Last night, upon returning home from a typically great dinner in Palm Springs, I stopped by my computer to tuck it into bed for the night. The drill is to check the news, my email, and then drop by Second Life to see if there are any instant messages, any virtual emergencies to deal with, or anything else of interest that may have happened while I was in real life, or ‘meat life,’ as some call it. Of course, the obvious problem with this last task is that you actually have to go into Second Life. Always a risky proposition. Especially at this time of night.
Since I have it set to open at my last in-world location, I soon found myself standing on the beach in Bora Bora just as the sun was setting, not far from where Liz and I had spent the afternoon surfing our blues away. Unable to resist spending just a few more minutes in paradise, I decided to stroll along the beach and watch that fiery red ball sink into the Pacific; it cast such a warm, almost other-worldly glow, transforming everything around me. But then, this was another world, after all, and I was viewing it in high definition.
After strolling the sandy beaches for several minutes I came upon a rickety, hanging wooden bridge, apparently leading to another part of the island where there appeared to be some sort of tiki-styled village. Naturally, I crossed the bridge.
It was a ghost village. There was not another soul around as far as I could tell, but as I wandered among the bungalows I suddenly turned a corner and found myself face to face with an impressive-looking dark-skinned native in bright blue surfing trunks, a mountain of dreads knotted in a twist on his head, ala Basquiat, and a bone piercing his nose. For no apparent reason, he began hurling insult after insult at me – words and phrases that don’t bear repeating here – some were that vicious. I stood there, stunned.
Not sure what else to do, I reached deep within me to what was once a standard part of my soul and my behavior: my Lower East Side street savvy, some of it learned the hard way, back in the day. I leaned into his fierce bronze face and said, “Who the fuck do you think you’re talking to, you sun-roasted asshole? If you can’t behave nicer than that when you run into a stranger, my man, you got some deep fucking problems! Some real problems. Just don’t dump ’em on me. Got it, Rasta boy?”
We went at it eyeball-to-eyeball like that for a while, and then I stepped back and took off my shirt, revealing the extensive Samoan-style tattoos covering my own rippling muscles. (Of course, we were only avatars, so the muscles were actually hollow; but this was a psychological smackdown, and the imagery, just as in real life, has a powerful effect. Trust me.)
“What’d you take your shirt off for, man? You gonna do somethin’?”
“What the fuck do you think, brother? I was just going native? Just frontin’?”
At that he laughed and offered to shake my hand, saying he was just kidding around; his buddies had put him up to it, he said; betting him that he couldn’t break me down and send me running back over that bridge like a whipped dog.
“I like you, man. You stood up and dished that shit right back at me. Just what I would have done. I like you for that, man. Respect. They call me Shark. Hey, you wanna come see my crib?”
WTF? Is this guy nuts? I know there are griefers around who can do you bodily (and mental) harm, but this guy is out there somewhere; he’s on a whole new plane; spinning in a different orbit. This could be the Godfather of griefers. Nobody I know in Real Life or Second Life would exhibit such extreme changes of behavior; there was something mighty strange going on here. If I accepted his invitation, I could be walking into a trap; who knows what his game is? Naturally, I accepted his offer.
“You gay or somethin’?” I said.
‘Hell no, man. C’mon, let me show show you around my crib.”
Suddenly he disappeared in a cloud of pixel dust, and soon a little blue teleport offer to his ‘crib’ popped up on my screen. Now, I’ve always been pretty much of a risk taker, and it has sometimes led me down the wrong path and gotten me trapped in some deep, dark corners, but that was long, long ago, and I had lived to tell the tale. But, hey, this is Second Life, so I get to do it all over again. I hit the teleport button.
I soon found myself standing in front of what was, to my reckoning, the largest personally-owned mansion I’ve ever seen in SL. Since he’s standing right there at the front door to greet me, we step inside, where he offers to take me on a tour. Sure, man; why not? Seems he really wanted me to see the place… the billiard room, the library, the indoor pool, the greenhouse, and then, the master bedroom. Is this the play?, I’m thinkin, Is this the play?
