I'm sitting in an office in Manhattan a few blocks from Central Park. It's a fairly typical workday, filled with emails, trips to the coffee pot, and refreshing my sites. I'm on all the good ones: Twitter, Facebook, you name it.
This morning I'm clicking through my mentions and reading great replies from people from all walks of life who love interacting online. Someone named @NotChadd wants me to "fall into an ocean of aids."
This seems unkind. A man named Jay Starckey gave me an award, but upon further inspection it seems the "award" Jay wanted to give me may be a fake.
Is this Jay's idea of a cruel joke? I'm not laughing. I'm actually doing the opposite of laughing, which is crying.
Why are people being so mean to me? I suspect it may have something to do with this photo.
On July 29th I was leaving work, taking the F to the C (if you're not a New Yorker like me you're probably confused, heh) as I do pretty much every day, when I saw astrophysicist and star of Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey Neil deGrasse Tyson sitting across from me working on his laptop.
Famous people aren't like regular people, they're better. So this was a huge deal.
The only other famous person I've ever seen on the subway was Michael Shannon (Michael Shannon was great in Bug). I saw Michael Moore one time but he was just walking around Chelsea. He was wearing a pair of sweatpants and it was like 90 degrees. I saw Katie Holmes holding some jewelry at a flea market in Williamsburg. Only in New York, baby!
There had been some delays the past couple of days (the MTA is really good) and Neil was talking about it to a fellow passenger, a younger woman, who must not have known who he was. I recognized his voice right away. I started to sweat (more than usual). I sent a text to my friend Jon Hendren, who tweets jokes under the professional handle @fart. "I'm sitting across from Neil deGrasse Tyson on this train lol." I was still underground. Good job, me.
I wanted to say something or get a photo with him but what was I going to say? "Hey, man. I recognize you from various things I've seen. Good job...uh, on the science stuff."
I didn't want to be a fucking goober and ask for a photo, either. I'd probably end up deleting it anyway because I have bad body dysmorphia and I don't like the way I look. So I did what any sane, reasonable person would do and opened the camera app, closed the cover to my phone (Samsung Galaxy Note3), and discreetly snapped a few pics.
He got off a few stops later at Chambers street and I instantly felt a wave of guilt wash over me like he knew I took a picture of him and that's what made him exit the train. Like maybe that would be the last time he ever took the subway because of what I had done.
Anyway, I sent it to my friend Jon first, and then to my girlfriend, and then to Twitter.
The first few replies were from people who got the joke, which was what I expected. I anticipated it would fade away and that would be the end of it.
Soon, however, I started to get replies from two groups of people. People who didn't understand why I took a picture of some random guy on the subway...
....and people who were livid that I had, in their eyes, disrespected one of the greatest scientists of our time by calling him a dumbass nerd. The latter, more colorful, replies were my favorite ones to read.
Instead of taking a second to analyze the post, scores of people took it at face value and began ripping me apart for being a moron (something I don't entirely disagree with). How could you not know who that was. You're a fucking idiot. I would have been kissing his feet. I would have sucked his dick. Et cetera.
The internet is filled with nerds who are desperate to 1) demonstrate their love for science and 2) display their superiority to everyone else. I had provided them all with a chance to do both, at the same time. They were falling over each other to tell me that I am the reason the world is a bad place.
At some point the post was shared on something called "ASAP Science," which is, I guess, the little brother of the hugely popular science fandom page "I Fucking Love Science." That's where the post ended up next. Both had accompanying text similar to "Look at this idiot."
This opened up my joke to a whole new army of nerds ready to loudly and thirstily call me a cunt. The replies increased in number, though luckily most were in meme-form which I've trained my eyes to glaze over by this point.
The post was then shared by George Takei, or, rather the "comedians" and/or social media team that writes, aggregates, and submits viral images to Takei's Facebook page. Takei wrote that it was a "cosmic" mistake on my part. Haha. I get it.
This morning a copycat Perez Hilton blog I'd never heard of with a stylesheet that looks like a CS major got it from a free template website noted that someone should have CPS take my son away which is pretty funny, I guess. Maybe a bit much.
As of writing the original post has over 4,000 retweets and something like 7,000 favorites and Neil deGrasse Tyson is still a huge nerd.
Michael Hale is a creator of the wildly popular @dogboner twitter account and has over $73.00 in his checking account.