convinced that all of my tweets are great and that none of them deserve any love at all.
Oh right, I feel like I hurt someone I love and went searching for approval, which I couldn’t find, so I’m looking for more. Regardless of whether or not that approval ever comes, the cycle will surely repeat, in some way or another. Consider this every time you like or don’t like one of my tweets. Now consider that statistically you are ALAWYS liking or not liking one of my tweets.
Now consider the first part again.
It’s driving me crazy and I’d love to focus on something else.