My most linked-to article of 2003, part 1: Blogs Save Lives!

by Joey deVilla on January 20, 2004

What happened to me and the new girl (or, “The girl who cried Webmaster”)

At

least a couple of readers of this blog guessed that something was wrong

when the “Ten Cool Things About the New Girl” blog entry from last week

got yanked. They were right, but they probably had no idea how wrong

things went. I’m going to tell the story — with names changed and a

few non-essential details omitted. I’m trying to balance telling my

story with protecting people’s privacy. Hopefully, I’ve succeeded.

Then

I’m going to take a week-long holiday from this blog. I’m annoyed and

exhausted, I have a considerable load of work to take care of, and

after you’ve read what appears below, you’ll probably agree that I’ve

earned it.

The email warning

Among the cool things listed in the “Ten Cool Things About the New Girl” entry were:

  • She went to high school at the hoity-toity Trafalgar College in Montreal
  • She graduated from University of British Columbia with a degree in computer engineering
  • She worked as a webmaster at Alliance Atlantis

A

day after I posted the entry, I received an email message from someone

who claimed that everything I knew about New Girl was wrong,

specifically:

  • She did not graduate from computer science at UBC
  • She did not go to high school at Trafalgar College — she doesn’t even have her high school diploma
  • She does not work at Alliance Atlantis nor is she a Web programmer
  • There’s a long line of people who’ve been lied to or taken advantage of by her

I was shocked. In a year and a half of writing The Adventures of AccordionGuy in the 21st Century,

I’ve never received any kind of crank message related to a blog entry.

“She’s not the person she claims to be” sounds more like a line of

dialogue from a Hollywood thriller, not real life. In spite of my

incredulity, I couldn’t write it off as some kind of prank. Whoever

wrote the letter knew too many details about New Girl to just be some

random person playing a joke. Was this person telling the truth, or was

this someone with a personal vendetta against New Girl?

As luck would have it, I know someone in the Web department at Alliance Atlantis. I gave her a call.

Me: This may sound strange, but I need to know if someone works in the Web department.
Friend: That doesn’t sound so strange. What’s this person’s name?
Me: It’s {New Girl’s name}.
Friend: Never heard of her. Is she new?
Me: She’s worked there since sometime last year. She told me that she couldn’t bear to see The Two Towers because she worked late nights on the site for three weeks and just sick of the whole thing by the end.
Friend:

I’ve never heard of her. Look, let me check the company

directory…nope. There’s only person with her first name, and she’s in

Finance. Who is this person?

Who is this person, indeed.

For

the first time in a very long time, I experienced that Horrible Sinking

Feeling. Someone — either New Girl or the author of the email — was

trying to con me. Worse still was the fact that so far, the facts

favoured the stranger.

I must have read and re-read the email

at least a half-dozen times before coming to a decision. I knew that I

was too deeply involved to be objective and decided to make a sanity

check. I phoned my friend Leesh in New York. She’s a dear friend whom

I’ve known for ten years and has seen me at my best and worst. I

figured it would be best to call a friend with loads of common sense

who was far removed from the situation to be impartial and unaffected

by any fallout from the situation.

“The thing that bothers me most,” I said after I telling her the story, “is that one of them is trying to screw me over.”

“Look at it this way,” she replied, “who has more to gain from it?”

Good point.

I

decided to go ahead with my plan. I emailed my informant, whom I’ll

refer to as Whistleblower, asking if we could meet in person. It would

be one thing to make these claims in a faceless medium, but something

completely different to do so face-to-face. If that person was lying, I

figured my schmooze-fu would be good enough to spot it.

I got a

quick reply. Whistleblower was willing to meet me, and even provided a

contact phone number. This was good news and bad news: good because it

lent more credence to the possibility that Whistleblower was not

yanking my chain, bad because it meant that the claims about New Girl

were true.

Meeting Whistleblower

I arrived early at the

agreed place and stood near the entrance so as to be easily spotted.

Whistleblower, being a reader of my blog, knew what I looked like, but

I couldn’t say the same.

This is such a spy movie thing, I thought. I’d laugh if the reason for all this wasn’t so craptacular.

