Julian Rubinstein

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From Troika magazine Nov/Dec 1996

Chat Room Con

Losing My Virginity on the Net

By Julian Rubinstein

On my desk at work sits a large, rather sophisticated computer, which, until last week, I had used almost exclusively for writing articles and receiving involuntary radiation treatments. Still, even though I’d only gone online a few quick times, feeling my way around like a blindfolded child trying to pin the tail on the donkey, I didn’t think of myself as a cyberspace virgin. I’d seen and read enough about the Internet to believe that my impression of it—as a new age theme park where you could do anything and be anyone—was an informed and accurate one.

I was wrong. What I didn’t realize until I entered a “chat room” for the first time (feeling an odd twinge of impish glee) was that the virtual world was, well, very much like the actual world.

After pointing, dragging and double-clicking nearly everything on my screen that afternoon, I finally figured out how to enter a sports chat room on which I’d seen some of my co-workers banter insipidly in the past. A thin bar across the bottom of the screen announced: “Julian Rubinstein has entered the room.” I was horrified. My colleagues had always used some slick anonymous handle, which was vital to my vision of what this place afforded. Now, it seemed, I was standing naked in front of the whole worldwide web.

I sat stunned and silent for a moment, before noticing that my grand entrance seemed to have gone unnoticed by—was this possible?—everyone. Slowly I began to type. “Is there anybody out there,” I wrote, chuckling to myself as I imagined the words echoing through space like the opening line of Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb.”

A message popped up on my screen. “Sue and Bob Connor would like to invite you to join another group,” it said. Wow. I didn’t even know the Connors. I could feel the sexual tension as I gently kicked shut the door to my office and guided my mouse toward the Accept button.

As I clicked on it, a box appeared on the upper right side of my screen, showing the names of several others who were already in the room. This was going to be wild, I thought. Then someone called “The Rat” said, “So we talkin sports or what?” which fairly ruined the mood. As I glanced over the names—Colt 45, Sid, RUMe, and STD in Houston—I was a bit nonplussed as to what they expected “Julian Rubinstein” would add to the mix. As it turned out, Colt45 wanted to talk about the Indianapolis Colts, Sid liked boxing, RUMe rarely ventured from the safety of “They suck,” and STD in Houston somehow managed to mention four separate times that he had courtside seats for Game Four of the NBA Finals. I typed in a “No way” or two, just so they wouldn’t start thinking I was weird.

Then Sue and Bob Connor, who had been quiet until now, said, “Has anyone heard of Ferrell on sports talk radio?” Compared to “Marshall Faulk rules,” it was practically scintillating, so I asked, “Where’s he from?”

“L.A., but he’s on all over,” Sue and Bob responded in unison. “Is he good?” I asked, feigning interest. “He picks 80 percent of the spreads right,” they responded.

It wasn’t what I expected to hear, but I went along. “Do you bet on his picks?”

“He’s done me right this year,” I was told, and then asked, “How old are you, Julian?”

“26,” I typed, trying to stay cool but feeling a bit like a freshman girl cornered at a fraternity party. “And yourselves,” I asked.

“It’s just me, Doug,” Sue and Bob Connor said. “I’m 23. Where are you from?”

As strange as it was to learn that this mysterious couple was in fact a 23-year-old named Doug, it didn’t bother me. Suddenly it felt more intimate. Was I making my first cyber-friend?

I fought off the urge to tell Doug that this was my first time in a chat room and answered his question. “I’m from Colorado but I’m living in New York City,” I typed. “How about you?”

“I’m in Chicago,” he responded. “Do you bet?”

“No. The occasional office pool is about as far as I go,” I said.

“You don’t sound like much of a gambler,” he replied.

Then, before I could finish typing my concerned response—”You can’t win in the long run”—he wrote, “I gotta go. See ya.” And the bar across the bottom of the screen flashed, “Sue and Bob Connor has left the room.”

Was it something I said? I anxiously moved my mouse to the upper right side of the screen and clicked into a few other rooms. Sure enough, there was “Sue and Bob Connor” in one of them, waiting—it suddenly dawned on me—for a chance to mention Ferrell again. My heart dropped into my stomach. Doug, or whatever his name is, had been trying to lure me into buying betting tips. Where better to look for prospects than a sports chat room? I couldn’t believe I’d been so naïve.

Outside my door I could hear a few of my co-workers talking about getting together for drinks after work. They were going to a sports bar. I quickly logged off and hoped they wouldn’t knock.”

What are you doing in there, Julian?” one of them asked.

“Nothing,” I answered, getting up to open the door.

“You want to go to Mickey Mantle’s with us?”

I could think of only one response that seemed appropriate: “No way,” I said, and exited the room.

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