(Editor's Note: This arrived today. John Gonzalez pitched to me the idea of interviewing FanSince09 months ago, though the time spent between planning and carrying out the assignment turned into an empty space. I didn't know if it would ever happen. It did. I haven't touched a word of this.)
I meet the man known to the Twitter universe as FanSince09 at a box company in Fishtown. We meet inside the lobby, if you can call it that. The afternoon sky isn’t so much a color as it is a stench. “Gonzalez”, he says, as he extends his hand toward mine. I nod and shake. “Should of sent Hartman. Whatever.” I give him a glare that’s meant to convey a message, but it’s lost on him. That only deepens my respect.
Somehow we start to make small talk about politics, amazingly, and then for one reason or another I’m suddenly aware that there doesn’t seem to be anyone else in the building. We stand, nonetheless. Despite being three stories high with roughly several thousand square feet on each floor, no one has passed through the lobby. Is this a lobby? The hat that FanSince09 wore was telling. It was a neon green and emblazoned with “YOLO.”
To those of who inhabit cyberspace, we know that abbreviation stands for “You only live once,” which seemed to speak volumes about our setting. This building once had a thriving life, and now it’s reduced to this, an empty setting for an interview of a Twitter personality with a medium to large following. Will the adage ring true? Is this factory’s time over, or will it prove this boardwalk-purchased hat wrong?
“So what d’ya want to ask me, ock?” snaps me back to the present moment. The interview. I fumble for my iPad 4 mini, fingering the screen to get to my questions. As I look down I can’t help but notice my subject’s T-shirt. Poorly made, it reads “ill.” He’s right, I’m not feeling myself. It’s like his shirt is reading my mind. Does he know he’s not getting me at my best? Does he smell the blood in the water? I put on a brave face. Strong Gonzo. Hard Gonzo. No one man should have all this Gonzo.
“One moment, I need to find my notes.” My words sound hollow. He knows I’m unprepared and ill-equipped. “SMH,” he spells aloud, shaking his head disapprovingly.
FanSince09 suggested we conduct the interview in the “Press Room,” so I followed him down a labyrinthine hallway until we find ourselves in an impossibly large... warehouse. He motioned me to the seats, as we walked behind a podium made of cardboard boxes and tape. I sense a power play. He wants to be the one in control. I think back to the great interviews throughout the years--of Frost/Nixon specifically--and I know immediately that in order to get the answers I needed, I have to be the one steering this ship. I scoot out a small chair and request that we make this a more informal interview. After some hesitation, he agrees. We sit across from each other like chess champions, each waiting for our opponent to show a flaw in their strategy.
To interview FanSince09 is to teeter on the edge of a cliff; any false move can send the interview into the abyss of cookie cutter complacency. I could give the reader what they wanted, sure. I could ask about Cole Hamels, and I would get the answer I expected. Too many journalists go down that road. Too many others have sat in this cardboard seat and settled for the same talking points. Not me, I’d come too far to settle for anything less than the truth. I have to find a way to breach this man’s wall, and find the essence of his very soul. As I look into his eyes, my first question came to me like a bolt from Zeus: “Why?”
He reacted as if he’d been asked a question in Chinese. His face contorted. “Why what?” he asked. My tone didn’t change. My gaze remained focused on him. Once again, I asked: “Why?”
“Oh I see. This is what happens when you verse online journalism against print. I don’t care about why. Write that on your e-reader, chief.”
“Tell me about your family.”
“What was your father like?”
“He was a true fan, not like these … this 'you' (he looks to my iPad) … anymore.”
“What was his name?”
“81. Well, Fan Since 81, technically. I don’t know anything about the team but he says he loved everyone except for Schmidt, who wasn’t a real Philly guy. He always tries to tell me that Pete Rose is the truest Phillie of all time and not Cliff Lee, and that’s why we don’t speak to each other.”
Before I can reply he takes out his mobile phone, which seems to have just chimed some sort of alert.
“Hang on a second, someone just tweeted 'pedal stool'."
For the next twenty minutes, he silently “retweets.” Odd. After being put in Twitter jail, he put his phone away.
On my drive in earlier I passed so much hopelessness. What is the point of examining superfluousness when the urgent is in our faces, constantly? And from my Audi I pondered this. Then I found some Mumford and Sons on the iPod. Then I took a bite of my chicken cutlet and broccoli rabe.
What is the point of Twitter? Is this even journalism anymore? Or profiling my audience for the sake of solidifying it? Flattery? Am I a pawn? Is this person just the latest jawn star? Is that fair to him?
Recollecting on that all, particularly the Mumford and Sons, I wondered who precisely was putting whom on the pedal stool, and why, and what comes of it.
“So you’re not going to ask me about Hammels?” He’s on to me.
“Maybe I’ll get to that.”
“Fine. Then I’m not asking you about Marcus Hayes.”
“Low Throw McBlow.”
I try not to, but I crack a smile.
“Let’s call him”, I say.
I let the smile form as I flick through my extensive contact list. Finally I stop on his name. I press "Call".
I give my usual introduction, and tell Donovan that I have someone who wants to speak to him, then hand the phone over.
“Hey Don’vin, thanks for eleven wonderful years without a parade there, boss! Hashtag kill yoself!”
He hangs up. I’m shocked. I expected him to cave in, to reveal his persona as an act. But now I think he may be legitimate. He speaks in hashtags. Was he born, or is he just Twitter-made flesh? Maybe the question isn’t “why,” but rather, “what?” WHAT is sitting across from me?
“You’re in a desert walking along in the sand when all of the sudden you look down, and you see a tortoise, it’s crawling toward you. You reach down, you flip the tortoise over on its back. The tortoise lays on its back, its belly baking in the hot sun, beating its legs trying to turn itself over, but it can’t, not without your help. But you’re not helping. Why is that?”
“Because it’s like Hammels and quit. It needs to man up and stop waiting for someone to bail it out.”
Touche. The puppetmaster had made me dance. We’re down the road I tried to avoid.
“So it comes back to Hammels?”
“It always comes back to Hammels.”
I had no choice. I gave in.
“Why Hammels? Because of the '09 world series?”
He laughed loudly, then leaned back and looked at me like a man observing a mere insect.
“You think that’s it, cuz?” Now he was asking the questions. “You just don’t get it, ock. It’s not just about Coal Hammels being terrible and effeminate. It’s not about quitting on the team in 09, and ruining the Phillies chances to win every year. It’s not about having to trade away true Phillies like J.A Happ and Hunter Pence in order to keep him. “
He had me hooked. I wriggled like a worm on the line.
“He’s not the only Hammels there is. You see, we all have a Hammels. Everything that keeps us from being our best: fear, anxiety, doubt, unswassness, that’s Hammels. So we have to all hate Hammels.”
For the first time in my life there was clarity.
“I see. You’re right. Hammels sucks.”
“And he has a gay voice.”
I nodded while my brain raced to process this new reality I’d been awoken to. I felt an itch on my chest. I scratched, but it felt like it spread. I began to uncontrollably unbutton my dress shirt, and then looked down at the t-shirt I didn’t remember putting on. “ill” was written across the chest.
“Lookin’ swass, Gonzo.”
I looked up, but I was alone in the empty room. The makeshift podium was gone, as were all the chairs. I don’t remember how I got here. What had just happened to me? Was he ever here at all?
As I stepped out into the cold Fishtown night, I thought about what I had witnessed. I never got the answer to the question. I may never know why. But the answers I got, I now realize I knew all this time. Who is FanSince09? FanSince09 is all of us.