Ten

minutes later, Whistleblower arrived and we ordered drinks. I didn’t

know about Whistleblower, but I knew I’d need at least one.

The

story Whistleblower told me meshed with New Girl’s, but in all the

wrong ways. Whistleblower, it turned out, knew New Girl from the days

when they both lived in another city. While in that other city, New

Girl was taking courses towards getting a high school equivalency

diploma. She didn’t complete them.

Then Whistleblower followed

with a series of identity theft stories. New Girl would steal online

photos of various gothgirls and claim to be them in various chat rooms,

chatting up gothguys and in some cases convincing them to fly up to

meet her. One poor guy came incredibly close to doing so until the

person whom she was posing as managed to warn him.

Then there’s this little matter:

Whistleblower: Has she shown you photos of a niece and nephew?
Me: Yeah, I’ve seen them. Cute kids.
Whistleblower: They’re not her niece and nephew, they’re her son and daughter.
Me: (sounds of choking on Guinness)

For

an hour and a half, I listened to Whistleblower, all the while trying

to keep my calm-even-during-a-crisis demeanor despite the fact that it

felt as though icy daggers were being shoved into my heart. . I won’t

go into the details here, but New Girl left for Accordion City two

years ago, and the kids were put in the care of Children’s Services.

Whistleblower

recited a list of people whom I could contact to double-check these

claims. There seemed to be a long line of people whom New Girl had

screwed over in one way or another. In the terms of Cory Doctorow’s Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, New Girl has serious negative whuffie.

Whistleblower

also told me that a number of friends reported seeing me and New Girl

— “Isn’t that New Girl, making out with the Accordion Guy? Does he

know?”

The accordion might have saved my bacon again.

Whistleblower

must’ve seen the look on my face — geez, I must’ve looked pathetic

just then — and decided change the topic after a pause. “So…you play

accordion, huh?”

“Yeah,” I said, “you wouldn’t believe the kinds of things it gets me into.”

At

the end of our meeting, I paid for the drinks. Whistleblower objected,

but I said “Hey — you’re a complete stranger, and still you stuck your

neck out for someone you know only through a weblog. You could’ve

stayed uninvolved, and you could’ve decided not to meet me, especially

during a snowstorm. Thanks. I owe you big time.”

Whisteblower

left and I went to use the washroom. Afterwards, as I left the bar, the

waitress stopped me — I was so unnerved that I’d forgotten my umbrella

at the table.

Pull it together, I thought to myself, there’s serious business to attend to.

Confrontation

I

arrived at the cafe where New Girl had gone to meet some mutual

friends. She greeted me with a kiss, after which I said “Could I have a

word with you…alone?”

We took a table in the quietest

spot I could find. I told her that I’d met with Whistleblower. At the

mere mention of Whistleblower’s name, her face darkened.

New Girl: Whistleblower doesn’t know a thing. Whistleblower gets the so-called “facts” from someone who has a grudge against me. That person will say anything to make me look bad. I can’t believe that you’d take the word of a stranger over your own girlfriend!
Me: Your photo album: are those pictures of your niece and nephew, or are they actually your kids?
New Girl: What kind of lies has this person been telling you?!
Me: Do you work for Alliance Atlantis?
New Girl: Of course I do! I’m a webmistress there!
Me: Not according to my friend who works there. She’s in the Web department, and has never heard of you.
New Girl: It’s a big department.
Me: Come to think of it, didn’t you say that the Two Towers

dev team was just you and some other guy? That’s a small one for such a

serious project. If it was just two people for such a big movie, I’m

sure she’d know them.
New Girl: She could not know me. Who is this person? Maybe it’s because I was a contractor and not a full-on employee.
Me: She checked the company directory. You don’t exist there. And c’mon, a contractor? Then how can you be on sick leave?

Sick leave, I thought, a perfect excuse for not having to go to a non-existent job. I’ve been played.

