Vanity of Vanities

Some days, you just wake up to a big, wet kiss from life. This morning, when I logged on Facebook, I found a surprise waiting for me. A friend of mine, whom I will identify by his initial, T., had posted a message on my wall. It read:

Max, Haha just saw some funny pictures of you so sexy lol you have to see them its here

A link to a Twitter page followed.

There was nothing implausible about T. posting such a message, or having such a video. In the first place, that’s a fair sample of T’s diction. Here’s a good rule of thumb for sorting out my Facebook friends: if someone posts clips of Daniil Trifonov playing Chopin’s Études, then I can guaran-damn-tee you he wouldn’t recognize me if he ran me down in his Prius. If, on the other hand, he prefers to go commando where the rules of punctuation and grammar are concerned, chances are he’s a tried and true companion, and we share many fond memories of drinking Tecate ’04 and listening to Kid Rock’s Adagio in G minor.

As for the video — well, I was sure I knew which one he meant. Right after 9/11, in a sort of adult game of cops and robbers meant to soothe the shame we felt over our non-combatant status, my friend Rick and I went skydiving. Rick paid extra to have some guy with a video camera bolted to his helmet follow him on the 11,500-foot trip down. Most of the footage, then, consists of Rick spinning in midair wearing a rictus grin and a stoical jumpmaster. But for a few minutes at the beginning, Rick and I appear together. In one 30-second sequence, we’re standing side-by-side in the hangar, listening as the jumpmaster explains the meaning of the words auxiliary chute. We look like any two guys would look struggling to recall their high school physics lessons in order to form a realistic picture of how a two-mile cliff-dive into a lagoon of sand and scrub might affect their weekend.

T. is also a friend of Rick’s. I know for a fact he has been made to watch that very video at least half a dozen times. In this context, his use of the word “sexy” would surely have been facetious.

Or rather, it would have been facetious for him. For me, it would have contained a statement of fact. Two years before my airborne adventure with Rick, I had decided to grow my hair out. Don’t ask me why; flowing manes on men hadn’t been cool since a plane crash halved Lynyrd Skynyrd, when I was five. Nevertheless, like I do most of my inexplicable, lemming-like instincts, I followed this one with a whole heart. By the time I jumped, my hair was down past my shoulders. In my humble opinion, I did look sexy. When a Lakota co-worker told me that my scalp would have brought as much cachet to one of her ancestors as the Heisman Trophy brings to its winners, I hugged myself over a successful fashion statement.

Since I am unable to keep a camera for more than three weeks without losing or breaking the thing, this video represented the sole surviving evidence of my Merovingian phase. But I didn’t want it only for my personal use; if I may say so, I’m much more generous than that. Two months ago, when I announced I was embarking on a campaign of physical re-generation, my readers — many of them Facebook friends — offered their huzzahs. Touched, I made sure to post evidence of progress: the details of a workout routine one day, a friend’s Blackberry shot of myself in sporting wear the next. Finding and re-posting the video of the Hair Days would serve as one more reminder that they were backing a firm with a respectable history, one whose recent Chapter 11 filing counted for nothing but an embarassing fluke. Like I said, I pride myself on my generosity.

Excited for myself and my stakeholders, I clicked the link on the Twitter page. It led to a Facebook login page. This seemed strange, since I was already logged into Facebook, but I wrote it off as more Zuckerbergian prudery, like the rules against bullying and the “promotion of cutting, eating disorders and drug use.” Logging in as directed took me to a page with a video viewing screen. Blocking the screen was a very unwelcome message bearing the YouTube logo: “PLAYING THIS VIDEO REQUIRES THE LATEST MEDIA PLAYER UPDATE.”

There was, thank God, a download button. But when I clicked it, one of those windows with a red X in the corner flashed on my screen, accompanied by a clanking sound. The gist of the message was that something had gone wrong, and my computer would have to shut down and restart itself. Fine, thinks I. Patience is another of my virtues. When Windows rebooted, I logged straight back into Facbook and followed the steps faithfully, only to hear the same horrid clank and read the same grim announcement.

I’ll have everyone know I am not a cut-and-run man. Whenever anything really important is at stake, I refuse to appease failure. I stay the course and gut it out, like a Clemenceau or a Cheney. After three or four more restarts, I decided to find this mysterious media player on my own. I went to Java’s homepage and downloaded their latest. Then I clicked over to RealPlayer’s homepage and downloaded their latest. Both times, I logged back into Facebook expecting to find the video viewable, perhaps a still of me in my ponytail covering the screen. Both times, my designs were frustrated.

So I decided to beat a strategic retreat. Changing gears, I, wrote some press releases for my friend’s SEO firm, read a few articles where Salon readers confronted their childhood bullies, and told myself new downloads took a while to work their way into an operating system, like charcoal heat into a steak. Just as I was starting to read something about Greece’s new far-right Smegma Party, or whatever it’s called, I glanced up at my tool bar and noticed a pending Facbeook event.

It was a friend’s “Like.” Apparently, I — or something pretending to be me — had posted on his wall a message along the lines of: “OMG! I just got a free i-pad! This is the best day of my life!!! Don’t you wish you were me?” I recognized it right away for a forgery. I never had an old i-pad; it would have gone the way of my cameras and, come to that, my cell phones. This imposter must have had quite a work ethic, for within seconds, I found myself facing a small flood of messages from friends who sounded both happy for me and curious to know what I’d been smoking.

Long story short: one computer-savvy lady explained that T. had never posted the message in the first place. Some hacker had posted it in his name. As soon as I logged in to the page behind the link, I, too, suffered a hacking. “Your computer needs a full scrubbing,” she told me, in tones halfway between those of a mechanic and a colon specialist.

I changed my password, and I suppose I’ll have to reboot my whole hard drive using my startup disk. There must be a lesson in here somewhere, raw material for a life-changing homily. But I’ll leave someone else to pan for it. I’m no preachypants, and besides, I’m due at the gym. A hard drive can be rebooted; hard delts and traps have to be earned.

  • Kristen inDallas

    Don’t feel too bad. Hackers are clever… I suffered the same fate a few months ago when a friend sent a message “OMG, you have to listen to this song” and link. 5 years ago I knew better than to open a link without a reasonably articulate explanation. But given that iphones, twitter and facebook have degenerated most of our conversations to that point… for some reason it seemed legit. Anyway, I think naivette is endearing (probably because I suffer a dearth of it). :) Live and learn. It’s just a facebook account after all, and possibly a computer. It’s a bit harder to hack the stuff that counts.

  • sjay

    Social engineering is fascinating. I would never be tricked by a message such as the one you got, but one telling me I owed money on some credit card or another would enrage me and probably get me to click through because for the last several years I have been debt-free and proud of it.

    [Now, that right there, sir, is a fantastic observation. Everyone's got a hook. Being a successful scam artist means figuring out what hook is going to snare the greatest number.]

  • http://www.whiskeyspirituality.com Caitlin

    I just found your blog, and man. I like anyone who refers to their long hair and a Merovingian phase.

  • LeAnn

    Okay wow another snafu on your computer man! you need to erase all of your browsing history, delete all cookies, optimize your c: drive and run a defrag and an antivirus scan to quarantine the bug.
    Still waiting for a picture of the long hair. You could then be added to the category of Brad Pitt, Kevin Sorbo the Hercules guy, Bret Michaels, Steve Perry (ages ago) and Axl Rose. And Jon Bon Jovi. When he cut his hair, it made CNN! Love your blog.