Hilarity Clinton: My Discovery of Usenet in the 90s

Before Facebook, Twitter, Google, and even the vast Web itself, there was Usenet, where anyone, anywhere, could post whatever was on his or her mind, and millions around the globe had the option of reading it or forever blocking the person posting. It was in this free-wheeling environment where I once again found a sense of purpose for my writing and a massive audience with which to share it. Bill Clinton first moved into the White House around the time I discovered the Internet, so the Clintons showed up rather frequently in posts I made at the time. Here are three of the most infamous. I had a couple of these posted on my website, where I’d occasionally get hits from an odd government domain I later discovered belonged to the Executive Office of the President.

For those unfamiliar with Free-nets, they were Unix-based user communities which allowed early ‘net denizens to access various Internet resources. Sort of like a text-based, non-invasive precursor to Facebook.

President Clinton Stole my Fries

Posted to newsgroup talk.bizarre, 13 February 1994, via Cleveland Free-net.

It was an average Friday. I was about 15 minutes away from closing down the local McDonald’s, not sure where I was headed afterward. I’d been working on the same Big Mac for about an hour, picking at it mainly. I’d grown bored with it about five seconds after I’d zinged the pickles past the head of this kid trying to impress his date. He didn’t much like it and came to share that information with me, but I brought him down a peg by saying, “You know pal, you really want to impress her, you shouldn’t be in Mickey Dee’s.” Embarrassed, he slinked back across the dining room. He got her out of there not five minutes later.

After warding off this punk, I turned my attention back to the Mac, but the thrill was gone. The experience held no fascination for me and I wondered about all those other Big Macs I’d eaten in all those other restaurants and decided I was no better for having eaten them. Still I’d never been so depressed by a burger before, and I wondered what this experience meant for my future beef consumption. I tried to shrug it off, tried molding the bun into daring shapes, but nothing I did could shake the sense of foreboding I felt. Something big was about to happen and I hoped that whatever it was, I’d still be standing afterwards.

I checked the clock and realized it would only be another fifteen minutes before that weasel night manager would be out to tell me to shove off. Still, I couldn’t pull myself out of that seat. I took a quick look around then dumped the last few ounces of Jack Daniels into the Sprite I’d been sipping for so long that the ice had melted then slowly made my way back to the counter.

“Now what?” the bored chick behind the counter said.

“Just came back for that positive attitude,” I said.

She gave me a dull, half-smile then backhanded me from behind the counter, knocking me to my knees.

“Sarcasm I don’t need,” she said. “What’s your order?”

“Large fries,” I said, “And make it a double.”

I took the fries back to the seat, then tossed the burger to the floor under the table and gave it a good kick, sending it over to the table where the kid and his date had been. I started working on the fries, eating ’em one at a time, lingering on each as though my life depended on making ’em last as long as possible. That’s when I noticed her.

She was outside, peering into the restaurant through the large picture windows. I caught her eye and raised my cup to her. Smiling, she turned toward the door and slowly made her way inside. She was blonde, older than I was, but still sharp, with the best pair of gams I’d seen in the last few minutes. She was dressed in black. Seemed kind of nervous and kept looking over her shoulder. She by-passed the counter and headed straight for my table. Not waiting to be invited to sit, she pulled out a smoke and lit it and took the longest drag on it I’d ever seen then exhaled just as slowly.

“Slumming?” I said. She laughed.

“Nice fries,” she told me.

“They get the job done,” I remarked. “You got a name?”

“Maybe,” she said. “In the meantime, call me Hillary.”

“Hillary, eh?” I said. “I had an—” I paused, then realized none of my female relatives bore that name, “Never mind.”

She kept looking around, casing the joint. I took another sip of my electric Sprite and said, “Expecting someone?”

“You never know,” she said.

Suddenly, these two guys wearing shades and earpieces came in. Hillary took one look at ’em and said, “Damn.”

“Problem?” I asked, but she didn’t hear. Instead she looked at me and said in a sultry voice, “You’re not gonna eat those fries are you?”

“Planned to,” I replied. It wasn’t what she wanted to hear.

“Sorry kid,” she said.

It was the last thing I heard before someone sapped me from behind. I saw stars and teetered on the edge of darkness, rocking back and forth, trying to hold on to consciousness and sinking fast. The room was spinning, but I managed to get to my feet and saw Hillary leaving, arm in arm with this big, red-faced guy. They had my fries. I tried to follow, but suddenly my legs didn’t work so well.

I came to and found myself staring up into the face of the rat night manager.

“You can’t sleep here!” he yelled. “Out! Out!”

I got to my feet, then, just for good measure, slugged him. I left him sprawled on the floor, whining like a little baby. Outside, I found a note attached to the windshield wiper of my car, the quickly scribbled witticism, “I feel your pain!”

That’s when I knew. I hadn’t dreamed it.

By now the manager had regained his composure and was heading out the door, waving some sort of blunt object. I hopped in the front seat and gunned the engine, peeling out just as he made it to where I was. I left him in a cloud of dust, screaming obscenities then headed off toward Burger King, to get some more fries.

Secrets of the “Pyramids”

Posted to newsgroup talk.bizarre, 14 April 1994, via Free-net Erlangen (Germany).

