Fiction: The Dangling (Sponsored) Conversation

Jack Baruth
by Jack Baruth
fiction the dangling sponsored conversation

senna3x @RacerJones I got an email from you-know-who last night. They want to buy my ID lol

RacerJones @senna3x No way. I guess they’re tired of people ignoring their new-user shills and sponsored conversations. Might as well try to buy names everybody knows and use those names to market stuff, right? Did you sell, or am I still talking to an actual human being?

senna3x @RacerJones no I’m holding out for more cash lol still an or lets make that lolz

RacerJones @senna3x tell you what. If you-know-who is trying to buy out, we should start putting on every post. So everyone knows we haven’t sold out.

TDIRiotGrrl @RacerJones @senna3x count me in for lyfe!

From his seat in his half-height cube, covering his screen carefully with his broad shoulders against walk-by supervision, surrounded by color-printed shots of Evolutions in full rally flight and one of his now-departed Evo IX just caressing a cone at that one autocross he did a long time ago, Jones snickers. Actual Human Beings. That’s what they are now. Him, Senna, Riot, KeyzerVTEC, about ten other people. They started using around the time things the original writers left and things got “awesome”. As the old-time posters abandoned the site in droves, has come to represent the old-school people, the ones who know the way things used to be. . Now, they can add . For, he supposes, lyfe.

It had started innocently enough. Sponsored posts. That was really just open acknowledgement of what everyone knew: the site was for sale. All the video game stuff, all the exclusives, all the non-car stuff, knew what that was about. Clicks. Cash. Politics. Promotion. But still there were articles about the junkyards, the crazy stunts, the real car culture. And had its forums to talk in. Some of them had been on the site for seven or eight years. Jones had joined as an arrogant recent technical-college graduate with a tricked-out Lancer and a six-figure job, striking l4m3rz down with the white heat of his near-autistic auto knowledge. Somebody wants to make up a quarter-mile time or misquote a spec sheet? Jones would rip their faces off, man.

And TDIRiotGrrl! Man, they’d “met” arguing about particulate emissions some time around 2006 or 2007. She’d put a picture up once: slightly zaftig, Goth-dyed hair, leaning provocatively against a weed-slammed Emm Kay Four. He’d lost the photo when his iBook ate its drive a few years later, but he remembered. assembled around the two of them: the articulate flamethrower and the sexy VW chick.

When the sponsored comments had started coming in the second half of 2012, Jones had ripped those shills a new asshole, over and over again. After a while, he stopped the gorilla-pimp attack and started drawing the suckers in, nice and slow, like a bullfighter showboating for the crowd. There’s a screenshot in his “Pictures” folder:

RacerJones @kidrockdetroit3 So, the reason you’re pushing this new Mustang and the new commercials so hard is because you used to drag race a Mustang?

kidrockdetroit3 @RacerJones yeah

RacerJones @kidrockdetroit3 What was it, a ’97 five-liter track pack?

kidrockdetroit3 @RacerJones yeah, I did a lot of dragracing in that one

RacerJones @kidrockdetroit3 When it hit 88 miles per hour, did it go back in time to when the five-point-oh was available so you could install it instead of the engine it came with, you fuckin’ fake-account shill?

@MarkHardegrey moved this conversation to

It’s almost enough to make him quit the site, but if he really thinks about it honestly, he might need it more than they need him. He wrecked the Evo early-apexing a wet corner in 2009, lost his job in the Bush/Obama/whoever crash a few months later, moved back in with Mom and Dad, and spent a long, lost year and a half sleeping during the days and contemplating suicide before finally settling in at the call center, starting to pay down his credit card bill, and paying cash for an old Mirage so he could install whatever he’d salvaged off the Evo on it. Now, almost three years later, he is almost debt-free, living quietly in his old bedroom, and enjoying in the evenings. It’s blocked at work, though, so he’s still on the old site there, reading every article, making witty comments, just being his old self, his car-guy self, just somebody besides this twenty-nine-year-old self taking monitored fifteen-minute breaks during the day, rubbing his ear where the headset makes it sore in the afternoons, and sitting in long freeway jams in the evenings.

Over the next few weeks, the tag picks up steam and pretty soon even ’s hangers-on are using it to some extent. It’s a reputation-booster for him because he was in on the ground floor. Hell, he might be the alpha commenter, really, he’s won so many battles and he’s never had his real identity even so much as hinted at anywhere. He’s on the phone with a real three-alarm-fire of a customer, painstakingly explaining the benefits of keeping her credit card with the completely-unneeded script book lying face-down on the desk, when he sees it.

TDIRiotGrrl I’m in that hellhole known as Baltimore next week. Anybody up for a drink and car talk on Tuesday night?

Jesus. Okay. Take a breath. Write it out, look at it.

RacerJones @TDIRiotGrrl yes, I live in that hellhole, let’s do something!

No. No. Fuck. That’s desperate. Too desperate. Try again.

RacerJones @TDIRiotGrrl I suppose I could make myself available, if the Evo doesn’t need her brakes bled after the weekend activities

No. No! Just go cool with it. Ice cold. Like Andre3000.

RacerJones @TDIRiotGrrl lol if ur buying

Then he waits. And waits. Takes three calls: a slam-dunk save, a Consumer Reports robot, a cursing madman who is angry at the Jews who, apparently, own the credit-card company. Then he sees

TDIRiotGrrl @RacerJones a lady never pays. But I’ll split. Just watch your hands.

