I put my hand down on the bar. “I’ll take a whisky. With ice. Something Scottish and undrinkable. Make it a quadruple.”
The landlord – a short, stubbly man with a stench that suggested he either felt worse than I did or rolling around in his own excrement was some kind of hobby – turned and headed for the row of Bell’s they kept at the top of the bar for Alcohol Abuse Tuesdays. “You look kind of familiar,” he gravelled. “Have I seen you somewhere before?”
“Maybe,” I said. “I run this website. Maybe you’ve heard of it. It’s called Rum and Monkey.”
The barman turned around and glared fiercely. “Get the fuck out.” I left, ashamed but not surprised. It wasn’t the first time; nor would it be the last.
I walked out onto the street and felt the rain fall hard on my face, the taste of almost-whisky lingering sweetly on my bitter tongue. The pub sign ran into the gutter like chalky mascara, its letters running into each other: Mondays: Glaswegians Throw Things Night. Tuesdays: Alcohol Abuse Night. Wednesdays: Burn The Landlords Of Rival Pubs In Effigy Night. Thursdays: Curry. Fridays: Barblebarblebarble. It wasn’t a great pub, but there was always something going on.
Frankly, these five years have been a living hell. Sure, there were the fun times. The times when we made the news, when we found ourselves in Stars and Stripes, when Court TV had a slow news day, Googled “criminal”, and discovered the Evil Criminal Test. There was even that awesome moment when we were the fastest growing website on the entire Internet. Or when we received a massive denial of service attack from China. Or when we were banned by the East Tennessee School Board.
I walked down the street, past the kebab vans, drunken students, homeless people and rather suspicious looking ducks going for a stroll. My shoes squeaked in the water, and I briefly considered inventing shoes that made different kinds of squeaking noises every time you made a step. Unfortunately, the pitch would need to be proportional to the height of the person. Nothing less would do, and with a sad sigh I realised that I would never be able to add “footwear innovator” to my CV.
All of the attention was great, and it would have made us feel like mighty digital kings, were it not for the unbelievable stigma attached to running a site that at one time was the number one Google search result for “affliction”. Sure, we were getting millions and millions of hits, but when we told people what we did, they looked at us as if we were perhaps about to shit on the kitchen table and ram asparagus into our ears. We weren’t Internet legends and we knew it. One of our number actually changed his name, and in a strange way, we had rammed asparagus into our ears. Metaphorical asparagus. Asparagus of shame.
Then there were the Mormons, followers of Joseph Smith, Jr., a man who had been convicted of fraud and then somehow managed to convince everyone that Jesus came to America – the actual location of the Garden of Eden – and that God was continually giving him instructions about what they should do. They emailed us, often many times a day, in order to tell us that their name wasn’t Ironrod, or Zestpool, or BenDonna, or Zontl Earthquakes Precious One. They wrote editorials in their local papers about the Mormon Name Generator. They accused us of being misleading and disrespecting the Mormon religion, when in reality, that wasn’t our intention at all. Our intention was to make fun of their stupid, stupid names.
And what of the blogs? Technorati reckoned Rum and Monkey was among the top 100 most popular during 2006. MIT Blogdex, once the de facto standard for linkwhoring, reckoned that the Horrible Affliction Test was the most linked-to site in the blogosphere. That made us giggle like pigs, to be sure, but we weren’t changing the world. We weren’t even changing ourselves. Often, we weren’t even changing our socks.
Asparagus of shame.
I took my mini-notepad from my shirt pocket and scribbled some notes for a press release. SATIRE WEBSITE IS FIVE YEARS OLD TODAY. A long time to be writing faintly embarrassing material with negative effects on our future job prospects; an ice age in Internet years. WE DON’T DO MUCH, BUT WE’RE HERE. The words ran into the lines on the page, my malformed sentences bleeding from inky veins. SUCK IT UP. No journalist would dare print a story about us. We were out of left-field, the Internet equivalent of a crazy uncle. NO, REALLY.
Instead, I took a Sharpie from my jeans pocket and scribbled something on a road sign. That’s what we are: the scribbles on the road signs and the half-remembered daydreams that fall through the cracks in lectures and meetings and reveal the ridiculous skeleton that underpins everything. Nothing is real. Nothing is sacred. Nothing, ultimately, is worth anything except for love and beauty and the desire to make things better. This website, this framework, is none of those things; in its own way, it celebrates the worthless and the inconsequential. We might be living meaningless lives behind desks and photocopiers; we might be a website in a dirty corner of the Internet that nobody takes note of; but at least we’ve never obliterated a village, buried minions in cement or declared ourselves almighty emperor of San Francisco.
The rain soaked through my clothes and, shivering and cold, I made my way home to watch the news and collapse into bed. Behind me lay my hastily scrawled words, finally impervious to the downpour.
Rum and Monkey is five years old today. Long live Rum and Monkey.
Don’t let the asparagus get you down.