New Girl: I can show you proof. I’ve got pay stubs. I’ll show you tomorrow.
Me: Prove it to me now. Are you a Web programmer?
New Girl: Yes!
Me (very calmly): What’s the difference between HTTP GET and POST?
New Girl (taken aback): …uh, what?
Me: GET and POST. What’s the difference?
New Girl (looking somewhat rattled): You…You’ve got to be fucking kidding.

Her

body language changed to a more defensive stance. I leaned forward and

smiled. At this point, even after all the evidence that had been

presented to me, I still had the tiniest bit of hope that everyone was

wrong about New Girl. I needed to hear an admission — either

intentional or accidental — from New Girl herself. If I kept the

pressure on, she would either cave and admit everything or make a

mistake.

Me: I’m not kidding. C’mon, if you’re really a Web programmer, you’d know this. This is straight out of chapter one of “Web Forms for Dummies”.
New Girl: I refuse to answer this question. Such a simple question…it’s…it’s insulting!
Me:

Answer it, and you’ll shoot such a big hole in Whistleblower’s story

that I’d have to believe you. And trust me, right now, the evidence

makes you look like the liar..
New Girl: I won’t answer it! I know the answer, but you still won’t believe me if I give it to you!
Me: You know, if you accused me

of not being a programmer, I’d be dropping mad computer science on your

head. I’d be saying “Get me in front of a machine! I’ll write ‘Hello World’ in half a dozen languages!”
New Girl: But I’m not you!
Me: And you’re not a programmer. You’re a damned liar.

I guess I just dumped her,

I thought. This is not how I planned to spend Thursday night. I walked

out of the cafe. New Girl, as I expected, chased after me.

New Girl: Look! I’m upset! My head’s a mess and I can’t think technically right now! But I promise you, tomorrow I’ll get all kind of stuff from my place to prove it to you.
Me: You can wait until tomorrow to get proof? I can’t. Why not answer my question now, and save us both time and aggravation?
New Girl: Please, baby, you’ve got to believe me…
Me: I want to believe you, more than anything, but how can I? Answer the question, please. Give me a reason to believe you.
New Girl: I can’t. I’m too much of a wreck. Look — I can show you all my papers from University! I kept them all!

I decided to use a trick I’d learned from an old episode of Columbo. It was a stupid, cheesy 70’s TV detective show trick, but it was my best shot at getting to the truth.

Me: So you really did graduate from computer engineering?
New Girl: Yes I did, from UBC!
Me: And you took the Algorithms course?
New Girl: Of course!
Me: And you have all the papers you wrote?
New Girl: Yes! I kept them all, and I’ll show them to you tomorrow!

I

imagined what kind of excuse she’d have when the papers mysteriously

“disappeared” the next day. It was time to set up the pieces for

checkmate.

Me: I want to see the one we always called the “Hell Paper” at Queen’s — the mandatory fourth-year paper. You know the one, where we prove P = NP?
New Girl: I did that! I proved P = NP! I placed near the top of the class, and the professor used my paper as an example!
Me: You proved P = NP?
New Girl: Yes!
Me: Gotcha.

For those of you who never took computer science, it’s one of the Great Mysteries: no one has been able to prove whether or not P = NP (for more details, check out the best layperson-friendly explanation of P and NP that I can find on the Web.). I’d outsmarted her into lying and giving herself away, just like my childhood literary hero, Encyclopedia Brown.

I’d just broken up with either the biggest liar I’ve ever dated or the greatest computer scientist who ever lived. Somewhere, Alan Turing’s coffin was experiencing fantastic rotational torque.

It gets worse

The

next day, I decided to give New Girl’s supposed home phone number a

ring. I was beginning to get the feeling that it wasn’t actually hers.

A woman answered the phone.

“Hello,” I said, “my name is Joey deVilla…”

“The

guy with the hat and the accordion,” the voice on the other end of the

line said. “I’ve been meaning to have a word with you.”

Eek.

And

so began an even stranger conversation. The apartment wasn’t New

Girl’s, but this woman’s. The woman’s musician friends had seen me with

New Girl at Kensington Market, where I sometimes busked and performed at open mike nights.

“And there was night you were at Grafitti’s with her…”

“Last Thursday.” How is it that everyone but New Girl can provide evidence to corroborate their stories?