Yes. Yes. YES! And they set it up, slow and steady, right there on the forum. He’s afraid to ask for her real contact information. She’s afraid to meet him anywhere there aren’t a hundred witnesses. They settle on a bar in Station North. The next five days are slow as death, but he still posts twenty times a day, he knows better than to go dark. Then, finally, once last feeler Tuesday afternoon:

RacerJones @TDIRiotGrrl We good for eight thirty? No problem if not

and the world halts its spin until, nineteen minutes later:

TDIRiotGrrl @RacerJones See you there!

But when he parks his Mirage on the long, divided avenue a short walk from the bar, he doesn’t see any diesel Volkswagens anywhere. He walks into the bar, sees nobody who even comes close to the photo he remembers, sits at the rail, orders a double Red Stag. Then she comes in.

Yeah, she got fat. Not too fat, though, and her hair is back to mousy brown. She’s worn a ’24 Hours of Lemons’ shirt so he could recognize her; she doesn’t know about the photo. He’s got one on too, although he’s never done Lemons, there was one on eBay and he’d bought it a while back.


“Riot!” Well, although he is Jones, she’s just Beth. Two years younger than him, married since 2009 in a ceremony she describes with such joy in the telling it makes him slightly anxious and sick to his stomach. At first the conversation stalls, sputters, and they look at the bar mirror while they drink, but an hour and six shots each later they’ve hit their stride, using forum names about everyone, passing gossip, laughing about the site, recalling epic threads, touching briefly as she stands to use the restroom. He isn’t really sure about her last name. Did she give it to him? Was it her old last name, or her new one?

Then her hand is on his knee, and she’s saying earnestly, “You need to know before we do this.” Do what? But he keeps his mouth shut. “I had a relationship with leisure. It was brief. I didn’t like him in person.” What? A relationship with leisure? Is this a metaphor? But his mind resolves the wireframe square into a different orientation: she means Leisure, a guy who uses a Britpop album as his forum name.

“Oh, what he was like?”

“He was a geek. Couldn’t get it up. He’s with that other girl now.”

“What an idiot. I mean, you’re gorgeous. Really. Really. Gorgeous.”

“Then let’s go,” she says, and puts the lie to her site post by paying the tab, putting four twenties on the bar and taking him by the hand, to her ’10 Camry LE four-cylinder, parked right next to his Mirage, which he pretends not to notice. Then to her hotel, and he undresses her thickening body with a delicacy he used to reserve for aligning his Evo with strings in the garage of his old condo. When she is naked in the harsh light of the half-opened bathroom door, she drunkenly points to her breasts and laughs, “Hey ate bee.”


“A. H. B. Actual human being. You see.” And they fall to the bed laughing. Her phone lights the ceiling with a flourescent square, again and again, while they move in the not-quite-familiar ways and she services him with a frightening, silent expertise, and then they are asleep together.

In the morning, she drives him back to the Mirage, speaking in clipped sentences, frowning with her inner monologue. As he gets out, he says the first thing that comes to his lips.

“I love you.”

“No,” she laughs, “you don’t,” and the Camry rolls away. Now, sober, in daylight, he can see the silhouette of the child seat in the back window, right next to a “Hooniverse” sticker. He’s late for work, so he leaves the browser closed and does his job, selling credit and earning the money to absolve his own sins in that regard.

It’s Friday morning before he can bring himself to post again.

RacerJones man, I am stoked to catch up on Aussie Supercars, why can’t we get real racing like that here? HEY MORONS, RIGHT TURNS, OKAY?

There are several attaboys from , but he doesn’t see the one he wants to see. Fuck it. Time to put himself out there. You have to be brave sometimes. He remembers how scared he was to autocross for the first time, and even though it didn’t go well, he’d still done it, he was still a racer, that’s when he stopped being “EvoTerror” on the forums and turned into “RacerJones”.

RacerJones @TDIRiotGrrl are you set for Aussie Supercars?

This time, the response is immediate, almost too fast for someone reading the forum and typing a response. Happens in a single JavaScript refresh/expand. He looks at it, reads it twice, then he’s running past his boss, saying “I need my fifteen minutes, okay? My fifteen minutes. Please. Need to take it now,” in a voice that sounds distant and choked, even to his own ears.

TDIRiotGrrl @RacerJones sounds good lol but if you like Aussie Supercars you should check out the new SS Performance

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  • FreedMike I was lucky enough to grow up in a household with the two best German luxury sedans of the time - a manual '81 733i, and a '75 Mercedes 450SE. The BMW was a joy on back roads, and the Benz was a superb highway car. Good times. And both were dramatically better than the junkheap American luxury cars Dad had before.
  • Wjtinfwb A Celebrity Diesel... that is a unicorn. Those early A-bodies were much maligned and I'm sure the diesel didn't help that, but they developed into very decent and reliable transportation. Hopefully this oil-burner Chevy can do the same, it's worth keeping.
  • Wjtinfwb After S-classes crested the 40k mark in the early '80s, my dad moved from M-B to a BMW 733i Automatic. Anthracite gray over red leather, it was a spectacular driving car and insanely comfortable and reassuring on long interstate hauls. My mom, not really a car person, used the BMW to shuttle her elderly Mom back home to Pennsylvania from Miami. Mom and grandma both gushed with praise for the big BMW, stating she could have driven straight through the car was so comfortable and confidence inspiring. A truly great car that improved through the E38 generation, at which point the drugs apparently took hold of BMW styling and engineering and they went completely off the rails. The newest 7 series is a 100k abomination.
  • Vatchy If you want to talk about global warming, you might start here:
  • 28-Cars-Later $55,218 for a new GR Corolla:"But if OTD prices get beyond 50k there are better options"That's what people were arguing in that thread.