The address at the bottom of the letter I received was “188 Mockingbird Lane” the alleged address of “Steve Baxter”. I didn’t know Baxter, had never before been on or near Mockingbird Lane, but I had received this note in the mail, claiming to be a “lucky charm” and that I should send this guy a dollar. Well, I’m not one to send money to people I don’t know, especially someone who sends me cryptic notes. I wanted to know how this guy had gotten my name and address and I wanted to let him know how I felt about his offer.

When I rang the bell, however, the person who answered, an old woman who seemed a bit frightened, told me no one named Baxter had ever lived there. She wasn’t too informative other than that, and seemed anxious for me to leave, so I didn’t press the issue. As I was leaving however, I thought I saw someone watching me from a downstairs window.

Driving back in my car, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was being followed. It was crazy, I know, but I found myself checking the rear view mirror more than usual. The feeling didn’t leave me after I got home either. All throughout the following week I had the distinct feeling I was being watched.

Then I received the first phone call.

“You should’a sent da buck,” the first guy said, then hung up.

“Forget about Baxter,” another told me. All the callers sounded different, yet somehow similar.

I knew I was on to something. I went back to the letter. The next name on it was “Cheryl Dudah” from “Gary, Indiana” which was several hundred miles away. I left the next morning.

Different streets, different cities, yet the story was oddly the same. In fact, I was almost certain that the old woman who answered the door in Gary was the same woman who’d answered the door at the first place I’d gone. I knew it couldn’t be the same woman, or could it?

When I left the house, I noticed I had a flat. This was curious, as I’d just bought new tires. Walking to a nearby phone booth, I heard footsteps behind me but when I turned, there was no one there. I quickened my pace but just as I turned the corner, someone was there, and smashed me in the head with some blunt object.

I woke up in a dank basement, my hands bound. I couldn’t see a thing, but suddenly someone switched on a single, overhead bulb and I found myself face to face with Bill and Hillary Clinton!

“You couldn’t take a hint, could you?” Hillary said, all the time slapping her palm with a rubber hose.

“Now, Hillary,” Bill said, “no need to get rough. Yet.”

He sat across from me and smiled.

“Now, you seem like a reasonable fellow American,” he said. “You wouldn’t want to do anything that would hurt this country, now would you?”

What could I say? I was tied up, sitting eye-ball to eye-ball with the president and first lady. So I shook my head.

“Good,” he said, leaning toward me then grabbing the collar of my jacket. “Now listen up and listen good!”

He laid it all out for me. For years, the government has been sending out illegal chain letters and keeping all the money sent in. The same 100 addresses have been used since FDR’s time, when the scam first started. The idea has been to play on the greed of the average individual and to profit from it.

“You might say it’s one of those ‘secret taxes’ you always hear about but never see in action,” Bill said. “Another thing we’ll do is send the secret service in to people’s houses while they’re away to check for change under the cushions on the couch.

“Is that profitable?” I said.

“How the hell do you think we paid for the Stealth Bomber?” Hillary said, again smacking her palm with the hose.

“She’s right,” Bill said, nodding. “And we’re looking into exploiting the money you lose in vending machines to pay for the health care package.”

“But why are you telling me this?” I said. “Or, aren’t you going to let me go?”

At this they looked at one another and laughed manically. Hillary stepped out of my line of vision for a few minutes then returned holding a hypo full of something. I watched the needle slowly make its way toward my arm then I don’t remember much else.

When I came to, I was back in my apartment, and the first thing I was aware of was a message coming in on my answering machine. It was from my boss, asking where I’d been for the past week. I grabbed my watch and realized I had in fact lost an entire week. I phoned my boss and gave some sort of excuse, then just sat, trying to find some way to piece together all I had seen and heard.

Suddenly, a thought occurred to me and I dressed quickly and rushed out to where my car was parked. It was exactly where I normally park.

At least they fixed my tire.

Checkers Rant

Emailed to president at whitehouse dot gov, 7 October 1993, via Cleveland Free-net.

I have been looking high and low for a copy of Richard Nixon’s Checkers speech, delivered 23 September 1952, on some electronic archive, but still this speech has eluded me. I will not debate the relative merits of the Nixon presidency and his other political achievements, dubious as some may be. But Checkers was a classic moment in American history. True, it was not the Gettysburg address, but as one can count the millions of children conceived over the years by parents watching the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, I’m certain that one can also discover a large number of men and women now in their early forties, Checkers children, if you will, who were conceived during that telling moment in which Richard Nixon salvaged his political career.

So far, Mr. Clinton, I have supported you. I voted for you in ’92 and didn’t really mind in ’88 when you droned on and on during your introduction of Michael Dukakis — actually I wasn’t watching, as I was on duty in the back parking lot at the convention and was watching the festivities on a miniature television run by two AAA batteries, so I was switching on and off until the candidate came on. But I’m not sure I can continue to live in a country where speeches by unpopular former presidents aren’t made available to the average reading public. I must request, sir that you correct this anomaly, or else I may have no other choice but to flee this country. I do not make this statement idly. I’m not more than two or three hundred miles from the Canadian border, so it would be a simple matter to get there.

Please, sir, I urge you to place Checkers on some FTP archive somewhere and make this site known to any and every one. Other speeches can then follow, in no specific interval. Many Americans will thank you, sir, and you shall go down in history as the greatest president of the 20th century.

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