“So the stories about her fat cats and the noisy birds…they’re not her pets, they’re yours?”

“Right.”

She then told me about how she and New Girl met, at rehab meetings. Rehab?!

And later, since New Girl had no place to stay, she let her stay on her couch. They grew closer and became lovers. Lovers?!

And then came the story about how New Girl tried to hide her pregnancy. Pregnancy?!

Apparently

there was a third kid, born shortly before I met New Girl. The kid was

adopted a few days after its birth. A couple of weeks after having

given birth, she was flirting with me. I felt ill.

I spent that night drinking copious quantities of Irish Stout.

Enough already

“Dude,” said my old buddy George the following day, “you were saved by your blog!”

It’s

true. I posted a gushy entry about New Girl, someone saw it and came

forward to tell me the truth. Maybe the Blogger or Moveable Type people

should print up stickers and T-shirts that read BLOGS SAVE LIVES. I’d buy one.

As a programmer who used to work in the P2P world and is about to start developing software to socially connect people, I used to look at issues such as social software, trust networks, determining the truth without a trusted third party, identity and reputation in a rather abstract way, kind of like the way a non-chef watches programs on the Food Network

(“Hey, an omelette made with an ostrich egg! Wouldn’t that be neat to

cook?”). Now that I’ve experienced the real-life version of all these

concepts, I’d like to look a little more seriously into their

programmatic equivalents — might as well turn this lemon into lemonade.

As

for me, I’m unharmed and New Girl didn’t rob me. I’m really feeling

incredibly craptacular, very creeped out, and — perhaps as some kind

of defense mechanism — mildly amused at the ridiculousness of the

situation. I’m proud of the fact that somehow I managed to keep my head

mostly together during this descent into TV-movie-of-the-weekdom. I’m

also exhausted — this kind of crap is incredibly draining, even for

Mister-Play-Accordion-All-Night-Long. I’m taking a one-week vacation

from blogging to get caught up on work, sleep and life in general.

To all my real friends out there, thank you for telling me who you really are.

To New Girl, all I can say — and I mean this with all sincerity — is “seek professional help”.

To Whistleblower, I owe you a debt of gratitude. You probably saved me from a lot of misery.

And to all you ladies out there, I’m back on the market. Only those without skeletons in their closets need apply.

See you folks in a week.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Anonymous January 20, 2004 at 11:32 am

This freaked me out. I was reading the RSS feed and the intro wasn’t included. I thought, “Not again!”

Anonymous January 21, 2004 at 5:35 am

Re: the T-shirt. Three words: most…shameless…evah!

Hey, if the bloggies don’t work out, you still have a great career in politics ahead of you.

Keep it up. You make a lot of people smile, and that’s a great thing.

Anonymous January 24, 2004 at 11:42 am

I know how you feel… I posted a really criptic and overly secured message to my LiveJournal and it started a chain reaction that exposed my guy as a lier and a cheat. My LiveJournal saved my life.

theonetrinity

Anonymous January 24, 2004 at 10:12 pm

Jesus! I just read your blog now Joey–that’s a crazy story! I’m still in shock!

I’ve dated some real nutjobs in the past. To think: I could have saved a lot of heartache and headache at the time if I had only had a blog back then. 😉

Anonymous April 11, 2006 at 2:03 pm

One thing I don’t understand is why didn’t you shag her before you dumped her?

Anonymous April 12, 2006 at 3:30 am

:))) It’s not scary It’s just human nature… and i have almoste the same situation 🙂 yea we are naive it’s truth BUT can you told me what was change ??? Are we more carefull with relationships .. i don’t think so .. people need of someone allways searching and allways think Thats the man… 🙂 only good point here is …don’t afraid of your mistakes – use it for your own good and try to be not so naive there still have good persons …. maybe 🙂

Anonymous April 13, 2006 at 5:30 pm

That is f***ing unbelievable! Not that it didn’t happen, just that I can’t believe that this crap actually DOES happen.

I’m happy for you. I’m happy that you didn’t get seriously taken for all or more before it was too late. *whew*

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