Breaking the tension of the moment, he says, ‘Let’s watch a movie, man. You wanna catch a movie?’ I could hardly wait. Just what I want to do after getting my head ripped off by this pitbull; sit around his air-conditioned doghouse and watch a goddam movie. He leads the way downstairs to his home theater, which actually looked a lot more like… well, you know – a theater.
He sat down in the second row of seats.
I’m just standing there, scratching my head at this turn of events; a possible mindfuck of astronomical proportions which happened so quickly it would have given the average person whiplash. Still trying to figure out where all of this is going, and yet dying to find out, I walk over and take my place in a huge, plush seat directly across from him in the darkened theater. A movie begins on the vast screen above us, in all its wide-screen, high-def, surround-sound glory. There’s no place like home.
A few minutes into the film, another muscle-bound Adonis materializes off to the side of the theater.
‘Hey, Jet. What’s happenin’, dude? This here’s my new friend Chrome. He and I got it on over in Bahia, but we came through togetha and now we’s buds. Chrome, this is Jet.’
‘How ya doin’ man?’
‘Cool enough, man. Cool enough.’
‘Hey, man,’ Jet says, ‘let’s head over to Majini; they got some epic waves over there, and I got a new board I want to try out.’
Shark turns to me and says, ‘That cool with you, Chrome? Do a little surfin’ while the sun is still up?’ Of course, this was an inside joke, since in Second Life, the sun is always up. Or down. Or whatever you want it to be. In virtual worlds, you pick up where God leaves off. He hands you the dimmer switch. You can even place it anywhere in the sky, for that matter, like a Japanese lantern, which comes in very handy when you’re taking photographs.
‘Hey, why not, man? I don’t have a board, though, so I’ll just tag along.’
‘Don’t worry. We have plenty of boards. I’ll loan you one of mine, dude.’ Damn, this was turning out to be one hell of a weird night. By this time, I really had no idea what I was involved in. I had to follow this to the end; too many unanswered questions. Besides, I wanted to take some photographs; I had to record this thing, just so I’ll know it really happened.
Shark tp’d me into Majini, and there it was: pure white sands stretching as far as the avatar could see; and there, just a few hundred yards across the expanse of brilliant blue sea… the epic waves. They were rolling in, one after another, had to be at least 20 feet high. Shark and Jet hit their boards, yelling back to me as they paddled out: That last board’s for you, Chrome. Hit it!
I jumped on the board and began to paddle out after them. I lay on the board for a while, trying to catch the moves they made (in spite of the fact that I live in Santa Barbara, I had never been on a surf board in my life), and then stood up and raced headlong into the next monster wave.
It was a breathtaking experience. With my headset on, I was fully immersed in the moment; shooting up the inside of the curl, racing back down, curving up again as high as I could go as the wave raced toward the shore. The sound from inside the wave was deafening, adding to the adrenalin kick as I shot in and out of this rolling thunder.
At one point Jet and I, heading in opposite directions deep inside a curl, collided head on and launched one another right into the deep blue sea. We came up laughing, and jumped right back on our boards and waited for the next big one. We stayed out there for what seemed like an hour or so, then slowly paddled in together to hang out with several luscious looking babes in bikinis, who seemed to be waiting for us to return. They were part of Shark’s posse, apparently.
I was lying on the sand, deep in conversation with one of them, when someone suddenly tapped me on the shoulder from behind. Whaaa? Who’s that? I turned around to see my wife, apparently trying to tell me something. I took off the headset. Aren’t you coming to bed, honey? You aren’t going to stay on that computer all night, are you? It’s getting late and you won’t be able to get to sleep.
In a state of complete confusion, I said, uh, yeah, just give me a minute.
Returning to the beach, I stood up and said to my new surf buddies, Hey, guys, gotta run. I’ll catch you in a few; thanks for a great evening, even though it didn’t start out on the right foot. Shark laughed and said, C’mon, man, stick around. We’re goin’ to hit some heavy clubs and do some dancin’. You don’t wanna miss out on that action.
Next time, I said; next time. Thanks anyway. Then I disappeared in that familiar cloud of pixel dust. Little did they know that I was a retired college professor, and it was way past my bed time.